Friday, July 29, 2005

Summer Prairie Storms

People who I have met when we lived in the Southwest United States and East Coast have told me that the weather is so drastic where they live that you can "wait 5 minutes and the weather will change." I always told them that they have never been through a summer in Alberta.

Here in Edmonton (and Calgary), storms roll off the mountains/foothills quicker than you realize. Tonight's forecast was for a 30% chance of thundershowers in my area, but tornado warnings were issued to the south of us in Red Deer (halfway to Calgary).

A few clouds were forming at 7pm when I took my convertible out to go to town to get some take-out at KFC. It was a 5 minute drive so I left the top down - but by the time I was going to head back (7:15pm) - the storm clouds had rolled into town.

"You're going to get rained on!" the drive-thru attendant warned me.

"I can make it" - But the trees were starting to bend in the wind that wasn't blowing a minute ago and that looked like rain hanging down from the cloud in the distance. We were just on the edge of it and I was still sure that those dark clouds might skirt around us. I was heading north out of town away from them so I didn't bother stopping to put the top up. I can make it - I thought.

Five minutes later I was still 5 minutes away from home on the highway, hoping I was going to make it. I haven't seen rain like that since I lived in OKC. (At least in OKC you could see the storms coming and they had pinpoint accuracy on predicting severe weather, but I digress).

The windshield wipers were useless. Want to appreciate being alive ? Drive through a full blown hail/rain storm with micro downbursts in an Alberta summer storm with a convertible that weighs half as much as the average car. Sunny, hailing, windy, lightning and thunder (the kind you feel in your bones as it strikes within 1/4 mile of you) all at the same time. Great move Steve. Can't stop now.

It's 7:52, I've finished my supper and the thunder is still rumbling - but it's sunny from the west and the rainbow is coming out. Looks like the satellite signal is coming back.

But wait another minute and the weather will ...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Future is Hostile?

Telus on Wednesday applied for a BC Supreme Court injunction to try and block the Voices for Change website from posting pictures of their employees crossing picket lines. Meanwhile, an Alberta court issued an interim injunction that prevents the posting of any pictures on Internet websites with the intent to harass or intimidate Telus employees crossing the picket lines.

While I personally can't comment on what I see going on at my current assignment at 'a major telecommunications company in western canada', I've posted comments that others have made in letters to the editor of the local paper, blogs or forums on the internet.

I can comment that both sides are preparing for the long haul, and we'll see plenty of mudslinging going both ways. I predict a hostile future for this standoff.



If there has been no change in service levels with all these people walking the picket lines, then perhaps there is excess labour employed.
- Alden Gushnowski, Edmonton

Please stop whining about job security. I work in an industry that employs tens of thousands of people who protect life, property, and most importantly, the peace. We risk exposure to blood and disease, weapons, criminals, assaults and life-threatening events every day. Do we have a union? No! Will we ever? Most likely not, but I've been doing what I do for seven years without a complaint. Why? Because I love it!
- Adam Storms, Edmonton

It's time to reform union rights and policies in this country. We don't need unions anymore. Giving employees rights is one thing; letting them join a regime that has no accountability for its actions and is a mixture of 50-per-cent actual work and 50-per-cent playing gimme gimme is a plague on our economy.
- Chris Steffensen, Edmonton

The TWU didn't ask any of the people they photographed coming into work if it could post their photos on its website. Therefore the site should be closed down. I know several Telus employees who are still working and who have seen their photos on this site with rude comments.
- Valerie Comer, Edmonton

I am not a Telus customer but I can assure you if my provider ever prevented me from accessing any part of the Internet they'd be hearing from old Publius. I'm paying for access to the Internet, not portions thereof, as decided upon by the ISP. If I wanted a filtering service I'd ask for one. Also, which executive has such a tin ear for PR? Unions certainly engage in such bully-boy tactics, indeed they excel at them, but sinking to their level simply makes both parties look at best petty at worst desperate.
- godscopybook blog

If we can't get this settled and get back to the bargaining table in the next few weeks here then it's going to go a while.
- Bruce Bell president of the Telecommunications Workers Union

In July 2005, Telus blocked access to a Voices for Change and Telus Scabs websites run by the Telecommunications Workers Union. This restriction, with possible workarounds, applies to all customers accessing the website from Telus-controlled network. The purpose of these sites is to intimidate and harass employees.
- Updated Telus page on wikipedia.org

Protracted labour disputes serve no one's interest, least of all the business community. After more than four years of negotiation and interventions from third-party mediators, the union and Telus must face reality and return to the bargaining table to have a straightforward discussion about the issues and challenges facing them in the current market environment.
-Terrence Hopwood, Calgary - chair of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce

After more than 20 years as a Telus customer, I have changed my residential telephone and Internet services to Shaw. I cannot continue any business relationship with a corporation like Telus that treats its employees with such contempt and disrespect.
- Debbie Pohl, Edmonton

Given the vast amounts of unprotected telephone equipment criss-crossing this province, it is not surprising that there are hundreds of incidents of theft and vandalism every year. Until the dispute, Telus has never found these events worthy of a press conference. But I guess timing is everything. Telus was forced to admit that it was indeed copper thieves who had inconvenienced hundreds of Burnaby residents. Telus and the media owe the TWU and its members an apology.
- Pauline Mott, White Rock

On Tuesday, I needed to run an errand at the Telus building downtown at lunch time, and was surprised to see so few TCW members outside picketing. There were more Telus security guards to keep them in line! Is Telus restricting the number of pickets around their building and plaza?
- Judy Ruppell Edmonton

LET ME get this straight: with Telus Internet, I can access child porn, support the Ku Klux Klan, illegally download music and learn how to build a bomb, but I'm blocked from seeing a website where Telus workers talk about their concerns? Thanks, but I'll take my business to an Internet company that won't tell me what I can and can't read.
- G. DeBlasio

I concur with your editorial conclusion that "organized labour needs to examine its role in the face of ... inexorable trends" ("Labour's pains run much deeper," July 26). I dispute much of what goes before your conclusion, however. It is understandable that a layperson might make mistakes, but it is inexcusable for a reputable newspaper to promote those same errors.
- Ernie Gorrie, Cowichan Bay

It's not about money. The union has tried to negotiate with the company, unsuccessfully, for the past five years. Unable to reach an agreement, two weeks ago TELUS told employees that an agreement would be imposed. Not one word, not one punctuation quotation mark was bargained with our union - They just wrote their own book.
- Lance Trevis, speaking for picketing Telus employees

I depend upon Telus for my safety and entertainment, not to censure their employees. That is wrong and shows very bad management. Their decision to remove a legitimate web page is ridiculous and serves nobody but the few individuals that took it upon themselves to make a bad situation worse.
- Robert Saint Amour Deep Bay, B.C

For all the attacks on unions, the fact is that the labour movement continues to survive and meanwhile has done more for the betterment of society than any other group. Thanks to unions lobbying governments in the past, we have a social safety net in Canada today. Thanks to union efforts today fighting government cuts, our children will likely have a social safety net in the future.
- Justin Schmid, Victoria

Telus feels that it is justified in photographing and videotaping employees on the picket line for use in case there are any incidents of violence, yet it does not believe that those same employees should be able to take pictures of people crossing the picket line as replacement workers. The law says that pictures taken in a public place can be done so without the consent of the individual, and all picketing must take place in a public place, not on private property. Why, then, is Telus able to get away with this action?
- Steve Colby, Tsawwassen, B.C.

So in other words, If you call Telus’ customer care lines, then you’re contributing to this massive union conspiracy, this “voice denial-of-service attack.” It also appears that if you happen to be a union member with a website, you automatically qualify as being a member of some radical elite Labor Commando force whose sole job is to say very, very bad things about the phone company.
- scaredpoet's blog

I think the people should actively participate in forcing Telus, and any other corporation that treats its employees badly, to deal with these pending issues.
- Fayaz Rajabali, Edmonton

I'll add to this later but for the moment, I'm out working emergency proceedure shifts...
Monday-Sat, 10:00 am- 11:00 at night I'll be unavailable.... sorry peeps.... I'll try to post something on Sundays...
- Telus Employee blog

Some recent research from equity analysts at Merrill Lynch forecast that MTS is likely to lose fewer residential telephone customers, per capita, than Telus will in Alberta where Shaw already launched its digital phone service, at least partially because MTS is already battling Shaw on the television front.
- Martin Cash, Business Section of Winnipeg Free Press


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Bert Level

The Threats & Protection - Advisory System created by the US Department of Homeland Security was supposed to be an easy way for Americans to understand the current level of risk of terrorist attack within the country.

It appears that the creators of the system were re-using the classic colour levels created by park wardens of national parks (US and Canada) to convey to visitors/campers the current risk of wildfires. Wardens would adjust the dial daily between green (low) and red (high) levels of danger that a wildfire could start because of careless campers.

The US Threat Level has been yellow almost since it's inception 6 months after the attacks on 9/11. It is currently at orange - a point it has reached a half a dozen times. The Homeland Security Department's web page recommends that at level orange : "All Americans, including those traveling in the transportation systems, should continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings, and report suspicions items or activities to local authorities immediately."


So, the major criticisms of the threat reporting system has been regarding the perception of the public that there was no threat - something that is warranted given that people can't retain a heightened level of awareness for very long. While the current wildfire threat was based on observations, measurements, research and previous history - the terrorist threat is based on secret knowledge or sometimes even perceived threats based on rumours.

With threats like wildfire, people began to realize that the high risk level meant that they should be diligent in the park regions. But with terrorist threats, there is little conveyed by Homeland Security (beyond being "aware") that people can do, resulting in little confidence in the system.


The Bert Level
The muppet terrorist threat levels were created to poke fun at the Homeland Department's system- belittling it much to the chagrin of those that would like it to be taken seriously.

A Frank Guide
This blogger's humourous view of the levels is a bold statement and I quite enjoyed this section on what to do at the different levels for incidents that may occur in your neighborhood :
I see a stranger outside.
  • Green: Maybe he could give your kids a ride to school.
  • Blue: He might be lost; ask him what he's doing here.
  • Yellow: Stay in your house and avoid him. Strangers bad.
  • Orange: Run outside and pistol-whip him while questioning his involvement with terrorism.
  • Red: Kill him; no questions asked.
You Design It
Several years ago I was asked to program a colour coded dial for the Electricity System Operator in Alberta. The hourly peak demand for electricity on the system was more than could be generated, even with reserves imported from other provinces.

They wanted to convey to the public that the threat of a brownout or destabilization of the electric grid was low, medium or highly likely. After performing the initial analysis and reviewing the requirements with several engineers, system controllers and executives - we finally determined that neither a programmatic implementation based on projected load nor a dial reset by humans each morning would suffice.

There was no easy way to let the public know that the electricity demand would out pace the hourly supply available. To this day (5 years later), they still only utilize a complicated tabular report to show the actual and forecast totals.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Voices for Job Security

I couldn't ignore this any more. I wasn't going to blog at all about my latest contract assignment at a major telephone Company (Telco) in Western Canada but ...

I haven't confirmed this news yet but I will tomorrow morning at my desk. It has been reported Telus has decided to block a website (Voices for Change) run by members of the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU).

The Edmonton Sun reports that :
A strike by Telus employees grew more bitter over the weekend after the telecommunications company blocked access to a union-run website, claiming it posted confidential information and was attempting to harass and intimidate workers by publishing their pictures.
So, if you can't reach Voices for Change to review it for yourself, because it's blocked, unavailable or CENSORED, you can view it at pfak.org

Of course, I reviewed the "controversial, confidential content" for myself and from what I was allowed to read in the public access area, it seemed pretty benign. YMMV

The Fight
I've tried to remain neutral in this argument, as I don't know any union members, but as usual I do have an opinion. I hope I am becoming more informed by the access I have to people who have worked in the telecommunications industry for 20+ years (sans union membership as they work in IT) .

Clerical Workers, Customer Service Representatives, Installation technicians, etc have enjoyed good pay, regular hours and top-notch job security for decades with EDTel, AGT & BCTel. But they are now fighting to hold on to those jobs as much as they can, including stopping any future outsourcing efforts by Telus (the merged company of aforementioned firms).

This month, Bell Canada reached a deal with its union, Canadian Telecommunications Employees' Association (CTEA). The key provisions of their deal, which expires in 2009, includes : No job losses to outsourcing or subcontracting and a wage freeze for the majority of employees. Obviously job security in the changing Telecom industry was the major driving factor for the deal they reached.

We'll have to wait and see what happens with Telus and TWU. Neither is budging and I fear that the union may have had it's best deal brought to the table already (see also the NHL lockout for reference) as Telus claims they "can't continue to be competitive if they provided all the union's demands. "

As for outsourcing union jobs - let me just say that my opinion will be a bit jaded as I've moved several thousand kilometers and switched companies a dozen times in several cities in the 15 years of my career in IT (so far). Much of the computer programming industry may/can/will be outsourced to other countries but I hope to retain the jobs or contracts I get on my own merit.

The Future
Telecommunications is changing. Long distance billing was a $5 Billion business for the industry in 2002, but that figure may very well approach $0.00 over the next decade as VOIP becomes pervasive.

My coworkers tell me that the change in revenues for Telcos appeared in the early 1990s when the long-distance telephone business was deregulated. Thousands of industry jobs were cut as the Telcos watched their main revenue streams deteriorate. But the Internet and wireless (cellular) booms seemed to have lessened the fall towards the end of the last decade.

But all segments of the telecom business now face competition after a century of monopoly protection, leaving companies such as Telus under siege - especially with the latest CRTC ruling(s) that major telecommunications corporations will not be allowed to leverage their existing customer base in any way to gain momentum in the VOIP market.

Of course, everybody I talk to that has heard or tried VOIP is using Shaw Cable's Digital Phone (even Telus workers!), the biggest selling point that they can have "all their services on one bill." But I believe that most consumers don't really care where they get the next service from - as they tend to stick to that company until the service gets interrupted or the price isn't competitive.

The latter point might give Telus a chance, sometime next year - if they can settle the strike/walk-out, convince the CRTC to let them make competitive bundles of products, convince customers that they can offer the best service ...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

White Trash Bash 2005

Tonight is the second annual white trash bash at our friend's trailer.


white trash bash 2004


Find Your white trash name

Your Redneck nameThe Booner
Your Hell Raisin' Buddysporkle7
Your Favorite Nascar DriverRusty Wallace
Your Pussy friend that likes Jeff Gordondaychokesnight
Beer of ChoicePabst Blue Ribbon
What you do for a livingOfficial Boobie inspector
What you do on a Saturday nightBang yer sister


Find out if your (you're) white trash

I am 71% White Trash.
Sorta White Trash!
I may have been raised white trash, but I have escaped to find the other side. Even now my white trash traits sneak out, like drinking beer from the bottle at a restaurant.

HowTo
If yer wonderin how to have your own white trash bash, make sure you don't forget to Invite MJB's and Trashy women!



white trash bash 2004

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Just a bill

Some bloggers out there would have you believe that the implementation of a bill to discourage party switching by MPs would be a bad thing, as they claim that we vote for people, not political parties.

Well, I understand that if I vote for a Liberal in Alberta, even if I thought s/he was not a crook, it still would become an affirmation of the ruling party's scandalous misuse of our tax funds (and that's all I have to say about that).

Do Not Pass Go
Bill C-480 was introduced as a private member's bill - which in a nutshell means it probably won't get passed. But a valiant effort none the less and it's tone was bang-on with the pulse of the nation - less than a month after Belinda crossed the floor for her own political gains in her (hopefully) brief career.
If a member of the House of Commons leaves the political party to which that member belonged when the member was elected to the House of Commons, that member shall sit in the House of Commons as an independent for a period of 35 days

Once the period of 35 days has elapsed, the member‚’s election to the House of Commons shall become void, the seat of that member shall be vacated, and a writ shall be issued for the election of a member to fill the vacancy.

The vacating member may run for the seat as the candidate for another political party or as an independent.
You voted for Tree Huggers ?
In the last federal election, the Green Party received 4.3% of the total votes.

I have no idea who the candidate was in my riding for the greens. Was it a vote wasted because they didn't get a single candidate elected ? Nay. I know I voted for them as I wanted to see what they could do with the federal funding they would receive. The party gained enough votes in the election to qualify for federal funding to parties that receive over 2% of the vote. So, they will receive $1.75 (Canadian) per vote it won in the 2004 election each year until the next general election.

The greens have policies involving the use of open source in Government that I thoroughly believe should be implemented. There were other platform issues that are important of course, but that was a biggie for me and I believed the Conservative Party candiate, now my local MP was apathetic about the subject matter.

Anyway, I'm sure if one of the current MPs, even a back-bencher, decided to become a member of the green party - many of those in his/her riding would like the chance to be able to have their say in the matter.

And a vote during a federal election carries more weight than a few terse words in a blog, doesn't it ?!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blogging for $$$

Darren @ Problogger posted a blog about how much money he was making through Google's adsense program. It got slashdotted (linked by a news site and then it was overwhelmed by thousands of instant viewers. See also flashcrowd : a theory from one of my favorite authors).

His most recent post reveals the amount of the cheque (Aussie Dollars?) that he alluded to in the first post :
You’ll see from the following that from 1 May - 31 May 2005 I earned $14,436.45. I know some will accuse me of doctoring this but this is all I’m giving you. I can’t think of any other way to prove what I earn and feel like I’ve stooped a little in doing it anyway. Hopefully in doing this I answer a few questions and dispell a few myths.
Of course, I don't advocate you attempt to make a living at this blogging thing. I can't imagine the amount of daily posting of 'interesting' facts, figures or news that one would have to endure. Not to mention that the blog would pretty much have to follow one subject matter so that it can become enamored by it's readership...

But then, even slashot.org is a geek's blog now isn't it? And while I do try to not surf the blogs that are obviously made to be commercial, I do enjoy reading one that has my interests in mind.

And now hackaday appears to be one of those lovable sites that I found one day and then all of a sudden, everybody is linking to it until it will become so popular that it will be bought out by some large corporation. I'm suddenly reminded of how I used to listen to U2 a lot before the Joshua Tree album (but I digress as usual).

I was just reading one blogger's take on why blogs are becoming so popular. Spam is ruining email, and reviews and product information on sites like cnet.com (an ex-favorite of mine) are too formal and take too long get through :
Web logs hit the sweet-spot: They give a personal voice to these issues, they are so easy to use that things are blogged that might not otherwise be recorded anywhere, and they are archived forever for anyone to find.
Bloggers are taking back the internet (see also the days of usenet in days of yore) !!?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Problem Dog Owners

Dogs bark. I know that. They bark for many reasons - but most of the ones I've ever had issue with bark because their owners are too stupid or apathetic to realize they are the cause.

My wife and I have moved many times in the 15+ years we have lived together - everywhere we've lived, there has been that neighbor that is blissfully unaware that rover/fluffy/spot/buddy or napoleon is bothering his neighbors.

In Oklahoma City, our neighbor left his two small fluffy dogs (pomeranians ?) in the back yard while they went out. Their cadence was pretty much a bark each every few seconds, which you can ignore for 'a while.' But after several hours, it starts to sound like a dentist's drill. My wife wrote a note to him and the paranoid neighbor phoned right away so that we understood he would do something about it and he didn't want them harmed. I'm not sure (we didn't ask) what happened to his previous dogs, but I do sense a pattern.

Bored, Boring, Barking
Dogs bark for many reasons, the most important being the territorial front they have to upkeep. And of course, besides companionship, most people think they need the dog(s) to keep burglars away. Many sites I've read about 'problem barking' say that the dog may be anxious about being left alone.

Last month, the neighbours on the acreage across the road from us phoned to let me know that they had been burglarized that day while they were out and wondered "if we saw anything or heard the dogs, umm... bark more than usual."

I had to stifle a laugh. They have three small yappy dogs and they are the loudest things I have ever heard! Anybody with half a brain could tell they're not home when those things freak out. I once tried talking to him about how they didn't seem to make noise before their dog run was attached to the front deck and now they can see people/horses/other on the road... But he couldn't hear me over his dogs and I just wandered away. My wife has said she has heard the owners frustrated swears at how much they bark even when they are home !

Training or Pedigree
My mother-in-law has always had dogs where they've lived on their acreage for 25+ years now. They always do daily walks and play with them as often as they can. I think I've heard their latest dog (their second German Shepard) bark once, in defense of another dog arriving and it quickly settled down when told.

The neighbour beside us now has a new dog. Several times they have left it in the yard, tied to a post - to do it's duties I guess - while they played xbox, ate dinner or whatever. When it's done or bored, it starts to bark. It seems to me that, being a young dog, it gets anxious easily. I've had to phone them after they decided to ignore it for an hour or more and it continued to bark (loudly). So now it seems that it has trained them that if/when it barks from the back yard, they come running to let it back in. Great behaviour training (for the owner)! The last few times they have left the house, my wife and I have heard the dog yelping from inside, obviously bored and anxious.

In the place we lived in Calgary, a few years back - the neighbour across the street was a nice old lady that had a small white dog. Every once in a while, she would have a second dog 'visiting' that would freak out (for lack of better adjectives) at the sight of any person, car or thing that went by the house. Once it started up while I was in my own back yard - it could see me from the side yard across the road, between the boards in the fence. Often it would do this for hours, not unlike the ones across the road where we live now (wonder why burglars would pick that one?).

I wrote the nice old lady a note about it, but she only told another neighbour that the dog was abused [I wonder why] and that she had agreed to take it in as they no longer wanted it. I'm sure it hastened our decision to move that winter up here to Edmonton. The thought of another summer with that 'thing' was, well - lets move on and just admit that she had no control over that dog and it was very bothersome to be outside when it was out.

Steve's Behaviour Modification Technique
Let me go back to the house in Calgary. We didn't have a back alley and our yards were connected with the neighbours. Three out of Four had dogs. Two were problems and didn't really listen to their owners. One was left alone most of the time and seemed to bark at nothing once in a while out of boredom.

Several times he barked at me when they weren't home. Once he made the mistake of doing it while I was watering. A face full of water through the fence and he continued, but backed up a bit. Another face full. Backed up some more, but I got him over the fence. He finally huffed and went back to the deck. I don't think he barked at me ever again. Now if I could just reach the ones I live by now from 100 yards away. Perhaps a water cannon ?

Changes
So, I had a lot of respect for the neighbors besides us - before they got a new dog and obviously don't know/want to take care of it. I even remember her telling me that those 3 little dogs across the road were a nuisance with their yapping ! I've phoned her twice in the last couple weeks and gone over there once. Maybe I'll print off a few howto's on training your dog not to bark - but I doubt they'll take the time to read it or try the technique's. My wife thinks they have adjusted the time the leave the dog tied up in the yard with my work schedule.

Can't wait until they get a dog run - at least I have a 50/50 chance on which side of the house they'll place it. In the meantime, I'm working on planting trees and putting in a large waterfall, privacy lattice screens, ...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Netscape



The 10th anniversary of the initial public offering (IPO) of Netscape Communications Corporation is next month. The IPO was the 3rd largest in Nasdaq history and even Google has been called the "son of Netscape" - most likely in reference to the same early innovations, high flying stock prices and promising future.

Of course, Google's IPO was released to the common folk, unlike Netscape's. I was told in 1995 when I first inquired about buying shares some that "only preferred customers of the brokerage may be granted some Netscape IPO shares before it trades on the open market."

Walked uphill to school, both ways

Can you picture a world without Google, eBay, blogger, Amazon or broadband, where few people have even heard of Tech IPOs? That was our reality just a decade ago. Netscape Navigator was once used by 90% of the www users and owes it's lineage to Mosaic, a browser developed at NCSA. Mosaic was one of the first browsers that automatically displayed pictures along with text, like the pages of a magazine or an illustrated book.

Usage share of Netscape Navigator over timeI wouldn't give Netscape the credit for the birth of the web, they do get credit for one of the companies that initiated the '.com bubble' - and making the web well known to the masses.

But it is more of an issue of the right place at the right time. Everybody was ready for dynamic viewing of html and images without having to get through a list of files with archaic names posted on a newsgroup or ftp server. (And most of the time you didn't know what you were downloading until the very end! Now we have ... thumbnails ! Great idea - but I digress.)

By the mid nineties, modems were fast enough to display bitmapped graphics and most people had high color 640x480 displays. The latest operating systems and computers (pentinum!) were powerful enough to run a windowed environment that could dynamically render a web page as you watched (and waited) from anywhere in the world with just a mouse click...

Feeling nostalgic for the 90's

I bought Netscape navigator version 2.0 for windoze back in 1995, even though I could have downloaded the beta version for free from their internet site. I wanted to reward them for a job well done and have my own little piece of history (the box still sits on the shelf in my office).

I discovered that you can still download and 'try' to use v2.0 ! (I have the floppies if anybody wants them.) I've provided a link, but remember that it has not been through any virus scanners or whatever you think you need on your silly windoze computer to protect you.

Version 2.0 brings back memories with it's funky buttons and it will render various pages on the www today ! This version introduced a large number of must-have 'breakthrough' features : frames, Java, Javascript and Plug-ins. The release notes page is still available on netscape.com

Netscape created the JavaScript web page scripting language and was also known (in the geek community) for its cross-platform efforts. Its client software was made available for Windows (3.1, 95, 98, NT), Macintosh, Linux, OS/2, BeOS, and many versions of Unix including DEC, Sun Solaris, BSDI, IRIX, AIX, and HP-UX.

The Sun Solaris version was responsible for many wasted afternoons at work catching up on the OJ and Homulka trials (information on which was banned in Canada, but not the www ;).

Evolution ?

But slowly, Internet Explorer gained market share ground - by being free and the default web browser on everybody's desktop. By the fourth generation of both browsers, Internet Explorer had caught up technologically with Netscape's browser. Of course, as time went on, Netscape's market share diminished and in January of 1998 they announced the browser will be free.

They also made the source code available for "free" download under some new "open source" license - meaning it was modifiable by anyone as long as they published the modifications they made. The Mozilla project that would eventually produce the increasingly popular FireFox browser had begun. (During development the Netscape browser was known by the code name Mozilla, which became the name of a Godzilla-like cartoon mascot.)

In May of 2003 Microsoft resolved a lawsuit with Netscape's new parent company- AOL in a $750 million settlement. In a strange twist of fate, after receiving the payment, AOL decided to continue distributing Microsoft's Internet Explorer instead of Netscape.

July 2003 AOL cut Mozilla loose - transforming the open source project into a non-profit organization with 2 Million US dollars in seed funding.

What could have been

I worked for a company with a lot of promise and that probably is why I can take the Netscape story to heart and 'feel' that the Navigator browser means a little more than just a trivial pursuit response.

So, there are a few rants or blogs out there about the good old times at Netscape by it's ex-employees, most of them recounting the story of how it was the company that had it all and failed. (Google employees, review and talk amongst yourselves, please!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The World that we live

Well, it's been a week now and there are still people on the news full of angst for their relatives that haven't been found/identified yet from last week's bombings in London.

It reminded me of the week after 9/11. My oldest daughter was 4 at the time. She hadn't said much about the attack and what was going on, but we knew she was aware that something major had happened. We wondered with the amount of media attention how much it affected her sense of well being or outlook on what could/would happen ('Today's terrorist alert status is brought to you by the colour yellow').

Anyway, she was playing by the tv when the news was on (it seemed safe a week later to watch it with her in the room). They were showing people standing on the street in NYC with pictures/placards of their missing brother/sister/father/mother/other. I guess my daughter could tell it was upsetting me and she asked what was going on and 'why are those people so sad?'

I explained that these people were looking for their relatives that were in that building that collapsed last week - they are still looking for them. They were going to have to realize soon that they won't be found ...

She looked me and calmly told me that she knows that I "work in a safe building - airplanes don't hit it."



Tuesday, July 12, 2005

10 Minutes

I read Candace's account of a near miss and I am reminded of several close encounters on Edmonton streets I have had during my daily 80km commute to/from work.

I drive too fast.

Why ? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I average at least 15km/h over the limit - especially on the highway into the city.

Will I be late if I slow down ? Nope. I get paid by the hour and most of us in IT work pretty flexible hours. Yes, time is money when you're a contractor - but that 10 minutes isn't going to make me my first million anytime soon.

Is it because driving Edmonton streets is like a competition ? Perhaps. Edmonton drivers are some of the worst drivers in the country, perhaps the world. The reason is probably best summed up in my coworker's response when I asked her why she wanted to buy a big SUV : "because I want to win."

"The rules"
Oh, I do let the occasional driver into my lane if he/she actually follows these generally accepted rules of conduct :

  1. If your lane is going to end and you know it, don't drive past all of us that are waiting patiently, go to the end of your lane and signal to get back in.

  2. Do not fill the lanes at the stop light if you have no intention of driving faster than the guy beside you.

  3. Don't' forget the right hand shoulder wave if others have to let you in ! It's not like you're Jacques Villeneuve and skillfully beat me to that 15 feet in front of my car in rush hour traffic at a break neck speed of 20km/h. (Yukon Jack's #1 rule)

Green Light - Red Light !

I think what frustrates me the most is that after a couple months, I know how the lights are timed on my route - but I can't avoid getting stopped by them.

I seem to always get behind that car that doesn't realize that if they just speed up by 5 km/h for the next block they will make it through the next intersection. Ninety percent of the time the guy in front of me ends up stopping for the yellow light. The fear of course is that they can't risk running a yellow if that red light camera is ready to take their picture. I haven't hit anybody that has done this in front of me, but I did watch a large cement truck bounce as the driver stood on his brakes to avoid going over a neon that stopped just as the light turned yellow. I was in the next lane and just shook my head at the clueless teenagers who were looking around for 'whatever was making that noise?'

Anyway, some days I do take it easy and I get to work/home 5-10 minutes later than usual. I guess you could say I won, especially when my kids start the "daddy alarm" when I arrive home.
"If you lined up all the cars in the world end to end, someone would try to pass them."
- Anonymous

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Edmonton cop suspended

An Edmonton police officer was suspended this weekend. Which one was suspended ? They won't say. Why ? We don't know.

We can guess that the reason for suspension was because of one of the investigations regarding : racist email; overzealous targeting/stakeouts of those that are critical of them; the illegal access to federal databases intended for criminal investigations only; the photo radar contract kickbacks or perhaps a new case of corruption ?

Here's the Edmonton's Sun coverage. The Edmonton Journal's article was just as brief and buried on page 5 of the 'City' section of the paper :

An Edmonton cop has been suspended, a police spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Karen Carlson, speaking for the Edmonton Police Service, said she could not reveal the identity of the officer nor disclose the reasons for the job suspension.

"To release the officer's name could jeopardize his personal safety or the safety of other people," said Carlson. "It is not a statement we make lightly," she added.

An investigation into the officer's conduct is underway.

Carlson said no further comment would be made until the investigation is complete.
Who is running the investigation ? Internal Affairs ? Perhaps the Calgary City Police ? I guess we won't know for quite a while as all of the department seems pretty busy with their work load investigating their own corruption, a serial killer, gang activity and methamphetamine labs. (The photo radar stakeouts won't keep them busy until the end of the month when they have to complete their quotas.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Current News from a Wiki

Get your current news regarding the London bombings from the wikipedia.

The web page built today already surpasses anything CNN, BBC or PBS could have built with all the efforts of their staff journalists.
Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia, written collaboratively by people from around the world. The site is a wiki, which means that anyone can edit articles, simply by clicking on the edit this page link. All text in Wikipedia, and most images and other content, is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Contributions remain the property of their creators, while the GFDL license ensures the content will remain freely distributable and reproducible

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Pager Incident

My current assignment as an independent contractor is at a major telephone company in Western Canada. The company is having troubles signing a new contract with their union workers. Senior employees and managers have been asked to keep the company's emergency plans in mind should there be a walk out in the near future and they will be needed to backfill union positions.

Many employees are taking their holidays (vacation) now and some receive up to 4 weeks off due to the number of years they have with the company. I know of several employees that have been told that they 'could be called upon to fulfill a role left vacant by a striking union member.' (The assignment would be in an area that they were originally trained for in the company.)

So, during their time off they have been told that they must always be on alert and able to return within 24 hours notice.

My basic theory is that if your employer can reach you or make you return to work - it's not a vacation. I find it takes 3-4 days to come down from the work routine before I can relax and each time "the office" calls, it starts the meter again.

Anyway, this scenario reminded me of several incidents regarding other employers' use of pagers that I have witnessed.

Episode 3

It was the morning I was due to leave for my one week vacation in the Florida Keys and we had already delayed the trip by a week.

It was the first time off I had since I got married a year before. My wife had been living back in Calgary while I 'commuted' to Oklahoma City. Initially the schedule was two weeks away and one weekend back, but with looming deadlines it turned into 3-4 weeks away and a minimum of 12 hours spent per day at the office (including weekends).

I got a call minutes before I was getting ready to leave. My roommate at the time recounts the conversation as a lot of pauses and firm "no" responses from me. Basically the first phb (pointy haired boss) that called was asking me to 'swing by the office and pick up a pager to take with me on vacation.'

After the first phb didn't make any progress, he had the major phb try to brow-beat me into submission. End result was that I didn't take a pager with me. I don't know if I made my soapbox statement then or later to them that : "if I can't leave for my one week vacation - first time off in a year, then I'm not making enough money!" (I should mention also that I spent most of the Christmas break and New Year's Eve down there).

But I assured my phb(s) that my team members had all the know-how they needed to support any issues that may occur and they had all the phone numbers where to reach me if they 'really' needed to.

I heard from my team members when I came back that the phb had tried several times to try and get my contact information - they never did give it to him nor did I receive any calls.

Meeting @ 5

A couple short anecdotes to back up my hard line position on carrying the pager during time off...

At the job I mentioned above, during testing of the system - we setup another area/office for business people to get away from their job for an hour or two to do testing. After one late night session, the administer was having trouble (re)loading the database with initial data for the next test.

The administer wandered down to my cubicle and asked me to come help him and of course I obliged. About 15 minutes later, as we were watching the database reload, my pager went off. I called the phb's number that appeared. "They needed to me to come to the office right away as there was a problem with testing." Seems the phb had heard through the grapevine that I was needed to help and since he couldn't find me at my desk... The admin that came to get me was as puzzled as I was about the page, as I could help - but it really wasn't my duty or role.

Another day, same project, about 15 minutes before lunch time. As I walked out to meet the team downstairs in the cafeteria, the phb told me that he needed me for a 'meeting at 5.' I said okay and continued off to lunch, making a mental note that instead of supper I'll be attending his meeting.

About 15 minutes later, in the cafeteria, the phb came up to me and handed me my pager : "I found this buzzing in your desk. I was calling it - trying to find you."

I told him that 'he had found me' and I didn't think I needed to carry a pager at work so he could find me at a moments notice. Turns out that the meeting I thought was @ 5 (pm) was actually 'in 5 minutes!' He dragged me back his office for 'the important adhoc meeting that required my presence.' A couple months later the request to carry the pager that I recounted above occurred. That position was the last one I held as an employee before I turned to the dark side of contracting.

But you don't have to...

Several years later, I was at another position - back in Canada, this time as an independent contactor and the phb came to my desk with details of his 'latest support plan.'

He told me that the company couldn't afford to place everybody in the on-call rotation, so they bought pagers for all the IT staff, employees and contractors - for them to carry even if they weren't in the on-call rotation.

I told him that my contract didn't include on-call support with an agreed level of service and response time in case of system fault or other reason they needed to contact me after hours.

He proclaimed that he was telling all staff they didn't have to carry the pager and if they responded to it, they would receive fair compensation for their time. I responded with a cold "okay" as I opened my desk drawer directly in front of him and dropped the pager into it. I never touched it again.

Reciprocity

Of course, I would only sign a contract with on-call support included with the proper remuneration and service level agreement (respond in an hour or less and/or able to be at the office in X hours). I believe that if you are on-call there is an expectation that you will respond and you should receive fair compensation for that change in your routine to be "readily available" - even if you never get called!

Now I know that when you are the senior programmer or team lead you can respond quickly to a phb's issue and give him the warm fuzzies he so obviously needs - but that doesn't give them the right to yank the chain anytime they think they need you.

During the vindictive period of my career as an employee (I wouldn't do it now), I decided to set all the testing accounts such that all faxes would go to my phb's pager (the one that yanked my chain the most). This meant that the test system called his pager every 15 minutes while it was running.

Employers shouldn't abuse their staff or assume they can rule when they'll be available 'after hours. Several firms I've been at offer a minimal amount to carry the pager, not realizing it means a change in your routine or lifestyle so that you'll be readily available. Industry standard for independent contractors is two hours at the normal hourly rate per day to 'carry the pager' - even if you're never called. Thankfully the cost is enough of a deterent to make most firms balk at signing an agreement with a contractor.

Déjà vu

Which reminds me, my current assignment includes an assigned laptop which they claimed : "can be used for remote access to their system whenever I need it." I'm contracted for 9 hour workdays onsite - no overtime, on-call or after hour service is documented nor can be charged (they insist that my timesheet always reflect 9 hours worked irregardless of actuals).

Their laptop is locked in a drawer in my desk at the company's office - I haven't touched it since the administrator dropped it off on my desk and had me sign for it...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Canada, eh

Like the rant from Joe Canadian says, I am Canadian.

Yes, the majority of our politicians just voted to pass the same-sex marriage bill to the next step to becoming law, but we're not all 'that' liberal as you may think. Our opposition party leader claims he will make the bill/law an issue for the next election. I doubt most of us care that much, but it will be interesting to see what the majority of voters think.

Pro-Canada

Anyway, the Joe Canadian 'rant' from Molson's advertisement was popular in it's day because it represented the frustration we felt with our lack of nationalism, patriotism or identity in North America and the World. Before Joe's rant (circa 2000), we quietly went aboot our business.

But we've become proud of not being Americans, even though we enjoy the many benefits that come with our proximity to their land and culture. Three quarters of our exported goods go to the U.S., we look and act like them and even speak like they do! But we don't want to be mistaken for an American. At best, we see our neighbour to the south as a well intentioned but arrogant and blundering bully that throws its weight around too much. At worst, we see them as one of the most evil nations in the world.

Therefore, we struggle for our identity and sometimes that fosters some anti-American sentiment that obviously the U.S. media (especially Fox news) utilizes to help their own promotion of nationalism. We put up with anti-Canadian comments in the U.S. Media and censure our own politicians that speak their own minds (even when they really shouldn't). Those that seem to foster this banter of they said-we said and use rhetoric of 'Canadians should be wary of the U.S. response' should remember this : Americans don't do business with us because they like us.

Instead of American bashing, Canada should be building it's own nationalism by being the first to set the bar when it comes to : debt relief or aid to Africa, disaster support and conflict resolution. We can help the world by guiding the 8 richest countries by example.

But with the lack of spending by our government towards the military (aka peace keepers), foreign aid and our Olympic athletes, I doubt Canadian nationalism will grow much more beyond what you see today.

Spot the Canadian

Our population is 31 million and growing - mostly from immigration. Which means that the comedian that produces this t-shirt is correct when he says that "My Canada includes every bitching, whining, ... minority and special interest group!"

So, a Canadian could be anybody of any race, religion or colour. They even could be living amoung the Americans as is so commonly the case when it comes to seeking career and income advancement.

But how can you tell a Canadian in a crowded bar/train/other? When you step on his toe, he will say 'excuse-me' and pull his foot back, the tone/action making it appear that it was his fault that the toe was in your way.

Canadians are proud of how our country is viewed in the international community and enjoy wearing the flag where-ever they go, so sometimes you can easily spot them (just don't ask them if they know 'Susy' from Toronto).

Sovereignty

If you asked me, as a Canadian with global concerns, if I want my country aligned with a military super power that is willing to send its military off to achieve its own foreign policy ambitions - the answer is no. But given the opportunity, we should at least be 'at the table' to voice our opinion or guide them towards a less militant solution (Hmm. Sounds a lot like the United Nations' motto).

The formal announcement that Canada will refuse any further participation in the controversial U.S. missile-defense shield was met with an immediate warning that Canada had given up its sovereignty.

U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci warned that Washington would not be constrained : "“We will deploy. We will defend North America. We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada."

But Mr. Celluci doesn't understand that Canadian's know that there's virtually no chance that those missiles would be aimed at Canada. In answer to Mr. Cellucci's ponderings : Nobody hates Canada. [Almost] Everybody hates the US. The only reason anyone would want to aim missiles at Canada would be to take out missile defense installations.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said Canada must be consulted before the U.S. decides to fire on missiles that enter Canadian airspace, despite Ottawa's refusal to participate in America's missle defense program. We all know this isn't going to happen, especially now that Martin flat out refused to even continue talking about the issue.

But this is typical of our relations with the U.S. and will probably change again with another leadership change in each country.

Soapbox

When I lived and worked in the U.S., a coworker asked me : "When are you going to be become an Amertican [citizen] ?" I explained many of the details above (this was before the Joe Canadian advertisement was popular) and wrapped up with "to be Canadian meant that you are always struggling for your identity and place in the world."

In Other Words : I am Canadian.




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