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. 


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. 


Slavery in the Bible

Boulanger Gustave Clarence Rudolphe The Slave Market

Chrstians, as I've said more than once, are largely hypocrites, and I consider this an exceptionally good thing. Those people who would hold the Bible up as the perfect word of God and ask us to consider each word and paragraph as divine Truth are preaching a scary doctrine indeed. The Bible is a collection of highly questionable accounts with some real historical significance but only occasional accuracy. Put another way, it's a collection of fairy tales with as much truth buried in the pages as does Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass". Accepting that the Bible isn't the absolute word of God is hard for some, but it's the truth. My religious friends and family selective pick and choose from the Bible all the time, accepting some passages and rejecting others. In other words, they don't truly believe that it is the unnerring word of God. They are, at best, agnostics. They are leaning over the edge looking down into atheism. And so, from time to time, I like to remind them of their selective belief in the so-called "Good Book".

Most people today think that slavery is a bad idea and few would suggest that we should take our Negro brothers and sisters, shackle them, and sell them in the public square. Of course, if we all followed the word of God as outlined in the Bible, we'd still have slavery, and we would support it because God, through the perfect word of the Bible, says it's okay.

Slaves are pretty cool in the bible -- you could pass them and their families to your children as wedding gifts and the like. As in Leviticus 25:44-46:


To all my freedom-loving friends, drink up!

Yes, they are beer coasters. I got them at one of the big Linux conventions, many years ago. Yes, there used to be such things.


Pirate Santa

This Halloween, I'm dressing up as a Pirate Santa.

Instead of saying, "Ho ho ho", I'm going to say, "Har Har Har, ye mangy landlubber. Tells me what ya want for Christmas quickly or I be sending your barnacle-encrusted hide to Davey Jones' locker. Aaarh!"

So Merry Christmas, you scurvy bilge rat! And Happy Halloween. Now hands over the goodies before I makes you walk the plank!

Aaaarh . . .


Happy Halloween! An Excuse To Party!

Feeling a little on edge? Like someone is looking over your shoulder? Do you hear a creaking sound in an otherwise silent room? Wait! Was there something moving in the shadows? You could swear you just just heard a low kind of moaning sound, as though the saddest, loneliest creature in the universe were writing in solitary pain. 

Buck up! It's Halloween!

The day after Halloween was once considered one of Christianity's holiest of days. Enshrined as "All Saints Day" by Pope Boniface IV, the holiday, like many Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas), borrows from earlier Pagan religions. This rite of the church was actually a two day thing, with a prepatory celebration knows as "All Hallows Eve". As such, Halloween was one of the holiest nights of the year, making way to All Saints Day. It's sort of like Christmas Eve and Christmas. The following day,  November 2nd, became All Souls Day, to honor those who hadn't quite made it to sainthood. Since the focus of these days is about the dead rather than the various eternal beings (God, Jesus, angels, etc), you get where this whole Haloween death thing comes from.

All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day is borrowed from the pagan feast of Samhain and comes to us courtesy of the ancient Celts. Samhain is the Gaelic harvest festival. The fields have been harvested, things are starting to look a little dead, and winter is coming. The harvest is cause for celebration but winter, if you don't have central heating (as with the ancients Celts), isn't all that exciting. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the prospect of some serious downer days.

They threw a party. 

The days got shorter and the air got colder and finally, the solstice (which later became the ispiration for Christmas) arrived. The shortest day of the year. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the darkest gloomiest day of the year prior to it getting brighter and (eventually) warmer. 

They threw a party.

As you can see, whenever people are faced with momentous events, in and out of their control, they throw a party. And now, it's Halloween. Or Samhain. Or All Hallows Eve. Take your pick. Either way, it's a great excuse for a party if, as Vincent Price observed in Michael Jackson's "Thriller", you've got the "soul for getting down".

Happy Haloween!


Jesus Is Alive - So Is Elvis

Meanwhile, near Peterborough, Ontario, a battle rages for the hearts and minds of drivers making their way down the roadways. 

One man, deeply devoted to Jesus, decides to make it clear by using his own house as a billboard.

In case you can't read the words on the roof, let't take a look at a close-up (you could also just click on the image).

His next door neighbour might be just as passionate about another man made god, the King of rock and roll himself, the immortal Elvis Presley. Of course, he may just be annoyed at his neighbour's billboard and chose to respond with a billboard of his own. Check it out.

If you're having trouble reading the rooftop on that one, look at the closeup below or, once again, just click on the image for a full sized view.

So? King of rock and roll or King of kings? Are either really alive and living in Spokane where they work at a local greasy spoon serving up burgers and fries?

Myself, I take a more pragmatic view of the whole debate. It seems to be that Elvis is just as alive as Jesus. Maybe just a little more so but only because he hasn't been dead quite as long as Jesus.


Help! I've Been Seach Engine Optimized!

Riddle me this . . . why don't the SEO companies that promise to make you number one on Google show up in the number one position for SEO when you search for them on Google?

I begin this post with some trepidation. You see, after posting the above comment on Twitter, I received a deluge of emails from people offering to make my site "number one on Google and other search engines" (as though there are other search engines worth considering; I'm only partially joking). If a Twitter post got me this much automated response -- it's not like human beings are actually looking at your site or your posts -- imagine what a somewhat lengthy post on the subject of Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) will deliver upon me. Yet I still wander into the churning waters of criticism.

I posted my opening question question on my various social feeds after getting a small deluge of people telling me that they could get my name, Marcel Gagné, to the number one site position on Google. Newsflash! A search on my name already serves up my Website as the number one result on Google. If an actual human being had checked on this, they would have noticed. But I digress . . .

Friends and colleagues had their own take. The first answer I receive to my question came from Aaron Seigo, who summed it up by saying, "same reason fortune tellers never know you're on your way to see them ;)" To which I added, "or win the lottery." Seriously, you never read about psychics winning the lottery; I wonder why.

When I'm not writing about free and open source software or Linux, I run a computer consulting company. In that role, I sometimes get customers calling me up for advice about SEO. When the question arises, a battle erupts in my subconsious, torn as I am between calmly explaining the concept, theory, and methodlogy behind SEO, and running away screaming.

Hiding out on the East Coast, Jon Watson said, "SEO is the 21st century's snake oil. It's an industry in conflict. It attempts to figure out search engine algorithms which is exactly what the search engines spend most of their time protecting and changing. Total waste of money paying someone for that IMHO."

Jonathan Blaine, a tad closer in Toronto, said "I find it interesting, when looking at logs, that these bozos say I'm not highly ranked when I can see the search parameters they used to send me their crap via the form on my website... and the Google or MSN search string they used shows that I am... (um, and why would they send it to a highly ranked marketing company website in the first place?)"

Sound familiar?


Two Sides Of The Gun Debate

An old friend of mine, over on Facebook, posted a story about a young woman who surprised intruders in her home by shooting both and killing one. He held this up as a sample of how wonderful and useful it is to have a gun in the house. His comment, "Imagine what would have happened if her Father hadn't trained her so well...." is an important one to consider in light of how this story was framed.

I responded with my own post suggesting that having a gun in the house isn't necessarily a good thing by posting a story where a father, thinking the house was being broken into, shoots and kills his own daughter.

My reponse, predictably, set up a spirited discussion on Second Amendment rights and why gun control as a means of reducing the number of people getting killed by guns is a myth, complete with links to a pamphlet by a gentleman who sees that same amendment as "the only civil right under perpetual attack". Really? The only civil right under perpetual attack? Clearly this guy is not paying attention. 

My point, and my only point in posting this story, was that my friend picked a story out of the air (off the net, actually) where someone with a gun at home stopped (killed) an intruder. He used that story as 'proof' that having a gun at home is a good thing. So I randomly picked a story off the same net, the first that came up in a Google search, which demonstrates the exact opposite. I typed "father accidentally kills daughter" in a search bar. There are tons of returns for those stories. Ditto if I use "son" instead of "daughter". One incident of a someone stopping and killing an intruder does not qualify as proof that "guns are good to have around the house".

So here's a sample of the first few stories in a Google search looking for parents accidentally killing their kids with the house gun.

Story 1

. . . the man was awoken by a commotion at his house on Glover Street. "He went upstairs to fetch his firearm and while he was there, he heard the commotion again near the door. He fired a shot which hit and injured his... daughter," said Dlamini. "She was taken to hospital in a critical condition, where she died."  (Link to story)

Story 2

The Army Ranger charged on Thursday in his 2 year old daughter's death say he is devastated by the loss of his angel. "I live with the guilt everyday. It was an accident and I miss her and think of her constantly," Josh Henry said.

Henry left his gun near the bed he was sleeping in with his daughter. His daughter Cheyanne was asleep and he left the room to talk with a fellow soldier recently back from war when he heard the gun go off.

The 2 year old shot herself in the chest. (Link to story.)

Story 3

Phoenix Police are looking for a man who is suspected of accidentally shooting his 12-year-old child. Residents in the area of 3900 S. 3rd Avenue were having a party early Sunday morning that included several children. At some point during the party, the father reportedly shot his child while attempting to clear his gun. (Link to story)

Story 4

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident in which a 12-year-old boy accidentally shot his father in the chest while firing at roosters on a farm in Thurmont, authorities said Thursday.

The boy and his father, a 48-year-old Frederick resident, were outside at the farm, where the boy was shooting a .22-caliber rifle, said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

“What they were shooting at were Bantam roosters, which were very aggressive on the property,” Bailey said.   (Link to story.)

Story 5

The investigation continues into the accidental fatal shooting of a 37-year-old Rochester man by his off-duty police officer father at the Adirondack lakeside motel where they were spending the weekend.

State police say Matthew Leach was pronounced dead at a Utica hospital after being wounded early Saturday morning at the Clark Beach Motel in the village of Old Forge.

Troopers say 59-year-old Michael Leach called 911 around 12:50 a.m. to report the shooting. Police say Leach told them he thought he had fired at an intruder. (Link to story.)

Story 6

A Connecticut grade-school teacher accidentally shot his 15-year-old son during what he apparently thought was the attempted robbery of a neighbor’s house, police said Friday.
“Something like this is a tragedy, a loss of human life,” State Police Lt. Paul Vance said.

The incident occurred in New Fairfield about 1 a.m. Thursday when a woman called her neighbor, Jeffrey Giuliano, and said she thought there was a robber in front of her house. (Link to story)

All of these stories make a stark and undeniable point. Guns are dangerous and one person's protection is another's dreadful mistake. Notice how often the theme of "I thought there was an intruder" comes up.

As I have mentioned more than once and in more than one post, I am not 'anti-gun' but anti-promoting guns as an answer to society's ills. I countered my friend's suggestion that having a gun in the house had been a 'good thing' in the case he mentioned. My rebuttal is there to show that it's hardly that simple. A gun in the house can be used against a perpetrator just as quickly as it can against a family member. Accidents happen and I would argue that the vast majority of gun owners haven't a clue how to properly use them.

The Second Amendment was put in place to prepare the population against an impending attack by the British. You know what? It's been a while and as near as anyone can tell, the British aren't coming to invade America.  As my stories demonstrate, most Americans wouldn't know "the enemy" if it came down to it. What we've got isn't a 'prepared population' but a bunch of people living in fear that someday somebody is going to attack them. And so they keep their finger close to the trigger while we wait for the next unfortunate accident.

Edited : Putting good/bad stories aside and looking to statistical results from a large study of gun mortality in the United States, the following study from the American Journal of Epidemiology makes for fascinating, if occasionally a little dry, reading.http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/10/929.full Some highlights include the fact that a gun in the house increases the risk of suicide by about 500% and plain old homicide by 300%. Over 76% of victims knew their assailant. 32% of gun murders occur during a family argument, whereas only 15% involve a robbery. Read on.


Praying For Peace In Winnipeg

Image from Radio Canada article here http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/manitoba/2012/10/04/002-winnipeg-chef-police.shtml

I'm trying to decide just how much fun I want to poke at this guy. 

On one hand, Devon Clunis has an unenviable job, one I certainly never want. While Winnipeg is a quiet rural town when compared to comparable US cities when it comes to crime, tackling crime in Canada's murder capital is a hard job by anyone's reckoning. 

Unfortunately, I must temporarily suspend my respect for the person willing to take on this kind of job because Devon Clunis needs to sit down and think seriously about what policing involves and how best to deal with crime. Winnipeg's new police chief has apparently decided that the way to reduce crime is to get everyone to pray.

Yes, pray.

"I'm a little tired of us…being '[the] murder capital of Canada,'" says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. "People consistently say, 'How are you going to solve that?' It's not simply going to be because we're going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that."

"What would happen if we all just truly—I'm talking about all religious stripes here—started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" he adds. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it's coming. I don't think I've arrived at this position just by chance."

What bothers me so much about this is what bothers me about prayer in general. It's a way to make yourself feel like you're helping when, in fact, you are doing absolutely nothing at all. Why work hard to solve the world's problems when you can pray them away? Besides, your god is coming back some time real soon now and this life is just something you do while waiting for eternal life and paradise. 

Praying for peace, or health, or anything else good for that matter is not only nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense. It renders you impotent and powerless and keeps you from actually doing something.

In a landmark (2006; Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer), which involved six major hospitals, the results showed that prayer had no effect on the outcome of surgery. Worse still, if the patient knew that people were praying for them, they actually got worse than those who simply had no idea they were being  prayed for. So if anything, prayer is harmful, particularly if you know people are praying for you.

Are you paying attention, Devon?

When it comes to murder, the more religious a country, the higher the murder rate. In the US, since I compared their murder rate to Canada's, the most religious of states have the highest murder rates while the least religious have the lowest. This holds true all over the world (see "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being" by Phil Zuckerman, PhD). To the believers out there, this must sound totally bogus but study after study proves it. The same is true of teen pregnancy rates. Check out this report from Reproductive Health which demonstrates a direct corelation between how religious a state is and the incidence of teen pregnancy. Abstinence and God are lousy methods of birth control. Sex education, on the other hand, works wonders. That's because religion's greatest contributions to the human condition continue to be ignorance, intolerance, and fear.

I'm sure Devon Clunis is a good man and a dedicated officer, but in his quest to help the residents of Winnipeg, he is looking for help in the wrong place.


My Own 50 Shades Novel

So, like I'm writing my own "50 Shades" novel, eh.

This one is going to be about surfing guys and babes, getting high, and basically just hanging out on the beach, you know.

It's going to be called "50 Shades of No Way, Dude!"


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