The die is cast

Remember the prorogation kurfuffle? No, not the one in 2009 one. The first one.

It looks like history is about to repeat itself.

Mr. Harper has announced that he wants to eliminate government subsidies for political parties. So far he’s only said that he wants to use that as a Conservative plank in the next election, but I’m betting that it will appear in bill form sometime before early March – just before a budget would have to be brought down.

Why? The first time the government tried to eliminate subsidies, the opposition parties freaked out and botched forming a coalition. This time around, instead of proroguing, Harper is going to force the vote and allow the government to fall on this handy dandy wedge issue. In the subsequent election, he can paint the other parties as pigs at a trough, and say “there are already generous credits and incentives in the tax system to encourage people to give to political parties today.” Oh wait. He just did.

I can pretend the move is antidemocratic: the subsidy means that everyone’s vote has value. In a donation-only system, only people who have spare cash can donate, so they’ll donate to parties that pander to their wants meet their needs. Poor folks (who can’t wait until tax time for their tax credits to be returned) won’t be represented as well.

But, in my heart of hearts, my main reason for supporting the subsidy is that it benefits the Green Party. The subsidy forms a substantial part of the our budget, so any reduction of the subsidy would cripple the federal party. I tend to think of that as a bad thing, but others would probably disagree.

Improving the VrtuCar reservation page

The VrtuCar reservation page sort of sucks. It works, but it’s ugly:
It’s also hard to use, as it:

mixes available cars with unavailable cars,
gives tables varying widths,
places the reservation buttons inconsistently.

My greasmonkey script makes the site look a little better:

If you’d like to improve the look of your VrtuCar reservation page, grab the script from the GitHub repo.

Second Cup isn’t Fair Trade

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Second Cup started sporting a Fair Trade logo on their signage. Being the kind of person that thinks people should be paid a reasonable wage, and knowing that coffee workers can be treated like serfs, I started stopping by Second Cup to grab the occasional cup of java. Then I started wondering. When I order myself a caramel corretto®, is it really fairly traded?

So I sent an email to Second Cup’s customer care. Their response was a little disappointing:

Thank you for your email and your interest in the Second Cup. I have included below our Fair Trade Coffee available through Second Cup. Currently this is the only coffee in our series that is certified. Please do refer to our website at www.secondcup.com to review our selection and how we are making a difference environmentally and socially.

So, even though Second Cup says “24 fairly traded coffees available every day”, they really mean they have one fairly traded coffee.

It’s back to Bridgehead, and their fully fair trade menu for me.

Flattr

The Web 2.0 dream is to be able to give something away while still making a living on it. That may work for Cory Doctorow, but for most of us, it’s untenable. The only mechanism I’ve seen for paying open source peeps for consumer-grade projects is donations. Paypal and Amazon both provide an ability to donate to a project, as does Pledgie, but I haven’t seen anything that makes donating easy.

Then I found Flattr. It allows donors to give micropayment-style donations to anyone with a web page (and a Flattr account). It makes life easier for donors because they choose how much they will give a month, and that amount is divided amongst their donees.

It isn’t perfect. The Flattr community is pretty sparse, and there’s no way to set a recurring Flattr, but they’re 90% of the way there. It’d be great if Canonical, vim, Parcellite, Google Chrome, kdenlive, and Guake accepted Flattrs.

If you’re looking for an invitation, hit me up with the contact form and I’ll hook you up.

Planning a Wedding in Ottawa

Here’s a quick rundown of my experiences with the vendors I used for my wedding. These vendors are in Ottawa, and, for the most part, they did a decent job at a reasonable price.

cgycVenue and catering: The Carleton Golf and Yacht Club hosted our wedding. We were looking for an all-in-one venue that would handle the ceremony, the reception, and the catering. The CGYC clocked in at about $60-$70 per guest. The cost was less than other locations we looked at (notably Strathmere), and the hall was nicer than either the Monterey Inn or Bearbrook Farms. Laurie O’Brien, the clubhouse manager, did a fantastic job at ensuring the reception hall was properly decorated and that everything went smoothly. She (and her staff) were fantastic. Highly recommended.

Transportation: Because our venue was out in the middle of nowhere, we chartered a school bus. The driver knew how to pacify a bunch of drunk wedding goers (turn out the light, natch), was friendly, and knew where he was going. We also hired a moving truck as we had many things to move from location to location. We hired Ottawa Movers: Trinity Moving. Very happy and I Recommended.

Photographer: We went with Julie Young Photography. She (and her lovely assistant) did a great job at herding the wedding party and composing us into something that I hope is photogenic. We haven’t gotten the final pictures yet, so I’ll hold out on my assessment.

DJ: First Choice Entertainment (613-830-7009) satisfied our music and MC needs. The owner, Greg Fedor, was easily the most energetic vendor we hired. His posse had a good selection of music (even if they didn’t know a good track to foxtrot to), and good equipment. They provided music for the ceremony as well as the reception and dancing. Recommended.

Officiant: Lynne Langille of Exceptional Wedding Ceremonies in Ottawa presided over the ceremony. She did a good job, given the various hiccups we threw at her (collapsing chairs, wrong rings, and a giggling bride and groom). Recommended.

Limousine: We hired Elite Limousine to ferry us from our photo venue to reception/ceremony venue. The driver got lost en route, making us 20 minutes late for our own wedding. Disappointing.

Cake: We ordered cupcakes from the Buttercream Bakery. The cupcakes weren’t bad, but they didn’t have the richness I had hoped for. I can take part of the blame for that – I should have bailed when we did our tasting. Similarly, a cake we ordered for the cutting proved to be pretty bland. What’s worse, a day before the reception, we called them to make sure they had the right address for delivery. They didn’t. Recommended with reservations. If you go with these folks, call at the last minute to make sure they have the right address.

Rings: I tried various jewelery stores, but I didn’t see anything I liked until I went to Magpie. They had a wider selection in styles and materials than we found elsewhere. Their stuff has a bit of a hippy look, but some of us like that kind of thing. Recommended.

Vehicle Warranty Scam?

I just got a pushy call from a telemarketer telling me that I was getting a “second notice” of my car’s warranty expiring, and that I should re-register it through them. I’ve never owned a car. They refused to tell me where they got my phone number, anything about the car in question, or the company they are working for. It sounds like a scam (and the RCMP thinks so too).

The call was from 1.916.219.81631. It comes about five days after I moved the number to Rogers’ wireless service. I hadn’t received any phone spam in my 2.5 years with Virgin Wireless.

Anyone else gotten these calls?

Blogs are about conversation

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying: blogs are about communication. Communication isn’t the same thing as dissemination/syndication, as it implies that readers can participate in a post with critiques, questions, and additional information. Reader participation makes a blog more than simple announcements, it elevates a blog from a simple homepage1 to being a bazaar of ideas.

Participation can take many forms: comments being the most immediate (since the reader can easily browse them when reading the article); but automatic backlinking works too (see pingbacks). The irony is that adding that kind of a system to a blog makes it intrinsically more interesting, both to the reader and the writer.

Rant trigger: some guy presents an idea without any mechanism of receiving feedback. Honourable mention: dmo asks for tips on his blog, without providing a mechanism for readers to comment..

Note to self: Sports photography

I was taking a photos at the Icebreaker soccer tournament this weekend. A few things worth noting

1/100 of a second isn’t nearly as fast as I thought it was. With a telephoto at around 100mm, there was still significant motion blur from the movement of my camera. I’d consciously turned off shake reduction (WHY? WHY? WHY?). If I’d had SR on, maybe I would have been able to use a few more of the shots.
I was shooting at low shutter speeds to try and create a feeling of depth. At 100mm, f12-f16, with a subject ~40 feet away, I had a depth of field of about 35 feet. In my books that’s too much. If I’d forced my camera to stay around f8, I’d have had a much more dramatic DoF: 10 feet; but that would have started interfering with my motion blur. I’m starting to wonder if a monopod would have helped. 1
Shots from behind the net were the most dramatic. A few of the games I was watching went to shoot outs, so I had a nicely choreographed play to track. I opened my focal length up to 50mm, which was probably a mistake, as it didn’t compress the kicker to look close to the goalie, nor did it give me enough of an angle to catch the ball hitting the corners of the net, although stepping back 5 or 10 feet probably would have helped.
I didn’t have a chance to take many “vertical” shots (ie, the camera 90° to horizontal), mostly because the action was moving too quickly.

QuickTax(Web) isn’t worth your money

or the past few years I’ve been trying to use Intuit’s QuickTaxWeb to do my taxes. I say trying because it hasn’t worked for the last 2/3 years. In 2005, I noticed that they weren’t calculating tax properly on research grants that I’d been awarded. This year, their crappy web interface didn’t provide me with anywhere to enter my political contributions (thereby raising my income by about $200). Their help told me I could go back to the start of their wizardy interface and put myself into “advanced mode,” but 30 minutes of searching still hadn’t revealed that shortcut to me.

When I was using their help tool, the search stopped working due to server errors. (NullPointerExceptions – the Java equivalent of not doing a NULL check before dereferencing a pointer)

Foolishly, I decided to buy their desktop edition, on the assumption that a $19.99 desktop app would have the same functionality as a $19.99 web app. Nope – it doesn’t handle RRSPs, or other “advanced” tax issues, without using the “forms view” which is basically a glorified paper and pencil view.

Can anyone recommend a decent Canadian tax package?
6 comments Sunday, April 27, 2008

Paris

For some reason, Mayor Larry likes to keep saying Ottawa is a “world-class” city. Then again, he also liked to say that “zero means zero” (or is that 4.9?).

img_0730.JPGI suspect it will be a few more generations, a few city-wide fires, and a revolution or two until Ottawa becomes a world-class city to rival Paris. We don’t have the boulevards, landmarks, or public transit system to rival the French capitol.

About the only place we can hope to compete is with our on-street food vendors. We have two advantages: our culture accepts eating while walking and we have a large francophone population. It’s only a matter of time before some bright lad or lass at Algonquin discovers that crepes can be made and sold on the street.

“Oh! But what about beaver tails?” you say. The answer to that is simple: savory crepes. Do beaver tails have ham, tomato, feta? No. What about cheese? No. Beaver tails are a culinary dead-end. Crepes are like prokaryotes. There isn’t a gastronomic niche crepes can’t handle. Bring on a Canadian school of crepes, I say.

Sure, our city is a sprawling mess. Sure, our future transit plans are pretty much what we have now (with a little more tunnel). Sure, our city has few landmarks almost no public art. Sure, we don’t have much in the way of urban parks. But we can at least have some decent street food, dammit!