Not so sneaky snow

Right now at 1 p.m. it is snowing. Did I bring this on by talking about “sneaky snow” falling overnight in my previous post?

I’m going to think positive and say yes. Yes, I have mastered unknown powers of the universe.

As it turns out, the lottery ticket I bought for tonight also contains all of the winning numbers. I’ll update this post later as a multi-millionaire to confirm.

Sneaky snow

Saturday it snowed overnight, just as it had earlier in the week. I call this sneaky snow, coming in quietly after you’ve gone to bed, waiting to surprise and possibly delight you the next morning. Except the sun and warming temperatures usually make short work of this ninja-like snow. the next day (it’s just above freezing now, so the sun is slowly doing its thing)

I’m okay with this.

Also, in the interest of not being all complaint-like I’m going to rename the damn snow tag to that darned snow, which makes it sound kind of cute. I’m not opining on whether I think this is accurate because that could possibly violate the no-complaint thing.

The Obsolete List: 1964 Edition

Technology always marches forward, except for things like the Dark Ages and I guess World War III. But generally, it marches forward. The pace of change can sometimes be startling, while in other cases it feels like it’s taking a lot longer to progress for unspecified reasons (example: car technology has improved but not substantially changed at a mass production level in over a hundred years. The majority of vehicles are still fueled by gasoline that powers an internal combustion engine. Sure, whizzy electric cars and hybrids have gained, but they’ve yet to take over on a mass scale).

I was born in 1964, the same year a bunch of stuff happened. The Beatles were pretty popular. The American space program was in full swing and only five years away from a moon landing. And cars ran on gasoline that powered internal combustion engines.

But what technology over the past 50+ years has become obsolete or so little-used that it’s effectively obsolete? Most of it is stuff I grew up with. Do I yearn for any of this bygone technology? Let’s have a look at The Obsolete List and find out!

  • Rotary dial telephones. People often still refer to “dialing a number” but no one actually does it anymore. I remember back in Duncan you only had to dial the last five numbers instead of all seven and at the time it made dialing bearable, though you still hoped people had numbers like 222-1111. By the time the proliferation of phone numbers required you to enter all seven digits, plus the area code, we had moved on to push button phones and it was inconvenient but not the utter madness that it would have been on a rotary phone. Do I miss these devices? No. There is no nostalgia value in having to wait for a rotary dial to finish turning before you can enter the next number.
  • 8-track tapes. I’ve discussed these before and the short answer is no: digital music does everything an 8-track tape did, without all the weirdness of putting songs out of order, duplicating tracks, splitting them in two and not to mention the inevitable tape-eating that happened. These had one minor convenience over cassette tape, in that you didn’t have to flip the tape over (if you were one of those poor sods that didn’t have a tape deck that could play both sides automatically). Speaking of…
  • Side A and Side B. Okay, this isn’t technology, strictly speaking, it’s more about how albums were always split into two halves before the Compact Disc (see below) took over. While this allowed some bands to experiment by doing different things on each side, I think the benefit of having a single cohesive whole makes for better albums overall.
  • Cassette tapes. These are still around, so like vinyl, technically not dead, but it’s very much a niche product. While more compact than vinyl, durability was always iffy, with tapes unceremoniously unspooling and getting eaten in the tape deck. You also ended up with the degraded tape exhibiting a lot of pops, cracks and other un-musical sounds. May casette tapes rest in pieces, I say.
  • Floppy disks. No one in their right mind would miss these. Everything now is better. I still have a box of them dating back to the mid 90s. I wonder if they would be readable today? (I checked and you can get a USB floppy disk drive for $30. I’m not sure it’s worth $30 to find out.)
  • Compact Disc (CD). Officially introduced to the world in 1993, they became the dominant music format by the end of the decade. Now, with digital music and especially with the rise of streaming music, the CD is not dead but is on life support. It had a few advantages over vinyl: better audio quality (provided the recording was managed properly–vinyl aficionados will always argue that records offer a “warmer” sound than CD), a more, ahem, compact format, the ability to hold more music (about 75 minutes, where vinyl was pushing it at 48-50 minutes) and because the disc was read by a laser, you no longer had to worry about a needle scratching across your record when you bumped the player. Instead you had to worry about the laser blinding you. Do I miss CDs? Really, no. They were better than vinyl and tape, but ultimately they now look like more of a stopgap on the way to digital music. And they could still get scratched and have playback suffer. Plus the album art was hard to make out.
  • Compact Disc-Recordable (CD-R). These were discs you could record to (multiple times in the case of CD-RW) and they allowed for early mass backup/storage. But they were slow, prone to errors and clunky to use. DVD-Rs were not much better, just higher capacity. I do not miss these. As with floppy disks, everything now is better.
  • Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TVs and monitors. You know, the big, boxy things that you could warm your cat on and weighed between 50 and 1000 pounds. While the cats probably miss them–LCD monitors and TVs offer little room to accommodate sleeping felines–the only aspect I miss about CRT monitors is how blacks were much..blacker. This is offset today by OLED technology, but OLED hasn’t really percolated into widespread use, apart from some TVs, smartphones and laptops, because it’s still really expensive. I don’t miss the weight, energy cost, blurry text or industrial beige styling of most CRT monitors, though.
  • Digital watches. OK, these aren’t obsolete, but with watches now being more fashion statements than actual timepieces, who would still wear one? Anything a digital watch can do can be done better on a smartphone, or even a smartwatch. Still, I kind of miss that Casio I had back around 1978 or so. It could play 12 songs for no real reason and it was cool to set alarms. It felt like being in the future. As digital watches go, it wasn’t hideously ugly, either. At least that’s the way I remember it.
  • Mimeograph machines. I remember these from elementary school, circa 1971-1977. They produced weird purple text and the ink smelled strange and alien. Smudges abounded. It felt like 1850s technology that somehow lasted into the 1970s. I don’t miss them. I suspect teachers may have paid for the privilege of smashing these machines when photocopies and printers replaced them. Speaking of…
  • Dot matrix printers. These are still used in some places where multi-part forms are needed and the people there haven’t figured out how to load a tray with three different kinds of paper at once. They were noisy, slow, pretty bad at graphics, did I mention noisy, required ribbons you had to wind and worst of all, they would go haywire as soon as you turned your back to them. It was like they knew and waited to misfeed the paper. Again, I don’t miss these. Ink jet printers are better in all ways, save for ink drying out if not used for long periods of time, but that’s easily solved by getting a laser printer instead. Or just go paperless, like we were supposed to 40 years ago.
  • Microfiche. This was very cool in the early 80s. It’s been superseded by, well, computers, and the ability to digitize content. Back in the olden days you had to load a negative from, say, a newspaper, into a microfiche reader, then zoom in and pan around like you were using a microscope, except instead of bacteria, you were examining old news stories. I actually do kind of miss this. Looking back on the times I used them, it felt like I was doing real research and making real discoveries instead of just typing something into Google’s search box and getting 10 million results. The latter is still better, mind you.

More to come as I think of them.

It was 20 years ago today…

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to–no, no, that’s not it.

(That’s a whole other chapter of “Makes you feel old,” realizing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released 51 years ago. I remember when its release on CD [remember those?] was a big deal and even that was 31 years ago now.)

No, 20 years ago I got broadband. It was 1998 and Rogers was my ISP because back then there wasn’t really a choice. I got Rogers@home, their broadband service, allowing me to experience the world of high speed internet.

And disconnects. And outages (sometimes for more than a day at a time). And speeds that would go from very fast to slower than dial-up.

It was both amazing (“I don’t need to tie up a phone line to get on the internet!” “The internet is always on!”) and amazingly frustrating (see the aforementioned issues above).

It opened me to a world of online gaming, from which I think I’ve just finally cured myself, having let my WoW sub finally lapse after more than ten years with little interruption. But back in the early days, Tribes, a multiplayer-only first person shooter, simply wouldn’t have been the fantastic experience it was without broadband.

Broadband let me start exploring news online instead of having to sit down in front of the TV for the news hour and watch what the broadcaster wanted me to watch. I still get my news online. It’s so much better.

It was also an age before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. In some ways this was better. Most ways. Nearly all ways, if you really think about it. There were forums for different games and hobbies, but with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of users rather than millions. You got to know people. There were a lot fewer funny cat pictures and even with broadband most of them were still small and horribly compressed.

The internet itself was still young and awkward. Websites had animated gifs and midi music. Sites were spartan or ugly or both. Spugly. But it was fresh and new and exciting.

Today, Blue’s News has literally the same design as it did back then. If you want a retro taste of what once was, that’s your active go-to right there. It used to be my home page back around then, too. It predates my high speed internet by two years. Zounds.

A few years after I got broadband I jumped ship to Telus and their ADSL. It was a bit slower but much more stable (well, not so much in that first year but it’s been solid since). The speeds today are a lot faster than they were in 1998, but web pages now serve so much fancypants content even before you include the singing/dancing/popping-up/sliding-in/good-chance-of-carrying-malware ads that it doesn’t necessarily feel a lot faster. And then you download a 50 mb file and wonder why it won’t start downloading only to realize it finished in a fraction of a second.

Fiber (or fibre, if you prefer, this post is being written in Canada, after all) is becoming more widespread, though not yet in my neighborhood. I wonder what that would feel like, speed-wise? Would I even notice? I actually don’t download a lot of stuff anymore. Mostly I just need the connection to be there and be reliable. Still, if it becomes an option I’ll probably go for it. Maybe ridiculous speed will open up new possibilities, the same way broadband did for me back in 1998. Or maybe it’ll just make it easier to exceed my bandwidth cap.

Either way, I’m ready.

The improbability of concave stomachs and long term snacking

Tonight I did an elliptical workout at the Canada Games Pool and it was a good, sweaty half hour in which I burned 336 calories. The bonus, as always, is being able to look down at a bevy of people with actual swimmers builds. One guy was helping with a young children’s swimming lesson and at first I thought he was sucking in his stomach. But he wasn’t. It was just so flat that it actually curved in instead of out.

My stomach does not curve in.

Also I ate a bowl of Chocolate Cheerios today. They were delicious.

As I watched ol’ inwardly curved stomach guy teach small children how not to drown (a skill I still have yet to fully master) I thought about how well my weight loss is going in this early part of 2018–I’m at 167.2 pounds and 18.9% body fat, both up from this time last year and up from pretty much all of last year–and consider the balance between exercise and snacking.

I am still exercising. This is good.

I am still snacking. This is not as good.

I am exercising less regularly. This is not really good. When combined with the snacking, the results are obvious: fat, and plenty of it.

The solution, then, is to cut down on my snacking. I lost about 40 pounds by changing my diet in 2008. Maybe I can do the same for the 10 year anniversary, Except I don’t want to lose 40 pounds because I’m still 20 pounds lighter than 2008 me, so a 40 pound loss would result in me being “tumbled down the street by a strong gust of wind” light.

But can I reduce my snacking? I’ve remained donut-free so far, but I’ve pretty much just turned to donut substitutes. Maybe reduction isn’t the answer and elimination is.

And so I pledge here on this blog and to the several people that accidentally stumble across it from time to time, perhaps hoping to find some tasty creole recipes, to go 100% snack-free.

Starting on Saturday.

Why Saturday? It’s a run day and I tend to eat less on run days. Also there are still snacks about so I need tomorrow to figure out what to do with them, even if it means shoving them into my mouth. But no more after Saturday.

I will report back on my inwardly curved stomach progress some time in March.

Book review: What the Hell Did I Just Read

What the Hell Did I Just Read (John Dies at the End #3)What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though the title of What the Hell Did I Just Read is self-referential in the same the previous novel was (This Book is Full of Spiders), I still kept reading expecting some sort of arcane book to play a part in the story.

Don’t be dumb like me. The only book is the novel itself, the third adventure of David, John and Amy, twenty-somethings living in Undisclosed, a small town beset by supernatural as well as super gross manifestations.

Like the previous entries, What the Hell Did I Just Read is filled with weird (Batmantis???) and gruesome (giant squirming larvae) monsters that the would-be heroes must stop before the town and possibly the universe itself is destroyed.

It’s more fun than it sounds.

The story starts with a child kidnapping and as the saying goes, things escalate quickly, with seemingly immortal not-government agents, a biker gang and others tossed together as an unceasing storm threatens to sweep the town away in a devastating flood.

Jason Pargin, going under the pen name David Wong, does his usual excellent job juggling all of the elements while tossing in regular dollops of absurdist humor. There are even a few serious moments of personal growth for some of the characters. But only a few. Mostly it’s dildo guns, silicone butts, dimensions of endless despair and children who may not be quite as they appear.

My only real disappoint with the story is how it builds to a climax that never really happens. Sure, stuff happens but not necessarily what you’d expect, although you could argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. It’s open-ended when I was not expecting it to be open-ended. Maybe Pargin wanted to leave room for a direct sequel, because who can’t get enough of giant squirming larvae that could potentially destroy the world?

This is an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoyed the first two Books (the first being John Dies at the End). For anyone else who is not averse to some well-written and occasionally gross-out horror with tongue in/through cheek, it’s still a solid recommendation (though you should still read all three in order for maximum effect).

View all my reviews

Snow use complaining

Yes, terrible pun. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it before. Sorry.

As the weather prognosticators foretold (yesterday) it has indeed started snowing tonight and is sticking, with 10-15 cm expected in time for the morning commute.

But I am not complaining, as weather happens and until I can magically control it, I will accept it. Plus I don’t have a walk to shovel.

My only concern is whether this will impact my running, as snow has only had minimal impact this winter on my runs, and has even at times been a bit delightful. The forecast suggests it won’t stick around, so one last blast of winter is fine by me.

I expect flowers to be budding next week, though.

My beard is like a horror movie

I shaved this morning the same way I always do–I used the electric razor on my face and neck, then used a trimmer for my Van Dyke. It’s properly known as a circle beard but no one seems to know what a circle beard is.

Anyway, the beard itself is more a vestige at this point, as I don’t use a guard on the trimmer, insuring the facial hair is there but in a minimalist sort of way.

Tonight I noticed the fuzz on my chin and upper lip was more pronounced than one would expect after a little over 14 hours of growth. I clearly remember trimming it this morning and I’m pretty sure I haven’t been struck by lightning since then and acquired the power of super fast hair growth as a result (though a little more on the top would be nice).

Instead I’m left to ponder how my facial hair has become the folical version of Michael Meyers, coming back stronger and more resilient no matter how often I whack it down.

I’m going to take pictures of this to prove it’s not just me being weird. Well, weirder.

Some things on the internet I like

Kung Fury, a 30 minute parody of 80s martial arts movies, and also everything else 80s. And dinosaurs and Hitler.

It’s getting a full-fledged sequel with Michael Fassbender. It will probably be better than Prometheus.

wasd’s gallery of custom-colored keyboards as designed by their users. These are alternately hideous, even more hideous and also delightfully hideous.

One sample below. I think my favorite part is the Pacman ghosts on the arrow keys.

The Simon Stalenhag Art Gallery. Stalenhag has created a delightfully weird alternate universe where the 80s turn out…a little different. One example below. The art is an amazing blend of realism (the composition and light/liquid effects are terrific) and the fantastic, with giant robots, and curiously controlling electronic devices everywhere. The imagery ranges from intriguing to funny to horrifying, sometimes simultaneously. Buy his stuff.

Bad design: The iMessage Fireball

In the interest of keeping to a complaint-free lifestyle, I’ll emphasize again for Bad Design I am doing a couple of things:

  • pointing out the bad design as a way to highlight how something should not be done, even if it seems logical or a popular way to go, in the hope that it encourages others not to repeat what I feel are mistakes in design
  • offering a solution or alternative design that addresses the flaws

And I only pick a lot on Apple because I own and use a lot of Apple products (which I will address in another post) and because as the world’s largest, richest company, they have the power to influence a lot of others (see Samsung and its weird and lawsuit-attracting tendency to follow Apple’s designs very closely).

And with that, I present:

The iMessage fireball

For those unfamiliar with Apple’s message app, it works like most text messaging apps and allows people to send and receive messages across Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad, Watch and Mac. If you send a message to a non-Apple device, it shows in a green bubble as a regular text message. If you send a message to an Apple device, the bubble turns blue and it becomes an iMessage, sent through Apple’s servers.

With iOS 10 Apple revamped the Message app, expanding what you can send.

When you are in the Message app, tapping on the App Store icon presents a small black window that you can doodle and do other things in (it defaults to this, though tapping the icons to the left or right of the heart will allow you to use stickers from other apps, search for images and more):

By tapping on the horizontal gray line above the window it expands to give you more room and also exposes a small information icon in the lower-right corner that, if tapped, presents an explanation for the various actions you can perform:

The Heartbeat option only works if you are wearing an Apple Watch, as it includes a heart rate monitor.

The first option is Sketch and it seems pretty straightforward. Draw with one finger.

The next option is Tap. What is a tap? There is no explanation.

The fourth option, Kiss, puts a pair of lips in the window.

Let’s go back to the third option, Fireball. This puts an orange fireball-like blob in the window and as long as you keep pressing you can move it around. As soon as you release, the Fireball message sends.

Bad design #1:

Some actions send the message instantly, others require you to tap a send button to send it. This is inconsistent and can result in messages being sent prematurely.

Bad design #2:

There is no explanation for what a Tap is. The others are straightforward, but what is a Tap? It’s a ring that dissolves. If you do a bunch of taps in succession you can send multiple rings–er, taps–but if you pause too long the message auto-sends. I am unsure as to why anyone would ever want to send a Tap.

Bad design #3:

The Fireball and how it is invoked. Like the Tap, I’m not sure why you would send someone a Fireball. It looks more like a glowing orange ball than an actual fireball and it also auto-sends. The worst part, though, is that to invoke it you press your finger on the screen. You might think this is the same thing you do to make a Sketch, but there is a subtle difference. The difference is so subtle that you may find yourself sending off fireballs when you meant to start a sketch, and you may receive fireballs for the the same reason. In fact, since iOS 10 launched I have only sent two fireballs deliberately. The first was to see what it looked like, the second as a joke. Pressing the screen is a very basic gesture and it shouldn’t be tied to a fairly obscure action that few people would seemingly ever use.

Solutions

Bad design #1: Require tapping the Send button for all actions before the message is sent. Give options to edit or cancel the message.

Bad design #2: Rename Tap to Rings. Change text to “Tap with one finger to place one or more rings.”

Alternate solution: Remove this option altogether if it is seldom-used.

Bad design #3: Change the action required to invoke the Fireball to something that is not likely to be used accidentally, like tapping with three fingers.

Alternate solution: Remove this option altogether.

My personal feeling is the Tap and Fireball options could be removed. I have no evidence to back this up, but based on anecdotes and my own experience, neither is used much at all and the Fireball is almost exclusively used unintentionally.

Run 569: Short and chilled

Run 569
Average pace: 5:25/km
Location: Brunette River trail
Start: 1:53 pm
Distance: 5:02 km
Time: 27:15
Weather: Sunny with high cloud
Temp: 5ºC
Humidity: 54%
Wind: light
BPM: 174
Weight: 166.5 pounds
Total distance to date: 4430 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

Due to a very late start and being naughty again by not running during the week and also recovering from a pulled muscle in my mid-back, I opted to skip the full 10K run at the lake today for a 5K at the river. I did get some extra walking in by starting at the end of the trail first.

It was a rare sunny day but a brisk 5ºC so I wore two layers up top, but stuck to the shorts. It worked out fine.

I briefly experienced two issues: a cramp near my right shoulder that sorted itself quickly, and my left knee started feeling a bit stiff about 3.5 km in. The knee never got really sore and was not a factor, really, as my fastest pace was in the last km.

My overall pace was 5:25/km, which is not bad for a pudgy, out of shape 5K run. The BPM was 174, which is again too high, but perhaps understandable given the combination of cold, flabbiness, and exertion.

I may run again tomorrow, assuming I don’t wake up in the morning feeling like a broken pretzel.

The gate to gate distance on the river trail is said to be 1.9 km, so after I started my run, I checked when I got to the second gate and it was, to my surprise, showing 1.9 km. What’s weird is that the 5K ended with around 610m left. If you add up the two full lengths I ran–3.8 km–then add what is needed to hit 5K–1.2 km–that means there should have been about 700m left when I stopped running. Now, there was a delay of a few seconds after I stopped the run and started the walk, but not enough to account for 90m of walking. Still, it’s actually better than I expected, so maybe the GPS is in the iPhone 8 is magically improving or something.

Anyway, here’s to more runs and staying healthy in 2018.

Also no snow. Thanks.

Bad (but logical) design: Bike spaces on SkyTrain

The newest Mark III SkyTrain cars feature a few nice improvements:

  • all four cars are joined together through an articulated “accordion” section, meaning you are free to move between all cars on the train. This also means there is more room overall for passengers
  • larger windows provide a better view and the lower frames work better as pseudo arm rests
  • better fittings all around mean the trains are quieter
  • roomier design all around, so there is less of a sardine can feeling, even when the train is full

But in among these improvements is another that doesn’t really work, and it’s not the fault of the designers. It’s more of a people problem.

The first and last car on each train has one of the middle sections of seats removed and in its place a single bar that runs underneath the window. This is a designated bike area. Making trains bike-friendly is definitely a nice move, as more people are commuting by bike.

However, there is a problem with the execution: it doesn’t take into account normal human behavior and the general likelihood of bikes being on the train at any given time. This leads to the following:

  • as the train fills, people move first into the seats
  • they next stand in the areas that are most open (not between seats), such as the doorways
  • conveniently the bike space is wide open, so it often fills up with standees before the rest of the train
  • a cyclist boarding the train at this point will find it impossible to park their bike in the already-occupied space. Even if people wanted to let them, it’s unlikely there is room for the people in the bike space to stand elsewhere; the cyclist typically props their bike in the doorway area, same as they would without a bike space on the train

Given that cyclists are still uncommon on the SkyTrain and that they have no better chance of boarding before anyone else, there is only a small chance they will actually get to use the designated space for their bikes. There’s also no way to keep other people out of the space (nor should there be).

Conclusion: the dedicated bike area is a well-intentioned idea that ultimately doesn’t work. It’s really just a standing room section that would be better serviced by putting the seats back in.

However, there is a better solution that, while still subject to the whims of the crowd on the train, at least doesn’t remove a bunch of seats. Some rail systems have hooks in the ceiling that bikes can be hung on. This works well for a couple of reasons:

  • the hooks aren’t likely to be used for something else, so they will almost always be free for cyclists to use
  • the bikes stand vertically as a result, taking up a lot less space on the train
  • the hook provides a solid anchor for the bike, reducing the chance of it hitting someone or getting away from its rider

I hold out hope that Translink will ultimately switch from the dedicated space to a hook system and am doing my part by suggesting it to them, not just here, but directly via email as well.

Until then, the bike space on the Mark III trains is likely to remain standees-only.