Yann Martel and the Three Bears

It appears as though Yann Martel will be awarded the Booker Prize for his book Life of Pi.

Back in the late 1980s, I lived in a rollicking house of misfits at 640 Reid Street in Peterborough, Ontario. I’d just finished a year in residence at Trent University, and my friend John, who I knew through Trent Radio invited me to let a room in his house.

It was a heady time.

John ran an interesting house: each of we renters were assigned an evening of the week, and on that evening we were responsible for cooking the evening meal. My first attempt at this — reflecting both my lack of culinary imagination, and a strong gulp of newfound freedom — consisted of hamburgers, potato chips, and ice cream with M&M’s on top. I took me a long time to live that down, as the usual fare was more of the “cashew graced rice noodles with asparagus” kind.

In one of the rooms next door, on the second floor of 640 Reid Street, lived a man named Mark. A Trent graduate, Mark was working as a surveyor (I think — it was something outdoors and involved measurement). Of all of us in the house, Mark was the only one with a real job, the only one with cable television, and the only one with a beard. Mark was very affable, but he liked his space, and mostly kept to himself outside of our communal dining.

On the other side was the room of Simon Shields. Simon’s project at the time was a storefront legal clinic called the Community Information Agency, a place where he offered free or low-cost paralegal advice to all takers. We became good friends, and were roommates several other times over the ensuing years.

One weekend Simon had a visit from his friend Yann. Simon and Yann had met at Trent, I think, and Yann was in Peterborough for a brief sojourn amidst an exciting life as an intellectual traveler. As Mark was away for the weekend, Yann stayed in Mark’s room.

Now, as I said, Mark liked his space, but was also affable, and the combination of the two was an invitation for guests to stay in Mark’s room during his absences as long as there was no evidence of the fact when he returned.

Alas at the end of the weekend there was some evidence of Yann’s residence — the specifics escape me — and this caused a minor brouhaha in the house. As anyone who’s lived in a house of unrelated malcontents knows, such episodes can easily fracture the gentle balances needed for happy cohabitation. If I recall correctly, this episode had echos into the following several weeks, but generally blew over quite quickly.

I recollected Yann this morning, in an email to John, as a “mildly interesting, but also somewhat pompous man with his head in the clouds.” His official biography says that he now “divides his time between yoga, writing and volunteering in a palliative care unit.” I conclude that these are all probably qualities that are good to have if you want to write Booker Prize-winning novels.

Those were the days.

Hat’s off to Yann on the Booker.

Sort of instant sort of messaging

Here’s a warning to anyone who’s considering using Island Tel Mobility’s text messaging service as a server monitor alert system (i.e. server goes down, you get a message): it doesn’t work.

Or rather, it does work, but not in any way that will be of help to you. We had a series of server challenges with a Boston-based server today — a combination of power outages and server load problems. I set up the server to send a message to my cell phone if the server load hit a certain threshold.

And it did. Several times.

From about 12:20 to 1:30 this afternoon, the server sent out 20 text messages. When did they arrive? Some arrived instantly. Others arrived 6 hours later. The last one — sent 10 hours ago — arrived just now.

Island Tel Mobility is honest about the shortcomings of their system — if you press them, they will tell you the service is not guaranteed to send messages.

Which has got to make you wonder: what good — for anything — is a text messaging service that may, or may not, send messages now, or at some point in the future. If this vague “maybe messaging” service makes server monitoring difficult, imagine what it would do if you’re trying to flirt with someone, or break up with them, or arrange to meet them on the corner, or ask them to bring home a package of diapers.

I imagine that some of this is related to Island Tel Mobility outsourcing the text messaging service to a Stamford, CT-based company called i3mobile. Maybe if they took the service in-house and got some solid Island techs working on it, they could make it work like it should?

Load Average Fun

<TECHNICAL>Only those of you who manage UNIX servers will appreciate this: our Boston-based server hit a one-minute load average of 196 this afternoon and lived to tell the tale. This has gotta be some sort of record, doesn’t it?</TECHNICAL>

Lies my numbers told me...

CBC is reporting that “Software pirates abound in P.E.I.” according to a study [warning: insane Flash-based website] by the Business Software Alliance.

I did an interview with Island Morning the last time these folks released their crazy study (which also showed the Island as “software piracy capital of Canada), and everything thing I said that time applies again.

Basically their study is not based on empirical research, it is based entirely on extrapolation.

To calculate the demand numbers, the study says they do the following:

PC shipments by province were estimated from a detailed review of the employment and population of each province, and the application of U.S. market research to estimate the PC penetration rate variation among provinces. From this basis, estimates of PC shipments could be made for each province.

On the supply side, they went through a similar guessing process:

To estimate the supply of legal software by province, IPR relied on detailed industry sales data. This data was compiled only for those software applications that were studied in the BSA global software piracy study. For that study, only business software applications that correspond to the three Software Application Tiers were used.

So, basically, they guessed at the number of computers they think Islanders should be buying, guessed at the amount of software that Islanders should be buying, and thus declared that our ratio was the worst in Canada, and thus we are a province of software pirates.

My main point the last time this issue came up was that if you are going to disparage the reputation of my province, you’d better have more than guessing to back you up. And it applies this time as well.

There is no doubt that some Islanders have and use pirated software. As a software developer myself, I am against the use of pirated software. But these goons do not represent me or my interests and they should stop releasing these grossly over-generalized studies.

For whom the Bell tolls...

I’m attending the Access 2002 conference next week in lovely Windsor, Ontario. The conference is being held in the Cleary International Centre, a hall that has no Internet access of any kind.

The conference organizers contacted Bell Canada to see about getting ADSL access installed. They were told that this would take many weeks, that the cost for 3 days would be billed at their minimum 30 days, and that the total cost, with installation, would be about $10,000.

The solution for a while was to simply use dial-up modem access into the University modem pool; this struck me as being basically insane in 2002, and so I offered to help find other solutions.

I was fortunate to find a very nice woman named Sarah at COGECO, the cable provider in Windsor, and their company agreed to provide Internet access to the conference for free.

Obviously the “hey, we’re a monopoly and we can charge whatever the hell we want” ethic has not left Bell’s Windsor offices.