Cosmic Encounter

Here are the following facts that, I believe, make our little rock conducive to life as a human.

The transparency of EM radiation through Earth's atmosphere
It is estimated that we get 80% of our information about the world around us from our eyes. Our eyes use photons to see. Where do most of those photons come from? The sun. Good ol' sun, churning out a bazillions of photons per second, all for the benefit of bouncing them off things and into my eyes. Oh, and apparently plants use photosynthesis. Yeah, like that ever helped anyone.

Our molten core
From all that we know of planet formation, the center of the Earth should be solid by now. It is, after all, about five billion years old. That's more than enough time for it to chill out, relax, and stop squishing about. The thing is that we got a lot of radioactive crap down there. As these atoms decay oh-so-slowly, they release energy. That stupid energy keeps all that molten gunk glooping around all day long. As our sloshy core mushes around, it happens to create a magnetic field around our planet (check out Van Allen belt, not Van Halen belts). This field sends all of the high-energy, mutation-inducing solar wind (particles of matter ejected form the sun) to our uninhabited, f'in cold poles (and makes pretty colours).

Tilt to the ecliptic
The Earth goes around the sun. You knew that. Well, the plane formed by the Earth going around the sun is called the ecliptic plane. Earth is tilted from that by ~23.5 degrees. This gives us seasons. While most anthropologists agree that early human life came out of the savannah, a nice temperate environment, we would never have invented hockey if it was always so nice out and thus early man would have committed suicide from sheer boredom. And seasons also happen to play a role in plant cycles. Plants! Sheesh! I'm tired of them and their CO2-to-O2 conversion. La dee da! Look at me, I'm so hot... Screw you, atmosphere!

Ozone layer
Ozone (O3) absorbs UV rays (another healthy source of DNA-damage) by getting broken up into O + O2. It also absorbed the 80's trend of giant hair fueled by hairspray.

Astronomical unit
The Earth happens to be 1 Astronomical Unit away from the sun! Lucky for us because that seems to be just the right distance to support human life. Venus is hot enough to melt lead at its surface and Mars is cold enough to pop Arnold Schwartzenegger's eyes out. Also, amino acids and other proteins seem to find it just right between -50 and +50 (though they tend to stay near to the 0 to +20 regions).

24 hour rotation
I'm not sure how yet but I bet plants love an alternating day and night. Note: Just as the moon always has the same face towards us, the Earth is slowly losing rotational energy and will eventually have the same face towards the sun. Of course, the sun, in response, will explode.

Lots of water
Life apprently loves the crazy chemical that is H2O. If you didn't know that water was useful until I just said it, well, you're an alien and I just outed you. In your face, xeno!

Checklist of naturally occurring elements from the periodic table
I don't know who did the collecting but someone definitely had "gotta catch 'em all" fever. And they did. We gots 'em all from 1 (Hydrogen) to 92 (Uranium), except 43 and 61 which have no stable isotopes, in abundance. With this variety of tools to play with, I can't wait to see the silicon-based life that you know is coming. Not just any old system or planet gets all these goodies. In The Beginning there was only Hydrogen. It takes a lot of Hydrogen before you can get hot enough to make Helium (2). And anything above Iron (26) requires a supernova. Seriously. Do you know how long it takes for anything to go supernova? I'm still waiting for Star Xb-7465-21 to go (I gots money on it). So looking around at all the freakin' atoms with more than 26 protons makes me think, hot day-um! That's a lot of kablooie...

That's all for now, if I think of anything else, I'll post later...



On this fine Christmas day, the trees adorned in their white finery, the sky ablaze with blue, I'd like to take a moment to talk about one of my favourite Christmas traditions: Voodoo Day.

Peter and Karen are a brother and sister duo that I've known for years. When my wife-to-be first moved out of her home for college, they were her roommates. The four of us hit it off quite well and we've been great friends ever since. Each year they return to their parents' home in Kingston for the holidays. The last day we're all free before they leave is the day we exchange gifts and get together for dinner. This day has gained the name Voodoo Day (taken from a SNL skit).

Sonny, Karen's new hubby, has been joining us for the last few years and was initially confused by Voodoo Day but now embraces it as much as the rest of us. We normally have Voodoo Fondue as the meal but this year we skipped the cheese fondue (no alcohol for Tasha) and the Chinese broth (no potentially raw meat for Tasha). The choclate fondue, however, went over smashingly. Also, all of the gifts are "From: Voodoo Man". You are not allowed to give a practical gift on Voodoo Day and if you try you will be beaten to death (perhaps with chicken entrails or some similar voodoo cliché). This year I got the Lego Mos Eisley Cantina.

-Aside for gushing over Star Wars Lego-
This set has some really cool pieces (the Dewback is not so hot, you can pretty much make a Dewback out of it and that's it) but the best parts are the Sandtrooper mini-fig and the Greedo mini-fig. A Greedo mini-fig finishes third in my collection of cool Star Wars mini-figs. The Stormtroopers look awesome (my second and third faves in the same set!) but my favourite remains Boba Fett. They did a really good job on him. And now they have a new Falcon out! It looks better than the one I bought myself because it doesn't have those moulded pieces that are uncool.
-Aside Terminated-

This year's celebrations culminated in a great game of Apples to Apples, which we also got for Voodoo Day. Much wine was consumed, much joy was spread and much partying was done. Another stunning success!

Hope your holiday season is as cooltastic as mine...
Merry Christmas!


When I Grow Up

My wife had friends from work over and they couldn't get over my hobbies nor the quantity of accoutrements scattered throughout the house. Lego, Magic: the Gathering, video games, board games, toys, figurines and gadgets can be found in abundance in pretty much every corner of our place. One of my wife's friends remarked: "It's like an adolescent day-care in here."




Three things that should be taught in high school...

Ok, this might be a little optimistic but I think you could get the basics out in a final year class. I know a lot students have a hard time with polynomials but a linear regression should be teachable in context of statistics. Error analysis, confidence intervals, the Gaussian distribution, these are important ideas that would greatly affect society's perception of the world around them, the data they are bombarded with daily and teach some critical thinking. Which leads to...

Sadly, this one is being taught in high schools (at least it was in mine). I recall going over geometric proofs, English comprehension tests, some basics of the scientific method in various science classes, however, I don't think the tools are there for students to pull the gist from these lessons. I think and introduction to logic would be useful. Once they have a grounding in that (I mean a rigourous one) I think you would get a lot more out of all the other classes.

CPR and First Aid
Imagine a population of citizens where everyone has at least had exposure to some first aid and knows the basics of CPR. I've had the class and you're certified only for a couple years because after that you forget exact details. Who wants to get that wrong? That said, is there anything in there that a graduating student can't handle? A whole generation with that knowledge walking around. Surely, it could only be a benefit. It would perhaps be a foundation for future refresher learning as well. Even if they are only good for a few years, there's always another batch coming through the ranks. As the saying goes, "I keep getting older but the eighteen year olds always stay the same age." But, uh, that's in a different context, I guess.


Le Foot

I really want to go see the World Cup in Germany 2006. The (exorbitant) ticket prices have been released and so has the schedule.

Now I don't think it's unreasonable to spend 90 EU to go see a match. When I was in Madrid, I obviously wanted to see Real Madrid play but they were out of town. Madrid, thankfully, has a second team, Atletico Madrid. I managed to get scalper tickets outside the stadium the day of the game (the wicket was sold out). I paid 75 EU for a 60 EU seat, the cheapest one available and, to my mind, a bargain. Check here for the prices to Real Madrid games. Take a good look at the prices for the game against Barcelona (their ancient rivals). Yeah. That's right. Now these are scalper prices but good luck trying to get a regular price ticket to their games. From what I hear, there is a multi-year waiting list to get season tickets. Crazy!

In any case, my decision is: do I want to see two round-of-16 games (45 EU) or a semifinal (90 EU)? If I take the two games, well, I get to see two games. But I also have to arrange to be in these two possibly distant cities (not too difficult by train, I'm sure but hotels might be problematic). If I do take the semi-final, I only see one game but, hell's bells, it's the semi-final! A game of utmost importance and sure to be two very high quality teams.

Of course, this is supposing I can even get tickets. The demand is so damn high for these tickets worldwide that they hold a lottery for all the tickets requiring a ton of personal info. If you win, you get a personalized, holographic, non-transferable, laminated (not plasticised) mega-ticket with, I believe, your photo! They go to great lengths to stop counterfeiting these tix.

Finally, I know my wife and I want to go to Germany and see the sights but I'm not sure she'll want to go to the game itself. I'll go alone if I have to but, really, I need to find someone to go with me.


Yeah, Right

There's the old idea of a Dyson Sphere. It captures all of that lost energy emitted by a star. We, on Earth, only receive what tiny bit of sunlight hits our planet's surface but the sun is blowing out a TON of energy every second in all directions, not just in a tiny beam pointed at us. So the Dyson Sphere is a giant artificial ball built around the sun that stores the energy released by the sun.

Now, Earth is a big place. The Sun, well, that's just a truckload or two bigger. So, a sphere right around the sun? Even making one slightly larger than the sun is pretty much a no-go for the foreseeable future. Some believe that the sphere radius should be larger than the Earth's orbital distance (1 AU). Those people need to be hit in the knees with a steel pipe.

In any case, this idea will remain science fiction for a very, very long time. My thought, and I can't have been the only to think this up, is perhaps a baby step in that direction. What about a ring around Earth?

We could build a flat solar collector that faces the sun, and harnesses at least some of the energy that is simply flying unused right by our planet. It would be shaped like a washer or a flattened donut. It doesn't have to be thick, it just has to have a good cross-section so that solar photons can hit it. Each meter of increased radius would capture an exponentially larger amount of energy. It would be crazy!

Now, I know, I know, it's not all roses and jewels. There is the slight problem that a giant ring around the Earth is an unstable proposition. But you could take a percentage of the energy captured and use it to keep the ring positioned right. And, yes, all those massless photons have a momentum that would exert a significant pressure on the ring at the scales we're talking, but again, if the efficiency of the ring is high enough, we could still use some of the energy to push back and have plenty left over. (Or would you? I'm really tired. I'm going to go think about this when I'm awake.)


I Ran Out of Ten-Foot Poles (Or: Not Enough People Hate Me)


I support a woman's right to an abortion if her life/health is in danger. No question. First come, first served.

I support a woman's right to abort, unqualified, in the first trimester. I don't consider a group of cells life and if a woman doesn't want the baby, well, who would want a mother that didn't want them. I do not advocate first-trimester abortion as a form of birth control. I think that's just poor judgment. If you don't want a baby, don't do the things that make one. But, again, that's my opinion in a grey area and I understand if you disagree so I wouldn't legislate my opinion.

Unless the life of the mother is in danger, I am against third trimester abortions. If the fetus can survive outside of the womb (yes, it's not great odds early in the trimester), it's alive and, well, I don't condone murder (inflammatory rhetoric? moi?).

In between, well, hmm. I'm not a big fan of harming things with heartbeats and brain activities. There's a pretty big gap between first trimester glob-of-cells and third trimester i-can-get-hiccups. I'm undecided, leaning towards putting the second trimester with the third one. Maybe the fallout from this post will help me come to some decision.

Obviously, I'm using trimesters as rough guides. I'm sure legally you require a more precise standard. Also, as far as quality of life issues go, uh, pray you find out in the first trimester. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

Gay Marriage

The state has no place in our bedrooms, nor does it have one at our altars. Marriage carries with it many legal responsibilities and advantages. I'd say download them all to Civil Unions, stop calling the legal aspect of it marriage (because people are swayed by semantics) and let the restrictions to forming a Civil Union stand as the bar for gaining the rights of marriage. Leave the word 'marriage' to the churches, let any two people form Civil Unions and let's move on with our lives, shall we?

I'm actually not against things like polygamy, either. If a man or woman wants to hook up with any combination of men/women, then more power to them. I suppose that could get complicated, not sure if the law can scale to more than two people. But, really, if three or four or twenty people want to do it commune-style, and the law can support multi-person relationships (perhaps business ownership models can apply?) give them all visitation rights and pension payouts. An ye harm none, do what ye will and all that rot. Hell, I'd even allow a brother and sister form a Civil Union. If it would have helped Matthew and Marilla raise Anne, I am all for it.


Can we please legalize this? It's no worse for your health than cigarettes and can impair your judgment about as much as alcohol. Society hasn't imploded with those two around, Prohibition didn't work, people are gonna do it anyways and it's not a drug that leaves you in an alley looking like the undead. So can we just start a new industry, create a bunch of jobs, cut off a source of criminal revenue and tax the hell out of it, already?


See above, except add the improved health and welfare of a lot of women.



My sleeping pattern is totally out of whack. I can't concentrate, my mind is constantly racing from one place to the next, my eyes are sore and I generally feel worn out. Last night I went to bed at midnight. My body, ever the genius, takes this as a sign of a nap. 4am, I am wide awake, refeshed even. Two hours later, I'm exhausted and back in bed for another six hours.

It's currently 4am. I am just now starting to feel tired.

Sleep, you moron!


Like I'm Supposed to Remember That

When I first found my lipomas, I went to the hospital the next day. For all I knew, lumpy arms = something wrong with normal physical functioning. I didn't immediately assume "cancer" because I know the human body is so complicated that it could have simply been some benign reaction to raisins or Cyndi Lauper.

So I checked myself into the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital and got the usual questionnaire quiz. One of the questions was, "Have you ever been here before?" I though back over all the other times I was sick and went to a hospital. I had an operation to insert a tube into my inner ear when I was little. It wasn't draining properly and I kept getting ear infections. That was at the Montreal Children's, though. I got a really bad flu once but I went to the Montreal General for that one. So, "Nope, never been here."

The lady at the desk punched in my data and said, "Ah, yes. You have been here before."

I was confused. Did their system mix me up with some other ill Montrealer?

"You were here as: Baby Boy Vincent."

Oh, yeah. I was born at St. Mary's.


Problems at the Top

Dear National Leaders,

Here are some signs you have lost it:
  • Monster-sized portraits of yourself hang in public squares.
  • There are statues of you around the capital and you are not dead.
  • You have an election and you (or your policies) win with more than 90% support. Psst, that's not normal in any democracy.
  • There are reports that you seize shelter triplets at birth and no one bats an eyelash.
  • Your dead father has the state-sanctioned title "eternal president".
  • You manage to use Anne Frank's diary as war-propaganda.
  • This is you:

  • 11.17.2004

    Stochastic Neural Processes

    1) I have no idea when I'll get the chance but at some point in my life I really want to say, in jest but in perfect context: "Excuse me, I have to go express some semen."

    2) At some point in time a man likely said, "The only thing I know about women's suffrage is that I find women insufferable!" Which was then followed by a man laughing so hard his monocle fell out.

    2-i) It has been pointed out to me that my analogy between slavery and homosexual civil rights is flawed in that people can't/won't get as outraged about gay marriage as they can about owning another human. I'd agree with that though I suspect it might be overplaying the outrage of the abolition movement somewhat. A great many abolitionists opposed slavery while endorsing the supremacy of the white race, a stance that, perforce, dims one's outrage. I then thought that women's suffrage might be a better analogy but even then a quick comparison between 51% of the population (women) and ~10% (homosexual; where the hell does this number come from anyways? I've heard it for years but never really questioned it) and one can see what a long, long road is ahead.

    3) I had a job interview today. Good news: it was my first bite since I started sending out CVs. Bad news: it pays 9$/hr. Good news: it's testing video games. Bad news: cellphone videogames. Bad news: it pays 9$/hr.

    I went to the place hoping to find some reason to take this job. I think testing video games is pretty much my ideal job. Sadly, the pay barely qualifies for my definition of the word "job".

    It pleased me to see a row of tables in the cafeteria with TVs in front of couches. Each TV was hooked up to different game system, PS2, XBOX, Gamecube, N64, SNES. The walk to the interview office was horrifying, however. Picture a sweatshop. Replace all the sewing machines with desktop PCs. This was the work environment, a huge open floor with about 150 people grouped in eights around large desks, no dividers, no cubicles, bare white walls and a slate grey industrial carpet, a grim phosphor glow reflected in each pale face. It was The Triangle Shirtwaist Company with USB ports.

    I frikkin' nailed the interview. In French, no less. I was part-ninja, part-Jedi, slicing through the questions and disarming all opposition with my disarming manner. Now I know how Moses felt parting the Red Sea. I began to ask about what kind of vacation they were willing to offer. I was hoping to parlay my experience into 3 weeks vacation. I felt I had that kind of leverage. Before my first sentence was complete, they gave me (ME! Moses-incarnate!) a left jab, a solid right hook and a fatal uppercut. I went from heavyweight champ to Glass Joe.

    - There is no vacation offered.
    - This isn't a permanent position.
    - It's a rolling one-month contract (I swear this is what I heard but it just can't possibly be right).
    - This policy is mandated by the head office (the full policy being that 50% of the employees must be maintained on a rolling contract)
    - Overtime is paid time and a half
    - The overtime is strictly voluntary, you know. Always up to you. You know. We wouldn't, like, force you. Right? Well, the games have to be released on a strict schedule, so, like, near those times, yeah, we would ask you to come in. Voluntarily, of course. It's, like, a chance to make some more money, right! (nervous laughter) Right?! (incredibly pained look, like one would give Lucifer after getting caught in his bed with his teenage daughter)

    "So, uh, how many hours a week would you say the average tester works, including overtime?"

    And then I witnessed true majesty. A beauty so breathtaking that the Grand Canyon could be called a hole in the ground, that the Northern Lights be called but a twinkle, that life itself be little more than a cheap and unsatisfying illusion. I witnessed three desperate employees dodging a question with the ferocity of cornered and wounded animal. They simultaneously deployed evasive maneuvers Alpha, Foxtrot, Sigma and Get-Me-The-Hell-Out-Of-Here. I thought I heard the sound of bones breaking coming from under their clothes.


    -Pay that would insult Mother Teresa,
    -Hours that would make purgatory seem but a blink,
    -The same vacation days POWs get,
    -And all of this on a month-to-month wheel of uncertainty!

    Colour me spoiled brat if you must but this ain't happening.


    Press Start

    The Anthropic Principle essentially says, "Hey, isn't it crazy that the laws of the universe exist such that humans can exist within it? Huh, ain't it?" The implication being that the universe was created/designed such that humans were the ultimate goal of said universe.

    It is true that there is a finely balanced dance of physical constants that does allow life to flourish on Earth. That, however, does not imply the creation of the universe was meant to lead to episodes of "I Dream of Jeannie", the CN Tower or even LL Cool J. When I was much younger and began to see how deftly balanced the laws of nature were, I began to ask myself the question that the anthropic principle asks: is this universe made for you and me? It was part of my natural curiosity towards the world of physics. I did not expect to find the face of God in a calculus equation, nor did I ever end up finding one. The universe is a marvelous place with wonders and coincidences that seem impossible but for a hand divine. Nevertheless, the universe is a big place. In fact, it encompasses all of the word "place". The genesis of the universe (if such a thing can be shown to have occurred) may well have resulted from a series of failed, unstable prior universes, each one closer to our own livable current revision. There are as many theories as there are philosophers (perhaps as many as all the parallel universes!) and each one explains the world around us in its own way.

    I've reconciled myself to living with the mystery of origin, the concealed purpose of life, the unknowable darkness that, in the end, allows us to define our existence for ourselves.


    Gays into the Abyss

    When Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln went at it through seven debates in a race for the Illinois Senate seat, the main topic of the time was slavery in the Union. Douglas argued that the people of a state have the right to form their own laws, that democracy is based on that very principle, one called popular sovereignty. Thus, if the people of a state choose to allow slavery then the will of the people should be respected. Lincoln, however, disagreed. His view was that the Union could not stand being divided among states that allowed slavery and those that did not. This was a point of great contention at the time and it threatened to become violent as it eventually did. Lincoln, in my view, was a wise man. He understood human nature and he spoke about it with great eloquence.

    "If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence."

    Lincoln argued that any new states entering the Union should not be permitted to allow slavery; he did not want to fight the Southern states over their right to slavery. He felt that since the slave trade itself had been outlawed, it made no sense to allow slavery's existence to grow beyond its current area, even if the people of the newly formed state did so desire it. A good many people were troubled by this line of reasoning. If people in any one region must submit to the will of another, where does the power lay? Why can a state not govern itself and under what circumstances can one state force another to conform? The flip side is the question: how can one state let its partner maintain a stance that it is morally obligated to oppose? What is the federal power to do when the problem is not in its jurisdiction (as slavery was not generally considered to be at the time)? Is it sound judgment to seize federal jurisdiction where none was previously for the sake of cohesion within the Union?

    It required the American Civil War to ultimately settle the question but it did not quell the problem entirely. To this day, issues of race continue to be an albatross around the American neck.

    This past election day, eleven states voted to limit marriage to one woman and one man. Eight of those states also prohibited any civil-union or partnership between same-sex couples. These measures were not given the clear majority of 51-49 as Mr. Bush has won for himself. These measures soared into the stratosphere with 75-25 or 66-33 victories (with the exception of Oregon, 57-43).

    That, my friends, is the sound of history repeating itself.


    Dating, So Not For Me

    I was at a friend's party, laughing it up, munching on snacks, meeting cool people. One of those people was Lisa, a friend of the host. She and I were chatting it up, joking around, a very casual interaction, when she asked for my phone number. I was in the middle of giving it to her when I realized, wait, she's asking for my phone number. Holy crap, this girl is interested in a date. With me! I asked for her number posthaste. I was completely oblivious to any flirting that may or may not have been occurring, maybe that was what she thought was appealing, who can say.

    I got a few nudges and winks from the guys with whom I had gone to the party. They knew me and my lack of effort with women. Picking up was just not something I was particularly interested in. Not that I was against dating, it just wasn't a priority for me.

    We called each other a few times. She had gone to ballet school, liked this band and that band, did this and that over the summer, the usual ice breaking stuff. We agree to meet. She was living on her own out in the West Island while I lived in the relatively central neighbourhood of NDG. I took a metro and a helluva long bus rde to her place. Sitting on the bus, fall colours rolling outside the windows, I contemplated this first date. I had only had a couple first dates at this point and they had usually been comfortable, conversational outings. I was going straight to her place. My imagination developed all sorts of sordid scenarios and I hoped none of them occurred. The last thing I was interested in was a cheap tryst. Hormones notwithstanding, I was just looking to get to know this girl.

    It was brisk and windy Sunday afternoon, the sky undecided as to whether it would be overcast or bright blue. I stepped off the bus, scanned the street for the number of her place and rang the bell. I walked up painted wooden steps into a one room apartment, a mattress on the floor and a simple second-hand table rounding out the studential decor. I had a cup of tea as we made small talk. While she had a table, there were no chairs in sight so we sat ourselves down on the edge of her mattress. I can't say whether or not she expected (or feared) anything more than talk sitting on her bed. I did my best to ignore any untoward implications of our seating location. After a while, I began to relax. Pleasant company, a quiet day of talk; these are things I like. Ten seconds after I start to feel comfortable, Lisa informs me her friends should be here shortly.

    Uh, what?

    Soon after, three of her good friends arrive, brightly and sprightly nattering away. You know that gaggle of girls at the back of the bus making a lot of noise and giggling far too often? I was now on a date with all of them. We hopped in a car, popped into McD's for a bite and ended up at the figure skater's well-appointed house (God forbid I ever remember their names). I couldn't have said more than a dozen words as they fluttered about the room like the gold and crimson leaves on the grass outside. I was stunned.

    After a long enough period of being politely quiet, I said I had to leave and catch my bus back into town. Lisa walked me to the stop. The pleasant conversation of earlier was long dead. We walked in stilted silence as I tried to phrase an impossibly awkward sentiment. How do you tell someone that you don't want to see them anymore? After one date, no less. It was a situation I had never been in before and one that I struggled with as we approached the stop.

    "Listen, I think it would be best if we just stayed friends."

    I don't know how that sounded to her but it was what I said. We exchanged chaste kisses on the cheek and Lisa walked back to rejoin her friends. I waited alone for the bus to take me away from an awful experience. It was cool, dark and windy; a typical autumn night.



    I went to an all-boys school for high school so I was surrounded by testosterone for five years. Years that I must admit I do not regret as so many of my other friends do. I met some great people, friends that I still hold dear to this day. The experience without girls through adolesence was not unpleasant for me, though it did leave a lot of work for my wife to do when it came to educating me about cross-gender relationships.

    In any case, I was immersed in males and male psychology and consequently understood them (us) fairly well. I find I can predict behaviour to a fairly high degree of accuracy after getting to know guys for a short time. The shorter a time it takes me to "figure out" a guy, the less interested I am in them. My daily exposure to the best and worst of them whittled the average time down quickly. Guys, I find, either remain the same juvenile jerks I hated in high school or they mature to the ones that I liked in high school. I place myself somewhere in the middle.

    Girls, ladies, women; they remained a mystery. I hit college and was completely lost. Flirting was totally lost on me. It is only years after the fact that I can now recognize the few girls who did flirt with me as doing such. Totally clueless. I couldn't figure out their motivations, their hierarchy signals, their moods. The fairer sex might as well have been talking sanskrit for all I understood them.

    Break: Yes, this is a gross and massive generalization but there are commonalities in either gender. There are as many simple women as there are simple men. I've met many of each. The complicated ones hold my attention in both genders.

    After years of being with my wife, I slowly began to understand her but I knew I was just learning about one woman. There were many lessons to learn about women (and people, in general) from her but I had no delusions about being able to apply everything I learned about her to others. I would make a terrible date for any other woman; I have been shaped to the fit of one woman. I must mention that though I've got a good grasp of how my wife functions, I have not finished learning about my wife; she continues to surprise, one the most important conditions in marrying anyone.

    As time went by I befriended a few more women, women I admire for many reasons (one of the most important conditions in befriending anyone), and a vague shape began to emerge. I think the number of women whose behaviour I can accurately predict has increased dramatically. I still do not have the same level of understanding as I do of men and likely never will. However, I'm quite pleased that I've achieved any level of understanding of women.

    Begin rambling:
    Some days, I feel I understand other people better than I do myself but I also get the feeling that a lot of other people feel the same way. That makes some sense, I suppose, since you can't really get an objective look at yourself. On the other hand, you can't get the full picture of someone else since you're never privy the whole of another person's life. Or perhaps there's just too much information to sift through for any useful analysis on oneself.
    End crazy-person mumbling.

    Well, in any case, I'm sure it speaks to my controlling nature that I even try to approach people in such a manner. I'm inquisitive by nature and I like to simplify. Where others might see crass reductionism, I just see it as elegance. If I can simplify something and the occasional someone without losing accuracy, that is beautiful to me.



    I begin to realize that I have little faith in human nature but I think humanity has what it takes to survive.

    I agree that businesses can operate more efficiently without government regulation. However, time and time again history has shown us that there will be those who will abuse the system to maximize their gain. Regulation to prevent harm to the consumer is essential. Where is the line drawn? Well, that's the black magic of economic governance. Human nature being what it is, and with corporations embodying the most cut-throat aspects of human nature, I have little faith in corporate entities to police themselves.

    Business interests wield considerable power in the US and, though a touch less so here in Canada, they are a mighty force that shapes our society. We have given our schools over to training employees, we have given industry a veto over our environment and the spectre of a profit-oriented health system looms ever larger as we wait for the baby boomers to become daisy bloomers.

    Human nature has put our Canadian health system to the test. The current system is being flooded with cost overruns. As more and more treatments become available for more and more health problems, the price of keeping people alive past the point of natural selection will continue to skyrocket. The system is bureaucratic, difficult to manage and inefficient. It is the price of a public service to bloat itself. When there is no one to answer to other than the anonymous taxpayer plus the required transparency of a public service, the many-headed hydra of governmental inefficiency will rear its ugly head heads, uh, head(s).

    The alternative, however, is apallingly clear. A private sector health industry will always put profit first. Corners will be cut, people will be denied service, the cold brutality of darwinian economics will eradicate any faint trace of altruism that may yet linger in a public health system. The business of health would hum like a lean, mean, well-oiled machine. If it didn't, well, that's more profit that's not being squeezed out and if businesses do one thing well it's squeezing for profit so tight that blood comes out of every pore. Oh, human nature, you kill me.

    So what's a hater of human nature to do? How about: be optimistic. People in this country like their public health care. As much as we complain about the problems, we complain even more about the threats to privatise the system. I believe today's system is stronger than when it first started. The problems of today come from a slow reaction time and poor planning to an increased demand. We adapt slowly but we adapt. It's true that there have to be problems before people will change things and that anyone with a bit of sense can see those coming down the road. But in the end, change is made. As danger grows, so grows salvation. As I've said in the past, the danger is always being willing to change before it becomes too late. I do believe we have the foresight to recognize it, and I do believe there will always be the will to change.

    I do have faith in humanity. While I am willing to concede that it may be a naive take on human history, though we have done so much harm to one another, I can see the great work we have done to build ourselves up. Let's hope we don't blow it.



    To everyone who did a seach for "lumps in forearms" or "ultrasound" or "lymph node" and found a site called Corpse Countdown, I apologise for likely causing your heart to skip a beat. I can assure you that I'm doing just fine. Well, unless you're reading this at some point in the future and I actually am dead. But that was probably from a bus accident or a trapeze malfunction or a swarm of flesh-eating ants or just plain geezer-related causes.



    I have been called a vicious and harsh person several times and I think it's true. I believe that most people are vicious and harsh to one another, either in the shadier corners of their mind or, even worse, behind the back of those whom they savage.

    My personal motto has always been to never say anything about someone I wouldn't say to their face. I guess my problem is that I don't actually mind being vicious to a person (friend, foe or stranger) and will say what's on my mind. I have always had a distinct lack of tact and it's something I continuously work on. I now try to keep my mouth shut when I think I'm about to say something unnecessarily vicious.

    I will still tell people how I feel regardless of how they might react to it if I feel it's relevant to the discussion at hand. I don't fear personal repercussions from my actions or words. I'm not in high school anymore and I like to think of my friends as grown-ups. This inevitably leads to people calling me vicious and harsh. I can't say that it bothers me. People are vicious, me included (me especially?), and I prefer honest brutality to fake smiles when it counts.


    It's Well Past My Bedtime

    With a baseball bat, I could change the world.

    Not for the better, mind you.


    So Die, Already...

    Tomorrow's my 29th birthday and today I was asked if I was worried or freaked about turning 30 or getting near it.

    Not at all. I could turn 30, 40, 50, 120, whatever. I've done most of what I wanted to do. I feel I've gotten more out of life than probably 90% of the rest of the planet. How can you complain about that? I've achieved all of my goals, everything else from here on in is pretty much icing. I'm writing a book and I would like to get it published so, yes, it is a goal but if I don't get it published, I won't feel like a failure. I wanted to get my degree, then I felt I wasn't finished so I got my Master's. Then I wanted to be in an improv troupe, I did that. I wanted to find love, I did that. Kids or no kids, doesn't bother me. Book or no book, whatever.

    I do feel guilty that I'm not dedicating the rest of my life to help other people less fortunate than me. I still want things. Mostly just a big TV. Can't really explain it. I am willing to spend three grand on a TV. How dumb is that? I can't justify it to myself but I know that I'll do it. I want to do some charity work, but do I do it? Nope. Not an ounce.

    I've lived for myself long enough. I need to find it in myself to live for others now. Then I will consider myself an adult. Sadly, I'm not there yet.



    By Ernie the Fork in fark.com's forums:

    This just in: Homo sapiens draw boundaries on maps, organize into racial, religious, and political groups and inflict harm and suffering on differing groups for the first time in humanity's history.

    Pretty much...



    I like living in a country where you can actually use political means to achieve your goals. There is no need to take hostages, no need to blow people up, no need for fear in the streets. Other than an awful few months, the recent debate over Quebec's status within Canada has actually been an exchange of ideas rather than an exchange of gunfire, with the final decision resting in hands of the populace itself.

    You might disagree with the implementation but it's hard to argue that the process is uncivilised. The fact that I am surrounded by a population (for the most part) willing to live and implement their ideas, no matter how radical or divisive or even destructive, in a political sense, through democratic means heartens me to no end. Are we an exception? Clearly. But it gives me hope that it's feasible. You can convince people to fight with ballots not bullets.


    Thanks, Doc!

    Today, I got an email from Dr. Willy Stretcher.




    We are, each of us, the hero of our own story.


    Pimp My Bride

    I find that all of my friends have suddenly hit peak marrying age. If we consider the number of weddings per year histogrammed by year, this must surely be the peak of the gaussian. I've been invited to nine weddings this year. I had two this weekend.

    On Friday in Ottawa, my old roommate from my Nortel days, Rob, got married. Highlights: Ceremony that lasted less than five minutes, truck dumping stuff and reversing (beep beep beep) throughout the ceremony, my wife being called Robot by a six-year old and staying at the Chateau Laurier (swanky!).

    On Sunday in Montreal, my old buddy from high school, Mark, got married. Highlights: Sean mistaking two players for three in beach volleyball, a ceremony that lasted a full hour in three languages (all chanted), watching Mark dance, getting seated next to one of the most tireless mouths I've ever met.

    Next step: kid birthdays...

    Final step: funerals.



    I haven't drunk that much in a while. My digestive system is concerned but not in full revolt.

    Fact of the Day: While watching a stripper give the bachelor party treatment to a friend, you will get funny looks if you yell out, "Ask her if she liked Spiderman 2!"

    Aside: I only go to strip clubs for the articles.


    I Gotta Wear Shades

    There is a fight going on to equalise. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality. The fight for an equal opportunity. Minority representation, pluralism, cultural openness.

    I am certain that all of these equalities will be realised one day. We're on the right track here in Canada at least. Things are getting better from where I sit (I admit that my chair is quite nice). Sure there's work to do around the world but the idea of equality is, I feel, unstoppable. Since the US constitution put those words in writing and gave people a living, evolving example, it has become a given worldwide that all men are indeed created equal. Those words instilled in people a sense that they, too, deserve a fair shake. Time has only given us a growing number of examples of the concept of equality become the reality of equality. Certainly the execution of that reality is imperfect. The journey is definitely incomplete, work remains.

    But I cannot help but feel that one day, people will all have an equal opportunity. One day we will all be elbow-to-elbow at the trough, fighting one another for the chance to get rich off the back of someone else. All of this without regard to skin colour, heritage, gender, or religion.

    It's a beautiful, human future.


    More Dollars Than Sense

    Any economic system that does not take into account human greed is doomed to failure. People not only want more than they currently have, they also want more than their neighbours. Capitalism addresses these issues with a system that closely matches human nature and a Darwinism that resembles nature in general.

    When capital is being invested, people want to make interest off of it. It needs to outstrip the rate of inflation or you aren't actually increasing your wealth. However, the problem inherent in the system is that profit alone is not enough. While most people would be satisfied with a profit that doubled the rate of inflation or so, capital is always happiest when it is maximised. So not only is profit measured but the growth of that profit over time. If a company had revenues of one trillion and expenses of ten dollars, that would be a pretty good investment, right? But if that profit stagnated (ie: stayed the same) investment would probably flee. There's no growth. Ok, that's exaggerating but not by a lot.

    Companies need to understand that growth cannot possibly be indefinite but the expectation that drives companies to bloat beyond their means clearly exists. This pressure to continuously grow often forces succesful companies, companies that usually grow to success through a good value to price ratio, to mess with their formula by either cutting the value (remember when Snapple was made with real juice?) or blow prices through the roof (bank service charges are reaching ludicrous proportions and competition is not on the way).

    The problem is that people in general are never satsifed with what they do have and that mentality is visited upon us all through capitalism. However, as a reflection of human selfishness and short-sightedness, well, it's damn near perfect.



    As a child I was always one step ahead of the curve because my parents encouraged me to learn things on my own. I was frequently abandoned at the local library for hours and left to wander the books. I devoured anything that piqued my interest. Dinosaurs, space, chess, machines, animals, comic books, whatever. Thus, in school, I felt I was smarter than others and I got a pretty big head about it. In fact, the school denied me skipping a grade because they thought my ego was big enough as it was.

    Eventually school catches up to you. Well, it did for me around high school where there a bunch of people way smarter than me and I had to work to keep my good grades. I never worked hard enough to be near the top but always enough to stay ahead of the curve. My motto was the definition of efficiency: minimum in, maximum out. It's one I still live by today.

    In CEGEP, I let school slide by as I developed a social life and learned a rough approximation of how to behave in public (with much tutoring from my wife-to-be). I was in the middle of the curve, perhaps a step ahead but falling to dead center.

    In University, I did enough to stay near the top. I was interested but never able/willing to excel. What I found easy, I put aside. What I found difficult, I wrestled with. I find to this day that I will ace difficult challenges but fail miserably at simple tasks because I don't put in any effort at all.

    For grad school, I sank. Fast. I squeaked by. I did manage to get a recommendation to the Dean's List for my thesis. How? I have no clue. I don't think I deserved it. I grabbed the diploma, ran for the door and hoped no one tackled me on the way out.

    When I entered the job market, I worked fairly hard. I wanted to do well and I applied myself. I did very well and for my first 18 months I was one of the best workers. Once I realised how crappy the product was, how terribly the business was being run and how little effect one way or another I was personally having on the company, I just started coasting. They noticed and when it came time for the axe to fall, I wasn't first on the list but I was far from last.

    I've been doing improv for years now. I've gotten a lot better and I have my own ideas of good and bad improv. I feel I'm a lot better than the average but by no means very strong. I have a lot of weaknesses and I see other people do things I wish I could do.

    I'm now trying to write a novel. I can string together the occasional sentence and bon mot but I don't even show up on my own radar of good writing with the draft I have now. I can't imagine how much further I have to go before I dare show this to a professional. It's a long way.

    I can play video games, draw, photograph, play soccer or hockey or Magic:tG. These are things I feel I can do with some confidence. However, I know deep down that I'm really not very good at them. At best, I'm mediocre and at worst, I'm awful.

    I dabble. I understand that. Jack of all trades, Master of none. I desperately want to be very good at something but I fear I don't have it in me. I don't possess that obsession/drive to focus intensely on a single aspect of my life and hone it to pure perfection. I keep hoping to find a natural talent that I can just automatically be good at. Life doesn't work that way. Skill comes from use, practice, mistakes, all of these things mixed with a natural facility will lead someone to excel. I just don't have the patience for it. I want to divide my time to taste everything that comes my way. I guess I decided long ago to spend little bit of time in a lot of places instead of the inverse.

    I'm learning to be comfortable with it. I will not abandon my pleasures because I'm not the best or even near the best. I need to understand that better than average is actually pretty good and that if I really do want to excel that badly, it's attainable if I'm willing to earn it.

    I'm not great, but that's ok.


    Quote of the Evening

    "So they were asking: where were your in-laws from?

    I said, Germany.

    They asked, they left right after World War II?

    Yeah, they were fleeing prosecution.

    You mean 'persecution'.

    Uh, yeah, um. Persecution."


    By the Light of a Rear-View Mirror

    I was thinking of ways to make the blog cool, hip, trendy. I found my solution in the automotive industry.


    If it works for some guy's Toyota, it must work on Blogger.



    I often find myself considering what kind of wrongs I would do to achieve what I feel is right.

    There's the low-level, trivial questions of creating a heartless but popular work of art that opens the door to a personal, more meaningful work (think Spielberg being forced into Jurassic Park 2 to get funding for Schindler's List). Would I do that?

    Then there's the desire to enter politics and perhaps work to help people and communities improve in a way that I think is best (let's be honest, populism is as rare as the altruism upon which it is based, not to mention as unappreciated, risky even, as can be). Surely a life in politics involves, well, politics. The dirty, cutthroat world of governing requires a certain level of turning-blind-eyes, back-scratching and cruelty. Would I have the appetite for destruction that comes with public service?

    How does a person balance a small wrong against a large right? Can that even be evaluated? People are forever committing small injustices against one another and justifying them with a "greater good" argument. The ability to rationalize one's own flaws is possibly human nature's greatest weakness.

    I don't have a one-size-fits-all policy, I take things case by case. I screw up, I succeed. Hopefully, I learn. Wrong versus right. The fight continues.


    Pop n Locke

    The Lockean Proviso, named after that supafly John Locke, states that the right to take goods from the natural commons (ie: resources in the public domain) is limited by the consideration that "there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use;". This is, in essence, the definition of a sustainable resource and we, as a society, need to embrace this more fully.

    If humans are to keep this house in order, we need to enact sound policies throughout our existence. We need population control to maintain the consumption/production ratio as close to one as possible. We need to enact production controls to ensure that goods and services do not consume an unreasonable amount of materials in their making, an unreasonable amount of energy in their use or leave behind an unreasonable amount of waste in their wake.

    There's a problem though. In a capitalist world, this will never be done voluntarily. It eats away at the bottom line. Enacting all those policies would bloat the overhead to such an overblown state that the pricing would have to be through the roof to generate any kind of profit. And no one does anything on a large scale unless there's profit involved.

    Even if there was some magical entity that would do all of this, the pricing would still be out of the range of those with the fewest resources. You are still catering to the elite by providing sound and sustainable goods and services.

    To achieve this in an affordable manner will require a massive investment in technology. Where does this money come from? Government and corporations. Governments because it's in a nation's interest to be efficient and sustainable. Corporations because some of them are big enough to have a longer term picture.

    Consumers need to rein in their "want = get" instincts. A culture of disposability, a snobbery towards that which isn't pristine and fashion cycles of ever-diminshing lengths creates a huge throughput of material and energy that is simply wasted. Garbage in and garbage out.

    Until then, there is not enough, the dregs remain and time is ticking. Locke warned us.


    Insight into my Stupidity

    I only understood last night, after some twenty years of following it, the symmetry between Spiderman and Doctor Octopus. Eight legs!

    I'm sure there are about a dozen issues of the comic that hammered this home but I've never read any of them. As I realised how elegant it was, I also realised how obvious it was and then how slow I was.

    Kind of: "Ah! Hey. Oh..."



    We share this planet with a host of other organisms each with its own survival strategy. Every one of them has their own niche carved out and evolution gives them the tools to survive. As I sit at home playing host to the Streptococcus variant of life, this idea of sharing the planet with others sounds like total crap to me.

    When North America and South America collided and formed the land bridge we call Central America species from both continents met and exchanged habitats for the first time. Sadly, nearly all of the species from delicate, wet South America could not survive the tough life in the north. North America, however, sent a fleet of big hungry animals to thrive down south. Pumas, bears, deer, raccoons. It was a field day. Only one animal from the south thrived in the new world, the armadillo. Who said life had to be beautiful? The harsh, unforgiving cimate of the north produced strong, robust and adaptable species. The delicate, unique South American continent gave us fragile and isolated creations.

    Survival of the fittest is a fine motto that life on this planet has adhered to since the first dawn on Earth. This is why humans now face threats to our immune system. Most bacteria and virii have been reduced to shambles by increased hygiene, vaccination and modern medicine in the western world. Globally, mankind declared war on smallpox, one of our most dreaded enemies. We won. I think it's amazing to defeat another species. Go team! We are unintentionally squeezing out hundreds of other species every passing. Some of them are probably useful but I'd be willing to be bet we're crushing as many harmful ones as we are beneficial ones.

    There seems to be only one front left to attack us and evolution dictates that we must be challenged on our weakness, the immune system. That which gives us our strength against invasion is being exploited by nature to ruin us. According to a grad student friend of mine, TB is teaming up with AIDS to give our medicine and immune systems a real run for our money. We're screwed, people. Someone just found out how to blow up the Death Star with a few photon torpedoes.

    If you were worried about biological weapons being brought to bear in human conflict, get ready to watch the armada we'll need against Mother Nature.


    I Remember When Mars Was Red

    There was a time when we could not imagine
    Someone who had never seen Earth

    I was there when things grew
    Whether we liked it or not

    I can attest that air and water
    Needed no supervision

    That bees and whales and bears
    Did what they pleased

    I think you’ve done great work
    But you’ve reinvented the wheel


    One Human Life

    This isn't a riddle.

    You are in a mine cart, Indiana Jones and all that, hurtling down a track. You discover that your brakes are broken. The cart is totally out of control and picking up speed. You are about to bail when you can see ahead that the track forks. One track leads to three workers maintaining the track. The other track leads to a single worker, toiling alone in a dead end. You jump to safety and land next to the switch that controls which track the cart will go down. There is no escape for any of the workers, strangers every one of them, ahead of you on either track. Which track do you send the cart down?

    You are working in a mine and you spot a cart full of ore rolling out of control down a track. (Stay the hell away from mine carts!) Three workers are ahead of the cart, oblivious to the lethal threat. The workers will surely die. You are standing behind a stranger who is also watching the tragedy unfold. You realise that if you pushed this stranger onto the track, the cart would be derailed and the three workers would be spared but the stranger would certainly be killed. Do you push the stranger onto the track?

    Taken from an article in Discover Magazine


    Finish Line

    Thus ends the Fringe. I would rate our last two shows a 9 and an 8. A pretty strong finish, and the performance of 9 was with a sell-out crowd. That's a nice feeling to sell-out a show. I also received my own personal negative review by a Fringe critic. But I have to admit that that night was my worst performance (the troupe as a whole is not proud of that 5 we did) so I can't really complain.

    As it stands, I'm glad it's over because right now I'm exhausted and spent. I need to relax for a few days before launching into a weekend of more performing. The whole experience was amazing. Meeting artists, learning about how to promote and publicise yourself and a show, seeing some amazing shows, generally carousing and having a blast at the Fringe was something I'll always remember. I feel I made the most of it and enjoyed every second.



    So five shows down at the Fringe, two to go.

    They've gone over well and I think we're building momentum. I have strong feeling that Friday's show will sell out and I'm little worried about Saturday's show. I really want to sell it out to finish on two strong shows. I think the Saturday show will be ok but if we can sell out the last two shows, I'll feel the festival as a whole has been a success.

    The first five were a mixed bag. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to say they went 7, 9.5, 8, 5, 8.5. The "5" show was completely screwed by weak characters, lazy improv and a colossal bungle by our techie. The lights went down before we actually finished the final scene and the audience was left stunned.

    I'm glad for the break today. The day off is gving me time to recover and, of course, watch the England game.



    "So, did you like it?"
    "So, was it good?"

    I had a discussion with a friend recently about movies. I wasn't sure whether it was better to say "It was a good movie" or "I enjoyed the movie". It came down to the realization that those are independent things. I can appreciate the fact that a movie might be good in a technical sense but still not enjoy it (for me Titanic is one of those). Or there is a movie that I find no real flaws in but simply come away from it feeling flat, no reaction (The Matrix). On the other hand, I can see where a movie is deeply flawed from a movie-making aspect but still love it (Clerks would fall into this category).

    This applies to any field of art. There is certainly music that I acknowledge requires very little work or complexity but is still very enjoyable. Paintings, theatre, etc, any endeavour can be measured and are evaluated on two axes. I have to admit that I did not make this distinction until I started thinking about it a few years ago and finally reached this conclusion on the weekend. I suppose from now on I'll be much more verbose when someone asks me to review a movie. That's what I'm always looking for, ways to be more pedantic.



    Be wary what you disparage, you may coin its name.

    Impressionism got it's name from a Monet painting called "Impressions of a Garden". A detractor (and there were many at the time) proclaimed that that's all these paintings were, simply impressions. Thus, a entire genre was born from a single name.

    The Big Bang (aka: The Horrendous Space Kablooie) was initially denounced by a detractor (and there were many at the time) as being implausible. How could the whole universe erupt from some "big bang"?

    Gothic Architecture was derided thoroughly since it departed from classical forms. Its detractors (and there were many at the time) said that the whole group of buildings built in this style were barbaric in their ignorance of traditional shapes and forms. In fact, they looked like something the Goths would build.


    So... I was, like, away for two weeks.

    Maybe I shoulda said something, like, before.


    The thin edge of the wedge

    I am very appreciative of being alive. It seems pretty unlikely that I would be to begin with. It just seems to me that the most logical state of the universe would be that there is no universe. Maybe that's just my lowest-point-of-energy rationale speaking but it's harder to go lower in energy than no energy.

    Matter seems unlikely; why couldn't it just have been space? Physical laws exist, too. Why isn't it just pure chaos? That's messed up. From those crazy physical laws, against the run of entropy, here we are. Sure you can have locally complex systems while the greater system retains its overall chaos but come on! This is just stupid. Consciousness? The acme of lunacy. It's a little hard to take the universe seriously. Really, what in blue blazes happened to just not existing? Was that too boring, too cliche?

    It's mind-blowing to have what we do have for as long as we do have it. I don't even want to try to understand, I'm pretty sure it's beyond me. I'll just enjoy the ride. Thanks, universe.



    Please, if you wear a tuque purely for fashion purposes, just stop. I live in Montreal. It reaches -30 Celsius regularly during winter. The wind chill takes us to -40 frequently, sometimes -50. That's cold. During this cold spell I wear a tuque. I am not trying to set the trend, appeal visually to women or enhance my street cred. If I don't wear a tuque the cells of my skin, particularly those around my ears, will die and cause me great pain. I have to wear a tuque.

    If you are wearing a tuque just for show, you are goddamn taunting me and I won't stand for it. Would you go out of your way to eat a whole roasted chicken in front of some starving kid? No, you wouldn't (don't be a smart-ass, you wouldn't). So take your frikkin' tuque, put it back in your closet and remember where it is when it becomes a necessary survival item.

    Man, I hate you people.


    Phase Transition

    Blogger has revamped itself, added a bunch of new templates and new features so I figured now's a good time to change a couple things.

    1) I'm allowing comments on this post. I don't normally seek feedback on what I write. Mostly because I figure it's just me writing for myself. But if anyone out there ever wanted to say something, here's your chance. There won't comments allowed on any posts in the near future.

    2) I picked a new template because the old one sucked big time. Hopefully this one won't warp as much from platform to platform. I did like the colour scheme though.

    3) I added titles to my posts. Ain't yer life totally flipped upside-down?


    Set Fire to Your Heart

    Make a hearth of your mind
    Use your memories as kindling
    Set fire to your heart

    Flames consuming words long dead
    Smoke curling around that invisible shape
    Set fire to your heart

    Feel the pain of the heat
    Let your feelings be razed
    Set fire to your heart

    Set fire to your heart
    And paint your face in ashes


    I call it now: our publicity shot will be on the cover of the Montreal Mirror for this year's [CENSORED] issue. Our show, seven nights in a fifty person venue, will sell out each night. We are unstoppable. You heard it here first: [CENSORED]. And you'll hear it again.


    So over the weekend I was accused of settling. Settling for a wife who did not satisfy me. Now, is it true that my wife is exactly what I expected when we got married? No. There are some very disappointing elements to our relationship. But I had already spotted this as a potential problem. I had already made the decision that I could live with a total failure in this department. It definitely has not been a total failure but disappointing nonetheless.

    So, did I settle for someone was wasn't going to satisfy me? When you get married should you find someone who you are 100% sure of? Total, unadulterated, pure and uncut bullshit.

    People change over time. When you get married, know that the person you are marrying will not be the same person 5, 10, 50 years down the road. Neither will you be. If you change in different directions then there's a danger that you grow apart. Even if at the time of marriage you did satisfy your partner 100%, how can two people changing over time expect to maintain that. Ludicrous to the highest degree.

    And then there's the ultimate fallacy. There is no one that can satisfy you 100%. Just forget about it. You can find a ton of people who will satisfy you 50% of the time. It's probably a log scale as you go up in percentage. My wife and I have a relationship that is well, well, well above any expectation I could have for any theoretical relationship I would have with some other woman. But, no, she does not satisfy me 100%. If those are your expectations, I don't think you have a good understanding of how people work.

    So, did I settle? For the best thing out there. Sure, I'll take that.


    There are two creative forces, art and entertainment. I wrote about art last week but I think it's important to distinguish between art and entertainment. Art wants to communicate. Entertainment wants to let you feel something other than your real life; this is known derogatorily as escapism.

    I have zero problem with escapism. It is an art in and of itself except it doesn't have much to say. Happy Gilmore isn't about to change people's views or inform them. A stand-up comic can use their time as a platform but most of them just want a laugh from you. And we, as audiences, have preferences. We know what we like and what we dislike. And we all need entertainment. Sneering bores who have no time for "vapid, low-brow fluff" are missing some good entertainment. We need art, too. People who can't imagine a good time without a fart joke or a monster-truck crushing something are missing a world of skill and subtlety. Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes) writes that art should be judged by "the quality of perception and expression." I couldn't agree more but those who would hold entertainment to that same standard have closed their minds about entertainment and want only art.

    But there's room for both. The works that I find particularly special are those capable of doing both. Art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. It takes great skill but when it works on both levels, everyone is pleased. These are the things worth striving for, worth sweating blood over in the creative fields.


    I recently purchased a Gameboy Advanced SP. It came with Metroid Fusion. Very good game. It has the graphics of an SNES but portable, back-lit and with a rechargable battery. I can easily imagine a day ten years hence when the power of the Gamecube is portable and so on and so forth.

    Time is moving, with or without us all.


    For me, art is about communication. You have a sender, a receiver, a medium and a message. Those are the four components of communication. The medium can be the message but, contrary to the old adage, it is not always so.

    Which brings me to my loathing of most modern art. Certainly the abstraction of the medium or the message expresses certain ideas about those topics, however, most people are neither interested nor informed enough to care about what you have to say. Museums have begun to install many post-modern works and I find that a good number of them are formless and devoid of content save to those few who have wrung some convoluted meaning from those pieces. To those people, I say, get your head out of your collective unconscious. The museum-going public is not going to be moved by these works. There is little beauty in babbling to yourself; you cannot move a viewer with blank canvases; there is no communication. When either the medium or the message are incomprehensible, communication is lost and any art that may have been present is destroyed.

    I am not advocating that museums should not be challenging the public's tastes or capacity to appreciate art but I am worried about the extent to which art experts are losing touch with public sensibilities. Experimentation is essential and letting the public in is necessary but please pull back on overwhelming the agenda with art that is devoid of meaning to all but a few.

    I expect the next step in art is to abstract the sender or receiver. The muscial piece 4m11s, which is just silence but for the ambient noise of the audience itself, is an example of such abstraction of the sender. Making art for inanimate objects might be the next big thing! Abstract the receiver and we'll get all sorts of weird crap.

    Technique seems to have been abandoned as artists grow bored with cliches and feeling that it has been mastered. Who wants to make a painting when the Louvre is full? Classical art is in a very unintersting phase right now and all the energy seems to be poured into the new media and especially the internet. It has a low point of entry, open to the masses and, for now, remains validated by popularity. Eventually museums will be forced to exhibit websites, but until then classical art is withering and the new Bohemia requires a mousepad.


    I have low self-esteem. I don't find myself particularly talented, capable and often feel qute the opposite. I'm in the middle of writing a book and it pains me to read what I write. Quite frankly, I suck. This low tide of self-worth might seem at odds with my persona which most people would characterize as extroverted but clearly the two are not mutually exclusive. It also goes against the grain of my membership in a professional improv troupe. Being able to get up onstage and perform appears to require a reasonable amount of self-esteem. After all, you're putting yourself out there to be viewed and assuming it's worth watching.

    The missing ingredient in all this is confidence. I have high confidence. Despite what I believe to be a total waste of other people's time, I have confidence that maybe something good can come from what I do even though I know it is unlikely to come from me. I am willing to go bravely into the gaping maw of failure and, occasionally, against all odds, snatch a hint of fleeting competence. Confidence is the willingness to fail whereas low self-esteem indicates that I surely will.

    I know a woman with high self-esteem and low confidence. She's a good-looking lady who knows it but is frightened that someone might find her unattractive. I find this to be a worse curse than mine. Imagine feeling capable of success, in fact feeling that it is deserved or earned in some small measure but, at the same time, living in fear that you might not achieve it. A paranoia that you won't get your due. The inevitable disappointment would be unbearable to me. Which might explain my personality (which also begs the question: how much control do we have over our personality?).

    Of course there are people with with low self-esteem and low confidence. That's tough. Thinking that you will fail and fearing that failure. Too paralyzing for me. Life's too short for that kind of self-censorship. Then there's high confidence, high self-esteem. People like me call people like that arrogant or deluded. But they're out there. I think it takes a certain measure of that brash, cocky attitude to forge a path for yourself in life. I'm sure we aren't always one of these types. Over time, we each experience all four of these combinations (at least, I do and most people I know go through them in some form or another). But we invariably tend to return to one or another of these types as a kind of natural state, the one where we feel most comfortable.

    Whatever drives us through each day from waking to sleep, it's certainly made of a bizarre and all-too-human material.


    Another band name (this one is actually not bad):

    G-String Theory


    Great band name:
    Runtime Error

    Ok, I'm a nyerd.


    Story time:

    When Weezer released their first album, an eponymous work with a blue cover earning the title "The Blue Album", I was engrossed. Here was an album that I enjoyed from opening to close. I watched as the Buddy Holly song grew to behemoth proportions and became as nauseatingly overplayed as any Top 40 hit can be ("Hey Ya" was great, now it makes my eardrum rupture). I turned away from it. I consciously made an effort to tune it out and enjoy it as a part of the album. Listening to it today brings back memories of me in my basement room, sitting on the floor, rifling through Magic cards, the CD spinning in my player. I sang along to that whole album in my head a thousand times. Never out loud. Someone was always home and didn't need to hear my impression of a hundred cats in a cement mixer. I listened to that album, those lyrics, the rocking, wailing guitars and it soaked into me. It became the soundtrack to my life for a good few months.

    I would occasionally visit it from time to time over the next few years, re-living the joy it brought me and indulging in some harmless nostalgia.

    Then one day, while I was doing my Masters degree, a group of us decided to go on a camping trip. It was Peter, his sister, her boyfriend, Brian, Mark, his ex-girlfriend (kinda-sorta) and myself. We were to drive to the site overnight and wait outside the booking office to book sites for the Labour Day weekend. It was first-come, first-served so we wanted a site, a good site, if possible.

    The drive up was split into two groups, Brian, Mark and myself in my (now-wife, then-) girlfriend's car, everyone else in a mini-van. Brian was exhausted; he hadn't slept well all week. Mark and I were super-excited to go camping. We were bouncing off the walls. We left Montreal around sunset and halfway there it was pitch black. It was three hour trip and Brian was asleep into the first hour. Mark started poking through some of the CDs I brought since we were out of radio range and radio static makes for poor driving music.

    "Hey! Weezer!"

    He and I swapped tales of love for the CD and we popped it in.

    It was the end of summer and September in Quebec is my favourite month. The days are not too hot but still warm enough to wear a t-shirt and shorts. The nights, well, the nights are a perfect symphony of weather. A cool breeze that makes you want to wrap up tight with a tinge of the August humidity that keeps you warm. Together, a bliss of comfort from Mother Nature's heart. That September night, Mark and I rolled down a long Canadian highway, a rectangle of night sky and concrete before us, a sleeping man behind us and Weezer's "Blue Album" flying out the speakers.

    The first song was set at a reasonable level, after all, we had a sleeping passenger to consider. But, slowly, the volume rose. I don't know how or who started it, but by the second song, Mark and I were mercilessly belting out full-volume accompaniments to Rivers. We both knew every word, every guitar screech and solo. We were obnoxious, off-tune and letting it rip at 120 km/h. Brian didn't stir, he was in some deep REM coma.

    Eventually, the album wrapped up and our singing was concluded, breathless and exhilarated. The camping trip itself ended up being outstanding. Amusing anecdotes of canoeing, breathtaking scenerey and sunsets, we even managed to get a site with a little bit of beach. Some wine under the nighttime sky watching satellites and shoting stars. Flawless weather. Great company. But the memory of me, alive, brazenly blasting out a piece of myself through a slim disc, stands with me to this day. It is etched in the secret place we all have for moments that thrill us. I may not always be conscious they are there but when that feeling is evoked that surge of memory brings a quiet smile to my mouth and, once again, a trill of vitality courses through me.

    A dark, crowded car. Trees, deep green and innumerable, flying by my periphery. Friendship, a bond that resonates. And music, music that lives inside of me, is still a part of me, escaping this physical shell into the glorious shape of a memory.


    There is a mathematician in the Congo hoping he carries enough ammunition. There is a poet in the Gaza Strip with a heart filled with vitriol. A biologist sells drugs on a street corner in Mexico City wondering why his brother was kidnapped last week. A playwright wastes away from his drug regimen in the Sudan. There are two siblings, comedians, weaving carpets in India unsmiling. A physicist wanders outside my door looking for a warm doorway or an air vent.

    The day must come when we can all do the things we should be doing. Change must be brought to our systems and societies, our cultures of consumption and disposability, our selfishness and short-sightedness.

    Do it. Do it today by taking the time to evaluate your purchases and the companies you buy from. Do it now by volunteering your time, the only thing you can truly give. Do it immediately by identifying and challenging hate and fear in all its forms but most importantly identify and challenge the hate and fear in yourself. Do not placate your conscience with vague promises of "later". Act locally and try to see the consequences of your own everyday actions. Do it so that we individuals can shape what small spheres we do control. Do it so others are not forced to surrender their dreams, their contributions, their roles in our lives to man-made tragedy for surely nature has an infinite store of them.


    I should mention that I have a bet going.

    My claim:
    The Catholic church will allow either
    1) Priests to marry,
    2) Women to become priests.

    His claim:
    A human will set foot on Mars.*

    *Not human remains, real live person walking around like we did on the moon. The astronaut doesn't have to come back.

    The first person to have their claim come true has to visit the other person's house.

    The Catholic church is seriously screwed. There are nearly no new priests coming into the system. They have been rocked by sexual scandal after scandal (and will continue to be hit). I really think they will allow priests to marry before they let women become priests but I figured they could go that route. Besides, I think I have slightly less chance of winning so this helps balance the odds out a bit. There is talk that a new Pope would make one of these changes (maybe, big maybe)

    There is also talk, however, of going to Mars. Yeah. Right. We haven't gone to the moon in over 25 years. We aren't going to Mars until we go to the moon again. We aren't going to the moon until the ISS is done. The ISS has another 15 years or so. Which makes a trip to the moon 15-20 years away, add 15-25 years to go to Mars, and then a couple more years for the trip itself. I figure I have a minimum of 50 years to win this one. I might well be very dead (or just plain dead).

    I think the church has only 25-35 years (one generation) to make some changes or risk facing long-term obliteration. Something's gotta give, Popester. If people land on Mars before the change is made, the Church will be as done as Monarchy. I can live with that. That's almost like winning.

    Besides, in either case, I get to visit or be visited by a good friend of mine years down the road. I know my friends will move away, or I will, at one point or another and I will definitely go out of my way to visit them.

    We're not going to Mars, though. Not in my lifetime. I think it's cool but cool only gets you to the moon. Mars will require a taikonaut.


    Scottish jurist and historian, Sir Alex Fraser Tytler (1742-1813):
    A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.


    True genius is not finding out that 'silence' rhymes with 'violence'. True genius is not beating mailboxes with baseball bats as you drive by in a car. For me to see beauty in an idea, my definition of genius, there needs to be two things: synthesis and emergence.

    Synthesis takes two different and unrelated (not necessarily but the more unrelated, the better) ideas/objects and merges them together to make something new.

    Emergence occurs when two ideas/objects merge and a property emerges from the entity that neither of the components possess on their own.

    Synthesis does not guarantee emergence but emergence requires synthesis. Taking different things and making them new is one of the best things we, as humans, have ever come up with. It is the basis of our innovation and what drives our curiosity. Tolkien, despite what I think of his execution (average), gets a nod from me for a masterful merging of his love of languages with a European mythology. Gehry took curvilinear design and brought it to achitecture. Dirac took his knowledge of math and applied it to the physics of his age. These are examples that I would choose of stunning synthesis and emergence. Each of us admires and respects different types of achievements so take those you would choose to describe as genius (if you capable of the act) and determine if it was the result of synthesis/emergence. I'd be willing to bet that the answer is that it was.

    Those who say you can't get something from nothing are wrong. The act of creation lies hidden in making two things into three.


    When I lie, when I hurt someone's feelings, when I go against a promise, things I strain to avoid but invariably fail to do, I feel bad. A sense of unfairness, a sense that I have done wrong, washes over me. It gnaws it way into my mind, it burrows into my thoughts and eats. It feasts. It holds lavish festivals of gorging upon copious amounts of guilt. It is my conscience and it lives well.

    We humans have devloped social codes of conduct and I have been bred with my own flavour of right and wrong. My parents instilled many qualities in me, to many of which I'm sure to be oblivious, and with that I have developed my own sense of fairness and justice, my little code of honour that I adhere to as strongly as possible. My ability to self-justify is as developed as yours so I am quite aware of my guaranteed hypocrisy. My actions can't possibly align with my beliefs all the time. I'll settle for 25% of the time. I sleep 1/3 of the time, so perhaps I should aim higher?

    What is equally certain is that I have a sense of right and wrong. Some people practice zero-impact camping, where they leave no impact upon the environment in whch they visit for a little tent pitching. Obviously, you can't have zero impact but you can try to minimize that. I would like to live a zero-impact life. I won't even come close. Not by a long shot but I can try to minimize my personal environmental footprint. It makes me feel ill when I knowingly violate that personal belief but I usually don't think about it until afterwards, or I manage to convince myself to indulge.

    These personal crimes do not tickle the back of my brain. They marinate my mind in a searing sauce of self-loathing. I cannot violate the laws of nature but I can and do readily commit sins against my own codes of behaviour, my own definitions of right and wrong. The orbit of Mars will not be altered by my guilt. Fermat's Last Theorem is still solvable even if I trash every belief I have in a ten minute binge. The universe cares not one whit about my definitions of right and wrong. I, and I alone, am responsible for my actions and the ascription of "good" or "bad" to them.

    When people talk about there being an absolute right, it seems unlikely to me. There certainly is an absolute law of gravity. I can give you pretty quick example if we ever meet atop a tall building. The absolute wrong seems to me to be the ability to travel backwards in time, or some violation of the laws of nature. Absolute morality in terms of behaviour is not looking at question correctly.

    Our minds are conditioned to believe what is right is also what is good for the community. Our survival as a species requires a built-in motive force to prevent us from acting against the common good. This is our conscience. We have developed social codes imprinted via both nature and nurture that allow human society to function. The scale of our society has always been growing so these codes have proved flexible enough to allow their modifcation over time. Witness the ever-evolving role of the female in society. We forbid murder, and our consciences, in proper working ordrer, should not permit us to commit it. We know how bad we feel when we transgress in minor ways and we are taught that even bigger violations bring even bigger pains. Small fire hurt, big fire hurt lot.

    So our consciences act not only after the fact but also in a pro-active manner to prevent anarchy from arising in society. We don't need the Minority Report. We already have an evolutionary appendage that prevents all sorts of "bad" acts (ie: destructive to society and the individual), our good ol' conscience.

    Unfortunately, I can work around my conscience, often in ways I'm not even aware of. And you can, too. We all do it, daily. Comforting, isn't it?


    Blogging is going to be very slow, if at all. I used to have a goal of once per week (which ended up being closer to bi-weekly, but c'est la vie) but now it'll only happen if something really strikes my fancy.


    I spent some time thinking about which species would rise to dominance after humans. It's a topic that attracts my attention from time to time.

    I remember reading that ants have the greatest biomass of any species. They would be a great dominant species. The problem would be the warring. They're ants for crying out loud! Some of them are even called army ants! I can imagine the bloodshed already. "Queen declares patriotic deaths worthy. New larvae needed on the front." If humans can't stay at peace very long, how much better are 2 ft-tall, screeching ants going to do? How can you develop a reliable system of government that has dictatorship built into it's breeding? Ants have a shot but slim chance of doing anything with it.
    Rating: Maybe, but needs at least three branches of government.

    Dolphin sounds like a good bet seeing as they have the same brain/body size ratio as chimps and humans. They live in the ocean so would probably have decent odds of surviving whatever wiped us humans out.
    Rating: Great outlook. Keep an eye on these kids in the future.

    Cockroaches? That's a joke. Their reputation is deserved but sentience seems out of their reach. Sorry, you filthy bastards.
    Rating: No chance. Die, vermin.

    I would like to see rats take a shot at it. Tenacious, crafty, work well in groups. The dark horse, to be sure, but able should the call come down the line.
    Rating: Underdogs. Underrats? Under-rated, in any case.

    Cephalopods (squids and their kraken-like ilk) have a decent brain-size for invertebrates. They are dextrous, and live deep, deep in the ocean. These beasts have survived eons. If we're gone, these guys will easily be around to pick up the pieces. sadly, these guys were last in line when they were handing out nervous systems. They have a LOT of evolutionary ground to cover before Squidtropolis shows up.
    Rating: Still living under the sea, terrorizing sailors but not with their cultural contributions.

    The real winner here: raccoons. They already have these pseudo-opposable thumbs. They can readily outsmart a good 50% of humans. They freakin' live in cities already; hell, they prefer it. Good family units, scavenger and hunting skills, omnivores, stripes. They got it all, baby, the complete package. If I'm drafting my all-star team of post-human planet rulers, raccoons are going first pick.
    Rating: Head of the pack. Darwin says: "These bandit-looking buggers are going all the way."