Showing posts from 2008

Let It Snow

Cross Country Skiing, Gatineau Park, Quebec

Photo by Darren DeRidder © 2008

Winter's Arrival

Staghorn Sumac, Gatineau Park, Quebec

Photo by Darren DeRidder © 2008

Wrapped Up

Finally, Aura is covered up for winter. Good thing as it's supposed to snow heavily this week. Friends Liam and Paul helped me out and tried a new technique of rolling the front of the tarp and "stitching" it just with strands of rope. It's really effective.

What a brutally cold day to be out, though. There is already about two inches of ice in the harbor. While we were working on getting Liam's boat covered, we started hearing this hacking sound. It turned out to be one of the maintenance staff, trying to hack an aluminum work boat out of the water with an oar. The whole thing, including a big 30Hp Mercury motor were frozen solid into the ice. We had a good laugh over the silliness of it all... forgetting to take the boat out in the first place, the futile hacking with the oar, and the blasted freezing cold. At least there was somebody out there more miserable than us.

A few minutes later we started hearing a huge crunching sound. I ran to the harbor wal…

The Bitter End

The end of the sailing season has come, and Aura is now high and dry, on the hard, laid up for the winter. She still has to be covered over and the motor prepped and stored, but the big work of hauling out is done.

It was a good season of sailing. With her new sails, Aura looked like a new boat and performed well. A used #2 genoa given to me by fellow Tanzer 22 sailor John Lydon gave us some enormous sail area for light wind races and was a deciding factor in us crossing the finish line ahead of some others.

One crisp and sunny October afternoon as I finished putting new pads on the boat cradle, enjoying all the sawing, hammering, and general puttering around in the harbor, I reflected on the hours of behind-the-scenes work that go into owning a sailboat. My crew this year (on weekly PHRF and JAM races) were good sports, fun to sail with, and did a great job for being relatively new to racing. It did turn out to be a bit of a chore to get everyone to show up consistently though, and…

Fall Colours on Meech Lake

Meech Lake, Gatineau Park, Quebec.

© 2008 Darren DeRidder


Cat-tails beside the trail, Gatineau Park, Quebec.

© 2008 Darren DeRidder

Autumn Leaves

Lac Meech, Parc de la Gatineau, Quebec.

© 2008 Darren DeRidder

The Canal in Color

©2008 Darren DeRidder

Mont Blanc du Tacul

Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit and Mont Blanc from the Aguille du Midi, Chamonix, France.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder


Cafe, Como, Italy.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder


A peaceful sunset, Lago di Como, Italy.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Val Bernina

A train passes through Val Bernina near Pontressina, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Piz Balzet

Iain Williams climbing the South Ridge of Piz Balzet in Albigna, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

d'Escha at Day's End

Dusk from the Chamanna d'Escha.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Aguille du Midi Traverse

Climbers descend from the Aguille du Midi, Chamonix, France.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Vadret de Portabella

Crossing the upper Vadret de Portabella below the summit of Piz Kesch in the Rhaetian alps.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder


Original 14th Century panels on the Kapellbrücke, Lucerne, Switzerland.

©2oo8 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Evening in Albigna

Guests enjoy a pleasant evening at the Albigna Hut, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Stairway to Heaven

The famous Biancograt, Piz Bernina.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder


Chocolate, St. Moritz, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Vadret Pers

Diavolezza and the Pers glacier from Bovalhutte, Morteratsch in the Engadine.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Evening in Varenna

Shores of Lake Como, Varenna, Italy.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Varenna Comfort

Hotel Victoria, Varenna, Italy.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Serious Business

Cairn construction in the Albigna valley, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Albigna Slabs

Slab climbing above the water, Albigna, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

St. Moritz Window

A window box in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

jour pluvieux à chamonix

Mist hangs above hills in Chamonix, France.

©2008 Photo by Darren DeRidder

Your Privacy is Your Freedom

This week, amid news - just in time for the 4th of July - that a Federal US judge has ordered Google to turn over the confidential user information of every single user who has ever watched a Youtube video to Viacom, the giant media conglomerate who is suing Google over some TV clips that end-users uploaded, my thoughts turned again to the issue of privacy, and freedom, how the two are inextricably related, and how poorly this seems to be understood by many people who consider themselves citizens of a free country.

Viacom, by the way, are the brilliant folks who stole a Youtube user's video without permission, aired it on TV, and then filed a DMCA takedown notice against said user, for infringing on "their" copyright.

While the invading horde of Viacommies is bad enough, it pales in comparison to the threats posed by warrantless wiretapping programs and their ilk (including the deceptively-named Patriot Act). It's becoming more and more apparent that we all need to …

Serenade For The Renegade

The news of the passing of Esbjorn Svensson on June 14th came as a very sad shock to me and many others around the world who became familiar with the extraordinary musical creativity of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (EST).

EST quickly became one of my favorite musical groups when I special-ordered and picked up their album "Strange Place For Snow" after having it recommended by a German friend with notably fine taste in European jazz.

Their music was energetic, buoyant, fresh and hauntingly beautiful. The loss of a rising jazz leader so early in his career is really a tragedy. I encourage those with a musical ear to check out EST.

Bootable Flash Drive

Here's how to make a bootable USB flash drive (thumb drive) on Windows XP without using a floppy disk.

Download Virtual Floppy 2.0.

It should create a virtual floppy called drive b. Open up My Computer, right click on drive b, and select Format. Select the option to create an MS DOS startup disk.

Download mkbt.

Open a dos prompt (run cmd) and cd to the mkbt directory, wherever you put it, i.e.
> cd mkbt/mkbt20/

Copy the bootsector from b: to a file:
> ./mkbt -c b: bootsect.bin

Format the flash drive to FAT 16. In My Computer, right click on the Flash drive (mine was F:) and select format. Use FAT, not FAT 32.

From the dos prompt, copy the bootsector image to the flash drive:
> ./mkbt -x bootsect.bin F:

Make sure you get the drive letters right. Finally, copy all the files from b: to f:.

The flash drive should be bootable media now, with plenty of space for extra files you might need for doing BIOS upgrades and such.

A Policy of Simplicity

Update: When this post came out, a few zealous RETE proponents had a field day bashing some of the ideas I presented here and referring to my dismissal of RETE (as a panacea for policy control) as "mental laziness". Since then, other people have come to similar conclusions, including Martin Fowler. In his article RulesEngine he states, "there's a lot to be said for avoiding more general rules systems", and advocates building simple custom, domain-specific rules systems. I happen to agree with Martin Fowler on this point.

Here is how to build a high-performance rules-based policy server in less than two hours using proven, free open-source software that can outperform incumbent rules-engine products by up to two orders of magnitude in common scenarios of business logic and policy. In addition it is easier to use and more secure than its commercial counterparts.

All of the information in this article is an established part of what we in the engineering field re…


The last canning plant in Canada to use Ontario-grown fruit is closing. What this means is that as of this summer, you will no longer be able to buy canned fruit that was grown in eastern Canada. CanGro, the multi-national corporation which owns the facility in St. Davids near Niagara Falls, has decided it is more profitable to move the entire operation to China, and will begin shipping Chinese-grown fruit to the Canadian market under their Del Monte brand.

This puts about 200 farmers in the Niagara region out of business, with a production of over 7000 tons of fruit annually. They no longer have a market for their produce. Hoping to save the industry in Canada, one farmer offered to purchase the CanGro factory if the fruit-canning contract would be returned to the local plant. He offered to put up $5 million dollars, but needed the Canadian government to match that amount to make the deal. The plant owners agreed to the deal. They agreed to give back the canning contract and …

A Motley Crew

Racing begins! And we need a motivated crew. Hence the new flag:

Keel Work

This spring I undertook what could be considered a rite of passage among sailboat owners: refinishing the keel.  The steps (shown in the video below) were: scraping down the keel with paint scrapers (didn't work very well)grinding the keel with an evil-looking twisted wire brush attachmentgrinding the keel some more with a rough fiber sanding diskmore wire brush grindingwash-down with Metal-Ready (phosphoric acid)3 coats of POR-15 anti-rust paint1 coat of Interprotect 2000Epoxy fairing compound in hull-keel joint and pitted areas4 more coats of Interprotect 2000VC-17m on anti-fouling bottom paintLaunch, and watch all that hard work disappear underwater

Math Makes Music

I've written before about the intersection of art and technology. As a musician and an engineer, I'm always interested in art that is techie and tech thats artful. Last week I had the distinct pleasure of discovering a little piece of technology that I think is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life, ever. It's a software-based piano synthesizer that turns the whole world of digital piano technology on it's head.

Piano players can't really lug a piano around easily, so you never know when you show up at a gig what kind of instrument you'll have to play on. I've seen everything from a Bosendorfer to a beat up electronic Casio with the sustain pedal polarity wired in reverse. The notes wouldn't stop until you stepped down on the pedal, exactly the opposite of how it normally works. It was like trying to drive down the freeway backwards.

Like a lot of other pianists, I sprung for a decent digital stage piano that I can take to gigs …

Gospel Goes Green

CBC Radio, The Current, 24 March 2008 featured an interview with Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Government Policy with the National Association of Evangelicals, the most powerful religious organization in the United States with over 30 million members. He is encouraging his flock of 30 million to "proselytize in the fight against climate change as well as the battle to save souls."

On a trip last August, he along with other evangelicals and scientists went to Alaska to see the effects of climate change. Asked about the impact of the trip, he said it was "an extraordinary experience for me personally as well as for all evangelicals."

The group saw first hand the impact of climate change, habitat destruction, and species extinction. Stressing the need for cooperation between the religious and scientific communities, Cizik recounted "...all these things that we together believe threaten the planet."

"It's one of the most important conversatio…

Selenium IDE Test Tips

Here are a few things to bear in mind when creating Selenium IDE tests.

Setting and Getting Variables

store | 10 | x

This obviously sets x=10. There are a couple of ways to reference it: ${x} or storedVars['x']. They're not the same.

The first, ${x}, is from Prototype. Its a shortcut and returns a copy of storedVars['x'], it doesn't actually point to the real value. The second, storedVars['x'] directly references the array of Selenium's stored user variables. I recommend using storedVars['x'] and not ${x} (even though it's shorter).

You can't assign anything to${x}. Within a single Selenium command, if you modify storedVars['x'], the value of ${x} won't get updated until the next command. Stick with storedVars and you'll be ok.

When you want to use a previously stored variable as an argument to a subsequent command, use the "javascript{...}" notation. For example:

assertElementPresent | javascript{stor…

What I Don't Like About Google

As with all good things that must come to an end, the pure spartan simplicity that defined Google at the start has begun to cede ground to the ever-encroaching clutter.

Usability trouble comes in various guises but could be summed up in a word as "inconsistency". If I had a mantra for usability it would be "meet expectations". Which is impossible when your products set conflicting expectations. With all the additions, acquisitions, and new beta projects coming out of Google now we're starting to see the inevitable usability dragon rearing its ugly head.

It happens, for example, when you click on "My Account" in one application and it takes you to the app's dashboard, click it in another application and go to your Google account preferences. I don't want to have to remember that two identical-looking links in identical fonts in identical places on Google apps have completely different functionality.

Dear Google, please fix the inconsistency…

It snowed...

... a bit last night.

Selenium IDE Internals

When porting the original flowcontrol plugin for using goto and while loops in Selenium IDE (original Sideflow post) I found the following techniques useful for digging into the internals of Selenium IDE.

using getEval / storeEval

The functionality Selenium provides is great, but at times you may need to do something beyond the ordinary. One of the most useful commands in Selenium IDE for this is getEval. Get eval executes an arbitrary string of JavaScript code. If you've upgraded to the new Selenium IDE 1.0 Beta 1 you can also use the new "runScript" command.

getEval with alert

Most people will have tried this, I'm sure. Some say this is bad form, but I use this sort of thing all the time and it's usually the fastest way to get what I need for debugging.

|getEval | alert("simple is always better"); |
|getEval | alert("first command = "+testCase.commands[0].command); |
You'll want to remove these kinds of alerts once your test case is rea…

Selenium IDE Flow Control - Goto and While Loops


This extension provides goto, gotoIf and while loop functionality in Selenium IDE. Selenium IDE is a plugin for Firefox that automates the testing of web-based applications. There is an excellent flow-control extension at for the Selenium RC and TestRunner components, but it does not work with Selenium IDE (the Firefox plugin) directly. This makes it difficult to develop controlled test cases within Selenium IDE, and there are times when the frame-based TestRunner cannot be used (such as when the website under test employs a frame-buster script).

I've ported the existing control-flow extension to work in the Selenium IDE Firefox add-on. The image below shows a sample test case using goto, gotoIf and a while loop, all running successfully in Selenium IDE.

The file can be downloaded from Github and should be saved as "sideflow.js" to your hard drive. Then the Options settings in Selenium …

Vis Duh

I haven't gone away, but my computer did, for a while. It was a bad stick of RAM. In the process of getting it back, I formatted my drive. Then I had to fork over cold hard cash for a new copy of Windoze XP. I got it only because the software I use for composing and recording music, Sonar, requires it.

I refuse to use Vista. Bill Gates was recently interviewed on Gizmodo and basically admitted that Vista was a failure. Voted one of the 10 Worst Tech Products of 2007 at Yahoo Tech, then as one of the worst tech products in history over at CNet UK. MicroSoft now has a class action lawsuit against them for their bungled "Vista Capable" PC sticker program where even a MicroSoft executive claimed he'd been burnt... suckered into buying "a $2100 email machine" that won't run any of Vista much-touted features.

If you want eye candy, you have a lot better options. You could get a Mac. Or, you can use one of many free Windows shell replacements, like Lite…

Canada puts US on Torture Watchlist

CTV News has reported that the Canada has named the United States on a watch-list of countries with "greater risks of torture". The list is part of a workshop for Canadian diplomats meant to teach them to recognize signs of torture and places where it is more likely to be found. It specifically mentions "U.S. interrogation techniques" including "forced nudity, isolation and sleep deprivation". Presumably the document was compiled before the use of waterboarding in American interrogations became widely publicized (waterboarding has been declared illegal by the United States in the past and is an internationally recognized form of torture[1]).

Siting the list, a lawyer for a Canadian boy who has been illegally held and tortured at the infamous U.S Guantanamo Bay prison for five years claims that he should be returned to Canada for a court hearing. The lawyer said that the boy has been abused, that his rights have been violated under international law,…

"We Own the World"

To follow the previous post, Noam Chomsky has written a new article, "We Own the World". It is excellent.

He explains clearly the intellectual and moral malaise that permeates current discussion of US policy towards Iran and the world in general.

Photo by John Soares, linked from

Noam Chomsky on Iran

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has lectured and written extensively on US foreign policy and social issues. I've always been very interested in his perspectives, but until I saw this video, I'd found his other lectures somewhat dry. This interview does a good job of presenting an informed critique of the current political climate in the US regarding Iran in a concise and articulate manner. Noam Chomsky is a very respected voice, and what he says on Iran in this video is well worth hearing.

Broken Voting

As a computer systems engineer, I've always thought electronic voting machines are a Bad Idea. Here is a video demonstration of a defect in the electronic voting machines being used in US elections.

The Not-So-Green Door

Today I ran into John Baird, Canadian Minister of the Environment, at The Green Door. Since John was standing right in front of me at the cash register, I asked him just to be sure, "Excuse me, are you the Minister of the Environment for Canada?"

And he said, "Yes, yes, I am... I'm a vegetarian, actually, but don't tell anyone!"

My first thought was, what an odd place to meet John Baird. The Green Door is basically packed on any night of the week with tree-hugging, veggie chomping, earth-loving activists. And Baird is most recently credited with playing a major role in removing any meaningful targets from the Bali climate change initiative. Against tradition, he barred opposition MPs from participating in the summit, and then even as reports of Canada's dismal environmental performance surfaced, he stood with the US and Japan in blockading the Bali agreement.

I said, "You know, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with Canada's showing at…

Oesa Morning

Morning mist near Lake Oesa, Yoho National Park, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.