Loving your enemies

Over the past 4 years of living in my apartment high above the city, I have had to share my balcony with a number of freeloading pigeons. That may not be so bad, except they poop profusely, and leave me with the mess to clean up. I have grown to be less than loving of my fellow feathered creatures, being woken up by their cooing and their congregating on my balcony.

When looking up pigeons on Wikipedia, I learn that pigeons are not native to North America; that they sailed from Europe on the boats with the settlers. Biologists would say therefore that they are an “invasive species” to our continent, and don’t have any natural predators here to keep their populations in check. And they are, like mice, rats, and cockroaches, animals which follow human habitation everywhere, meaning that they are found everywhere in North America humans live: on the coasts, in the praries, in valleys and the craggy ledges of mountains. And on my 14th-floor concrete balcony. It feels almost like home to them.

They are so plentiful and aggressive, that it does no good to harm or kill them. You can cover your surfaces where they like to go with a kind of spikey bird repellent (I haven’t tried that idea yet), but that’s about it.

For these much-loathed birds living in close quarters with me, it would seem that I must decry their serious drop in number over the decades, and advocate for their continued survival. It would seem.

An article in Science magazine issued 3 days ago with the dry-sounding title “Decline of the North American Avifauna” has decreed that, according to their close look at the situation, bird populations have generally declined by 29% since 1970, amounting to a decrease of over 3 billion birds. The main species whose populations have faced the steepest decline are those that are common in North American cities such as sparrows, blackbirds, and starlings. There are others that are actually increasing, such as ducks and geese. The Canada goose, while being beautiful large birds and graceful in flight, have also been a nuisance in many places, have taken advantage of our most slovenly methods of garbage disposal, with many not even bothering to fly south for all the garbage we give them to feed on.

The common feral pigeon, according to supplementary data which Science Magazine has behind the paywall, is experiencing a relatively slight increase. About 3.6 million Columbidae (of which pigeons are one group of species) have been added to the North American population between 1970 and 2017. Held up against the rest of the numbers in the table, the numbers seem small compared with birds like vireos, a small insect-feeding greenish family of birds, which has had the largest increase of all at just under 90 million.

Generally, birds are an important species, keeping animal and insect populations in check. Since my nemesis the pigeon is not in decline, I do not feel I am ready to be so much of a pro-pigeon advocate.

Time to get out the bird spikes.

Another University Exam From Hell …

The list of fictional questions to university exams have been around for a long time. Such as:

Epistemology: Trace the development of human thought from 3000 BC to today. Compare and contrast with any other kind of thought.

Engineering: You have the disassembled parts of an AK-47 assault rifle in front of you. Also in front of you is an assembly manual, written in Navajo. In 15 minutes, a hungry Bengal tiger will be let into the exam room. Take whatever action you feel is appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

Medicine: You have a scalpel, a clean rag, and a bottle of scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until work is inspected.

Philosophy: Why?

The first three questions are bogus. But as the urban legend has it, the person who scored perfect on the last question answered with “Why not?”, signed his (or her) name to it and handed in his (or her) two-word essay to the examiner and left the room.

Here is another philosphy question, rumored to have been asked, and this is a new one on me:

Philosophy: “If this is a question, then answer it.”

As the legend goes, there was the usual reaction of heads hitting the desks, pages of paper being filled out with their perilous struggles against whether they were actually being asked a question or not. The highest mark in the class went to the one who handed in this 8-word essay: “If this is an answer, then mark it.”

More junk science: the 90-day Accu-weather forecast

Weather forecasting is a black art at the best of times. You can look at the existing weather pattern today, then using probability models based on those weather patterns, forecast tomorrow’s weather. We all know that this only works sometimes over a 5-day period. But now there are people who want to sell services for pinpointing weather conditions on  a daily basis for a 90 day period.

A private company known as AccuWeather is offering the waiting public a 90-day weather forecast, selling to consumers the feeling of control over the distant future. There is not much anyone can say about weather in the long term except that “winter is cold” and “summer is hot”. The rest is all the stuff of farmer’s almanacs and crystal ball gazers. AccuWeather is not telling anyone (at least not yet) how they are able to forecast specific weather conditions on specific days over a 90-day period. But this is what they are doing. So apparently, you can know how to pack your suitcase for that trip to New York 60 days from now, since you will know that on that day there will be 1.5 inches of rain.

This is not that new. AccuWeather already has had a 45-day forecast, and so, according to their press release from April 11, 2016, they are providing a 90-day forecast, driven to “greater challenges” such as this by consumer demand. They claim to be able to forecast on this scale with Superior Accuracy™. (Yes, that phrase is trademarked by AccuWeather).

This forecasting is not endorsed by any existing government weather service, college meteorology department, or university professor that knows anything about forecasting the weather. But I am sure that there are enough gullible people that want that feeling of control who find things like “truth” (the truth that weather is chaotic, and too influenced by “the butterfly effect” to be knowable on this scale) to be inconvenient. AccuWeather probably knows that no one will take this seriously except a small group that just wants that feeling of predictability and control in their lives. And that is what AccuWeather is really selling: your feelings.

A vertical turkey for Thanksgiving

In case you are like me and never seen a “turkey half” before, this is what it looks like. The half with the legs and wings got cut into quarters and sold separately. The remaining part that you see here weighs in at 8.8 pounds. The beef/veal/bread stuffing is stage left, and the bread/seasoning stuffing is stage right. They will be mixed together with chopped onions and diced apples. The body cavity was small and most of the stuffing had to be baked in a glass dish.

I live alone and had only one guest over this Thanksgiving, and so I did not want a full turkey. There was a meat market in town where I was able to purchase a half turkey, as long as you were ok in doing without legs and wings.

What I first noticed was a shallow body cavity that if you cook the bird facing upward, the stuffing likely wouldn’t fall out. But not only was that a kind of weird way to cook the turkey, it was also problematic in that the lid would not close over the pot, so I had to baste frequently every so often over a 2.5 hour period at 300F. to cope with possible issues in burning the top “rim” of the now vertical turkey, I applied vergetable oil to the top and sides using a small piece of wax paper. The turkey had to be cooked vertical in the sense of body cavity-side-up to prevent possible spillage of stuffing.

I was lucky to have a meat stuffing for this situation, since the meat would provide its own juice and not dry out so easily like a pure bread stuffing would. This meat stuffing consisted of meat mixed with bread. The meat was beef and veal, and if it had herbs mixed in, I could not tell by the smell. The dried bread crumbs forming the rest of the stuffing were added to this, along with a Spanish onion and a medium-sized Granny Smith apple. The bread crumbs had herbs with them, and I added no further herbs to the stuffing.

Here are most of the ingredients outside of spices, salt and pepper: an apple, meat stuffing, a small bunch of carrots (the whole bunch was used), the turkey half, the bread stuffing, and 10-15 small potatoes, the latter of which were cut in half and placed in the baking pan with the turkey.

I needed vegetables to round out the meal, and I chose 10-15 small white potatoes (about 1.5 inches diameter) and a small bunch of carrots. The carrots were cut into pieces; each potato was chopped in half; and another Spanish onion was diced and added. About a quarter cup of vegetable oil was added to the veggies in a large mixing bowl, and some all-purpose seasoning was added generously (specifically Club House’s “Onion Plus”). I covered the top of the mixing bowl tightly with Cling Wrap, and shook the ingredients in the bowl so that all ingredients were covered with vegetable oil and seasoning. The seasoning mixes rather well with the vegetable oil and makes a great juice with the turkey later on. The vegetables were laid around the turkey inside the baking pan along with the juices from the mixing, but only after the turkey had cooked for a full hour.

This is the finished product, with stuffing and veggies already served in the background. Not much skin on this turkey, but it was really juicy. However, the skin was not as crisp as I liked.

The stuffing could have used poultry seasoning, savoury, and the other usual suspects in making stuffing. I decided to do without them, and the result after more than two hours of cooking was pretty flavourful.

In fact the meat was suprisingly tender, especially given the fact that it was cooked vertically, exposing the “stuffing” end of the turkey to serious evaporation and possible drying out. I was extra careful to baste the turkey at least every 30-45 minutes, and made a point to add baste to the stuffing, and surrounding vegetables. The turkey also yielded a lot of juice, good for making gravy.

2048 still unsolved, but I beat 16384 on my first try

Below, the obligatory screenshot to show what my board looked like well past the time of the win.

Winning at 16384 has now been declared “possible”, but it did take a long time. Note that, IMO, the board looks pretty sloppy if you know what a “good board” is supposed to look like. And I still won.

I won this game on my first attempt, played off and on over two days. Warning: This is one hell of a long, repetitive game.

The original game 2048, and other similar games, are from open source, and have been placed on GitHub. The Java program seems to run from a large number of different websites.  Some allow you to save and reload, and others don’t. Google Chrome has both 2048 and 16384 as an app that the user can run from the browser.

The original 2048 game, played on a 4×4 game board, is a much quicker game, but in my opinion, exponentially more difficult to win. I have been trying over the past 4 or so days, no luck. Some web sites allow you to save a favourable board in mid-play so that if you lose, you can pick up from that point later. Even with that feature, it would still take several tries to get past my first “1024” tile, saving several times, just in case luck runs against me early on.

Now that I have won the game, I don’t exactly feel that euphoric about it. There is an element of luck, and what strategy there is, is repetitive. The screen you see above would likely lose the game on 2048. But the strategy I used is supposed to work in both.

Strategy used. This strategy was influenced by a website blog article whose name escapes me, which suggested that one keeps all their high numbers in a contiguous group and avoid trapping “2”s and other low numbers inside of high numbers, the theory being that it will be difficult to combine the “2” with another tile, being so surrounded. On my screen, the two “4”s at the top of the board are vulnerable, and have been there for quite a while and are indeed hard to get rid of. The checkerboarding of 2s and 4s on the right side was also an emerging problem, as the checkerboarding prevents the tiles from being matched and combined.

The blog article suggests that to prevent isolated low tiles and checkerboarding, the player should sweep in one direction (say, left) repetitively until you can’t sweep anymore, then sweep in the opposite direction (right). This might work the first couple of times, but then you might find you missed some tile combinations by not sweeping up or down. But the general effect, if luck works with you, that the high numbers accumulate in the layers toward the edge, and the low numbers are away from the edge toward the center of the board, waiting to be added to new-coming tiles.

Ideally, you are supposed to have the highest tiles in one of the corners. The further away from the corner, the lower-value the tiles should be. You risk losing this if you do a 90-degree change in direction of your arrow keypresses (or sweeping gesture if you are on an android).

This game goes on, I think, as long as you want it to. This one, played off and on over 2 days with a nice-looking (but not great-looking) tile arrangement has a score of 1.5 million with no end in sight.

Many bloggers and video bloggers have said to go down and to the left until you get no more new tiles. Then, switch to down and right for a move, then down and left again. For a lengthy game like 16384, this is utterly tedious, and I believe it is in the tedium that mistakes are made. And it doesn’t take much to get the tiles all out of order.

Because randomness is involved in the value and placement of new tiles, every decision has risks involved, with the potential of making your tiles less than optimal.

An ideal strategy is demonstrated by an AI algorithm better than I can describe it, at: http://maartenbaert.github.io/2048/.  While this is done on a board for 2048, the strategy for 16384 would be the same, although, the large board means that mistakes are less fatal.

If you want to save key moments of the game for you to continue from later, this link gets you to the only version of the game I know of that can do that: http://www.2048tile.co/

In Memoriam, 2013

Katherine Wowchuck – Jan 8 – At age 111, she was the oldest Manitoban alive.

Eugene Whelan – Feb 19 – Age 88. Minister of Agriculture under Trudeau.

Stompin’ Tom Connors – Mar 6 – I don’t know how many people remember that he once had his own variety program back in the early ’70s. He had compilations that went platinum. A 2006 concert CD went double platinum. His three number-one hits on the Canadian country charts were: Big Joe Mufferaw (1970), Ketchup Song (1970), and Moon-Man Newfie (1972).  Ranked #13 as The Greatest Canadian (beat out by heavy hitters like Pierre Trudeau, Terry Fox, Tommy Douglas, and David Suzuki. Although they could have made room by leaving out Don Cherry, who is #7, ranking above Sir Alexander Graham Bell). Stompin’ Tom lived to age 77.

Max Ferguson – Mar 7 – Longtime host of the eclectic “Max Ferguson Show” on CBC Radio. Lived to age 89.

Paul Rose – Mar 14 – Infamous FLQ member who belonged to the cell that kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre LaPorte in the 1970 “October Crisis”. Died at age 69.

Ralph Klein – Mar 29 – Conservative Premier of Alberta for over a decade and former journalist. Died at age 70.

Rita MacNeil – Apr 16 – Age 68. An amazing singer, having had a variety show on national TV for a number of years. Many of her albums went double platinum. The last time there was an overweight singer with a beautiful voice, was Debra Iyall, the lead singer of the California new wave group Romeo Void. If you didn’t know what she looked like, you would be blown away Debra’s voice. When executives heard her voice, they were similarly impressed, until the band showed up in person for audition. Needless to say, they remained an “Indie” group, and relatively unknown. I guess we’re not so shallow here, north of the border. We know a good vocalist when we hear one.

Doug Finley – May 11 – Age 66. The loyal Tory who helped bring Stephen Harper to power.

OK, so I guess he *wasn’t* holding a feather. Some generous soul turned the flipbook into an animated gif, to save you the trouble of having to look for a copy. This graphic is linked to the originating website, where a PDF of this also exists.

Elijah Harper – May 17 – Age 64. I don’t know if I can still find the flipbook of Elijah sitting as MP for the Manitoba riding of Rupert’s Land, holding a feather, quietly shaking his head, casting his “Nay” vote to the Meech Lake Accord in 1990. It was predictable that he would vote “No”, but something about it made the whole thing larger than life. Yes, they were giving out animated flipbooks, just so you can see Elijah saying “No” again and again and again — as many times as you would care to flip the pages to see an animated sequence of photographs of Elijah shaking his head.

Henry Morgentaler – May 29 – Age 90, Guardian of women’s right to choose over many decades. To hear it, it was just him spearheading the movement, and he did succeed in overturning the abortion laws in Canada.

Doug Ingelbart – Jul 2 – Invented the computer mouse in 1968. He died at age 88. He also helped pave way to the creation of the World-Wide Web and graphical interfaces generally.

Alex Colville – July 16 – Famous painter, a companion of The Order of Canada. Age 92.

Peter Appleyard – July 17 – A grand master of the jazz xylophone, I remember his many appearances at the Oakville Jazz Festival.  He performed and recorded alongside all of the jazz greats. Age 84.

Virginia Johnson – Jul 24 – One half of the Masters and Johnson team that gave America so much to think about with regards to their sexulality in the 1960s, died at age 88.

John Weldon Cale – Jul 26 – The songwriter known as “J. J. Cale”, who gave Eric Clapton songs like “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” died at age 74.

Eydie Gorme – Aug 10 – She was 84 when she died in Las Vegas, so how young was she, exactly, when she was the better half of “Steve & Eydie”?

Roy Bonisteel – Aug 16 – The host of the now-defunct CBC program Man Alive spanned many decades from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. Was age 83.

Sir David Frost – Aug 31 – British political journalist best known for his interview of the late Richard Nixon. He was 74.

Ray Dolby – Sep 12 – Yes, that Dolby: the inventor of the noise reduction system that bears his name died at age 80.

Lou Reed – Oct 27 – Former Velvet Underground member died at age 71. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Anderson. Just about everyone who has made hit records in the Rock and Prog Rock genres since the early 1970s owes him a debt of gratitude.

Jack Munro – Nov 15 – The friend of no politician or business tycoon, the lumberjacks of British Columbia owe this union leader a great debt to his legacy. Lived to age 82.

Doris Lessing – Nov 17 – (Age 94) 2007 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Peter Wintonick – Nov 18 – A documentarian best known for his 2-hour long documentary from the late ’80s with the title: Necessary Illusions: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Lived to age 60.

Frederick Sanger – Nov 19 – (Age 95) Two-time winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the British biochemist won once for elucidating protein structure, particularly of insulin, and another time for his work with recombinant DNA.

Nelson Mandela – Dec 5 – We thought he would live forever, but after passing on his mantle at age 94, South Africans have to find their way without him.

Peter O’Toole – Dec 14 – The star of Lawrence of Arabia was 81.

Geoff Stirling – Dec 22 – OK. I’ve ignored Newfoundland long enough. Geoff Stirling, broadcasting titan who showed his love of CanCon regulations by showing 6 hours of incoherent badly chopped together videos on NTV on an overnight “program” that did not seem to have a name. That, and some token actual local programs, probably topped it up to the required 33% that kept the CRTC happy. At least the rock videos saved us from looking at ads. Lived to the ripe old age of 92. That Arizona air must be good for your lungs. Long may your big jib draw, Geoff.

Toronto Star’s handling of Rob Ford video was wise

Rob Ford Crack VideoThe Toronto Star saturated this past Saturday A-Section of their paper with news about Rob Ford’s alleged cocaine habit. The video apparently exists, but the Toronto Star took the wise step of not paying the dealers the money they demanded for the video.

A very good reason for not buying the video is that paying these dealers money is benefitting people in the underworld, and providing motivation for others to sell videos to media outlets for other reasons, such as blackmail. It wouldn’t go over well to give money to criminals for a video which pretty much depicts the sellers committing the criminal act of selling cocaine.

The fact that the purchase of the video has gone to crowdsourcing sites says a lot about the fact that sooner or later, the video will be out, and it will be viral. Then, we no longer have to be so cautious about mentioning these things as allegations.

In this video, the Toronto mayor has been alleged to have been smoking crack from a crack pipe, and making various racist and homosexual slurs. Sometimes, the person alleged to be Ford sounded incoherent in his stupor.

When Ford called the allegations “Ridiculous”, he unwisely blamed the Toronto Star for having a smear campaign against him. The credit for breaking the story goes to a blog called Gawker. It had been circulating in the States for some time (even the New York Times website had a blog story on it). The truth is, the Toronto Star reporters saw the footage 2-3 weeks ago, and sat on the story until the last minute, when Gawker broke the story early last week. Hardly anyone remembers that a  day earlier, the biggest story was that of people complaining about the campaign fridge magnets Ford was placing on cars in a church parking lot. No clue was let on regarding this much bigger scandal.

The Gawker fund has, as of this writing, raised $81,993 of its $200,000 target in its effort to purchase the Rob Ford cocaine video. And this is in only a couple of days. A Canadian man by the name of Kerry Morrison is also attempting to raise funds, but was less successful, at only $2,543 so far during about the same time period. Both used Indiegogo as the crowdsourcing website.

The strangeness of ice and nature

This is the much larger Dauphin Lake disaster in Manitoba. Ice was up to 9 meters high and damaged many homes and cottages.

Today in Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota, it was reported that strong winds blew off a lake causing lake ice to flow on to dry land. It took only seven minutes for the seemingly slow-moving ice to damage several homes and to cause extensive property damage. You can see the video on Fox News — that is, the Australian Fox News. If you go to the American Fox News, they don’t seem to even have still pictures. There does not seem to be a link from the American to the Australian Fox News. I don’t know what that says for the quality of their journalism, but they were the only news sources I could find as of this writing that bothered to report it at all. Unless you count ABC news (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, that is). You might want to forgive the Aussies for calling Manitoba’s Ochre Beach off Dauphin Lake “Alberta Beach”. I could not find out where I could post a comment on their article to inform them of a correction. The error is located here.

Sequel: Installing MS Windows with the patience of a saint …

This is the conclusion of my ordeal with a defective TouchSmart TM2 laptop, bought as new very recently.

There has since been a series of repairs precipitated by the fact that the laptop bluescreened during the installation of the factory image. The moment that happened, I sent it back again. Since then, a new hard drive was installed with a fresh factory image. It has since survived all updates I’ve thrown at it, including various and sundry software installations.

What frustrated me was that I didn’t get the minimal image which would have obviated all of the crapware on this machine. Instead, I got the normal install with the crapware and all of the unregistered games, which meant that I spent the next few days removing all of that stuff.

It has certainly survived one of the torture tests, which consists of sitting on my desk and doing nothing while switched on for a few hours. Previously, it would bluescreen almost certainly that way. Now, it never seems to. It is now within probability that I could actually use it to complete a task or two in the future, who knows?

About the previous blog entry

That entry the other day was somewhat in the form of a log. A blog entry that is a log. Imagine that.

Earlier this week, I decided to document the rescuing of my TouchSmart TM2 laptop from oblivion. It has nothing except the basic operating system installed, and it seems to give me the BSOD if I do things to it that in the laptop’s opinion is too much for it’s endurance. Such as running Microsoft Update. Such as letting it sit on my desk for a couple of hours, running while I made breakfast or something. I haven’t tried to install a single piece of any other software, just the OS.

I have certainly learned the power of good documentation from this exercise. The BSOD errors were many and varied. I rolled back the installation every time I saw one, or looked up the error code if the blue screen was on long enough. Things just seemed to get worse and worse. At one point, even doing a minimal install gave me a BSOD, and as a result, an incomplete install. At that point, I sent it, still under warranty, to an authorized repair depot, and even told them to try the install themselves (since they seem to stick to their guns about it being a “software issue”, when the only software is coming solely from the factory image). This will cost me $69.00 (plus extra costs to run MS Update), but I am pretty confident that they won’t make it past the SP1 installation, unless they really investigate the hardware beyond disk and memory. If it crashes on me again as a result of sitting on my desk or something, I am going to demand a refund (which I think will be coming from HP, which might be an issue).