Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

7/22/2004

Canadian content

File under: Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 1:41 pm.

Dogs may not care what their biscuits look like, but Canada Post certainly does. The Crown corporation has successfully lobbied a chain of pet stores to stop selling its popular biscuits shaped like letter carriers.

Damned if I can explain exactly what I mean when I think, “that is so Canadian,” other than, I know it when I see it.

In any case, now I know where that extra penny is going. I can’t bring myself to grumble about this frivolous use of My Tax DollarsTM, however, because this sort of amusement is definitely worth a few cents a year.

7/21/2004

Five days?

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 11:49 am.

Why is this case being settled as a same-sex divorce, rather than as an annulment? The two women decided to separate a mere five days after they married, and moreover, one of the conditions for annulment is “refusal or inability of a spouse to have sexual intercourse with the other spouse”, which seems like a loophole that female couples could drive a bus through.

7/17/2004

Up-to-the-minute math

File under: Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 2:33 pm.

Via RandomWalks, a blog with a lot of mathematical content, written for an audience of non-experts. I haven’t had a chance to look through much fo it, but RW linked this article about random walks. It’s a really cool result: a two-dimensional random walk - a sequence of steps of fixed length in random directions in a two-dimensional space - has a 100% chance will return to its starting point (though it’s easy enough to think of some paths that will never return). This is often expressed in terms of a drunk aimlessly wandering around - he’ll make it back all right. In three dimensions - the drunk bird flying around - there’s only a 0.3405373296… chance of ever getting back. More room to get lost in three-space. Also explains why, before I knew my way around the neighbourhood forest, I’d always find my way back. (Quite helpful in the small town I’m in right now, which few people visit if they’re not from here, which leads to laziness when it comes to putting up street signs.)

I’m especially digging the game theory section, which every political pundit - particularly those interested in the military - should study. Ethics and economics are important decision-making metrics, but they don’t tell anywhere near the entire story. Second-guessing people’s intentions and developing strategy in order to account for them is where it’s at.

7/15/2004

Raku fire

File under: 1000 Words, I Made It Out Of Clay. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 6:11 pm.

Most of my pottery is fired in an electric kiln, which is easy to maintain and operate, but doesn’t lend itself to very bright or metallic colours. In a raku fire, the pots are left to burn in a sealed metal container, and the fire must leach oxygen from the glazes in order to burn. The results are varied:

A smoked effect, obtained by painting a pencil holder with a thin layer of iron oxide and firing it in the raku kiln.

Some other oxides - alas, I forget which - and oil on red clay.

White crackle glaze over B-Mix clay (which is magical - it’s got all of the good characteristics of porcelain - its colour, its texture - but with considerably greater structural integrity. It’s the only clay I’ve ever been able to make tall vases with) and trailed with oil. The unglazed bottom of the vase turned black. This vase also cracked in the raku fire, which is more stressful than the traditional cone 6 oxidation fire, but happily it cracked cleanly into two large pieces which I sealed together with Shoe Goo - the crack looks like a deliberate part of the crackle pattern.

7/14/2004

I don’t get it.

File under: Character Writ Large, Sound And Fury, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 2:32 pm.

I’m wracking my brain trying to puzzle this out, but I can’t for the life of me think of a charitable explanation for Canadians mounting their we’re so much better than THEM horse upon reading that the US may postpone their upcoming federal elections in the event of a terrorist attack. (Or not, apparently.) Ditto for the “and this is why I’m moving to Canada” crew.

Beg pardon? Do you realize what it takes for the Canadian government to postpone elections? We don’t even need terrorist attacks. Parliament - hell, the Prime Minister (along with the Governor General’s rubber stamp) can set an election date - as long as elections are held sometime within five years of the last one - based on any of the following considerations:

  • a terrorist attack
  • a popular former Prime Minister of the ruling party is sick, and it’s good strategy to wait until he dies, because an ounce of nostalgia is worth a pound of cogent political debate
  • a desire to wait until, say, a sponsorship scandal has left the front-page news
  • an ingrown toenail on the Prime Minister’s part

For the record, I am quite happy with letting the Prime Minister select election dates. That way, elections catch parties off guard, which is good. If we had fixed election dates, we’d have two-year-long campaigns, because everyone would know when the next vote was. We just have a month’s worth of campaigning, and a significantly greater signal-to-noise ratio than Americans have. (Without going out of my way to find out, I know that Dean’s wife didn’t accompany him on the campaign trail, but I have no idea if, say, Duceppe’s wife tagged along or not. We had better things to think about.)

With regards to postponing elections, I think that the US has cried “red alert” entirely too many times for me think that a terrorist threat would be anything but a non-credible pretense for to postpone an election, but an actual attack? Complete with, heaven forbid, thousands of people trapped under a sea of rubble, subways and bus systems in entire cities shut down? Tens of thousands sent to hospital? I’m with Meep - to hold an election amidst all that would disenfranchise entire communities. Ironically, terrorist attacks are more likely to take place in urban areas, which are traditionally more liberal - and if an election were held on the day of an attack, it’d be folks voting Democrat who’d be disproportionately kept away from the polls. Which seems easier for me to construe as a Republican abuse of power than the alternative.

I’ve also heard the fact that Gore won the popular vote, but not the presidency, used as reason to move to Canada, where presumably we aren’t quite so…undemocratic. We don’t have an electoral college, but we have a system where parties receiving 20% of the popular vote can end up with less than 1% of the seats in Parliament - which is what happened to the Tories in 1993. Our ruling party, which had a majority government last year, didn’t get anywhere near a majority of votes. There’s a smaller percentage of NDP (our leftie party) representatives in the British Columbia legislature than there are Democrats in the Texas one.

I’m glad that the overwhelming majority of Americans who whine about bailing to Canada have no actual plans to do so, because they’d be in for a shock when they actually saw how this countyr was run.

[Update: Prime Minister Paul Martin is delaying the start of Parliament by two weeks, until Oct. 4, to give him time to work out a health-care deal with the provinces. This, just after seeing his party reduced by forty seats in the House of Commons…hmm. See, Canada can just do these things. I’m not terribly worked up over it, but there you go.]

Measuring Earth - second day

File under: Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:13 am.

…which I’m preparing right now, so no time to say much, other than - here is a nice explanation of the GPS - the satellite-based Global Positioning System, which, among other more important things, lets commuting Vancouverites when the next 98 bus will be at the stop.

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