Bill 179

Ontario is on the verge of passing a health care bill which will grant drug prescribing power to Naturopathic Doctors.  The name "Naturopathic Doctors" is misleading because they are not doctors in the sense of a medical doctor; they are merely approved by the self-regulated College of Naturopathy.  Skeptic North explains this issue far better than I can so I urge you to read their posts on the subject.

Magical Prescriptions
Why Bill 179 Matters and is a threat to Medical Standards
A Skeptic North Response to the Naturopaths' Rebuttal

I sent the following email to my MPP to explain my views on the subject.  I urge everyone to call or write their MPPs before it is too late and any nutjob in a white lab coat can write prescriptions.

We recently read about Bill 179 on the CBC website and were shocked to discover that Ontario is planning to allow naturopaths to prescribe medication.  We feel this is a grave mistake.

Naturopathic practitioners are simply not qualified to assess patients and determine which chemicals they should be ingesting.  Naturopathy is based on pseudo-scientific philosophy and is not grounded in chemistry or science.  It is based on unproven beliefs and untested hypotheses, or worse, disproven theories.  Naturopaths are opposed to conventional, evidence-based medicine.  They oppose vaccines.  They promote homeopathy, which has been proven again and again to be a placebo.  In short, naturopathy is not medicine and naturopaths are not proper health-care providers.  Someone who is not trained in chemistry and biology should not be able to prescribe a drug.

There is real risk of harm to patients.

Recently a baby girl died because her eczema was treated with homeopathic remedies instead of real medical careIn Ontario a baby died in 1987 due to malnutrition because a naturopathic "doctor" was advising the parents about the proper feeding and care for the baby.  In Quebec last year a court ruled that a mother was negligent in withholding her daughter's medication in favour of naturopathic treatments.  The website documents these and many other cases worldwide where improper treatment and non-medical treatments result in injury or death to patients.

Most people are not qualified to judge their own healthcare.  They have little or no understanding of biology or even nutrition.  These people are easy prey for people who sell questionable cures.  Consider vitamins: there are two kinds of vitamins.  One is water-soluble, which means that if you have too much in your body it just dissolves in your urine and you flush it away.  Taking these vitamins can cause kidney stones but is usually not harmful (merely wasteful of your money).  The other kind of vitamin is fat soluble, which means it builds up in your body.  Vitamin D is one of the fat-soluble vitamins.  This means it is actually dangerous for people to take vitamin D supplements because it is very easy to overdose.  But the general public is unaware of the danger and they feel that because it's available without a prescription it must be safe and effective.  This simply isn't true and the science backs it up.  However under Bill 179 naturopaths are going to regain the ability to prescribe high doses of Vitamin D.  Most people don't have a vitamin deficiency, but for those with low Vitamin D the standard dose, 1000 IU, can already be prescribed by naturopaths.  What basis do naturopaths have for prescribing higher doses? 

Finally, another troubling aspect of this bill is that it legitimizes naturopathy.  Naturopathy does not work.  Homeopathy does not work.  This is a simple fact.  Some people try to paint a picture of "science" vs "nature" but this is a false dichotomy.  Science is about facts.  When science proves something, it is a fact.  If science proves the opposite, then it is not a fact.  Science has proven that homeopathy is no better than placebo, and that naturopathic treatments do not work.  If they did work, they would be scientific treatments.  After all, what do you call alternative medicine once it's been proven to work? Conventional medicine.  Science isn't about taking sides or being political.  It is impartial.

Bill 179 expands the scope of practice for many non-physicians.  This is not necessarily bad.  There is logic to allowing optometrists and pharmacists and other medical professionals the right to prescribe.  Presumable an optometrist knows how to prescribe eye-related medications because she has studied the biology, chemistry and physics of the eye.  Similarly, a nurse has also studied biology and medicine.  Pharmacists too spend a good portion of their school years studying chemistry and biology so that they can understand and evaluate prescriptions.  All of these people are trained medical professionals.  Naturopaths are by definition not medical.  They should not be allowed to prescribe medicine.

When Bill 179 comes up for a third reading we urge you to vote against it unless the expanded scope of practice excludes non-medical practitioners.  Don't put the lives of Ontarians at risk.

Harry Potter's world

The Harry Potter books suffer from a "big picture" problem. There seems to be a large population of wizards, some who live in their own town (Hogsmeade), though most live in mixed-Muggle/Wizard places. How do these wizards earn a living? They can't create food from nothing (a rule arbitrarily introduced in the last book), and there is such a thing as wizard poverty, so there must be wizard farmers and labourers somewhere. But what do all the other wizards do? Most of the wizards whose occupations are known are working in service industries:

Bill Weasley works at the bank.
Percy and Arthur (and many other characters) work for the government.
Many wizards work in education.
Some wizards work in stores, but it seems that those that do also manufacture their own goods; Ollivander makes his own wands; Fred and George make their own Wheezes, etc.
Harry and Ron want to be Aurors, i.e. police. Do wizards pay taxes to support the police?

Also it seems that even as the young wizards approach their final years of school they have nowhere near the skills of the teachers in the school. Even Harry never wins through magical skill; in fact his talents seem negligible compared to Dumbledore, who can walk into a cave and determine what spells were performed there years ago.  This suggests that there must be a higher education institute somewhere where they can learn more applied magic, but it is never mentioned, and in fact quitting school to strike out on your own is perfectly acceptable.

Finally the wizard community is remarkably aloof and isolationist when it comes to the Muggles. They can never understand anything non-magical, not even the money, though basic math should fix that... oh wait, they don't study math at Hogwarts. In fact they don't study anything mundane. But surely someone who can understand how to run a household or investigate a crime or make change in Galleons and Sickles should be able to understand how to use a telephone after a try or two. But there seems to be some kind of mental block that applies to all the characters not raised by Muggles.  This suggests that muggledom is akin to a language, in that you can learn the muggle way as a child but not easily as an adult.

It's possible that by raising these objections I'm missing the point, which is that these are kids books about a group of friends growing up in a tough world.  But I feel that a more thorough approach to this issue would have made these books remarkable.  Instead they have an inconsistent world where many of the characters show signs of insanity or incompetence and the world's limitations are numerous and arbitrary.

Misleading headlines

Newspapers are always full of headlines that are misleading, or ambiguous, or have multiple readings which are contradictory or confusing.

Consider this one:

Tenants must consent to smart meters under new rules

Did you read that as "Tenants are forced to give their consent when the landlord installs smart meters"? That's how I read it. Nope, turns out "Tenants consent must be obtained by the landlord before smart meters can be installed".

I hate notebooks

The LG R500 notebook I bought last year started crashing recently. It seems that it's overheating. It happened more while playing a game or watching a video. I blame the video card.

My usual approach with a PC would be to take the video card out and replace it with another one, but with a notebook that's out of warranty your options are severely limited. So I decided to go another route and try to fix the cooling.

The first thing I did was take out every external screw so that I could get the notebook apart. Then I had to pry the outer shell open. Turns out I didn't need to do all that; the video card is directly under the keyboard and could be accessed by removing 3 screws. Sigh.

In any case, after taking the video card off I cleaned off the thermal paste and put the video card back. It doesn't have a fan; instead the video card and CPU are both attached to a huge heatsink that is cooled by a fan in the corner. I cleaned the fan too but it wasn't very dirty.

After replacing the thermal paste I found that the notebook was more reliable, though not fully perfect. But this emboldened me to buy a notebook cooler. For those of you who don't know, a notebook cooler is a ridiculous device that you put under the notebook, which provides additional cooling by blowing air onto the underside of the notebook. Think of the sidewalk grate blowing up Marylin Monroe's skirt, only instead of a skirt it's a notebook computer that's overheated.

Now the notebook works much better when playing games, but I'm annoyed that the notebook didn't work properly without these workarounds. Taking apart a notebook is not easy; even in this case where there was an easy way to get to the video card, it still cost me to learn this: One of the screws holding the two halves of the case together broke, and I stripped a screwdriver taking out all those screws. At least I basically know what I'm doing here. Someone who doesn't know what they're doing could find that they took it apart, put it back together, and it doesn't work at all anymore. The reason: thermal paste has to be re-applied when you take the heatsink off the chip. Raise your hand if you have thermal paste at home. I thought so.

Then to top things off, I had to buy a frickin' external cooling system for this. When was the last time you bought something and found that it didn't work at all without an external device to compensate for its shortcomings? It's like buying a phone, only finding out that you can't hear the person on the other end without an amplifier that you strap onto the handset. Or buying pants but finding out that you can't do up the zipper without a $100 velcro kit sold separately by a third party.

I should have had to buy a cooling system for this computer. It should cool itself.

Well, anyway, it works mow. I'm a little behind the leading edge of gameplay these days, but I've just discovered that the cake is a lie.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I just saw Harry Potter 6 yesterday. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. 4 and 5 were not great movies; the pacing was too fast and too much dialogue had been cut to make the movie fit the 2.5 hour format. With Harry Potter 6 they managed to redeem themselves and make the movie work.

There are a few notable plot changes in the movie; most crucially there was a battle inserted in the middle and one removed from somewhere else. Some minor details here and there were changed, sometimes in ways that seemed odd, and sometimes in ways that violate the canon of the story, but nothing truly important was tampered with. Most characters appear without introduction and if you didn't recognize them from the books or previous movies you won't be able to recognize them now either. But aside from that the movie progressed fairly well and in accordance with the original story.

This is perhaps the best instalment so far since the first movie, which was the most true to the book.

One thing that bothers me is that the Death Eaters seem to have the ability to fly. In the 7th book they point out that Voldemort can fly and everyone is surprised by that. Oh well, it's not an important detail.

One thing I found funny is that certain actors have aged A LOT since the first movie and others don't appear to. This makes Rupert Grint, who's 21, look really out of place in Hogwarts, where the incoming students are 11. And some of the teachers in the school have aged a lot and I worry that they won't be around to play their roles in book 7. Maybe the director will film the end of that book sooner, since the teachers play a bigger role at the end than at the beginning.

Anyway, overall I recommend this movie to all fans of the books or the movies. It won't really disappoint; as far as movie adaptations go it's one of the better ones.

Lego Indiana Jones and the Lost Tomb

I recently picked up the Indiana Jones Lego set where Indy and Marion are in the Well of Souls (From Raiders of the Lost Ark).

It's a pretty decent little set, with a low price point. As usual, Lego's Candian pricing is crazy, but it was on sale so I got it at a fair price.

This small set basically represents the Well of Souls, including a bunch of snakes, and the Ark of the Covanent. In a stunning departure from the movie cannon, the Ark is still present while Marion and Indy try to free themselves.

As far as playability goes, the set offers a few tricks; the Marion minifig has two faces, one happy and one sad; the back wall of the tomb has a snake-dispensing trap, and the Egyptian statues can be toppled over, breaking through the back wall of the tomb (which are held in place with only a single stud for easy destruction).

Overall the quality of the set is good, though I would have liked a couple more minifigs (where's Sallah?). My only complaint is the use of stickers for the Egyptian art motifs. One of the stickers offensively covers two separate pieces, which means it will tear in half or get pulled off at some point in the future. I didn't apply that sticker. Also, some of the stickers (especially the eyes on the statues) aren't really necessary to get the full enjoyment from the set.

Piece-wise these are useful parts, in tan and that new brown colour that's the colour of chocolate milk. I really like the colour and this set has two baseplates that use it, as well as a few tiles. The normal tan pieces are also very useful and I was pleased to see that the pillar was made up of lots of individual round bricks instead of the less-useful one-piece pillar. I also noticed that the wall pieces are now hollow in the back, instead of solid like regular bricks. That's fine for most building but it's annoying in general that the pieces are getting a bit cheaper.

Overall I rate this set highly. It's a cute little set and you can't beat the Indiana Jones minifig.

Fedora 11 Installation

I recently installed Fedora 10 on my media PC. That was the hardest Linux installation I've ever done... until now. Just when I thought Fedora's installer couldn't get worse, it did.

The problems begin when Fedora's installer doesn't know how to start graphical mode on my media PC. You'd think that by now a computer connected to a TV would be one of the things that just works, but sadly, it doesn't. Even the basic VESA driver doesn't work for me. My TV output works fine with the nVidia binary driver, but I don't think there's a way to install the nVidia binary driver during installation, and thus I have to use the text-mode driver.

Well, Fedora is well on its way to having the industry's most useless text-mode installer. The Fedora 10 installer stupidly broke my system when it upgraded Fedora 8, and so I wasn't going to take chances and upgrade again; I wanted to do a fresh install. The installer provided me three options:
  • Install using the whole disk
  • Upgrade Fedora 10
  • Install in the "Free Space"
Well, using the whole disk is out, and using the Free Space is out because I have no free space, and upgrading is out because I want to keep 10 working until I am sure 11 is ready for me to use. Where is the option to repartition?

It was at this point that I should have turned back, but I decided to tough it out. I switched to the second virtual terminal and manually deleted my unused Fedora 7 partition using fdisk. "That should do it," I thought. WRONG. 28GB wasn't enough space to install, according to the installer. So I grudgingly deleted my Windows XP partition, which was unused on that computer. This freed up an additional 120GB and then the installer was happy to continue.

The installer asked me one more question: "What is your root password"? After typing that in, it said "Making filesystem... done. Installing software... done. You may reboot."

Wait, what?

Where did my network setup go? Where did package selection go?

Ok, well... maybe the installer is two-stage and a second installer will start after I reboot?

Nope. Turns out that's all there is: The installer installed the base packages and nothing else. Well, I guess I can set up my wireless network card now... nope, wireless networking packages were not installed. Ok, let me start the X gui: nope, X isn't installed. Hm, let me install software: nope, the yum command-line tool doesn't know how to install from the DVD.

What is going on here?

Fedora's installer
  • didn't know how to install on my hard disk because I didn't want to use the whole disk and there were no empty partitions
  • needed more than 28GB to install nothing
  • left me with a system that had no network and no way to install software from the DVD.
And even though the installer knows I have a Fedora 10 installation that I didn't overwrite, that I took great pains to protect, it didn't set up a grub entry for it, so the system only boots into Fedora 11 and doesn't offer any other choices.
Maybe the graphical installer would work, but the only monitor I have for this computer is a TV (my other computer is a notebook). Maybe I could use the VNC install, but the wired network is in a different room from the TV, so I can't see what I need to type to set up the vnc install. And the worst part: The text-mode installer doesn't explain, at any point, what it is doing or what other options you have. A single help screen, saying what the text-mode installer was capable of, and notifying me of the fact that I am out of luck using this installer, would have saved hours of aggravation.

So far I've managed to get things working bit by bit by moving the computer to the room with the wired network, typing blind to log in and active the network card (why isn't it on-boot? sigh), and then ssh'ing from my notebook into the computer. At that point I can at least install packages from the network and see what I am doing. But it should not be this difficult! I've been using Linux for 12 years and it seems things have started getting harder, not easier.

Google for your home

Google has a number of products that let you optimize your website. These products work reasonably well and are more or less free. I think it's time they expand into products for your home.

First, Google Analytics needs to branch out into Home Analytics. It could help you keep track of visitors to your home, how long they stay there, what rooms they go into, what languages they speak, that sort of thing.

Once you know who your visitors are, and how they spend their time, you can optimize your home for visits. You could set up goals and use goal-tracking to see if your visitors are reaching the goals, and you can track how changes you make affect their rate. One goal might be helping your guests find drinks in your fridge. Many teenagers are capable of finding food/drink anywhere you hide it, but older guests might require more prompting.

Google maps and Google earth provide a bird's eye view of your property. What's needed is for this to be real-time, so that you can see if the roof needs servicing or if there is a car in your driveway. Also a Google Map of the inside of your house would be useful too. This could be integrated with Search so that you can find the remote control.

Google Search needs to be able to find stuff in your house, as well as answer questions for you. A common problem in my home is the multiple-memory problem; everyone remembers the time my brother put the thing into the toilet, but we can't remember when. Google Search could cross-reference this with your other memories and reconstruct the timeline using MemoryRank and other heuristics. Also Google Search could find the receipt for your new DVD player because it's broken and you need to exchange it under warranty.

Chinese Numbers

One thing I've found tricky to learn in Chinese is the numbering system. Every language has their own way to name the numbers and numeric concepts, but Chinese is the strangest to me.

First of all, there are no distinct words for numbers bigger than 10 (), until you get up to 100(), 1000 (), etc. This makes it easy to remember but conversely more confusing to hear for me. For example, the word for "twenty" is actually pronounced as if you were saying "two ten" (二十) in English. But this means that a word like 74 is prounced "seven ten four" (七十四). This is fairly logical and easy to understand, but because I'm still getting used to this I have to first hear the individual numbers and then recombine them in my head to form their actual values.

It gets harder as you get to larger numbers. First, there are words for 100 and 1000, but there is also a word for 10,000 (). 100,000 is ten-tenthousands (十万). This means that you have to group numbers by 4 digits instead of 3: The number 300,223 isn't "three hundred thousand two hundred twenty three", it's 30'0223 - "thirty ten-thousands two hundreds two tens three" (三十万二百二十三). This makes it hard to convert the numbers unless you've totally internalized the different representations.

Oh, and you usually don't use er2 () to say "two something", you have to use liang (). So if you want to say "Two dogs", you don't say er zhi gou (二只狗), you say liang zhi gou (两只狗).

Then there's the convention used for talking about discounts. In English we often talk about how much on sale something is: 25% off, for exmaple. In Chinese you say how much is left to pay: da qi zhe (打七折) would be "on sale for 7 tenths." That means it's 30% off. If you want to say 25% off, you'd say 7 tenths 5, or da qi zhe wu (打七折). As far as I know, you can't sell something for more than 90% off: 90% off would be da yi zhe (打一折), or 1 tenth, but you can't say da ling zhe jiu (0 tenths 9)(打零折九).

Sri Lankan Civil War

The Sri Lankan Civil War has been in the news a lot lately, especially here in Toronto where a large number of Tamil people have been protesting daily, calling on the Canadian government and the UN to intervene. It's hard to know what to make of the situation since accurate information is very scarce and both sides have their share of atrocities. Yet the situation in Sri Lanka serves as a reminder of the balancing act we have here in Canada, where there is a sizable minority of people who want to make their own country by carving their province out. The situation in Sri Lanka is roughly the same as if the FLQ had been more effective in their initial attempts to start a civil war in Quebec.

It's very interesting to note that there are linguistic aspects to both our struggle and the one in Sri Lanka. On Language Log there is a post describing this history. It's a very interesting article. To summarize it, when Sri Lanka was under the control of the British, the civil service was run in English. American missionaries had been very successful in teaching Tamil youth English, and thus the Tamil were a big part of the civil service; only about a quarter of the people are Tamil but half the civil service was Tamil. After Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948 there was call to change the official language of the civil service to a local language. Initially it was intended to be Sinhala and Tamil, together, but Sinhalese nationalists, assisted by numerous lay Buddhists and activist Buddhist monks, organized emotive and impressive processions demanding a Sinhala-only policy. They called Tamils parasites, said that Sinhalese and Buddhism were under threat by the Tamils, and demanded a Sinhalese-only state. The result was the passage of the Sinhala-Only Act of 1956. The Tamil responded by protesting; the protesters were attacked by Sinhala protesters, and riots ensued. Over the years, the situation further deteriorated, and even attempts to elevate the Tamil language's status in the 70s and 80s didn't solve the problem.

Everyone must read this

This is the story of Matthias Rath, a vitamin magnate who works hard in South Africa to convince people that AIDS drugs are actually poison and that their problems will all go away if they eat vitamins that he sells.

He sues Doctors without Borders, newspaper reporters, etc. He takes scientific research and abuses the conclusions so badly that the authors of the research make announcements distancing them from his bizarre nonsense. He even tried to have a community activist, who was HIV+ but refused treatment until others in the community had access to anti-retrovirals, indicted on genocide charges in The Hague.

And he is causing people to die of AIDS related illnesses due to his (and the South African Government's) insistence that AIDS isn't real.

Dr. Ben Goldacre, writer for the Guardian and a true scientist, has written a chapter about this outrageous story, but it wasn't included in his book because Rath was suing him at the time the book was published. Dr. Goldacre won the suit and now you can read it. It's long for a blog post but short for a book chapter and worth reading.

The scariest part: the rest of the nutritionism/naturopathic-medicine community still back Rath and treat him like a superstar. What is wrong with these people? People are dying.

6243 Brickbeard's Bounty Lego Pirate Ship

This year Lego returned to the classic Pirate line, releasing a handful of new kits with pirate themes. I was pleased to see that the Canadian prices for these kits was roughly on par with the exchange rate, give or take a few bucks, and doubly pleased to see these kits on sale at Sears for 15% off (actually, all toys were on sale).

So, I picked up the 6243 Brickbeard's Bounty pirate ship. Brickbeard is the bad guy of the pirate line. He is basically your stereotypical "pirate" character; he has a hook for a hand and a peg leg and an eyepatch. He also wears a skull and crossbones hat. He comes with an assortment of pirate henchmen to raid the seas and torment the good guys.

While building this set I was often thinking back to the pirate ship my brother had as a child. His was the good guys ship and thus it was smaller than Blackbeard's ship of the day. The modern ship is bigger yet and it's interesting to see how the building techniques and the materials have advanced over the years.

For one thing there are fewer parts that are ship-specific. The mast pieces are now standard pillar pieces and the rigging is a standard ladder shape that can be easily re-used for other things. The ship itself is still made up of several large hull pieces, but these pieces are more modular than they used to be, allowing for even bigger ships to be made should you ever get your hands on two of these.

The minifigs are also significantly improved over the old days. Their torsos are now painted on both sides and the maiden minifig has a two-sided head, so that she can be either screaming or happy. There is also lots of attention to detail; one of the pirate figs even has a gold tooth.

Aside from the minifigs, the ship itself has many unremarkable pieces. This isn't a bad thing; those pieces are the versatile ones. Building it was super easy; in fact the instructions seemed especially simplistic. I guess this is aimed at the younger builders but I'm used to more complex instructions. That's ok, though; a skilled builder can put it together in about an hour and a child should be able to do it unassisted in a few hours. And it's worth the wait.

The ship is quite large and has a captain's cabin with a removable roof for easy play. There are three cannons that can fire the round 1x1 cylinder bricks, including one placed rather dubiously on the stern of the ship, right where the captain stands. I guess Lego cannon don't need to pay attention to Newton's Third Law.

Aside form the stern cannon, and the usual Lego design foibles (platforms that have no stairs to reach them, rooms with only three walls, etc), one amusing bit of nonsense is the mounted rifles. Did I say rifles? Of course these are muskets, in keeping with the era. It's a bit funny to see a musket mounted on the front of a rowboat, for example. For one thing, if a musket is pointed downwards the ammo can actually fall out. As well, a musket has only one shot in it before it must be reloaded, and this is always done with the musket in a vertical position. Therefore these mounted muskets are pretty strange. I guess most kids won't notice but it is a bit odd, and I wish Lego could impart some historical lessons alongside the "historical" sets. The rowboat itself is also rather funny because it's rather implausible that the redcoats would be rowing up to the ship; a stealth mission might work but those white pants, bright white oars, and the frickin' lantern might be a bit of a giveaway. Plus one of the redcoats isn't armed well enough. You can always redistribute the weapons any way you like, but according to the instructions that soldier only has paddles and that mounted musket.

Some other details I noticed: there are some new shades of brown in this set that I've never seen before; they are very nice shades and I hope to see more bricks in those colours; the shark piece of old has been replaced with a much bigger, meaner-looking shark; the old shark could fit a single brick in his mouth; the new shark can swallow a whole minifig. The cannons are no longer dark grey but instead a super-dark grey that is almost black. It is another new colour and I like it a lot. These pirates are particularly brazen about their treasure hoard; even the treasure chest is gold and it's stored on the top deck by the steering wheel.

My only complaints about this set are regarding how the sails are attached. The old ships used one-stud wide plates to form spars which had pegs to mount the sails. This led to a robust sail attachment system. This ship uses technic tubes for spars. This is much cheaper, and requires less building, but leads to a rather fragile sail configuration. Aside from that, my only minor nitpick is that I find the use of all these different coloured pieces here and there a bit annoying. On a set like this it would be nice if there wasn't a single blue brick or even light-grey. But true to Lego form, there are lots of odd-coloured pieces all over the place. Lego says this makes it easier to assemble the model, but I find it distracting and I wish Lego kits had more uniform colour schemes. However once the model is assembled you don't notice it too much.

Overall I recommend this kit. If I ever find time I'll dig up my brother's old ship and do a detailed comparison.

Build-a-Bear part two

Before Christmas I tried to build my own bear. The results weren't as good as I'd hoped and so I tried again later. This time things went much more smoothly, mainly because I was slightly less ambitious.

The first bear didn't turn out because the fur texture is fiendishly difficult to do well. Since this cake is all about the presentation, I decided to go with an easier fur texture and used mocha icing instead of sugar fur.

My recipe for mocha icing is as follows


  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. strong coffee
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder


  • Cream butter
  • Add all ingredients and blend until creamy
  • Add more coffee/cocoa until the desired thickness and flavour is reached

This recipe makes a lot of icing but I find I use a lot when covering this bear. For one thing, there is a lot of surface area to cover. Also, if you make a mistake later on it helps to have spare icing to patch things up. Finally, there will be icing left over which can be added onto the cake pieces. This bear is quite big and the cake slices tend to not have much icing on them. It's nice to be able to add a bit of extra icing.

The standard recipe on the back of the box calls for vanilla buttercream icing to glue the cake halves together. I find that this works but it's better to use the same icing on the outside as on the inside, so that you don't have too many icing flavours on the go.

For decorating, I used some white icing for the inside of the bear's ears and some other details, and some chocolate chips melted with some butter for some of the other details. The bear turned out not bad, and all that icing goes well with the relatively dry bundt recipe.

Fedora 10 update

I recently posted about my installation of Fedora 10 and my thoughts about the distribution. Recently a couple of things happened that gave me new experiences to discuss.

First, I bought a PCI-Express WiFi card for my server. I used WiFi because it's not convenient for me to use wired networking anymore and the server has been down since we moved, awaiting its wireless capabilities. I carefully selected a D-Link card that is Linux compatible, and installed it. Guess what? Fedora 8 didn't recognize the card. This meant I needed a new kernel, because the kernel developers make it impossible to install new drivers without replacing the whole kernel. And when you run something like Fedora a new kernel means a new Fedora.

I'd previously told my friend not to install Fedora 10 because of the problems I'd had. Well, I disregarded my own advice and proceeded to install 10 on my server (mainly because I wanted to do an upgrade to make sure stuff still worked). Let me state this loud and clear: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UPGRADE FEDORA TO FEDORA 10. This was the worst installation procedure I've ever dealt with in my 12 years of running Linux. I expected stuff to install and work but instead I got nothing but trouble.

First, the installer doesn't tell you how to activate text mode. And the graphical mode doesn't work on my server, which is hooked up to a TV instead of a monitor. This is because the free nVidia driver is crap and I am stuck with the proprietary driver (the lesser of two evils). Since I couldn't get the installer to work I decided to try using the package updater, yum, to do the upgrade. This failed miserably: yum complained that the new packages conflicted with the old. I tried removing the old packages but yum, in its infinite wisdom, decided that since I wanted to get rid of package X, it would get rid of Y, and since I was getting rid of Y, it would get rid of ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWZ. I didn't look at the list closely enough and in the end yum got rid of itself. Yup, yum uninstalled itself, and that left me with no package management tool at all.

This meant I had to get the installer working or else there'd be no way to repair my system. It turns out that the fedora text mode is easily activated by editing the command line for the kernel and adding the word 'text'. Simple, right? Of course, they couldn't include a menu option nor could they document this like they used to on previous versions. Sigh. Well, at least I was onto something and I could get the installer working.

The installer, however, didn't do a very good job upgrading my system. After it was done running I was left with a pile of old Fedora 8 packages (and one Fedora 9 package? weird). I had expected these to be upgraded, but they weren't. Well, no problem... except that these packages conflicted with the 1.3 GB of updates I was trying to download. (I got the network card working, btw... that's another story but mainly nothing went wrong.). So I had to remove all the fc8 packages and some other things and then the update finally worked. Oh, and then I had to go and manually fix the SELinux contexts because for some reason some things weren't right. Sure, Fedora 10 has improvements in SELinux contexts, but I guess they don't test the upgrade path well, because it'd seem to me that a filesystem wtih default labels should be relabelled accordingly so that you can, for example, use SSH properly. Just saying.

Anyway, one of the other problems I had was that, for some reason, my kernel wasn't updated properly. The updated kernel was only partly installed. I tried uninstalling it and re-updating, but then when I rebooted my screen just said 'GRUB'. Grub is the "Grand Unified Boot Loader", which means it's the program that starts the computer. Unfortunately Grub was never meant to be installed by humans, and it seems even the computer gets it wrong; I had to try a bunch of things to get the darned thing working and it took several tries. Luckily I am a programmer and an experienced Linux user, and also luckily the Fedora 10 installer is also a rescue CD. Otherwise my server would have been dead. Finally I got things "working", though because I had to remove so much stuff before my server is really only half working. So much for a simple upgrade.

Anyway, my conclusion is that Fedora 10's installer needs a lot of work. I've never had so much difficulty getting an OS installed. But once Fedora 10 is installed, isn't it worth the pain?

Well, I've been very annoyed with it. This is mainly KDE 4.1's fault, becasue 4.1 had lots of problems (including being so slow I could barely stand to use it). Who is to blame for KDE 4.1 being on my computer? The KDE team, for misleading people about how good 4.1 would be, or the Fedora team, for shipping "beta" software and not shipping the good ol' 3.5? Well, that's neither here nor there anymore: I just installed the update that brings KDE 4.2 to Fedora 10. And WOW! what a difference.

First off, my desktop icons are back. Some people don't like desktop icons, but when I've been using files on my desktop for 19 years, I get a little cranky when you take them away. The KDE devs listened and brought this feature back to KDE in a non-sucky way. Also, I was able to find the option for disabling one-click activation. It's not where you'd expect; instead of being in the file manager settings, where it should be, it's in the mouse settings. So maybe this option was in 4.1? but anyway it's here and my #3 annoyance with KDE 4.1 is gone. So now my computer is fast again, my icons are back, and my clicks do what I want. If only there weren't any new bugs... but I've already found my notebook doesn't suspend properly when I close the lid. Sigh. At least that's minor and can be easily worked around.

So, to the KDE team, I say good work on 4.2; it's about time. To the Fedora team, what's with the installer? Yeesh. Messed up upgrades, broken kernel updates, screwed up SELinux contexts.... normal people would not be able to get this working. Hope Fedora 11 is better....

Red Rocket Science

How hard is it to understand things?

I ask this because lots of people don't understand things. For example, quantum physics is hard to understand. Things can be true and false in quantum physics, and until you look at them you don't know which it will be. But before you look it is BOTH true AND false. Weird.

Today I had a run in with a Red Rocket Scientist. He was doing a quantum physics experiment on a streetcar. He was trying to be both in and out of the streetcar at the same time. Because the temperature outside was near absolute zero, the streetcar was very crowded. But this guy felt there was still room for him on the streetcar anyway. So he was standing on the step.

The driver yelled back to tell people to get off the steps or the doors won't close, and if the doors don't close the streetcar doesn't move. This guy just stood there. People started telling him he had to get off the step. Still standing there. Even the guy driving the truck, who was not even on the streetcar, but was stopped behind the open doors, was yelling at this guy to move. Nope, still standing there. I think we wasted two traffic lights before this guy finally was able to lift himself off the steps and let the doors close.

His problem, I guess, is a poor understanding of regular physics. If someone is standing somewhere, you can not also stand there. Humans take up space (some take up a lot), and there were a lot of humans* already on the streetcar. His other problem was having a total disregard for a packed streetcar full of people and all the traffic on King Street. Anyone who wasn't a completely inconsiderate jerk would have taken the next streetcar. When I got to my destination (about 3 stops after this guy's) there was another streetcar right behind mine. This jerk's cluelessness wasted many people's time but only saved him about 45 seconds.

* Some of the people on the streetcar may not have been human. But aliens take up space too.