June 24th, 2007, 1:15 am PDT by Greg

So, I was just driving home from Kelly and Paul’s place along Hastings. There was one car driving in the manner we all know: the guy that thinks “if I change lanes 8 times per block, I might get a few car lengths ahead.” This is a particular driving annoyance of mine: it creates potentially dangerous situations with little payoff, and close lane changes can easily cause traffic waves in heavier traffic.

So, I watched this guy fly across two lanes from the 3rd to 1st lane (with no pause in between lanes, of course). Then halfway back to the 2nd lane before realizing that the car in front was changing lanes and quickly cranking back. This left him in the curb lane to do the little zip past traffic at the light.

Hmmm… isn’t that car beside him at the light an unmarked police car? Yes, it is. I wonder if he knows that.

After the light, it became clear that he saw it too: suddenly the speed limit was limiting. I LOLed, figuring the guy was probably shitting himself.

All of my psychic abilities were dedicated to one thought: “You saw it too! Pull the bastard over!”

About a block later, the lights came on. It was awesome. I actually thought about pulling over I was laughing so hard.

I’m sure the guy was past the bar for “erratic driving” and probably got to do a field sobriety test. Huzzah, VPD!

Mouse WTF

June 18th, 2007, 12:48 am PDT by Greg

Okay, so I just bought a new mouse. My old one was giving me double-clicks on the middle button when clearly inappropriate, and the battery charger wasn’t working, forcing me to change batteries every couple of weeks.

Since I didn’t want to fight with batteries any more, and my mouse doesn’t really move out of its one square foot area, I decided to go with a corded mouse. Most mice are cordless. I was left with the cheap mice, and a few high-end corded “gamer” mice. I eventually decided on a $23 Logitech mouse.

While I was looking around, I saw this for $70 in London Drugs:


Here are the claims made on the box. It’s like a case-study in marketing bullshit.

  • “6400+ frames per second”. Okay, mice don’t have “frames”. I’m willing to assume they meant “samples per second”. 6400 times per second, the mouse checks to see how much it has moved. They couldn’t have said “6400 updates” or something like that?
  • “5.8 megapixels per second”. WTF? Mice have megapixels? I can’t even imagine what that could mean. Are they using “pixel” to mean “position” or something?
  • “40 inches per second, high speed motion detection”. I can’t seem to move my $23 mouse fast enough that it misses out. Maybe 16 year olds have somehow managed to develop freakishly strong forearm muscles that lead to phenomenal mouse speeds?
  • “7 buttons, independently programmable”. I’m all for programmable buttons, but what would it mean for buttons to be “dependently programmable”?

I’m sticky…

June 16th, 2007, 3:38 pm PDT by Kat

… and so is my floor. In the span of a week I have somehow spilled not 1, not 2, but 3 sticky things onto my floor and myself.

1. I cooked pork chops for dinner and while eating I put some water in the pan so that it would be easier to wash later. Well, I forgot that there was pork water in the pan, and when I went to clean it, I sloshed the nasty pork water all over myself and my floor. I’ve been having issues with mice (well, 1 mouse that is no more) and cockroaches (it’s the South – they’re everywhere). So I freaked and did a huge clean-up of the kitchen.

2. I dropped a can of Pepsi on the floor and of course it developed a pin-hole leak and sprayed Pepsi all over my clean floor and my jeans. I hate to clean, and so having to clean the kitchen floor for the second time in one week was too much.

3. I went to do laundry and usually take just the cap-ful of detergent down to the washing machine with me. When I openned the door to go out, the door somehow hit my laudry hamper, which then jostled my hand, and then there was laudry detergent everywhere. At least this stuff was self-cleaning given that it’s soap!

So yeah, sticky… picture Fes from That 70’s Show eating candy… that’s me… I’m sticky… and I’m tired of cleaning the floor. Meh.

Summer bite count total: 17

SIMS Horrors

June 12th, 2007, 10:53 pm PDT by Greg

As I mentioned previously, I’m trying to get some student data for a side project. The data is housed in SIMS (Student Information Management System), which is pretty much the internal group that does goSFU.

This led me to spending a chunk of the day learning about SIMS, both the system and the group that manages it.

First, remember that we paid tens of millions for the whole SIMS/goSFU/Peoplesoft thing. That doesn’t count the productivity lost across the University to the horrible interface. Admittedly, a lot of what we paid for was a level of certainty that there would be no catastrophic failure. When we wake up tomorrow, there will still be a record that I work there, and the students in my courses will still be registered.

The SIMS team is apparently either swamped with necessary customizations or paralysed by the complexity of the task before them. I was told today about a two and a half year wait by a staff member to get a simple minor customization.

What tipped me over the edge tonight was a document I received titled “SIMS Reporting Database Tables–Field Descriptions”. The reporting database is most, but not all of the student-related data in the system. This document is a list of fields in each table (with a sentence or so about each one).

It is 154 pages long. One hundred and fifty-four.

And, it obviously wasn’t even included in the millions we paid Peoplesoft. It is information compiled by SFU staff. It contains useful snippets like:

  • “Not sure what field represents or if field is used. Most values are (blank) with a few exceptions”
  • “Some dollar figure, no idea???”
  • “A level between 1-5. Not sure which end of the range is the high end.”
  • “A flag . ‘Y’, ‘N’ — All ‘N’ so not used?”

I don’t want to knock the poor employee(s) that wrote those things: they did the best they could with what they had to work with. But, if you were selling a database-backed system that was customizable and cost millions of dollars, wouldn’t you throw in some documentation?

Facebook Plan

June 11th, 2007, 3:29 pm PDT by Greg

As I was looking into the new Facebook application interface, I found myself thinking “what could I do with this that would be cool?” I figure a good Facebook application should contain information that people want to share with their friends and would help them connect with others.

What I quickly realized: students want to know what courses their friends are in, and what friends are in their courses. Thus the “SFU Courses” application was born.

My plan (and it’s still a plan) is to get nightly data from goSFU and push it to Facebook so students (who have added the application and authorized the data release) can have something like this in their profile, automatically updated when they register/drop courses:


Step 2 would be to display a list of people (who have added the application) who are in a particular course. I want to get the basic course list working first.

I know Facebook has a “Courses” section in the profile already, but nobody bothers updating it because it must be done manually. This would eliminate all of the upkeep, and just automatically display the current and registration semesters.

I have started working with it, and I’m starting to understand the Facebook API. Publishing regularly-updating data is a bit of a hassle, but it will work out.

I’m still working on getting the goSFU data. I have permission from the Director of Records and Registration to do it. We’re now working on doing the technical part: actually getting the right data to me every night. That is being slowed by what I will call “interdepartmental politics”.

I’m hoping the whole thing will be working by mid-July for the fall course registration period.

Good science week

June 5th, 2007, 7:09 pm PDT by Kat

I’m having a pretty good week o’ science.

Last week I ran a procedure called immunocytochemistry (ICC) where tissue sections are stained for the presence of specific compounds – in our case an enzyme that converts dopamine to norepinephrine. This is the second time I’ve run this assay on my own, and sometimes even though you follow every step of the protocol, it doesn’t work. Apparently in those situations the appropriate sacrifice to the science gods wasn’t made, and you’ve wasted a week of your life and valuable tissue samples. Today, after 3 hours on the microscope I found out that my ICC worked! Yippee!

Yesterday I made a happy discovery. I was going to move my House Finches out of the aviary so that Buddy could move his Lincoln Sparrows out there. However, since I have “breeding pairs” in each of the 5 cages, I figured I should double check the trees that we have in there in case they had nests that I had missed. Sure enough I found a nest that I hadn’t previously known about, and inside it was this little guy (or girl). I think he’s probably somewhere around 10 days old. I have another nest with 4 chicks in it, but they’re still really small, so I’m not going to get my hopes up just yet. But, YAY for the little one!

And, on Saturday morning I caught 4 new HOFIs – two juveniles, a male and a female.

Bite count 2007: 13