Shortly before Christmas, the car rolled over the 100,000 mark. Not bad for
a nearly eight year old machine. Many hundreds of thousands still remain in
its life. Still, the first six digit number for cars is almost analogous to
a human turning forty. There will be no gray hair here!
Also, Christmas was good. The fact that there is a week off from work is
] | posted @ 13:03 | link
My 1:12 scale Dumas Trojan F-31 build is finally complete. It took over a
year to get the job done, and considering the poor condition it started in,
I think it turned out really great.
The boat has been named Quovis. This is in line with the naming
scheme I'm using on my model boats, where the Latin translation to English
is a used as a pun. In this case, Quovis means "to whatever place you
will." The intention of "place" is not necessarily physical, but I'm
interpreting it that way. It beats the silly names boats normally get, in my
Aside from some rear-deck warpage that I may or may not address in the
spring, this boat should be in the water as soon as it becomes liquid again.
The next boat on the list is another complete overhaul/reconstruction;
this time it will be the Billings Boats Thor coast guard vessel.
] | posted @ 23:43 | link
Counterflow Wort Chiller
I made a fresh batch of beer tonight. For the occasion, I've spent the last
couple of days planning and building a counterflow wort chiller.
For the uninitiated, the counterflow chiller is a device consisting of a
copper tube within another tube (or hose). While the inner tube has a hot
liquid (beer wort) flowing one way, the outer tube has cold water flowing
the other way. In this case, the outer tube is 5/8" garden hose, and the
inner tube is 3/8" copper tube. The only real construction was at the end
parts, which needed soldering.
But it works, perfectly. It took boiling wort right off the stove and
cooled it down to 15°C at the other end.
This brew of beer also marks the first batch that I'm making without
starting with a kit. Just grain, malt extract, and hops. Here's to hoping it
] | posted @ 23:58 | link
AMD64 Flash Instability
Wow. I can't believe the problem's finally been solved.
Ever since the x86_64 version of the Adobe Flash Player came out, I've
been using it. However, at some point this year it became rather unstable. I
assumed it was related to the Ubuntu 9.04 release. With the 9.10 release of
Ubuntu, the Flash was completely unusable; even YouTube would crash it. The
strange thing was that my AMD64 Debian Unstable system at work didn't have
All sorts of possibilities existed. In the end, I finally found the
solution in a forum thread. Apparently, early AMD64 chips (including my
fx-51), do not implement the "lahf" instruction. Also, Adobe apparently
calls it in their plugin.
The solution is quite ingenious. A man named Maks Verver came up with a
thirty line C program that gets compiled as a library and loaded by Firefox
on startup along with the other plugins. It simply implements a signal
handler for SIGILL (illegal instruction), checks for the instruction in
question, implements its functionality in software, and resumes. Brilliant.
I can now laugh at lahf.
] | posted @ 00:38 | link
So it seems I missed November altogether. This is the first month where I
didn't take a few minutes to write something here. I guess nothing important
happened. The weather was spectacular. Geocities went away. The lousy
economy is starting to frustrate me a little.
To alleviate the economic blues, I took a day off from work, right in the
middle of the week. Most people would call this a "personal day." I call it
a "hobby day." I spent every waking minute of the day trying to complete my
Trojan F-31 boat model. In the end, it didn't get finished; it only takes
one little thing to go wrong, and a few managed to go wrong. The end is very
Still, amazing progress. I made all of the railings, masked the whole
boat and painted the window frames, cut the windows, tinted the windows,
installed all of the lighting, painted and installed all of the fittings,
and applied decals I made last weekend. I'm sure something is missing from
that list, too!
This build has turned into one hell of a project.
] | posted @ 23:55 | link
I've had this laptop hard drive at work whose motor was seriously failing
that would have been nice to recover. However, after running for a few
minutes, the bearing would inevitably sieze, and there would be read errors.
I noticed last night that I owned another very similar drive -- just one
digit different in the part number -- that had a perfect motor, but bad
platter or heads (causing read errors). After opening it, it became clear
that the difference is the number of platters. The motor in these is
integrated right into the aluminum chassis, so just swapping it is not
No matter, I moved every other part from the drive I wanted to recover.
To make a long story short, it didn't work. The drive wouldn't read
But it was still a fascinating experiment.
] | posted @ 23:23 | link
Oh Em Gee
Before leaving a foreign country it's always nice to do a little bit of
duty-free shopping. Alcohol is a good place to start. Now, there are some
bottles that are a little out of my price range, and then there are ones
that are just simply ridiculous.
An example of the latter is this bottle of Glenfiddich. While a pricetag
of NTD288,000 might not seem like any meaningful number, with today's
exchange rate of 30.7262, that is in fact a bottle that is damned near ten
thousand dollars. Granted, it's older than my father. I've always
wondered how a five hundred dollar shot tastes...
I felt cheap and bought a hundred dollar bottle of scotch instead.
] | posted @ 22:36 | link
Strangest Thing Ever
I am on my way once again from Ottawa to Taipei. The trip isn't starting
well, as I've already been at YOW for almost an hour after I was supposed to
land in Toronto. The plane had a flat tire. Go figure.
But the strangest thing happened while I was waiting for my flight. Two
things that my brain could not process simultaneously: I was staring into
the face of radio host Lowell Green, but the person I was looking at was
wearing a Xandros shirt. Very unusual. This was somewhat difficult to
resolve, so my brain paused for a moment. When he asked "Can I help you?",
only then did the voice straighten out my confusion. Apparently his
son-in-law works in my office.
Hopefully the rest of this trip goes more smoothly. The sun's going to go
down in a couple of hours and I still have three planes ahead of me today!
] | posted @ 16:51 | link
A Clean Engine is a Happy Engine
The checklist is done. I set out earlier this summer to take care of
everything I knew was wrong with the car when I bought it, and a few new
Earlier this summer, mechanics took handled new tires, new control arm
bushings, and new rear brakes. Then I got some rust taken care of, a new
windshield, and filled in some paint chips by myself.
Well, today seemed like a nice day for some car work. Seeing as I've
never, ever poked around the engine of my car, there was plenty to do. I
started with the cabin air filter; it was all clogged and was starting to
get mouldy. Then, an oil change. I've never done one of those before. It's
amazing, the oil filter in this car is in a canister right at the front of
the engine, on the top. Super accessible, really easy. Then I cleaned the
mass air flow sensor. Finally, I took the cover off the engine and checked
up on the spark plugs.
With a clean bill of health, and a completed checklist, the engine
deserved a little bit of cleaning up. It's true, a clean engine is a happy
] | posted @ 21:23 | link
The vacation is over now, it's the end of August, but I thought I would take
a few minutes to reminisce about the land of the mountains falling into the
The second leg of our vacation was more relaxed than the first. Everyone
was exhausted and so we took it easy. That's how family vacations go. We
visited (obviously) Vancouver, Victoria, Butchart Gardens, Whistler,
Squamish, the Science Place, and everything along the way. We also visited
many of the upcoming Olympic sites. Throw a wedding in there, and all of the
time flies right by. I found myself not in a mood to take too many photos,
but I got some fantastic ones of plants.
One of the highlights of the trip was probably driving the Rav4 down the
very twisty and very steep highway 5 between Merritt and Hope. Wow.
WestJet was its usual chipper self. On the flight home, the entire safety
demonstration was recited as a poem.
] | posted @ 23:55 | link
The Canadian Rockies
Ah, vacation. For me, they are few and far between. This year's vacation is
a trip to the West side of Canada. In particular, the first week is in
Alberta and the second in British Columbia.
For the last several days I've been based out of a condo in Canmore. The
view out of every window is to looming mountains. We've driven around a lot,
having visited Banff, Jasper, the Columbia Icefield, and many mountains in
between. I particularly enjoyed Lake Louise (pictured), for its almost
stereotypical portrayal of the Canadian Rockies. With generally co-operative
weather, being out in the mountains is about as good as it gets.
In a couple of days I may be saying the same thing about Vancouver and
] | posted @ 02:09 | link
Yesterday marked the end of my good old 1994 Mazda Protegé's life. It got
traded in for a newer Mazda.
She was starting to show her age of fifteen, with rust creeping out of
various creases, a cracked windshield, brakes that were worn all the way,
and a hopelessly loose clutch. When the sad moment came, she had 273406km on
the odometer; a little short of the three hundred thousand I hoped she would
I am as saddened as anyone can be about saying good-bye to their first
Rest in pieces, old friend.
] | posted @ 23:28 | link
For the past several weeks I've had the pleasure of replacing my old Nokia
cell phone with an Apple iPhone 2G.
The unit was given to me for free, quite dead, and with a missing cover
piece. It was stuck in a strange mode where it kept rebooting and the USB
connection was unresponsive. It didn't look entirely promising.
It took a lot of work (around 20 hours of it), but eventually I traced
the problem to the fact that every piece fits very tightly inside the
casing, and once it was dropped on a corner, something gave way and wasn't
contacting. The likely culprit was a ribbon cable that connects the bottom
of the phone to the top. It took about 6 complete reassemblies to get
everything contacting right, but after that, the unit just worked. I
upgraded to the latest OS, unlocked, and jailbroke it. A new cover piece was
obtained from eBay for a very reasonable price.
I'm quite happy with this phone. I don't need the 3G model since I don't
have a data plan, and I'm always near an access point anyhow. The apps are
generally well-written, and I find I use it more than I would have expected.
] | posted @ 23:59 | link
How often do I get to do a "guy" weekend?! Well, this weekend was one of
It started off with a visit to Cornwall for a night on the town and to
see Finger11 play live. Lots of drinking, lots of fun.
The plan was to leave the next morning, but things changed and we ended
up going to a town in Québec called Valleyfield to see their annual boat
race. They take their racing very, very seriously down there! The race was
very fast and very loud. The fact that it started pouring rain in the middle
of the day didn't seem to stop anyone. Instead, everyone sat there for hours
while it all came down in a torrential storm.
Nothing like good, loud, wet fun.
] | posted @ 23:21 | link
Happy Birthday Canada
Well it's certainly nice to be back in Canada.
Today is Canada's 142nd birthday, and though the weather was touch-and-go
for a while, the evening ended up being perfect for fireworks.
I had never viewed the fireworks shot from the Québec side of the river,
so I went early and found myself an isolated area where I was the only
person for about 100m. It wasn't easy to get to, but the view was great.
From a photography-creativity point of view, this was an excellent
opportunity to play with the Manual mode. The sweet spot for shots ended up
being f/4.0, 8/10s exposure, at ISO 200. While my lens can do f/2.8
throughout, there aren't pretty lens flares when the aperture is wide open.
] | posted @ 23:40 | link
One of the coolest things about traveling East over the Pacific is the
dateline. This flight was the fastest I've ever been on from Taipei, at only
about nine hours. It didn't go over Japan and Alaska like it usually does.
What this means is that I left Taipei Thursday at 23:55, and I landed in
Vancouver Thursday at 19:15!
] | posted @ 23:45 | link
I was hoping to write something during my stay in Taipei. Instead, I'm
writing this from the plane flight back to Vancouver. The plane is a nice
shiny Boeing 777. It's pitch black outside, with bright stars and a fair bit
of turbulence. I'm hoping the plane will have the starry-sky ceiling like on
my previous flight on one of these.
I guess the point is that I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance
to write anything. With this fifth visit, I know enough people and places in
the city to keep busy every single night of a four week trip.
The trip has been exhausting, as always. First a week of Computex, then a
whole slew of meetings and working with my company's customers. We even
opened a new corporate office downtown Taipei, at an excellent location
right next to the Zhong Shan subway station. Four hotels throughout the stay
kept it fresh. Perhaps this is to be expected, but I'm starting to
understand significant amounts of Mandarin, and starting to recognize more
and more characters. Just for fun, I got two-sided business cards, with my
Chinese name (史派特) and contact information on the back!
The photo is of the one chance I had to get away from the city. I was
fortunate to get brought along on a trip to the Eastern coastal town of
Keelung. Nothing reminds you that you're on a tropical island like a lush
green coastal line falling into the ocean.
One last note: don't drink the Guinness in Taiwan. It has a funny yellow
label, is brewed in Malaysia, and tastes nothing like Guinness. Try one for
fun, it's an alright stout, but it's definitely not Guinness.
I can't wait to sleep in my own bed again. First, I have to spend the
night in Vancouver. Maybe I'll spend the night walking along the coast
rather than sleeping in yet another hotel.
] | posted @ 23:42 | link
The Month of May
That last entry was written in a hurry at the Toronto Airport. It didn't
convey very well what was on my mind (or at least the relevant things on my
mind). So, I'll try again in the last few hours before May is over. In fact,
May is already over where I am right now.
May was a very busy month. It held the significance of being the one-year
anniversary of moving into my own place, but it was also extremely busy
because I took on a philosophy similar to that of Jim Carey's character in
Yes Man, to fill every free time slot with something. For example,
after getting off the plane back from Boulder on a late Friday evening, I
hopped into my car at the airport and drove straight out to Markus' bachelor
party not far from Algonquin Park. No time wasted. That's how the month
went, every moment occupied by new experiences. The TV got very little
attention the whole time.
Speaking of Boulder, the trip was also very busy. I had hoped for a bit
of time for some photography or a short hike, but it didn't happen. Still,
the evenings were enjoyable, with Boulder's good patio weather and many
Markus' wedding was a blast. I bought some new clothes for the event, and
felt like a million bucks being dressed respectably for once in my life. And
what a once-in-a-life event: certainly, the reception afterwards brought out
the best qualities of all of the people I've known for years. As vague as it
sounds, all of the right elements just came together.
So, here I am now, back in Taipei, my fifth time here. The setup for
Computex starts in a couple of hours. It's great that the month of May also
brought about a revival of one of my favourite activities, namely travel.
The attached photo is of late afternoon while flying over the Rockies. We
have a family trip planned for a drive through these fantastic mountains
later this summer. For now, I'll enjoy the hospitality of the locals. I am
here for four weeks, so hopefully there will be time to write about some of
the more interesting endeavours around here.
And before I forget, I'll recommend one of the in-flight movies I saw,
Gran Torino. An unusual movie, but a very good one. Clint Eastwood
nailed that one.
] | posted @ 18:35 | link
Travelling to Boulder, Colorado. Ah, The Lounge. I miss this place and all
of the free alcohol.
As an aside, this past weekend marked a year since I moved into my
] | posted @ 17:56 | link
Canadian Hydraulics Centre
This evening a group of us from the Rideau Nautical Modellers was priveleged
to go on an extensive guided tour of the Canadian National Research
Council's Canadian Hydraulics Centre.
This building has been known to me for many years. It came up many times
during university for many examples. The image formed in my brain had always
been of a giant wavepool with a 60-segment controlled wave machine. It is so
much more than that.
The first thing that struck me was just how enormous the facility is, and
how extensive their research programs are. There were no less than
four giant wave pools, one of which is housed in a chamber that can
be cooled down to a whopping -25°C for ice studies.
The next amazing feature is the detail they use when constructing a
typical model. In the example we followed, the topography of the area was
duplicated in masonite profile slices at half or one metre intervals. Then,
the area in between it was filled in with gravel (up to four feet!), leaving
just a couple of centimetres that then gets filled in with concrete/grout.
This kind of model is constructed for every study they conduct there. The
craftsmanship of the models of ships, rigs, and whatever is needed is
equally astonishing, with hulls being rough-cut, machined, and fiberglassed
The CHC definitely earned its spot onto my list of interesting places in
] | posted @ 23:59 | link
On the Friday leading up to my birthday weekend, I decided to take the day
off and catch up on hobbies. I got loads done on my 1:12 scale Trojan
cruiser, to the point that the end is in sight.
After twelve hours at the shop, cutting and epoxying the individual teak
planks, then sanding old paint off the superstructure, I came home, only to
put myself through another arduous task: creating railing joints. After a
fair bit of work, I got one of them done. Not to be outdone by the urge to
sleep, I decided to do the other thirteen as well. The railing is 1/16" rod,
so the joints are really quite small.
And that's how the eve of my birthday went.
] | posted @ 01:58 | link
RIP Battlestar Galactica
A bittersweet ending to the best TV series ever created. This past weekend
marked the series finale of Battlestar Galactica.
BSG is known for taking a TV series to new limits; to push the threshold
beyond what the audience has come to expect from episodic storytelling. It's
the kind of writing Ron Moore was great at on Deep Space Nine, and it
was expected of him and shared by a broader audience on this show.
The finale was not what I anticipated. It was probably not what anyone
expected. But it did tie most of the loose ends. I don't think it could have
been done better, as a matter of fact. Nonetheless, I would have liked to
have seen Apollo back in a Viper cockpit. I would like to know just what
happened to Starbuck at the end, who she actually was. I was surprised that
they decided to destroy the fleet rather than use it to build new homes on
Earth. The effect of the Galactica's last jump was very nice. The tie-in
with modern-day New York was clever, but the ending for our favourite
characters felt a little out of place. Maybe this is, again, because the
show works differently than others; the finale certainly felt more final
than on any other series.
All in all, the show had a great run. It took guts to end it sooner
rather than later. I'm saddened to have the show done, to know that the sets
have been destroyed, all of the props auctioned off, etcetera. This is
another end of a little era for me. Hats off to all of the people who made
] | posted @ 20:01 | link
The search is over! I finally found a Roland MT-32 in decent condition for a
The MT-32 is a MIDI module from the late eighties, predating General
MIDI. Why would anyone want one? That's a good question. In basically every
way, modern General MIDI is superior. My new Roland piano plays MIDI with
almost surreal realism. However, being a nostalgic guy, I play a lot of old
games I grew up with, like the Sierra and Lucasarts classics. They predate
GM. They also use a feature of MIDI calles SysEx, with MT-32-specific
commands to program instrument information. In other words, those games
only sound right on an MT-32.
By "sound right" I mean that they sound fantastic. I hooked up the MT-32
to my laptop via a Midisport USB MIDI dongle and pointed DosBox at MIDI port
20:0. Just like that Space Quest III came to life. It never sounded
at all decent on a GM card, so it was fantastic to hear. Next, after fooling
around with more of the Space Quest series, I tried a couple of
titles from the Kings Quest series, and they sounded fantastic as
well. From the Lucasarts side, the Monkey Island games sounded better
than ever. I will try some of the Indiana Jones titles later. Of
course, games such as Tyrian which are designed for General MIDI
sound much better through the piano.
It's also really cool to be exposed to classic Sierra shenanigans I've
never seen before. The attached photo shows the MT-32 while Space Quest
III is starting. Someone at Sierra decided that the MT-32 display should
read "INSERT BUCKAZOID" while the game is starting. Cute.
The closest I've ever heard to these old games sounding right is on my
trusty old AudioTrix Pro card. It has a Yamaha chip that fits in
quite well with the older Roland sound. However, it's locked into an ancient
ISA bus (in my 486), and is therefore not quite "future-proof". I think it's
great that I can painlessly use this MT-32 from twenty years ago with modern
hardware. This one's a keeper.
] | posted @ 13:11 | link
Yesterday was a perfect day of outside activity. It was spent at Mont
Tremblant. I couldn't have asked for a nicer day for my one and only ski
outing of the season.
The result was pain today. As such, I opted to avoid going to the gym and
set about bottling my first batch of beer ever. It took a good long time,
and involved about the same effort as my normal workout with entail. The
results are good: 61 bottles of a tasty-looking red ale.
At the moment it doesn't actually taste great. The beer is very
flat. Having added the dextrose tonight, it will be some time before the
yeast does its magic and turns it into carbon dioxide. It will not be long.
For such a slow process, this really is quite exciting.
] | posted @ 01:32 | link
Last night a group of us from work went to see an encore presentation of the
1927 silent movie Metropolis. I had heard it was good, but my
expectations regarding an 80-year-old science fiction movie were quite low.
I based this on what I knew of fifties an sixties sci-fi. Was I ever in for
The film was brilliant. There was a bit of comic overacting that is
typical to the times, but the scenery, visual and special effects, and
overall design were staggering. In many cases, as good as or better than
what would be in movies from the sixties. The format is 4-to-3; it actually
predates widescreen. The story was also significantly ahead of its time, I
Then there was the live band. Hats off to these guys, who played for over
two hours straight. It wasn't the original score, but it was very
appropriate. The music was a much more modern than the movie, but it
definitely brought the "sci-fi" feel to it. It was perfectly coordinated
with the picture. The band consisted of keyboards (one was a "bass"
keyboard), electric guitar, bass clarinet and flute, and percussion. The
sound was jazzy-industrial, a great fit.
In conclusion: awesome.
The theatre was packed. Quite literally every seat was taken. The
presenter of the movie noted this, pointing out that there is never that
kind of attendance or enthusiasm for a modern film. So, they will be doing
this kind of thing more often. The next silent film is supposed to be in
Later in the evening they showed Re-animator. It was well made,
but not my thing.
] | posted @ 13:30 | link
After literally months of procrastination and more visits to the store than
even the most difficult customers, I finally bought the last thing I'm
really missing from my apartment: a piano.
The unit I purchased is what I feel is the best electric piano Roland
produces, the HP207. It has their best technology. The sound is, frankly,
For the longest time, I really wanted a real acoustic piano. My thinking
changed after the fourth-or-so visit to the shop, when I seriously started
considering the higher end Rolands. The key is that this simulates not an
upright piano, but a grand. And it really does. It even lets you tune
settings like the angle of the lid and the length of the piano's body. The
advantage of this unit over the ones that cost less is the excellent
additional sound system right below the keyboard (near the player's knees),
as well as a simulated ivory/wood finish to the keys. The advantage over the
more expensive units, besides the price, is that the control panel actually
makes sense and is a lot more friendly.
Roland samples their sounds from a real Steinway & Sons grand piano.
Apparently, they don't interpolate, everything is sampled individually, and
all harmonics, string, and damper side-effects are accounted for and
adjustable! The key action simulates the weight and behaviour of a grand
piano very convincingly, even the feel of the escapement as the key reaches
the end of its run.
I spent an hour this evening playing on this instrument. Having grown up
on mostly electric pianos, it revealed all of the same shortcomings I have
when I play acoustic; too much pedaling, improper balance between the two
hands, that sort of thing. The only thing missing on this unit compared to a
real grand piano is the feel of the vibration of the key when you a deep
note; it's there, but not as pronounced.
All in all, having tried twenty-or-so different pianos, this is the only
one that fits just right. It's the balance of practicality and playability.
] | posted @ 23:28 | link
Wow, I can't believe I've gone so long without writing anything here! I
guess it's been a busy year, and Facebook covers the need to express myself
from time to time.
But for more important things I want to keep track of, this is still the
Today's news is that I finally went ahead and bought the necessary
equipment to make my own beer at home. I also got a kit of The Brew House's
Red Ale. Last time I tried the finished product I was quite impressed with
it. Hopefully, my batch will turn into something passable as well.
In the meantime, the wine from last September is just starting to mellow
out to perfection. Fun stuff, this brewing.
] | posted @ 22:53 | link
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