Welcome! You've arrived at award-winning author Marcel Gagné's personal Website. I am the author of the "Moving to Linux" series of books, a regular columnist for several tech magazines, a public speaker, radio and television personality, and a well known voice in the Linux and open source universe. I created the famous (perhaps infamous) Cooking With Linux which ran for ten years in the Linux Journal. I'm also a published science fiction author and editor, a onetime Editor in Chief, a pilot, a former Top 40 disc jockey, and I fold a mean origami T-Rex.  This site is home to my insights, opinions, gripes, brags, tech stuff, and whatever else comes to mind when I have the time or the inclination to publish it. 

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!

12
Dec

The Perfect Necklace for Chistmas

This little germ comes from France's "Le Grand Journal" on Canal Plus where Doria Tellier is Miss Météo (the weather girl). Part of her show, in addition to giving French viewers the weather, is providing some entertainment only just barely related to the weather. The video is in French but I'm betting you don't need to speak French to get it. On this particular segment, Doria offers up the perfect Christmas gift for the lady in your life. Not only is it unique and versatile, but it can be used to represent the current weather conditions as well. Sort of . . .

Plaque on the exterior wall of École Polytechnique commemorating the victims of the massacre. Memorial plate on the side of École Polytechnique. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine, age 25, walked into l'École Polytechnique in Montreal, entered a classroom and separated the men from the women. Then he started killing people. When he was done, 14 women were dead with another 10 injured. Only four men suffered injuries. The names of those fourteen women are inscribed on a plaque outside l'École Polytechnique de Montréal (click on the image to see a larger version and read teh names.) Lepine wasn't gunning for the men. He told the people around him that he was 'fighting feminism'. Lepine was clearly insane, but his madness was an extreme reflection of much of society's views on women and sex. It wasn't a one-off and unless we are willing to leave the dark ages behind, it will happen again and again.

Enlightened society claims to value women and to care about their rights; that a female child is just as valuable as a male child. If this is true, and we are ready to leave the dark ages behind, then what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen?

Hatred of women has its roots in the way we educate our children. It seems innocent at first, but the message that women aren't as good as men, that boys are better than girls, goes on to be reinforced throughout life in churches around the country and the world. Religious tradition is rife with it's oppressive obsession with the bodies of women. Enshrined in the scriptures are the justfications for keeping women silent and subservient to men, for rape, for witch burnings, for forced marriages, for honour killings, and the vilitfication and disgust that surrounds the female birth canal in so many cultures even today.  On one hand, we talk of the evils of rape, but Scripture makes it clear that it was the woman who tempted Adam with her femine wiles. Her first crime, of course, is the result of her vanity and weakness of character (courtesy of her creator) which causes her to listen to the serpent and break God's commandment in the garden. Right at the very beginning, the stage is set for women to take the blame for all the ills that follow.

Religion is the spectre of the Dark Ages, a ghost that continues to haunt us into the present. The Dark Ages are the inevitable consequence of what happens when religion has its way and decides our fate. To move forward is to bury that cast out that spectre once and for all. We, as a society, need to look at our holy books, accept that much of it is not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense. We need to innoculate our children against its pathological effects so that another Marc Lapine does not grow up thinking that his female companions are less than equal, somehow dirty because of their sexuality, and therefore worthy of contempt and hate.

Before you cast your first stone at me, let me fully admit that not all religious people, or religions, treat women with equal contempt. Not now, in 2012. Women have made great strides in our society and our modern churches, at least here in the West, would not allow or condone the kinds of violence that Lapine was guilty of. Nevertheless, religion is largely responsible for keeping these ideas alive; the recent U.S. presidential election gave us plenty of examples of men explaining how this or that wasn't really rape, or how God really expected women to behave, or how religion should have the say (not just 'a' say) in women's reproductive choices. Western religions can pat themselves on the back all they want, but their constant obsession with women and sex keeps the cycle of violence going. Worse, it provides an excuse for those who would continue the cycle of violence.

Religion is not the reason for our somewhat more englightened age. The rejection of religious doctrine is. If the church, whatever church you like, has become more enlightened, it is because it has been dragged kicking and screaming into the light. There, faced with the brightness of reason, is has given in to some of our demands. But religion is nocturnal and it yearns for the safety of the darkness, where it can hunt unseen.

And so I close by asking once more. What are you willing to give up so that the events of December 6, 1989 do not repeat themselves again and again?

01
Dec

Uncommon Cure for the Common Cold

Next time you have a persistent cough due to cold, I recommend that you try eating a chocolate ice cream cone.

The best thing about a chocolate ice cream cone for a cough is that if it doesn't help, you've just had a chocolate ice cream cone.

You can't lose.

Follow this discussion on Google+ or Facebook.

28
Nov

My Personal War On Christmas

December is just around the corner and the the annual rhetoric around the holiday season is starting to heats up. Yes folks, it's the whole "War on Christmas" thing. Particularly popular with the FOX News crowd, insecure Christians of every stripe manage to get a little hot under the collar at the very idea that this season might be about anything but Christmas. If you hang out on any of the social networking sites like Facebook, you've already seen friends post things like this.

"It's not Happy Holidays. It's Merry Christmas! Hit Like and Share if you agree."  Or perhaps you've seen this one: "I'm keeping Christ in Christmas and putting up a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree" (as though a Christmas tree has anything to do with keeping Christ in Christmas) and a million variations on the theme. In short, well meaning fans of the Christmas holiday season are worried that there's a war going on, a war that can only end when Christmas has been cancelled. For good.

As a raving atheist and obnoxious anti-theist , it's time for me to come clean on my own views regarding the holiday seasons. But first a little history. 

Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in the guy or not, that's really the idea behind Christmas. That's what the manger, baby Jesus, and a whole whack of Christmas carols are all about. That said, putting Christmas on December 25th has less to do with Christ and more with trying to make Christianity palatable to Pagans in the early Christian years. Few people had a clue as to when, exactly, Jesus was born and it wasn't until sometime around the fourth century that the Church pegged December 25th as the big day. Since countless cultures on the planet have historically held some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, it made sense to use this time of year to slide Christmas into the calendar. The Romans already had a big thing going with Saturnalia and it already landed around the week of December 25th, so it was perfect timing.

The solstice is why so many religions have a holiday in and around the end of December. In less enlightened days, we saw the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the temperature get colder. It was scary stuff. But when the solstice was upon us, we knew that the days would start to get longer, the nights shorter, and the season warmer (at least in the northern hemisphere). People who had been feeling depressed suddenly got happier. They threw big parties with elaborate feasts and they filled their world with light. Fire and light. People were doing the winter holiday thing long before anyone had hear of Jesus and the little drummer boy. It was the solstice. Time to party.

Now I love a good solstice celebration as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I love a good solstice celebration better than a lot of guys I've met. 

I have no trouble with the holiday being called "Christmas" and yes, at my non-believing house, we put up a "Christmas tree" and sing "Christmas carols". One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Oh Holy Night" and it doesn't get much more religious than that one; sung with conviction and a beautiful voice, the song can bring tears to my eyes. I love the giving and receiving of gifts and I love seeing my frends and family gathered together to enjoy an otherwise cold and unpleasant time of year. I say "Merry Christmas", kiss under missletoe, and send out Christmas cards, complete with our annual Christmas letter. I watch Christmas movies, both secular (e.g. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") and Christian (e.g. "A Chalie Brown Christmas"). I totally get into Christmas, but not because I'm a Christian. I gave that up a long time ago. I do it because it's Christmas and Christmas is fun for me. I've played Santa Claus and worn the red suit many a year.

I also say "Happy Holidays" and "Joyous Solstice" and "Happy Haukkah" as the situation presents itself. It's a happy time and I like to see people happy, especially when they are enjoying the happiness and company of others. When it's Christmas, it's Christmas and when it's Hanukkah, it's Hanukkah. Ditto for all the other calendar-entrenched holidays. It's the solstice and every culture since the dawn of time has had some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year. Deal with it.

So that's my war on Christmas. Getting people to see that it's okay to say "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah", and "Happy Holidays", or whatever feels right to you when you're greeting others with warmth and friendship, and stop being so damned hung up on the whole thing. Take a holiday pill people and get into the spirit. It's the solstice and it's time to party. Have your fun and make sure you let others have theirs too.

09
Nov

Rememberance Day, 2012

Lest we forget . . .

Remembrance Day at the John McCrae House (birthplace, museum, & memorial) in Guelph, Ontario Canada. A detail shot of the "altar" of the memorial, with the complete poem "In Flander's Fields" & the line "LEST WE FORGET" inscribed on it. 2 Canadian remembrance day poppy pins & part of a wreath are visible. Image source: Wikipedia

I've published a variation of this post for the last few years. If it sounds familiar, you'll understand why. But remembering the past is what this post is about and as we approach this November 11, 2012, I am once again finding myself thinking about wars past, wars present, and sadly, the wars to come. Over the years, I've come to believe that we need to reflect on the horrors of war because we need to understand that it is something dreadful; something to be avoided at all costs; something to be engaged in only as a last resort. And when all else fails, to engage in with the understanding that it is awful and horrible that we may find an end as quickly as possible.

There's an episode from the original Star Trek series that fits well with war today. It's called "A Taste Of Armageddon". In that episode, Kirk and his team beam down to the planet Eminiar VII, a planet that is supposedly at war. Except that there are no bombs, no missiles, and no bullets. Computers fight the war and those people who have been killed in the conflict, willingly report to disintegration booths to be cleanly disposed of. This war has been going on for ages but because it is so clean and tidy, people have forgotten about the horrors of war, and so the war persists.

That's what the words "Lest We Forget" are all about. 

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