I’ve been playing The Dictionary Game (who knew it had another name?) for years; it’s second only to charades in the Pantheon of party games in my book.

My friend Stephen Southall sent me a recipe for granola after Christmas and the final phase of the preparation was titled Afterdamp, a reference to a word that featured in a game we played more than 25 years ago in which the definition of note was “the time after the moistening and before the drying off.”

Beyond its usefulness in the sexual arena, afterdamp turns out to be the perfect word to describe the phase after granola comes out of the oven and before it is bottled.

Indeed I’d forgotten that afterdamp actually has a real meaning, concerned with mining and off-gassing; in my mind, the fictional definition has superseded the real one.

Surely there must be a word for that.

Peak Juice Bar

With the move of juice bar Rawsome into the old Dynamic Fitness space on Queen Street, directly beside juice bar Freshii, we have, I believe, reached Peak Juice Bar in downtown Charlottetown.

Peak Juice Bar

Let’s use the opportunity to cast our minds back to 1998 when the great Len Russo penned this column in the Eastern Graphic about Charlottetown’s first juice bar:

All juice up and ready to go!

professor ruk

Next month I’ll be a guest lecturer in the University of Prince Edward Island course Philosophy 105: Technology, Values and Science, a course described like this for prospective students:

This course explores the connections among technology, human values, and science that are manifested in society, economic systems, and relationships between humans and the natural world. The study of the connections reveal the vast impact that science and technology have on our understanding of the world and our views on the future as well as on personal identity and the human body. It exposes students to critical examination of objectivity in scientific research, progress in technology and science, scientific risk assessment, and genetic engineering. No particular background in science is assumed in this course.

Regular readers may recall that I audited this course six years ago, and wacky hijinks ensued including a guest lecture Privacy and the Obligation to Explain.

This year I’m jumping farther into the deeper end, presenting four guest lectures starting February 22. 

I plan to return to the privacy well with an updated examination of some of the same issues I discussed in 2009, and also to promote discussion about open data, about experience design, about hacker culture, and about how the design of educational systems – like, say, Philosophy 105 – reflects membership in one school of philosophy of technology or another.

I am both particularly well-suited and wholly unsuited to take on this role.

I am a university drop-out with some significant doubts as to the practical and spiritual value of post-secondary education.

I am a technologist by trade and inclination.

I’ve spent 36 years immersed in the conduct of and critical examination of digital culture.

I am a technology-skeptic, suspicious of those who ready the clarion to celebrate the coming technological utopia.

I am a technology-booster, witness to and beneficiary of the transformative power of a digital metaphors in changing power relationships, self-education and community organization.

The reason I’m going ahead, and the reason I have the faith required, is because I take intellectual sustenance from a book I first read 30 years ago, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner​ (read my story about how I came to read it, or just read the book itself as a PDF). From Chapter One, Crap Detecting:

The need for this kind of perspective has always been urgent but never so urgent as now. We will not take you again through that painful catalogue of twentieth-century problems we cited in our introduction. There are, however, three particular problems which force us to conclude that the schools must consciously remake themselves into training centers for ‘subversion’. In one sense, they are all one problem but for purposes of focus may be distinguished from each other. 

The first goes under the name of the ‘communications revolution’ or media change. As Father John Culkin of Fordham University likes to say, a lot of things have happened in this century and most of them plug into walls. To get some perspective on the electronic plug, imagine that your home and all the other homes and buildings in your neighborhood have been cordoned off, and from than will be removed all the electric and electronic inventions that have appeared in the last fifty years. The media will be subtracted in reverse order with the most recent going first. The first thing to leave your house, then, is the television set — and everybody will stand there as if they are attending the funeral of a friend, wondering, ‘What are we going to do tonight?’ After rearranging the furniture so that it is no longer aimed at a blank space in the room, you suggest going to the movie. But there won’t be any. Nor will there be LP records, tapes, radio, telephone, or telegraph. If you are thinking that the absence of the media would only affect your entertainment and information, remember that, at some point, your electric lights would be removed, and your refrigerator, and your heating system, and your air conditioner. In short, you would have to be a totally different person from what you are in order to survive for more than a day. The chances are slim that you could modify yourself and your patterns of living and believing fast enough to save yourself. As you were expiring, you would at least know something about how it was before the electric plug. Or perhaps you wouldn’t. In any case, if you had energy and interest enough to hear him, any good ecologist could inform you of the logic of your problem: a change in an environment is rarely only additive or linear. You seldom, if ever, have an old environment plus a new element, such as a printing press or an electric plug. What you have is a totally new environment requiring a whole new repertoire of survival strategies. In no case is this more certain than when the new elements are technological. Then, in no case will the new environment be more radically different from the old than in political and social forms of life. When you plug something into a wall, someone is getting plugged into you. Which means you need new patterns of defense, perception, understanding, evaluation. You need a new kind of education. 

Postman and Weingartner wrote that 50 years ago, and the “communications revolution” or “media change” that they wrote about has become something they wouldn’t recognize practically, but the essential qualities of which they would see, I think, directly connected to everything they wrote and thought back then.

I truly believe that we need “new patterns of defense, perception, understanding, evaluation” and I think I have something to contribute to this discussion as someone who, relatively speaking, has lived both with the plug and without.

As an interesting coincidence, one of the class exercises for Philosophy 105, then and now, assigned by its bona fide professor, Neb Kujundzic, is to go for 24 hours without digital technology; here’s what the class was given back then:

Philosophy 105 Case Study

Although I was merely a fly on the wall for the course, not a student, I went through the exercise – something Oliver will never let me forget, as he bore the brunt of the agony involved and got none of the glory. I posted my diary in this space, a diary that began like this:

Philosophy 105 Case Study: Page 1

And so, at least for 24 hours, we took Postman and Weingartner’s challenge. And it was fascinating.

In February, with the 21 students enrolled in Philosophy 105, I hope to use this as a jumping off point of contemporary issues in technology, values and science.

Today I’m going up to campus to meet the class of students for the first time; I’ll have a month of thinking before we see each other again and enter into a formal dialog together.

Wish me luck.

Going Secure. Or All the Images

I’m in the midst of a plan to migrate this site to a secure server – https instead of http – and as part of that plan I need to ferret out all the embedded images that are called from non-secure hosts, so as to avoid mixed-content issues

There are 6,953 pages that make up this site — all the blog posts and “about” pages taken together. This bit of PHP code extracts all URLs of all of the images embedded in the body of all of those pages by directly querying the Drupal node table:

$query = "SELECT entity_id,body_value from field_data_body";
$result = $db7->query($query);
while($row = $result->fetch(PDO::FETCH_ASSOC)) {
  $doc = new DOMDocument();
  $imageTags = $doc->getElementsByTagName('img');
  foreach($imageTags as $tag) {
      print $tag->getAttribute('src') . "\n";

That script identifies 4,325 images in total, ranging from the good old:


to images on hosts like Flickr:

Some of these images – like 1by1.gif – are 404, and I’ll need to do some manual corrections to the HTML for those mosts; others, like that Flickr example, are perfectly fine to serve on the new secure site as they’re already hosted on a secure server (note the https in the Flickr URL). But there are a lot of images that are served from non-secure hosts that I control, like:


For images like that, I’ll need to change the URL to either:



Of the 4,325 images, 3,587 (83%) are from non-secure hosts, 244 (6%) are from secure hosts, and 494 are relative embeds with no host indicated. It breaks down like this:

  • Flickr (non-secure): 1678 images
  • Flickr (secure): 233 images
  • (non-secure): 1011 images
  • (non-secure): 632 images
  • Third-party hosts (non-secure): 255 images
  • Relative embeds without host: 494 images

My plan is to move all of these images to a secure server under my control and then to rewrite the embedded URLs to point there.

As an aside, one of the things I found out while I was under the hooking mucking about with the blog was that I’ve written 1,439,497 words here since 1999. That’s Catch-22 times 8 or Fahrenheit 451 times 31. If only mine were such quality words as those.

Learn to OpenStreetMap on Feb. 4, 2016

I’m hosting a Learn to OpenStreetMap table at the City of Charlottetown’s Inspired City event on February 4, 2016 from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel. It’s free, and everyone is welcome.

If you’d like to learn how to sign up for a free OpenStreetMap account, and how to use the simple web-based map editor to enhance the map of Charlottetown, please stop by. I’ll have a couple of laptops available for you to use, and lots of stories and map tips to share.

As it says here:

OpenStreetMap is a free, editable map of the whole world that is being built by volunteers largely from scratch and released with an open-content license.

The map of Charlottetown and area has been evolving over the 10 years that the OpenStreetMap project has been running, but there are still many areas of the city that could benefit from greater detail, and there are new horizons to explore — indoor mapping, 3D mapping, micromapping – that can keep us all busy for years.

You can edit OpenStreetMap from your own computer in your own home or office, and the editor is simple and well-documented enough that you don’t need a lot of experience to jump in right away.

Come and seek me out on February 4 at the Delta.

OpenStreetMap Watercolour of Charlottetown

Transit in Charlottetown on OpenStreetMap

Beach Grove Trail in OpenStreetMap

Editing the Delta Hotel in OpenStreetMap

The Delta Hotel on OpenStreetMap

Ethan at the Dentist

A couple of years ago, just after Ethan joined our family, Oliver needed to have a tooth extracted. Ethan came with him. I just found a photo that Catherine took of Ethan and Oliver together in the dentist’s chair, a photo that had gone missing in the interim.

Ethan at the Dentist

Making Drupal Email Fields Keyboard Friendly

Olle tweeted this morning:

@ruk I use yr Comment fieldset on iPhone. Email input field does not change keyboard layout to the email-positive one. Can HTML5 attrs?

What Olle means is that when he’s entering his email address in the comment form on a post here, he would like the HTML for the email field to have a “type” of “email,” as documented here:

A field for editing an e-mail address. The input value is validated to contain either the empty string or a single valid e-mail address before submitting. 

In other words,the HTML for the email field right now looks like this:

<input type="text" 
       value="" size="30" 
       class="form-text required">  

and this results in the iOS keyboard, when focused on this field, looking generic, like this:

iOS Keyboard not in "email address mode"

This isn’t the special “enter an email address” keyboard that would have handier access to the “@” sign, and that would work to ensure that what was entered was, in fact, a valid email address.

How to make this work in Drupal 7?

I installed the Elements module, which defines a new emailfield field type for the Drupal Forms API.

Then in my theme’s template.php I altered the comment form:

function at_ruk_form_comment_form_alter(&$form) {
  $form['author']['mail']['#type'] = 'emailfield';

That has the effect of modifying the Drupal comment field HTML to look like this instead:

<input type="email" 
       class="form-text form-email required">

which has the desired effect of rendering an email-address-specific keyboard in the iOS brower:

iOS Keyboard in "email address" mode

Note that handy access to the “@” symbol and the period beside the spacebar.

The effect is similarly positive on the Chrome browser on Android devices:

Email keyboard on Android Chrome.

Thanks to Olle for the inspiration to do this.

Ethan and Oliver Go to School

Two years ago Ethan, Oliver’s autism assistance dog, joined our family: he and Oliver met each other for the first time in March of 2014, following 10 days of training for Catherine and I at Lions Foundation Dog Guides facility in Oakville, Ontario.

Here’s a photo of their first meeting:

Ethan Meets Oliver

The general plan for new autism assistance dogs working for school-age children is that they spend 6 months to a year with their new client before they start going to school. This time allows for a bond to develop between dog and child, allows the dog to be comfortable with the child and the child with the dog, and ensures that the transition to the complexities of school life will be smooth and positive.

For many logistical reasons beyond our collective control, this transition to school happened a little later in Oliver and Ethan’s case: almost two years from the date Ethan came home with us from Ontario he went to school with Oliver for the first time this week.

We’d been keeping the school up to date on our plans for Ethan and Oliver since Oliver was accepted to receive a dog guide in the winter of 2014, and everyone in the school community was open to the idea and to working with us to make it happen. In the months since then the English Language School Board developed a Service Dog Policy (which we’re quite happy with) and we kept Oliver’s teachers and educational assistants in the loop as we moved closer to the introduction of Ethan to the classroom.

In December of last year we had confirmation from Dog Guides that Tara, Ethan’s original trainer, was available to come to Prince Edward Island this week to help introduce Ethan to the school. And on Wednesday morning Tara arrived.

This is how the week went from there.

We woke up on Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. as we usually do. Ethan came into our room and climbed up on the bed, ignorant of the excitement and change to come:

Ethan Starts his Wednesday

I drove Oliver to school, leaving Ethan at home, and then hurried back.

Just after 9:00 a.m., Tara knocked at the door. Ethan’s recognition of Tara was immediate and obvious, and it was all he could do to keep within the bounds of acceptable service dog behaviour when she came in and sat down.  

We spent a few hours reviewing things with Tara, telling her about our adventures with Ethan, about Ethan’s bond with Oliver, and about some of the things we’re apprehensive about. She gave us a briefing on what to expect for the rest of the week.

Just before 11:00 a.m. Tara followed us to the school and we sat down for a meeting with the Principal, Vice-Principal, Autism Consultant from the English Language School Board, Resource Teacher and Oliver’s classroom teacher, along with the Principal and Resource Teacher from Colonel Gray High School, where Oliver will be next year.

We had a positive, wide-ranging conversation covering everything from Ethan’s role as an autism assistance dog to who would pick up the dog poop should the need arise. The two years of discussions we’d been having with everyone paid off here, as all were already on board and ready for Ethan’s introduction; most of what we discussed was the logistics for a smooth transition.

After a break for lunch, Oliver joined Catherine and I, his educational assistants and homeroom teacher, along with Tara, in the unused classroom that’s been set to be a home for Ethan’s crate (where he’ll go when, for one reason or another, he needs to be apart from Oliver; gym class, for example) for a crash course in service dog handling.

Ethan's Home away from Home

Oliver has the benefit of some fantastic, open minded, generous educational assistants and teachers at Birchwood, and they gamely jumped into the training process with both feet, learning the basic commands Ethan responds to – stay, down, leave it, forward, wait – and practicing walking around the classroom and the hallways with Ethan. Lots of questions were asked, and all were answered. You could see the collective comfort level grow by the minute.

The school day was over by the time training was over, and it was time for Oliver and Ethan to jump into the deep end together: they headed off to Minecraft Club, where I found them an hour later when I returned with a mat for Ethan:

Ethan's First Day of School

Ethan did exactly what he was supposed to do, sitting patiently at Oliver’s side as his time in Minecraft Club continued on as it ever was.

On Thursday morning Tara showed up at our doorstep just before 8:00 a.m. to walk to Birchwood with Oliver and I. When we arrived at the school I handed over Ethan to one of Oliver’s educational assistants, turned around and walked home.

By myself. For the first time in a long, long time.

It wasn’t until that moment that it hit me that this was all happening, and that my daily routine – drop Oliver at school, walk to my office with Ethan, hand Ethan over to Catherine at the noon hour – was done, and that I was going to be making a cold, lonely walk to the office from then on (I may have to get myself a dog!).

Catherine and I returned to the school just before 10:00 a.m. for a school-wide assembly hosted by Tara. She showed a DVD introducing the Dog Guides program and then went over the rules about Ethan in the school for students and staff:

  1. Don’t call Ethan by name, or try to get his attention.
  2. Don’t feed Ethan.
  3. Don’t pet Ethan.

These rules are designed to keep Ethan safe, and to ensure that his sole focus is Oliver.

The assembly was an emotional time for me too, both because the DVD reminded me how powerful dog guides can be for all their clients, regardless of the program they’re in, and also because I got to see the community of students and teachers that Ethan will be immersed in, gathered all at once, and to witness their attention to the proceedings and their helpful questions for Tara (if you’re sharp you’ll be able to spot both Ethan and Oliver, apart for the moment, in this photo):

Ethan's Assembly

At the end of the assembly the students repaired to their period 4 classes, Oliver and Ethan with them, and Ethan’s life at the school formally began.

We returned to the office for a brief follow-up, a final review of the Service Dog Management Plan, and for thanks and goodbyes.

And then Catherine and I got in the car and drove home, Ethanless, confident that everything was going according to plan.

This morning, Friday, Oliver and Ethan and I walked to school as we usually do, I handed Ethan over to another of Oliver’s educational assistants, and Tara spent a last morning shadowing them to make sure everything was working. Our new routine becomes routine.

At the end of this week I’m more convinced than ever of the valuable contribution to Oliver’s well-being and education that Ethan is going to play at school, more impressed than ever at the professionalism and thoroughness of Dog Guides’ programs and trainers, more grateful than even to Lions Foundation and Lions clubs across the country for supporting Dog Guides, and more satisfied than ever that Oliver’s attending school in a community of flexible, caring, dedicated educators.

Thank you to everyone who helped to make this happen.