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Campus Activists From A Bygone Age

Writer and commentator Elamin Abdelmahmoud. There's a weekly CBC News segment hosted by Rosemary Barton called At Issue which I watch every week when I'm at my parents' house and many weeks when I'm not. It features four political commentators discussing recent events from Parliament Hill and sometimes getting into heated arguments about them. The panelist in the "lower right corner" rotates periodically but someone who watches for any decent length of time will see Elamin Abdelmahmoud in that spot. Elamin is the host of another CBC show and a writer for BuzzFeed who recently released a memoir called Son of Elsewhere about his family's experience of moving to Canada from Sudan. While I was hearing interesting opinions of his on and off for the last two years, it didn't take me long to find out that his undergrad is also from Queen's University in Kingston. But it was only last month that I flipped to a profile of him in the Queen's alumni magazine and began learning much more. The two facts that helped me the most sounded quite innocuous at first: that he attended from 2005-2011 and that he used to go by the nickname Stan. But this made me think more about whether I had ever crossed paths with him and it turns out the answer is yes. So now I get to have fun reminiscing about these exact circumstances and the wider cast of characters that they involve.

I Have Yet To See A 2017 Film

It occurred to me recently that the last time I bought a movie ticket was four months ago. After going through a chronological list of major film releases, I am pretty sure that I have not gone this long between movies since 2012. Here are the release months for films that I saw in various years. The maximum span here seems to be three.

  • 2016: February, April, June, July, September, November, December
  • 2015: February, March, April, May, September, December
  • 2014: January, February, March, April, May, August, October, December
  • 2013: April, May, June, August, October, November, December

An obvious problem with this list is that it is easy to watch a film one or two months after its release. If this had happened with the April 2013 film for example, then that would be an example of another four month gap. However, in this case, I happen to remember that I saw Iron Man 3 right when it came out. Another shortcoming is that the list omits movies that I saw in airplanes, people's houses or rented out venues. The latter type of cinema is something I have actually attended multiple times in 2017.

Four months instead of three is not much of an outlier. So I cannot really say whether this marks a sudden change in my interests. However, I can certainly mention two movies that I actively avoided.

2014 Cheekiness

Last year, I had two occassions to spend too much of the department's money within the same month. I would guess that the month was either March or April because I had just started playing 2048. And the 2048 craze happened after the Winter Olympics but before the World Cup. On that note I should pause to say that 2014 was a great year especially for a Canadian. I already can't wait until 2018.

A 2048 board showing the 4096 tile.

Anyway, the fun happened with prospective grad students who were considering UBC physics. During a visit like this, the department pays for a group of grad students to take the visitor out for lunch. With two of these emails that appeared, my reply was in the first batch.

Thank-You VLC

Something that caught me by surprise was the release of libbdplus which happened almost exactly one year ago. This filled a gap in the free software community that had been open since 2007 when the first BD+ discs came out.

The story here is that Bluray discs won the format war against HD-DVD because they don't just encrypt their files with AACS. They include a diabolical piece of self-modifying code called BD+ which gained an early reputation for thwarting decryption efforts. For many years, open source Bluray decryption tools only existed for discs that were BD+ free. Those cracking tougher nuts had to use MakeMKV and AnyDVD which kept the source code hidden thereby making important knowledge vulnerable to censorship.

In 2009, when I first heard about VideoLAN's plan to develop libbdplus, the lack of a git repository was suspicious. Why would a group known for prompt code releases in all of their other projects suddenly decide to develop one behind closed doors? Especially the most anticipated advancement since libdvdcss. Years went by and rumours of an imminent release became less frequent. Not only that, but other BD+ projects ceased development because they saw no need to duplicate effort. By 2013, I was not just accusing the developers of changing their minds, but causing outright damage to free software in the process. The end of December 2013, when they released libbdplus after all, was the time for me to take it all back. But hey, it's Christmas... a time to be pleasantly surprised!

Fun With Enforcers

I need to mention a fun thing that I did almost exactly when this site went offline. I signed up to volunteer in an RCMP training exercise scheduled for June 18, 2013. At the information session, the head of Risk Management UBC told us that one could either get up at 8am to play a regular hostage or get up at 6am to play a hostage wearing bullet hole makeup. I chose the former.

RCMP officers at UBC.

The RCMP officers tried to keep their techniques as secret as possible. I got this picture before the hostages went to their assigned buildings, but I didn't take any once I was inside. I don't think anyone else did either, for fear of being kicked out. The closest thing we have to a picture of the actual rescue comes from an article in The Ubyssey.

Things That Shouldn't Get Wet

A painting of Spider-Man that I made. I started thinking about memorable events from the last year and came up with a painting session that people had at my residence. Actually two of them. At the first one, I painted Spider-Man, but it took such a long time that I didn't get to put anything in the background. Because of this, I suggested another painting session to the soon-to-be Residence Association President as he was campaigning door-to-door. I'm pretty sure they would've held one anyway. At the second one, I completed the scene by painting some upside-down buildings. Both events had a great turnout... probably because of the ample supply of paint, canvases and wine. I only have a picture of Spider-Man, but it was great to see what pictures other people came up with. When some one was painting a landscape, I said it looked like something by the Group of Seven. This turned out to be true, since the guy said he had a painting by A. Y. Jackson in mind when he started it.
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