Betrayed Trust

Today I saw something quite upsetting, and I'm not exactly sure what to do about it.

There are three homeless people in my neighbourhood who are seen regularily asking for change or handouts.  One person has been asking for help since the mid-90s according to a few of my neighbours here, while another is relatively recent, having come into the area only six months ago.

Today I was in Richmond getting a few things for the upcoming week when I saw this newer bum in the parking lot of Lansdowne Mall.  I don't mind seeing homeless people in different parts of the Lower Mainland, but what I saw today was this person getting into a car with some bags reading "Future Shop" and "Winners".  Nobody else was in this car.  Just him.  He was driving!

I'll admit that seeing gas for the low price of 96.9 today was quite a shock (it's usually 10 cents higher here), but I didn't expect the change in price would allow the homeless to drive a car that's under 5 years of age.

Now, I must also admit that I did not strike up a conversation with this person to see if perhaps he was borrowing another person's car and running errands (which would still make me suspicious).  But it strikes me as odd.  Why would a person who has been asking for change at the corner of Granville & 70th in Vancouver be driving a car in Richmond?  Does he live a decent life with what change he collects from the generous people that walk by?  I had once brought this man a coffee on a day when it was just too cold to sit outside, and I can't even guess at how often I've given him whatever change I might have had in my pocket.

Some news reporters had caught a woman in Toronto doing this a number of years ago.  She would beg for change outside some of the huge banks, and at the end of the day she would go home to her lavishly furnished, lake-front penthouse apartment.

While I doubt this person has a penthouse, I am curious to know if he's a legitimate person in need, or just another scammer.  Of course if he is a scammer, how should I expose him for what he is?  It's one thing to be truly needy.  It's another to take advantage of the few good samaritans that are left.

Cold Turkey for Coffee!

In the event of any confusion regarding tonight's title ... I'm not trading the turkey for coffee.

Instead, I'm going to reduce my coffee intake by 50% starting immediately.  After tallying up the amount of money spent at Starbucks over the 2005 and 2006 years, I was shocked to discover that I could have bought my own coffee-producing nation for the same amount.  To that end, I've made this decision.

No ... seriously.

At work I am fortunate enough to have free access to a beverage which tries to look, taste and smell like coffee.  It even goes by the same name, so I shouldn't need to buy any on the way home after a difficult day.  On weekends, rather than getting a latte, I will have a grande mild coffee.  I've given myself a maximum coffee budget of $20 per month, and $10 for the remaining two weeks of January (since we're already half into it).  Any extra money that I might have at the end of each month after paying all the bills will be put towards my wedding next year.

I really enjoy coffee.  The latte's, the occasional espresso, a capuccino here and there (depending on where I am), and even the rare americano.  The caffiene is nice, but more than that, I enjoy the atmosphere of the coffee house.  I enjoy the smell of the beans as they add their distinct flavour and aroma to the hot water passing through.  I enjoy the polite conversation with the baristas while my drink is made.  It will be hard to give up.

However, this is something that I've considered for a long while.  For some, coffee is a treat that can be enjoyed every once in a while with friends.  For others, it's a fundamental part of their morning or working routines.  Without coffee, some become irritable, while others develop headaches and have difficulty focussing on tasks.  Unfortunately, I am one of the ones that become irritable because of the headaches and can't focus on any task worth doing.

So ... time to ween myself from the addiction.  I'll readily admit that I will continue to drink coffee at work, and have a grande mild from Starbucks on weekends once or twice, but I will scale back my intake by one half starting today.

I'll try not to become totally useless like the last time I tried to quit coffee....

Moving at the Speed of Society

In this increasingly fast-paced world, just how fast is too fast?

When I was much younger, I had watched an episode of Star Trek (Next Generation) that involved a world that had just successfully launched their first warp-capable space vessel.  Because of this event, the Enterprise was nearby to witness the test flight and make themselves known to the planet's inhabitants.  Rapid technological advances allowed the people of this planet to go from a pre-industrial world made of many nations, to a planet with vehicles capable of faster-than-light travel in the span of about 300 years.

That's a pretty short amount of time when you think about it.

By the end of the episode, the Enterprise is asked to leave the planet for a while so that the society can become accustomed to all the changes that had occurred before the next big adjustment (accepting extra-terrestrial life).  This decision was not made lightly by those in power, and the two arguing sides made very good cases about why their world should or should not consider opening relations with the Federation.

Of course, this is a very quick summary of the episode, and I'm not going to talk about how much to a Trek fan I used to be, but it falls in line with many of the issues I've been thinking about regarding the speed of change all over the earth.

The technological advances made by the people here on Earth are incredibly spectacular.  Most would have laughed 30 years ago if someone would say that by 2005 the average person in Westernized nations could carry hundreds of hours of music on a device the size of a pocket calculator, have more processing power in their digital watch than the entire Apollo spacecraft, or carry a video conversation in real-time with someone on the opposite side of the planet.  These would have been classified as extreme science fiction.

Yet here we are, and then some.

Dozens of nations are now playing catch-up with the so-called "first-world" countries.  Technology that we had grown accustomed to over the span of three decades is being delivered by the crate to people who may still worry about a clean water supply or when the next political coup will happen.  But the technology they receive is not the basic technologies that we started with ... these people are getting semi-current electronics.

These people will have thin and powerful cell phones without going through first the pager, then the "brick" cell phones.  These people will have notebook computers with rich colour screens, without first dealing with dull grey herculean PCs with monochrome monitors (brown and orange being the two colours, of course) and puny hard drives.  These people will be connected to a rich internet full of content, without first going through the growing pangs of boring HTML sites made in notepad and tested time and time again in some browser that can't yet handle frames.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing.  It's great that some people will not have to suffer through the now-inconvenient conveniences of the last 30 years.  However, I do wonder what effect this will have on these communities.  For most of the people on earth, technology has been pretty much consistent for over ten thousand years.  There have been little advances here and there, but these could be taken in stride ... people could adapt at their own pace without worrying about what they'll have to learn tomorrow to replace this new technology.  Going from a water-powered mill to a hydro-electric dam took over 400 years, yet they're based on the very same principle.

I think it's great that people all over the world are plugging in to the global community.  Not only can they learn more about the world around them, but we can learn more about these new cultures and the ideals they follow.  My biggest concern is whether they can keep up with the speed of change and not self-destruct.

There's A First Time For Everything

It seems that tonight I'll be going without the benefits of my notebook. Perhaps this means I should go and get some things ready for my upcoming Japanese Language classes at Langara.

So, despite the fact that my notebook can go an hour and a half on the original battery (not bad for a 3 year old notebook), I'll keep this post short.

Hopefully tomorrow I won't forget anything1.

Sitting Idle

Shortly after becoming involved with computers, I started wondering why people would let such wonderful data processing machines sit idle for most of the day. There is always so much work being recruited by distributed computing projects, and considering the amount of raw power that goes to waste every day, I'm surprised that large vendors such as Microsoft and some Linux variants don't include some built-in software that makes use of the extra clock cycles. Just think of how far [email protected] or [email protected] would be if the userbase was increased by a factor or two!

I mention this because, like the idle computers that are online 24 hours a day with very little to occupy themselves, I have nothing to seriously occupy myself with at work. Since the middle of 2006, it seems as though I've been cut lose to accomplish very simple tasks, but not be a part of any enjoyable solutions.

I am a solutions provider by nature. When somebody has a technical or process problem, I think of ways to solve the problem. If I can use technology, then I'm in my element. If it's a very complex problem that needs technology, then I am really in my element. Not being able to flex these mental muscles leaves me very unfulfilled and this seems to follow me home....

The last major project that I had at work was finished in the early fall of last year. Since that time, I have tried to occupy myself with side projects and minor maintenance issues reported by users. The maintenance I can understand. This is a regular part of dealing with software. Things break or processes change, so software needs to be updated from time to time. The side projects that I do at work are typically done to both keep myself happy, and to provide value to my co-workers. Unfortunately, these are usually cancelled long before they even get off the ground.

Since last summer I have felt as though my efforts are largely ignored. I know that I was a bit pre-mature telling my employer that I would be leaving an entire year in advance, but given the complexity of the proprietary enterprise software, I would have figured that a new programmer would need at least six months to get the ropes before I would leave. So far there have been no mention of a possible new employee, and any new work that needs to be done goes to the my already-over-worked teammate. Unless I'm the only person in the office during an emergency, I barely seem to exist.

I wonder if I could work on an as-needed basis. They could call me a day or two in advance, and I would show up for given days. Because I would already know the data and software inside and out, there would be no waiting time for me to provide a solution (unless it's a nice, big project). This would give me the opportunity to find other work during the day and perhaps move towards an alternate career path.

Or perhaps I should just cut my losses and move on.

Giving Voice to My Internal Monologue

Since launching my initial website in October of 2006, many people have asked my I maintain a blog. Admittedly, I don't really talk about anything that would be interesting to most people, nor do I attract enough traffic to warrant a daily entry. To most people, I tell them the site is mainly for the image gallery. But to some people, I tell them the real reason: giving voice to my internal monologue.

Over the last few years I've noticed that my way of thinking has changed dramatically. Ten years ago I would have tried to sound intelligent to make up for my worldly ignorance. Five years ago I would have been much more reactionary and impatient. Two years ago I would have been truly optimistic for the first time since high school. And now ... I'm not sure how to classify my thoughts.

For the moment, this site is somewhere between a personal journal and a place to rationalize ideas (though I haven't done that much lately). I'll admit that the posts from Japan were made not only for my personal historical benefit, but also so my friends and family could see how I was faring on the opposite side of the globe. But for the most part, this site exists to give me a place where I can express my thoughts as they exist for the moment. It's almost like a time capsule.

Hopefully in five to ten years I'll be able to look back at some of these posts and say something about them. I also hope that in that time, my personal site does not expand to include ads of any kind. One of the largest reasons I host my pictures on this site rather than Flickr or MySpace is to eliminate the ads. There are enough sites with AdSense and other flavours of the same thing, I don't need to be another drop in the bucket. And with the very limited traffic I generate, what kind of return could I expect with these advertisements? A dollar a year? Hardly worth the eyesore.

All this said, I'm currently working on plans to build yet another site on another domain that would be for a more commercial purpose. I have (what I think) are some very useful applications that could be used in a corporate environment, none of which are being considered by my current employer. To this end, since this work is all based on my designs and done on my own time, I'll be finishing the projects and making them available to the general public. At first the programs will be made available for free with a PayPal donation option, and a service / customization package will also be available for an attractive low price.

It's time to get my software out on the market, so I might be able to add a cushion to my future life with Reiko in Japan. I hope that one day, if I look back at this post, I can say "this was the point in my life where I finally got my act together."

Neighbourly Actions

In the Broadway show "A Streetcar Named Desire", there is a song titled "A Stranger's Just A Friend You Haven't Met." This seems to fit in with the small adventure I had after venturing to the local Starbucks after dinner.

While in line, a man was ahead of me with his notebook asking one of the baristas (Jennifer) if he could connect to the Hot Spot that was advertised. Unfortunately, the signal has been down for a few days, and the provider had not yet come to fix it. After learning that the man wanted to confirm that his computer did not have any problems connecting to the internet, I invited him to my home, where he could check out whatever he needed.

As expected, his computer worked just fine on my network.

I learned that a tech support person with his internet provider had tried to blame the extended outtage on this man's computers and network hardware. What didn't add up was the number of computers that were affected, as well as the timing when they all failed. Thinking this might be a similar issue to what I faced with Telus a few weeks ago, I mentioned a few of the possible scenarios.

So we decided to head to his home in an effort to put an end to his problem. After all, a Canadian home just can't be without internet. It's a crucial utility for most of us, now.

After checking that his modem and router were fine, we checked the network's ability to ping an outside site. When that failed, I changed the DNS servers to those offered by great people at OpenDNS. After this change, we had internet again!

Kinda ...

It seems that the change had occurred within a slight window of network operation. For two hours we checked and rechecked everything with only occasional success. After changing the DNS servers back to Shaw's defaults (in order to check Shaw's mail servers), we were no better off. So, after it was all said and done, I could not solve their problem ... Shaw will need to step in.

I can really sympathize with these people. They've been in this home for only a short while, and the internet is a crucial part of their livelihood. I become incredibly frustrated and irritable when my internet is only remotely acting up, and downright upset when it fails altoghther (my landlords can vouch for this, as they've heard my shouts), so I can understand their frustration with the situation.

But in every dark could, there is a silver lining. The good things that came out of this chance occurrance was the ability to meet some great new people, and help provide some context on what the problems could be (it's not always a customer's fault, Shaw). I really hope that their connection problems can be made a thing of the past, considering how friendly and courteous they were despite these issues.

Image Gallery Back!

Alright ... it's taken just about 10 hours, but I've managed to upload about 400 pictures to the image galleries again.

With the migration of my webserver, I had determined it would be better to re-upload my picture gallery than just import the backup. This was for many different reasons, not the least of which being the image resolutions. One of the nice things about re-uploading all these pictures is that I've been able to add more than was originally posted. Last time, there were close to 250 images in the galleries.

I'll see what I can do to put some of my older pictures into the gallery, but the image quality for those shots is really low. These images would have been taken either with my first digital camera (a 3.2 MP device in 2002), or the camera I borrowed for a while a few years ago (a 2.0 MP Canon). One thing I have noticed about most of my pictures is that they suck. Often times I take pictures of what most people would describe as "nothing". To this end, I'll make sure that my future pictures are more audience friendly.

Hopefully this will be the last post regarding my website. Most people will notice that the address has changed, but the old one will forward you here. The link will continue to forward to this page also, as that was it's main purpose.

I guess this means I can get back to talking about some current events, my upcoming wedding, and the occasional philosophical entries where I try to rationalize or justify something.


Almost Fixed!

Alright, after several hours of exhaustive work, data imports, image imports and directory permissions ... it seems that my site is mostly back to normal.

It appears that when my database crashed the other day, it was the result of a larger problem that I did not properly identify. After getting the system to partially work again, I decided to stop trying to band-aid the problem and start from scratch. I chose this method not because of my extensive Windows experience, but because of what I've learned over the last few months about my web server, as well as WordPress (the software that this site uses).

One of the advantages to starting with a clean slate is that I could change many of the initial settings I had configured, without damaging anything. Importing my old information was mostly simple (there were only a few custom plugins that I couldn't recover data from), and after a bit of testing, re-uploading my images has proved a positive experience. One of the things I did not like about my last site was the small size of the photo gallery pictures. After increasing the size, I found that the initial images were blurry and otherwise terrible, so I deleted them all and started to re-upload the albums. The image quality is now much higher and, hopefully, people will enjoy some of the photos more.

Of course this makes me wonder if it's time to get a better camera....


Over the next few days I'll be re-uploading a few hundred photos to the image galleries, and I'll even give this site a make-over to ensure w3c compliance. I'm seeing that most of the people that visit me use either FireFox or Netscape, so it's time I ensure their viewing the pages as I intended with IE.

Lost In the Ether

Well ... I had a well written post for today about an Intellectual Property dilemma that I face, but it seems that my server decided to "lose" the information! After a brief examination of the database, as well as my cached files, it seems that the matter is lost for good.

Shame, too.

Perhaps I was a bit too quick to say that I didn't want a faster web server. Or perhaps I just need to change how my posts are written.

At one time, I would write everything out in Microsoft Word before posting it here. This was done mainly to ensure that I didn't make simple spelling mistakes, and to prevent large grammar mishaps. After a few weeks, I decided that the improper sentences and occasional spelling error would make this informal site look like it was written by someone who is usually paying attention to too many things ... which is usually the case.

I guess this means that I should start using something like Notepad to write my entries before posting. Losing 45 minutes of work is something that hasn't happened to me in the last few years. This has certainly been a nice reminder of what was once a regular occurrance.

Sorry. I'll make sure tomorrow's post isn't lost.

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