Nov 292006

The registration is open for Northern Voice 2007 and the speaker submissions will be closing on Friday December 1st. We extended the deadline to let people recover from the torrential downpours, record snowfalls, high winds, and assorted other drawbacks of November in the Pacific North-West.

And if you want a t-shirt, you can vote on which colour it should be as well! Just head over to the survey and let us know.

Nov 282006

I have the good fortune to work with Pat Patterson at Sun and one of the things we discussed quite a lot shortly before I went on maternity leave was how to make it easier for people to use Liberty protocols for their identity needs. One of the complaints I’ve heard is that there isn’t enough sample code in the world showing how to use and implement SAML. Given that Sun’s Access Manager does implement SAML, along with various other Liberty Alliance standards, it seemed like it should be possible to put together some sample code that uses Access Manager. And, given that Access Manager is now open source as part of OpenSSO, it made sense to create another open source project. But, this project should use languages other than Java, to give the LAMP (or MARS) developers and implementors some code that they can use, tweak, and further develop. And put back into the project of course <grin>. I came up with a bunch of useless names, and Pat came up with Lightbulb (goes with LAMP). Then as I waddled off into maternity leave, Pat did the programming and came up with a way to implement a SAML 2.0 service provider in pure PHP, without even needing the OpenSSO or Access Manager code.

Pat’s giving a webinar on this tomorrow morning Pacific time; you need to register for it first.

We’re hoping that other people will contribute relevant code, in any language, for people to use when they want to implement or integrate SAML capabilities into their systems, whether they’re blogging systems, wikis, or anything else where identity management is useful. The project is located here; it’s easy to join, add a sub-project, and commit some code. Or just browse and see what’s there and what’s useful. Have fun!

Nov 202006

The advisory to boil water remains in Vancouver even though there was a lot less rain at the weekend than was forecast. The scenes of panic reported on in the paper on Saturday are, it is to be hoped, a thing of the past as people realise that boiling water isn’t all that hard, and then filtering it afterwards does get rid of most of the silt. I was amused at the note sent home from my son’s school which pointed out “detailed information on how to boil water has been published in all major newspapers and is available on line” – do they not teach you how to boil water in school these days? If anyone needs the info, here’s the WikiHow page – just remember you have to boil it for at least a minute to kill any bacteria. Mind you, reading the current advisory makes it clear that there isn’t actually any proven problem with the water here other than the look and taste of it, the authorities are just being careful (and no doubt mindful of the Walkerton disaster, although they dispute any connection).

The biggest consequence for most of Vancouver was that various coffee joints were shut (those that couldn’t guarantee boiling the water for long enough), as was our local tea shop. I found the latter particularly ironic given the likely role that tea, and the necessity of boiling water for it, played in cutting down infant mortality in the 1700s in Britain – a summary is in this article: Did tea and beer make Britain great?. Oh well, maybe it was shut because the contaminants in the water would affect the taste of the tea; I haven’t yet had a chance to ask.

Nov 152006

I see Dave Shea has been explaining why he doesn’t typically order goods online; I’ve ordered lots of goods online and had mixed experiences. I usually only buy online if 1) I can’t find what I’m looking for locally, or 2) it’s substantially cheaper than buying locally. I also make sure of warranty implications for anything I buy that might need one (e.g., my Tungsten).

I tend to give the nod to Canadian retailers because of the hassles Dave talks about and also because I like to support local or semi-local small businesses (although I have bought enough at Amazon that the regular “you might be interested in” emails give a remarkably consonant view into my current interests). I buy books at if I’m not in a hurry to get them and if they’re cheaper, including shipping, than buying the same books locally. This is often the case right now since books have the price printed on the back, and the Canadian dollar is currently worth quite a lot more compared to the US dollar than when lots of the books were printed.

Although I haven’t had anything shipped by them for some time, I agree with Derek Miller, who advises avoiding UPS if at all possible; I’ve found UPS in the past to be very quick to charge double fees if two boxes in the same shipment are labelled with the total (they charge as if each box had the total value). What I do to try to get around that problem is to either call or email the place I’m ordering from if I think there’s a chance they might put things into more than one box, and discuss the issue with them. The result is that I haven’t had that particular problem for a few years now. Companies that don’t answer the phone or email don’t get my custom.

Recent experiences that I’ve had with ordering from outside Canada:

  • books from a couple of small retailers in the US coming via Canada Post: no extra charges
  • two baby slings hand-made by a small retailer in the US coming via Canada Post: no extra charges
  • quite a few books from coming through Canada Post: charged GST and associated other fees about half the time
  • books from coming via Canada Post: occasionally charged GST etc. If you request priority shipping, Amazon collects an Import Fees Deposit to cover the various charges (I guess to save time in delivery)
  • buying a humidifier from Venta Airwasher: this is a longer story. I called up to order rather than using the website, to discuss the delivery issues. They charged me GST and when I said I found that odd since they’re a US store, they assured me everything would be fine. And to call back and let them know if it wasn’t. Sure enough, the humidifier (great humidifier, BTW) showed up with no extra charges and I was pleasantly surprised. Until the bill from Fedex arrived in the mail a week later. I called the company, complained, they said they’d take care of it, I called Fedex to tell them what was happening, didn’t pay the bill, and haven’t heard anything in the year since, so I assume Venta did take care of it.

In the unexpected-but-in-the-end-ok category: I ordered a DVD from BBC Canada, and was charged the normal GST etc. The problem here was that they shipped the DVD from the US, and Canada Post promptly charged me $12 for GST, duties, etc., despite the envelope having a “GST paid” stamp on it. I called BBC Canada to complain and they credited my credit card with the $12. I hope they got the money back from Revenue Canada; at least I didn’t have to pay.

Nov 112006

The program for XML 2006 is up; David and the committee (supported by the reviewers) look to have done a good job in picking papers. Unfortunately I won’t be attending this year; I’ve learned from experience that conferences and babies don’t mix (i.e., I could go to Boston but would not make it to enough talks to make the trip and the jetlag worthwhile), so I’ll be relying on the blogosphere and the proceedings to keep me up to date. I hope you all enjoy yourselves – I’ll be there in spirit if not in person.

Nov 032006

Halloween is a big deal here in Vancouver, at least if you have children. In New Zealand (at least while I was growing up) we didn’t celebrate Halloween at all so it wasn’t until I got to Canada and had children that it became part of the yearly cycle.

Halloween here has three parts: decorations, costumes, and events. The decorations are the easy part, because I have neither time nor inclination to go overboard. Jack’o’lanterns are compulsory; I bought a battery-operated pumpkin from a variety store a couple of years ago which is re-used every year, and Tim and our son carved two pumpkins on the weekend before Halloween (if you carve them too early, they go mouldy and mushy before Halloween arrives, despite attempts at preservation). Then with assorted dollar-store-style extras such as plastic bats and spiders, and sheets of plastic printed with witches and skeletons, our son and I made it obvious that we were going to take part in the Halloween tradition of trick-and-treat. If you put up decorations in Vancouver, then you’re expected to also hand out candy on Halloween; if you don’t want to hand out candy, then you don’t put up the decorations. Since this is a film town, lots of people go overboard and the local paper lists the best ones to go and see, much like they do for Christmas lights later in the year. All too much for me to do, although it’s fun to see what people come up with each year and to guess which film they might be props from or inspired by.

Costumes in my family were easy this year as well; our son got a mask a couple of years ago that he loves, so with that and a dark sweatshirt and dark trousers he was set. The baby got a red sleeper and some red devil’s horns to match; the horns had black fake fur at the bottom which lent an incongruous touch on her almost-bald head and most people thought she looked cute rather than scary. Tim and I didn’t dress up for Halloween although Tim did get facepaint for the Parade on the 28th. Visitors to the door were mostly dressed for sports (ice hockey, soccer) or as fairies or Disney-style princesses. We mostly have younger kids showing up, so there were a few animals as well.

Tim went drumming at the Parade of Lost Souls on Saturday 28th; I made some acerbic comments about balancing it with the found souls, but All Saint’s Day isn’t celebrated (or, I suspect, even known about by many people) so one could wonder where the Lost Souls go to be found. Vancouver does have its pagan-celebration side, and it was out in full force on that night. Many of the costumes were imaginative and complex, some simple. The baby was fascinated by it all and not the slightest bit scared by any of the apparitions passing in front of her stroller. I didn’t see any political costumes here, although I gather they’re popular in the US, particularly in an election year. Choosing the wrong costume can, however, create problems.

Halloween evening itself was dry, fortunately. I got the candy a couple of weeks before, a total of around 150 miniature bars and packets (about a quarter of the usual candy bar size). The grocery stores here must sell a heap of these at this time of year; no child or parents will accept home-baked stuff or fruit, ever since various threatened or actual poisoning incidents. Even this year, some idiot in Vancouver put Tylenol in bags for kids, so parents always have to go through the bags and check everything their children were given. Anyway, our son went off with the neighbours and their children, after being so excited he could barely eat any dinner, about 6 pm. The pumpkins were lit, the lights outside on, and the first trick-and-treaters arrived about the same time. Sometimes I like to ask what they’re meant to be, the number of kids who can’t give a coherent answer is remarkably high, they tend to be concentrating on the candy and mindful that they need a costume to get it than anything else. Friends with a baby who live in a condo visited us that evening; visitors were greeted by one or two babies depending on the timing. It was fun, our son arrived home around 7:30 pm as the number of trick-and-treaters arriving was declining, our visitors took their baby home, we blew out the tea-lights in the pumpkins, turned off the outdoor lights, and sent a happy boy off to bed (after that first bit of candy, of course). He now has enough candy to last him until next year – we ration his candy to one piece per day (two if they’re small).

Now the Halloween decorations have been taken down and packed away for next year, the discarded pumpkins are in the compost bin, and the stores are full of Christmas decorations. The cycle continues.

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