Flashing green lights

Posted in Canadian life at 6:11 pm by ducky

When we came to Vancouver, we were very puzzled by flashing green traffic lights. When we asked Canadians, they said that they were intersections where a pedestrian might push the button to turn the light red. The government-owned Insurance Corporation of British Columbia also describes the flashing green in that way.

This was not a terribly satisfactory answer to us, as most of the streetlights that we’ve seen had a button for pedestrians to cause the traffic light to change (although it sometimes would take a while).

The important thing to know about flashing green traffic lights in British Columbia is that the cross traffic has a stop sign, not a a stop light. This means

  • If you are coming up on a flashing green, a car just might cross or turn in front of you. Do not be alarmed or appalled: as long as it is safe to do so, they are allowed.
  • If you are that cross traffic, you might have to wait a while to cross. I was really surprised that this would work, but it does. Pedestrian traffic in Vancouver correlates very well with auto traffic. If traffic is heavy enough that you can’t find a break to cross, there will be a pedestrian along in a bit to change the light for your cross traffic to red, thus giving you an opportunity to cross. If there are no pedestrians around to run interference for you, then there won’t be much traffic, and you will find a natural break.

One problem with the flashing green traffic lights is that in (at least parts of) Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec, there are flashing green lights that mean the same as a green left arrow in most places: “oncoming traffic is stopped”. (There are some reports that this happens even in Vancouver suburbs.) It doesn’t work well when e.g. Ontario drivers come to Vancouver or vice versa!


Ellen McLaughlin, RIP

Posted in Family at 11:29 pm by ducky

My cousin-in-law — my husband’s cousin’s wife — died last night. She had been in remission from breast cancer for about three years, but it came back.

This picture is from our wedding reception. She brought bubbles and blew them and it was just perfect.

There is breast cancer drug that is currently being fast-tracked that works wonders on certain types of breast cancer. I keep thinking that if only she could have hung on for one more year — maybe even just six more months — maybe she could have gotten through it. I suppose that there are always what-ifs: one of my ancestors died of an infection he got from cutting himself with an ax, an infection that antibiotics would have made a non-issue.

Still, why her? Ellen was a wonderful, sunny person. Every time I saw her — including two and a half months ago — she had a big ol’ grin on her face, radiating joy. Why couldn’t it have been some jerk like Mugabe?

I — and all of her large extended family — will miss her.


Google click-to-call

Posted in Technology trends at 9:45 pm by ducky


Click-to-call is working on Google Maps!

While I didn’t do any work on the click-to-call, I sat across from someone who was working on it, so I’m getting a bit of a vicarious thrill.  🙂


US/Canada linguistic differences

Posted in Canadian life at 10:00 pm by ducky

While the linguistic differences are subtle between the US and Canada, they do exist.

  • Canadians use a flatter “a” sound than Americans in many words. Many (but not all) Canadians say caat, fahther, paastuh, Maareeoh, draamuh, Jaavuh, Naatsee, and daatuh where Americans usually say caat, fahther, pahstuh, Mahreeoh, drahmuh, Jahvuh, Nahtsee, and daytuh.
  • The “ou” in about, round, house, and about is slightly different from US versions; in the US, it sounds like the “ow” in “how”, but it sounds closer to the “oo” in boot in Canada. (Althrough there is variation across Canada in how close to “oo” the “ow” is.) There is a nice Wikipedia article on the Canadian Rising vowel sounds, and there’s also a page with a bunch of Canadian sound clips on it.
  • Americans and Canadians both distinguish between the noun form of produce (stress on second syllable) and the verb form (stress on first syllable), but Canadians also distinguish between the noun and verb forms of project and process by stressing the first syllable of the noun and the second of the verb.
  • Canadians have rounder “o” sounds in some words. For example, Canadians say toomohrroh, bohrroh, and prohcess where Americans say toomahrroh, bahrroh, and prahcess (for tomorrow, borrow, and process).
  • Canadians say marking and invigilating where Americans say grading and proctoring. While both say first-year, second-year, third-year, and fourth-year, only Americans say freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior.
  • Canadians pronounce the last letter of the alphabet zed while Americans say zee.
  • Canadians will sometimes say, “last day” (for example, to refer to the last time that a class met) where Americans never do. Americans will say “last time” instead.
  • Americans (perhaps because they don’t have premier as elected officials) tend to use the same pronunciation as for the opening night of a movie: preeMEER, while the Canadians call the official the PREEmeer.
  • Canadians say reezohrs where Americans say reesohrs (for resource).
  • Some (not all) Americans think that a toboggan is a knit hat, while Canadians (and some Americans) think that a toboggan is a sled.

Not all Canadians or Americans say things the way I just described, but enough do to make it noticable.

Update: My buddy Vince points out:

  • Canadians use washrooms where Americans use bathrooms. (Usually in Canada, that’s where you take a bath.)
  • Some Americans say ruff instead of roof.
  • Americans sometimes say veehihkuhlwhere Canadians say veeihkuhl.
  • Americans tend to say “uh-huh” where Canadians would say “you’re welcome”. (And Canadians find “uh-huh” a bit rude.)
  • Some Americans say “y’all” for second-person-plural, while no Canadians do.
  • A knit hat is a tuque, pronounced like too with a k at the end.

Addendum: Canadians think that “skating” with no qualifier means “ice skating”.


WWW is sixteen years old today

Posted in Technology trends at 6:59 pm by ducky

Apparently, the oldest web page that the W3C knows about is sixteen years old today.

Most of the credit is ascribed to Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Andreessen. I think that the deserve all the credit that they are given — their contributions were very important. However, there are some people and institutions who tend to get left out who were also pretty important.

Robert Cailleau worked with Tim Berners-Lee on the initial WWW, and Eric Bina worked with Mark Andreessen on Mosaic. You haven’t heard of Eric Bina because he’s quite shy, but I bet he did a large share of the work on Mosaic.  Also, he didn’t leave Champaign-Urbana for the bright lights (and fame) of California because his wife is a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
I think that the importance of CERN and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications has been understated.

CERN gave Tim Berners-Lee both the funding to work on the project and a public testbed for it. If the Web had been developed at someplace like IBM, it probably would have just been an intellectual curiosity. The Web infrastructure was not all that technically difficult: the hard part was getting people to generate content.

NCSA not only employed Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, but they provided a whole host of support services to the world. While the stories I heard implied that Marc and Eric worked on Mosaic with out permission (perhaps even against orders), I fully believe that without NCSA’s (eventual) institutional support, Mosaic would not have been a success. Mosaic wasn’t the first graphical Web browser — ViolaWWW, developed by Pei-Yuan Wei — was. But NCSA gave technical support for Mosaic, provided documentation, hosted the download traffic, and funded the development of a number of infrastructure improvements (like the httpd Web server and its CGI extension), and so it succeeded.

Looking back a little farther, there were a number of factors that the Web depended on. The Web couldn’t have gone anywhere if it weren’t for widespread use of the Internet, and that really depended upon cheap computers and email. If IBM had not made the hardware design essentially open source, computers wouldn’t have been so cheap and therefore common.

The Web also depended upon networking. It was only because computers were already everywhere and already networked that the Web could take off. The incremental cost of running a Web server on a machine that was already there and networked was trivial, so why not toss one on? 3Com and Cisco can take some of the credit for that, though there were other networking companies as well.

Even Apple played a role. While I found their HyperCard technology slow, clunky, and uninteresting when I saw it in the late 80s, it popularized the idea of hypertext.

So while I think we should give respect to Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen, I think they also had the extraordinary good fortune to arrive on the scene at a time when cheap, networked computers were widespread and to work for public institutions that provided them with a great deal of support.

mini-review: Regan Mandryk's stuff

Posted in Technology trends at 11:50 am by ducky

Regan Mandryk did a way cool PhD where she figured out how to identify various emotions/mental states — fun, excitement, boredom, challenge, and frustration — from physiological measurements.

She stuck sensors on guys playing video games to measure things like heart rate, galvanic skin response, etc. She asked them to report on their feelings during the game play, and with a small application of fuzzy logic, was able to tease out the correlations between the sensor data and emotions. Cool stuff. (See Regan’s thesis or a terser summary of her work.)

It might be interesting to stick electrodes on people coding; there is all kinds of interesting stuff you could pull out of that. Combine the sensor traces with traces of interactions with an IDE, and see where the IDE is frustrating the coders. See if you can identify “flow”. See what happens when you interrupt flow. See how long it takes to get back into flow from various types of interruption. Figure out how to get people into flow.


Status of Women Canada

Posted in Canadian life at 10:12 pm by ducky

My bud Karen Parker is involved with the Status of Women Canada web site, where it says that the current government cut the Status of Women Canada’s budget from CDN$12M to CDN$7M shortly after Stephen Harper (the Prime Minister) came to power.
While I definitely think it’s bad that the budget got cut, part of me is agog that they managed to get CDN$12M in an official government capacity. If there is something similar in the US, I don’t know about it. I think women’s rights are strictly handled by NGOs in the US, such as the National Organization for Women.


Remembrance Day / Veteran's Day

Posted in Canadian life at 10:02 pm by ducky

November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the US. You would think they would be basically the same thing, but their observance has some significant differences.

Remembrance Day is a pretty big deal in Canada. It honors members of the armed forces who were killed during war — dead people. Remembrance Day is a government holiday, there are services on November 11 that many people go to, there are two minutes of silence at 11:11 (the time the WW1 Armistice was signed), and it is common for people wear poppies on their clothing on the day of (and before, and after). My husband and I have two poppies and wear them.

Veterans Day is not observed to the same degree. It honors war veterans — principally the living, with the dead remembered on Memorial Day. Veterans Day is a government holiday, but lots of businesses and schools stay open.

Perhaps Veterans Day is less of a big deal because veterans are living, breathing human beings with flaws and foibles, whose sacrifices varied wildly. If you happen to be acquainted with a veteran who you don’t like — maybe your uncle-in-law Fred was an incompetent paper-pusher in the Navy for two years during peacetime and who got wickedly drunk last Thanksgiving and groped your sister and then peed in the ficus — then perhaps that might sour you on honoring veterans.

Perhaps you are a liberal, and have a bias that all veterans are knee-jerk conservatives. You might be uneasy honoring those who you think of as your political opponents.

People who died in wars, however, don’t have many flaws and foibles. They don’t vote against you in presidential elections. And it is absolutely clear that they sacrificed everything for their fellow citizens.

Symbology is also important. On Memorial Day in the US, the dominant symbol is the flag, a symbol which for some people symbolizes the dark side of the US. While the US flag represents liberty and freedom to many of her citizens, there are others who see it as a symbol of military aggressiveness and/or reactionary politics.

The poppy — which is worn in Canada, the UK, and Australia on Remembrance Day — is extremely non-aggressive. (Flowers were a symbol of the US anti-Vietnam war movement, even.) The image that it evokes is of not of tanks, planes, and guns, but of graveyards. It is a symbol that is not politically charged; it is as meaningful to anti-war demonstrators as to the most ardent supporters of military action.

Finally, the link to Armistice Day is still very clear in Canadian culture (in part because of the poem In Flanders Field, which was written by a Canadian). Meanwhile, the link to Armistice Day has faded in the US. That link is important, because Armistice Day was when the war ended. It can be seen as a day of honoring peace as much (or perhaps more) than a day honoring war.

The end result is that Remembrance Day is something that is easier for absolutely everybody to support than Veterans Day.


girls and computers

Posted in Random thoughts at 11:14 am by ducky

Maria Klawe is giving a talk at UBC today about how girls and women differ from boys and men in their uses of and attitudes towards computers and computing. I will be sorry to miss it, but hubby and I are out of town attending to family.

When I was at Interval Research Corporation, Brenda Laurel was working there to develop computer games for girls. I remember her research boling down to basically that girls usually wanted stories and participation, while boys usually wanted to dominate and win. This seemed consistent with what I’d read in Deborah Tannen‘s book You Just Don’t Understand.

I was thinking about computer languages versus natural languages one day. It had always seemed that there were a lot of women in my French and English classes, while computer science was mostly men. To me, they seem to take similar skills (at least at one level). In both cases, there’s a very finicky and arbitrary syntax to learn. In both cases, it doesn’t matter what you feel like ought to be correct; the other culture/the computer are right and will insist on their correctness despite how you feel about it. (This Camel has Two Humps seems to indicate that accepting that rigidity is part of becoming a good programmer.) In both English and CS, I was taught to organize my thoughts with an outline/flowchart, then fill in the details bit by bit. In both, it takes years to gain mastery.

Why then, the gender discrepancy? After thinking about it, I decided that the women probably learn French so that they can converse, and the men learn CS so that they can dominate. I can imagine a girl thinking, “Why should I spend all that time learning its language when it can’t even have meaningful conversations?” I can imagine a boy thinking, “Why should I spend all that time learning French, when I can’t dominate them?”


That's just WRONG!

Posted in Canadian life at 9:26 pm by ducky

Somehow I managed to miss it last year…

Canadian Thanksgiving is in mid-October, compared to the late-November of the United States. One could guess that perhaps because Canada is colder, their growing season ends sooner, and so their harvest celebration is earlier. I don’t think that’s it, however, as in November the harvest is well past in most of the US as well.

It turns out that one of the things that the later US Thanksgiving does is keeps Christmas at bay longer. The Toronto Santa Claus Parade will happen on November 19th this year.
In general, I really like Canadian culture, but having Christmas propaganda happen in November? That’s just wrong.

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