The Mystery of the Lloydminster McDonald’s

On our way back from a lovely family afternoon out at the local streetcar museum, we hit up a McDonald’s for a quick bit of dinner on our way home. There we found a new promotion:IMG_20171209_185212.jpg

So far so blah.

But then I looked closer:


I’m upgrading my phone shortly, so hopefully you won’t have to suffer such poor-quality images in the future. But for now, allow me to transcribe:

“Not valid with any other offer. At participating McDonald’s restaurants in Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Alberta, Northwest Territories and Lloydminster, SK.”

First: What is Atlantic Canada? I know it’s a colloquial designation for the four Eastern provinces (New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador), but I didn’t expect to see it referenced in legalese at the bottom of promotional copy. Apparently the term is semi-legitimate, as there is an official arm of the federal government called the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency/Agence de promotion économique du Canada atlantique. Neat.

Second: Oh good, Quebec gets the promotion, too. Quebec gets left out of many things advertised to the whole of Canada because of stricter laws governing gambling (including sweepstakes. Tim Hortons has to bend over backwards to make Roll Up the Rim To Win work there) and advertising (especially to children).

Third: What did Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and the other two territories (Yukon and Nunavut) do to be left out? Nunavut seems obvious: there are no McDonald’s restaurants there. But there’s at least two golden arches in Whitehorse, and scads in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and BC. Must be some sort of legal something.

And that brings us to the titular mystery: Why, of all of Saskatchewan, is Lloydminster spared? Is it the one city where there’s competition? Is it to do with that urban legend about an older burger restaurant in Western Canada someplace that was called McDonald’s first? Is it because it’s licensed under a special food services employer contract that….


It’s because Lloydminster Saskatchewan is here:


It straddles the border between the provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta has the McDonald’s promotion. Saskatachewan doesn’t. Lloydminster, AB has two McDonald’s restaurants. Lloydminster, SK has one. It would be unfair to deny the Albertan restaurants the promotion, and unfair to exclude the Saskatechewanian restaurant. So what is McDonald’s to do?

They have to add a rider on their promotion to all corners of the Great White North that proclaims that there is one city (barely) in Saskatchewan in which you can partake of a five dollar meal deal.



The Past is a Foreign Country: The Andromeda Strain

I love the phrase from the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s “The Go-Between”: “The past is a foreign country”

For the author it was a hook for readers, but for me it is an axiom that only becomes more apt the longer I look at it. The past is strange. The people who inhabit it do not have the same culture we do. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t watch the same TV. The care about different things and have different priorities.

And sometimes it takes effort to visit.

I haven’t read “The Go-Between” but something I have recently read that struck me with how foreign it felt was Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel “The Andromeda Strain.”

The setting is the United States in the late 60s or early 70s. As such I was expecting a recognizable landscape. This led to several surprises.

First was how plausible American Exceptionalism seemed. The US was the leader of scientific thought in the late 60s. They had just reached the moon. They were outspending other nations in defense, but also at the same time scientific research and thoughtful contingency planning. It was plausible for Crichton to write that the US would invest $22M ($136M today) on a project with no direct applications to existing endeavours, but whose returns they expected to see in other related fields of inquiry and enterprise. That level of largesse coupled with the inevitability of knock-on benefits even if the program failed could only exist in a country that believed in its own ingenuity. It was stunning.

Second was how a portion of the scientific community planned for crisis. They sent a letter to the President with both allusions to the Einstein letter and containing highly technical terminology, expecting both of those things to be understood by the recipient. Two out of the past three administrations wouldn’t understand the letter. The other wouldn’t have reacted with haste, or with such extravagant funding, or at all, to the threat as described. Underlining the strangeness was how the fictional scientists were satisfied with government response to a theorized crisis. I can no longer imagine a US government response that the scientific community would applaud as satisfactory.

Third was the overt sexism. There were no women in the novel. Sure, they had a “girl” operating the switchboard and another “girl” running lab results and still others sprinkled about… but no women. Only two were permitted names, and one of those was a recording.

Fourth was the unfiltered promotion in the cover. The cover blazed that the book was able to rivet you to your seat to equal or greater measure than the televised walk on the moon. Given how exalted that moment has now become, given how small and commonplace scientific discoveries are now treated… it is both astonishing in the temerity of the copywriter’s claim, and in the fact that a comparison to a scientific achievement is being used in advertising at all.

There were dozens of smaller hitches: anything to do with computers or automation was a little too “gee whiz” and now seems quaint, the excessive page area devoted to ASCII art, the cover design… But I’ve read early Michael Crichton before, so these things I expected to a certain degree. Even the books in the back listed for mail order at prices between 95c and $1.25 (plus 10c postage) only stuck in my mind long enough to pull up an inflation calculator and realize that, actually, those are sensible book prices (though postage costs quite a bit more now).

All of these together (placed into an engaging, if flawed, narrative) emphasize the importance of experiencing old media. By seeing the differences and imagining and inferring how they made sense at the time we can broaden our own understanding of our own time and how naive, quaint, biased, or flawed we might appear in the future

With or without a metaphor, travel to a foreign country is illuminating. I recommend it to all who have the time and capability.

Firefox Windows XP Exit Plan


Last I reported, the future of Firefox’s Windows XP support was uncertain, even given long-standing plans for its removal.

With the filing of bug 1305453 and the commensurate discussion on firefox-dev, things are now much more certain. Firefox will (pending approval) be ending support for Windows XP and Windows Vista in Firefox 53 (scheduled release date: April 18, 2017).

Well, thanks for tuning in. I guess I can wrap up these posts and…

Okay, yes, you’re right. It isn’t that simple.

First, the actual day that Windows XP and Windows Vista users will cease getting Firefox updates is actually much later than April of 2017. Instead, those users will continue to receive security updates until April of 2018 because the version of Firefox 52 they’ll be getting is an Extended Support Release.

What is Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR)? It’s a version of Firefox for enterprises and other risk-averse users that receives security (and only security) updates for one year after initial release. This allows these change-weary users to still chose Firefox without having to consider how to support a major version release every six-to-eight weeks.

Windows XP and Vista users will be shunted from the normal roughly-six-weeks-per-version “Release” channel to the “ESR” channel for 52. New installs on Windows XP and Vista at that time will also be for ESR 52. This should ensure that our decreasing Windows XP+Vista userbase will be supported until they’ve finished diminishing into…

…well, okay that’s not simple either. In absolute terms, our Windows XP userbase has actually increased over the past six months or so. Some if not all of this is the end of the well-documented slump we see in user population over the Northern-hemisphere Summer (we’re now coming back up to Fall-Winter-Spring numbers). It is also possible that we’ve seen some ex-Chrome users fleeing Google’s drop of support from earlier this year.

Deseasonalized numbers for just WinXP users are hard to come by, so this is fairly speculative. One thing that’s for certain is that the diminishing Windows XP userbase trend I had previously observed (and was counting on seeing continue) is no longer in evidence.

So what happens if we reach April of 2018 and we still have millions and millions of Windows XP users still relying on Firefox to provide them with a safe way to navigate the increasingly-hostile environment of the Web?

No idea. I guess this means I’ll be continuing to blog about WinXP for a couple years yet.


A High Score List You Don’t Want to Top


Firefox is a large and complicated software project. As such, it has a large and complicated build system and a large and complicated suite of tests. These builds and tests are run each time code is pushed to the mozilla-central repository to ensure that nothing obviously wrong makes it into the tree.

This is important. Nothing slows development to a crawl or causes volunteer contributors to leave in droves quite like a codebase that is too broken to develop in.

But wouldn’t it be better to run these builds and tests before the code makes it to mozilla-central and has potentially-disastrous consequences?

That’s where Try come into play.

Try will run any or all of the builds and tests that code getting into mozilla-central would go through, without having to wait until it is pushed to mozilla-central to do it. All you need to access Try is commit level 1.

Sounds great! Why don’t we run every code change through the whole battery of builds and tests to be sure nothing gets missed?

Well, if you’ve ever built Firefox (it’s really easy) you’ll have noticed that it takes some time. Not a lot of time, but some. During that time, your computer is going full tilt trying to get it all done.

Multiply this by 39 build configurations, and you start to see where I’m heading with this.

Running the builds takes a lot of computers a lot of time. Running the tests on top of it only increases the resource requirement.

And this brings me back to the High Scores. Give a bunch of nerds (Mozillians) something countable and we can turn it into points. Give them points and identifiers, and you get a High Scores List.

The more you use Try, the more computer hours you use. The more computer hours you use, the higher your email address rises on the list. Get within sight of the top, and you might just get an email from a Release Engineer asking you why you think you need to build every platform for the documentation typo you fixed.

Faced with the staggering variety of different build platforms and test suites, how do you learn which ones you need to run and which ones you don’t?

Mozillians are friendly, so you ask. And ask. And keep asking until you gain confidence. Then you make a mistake and start asking again.

And every time you ask, you get an answer. Or at least that’s been my experience of working with Mozillians.