Marcel Gagne's blog

23
Jan

Jesus and the Parable of "The Good Samaritan"

The parable of the "the Good Samaritan" was always one of those stories that stuck out as being 'wrong', precisely because it sounded like a racist slur or stereotyping a country and its people. You know what I'm talking about. The cheap Jew. The drunk Irishman. Here in Canada, we used to have stupid Newfie jokes.

In that way, the parable of the Good Samaritan is much like telling the story of the Sober Irishman, which is worth mentioning only because, well . . . can you really imagine a sober Irishman? How about the story of the rich Jew who gives a lot to charity?

Or the Newfie with a Ph. D.? Seriously . . . We could come up with something totally unbelievable, like a Newfie doctor who invents a life-saving device or does something important! Let's include that one in the next edition of the Bible, shall we?

17
Jan

Sysadmins

From the amazing xkcd at xkcd.com


Just because . . . 

15
Jan

Getting and Staying Creative

I ran across this little video while checking into some Drupal themes for a customer. The video was embedded into a slider to show that you could do cool slidery things. While my customer passed on this theme and will be using something else, I did get to take away a cool little collection of creativity tips. And no, I don't do all of these . . . well, not always. Hey, some things I'm great at, other things, not so much.

29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE from TO-FU on Vimeo.

13
Jan

Calling BS on Mother Theresa

Penn and Teller, with a little help from Christopher Hitchens, show us how you can take a culture of pain, misery, poverty, and suffering, and make it sound so good, you reward it with sainthood.

It's amazing to think that a person like Mother Theresa can be seen as a force for good. Sort of like making pedophile priest sound like a force for good. Of Islamists beheading people in god's name sound like a good thing. The latter is relatively fast and brutal, the former takes time and stretches the suffering out over many years.

Which do you like best?

The Anonymous collective on online hacktivists has started an online petition to the White House asking that denial of service attacks (DoS) be protected as free speech and thereby receive the protection of the First Amendment. They argue that denial of service is not hacking, but a form of protest. In their petition, Anonymous suggests that a denial of service attack is no different than gathering outside a business or public office in protest. You are, in effect, occupying a Website in the same way that you might occupy the street outside a business or government office.

The biggest problem I have with this argument is that while there are some valid points on the surface, it doesn't make a lot of sense when you dig even a little deeper. That's because a Website isn't a business.

When you disrupt a business by standing outside its offices and protesting, you don't stop the people inside from expressing their points of view or countering yours. Sure, you're a nuisance to the people you are protesting, and very likely their customers, but each side is still able to make their voices heard. You make your demands while the press reports on the activities and the people you are protesting get to make their points. Freedom of speech is more or less guaranteed to all parties, unless there are issues of illegal confinement, hostage taking, kidnapping, or some other forcible denial of any individual's right to express themselves.

The trouble with Anonymous' argument is encompassed in my last point. They are forcibly denying a site owner of the ability to express themselves. In that effort to express themselves, they are denying the site owner of their freedom of speech. The site being taken down is left with no way to express itself. At no point in this discussion am I suggesting that anyone is using illlegal botnets or zombie systems to do the work. I'm basing this on the idea that everything else in play is perfectly legal, with members using their own computers to hit the refresh button over and over again. Besides, how they do it is irrelevant to the First Amendment question.

To make matters worse, many Websites are on shared hosting systems. One Apache server handles many different companies. If you perform a denial of service against a company, you could be taking any number of additional businesses offline, limiting their ability to do business, and to express themselves. Their only crime is being on the same server. 

It's a bitch, but if you want to walk the high road of free speech, you can't deny another person doing the same. Freedom of speech is a two way street, otherwise it's just those with means and the power ensuring that others are kept silent.

09
Jan

Hating the Touchpad

I hate touchpads. I sincerely hate the things. Maybe it's because I have big gorilla hands, but when I am trying to write at the keyboard, the darn things always pick up the slightest brush from my apparently huge, verging on monstrous, hands and translate those inadvertent touches into the most egregious of errors. Words, and sometimes whole sentences, are selected, to be overwritten by the next character I type at the keyboard. If I'm not paying attention, such as when I am looking away from the keyboard as I type, I have to go back several levels of "undo" in order to recapture the lost text, the net effect of which is that I lose the new text. I hate those things. And so I always plug in an external mouse and turn off the touchpad. But I digress . . . 

My old Acer laptop's hard drive crashed over the holidays. This is, remarkably, the first time in some 30 plus years that I've owned computers in which a hard drive actually crashed. In those many years, I've seen many crashed drives, including one belonging to Sally's PC, but never to mine. In my first book on Linux, back in 2001, I wrote that it wasn't a question of if your hard drive would eventually fail, but when. Marcel, meet "when". 

I actually liked my Acer notebook and I've had excellent luck with Acer products over the years, so despite the crashed hard drive, I decided to buy another Acer notebook. This one, the one I am writing on, is an Aspire V3-771 with an Intel i3-2370M processor, a 750 GB hard drive, 6 GB of RAM, and a bright 17 inch LED display. At $499, I simply could not pass it up.

The notebook came with Windows 7 but I erased it when I loaded the latest Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu Quetzal). It worked beautifully except for one thing. The touchpad wasn't being reported by the system as a touchpad. It worked fine in that I could use it to navigate the desktop, right-click here, left click there. Except that since I don't want the thing; remember, I want to use an external mouse. The trouble is that I just couldn't turn the thing off using the standard touchpad control programs. What to do, oh what to do?

We can find out how the X window system sees the various devices it works with by using the xinput command.  I opened a terminal session and typed "xinput list" at the shell prompt.

$ xinput list
⎡ Virtual core pointer                          id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer                id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Logitech USB Optical Mouse                id=11   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ PS/2 Generic Mouse                        id=13   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                         id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
    ↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard               id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Video Bus                                 id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Sleep Button                              id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ HD Webcam                                 id=10   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard              id=12   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Acer WMI hotkeys                          id=14   [slave  keyboard (3)]

As you can see, the touchpad is being recognized as a generic PS/2 mouse and not as a touchpad (I've bolded the appropriate line for emphasis). This is all fine and dandy except that I can't use touchpad control software to turn the thing off as I usually do when I load up a new notebook. This is a known issue for this particular chipset, and not just for Acer.  Luckily, the above command told me everything I needed to know in order to write a script that would do the job for me. I called my script, "disable_touchpad".

$ cat disable_touchpad 
#!/bin/bash
# 
echo "Disabling touchpad"
xinput set-prop 13 "Device Enabled" 0

The "0" at the end of the xinput line at the end of the script tells X to disable the device at id #13, which the "xinput list" command told us about. If you rerun the same command but add a 1 at the end of it instead of the 0, you will reactivate the touchpad. Consequently, I have a second script called "enable_touchpad" that does just that.

Now I can happily type away, with my touchpad safely locked away where it won't accidentally destroy all the work I've done. 

29
Dec

Sandy Hook : God Did It

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, a number of religious leaders came forward to suggest that our rejection of God in schools is responsible for this tragedy. These people claim that since secular society has been removing prayer from schools, God refused to step in and stop the Gunman, Lanza, from killing 20 children and 7 adults.

What's truly amazing about this reasoning is that it puts the blame squarely on God. Either God could have prevented this and he didn't, which makes his a deplorable and vindictive monster, or he couldn't, in which case he isn't much of a God or he simply doesn't exist. If I were a thinking religious person at these times, I'd want to go with the final option, God doesn't exist. Any other alternative, especially that he allowed this to happen because people weren't prostrating themselves behore him or singing his praises makes him the worst kind of megalomaniacal monster, a being of pure evil.

26
Dec

Swearing in Quebec is Blasphemy!

I was born in Chicoutimi, Quebec and raised in the French Canadian province until I was 9, when we moved to Ontario and I learned to speak English as well. Brought up as a French Canadian, I love this article I found in the Montreal Gazette, not for the political event that spawned it (I don't actually know the event) but for the discussion on swearing in Quebec. French Quebec, to be specific.

On some strange level, it explains a great deal. To English speaking people, swearing means making references to sexual body parts or sexual activities which, frankly, makes little sense to the French Canadian mind. We shake our heads and wonder why you English types are so hung up with sex and how "fucké" (fucked up) could possibly constitute swearing.

In Quebec, swearing is all about blasphemy. You have to think religiously, sort of, string a bung of religious terms together, and spit them out with disdain. Like the following . . . 

"Baptême! Ostie de câlisse, que tu me rend fâché en tabernac!"

Translation, "Baptism! Holy wafer or holy chalice, but you make make me angry in tabernacle!" In English, it doesn't sound that bad, but trust me, you say that to someone in Quebec and they'll know you're pissed.

Read the article and enjoy a little taste of Quebec blasphemy!

24
Dec

A Slaying Song

Every year I start singing this crazy little song, and every year I add a word or two. Since nothing says "Christmas" like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I present to you my own version of Jingle Bells.

Hellmouth opens wide,
In Sunnydale tonight.
Vamps and demons rise,
Apocalypse is nigh.

Rupert Giles' on watch,
The Scooby Gang's all here,
Angel, Spike, and Buffy
sing a slaying song tonight.

Yeah, I know it needs work, but that's all I've got so far. Want to chip in and help? Leave a comment.

24
Dec

The Best Christmas Game Ever

Let me tell you about the best Christmas game ever.  That's actually what it's called, "The Best Christmas Game Ever" (or T.B.C.G.E.) and it comes to  us just in time for Christmas. This game is available for Android tablets as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook (the screenshots here are from the PlayBook). 

So here's how it works. The penguins, who have apparently gotten bored with the South Pole, are about to move into a new hood, the North Pole. Or maybe they're just branching out. Who knows? It sounds like a good move, but there is one catch. His name is Santa. 

No problem; the penguins decide to steal all of Santa's Christmas gifts so that Santa is discredited, loses his job, and leaves the North Pole in disgrace.

Except Sanda won't have any of it. He hops aboard his sleigh and charges forward on a desperate mission to collect up all the gifts so that he can get them back into his magic sack and deliver them in time for Christmas. This Christmas. To foil the penguins' plan, he will need your help.

Playing is easy. No tilding here. Just tap the right and left hand side of the tablet to switch from one track to another. Careful though, you actually don't want to hit any penguins, who are racing in the other direction, collecting the presents you are trying to retrieve. Running over them, aside from being very unSanta-like, slows you down and presents fall off the sleigh. Ditto with trees. Collect 20 presents in a row without hitting anything and you get a speed boost.

While scooting along collecting gifts, Santa sings a rather strange version of Jingle Bells. In fact, the jolly old elf sounds a little drunk, but it's good fun and very Christmassy. A perfect run gets you a bonus I haven't seen yet (apparently, I crash too much). Collect 200 or more presents and you get double bonus score. Sweet!

It's fast, wicked easy to play, and it's fun. Oh, and after you've played for a few minutes, you'll be singing "Dashing through the snow" like you're drunk, too!

So get your copy of The Best Christmas Game Every from Google Play or BlackBerry AppWorld. T.B.C.G.E. is crafted by Atomicom.

Merry Christmas!

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