Monday, July 2, 2012

#9 I'm Not THAT Old!

I used to pride myself in looking much younger than my actual age. In my thrifty teens, I saved fifteen cents on a movie ticket on more than one occasion thanks to the elderly ticket taker charging me the Child price. And all through my twenties, I was mistaken for being in my late teens.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite has started to happen recently.

The thing is, the extent at which people are now over-estimating my age is growing alarmingly.

Only two years ago, when guessing my age in an ill-conceived game, a co-worker erred on the side of recklessness by adding ten years to my life.

Last fall when running for School Trustee, another candidate assumed that I was retired, adding at least ten more years, bringing the margin of error to over twenty.

A few months ago, my wife and I attended a movie after work. We had to meet at the theatre in order that we could both make it in time. I arrived first and bought our tickets, and because it was raining, I went inside to wait for her.  I told the ticket taker that I was waiting for my wife to explain to him why I would be loitering near the door.

I wandered off to one side in order to get a better look at the advance poster for The Artist and heard the voice of the ticket taker behind me saying, “Your husband is over there.”

I turned to find that it was not my wife, but another woman who was meeting her husband. However, this woman was at least seventy-five years old. Boom! Another ten years.

And now, I have been given at least ten more on top of that. Yesterday, I was attending a Canada Day celebration at a seniors housing complex when a gentleman asked me if I was a resident.

I now appear to other humans as someone who lives in a community where eighty-five is on the low end of the age range.

I feel I must now avoid going to any funerals lest I be mistaken for the guest of honour.

But now the thought occurs to me that perhaps, in my thrifty forties, I can find a way to start taking advantage of Seniors discounts. I recently noticed with some surprise that some banks offer seniors rates to people fifty and over.

Perhaps I should try an experiment the next time I go to the movies. I’ll have to make sure I got to a young ticket taker, though. Those elderly fifty-year-olds that gave me an inadvertent break when I was in my teens will surely be onto me if I try to pass for one of them.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Green Bits - The Greener Internet Initiative

You've bought a hybrid car, insulated your home and bought power smart appliances, but have you given a though to greening your Internet use?

That's the latest source of carbon being targeted by a group calling itself the Greener Internet Initiative.

Their goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of data been sent over the Internet.

Everyone knows that you need electricity to run your computer, printer, scanner and router, but maybe you've forgotten that it takes energy to send the data itself down the cable and around the world.

All of those ones and zeroes need power to get from one place to another. "Well, the ones do," explains GII spokesperson Randolph Gatling.

"As we all know, data is transmitted as a series of ones and zeroes. The zeroes don't take up any extra energy, because they just ride the carrier wave as blank space, but the one is transmitted as a spike in voltage which is then decoded on the receiving end as a one. All of those quadrillion ones being transmitted every second add up to a huge amount of electricity usage across the planet.

On average, you can expect an equal number of ones and zeroes in a transmission, but the GII wants software companies, developers and also the average Internet user to make a conscious effort to use fewer ones.

To explain how this can be done, it's necessary to give a quick tutorial on how computers store numbers and letters.

In the simplest example, all characters are translated to a seven bit binary code called ASCII.

The letter 'A' for example, translates to: 100 0001, and the letter 'E' translates to: 100 0101.

As you can see, only two ones occur in an A, whereas three ones occur in an 'E'. The 'E' therefore, takes 50% more energy to transmit across the Internet.

We asked ourselves the question, "How can we reduce the amount of electricity used by the Internet?" And the answer, obviously, is to use letters whose ASCII translations contain fewer ones.

A lower case 'w' encodes to: 111 0111. Six out of seven bits are ones! This letter is clearly very expensive with respect to carbon usage.
Whereas letters like A (100 0001), B (100 0010), H (100 1000) and P (101 0000) are greener choices.

The GII has come up with a three-point manifesto of sorts, that urges its adherents to abide by the following rules:

1) Programmers - name your variables, table names, column names, etc. using only the greenest characters. For example, instead of recklessly naming a variable wo_no7, consider naming it RK!BR0.

w (111 0111) o (110 1111) _ (101 1111) n (110 1110) o (110 1111) 7 (011 0111) = 34 ones out of 42 bits
R (101 0010) K (100 1011) ! (010 0001) B (100 0010) R (101 0010) 0 (011 0000) = 16 ones out of 42 bits! A more than 50% saving in energy!

2) Software Companies - use compressions algorithms that re-encode data to character sets that use only green characters.

3) Internet users - Ask yourself, "Do I really need to send an e-mail to Uncle Frank (41) when an e-mail to Aunt Gertie (40) will help save the planet?"

"In the future," Gatling notes, "your hand-held device will have an additional option when writing a message.

Where we now have an auto-correct feature that offers dictionary words to help you complete a word, we will also have an Auto-Green option that automatically changes words in your e-mails or texts to synonyms that have a smaller carbon footprint.

For example, when you send a text that reads, "The landlord called, and your apartment is flooding," your text will be Auto-Greened to "The lessor rang, and your bedsit is inundated."

Gatling summed it up with the GII's motto: Saving the Earth, one Bit at a time.

Sorry Uncle Frank.

Monday, January 30, 2012

#8 The Great James Bond Blu-Ray Triumph

I had been holding off for years buying the James Bond Blu-Rays for several reasons:

1) I did not have a Blu-Ray player (although that didn't stop me from buying DVDs back in the late 1990s)
2) Having watched DVD prices finally drop after several years, I felt I could wait out James Bond on Blu-Ray
3) Only about half of the movies had been released

In the early years of DVDs, I purchased the twenty-two I Spy releases, one at a time, at twenty-something dollars per release. In those days, DVDs did not come down in price, even after several years, so I would buy everything at release, taking advantage of the pre-order discounts offered by Amazon. Then Best Buy started putting out displays of cheap TV Show sets at around Christmas, and I got things like WKRP in Cincinnati and How I Met Your Mother at really good prices.

So I started holding off one some of the immediate purchases. For example, I bought the last few Mary Tyler Moore releases for $10.00 this past year. The Adventures of Superman, also $10.00.

Which brings me to James Bond. Having purchased three Blu-Ray films in the last year to watch in our building's media room, I finally bought a super-cheap Blu-Ray player so I could watch the extras in my apartment.

After Christmas, I had some time to kill and browsed the $5.00 bin at Future Shop. There I found two James Bond Blu-Rays. Knowing I could return these if I changed my mind, I snapped them up. They were the only two available, and I assumed it was just that store. But when I got home, I checked online, and every pre-Craig Bond was on for $4.99. Most of them were sold out online, but I bought another five (free shipping), and the next day made my way to a much larger Future Shop, where I bought the remaining five.

I did not open any of them, because, during my online research I had also looked for reviews on the print quality of the Blu-Ray releases. And during that process, I found a posting revealing that an announcement about a 50th Anniversary box set was due on January 10.

So I figured I could always return all twelve if the new set had considerably different content.

The thing is, I realized later that I could have gotten Best Buy points if I had made my purchase at Best Buy instead.

A couple of days later, I had cause to go to Best Buy to price match a Christmas purchase.  It took the better part of an hour but I got Best Buy to price match the Future Shop price of $4.99.

An excellent deal, and points to boot.

But I had completely forgotten about Best Buy's policy of giving an additional 10% of the difference. All of these Blu-Rays were selling at Best Buy for $19.99, so ten percent of the difference was $1.50. To my great delight, I ended up paying only $3.49 for each of the twelve releases.

Best Christmas Ever. And I feel this makes up for all of those I Spy DVDs I paid full price for a decade ago.

On January 10, the 50th Anniversary announcement revealed that a box set with new extras will be released this year. I decided that I would keep my $3.49 Blu-Rays and wait out the next few years for the rest to come down to $3.49.

It's not entirely a matter of patience. I have run out of shelf space. Maybe it's time to do something about those five hundred VHS tapes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

#7 Misha's Christmas Wish Box

When I was a child, I used to look through the Sears Christmas Wish Book for ideas of what I wanted for Christmas. Then one year, I hit upon the idea of creating my own Wish Book. Misha's Christmas Wish Book consisted of pieces of paper stapled into a book(let). Onto the paper I would glue pictures of things that I had cut out of the Sears Christmas Wish Book (and later, other publications.)

Once I went away to college, Misha's Christmas and Birthday Wish Book became even more important, and I would mail it to my family members each December. Until last year, my family would receive an e-mail with an attached document showing photos of the desired items (usually DVDs) and recommendations as to where they could be purchased most cheaply.

The thing is, the cheapest place to buy DVDs is from Amazon, or another web-based company. But my mother isn't going to be able to figure out how to create an account at Deep Discount, much less order something. If I tell her I want Fawlty Towers: The Complete Series, she will go to a record store in the mall and pay at least double what I could get it for on-line.

So this year, when I saw all of the amazing Black Friday deals the the WB Shop was offering on season box sets that I had been keeping my eye on for the last few years, I came upon the solution. I bought them myself. The Adventures of Superman: The Complete Fifth & Sixth Seasons cost me $10.00 with free shipping at the WB Shop. It is selling at HMV right now for $39.99!

I put all of my purchases into a box, each with a Post-it indicating the price, and dubbed it Misha's Christmas and Birthday Wish Box. I then engaged a Wish Box administrator, whose job it is to contact my family via telephone, describe the contents of the Wish Box, and find out if they would like to purchase any of these items for me for Christmas or my imminent birthday. The administrator will bring the items to my family when we go to visit them this Christmas, and will collect the appropriate amount of money and put it in the box for me to retrieve some time in the new year.

I get what I want. I don't get what I don't want. And my family saves 75% on my gifts. Everybody wins. Although my wife was heard to say, about her Wish Box Administrator duties, "I feel like the Grinch's dog."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Two Missing Doctor Who Episodes Found!

Two episodes of Doctor Who, thought to have been destroyed since 1978, have been returned to the BBC.

The episodes are Airlock the third part of the four part William Hartnell story Galaxy 4, and Part Two of the four part Patrick Troughton story: The Underwater Menace, of which one other episode exists.

The question fans are asking is, "When can I see these episodes?"

Some are calling for them to be aired on television. This is a mistake, in my opinion. When Tomb of the Cybermen was found in the early ninties, the new episodes were included in the syndication package being sold to North America. By the time the VHS came out, it had already aired and sales were dismal.

The biggest asset these episodes have is that they have not been seen by anyone. They need to be released on DVD simultaneously worldwide.

Since we know that the BBC is testing the waters of animating missing episodes with the already announced The Reign of Terror having its two missing episodes animated, this is a perfect time to test how willing fans are to purchase animations of stories that are less well regarded, like The Underwater Menace. Animating the two missing episodes of The Underwater Menace will give a great comparison to the success of The Reign of Terror, the existing four parts of which have previously been released on VHS.

If the sales indicate that the lost episode has truly increased sales of the release, then the same should be done for Galaxy 4, of which only 1/3 of an episode existed previously.

As of now, there is only one other animation on the schedule, and it is likely either the missing fourth episode of the four part The Tenth Planet, or the two missing episodes from the six part The Ice Warriors, neither of which has yet had a DVD release.

Hopefully sales will be good enough that further animations are deemed viable. The next likely targets being those stories already released on DVD with pieces missing: The Crusade (two of four missing), The Moonbase (two of four missing).

It may be too much to hope that these types of releases will sell well enough to be able to recoup the cost of animating more than two episodes per release, but if so, the following stories remain to be released in this way:

The Celestial Toymaker (3 of 4 missing)
The Myth Makers (4 of 4 missing)
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve (4 of 4 missing)
The Savages (4 of 4 missing)
The Smugglers (4 of 4 missing)
The Highlanders (4 of 4 missing)
The Macra Terror (4 of 4 missing)
The Faceless Ones (4 of 6 missing)
The Abominable Snowmen (5 of 6 missing)
The Enemy of the World (5 of 6 missing)
The Web of Fear (5 of 6 missing)
The Space Pirates (5 of 6 missing)
Power of the Daleks (6 of 6 missing)
The Evil of the Daleks (6 of 7 missing)
Fury From the Deep (6 of 6 missing)
Marco Polo (7 of 7 missing)
The Daleks' Master Plan (10 of 13 missing)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#6 Money is NOT Green.

The last time we purchased a car, we looked at the Echo, and, wanting to do our part to keep Canada's carbon emissions down, checked out the Prius as well.

The Prius was about $25,000 more than the Echo. The Prius, a hybrid capable of using gasoline and electricity,  was being marketed as a Green car, and, I suspected, being sold for much more than its value as a result.

My previous car was barely drive-able after eight years and we had to pour money into it to get it to its tenth birthday. So with an optimistic lifespan of ten years, did it make sense to spend the extra $25,000 for a Prius?

Doing some quick calculations, it didn't seem like the money we would be saving much money on gasoline would exceed the difference in price between the two vehicles.

However, looking at the reduced emissions from burning less gasoline, even factoring in the coal BC burns to generate electricity, it looked like a Prius is a greener choice than an Echo. The only thing you have to do to be Green is pay more money.

The thing is, money is not Green.

That $25,000 price difference represents a LOT of carbon (and other pollution). In the worst case scenarion, at minimum wage, it takes a person two years to earn that much money.

During those two years they make 500 trips to work and 500 trips back from work. If I remember my days working at minimum wage, those trips are probably being made in a car that barely passes Air Care.

During those two years, the worker purchases food, clothing, shelter and heat, and adds to the environment all of the carbon associated with those purchases.

For financial reasons we went with the Echo, but based on the massive price difference, I am sure we did the right thing environmentally as well.

With a large purchase, like that of a car, it is easy to see how much pollution was generated to create $25,000. But of course every cent has some amount of pollution associated with its making its way into your pocket.

And therefore, every time I pay for something, I am contributing to the pollution of the planet.

Every time I OVERPAY for something, I am polluting the planet for no good reason.

Every time I choose to purchase a more expensive item, I have to think about whether or not I are getting as much extra value for the item as the amount of pollution that has already been put into the environment by the extra money I would have to pay.

I always remember: Money is Not Green. Now if only people spending taxpayer money would remember that as well. But that's for another article.

Monday, November 28, 2011

#4 Prepaying for Gas in Canada?

February 5, 2008

I filled up with gas the other day, and was surprised to see a new sign at the pump, informing me that as of February 1, 2008, it would be the law in BC that all gas must be paid for in advance of pumping. The Esso Company-created sign also noted that if I paid with a Debit Card or a Quick-Pass, I could avoid having to go into the store to prepay.

Naturally I found this somewhat confusing, since, on the face of it, they seemed to be telling me that I could no longer pay at the pump with my Credit Card.

Looking at the pump itself, though, I quickly saw that Credit Cards would still work at the pumps just as well as Debit Cards or a Quick-Pass.

Why Esso chose to invite its customers to use the dummy-targeted Debit Cards, rather than the uber-intelligent Credit Card is a question that I will dwell on at another time.

While pumping my gas, I re-read the sign and realized that this must be the result of a death a few years ago of a gas-station attendant who tried to stop a thief from driving off without paying for gas.

I nodded internally, giving my unspoken validation to the government’s passing of this logical law. This would protect innocent, minimum-wage-earning high school students from the murderous rage of the average gas thief.

The thing is, in the past, whenever I had seen a sign that informed me that I had to pre-pay for gas, I had always thought one thing, “What a horrible country. Thank God I live in Canada where we don’t have terrible signs like this..”

Oh, I did eventually see one like it in Canada, at the Esso at the corner of Oak and King Edward, but I took some very small consolation in the fact that the requirement to pre-pay was only in effect in the night-time.

On a side note, this particular Esso station also has a camera trained right at the door, and a buzzer under the clerk’s counter that he must push to allow you into the store. I can only assume that this particular Esso location has experienced a statistically unexpected number of robberies in the past.

So what is the difference between the signs on the pumps in LA and the new signs that have been put up in BC? The ones in LA mean to me that man has given up on his fellow man, and will no longer trust a complete stranger with forty dollars worth of gasoline. The signs in BC re-affirm my faith in the government to watch out for its citizens and protect the innocents of our society from the evildoers that spring up from time to time out of the genetic pool.

November 28, 2011
It's nearly four years on as I am finally posting this, and the killer was briefly on the loose last week.

Faith in government's ability to do the right thing now being re-examined on a daily basis.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#5 The Thing Is... Back!

Having just completed my unsuccessful bid to be elected School Trustee, I found myself with a Blog that I had set up specifically for the purposes of promoting my views on the issues for the election.

Now that the election is over, this Blog will continue as a forum for me to write brief essays on topics that interest me. I hope these essays will be of interest or some amusement to at least a small number of people.

The thing is, I've already done this once before. Back in the mid-nineties, I decided that maybe I could write a weekly column in a newspaper or something. So, to build up a portfolio in case the opportunity to have a weekly column ever presented itself, I began to write little pieces about whatever topic I felt enough interest in at the time.

And then my hard drive crashed. It started with a Trojan Horse that wiped the boot sector. And then I bought Norton Disk Doctor, which claimed to be specifically for compressed drives. Well, not for compressed DOS 6.22 drives apparently, because after I ran that the drive was completely corrupted.

Sitting on a shelf in my office is a 100MB hard drive that has been waiting pathetically for fifteen years to be resurrected by some magic wizard with a de-Nortonizer and a re-boot-sectorizer.

Even at the time, I did not mourn for the loss of my recently completed CD database, basically an Excel spreadsheet with several tabs, one of which listed all of my CDs and another of which listed all of the songs on those CDs.

However there are four files on that drive that I would like to see recovered.

One is my write-up of an amazing conversation I had with Anthony Ainley at Visions '93.

The other three are those first three 'columns' that I wrote at the time, the topics of which I haven't a clue.

The name of that column was, “The Thing Is” (possibly with an exclamation point or ellipses, but I don't know). And that is why the title on this Blog entry is not #1 The Thing Is... Back! Perhaps one day #1-#3 will be brought back into existence. First I'll need to re-install the 100MB hard drive into my 486/33, last known to be running Windows 3.1.

And what about The Thing Is #4? I found it unexpectedly on my hard drive while saving a copy of today's post. I had forgotten all about it, and apparently I wrote it in 2008. It may give the best example of what #1-#3 would have been like. I will post it next time. And coming soon, I will write about my election bid.

I doubt I will be posting daily, like You Are Dumb does, but I will strive for a weekly update.

Reader comments are welcome, but will be moderated ruthlessly and spitefully.

November 21, 2011

Vancouver 2011 School Trustee Election Results

I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me and supported me during my election bid.

Congratulations to all of the successful candidates.
Updated November 23 after the recount. Unfortunately, they did not find an extra 41,416 votes for me.

School Trustee (9 to be elected)
Voting Divisions Reporting : 136 / 136
Ballots Cast/Registered Voters : 145485 /425348
Results as of: 19:37:26
Candidate Elector Organization Votes
BACCHUS, PattiVision Vancouver72027
LOMBARDI, MikeVision Vancouver65413
CLEMENT, KenVision Vancouver61993
PAYNE, CherieVision Vancouver61876
WONG, AllanCOPE57902
WYNEN, RobVision Vancouver56763
WOO, SophiaNPA55889
BOUEY, JaneCOPE52026
SHARMA, SandyNPA49842
BOUTIN, LouiseGreen Party of Vancouver34477
HARVEY, Lily-20313
LAUENSTEIN, Misha-14297
STARK, Robert Allan-13391
NGUYEN, Bang-12903
HASKELL, Peter Raymond-11915

Candidate Elector Organization Votes
BACCHUS, PattiVision Vancouver72025
LOMBARDI, MikeVision Vancouver65411
CLEMENT, KenVision Vancouver61994
PAYNE, CherieVision Vancouver61874
WONG, AllanCOPE57902
WYNEN, RobVision Vancouver56763
WOO, SophiaNPA55890
BOUEY, JaneCOPE52026
SHARMA, SandyNPA49843
BOUTIN, LouiseGreen Party of Vancouver34477
HARVEY, Lily-20314
LAUENSTEIN, Misha-14297
STARK, Robert Allan-13391
NGUYEN, Bang-12903
HASKELL, Peter Raymond-11915

Misha Lauenstein - 2011 Candidate for School Trustee

I am running as an independent to provide an alternative to the candidates associated with Vancouver's party system. 
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science from Simon Fraser University and have lived in Metro Vancouver for twenty-five years. 
I spent four years as an IT Supervisor at the Vancouver Board of Education (VBE) and have sat on several condo boards over the last decade. 
While completing the VBE's Leadership Development Program, I worked closely with teachers and other employees from throughout School District 39 and gained insight into the challenges facing our students and educators today. Twenty-first century learning requires full access to technology and sufficient ongoing funding for infrastructure implementation and upgrades. 
As student enrolment continues to drop, underpopulated schools should be closed, allowing operating costs to be redirected towards students, and seismic upgrading to focus on the remaining schools. 
The Board must not use public money to fund projects and programs that are outside of its mandate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Provincial Funding

The chief source of revenue for School District 39 is Provincial Government funding.

Ninety-two percent of the budget goes to cover labour costs. The Provincial Government is responsible for negotiating the agreements with the various labour groups. In the past, contracts have included annual cost of living increases, and therefore an annual increase in the School Board's budget for labour, benefits, pension and medical premiums.

However, the amount of money allocated by the Provincial Government to pay for the labour item in the VSB budget has not included these increases. The funding for these budget items has remained the same year after year.

This meant that the only way to pay the District's employees was to divert money from other parts of the budget, ultimately reducing the service provided to our students.

The Provincial Government is underhandedly cutting student services without having to openly state their intention to do so, by outwardly under-funding Carbon Offsets and Teacher Salaries, knowing full well that the Board must take money from somewhere else to pay for these mandatory costs.

We must get a commitment from the Provincial Government to fund all costs that are mandated by the government itself, such as the labour increases, CPP, EI, WCB, extended health, MSP, the Carbon Offsets that the Board is required by law to purchase and related reporting costs, and the recently implemented British Columbia enterprise Student Information System (BCeSIS).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Information Technology

During my time in the IT department at the VSB, I witnessed the challenges of providing and servicing a modern network of equipment and software for 109 schools.

Unfortunately, modern technology does not fall easily into one of the age-old accounting categories of fixed assets or supplies. Whereas fixed assets are expensive but designed to last for decades, and supplies are relatively cheap and designed to be used up in a short time, IT infrastructure is both expensive and destined to become obsolete within a few short years.

When software becomes outdated it must be upgraded or risk becoming incompatible with newer applications or targeted by malevolent attacks. Older hardware becomes too slow to run the newer software and must be upgraded as well, and the networks to which all of these computers are connected must be able to expand constantly to deal with a greater number of users, more data being transferred and the ever present risks of hackers and viruses.

We must ensure that the recent IT upgrade projects implemented at the schools will continue and that the funds are available to upgrade this equipment when it can no longer meet the needs of our students. This includes maintaining sufficient IT staff to install and maintain these systems.

Without a sustainable plan to continually improve and replace IT infrastructure, the spectre of students being forced to use outdated computer labs will constantly loom on the horizon.

In 2011, students are more and more likely to bring their own devices into the classroom and expect to be able to use them to facilitate their studies.

We must find ways to allow them to integrate these tools that they already use in their daily lives with the IT infrastructure provided by the School District.

School Closures

In 2011, School District 39 has lost another 700 students, the equivalent of one elementary school.

As this pattern continues, more and more of our 109 schools are operating to support a fraction of their total capacity.

Measures to generate additional revenues from these schools are only masking the problem: the overhead of running an entire school is being put in place to educate a fraction of a school.

Inevitably, a school will need to be closed.

With 109 schools strategically located throughout the city, most schools are within walking distance of a neighbouring school.

Students, staff and programs can all be shifted to another school, and money saved by deferring the seismic upgrading project of a closed school can be used to upgrade a school that is actually full of children.

Of course there will be hardships and annoyances for the students, parents and staff of a closed school. It will mean a greater distance for some students to walk to their new school. Friends and teachers may end up at different schools. Change is an inevitable fact of life. When a student finishes Elementary School, they will have to leave their old school and move to a new Secondary School. When a family moves, the children have to move to a new school.

Students changing schools is a regular occurrence, and avoiding change should not be a reason to spend taxpayers money to keep open an underpopulated school.