Times May Change, but People Don't

This is a story from last week, but speed is irrellevant to something as timeless as love.  Last week construction crews unearthed a pair of skeletons that have been dubbed a pre-historic Romeo and Juliet.

In this caffiene-induced world full of fast cars, fast computers and fast foods, it's good to see that some things never change.  This pair met their end together, the depth of their feelings apparent by the position they were found in.  Naturally, it's only our imagination that creates their story, but it's one that's as true today as it would have been so many thousands of years ago. 

Despite the constant distractions we face on a daily basis, we all eventually fall in love.  When we picture our end, which even the most positive of us will do from time to time, we want to know that we were loved and that the person who is most important to us is there.  Nobody wants to die alone, even if that's what they say.

Human experience is as unchanged today as it was ten thousand years ago.  Our environment has altered drastically, but what makes us all human has  not.  Skeletons like this have been found all over the planet.  What I like about this the most is that it shows that no matter where we may have come from, we all share many common traits.

Race, color and gender mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.  These self-imposed constructs only limit our acceptance of each other.  I only wish that the people today would realize this.

Open Invitation to DSL Providers in Vancouver

To mark the 100th published post on my site, I was hoping to discuss something cheery and positive.  Instead, I've just spent the last 10 minutes fighting with Telus regarding their unreliable service.  I will not take their consistent failures any longer.  I'm looking for a new ISP.

I don't ask for much, really.  I would like to be able to have a sustained 40 Kb/s stream so that Reiko and I can video chat in peace.  I would like to have notice when upgrades or service interruptions will be happening.  I would like to have roughly 130 Gig per month of transfer.  And I would like to have a tech help desk that can answer my call in less than half an hour for those rare occasions I need to call in (which is usually only during a prolonged outtage).

I'm currently spending $80 with Telus, for my phone and DSL service.  I'll gladly pay $100 to any other DSL provider that can offer superior reliability.  I don't need VoIP, or port 80 usage.  I don't need any special packages, per se.  Just a nice, reliable connection to the internet, with speeds that are suitable for video chatting two hours a day and IRC the rest of the time.

I admit that I will be using Torrents quite a bit (note the 130 Gig of transfer requirement), and I will be sharing the connection across 2 PCs.  I will not need seperate IPs.

I don't think my requirements are out of line.  I think that providing something like this would be simple for any 1.5 Mbit service, though I would enjoy 3.0 or higher.

I know there aren't too many residential DSL providers in the Vancouver area, but someone else must provide an alternate option for those that have gotten tired of the Shaw and Telus limitations ... right?

I'll begin my investigation.  Hopefully I can make the switch in the next few weeks.  The $120 Telus cancellation charge isn't even a problem if it means I don't have to deal with such an inconsistent and unworkable network.

A Slight PHP Hiccup

What a terrible time for things to break down.

Yesterday I had decided to format my PC for the first time in quite some time, and after it was all said and done, I tried to access my website only to find a white screen waiting for me.

Not cool.

Since I had been able to connect the day before, I had thought that perhaps I didn't have an update for Opera or IE, but this wasn't the case.  The main website could be viewed by anyone ... but I just couldn't log in successfully.  Apparently, one of my personal PHP functions was malfunctioning after a recent upgrade and I had to find out what the heck, and then fix it.

What's really nice about the failure is that I could find out why my WordPress installation would sometimes react in an unpredictable fashion.  Often times after making a change to a theme or activating/deactivating a plugin I would be stuck at a white screen, but I could get around this by refreshing the page.  It's clear that I should have done a bit more testing of my code before deploying it, even though it's just a personal plugin.

Either way, I have about five posts waiting in the queue to be published, so I guess it's time for me to start writing more regularily here.

Taking a Break

After 97 entries on a mostly-daily basis, I think I'm going to take a short break.  The last few weeks I've been focusing my energies elsewhere, and that has gotten in the way of me finding things to rant about.  Sure, I could go on and on about work, or how some people who take transit should take the mini-busses instead, but who wants to read that?

I'm sure I'll pick up some topics to discuss in the coming days.  Hopefully I'll have a bit more to say about them than normal.

They Could Do It, So Why Can't I?

Today's title is a statement often made by children who see someone else perform an act that they're scolded for themselves.  This statement is not limited to children, however, as nations often employ this as justification for actions that are deemed careless.

I speak, for the moment, about the ever increasing levels of carbon in our atmosphere by some of the larger countries on the planet:  China and India.

China currently has several thousand coal-powered electricity power plants, as well as India.  Some cities even have illegal coal-generated plants to pick up the slack where the state-owned operations are unable to keep up with demands.  Western nations cry foul over these dirty polluters saying that with the rising emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we will drastically alter the climate of the entire planet.

Both China and India have responed along the lines of:  "You did this for 200 years.  Who are you to tell us any different?"

In a sense, I can't blame them.  Coal fired power plants are much cheaper than the alternatives.  They provide a consistent source of electricity, and both China and India have, what is currently, a seemingly-endless supply of this fossil fuel.  Nuclear powered generators take an excessive amount of time to construct, and many Western nations become uncomfortable when new nuclear generators are started in certain parts of the world.  Wind is a viable option for some villiages, but the number of generators that would be reqiured makes this very clean option excessively cost-prohibitive.

So what's the option?

Personally, I don't know which side of the fence to cast my vote with.  This is one of those situations where I agree with some of the West who believe that this massive source of carbon emissions will hurt us all, while at the same time I agree with Asia's stance that they need cheap and plentiful electricity in order to compete on a global scale.  I don't like the fact that the combined carbon emissions from all nations are on the rise, but at the same time I'm forced to ask myself "what other cost-effective option is there?"

Unfortunately, like everything else in life, this all comes down to money.  Big utilities companies and state-run initiatives will not spend half a billion dollars on a nuclear generator if the surrounding area will not require that level of power, or be capable of affording it.  Wind mills are often considered in areas of high wind, but tend to be an eye-sore for the local populations, so are typically rejected if a large number of them are required.  Hydro-electric dams are a great source of seemingly-unlimited power, but there are only so many waterways that can be converted for this purpose.

So what else can be done?

For the moment, I'm forced to agree with these Asian nations and many other nations around the world that still employ coal-fired power plants (Canada and the United States included).  These massive centres for pollution cause more damage to the planet than most of us can comprehend, but at the same time they provide us with the electrical power that we've come to depend on.

While many people balk at Asia's response to their power generation, we tend to ignore the big picture.  As it stands, the average Canadian uses well over ten times the amount of electricity of the average Chinese person.  25% of our power comes from conventional thermal sources (coal, oil, natural gas), with over 50% coming from hydro-electric dams.  We seem to forget that not every country is as naturally wealthy as Canada.

While the West was polluting the atmosphere from the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Asia was kept relatively pristine and clear.  The West learned the hard way what excessive pollution and exposure to airborne chemicals did to both the human body and the surrounding environment.  While we've taken some strides to clean up our act, we're hardly innocent.

Of course, this means that now it's time for some parts of Asia to learn this lesson.

Just as we've seen time and time again in our collective histories, we tend to make the same mistakes over and over.  At one time, London was the most polluted city on the planet.  Spewing forth chemicals so dangerous and corrosive that people would die just by breathing the air.  Thick black clouds would completely enshroud cities and kill off surrounding farmland.  Disease would run rampant and mortality rates would drastically change.  Now this lesson must be learned in cities like Linfen, China.

We need to find more sources of cheap energy.  Sources that have little to no impact on the environment.  The Earth does a remarkable job of repairing itself despite all the surface damage we've caused, but eventually we may do so much harm that the planet cannot recover in a reasonable amount of time.  I can't pretend to have the answers, but I can say that I understand both sides of the argument.

I only hope that we all learn from our collective mistakes before it's not too late.

When Being Human Isn't Enough

I despise segregation, and everything that it embodies.  I deplore racism, sexism, unnecessary biases and general hatred for others without reasonable justification.  I find it personally insulting as a human being when someone else is harassed because of what they look like, or where they may have come from.

I will not tolerate any of it.

In some parts of Russia, people are beaten or terrorized just because their family has not spent the last 2000 years in Russia.  In parts of the middle-east, people are kept seperated based on gender and religious beliefs.  In North America, people carry silent prejudices and refuse to treat others as equals, despite the claim of being "equal opportunity" or enlightened.

There is no place on earth that I'm aware of where people are judged by their character, rather than some false notion such as race or religion.

When will we learn?

Today I had an unexpected hour to kill while the laundromat was filled to capacity with, what appeared to be, two days worth of people in a single morning of operation.  While waiting for a dryer to become available, I happened to read an article in today's Globe and Mail discussing a Canadian woman's problems while on a bus in Israel.

The jist of the event went like this; a woman gets on a bus heading to the Old City so she can pray, a man gets on and demands she go to the back of the bus, she refuses, she's beaten by 4 men as a result.

Of course, nobody seems to think that the men were wrong.  Women are expected to sit at the back of the bus, much like African-Americans were expected to until a few short decades ago in some US states.  Considering how the aggressors and the victim belonged to an ultra-orthodox group of Judaism, I'm surprised that nobody has complained that these men touched this woman whom they did not know.  Or does spitting, shoving and kicking not count as physical contact?

I'm quite disgusted by this constant disrespect that many people place on others.  Why do men think they have more rights than women?  Why are the basic human rights for people outright ignored, unless those rights are being revoked from us?

Some would argue that the people that were part of this injustice were part of an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism called Haredi where women are expected to follow very particular roles, and everyone follows a very strict code of conduct.  Being part of this sect, the woman should have known her place and sat at the back of the bus when instructed to do so by the man who wanted her seat.  The only people that would argue that point, though, would likely be males.

I'm not saying that all societies and cultures should drastically change their practises or expectations of individuals.  Many people by nature require some sort of structure in order to properly thrive.  However, at this point in Human history, is it not time that we look beyond our physical differences and instead focus on more important things?

We're poisoning our air in the name of progress.  Millions are starving while others are combating obesity.  Tens of thousands of species stand on the verge of extinction due to our constant exploitation of the world's resources in the most damaging ways possible.

Why are we still fighting amongst ourselves because someone happened to be born a woman?  Why are people looked down upon if they're not a particular "race" ?  Why are these petty differences so important?  In the space of 100 years most of us are born, live our lives, and die.  We all come from an ovum and sperm.  We all revert to dust a few years after death.  We're all human.

If environmentalists are even half-true with their constant fear-mongering predictions about global decimation because of our actions over the last three centuries, then we had better stop looking at visual differences and working together to build solutions.

Slight Change of Plan

Despite what I wrote and planned yesterday, it appears I will not be visiting Japan this coming April.

After a little more deliberation and discussion, Reiko and I have decided to continue forward with our original plan to visit my family in Ontario during the Golden Week holiday (April 29th - May 6th).  This will work out pretty good for my family as they're all expecting to see Reiko in a few weeks, and we'll hopefully get to see Niagara Falls.

I am curious to know how Reiko will react to my family, and vice-versa.  I'm sure that some of my sisters will get along great with Reiko, and I know my parents will really like her.  The only area I'm a bit concerned with is the cultural differences between Reiko's family and mine.  I don't think anything will cause anyone discomfort, but since I've observed and studied asian culture (especially Japanese) for the last ten years, I tend to miss what others would find distasteful or subtly offensive.

I'm sure we'll all have a great time, though.

One of the unfortunate things about this trip will be the short amount of time that Reiko and I will have at each place.  We'll only get to spend about two and a half days in Ontario, and two days in Vancouver.  The rest of the time, Reiko will be stuck at an airport waiting for her flights.  If I had the opportunity, I would send her a Japanese PDA running Windows Mobile2003 so that she could play Jawbreaker while killing time.

It's amazing how addictive that game can be :sad:

Back to Japan in the Spring

After much deliberation and discussion, it appears that I'll be going to Japan this coming April.

Reiko and I had originally planned on going to Ontario this coming spring in order to meet my family.  Unfortunately, it appears that plane tickets during Golden Week are about as rare as a $2 bill in America.  A full three months in advance, the planes are almost booked solid and the fares are double the price from a week before.

Shame, really.  I was looking forward to seeing Niagara Falls with my Reiko.

But one of the positive notes about this turn of events will be my return to Japan.  I have two options available, and I'm still partially considering which one to go with.  I can either fly with Air Canada, from Vancouver to Osaka directly and take the Shinkasen to Nagoya, and then catch the Mietetsu line up to Gifu Station.  Or I can take NWA from Vancouver to Seattle, where I'll have a 4 hour layover before flying to Narita, and finally flying to Nagoya ... where I'll then catch the Mietetsu line up to Gifu Station.

The Air Canada option would cost $1240 + $80 for the trains.  The NWA option would cost $1016 plus about $20 for the train.  My last experience with Air Canada was top notch (even excluding the Business Class upgrade).  My last experience with NWA was painful because of the repeated cabin pressure changes.  That said, I would probably bring some NyQuil gel caps with me (can't bring a bottle of liquid, yet) so that I'm knocked out before we even leave American air space.

That is probably the best option.

Reiko and I are trying to set aside as much money as possible for our wedding, as well as our future together.  I shouldn't be spending the extra $300 just to avoid being uncomfortable and staying out of the US.

So I guess it's decided.  I'll be flying NWA into the US, and then off to Japan.  Now I just need to figure out what clothes I should bring.  I'm in desperate need of new spring-wear.

Taking the Long Way Home

Today I was benchmarking my internet speed using Speakeasy's speed test.  One of the reasons for this is that I've noticed some inconsistencies with Telus' network speeds.  Anything that's outside of a 250 km radius to me tends to cap out at about 1100 kbps, while sites as close as Seattle can send at almost my full 3.0 Mbps.  To prove the point, here is the best speed I managed to get from Seattle, Washington today:

Seattle Run

My test scores from Texas, New York and Illinois averaged at just below 800 kbps.  I tried these tests during different times of the day, and on different days with no real difference in speed.

Digging a bit deeper, I decided to do a trace route for these sites to see just how the data is routing through the net before reaching my computer.  From Seattle, data hops through an average of 12 servers.  From Austin, TX, data hops through just over 30 servers.  From Buffalo, NY, data hops through Montreal, then what appears to be every city with a population higher than 100 people straight through until Vancouver.

I wonder if some network sultan decided to take some revenge on Telus, because I can't believe that something like this would be missed.

For the last few months I've been struggling with speeds moving between here and Japan.  Reiko and I often talk on MSN with our webcams, and we're regularily struggling with constant disconnections and network pauses.  I've pulled my hair out thinking that it might be my hardware, or Reiko's hardware, or something between our different computer setups ... but all of this checked out.  But after doing these tests (not only for speed, but for routing), I have something else to consider.

Broadband isn't just about speed, but reliability.  People pay the extra for broadband internet because it's supposed to be both faster and more reliable.  Telus has already failed miserably with reliability, considering how their DNS servers are about as useful as a 100 yen coin in Istanbul.  Perhaps this routing is just the tip to something else I need to examine.

I know that data will hop from server to server as it travels from one part of the globe to another.  I'm just surprised that it has to jump as often as it does.  With Shaw, I would often see no more than ten hops if I was getting something from anywhere in North America.  Of course, depending on who Telus has angered, they may be powerless to prevent this.

A friend of mine at work has often threatened to have someone route all our external traffic through Uzbekistan (in jest, of course).  Perhaps this is what happened to my long-distance packets, too.

Another Paradigm Already?

Several weeks ago I was reading a post in one of the industry journals about something called Composite Programs and how they were the new paradigm in many businesses.  After reading this rather lengthy article about how certain users build these tools, I was left with the single question:  "Where are these people?"

To quote from Chris Keyser's article in last month's Architecture Journal:

"Composite applications offer a long-sought-after business nirvana whereby empowered technical business users can stitch together componentized business capabilities.  In many ways, composite applications are the business web users' equivalent of Web 2.0 and "mash-ups."  While there has been a lot of hype around composites, many vendors have been slow to deliver real value in this area.  Technologies are emergine, however, that will change this game, and composition will become an increasingly important aspect of constructing business logic."

Pretty words, but does this apply to the average Canadian business?

In order to find out, I've been discussing this supposed 'new paradigm' with a few other programmers and found that the people that work for my employer are no different than 99% of people that work for other employers.  That is to say, that while these employees are typically great at what they do, they will likely never build one of these composite applications.  It's just way outside their field of expertise.

I was looking at how people went about building these apps, and when I think about all the non-programmers with my employer (there are 3 programmers and 380+ non-programmers), I can only think of four people that might venture into this area.  Building these mash-ups typically means that the user has a pretty good idea of what they need the software to do, and what role they expect the data to fulfill.  For all the people my friends and I work with all over Western Canada, we don't really see this catching on.

Then again ... lots of people didn't see the cell phone catching on, either.

In ten years, I can see composites making their way into some companies.  But even then, it will be on a limited basis.  Only people who have a througough understanding of the business or processes should be making these mash-ups.  Otherwise, the problem companies will face will be non-standardized mash-ups.  The other big problem would be supporting these non-standard apps.  Already at work, programmers are expected to reverse engineer reports based off pivot tables in Microsoft Excel using some often-unknown data source in order to make things work.  Who will reverse engineer these products when the initial creators either leave, or forget how something worked?

While the software world is moving into some very exciting areas, I'm looking forward to retiring and opening that coffee shop by the beach.

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