30 April 2010

HST in Ontario

I had a brief scare today when I glimpsed an article saying the 13% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in Ontario kicks in tomorrow, 1 May 2010.

Fortunately, I was mistaken -- the article was talking about how consumers can avoid the provincial portion of the HST for some services by pre-paying prior to 1 May 2010.

Ontario's cash-grab is still slated for 1 July 2010. Whew. Small favours, eh?

One of the more ludicrous arguments I've heard in favour of the HST is that the billions of dollars businesses will save will be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices. Call me cynical, but I marvel at the amount of pixie dust I'd have to inhale to believe that.

If the past decade and more has shown me anything, it's that the trickle-down theory of wealth is a semi-trailer load of insert-scatological-epithet-here for the vast majority of consumers.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer -- an overworked phrase, but it's overworked because it's still true.

Perhaps politicians should give the trickle-up theory a turn. It couldn't do much worse.

21 April 2010

I Don't Think This Means What You Think it Means

I was browsing the news on cbc.ca when I discovered yet another example of what I consider to be imprecise, contradictory, and lazy use of language.

I've boldfaced the part I find irritating in the quote below:

Youth unemployment skyrockets: OECD

Youth unemployment has been steadily rising and is expected to remain in the high double digits until the end of 2011, the OECD says.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development issued a report Wednesday that predicts unemployment among youths — which the group describes as non-students between the ages of 15 and 25 — is on track to remain close to 20 per cent across Europe well into 2011. [...] cbc.ca

Perhaps it's just me, but when someone says, "high double digits", I think in the 80 to 90 range. I'm too picky? I'll take any number that's closer to being triple digits than a single digit... which 20 is clearly not. It's not even close.

17 April 2010

Sherlock Holmes

I missed out seeing Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., in the cinema, but recently it came out on BD so I rented it.

I liked it. I thought all the actors were good, funny scenes were funny, story was good, and action scenes were enjoyable.

I've read all the Sherlock Holmes novels, but that was more than a decade ago so many details are hazy. This current theatrical version of Holmes wasn't what I imagined while reading the books but that didn't detract from the movie. It was an interpretation of Holmes that I enjoyed watching. The story was new and didn't simply follow one of the novels.

Random thoughts:
  • Part of me was glad I had rented Sherlock Holmes rather than seeing it in the cinema because it afforded me the ability to rewind. There were several bits of dialogue that I wasn't able to catch the first time. The British accents were by no means thick but at times the dialogue went by too quickly for my ears.
  • Background special effects were acceptable but not great. A lot of the time in the big panoramic shots the background didn't quite gel with the action/foreground so that it was obvious the background was fake or had been green-screened.
  • I liked Jude Law as Dr. Watson. I thought he and Downey worked well together.
  • The funniest scene of the movie was in the denouement.
While there was no real cliff-hanger, Sherlock Holmes did set itself up for possible sequels. I liked this movie well enough that I hope they do make a sequel and if so I'd definitely make a greater effort to see it in the cinema.

I give Sherlock Holmes 3.5 out of 5 stars.

14 April 2010

ZoneAlarm Firewall Hangs Firefox

This is a follow-up to my previous post Firefox versus Chrome.

For the longest time I've been having problems with Firefox hanging, frequently. More often than not, actually. Firefox would suddenly and without warning be unable to access the internet. IE and other programs would be fine so I knew it wasn't a connection problem. I could close all the Firefox windows but the Firefox process would still run -- unable to be shut down even via Task Manager -- and hence prevent restarting Firefox. The only solution was to restart my computer. Irritating.

Anywhoo, to avoid repeating myself further I'll cut this short and get to the point.

It appears that Firefox hanging was caused by some interference with ZoneAlarm basic (free) firewall on my desktop at home. Perhaps ZoneAlarm conflicts with a Firefox add-on rather than Firefox per se, but since I only install add-ons I really want (ie. noscript, adblock plus) I didn't bother testing it by uninstalling them one at a time.

So despite my long time use and admiration for the effectiveness of ZoneAlarm firewall (and as Firefox is the only browser with all the features I want) I went the other direction and uninstalled ZoneAlarm, even going so far as to replace my free ZoneAlarm with (gasp!) a retail firewall that actually cost me money.

The fact that I was willing to give up a perfectly good free firewall for a paid version from another developer is a testament to just how much I've grown to appreciate the privacy controls and noscript add-on available with Firefox that are unavailable in other browsers like Chrome.

Having said that, I might not have jumped off the ZoneAlarm firewall bandwagon if I hadn't found an equally effective replacement, free or not.

13 April 2010

The International

I recently rented The International, starring Clive Owen. Owen portrays an Interpol agent trying to take down an international banking institution suspected of dealing in weapons.

The International is an action movie and over all I enjoyed it. I've only seen Clive Owen in a few things, but what I have seen of his work I've admired. Actually, the first time I saw Owen was in a video game for the PC -- a spin-off of the Wing Commander series called Privateer or the like.

The action scenes were enjoyable -- important for an action movie -- and as I indicated above Owen did well in his role.

One puzzling thing in the movie, though, had to do with a dead bird. I don't think it will really spoil anything, so I'll just say I got the implication that the bad guys killed the bird but I don't understand why they did so. It sort of revealed their presence to an already paranoid Owen. If it was accidental, then what caused the avian's demise? Odd.

In the blue-ray version they included a deleted scene with Owen's daughter -- the daughter character was completely absent in the final version of the movie. It makes me wonder whether the actress still gets paid (probably), whether it's appropriate for her to include The International on her curriculum vitae (probably), or whether she was listed in the credits? I forgot to check the latter by the time the credits rolled around. Oh, well.

Anywhoo, The International deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars (I originally was going to give The International 3 stars, but as I enjoyed it more than The Hurt Locker I bumped it up to 3.5).

The Hurt Locker

I rented The Hurt Locker recently, and I thought it was a good, but not great, movie.

The Hurt Locker was a character study more than anything else. The movie felt very static with no real plot and no character development.

Many scenes were interesting, but others I found pointedly unbelievable; the latter surely a detriment for a supposedly realistic portrayal of soldiers in Iraq. I thought it absurd that a 3-man bomb squad would be left with no support in the midst of hostile territory on a regular basis.

Who knows, maybe it really does happen that way and I'm ignorant of some tactical or strategic benefit to doing so. Regardless, until I learn otherwise I'm attributing it to artistic license.

I give The Hurt Locker 3 out of 5 stars.

01 April 2010

Bicycle + Trailer + Me = Ouch

On the walk home, today, I was hit by a bicycle trailer -- one of those chariot thingies pulled by a bicycle that sit a baby or toddler inside. Luckily no one was seriously injured, though the toddler was definitely crying up a storm.

I'm not sure what the cyclist was thinking. First, he was riding on the sidewalk, coming towards me. Second, he was traveling at a fairly good clip despite heading up hill. Third, that sidewalk is narrow. There's barely enough room for two pedestrians to pass, let alone a bicycle pulling a trailer. On one side there's a low retaining wall, the other is busy traffic where merely sticking an elbow out over the road brings fear of getting hit by a car mirror.

Anywhoo, I stopped, the cyclist didn't. He inched too close to his right and the chariot's wheel bounced off the retaining wall, the impact tipping the entire chariot on its opposite side where it promptly slammed in to my shins.

I couldn't help but think, as the cyclist quickly righted himself and sped away, that if the cyclist is going to ride like that then his helpless passenger deserves to wear a helmet, too.