Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Annotated How to Tell You're in Canada

Found this page at, which apparently took the content from, but that doesn't exist anymore.

I found I was making comments about each item to myself, which only crazy people do, and decided that I was preparing for a blog post to share with others, which may or may not be crazy.

Some of the items are absolutely true, some are regional (Canada is huge, and there are cultural differences between different areas), some are true but trivial, and some I've never come across. I haven't bothered to research anything, so don't believe anything I say without checking it out for yourself. And don't read it expecting it to be funny. I don't feel very funny.

I've italicized my comments:

  • Everything is labelled in English and French.
This is true. Whenever anyone asks if I speak French I tell them, "Just cereal box French."
  • Everything is measured in metric. (No, the temperature does not drop fifty degrees when you cross the border, and the speed limit doesn't double.)
Mostly true. Some items in grocery stores are labeled with both metric and imperial measurements, and most measurements used in construction are imperial, using inches and feet instead of metres and centimetres. I have no "feeling" for Fahrenheit measurements, but tend to measure length and weight in feet/inches and pounds rather than metres/centimetres and kilograms.
  • Milk comes in plastic bags as well as in cartons and jugs.
I remember getting milk in bags years ago, but haven't seen it sold that way for a long time. This may be a regional thing, it may still be sold that way in the east.
  • There's hockey gear everywhere. A guy can get onto a bus wearing goalie pads, a helmet -- everything but the skates -- and nobody gives him a second look.
This is a little exaggerated. I don't remember ever seeing anyone wearing full hockey gear outside of a rink (and I live in Edmonton, which is a big hockey town), but it's not uncommon to see people carrying their gear around in hockey bags.
  • Restaurants serve vinegar with French fries.
Might be a regional thing again. I've eaten french fries with vinegar, but always have had to ask for vinegar, it's never been served automatically.
  • There are $1 and $2 coins. The paper currency is in different colors, and it's pretty.
True. I've heard lots of jokes from Americans about our "play money", but it's practical too. I can see at a glance whether I'm selecting a $20 or a $5 from my wallet without having to read the bill.
  • The Trans-Canada Highway -- Canada's analogue to the US Interstates -- is two lanes wide for most of its length. (There are great big huge wide highways around the major cities. The 401 north of Toronto is sixteen lanes wide in places.)
This always drove me crazy when driving out of town. The highway is divided close to major cities, but in-between cities it's two lanes.
  • There is still the occasional musical variety show on network TV, and such a show that was on until recently was hosted by a very, very large woman (Rita McNeil).
I have no real comment on this. I haven't watched a musical variety show in years and don't pay attention to see if any are still on. Although I'm not a fan of Rita McNeil's music, I think it's a good thing that a person with talent can have a successful (?) show, in spite of her weight. There are too many successful "artists" whose sole talent is their appearance.
  • The CBC's evening news anchor is bald and doesn't wear a toupee.
Peter Mansbridge. I've always respected him for not wearing a toupee, against (I'm sure) a lot of pressure. Baldness isn't a handicap or a disfigurement, and I'm more inclined to trust an anchor who doesn't hide himself under a wig than a smarmy hairsprayed mouthpiece.
  • When new coins are introduced to replace paper currency, people actually use the coins.
There are one dollar coins called "loonies" because there is a picture of a loon on them, and two dollar coins called "toonies" because, well, "toonie" rhymes with "loonie." If you don't manage your change it can get away from you. Once I noticed the change in my pocket was getting a little heavy. I had over $50 in loonies, toonies, and quarters.
  • Contests run by anyone other than the government have "skill-testing questions" that winners must answer correctly before they can claim a prize. These are usually math problems, and are administered to get around the law that only the government can administer lotteries.
Even contests on the radio have to have skill testing questions, although these are usually lame trivia questions rather than math questions.
  • Lots of people run around in clothing from Roots.
I suppose, although being fashion blind I haven't really noticed. No different than anyone else paying to wear advertisements for any other clothing brand in any other country. Instead of having to pay thousands of dollars to get their name out, clothing companies have the consumer pay them for the privilege of displaying their brand. I really identified with the main character in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, who was "allergic" to brand names.
  • The following gas stations are around (and don't exist in the US):
    • Esso (instead of Exxon -- a visitor suggests "Esso" comes from the "S" and the "O" of Standard Oil)
    • Petro Canada
    • Irving (only in eastern Canada, and a visitor advises me that there's now at least one in Maine)
    • Canadian Tire
    • Husky
    • Mohawk (primarily in western Canada)
I would add Domo to the list as well, although I think it's only in western Canada. And they already mention that Irving, which I've never heard of, is only in the east. Irving is a terrible name for a company.
  • These are the biggest department stores:
    • The Bay (the Hudson's Bay Company, the oldest company in North America and possibly the world -- it was incorporated on May 2, 1670)
    • Eaton's (Toronto, Montréal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver are among the cities that have large malls called the Eaton Centre (Centre Eaton in French)). Eaton's has been having financial troubles for several years now, and finally closed a number of its stores and sold the rest to Sears Canada.
    • Zellers -- owned by the Bay, Zellers is similar to KMart (which recently pulled out of Canada) or Target (which isn't in Canada at all).
This is dated. Eaton's Centre in Edmonton has been renamed City Centre or something like that, and as far as I know Sear's has given up on using the Eaton's name. There are no more Eaton's stores. As far as I know.
  • These are the big banks:
    • Toronto Dominion
    • Bank of Montreal
    • Royal Bank
    • The Bank of Nova Scotia
    • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
    • The National Bank of Canada
    • The HongKong Bank of Canada
    • Canada Trust (actually a trust company, but offers the same services that a bank does)
    These banks are national and have branches all over the country. One sure sign you're in Canada: the federal government has blocked two big bank mergers (the TD wanted to merge with CIBC, and BMo wanted to merge with the Royal), ostensibly because reduced competition is bad for Canadians. Wow.

    Credit unions are also popular in Canada, especially in Quebec, where they're called caisses populaires.

Again, a little dated. Toronto Dominion merged with Canada Trust to become TD Canada Trust. Not interesting, but true.
  • These are the most well-known Canadian restaurant chains:
    • Harvey's -- fast food burger joint
    • Mr. Sub -- similar to Subway
    • The Keg (Le Keg en français) -- a big, high-end yet still generic steakhouse
    • Pizza Pizza -- similar to Domino's
    • Tim Horton's -- do(ugh)nuts! See below.
    • Swiss Chalet -- sit-down chicken and ribs place
    • Robin's -- another do(ugh)nut chain, popular in western Canada.
I had forgotten about Robin's. I'm not sure they even exist anymore, I haven't seen a store here for a long time, and I know they ran into financial trouble a while ago. Pizza Pizza is only back east; I ran into them for the first time when I was in Toronto.
  • The big mass-market beers are Molson and Labatt, and they're a lot stronger than US beers. Molson Golden was recently reintroduced to the Canadian market, but I hardly ever see anyone drinking it -- I get the feeling Molson ships most of it to the States and tells the Americans it's good.
True, but beer snobs won't drink beer from either of them. They buy from small brewing companies until they find out they're also owned by Molson or Labatt.
  • The major cigarette labels are Player's, Craven A, DuMaurier, Matinee, and Export A. Canadian cigarettes are milder than American ones.
True story. Got into a truck with a friend, sniffed, and asked, "Did you fart?" Turns out he was smoking an American cigarette. Marlboros, I think.
  • Mountain Dew has no caffeine.
Ya, but so what? I don't demand that my soft drinks contain caffeine, and probably wouldn't notice whether they did or not.
  • Coke and Pepsi use real sugar instead of corn syrup.
I'm sure there are people who will claim that this makes a big difference, but most people wouldn't be able to tell without reading the ingredients. I've heard it has something to do with how the US taxes sugar, but I don't know for sure.
  • Instead of seeing Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, you see Coles and SmithBooks and Chapters and Indigo.
True, but boring.
  • There are lots and lots of do(ugh)nut shops, especially ones called Tim Horton's (named after the hockey player who started the chain). (The number of Tim Horton's diminishes as you go further west, but I'm assured there are lots of them in Edmonton.)
There are lots of them in Edmonton. I've worked with guys who knew the location of every single Tim Horton's in Edmonton, and there was always one near by when it was time for coffee.
  • When you step on someone's foot, he apologizes. (This really happened.)
This is a comment on Canadian politeness. I've never run into a situation like this, but perhaps people are generally politer here than elsewhere. I haven't really noticed. For every comment on how polite Canadians are, though, I can come up with a story on how rude they are. Canadians are just people.
  • There are billboards advertising vacations in Cuba, and Cuban cigars are freely available.
I guess it might be odd for an American to see. I guess Canada sees no need to ape a pointless embargo. I wish we thought the same way for other pointless American policies. Like moving up stupid Daylight Savings Time.
  • Nobody worries about losing a life's savings or a home because of illness.
They're talking about Canada's publicly funded health care system as opposed to the American private health insurance system. If a person can't work because of illness and has no long term disability coverage, they can still have financial difficulties, although it's not the problem I've heard it can be in the States.
  • In pharmacies, you can buy acetaminophen or ASA with codeine over the counter, but you can't buy hydrocortisone ointments or creams without a prescription.
Not sure this is something that will leap out at a new visitor, I've never noticed, but sure.
  • When you go to the dentist to get a cavity filled (or worse), she or he puts a needle in your mouth first to "freeze" it. (Asking for Novocaine (a brand name) immediately pegs you as an American.)
What do they do in the States? Is Novocaine administered topically? Rectally? I've never had to ask for any kind of anaesthetic, let alone by brand name. If a dentist approaches me with her tools of destruction without giving me anaesthetic first, I leave. Quickly.
  • At county fairs and the Canadian National Exhibition, red ribbons indicate first place and blue ribbons indicate second. (Canadians: it's the other way around in the States.)
Okay. Don't care.

Submitted by visitors:
  • Any conversation will inevitably include a brief discussion of the weather.
Weather is a large source of small talk, but isn't that true anywhere?
  • It's almost impossible to get a glass of iced tea in downtown Toronto. (This person must have been a Southerner -- in the US South, "iced tea" is unsweetened, and "sweet tea" has sugar. "Sweet tea" is what you get when you ask for "iced tea" in Toronto.)
I don't think it would be easy to get unsweetened iced tea anywhere around here. I remember ordering iced tea in Las Vegas and getting unsweetened iced tea. No big deal, I just added sugar. I also had a jar of unsweetened instant tea in the cupboard when I had a roommate. He tried some and complained to me later about how it wasn't sweetened. For some reason it didn't occur to him that if something wasn't sweet enough you could add sugar to it.
  • Teenagers can drink legally. The drinking age in Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta is 18; it's 19 in the rest of the country.
Yup, and when they drink they act like drunk teenagers. I did, anyway.
  • Potato chips come in flavo(u)rs such as salt and vinegar, ketchup, and "all dressed" (a collection of just about all possible seasonings -- the person who suggested this one liked it to a "suicide slush" in the States).
Do potato chips not come flavoured in the States, or just not these particular flavours? Ketchup chips are disgusting (if you like I'll show you lab results and studies proving it), and I've never been a big fan of salt and vinegar. Now you know a little more about me.
  • There are "chip vans" (aka "chip trucks" or "chip wagons"). These are like the van driven by the ice cream man, only they sell French fries. They are most ubiquitous on the roads to "cottage country." (A visitor from British Columbia noted that "chip trucks" don't sell French fries in BC; they drive on logging roads and carry wood chips there.)
I don't often see these, although there is one that makes an appearance during downtown festivals.
  • Every weekend during the summer, southern Ontarians go in droves from Toronto and its environs to their second homes (ranging from campers to great big houses with all the amenities) in cottage country (usually Muskoka -- I'm told that calling it "the Muskokas" marks you as an outsider).
No, the southern Ontarians that can afford second homes go in droves. I'd like to believe that every Canadian family can afford a cottage on the lake, but it's not true. Every region has it's popular getaway spots, and this is a "How to Tell You're in Southern Ontario" bit, not Canada.
  • Every weekend during the summer, southern Quebecers go in droves from Montréal and its environs to their cottage country (usually the Laurentians; the Eastern Townships; Burlington, Vermont; Lake Champlain, New York; or Plattsburgh, New York).
See the above comment. Same idea.
  • Every weekend during the winter, the cottage country people go back to cottage country to go snowmobiling. Gas stations are just as likely to be filling snowmobiles as cars or trucks.
Yup. Canada has snow, and we like to play in it.
  • Cars (especially on the Prairies) have electrical plugs sticking out from under the hoods. These are for block heaters, to prevent engines from freezing when it's -40.
It doesn't often get to -40 C around here, but even at -20 C it's a good idea to have your car plugged in.
  • People give distances in times, not miles.
Never noticed this. Might be a rural thing, and I'd bet it's not limited to Canada.
  • People ask whether you'd like "a coffee" rather than "some coffee."
Sure. Who cares?
  • Canadians tend to use British spelling. They write about "colour," "cheques," "theatres," and so forth. Most use the American "-ize" rather than the British "-ise" verb ending, however.
Canadians tend to use Canadian spelling, which tends to the British but contains some American.
  • People drive with their headlights on during the day. Since 1989, all new cars have had to be fitted with daytime running lights.
I'm surprised they don't do this in the States yet. It does increase visibility, and decreases accidents. I've heard of cars from Canada getting stopped by troopers because the lights were on. This was a few years ago, I hope at least the border states have caught on.
  • In Ontario, you can buy beer only at the Beer Store (formerly known as "Brewers' Retail"). The experience of going into a beer store is documented nicely in the 1983 film Strange Brew.
Again, "How to Tell You're in Ontario."
  • Movie theatres have one night a week, usually Monday or Tuesday, where they charge matinee prices.
It used to be a really good deal. We used to call them "$2.50 Tuesdays," which had a nice ring to it. Now it's not that big of a discount (even considering inflation.)
  • There is no mail delivered on Saturdays.
Or Sunday. Or holidays.
  • "Lieutenant" is pronounced "leftenant."
That's the official pronunciation, but I've never heard anyone in real life actually use it, even those in the Armed Forces.
  • Mortgage interest is not tax-deductible. The interest rate on most mortgages is not fixed, but rather, is renewed at the end of a term which can be as short as six months or as long as seven years.
Wow. I used to work at a bank and dealt a lot with mortgages, and I still don't care.
  • Most Canadians will tell you that the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced "zed." Sharon, Lois, and Bram, popular children's entertainers, make it a point in their performances of "The Alphabet Song" to say "zed" instead of "zee."
This throws some Americans. Don't worry though, we still say Jay-"Zee" and "Zee-Zee" Top.
  • People end sentences with "eh," eh?
Ahh, good old Bob and Doug McKenzie. We also wear toques to funerals (well, actually, we might if it were really cold) and drink beer for breakfast.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Free Ebooks: Part One

Electronic text isn't new to any of us. You're reading it right now. Paper books have a lot of advantages over electronic text, though. Paper books are usually easier to read, with higher contrast and less glare issues than etext, making them better suited for longer works such as novels. Power isn't much of an issue. Anywhere there's light, you can read. And they are sturdier and cost less than any electronic device you own. Drop a book, no big deal. Drop your Palm, well, that'll be a few bucks to replace it. Get your book wet, well, it sucks, but at least you can let it dry out and keep reading. Get your laptop wet, time to buy a new laptop. Even just the physical act of holding a book, flipping the pages, admiring the cover art, is better than reading text from an LCD screen.

Where ebooks have a large advantage over traditional paper books is portability. I used to have to go out of town a lot on business, and read a lot in the evening at the hotel (I don't watch much TV) and, let's face it, at work when it was slow. Instead of lugging around a number of books in my suitcase I was able to take literally dozens of novels with me in my Palm. My Palm is also something I have with me most of the time, so when it looks like I'm going to be waiting for a while I can take it out and read any time I want to. I tend not to have a book with me when going places simply because of lack of space. Maybe if I carried a purse...

In part one I'm going to point out some places where you can find free ebooks, and in part two you'll find some tools for converting files into a format your Palm can read. If you don't have a Palm, or don't want to read on it, that's fine. You can still find out where to do some great reading.

While reading this, you will find that I tend to point out science fiction books and authors more than other genres. This is for two reasons: I read a lot of science fiction, so I have a preference for it, and the science fiction and fantasy community has embraced the concept of free ebooks more so than others. That's not to say other genres aren't available, especially in the public domain, but for some reason science fiction and fantasy authors are in the forefront of experimenting with giving away their products.

I'll point out the granddaddy of ebooks first: Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg has over 20,000 free ebooks that have fallen into the public domain. This means that most of them are older titles, but they're not all Shakespeare or H. G. Wells. You can find stories from authors like Cory Doctorow,E. E. "Doc" Smith, John W. Campbell, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I also enjoyed a couple of non-fiction books on real life hackers by Bruce Sterling and Suelette Dreyfuss. Browsing through the Gutenberg Project's collection is like wandering through a second hand book store, finding classics that you had forgotten about or always meant to read. The frustrating thing is that you will never have the time to read everything you find interesting here.

The Baen Free Library offers free science fiction and fantasy ebooks by contemporary authors such as Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn, Andre Norton, Harry Turtledove, Fred Saberhagen, Mercedes Lackey, and more. There is also an excellent essay on the front page by Eric Flint, First Librarian, on the rationale behind the Baen Free Library. Keep in mind that while the books are available online for free, they are not public domain. The copyrights still belong to the authors. contains many of the same public domain books as the Gutenberg Project, but also has many Creative Commons licensed ebooks available for free as well. You'll see science fiction authors Charles Stross and James Patrick Kelly here, along with many others. Creative Commons licenses vary, but they generally allow free distribution with restrictions on how the content can be used. You can read more about Creative Commons licenses here.

In part two of this article I'll show you how to make your own ebooks by converting web pages into a format that can be read by your Palm. While almost any web page can be converted, I'll show you some of my favourite sites for reading fiction. Please feel free to share your own favourites in the comments, or email me with suggestions.

Flurb is Rudy Rucker's free online magazine showcasing short stories by him and other authors. Many of the stories are hard to classify although they are generally of a science fiction or fantasy bent. Rucker's almost random, but fantastic, photographs accompany them. There are currently two issues published, with stories by John Shirley, Terry Bisson, Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, and others.

Strange Horizons is published weekly, concentrating on speculative fiction. Art, fiction, columns, poetry, and reviews make this site a great place for entertainment and information.

While not regularly updated anymore, The Infinite Matrix still has a great archive of original science fiction. The last issue was in January, 2007, and the site has been in and out of limbo before that. Hope it comes back, as it is an excellent example of what an online magazine can be.

In part two of this article I'll show you what to use to read ebooks on your Palm device.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Stupid Canadian Broadcasters

And not just broadcasters, but apparently artists as well. Michael Geist has written another great article titled "More Web regulation doesn't make any sense", on how Canadian broadcasters and artists want the CRTC to regulate the internet to protect Canadian content. To be fair, it may not be all artists or broadcasters, but the organizations that represent them sure want it.

There's not much I can add to what he said. His line "It is increasingly clear that the blossoming of new media is a threat to old business models, not to Canadian content" sums it up very clearly.

The internet is a huge opportunity for Canadian broadcasters, if they would only take it. They have the ability to put up all the Canadian content they want. I've written before about how CTV is turning away Linux and Mac users from viewing online material and making it difficult for Firefox users. I've also written about the CBC wanting to DRM promotional videos. CBC doesn't make it easy to link to individual videos, and won't even allow people to embed their Google videos in their websites.

That's a little like a real estate salesman talking to his boss:

"Uh, boss, you know all those flyers for new homes I've been passing out? People are copying them and passing them out to other people. How do we stop them?"


"Yes boss?"

"You're not very bright, are you?"

They aren't even doing the simplest things like using the internet to make it easy for people to find out what's on and where. The webmaster of TV, Eh?, an independant website dedicated solely to promoting Canadian television, has difficulty finding listings or getting the PR people to email her listings.

They don't know how to use the internet, but it scares them, so they want to limit how we use it.

In his first published story Life-Line, published in 1939, Robert Heinlein had a judge saying this:

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profits in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.
Now that was a judge with common sense. Unfortunately he's a fictional character.

That's not to say I think the CRTC is going to try to regulate Canadian content on the internet. I'm hoping there are some people with enough common sense to realize how ridiculous these demands are. I'm just a little tired of old dinosaurs trying to stop progress, instead of using it for their advantage.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Non-Destructive Partitioning with GParted

"Grandpa, tell me a story."

"Okay, little Percival, let me tell you what partitioning was like in the old days. If you already had information on your hard drive, but wanted to re-partition it, all your data would be erased. There were programs available that would partition your drive without erasing all your stuff, but they cost money."

"Gee, Grandpa, that story sure did suck."

It's true. That story did suck. But it's also true that, unless you really, really knew what you were doing and were willing to spend a lot of time on it, repartitioning your hard drive would destroy your data. Commercial programs were (and still are) available to partition your drive without data loss, but they cost money. If repartitioning your hard drive is something you only do once in rare while (and for most of us it is) free tools may be a better option.

Let's back up a bit. What is partitioning and why would you want to repartition? In the simplest terms, partitions are separate areas on your hard drive. In Windows a single hard drive can be partitioned to look like separate drives, so that what appears to be drive C:, drive D:, and drive E: may all be separate areas of a single physical drive. In Linux they may appear as hda1, hda2, and so on. There are many reasons why a hard drive may be partitioned, but a very common one is to keep the operating system and user data separate. In this way if the operating system is to be upgraded or restored the user's data doesn't have to be touched, lessening the risk of data loss. Another reason is to control damage from runaway files. In Linux most log files are kept in the /var folder. Sometimes servers are set up to put /var in a separate partition. If a runaway process starts filling up a log file it can only fill up the partition /var is on, leaving the free space on the other partitions untouched.

GParted is a free utility that allows you to partition your hard drive without destroying your data. It is a Linux program, but can be used to partition filesystems for Windows (FAT16, FAT32, NTFS) and Mac OS X (HFS, HFS+) as well. A full listing of the filesystems and operations available can be found here.

GParted does many checks and is very safe, but keep in mind that the partitioning process is only non-destructive if everything goes well. I think GParted says it best with the message it gives you if you try to run as a regular user:

Always back up your data before major operations on your hard drive.

Even if you're not running Linux on your computer, you can still use GParted by booting from the LiveCD. The LiveCD is a small image (about 50 MB) that contains a stripped down version of the Gentoo Linux operating system, the Fluxbox window manager, and GParted. It's probably the easiest way to partition your hard drive, as you won't have to worry about unmounting partitions. It is dangerous to modify a mounted partition, and using the LiveCD ensures all partitions are unmounted unless you explicitly mount them.

Download the iso image and burn it to a CD. If you're running Windows your CD burning program should have an option to "Burn Image to Disc" or something similar. Don't just burn it as a data disk; it won't work. In Linux, if you're using Gnome, just right click the iso image and select "Write to Disc." With KDE right click the image and select "Actions," then "Write CD Image with K3B." Burn the CD, put it in the CD tray, and reboot.

You'll see a screen like this:

Just select the first option (GParted LiveCD) with the arrow keys and press Enter. You'll be prompted to hit Enter a couple more times to accept the default language and keyboard template. Once the boot process is complete you will see this:

A list of partitions on your hard drive will be listed. Mine looked like this:

I have four partitions on one hard drive: hda1, hda2, hda3, and hda4. Only four primary partitions are allowed on a single hard drive, so hda4 is made as an extended partition, with hda5 and hda6 under it. Don't worry too much about what extended partitions are. They are primary partitions that are partitionable, allowing you to fit more than four partitions on a single hard drive.

My problem was that the partition my operating system was on, hda2, was too small at about 5 GB. I wanted it to be twice that size. I needed to take some space from my data partition, hda3, and give it to my operating system. The first thing I needed to do was resize the data partition, hda3. Highlight the partition you want to shrink, and click Resize/Move. You will see a graph representing the partition, as well as some fields telling you how much space available. We have the option of freeing up space either before or after the partition. The partition we want to give the space to (hda2) is before, so grab the left arrow with the mouse and move it until enough space is freed.

We've moved the arrow until about 5 GB is freed in front. The new free space is represented by the gray area directly to the left of the the arrow. Rather than moving the arrow, you could also have entered the amount of space you wanted directly into the "Free Space Preceding" form.

Click the Resize/Move button.

Now let's select the partition we want to enlarge, hda2. Click Resize/Move, and there will be a window similar to what we've seen before. We want to use the freed space immediately following the partition, so grab the right arrow and pull it all the way to the right.

You will see the extended graph cover all the available space, with the new space being about twice as large as it was before.

Again, click Resize/Remove.

Now that we've told GParted what to do, we're going to tell it to go ahead and do it. Click on Apply, and you'll see a final warning:

If you're sure you've backed up all your data and that you want to do this, click Apply.

Using a graphical tool like GParted hides a lot of the complexity of partitioning. The first operation we asked it to do, freeing up space in front of the partition, actually involves resizing and moving the partition. A lot of data has to be checked and copied, so it takes some time. For this operation, resizing two partitions by 5 GB and moving one, it took a little over two hours. Operations involving moving more data and more partitions will take longer.

Now you can tell your grandchildren about how easy free software made it to repartition your hard drive. Your stories will still suck, but at least your data is safe.

I'm back

Well, I've had internet access since last Wednesday. I have a few articles I want to get out, I just need to actually get them written. I've just posted a book review I've been meaning to write for a while, I have the first part of a two part article on ebooks written, and I'm waiting for an article called Non-Destructive Partitioning with GParted to get published by blogcritics before posting it here. Yes, it's nearly as exciting as it sounds. Might be a while before I get more articles dugg.

As I said before, I want to write on some of the more advanced features of DVDStyler's beta version, and have everything I need for it now. I just need to do some screenshots and write the article. I would like to try doing something with QDVDAuthor as well. It has some really neat features, but the UI is such a mess. I'll do a project on it and see how it goes.

I also have five other articles that I've started and put aside for a while, one on choosing a linux distro, one on getting help online, another on the MPAA and RIAA (I really need to get that one out), and one on setting up an internet radio station. I've never actually done the last part, so I suppose I should do it before publishing an article on it.

There's one more book review to get out as well, a technical book on programming in Ajax with Ruby. I'm still slogging through it, though. Not exactly light reading. Probably be a couple more weeks.

I mentioned to my sister that there are too many distractions on the computer to focus on one thing. I need separate rooms with separate devices, one for blogging, one for taking internet courses, one for replying to emails, one for taking care of the server and websites... Which reminds me, I've been thinking about an article on internet courses. There are some great free places to learn. There are some terrible places as well, but it would be a waste to write about them.

I've noticed Diane has been going YouTube crazy lately, and making my blog look drab and uninteresting. It's only because I don't have any interesting content though, otherwise it would be fascinating. So I'm posting a YouTube video too. So there!

Book Review: Saban and the Ancient by Dante Amodeo

Saban is a dork on a mission. Well, dork is probably too strong a word. "Socially challenged" is a gentler way to put it. Saban is the protagonist in Dante Amadeo's Saban and the Ancient, and even though you find out pretty early that he's not an ordinary teenager, you still don't find out just how special he is until much later on.

Saban and the Ancient is the first book in Amodeo's Transformation series. It is aimed at young adults but should be enjoyable by everyone. It's full of slowly revealed mysteries that lead to other mysteries, paramilitary action, martial arts, and mutant super powers. The action starts quickly after we find Saban, a nineteen year old college student, and his study partner Margo in the middle of an apparent military strike against the school. The action that follows shows that Margo is also unusually capable, More is revealed later, but not all.

The book is a progression of mysteries. As you find out more about the characters and their histories, more questions are introduced. The answers to those questions reveal more mysteries. You slowly start seeing the edges of a large conspiracy, then get a feeling of multiple conspiracies plotting against each other. Parts of Saban's past, present, and information about the organization he belongs to, the Ancient, are parceled out piece by piece, giving a good sense of discovery. Questions are raised about Margo, who is more than she seems to be. Nobody has a complete picture of the situation, but everybody seems to have a part of it.

Other people involved in Saban's life are introduced and fleshed out, many of whom have their own special abilities. Amodeo has chosen to give many of the characters code names in addition to their real names, a tactic that could have been confusing. He does a good job of helping the reader keep track of which character belongs to which code name, however.

Lots of pop references and quotes riddle the book. Some I found genuinely funny -- "An accent that thick was normally peppered with the words 'moose and squirrel'" made me laugh out loud. Some fell flat -- "Your mother waz a kangaroo and your fath-air smelt of elderberries" sounded just wrong to me, even knowing it was changed to refer one of the characters' abilities. Everyone will recognize at least some of the references, and most people will get a chuckle or two from them.

Occasionally the author seems to use characters to push his own views, and it's done clumsily enough to seem preachy. A couple of times the characters make references to evolution -- "'Mutation has never produced a generation more robust or viable than the previous,' Saban recited from something he had read. 'People confuse it with adaptation'" seems to need more explanation than a college student blindly quoting from an unknown source, and "That kind of randomness makes evolution look mathematically sound" sounded more like the author speaking than something a teenage character might say. It might have made an interesting discussion into how they got their powers, but we'll probably get that in one of the following books. He also has a character thinking "The price of being one of the cool kids" about an aged Slavic agent's smoker's cough. Being a "cool kid" doesn't really seem to fit an old Russian spy, and it ends up sounding like a public service announcement.

The author explains terms the reader might not be familiar with, especially the military jargon, such as P. E. for "personal effects." He's not afraid to use unusual words in a context that makes their meanings clear however, like "syzygy" and "sternutation" (which I thought was a reference to Frederick Pohl's Heechee Saga series, but it wasn't. Or maybe it was.)

Saban and the Ancient is an enjoyable read that could have used a little more polish. By the end of the book enough is shown about the big picture to be satisfying, yet enough questions are left unanswered to leave you wanting more. I'm sure the next book will answer many of those questions while posing others.