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. 


Lying to Yourself is a Lie

For reasons I can't quite explain, I found myself obsessing over the concept of "lying to yourself" a few days ago. It's a common enough phrase, an expression that says you aren't being honest with yourself on some level. What started to drive me crazy about the phrase, as I rolled it over and over in my head, was a growing conviction that it was impossible to lie to yourself. 

It is, however, possible to be deluded, to find yourself in a state of questionable sanity. Human beings are subject to all sorts of mental failings and we are easily tricked by little things like disease, a clever salesperson, the right words spoken in the right tone of voice, or a virus that drives our body temperature into the realms of fever. The neurophysical machinery, despite many safeguards to protect the brain, doesn't even get first dibs when other parts of the body are in danger. We're also prone to hallucination, courtesy of any or all of the above villains. 

Somehow we're offended by the concept of delusion. We don't want to admit that we've been duped or that we've fallen for some nonsense or that we just imagined whatever it was we so firmly bought into. Delusion just sounds bad. 

"You, sir, are deluded."  Or, "you are living a delusion."

Now let's try the lie instead. "I don't think you're being completely honest with yourself." Or "you're lying to yourself."

Neither of the last two sounds as bad as being deluded or living in a delusion. 

And yet, if you truly believe something that isn't true, you aren't lying to yourself, you're deluded. You've bought into fantasy or accepted the hallucination as fact. In which case, you're mentally ill.  Perhaps not seriously ill; you may have the equivalent of a mental cold. But you're still sick. In the head.

Lying to yourself is a way of holding on to your sanity while admitting to some minor transgression. Except that it's impossible.  If you're managed to convince yourself that a lie you've told yourself is the truth, you're sick.  You're deluded.  Or you're a psychopath with no understanding or concept of truth vs falsehood.

By reaching for the "lying to yourself" card, what you're doing is lying to others. You're telling the people around you about an impossible accident in that brain of yours and that's the real lie. You're not lying to yourself, but to the people in your life; your friends, family, or co-workers

And what about me? Since I'm suggesting that at least some of you may be suffering some form of mental illeness (or worse), I suppose I need to come clean. So here it is. I've been deluded and I've lived a delusion more than once in my life, some were minor delusions and a few were biggies, but I'm pretty sure I've never successfully lied to myself. And yes, I have to admit that I've told a few lies as well. Just not to myself.

How about you? Am I missing something here? If you disagree, take a moment to explain why you feel I am mistaken.

"Faith is believing something you know ain't true." - Mark Twain

Beautiful Beltaine!

Beautiful Beltaine, everyone! 'Tis the (ancient) traditional beginning of the summer season, of flowers popping up, and that whole fertility thing. Put up the Maypole and let's do a little dance. And, in honour of Beltaine, I bring you Men Without Hats and "Safety Dance"!


CTA-102 - Getting The Science Wrong Musically

Is anybody out there?

That's a question, I wager, that humans have been asking (in some form) for as long as they've looked up into the night sky.

In 1963, a Soviet astrophysicist by the name of Nikolai Semenovich Kardashev, then the deputy director of the Russian Space Research Institute was doing research as part of the Soviet's first ever search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He directed the search in a part of the sky where his team picked up what a signal from a strong radio source in the heavens. They named it CTA-102. Kardashev was convinced they had discovered transmissions from an incredibly advanced extraterrestrial civilization. He was so convinced, in fact, that he called a press conference to let the world know about his findings.

Unfortunately, CTA-102 was not a signal from an advanced civilization but the electromagnetic signature of what we now call a quasar, a so-called quasi-stellar object. CTA-102 was the first quasar ever discovered. Sure, it wasn't an alien radio signal, but it was extremely cool nonetheless, one of the wondrous discoveries awaiting us in the far reaches of space.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, while the excitement of this discovery was yet to be dampened, The American rock band known as The Byrds recorded a song calling to the non-existent civilization purportedly transmitting from CTA-102. Enjoy!


We want to talk to you about God

A few minutes ago (it's just after 11:00 am on this Wednesday morning, April 18, 2012), I had two very nice ladies come to the door to talk to me about god, the bible, and our place in the universe. They asked me how I was marking this time after the celebration of the lord's resurrection. I explained that I was an atheist and we proceeded to chat for about 10 minutes as they tried to convince me that the universe must have a designer, etc. They asked me how long I had been an atheist and what caused me to abandon my belief in god and his son. I assured them that I simply did not believe that there is such a being as god, or gods for that matter, and that religion was a colossal waste of time.

How then did all this come about, they asked, gesturing to the world around us. I gave a two minute history of the creation of the universe at the time of the Big Bang, the subsequent creation of heavier elements in the death of stars billions of years ago, the eventual collapse of particles into our planet, and the slow, four and a half billion year evolutionary road to us having this discussion.

The older woman, a well spoken elderly lady, had all the classic creationist arguments to science down pat; all wrong, but consistent on message. She tried her best to insert god into the 'gaps' of our scientific knowledge; always a bad idea since the gaps are always getting filled as we know more and more about our world and the laws that govern our universe.

"Don't you feel that there has to be a designer?"

No, I don't. Evolution is a fact.

"So you believe that we came from monkeys."

No, of course not. Monkeys and humans are descended from a common ancestor.

"But evolution says that things get better."

It doesn't necessarily get better. Not all evolutionary changes are good. Good or bad doesn't enter into it and no designer is required for the process to take place.

"You accept that a car is created." Of course. "But if you just leave a car alone, it doesn't evolve. It just decays and rusts and that isn't good."

It isn't bad either. When that tree over there dies, it decays, goes back into the soil and provides nutrients for the life that grows from it.

"So you don't believe in good or evil then?" she asked.

I have no trouble with the concept of good and evil, I explained.

"Then how do you explain the good that people do if it's isn't inspired by god?"

People will be good with or without god. People will be bad in the same way, but they can do terrible things in the name of a god in which they truly believe. Religion, in that way, is responsible for more death, destruction, and horror, than any other force or concept in human history.

At this point, the younger of the two, a middle aged woman who is probably close to my own age, starts flipping through the bible she is holding. The answers aren't there, I assured her. And yes, I had read it. All of it.

"Then you missed a lot of it," she said. "How do you explain the wisdom of the words."

She tried to explain that the answers were in that book she was holding, as 'directed' by god. I explained the fallacy of that belief. It's just a book, I told her, cobbled together over centuries by a variety of people and from a number of different faiths. It only looks like a single volume in that it's pressed between two covers. Much of it is fiction and the parts that aren't are innacurate at best. It's worthless as a guide for life in today's world.  I think I hurt her feelings. She said that I was insulting her. I assured her that no insult was intended, that it was just a book, and that she was free to make fun of or insult any of the hundreds of books in my house. 

We ended with the younger woman asking if there was some reason, some badness in my childhood, that made me 'hate god'. I explained that time, education, and experience had all gone to assure me there simply was no reason for believing in such a being. 

The younger explained that they were here trying to make the world a better place, and here was I was attacking their belief, angry at their being here. "If you don't want to talk to us," she began. If I hadn't wanted to talk to you, I would have sent you on your way as soon as I had noticed the book you were holding. They were very nice, I assured them, and I enjoyed the discussion.

The elderly woman, however, was unflappable, and did her best to address and counter all my arguments as I offered them. It didn't work. In the end, we wished each other a lovely day and they went on their ways.

Times like this, I wish I could hear the discussion that followed our parting.

Well, some of us celebrate . . . Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government chose to mark the 30th anniversary of the Patriation of the Canadian Constitution and the signing of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a press release. Meanwhile, folks on Twitter are hosting their own celebration of sorts. CBC's "The Current", with Anna Maria Tremonti, is spending an hour discussing it (I'll post a link to the podcast when it becomes available). Stories dissecting every angle can be found in the major newspapers, radio news programs, television, and so on. So why not our elected national government?

Harper's explanation for not wanting to bring attention to the Charter are interesting in that he calls it. "an interesting and important step, but I would point out that the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter, which as you know are still very real in some parts of the country," In other words, it's because it might upset Quebec that his government won't mark the anniversary.

The truth may have more to do with his government than with Quebec however. Witness this 2004 quote former Conservative MP Randy White; "If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is going to be used as the crutch to carry forward all of the issues that social libertarians want, then there's got to be for us conservatives out there a way to put checks and balances in there." In other words, the Charter is a thorn in the Conservative government's side and an impediment to them getting everything they want.

So why is the Charter important? The following video with current Liberal leader Bob Rae provides an explanation.

To wrap up, take a few minutes to watch the following fascinating discussion with former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as he reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, Harper's press release, and the need to unite the left in Canada. He also talks about the Night of the Long Knives and calls it a myth.

Happy Charter Day, Canada!


How Linux Is Built

You may not know it, but you use Linux every day. 

And so coffee has entered the gay rights debate.

Wait. There's a debate?

Apparently. And it seems that some people think the world will implode (and God will get irate) if gays and lesbians have the right to marry and it upsets them. It upsets them so much in fact, that they are going to go after anyone who supports gay marriage. For the record, we have gay marriage here in Canada and nothing terrible has happened. Nevertheless, some of these folk who fear gay marriage signals the apocalypse have put together a Website to raise money to fight Starbucks. 

Yes. Starbucks.

You see, Starbucks has come out (so to speak) as a company, and publicly stated that they support the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, saying that it 'is core to who we are and what we value as a company.' And so, they put up a Website and are asking you to get your hate on for Starbucks. Oh, and send money. I did mention the money part, right?

As you might expect, some people don't feel that hate-filled religious people should get down on Starbucks. Besides, there are other reasons to be upset at Starbucks -- blame the coffee company for having come up with devilishly clever ways of making you spend lots of money on fancy coffee drinks. Blame them for making you say "Venti" when you want a large. But for sticking their corporate necks out and saying that gays, lesbians, et al should have the same opportunity as heterosexual folk for married bliss (or not), they'll pay the tab for that lovely cafe mocha (with whipped cream please) and give their thanks online.  You can vist their Website here.

Interestingly enough, the people who just want to thank Starbucks for their support of homosexual marriage aren't asking for money. Interesting.

So, will you be dumping Starbucks or will you be drinking even more? 

Personally, I think I'm going to slip out and get myself a Tall vanilla latte. Hmm . . . 


Kids In Hoodies Are Asking to be Shot!

Over on FOX News, Geraldo Rivera was pontificating on the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was killed a couple of weeks back (February 26, 2012). Geraldo offered what he referred to as a "different take" on the story. Trayvon was gunned down by a neighborhood watch vigilante wackjob named George Zimmerman because he "looked suspicious."  Geraldo's take encroaches on the unbelievable, suggesting that the innocent teenager's clothes were as responsible for his senseless murder as was the murderer himself. Sort of like saying the girl deserved to be violently raped because her clothes were too sexy. Take a moment to watch and listen.

I've worn hoodies for years; still do. I have one with a Stanford logo on the front. That logo probably makes me particularly suspicious because, you see, I didn't go to Stanford. The shirt was a gift from my wife's cousin who did go to Stanford. I also have one with the word CANADA written across the back and a maple leaf on the front. Nothing says "I'm packing heat" like a Canadian hoodie from The Bay, I suppose. In Geraldo's world, that is.

He also mentions the pants around the ankles as suggestions of a violent lifestyle. Come on! Pants around the ankles do two things; they make you look stupid and they slow you down, making your getaway difficult should you decide to commit some hypothetical crime. Mostly they just make you look stupid.

But I digress . . . maybe we shouldn't be blaming the hoodie but the insanity of allowing some armed trigger happy madmen to patrol the streets looking for some action. Maybe we need to put the damn guns away. 

For the record, I have a 4 year old son and a 7 year old son, and I let them both wear hoodies. 


Today's 100% Guaranteed Horoscope; March 3, 2012

Like others born under your sign, you are largely a creature of habit. You live your life following some kind of routine and you're mostly comfortable with that routine. Today, however, the vagueries of random chance, coincidence, and other events over which you have no control will impact that routine. You may find yourself delayed by some amount of time as you move from one event to another. You could briefly forget what you were going to do, where you were going to go, or where you placed something. Most importantly, there's a high probability that you will see or meet someone you don't know, a person you've never seen before. They may even pass you on the street.

Remember, this horoscope is 100% guaranteed or your money back.


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