Build-a-Bear part 3

I've posted before about my build-a-bear cake pan. I've used it a couple of times now and I think I can finally claim to have the hang of it. I've made the bear cake maybe half-a-dozen times and each time it has turned out more or less ok.  However, the last two times I upped the ante a bit by using fondant for decorating it. This gives the bear "clothes" and is a really good finishing touch to make the bear look special.

I googled around for other people's advice on using this cake pan and I was surprised at how many people couldn't get the bear to assemble properly. People claimed there wasn't enough batter in the recipe, or the cake fell apart, or other problems. I have to say that not once has the back-of-the-box recipe failed me in any way. It makes a cake that is strong enough to stand up, good-tasting, and the proper quantity for the bear pan.

That being said, I have a new challenge when making this cake. My son is allergic to milk and eggs, and thus we've had to vegan-ize some of our recipes. In some cases that's easy to do but in this recipe we have to replace 4 eggs. However with a bit of experimentation I came upon a winning formula. I replaced the milk with soy milk (plain, sweetened, unflavoured). I replaced the butter with half shortening, half margarine (this mixture worked well for me when making cookies). For the eggs, I replaced the eggs with 1/4 cup per egg of pureed pumpkin, and I tripled the baking powder. Since I was making a pumpkin cake I also added some spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice.

The resulting cake was better than any of the previous bear cakes I've ever made, and if I do say so myself, was better than almost any cake I've ever made. It was moist and rich, yet strong enough to stand in bear-shape.  I had a bit of minor tearing when the cake came out of the pan, but the head didn't fall off and I was able to fix up any glitches with a patch of icing.  Once iced there was no way to tell that it wasn't the same old dry cake underneath.

Since I also couldn't make buttercream icing I used my half shortening, half margarine substitution for the butter and added a touch of pumpkin and some spices. Then I iced the entire cake, even the parts which would end up covered in fondant.  Finally, I rolled,  cut and trimmed the fondant and dressed the bear up in its outfit.  Since I was making a white dress I used white fondant and didn't bother with any dyes (I did dye the buttercream icing brown).  Dyeing fondant is a major hassle (I spent more time dyeing the fondant when I made a Santa bear last Christmas than I did doing any other part of the decoration).  I used white icing to trim the edges of the dress.

The last touches of decor on the bear are the eyes, nose, and feet-pads. For these I simply melted some chocolate chips in margarine, stirred, put it into a plastic sandwich bag, cut the corner, and squeezed it out. This makeshift cake-decorating bag was enough to make these flat-ish elements. The resulting bear was cute enough that when I brought it to my friend's baby shower, people on the subway and street stopped to talk to me about it, and nobody at the shower wanted to actually cut the cake. So I call this one a success.

They don't build them like they used to

So my notebook computer died.  It was only 2.5 years old and it had almost never been used as a portable computer; it spent most of its time tethered to the A/C adapter and the mouse.

It was a not bad computer, feature-wise, but I did have to buy a notebook cooler because it would overheat when I played games.  The battery stopped working one day, but that wasn't a big deal because I never moved the notebook.  I only bought a notebook because I needed to be able to put it away back when I lived in a condo.

Anyway, when your computer dies it's hard to write infrequent blog posts and do all those other important things I like to do with my computer.  So I had to buy a new one.  Problem was, I didn't know what to buy since I normally research my computer purchases on my computer before I buy them.  I was in a situation I've never been in before: needing to buy a new computer and being without a current one.  Ever since my parents first bought the XT back in '87 there's been a PC in the house.  I started feeling twitchy after about 6 hours.  I had to do something, and fast.

The problem with replacing a notebook is that your choices are A) another notebook (yech) or B) a whole new PC.  I opted for a desktop PC because I like desktops better.  But that meant I had to buy EVERYTHING, since I didn't have an old Desktop that would contribute a few parts here and there.  Actually I had to make a second trip to the store, because I planned to re-use my old DVD burner from my barely-working HTPC, but it turns out that burner is IDE and "modern" motherboards don't have IDE anymore, not even one port.  I don't really miss it but it is annoying.

I ended up getting
  • Asus P6X58D-E motherboard
  • Intel i7 950
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM
  • ATI Radeon HD 5850
  • CoolerMaster case
  • Samsung BX2335 23" HD LED display
  • Windows 7 64-bit
 The display is nice and the increased speed of this PC is nice too.  Widows 7 is an improvement over Vista and XP.  So overall I'm pleased.  One thing that struck me is how long it took to put all this together.  Some things have not changed since 1995 when I used to assemble PCs for a living, but one notable change is that almost everything is integrated on the motherboard now.  That saves some time.  Installing CPUs (the first time, anyway) is as easy as it's ever been; put it in the socket, close the lever, snap the fan down, done.  The video cards are huge these days, and there's lots of power connectors everywhere, but what seemed to take the longest for me was getting all the extra crap plugged into the motherboard.  Every fan, button, external SATA connecter, etc, needs to be plugged into the right spot.  My case has a bunch of external features on it (hard drive dock, USB, eSATA, audio, etc) and those all need to be hooked up.  Once it's done, though, it's a nice case with easy-to-access features.  If only the SATA dock was hot-pluggable (maybe it can be, but it didn't work for me).

The annoying thing is that I didn't want to buy a computer right now, I was hoping to keep the notebook a bit longer.  Maybe I erred when I named it "Ephemeron".  I won't repeat that mistake again.  The new PC's name is "Eternia".

Mandatory Language Tests for Immigrants

It seems that all skilled immigrants to Canada will need to pass a language proficiency test.  Even those whose native language is English and whose careers are based on daily use of the English language.

At first glance this seems like a reasonable idea.  The truth is it is a dangerous tool which can be used to enforce racist and xenophobic policies under the guise of "integration".  However, it seems like enough of the commentors on the Star's website disagree with me. When I read the comments I was disappointed to find that most of those writing were supportive of the new policy and hostile to foreigners.  My own comment achieved a stunning 16 "disagrees", a new record for me.

The article talks about a woman who was born in New York, graduated from Harvard and has been practising law for 13 years.  Clearly there is no need to test this person on her language ability.  To suggest that anyone in the government Canada is even qualified to pass judgment on her language skills is ridiculous.  Yet she must prepare for the language test while simultaneously managing her home life and career.

Wait, what?

She has to prepare?  Many of the comments on the Star were questioning this.  Why should she need to prepare if she is so confident of her language skills?

Well, the sad truth is that language tests are notorious for being debatable about their content.  Thankfully, the test in question doesn't have any grammar questions (despite newspaper reports to the contrary), and seems to be completely about reading and writing comprehension.  But the truth is that any test which measures "language" is going to be strongly influenced by how well the test-taker understands the desired answer to a question.  A person's grasp of language is not necessarily related to their grasp of test-taking.  And since she must pay to take the test, it behoves her to prepare, so that her money isn't wasted by an over-zealous and pedantic test-grader.

Besides the dubious nature of testing a native English speaker's grasp of English, and the obvious waste of resources this entails, is the question of whether or not this exercise has any merit whatsoever.

The comments on the Star were full of sad, sad stories about going into a shop and not being able to find an employee who spoke English.  My heart nearly broke into a million pieces as these poor, poor people recounted their tales.  The ordeals of a lady who couldn't find an English speaker in a shop in Chinatown.  The escapades of a gentleman who was unable to locate the kolbasa in the grocery store and couldn't find an employee who understood his question.

All of these stories have something in common.  The speaker suffers from an absurdly inflated sense of entitlement.  They act as if they are being personally injured or insulted when they go somewhere and someone doesn't speak their language.  It never occurs to them that THEY are somehow flawed for not knowing more than one language.  They just bitch and whine that multiculturalism is a failure.  They ignore the fact that all of them are descended from people who didn't speak the local language when they arrived: none of their ancestors spoke the languages of the Natives.  The hypocrisy goes further, however, because these same people are the type that go into Quebec and complain that the people don't speak English.

Ignoring the petty 'foreign employee in a shop' syndrome, the bigger question is whether or not non-local-speakers are even useful to the society at large.  It should be pretty clear that they are.  There is no reason that a doctor can't practice medicine in Chinese or in Italian if they have Chinese or Italian patients.  This doctor may have difficulty reading the laws on what drugs are legal, or other various tasks, but isn't it the job of the medical college to regulate such things? If the college decided to offer its services in Chinese (because the Chinese population will soon be the biggest minority group in Canada) would that somehow harm the English-speaking doctors and patients?  For regulated professions we have licensing and examination boards to keep out people who can't function in those roles.  For any other task, why does it matter if the person is illiterate in English?  The electrician who comes to your house to install a new light fixture doesn't need to speak English.  He needs to know how to install wiring, and he needs to know how to communicate with YOU.  If you (hypothetically) only speak German, then that's what he needs to speak.

Furthermore, it's also pretty obvious that monolingualism is an artifact of (some) adult immigrants only.  Their children will always (always!) learn the local language.  They will be bilingual, speaking their home language at home and their local language at school and work.  And their children are (sadly) almost always monolingual in the local language.  This always happens, as long as the family stays in the country.  So any worries about Canada turning into some country where nobody can speak to anybody are just ridiculous.

Finally, Canada is supposed to be a free country.  If I decide that I want to speak nothing but Esperanto, and I teach my children only this language, and I home-school them, and throw away my TV, is this not my choice?  Sure, nobody will be able to communicate with me.  But don't I have the right? Don't I have the right to try to find work at an Esperanto-friendly business, dealing with Esperanto-speaking customers?  Don't I have the right to fail at that task?  Of course I do.  But I was BORN in Canada.  Newcomers aren't allowed to fail and aren't allowed to even try.

Uncricital reporting

There's something very annoying in newspapers these days.  This isn't that new but you'd think we'd have made some progress by now. I am talking about uncritical reporting.

Consider this article: blathers on in an interview with Sylvia Browne.  The article is completely sympathetic to Browne.  It just assumes that she is not a fraud.  Not a single critical question is asked of her and her claim that psychics can't see into their own future is just accepted on face value, despite that being the most useless cop-out in psychic history.  (though it does explain all her mistakes).  Heck, the dumb interviewer even asks "Aren't some psychics bogus?"  The true answer is, yes, they are all bogus.  But Sylvia is somehow exempt from bogosity because she successfully ripped off enough people that she has money, and thus is somehow better than the so-called "someone with a cardboard table with cards".

I don't need to go into detail about her many errors.  Wikipedia's article about her lists several examples and includes a link to a study that shows how her success rate at solving crimes is pretty much zero. She's been wrong very many times:
When I read an article like the one in the Star I am embarrassed for them. It's time for the media to reject psychics and ostracize them as the con-men they are.

Sex Ed

The Ontario government recently announced, then withdrew, a new Health and Physical Education curriculum.  They withdrew it because of an outcry claiming that this new curriculum was bad.  Some rabid protesters even said it was "bordering on criminal".


I read the new curriculum to be sure.  Guess what?  Nothing in it is remarkableRosie DiManno disagrees, and says the new curriculum is a sermon in disguise.  But Rosie DiManno seems more opposed to the curriculum's content on "Healthy Relationships" rather than its discusson of anatomy.

Ironically almost nothing in this curriculum is new and almost nothing in it is being taught earlier than it was.  I went to a Catholic school and we learned all about the reproductive system and the names of the body parts.  We learned about relationships.  We learned about puberty.  A couple of these topics are being taught a year or two earlier but that is not really a big deal.  And the "Healthy Relationships" material is geared towards identifying harm, such as abuse and neglect. It is not about trying to enumerate all the possible healthy relationships that might exist.  If you think it's a bad thing for a 6-year-old to be able to tell an adult that someone inappropriately touched him on the penis, maybe you should get a job working for the Pope's child-abuse squad.

This whole thing should be a tempest in a teapot, but sadly there are too many people who are afraid that they won't be able to tell their kids that being gay is wrong, or that God will punish them if they use a condom.  Rosie DiManno says that, especially in Toronto,
such a richly multicultural city, where so many families are immigrants and first-generation Canadians of diverse, often conservative faiths and cultures, it was demanding a great deal for parents to accept invasive sex instruction in the schools at complete variance with ethics taught at home. While many of us may disagree with some of those moral paradigms, we can’t compel others to change their personal views, or meekly hand us their very young children so that we can shape theirs.
 Actually, we should demand that they hand us their children so we can fix their broken brainwashing at home.  The schools already do this to a great extent.  Schools teach that racism is wrong.  They teach that humans evolved from some other primate.  They teach that the world is round.  These are simple facts about the world, and it is the school's job to teach these facts, even if the parents want to stick their heads in the sand.  And for those sexually-conservative parents who want to pretend that homosexuality is a choice, or that God hates fags, or some other brain-dead concept, well, the schools should be teaching their kids too.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Finally, it has come out that the Catholic school board had been negotiating permission to teach a different curriculum.  I went through the Catholic school system and it was not too bad, but there were definitely some missing parts (we did not really learn about contraception).  Coincidentally, the Catholic high school in my city had an unusually high number of girls drop out because they were pregnant.  Our school didn't have any facility to help such girls and so they typically went (out of sight, out of mind) to a different school that had daycare facilities.  These girls might have been in a different position if the principal (a nun) hadn't thrown away boxes of free condoms given to the school to supplement the health program.  It is time for the Catholic School Board to teach proper sex-ed.  We don't live in the 1950s anymore and the fact is that teenagers have sex and STIs are on the rise.  Abstinence-only education has been proven to not reduce pregnancies nor STIs.  And a good portion of the Catholic laity is not opposed to STIs (witness the demonstrations when the Pope came to Downsview).

The premier has said that the curriculum will be re-opened for discussions and may be revised.  If people actually READ the new curriculum maybe those discussions will be useful.  But probably the homophobes and condom-phobes will ruin things for everyone.

Latest Upgrade News

I've been upgrading my PCs a lot lately and it doesn't always go so well. Usually I end up wasting a lot of time just trying to restore whatever I had working before. Well, my wife and I decided to throw caution to the wind and upgrade something else. It's a project that's been underway for some months now and the result is here!

A couple years ago we upgraded our family to the "One daughter" model. To this day I still marvel that there is a third person living in our house, rooting through the cupboards and greeting me at the door when I arrive home. It's been a wonderful adventure and now we are beginning it again. We have now moved up to the "One daughter, One son" model. The birth of my son is not the turning point that his sister's birth was, but nonetheless his arrival is still just as thrilling. I don't want to continually compare him to his sister because such comparisons are somewhat unfair. When I first held her my heart was so filled with joy I thought it might burst. It turns out there is room for yet more joy.

Once again I was on hand to "assist" in delivering the baby. My role was to provide moral support as my wife did all the real work and I mainly took photos and made the requisite phone calls afterwards. But being there when he was born was an incredible experience. His mother pushed him out, despite his being over 8 lbs, as if she'd been birthing babies for decades. I felt truly surplus while this was going on but I nonetheless turned down the ritual cutting of the cord because it still makes me a bit squeamish. Once everything was done and I got to hold my son the real magic began. He was tiny and squirmy and the look on his face said "What is going on here?" but at the same time he seemed to be taking it all in and evaluating it.

After his mother recovered and the doctors decided everyone was healthy we were discharged and allowed to return home, where there is a bed to "sleep" in.
My daughter is on vacation with her grandparents so we have a few days to adjust to the new addition, but she will return soon enough and we have to return somewhat to business-as-usual. As if that is possible now. But I have to assume that we'll muddle through somehow.

Now that we are home, trying to re-establish our routines I find myself thinking about the future. Until the baby sleeps through the night I imagine our family life will be a tad hectic and frazzled, but hopefully he'll sleep well like his sister did (there goes another comparison) and we'll be "normal" again in a few months. Then the real fun will begin as he grows into a person. I can't wait to get to know him. Will he be creative? Maybe. Argumentative? Almost certainly. But most importantly, he will be someone new. When I look into his tiny eyes I see nothing but potential and adventure.

I'd like to once again thank the staff at North York General Hospital. Not everything that happens in that hospital is perfect, but the delivery and mother/baby units are pretty awesome. The staff was very pleasant and professional and the Tim Hortons there sold me three coffees that were Roll-up-the-Rim winners. Frankly the only thing that could have made the hospital better is if there were more private rooms, so that the dads can spend the night in relative comfort instead of sleeping in a wooden chair (or, in my case, two wooden chairs, pushed together. It was less comfortable than it sounds).

More new music

So I had a conversation with my friend about his music.  I started out by asking for help in understanding what was going on and mentioned something about music being accessible. He replied that one of the pieces in his recent symphony was one of his most accesssible, and I wondered why they weren't ALL accessible, since, isn't that the point of the music?

We then discussed art in general and how the audience shapes and influences the art. Throughout history professional artists have struggled with the balancing act of making art for themselves, which expresses exactly what they want to express, and making art for their fans/consumers/patrons. Making a work of art which communicates to different people is challenging. It's like writing about theoretical physics: you can write a paper which communicates an advanced concept so that an expert can understand it, or so that a layman can understand it, but usually those two modes of writing have little overlap. Sometimes, when writing for a layperson, you even have to simplify to the point of being technically wrong in order to get the point across.  The similarity with artists is that they too are making a work that will either be consumed by the masses or by experts and often those groups do not intersect.

My problem with this line of reasoning is that I feel that an artist, like a technical writer, should strive to make the work as accessible as possible despite the limitations.  A physicist who writes something that only the top 10 people in his field can understand is not communicating properly.  His paper can not be peer-reviewed properly if he has no peers.  Part of his duty in writing his findings is to communicate them effectively. Artists, however, are not constrained by duty in the same way scientists are, but the same underlying principle is true: if an artist makes a work of art that nobody understands then its value is purely in its aesthetics (until someone figures it out, I suppose).  The communication part of the artwork has failed.

My friend's position is that some things simply require more experience and knowledge before they can be appreciated. This is true.  I am learning Chinese, but I cannot criticize Chinese literature until I have achieve a certain level of fluency in Chinese and a certain understanding of the history and culture underlying the literature.  The thing is that with music, perhaps alone among all the arts, there has been a long tradition of art that has layers of accessibility; that is, there is something there for everyone.  A baby, with no experience or language or knowledge of history can hear music and feel its emotion and energy.  An untrained person can admire a beautiful painting for the scene it shows even if they don't understand the subtext or subtleties.  But this new form of music my friend is making is so different than the traditional forms I know that it seems to have abandoned the "easy" parts altogether.  As my friend wrote, at this point I can either become a trained musical expert (i.e. learn the language), wait a while to see if insight comes to me on its own, or give up and conclude that I don't understand.  With traditional works I have a fourth option: look at the scenery, or listen to the melody and hum along with the part I do understand.

New Music

A friend of mine is a composer.  He writes modern "classical" music, that is, music played by orchestras.  He is quite talented.  The problem is I don't really understand the music he is writing.  His music is broadly similar to other modern classical pieces I've heard, which seems to do away with many of the long-standing traditions of music, such as a melody.

When I listen to his music, some of which is very odd-sounding (to me) but much of which is very beautiful, I get a feeling of missing something.  The music sounds like the soundtrack to a movie or ballet, only I can't see the film or the dancers.  While listening to the music I feel like it's meant to accompany something, but I can't see what that something is.

It's hard to describe but here is a concrete example of the difference between his music and pieces that are (I feel) more stand-alone.  Consider the opening theme to Star Wars.  It starts loud, has a rolling sound, and carries you along with its melody.  You can hum it.  I don't think it's particularly nuanced or sophisticated but it conveys drama and excitement, and then the movie starts, which you are eager to see because the music has built up your anticipation.  Later on you will hear a sad song about life on Tatooine, and Luke's family's death, and it is sad.  But you won't remember it afterwards because it is meant to underscore the feelings that the story tells. My friend's music has a similar feel to me.  I feel emotion, I feel that there is a story unfolding, but I can't tell what it is and afterwards I can't recall the music.

I was thinking of how this relates to paintings.  A painting is meant to convey a message, or multiple messages, but the message is not explicit; the viewer must find the message for himself. But the most famous paintings are usually also not abstract; they graphically depict a scene, or a person, or something identifiable.  In the last few decades abstract art has become more popular, but many people don't "get" it.  Is my friend composing the musical equivalent to abstract painting?  Perhaps.

When I went to a concert where his music was played along with some other composers' pieces, I remember feeling that I just didn't understand what I had heard, and I wondered if maybe the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes.  Having heard my friend's most recent piece I can say that he IS wearing clothes, but I'm not sure what kind they are.

For a limited time, you can hear my friend's arctic symphony on CBC Radio 2.  Listen to the Arctic Symphony for yourself and see.

Fedora 12 ongoing saga

My HTPC was recently "upgraded" to Fedora 12. The Fedora 10 and 11 installs on that box were almost completely broken and so I opted for a clean install. What I forgot was that Fedora's text mode install leaves you with a system that has
  1. No network connection
  2. No Wi-Fi
  3. In fact, NetworkManager is not installed or is not working
  4. No GUI
  5. No easy way to install software from the CD-ROM media

I wanted to be able to connect this system to my network so that I could install the missing software, but this meant moving the computer to the other room, where the hub is.  This meant that I can't see what I'm typing, because this computer's monitor is my TV, which is a CRT weighing a million trillion pounds*.  So I plug the computer into the hub and turn it on.  But the network isn't starting, for some reason, or it's not connecting properly.  This means I have to log into the computer and try to type random commands blindly until the network card finally connects.

Once the computer is on the network I have to try to figure out WHERE on the network it is so that I can log into it from my notebook.  I wrote a little script to ping various addresses until I found it.  Once I had it I was able to log into the computer using SSH and then (gasp!) actually see what I was typing.  From that point on it was relatively easy to use yum to install whatever software I need, and the copious updates that Fedora had waiting for me.

Once the software was installed it was easy to get livna hooked up and the binary nVidia driver installed, which lets me use the TV as a monitor.  Now if only I could remember the incantation which tells it that my TV is not HD..... stay tuned.

*I'd secretly hoped that something bad would have "accidentally" happened to the TV when we moved, thus giving me an excuse to get a modern TV, but sadly, it arrived without incident.

Fedora 12

I am a glutton for punishment. This is the only conclusion I can come to because I keep trying to install newer versions of Fedora on my various computers.  Recently I tried Fedora 12 on my LG R500, which was relatively happily running Fedora 10.

I ran into a problem right off the bat: the installer wouldn't boot.  The kernel just got stuck partway along and froze. It turns out there is a bug with the TPM driver on certain hardware, which causes a timeout error:

tpm_tis 00:0a: tpm_transmit: tpm_send: error -62
tpm_tis 00:0a: tpm_transmit: tpm_send: error -62
tpm_tis 00:0a: tpm_transmit: tpm_send: error -62

This error can be worked around by disabling timeouts in the tpm module.  Unfortunately, even though this issue was known before Fedora 12 was released, it wasn't fixed, nor was it even mentioned in the release notes.  Sigh.

The touchpad also wasn't working properly.  After install, you can't tap it to click on things.  The simulated 3rd button when you click in the top right corner is broken. I googled and found that the touchpad needs to be configured in the Gnome control panel, however I'm running KDE and it didn't seem to have a touchpad applet.  Turns out it wasn't installed; yum install kcm_synaptics fixed that and I was able to enable the functionality that should be on by default.

Fedora 10 introduced a new graphical boot for systems which have appropriate video drivers; in Fedora 12 nVidia hardware is included using the nouveau driver.  The nouveau driver, however, is unfinished and it corrupts the display often (but the graphical boot is nice).  In the end I had to install the binary nvidia driver because flash video was freezing the machine. 

Speaking of boot, on boot Fedora starts the GDM Gnome login manager.  Annoyingly, KDE's switch user feature is still broken unless started from KDM; you try to switch users and instead the screen locks and that's all that happens.  No error, no warning, just a broken feature.  Switching to KDM requires editing a config file.

Installing software through kpackagekit is needlessly difficult.  Finding the right package to enable mp3 playback in amarok is an exercise in futility.  Amarok itself provides no indication of what is wrong; it just tries to play a song and fails, skipping the song and going to the next, with no error message or anything.  If all your music is mp3s amarok will just keep chewing through the playlist, happily not playing anything.

Also, for the first time in about 4 years, my printer doesn't work out of the box.  Drivers for every possible bizarre input type or video card or sound card or network card or HPC IO controller or satellite launcher are installed, but my printer's drivers were not.

Finally, because I wasn't feeling punished enough, I also tried upgrading my HTPC to Fedora 12 from Fedora 11.  I have no idea how badly things are broken because, to be honest, the Fedora 11 installation was pretty fuzzed to begin with.  But at least the upgrade installed and nothing seriously broke.

On the HTPC the KDE installation is missing some pieces because I can't log in using KDE as my desktop; instead I get no error message but am booted back to the login screen.  Some KDE apps don't work properly.  Also annoying is the fact that I can adjust my fonts to make things readable on the TV but only one of GNOME or KDE sees those settings, the other doesn't, but my menu contains either KDE apps or GNOME apps but not both.  An average user would be pretty annoyed that they want large fonts, and 90% of their desktop uses the right fonts, but there is a hidden, mysterious control panel that asks you the same exact questions you already answered in some other program, but you have to answer again or else 10% of your apps will look wrong.  Now, this is a Gnome vs KDE issue, but the fact remains that Fedora 11, installed fresh, and then 12 installed as an upgrade overtop, left me with a hybrid Gnome/KDE system, where the only graphical software installer uses tiny fonts because it's a KDE app and I'm stuck in Gnome.

If I get the HTPC working properly again using MythTV I am going to never upgrade it again.

LEGO Creator 4998 Stegosaurus

For Christmas I received the Lego Stegosaurus. I had been wanting this set for a while and was eagerly anticipating it. Of course, with a toddler running around the house it was several days before I had time to build it, but it was well worth the wait.

This set is one of the best Lego kits I have seen in a while. It has 731 pieces and comes with instructions for three different models (as many Creator kits now do). The main model, the Stegosaurus, is easily the best of the three, but the Tyranosaur and flying dinosaur (I'm not sure it's anatomically correct for any flying dino) are still decent builds.

The instructions are easy to follow; any child should have no difficulty at all even though the building techniques are somewhat advanced. In fact I found the instructions a little too simplistic and found that I had to flip a lot of pages to get only a few pieces put on. But I have become adept at noticing when there is going to be a lot of repetition for building a symmetrical model (such as the legs: they are mirror images of each other) so I can save time by building both hind legs at the same time, etc (That saves a TON of time when building the AT-AT).

One thing I noticed about this set was that the piece selection is truly stellar. Many Lego kits come with part selections that are not what you'd expect to see in a given model. For example, the AT-AT is a big grey walking machine, but it is actually full of bright blue and red bricks for the internal structure. When building the main model that is not a big deal because those pieces are hidden, but if you want to take it apart and build something else those pieces lose a lot of their value. The reason Lego puts these primary-coloured pieces in is to make it easier for children to build the set because the pieces are easier to find, harder to mistake one for another, and easier to follow in the instructions.

Thankfully, the Stegosaurus model has almost no unnecessary colours in it. It features a fairly wide palette of colours, mainly green, dark green, dark grey, brown, and yellow, but between the greys and greens and the odd black or brown piece here and there the instructions get buy without any bright blue or turquoise ruining the part selection. The importance of this can't be overstated. It means that every single piece is useful for further construction of dinosaurs. And these earth-tone colours are also extremely useful for landscaping. And the dark green would look really good on a car or space ship. The greys, of course, are super versatile. Suffice to say that you don't regret any of the pieces in this kit. The resulting dinosaurs are not a single uniform colour, but they still look good.

The construction of the models is also quite well done. The stegosaurus is most impressive; it has a good feel, decent posability, and an imposing appearance. My only complaint is that I find the mouth too fragile; if I open the lower jaw it often comes right off. The tyrannosaur is quite good and doesn't seem to suffer for being the secondary model. You don't get a feeling that they compromised the design to make it fit the parts selection of the Stegosaurus. My main complaints about this model are that I don't like how the hands look and how the head is attached to the body. The head joint is the worst part: the head only turns left or right which severely limits how the dinosaur can be posed.

I was pleased to see a few surprising uses of pieces, such as using wing pieces instead of plates for the tyrannosaur. The yellow line along its back is actually the yellow wing pieces from the stegosaurus's plates; they are merely turned inwards so that the wing portion is hidden. This leaves gaps where the wing piece doesn't fully cover the studs it is placed on, but as this is inside the body of the T-rex it is invisible and it doesn't hurt the model in any way. This use of these pieces in this way is what Lego is all about: building stuff with the pieces you have.

Overall I strongly recommend this kit. Great part selection and good models. Easy and fun to build. What's not to like?