Police violence and crowd control

In the last few weeks, we've seen a number of events where large crowds of unruly people have gathered. Police response to these crowds has varied substantially, and I think it's instructive to think about what these responses say about us, as a society.

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Getting health care

Like many universities, McGill offers a student health clinic. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to actually access the services, even when the support staff aren't on strike. To actually get help, you have two options:
  • If it's not urgent: there is one day a month, usually but not always the 15th, on which you can make appointments for the following month. Any other time, tough luck.
  • If it's urgent: you can show up at 7 AM, stand outdoors until 8 AM, and hope you were early enough to get one of the very limited number of drop-in slips. This gets you in to see a randomly-assigned doctor, fora few hurried minutes. If it's for a prescription renewal, the chances are slim that they will know anything about you or your condition. Just cross your fingers and hope they're one of the competent ones.
If neither of those options suit you, well, go somewhere else. At least this is free, unless you want dentistry or vaccination or medication.

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Lucky imaging

We have a telescope on the roof of the physics building. It's a fairly nice fourteen-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, though in fairly rough shape. Unfortunately, the physics building (and necessarily the telescope) is in the middle of downtown Montreal, which is a terrible place to look at the sky: bright lights, clouds, urban heat island, et cetera. So we have a telescope that collects lots of light but doesn't produce very sharp images. My attempt to work around this is described below.

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Breaking out of iTunes

Since I got my "new" hand-me-down smart phone, I've been listening to a lot of podcasts. The phone is smart enough to use only my home wifi to update and download episodes, and the player keeps track of which ones I've read. This is so useful, in contrast to the music player, that I found it works better to keep my audiobooks on my home server and write a quick hack to serve them up as podcast feeds. But mostly I use podcasts like radio programs. Unfortunately, some podcasts are available only through iTunes. This makes sense if they cost money, but, for example, the NASA Lunar Science Institute has a free podcast which is only available through iTunes.

Fortunately it seems that the way these places get the data to iTunes is by serving up a standard RSS feed, which iTunes then wraps up in its proprietary glop. But Michael Sitarzewski helpfully put together a script that can extract the location of the original RSS from iTunes. So, for instance, you can subscribe to the NLSI podcast here. Very nice.

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