Ed Bilodeau

This weblog had moved: http://www.coolweblog.com/bilodeau/

# Notice (Oct 19/05): So ends my stay here on Blogger. This morning Google implemented an anti-spam 'feature' that forces me to answer a challenge phrase when I want to post to my own blog. No notice of the change, nothing. Worse is that it doesn't even work! I type the phrase, submit, "An error occured", post deleted. Damn you, Google. Chances are I will revive my blog somewhere else, sometime soon. I'll post the new coordinates here as soon as they become available. (BTW, I'm unable to post anything to my RSS stream, so I'd appreciate it if readers could spread the word and ask people to take a look at this notice)

Update (Oct 19/05, ~noon): After a frustrating few hours (and not just trying out alternatives to Blogger), I've decided that this is a good time to take a break from all this. A day? A week? Who knows. But I need to step away from it before I pass a heavy magnet over the whole mess.

Update 2: According to this post, the reason I'm seeing the CAPTCHA (challenge phrase) is that Blogger has classified my blog as spam. Thanks. User for five years and now I'm spam. I searched the Blogger site, but there is no mention of how to get the spam flag turned off. There is also no way of contacting anyone at Blogger. Wow. Spam they say I am, so spam I must be. Maybe it is time to take a break.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Still no My Yahoo for me : Back in May I wrote about how I wasn't able to take advantage of the new My Yahoo layout. Over three months later, and I am still getting the same message. Mind you, I abandoned my My Yahoo page shortly after that post when I realized that the RSS feeds weren't updating properly and that I was missing posts. Anyway, nice to see how Yahoo treats their users.
Gary Jones on responsibility :
"You can't demand that someone else make it all better, that the government or someone should be better. That you have the right to do so doesn't help at all. You can raise your fists and scream, you can vote and talk and spend till you're blue, but in the end you must do it yourself. Each of us must do it for ourselves. It's not that this is a solution that will be equal to the task, it's just that this is the best we can do, the method that gives maximum strength, agility and resilience. It minimizes losses, heals more quickly after damage, and feels better while we do it."

200th photo on Flickr : Dep
Blogger for Word, Take 2 : When I first read about the Word/Blogger plug-in, I didn’t get it. Why would I want to publish a Word document to my blog? But now that I’ve played around with it, I see that what they meant to say was that you can post text that you author in Word to your blog. In other words, Word becomes your rich client blogging interface. Does it work? Well, how do you think I made this post?

Update: OK, a few problems. Word autocorrected the text smiley I typed, which rendered itself as a ). Also, you have to have a title for your post (which I typically don't). Another problem is with the "curly quotes" that Word insists on inserting, even though I’ve turned off the feature. (Maybe I need to restart Word for my changes to take effect?)

Update 2: There are two setting you need to change to get Word to stop using curly quotes: Options > Autoformat, and Options > Autoformat As You Type (the latter being the more important). The "required title" feature may be more problematic.

Update 3: Yeah, there is no way to create and edit posts in Word and leave the title blank. That's a drag, but maybe having to write titles for my posts is a good thing?    
How to manually add live bookmarks to Firefox: "Go to the Bookmarks menu and select 'Manage Bookmarks'. Under the 'File Menu', select 'New Live Bookmark'. Create a name for the Live Bookmark and add the URL."
Daniel Lemire: Most scientific papers are probably wrong. Any academic who doesn't believe this has their head in the sand (although I would probably change "most" to read "many").
Hurricane Katrina: After watching the morning news coverage of the aftermath of hurricane, I had intended on writing about the mix of disgust I felt watching the looting going on, mixed with the confusion at noticing that most of the people "left behind" (and being shown doing the looting) are black.

See also:
Flooding will only get worse
Black people loot, white people find?
Email attributed to NOLA rescue worker; economics of disaster
"the water isn't going to recede..."

(I'll add to this list if/as I come across other links of interest)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

From what I understand, the current CBC strike (here's the employee site blog) hinges, at least in part, on the work terms of future employees. While current employees have thier jobs protected, the CBC wants to be able to hire people for limited-term contracts.

This brought to my mind discussions of podcasts and amateurization that have been circulating in recent months. While I don't think this is an either/or situation, the interplay of permanent staff, contractual workers, and amateurs is interesting. While I would like to see CBC have increased funding from the government, I also think that it is worth looking at other ways for the CBC to use new technologies to do more with what they currently have.
On Google Talk, I apparently talk a lot. IM today is what e-mail was in the 90's.

I haven't been too excited by Google Talk since I'm not much of an IMer. I give it a spin every once in a while, but soon give it up once I realize that almost none of my social network uses IM (and those that do don't have any real reason to IM me.

Besides, if I ever did get heavily into IM/IRC/etc, you know you would find me here complaining about how I need to get my life back, how I need to focus on reality, etc, etc.
Aaron has some new digs. Great look, although the details of guts are probably beyond me. (I know Aaron well enough to know that in this case View Source isn't.) I'll have to meet up with him for coffee sometime soon so that he can explain it to me... oh, wait. He's living in California. :/
Listening to: Dream Theater, Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory. This album is incredibly good. Great story and song writing, not to mention the fact that these guys have chops up the wazoo.
Some of the best sources of audio/podcast material:

Given these, do you have any others to recommend?
I removed my del.icio.us feeds from the sidebar, since the JS I was using to render them (via a third-party site) was too slow and often caused the page to load slowly. Click on "bookmarks" on the sidebar to see some of the interesting things I've come across lately.
Slashdot :Libraries Use DRM to Expire Audiobooks. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when I saw that most of the comments (threshold=4) noted that this appears to be a good use for DRM (and I agree).

Monday, August 29, 2005

I've been feeling a lot better the last day or so. Still sleeping on my back (not fun), and I have most if not all of my mobility back (bending over is still done carefully). I also stopped taking my pain killers, since I don't really need them at this point.

This afternoon, I decided to head out into the village to do a few chores. Whuf! That was an eye-opener. My energy level felt very low, and I couldn't manage more then a slow walk. By the time I had got home with my three or four grocery items and my role of loonies, I was totally pooped.

Note to self: Tomorrow, take a nap.
David meets the master...
BBC: Banned airlines lists published: Would you really want to fly with an outfit called "Phuket Airlines?"
I've added a Discussions area where anyone can start their own discussion threads. Ideally, on topic, but in the end, write whatever you want.
I've noticed a lot of folks linking to hurricane news stories, often dozens of them. Not sure why. Its not like the information is hard to find. Part of it is probably habit, but I can't help but feel that these folks are exploiting a natural disaster to garner a bit more PageRank for themselves.

Another theory: some people deal with fear and anxiety by seeking out all the information they can on the subject. Publicly displaying that effort on their blog has become a important part of that ritual.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I'm back, in a way.


The operation (Monday) went well. I was able to go home the same day, drainage tube, codine, and all. At first, it was very rough, but with every day came more energy and less pain. This morning I had my follow up visit with my doctor, to remove the stitches and the tube. All is good, although my medical leave has been extended to September 11, just to make sure I heal properly.

While the operation was a minor one (for me, the words 'minor' and 'operation' do not exist together), it was a major event, one that has had a significant effect on me. I was able, I think, to overcome my fear of hospitals and doctors, to let myself be taken care of my others, to give up the illusion of control that I, that we all, work so hard to maintain. I feel as though I've grown (although physically, I've shrunk!)

I could not have done it without Nathalie by my side, not only through her love and support (and patience!), but also through the arguably more mundane task of picking up my slack in the household chores, on top of everything else she has going on. With her at the helm, steering and paddling enough for both of us, I could pull in my oar, lie back, and let the river carry me.


I have no intention of spending my convalecence online. There is no way that staring at this cathode ray tube (nor the one in the other room, for that matter) is going to heal or rejuvinate me. But I will be around, occasionally.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Hiatus. I'll be off until Tuesday, September 8. See you all then!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

When I give an exam, I give students a small choice in which questions they answer, usually a "4 of 5" scenario. Often there is an even distribution of the question that is left out. This summer, however, there was one question which most of the class avoided:
List and describe two types of technologies that make use of embedded knowledge to improve worker productivity.

Feel free to post your answers in the comments! :)
Joel Spolsky on the importance of up-front design spec work:
"Making this change in the spec took an hour or two. If we had made this change in code, it would have added weeks to the schedule. I can't tell you how strongly I believe in Big Design Up Front, which the proponents of Extreme Programming consider anathema. I have consistently saved time and made better products by using BDUF and I'm proud to use it, no matter what the XP fanatics claim. They're just wrong on this point and I can't be any clearer than that."
Daniel Lemire writing about the apparent sorry state of XML schema: Don't touch XML Schema:
"This tells us that W3C, which was doing a reasonable job up to now, has fallen in a big way and, among the good things they still do, produces crap. They are no longer the reference as far as the web is concerned."

I think it is important to note that the W3C is more of a process then anything else. That the process doesn't guarantee a high-quality result shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I'm sure that some of the few who work directly for the W3C as well as some of the many participants in the process would acknowledge this.

So while you can criticize the W3C when there is breakdown in process, any problems with the product can only be laid at the feet of the people who were involved in writing the spec. Looking at the group's charter page
, I notice that the identities of the group members are confidential, although you could probably scan the group's comments and dev mailing lists to find some of them. Ask them.

The main comment I wanted to make here, though, was to point out that it does not follow that one bad spec invalidates the W3C, their processes, or any of the other work they have done, are doing, or will do.

It does illustrate the importance for people who care about the evolution of the web to be actively involved in its development. The W3C process is built upon this premise of participation. There is no excuse for sitting on the side lines. As a friend of mine often says, "if it is important enough to you, you'll make the time."
Folksonomy - Shirky, Butterfield, Schachter and Wales. This 53 minute audio clip provides an interesting discussion of issues relating to folksonimies.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'm just about finished correcting the final exams from this summer's KM/IT course. I'll be finishing them up tomorrow, along with the final paperwork. That will leave me Friday morning to finishing prepare my Fall course. Then its off for two weeks of recuperation after Monday's operation.

I feel as though I've made good progress over the summer, especially over the last month or so, resetting priorities, focusing on the important stuff. "Get life in order" isn't a task you check off your list, though. Its more of a long-term thing.
Just finished uploading a handful of photos.
CNN: Panic ensues in rush for cheap laptops:
"People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl's stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd."

Pathetic. Stories like these are so depressing.
(Update: I just realized they were Macs... now it makes sense.)
Discovering Work Life Balance. The authors advice includes going away for long vacations with your spouse four times a year and having two homes. Ahhh, the simple life!
QA Framework: Specification Guidelines:
"The goal of this document is to help W3C editors write better specifications, by making a specification easier to interpret without ambiguity and clearer as to what is required in order to conform."

Congrats to Karl & Co. Now to read it to see if the spec for how to write better specs is well written! :)
Daniel Lemire on promoting the idea of voluntary simplicity within academia. I agree completely, although such a thing would be difficult. The problem is the drive for tenure, where a failure to meet the standards of grant-getting, research, and publishing (oh, and teaching as well, I guess) results not in slower advancement but outright dismissal. For academics on the tenure track, there isn't much choice.

There are a number of issues relating to this, and it is an interesting topic, worthy of discussion. Daniel is in Montreal as well... maybe we should organize a colloquium of some sort in the coming year?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

If you're a web developer looking for work in Montreal, and are skilled in XHTML, CSS, PHP, user interface and interaction, graphical/design work, etc., please get in touch with me ASAP. No cold calls, however, only folks who know me or who can be referred by someone who knows me.
The state of ICT in Canada: According to the Quarterly Monitor of the Canadian ICT Sector published by Stats Canada, the ICT (information and communication technology) services sector has been growing steadily since 1997. Its the equipment sector that drags things down. Unless you are in hardware, ICT looks like a solid and promising field.

On a related note, according to the Small Business Quarterly (also by Stats Canada), the majority of job growth in the past year has occured in small firms (5-19 employees) and large firms (500+ employees). I haven't drilled down to see the job growth by sector, but if we assume that the job creation stats apply to the ICT sector, it looks like IT jobs are to be found in the small shops and in the large consulting firms.

However, I remember another government report a year or so ago stating the many small and medium sized companies lacked the skills necessary to leverage their IT investments and tie them to their business strategy. I wonder if their approach to solving this problem has been to outsource the work to small and large companies?
Wal-Mart posts higher profits, misses on sales:
"On one hand, higher gas prices will continue to cut into the pocketbooks of Wal-Mart's predominantly low-to-mid-income customers. 'That will impact our operating income,' Schoewe said.

At the same time, Schoewe said more expensive fuel was costing Wal-Mart more on the back end of the business, primarily to use its vast trucking fleet to move freight around the country to its stores."

Wal-Mart and every other retailer with global supply chains to support low, low prices.

I'm still inclined to think of the gas crisis as more of an opportunity to support and grow local economies. Lower transportation costs, and the people who are buying from your stores have more money to spend.

Friday, August 12, 2005

As you may have deduced from recent bookmarks, I've decided to take it upon myself to work on my family geneology. Specifically, I want to see if I can use any of the resources at my disposal (internet, etc) to try to extend my knowledge of my family further back. To start, I want to understand the migration of my ancestors from Europe to North America, who they were, the life they left behind, and the new life they made for themselves here in Quebec.

My mom already did a considerable amount of work on this, so I have a lot to go on. Eventaully, I want to write up my findings so that I can share them with the rest of my family (and with others over the web, of course).
Douglas Bowman has a good post titled Speaking and wifi at events that everyone should read. The topic having wifi access in presentations, and the problems it presents.
My point: audience interest, engagement, and participation leads to a more dynamic, enjoyable event for everyone. Duh.

The responsibility here doesn't lie solely with the audience. It's also up to the event organizers and each speaker to engage the audience with whatever means available. Obviously interest will wane if the speaker/panel stinks, or the topic misses the audience completely.

The first comment summed up the typical counterpoint quite well:
If I'm paying to see you speak, then I ought to be able to do whatever I like during that course (assuming, obviously, that it's non-disruptive).

Bowman's point is that not paying attention to the presentation, not fully engaging with the speaker and those around you is disruptive.

Personlly, I see little value of having wifi access in the classroom/presentation hall. I myself make use of it, but only when the lecture is dead-boring. (Obviously, I'm referring to the classes I take; my own lectures are, of course, highly engaging).
Is it wrong to like the Dodge Magnum?
It appears that my backups were not as current as I thought they were. There are files missing, although thankfully I had either mailed them to someone, or posted them on WebCT, so I was able to retrieve them from there.

Monday I need to check how I have syncback configured to make sure the backups are actually happening.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

...and tonight its the godforsaken music of Cuba!
Today I got around to setting up my SyncBack scheduled task that I use to mirror my documents on the file server. (Actually, I consider the documents on the file server to be the originals, but anyway...)

The other thing I meant to do, but forgot, was to set up RSS Bandit to mirror its data to my FTP server so that I can use it at work and at home. Nifty!
Peter Merholz: How i learned to stop worrying and relinquish control. This philosophy (which resonates with my own thinking) is directly counter control-focused design philosophies (like that at 37 signals that I commented on yesterday).

It is interesting because 37 signals is seen by many, I believe, as being at the front of the new wave of DHTML/AJAX web applications. And yet they are focused on controlling the user experience. As Peter writes, "attempts to control their experience will lead to abandonment for the less onerous alternative."
MSN Screen Saver: "Personalize with background photos and news and weather information from MSN or any RSS feeds from websites you choose." Pointcast, anyone? :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

To the performers, organizers, and supporters of the Festival latino-américain de Montréal: May you one day experience the extreme inconsideration you showed to us last night by blasting your music until past 11:30pm.

Thankfully, these god-forsaken festivals on Ile-Saint Helene are slated to end this weekend.
Jason Fried of 37 Signals on their design philosophy:
"At 37signals we're pretty anti-preference/setting. When we Get Real we try to make informed decisions for the people who use our products so they don't have to think about preferences or settings or adjustments - they can just use the product and know that the people who built it already thought about the best ways to design it, use it, and view it."

I would call this the control philosophy of design, which makes sense when your goal is to control the customer experience. It is an approach that makes sense in some cases where the scope of the application is very limited.

Its success hinges on the idea, however, that it is possible for the designer to anticipate and know what the user needs better then the user themselves. It assumes that people's behaviour as they interact with computers can be generalized, and that it can be known in detail by the designer.

By providing people with a single, unalterable experience, you maintain control, but in my opinion reduce the overall interactivity of the application.
Yesterday at the McGill Computer Store I took a few minutes to play around with the Mac mini they had set up. Nothing fancy, mostly web browsing and other tests of UI responsiveness. Overall, it seemed pretty snappy. And with a nice generic flatscreen, the overall aesthetic is more or less maintained (although it still doesn't give you the same level of conspicuous consumption that buying an all-Mac setup does).

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Yesterday, I noticed two things re: my student status that need looking into:

1. I'm being charged international fees. It turns out that because I switched programs, Banner (our main info system) flags me as international. Never mind that I have already supplied the supporting documentation twice. Thankfully, I keep copies of my birth certificate in my office, so I can drop one off at the Registrar's office later this afternoon. (Update: paperwork submitted)

2. Looking over my transcript, it looks like if I take four courses over the coming year (as advised) that I'll still be one short course from graduation. Yikes! Imagine the rude surprise I might have had next spring had I not looked into this. I need to go talk to the department to get a definitive list of courses I need to complete in order to graduate. My guess is that I'll have to take five courses instead of four. (Update: There was a paperwork error; I'll only have to take four courses as originally planned.)
Did you know that you can use Wordpad to open Word documents? Doh!
BoingBoing: Flickr pools on surveillance cameras
24 hours later, and still no sign of the technician who was supposed to set up Office/AD etc on my laptop. I'm trying my best to get work done, but I keep running into situations that require (a) access to my network share, (b) access to an Office document (yes, I know there are alternatives, but I don't want to mess up my configuration installing a bunch of garbage that I'm only going to need for a day or two), (c) access to a printer.

Back to email and 'research'...
Shot without consent. And you wonder why there are so few people in my photographs?

Here is the official ruling in the 1998 case, as well as a writeup from that time.

(Hat tip: 4020 Privacy, for the above links, and a more complete discussion from the Australian perspective.)

Although it may put a damper on my picture taking, it's a small price to pay for maintaining the value of individual privacy.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Festivals want city to compensate for losses: As someone whose bedroom window is in a direct line with the sound systems at these festivals, I have a hard time feeling sympathetic to their cause. Bah humbug!
Danah Boyd, The Biases of Links
These services are definitely measuring something but what they're measuring is what their algorithms are designed to do, not necessarily influence or prestige or anything else. They're very effectively measuring the available link structure. The difficulty is that there is nothing consistent whatsoever with that link structure.
I spent the first three hours of the day bringing my laptop back up to a semi-useful state. While tedious, the process was relatively error free. There are probably a few small things I still need to install, and definately some configuration that will happen later today and over the rest of the week.

The missing pieces, however, a pretty big: MS Office and the active directory config so that I can access my files. For that, I need to wait for a technician from ICS to drop in, which I've been told should be sometime this afternoon.

In the meantime, I'm going to get through some email and, that done, continue cleaning my office.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Last night Nathalie and I returned home after house-sitting over at her parents' for the past two weeks. While not exactly a vacation for us, it was a nice change of pace. Taking care of the yard and the garden, while a lot of work, was a highlight for me. Not having a PC or internet connection of any kind was also a plus.

Still, it feels good to be back in our apartment, with all our stuff, in our neighborhood with all the places we like to go.
John Gruber takes exception to Cory Doctorow's negative reaction to the possibility that Apple will build DRM into their OS. An interesting, well-supported rebuttal.

However, in the end, Gruber has no more facts then Doctorow does. No one except for Apple knows what they are going to do. Right now, the issue is being argued as an article of faith. Gruber's faith in Apple is unbreakable. Doctorow's less so, although my guess is that he would rather be an alarmist at this point and proven wrong, then to find his faith in Apple misplaced.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sorry, I can't stand that being the top post. Here: Goldorak pics!
A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with an umbilical hernia. As it turns out, it is something that I've been living with for a few years now. A slight discomfort every now and then, but no pain or other complications. I knew something was up, but I rationalized it as part of the non-negligible weight gain I had suffered over the past few years.

To say that I am uncomfortable around doctors and hospitals would be an understatement, so my reluctance to look into it further was considerable. But eventually, I had the good sense to do the right thing.

In a few weeks, I'll be undergoing an operation for them to fix me up, and then taking two weeks off to recuperate fully before the new semester.

(The offhandedness of this comment masks a considerable amount of anxiety and fear, but a lot less then I felt at the time of diagnosis. I've been working on my state of mind, preparing myself, building my calm, happy place...)

"Tell us again why you decided to quit your PhD?"

Yes, health was a major factor in my decision. Since dropping my PhD, I have lost a a noticeable amount of weight. The doctor says I weight the same as I did in 2002... still too much, but a lot less then I did six months ago. Don't ask me how much, I don't know. I don't believe in using a scale: if I can't feel it or see it, it isn't enough.
One of the ways in which weblogs are different from traditional academic publishing is that journals publish information that is supposed to advance the knowledge of the field, while weblogs publish information that has advanced the knowledge of the individual.

In other words, people can use their weblog to write about the things they have learned, insights they have had, regardless of whether other have had the same insights before them. This post is bound to be an example of that.

This realization takes the pressure off writing to my blog. It also removes some of the frustration I feel when I come across other people rehashing hold ideas on their blogs.

Is this an efficient system for knowledge generation? No, but I don't think that is, or should be, the point.
What have you done today to help educate your employer as to why your job (more specifically, the the work that you do) cannot be (a) automated, (b) outsourced, or (c) eliminated entirely?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A few updates on the computing front:

1. The support group I brought my laptop to can find nothing wrong with my laptop's hard drive. "Its a software problem." Which of course means [update]next time the problem happens[/update] I get to bring it to another group. Lovely.

Update: They were able to restore the factory drive image, which means I get to call ICS so that they can set up Office and Active Directory on my machine. But that will wait until next week, since I am under a lot of pressure to finish correcting my students' reports by the end of the day tomorrow.

2. The PC I set up yesterday is temporary. Not temporary as in, "until we buy you a new one," but temporary as in "we'll be taking it back in a week or two." Fortunately, they have offered to find me another PC, depending on when my laptop will be fixed. That bit of information is going to be hard to come by, I expect, as the various tech support groups at the university play hot potato with my laptop. Ugh.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Amazingly, I'm back up and running. More or less, actually, since I haven't installed all my specific software, but the basic WinXP/Office image is running and configured.

I ended up using the 'old' PC, an IBM NetVista with a 1.7Ghz Celeron and 512MB RAM. Less memory then my laptop, but almost twice as fast. The hard drive is also a bit bigger, and I have less garbage (docking station, etc) on my desk. So, an upgrade of sorts.

The laptop? Still no word. I'm assuming it will eventually come back working. My plan, however, is to use it as my teaching/presentation machine.
Not what you want to be greeted with on a Monday morning:


In just over two months, my laptop's hard drive has died once again. Last time, there was "nothing wrong with the hard drive", which translates into "the utility that IBM provided the support desk with did not detect any problems with the hard drive."

Actually, I have a sense that it isn't the hard drive that is kaput, but rather whatever looks for the hard drive that has run into difficulties, especially if I leave my laptop to fall into hibernate mode on its own over the weekend.

I've already made the necessary inquiries: do we have any old desktop PCs laying around? (we do: an old IBM thinksomething that is even older then my 3year old laptop) Can I have a new, reliable PC? (no answer on that, it will prob take months).

My last file backup? Friday morning. (God bless Syncback) Data lost? Yeah, a few photos, and all the stuff I don't back up, like MP3s. My OPML list from my agregator prob isn't up to date either.

Can I access my backup files? Of course not! They are on a file server which can only be accessed from a PC that has gone through the laborious process of having Active Directory install and configured for me. ("They are working on roaming profile, sir, but I don't think they have it working yet.")

While this does complicate my day (and probably my week), it isn't a show-stopper. I can access web/email/webct from the library, and my priority work for today is to correct student projects, which I don't need a computer for.