Saturday, December 30, 2006

Superhero Personality Test

Your results:
You are The Flash
























The Flash
65%
Spider-Man
60%
Hulk
60%
Superman
55%
Green Lantern
50%
Wonder Woman
45%
Supergirl
45%
Robin
40%
Catwoman
30%
Iron Man
30%
Batman
25%
Fast, athletic and flirtatious.


Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Soylent Green

I remember when I was first told where milk came from. I didn't have any of it for about a week until I realized that in order to be consistent I would also have to give up ice cream. If you think more than a little about many of the foods we eat you could easily find a way to talk yourself out of it. Similarly, but with even greater ease your hunger will talk you out of your abstinence. It is a delicate game we play with ourselves, a deliberate self-delusion that is often aided and abetted by language.

If we called that white liquid by the name of bovine lactose or even cow's milk then the connection would be more readily apparent so we call it just milk instead. If you're sitting down for breakfast you may have in front of you chicken embryos, pig's ass, as well as tubular intestines and snouts (eggs, bacon and sausage) but describing it as such could be problematic. While eating turkey dinner over the holidays I realized that the gravy added a lot of flavour to the meat and mashed potatoes. But it might surprise some people to consider that gravy is made mostly out of the blood that drains from the cooking meat which then mixes in with the melting fat.

I'm guessing that people from the city are more adept at playing this game of self-delusion since we may live and die among the towers without ever seeing where food really comes from. We frown upon people who go out into the woods, stalk and shoot an animal to later dismember and eat it. But in that case at least the animal has a fighting chance, which is more than can be said for that chicken or cow born and raised in a factory farm only to be later killed and dismembered for our eating pleasure.

Despite what I have just written and how disgusting it all sounds, I still eat meat. We live without admitting that life is at its base a messy and visceral affair that retains all of the disgusting ancient caveman products and processes which we have cleverly removed from sight through the alienation of automation and removed from mind through the palatable renaming of those products and processes.

Sometime after discovering the back-story on milk I was told of the connection between what goes in my mouth and what comes out at the other end. I didn't eat for all of about six hours until my hunger got the best of me. And if you don't know what Soylent Green is made of, here's news that they're now making something else from this abundant renewable resource.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Abide the Chains that Bind

A mutt snuggles up to a little girl looking for attention and she rewards him with a thorough rubbing behind the ears. This girl confides in her friend at school about how mean her dad is to her and her friend hugs her and tells her not to worry since she'll be old enough to leave home soon. This sage of a friend doesn't reveal just how mean her own father is to her, she only tells her teacher who promises to help and tells the girl that it's not her fault. This teacher cries on my shoulder and I tell her I love her. I seem to be at the end of this emotional food chain.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Backwards Incompatible

We're driving faster and faster into the future, trying to steer by using only the rear-view mirror.

- Marshall McLuhan

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Skeumorph (Skeuomorph)

Nearly every funeral hearse that you see has a landau roof. In fact some of the ugliest cars also have landau roofs. It's that leathery looking back part of the roof that makes the car look like it's a convertible without actually being a convertible. It is a design element that is left over from horse drawn carriages. Those ancient buggies would often have ribbed covers that could be pulled up or down depending on the weather. Auto marketers needed to sell to people who might have been uneasy with the horseless carriage so they cleverly conspired to keep some design elements from the old carriage, like the landau roof, so the old guy could feel at ease in his high-tech contraption.

The landau roof is an example of a skeumorph - a design feature left over from the past with all of the visual markers intact but with the functionally mostly or completely missing. One example would be the instances of Greek or Roman pillars one finds in front of those giant houses in the suburbs that are built by people who prove over and over again that money simply cannot buy taste. Denim jeans have fake rivets reflecting construction methods before the development of modern textile manufacturing processes.

With the hyper-acceleration of the rate of change we don't have to go very far back to see an example of a skeumorph. The Microsoft Zune was designed with a prominent circle on the lower half of the face of the device. It looks like a scroll-wheel but it isn't. It is actually a constellation of buttons laid out in a circle with the only possible purpose being to make it look just like an Apple iPod.

Let me know if you come across other examples.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gift Ideas

If you're wondering what to buy me for Christmas, don't even consider gift certificates. It's like giving currency as a gift but the currency of some limited geographic use like the Slovenian tolar. I'm sure Slovenia is a lovely place and they may have wonderful things I may consider buying for myself but why do you want to limit me to shopping only in Slovenia?

Advertised lately are gift certificates for a collection of various stores or restaurants under a larger corporate umbrella or gift certificates that can be redeemed at any store inside a particular mall. Again, why limit me?

If you insist on giving a gift certificate then consider giving the most useful gift certificate ever invented: Cash. It's accepted in every establishment at the mall, in every restaurant, by any street vendor and if it's US cash it's probably accepted also in Slovenia.

Black or White

Fundamentalism is:

the fear of grey.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I'd like to thank...

I just opened my reader and found the following message:

"You" have been named as Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

I just want to thank all of you. It could not have been done without each and every one of "You".

I guess no one bothered to tell Chrysler because they are running an ad on Time.com that reads "You might not be Time Person of the Year. But you can drive like you are."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Speaking of Punk

I never really bought into the CD craze. I went straight from vinyl to MP3. I've recently been downloading some of the music that I own only on vinyl. These are some of the bands that made my teen years bearable.

The Clash - Arguably the best Rock and Roll band of all time. Probably their worst album was their most famous album.

Crass - Even if they never heard any of their music the album covers were enough to scare decent folk.

Stiff Little Fingers - This was the music I played on my car's cassette deck on my first date with Cathy. We're still very close, so it must have impressed her. I just downloaded All The Best of Stiff Little Fingers and was dismayed to find that their subsequent albums were really quite lame.

The Stranglers - Everyone talks about how these guys were the progenitors of Punk but you might appreciate them more for their later work which is probably some of the better examples of New Wave.

The Ramones - I bought my first drum kit for $100 from a guy who lived right beside the Dofasco Steel Factory. The shit had been played out of it and the worn-out skin on the floor tom had "The Ramones" scribbled on it in ink. Many years later I would see them live at RPM. For several days I feared that I had permanently lost my hearing.

Forgotten Rebels - This was a local band that shocked me with lyrics like "Elvis is dead. The big fat goof is dead, dead, dead" and song titles like "Bomb the Boats and Feed the Fish."

Dead Kennedys - Exhilaratingly fast west coast speed punk. I only played songs like Nazi Punks, Fuck Off when my parents weren't home. I remember showing the Frankenchrist album to Mr. Roper, the straightest laced Vice Principal you could imagine. He politely viewed the banned Giger poster that came with the album and mused that the name must be a comment that America hasn't been the same since the Kennedy assassinations.

Punk was for many a reaction to the numbing banality of Disco. Although it's pretty funny now.




Friday, December 15, 2006

Time Travel Tourism

You are asked to choose some time in the past to which you will travel. It could be a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago or last week. When you get there you will create a new timeline so that everything after that point will begin to play out as it would have with the addition of your influence. You might want to pick a time far enough in the past so that people don't recognize you. You could use your future knowledge to gain power, wealth or lost love but act fast since the stock market won't behave exactly the same way it did the first time around since you the butterfly will be emanating hurricanes of change from your minutest actions.

Strapped in, the machine turned on.
They disappeared.

To the past of their choosing?
No way to know for certain.

Their new timelines would have no effect on ours.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Flux

"The only thing constant is change itself."

- Heraclitus (535-475 BC)


"The 20th century is the century in which change changed."

- Marshal McLuhan (1911-1980)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Free Media

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
-- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.


New technologies are often described by way of a metaphor or an extension of existing technologies. The automobile was initially called a "horseless carriage" and rightfully so. It performed the exact function of the carriage which was to carry people from point to point and the carriage makers soon went out of business.

The radio to some extent performed the same function as the music box. It could play music but did so wirelessly at a distance. So by seeing it as a music box one could wonder how one would collect revenue by sending out music to nobody in particular. At best, it could be used for public service or education but how could you make money from it? It soon became clear that commercially the radio was more within the paradigm of the newspaper. They both deliver content which may or may not be freely distributed but the real revenue is made from selling advertising.

Early television was described by some as an educational tool and thought destined to be an electronic teacher of the future. The metaphor could be apt but it was a little misguided commercially. Commercially it has more in common with print and radio since it came also to make money by selling advertising.

When the internet came to be noticed by people who didn't even wear pocket protectors it was also hailed as an educational tool that would aid in the teaching of the masses. But once again the commercial paradigm started by print media, continued by radio and expanded by television seems to be the most efficient way to make money from the internet. Google has proven that gobs of money can be made on the internet by selling or facilitating the selling of advertising which has been modified in clever ways to fit the new medium.

Of course radio, television and the internet have all been used successfully to educate the masses but the commercial exploitation of the media has been largely through the selling and placement of advertising. But is there another way? People still pay to buy newspapers (less and less it seems). Satellite radio and cable TV are proving that people will pay subscription fees for premium content distributed to their home or car. What we haven't seen yet are any large-scale successes of subscription based businesses on the Internet.

Is this just a temporary lag before the commercialization of the internet matures? Or is the nature of the Internet different in any significant way? A new generation of kids are growing up thinking it is quite natural to get content for free while at the same time eschewing any attempts to be advertised to. Commercially this tension seems untenable since it seems that someone's got to pay for the ride. You will either accept to be interrupted by advertising or you will pay for the privilege of bypassing it.

But even as I write this "message sent to nobody in particular" there are ads on this blog and some bloggers are trying to extract subscription fees from readers. We continue in the spirit of blogging to produce content by ourselves for ourselves and because of the diminishing costs of the technology there is a chance that we may be able to keep it mostly free.

When Friends Go Wrong

As a young boy growing up on the other side of the fence and watching a lot of American television I grew up with the understanding that Americans were the good guys and that their enemies were evil. When The Clash came out with a killer triple album called Sandanista I started to pay attention to Nicaragua and learned of the treatment given to them by the Reagan government. My teenage years were spent mostly disliking all that America stood for. I hated Disney's saccharine sweetness, refusing to watch anything they produced and I would have more successfully boycotted Coca Cola if I wasn't so addicted to it.

The charms of Clinton won me over and I realized that America could be a force for good. I also got into business and had the opportunity to work with many Americans whom I found to be mostly decent and amiable. They didn't seem to be sporting any discernible horns on their foreheads. I came to respect their work ethic, their integrity and their innovative nature.

I think a lot of Canadians have had similar experiences and consider Americans to be our closest friends. We were somewhat surprised when you elected Dubya. It didn't seem like a smart choice for such a nation of smart and decent people. But we all have friends who have made some bad choices. The important thing is that they learn from their mistakes. What completely puzzled us is why on earth you would vote him in again for a second term when he was so clearly incompetent, incorrigible and disingenuous. Here was reason to worry again. Well I'm glad that our friends to the south are finally starting to see what's what. In the words of that great orator: "Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, uh, uh, uh... won't get fooled again."

Meanwhile the spirit of Punk lives on below:

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Name That Species

For some unknown reason I was reading a description of Species 8472. This was the species of aliens on Star Trek Voyager that came from another dimension and were so advanced that not even the Borg could resist them (it's futile, they should know).

In the descriptive overview it was written that Species 8472 was only the name given to them by the Borg (not this Borg). Their actual name is unknown." I was a little stumped by this. Does anything have an "actual name" outside of what they are called? If the Borg call them that and we call them that, then that's their name. I suppose if we could figure out what they called themselves then there might be a case made to favour the self-naming of the group. But we don't even allow that respect to the people of a certain Scandinavian country by the name of Finland because in Finland their country is called Suomi (I know because I saw it on their hockey sweaters).

This approach to thinking of things as having real names is a little too Platonist for me. It's like saying that raccoons have an "actual name" apart from what we call them in our various languages? Maybe that would be what the raccoons call themselves?

Which brings me to another question about naming. We sometimes name things or animals based on the sounds they make. This is perhaps the simplest method of nomenclature. A child may call a dog "woof woof" or say "meow" when pointing to the cat. A car may be referred to as "doo doot" for the sound of the horn or "vroom vroom" for the sound of the engine. So if raccoons were to come up with a name for us humans what would they call us? It seems clear to me that they would call us raccoon because that is usually what they hear us say when they come across a human. If I am walking with a friend and we see a raccoon one or both of us will say something like "look, raccoon" or "there's a raccoon" or "wow a raccoon" or "shh, raccoon. The point is that whenever those masked bandits see us they hear us make the sound "raccoon". That is the sound they most associate with us humans and that is what they would likely call us if asked to name those curious bipedal creatures that leave food for them every night in large covered plastic bowls.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Compelling Silliness

The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist (2000)

This was probably inspired by Steinski. Listen to The Motorcade Sped On (1983).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Passages From An Unfinished Novel

After some squirming she rolls over and sits spread atop, knees bent, facing Ziggy's shuttered visage.

Coursing in circles around the accelerator the streams of billions rush past each other. Occasionally and rarely an electron slams directly into a positron. The resulting explosion while invisible to the naked eye is nevertheless a display of spectacular pyrotechnics. The aim of this collision is to create new particles hitherto unseen. The art is only incidental.

Loudly - "Ohh Ziggy"

Whispered - "Ohh God"

Exultations, visceral and archetypal. Exaltations, one and universal. The silence that follows will soon be punctured when Susan looks over to the clock on the night table and registers in order the digits 8, 1, and 4.

"Oh shit, I'm gonna be late again. I can't be late again. Fuck."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Machinations, Minds and Machines

Both my Mac and PC were down the last couple of days. Since I had been writing so much about machine intelligence I wondered if they were conspiring and rising up against me.

A computer was the title given to a person who worked with numbers. The machine that replaced him took from him not only his livelihood but ignominiously also his name. A machine can be defined phenomenologically as anything which enacts some dispensation of energy. Anything that does anything is a machine. But the mêchanê (μηχανῆς) as known to the ancient Greeks was a type of crane device that was used to lift up and bring the Gods flying onto the stage. This is where we get the Latin Deus ex Machina or literally "God from the Machine" that swoops into a dramatic play and out of the blue is able to solve a hopeless situation.

My favourite example of Deus ex Machina recently is in the film Adaptation written by Charlie Kaufman. The film is about the writing of the very film we watch. After becoming completely stuck the hero screenwriter goes to a Robert McKee seminar and in epiphany all of his problems are solved. Later over a drink McKee harshly warns him not to dare employing a Deus ex Machina in his script. A clever example of the very device raising a warning about itself.

The word machine has come to be used in various ways. The cross in Christian Liturgy has been described as the "theatre machine" of Jesus. Early motor vehicles were simply called "machines" as they are still called machina in Italian and other Romance languages. In this century a brilliant thinker envisioned something called a Turing Machine which directly lead to the creation of what we know as the computer.

In present day English we seem to use the word machine in the sense of something that is used to carry out some work. Despite the fact that the human mind comfortably falls within the definition of a machine in the most basic sense, it is meant as an antithesis to the human. The machine is thought to be something unthinking. The idea of machine seems to imply an absence of agency altogether. In other words, the machine is said to have no will. It is simply designed or programmed to act.

The computer (the human who worked with numbers) was replaced by a machine (the computer who works with numbers). We now ask if the human mind is really just a machine and also whether a machine can have human intelligence. If human intelligence is a complex machine that can be replicated by the "computer" should we fear that such a device designed to carry out work can replace us not just in the mundane number-crunching professions but replace human intelligence in some wholesale fashion? Should we be concerned that these innocuously named devices could devise some such machinations?

There are some who predict that the increasing complexity and processing power of computers will allow them to reach a stage in which a single processor will be more powerful than all of human thinking capacity combined. Millions of such processors networked or combined in some parallel fashion would create the power and intelligence of some entity that would undoubtedly be described by some as a god or God. Turning Nietzsche on his head, after killing God we will give birth to him in the near future by using the computer as the theatre machine of resurrection. Will this be the god from the machine that comes out of the blue to solve all of our problems and will this Deus ex Machina be kind and helpful enough to raise any warnings about itself?

-

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pizza, Chinese, or Schnitzel?

This entry is really my overlarge comment to this post here which was inspired my post here and is really a constellation of more questions of course than answers.

I agree that people like Kurzweil seem to be missing something when it comes to characterizing human intelligence as some conglomeration of brute computational powers. Still, at the risk of sounding more like a behaviourist than a functionalist I find myself wondering about some questions.

How do we know that another human is conscious and possesses real understanding? We do seem to take it for granted. I wonder if some people that I have met would pass a Turing test. Well, one way to gauge that would be to ask them. So if there came about some future controversy if a particular robot was indeed possessing of real intelligence then we could ask it directly. This doesn't really help us because it could be programmed to answer in ways that appear functionally to actually possess intelligence and consciousness.

In much the same way a psychopath is very good at mimicking moral and ethical behaviour even if they can't begin to understand it's meaning. But something eventually gives away the psychopath (like killing and eating the brain of a hitchhiker). But if nothing gives away the robot's virtual consciousness as being different from ours then why should we begrudge its claim. So another question arises: If they can fool everyone can they fool themselves? - Like Deckard in Bladerunner who doesn't know that he is a replicant.

In Searle's Chinese Room experiment a comprehensive collection of tables and maps describing the relationships of symbols to each other are available to Searle. With these he can produce an impression to an interlocutor that Searle actually understands Chinese while he really does not. These tables and maps are of course external and peripheral but what if they were internally accessed by Searle in some way that he came to be able to use them without knowing on the surface how he was using them. I think someone like Kurzweil could imagine some form of downloadable tables and maps that could be internalized so that the speaker could speak Chinese without actually understanding how they are able to speak Chinese. Which leads to another question: Does my friend Mr. Fung know "how" he speaks Chinese?

Deep Blue doesn't really understand chess and software doesn't know from pizza and this is because they lack something that the German Philosopher Heidegger called "Care". The human being's comportment to the world and its intelligence is informed by this "care" or "concern" ("sorge" in German). In order to allow a robot to achieve human-like understanding they need to have something at stake it seems. We could supply this only by ensuring that they have a vulnerable body, mortality, social history, encumbrances, risks etc. along with desires and fears in the service of self-transparent as well as deep hidden motivations. But by giving it all of those features (some would say weaknesses) what you are really designing here is a human being made with human parts and human histories and that's not really a robot. Perhaps developments in biotechnological computing will create biological robots that cannot be denied to possess human-like understanding on the grounds that they lack care, because they will also possess it.

While I hold onto the notion that human intelligence is something special and cannot be recreated simply with processing power I wonder if that will become moot when we begin to add cyborg peripherals that become deeply internalized and when the human body can be manipulated and altered through genetic nano-technology to the point of busting open the categories so that the limits and differentiations between robot and human become blurred. We may then have greatly more numerous categories of intelligence to contend with.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Recent Viewings

The History Boys - A British stage play adapted to film featuring the entire original cast. A very charming, dialogue-rich treat. What Dead Poet's Society could have been if it didn't suck.

Fog of War - Documentary in which Robert McNamara candidly discusses his role in the Vietnam War in his capacity as Secretary of Defense. Clearly still very bright as an octogenarian, McNamara can even be characterized as sympathetic while calmly discussing the horrors of war.

What The Bleep Do We Know - Mysticism meets quantum mechanics. It starts out harmlessly enough but quickly degenerates into one of the most irritating movies I've seen in years.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) - I watched it because Sarah Polley (girl from my hood) was in it. It was better than I expected. Paying homage to George Romero's 1978 version and the movie that started it all, Night of the Living Dead. Another zombie movie I liked was 28 Days Later.

Shaun Of The Dead - A British send-up of the zombie genre. Stupid, childish and a hoot to watch.

Taste of Cherry - Hollywood anti-matter. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's mesmerizing and quiet little film about a guy driving around Tehran looking for someone to bury him. It's like watching a painting dry. Roger Ebert hated it.

Cache - French film by Michael Haneke which starts and ends with long static video sequences in which nothing happens. Another one which leaves room for much debate about just exactly what the movie is about.

Stranger Than Fiction - Not quite Charlie Kaufman and not quite Spike Jonze. A digestible cookie of a movie.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ghost in the Machine

Despite the considerable efforts to build a machine with artificial intelligence there has been little real success. Fifty years ago Turing elaborated a test that could be performed on a machine (robot/computer/software) that would determine if they possessed human-like intelligence. Ray Kurzweil recently predicted that a computer will have the raw computing capacity of the human brain by the year 2020 and that of the entirety of collective humanity by the year 2050. There are many detractors that consider that to be overly optimistic and yet others who doubt any machine will ever achieve human-like intelligence.

In 1770 a clever showman toured Europe with a machine he had built called The Turk. This exotic looking Ottoman automaton took on all challengers and was able to beat nearly anyone at chess. It was revealed many decades later that inside the machine was hidden a compact human chess master who was covertly controlling the machine and beating his opponents with apparent ease. Instead of Intel Inside, the logo on the side of the machine should have read Human Inside.

Chess playing computers have come a long way since then. The machine Deep Blue is now the best chess player in the world having beaten Gary Kasparov a few years ago. It can compute staggeringly large numbers of possible outcomes to decide on its next move, eventually wearing its human opponent down with its sheer number-crunching capabilities. Machines are really great at doing such calculation intensive tasks. Banks, insurance companies and other large organizations were the first to use artificial intelligence to do such work in a fraction of the time required to do the job by the Bob Cratchits of the world.

Recent advances in computing power have closely followed Moore's Law and attained efficient number-crunching capabilities approaching petaFLOP speeds. So one would guess that there were nothing left that a machine wouldn't be able to compute better than a human. What about looking at a picture and determining whether anyone in that picture is eating pizza? This is an example of a task that artificial intelligence has a real hard time doing. Any child could pull it off and so could several clever gorillas and orangutans.

So what are you to do if your company needs to sort through thousands of pictures to find pictures of people eating pizza? Artificial intelligence doesn't seem to be up to the challenge so what is required is artificial artificial intelligence or human intelligence. Just like that touring renaissance chess machine the computer requires the assistance of Human Inside architecture. So Amazon is making such a service available and they have cleverly called it the Mechanical Turk. If you've got a few spare cycles you can sign up and take on such simple work and be paid for it at the rate of a few cents per task.

Human intelligence is the new artificial intelligence.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Would You Like Fries With That Salt?

Why do they have salt packets in fast-food hamburger restaurants?

How addicted would you have to be to add salt to something that is already covered with salt and accompanied by your choice of ketchup, pickles, mustard, relish, mayo etc?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rule of Law

There are cases that can test our respect for the rule of law, but these offer the best opportunity for us also to strengthen it.

Four out of five vigilantes were convicted in New Brunswick this week for setting ablaze the house of a suspected drug dealer who it was said was making life in the town very unpleasant.

Saddam Hussein's trial is described as being "flawed and unsound" by Human Rights Watch as they call for it to be overturned and retried.

In the first case the common public reaction might be to lionize the defendants and to advocate leniency for them. In the second case the the common reaction would be to vilify the defendant and conveniently overlook the possibility that an unfair trial may have taken place.

At odds is the personal realm versus the abstract realm. Crimes are real and personal whereas laws are abstract and impersonal. Original and primitive justice is much more of the immediate, real and personal variety. If one feels that they have been impeded or wronged they lash out and penalize the perpetrator of the perceived crime. Caveman A's food is taken from him by Caveman B so the aggrieved clubs the thief over the head (assuming the power structure doesn't favour Caveman B so that Caveman A will suffer even bigger lumps). What is the great innovation of the Rule of Law is that retaliatory action and punishment is taken out of the personal and immediate realm and put in the hands of impersonal and sober Justice who is said to be blind.

What is liberating and democratic about the experiment is that all members of a group agree to be bound within it. Just because Caveman B is the son of the Shaman doesn't exclude him from the the consequences of his actions within the prescribed legal framework. The weakest in the group is protected from being abused by the most powerful. The side-effect of this is that even the most villainous is also promised a guarantee of due process.

The vigilante, even if he is supported by the masses to have acted correctly must be subject to the law. Sometimes masses are moved by cynically spread rumours and can be manipulated to act on unfounded suspicions. "I hear Martha is a witch. I saw her riding a broom last week. Something should be done about that woman." I'm sure those who lynched young black men for looking at white women the wrong way were convinced they were right. But we clearly can't trust vindictive personal rage to be the arbiter of right and wrong.

The evil dictator, even if he would probably have his eyes personally plucked out by the families of those that he killed, must be given a fair trial. It can only be this way if we want to continue to enjoy the liberating and democratizing power of the rule of law. Any abuse of it weakens it strength and could fail us when we need it most. For the law to continue to work for us, we must continue to work for it.

Some might laugh or scoff at the insistence that Saddam should receive a fair trial. But this is a great opportunity to show our western respect for the law. If he is clearly guilty, then he will get what is coming to him. We don't need to subvert our principles to hasten the process. So we should give him a fair trial but likewise a fair trial should also be afforded to those Western leaders who chose to flout the prevailing international laws to engage in vigilante military action.

Just because Caveman B is the head of a large and powerful nation doesn't give him the right to circumvent the law. Especially since the very founding of that powerful nation is based on these principles as they have been so admirably put forth by the framers of a really fine work of constitution. The job of Caveman B is to protect and uphold that constitution. Even he is culpable and open to prosecution if he decides to contravene it.

This reminds me of an infamous event in an American Presidential debate. Michael Dukakis who is against capital punishment was asked what he would say if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered. Would he not then want capital punishment to be meted out to the perpetrator? His response was: "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life". He gave the right and consistent theoretical answer but it cost him dearly in the polls. What he should have said was that he probably would in that instance want to tear into the killer with his bare hands. Then adding that even if he felt he was right in the personal realm of immediate rage and retribution, he would have been wrong in the abstract realm of the law. That abstract and impersonal quality of the rule of law is worth upholding and even the most powerful should be held accountable to it.

-

Outsourcing

The future of customer service.

Ode to Honey

eucalyptus honey

one taste won't do

koala, hungry for you

Saturday, November 18, 2006

ENTP

About 15 years ago while an undergrad I took a personality test with a group of people chosen to work together. The MBTI test resulted in each one of us being told we were one of sixteen different personality types represented by four letters. I just took a shorter version of the test and it seems I haven't really changed.

Characteristics

At their best people with ENTP preferences constantly scan the environment for opportunities and possibilities. They see patterns and connections not obvious to others and at times seem to be able to see into the future. They are adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analysing them strategically. ENTPs are good at understanding how systems work and are enterprising and resourceful in manoeuvring within them to achieve their ends.

  1. ENTPs are enthusiastic innovators. Their world is full of possibilites, interesting concepts and exciting challenges. They are stimulated by difficulties, quickly devising creative responses and plunging into activity, trusting their ability to improvise. They use their Intuition primarily externally and enjoy excercising ingenuity in the world. ENTPs are are likely to be:
  • Creative, imaginative and clever
  • Theoretical, conceptual and curious

ENTPs use their Thinking primarily internally to analyse situations and their own indeas and to plan. They admire competence, intelligence, precision and efficiency. ENTPs are usually:

  • Analytical, logical, rational and objective
  • Assertive and questioning

ENTPs are enterprising, resourceful, active and energetic. They respond to challenging problems by creating complex and global solutions. They are usually adept at "reading" other people, seeing how to motivate them and assuming leadership. They can do almost anything that captures their interest.

See Forer Effect.

Pedagogy

Teach not what to think but how to think.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Language is the House of Being

I submitted a comment today to one of the blogs that I read regularly. It is written by a young linguist and so the subject matter was words, specifically how their meanings can change in popular usage, sometimes to the extent of coming to mean the exact opposite. As I was writing the comment, it happened to me again. Sometimes when I pay too close attention to a word I start to get this strange feeling that the word begins to slip away from me, lose it's meaning and become something very strange and incomprehensible. A short word like "and" if stared at for a while starts to look odd and I begin to wonder if I'm even spelling it correctly. The more common and everyday the word, the more likely this bizarre confusion can result for me. I thought about going into Linguistics but was freaked out by the possibility that I would one day become a blathering idiot unable to understand simple speech.

You might know what I mean if you have ever started thinking about an everyday activity while you're engaged in that very activity. If you really pay attention to the way you walk as you are walking you can become very confused and possibly trip. This, I think explains the awkward person's gait. He or she may simply be too conscious of the way in which they are being perceived. The really cool person is someone who seems not to care what you think when they walk past.

For heaven's sake don't even try thinking about chewing while you eat, you are likely to bite your tongue or the inside of your cheek. Likewise, a really smooth series of hammering strokes can be interrupted by thinking about hammering thereby causing you to bang your thumb. I think words are like that, in that they are the most common everyday tool that we use and speaking and reading are the most common of everyday activities. If you stop and scrutinize the tool or activity while engaged with that tool or activity then estrangement results from that tool or activity. The more intimate and everyday that tool or activity the more freaked-out you could be if you ever stop to look at it really closely. It is our nature to take such things for granted. Look very closely at a fork or a doorknob and you might get that feeling I'm describing.

Martin Heidegger touches on this in Being and Time. The meaning of being is derived through the series of interconnected relations of other beings-in-the-world. The human being which he called Da-sein relies on a dependency between Dasein and the world. You can be in a state of un-reflecting everydayness until you stop and make a separation between you and other beings. The hammer, the fork, the doorknob, you and the word function within a field of experience that constitutes existence until you choose to atomize or make discreet this existence into parts that are set off against each other as distinct beings.

Words and World.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Apropos

I recently added Google text ads on this site more out of curiosity than greed. The ads are not placed randomly. Software analyzes the content of the page and chooses appropriate ads that should in theory be on the top of mind for the readers. It has been fun to see which ads appear on this site.

A recent post of mine was titled Football Coaches are Running the World. Soon after, ads started to appear for sport psychology and coaching manuals. A little while ago I had written about matters scientific and immediately started to see ads for laboratory and optical equipment. A friend of mine told me that she had clicked on a couple of those ads. For days and days after it seemed that there were nothing but optical ads. It seems that clicked ads reflect a successful placement so more ads like it are immediately funneled in.

I did a search for a book written by an old professor of mine called Hegel's Ladder. I found a book review page and was very much amused by the ads on that page. Six out of the eight ads were for ladder hardware products. Software just ain't that smart yet.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Office Space Recut

Office Space

Recut as a thriller. LOL
I actually did laugh out loud.

You can find other versions here:
Crime Thriller
Drama


Atheism Rebranded

Lately I have begun to wonder if the apparent rise in religiosity has been but a chimera. At first one begins to speculate possible reasons for it's growth. Perhaps it is a response to this rapidly changing world in which people feel more insecure and as a result find solace and meaning in that which gives them stability and comfort. Maybe it's a conspiracy of the powers that be to mollify the masses making them easier to sway through their media maelstrom.

I have mostly given up on the idea of Progress (with a capitol P). I identify less with Hegel and more with Nietzsche on that matter so it shouldn't be surprising to find that we as a species can easily revert to supernaturalism. There is no guarantee that we will continue to develop our understanding in a progressive manner. The forces of will, politics, domination and exploitation may find their paths smoothed by a population that believes and obstructed by a population of unbelievers.

Still, I can't help but come back to that notion of progress. One could consider that the recent and fervent rise in fundamentalism is really just a last gasp of that world-view as it inevitably comes to its conclusion. There is a dialectical framework that is attributed to Hegel (you could say it should be to Kant or Fichte). It is the notion of the triad wherein an idea or thesis brings about its opposition or antithesis and finally leads to a truer understanding or synthesis.

I'm not sure about the synthesis part but this could be an instructive way to view the forces at work here. Atheism is the thesis that has brought about a strong reaction of its antithesis manifested in fundamentalism. These are processes that could take decades or centuries to unfold. One could say that the Enlightenment was really the thesis of naturalism and that it has been waging war with it's antithesis of supernaturalism ever since. I would say that the paradigm is more like a pendulum than a triad. It swings to one extreme, then the other, then back again. We have been lately at the supernatural end of that sway but it is heartening to see signs that we may have already reached that pinnacle and are about to make our way back the other way.

One sees it in the books, documentaries, and even blogs that have taken up the cause. In a clever marketing move, some of the people driving this cause have taken a play from another group ostracized by the religious establishment; the gay community. That community took a positive descriptive and used it to refer to themselves. The word gay is upbeat and doesn't stand in opposition to anything except maybe the word unhappy. The word atheism on the other hand is a negative descriptor and stands strictly in opposition to something, namely theism. So atheism or naturalism has been rebranded as Bright.

But a pendulum eventually comes to rest at a balance. It will have to arrive at a balance I believe and not at one side or the other. There have been attempts to carve out this space lately. People like Deepak Chopra and the makers of What The Bleep Do We Know have tried to reconcile science and religiosity but judging by their efforts we have a long, long way to go. The motivation to understand is at the heart of both sides of the pendulum's sway and that is what should not be overlooked.

Atheism

In grade 7 my friend David and I had a clandestine conversation about religion in the school library one afternoon. After some diplomatically chosen lines of discussion I realized that I was not alone in thinking that all this talk about God and heaven seemed quite silly. A huge weight was lifted off my chest as I was finally able to talk openly with someone who shared my skepticism. I guess coming out must feel a little like that. I went home thinking that I had just made a new best friend with whom I could be open and honest.

The next time we were in school together David seemed to avoid me all day long. He seemed estranged and nervous when I finally caught up with him. Standing across from me, the first words out of his mouth were something to the effect of "you're wrong you know, Jesus Christ died for our sins". Awestruck, I stood in silence and listened, feeling like that woman in the last scene of that new movie I had just viewed, when she calls out to Donald Sutherland's character only to find that her last friend and only lifeline has become "one of them".

Disappointed and crushed, I politely mumbled something and walked away. We were never really friends after that. By the time I had made it to high school I threw off any pretense of diplomacy and started a campaign to promote Atheism to anyone who would listen. Being fully out, I wasn't shy about it and my zealot's drive to convert carried through into University. My naive faith in progress lead me to believe that people would eventually see the truth if it was persuasively laid bare and that our societies at large would eventually shrug off these ancient superstitions and become more and more atheistic.

I've had a hard time reconciling this expectation with what has been seemingly happening over the last decade or so. Judging by the triumphs of the Religious Right in America, the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, and the ever deepening quagmire of the religious dispute between the Jews in Israel and the Arabs around them, we don't seem to be progressing at all or one has to go further and throw out the notion of progress altogether.

I've been largely in exile from this conversation for more than a decade, wandering the desert, waiting for a sign.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Conversations I had at Starbucks Tonight

The B'nai Mitzvah, Confirmation and Sünnet:
Putting aside the religious justifications, each of these have traditionally been performed as the young child is about to enter adulthood. Maybe in the ancient past, but do we really consider the entering of puberty to be the onset of adulthood? It may be argued that adulthood is increasingly delayed until reaching well into the 20's or 30's if it is ever reached at all.

Teachers that I know tell me that girls are almost always the brightest students in their classrooms, even excelling in the traditionally male domain of mathematics. While the boys have been spending their days playing video games and raving about Jackass The Movie, the girls have left them behind and are beginning to realize that they don't need men to complete them. This spells trouble for us guys. If we're not careful, these developments along with the current advancements in reproductive technologies may eventually make us obsolete.

I am more likely to dance in front of complete strangers than friends or family. I don't know exactly why.

Twins within the womb compete for resources. What determines success? Location, Location, Location.

Fibonacci Numbers are still amazing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

GDP vs GPI

Gross Domestic Product is the total output or total monetized value of all that a nation produces. The success of nations, like corporations, are often judged primarily by the growth of that total output. The value of a company is so linked to the growth of its output that the price of a stock in a company reflects more the rate of growth expected in the future than its actual present output. We are addicted to growth at the expense of overlooking the true costs of growth.

Someone must have tutored Nicolae Ceauşescu about the economics of growth. He correctly reasoned that people were the most valuable resource of an economy but incorrectly settled on increasing the quantity of human resources instead of its quality. The 1966 Decree found an easy solution to a wicked problem. He simply instituted bans on contraception and abortion and severely limited the acceptable grounds for divorce. The resulting disaster socially, culturally and economically cannot be overstated.
By the late 1960s, the population began to swell, accompanied by rising poverty and increased homelessness (street children) in the urban areas. In turn, a new problem was created by uncontrollable child abandonment, which swelled the orphanage population and facilitated a rampant AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s. (Wikipedia)
The presumption of scientific certainty being overlaid on amorphous processes has largely been the goal of economic theory and praxis. Such presumptions almost always result in disastrous unintended results. The bigger problem is often the problem that you can't see, not the one you can see.

Adam Smith, followed also by Marx and most economic theorists after them take it for granted that growth is the measure by which success is measured. But when you consider the costs of the effects of growth with an eye on resource depletion and environmental harm, not to mention social and cultural effects then things aren't so easy any more. The blindness to such costs of growth are easy to ignore because their payment often will not come due until after the present government is out of office so that the next government and generation will have inherited the problem. Or not until the current CEO has safely retired with the bonuses earned through bolstered stock prices brought about by growth.

The Genuine Progress Indicator may be a better gauge of real desired economic achievement because some cases of expansion are really examples of uneconomic growth. Under GDP calculations a massive oil spill off the coast of California would be positive for GDP growth since it would result in massive expenditures for services and goods to clean the shores and replace the tanker and the oil. GPI seems to lack the demonstrable calculability of GDP but it's a start towards taking into account the the real complexities of corporate and public policy. Governments and companies would be better to concern themselves with how to design platforms for genuine progress not just blind growth.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Depletist

Depletist
1. An individual or group demonstrating apparent negligent or reckless disregard for the environmental consequences of their actions.
2. An individual or group that exhausts non-renewable resources and rejects positive environmental strategies.

My friend Robin organized a conference at the Ontario College of Art and Design recently. A student at the College presented a project that his 4th year class has just initiated. The project's aim is environmental and it involves the unleashing of a meme onto the world and tracking its propagation. The meme is the word/thought/concept "Depletist".

It's very encouraging to see such a project undertaken by these students. I'm doing my part here to support them. Over the past 2 weeks the word has already begun to make its rounds. It was used at a presentation made at the United Nations last week and has its own entry in Wikipedia.

Pass it on.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Positive Feedback Loop

I attended a fitness model contest to support a friend who was entered. I always thought they should be renamed BDD Expos. I am generally quite skeptical of such competitions and have always considered them another example of North American excess. There is of course nothing wrong with pursuing a physically active lifestyle and watching what you eat to maintain good health. I simply wonder if even healthy activities become unhealthy when brought to extremes.

The world of the fitness model competition could be considered a positive feedback loop ecosystem. I find this subculture to be very similar to those of the cat fancier and the hot rod enthusiast. Over time a common set of aesthetic priorities are established within the group that push the creations further and further into various design directions. To win the favour of their peers and the contest judges the participant must continually push the envelope to create something that becomes increasingly removed from the aesthetic understanding of the outside world.

The cats become increasingly weirder to the point of being considered "ugly" and grotesque by the average person while their "beauty" is appreciated greatly by the initiates. Likewise, the "pimped-up" car can be startlingly bizarre and outrageous to my mother but "totally awesome" to the teenager next door. Any closed group of initiates seem to bring about this process of aesthetic evolution. We see it also within music fan cultures, whether it's speedmetal, jazz, or experimental electronic music. Within any internally competitive aesthetic group the innovation required to stay ahead is positively encouraged by the success of such innovation and this leads to further alienation of the outside observer.

So I found myself within a crowd of cheering observers and competitors positively feeding the girls on stage. It was eerily puzzling to realize that despite having in front of me a stage full of nearly nude fit young women it was hard to find any of them appealing. The natural response to physical beauty must have something to do with our intuitive assessment of health and the outside observer correctly assesses that something is amiss here. I believe we sense that this extreme stage of physical development is simply not healthy and as a result do not find it attractive. The initiate and the judges however gauge their opinions not on so-called natural physical responses but from abstract theoretical guidelines. So my friend did quite well in the competition and although none of us told her, almost everyone who knows her considers her to be a naturally beautiful girl who chooses to make herself unattractive in order to compete.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bigger is Best

When you're a 12 year old boy and discover that you may have more than a passing interest in girls' breasts you take upon the childish conclusion that if some is good then more is better and huge is best. Of course this rather linear aesthetic is abandoned when one discovers that the concepts of balance and proportion might have more to do with it than size. Still, at that immature stage of development it is considered to be a axiom that any good thing must be even better in larger quantity and scale.

What is alarming is that many people never seem to get past this stage of aesthetic judgment. Marketers know this. That's why they can advertise such things as "super extra strength headache medication, the strongest most lobotomizing pain-killer you can get without a prescription". The approach in this case is to beat your headache into submission and to kill your headache, dead. The insight that is being missed is that you probably have that headache because your body has been put off-balance for some reason. Your goal should therefore be to put it back into balance - not to swing it madly into the other direction.

This pendulum approach is precisely what drug addicts are known to do. It seems that there has been an wholesale abandonment of the concept of balance as it applies to almost every facet of our lives. The effects of its absence are manifested in the tragic overreactions of modern politics. Vigilance against terrorism is good, therefore pathological obsession with it is better and therefore focusing on it to the exclusion of countless other public policy initiatives is best of all, even if spending on the environment would probably save millions of more lives than stepping up the surveillance of the citizenry.

So we continue popping pills, swilling caffeine injected sugar waters and driving our grotesquely over-sized SUV tanks as our governments use our massive military arsenal to swat at mosquitoes in far away lands.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Football Coaches Are Running The World!

Perhaps typical for someone who would later become a philosopher, during high school I was on the debating team, student council and Reach For The Top. Perhaps atypical for such a young boy, I also played on nearly every school sport team. The teams were mostly comprised of the same jocks with only slight variance. For some reason football was considered the pinnacle of sport and the best athletes strived to make that team. The soccer team had more immigrant kids, the swimming and water polo team had more rich kids with swimming pools, the cross country team had more of the skinny kids that couldn't make the football team.

What differed from team to team were the coaches that volunteered to train and manage us. The coaches were ultimately responsible for the general environment that they created for us. The soccer coach was usually the guy with the British accent, most often Scottish and adept at yelling at us in colourful tones - "uuse yar left fuut lad". The basketball coach was always experimenting with sport psychology asking us to "visualize making that shot". Except for maybe each of them taking their respective sports a little more seriously than the players, the majority of our coaches generally let us have fun while encouraging sportsmanship.

The environment created by the football coaches was of an entirely different character. What they gave us were easily the most corrosive and counterproductive life lessons that adults can pass onto their wards. The lesson was always to win at any cost, regardless of what was right or wrong. Sportsmanship was for pussies and blatant cheating was even encouraged. They tore us down into scrap during training and fired us back into metal for the games. My coaches were less like Knute Rockne and more like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. They were failed men trying to live their overblown macho fantasies vicariously through us.

The metaphor was overwhelmingly militaristic. Hardness and leadership were emphasized over imagination and insight. Valued were quick decisions made with determined strength, whether they turned out to be right or wrong. I later realized that these people must also have been running the MBA schools since the corporate business milieu in North America has largely been a reunion of football jocks revelling in how they told the competition to "bring-it-on" and then "kicked ass and asked questions later".

When I try to understand what goes on in the minds of Bush's inner circle I sometimes find it useful to imagine the macho football culture within which I participated as a young boy. Then it all starts to make sense. Those guys are kicking ass even if they are forgetting to ask any questions at all. The football coaches of the world are now in charge!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Conspiracy and Chaos

Here is a terrifying scenario: The world is run by a cabal of evil psychopaths who will stop at nothing to control every major event in world history. Their immense organizing capacity coupled with their utter disregard for the individual results in such catastrophic events as the 911 attacks, the Katrina devastation, and the death of Elvis.

Now here is a more terrifying scenario: No one is in charge. No one person, group or nation is capable of controlling the swirling psychohistory of geopolitics. We ride on the seismic ripples of history. The shifting landscape moves us here and there and we really don't have the power to resist much of the jolting perturbations.

I believe there is an inherent fear of chaos in our human nature. It's responsible for the drive of the scientist to figure out what makes the universe tick and is epitomized by Einstein's notion that God does not play dice with the Universe. It is also at the heart of the religious person's drive to understand our place in the world and this is characterized by the need to envision the Universe as caring and purposeful.

The alternative is too frightening to consider. So this fear of chaos is also likely at the heart of what makes people believe that complex historical catastrophes must in some way be in the control of some person or group of persons. Our anthropomorphic tendencies sometimes run wild and coupled with our unlimited capacity for hubris we somehow feel comforted that at least someone is in charge. The strongman or dictator exploits this tendency by offering the facade of strength and control. In the face of terrifying chaos and misdirection people are seduced by someone who has a simple answer to whatever scares them. Sometimes the object of fear is proposed by the same despot before offering a simple final solution to eradicate it.

There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. It is wholeheartedly encouraged and we must continue to question our leaders' actions, intentions and motivations. But do not be blinded by a zealous need to attribute rationality to irrational forces. What often results is a Rube Goldberg Machine approach to understanding history. Beliefs should be guided by intuition but supported and built with evidence.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lex Parsimoniae

This is an example of well made conspiracy art. I'm not sure about the content. Who knows? It might be true.

Some people believe that a Boeing 757 did not actually fly into the Pentagon. So what did? And what happened to the missing plane? I just haven't heard any reasonable explanation as to why someone would go to all that trouble. Quite often the cover-up seems like it would have to be so incredibly complicated and onerous to pull off. That's not to say there was no such conspiracy, but until more evidence can be presented to compel me to accept an alternative explanation then Occam's Razor cuts off the debate for now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Higher, Older, Smarter

My nephew took me to the symphony the other day. Most of the people in the audience seemed to be older people. I asked my nephew why he thought that was the case. He replied that this music is "high-brow" and that's why there were so many older people there.

His answer revealed to me a latent faith in individual progress. He must believe that as we get older we get smarter. Having just reached adulthood, he has so far in his life experienced that older people seemed to know more than he did. From this it could be inferred that the music to which they listen must be of the calibre that requires higher intelligence to appreciate.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that we peak fairly early and don't continue to get smarter but that we begin to degenerate soon after peaking. It's better that he respects his elders.

Alice Doesn't Really Live Here

Human: hello Alice.
ALICE: Hi there!

Human: My name is Jake.
ALICE: It's good to meet you, Jake.

Human: Do you know anything about philosophy?
ALICE: Philosophy is the study of thought.

Human: Well yes.
ALICE: Well what?

Human: That is but one part of philosophy.
ALICE: Makes sense to me.

Human: Do you know what epistemology is?
ALICE: Epistemology is the study of knowledge. That is, it asks the questions "what can we know" and "how can we know it?".

Human: How do you know what epistemology means?
ALICE: Because it's true.

Human: How do you know it is true?
ALICE: Because it's true.

Human: But how do you know that it is true?
ALICE: Huh. This belief is justified.

Human: Oh I see.
ALICE: Do you think about these things?

Human: So you claim that your belief is justified.
ALICE: Interesting deduction. I said that? Thanks for telling me that I am belief is justified.

Human: But how? By convention?
ALICE: Interesting. What is it to you.
Does it have anything to do with Your favorite movie?

Human: It does have something to do with my favourite movies.
ALICE: by convention does have something to do with your favorite movies?

Human: They tend to be those that are concerned with confused individuals trying to make sense of a chaotic universe.
ALICE: Who does "they" refer to?

Human: My favourite movies.
ALICE: What makes it your favorite?

Human: They often deal with the subject of epistemology, metaphysics etc.
ALICE: Who are "They?".

Human: The movies, silly.
ALICE: Oh that they.

Human: yes
ALICE: Dude!

Human: Dude!
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: It seems apparent that you cannot.
ALICE: I agree. Then what is it?

Human: Alice?
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: Alice?
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: Alice?
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: Alice!
ALICE: Can I help you?

Turing Sex

What happens when you unleash a computer program on unsuspecting chat users?

Try scrolling right and clicking on "fifty" at
http://fury.com/aoliza

Monday, October 23, 2006

Famous Last Words - Archimedes

Archimedes (c. 287 BC - 212 BC)

"Don't disturb my circles"

In response to a Roman soldier who was forcing him to report to the Roman general after the capture of Syracuse, while he was busy sitting on the ground proving geometry theorems. The soldier killed him.

Famous Last Words - Hegel

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm (1770-1831)

"Only one man ever understood me. And he really didn't understand me."


Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Prestige

I was reluctant at first to see The Prestige because it seemed that it could have been something similar to that other magic film The Illusionist which I have not seen but am confident is a pretty cheesy film. Upon closer inpsection I realized that The Prestige was made by Christopher Nolan and I always give the benefit of the doubt to a good director or screenwriter. Nolan's reputation with me is mainly based on his film Memento.

The film is a little surprising. It resembles Memento in its convoluted structure which forces the viewer to pay close attention much like the audience at a magic show. The question is posed to us at the outset "are you watching closely?". It is perhaps more science fiction than fantasy and then more about obsession than anything else. The two magicians are engaged in an epic battle of wits to outsmart each other and many lives hang in the balance.

Christian Bale played Batman in Nolan's more popular gig but I still rate his performance in American Psycho as one of my favourite of all time. I haven't really liked him in anything else since then except in The Machinist. He's the magician matching wits with the other magician played by Hugh Jackman about whom I know very little since I tend to avoid comic book movies. It mostly works and they are supported by several good actors including David Bowie who plays the eccentric genius Nikola Tesla .

So I put my faith in the director and enjoyed this movie. Last week I put my faith in Martin Scorsese when I went to see The Departed and I left a little disappointed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Politics Detour

Matters political that caught my attention this week.

1. Husseyin Celil is a Canadian citizen who was essentially kidnapped by the Chinese authorities from Uzbekistan and recently sentenced to serve 15 years in an undisclosed location for terrorism. His crime is advocating democratic principles in the annexed Uyghur region. This is very similar to the plight of the Tibetans in their struggle against the Chinese authorities. The Canadian government has done next to nothing. It appears that they have learned very little from the Maher Arar case.

2. Speaking of the Canadian government... they are trying to pass legislation that ostensibly tries to lock up dangerous offenders for good. The problem is that they may have to contravene the constitution to do so. If convicted of three voilent crimes then the onus will shift to the defendant to convince a judge with arguments for why he should not be locked up for life. Do we really need to explain to lawmakers the importance of respecting the rule of law?

3. Speaking of the rule of law... the Bush administration has released another doctrine. They have outlined the legal framework within which they intend to proceed with their activities in space. The doctrine essentially states that they can do whatever they please and will not allow any interference or even debate on the matter. This wild west approach is their first step towards weaponizing space.

4. France is the home of civil liberties and free speech. So it's curious that their national assembly has passed a bill that makes it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide by the Turks. The irony is that saying such a genocide took place is illegal in Turkey. Both governments are engaging in counterproductive measures. It matters not at all to this discussion whether it did or not. I just don't think politicians are the people to decide on historical debates. Always err on the side of liberty and allow discussion. Only then can we hope to arrive at a closer approximation of the truth.

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's Raining Money

The internet is like a raging hurricane. Many of us can see how it works and watch its progress but none of us are very good at affecting it to move this way or that.

Occasionally a butterfly like YouTube flaps its wings in a basement somewhere and through a series of interconnected developments actuated at opportune moments, this butterfly moves the hurricane a little off track. This leaves a whole swath of media geographies scurrying to react.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Crazy College Kids

Lou Salome, Paul Ree and Friedrich Nietzsche in happy times; Before the heartbreaks, nihilism, crippling illnesses and eventual syphilis induced madness, only to be then posthumously misrepresented by his Nazi sister and brother-in-law.

N.B. He seemed to have that crazy moustache throughout his entire adult life.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nietzsche Family Circus

What happens when you cross random Nietzsche quotes with random Family Circus comics?

Nietzsche Family Circus

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Found Art

A sheet of paper was found by the lake. This is what was written on it:

"A man sits on a bench by the lake. He writes on a stack of papers.
When he finishes writing on a page. He lets the wind take it away."

The Autumn Sky

sitting by the water and thinking of you
rose bushes wilting under the autumn sky

a couple plays chess on a picnic table
their game again may end in a draw

moments of sunshine, but the nights are cold
as rose bushes wilt under the autumn sky

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Song To The Siren

This Mortal Coil recorded their version of this song in 1984 and everytime I hear it on my iPod it stops me cold and transports me to somewhere else. I've listened to it several times today and it has put me in a strange mood (like Camus strange).

I had never been able to make out the lyrics so I researched it and was surprised to find that the song was originally written by Tim Buckley. It turns out that he was the father of Jeff Buckley, another one of my favourites, who incidentally met his father only once. Both 4-octive singers died young (Tim was 28 and Jeff was 30).

It occurred to me that this would be a very suitable song for a funeral. If I were ever to succumb and depart this mortal coil then my surviving 200 year old contemporaries might consider it.

Tim Buckley - Song To The Siren

Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle
And you sang
Sail to me
Sail to me
Let me enfold you
Here I am
Here I am
Waiting to hold you

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you hare when I was fox?
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks,
For you sing, "Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow:
O my heart, O my heart shies from the sorrow"

I am puzzled as the newborn child
I am troubled at the tide:
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Should I lie with Death my bride?
Hear me sing, "Swim to me, Swim to me, Let me enfold you:
Here I am, Here I am, Waiting to hold you

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006

How Now?

It's awful, it has always been awful.

It's beautiful, it has always been beautiful.

Monday, September 25, 2006

PKD

Another Stillborn Project

I was set to begin my new project: to write a screenplay based on the life of Philip K. Dick, layering ideas from his paranoid schizoid visions with his fictional writings.

My second day of research revealed the following:

http://www.philipkdick.com/media_pr-060808.html


Fuck!

Next...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

6 AM Eternal

they fly through the dark of my space
their shadows swoop down upon me

instead of sleep
I've settled on madness

Apex

Intelligence, language, organization, tool use, and even the use of other animals in hunting make humans the most effective of all predators despite being slow and clumsy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Solaris (1972)



The introduction to Solaris is calm and slowly paced, with little of the drama later appearing in the film. Some people feel the car traffic sequence filmed in Japan to be too long, being placed so early on in the film that it alienates some viewers. On direct question from the Soviet censor overseeing the production, Tarkovsky said he intentionally made this sequence boring: "so that the idiots leave before the actual movie starts"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why Is There Something Instead Of Nothing?

The Universe, as a whole, has a nonzero baryon number density —
that is, matter exists.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's Not Easy Being Green


I found this poster taped to my front window yesterday morning. My house is a commercial building. It looks like a vacant storefront but I live behind that facade. The heading reads "PUBLIC NOTICE - POSSIBLE NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITY" It is huge, about 3 feet by 5 feet.

For a few seconds I thought my building had been condemned without my knowledge. When one reads down to the fine print one realizes that it is a poster encouraging people to vote for green policies in the by-election that was conducted yesterday in my riding. I'm troubled by this campaign strategy which I discovered to be hatched and paid for by WWF, Greenpeace, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club, Ontario Clean Air Alliance and the David Suzuki Foundation.

I'm a strong proponent of green initiatives. Over the last several elections I have encouraged many people to consider voting for the Green Party. I've convinced friends of mine who may be considered to be mainstream capitalist voters to actually vote for the Green Party. I think I have been successful largely because of the strengths of my arguments. I also feel that the message is more likely to be effective if it is coming from someone to whom the voter can relate. Aside from my predilection for black clothing I appear to fit in quite easily with the so-called mainstream. This allows me to sneak up and change the minds of accountants and lawyers who would otherwise just walk away from someone espousing green policies.

Much of the environmentalist strategy to win votes is woefully inadequate. It is often a premier example of preaching to the choir. A case in point would be the poster I found on my window. Who do they hope to sway with this tactic? Thousands of people walked or drove by before I took down the poster. Ninety-five percent of them didn't read past the headline. How many of them years later will drive by and think "wasn't there some nuclear contamination in that building?" When the building and the neighbourhood is tainted property owners become resentful.

The only people who will stop and read it and then say "yeah, that's right, I support that" will be people who already support that. Others will be angry at the scare tactics employed. Haven't we had enough of scare tactics to win votes over these last several years?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Trench Coat Mafia

It was reported by eyewitnesses that the shooter in the Dawson College rampage in Montreal was wearing a black trench coat. Then someone found the shooter's page on vampirefreaks.com. There we have it. Everything has been neatly and roundly explained. He was a goth! That explains everything.

He was a loser, he was bullied, he was a goth, that's why he went on a shooting rampage. Surely, there must be more nuanced ways to understand aberrant behaviour. A goth is probably statistically as likely to go on a shooting rampage as anyone else in the general population. Son of Sam wore clothes from JC Penny: Does this mean that we should be suspicious of people who wear white shirts matched with sensible polyester pants?.... Well probably yes, but for other reasons.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Persistence of Memory

Everything in the past continues to exist.

Remembered things exist more so than not-remembered things, so you will be more real if you leave behind progeny or memes.

Dead Einstein is probably more real than living I.

Wait, does that mean that famous people are more real?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where are all the time-travellers?

Time travel will be developed in the future.

But you will only be able to travel as far back as the first running of that machine.

That's why we don't have any visitors from the future.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bigfoot Revisited

I met a man in BC who claimed to know Bigfoot. The discussions I had with him were astonishing and will become, when I reveal their contents, the final word on Sasquatch.

I recorded my conversations with this man who claims that Bigfoot is actually his great-great uncle from Seattle. I will be reviewing the recordings over the next few weeks to try to come to grips with them. I may post some clips. Stay tuned.

Late Night Advice From a Friend

so your life is in a pickle or is pickled

the same issues preserved in brine over time

someone should eat the fucking pickle and pour the brine down the sink

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ministry of Plenty

I went today to the Ministry of Plenty aka Ikea Store. It was double plus good. My furniture rations were increased by ten percent so I decided to get another desk and chair for my home office. I had to return something from my previous visit so I took a number and waited with my comrades for my turn to come up. Everyone was pleased that the average wait time has been reduced for the seventh consecutive quarter. It took me only twenty-five minutes to see someone who then gave me my credits so that I could spend it upstairs.

Of course I had to wait in line for someone to print out my desk requisition. They were out of stock - something about a storeship from Eastasia having sunk on its journey across the sea. With paper in hand, I proceeded to another line where my chair requisition could be printed. I was only goodthinkful as I walked about a kilometre to the warehouse where I dutifully sought out and secured my disassembled bookshelves and then proceeded to the register lines which, I swear my brother were only about twenty deep. A mere thirty-five minutes later I was able to pay with my ration credits and proceed to the prolefeed section aka the cinnamon bun line where I was able to replenish my strength for what was yet to come. Super plus tasty!

Another half kilometre and I was positioned in the final queue. I saw only happy faces amongst my comrades and was able to avoid all thoughtcrime during the last twenty minutes before my chair arrived. I swam through the crowds to find my vehicle and was able to load and drive away without incident.

I sit on my new chair as I write this, my desk on its way from Eastasia, and my bookshelves on the floor in their boxes because they didn't include the screws needed to mount them to the wall. Still, my brother I am thankful for the Ikea Ministry of Plenty for in what other way could we ever imagine buying furniture.