Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Traffic reports: slow down please

It bugs me how traffic radio announcers speed though their report (irony) without injecting the normal pauses needed so I can mentally digest what was said. When I'm in the car and hear the jingle announcing the start of traffic-and-weather-together I block out everything around me and concentrate very hard on listening for my the highway number.

"Forty west, forty west, forty west," my inside voice repeats. Heaven help me if I have to listen for news about traffic on two highways. In spite of my best efforts, I usually miss the useful bit of information in that quick torrent of words.

Radio traffic reporters, hear this: slow down. No one can understand a damned thing you are saying. Especially if you are the overnight traffic reporter at the second or third English-language radio station in Montreal and was hired in spite of the fact you mumble badly.

To television traffic reporters on CTV Montreal, I ask only that you superimpose direction indications over the Transport Quebec traffic camera video. It's kinda important.

Better yet, keep on doing the crapola job you're doing because we'll all soon have a GPS navigation system with live traffic overlays in our cars. Then you can leverage your quicktalking non-communicative skills in the exciting field of not-pissing-me-off-anymore.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Overheard on the Green line today

"Il devrait changer le nom de la station Guy-Concordia à station Guy-Lafleur."

-- Talkative one-armed (drunk?) man wearing a Habs t-shirt

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Global TV messes up again

Again last night, Global TV messed up the broadcast of Saturday Night Live. See my complaint to the CRTC below, which includes a description of what went wrong.

Maybe the guys in the Global TV control room keep on messing up because they are watching Bleu Nuit?

Dear CRTC,

During the April 15, 2006 broadcast of Saturday Night Live, Global cut away to a commercial right after the opening monologue and two seconds into the next sketch, which was a joke commercial. (SNL frequently inserts joke commercials for joke products after the monologue. It is part of the show. It has been part of the show for 30 years.)

Later in the broadcast, SNL returned from a Global TV commercial break during the credits for the weekly Robert Smigel cartoon sketch, which appears during the show. In other words, the entire Smigel sketch was replaced by Global TV commercials.

If Canadians had the choice to watch SNL on the local American network affiliate, it wouldn't bother me that Global TV technicians mess up every week. But thanks to the CRTC's "program substitution" regulation, I'm forced to watch the same Global hatchet job on channel 03 (Global) and channel 23 (WPTZ, the NBC affiliate).

In case you hadn't guessed, I am majorly peeved. What specific steps is Global TV going to take to ensure that these (frequent) mistakes no longer occur?

And if it can't figure out how not mess up a show, I recommend the CRTC not apply the program substitution rule to Global TV since there is a good chance the show is not "comparable."

Sincerely,

I didn't mention it in the letter, but Global TV showed their network identification clip eight times in-a-row before the musical guest segment. (The network ID is that four-second clip of their logo flying through the air.)

I guess Global TV ran out of commercials so they had to fill the time with the psychosis-inducing network ID clip. It's as close to purgatory as I've ever been. It was as bad as that time I had to watch five-times-in-a-row those The More You Know public service announcements during every commercial break on an NBC-affiliated TV station in Costa Rica.

Arahova Souvlaki coming to Queen Mary Road?

The missus spotted an Arahova Souvlaki van outside the defunct Bistrolé restaurant at 5375 Queen Mary Road (a block west of Décarie) across the street from Rockaberry.

Could Arahova be opening at that location? If so, it may steal some customers from the similarly-name Amazona Restaurant (514-484-2612) two blocks south at 5527 Cote St. Luc Road.

Before moving to the west-end, my Greek restaurant of choice was Arahova. But Amazona has won me over. The prices are about the same (maybe a bit less). And the chicken pita sandwich is identical. But Amazona wins because their roasted potatoes are, well, roasted. Arahova's potatoes seem boiled.

It'll be nice to see how the two restaurants fight for my Greek restaurant dinner budget. I'll post my review if and when the new Arahova opens.

New Arahova location?Site of the new west-end Arahova?


UPDATE: The Arahova coming soon sign was put in the window a day after I posted this entry. Hmm. I wonder if the Arahovian Powers-That-Be read my blog...

Friday, April 14, 2006

More from the wacky world of Scientology

First I learn that Tom Cruise won't let Katie Holmes make a sound during the delivery of their baby. Now more disturbing facts from the world of Scientology.

John Travolta and Kelly Preston may be denying their 14 year old son, Jett, proper treatment for what is believed to be autism because of their staunch belief in Scientology.

[...]

How much more do we need to learn about Scientology before the FBI burns their compound to the ground? The only thing we can positively say for sure about Scientology at this point is that it's bat-shit insane and it apparently hates kids. If I was a child, I'd rather take my chances with Britney and K-Fed. They might not be able to spell "hospital" and I might wake up in the dishwasher, but at least I know that when I start having seizures, I'll have six days before they realize I'm not breakdancing and call a damn doctor.

>> Source

Monday, April 10, 2006

24: season 5, episode 17

HellerA few comments from tonight's episode of 24:
  • Why does it take so long for bystanders to recognize famous people like Wayne Palmer?
  • Why don't the good guys ever share information with each right away, instead of concocting a long, drawn out plan about meeting somewhere in some number of minutes, which is usually enough time for the bad guys to triangulate a cell phone battery and kill the would-be informant?
  • Jack can download real-time satellite images (with heat signatures!) and transfer the contents of encrypted hard drives to his PDA but he doesn't think to transfer then contents of a digital voice recorder via his PDA to Chloe -- you know, in case he gets killed or something by the dozen armed men waiting outside the bank.
  • Once the President is cornered, I suspect he will grab Aaron's gun and hold either Aaron or the First Lady hostage, or maybe Aaron will simply be the one to handcuff him orders from the Vice President.
  • But it would be much cooler if Secretary of Defence Heller pulls some of his season 4 action moves and makes the arrest himself.

Katharine McPhee and Rachel Bilson


Ever the chameleon, American Idol's Katharine McPhee has been compared (by me) to Valerie Bertinelli and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Add to that list the OC's Rachel Bilson.

>> More photos of Katharine and Rachel here

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gazette grills transit authority boss on lengthy escalator repairs

I was pleased to see Brenda Branswell of The Gazette grill the head of the Montreal transit authority on the slow pace of escalator replacement work at Snowdon metro station. It has been at least 15 months since the main escalators were in constant operation and about 11 months since work began to replace each.

Like road renovations, I understand that users will be inconvenienced while the work is done. What drives me mad is the slow pace of the work. Once you take an 80-step escalator out of service, you'd better work double-time to get it back into service. Until you do, you have effectively denied metro access to women with strollers, the aged and anyone else with a mobility problem.

Here's the article from the April 9, 2006 issue of The Gazette (page B2).

JUSTIFY YOUR EXISTENCE:
CARL DESROSIERS
The executive director of the Montreal Transit Corp.'s metro network explains why repairs to the system's escalator infrastructure are taking so long. Is there light at the end of the metro tunnel?

Phase 1 of the MTC's $1.5-billion renovation program has included the installation of 32 new escalators. The work at some stations has forced transit users to hike up and down long flights of stairs for months. At the Snowdon station, commuters have had to walk down 115 stairs to reach the metro platform for about six months.

GAZETTE: How many escalators are there in the metro network?

DESROSIERS: We have 212, which include two moving sidewalks.

GAZETTE: Phase 1 of the MTC's Reno-Systemes renovation program includes the installation of new escalators in the metro.

DESROSIERS: We did 32 for $22,800,000, conforming to the budget.... Some (escalators) were done before. There are 113 to do up until 2010.

GAZETTE: Why are you replacing all the escalators?

DESROSIERS: Age, essentially. However, it's a bit like cars - there are some that are better than others. Bonaventure (station) has a Canadian Vickers escalator that dates back to 1966 and they're our best escalators. They're at Berri, too.


Perhaps he ought to extend the car analogy to repairs. If the transit authority was in charge of repairing my Toyota, it would take 12 months to fix and they would expect me to walk to work everyday on the Decarie Expressway in the mean time.


GAZETTE: Is the work being done in the forecasted timeline?

DESROSIERS: We stretched it out a bit - not because of a technical problem but a labour shortage. ... An elevator mechanic is quite a rare trade. And we also have a labour shortage in maintenance. ... It's one of the reasons some construction sites are taking longer than anticipated.


This is what drives me mad. Don't remove a working escalator unless you can replace it with great speed. For instance, at Snowdon metro work has been ongoing on two escalators (a long one and a short one) for more than six months. It's probably the same team doing (or not doing) both. They should fix only one at a time if there is a labour shortage.


GAZETTE: How much time does it take to replace one escalator?

DESROSIERS: At an average work site, it's four months. What happened at Snowdon (station) is the escalators are particularly long - there is a supply problem for a part. (The work) took about six months. At Snowdon, I have two that will be put into service: (one) April 14, the other will be put into service April 6. (As of yesterday, an MTC spokesperson said, that escalator was still not up and running.)


Shocking.


GAZETTE: How many people are inconvenienced by non-functioning escalators every day?

DESROSIERS: I don't have those exact numbers.... Clients will start; to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the coming years, we will have more and more new escalators available that will work better and our problematic escalators will be replaced.


He admits he has no idea how many people are inconvenienced. Not surprising.

He also has no idea how many people are inconvenienced by those who stand on the left side of the escalator. If anyone at the transit authority had any business sense, they would survey their customers to learn how to improve the service. Or they would ride the metro themselves for two weeks to figure out themselves. But, sadly, they don't have any sense.

(I saw a documentary about the head of Burger King (or maybe McDonald's) who worked at one his restaurants for a few weeks. He did every job. He heard from employees what the real problems are and he heard complaints directly from customers. What a great idea for the MTC boss.)

GAZETTE: Can you make accommodations for disabled people or mothers with strollers when an escalator is being repaired?

DESROSIERS: It's very difficult. If I have four escalators parallel to each other, what I will try to do is keep at least one going up and one going down. The problem is that if there are only two, I'm not able to do that.

Has he ever visited the metro? Apart from Berri, I can't think of another station that has four parallel escalators.


GAZETTE: How do you think the new escalators will differ from the ones we have now in terms of performance?

DESROSIERS: With the new control room, as soon as an escalator stops we'll know where and why it has stopped. It will allow us to start it up again a lot more easily. ... For clients, the only difference there will be is when there is no traffic in the station, the escalator will slow down... to save energy.

GAZETTE: Do you anticipate that they will be more reliable?

DESROSIERS: The truth is that at the start they are less reliable. And that's normal.


Well, if it's normal, what the heck. Might as well run them in reverse too.


DESROSIERS: It's technologically advanced equipment and we must adjust it. But its operating reliability, let's say in a year or two, will be excellent. It will be far better than what we have now.

GAZETTE: If the system was built today and you were the architect, would you install elevators and escalators in all stations?

DESROSIERS: People often think of elevators as a piece of equipment that is necessary for / people in wheelchairs. That's true.


What insight.


DESROSIERS: But in my opinion, it would be used even more by the elderly, people with babies and people with knee problems.


Uh, so you admit this is a problem, but you have no solution. Great!


DESROSIERS: ... We are very proud of the metro, except on that point. If it were to be redone today, we would make it a lot more accessible.

So, the population is aging. There will be more and more older people with bad knees and arthritis using the metro in the next 20 years. But there is no plan to figure out what to do about it.

From Vengeance to Munich: the story

ScreenplayHere's a fascinating article by George Jonas, the man who wrote Vengeance the book that was the basis for Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005).

Jonas describes in detail how movies are made in Hollywood -- from book to screenplay, to screenplay, to screenplay, to scree... Bottom line: no matter how good is the script, it is re-written until it conveys what the director wants it to convey.

It's worth a read if only to learn how to write a screenplay for Hollywood.

>> Read the George Jonas piece in Macleans

Note: The original Macleans article requires a paid subscription. The link is to a re-print of the article on Usenet.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

He's guilty... no wait, he's not: Red herrings on 24

With just eight episodes left in season five of 24, the plot has shifted from Jack Bauer finding and eliminating the Sentox nerve gas to uncovering the mastermind of the operation.

This plot shift was natural since the writers already used every conceivable terrorist threat in season four. They had no more threats to write about except for an extra-terrestrial alien invasion (which Jack would stop by climbing a rope to the hovering mother ship and shooting an alien in his weird gray knee until he gave Jack his access code, thus enabling Chloe to (a) upload a three minute .wav file of her complaints about her co-workers to the alien computer network and (b) set the .wav file as their network-wide default 'new mail' sound, thus effectively crippling their primary means of communications and leading to their mass self-immolation).

The supposed mastermind of the day's events has changed from week to week. First we were made to believe that Chief of Staff Walt Cummings was in charge. Then we learned he was good. (Well, maybe not good, but his heart was in the right place.)

Then we are made to believe that Audrey Raines is bad. Cameras zoomed in or her face. Sinister screech-like sound effects were cued. But it was all a misunderstanding. Audrey was good.

Then we are made to believe that Vice President Hal Gardner is bad. He is using his influence to put his own people at CTU. He is getting the President to do controversial stuff. Maybe he's planning a coup! He's going to invoke the 25th amendment! Maybe that is what the former president was going to reveal before he was killed! Holy crap! Not only did Vice President Gardner kill Laura Palmer... he killed David Palmer too!

But wait! He's not the one on the phone with the lead terrorist field operative. Someone else is. So, the Vice President is good!

So who is on the phone with the bad guys? Who is the mastermind (for now)? President Logan himself! This is more shocking than when I learned that police chief Burt Ramsey (pictured above) was the secret head of the Port Charles mob ring.

Of course, there are still eight episodes left. The blame could be pinned (temporarily, of course) of any number of people, such as:
  • The First Lady
  • Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce
  • That survivalist guy who saved Kim Bauer from the bear trap in season 2 but then turned out to be a real creep once he got her alone in his all-you-can-eat bunker
  • The ghost of Edgar's mom

Monday, April 03, 2006

Another 'security risk assessment' stifles free speech

A spokesperson for Borders said the US bookstore chain decided to not carry Free Inquiry magazine because it contained the Danish Mohammed cartoons.
"For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority." Source
Concordia University made a similar decision a few years ago to block two Israeli prime ministers from speaking at the downtown and Loyola campus. It cited a "security risk assessment."

Then, like now, I think it is a grave error to give in to the threat of violence.

Where else but at a university and a bookstore can issues be discussed or debated? Indeed, the same week Borders made its decision to ban the magazine, it was the main sponsor of a book convention that published an ad stating: "Never met a banned author I didn't like".

Ad for Borders-sponsored book event published
same week as Borders bans magazine publishing
dreaded cartoons of infamy


Unless liberal democrats stand up for themselves, more violence is what they will get. The reason I don't shoplift is that I know with 100 percent certainty what will happen if I'm caught. And I don't like those consequences.

With every retreat by liberal democrats, violent protesters are more certain what will happen if they use violence -- they will get what they want.

Lesson learned from 2002 Concordia riot:
Violence works

Lesson learned from 2006 Danish embassy firebombing:
Violence works


Here's what George Jonas wrote at the time about Concordia's decision to cave into threats of violence. It applies to the Borders decision too.
Like all fascists, the protestors weren't interested in debate. They didn't want to tell their side of the story; they wanted to silence others. What the governors of Concordia did in September was to let fascism carry the day. This wasn't their intention; their intention was merely to preserve the peace. Like many who set too great a store on peace, order and good government, the officials assumed that concentrating on the first two -- peace and order -- would automatically assure the third.

But that's not how things work.

Peace and order may follow good government, but they don't assure it. Good government is assured by doing the right thing.

In a country based on such principles as freedom of inquiry and freedom of association, a university can't do the right thing by silencing both sides in a debate; it can only do the right thing by enabling both sides to speak.

Political sympathies for one side or another are neither here nor there. In a liberal democracy, the authorities must support the side that wishes to exercise its fundamental right to speak and assemble against the side that would prevent it by intimidation and force.

- George Jonas, National Post, November 28, 2002


Do they use spell check at The Gazette?


Screen captured at 10:45pm from
http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/index.html


(Hat tip: the missus)

Scanner and camera wizard: solved folder naming mystery

I discovered the solution to weird behavior in the Microsoft XP Scanner and camera wizard. I found a handful of references to it on the Web and Usenet. But no solutions. After some trial and error, I figured out how to restore useful functionality to the wizard.

The weird behavior
Text entered in the Type a name for this group of pictures text box does not automatically change or create the a folder of the same name in the Choose a place to save this group of pictures text box.

For instance, in the dialog box below, notice how entering Birthday Party in the first text box doesn't automatically create a folder path in the second box. This is the weird behavior. (Although for many, this might be the only behavior they have ever witnessed.)

Microsoft XP scanner and camera wizard

The solution
The missing functionality can be restored in two easy steps.

Step 1: Enter the name of the group of pictures in the first text box.

Step 2: Select the drop-down menu in the second text box and locate the path to the new folder. It will be there. You may have to scroll up. In the example below, notice how the path My Pictures\Birthday Party is in the list.

Microsoft XP scanner and camera wizardThat's it. Once you select the item, you can change the text in the first box and it will change the text in the second box automatically. Problem solved.

And the best news is that the weird behavior will not appear the next time you use the Scanner and camera wizard. See example below.

Microsoft XP scanner and camera wizard

Microscott vs. Microsoft

A computer workshop company on Sherbrooke St. in NDG is called Microscott and has a logo that uses the same font as Microsoft. See the two logos below.

Obviously, the sign caught my eye because it's so similar to the Microsoft logo. But when I read the name closely, it was clear to me that Microsoft had not relocated to a store-front office in west end Montreal. Anyway, I wonder if this counts as copyright infringement?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

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