Today I learned…

…that on Fark, a civil discussion with no graphic language of the infamous Goatse picture can get you suspended for “graphic text content”. I had no idea the boards were monitored by the mutaween.

The crime is plain to see on video, yet no charges will be filed

When Ian Tomlinson was walking home on April 1st 2009 during the G20 summit in London, he certainly had no idea that he was starting on the last walk of his life. Tomlinson was assaulted by a riot police officer whose identity was concealed, and died of resulting injuries. The whole thing was captured on video and police lied their asses off about it until the video emerged showing their actions. Yes, in London, in the middle of the biggest protests since the poll tax riots, police managed to find the one man who wasn’t protesting in any way, and killed him.

But of course you won’t see it expressed with the term “murder”, despite it being what it was. If you take a violent action which directly results in the death of the person you committed violence towards, it is murder. That is sound and established legal principle. Except if the act was committed by a police officer, evidently, since it is now official that no criminal charges will be filed against the officer responsible for the assault, nor will the officer be identified. This is the most transparent and self-serving cover-up I have ever seen in my nearly-forty-years-long life. Basically all the police has to do in the future in order to wash their hands of responsibility for their own conduct is to hire coroners who are incompetent, like Freddy Patel (who will thankfully be struck off the rolls shortly), and automatically that negates the possibility of charges ever being laid.

This is absolutely shameful and disgusting, and a blight on the UK.

From the “dead to me” file — Technorati

I was wondering about the relative dearth of traffic recently, and had a look at this site with my adblock turned off. As it turns out this was causing the page to apparently not load; what was really happening was that the page did load, entirely, but then there was a sneaky call to a web site called b.scorecardresearch.com which never loaded, so every non-adblocked call to this site resulted in blank pages and hung browsers. At least on Firefox it’s obvious that there’s a delayed call to a third-party site; with Google Chrome I just ended up with a blank page.

On doing a bit more research I found that this “scorecardresearch.com” site is an advertising beacon, which is annoying enough, but then I found out that the call is made from a script that comes with the technorati widget that was on the wordpress template of my site. As of now this has been removed, and it will not be coming back. To put it plainly, fuck Technorati, for tracking users and screwing up my site. And don’t give me any of this “it’s not our fault” crap, it is your fault. You included this third-party script call into your script, it’s up to you to make sure it works and replace it if it doesn’t. And why exactly are you tracking user activity by IP in the first place anyway?

So, Technorati, you’re dead to me.

A taste from the past

Yesterday before getting on my way home I stopped by the Buy-Rite in Jersey City to pick up a case of cider for home. Naturally I looked for a case of Strongbow but all they had was a case of Magners, which really brought me back to the old days when I played pool at a bar called The Quiet Woman in Hoboken. It’s a lovely brew, I can only hope that I can find more here. It’s different from Strongbow in that it’s sweeter and has less alcohol, I find it suits me.

Ramblings, July 3 2010

Today I had one of those days where I ended up with too much time to think. This is going to be a long one.

So last week I had a training session at my employer’s headquarters on Tuesday and Wednesday. Realizing that I also had Thursday off I decided to avail myself of a long weekend and move on to New York City for a couple of days. It was all very last minute; I had hoped that I could meet up with an old friend on the Friday, but she had plans for the weekend, so I decided to give a shot to the experience of New York as a tourist, as I had lived in the area for 5 and a half years until 2004. Every time I’d gone back before it was with certain other ideas in mind, about trying to reassume my “resident” persona, and just trying to make it happen again, be it for a few days. Each time I’d come back angry and depressed about the whole thing. And I think these experiences have probably led me to put some friendships into the background because they reminded me too much of what it was to have been there and called it home, and especially what it was to have lost that, indeed to have thrown it away as the cliche goes.

What cut me to the quick, and (in part) ruined a weekend I had planned with a friend, had been going back to Hoboken, where I lived (I also lived near Cliffside Park, but I haven’t been nearer to this than Edgewater since, it’s not even occurred to me). I tried to make arrangements with a friend to get a beer but it didn’t work out, the place where we were supposed to go had gone from pub to club (the sacrilege!), and even when I went for a (sober) walk by myself around the very small city the strange mix of familiarity and aloofness really got to me. The rest of the time I just felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole out of sheer sense of not belonging. The time before that on the drive in I went down Washington St. and ended up haunted with questions like “what are you doing here?” and “why did you have to come back?”

Oddly enough at the time I interpreted this as the voicing of the community — not in some mystical sense, but in the sense of my perception of the community, even though I wasn’t met with hostility by the locals. But I could tell that I didn’t belong. In reality, the crowds were the same people that were there when I lived there; but I was no longer the same. I’d been gone for five years by then, but the people in bars were still mostly the same age I remembered. Obviously, I wasn’t, neither in terms of age nor in terms of experience.

I really had not dealt properly with getting canned while I lived there, really, that lesson was very long in coming. Ultimately we all make our own beds, and there comes a time when one is pressed upon to lie in it. There is always an element of luck, and it is always random, unknowable and uncontrollable, but by and large it can only take you down if you screw up first. And sometimes it’s your job to concern yourself with the details. I’ve made my peace with that; it makes me hate myself so much sometimes that I can only wonder if it was truly worth it, although I know it is for my own betterment, for the long term. What can I say, it’s frustrating to know that you’re your own worst enemy, but then who could even be bothered to be my enemy? What have I got that someone would want so badly as to be a true enemy?

Hey, I called it “ramblings”. I meant that.

This is a very long prologue! To come back to the main point, however, I really sought to distance myself from these past experiments this time around. No secondary motives. No looking to see if I fit in. No unreasonable expectations that reality couldn’t live up to (through my own fault, anyway). And I actually enjoyed myself, but it’s also become clear as crystal that unless I want to do a hard-core photography weekend — and I mean, do nothing else than take pictures — I really shouldn’t go to New York anymore. It comes down to this — living there is one reality, visiting it is quite another. I actually found myself shopping, for Christ’s sake. (and no, this is not a complicated “coming out” note, I’m not anywhere to come out of). I went to Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza. I visited the MOMA gift shop and seriously considered buying a couple of things.

It’s a new experience, but it doesn’t even come close to that of actually living there. Those are the things I notice — the rumbling of the pavement when a subway train goes under it. The stifling humidity and very distinctive smell of the air in the PATH stations. The air conditioning that’s always far too cold in all subway cars, and just chills you in your sweaty clothes. The stifling heat of 2 o’clock summer sunshine in the concrete jungle. The beggars not even flustering you anymore. Knowing where you are in Manhattan in a second, including the name of neighborhood. Thinking, “oh yeah, that’s got to be on the East Side near the projects” when you see an address. Knowing that the candy-striped chimney in the middle of the street is to contain a leak in the ConEdison steam service. Not even flinching when you see a hobo wipe his own ass in a side street, just politely looking away and exhaling through your nostrils to make sure you don’t get a whiff of what just happened, same as you (and everyone else in the carriage) did when you were going home from Brooklyn one Sunday morning and a bum sprawled across 3 seats decided it was a good time to have a wank. Recognizing that smell of rotting wet garbage and urine, usually around disgusting puddles in the cracks in the pavement of an alley, as being the city’s vintage. Almost as the city’s way of saying “Fuck you, you think you’re so special? You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” And the city has a point. It’s not directed at you, not specifically, it’s the general “you”. “You” know who “you” are, so to speak. “You” are there because of that. “You” want it. “You” can’t even imagine leaving “your” stamp on the city, but “you” can always tell yourself that the city leaves its stamp on “you”. It’s in knowing these things that “you” find it.

And yet the tourist experience is so removed from all that. You find yourself looking at other tourists with their gaudy clothes and thinking “is this what I’ve become?”. Living somewhere robs you of the opportunity of being a proper tourist there, really. Particularly when you didn’t really leave the place on good terms. You really can’t enjoy things the same way as tourists do. In a way you hate them for being there (the local’s instinct) and then realize that you’re deliberately chosen to be one of them.

Perhaps it’s because I’m taking an unnecessarily angry view of things. It’s true that in the past week I’ve been far more angry at things than I should be. I don’t mean angry at anyone in particular, just looking at things in a very negative light by default. On the whole drive up I was continuously angry at every other driver on the road. There are very few with which I couldn’t find fault. It’s true that Americans are pretty appalling drivers by and large, but I don’t even know how I could keep up that anger for almost the whole drive. It’s practically remarkable.

And then, the 90 minutes spent waiting at the border, to cover what couldn’t have been more than 1km… my mind kept looking for ever more painful and frankly medieval punishments for those responsible. Obviously this is out of proportion, but in my defense the guy handling the line seemed to chat with each car for at least 10-20 minutes, the other lines were moving several times as fast, and indeed he decided to send me, along with, well, almost everyone, for inspection. After which inspection the customs agents decided that I had indeed been honest in my declaration, be it said.

I kept wishing for worse and worse as time went by; eventually I wanted to see these people drawn and quartered, their lands plundered, and I wanted to hear the lamentations of their women. It makes me laugh to think on it now, but at one point I mock-wondered if perhaps it wasn’t my destiny to die in that very line, and by that point I was starting to feel a little bit nauseous (I was also gradually aching for a pee, which I didn’t think wasn’t an option, although now that I think of it I did have empty water bottles around). It’s practically embarrassing to think about, but where did this much anger come from? What do I have to be so angry about in the first place?

It’s not really an effort to place the blame for all sorts of things on anyone but myself. I’ve become very proficient at self-criticism. However there’s definitely a desire for self-identification as “not X”, and then finding lots of X’s to not be. It really brings to mind some lyrics from the Franz Ferdinand song “Dark of the Matinee”:

I time every journey to bump into you, accidentally
I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate
All the words I hate
All the clothes I hate
How I’ll never be anything I hate
You smile, mention something that you like
oh How you’d have a happy life if you did the things you like

It struck me when I listened to the song a couple of years ago. Double negatives work in grammar, but that’s a very restrictive binary world. Reality as a whole is more nuanced, to say the least. I know it’s true, that’s self evident on an intellectual level. Why don’t I seem to fully comprehend it, and let it guide my thoughts and decisions?

Is Reddit on the path to decline?

For a long time I’ve been a member of reddit.com, which is a fairly popular blog of sorts, but recently I’ve started to wonder if it hasn’t jumped the shark and entered its natural period of decline.

I’m not usually a big fan of the whole “is this what this site has become” whines, and this isn’t going to be a note about how the content used to be so much better than it is now (although one may say that such naysayers have a point, what with imgur.com now practically being the most prominent source of links). The site has grown tremendously and recruited users from outside its traditional scientist/engineer base to become more of a general content site, although it does have its overall tendencies, viz. atheism and political liberalism.

That being said, over the past few months it seems that the site is succumbing to its own success. Site performance is generally marginal, and during busy times you’re disturbingly likely to get a 502 error page instead of the comments page you wanted. The search functionality, which was never one of the site’s strengths, is now basically unusable; when doing a search you’re most likely to get the message that reddit is “under heavy load”. Likewise when you attempt to check your unread messages, you often end up with the picture of the reddit alien sweating while carrying a big object on his back (get it? “under heavy load”? harharhar). And of course there has recently been a bit of outright downtime.

The problem is that this just isn’t supposed to happen, not for a site which prides itself on its tech-heavy roots, and especially not for a site which has been acquired by a large corporation. Availability issues are understandable for sites such as this one, which do not have a server farm available to accommodate an excess of requests; but in reddit’s case it’s owned by Condé-Nast, a company with a lot of resources at its disposal. The site has had a few upgrade-related outages in the not-too-distant past. It would appear that the upgrades did not really resolve the underlying issues. It would seem that reddit doesn’t scale as well as its owners think it does.

At the same time it’s not like demand for sites such as reddit is showing signs of abating. The site’s pageviews have grown 1200% since January 2009 (acc. to Alexa) and over 10% in the past three months. So reddit’s capacity problems, it seems, are only going to get worse with time, especially given that they can’t really cope now. Which is really odd for a site whose membership could once be relied on to say that they knew 20 programming languages and “only” used 5 or 6 on a regular basis…

Well, that’s just his answer to everything.

South Korea has officially blamed North Korea for the sinking of the warship Cheonan, and now North Korea is mobilizing for war. So what would John Bolton do about it? WWJBD?

  1. Demand an aggressive restart to the six-party regional talks
  2. Bomb North Korea
  3. Bomb Iran
  4. Option 3 again.

This is of course a trick question as both 3 and 4 are correct. John Bolton would deal with North Korea by bombing Iran… or did he just dredge up an old Word doc and lazily change all mentions of “Iran” to “North Korea” except for that last one? It’s one thing to bomb another country out of malice or incompetence, and another to do so because you’re too lazy to double-check your own documents. Sometimes it seems to me that the only thing standing between John Bolton and an ICC tribunal for crimes against humanity is access to power. Good thing no one’s dumb enough to give this batshit-insane psycho any.

A reflection on Canadian banks

When I was a younger man in the IT industry there was one thing that always stood out for me — when I worked for a Canadian company, the graphics software that was pretty much always used was the Corel suite; when I worked for larger international companies we had the industry standards that people ask for by name, like Illustrator and Photoshop. I sometimes jokingly referred to that phenomenon as “using what will do” when your paycheck comes from Toronto and “using what you want” if it comes from south of the border. Corel wasn’t the worse thing out there, but there was always a sense of “making do” about it.

I find myself in much the same position now when it comes to banking. I had to close two accounts at CIBC this morning because of horrid customer service that left me stranded cashless for a long weekend; apparently someone at Risk Management saw some suspicious activity on my account and decided to lock things down. Of course this needed to happen on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend, and despite my indicating my mobile number on the forms when I opened the account the RM guy was unaware of it, so I didn’t get wind of this until the next day, when, at the market to buy some food, my card stubbornly refused to work. What saved me was that I had decided not to move my business account to CIBC because I really did not feel that the commercial banking rep I talked to knew what she was doing. My instinct at that point was to walk away, and it’s very fortunate that I did. At least I was able to get a couple of hundred bucks out.

Now obviously sometimes a security lockdown has to take place. However the way it was handled is really what led me to walk into my branch and shut down my accounts earlier today. When I called telephone banking I was told I needed to call risk management, so I did, but the office was closed since it was Saturday. I called telephone banking again, but was informed that there was nothing they could do about the block. I was never told that the bank had certain branches open on the weekend, for instance. I talked to 3 different people on Saturday and no one had the presence of mind to inform me of this pretty important piece of information, even though I specifically complained about being left cashless for the weekend.

As to what activity led to the lockdown, I was given a vague description which is consistent with logging on while I was using my company’s VPN. Which would probably explain why the “intruder” just logged in and logged out. CIBC’s online offerings are pretty poor TBH. I wasn’t able to renew my car’s license plates through bill payment for instance, and when I tried to use the link to order cheques I was informed that I couldn’t do that and had to go to the branch. Perhaps I should have paid attention to what’s being said on the internet about CIBC customer service, it seems to leave a bad impression with a lot of people.

The people at the branch were very apologetic and did what they could to try and keep me as a customer, but here’s a hint to anyone in a banking process position: when a customer is left stranded (and stewing) for 3 days before the bank even deigns to inform him as to why he can’t access the ample amount of money in his account, it’s really too late. He won’t be staying. He’ll march up to the counter, close his accounts, and take the bank draft with his balance over to an institution he feels he can trust.

[Oh, and something else. If you are an East Indian person, don’t try to pretend that you’re not when you’re on the phone. You’ll never quite get rid of the “South Asia” accent, and the irony of talking with someone about risk management and identity theft issues when you’re aware that they just gave you an obviously false name is rather unsettling.]

To come back to the earlier theme, however — I spent some time considering the alternatives and found that every bank that has branches in my city is pretty much equally bad when it comes to fees and interest. Why would I bother getting a separate savings account, for example, when the best I can earn is a fraction of a percent annually and am also charged fees that would make a blackmailer feel bad? On those terms, I might as well leave my money in a checking account that earns no interest but also does not charge $5/withdrawal PLUS a monthly fee. I would actually come out ahead in that situation, unless I had $10k to leave in the account. Which I wouldn’t, I would invest it properly instead. In a nutshell, the Canadian savings account is something that’s very much pointless. Even the tax-free savings account, which are theoretically a good idea, have practically zero yield in any of the Canadian banks and at Desjardins. What’s the point of a savings account being tax-free if the best you can get in terms of revenue is $50/year? That’s capital gains and only taxed at 50%, so you’re saving yourself income tax on $25/year. Whoop-dee-doo.

ING Direct is supposed to be a different kind of bank, but as I’ve mentioned before I’m not sure they know what they’re doing on the IT side, which isn’t encouraging for an online-only bank. Ultimately because the banking choices are so limited (and, let’s face it, the banks work together to make sure that high fees and low return are not something the customer can get around) it’s a lose-lose situation for the customer. But the banks are doing great! I certainly hope so; they’re mining the customer to exhaustion at this point. Of course you always have the option of getting into self-directed investments (stocks and bond purchases), and when you start scratching the surface of online brokerages you quickly come to realize that they’re practically all owned by — you guessed it — the big banks. Which goes a long way to explain why we as Canadians pay twice as much per stock transaction as people in the USA. That’s what my experiences at Etrade and Itrade have taught me, anyway.

So in the end there really are no good options for the Canadian banking customer. None. Forget about credit unions too; their investment products have yields that I would consider “pathetic” and their fees are pretty much the same as consumer banks. Why? Because they can charge that much. What’s the customer going to do, hide his cash under the mattress? What Desjardins offers is a rebate on your mortgage payments, funded no doubt by the arbitrage between the amount they get investing customer deposits and the (significantly smaller) amount they pay customers for those deposits. That’s nice if you have a mortgage. I don’t. I suspect that most Canadians have some idea on what they want from a bank, but it’s quite impossible to get what you want. Instead, you get what’ll do, and settle for a low-yield, high-fees account because there just aren’t any ways to get around that. Then again, unlike with software, with the FDIC’s at-risk bank list growing to record levels, things aren’t much rosier States-side.

Online banking FAIL

TFSAs are supposed to be easy to open, but as I found out today it seems terribly easy to screw the pooch. So to ING Direct — fix your registration software because it doesn’t work. There is nothing wrong with my social insurance number — I have used it to register as an employee, to files my taxes, and to open a few bank accounts already and it’s never been a problem before. Hell, I used it to open an RRSP using the ING web site before, yet now my application is rejected because of a problem validating my S.I.N., which hasn’t changed recently. Yeah, I could call and spend half an hour on the phone registering the account, but frankly do I really want to put some of my money into a bank that has no branches AND doesn’t do full QA on their own web software? I don’t think so. So, no linky for you.

Adieu à Facebook

Après avoir eu un compte au site Facebook depuis quelques années, j’ai décidé d’abandonner ce fameux site.

Le problème que j’ai avec Facebook c’est que le propriétaire du site, Mark Zuckenberg, ne croit pas que les utilisateurs devraient avoir le droit de mettre quoi que ce soit sur le site pour diffusion seulement privée. Ça n’était pas toujours le cas; au début ça n’était même pas tout le monde qui avait même le droit d’utiliser le site. Cependant avec les années l’avarice de la direction a eu pour effet que le site a fait volte-face sur la protection des informations privées, et a lancé des revisions à sa politique sur le sujet qui ont eu pour résultat que pratiquement toutes les données entrées sur Facebook sont maintenant aussi publiques que si on les écrivait sur le mur d’une partition de salle de bain dans un nightclub. Ça s’est fait graduellement, comme l’indique cet infographique (anglais). Et ça s’est fait sans préavis aux utilisateurs et avec le seul but le profit de M. Zuckerberg. Si vous n’aimez pas, tant pis, il n’y a qu’à ne pas utiliser le site.

Eh bien c’est justement la décision que j’ai prise. Quand on fait face à une administration qui a si peu de scrupules, on ne peut que se retirer. Beaucoup de gens ont perdu un emploi ou une promotion à cause d’items dans Facebook qui auraient dû être réservés à des amis mais qui ont de toute évidence été inspectés par un inconnu. Dans certains cas des photos d’utilisateurs ont été utilisées pour monter des chefs d’accusation contre certains utilisateurs (qui le méritaient peut-être, mais ça porte quand même à réfléchir). Pour moi j’ai décidé que le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle. Je ne suis pas de la génération qui a 20 ans maintenant, ceux qui prennent des photos à longueur de soirée quand ils sortent et qui n’ont aucune hésitation à tout partager en public, et un site qui est fait pour eux n’est probablement pas fait pour moi. Les risques de Facebook ne sont tout simplement pas égaux aux bénéfices. Certes on peut m’y retrouver facilement, mais si on entre mon nom dans Google on arrive aussi facilement à ce site.