the woeful TEXTAREA widget

So I’m typing this into Mozilla, which contains full-featured mail and HTML editors. Yet, why am I stuck with a primitive editor in my forms? Why can’t I spellcheck, do file management and format text?

Delightfully Barking – or are they?

I think I’ve found a match for Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap in the religio-scientific wayyyyy-out-there-and-accelerating product blurb: Pheylonian Beeswax Candles.

It will come as no surprise to my reader (yes, I have one) that I use both. But not at the same time.

practising detachment (badly)

As if I don’t have too much stuff already, these are things I
know I don’t need, but want:

  • Mini iPod — I can’t
    afford one of the big ones. If this can’t be used with Linux when
    it’s announced in early January 2004, the game’s a bogey.
  • Lomo LC-A
     — yes, I know it’s an overpriced, unreliable
    ripoff of the
    Cosina CX-1
    , and that digital is much cheaper to run, and that
    my Yashica
    Electro-35 GTN
    gives better performance for less money,
  • Green coffee
     — freshly-roasted coffee tastes better than
    you could imagine.
  • Wacom Graphire
    graphics pad — because my existing cheapo pad doesn’t
    actually do much.
  • Fluke
     — I missed out on getting a uke when I was a
    nipper, and I’ve wanted one ever since.
  • Blondel
    Cittern Guitar
     — because if I’m going to learn to
    play the guitar, I might as well get a portable one.

I think this all goes to show what you already know:
blogging makes you shallow.

Everybody Loves Wikipedia

Yesterday, Wikipedia put out a call for US $20000 for new servers. When I donated at around 0800 EST this morning, they were about US $2500 short. As I write, they are at US $23382.

That’s pretty good going.

Networkaround Solutions

I recently registered a domain, but couldn’t get the hosting company’s DNS to stick in the admin console page. This workaround was given to me five days ago by an NS staffer, and it works:

  • set domain to point to NS’s “Under Construction” page
  • log out
  • log back in, and change the domain servers
  • log out (again)
  • log back in, and the changes will stick.

Whistle-stop across Missouri

Just back from a busy but enjoyable trip to (and across) Missouri. Approximate timeline:

  • arrived in Liberty on the 24th, then immediately went to Catherine’s grandmother’s house in Lee’s Summit for Christmas dinner. If I can fix a turkey dinner with Parker House Rolls and all the trimmings when I’m 92, I’ll be doing pretty well.
  • took the train from Independence to Kirkwood to visit Joe & Katie, Catherine’s brother and sister-in-law.
  • stayed in ye olde cheesye Cheshire Inn in St Louis, which is a hilariously fakey (but pretty good) “old” hotel.
  • took Amtrak back to Independence.
  • did the necessary shopping rounds in Liberty: LaMar’s Donuts, clothes shopping at Feldman’s Farm & Home (aka The Feed Store), and browsing books at By The Book on the square.
  • had lunch at the incomparable Englewood Café in Independence.
  • went to see Carlyle’s art exhibit downtown, which turned more into performance art, as the gallery was closed.
  • hung out with Catherine’s high-school friends in Westport, and had the importance (and usefulness) of dry “bible highlighters” explained to me by Carl. Then we ate at the Jerusalem Café.

… and now we’re home.

Sainsbury’s were lying, after all

After yesterday’s Unearthed at Sainsbury’s, I got this message today from them:

Dear Stewart

Thank you for the above order.

Unfortunately ‘UNEARTHED 5CD’ has been removed from the Sainsbury’s entertain You website due to a dispute involving the release date of the product.

Under the circumstances we have been left with no option but to cancel your order and apologise for the disappointment caused.

Once a release date has been confirmed the product will re-appear on the site and new orders may be placed.

Thank you for visiting Sainsbury’s entertain You.


Sainsbury’s entertain You

This excuse doesn’t wash with me. Other suppliers, such as, are listing the same release date as Sainsbury’s were: the first week of February. They just don’t wish to honour the low price that they advertised on their website.

In short, you can’t trust Sainsbury’s entertain You.

Unearthed at Sainsbury’s

Last night, Sainsbury’s (one of the UK’s huge grocery chains)
had an incredible pre-release price for the Johnny Cash “Unearthed”
boxed set. They had the price at 13.99, less than a quarter of what one
might expect.

I’m hoping this was a loss-leader, as I have my order in. If you
look at their site now, Unearthed is 47.74. This is the confirmation I got from them, edited slightly for length:

Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2003 22:15:07 +0000
From: sainsburys@...
Subject: Order Placed
To: scruss@...

Dear Stewart Russell
We are pleased to confirm that your order has been successfully received by
Sainsbury's entertain You. Your products will be despatched as soon as possible.

Qty, Description, Price inc VAT, Total Inc VAT, Gift Wrap

Happy Winter Solstice

Nothing celebrates the winter solstice better than a panoramic picture of a suburban street in Scarborough:

my street

Taken with the remarkable Super Wide Heliar 15mm lens, and stitched using hugin. In real life, the street’s pretty straight — if anything, it curves slightly towards you.

Mozilla Mail Went Nuts

Update, 7/8/2004: It’s probably better to use Mozilla’s configuration editor from the URL about:config, rather than using a text editor on your prefs.js file. This is explained in Restoring mozilla mail local folders

For the last few days, Mozilla has been bugging me with “Please
enter a new password for user scruss@…”. It happened after I
added an extra mail profile to reply to a mailing list
unsubscription from my address. The popup would appear
randomly, sometimes several times a minute. Using Password Manager
to save the POP3 password didn’t seem to help.

If you ever notice an extra account in the “From:” drop-down in
the Compose window, you could be having this problem. Today, I
found a messy way of fixing this.

After making a backup copy of prefs.js, edit it. Look for the
section that begins something like:

user_pref("mail.account.account1.identities", "id1");
user_pref("mail.account.account1.server", "server1");
user_pref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "account1,account2,...");

Check the mapping between

  • id1, account1 and server1
  • id2, account2 and server2
  • id3, account3 and server3

and so on. You’ll probably find an id that’s pointing somewhere
broken. In my case, id2 was pointing to that dummy entry to that I thought I had deleted.

Edit out all references to the broken id, and restart Mozilla.
All is well, for me at least.

quirks, quarks, and oggs

With very little fanfare, CBC Radio’s award winning science program Quirks & Quarks is being provided in Ogg format. Q&Q host Bob McDonald first mentioned them at the beginning of 2003, and this was noticed on the Vorbis User and Discussion List back in November.

CBC is Canada’s national public broadcasting company. Let’s hope they have more success with Ogg than the BBC’s Ogg Streaming experiment.

masters of bandwidth

philips ae6370 pocket radio

I found my little Philips pocket radio again today. I bought it on the 11th of September 2001, when radio was the only news medium I could get to that wasn’t overloaded.

On FM stations, it sounds incredibly clear and sharp. But switch it to AM and detune it a little, and the world becomes a whole new electronic soundscape. Walk by a fluorescent light, and feel the massive fat buzz. A pocket calculator chitters away like an old adding machine. Luminescent panel displays chirp like crickets, wall-warts hum in harmony. My CD player is a waterfall, my mobile phone a galloping horse.

But my computer is a totally different world. [Not so] bright antennae (on the wireless router) bristle with the energy. The printer is an angry beast, howling away even when it’s idle. But the CPU box just drowns everything else out in flat white noise. Nothing else competes.

And all this I found in a quiet little house in Scarborough. I wonder what the rest of the world sounds like?

going postal

I got two packages yesterday. Both were posted on 16th December.

The first package was sent by my friend Jeff from Bedfordshire in the UK. That’s about 5600 km away.

The second was send (by Canada Post Xpresspost) from a store in Toronto. It’s about 9 km from here.

Assuming the same pickup and drop-off times, the package from the UK averaged a useful 77 km/h. The Canadian package did a woeful 0.125 km/h.

It also doesn’t help that Canada Post flat-out lied about their delivery time of the local package. If you go to their tracking site, they claim it was delivered on 17th December. It really got here on the 19th.

Office Party, Canadian Tradition

It was our office party last night. I had, I’m told, the quintessential Canadian suburban experience — a 40 of Olde E, and a monster bag of Sun Chips. And I’m still alive, apparently.

I’d better translate. “Olde E” is more properly known as Pabst Olde English 800 Malt Liquor. It’s 7.9% alcohol. It’s sold in 40 ounce bottles, so that’s 1.18 litres of beer-like substance. And it’s $3.95 at the LCBO, but quite how control is involved in selling this much alcohol for so little money, I don’t know.

happy birthday, WindShare

windshare birthday cake

The WindShare/Toronto Hydro wind turbine was officially one year old yesterday. Coincidentally, we’ve generate 1,000,000 kWh, too.

There was a big event at Liberty Grand at the CNE. The cake was particularly good.

best porridge ever

I’ve become a bit of a porridge monster lately. It’s absurdly easy to make. After trying this, you won’t buy Quaker oats again.

Ingredients, per person:

  • ½ cup (125ml) steel-cut oats (called ‘pinhead
    oatmeal’ in Scotland)
  • 2 cups (500ml) water

The night before: Bring the water to the boil, and add the oats.
Cover the pan, and remove it from the heat.

In the morning: Add a pinch of salt, and bring the porridge to
the boil. Be careful to stir the porridge, or else it may stick and

Serve with milk, and salt/sugar/maple syrup/toasted oatmeal to taste.

Cleaning the pan: Fill with cold water as soon as possible, and
leave to soak. The remaining porridge should just float off. Using
hot water makes the porridge stick.

Oatmeal storage: it doesn’t keep for very long. I keep my dry oatmeal in the freezer, since that stops any bugs that might be lurking in the meal from hatching.


I’ve been looking for a program that would, given a directory of MP3s ripped
from a CD, calculate the freedb DiscID, and get the names from there. Today I found mp3cddb, a Perl/shell program to do just that. It’s a little old — it only supports ID3v1 — but it’s GPL, so we can fix it.

WindSave cleans up

If you go to WindSave’s website, you’ll note that their performance claims have gone.

Update, 5 April 2004: I am no longer supplying their PDF brochure. WindSave does not seem keen to back up their product with reliable technical information. If their original dimensions were accurate, here is all you need to know about WindSave’s designs (and why they won’t work) .

Enoch, the Money Mart ad guy

It seems, by an almost impossible coincidence, that I’ve spoken to “Uncle Angus” from the Money Mart ad. I learnt from a copy of Penguin Eggs, a Canadian folk music magazine, that the part is played by Scottish-Canadian singer Enoch Kent.

Back in May 2002, before we had a place to live (and probably long before Enoch knew he’d play this part on TV), famed Toronto Glaswegian (well, okay, from Busby) Tam Kearney and his wife Lynn very kindly offered their place as a house-sit. Tam and Enoch were working on a recording at the time.

Just before Tam and Lynn got back, I answered the phone. Enoch, getting a Scottish voice on the line, very quickly launched into a torrent of things they had to do before the recording could be released on CD.

It took me a while to convince Enoch that, no, I wasn’t Tam, and yes, he’d be back in a couple of days. That Scottish accent of mine can really get me into trouble at times.

Maybe Enoch needs the money from the ads. Buy his CDs instead!