Kara Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

17 Articles from September 2008

  1. My Digital Wish List

    CBC radio show Spark wants to know what Canada needs to do today to become a major innovator tomorrow. This is an important issue with the election looming. In addition to interviewing technology experts, the Spark blog has asked listeners to submit their own "Digital Wish Lists". Here's mine:

    • Establishment of a Minister of Technology. I agree with Mitch Kapoor. We have a Minister of Health, a Minister of Industry--why not someone in charge of the country's technological infrastructure?
    • Better copyright reform. Bill C-61 has demonstrated that many Canadians care about copyright reform. Even if one is in favour of the copyright protection measures outlined in Bill C-61 (I am not), critics have pointed out numerous flaws that make Bill C-61 a poor piece of legislation. I want our government to have open consultation with the public to craft viable, enforceable copyright legislation that balances intellectual property ownership with the need for access to information.
    • More competition in the telecommunications sector. I am not a capitalist, but a lack of competition does mean that consumers have less choice. Here in Thunder Bay, we have one choice for cable TV service: Shaw. Until recently, only local TBayTel provided home phone

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  2. More enthusiasm kplzthx?

    I don't usually rant about work, mostly because it isn't that bad as jobs go. It has its moments, of course, but what job doesn't? It is weird, however. I know, I know--every job is weird. But if there were a contest, I'm pretty sure my workplace would be, if not first, top three.

    First, the bare essential backstory. We currently have an exhibit up from the Canadian Museum of Nature called "The Gee! in Genomics". As the name implies, it is a genomics exhibition. The exhibition itself is reminiscient of a science centre; there are lots of buttons to press, videos to watch, matching games--it's pretty cool. And I'm quite excited about it. Genetics is a science of increasing importance in society. We've mapped the human genome. We're developing genes that allow us to prevent congenital defects or cure hereditary diseases--but that's another blog post.

    Today, orders came down from on high that we (the front desk staff) were not "enthusiastic" enough. To be fair, this is probably true--at least in my case; in my coworkers' defence, they are pretty enthusiastic, or at least amiable. It's likely that the level of expected "enthusiasm" is higher than even…

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  3. Man and Nature, Side by Side

    Telephone pole with overgrowth

    I was driving home today when I saw this. It just struck me as funny: we cut down trees and clear land so that we can erect large, tree-like objects. Yet no matter how much we clear nature away and try to leave our mark on the Earth, nature finds a way to reclaim the land.

    I took some other photos, including a picture of my socks and running shoes (in case you wondered what I wear when I'm not wearing socks and sandals): Socks and running shoes

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  4. Ack, temporal displacement--not again!

    I had a bunch of nifty blog posts planned for this week, but I didn't have the time to write them. :( My weekend was chock full of work, followed by homework, leaving me with barely enough energy to drag myself to my computer, let alone write or write a blog post. This week hasn't gone much better.

    That's not to say that I'm having bad days. I try not to start off my day dreading what is to come; it seems like the wrong attitude. Nevertheless, I do feel the pressure of a continuous flow of activities. I wake up, go to class, do homework, maybe read if I'm lucky. I've been working a lot. To reduce the stress and impose some order on this managed chaos, I've tried to establish as much of a routine as possible. Of course, things crop up that don't submit to that routine, and those throw my day off.

    I try to consciously stop and recognize those moments of stillness that happen between each scheduled activity. This afternoon I listened to Brahms while solving differential equations, and that was quite relaxing. Really, it was. No one else was home, so I existed alone…

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  5. Break it down now

    I must confess, in general, I dislike numbers. I love math, but numbers just hurt my head. Not all numbers were created equal, however (yes, that is a really bad pun). Certain numbers are more fascinating than others. Take prime numbers, for example. Mathematicians continue to search for larger and larger prime numbers, and we just found another one.

    A prime number is any integer that can be divided by only itself and one. Two is the only even prime number. Others include three, thirteen, and twenty-nine. The largest known prime number would fill over 3,000 pages. It's two to the exponent 43,112,609 minus one. Yeah, that's big.

    What's the big deal about prime numbers? Surely they have no application in the real world! Those silly mathematicians are too lazy to do work, so they just sit around making up numbers all day! You might have been right, once. Then someone came along and built computers, and prime numbers now have purpose!

    All integers (whole numbers) can be broken down into a unique combination of primes. For example, 10 is the product of two prime numbers, 2 and 5. Factorization is the operation of finding a number's prime factors;…

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  6. Our pointy-haired economy

    Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, recently released the results of a survey of economists that he commissioned. You can read the results yourself; those of you who are economically-inclined may want to view the available slideshow (lots of tasty graphs and percentages). Adams has also posted his opinion on the results of the survey.

    I've been reading Scott Adams' blog since its inception on TypePad. I enjoy his wit and his unique perspective on both mainstream and esoteric issues. Much of what he says is designed to get a rise out of people and provoke them into calling him a stupid lemon-eater. Some of his favourite subjects include intelligent design, the workplace, environmentalism, and of course, politics and the economy. I was not surprised to hear that he had commissioned a survey; it's just the sort of thing he would do.

    So how about those results? Lots of Democrat econimists--it must be biased? Well, I love math, but statistics are not my favourite type of math. I'm in the camp of people who thinks the survey is an inconclusive indicator of which candidate would be best. I doubt that either of the candidates truly has a…

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  7. I like Mondays

    After a weekend of work, Mondays are refreshing. I don't work on Mondays, and I get to go back to school and learn.

    I've been back for over a week now, and I'm enjoying it. This is my easy term; I only have five courses: Foundations and Issues in Education, Educational Technology in the Classroom, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra I, and Ring Theory with Applications. Yes, two education courses and three maths. I love math. :D

    Of the education courses, the technology one is online. I knew going into it that it would be easy, but as it stands right now, it's rather inane: for the first four weeks all we have to do is read, then we get a test. Then we have to work in groups to create a blog about teaching technologies, theories that apply to these technologies, etc. This wouldn't be so bad, except that the reading material is full of typos, passive voice, prepositions at the end of the sentence--I'm very glad that I don't have to buy a textbook, but this is almost torture. Spellcheck, please!

    My other education course looks like it'll be more interesting. At least it's mostly discussion-based. That makes it…

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  8. Rap video about physics = BEST THING EVER

    Have you ever looked at someone who is walking down the street listening to an MP3 player and said, "Gee, I wonder if that person is listening to a rap song about physics!"((If the answer is yes, and you haven't heard of the Large Hadron Rap, then you may be a closet physicist. Don't worry, there's support groups for those now.))

    Because that's what I spent most of Monday and yesterday doing. Seriously.

    Today marks the first circulation of particle beams through the Large Hadron Collider. This is the largest particle accelerator ever built--27 km in circumference! Soon scientists will begin high-speed particle collisions, and thousands of scientists from around the world will analyze the results of these experiments to help us better comprehend the universe.

    I love physics. It interests me almost as much as math does. I'm also one of those people who believe that science, especially physics, doesn't need to be inaccessible to laypeople. While you may not be able to grasp the more esoteric mathematics behind the theories, it is possible to distill it down to the most basic points. Katherine McAlpine managed to do just that with her Large Hadron Rap. If you…

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  9. Election-bound

    It's official. Prime Minister Harper met with Governor General Michaëlle Jean today, and she dissolved Parliament, triggering an election. Canadians will vote on October 14.

    The American election machine has been rumbling away for the better part of a year now, and we have called and will be finished our federal election before the Americans even get to vote. :D I love Canada's electoral system.

    What I don't love is the lack of any charismatic leaders and the lack of any compelling candidates in my riding. The Conservatives have already begun airing these obnoxious ads that consist of Harper sitting in a chair, wearing a vest--very "casual" indeed--and talking about how he enjoys being a father, how he is proud of Canada as a country, and how he wants Canada to have a greater role on the world stage. The tagline of the commercials is: "We're better off with Harper." I, for one, find this tagline hilarious.

    The CBC has spent most of the day focusing on voters' response to the election call: are we ready for the election? The response has been mixed. Many people have expressed disapproval, since Harper was a proponent of the fixed election date law…

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  10. Bring out yer dead!

    When I woke up on Thursday, there was a dead crow on my front lawn! It was lying prone, wings spread, its head to one side. The sky overhead has no trees, no electrical lines--nothing that gives any hint as to why this bird fell out of the sky. So of course, that's when I started jumping to conclusions and thought about West Nile Virus.

    Our health unit runs a dead bird collection program to test specimens for the presence of virii, particularly West Nile. So I called and left a message, then I ignored the bird. Someone from the health unit returned my call yesterday. He said that the collection program had ended for the year, so to dispose of it I should take a shovel and put the bird in a garbage bag. Even if it had died of West Nile, it wouldn't be contagious that way, so according to him it would be "moderately safe."

    Excuse me? Moderately safe? The only adverb I want before "safe" is something like "completely."

    Nevertheless, I did as suggested. Grabbed shovel. Grabbed gloves. Scooped bird in garbage bag. Put garbage bag in another garbage bag (I am very thorough). Put…

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  11. Using a Wiimote to control iTunes

    A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a way to create a low-cost interactive whiteboard using a Wiimote. All that was required was a Wiimote (for its infrared camera), an infrared-emitting pen, and a flat surface. The Wiimote would track the pen across the surface and report its coordinates back to the computer program, which could then draw, trigger controls, or whatever you wantetd it to do.

    I don't own a Wii, so I bought a Wiimote alone. I couldn't get the pen working properly, however (I tried building one myself rather than buying one). So I shelved my Wiimote, where it sat gathering dust, forgotten. Until yesterday.

    Often I like to read in my comfy chair that's on the other side of my desk. I'll have iTunes playing music, and I don't like having to get up and go to my computer to adjust the volume or skip a song. It's even more inconvenient if I'm outside and playing the music through the window. I don't have a multimedia remote (when ordering this computer from Dell, I didn't think I'd ever want one--foolish me).

    Last week, Lifehacker published an article about using the Wiimote with your computer

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  12. Google Chrome, Part 2: All Your Base Are Belong to Google

    Yesterday, I explained why I was excited about Google getting into the browser game. Of course, no new Google venture is complete without some people taking issue with Google's privacy policies. In this case, the controversy was around Google Chrome's EULA, specifically section 11.1. Now, since everything on the Internet happens at the speed of light, Google has already changed the wording of that clause and applied it retroactively, claiming that it was all a mistake by the lawyers behind the curtain. However, this incident reminds us of just how much data Google collects, not to mention privacy issues online as a whole.

    I should begin with the disclaimer that I am not a Google fanboy. I love some of Google's services--I use Gmail, although I prefer to check my mail through Mozilla Thunderbird's interface, and Google Calendar is my favourite calendar application. However, I'm perfectly willing to criticize Google. I try not to be a fanboy of anything, but if I were, I'd be a Joss Whedon fanboy. So I'm going to hijack this post to mention that the Dr. Horrible soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes. That is all.

    The Internet is transforming…

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  13. Google Chrome, Part 1: Polish that perspective

    Google made a splash on Labour Day when it announced the release of its own browser, Google Chrome.

    It's important to note that this is only a beta release, and Google's made it clear that they are going to make major improvements to it. Check out the comic book that explains Google Chrome for techie details. A comic book--how cool is that?

    Of course, Google has set a high standard for itself in the past. Reaction to this "beta" has been negative from some people (particularly those less tech-savvy who are underwhelmed by the interface), and Google has itself to blame for ruining the "beta" label with stable services like Gmail. However, it's important to look beyond Google Chrome as just a product and examine its significance to users and the Internet as a whole.

    For me, Google Chrome is significant because it is open source. Google has a history of supporting the open source community, but this is the first really big open source Google product. I love Google's other apps, but their proprietary nature has always made me slightly uneasy. By making Google Chrome open source, Google is signalling that it isn't entering the browser business just…

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  14. Read Neverwhere online or download it for free

    Last February, I drew your attention to Harper Collins' free online browsing of American Gods. Well, they are doing if again, this time with Neverwhere!

    You can read it for free or download it as a PDF. You don't get to keep it forever (the PDF will self-destruct in thirty days) but it's an excellent offering nonetheless.

    I mean, I could go off on a tangent about how self-destructing PDFs is an example of "tethered appliances" taking over the Internet and taking away our control over what content we can access. Then I could casually mention Jonathan Zittrain's The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It. But I won't.

  15. I'll be voting for the first time, and I will not be voting for Stephen Harper

    An election looms in my own fine country even as the Americans battle it out for who gets to inherit the Bush legacy. Two and a half years ago, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives inherited the scandal-ridden legacy of over a decade of Liberal government. As usual, getting elected is easier than actually running the country and making effective decisions that improve the lives of its citizens--Harper hasn't been doing either of these things very well. He blames his inability to perform on his partners in Parliament, our three opposition leaders. They maintain that he refuses to compromise, doesn't put the toilet seat down, and until he decides to cooperate, they're moving out and going to live with their mothers.

    Er ... anyway, now that we have fixed four-year election dates, the next election would theoretically be in October 2009. However, the Prime Minister still has the right to go to the Governor General and ask her to dissolve Parliament if he believes the government can no longer function effectively. Harper has been rattling just that particular sabre lately, and an election looks increasingly likely. He has met with all three opposition leaders now, but I doubt that any of…

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  16. On attacking from Kamchatka

    Roll your dice, ladies and gentlemen. After sixty years of continuous gameplay, I'm sure you're eager for it to be over, but there's still a few cards left to be won.

    I'm sure that it came as a big surprise to everyone when Russia announced its intentions to absorb South Ossetia after unilaterally declaring it independent. Now Russia has effectively seized control of the territory. Russia's actions are irrational and somewhat disturbing, but what else is new? Unfortunately, I'm having trouble forming an opinion.

    For those of us too young to have lived through the Cold War or the aftermath of the subsequent decades, it can be hard to understand the significance of Russia's actions. It doesn't help that--at least here in Ontario--our one compulsory high school history course ends after World War II. Let's break the facts down and see if we can make some sense of what's happening.

    First, some background. South Ossetia is a region in Georgia that is loyal to Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia became an independent country, but South Ossetia wanted to join Russia--and they were willing to fight for it. Naturally, Georgia does not want to lose a…

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