Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

August 7th, 2004

Halifax in the rain

Pink rose with water dropplets.The waterfront of Halifax is almost dedicated to tourists. There are a selection of restaurants, pavilions, and tacky gift shops interwoven around a wooden boardwalk. Mooring space appears plentiful, and at least this week, very underused.

My impression is that most visitors to Halifax do not stay more than a couple of days. This weeks entertainment is in the form of a busker festival, which features a slow rotation of artists who continue to draw significant crowds despite repeating the same set multiple times per day.

When we arrived here the weather was warm at around 27C, yet with a pleasant breeze and a few clouds to provide occasional shade. Yesterday however it turned for the worse, with showers all day long. Today is no better, which means that the whale watching I had planned for today will not be taking place.

Yesterday I spent some time in the Natural History Museum. The museum features a small section on geology and dinosaurs, but is mostly dedicated to the history and wildlife of Nova Scotia. The history exhibit on Nova Scotia starts well enough, but then skips several thousand years of history with no explanation. The focus on local wildlife however was very successfully put together. The mini-exhibit on Sable Island was interesting, but limited in the amount of information included.

Following the trip to the museum I wandered into a local park to take some pictures in the rain. A few of the flower pictures came out fairly well, and I expect that I’ll end up taking similar photos today.

July 29th, 2004

Software updates

Mixed sweet peppers.The ongoing story regarding Mozilla’s market share is interesting to follow. When Mozilla was first released to the unsuspecting public in the form of Netscape 6.0 there was little talk about growing market share numbers. This was entirely fair given the dire state of the Mozilla browser at the time – slow and crash prone.

Now that the Mozilla platform has matured significantly and Firefox is the standard bearer, things are looking much better. The news that IE’s market share dropped 1% last month might not seem like big news, but it is the first time it has dropped in the last 5 years.

The rise of Mozilla and other non-IE browsers can be seen more dramatically among the more technical-aware, with IE usage dropping from 85% to 79% on w3schools. Hopefully the upcoming 1.0 release of Firefox will help raise awareness of better web browsers among the general population.

I’ve released version 3.10 of SimpleTAL to address a significant defect that Aadish Shrestha found regarding nested repeats and attributes.

(Photo taken a St. Lawrence Market)

July 19th, 2004

A grey day

Model of a warship.Sunday was a grey day, not the best light for taking pictures. We went down to the waterfront so I could try on hats, and I brought my camera along anyway. The highlight for me was the radio controlled model warship and submarine that were patrolling a pond, courtesy of the Metro Marine Modellers.

The submarine was the most impressive to watch, but it didn’t photograph in a particularly pleasing way. The warship (HMCS New Glasgow) however, while not as fun to watch, was an easy target to capture.

The last item of interest was a giant ferris wheel containing cars. The website has some pictures (that came out better than mine!) of it – a medium sized ferris wheel with real cars embedded in it. We didn’t avail ourselves of the $5 ride, but we did appreciate the peculiar sight it presents.

July 12th, 2004

A new HTML?

HTML 4.01 was published as a recommendation in December 1999. XHTML 1.0, the XML version of the same specification, was originally published in January 2000. Since then there has been a splintering of different HTML related activities. XHTML 1.1 consists of “modules” of XHTML subsets, that when added together form something very similar to XHTML 1.0. XHTML 2.0 meanwhile consists of a working draft that isn’t backwards compatible with previous variations of HTML.

Outside of the HTML world the W3C’s working groups have been busy designing all sorts of complex XML based standards, such as SVG and XForms. These new standards are not variations on HTML, but completely new markup languages. Web browser support for these new standards is almost non-existent, and so therefore, is their usage in web applications.

Model wearing vintage clothing.When building a web application today most authors write to the HTML supported by IE. If they don’t, and write to the standards, then they target HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0. As anyone who has tried to write a web based application will testify, creating a good user experience using HTML forms is very difficult.

Recently several web browser developers have formed a new group to define extensions to HTML, with the aim of improving the tools available to web application developers. The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) consists of developers working for Mozilla, Opera, and Apple. As these extensions are formalised we can realistically expect them to be implemented in Mozilla, Firefox, Opera and Safari.

Unlike the new specifications coming from the W3C, the WHATWG specifications are enhancements to existing, proven technologies. Writing a web application that utilises these new extensions will be far easier than writing applications that utilise completely new technologies such as XForms.

If these extensions to HTML are implemented across the three main “alternative” web browsers, then we can be hopeful that web application authors will begin to use them. That in turn will hopefully lead to IEs grip on the web being loosened, and the pace of improvement of available web technologies picking up.

(Photo taken at the Vintage Festival)

July 11th, 2004

Absolution Gap

Graffiti artist at work.I’ve recently finished reading Alastair Reynolds’ Absolution Gap, the fourth book in a series consisting of Chasm City, Revelation Space, and Redemption Ark.

Absolution Gap is much closer in style to Revelation Space and Redemption Ark than to Chasm City. The characters once again find new alien species and have adventures with galaxy wide implications.

Although the book is an interesting read I found the story hurried. The characters don’t have time to develop and rather than behaving in a particular way, the author resorts to telling the reader what the characters are like. Overall I’ve found the series readable enough to keep going, but not good enough to recommend to others. The exception to this is Chasm City, which is the most interesting of all of them, and can be read standalone.

(The photograph was taken at Nathan Phillips Square on Canada Day during the graffiti art demonstration).

July 4th, 2004

Long weekend

SparklersThis has felt like a long weekend, with Canada Day on Thursday, and a very quiet work day on Friday. Today we held a small gathering for those wanting to celebrate American independence day. We’ve ended up with almost more food after the event than we had before, despite everyone eating a fair amount.

We struggled to locate sparklers for the event. Several shop assistants didn’t even know what a sparkler was, never mind whether they happened to stock them. Shana eventually located some in a bargain shop and a dollar store.

I’m sure there are other techniques that I could have used for photographing sparklers, but I didn’t have time to experiment much, so I used a 5s exposure and a tripod to produce some fun photos.

July 1st, 2004

Canada Day

Fireworks on Canada DayIt is the tail end of the Canada Day, and we’ve just come down from our deck where we watched the fireworks. While our deck doesn’t provide as good a view as exhibition place, it does feature more wine and an easier trip home.

Earlier today we went along to the Jazz and Graffiti event taking place in Nathan Phillips Square. The music provided by Blues Under Dog (warning: chronically bad website) wasn’t really Jazz, but was listen-able to. I took some OK pictures of the band, and the graffiti artists at work. These will be posted at some later point, for now here’s one of the fireworks (cropped from the full picture).

It took me a few goes to find appropriate settings for taking these firework photos. I settled on 1s and an aperture of 5.6f. I could have probably got better results with a 70-200mm that is currently on back order, but they still came out fairly well.

Happy Canada Day!

June 27th, 2004

Vintage festival

Coffin in a hearse.Today we stumbled across a vintage festival on Queen street west. The festival was small, consisting of one band, one fashion show, some vintage cars, and several stalls selling “vintage” (old) items.

The selection of old cars and the fashion show provided a good opportunity for some photography. The sun was high and bright, which meant sharp shadows and difficult exposure metering. The hearse, complete with coffin, was the most interesting car to photograph. The scene it presented was a challenge. Bright sun was shining down on the end of the coffin, and the inside of the car was very dark. The open doors created both visual frames, which could be useful, and obstructions that tended to break up the picture.

I think this shot works. It would have been good to get more of the car in shot, but the doors were extremely distracting.

June 24th, 2004

Football, TV, and Mailing Lists

Dancing in the street.Watching Euro 2004 has been a challenge because of the time difference. Most games take place while I’m at work, finishing before I even head home. The ability to view TV on my mobile phone would therefore have been a useful (although I’m sure expensive) feature. As it is I caught the 2nd half today, saw England go out on penalties, and then came home to Little Portugal where a large celebration was underway.

On the techy side of things I have setup a mailing list for SimpleTAL. At the moment this list sets the gold standard in low traffic volumes: it has one subscriber (me) and no messages. If you’re looking for a place to discuss SimpleTAL and related subjects (PubTal, etc) then please subscribe.

The picture on the right was taken during the Taste Of Little Italy festival last weekend. Despite the festival being about Italy, most of the music was South American. Of the bands that I heard my favourite was a Jazz band called Project Phoenix.

June 20th, 2004

Constitution agreed

The big news this weekend, outside of the football results, was the agreement on the EU constitution. The final fudge on the voting system for the Council of Ministers came to a complex mix of rules, although there is still some logic left to them:

A qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65% of the population of the Union.

A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.

I preferred the original suggestion of 50% of Members representing 60% of the population, but it is at least an improvement over the Nice rules.

The difficult part will now to be to ratify this treaty in all member states. The UK referendum campaign is going to be difficult. I still think that a yes vote can be achieved, but it is going to take a lot more work than I had originally expected.

White flowers.The arguments being put forward for rejecting the constitution have so far been fairly weak on detail, but very strong on emotion. There seems to be a significant force trying to turn the UK referendum on the constitution into one on membership of the EU. The downsides of leaving the EU are significant, and the benefits mostly nonexistent. Access to the common market (essential to the UK economy) requires non-member countries to implement most EU laws anyway, but only membership allows significant influence over those laws.

Those campaigning to reject the constitution, and yet retain membership of the EU, are also ignoring the downsides and over stating the benefits. The constitution contains many good elements that would be lost with a rejection. The areas of EU legislation that the parliament can examine and change is greatly expanded in the constitution. The use of qualified majority voting (QMV) across more areas will make getting agreement on issues easier.

Rejection would leave the EU functioning as it does today. The issues that are currently not subject to QMV (such as Asylum and Immigration) would still need to be tackled, but the results would take longer to achieve. Democratic control of the EU would be as weak as it is now, and while the constitution isn’t exactly light reading, it is still easier to understand than the current set of treaties.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

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