Marcel Gagne's blog

19
Sep

I Am A Pirate King

In honour of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, I present . . .

The Pirate Movie, from way back in 1982, starred Kristy McNichol, Christopher Atkins, and Ted Hamilton as the Pirate King. It's a campy, and yes, bad, homage to Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance", one of my favorite operettas of all time (duking it out for first place with "The Mikado"). Anyhow, this movie, bad as it is, remains one of my guilty pleasures.

I don't know how long it will remain there, but if you feel inclined to watch the whole thing, it can also be found on YouTube right here.

Enyoy!

19
Sep

xkcd: A Bunch of Rocks

For some of the most brilliant observations on life, the universe, and everything, you need to spend some time with xkcd. It's the most insightful stuff you can get as presented by two-dimensional stick figures. Witness the cartoon below for an example. Click for a full sized version.

17
Sep

Islam's Anger Is Islam's Shame

When all Hell broke loose in Benghazi, Libya, last week, the first casulty was U.S. Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, who lost his life when protesters stormed the United States embassy. The violence has spread nearly two dozen countries. At least four people are dead, many more injured, as American embassies in Lybia, Egypt, with protesters chanting "Death to America". The reason for this spate of violence? A movie trailer on YouTube called, "Innocense of Muslims".

The first thing you notice about this film is that it's really, really bad, with production values that the average 8th grader could easily match. Anti-islam and anti-Mohammad message aside, the 14 miinute film looks like it's meant to be sort of like an Islamic "Life of Brian" spoof. Unfortunately, some members of the "Religion of Peace" apparently don't have a sense of humour.It's frankly incredible that a short film clip featuring Muhammad is cited as the spark that launched the latest wave of Islamic violence.  Think of it as the Mohammad Cartoon, version 2.0.

The link below contains the  clip which you can watch on YouTube. As I write this, the video (as seen on YouTube below) has 3.8 million views with 3/4 of the votes being 'dislikes.  Have I mentioned the production values are dreadful? Let's not mince words; this film, if you can call it that, is a piece of crap.

14
Sep

Linux Nonsense

Original image from http://openclipart.org/detail/99001/nonsense-circle-monster-by-10binaryIt's rather amazing just how serious nonsense can sound. Take for instance the following corporate mission statement.

It's our mission to execute a strategic plan to efficiently syndicate relationships and streamline schemas. Our obligation is to continue to conveniently transform our cyber-portals and generate our e-functionalities to enable us to produce more dividends for our serfs. We have committed to embrace technologies in order that we may produce earnings for our venture capitalists and get out of debt.

You have to admit that it does sound an awful lot like the mission statement of many a Fortune 500 company, but unlike some of those corporate mission statements, this one is pure nonsense. If you could write something like this, your friends will think you are either crazy or brilliant. Luckily, my friends don't have to ask that question. What they don't know is that I didn't actually write that. Instead, I generated it from a Linux bash prompt. How, you might ask, did I manage to create something so incredibly real sounding with nothing but a Linux system and a few keystrokes of the command line? How indeed.

To sound this clever yourself, check out the aptly named nonsense. In essence, nonsense is a clever generator of, well, nonsense. Just extract the archive bundle into a directory of your choosing and you are ready to go. No compiling and no nonsense (pardon the circular reference). Nonsense is a Perl script that works with a collection of templates. If you look in the directory you just created, you'll see an executable file called nonsense and a number of data files as well as a few HTML templates. 

Here's how it works. To create the amazing corporate statement above, I simply executed the following command.

     nonsense -f mission.data

Brilliant, isn't it? 

For nonsense, this is quite a wonderful and useful program. With command-line switches, you can make nonsense generate business plans, strange names for people, imaginary political organizations, and even an impressive geek resume (see the screenshot below).

Figure 1: Warning! This nonsense resume is not guaranteed to get you a job. (Click the image for a full sized view)

For this masterpiece of curriculum vitae, I executed the following command.

     ./nonsense -f resume.data -t resume.html.template > resume.html

But wait, that's not all. With a little nonsense,you can create bizarre laws (“It's a Class C felony in Yellow Walnut, Michigan, to hit a poison ivy plant with a cardboard box”), newspaper headlines (“Computer Possessed By Satanic Dæmon”) and even a pretty realistic Slashdot web page. Some of the output is in HTML format and is suitable for web pages—all silly, of course. The many other options and their results may well keep you busy for hours.

You might also want to take a moment to read the README file because that isn't nonsense. Although it is. Sort of.

You can read this and other Linux and Free Software articles over at CookingWithLinux.com .

Rationalists live under the impression that facts can sway people. They believe that myths, ignorance, lies, and other falsehoods, can be dispelled once proof of those falsehoods have been presented. This is the rationalist's view; their innate belief that people are somehoe, by and large, reasonable. Belief that reason can dispel myths may well be the rationalist's weakness. I sincerely hope not.

Many of you, my regular readers, are probably thinking I'm going off on another of my anti-religious rants. Sorry, that will have to wait for another day. Today, I'm talking about flu shots.

It all started when a friend on Facebok posted the following image.

There are many things wrong with this, not the least of which is that it's a myth, not to mention completely false. Most interesting is that the Alzheimer's Association is cited, at the very top of the graphic, since The Alzheimer's Association Website says this is a myth. I hope you'll go check it out but if you're in a hurry, here's what it says about the link between flu shots and Alzheimer's.

Myth 6: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and overall better health.

  • A Nov. 27, 2001, Canadian Medical Journal report suggests older adults who were vaccinated against diphtheria or tetanus, polio, and influenza seemed to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those not receiving these vaccinations. The full text of this report is posted on the journal’s Web site.  
     
  • A report in the Nov. 3, 2004, JAMA found that annual flu shots for older adults were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes. The abstract of that report is posted on PubMed.

Unless I read English very differently than most people, it sounds like the Alzheimer's Association says that people receiving regular flu shots and other vaccines have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. That's a very different story than the graphic suggests.

When I pointed all this out, my friend suggested it was a matter of perspective. My problem, I guess, is that I don't consider facts to be a matter of perspective. 

Strange as it may seem, I would feel differently if the graphic had simply said, "Dr Whoever says the flu vaccine causes Alzheimer's" because then it is a matter of perspective or personal opinion. But it suggests the Alzheimer's Association backs those claims where they clearly do not. In short, the infographic is using their name to substantiate their claims and that's just plain wrong. 

Let me put it another way. The person, or persons, responsible for putting this graphic together, had so little faith in their facts that they chose to misrepresent an organization with which they disagreed, by claiming they supported their false claims. That sounds like a lie, but in legal circles, it's called fraud. 

In case you missed it, the whole mercury in vaccines scare and the theory that it caused autism, was concocted by the widely discredited Andrew Wakefield, whose discredited paper the British Medical Journal described as an elaborate fraud. Despite all the evidence against this charlatan, all the proof that he lied and fabricated evidence, and all the harm it has caused, people continue to believe and repeat these lies as facts. 

Let me leave you with a final, disturbing, and unpleasant thought. 

Research on Alzheimer's is increasingly pointing to a very different cause for the disease; what some call the 'American diet'. The weight of evidence is so great that many are starting to call Alzheimer's "Type 3 Diabetes".  It is our increasingly unhealty diets of high-fat and high-sugar that is taking us down this frightening road. 

In the end, I'm still a rationalist, which means I live with the belief that presenting you with these facts will show you that vaccines don't cause autism, or Alzheimer's. What vaccines do is save lives.

Please share this post and help dispel the myths.

11
Sep

Mark Twain's Rules of Writing

Way back in 1895, Mark Twain, the greatest writer who ever lived (we'll argue about it later) wrote a piece titled, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses". This was a critique, of sorts, of his contemporary, Fenimore Cooper's novel, "The Deerslayer". Armed with his considerable wit, Mark Twain slays the Cooper dragon and his work in that essay.

The most famous and oft-quoted portion of that 1895 piece has often been redistributed as "Mark Twain's Rules of Writing" which I will now present with but a small introduction from the master himself.

It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature at Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper's literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.

 

Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

 

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

 

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "Deerslayer" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.

 

2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "Deerslayer" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

 

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

 

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the "Deerslayer" tale.

 

5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the "Deerslayer" tale to the end of it.

 

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the "Deerslayer" tale, as Natty Bumppo's case will amply prove.

 

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the "Deerslayer" tale.

 

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the "Deerslayer" tale.

 

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the "Deerslayer" tale.

 

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

 

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the "Deerslayer" tale, this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

 

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

 

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

 

14. Eschew surplusage.

 

15. Not omit necessary details.

 

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

 

17. Use good grammar.

 

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

 

Even these seven are coldly and persistently violated in the "Deerslayer" tale.

 

There you have it, my friends. Should you be interested in reading the whole piece, may I direct you to Project Gutenberg where you will find a copy of the complete essay in several different formats.

06
Sep

Bill Clinton full DNC Speech 2012

I'm watching all this from Canada, up here in the Great White North. So technically I'm an outsider to the process but I'm still interested.

Wherever you may find yourself in the political spectrum, this speech by Bill Clinton is something to watch because it demonstrates public speaking at its best. Clinton knows how to work an audience; he loves the people in his audience and they love him right back. Not simply because he's preaching to the converted, but because he doesn't just read from a prepared speech. He ebbs and flows with the crowd, taking his cues from them as he delivers his message. Love him or hate him, you have to respect the man's skill. He's a rock star and one of the most on-demand public speakers in the world. And there's a damn good reason for it. The man is good. Really, really good.

Aspiring public speakers, watch and learn.

31
Aug

Why You Shouldn't Fear the Zombie Apocalypse

I've been thinking a lot about the coming Zombie Apocalypse. Not that I actually think one is coming mind you, but it's a rather popular topic of discussion with lots of people speculating on how one might survive such a cataclysmic event. And yes, I've seen "Shaun of the Dead", which was great fun to watch, and yes, I've seen other zombie movies and shows with variations on zombies like the Banelings on "Legend of the Seeker". Some of these stories, I will admit, have sent the occasional chill up my spine. Oh, and I did see Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" as well.

But I don't believe in Zombies. So why am I spending time thinking about the Zombie Apocalypse?

Zombies, in case you don't know, are a particular class of undead. Through some version of curses, voodoo rituals, magic spells, or radioactive fallout, these are essentially dead people come back to life. Not in a good way like, "hey, I get a second life because I got 500,000 points on level 1" but more like pieces of you have started to rot and fall off so you really look kind of gross walking around dragging your sorry ass around the streets (usually in gangs of other zombies) and making noises like "ehgh, awrh, uhh" which I know sounds like some people you know who are still alive but that's not the point.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Zombies also have a thing for brains. They eat brains, specifically the brains of the living which does have a yuck factor. 

The point is that zombies are fragile. With all those body parts barely hanging on and ready to fall off, a good whack with a cricket bat or a piece of pipe (both of these objects are always lying about during zombie apocalypses, by the way) is all it takes to knock some of those pieces off. Yeah, they sort of keep coming until you separate their heads from their bodies, or as with the aforementioned Banelings, burn them with wizard's fire. I know what you're thinking. "Dude, there are no wizards around to burn them." There are also no zombies but for the sake of argument, we're going to pretend we are in the middle of an all-out zombie infestation. 

Where was I? Oh yeah. Brains. So with all these fragile parts, how in Hell does a zombie even manage to bite into a human skull. Skulls are nature's crash helmet and they're made of material that pound for pound (or kilogram for kilogram) is stronger than concrete. And these guys are rotting and falling apart. Those teeth are no more stable than the rest of them. I've seen zombie teeth and you know what? They look awful.

When I was in my teens, I bit into an apple and one of my teeth snapped off right at the base. There isn't an apple out there that is anywhere near as tough as a skull and that apple managed to take out one of my teeth, and I am very much alive. And was then too. 

In short, zombies are way too fragile. The best they could hope for is to gnaw slowly at your head, or gum it, which while it would be kind of gross and disgusting, is something you'd easily survive. At worst, they would become an annoyance, sort of like giant june bugs. Big and creepy, but harmless.

So don't fret the zombie apocalypse, because even it does happen, you'll be fine. Just grossed out.

28
Aug

The Rape of Mary. Legitimate or not?

Image via WikipediaLast week was the week where the world was introduced to the concept of "legitimate rape". In case you missed it, Todd Akin, a US Senate hopeful for Missouri, suggested that in the case of 'legitimate rape', a woman rarely ever gets pregnant, because her body somehow knows this isn't the guy she wants to have babies with at which point it just fights off the invading sperm. Or something like that. Akin, a Republican, was trying to shore up his party's no-exception position on abortion by explaining that even in the case of rape, abortion isn't necessary because a woman wouldn't get pregnant. 

If she does, she's probably lying.

Outside a deep-seated hatred of women, the reasoning behind Republican and right-wing Christian America comes from the Holy Bible. The Bible, being filled with sex and violence, plenty of rape, and some good old-fashioned incest, is an excellent source of mysogenistic writing and does tend to explain how the brains of guys like Akin work. Or don't work as the case may be. That old collection of stories is also where they learn about science and reproductive biology.

Thinking about the Bible's richness on the subject of rape and the general sanctity of life, I was drawn to thinking about the most famous case of rape in the Bible, the rape of Mary, mother of Jesus. Technically, she was just a girl, so in our modern Western world, forcing a 14 year old girl to give birth to  your baby is statutory rape. But these were dark times, well before satellite television or the Internet. There were lots of 14 year old mothers around. 

Still, Mary was bethrothed to Joseph when God came calling. Did Mary's body know it had been raped? You would think it didn't because her body still got pregnant & gave birth to Jesus. So, in the logic of Akin, it wasn't a legitimate rape. I'm saying it had to have been rape because Mary didn't have a choice in the matter. Did she really have the opportunity to refuse? Could she? Let's take a look in the Bible and see what it had to say on the matter.

Several news sources made a story out of this one, including CNN (click here to read that one) who trumpeted "Bill Nye slams creationism". 

And so he should. So should we all. Teaching kids that the literal story of creation (I'm going with the Christian version since that's usually the one people get all excited about) is fact is a good way to make sure they grow up ignorant, gullible, and an object of ridicule to educated people, much like those who push that story in the first place. 

Pages

Comments

Subscribe to RSS - Marcel Gagne's blog