Ranting and raving and carrying on

Just a few random thoughts about random stuff. Warning - may contain profanity

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Location: Toronto-ish, Ontario, Canada

Just a guy... Bit of a geek, but who isn't these days?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Royal We?

Historically, pretty much every country on the planet had a monarchy. These days, monarchies are largely a quaint reminder of those eras (although in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the royal family is still incredibly politically powerful, and in many others the royal family is still very rich).

Here in Canada, the government is still technically led by the Queen through her representative (the Governor General), but the government (at least the previous government) tried hard to make people forget that little fact. They went so far as to deny Conrad Black his lordship, saying that the Americans didn't allow their people to take foreign titles, so they wouldn't either. The problem is that the Americans do allow their people to take foreign titles - Schwarzkopf was knighted after Desert Storm. The general consensus is that Jean Chretien just didn't like Conrad Black, and thus wanted to piss him off. C. B. dumped his Canadian citizenship in response, and is now Lord Black of Cross Harbour anyway.

The point of this (and yes, there is one) is that people have a bipolar view of royalty for the most part. If you ask a lot of people here about the royalty, they'll mostly be pretty ambivalent at best. But, if you told them that their family tree indicated that they were a baron or baroness or whatever, they'd probably be putting on airs all over town within the week. People like to feel "special", like they belong to an elite group, such as royalty or an order of knights.

Personally, I'm pretty cool with it. I'm not going to give up my vassals to my leige any time soon or any strangeness like that, but I do know a baron (he's a senior officer in my militia unit), and I'm pretty curious about my own family tree.

Family folklore indicates that (on my mom's side) we're descended from minor French royalty, and on my dad's side I have reason to believe we were a family of some minor importance in days past. So I'm halfway tempted to have someone research the family tree for me, and find out where the roots lead. If I found out for sure that I was "royalty", I would try pretty hard not to let it change me, but I think that I'd be more likely to get reservations at nice restaurants if I were "Baron G. of someplace-or-other" rather than just G.

There are also a lot of "title brokers" or "peerage brokers" out there. Be very careful of this - a lot of places claim they can sell you a title. Look very carefully if you're interested in that, because there are a lot of scams and there's a lot of misinformation. Again, the easiest thing to do is either get a title through hereditary means or have a fons honorum grant you a title. A fons honorum basically means someone who can grant titles - sitting heads of state and heads of some churches, generally. Unfortunately, there may even be fakes amongst the fons honorums out there, so you could pay an "investure fee" for a worthless title. Of course, if that makes you feel better about yourself, then maybe it's not so worthless, but you'd have to examine your own life to figure out why you need a title to have some self-worth.

This even extends to knighthoods. Now, first off, the Order of the Garter isn't the only game for knighthoods - not even in England. It's just the best known. But if you really want some letters after your name and a funky cape and necklace, it should take more than just an "investure fee" - knighthood is supposed to be an arduous process, proving you are worthy of the title.

The one trapping of royalty that people seem to like most is the "coat of arms". Lots of people buy their "family coat of arms" from vendors in malls all over the world (saw one in South Africa). There's just one problem with this - there's no such thing as a family coat of arms. A "coat of arms" is issued to an individual, and may (but it's not automatic) be passed down to a child on the death of the individual. There are rules for modifying arms to indicate lineage as well, but I believe that only extends down one generation. The point is, if someone tries to sell you your family coat of arms, while it may look cool hanging on your den wall it's not something you should be painting on the family car or anything, since you likely don't have the right to use it - unless it was granted to you personally, or passed down to you from a parent, it's not yours.

So, in summary, while I'm as interested in my heritage as anyone, and we all want to feel "elite", you should remember to check everything before you write a cheque!

Who needs a title?

Today's my wedding anniversary - 3 years ago my wife said "I do", and just over 13 years ago she called me up to go on our first date. I must be doing something right, I guess... A lot of people would get all mushy here, but I won't - I'll save that for when I see her tonight.

As for the rest of you, welcome back to another episode of me, ranting and talking about whatever I feel like.

Most of what I get worked up about can generally be traced back to one thing, something I call the first law of humanity. "People are basically stupid." As long as you remember this, everything else makes sense. (And yes, I include myself in that - sometimes I'm first on the list, it seems.) We all have total brainfart moments where we say or do something that seems to make perfect sense in some situation, but when held up to the light of day it's obviously a bad idea. Unfortunately, when you are doing stuff that affects millions of others (like passing laws) the stupidity is magnified. Take the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US, for instance - I'm sure that it makes sense in a narrow reading when applied to a specific set of circumstances for a specific reason. Unfortunately, the legislation was way too loosely worded, and has been applied to all sorts of stupid things. For example, Lexmark tried to sue another company that was making replacement cartridges for Lexmark's printers because the other company had basically broken the code that Lexmark put into its printers so they would only recognize Lexmark cartridges. So they were trying to get (and enforce) a monopoly this way. The courts have (fortunately) seen reason, and told Lexmark to go pound sand.

If they hadn't, this sort of chicanery would have gotten worse. Lexmark's business model (and that of many other printer manufacturers right now) is to sell the printers cheap, but gouge for the cartridges. If this were extended to other fields, it might get truly bizarre - how about a $5 CD player, but it only plays CDs from one record company? Or a $2000 car, but you can only use gas from specific gas stations. Monopolies are bad, consumer choice is good. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't seem to care about that - as long as they get their consumer electronics cheap, who cares that they're being tied into a particular company?

One of the problems with this (and we've seen it with Microsoft) is that a company with a legitimately-earned monopoly in one area may try to leverage that to gain advantages in other areas. This is an important distinction - a monopoly can be legitimately earned (by crushing your competitors through sound business tactics), but you can't use that monopoly unfairly in other markets. This is why Microsoft got their wrist slapped by the US DoJ a couple of years back.

Speaking of important distinctions, do you know what Martha Stewart is in jail for? It's not fraud, and it's not insider trading. It's lying to the SEC. She was never charged with insider trading. And yet, people think she's in jail for it. She couldn't be charged with insider trading because she wasn't an insider at ImClone. An "insider" is someone who's part of a company or a significant shareholder. She only had a few thousand shares, and no other connection to the company, thus she wasn't an insider.

I don't particularly like Martha Stewart, I think she's a bit of a wingnut. But she's in jail for lying? If they send people to jail for that, I think we're gonna need a lot more jails - just for the politicians!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Where are my pants?

"Jeg sliter ikke bukser" - according to someone I know, that means "I'm not wearing any trousers". I always thought that would make a cool underwear-slogan.

Actually, I am fully clothed today, and at work, etc. One more week until the job change. Whee!

I want to revisit something I ranted about a few weeks ago - really, expand on it. Desktop publishing - tool of Satan, or just a bad idea? I have lost count of the number of times I have watched someone, say, making a poster on the computer. They will spend upwards of an hour messing with fonts and graphics and layout, print off their masterpiece, and I will then point out "you mis-spelled the word 'the'". Funny, at least for me. But the point is, doesn't anyone proof-read their work any more? Apparently not.

So I'm not always updating this in a timely manner. There are a number of reasons for this, including my day job, my night job (remember, officer in the reserves?), and Runescape. What's Runescape, you ask? Electronic crack, but the Mattel version, basically. Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard of Everquest (AKA Evercrack, due to it's addictive nature), one of the more famous MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). Runescape is basically like that, except that you can play for free. You can also go "pay-to-play" (or p2p) and get access to more adventures, stronger items, and more skills, but many people are very happy staying f2p (free-to-play). In Runescape you are a stalwart adventurer, honing your skills in sword and sorcery against the foul creatures that inhabit the world. You can also (if that's your kick) go into "the wilderness" and "pk" (player-kill, which means you attack other players). Personally, I hate pkers, and if I ever catch one "irl" (in real life) I'll kick his geeky little ass up around his ears. (Yes, I got pk'd once, but I hated pkers even before that.)

Anyway, there are a whole bunch of "skills" you can work on, including your fighting and magic skills, but also mining, crafting, smithing, and many more. There are 19 skills in total, each starts at level 1 and goes to level 100. My total of all skills, as of today, is 1003. Not bad for someone who's only been playing for six months, eh?

Anyway, that's enough for now, but I may post more later - I have a couple of minor rants still stewing inside my head.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Slight change in plans...

Well, I'm not going to Minnesota in November. And I was so looking forwards to the Spam Museum, too...

I can only take small consolation (*sniff*) in the knowledge that my new destination is Italy!!!! W00t!! Boo-yah! Damn, but sometimes I love my job! (Okay, the long hours, disdain of my co-workers and complete lack of respect from strangers is kinda tiring, but on the other hand -- Italy!)

On a mostly unrelated matter, I didn't take my meds today. I'm a lot happier (literally), but the day is really dragging. I've only been here 2-1/2 hours and I'm ready to call it a day. And yes, I was happier today even before I found out I was going to Italy.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Slave to the blue pill

God, I hate Ritalin. Well, actually, I have a love-hate relationship with it.

On the one hand, working in a corporate culture which involves anywhere up to 20 or 30 hours of meetings a week (or reading copious amounts of code or documentation), having something to give me a semblance of an attention span is a "good thing". And I wouldn't dream of driving a car any appreciable distance without taking it - the whole distractability thing is a real fucking minus at 120 km/h, y'know? And, since it's an amphetamine-based medication, it's more effective than coffee as a "wake-me-up" in the morning.

On the other hand, I hate the way it makes me feel - it feels like my brain is held in place by glue or steel bars or something. I hate that it makes me a grumpy asshole to others. And I hate that it kills (or at least severely limits) my creativity.

I suppose I'm luckier than manic-depressives and psychotics - in both states (medicated and not) I am lucid and coherent enough to understand the risks and rewards inherent in taking this stuff. It just bugs me to no end that, since my brain works differently than others, I have to put up with taking this shit just so I can "function normally" in society.

While I'm on it, basically, I feel caged, at least mentally. I can feel my brain being "held back", pacing, waiting for a chance to get out of the chemical jail it's in. As it wears off, sometimes I get a really great "Ritalin rebound" - completely manic and insane, but in a "mostly harmless" sort of way.

In a perfect world, I'd be able to get out of the corporate culture, get off the (prescription) drugs, and go do whatever silly shit my brain comes up with. But, unfortunately, student loans and mortgages and all the trappings of society tend to cost a lot of money, which is really only attainable in a corporate environment. Realistically, I could certainly go and work on my own and be a highly-paid security consultant, but I'd still have to live in the "corporate world" - if you're billing a company several thousand dollars a week to perform an IT security audit, they probably are expecting a final presentation that isn't written in Iambic Pentameter. (For the record, I've never given any presentations in Iambic Pentameter, but I did hand in a university course -level geological survey project written that way once. They made me re-write it.)

I liked teaching, when I did it. Well, sort of. Didn't much like the people I worked for (actually, I did, at first, but they treated me rather poorly and basically I grew to dislike them). But I liked teaching - you have a certain body of knowledge you have to impart to the students, so there's a basic underlying structure you have to follow. But there's a lot of freedom in how you present that material. And I like standing in front of people and talking, and answering questions, and problem-solving and all that. But teaching doesn't pay that well either, unless you own the school.

Simple math here - a 6-month course at a "career college" costs around$6000 CDN per student, so about $1000 per month income per student. Pay your instructor $3000 a month, $1000 a month for overhead (space rental, etc.), and anything above 4 students is gravy. Okay, you've got to factor in a front office staff as well - a secretary and a "recruiter". Still, that expense can be spread over multiple courses (if you have them). Basically, running your own college is a license to print money. There are some laws regarding how you run it, of course, but not as much as you might think. Basic fraud stuff, like if a student changes their mind 30 seconds after signing the contract you give them their money back. Also, if you have a college you can't put the students to work in "real" work - for example, if you run a plumbing school you can't make the students do stuff for your plumbing business.

I've actually thought about starting my own "security school" - I have the basic curriculum mapped out, and I believe that I could turn out IT Security professionals who actually knew what they were doing. All it would take would be some startup capital - enough to cover renting some space for a classroom and office(s), buying or leasing some computers, and the first couple of months' salary for the staff (including me) - probably $15,000 would cover it, and that expense would probably be recouped with the profit from the first class you ran.

It could even cover additional expenses by holding evening classes in various computer subjects, both related to the day curriculum and stand-alone special-interest courses (such as a machinima course?). After all, you already have the computers and the space, the only extra expense for an evening course is an instructor.

If you'll excuse me, I have to go run some numbers.......

Ahh, that new computer smell!

So I got a new laptop for my impending jobchange. The new one is freaking huge - it's probably 50% larger (physically) than my old one, and about 3 times as fast. Of course, now comes the fun part of transferring all of my links and applications and whatnot over.

Preparations are continuing apace for my "world tour" - my first stop is in Minnesota, which isn't so exotic. I got to go to South Africa in August, though - my suspicion is that they suckered me in with the "internship" in South Africa, and I'll spend two years of my life in the American Mid-West. Not really my idea of fun.

Speaking of the American Mid-West, the election down there has really gotten out of hand. If I hear or see one more person comparing George W. Bush with either Hitler or the Anti-Christ I'm gonna go postal.

See, Hitler killed over ten million people, for no other reason than because he had some vision of Aryan purity and a "master race" (which he wasn't even part of). The "Anti-Christ", when and if such a person ever appears, will be the epitomy of pure evil.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, is a guy with average intelligence and human wants and needs, who was elected to the highest post of the most powerful country on the planet because the electoral process in that country seems to lead to only really big goofs being allowed to run for high office.

Kicking the Taliban out of Afghanistan was the right thing to do. And getting Saddam out of Iraq was the right thing to do. Both regimes had a history of oppressing their own people, and let's face it, UN sanctions don't really account for a lot.

The big problem the US has is nation rebuilding - they are great at tearing a government out of a nation (they've done it enough times since 1944), but not so good at ensuring that what springs up in its place is "triple-E" -- equal, elected, and effective.

"Peace at any cost" as an idea was proven silly back in 1939 (1941 for you Americans) - Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement allowed the Germans to expand further into Europe than they should have been allowed to get. And yet, 65 years later, some people believe that this is still a viable option for "world peace". If you have a bully, do you try to keep the bully happy, or do you smack him down? Well, apparently you keep him happy, according to some people.

The facts of the matter with respect to Iraq are these: Iraq had possessed (and used) chemical weapons in the past, both against its own people and against Iran. Iraq had destroyed most of its stockpile, but retained the knowledge and ability to make more. Iraq had pissed around, trying to avoid obeying UN resolution after UN resolution. So the US invaded, together with a few other nations. The reasons the US gave for the invasion were flimsy, but Iraq certainly wasn't a happy little Middle East version of Disneyland before March of 2003. Post-invasion, horrible things are happening there, and the prison abuses are the least of it. People being beheaded with a dull knife (while some sadistic jackass videotapes it) just because they happen to be American? Confirmed presence of terrorist organizations (including Al-Qaeda) in the country? Car-bombings killing indigenous police officers? How are the Americans the bad guys there?

The prison abuses committed by the American soldiers are inexcusable. But they are understandable. You try flying half-way around the planet, live in fear for your life every day, and then not take payback when it's offered. The soldiers responded poorly to a situation they were not prepared for - this is a failure on the part of their command staff, both to prepare them and to monitor for this type of thing.

The kidnapping and murdering of foreign nationals, on the other hand, is a bad thing in every sense of the word - it's premeditated cold-blooded torture and murder. Every time that happens, the US should just carpet-bomb another city into the stone age. Ok, that's a little extreme, but the Americans learned (or should have learned) from the old Special Operations Group in Vietnam that the only way to perform true counter-insurgency is to beat them at their own game. Identify and asssassinate their leaders, and pretty soon nobody will want to be a leader. Of course, "we don't play that game." No, not unless you want to win, you don't.

Iraq should have received a royal smackdown the first time they used chemical weapons - twenty years ago. The only crime the Americans (and the world) took was waiting far too long for payback. Any country which uses lethal chemical munitions, against either its own people or another state, is not a legitimate government. If the UN isn't willing to be the "world police", then perhaps someone else needs to be?

And for those of you who think that Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a brilliant documentary: first, it's not a documentary, it's obviously full of Moore's opinions, whereas dictionary.com defines a documentary in part as "Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film." Secondly, it's not even factual - there are over 50 known "deceits" in that film - things that are blatantly wrong or misrepresented. See http://www.davekopel.org/terror/59Deceits.pdf for more information about that. I won't be watching that film any time soon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Nurgle

I just spent 45 minutes preparing a rant about Microsoft and Bill Gates and why I think Windows is so crappy. But I deleted it because, quite frankly, Microsoft's poor attitude towards the world is a well-established matter of public record, thanks to the court system. I think most people just don't give a damn, except when their computer crashes.

Anyone who knows me knows my feelings on the matter. I'm actually not so much a Linux bigot as an "anyone but Microsoft" bigot. Of course, that's how Ontario got an NDP government back in the 1990s - the "anyone but the Liberals" vote. That's actually a pretty bad way to vote, particularly if you're in a system with more than two parties.

Basically, in the US, there's Republicans and Democrats. You can probably count on about 1/3 of the population being die-hard for one or the other, so an election down there relies on convincing probably 50 million voters you're better than the other guy.

In Canada, though, there's about 4 or 5 major political parties, each with probably somewhere from 5 to 20% "diehard" support. So you probably only have to convince a few million voters to vote for you. First you have to convince them to vote, of course - election turnouts in Canada are pretty abysmal these days.

But it means that it's pretty easy to win a "majority" government with a minority of votes. Suppose, for example, that a party got 40% of the vote in a majority of the ridings. Well, since there are probably 4 or 5 candidates running, 40% is enough to "win" the riding. Given that the voter turnout is probably only about 60%, the party only actually got about 24% of the "popular vote" in the country. They received less than a quarter of all possible ballots, and less than half of all cast ballots, but they will run the country unopposed for the next four years. Ain't democracy grand?

Of course, sometimes the system gets even more screwed up. With the election last summer here in Canada, nobody got enough votes for a majority government - basically, for the next four years (assuming it lasts that long), we'll have "government by mutual back-scratching". If the Liberals want to get something done, they'll have to get someone else to agree, in order to have enough votes to ensure the bill passes.

That ought to prevent anything useful from being accomplished.

On a somewhat related note, the provincial Liberals (or "Fiberals", as some have taken to calling them) have managed to piss me off completely. As of November 1st, eye exams will no longer be covered by Ontari's provincial health insurance, unless you're under 19 or over 64. Nice. Really fucking nice. And these guys are better than the Conservatives how, exactly? At least the Conservatives told you they were going to slash and burn. The Fiberals got elected on a "we're not the Conservatives" platform, then promptly borrowed every play in the PC playbook. When do we get to vote again? I feel the need for a regime change - somebody call the Yanks!

Note to strategists in the US - that last part was a joke, meant to be funny. Please don't invade Canada - we kicked your ass last time, it would be embarassing if we had to do it again. Huh, when did Canada kick the US's ass? The war of 1812. We're the reason that presidential inaugurations are held outside in the middle of January - we sacked and burned the White House, and it wasn't rebuilt in time for the 1816 inauguration. Since then, they hold them outside, just in case the Canadians come back. (I'm sure some Americans are claiming they won the war of 1812 - how and why do you think it started?)

Ok, this is enough for one day. I gotta go find some lunch soon!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Yellow

So I rented a car this past weekend. Overall, the experience wasn't too bad - at least the rental company didn't decide to withhold the car after I travelled halfway across the city to get to them this time, but that's another story.

Anyway, while driving to my parents' place on Sunday for the annual angst-fest that is Thanksgiving, we were passed on the road by a bright yellow Dodge Viper, which appears to be GM's answer to the penis extension.

The real question, though, is why was it yellow? It wasn't even gold, or champagne. It was a bright yellow, the same shade I used to paint safety railings when I worked as a summer student in a factory and they gave me all the crap jobs. The sort of shade of yellow that makes me reach for the welding goggles so I can have a closer look. This car was yellow.

I've been seeing a lot more yellow vehicles on the road lately, which makes me wonder if "yellow is the new black" or something stupid like that. (I always thought black was the new black, being black and all...) A lot of these seem to be Sport-Utility Vehicles, often either the Nissan Xterra or the Hummer H2. Now, I like both of those vehicles. They do have their place in the pantheon of cars, although that place probably isn't Suburbia. However, I have to wonder why someone would get their car in "spot the wreckage from the air" yellow, when they will likely never even take the thing off of pavement, much less into any situation where having search-and-rescue teams look for you will be an option.

So I'm left with the other option, which is that people with bright yellow cars want others to look at them. "Look at me, I'm driving an expensive car." How crass. It used to be that, if you had a red car, the insurance company would charge you more, because red cars got into more accidents - they tended to be more aggressive and self-centred. I have to wonder if the same is now true of yellow (or soon will be).

My wife keeps saying that, when we get a car of our own, we should paint it lime green. I keep telling her that if she's paying for it, she can paint it whatever colour she wants. Of course, first she has to get her license...

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Saturday driver?

I rented a car this weekend. Usually I get the cheapest car on the lot, but they talked me into upgrading to a VW Jetta for a few bucks more a day. It's a pretty nice vehicle, with a decent amount of power and good handling. The interior seems to be well-thought-out, too - the seats adjust up, down, front, back - everything but a built-in sextoy to keep the passenger happy and quiet.

Anyway, even though I'm 35, I only have my "G2" license (basically, full driver but probationary) - I've only been driving for about a year. As a result, I still have this silly idea that I should follow the rules of the road, such as coming to a full stop at a stop sign, or actually obeying the speed limits (more or less). There are some people out there who get really pissed off if you're "only" going 70 in a 60 zone. These people really need to chill.

A couple of things I always try to remember when driving are (1) the faster you're going, the more an abrupt stop (such as a crash) will hurt, and (2) nobody plans to have an accident - that's why they're called "accidents" instead of "on-purposes". People somehow assume that, since they've been driving for 10 or 20 or 30 years, they are magically "blessed" and nothing unexpected will happen to them. Unfortunately, the cemetery is full of those people, and the passengers in their cars.

The police, I'm sure, would love to have a tighter control on the roads - as near as I can tell, anything up to 120 or so is okay in an area posted as 100, which is pretty bizarre. I mean, if it was okay for you to go 120, then why wouldn't we post it as 120? Anyway, as I said, the cops want to control things better, if only for reasons of public safety (as discussed above), but they're pretty much overworked and understaffed as it is. If you're the only cop patrolling, say, a 100 km stretch of highway, then you could probably just spend your whole day writing tickets - as soon as one car was ticketed and sent on its way you'd pull another one over. This is a pretty irrational thing.

The government, of course, has had a partial solution in the past - photo radar. This has good and bad points about it - it's more punishment and less deterrent, as far as I'm concerned. It can certainly be seen as a form of "tax-grab" - they can ticket more than 100 cars an hour, easily. But I read today in the paper that a bunch of those tickets may be thrown out because the photo was not printed with a human-readable date-time code, so the "accused" (AKA the "guilty bastard" according to some people I know) could not properly defend himself. Aww, poor baby - did the mean computer pick on you? Wah-fucking-wah.

It seems to me that we now have the means to put a computer in a car that tracks the speed, and if the speed exceeds 110 km/h for more than 1 minute, your car snitches on you. Heh, that would be funny. Actually, I'm surprised the car rental agencies haven't developed an "after-market" one of these - you take the rental car back on Monday and they tell you that you have to pay an extra $100 speed-demon fee. Now THAT would be hilarious.

Okay, I'm done for now.

Friday, October 08, 2004

And another thing...

Heh. Decided I wasn't finished talking yet. Don't you hate that? Particularly when people don't actually have anything to say, but insist on proving the point ad nauseam?

Ever heard the expression "a conversation is simply two people each waiting for the other to stop speaking so they can speak"? If not, try it for yourself. Watch two people talking, or even take a step back mentally and watch yourself talking to somebody. We spend so much effort working out what we're going to say next that we don't really hear what the other person says. "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

So I'm going to Rochester, Minnesota for three weeks in November - first posting in my new job. I've been looking on the web, and so far I can't see any reason why anybody would want to move there. Not exactly an exotic locale, is it? Oh, well.

I don't think I've fully grasped the blogging concept yet - either that, or some others have missed the boat. A lot of other blogs I read tend to be more, shall we say, open than mine - they reveal all sorts of inner details. Personally, I censor the really good bits out. Maybe I'm not quite so extroverted and exhibitionistic as others?

Okay, before I get into the next bit, I'm going to say something. I get called "white", not "Canadian of Anglo-Saxon descent". I don't mind. By the same token, however, I will call a "Canadian of African descent" (or is it "African-Canadian" now?) a "black". I don't mean any offense, it's not disparaging in any way. Consider it a "short form" for the purposes of this discussion. Don't take offense, and I won't take offense at being called "white". Even though I'm actually pink.

Racism. Kind of a strange thing. I've noticed that, if the nightly news is discussing someone wanted in an assault or robbery, they will discuss the person's clothing in excrutiating detail, give their height, weight, shoe size, hair length and style - everything except their dick size. But the one thing they will not give is the person's race/skin colour. So let me say something to the news people here: if a criminal is black or white or oriental, this is a pretty distinguishing characteristic. And I, for one, am not going to decide that all blacks or whites or orientals are criminals or rapists or whatever just because of some guy on the news. I am, in fact, capable of thinking for myself. I know it's a pretty novel idea, but there it is.

I honestly think that my generation (Gen X) is less likely (overall) to be racist than previous generations. And Generation Y will be even less racist than mine - in fact, I see lots of inter-racial couples younger than me, and only a very few older than me. Overall, my perception (and it is admittedly my perception) is that racism will eventually be beaten. It's just going to take a few more generations. Sexism was (largely) beaten within a couple of generations after WW II, so hopefully we can do the same with racism.

Some people are going to say there is still racism in the world. Yeah, unfortunately there is. There's still sexism, too. But neither one is state-sponsored, at least not to the extent it was 50 or 100 years ago. Things have gotten better - they just won't get perfect overnight.

There is still a pretty clear link between race and crime, unfortunately. Read this carefully - I am not saying that a certain race has criminal tendencies. There is a very strong correlation between poverty and crime, in both directions - if you are poor, you commit crimes, and if you are a criminal, you will find it harder to get out of poverty. It's a vicious cycle. Unfortunately, the way that the race struggle went in the 60s and 70s left a lot of people destitute, and so they turned to crime, and got into that cycle. Once in a cycle, it's pretty hard to break out of it. Is the answer to give them gobs of money in apology, as some people seem to think? No, I don't think it is. However, there is also a strong correlation between education and income, so I'd say that the best bet to overcome that cycle is to invest in educational opportunities for minorities. Not jobs for minorities, but education. "Affirmative action" created situations where "quotas" were set for visible minorities, and as a result the best person for a job could be passed over because they were white. On the other hand, I freely admit that without it some people could be passed over because they weren't white. I'd like to believe that (for the most part) the best-qualified person will win the job in this economy. But I just read something the other day which said that most job offers arising from job interviews result from illogical decision making - whichever candidate the interviewer liked best.

This is unfortunate, to say the least. Have you ever heard anyone say "I'm not racist, but..."? This always seems to precede an incredibly racist comment. The point is that everyone is a little bit xenophobic, and thus everyone is a little bit racist. Everyone. Not just the white guys. I've run into "reverse racism" a few times in my life, which is always pretty fun - not.

Generally, the best answer to a problem is the answer that raises the "have-nots" without significantly adversely impacting the "haves" - anything else is going to be fought tooth-and-nail by one side or the other. So, I'd propose (if anyone listened) that, in addition to improving educational opportunities for minorities, a special business-development fund should be set up to educate and encourage visible-minority entrepreneurs. Most new jobs are created by small businesses anyway, so this would probably boost our economy. Down sides? Well, due to the aforementioned rampant xenophobia there's a risk that if (say) a black person started a company it would be an "all-black" or "mostly-black" company. Not a big risk, except that it encourages the "enclave" (us-versus-them) mentality.

And that's a pretty interesting conclusion. Moreso because I didn't know where I was going when I started. But that's how a good essay should go - not like you were taught in high school.

Okay, I'm out of here for now!

I'm still standing...

I suppose I'm lucky - I actually like my job (mostly), and others insist that I'm good at it. I'm just glad I didn't end up working 40 hours a week in a factory. I know that people do it, and I respect them for it - it's just not something I can do, standing in one place for 40 hours a week putting a grappelgrommet into a widget or whatever. Probably the ADD has something to do with that, but whatever job I've worked in I've always tended to mould the job to myself, rather than adapting to the job (where possible, anyway).

I've been further fortunate in that most of my bosses have recognized "something" in me and pretty much let me do my own thing. I'm sure that they wonder why they're paying me to play solitaire sometimes, but when I develop a new application overnight that saves us a lot of time, effort, and/or money they see the payback pretty quickly.

This, in turn, brings me to creativity and intelligence. I don't think these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but at the same time they definitely aren't closely linked. I've met some very smart people who weren't creative enough to pass kindergarten art class, and I've met some wildly creative people who unfortunately weren't smart enough to understand why everyone else thought their stuff was crap.

I go in stages about my own creativity and intelligence. I've always scored well on IQ tests, aptitude tests, math competitions, etc. I got A's (sometimes) in school with little or no effort on my part. But I got as many D's as A's, and sometimes I frustrate myself with my own inability to see the obvious. Most of the time, I just don't think I'm that smart. I read once that a hallmark of the truly intelligent is that they don't think they're any smarter than anyone else. I tend to haul that out, both when I'm feeling too smart for myself and when I'm feeling pretty dumb.

As for creativity, back in school the arts courses were just something I had to take. But in recent years I've been exploring the arts. I've dabbled a bit in writing and photography, and I'm experimenting in machinima and film-making ideas. I have lots of stories in my head, I just never seem to get them down in a way I'm satisfied with. My main outlet for my creativity, until recently, has been my job.

It's an unofficial resolution of mine to try to embrace my artistic side more. I've come to believe that everyone should have a firm grasp on both the scientific/rational and the artistic/emotional sides of their life. Too many people tend to say "I can't do math" (or whatever). If you say you can't do something, it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence Yoda's words in The Empire Strikes Back, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

I already have a pretty firm grasp on the logical side of my life - two degrees in the sciences, four technical certifications, and a job which requires me to analyse and categorize threats in realtime. But how does someone, at the age of 35, start to nourish their artistic side? It's an interesting question. There are as many fields of arts as there are in science, and nobody would ever claim to be an expert (or even conversant) in all fields of science, so I guess a logical first step would be to choose an area. Or two, or three.

I'd have to guess that the first place to start is writing. I'm looking at film and machinima, but in order to do that you have to tell a story, which is logically the domain of writing, first and foremost. I suppose I could learn to draw, or play a musical instrument (actually, I can play the didgeridoo, sort of, and I used to play the trombone in high school), but there's a pretty long learning curve for both of those unless you want to use a "gimmick". Singing and physical arts (such as dancing) seem to require at least a bit of talent to start with, so I think I'll pass on those.

By now, you're probably saying "Yeah, yeah, shut up already. What's machinima?" Good question. If you're a video game player, you'll be aware that some games allow you to replace the characters, sounds and scenery in the game with your own stuff. You can also record "demos" for later playback. Some people have taken this a step further, and actually produced movies - machine-generated cinema, or machinema. Someone mis-spelled it as "machinima" in an e-mail, and the name stuck. So machinima is using a video game (such as Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament 2004) to create films. You don't need to do any coding, so you don't have to be a complete computer geek to do it (although I am). I have some ideas for this, and I just bought a new book about it yesterday (oops, now my wife knows I spent money on a book!). If I go any further with it I'll let you know how it turns out. I actually have an idea for a "film" done this way (or maybe even a series), but I don't want to give anything away just yet. Besides, I have to make sure I'm not infringing on anyone's copyright. (Which reminds me - Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004 are copyright (c) their respective owners!)

Okay, that's enough for now. If anyone reads this, and you're from Canada, Happy Thanksgiving, eh! :-)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Where have I been?

Meh. Haven't updated in more than a week. Partly due to the rather political nature of my last post, partly due to extreme amounts of "stuff" in my life, and partly good old inertia.

With regards to my last post - I'm going to leave it up. I'm not going to edit it in any way. But I'm going to add a huge caveat - I don't know all of it, and some of what I've heard may be wrong. So, I don't have the whole truth. But neither does anyone else. My original point still stands - the correctness of the war doesn't matter as much as supporting the troops and making sure they understand that the people "back home" don't think ill of them. After Vietnam, a lot of vets were basically alienated from society because some rather vocal segments of that society called them "baby killers" and worse. That shouldn't be allowed to happen again. The military is an extension of government policy, and the government was elected by the people, so the military is indirectly acting on behalf of the people.

Enough of that.

So, my new job is official, and as of November 1st I'll be travelling the world. Heh, a world tour. Some people who know me are almost certainly quaking in fear at this point.