Friday, November 05, 2010

Coding is easy

While most of my friends, at least those who are still in school, are reeling after the midterm exams period, I'm on a break of sorts from work.

We've just launched our first batch, which was Literary Fiction, and are slowly getting started with our second batch: Crime Fiction! Since I'm managing production, these are slow times for me, as recording hasn't really started yet.

It's all good, though, as I'm getting a bit of extra time to poke at the new LibriVox forums. Our sysadmin has been hard at work updating the forum software, but it meant we're back to the default forum theme.

I've proposed to take a look at the codes and improve the forum's looks, although I only marginally know any CSS.

Well, edits have gone through, and I haven't broken anything substantial (yet).

I daresay, when poking at a working setup, where everything works right out of the box, edits aren't that hard. I mean, I've got a general idea of how CSS works; there's some stuff, then squiggly brackets, then there's the stuff you want to change and how you want to change it. Then you just have to remember the semicolon at the end, and you're pretty much set. Increase the font here, change some colours there, voila!

Of course it got a bit trickier when I realized that the CSS wasn't the only thing I had to poke at. Most of the elements were in the template files, and I wanted to move elements around, which involved getting my hands dirty and messing with actual code. That was a bit of a mess, since the template files were an eclectic mix of HTML, Styles, PHP and probably Javascript.

Luckily these things all come in chunks, so all I had to do was find the right chunk to move around.

In the end, not too hard, but lots of finger crossing and hoping I didn't mess things up.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

oh data...

Quick question to begin with: Provincial healthcare costs per capita; More is better, or less is better?

I'll give you a few seconds to think about it.




Well, of course there's no easy answer to that, but it would seem that the answer depends on where you're from.

An article in the free 24H paper yesterday proudly claims Québec champion des économies en santé (Quebec champion of healthcare savings). Quoting numbers from the latest study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the article highlights the fact that Quebec was the canadian province who spent the least per capita in healthcare, which is a sign of effective cost control.

Malgré les critiques qui lui sont régulièrement adressées, le système de santé québécois serait l’un des plus performants au pays en matière de contrôle des dépenses. (In spite of regular criticisms, the healthcare system in Quebec is one of the best-perfoming ones in the country in terms of expenditure control.)

That sounds pretty good right? With all the fuss about healthcare costs skyrocketing, it's good news that the govt can keep the spending low, right?

Well, apparently not.

The other side of the medal is brought to you by the Metro newspaper (the other newsprint distributed for free in the metro), who taps into the Canadian Press feed, and ran the following story: Dépenses pour la santé: le Québec en fin de liste (Healthcare spendings: Quebec at the bottom of the list). According to the Canadian Press, Quebec lags behind the other provinces in terms of healthcare expenditures.

Which is obviously a bad thing. Cuz if you're lagging behind, well, you've got some catching up to do. And who do you have to catch up with? Well, Alberta of course! Who spends $6266 per capita.

According to the CP article, Quebec lags behind, and it's a bad thing, because it's bad to spend less money than everyone else on health care. It's bad, because...

Well, I don't know why. Why is it bad, again? Do tell me, O CP article.

In case you haven't figured out by now, the CP article does not tell us why low expenditures is bad. And I'm not too impressed with their reporting.

Sure, one can interpret data one way or the other, but saying Quebec was "lagging behind" just stuck me as the typical Quebec bashing that so many Qcers complain about. It implies something negative about Quebec, yet doesn't offer anything to back it up.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Reviews: Blink by Gladwell, and Predictably Irrational by Ariely

At least one good consequence of my harrowing journey through the bookstore was that I got to enjoy two books i've been meaning to read for a while.

(BTW, I actually had to go back to the bookstore for an even more harrowing journey, looking for a book for a friend of mine. Went through 3 bookstores downtown before I found something half-decent. But that's another story altogether, and not a particularly interesting at that. )

I eagerly started reading Predictably Irrational, as I knew it to be full of all kinds of interesting info.

Well, long story short, it was pretty disappointing.

See, Dan Ariely, the author, has some bits up on his website, and the bits are pretty interesting. The downside, of course, is that these bits are probably the only interesting parts of the book.

The first chapter was pretty good, and offered an unconventional look into people's behavior. There were some great insights into how we're being subconsciously manipulated by marketing and stuff that's not even related to marketing.

The book is pretty good until chapter 3, after which it gets really boring.

You know, when you're writing essays for school, the teacher always said Put the weak stuff in the middle? Well, it's the case here. Great start, dismal middle, and I didn't even finish the book yet, i was so bored.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, on the other hand, is a great book, and I loved every word of it. He's got some excerpts up on his site.

Gladwell's writing is a delightful mix of storytelling and journalism, and invites you along a journey through our subconscious minds.

I like this book because it's unpretentious. It tells a story without trying to artificially impose some kind of point. There's some charm to that. At the end of the journey, you feel like you know so much more, and you also feel like you have all the freedom to be able to do something with what you know. At the same time, if you decide to not do anything, that's perfectly fine too.
Evey once in a while, I imagine what my ideal job would be.

For a while, I've been volunteering for Librivox and have recorded a number of books. Then I was made MC, and was helping others record books.

LibriVox is awesome, and all kinds of fun. I was thinking it would be great if I could get paid to do something like that. That would be the best job ever!

Well, strange how things work out sometimes.

A few months ago, Hugh asked me to join his new project: iambik.

Iambik is an audiobook publishing platform that allows readers and publishers to collaborate and produce audiobooks at low cost, while allowing everyone to share in the sales revenues.

I'm responsible for book management, and the job is very similar to LibriVox admin. I's a great work and learning experience, and perfect for getting my mind out of the law stuff i'd been doing for the past 3 years.

Iambik has launched just last week, with a great selection of literary fiction.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

So I was exploring the possibility of getting one of those e-readers, despite being historically quite against them. Not me, I said. I'm quite fond of my dead-tree books. There's something you have with paper books that you'll never quite have with electronic devices.

Also, e-readers, they're plain evil. I mean, seriously, when I buy a book, I wanna buy a book, not a limited license to store and display the book on a mobile device for an unspecified amount of time. Also, don't spy on me, thank you.

I'll probably be ordering a kindle some time next week, and get started on testing out case designs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I hate bookstores

I did something today I haven't done in a long while. It's usually the kind of thing I reserve for the kinds of Stephen Fry.

I went to a bookstore.

And I was unimpressed.

Last time I went to a bookstore, it was to pick up The Ode Less Traveled, by Stephen Fry. Great book; I learned a lot. Still haven't finished it, though. But I suppose it's not something one should rush through. That was years ago.

This time, I was aiming for a couple of books that were on my mind for a while, and which I should've read long, long ago: Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, and Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.

So I went into the bookstore. And then I remembered why I don't go to bookstores. I like books, mind you. I like reading. I like libraries. Bookstores, not so much.

First thing I do when entering the bookstore is the interminable trek through all the rubbish they're trying to sell you in lieu of books: mugs, notebooks, diaries, candles, teas, and a whole truckload of useless overpriced shit. No, I don't want a $5 candle. No, I don't want a $12 notebook with 50 pages in it. Even if it's hardcover. And that image on the cover is Public Domain, so you've got no excuse. And if I want crockery, I'll go to a crockery store, thank you.

The journey through tableware led me to the second floor, right into the café. Mind you, this is where the books are supposed to be. And if you like your books like I do mine, then coffee is probably the very last thing you want near your books. I don't know who's the genius who came up with the idea of implanting a café in the middle of a bookstore. I want to buy books, darnit, not a lifestyle!

At this point I've pretty much discovered where they stash their books. I just have to find the ones relevant to my interest. Left: Fiction. Ahead: Self-help. Right: Business (which in my book should be under that Self-help section).

Now here's a question for you folks: Where am I supposed to find my books? Is there any kind of system that will actually tell me, Yes, your book will be in this section of the bookstore, bookshelf X, shelf B.

Well, no. The bookstore people actually expect me to go around trying to determine where my book goes. I figure, I'm a big girl, I know what my book's about, I can look for it myself, right?

Predictably Irrational, I know what that's about. Behaviour and stuff like that. Choices. Psychology then? (Of course Psychology is under Self-Help, so I get to look like a lost tween in need of relationship advice while looking for my book, but that's another rant altogether.)

Choices! There's a whole shelf on Choices. No book I'm looking for. Ok, fine. Business then? (Don't even get me started on why "Programming" is under the big Business sign. I don't think any sense went into planning the floor.) Marketing. Book sounds like it might be under Marketing.

Oh look, more books on choices, and one book from the same author of that book on choices that was in the Choices section. Probably the sequel. Still, no luck.

At this point, I'm getting reasonably annoyed, and I guess I really can't find my way in a bookstore. The computer was no help. Told me my book was in the Business - General section. I didn't even know there _was_ a Business - General section. The computer also told me Blink was in Culture and Society or something like that.

Lemme geddat straight. A book about how people make choices is in Business. A book about how people make judgments is in Culture? Why can't the friggin bookstore be Dewey-coded?

Anyway. I finally decided that such extreme sports were not for me, poached a store clerk to get my book, went to pay, got stuck at checkout because there were only 2 cashiers, 8 people in line, and the two customers at the cash were ordering books or doing what customers do that takes forever.

I just wanted to buy a book, dammit!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

French ISPs resist three-strike law, but not because of users' rights

French ISPs are at odds with the government over the recently-enacted three-strike law. That might be considered a good thing, except that the ISPs are not resisting because they want to protect their users' rights. Nope.

They're resisting because they want money.

Enforcing the three-strikes law would put a significant burden on the ISPs, as they would have to make thousands of look-ups per month, so they're considering boycotting the law. Until they get paid for all that work, that is.

So shell out the money, and they'll serve up their users on a silver plate.

Excuse me?


Harper Government Tries to Pass Bill to Send Flight data to US govt.
Back in high school I had a teacher who made it quite clear that Wikipedia should NEVER be cited as a source in ANY paper we were to hand in. Any other website was fair game, be it Encarta (remember THAT??), Britannica, or some random website a 12-year-old created.

Granted, that teacher's stance might have been hard, but it nevertheless taught us a valuable lesson: don't cite Wikipedia.

Especially when he's not the only one who doesn't appreciate it. A Philippino judge recently ruled against the government in a case where the govt relied on Wikipedia to support their case.
Nowadays, we always have to be careful about what we say, because we never know what might come back and haunt us. All you need is someone with a bit too much time on their hands and a slightly warped sense of righteousness, and you might find yourself defending your ass in court.

The EFF just blogged about the case of some guy suing Craigslist for defamation because of some other person's post. Craigslist removed the posts, but not quick enough, apparently.

The lawsuit rests on the fact that Craigslist supposedly told the guy that they'll "take care of it", which, it would seem, implies that Craigslist promised the guy that nothing bad about him will ever get posted ever ever until the end of time.

We'll have to see what the trial judge says, but in the meantime, be careful what you tell other people.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keep it in the family

National Geographic has an interesting article about why royal families all over the world would marry their close relatives.

Worth a read, if only for the following line:
Bingham learned that even after King Kamehameha III of Hawaii accepted Christian rule, he slept for several years with his sister, Princess Nahi'ena'ena—pleasing their elders but disturbing the missionaries.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nowadays, I get my news from the darndest places.

Here I was, nonchalantly browsing through the LOLs and FAILs when I come upon a piece on Failbook on how You can't block Mark Zuckerberg.

According to Failblog, Facebook's response ran thus:
This error isn’t specific to any one account. It’s generated when a person has been blocked a certain large number of times.

OK, lemme geddat straight.

They're saying that the system is set up in such a way that if you annoy enough people to the point that they block you, at a certain point, you become so obnoxious that nobody can block you anymore.

Now how does THAT make any sense?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saw Prince of Persia the other day. Some story about a dude convincing people to invade a state after said dude claimed that state had dangerous and threatening weapons, so that the dude can take over that state and drill down the ground to access an immense source of power.

Movie was not so bad.

I learnt that having a movie ticket thrown in your face, then having the ticket-thrower come back 10 mins later, tail between legs, looking for the thrown ticket so he could ask for a refund, leaves you with a pretty satisfying feeling.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How bad is IP?

Mike Masnick over at Techdirt has an article discussing David Koepsell's argument that intellectual property is unethical.

The question is the following one:
[I]f it's true that by doing away with the idea of intellectual property, you create greater opportunities for everyone, could you make the argument that intellectual property laws themselves are immoral or unethical in that they are actually what makes everyone worse off?

Thinking cases where individuals or corporations have abused of IP law, my initial reaction was that the argument made sense. Back when I took IP Law, the prof gave a few reasons why there should be IP protection, none of which made any sense. The main argument was that protection leads to more incentive for creation. If this premise is shown to be wrong, then wouldn't it make sense to say that the entire concept of intellectual property is wrong too?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

If you ever get abducted by aliens...

Bring a pen, and make sure you learn some basic maths.

Let's say... You're the first human to make contact (large image)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Always train your employees

Sometimes, you assume that people know certain things that are held universally to be true. After all, there is a reason people say "Don't saw off the branch you're sitting on". No?

Well, turns out, it's a fairly common mistake people make.
Peter Aspinall, 64, had been asked to prune a sycamore tree in the grounds of a hotel, but instead of leaning his ladder against the trunk he placed it against the branch he was hacking down. [...]
Now Mr Aspinall, who had worked at the Egerton House Hotel near Bolton, Lancashire, for just two weeks, is suing them for compensation. (Source)

You see, one must not think that the placement of a ladder is self-evident. There is in fact a lot of technique involved, and pruning must not be left to the untrained and/or inexperienced. For all of you whose initial reaction was a slight chuckle of disbelief, the rest of the article offers further enlightenment as to the course of events.

[T]he accident happened on July 18, 2008 when Mr Aspinall was helping gardener Alan Ashworth remove the branch because it was shading the lawn.

The men placed their ladder against the branch and Mr Ashworth held the bottom of it while Mr Aspinall climbed up with a bow saw to chop it down.

They did not realise their mistake until the branch finally snapped and Mr Aspinall fell to the ground.

So as you see, there were actually TWO people involved, and neither of them realized that the ladder was badly positioned. I imagine the exchange between the handyman and the gardener to have gone something along these lines:

Gardener: Hey Pete! Can you help me chop off this branch?
Handyman: Sure thing, Al! Which one?
Gardener: This one right there! Look, I'll set up the ladder for you. That branch right there.
Handyman: You sure you want me to saw off this branch? This doesn't look quite right.
Gardener: Don't worry, Pete, I know what I'm doing! It's perfectly safe. Look, I'll even hold the ladder for you!
Handyman: Well, you are the gardener, after all.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

True or not?

The problem with reading stuff on April 1st is that you're never quite sure whether it's real or whether someone is trying to pull a quick one on you.

This post from Tech Dirt is either a well-crafted April Fools, or an example of an increasingly scary trend in the world of business.

We've been noticing a trend in recent years of companies that sell physical goods trying to figure out ways to have those goods get some of the "advantages" of digital goods. For example, with physical products, once you sell it, in theory, the seller no longer owns a piece of the good. But with digital goods, they still hold the copyright, and often try to limit what you can do with the product even though you thought you "bought" it. So we've been disturbed by the rise of things like artist resale rights, which take away the right of first sale on artwork, and require you to pay the original artist every time you sell the product.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How terms of service are shaping our lives

A while ago, while doing research on a class paper, a sudden realization dawned on me. EULAs and TOSs are the way of the future!

Indeed, TOSs, for instance on websites, govern what you can or cannot do on the website. This considerably modifies people's relationship with content, by transforming a situation that was solely governed by general law into a contractual relationship.

Take the example of television. When you watch at TV show, the only things determining what you can or cannot do with what is broadcasted to you are legal provisions. There is no contract between you and the broadcaster, and the broadcaster can't limit your rights.

But on the Internet, things are different. Surf on any webpage, and there will almost always be TOS. "By accessing this website, you agree..." Now, that same TV show that was broadcasted on the air can be accessed online, but WITH CONDITIONS. All of a sudden, with the sheer power of the Internet, you enter a contractual relationship with the broadcaster, or the owner of the website. Now that there is a contract, the website's owner can effectively determine what actions, albeit otherwise legal, you may or may not take regarding their content.

Take the example of books. Buy a book, and you own it; it's yours forever. Buy an ebook, and you risk having it taken from you anytime.

So, what is so special about the Internet that enables people to impose a contract on you?

Nothing, really.

Internet was just the new medium that enabled people to experiment with new rules. Having TOS on a website would be akin to having a set of rules in a building you enter. Having a TOS or EULA on an ebook you buy is like drafting a contract with a seller every time you buy stuff.

Let us then approach this the other way around. If it is OK to have a EULA on an ebook you have purchased, then wouldn't it also be OK to have a EULA on a plain old dead-tree version of the book? Probably.

And this is where I'm getting at. EULAs and TOS are increasingly shaping our relationship with things around us. More and more people will find that a sales contract is not enough. Companies selling their products will want to retain some form of control over their product, even after having sold it. Control is power. Why then not control it if you can?

I see the future of the consumer-product relationship thus: On one side, consumers will be increasingly subjected to imposed contracts with the manufacturers, distributors, or retailers. These contracts will chalk out the extent of the rights and obligations of the parties, and will become the main source of norms. On the other hand, the corpus of laws will progressively turn into a set of public-policy provisions aimed at striking a balance between the corporations and the consumers.

This post from BoingBoing shows that the trend has already started.
Chinese Take-out Terms of Service

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Son of a Bitch!

In my opinion the words “son of a bitch” by themselves are not capable of any defamatory meaning. They are peculiar, in that they take their meaning either from the tone of voice used or from whatever adjective accompanies them. They are a translucent vessel waiting to be filled with colour by their immediate qualifier. Thus, one has sympathy for a poor son of a bitch, admiration for a brave son of a bitch, affection for a good old son of a bitch, envy for a rich son of a bitch and, perhaps incongruously, dislike for a proper son of a bitch. Why right thinking people should dislike anything that is proper is rather a mystery unless proper is used to mean “real”, but I am confident that is the colour that adjective gives to the expression.
Ralston v. Fomich, 1992 CanLII 1652 (BC S.C.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010


I have finally managed to see the movie Avatar a few days ago. Rounded up a couple of friends, and off we went, and in 3D please.

In short, I found the movie quite amazing.

I have heard some of my friends complaining that the screenplay wasn't that great. However, I have to admit that I was way too busy gawking at the special effects to be bothered by the screenplay. Besides, I didn't find it that bad. Of course, the story was fairly simple and straightforward, with not much in the area of plot twists, or even complicated inter-personal interactions. That's OK, though. I don't mind simple plots. As long as it's consistent with itself, I'm happy. (Other than the fact that they're spending a shitload of munny developing these avatars to interact with the native population when they seem quite happy shooting said natives ded anyway. And that the natives call the Avatars the "Dream-walkers", which sounds like they know that they're remote-controlled, but then Warrior-guy screams bloody murder ("demon in a body!!") when Jake gets pulled from the simulator. And when ...)

All in all, it felt very much like one of those kids' stories, where the forest unites against the evil lumberjacks. You all know what I'm talking about; we've all seen at least 5 versions of the story.

I quite liked the visual effects in the movie. I was amazed at the richness and creativity of the forest's plants and creatures. The 3D effects and animations were also very well done, although I don't really know whether it's worth all the money they spent on it.

There was this one thing that annoyed me a little, though. They made the Blue Cats very hippie-like, with chanting and beaded necklaces, which reflects a certain stereotype of the people who are close to nature. Also, the scientist lady kept emphasizing that what the natives were experiencing was "real", due to the biological-internet nature of the ecosystem, and was something tangible. This somehow validated their experiences, as it proved that they were not just a bunch of tree-hugging lunatics, and, moreover, also made them more worthy of being protected.

I had the feeling that while on one hand, it said "These people have a real, tangible bond with nature, and deserve protection", on the other hand, it made it seem as though the ones who do not have this tangible bond with nature deserve less respect.