Friday, December 21, 2007

Smoking Hickory

False Alarm. I've actually quit smoking. Cold Turkey. It's been about a month now, and the cravings have somewhat subsided to a dull throbbing, on the level of getting a tattoo, piercing, or sexually transmitted disease. Still, I persist, out of an unsubstantiated, vague feeling that it'll be worth it.

I miss smoking. I rather enjoyed it, and it gave me an excuse to get out of the office, or the house, or to escape from whatever awkward situation that I might find myself in. Also it keeps you thin, you catch fewer colds, and it makes you look cool. But there were many reasons to quit. Not least of which was Son. He's getting to an impressionable age (in fact, I may have left it a little late), and of the vast Augean stables of vice that may serve as "bad examples" to him, smoking was probably in the top ten.

But one sin that I absolutely will not abandon, and for which I refuse to feel guilty, is my enduring - some would say "unnatural" - love of bacon. To quote Jim Gaffigan, bacon is the fairy dust of the food world. There is virtually no food that cannot be improved by the addition of this delicious smoked pork product. It is single-handedly responsible for my ambivalence toward vegetarianism.

And so it was with semi-Pavlovian salivation that I read today's bacon-related post on BoingBoing. There was no lack of golden smoked-porcine deliciousness, but my favorite experiment has to be the recipe for bacon chocolate chip cookies with cinnamon frosting.

That's right. Wrinkle your nose, screw your eyes shut in disgust. You are not yet prepared for the sheer majesty of this maple-smoked epicurean madness. I will - I must - sample the forbidden delights of this latest appeal to my secret vice.

Yet I can't help but feel that some unexplored, deeper depravity beckons, perhaps in the form of some prosciutto-peppermint based fudge.

Anyhoo, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eureka!

Where is it? (For long-time readers)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bucking The Hum

Ironman doubts my commitment. He thinks I can't do it. He thinks I'll bail, or lose interest, and in his defense, he has solid historical evidence to back up his claim.

To you, Ironman, I say: Suck it.

A Slice of Cliché

"MORE!", I hear you scream, as we crest this foothill on our climb to the peaks of math-metaphor ecstasy. Let us then ponder the infinite, O willing and supple pupil:

The constant pi, denoted π, is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference C to its diameter d. You probably already knew that.

But pi turns up in a surprising number of places. It rears its head in the cosmological constant, Heisenberg's uncertainty principal, Einstein's field equation of general relativity, Coulomb's law of electrical force, the Magnetic permeability of free space, and Kepler's third law, to name a few.

As a whimsical example, imagine that you are shackled to a cold iron rack, in the cellar of a madman's château, watching a razor-sharp pendulum scythe through the air above your helpless nubile body. The evil Count asks only that you answer one question, and he will set you loose:

"Posit an infinite rectangular lattice of perfect 1-Ohm resistors, just so:


Calculate the resistance R between two nodes in the grid. To one node", cackles the Count, "we will arbitrarily assign the coordinates (0,0). In this coordinate system, the other node lies at (1,2). With each swing of the pendulum, my dear, my revenge draws ever closer."
Well it turns out that there's a whole branch of mathematics devoted to this sort of thing (natch), but the bottom line is this head-scratcher:


Where R is the resistance between the origin node, and the node described by coordinates (m,n). See the pi? No? Well for our current example of (m,n) at (1,2), it all reduces to this:


And so pi has reduced the infinite to an easily solvable, finite-boundary solution space. Well, "easily solvable" is relative here, I guess. I certainly don't understand a word of it.

What I do understand, though, is that here is a number with its hand in the infinite. The digits of pi basically extend on forever, a number with no end. Pi, like beauty, truth, identity and enlightenment, is ever incomplete, ever approximate. It has a head, but no tail. A starving ouroboros.

How sad.

The good news, though, is that it perfectly embodies proof of the human mind's ability to abstract the infinite. Oh sure, there will always be a bunch of literal-minded diehards trying to calculate pi to the umpty-billionth digit, to kill the magic, but the majority of non-insane individuals are capable of reducing it to a symbolic representation of that ratio, and to use the gestalt π as a placeholder for all the strange concepts it represents.

And now there's one more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mathemetaphor

There are a number of interesting (to me) opportunities for parallel between the pure abstract world of Mathematics, and the messy, sensual worlds of philosophy, art and thought. Like all parallels, they tend to converge toward infinity. Of course we can't just jump right into this feast of parallax without building up to it with a little digestif. So, by way of a cheese platter (and there may be some olives in there as well):

A Sierpinski Gasket is a type of ternary Cantor set, or self-similar set. It is constructed by taking a triangle, removing a triangle-shaped piece out of the middle, then doing the same for the remaining pieces, and so on and so forth, like so:

Sierpinski Gasket

The result – if an infinite series can be said to have a result – is a pattern of infinite boundary, and zero area. This totally counter-intuitive concept is poetry in itself. To imagine that by recursive Swiss-cheesing, we can arrive at the Infinite, not by adding to the whole, in the gluttonous, possessive fashion of current North American consumerism, but by taking away, after the fashion of Francis of Assisi, Buddha, the Jain Dharmists:

"Trees renounce fruit and keep us alive. The mountains cast away stones and pebbles, which we use for our works and art. One should renounce worldly possessions devotedly within one's power (shaktistyaga)."
Hey. I'm not saying I'm ready to give up my iPod. This is all merely by way of illustrating that the path to enlightenment is multifold. There are many trail heads (We'll talk about Pi next time), and some of these lie outside the province of our personal expertise.

If you're catching what I'm pitching, throw it back in the comments.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday's Child is Fair of Face

So thirty-odd years ago today, I was thrust, cold, naked and crying into the world. I'm told it was a Monday morning, after seventeen hours of labour, followed by a Caesarean, due to my freakishly large head.

In observance of this momentous day, I give you The Birthday List. It's meme-tastic!

The rules:
1. Go to Wikipedia
2. In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3. List three events that happened on your birthday
4. List two important birthdays and one death
5. One holiday or observance (if any)

Three things that happened on my birthday:
1520 - Martin Luther burns his copy of the papal bull Exsurge Domine outside Wittenberg's Elster Gate.
1936 - Abdication Crisis: Edward VIII signs his Instrument of Abdication. [he did it for love]
1948 - The UN General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Day is also International Human Rights Day.

Two important birthdays and one death:
1830 - Emily Dickinson, American poet (d. 1886)
1948 - Abu Abbas, founder of the Palestine Liberation Front (d. 2004)
1967 - Otis Redding, American soul singer (b. 1941)

Holiday or Observance:
Presentation Ceremony of the Nobel Prize

Tag, Boxer, and Erin! You're it!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Paper Tiger / Poolside Muse

A "Paper Tiger" is something that seems a lot more threatening than it actually is. In 1956, Chairman Mao introduced this poetic Chinese imagery to the English language, comparing the U.S. to a paper tiger, "unable to withstand the wind and rain".

He suggested that allegedly "imperialist" states, such as the U.S. and Russia, had a tendency to overextend themselves on the international stage, leaving themselves open to pressure from other players, who could cause their collapse.

Fifty years after Zedong's comments, the U.S. is overextending itself in Iraq, while it's sub-prime mortgage bubble collapses, bringing the rest of the economy and currency with it. China, meanwhile, holds massive amounts of US treasuries, and is wielding this economic power to forestall a reevaluation of the yuan. China could crash the US dollar, at a time when the economy is already struggling.

Schadenfreude aside, I really don't know who to root for here. An evil imperialist state that spies on, imprisons and tortures its citizens without trial, and kidnaps foreign nationals in violation of international law, or an abusive human rights trampling police state, king of the counterfeiting heap, and exporter of lead-poisoned children's toys.

In situations where I am forced to choose the lesser of two really quite impressively wicked evils, I find it helpful to ask the question differently, ie: Which victory would most benefit me?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

We Do What We Must

On July 4th, 1934, Marie Curie, two-time Nobel laureate, discoverer (discoveress?) of Polonium and Radium, and pioneer in the research of radioactivity, succumbed to aplastic anemia due to her lifelong exposure to harmful ionizing radiation. She dedicated her life to scientific exploration, the thirst for knowledge, and the betterment of mankind.

In our time, this is how we explore the unknown.

For Science!

The Case For Case

What the hell is up with the ee cummings orthography? No capitalization, no punctuation. Do you think that makes you an artist? And how is that better than PEOPLE WHO SHOUT ALL THE TIME BY TYPING IN ALL-CAPS? Why is one acceptable, and the other, not?

Still, I guess if your muse is so controlling as to dictate the use of capitalization and punctuation, then you must obey. But just be aware that everyone else thinks you're an ee cummings rip-off douchebag. It is distracting, and detracts from whatever otherwise uplifting prose you might produce.

I mean, seriously, Why not Ezra Pound, or Robert Frost?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gratitude / Forgiveness

Drooling
labial
dwarf-knuckled homunculus
defeated, spirit broken
can still press a button
for his food

Half blind
hairless
wounded by the worst of us
shivering in the corner
I still see the untamed
heart in him

And I
naive
indignant and well-meaning
loose the ties, unhook the latch
crack the door and show him
to be free

No sight
but caught
the scent of winter's promise
all unknowing, nothing
could hold back his momentum
when he ran

This cold
unkind
this bitter blasted landscape
promised nothing, but forgave
me that I freed him
to his death

Sunday, December 2, 2007

What Do You Know?

Behind the curve as usual, I took a whack at the belief-o-matic, you know, because it takes a website to tell me my place in the cosmos, to tell me what I believe. I was raised Roman Catholic (sort of), got first-communioned and confirmed, went to Sunday school, learned my stations of the cross and all that. So I kind of expected that to be reflected in the results.

What actually happened is that Roman Catholicism came in dead last, even after Jehovah's Witness. So I don't know, is this yet another manifestation of my problems with authority? Am I rebelling against my childhood religious educational experience? Am I denying my cultural history? Chowing down on the flavorless pabulum of white, male, middle-class non identity? Are Catholics just plain nuts?

Results:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (96%)
3. Theravada Buddhism (93%)
4. Neo-Pagan (90%)
5. Secular Humanism (90%)
6. Mahayana Buddhism (86%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (79%)
8. New Age (76%)
9. Taoism (75%)
10. Orthodox Quaker (70%)
11. Jainism (66%)
12. Reform Judaism (65%)
13. Nontheist (61%)
14. Bahá'í Faith (57%)
15. Sikhism (48%)
16. Hinduism (46%)
17. New Thought (45%)
18. Scientology (43%)
19. Orthodox Judaism (38%)
20. Seventh Day Adventist (36%)
21. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (35%)
22. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (31%)
23. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (30%)
24. Islam (29%)
25. Jehovah's Witness (18%)
26. Eastern Orthodox (17%)
27. Roman Catholic (17%)

Unitarian Universalism? What the hell is that? Turns out, it's a fancy way of saying "None of the above".

Story of my life.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Second Rule of Fight Club

I recently told the 14-year old daughter of a close friend: "There are only two emotions that men are allowed to admit to: Amusement and Anger. If a guy talks to you about feelings other than these, he's probably in love with you."

Of course I delivered this in a sort of semi conspiratorial "don't tell anyone I told you this deep dark secret" - kind of way. I'm sure she didn't believe a word of it, which is good, because I'm not sure if it's true or not. Either way, it's sad.

Why do men hate "the talk"? Why, when Wife says "Sweetie, I want to talk" (italics hers), do I role my eyes and suppress a pained groan? Surely we could all benefit from getting in touch with our feelings and having a good cathartic buchke over lattes and facials?

Ick.

One of the many reasons primitive man-monkeys like me don't tend to talk about our feelings could be that we're not a hundred percent convinced it's going to solve anything. For me, talking is all about communication. Specifically, communication of a problem. Step 1, communicate the problem. Step 2, identify and communicate the solution to the problem, or if there is no apparent solution, solicit additional information. Step 3, high fives all around, followed by beer. Note the conspicuous absence of any discussion of my mood.

This is not what women mean when they ask you to talk about your feelings. In fact, this is the opposite of what they mean.

As a "for instance", when I come home at night, one thing my survival instinct has taught me is to ask Wife "how was your day?". During the course of the ensuing epic monologue, many conflicts will be introduced, heroes and villains will rise and fall, and the emerging topical thread will contribute itself to Wife's Bildungsroman in subtle and meaningful ways.

Here is a list of things I must not say during this conversation:

  • "Hey, I had that exact same thing happen to me once, let me tell you all about it."
  • "I know exactly how to solve your problem. Here is the answer..."
Here is a list of things I probably should say instead:
  • "Wow Honey, that's awful! No wonder you're so upset."
  • "That bitch! I hope you told her to go to hell!"
  • ...and any other topical expressions of sympathy in that key.
This shows Wife that not only am I tuned into the conversation and actually listening to what she's saying (the male communication), but I'm also tuned into her feelings about the whole thing (the female communication).

And voila, we've just talked about our feelings. More specifically, she's talked about her feelings, and I've listened. You would think that this is only about 50% of what women want out of a conversation, but actually it's closer to about 90% (not to put it all in cold, logical, male numbers or anything, but there you go).

But before you walk away from the conversation feeling like you got away with something, be aware that the eventual "talk" gets longer and more traumatic every time you avoid it. Really, it's best to get it out in small, preferably daily, doses.

It's in our nature as men to think of this as a painful but necessary task in the maintenance of a meaningful relationship. Like replacing the brakes on your car. Costly but rare. We should instead maybe think of it as a frequent, automatic, almost instinctual thing, like applying the brakes on your car. We've just about evolved to the point where we can handle that.

And maybe someday, there won't even need to be a wife or girlfriend in the room to force us to talk about our feelings...

Fear of Heights

You were so much easier to talk to
when I didn't know you.

Easier still to drink
and laugh with
in that quiet burgeoning,
dawn of friendship

But all become,
once friends,
now heroes,
role-models,
teachers and masters

And now I must keep
a respectful distance
and look East
and wait for another sun.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fly The Friend-Of-A-Friendly Skies

Alaskan Airlines and Horizon Air are pitching a 10% discount on flights booked through their website. The catch? This discount is only available when you book through the special (not to say "segregated") gay-friendly section of their website.

From WorldNetDaily:

Bryan Fischer, of the Idaho Values Alliance, told WND the company boasts of its "nondiscrimination" policies, but, "here they are blatantly discriminating against heterosexuals in their pricing structure."
Oh we poor, downtrodden, oppressed heterosexuals. When will the world treat us with equality and respect?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'm Going To Hell

Erin's going to kill me, but check out these outrageous, hilarious, politically-incorrect ads from the "bad old days" of glaring gender stereotyping.

Men: "They weren't that bad".
Women: "They aren't that old".

I'm always taken by surprise at this kind of thing, firstly that anyone can look at this and see the humor, and secondly that anyone can look at this and not.

Time sure does a number on perspective.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Breaking News

Who says eco-activists are a humorless lot? Greenpeace is crowdsourcing the naming of whales travelling something called the "Great Whale Trail". Of the list of 30 names, twenty nine appear to be some computer-generated random phonetic babble. Japanese for "little love", or Arabic for "star", or Swahili for "hippy" or something. Those granola-crunchers love the Swahili. Anyway, the one name that doesn't suck: Mister Splashy Pants.

Guess which name currently has a 68% lead over its closest twenty-nine competitors?

Go vote now. I don't really know what you're voting for, but in a poll that contains "Mister Splashy Pants" as an option, I think the right choice is clear.

At The Pump

Did you ever play with Silly Putty™ as a kid? Silly Putty is a bizarre polymer, and seems to like switching back and forth from gooey almost-liquid to bouncy almost-solid. But like most polymers, it has a transition temperature at which its physical properties change. In this case, there is a glass transition temperature Tg, below which Silly Putty will behave like glass, and shatter instead of squishing.

Often, the viscoelastic properties of polymers have a rate dependence, and this is the case with Silly Putty. Do the same amount of work over a shorter period of time -- say, hit it with a hammer instead of squishing it between your butt cheeks -- and Silly Putty behaves as if its Tg has been raised. It'll blow into a million pink bits. Don't get it in your hair.

Another cool thing you can do with Silly Putty is squish it onto a comic book or a newspaper, and a ghostly reproduction of the image will be transferred onto the Putty. If you squish it around for a bit, the image will appear to dissolve, but your Putty is a little less pink now. Do this enough times and it'll turn an ugly shade of gray.

Silly putty also bounces, stretches and flows. It is very resilient.

So with all of these wonderful, seemingly magical properties, Silly Putty seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for ... something. But what?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Never Claimed To Be

I'm not a trend-setter, not a leader, not a frame of reference, or a role model. I don't innovate, I copy. I implement other people's great ideas. I plagiarize shamelessly. Well okay, there's some shame, but not a lot.

So here's a riff on Boxer's non-meme, who got it from a friend, who got it from a friend, etc. Everyone's doing it, so it must be cool, right?

First ten songs on my randomly shuffled iPod:

1. Back In Black (AC/DC)
This is the kind of high-energy, brainless Guitar-God hard rock that just makes you want to yell "FUCK YEAH!" at random people on the street. Brian Johnson steps up for the late Bon Scott, and the band unleashes a guitar-fueled power pumping rocket up the charts, ending up in the number two spot for most successful hard-rock album of all time, and no wonder. Every track is legendary. For those days when I care more about Rocking out than listening to soulful lyrics.

2. Dirt Bag (Psycraft Remix) (Brad Sucks)
Hmm. My iPod says this is by "Brad Sucks", though I'm not sure that's accurate. To be honest, I don't know where the hell this song came from, but it sounds like the kind of thing you'd here on a depressing "Basketball Diaries"-type soundtrack. Still excellent lyrics, depressing vocals, swelling orchestral back, some acoustic jangle. I give it four awesomes.

3. Music Is My Hot Hot Sex (Cansei de Ser Sexy)
You maybe heard this song in a recent iPod commercial. A driving synth-pop booty-shaker with a familiar drum and baseline, the song gets my legs twitching within a bar or two. The video sucks, but I defy you to play this track and not break out doing "the Robot". Way too sexy for a Brazilian band whose name means "Tired of Being Sexy".

4. Man of Constant Sorrow (Soggy Bottom Brothers / Dan Tyminski)
This one's off the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou". The movie version was better, but the twangy banjo, and low hooting of the jug just puts it over the top. Fantastic bluegrass, that makes me want to ride the rails with a stalk of wheat in my mouth.

5. Cha Cha Twist (The Detroit Cobras)
First track off their "Mink, Rat or Rabbit" album, this is a wicked, rocking cover of the Brice Coefield original, retaining all of the original 60s charm. For it's time, this was "bad boy" rock n' roll. Now it seems quaint, but the remake keeps the rock-quotient turned up to eleven. Perfect for karaoke, or nostalgia for a time you can't remember.

6. Let Go (Frou Frou)
Classic post-club chillout Europop. Imogen Heap delivers syrupy smooth vocals. Great for: Lying on your back looking at clouds in the sky; rekindling your love for humanity; de-greasing your curmudgeonly soul; coming down from an Ecstasy high.

7. Black Devil Car (Jamiroquai)
By far the best track on their recent "Dynamite" album. What seems at first like a bunch of hard-to-parse atonal progressions quickly smooths out into a sort of meta-funk cum badass rock vibe. Uplifting and energetic. Definitely a pick-me-up.

8. Re: Your Brains (Jonathan Coulton)
From the same guy who brought you the acoustic folk version of "Baby Got Back". Every track is a tongue-in-cheek gem of melodic folk crooning. When you feel like going on a zombie brain-eating rampage, pause for some mellow dining music.

9. Everybody Got Their Something (Nikki Costa)
From the opening "plinky" base line, this song just makes me so happy happy happy. I don't know if it's a remake or what. Don't even know what album I ripped this off, but it's consistently in my top 10. Perfect for sunny days, it'll put a funk-strut in your step.

10. Low Rider (War)
For some reason, I thought ZZ Top sang this song, but I guess I'm wrong. Makes me want to put a fuzzy steering wheel cover on my car and go cruising. Perfect for a blunt in the park, with sunglasses.

About halfway through writing this, I realized that I could just link to YouTube for most of these. It's Infringeriffic!

Also, I seem to have lucked out with this random selection, since a good eighty percent of my music library sucks balls.

In other news, I'm rockin' in the free world with Guitar Hero III. Buy it. Buy it now. Then call me. You can be my roadie.

Seriously. I'm a Rock God.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Losing You Could Mean... Something

What can I say? I'm being lazy and there's no excuse. I said there was no Universal Truth. But here is the truth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Knife Goes In, Guts Come Out

One problem with writing on the internet, is that it's easy to fall into the trap of writing for yourself, and forgetting that anyone can read this crap. Including your wife, your co-workers, your boss, or your priest.

So here's a thing that I feel like I need to write down, but I have to be careful how I do it.

Earlier this week, during casual conversation with Ironman, I mentioned some trifling work-related concerns. Little by little, the conversation became less casual, the concerns less trifling.

I was basically asking for advice from someone who's natural (almost supernatural) people skills and raw management "talent" are tempered with a sort of "Muppet Babies" innocence, and basically eclipse my own amazing awesomeness. Like a sparkling diamond in a dark, depressing sea of vomit, Ironman stands out as, well, something of a niftiness, managerially.

Lest you think I embellish just because he happens to know where I blog, let me assure you that the bar is set relatively low in this regard. The majority of managers with whom I've had the pleasure of working might not inaccurately be referred to as "a hooting band of blinkering cockslots", to paraphrase Oscar Wilde.

At any rate, the upshot of the entire conversation was that, as usual, the problem is me. This stinging truth was delivered by diplomatic hammer, and as I lay on the ground, groping about for my missing testicles, I vowed to do a better job.

Of course, two days later, this promise exploded into festive confetti when I commiserated on the subject of the "bureaucracy" with my lackey. This was an unfortunate choice of words, and the hammer, this time, was less diplomatic. The phone, accursed instrument of Beelzebub, rang.

"If the delicate subtext of our earlier conversation has slipped you by, then allow me to hold your head under the putrescent waters of knowledge," began Ironman (paraphrasing here), and the thing just got better from there. My end of the phone conversation went something like "Yes. Yes. I understand. Yes. Yes." The message was clear. Be careful what you say.

Perhaps I'm a masochist, but I'm hoping for a "be careful what you blog" message. Perhaps this time I'll be able to take a few days off and claim workman's compensation.

Ironman knows I kid. "Just kidding, boss!"

Seriously. Great guy.

In the interests of Changing the Subject:

Son, having recovered from pneumonia, promptly contracted an ear infection. Once he'd finished his antibiotics, instantly broke out in hives, an allergic reaction to penicillin. While at the pediatrician's office (for the fifth time in as many weeks), Son managed to accidentally give the doc a good swift kick in the gnarbles.

This produced in me a strange mixture of emotions that I can only describe as embarrassment, cringing sympathetic pain, regret, and of course, hilarity.

Why is it that all of humanity finds a boot in the nads -- someone else's nads -- so goddamn funny? No other sort of pain or misfortune is witnessed with as much suppressed mirth as having your balls kicked so hard you could wear them for a hat.

Is there some deeper universal bond that joins us all in our appreciation of this phenomena? Some common thread that cuts across cultures? Can it be used to bring peace to the Middle East, as opposed to fodder for America's Funniest Home Videos?

These are the kinds of deep questions that keep me awake at night. Perhaps I should kick Lackey in the nuts, in the interests of improved professional communications.

Spoiler Alert:

Well, I saw this. Which made me think of this:

Which reminded me of something I forgot to mention. FTC insider trading regulations prohibit me from telling you this, but what the hell. Osaka Seafood Concern, the Japanese company that owns a controlling interest in PerpetualStartup, where I work, is undergoing a leveraged management buyout of it's publicly traded stock.

So, I dunno, go buy some stock or something.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spooky

Today's office Halloween party was a huge success. Ironman and I ended up wearing the same costume. I lost the coin toss, so he's the gynecologist, and I'm the proctologist.


The winner for "Best Costume" was this guy. I don't know what he's supposed to be, but anyone who can wear a washing machine all day is not someone you want to mess with:


Though for my money, JimmyFallon could give him a run for his money, as "blue tooth", some sort of denim "deliverance" absurdity that offered something new and disturbing on each fresh viewing:


Best Departmental costume theme went to the Accounting department's gang of crime-fighting nuns:


Also, there was a cult of insect-worshipers, complete with photocopied tracts espousing their theology. Virgin sacrifices and satanic orgies? Sign me up!


Directrix represented, with a contribution in the baked goods department:


Everyone loved her muffins.

And of course, no work got done, so for once, the rest of the company was in line with my personal philosophy. But did I get a prize? No.

And hey. Honorable Mention for this guy:

Friday, October 26, 2007

(2 * G / c^2) * (mass of Uranus)

The Schwarzschild radius is a characteristic radius associated with any mass, at which the escape velocity for the mass is exactly equal to the speed of light. Basically, if an object of mass m is compressed to fit inside it's Schwarzschild radius, it'll become a black hole.

You may be further excited by the knowledge that the Schwarzschild radius of the Sun is about 3 centimeters, or a distance slightly smaller than the length of your pinkie finger.

This means that, if you happen to own a really zippy car, something that can travel at the speed of light, say, you're pretty much safe outside that 3cm distance. If you have something slightly more realistic, like a 1976 Ford Fiesta, you'll probably want to be at least 3 kilometers from the Sun when it finally collapses.

And make sure you use your high-beams, because it'll be pretty dark.

This absolutely useless piece of totally impractical trivia was brought to you by today's discovery of a bunch of holes. Way to justify that funding, NASA!

Lost In Translation

On our way back up to work from coffee today, Ironman and I were forced to circumnavigate an inconveniently parked Canada Post truck. Ironman was vocal in his condemnation of the mailman's parking skills. I suggested we should write an angry letter.

A ridiculous conversation followed: how, exactly, would one address a letter destined for the actual postal service? I proposed (probably incorrectly), that you could probably just leave the address off entirely, and assume that it would find its way. During the short elevator ride, we were unable to satisfactorily resolve this thorny dilemma. Ironman, to me: "You should blog about it".

And here we are.

There's something "meta" about addressing a correspondence to the very entity responsible for the delivery of said correspondence. From one point of view, it's as simple as tipping the paperboy, acknowledging the existence of the physical machinery responsible for the abstract concept of "delivery". From another, it's one example of a self-referential meta-psychosymbolism that informs all human language and thought. And guess which of these points of view we will be discussing?

It's pretty widely accepted that language plays a pivotal role in the healthy neurophysiological development of the human brain, particularly in childhood. Stories about children raised by dogs, or abandoned to their own devices from the age of three, never fail to include a chapter on the shocking underdevelopment of various essential brain functions. Language teaches us to think, and vice-versa. But only to a point.

We use language to describe things, and in so doing, create our own personal symbolic dictionaries for dealing with concepts. Semantically, the word "rock" is not a rock, nor does it describe or refer to a particular physical rock. It triggers instead a chain of recursive psycho-symbolic dereferentiation that eventually unravels into a semantic symbol of "rock"-ness. And that mental image somehow stands in for all the rocks in the universe, or at least those we can perceive.

It is almost ridiculously simple for the human mind to construct a psycho-semantic representation of concepts like "infinity", or "everything". I mean, you can't actually conceive of all the physical objects, or actions, or concepts that fall under the umbrella of "everything", at least not as easily as "rock". But language, and the semantic associations it invokes and informs, is crucial to our ability to describe the concept that describes the indescribable.

Everything is basically meta data, describing other meta data, along an inferential chain of semantic associations, that end in a sort of shorthand notation for the world around us. In computer languages, this chain is finite, ending with "machine-language" instructions that interact with the actual, physical hardware of the machine. This simplicity is sacrificed in the human brain, in favor of the capability for higher thought.

Rather than a "chain", think of an infinitely branching "tree" of associations. While your brain is busy translating the word "rock" into the mental symbol it's meant to represent, it will apply the semantic value of the word, the pragmatic value of the context in which the word is used, the syntax, or structure of the inter-relation of other symbols used in the context, and a bunch of other stuff I barely understand. And through the application of all of these contextual signifiers, will prune the tree for the possible meanings of "rock" into the one symbol that makes sense.

When this mechanism breaks, as in Aphasia or some other cognitive disorder, it basically breaks language. A stroke victim, unable to communicate, may or may not still be able to understand "rock". May or may not lose the capability for abstract thought, the very capability that was created using the scaffolding of language.

If it's possible to address our mailman's callous disregard for parking etiquette by writing a letter to Canada Post, then it follows that we can fix a broken mind by communicating with it. This can be tricky, like arson at the Fire Department, when the part of your brain responsible for communication is the part that's broken. Imagine the effectiveness, in this scenario, of a language based on smell, or temperature, or light.

It does not follow that it's possible to break a healthy mind by withholding meaningful communication, though it would be fun to try.

And now I'm bored of this (I can only imagine how you must feel), so in conclusion,

Dear Canada Post,
Please don't park on my fucking sidewalk.
Sincerely,
A concerned citizen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

He Sees the Fnords

The human brain is a fucking mystery, and nowhere is this more apparent than when observing children. How can Son take such fantastic shortcuts along a chain of deductive reasoning, such dizzying leaps of logic, yet still not remember to don't put things in your mouth goddamit I've told you a thousand times!

Last night, I surfed over to the excellent BoingBoing, where all my best plagiarism comes from. The first item on the site was something about Bob Shea, the second banana of the Illuminatus! meme. To compliment the article, there was a cover-shot of the actual trilogy, thus:


Not being all that interested in more Fnord-related Church-of-the-SubGenius, Malaclypse-The-Younger absurdity, I quickly scrolled down to see what other meaty nuggets might be available in today's BoingBoing stew, so this image was on-screen for maybe one second.

Son jumped off my lap and pointed excitedly at the bookshelf next to my desk. "Daddy! Daddy! It's right there!". I didn't immediately realize what he was talking about, so he grabbed the mouse and scrolled back up to the picture on the website.

Of course, he had instantly located my copy of the Illuminatus! trilogy, the spine of which is decorated with a similar dolphins-leaping-over-eye-of-providence image. So, in less than a second, he saw a picture on the screen, realized he'd seen that image somewhere before, and located the exact book, among a wall full of books, displaying that picture.

Now maybe it's just the proud parent talking, but holy shit, my kid's some kind of genius!

Later on, while getting ready for bed, I had to remind him for the zillionth time not to eat whatever it was he had just excavated from his nostril.

So instead, he wiped it on my shirt.

A fucking genius, I'm telling you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Shroud of Turing

Oh. My. God. Info-theorists and hacker-philosophers alike are creaming their jeans today at the news that a proof exists for the universality of the 2,3 Turing machine!!

A Turing machine, named for Alan Turing, the prehistoric proto-geek who came up with it, is basically an abstract symbol-manipulation device (This makes you horny. I can tell).

In concept, the Turing Machine theory states that a theoretical device can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer that could possibly be constructed. Turing machines are an abstract definition of an algorithm, or 'mechanical procedure'.

But wait! There's more! Further down the rabbit hole, a Universal Turing machine is a Turing machine than can simulate other Turing machines.

If your mind is still intact after that last shocking psychedelic blast, keep reading. A UTM, as the hip kids refer to it, can "run" any arbitrary, but well-formed, sequence of instructions, applying them to a set of data. Anyhoo, it's all very complicated and annoying to explain. Go read Wikipedia. I'll wait.

Stephen Wolfram is a crackpot idiot-savant mathematician with a brain the size of a planet. He is monomaniacally obsessed with Cellular Automata, "emergent behavior", and "randomness". To the point that he sequestered himself in Hermit-like seclusion for ten years to write a book that he claims revolutionizes ALL OF SCIENCE.

I have read this book, and while it's not complete bunk, it's far from the next Principia Mathematica. Which is not to say that Wolfram isn't a genius. He's just a misunderstood genius. Specifically, he is misunderstood by me.

The super-secret, no-girls-allowed elite class of Turing Machines referred to as "Universal", are usually described by referring to the number of possible states of the machine, and the number of symbols recognized by the machine (it's alphabet).

A Turing machine has a finite number of states and is in exactly one of these states at any given time. Depending on the current state, and an input value (the symbol), the machine will perform some action, possibly modifying it's state.

Anyhoo, since the mid-60s, and until recently, the simplest proven -- mathematically proven, that is, since scientists rarely lower themselves to the level of actually constructing a physical proof -- Universal Turing Machine was a 7,4 machine. This means that, theoretically, a machine could be constructed using only seven states and an alphabet of four possible symbols that, given sufficient time, could simulate the execution of any algorithm.

FYI: The "simplicity" of a given UTM model is given by multiplying the number of states of the machine by the number of symbols.

Wolfram, the hermit crackpot math weenie, posited the existence of a still-simpler model, a 2,5 UTM, the existence of which was proven by one of his research assistants. According to Wolfram other, smaller UTMs should exist, and he proposed a 2,3 machine as a candidate.

Today, that daring dream, that inspirational flight of fancy has become a breathtaking, flabbergasting reality! The universality of the 2,3 machine has been proven by Alex Smith, an undergrad Electrical Engineering doofus at U. of Birmingham in the UK.

Smith did it for the money, of course (as if there's any better reason). Wolfram's offering a $25,000 prize (my schadenfreude makes me want to make a joke about the exchange rate and failing US currency, but I shall resist).

Being an engineering student, you know he'll spend it all on beer. And to what nobler cause could the funds be put, than to destroy those very brain cells responsible for this amazing contribution to the eternal information-theorist "My UTM is smaller than yours" contest?

Really, what are they compensating for?

Wow, that was possibly my most boring (for people who are not me) post ever. If you managed to make it all the way through, congratulations. Have some boobs:

Premium Dregs

No thoughts, no news, no feelings. Just awesomeness:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Secrets I Keep From Myself

Sometimes, when I'm bored, I pick my nose. But I don't eat it. That's just gross.

When I smoke in the rain, I get the hiccups.

The other day, Indira (a lovely woman, who ends all her emails with "have a wonderful day") signed an office-wide email with her job title as "Human Ressources Coordinator". For some reason, I still don't really know why, I thought this misspelling was funny, and somehow ironic. I should instead have taken it as a sign of her humanity, and therefore her suitability for the post.

Boxer is right. I'm a total misanthrope.

Victoria's "Secret" is that her brassieres and panties don't look like that on all women. Or me.

More and more, the things I hate the most about other people are usually the things I dislike about myself. Okay, maybe this isn't some mind-altering revelation to you, but still.

No one in the office knows that I have pierced nipples, including me.

I don't get modern art. Or most poetry. Or Wi-Fi. Or how my car works. I don't get a lot of things, actually.

Son has total power over me, and I don't mind. Does that make me a bad father?

All the thoughts I have, that I thought were original, aren't really. Including this one.

I used to say "This too shall pass", but after a while I stopped saying it.

Molly Haskell said: "For a woman, there's nothing more erotic than being understood." ... I wonder what the hell she was talking about.

The short answer to "What the hell is wrong with me?" is: "I can't afford therapy".

Now Cluck Like a Chicken

When you've figured it out, when the little light goes on in your head, you will experience a revelation so profound that you will void your bowels -- literally shit yourself -- in ecstasy. You can thank me later. Preferably from some distance downwind.

Get your tin-foil hats, chillun', it's time for Krazy Konspiracy Korner! This week: Is your government developing a Top-Secret mind control device? Docile, cow-like civilians? Credulous voters? Infotainment standing in for Journalism?

Okay, but time out. If you're seriously not scared or angry at the thought of a human brain being controlled remotely, then it could be this prototype of mine is finally starting to work. Now take off your top.

This year, for Halloween, I will attire myself as the abstract concept of Evil. What do you think that looks like? Devil horns, perhaps? Maybe some kind of Snake-man? Whatever it is, it'll probably involve a briefcase. Ayn Rand wrote: "To discuss evil, in a manner implying neutrality, is to sanction evil."

Although I notice that she never actually comes right out and says that this is wrong.

I plan on losing to "The Human Condom" at the office costume contest. What man could look back on his life and call it complete without at least one humiliation at the hands of a giant prophylactic? Reminds me of my bachelor party. Ah, Good times.

So every morning now, I throw open my window and make love to the world. Not literally of course -- not since the court order -- but my humors are, for the moment, in equilibrium, thanks to a generous course of caffeinated beverages and age-inappropriate candy. Happy Halloween, victims! And always remember: Half the time, manic-depressives feel better than you or I could possibly imagine.

Also, if you wake up in the middle of the night, and I'm standing over your bed, go back to sleep. I'm just playing "Dracula".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blue Skies and Brittle Smiles

So here we are, in the throes of Indian Native-American Summer. Neither lazy autumn, nor fully a return to the halcyon summer, and about as far from the bitter, frozen, whistling wasteland of a Montreal winter as it's possible to get. It's warm enough for shorts and sandals, but I've decided to spare you the sight of my winter-pallid legs, and hobbit-hairy toes. You can thank me later.

Much discussion of late, with IronMan (among others) on the art of small-h-happiness, the merits of trees over forests, and What, O What, Does It All Mean, Really? Heady stuff indeed, but the final syrupy essence is that: a) you can't just wait for happiness to happen. b) Big-H-Happiness, the meaning of life, the one thing that will just complete your existence here on Earth? That doesn't exist. So c) You have to cobble it together out of smaller pieces.

Big-H-Happiness is Enlightenment is Nirvana is Truth is Beauty is Meaning is God is The Soul. This is the thing those little monks in the orange robes spend their not-inconsiderable lifespans pondering. Once in a thousand years, a "living Buddha" achieves perfect enlightenment, and let's face it, you're not him.

Small-h-happiness is Autumn colors (or in Boxer's case, shoveling your sidewalk. Freak), is hugging your child, is finishing a Sudoku, is watching cartoons, is riding bikes, is dinner with friends, is making love. These small joys are pretty much within reach for all of us, and they add up to... Something. Probably something pretty good.

Our consumerist society teaches us from a young age that rarity equals value. Gold is worth much more than salt, by reason of its rarity. We are taught that "common" things, commodities, have little or no unit value. And so it's perhaps made a little easier to commoditize the small-h, and to always be looking for the magic bullet of enlightenment. And of course I, prey to all the foibles of the human condition, fall for this trap every time.

We are so busy looking for the forest, that we fail to see the trees. So obsessed with the Big Picture, that we ignore the magic of those tiny pixels of which it is composed. Eyes always on the horizon, we trip on the the artifacts of our missed opportunities. Searching for le mot juste, we write a bunch of crap and overstate our case.

Any conversation on this topic with IronMan usually ends with a half-joking resolution to Lower Expectations. "If you're not satisfied, lower your expectations until you are". Then we laugh. But there's many a true word spoken in jest. Narrow the scope. Lower Expectations. Don't look over there, look right here. Stop waiting.

Today we talked a bit about Boxer (yes, Leila, we talk about you when you're not around. Aren't you appalled?). How the hell does she do it? She's always so damn happy (or at least she fakes it convincingly). Boxer smiles, even when she's crying, which is tough to pull off.

Not that I cry.

You know, being a guy and all.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

StumbleUpon

Bertrand Russel once said that the point of philosophy is to start from something so simple as to not be worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it. In Plato's Meno, the title character asks Socrates "How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?" In other words, how can you know that you've arrived at the truth, when you don't know what the truth is?

Socrates runs circles around Meno, suggesting that by this logic, man cannot search for that which he knows, because he already knows it, nor for what he doesn't know, because he wouldn't know what he was looking for. Of course, this is the dumbest thing EVER, and so Meno, duly chastened, shuts his uninformed trap.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that the most rewarding way to arrive at an unknown truth is to trip over it in the dark, while on the way to the fridge for a midnight snack. Usually there is a sufficiently loud noise, as of a small plastic McDonald's toy being crushed by a grown man's bare foot, possibly a chair falling over. Some quiet but earnest swearing may also erupt.

More often, though, I resort to the "There is no absolute truth, and therefore to explore the nature of the Known or Unknown is ultimately without reward, so let's just watch Survivor."

This morning as I was leaving the house, Son gave me a big hug and said "I very love you, Daddy".

So cute.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Philly, Lick a Lolly

Wow. Just.... Wow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Behold This, Biatch

Keats says "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know". Keats, in many ways, was a genius. In many other ways his stuff is utter, utter shite. The same can be said of most of us. Literary deconstructionists and philosopher pedants like myself will try to put one over on you by suggesting that The Truth Can Sometimes Be Harsh And Disturbing, So How Is That Beautiful, eh Smart Guy?

By way of riposte, allow me to arm you, not with any real ammunition, but something that makes a loud noise and bright light, enough to distract these assailants while you escape via carefully pre-planted neologism. Just as there is no Objective Beauty, there is no Absolute Truth. While it's quite the leap to suggest that this mere coincidence implies equality, at least in this, they are equal abstracts, convenient placeholders for whatever the hell it is we were just talking about.

Ooh Look! Something shiny!

I spent a thoroughly delightful evening in the company of the League of Overachievers last night, "swilling wine with willing swine", as it were, and came away with that warm, fuzzy, light-hearted feeling that has been all too rare lately. Boxer, IronMan and Directrix were all there, along with Boxer's Big Kid (probationary League intern). Of course I dazzled with my usual charm, wit, charisma and bonhomie (or at least drank enough wine to convince myself of my own charm, wit and charisma. The bonhomie, I still maintain, was genuine).

Of such an intensity was the awesomeness, that at times I cried tears of joy, and where my tears fell, tiny white flowers blossomed. Until around 2:00 AM, when I cried tears of intense peptic discomfort as all the wine I had downed wreaked it's tanniny revenge.

So, for lack of a feast, my brain has baked us a couple of Welsh rarebits:

  1. Clichés should be avoided like the plague.
  2. Speed Dating vs. Carbon Dating: Discuss.
  3. The trick with Midget Porn is to watch it on a really big TV. Then it's just like regular porn.
  4. Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in the dictionary? ("Oh no", you will say, astute reader, "I'm not falling for that one. Everyone knows there's no such thing as a dictionary!")
  5. Yes, I sometimes have stubble. Does it make you want to kiss me any less? No? Then what's the problem?
  6. I wonder if they have Methadone clinics, but for boobs? I'm totally addicted to boobs.
Next time: Stay tuned, victim! Is that...doggerel?

Probably not, actually.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Extraterresticles

This one thing I did once, was I used to be a member of this dinky theatre company that put on plays in church halls. Loads of fun? Check. Chance to play dress-up? Roger that. More gay than a Liberace pool party? Right on. And, like everyone else, I'm sure, I briefly entertained fantasies of doing it for a living.

I longed to be one of those wide-eyed Minnesota girls, fresh off the bus to L.A., waiting to be discovered, but eventually chewed up and spit out by the pornography industry, a used-up husk of a beef-jerky-skinned relic, a caricature of lost innocence In A World Gone Mad. It was not to be, alas, but really, every job is an acting job, when you're expected to act like you give a shit.

The ability to laugh at myself, and, more importantly, everyone else, is the chief counter-argument to my Universal Disqualification theory. After all, laughter is the best medicine (unless you're a Christian Scientist. Then it's pretty much the only medicine you've got).

On the subject of medicine, Son spent last week in hospital, recovering from pneumonia. For a four-year-old (and his parents) this is a Big Deal. Wife never left his side, despite my attempts to convince her, except to go home for the occasional shower. So I spent a large part of last week visiting him, trying to keep him from getting bored with the hospital's meager selection of DVDs and toys.

At some point, his Yaya promised him a scooter, once again making the mistake of thinking that he'd forget all about it once the fever broke. Now, between doses of banana-flavored antibiotics, all the considerable bandwidth of his age-appropriate attention span is focused with monomaniacal intensity on the eventual fulfillment of this promise. The Scooter is forever just beyond the horizon, beckoning, beguiling, tempting. He cannot look away.

Things at work proceed apace. The recent layoffs of key personnel have been closely followed by the resignation of Dr. Dee, who has been an inspiration and father-figure to me during the last four years at Company. His kind but firm management style will be missed, and Doc, if you're reading this, I'm crying on the inside. Really.

Since Boxer was punted, a little over a year ago, it has become a rough and calloused province of my heart that receives this type of news, and so the emotional impact is somewhat diminished. But it's still like losing a member of the family. And now we wait for the inevitable organizational fallout, the hit to employee moral, the uncertainty, and the exodus.

Once you've been through this a couple of times, it almost becomes a pattern, like chapters in the old testament, or the five stages of grief, specific quadrants through which the wheel of our stationary cycle must turn, in order to rise once again to some functional mark. Which reminds me:

The Roman philosopher Boethius, one small constellation in the night sky of the Dark Ages, re-popularized the concept of the Rota Fortuna, or Fortune's Wheel. The basic concept is that Fortuna, goddess of fate, spins this wheel, bringing some fortune, and others grief, according to her whim. Boethius warns against the attempts on the part of foolish mortals to stay the movement of this wheel, for "if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune."

In other words, don't try to change your fate, because that's not the natural order of things. This was a convenient and popular message at the time. Peasants were absolved of any responsibility for their own misery, and kings and nobles got the message out to the proles that "hey, this is your lot in life. Suck it up." I'm a lazy, lazy fucker, so this whole "Fortune's Wheel" philosophy is pretty cool with me.

Philosophy being what it is (ie: a load of bunk), this message has largely been lost to the age of reason. Fortunately for long-buried Roman philosophers, we are poised once again to enter a new Dark Age of the mind, and the resurgence of all this old claptrap is nigh. Keep in line, don't bring water on the plane, don't make a fuss, and whatever you do, don't make eye contact. and if you end up in Gitmo, well it's just plain bad luck.

But fascist governments aren't the only trend governed by this cyclical pattern. The emotional health of any individual, or Company, can be brought high or low just as arbitrarily. And no amount of banana-flavored antibiotics will help.

I wanted to insert some horrible metaphor about "buying a vowel", but I can't be bothered.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stop and Smell the Leaves

Buried in the warm, loamy compost of complacency, I've neglected you. But Boxer has awakened me from my blogging interregnum, and reminded me of my never-sleeping duties.

The air conditioner still has it's place in my bedroom window, more as a monument to wishful thinking than pragmatism, but even I, with my limitless powers of persuasion, can only lie to myself for so long, and one day soon I'll break down and admit it: Summer is over. In the meanwhile, don't tell me. I want to let myself down easy.

This was the end of my first week back at work after a longish two-week vacation. Family and I spent three fantastic days in Niagara falls, feeding belugas and swimming with dolphins and discovering new phobias (heights) and obsessions (water slides) and whatnot. A thoroughly enjoyable (and, when solitary, boring) vacation that saw me return to work refreshed, bright-eyed, and ready to re-commit my life to the furthering of corporate objectives, etc, etc.

Son absolutely loved, went ape shit for the water park / resort that we stayed at, while in Niagara falls. Oh yes, there will be pictures, fear not.

Last night saw the launch of an exciting new product pilot here at work, so I was at the office from about midnight to four a.m., along with a handful of other people. During this time slot, we pulled in a whopping seven dollars in revenue, most of which I found between the cushions of the couch I was sitting on. So yeah. Time well spent.

I've a feeling the twofour of red bull, heaps of pizza and junk food, not to mention my expense report for parking, will burn through that windfall rather quickly.

When I was leaving, a planned Hydro power outage left me stuck in the elevator between the first and second floors, along with IronMan. I called upstairs to Lipstick and Tortoise, who wisely took the stairs. Five minutes later, the power was back on (wehter because Lipstick pulled in some favors at Hydro HQ, or by blind luck, I won't ask). This is one of those stories that is more humorous in memory than in life.

All the recent frantic scrambling and layoffs, trying to suck the last of the blood from the stone that is our chosen market, has resulted in various initiatives to strike out into new product lines. Memo to the chiefs: may I suggest Organ-legging? Panhandling?

And now, as the week, and the season, draw to a whimpering end, and I must close one eye to prevent double vision due to exhaustion, it may be time for another vacation.

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." - Albert Camus

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

That Deaf, Dumb and Blind Kid Sure Plays a Mean Pinball

After grumbling and mumbling for (according to Wife) an eternity about how I need a vacation (despite, or perhaps because of, my inability to coherently explain to anyone what exactly it is I do), I finally took Friday and Monday off, and tried to relax. Since being stressed out doesn't appear to be helping my productivity, perhaps some chillaxin' would do the trick.

Friday was spent taking Son to the doctor, dragging him home from the park in a thunderstorm, and generally spending some quality father/son time. At some point I texted The Boxer, wanting to see if she felt like basking in Son's radiant glory (and my own, lesser, light). She declined on the laughable pretext of being a couple hundred kilometers away, and thus unavailable.

"Ottawa, eh?" says I, "Hmm...". And so, the inspiration for an epic family road-trip was born. Wife and I packed a bag, got a hotel using some sort of mysterious "points" system, the mechanics of which elude me, and boogied on down the T-Can to O-town for the bitchin' night-life and wild orgies.

Okay, no seriously. We went for the museums. First stop was the Museum of Nature, which is just like a zoo, except all the animals are dead, stuffed and mounted. This used to be called the Museum of Natural History, but that had a nasty boring historical ring to it, so they renamed it. The dinosaur exhibit is still in full effect, thank God (that's right, Creationists, "God" and "dinosaurs" in the same sentence. Suck it!), so Son spent a good hour and a half ogling the petrified skeletons of Devonian sea-creatures and the like.

They even had dinosaur poop! Which really didn't smell as bad as it sounds, and actually had a sort of burnished quality to it, as though transformed through the magic of fossilization into bronze or (*gasp*) Gold! I couldn't believe it. Here was a creature whose fleshy bits became oil, whose bones became stone, and whose poop became Gold. Truly a masterpiece of Intelligent Design, all form and function designed to serve that pinnacle of creation, Man (or, you know, Woman, whatever.). No wonder the creationists let this place slide!

We then whipped through the other five floors of the museum in about fifteen minutes, and adjourned to Sparks street, where a Buskers Festival assailed our senses. Seriously. That guy on stilts who plays the saxophone and looks like he's gonna kick you in the face with his skinny two-by-four legs? He was there. So were the break-dancers, the guy who draws Vermeer on the sidewalk with colored chalk, the man who bites the heads off chickens, that fucking string quartet who don't seem to know any songs other than Pachelbel's Canon, the Spoon Man, the puppet-show guy, the cotton-candy lady who always has a cigarette in her mouth, the chicken who bites the heads off men, the bloody Peruvian Pan-Pipe Band (or maybe they were Andean?), and various T-shirt, slushy, and snake-oil vendors. The highlight of the affair for Son, though, was bouncing around in an inflatable trampoline at 2 dollars a minute.

Lunch was crappy and expensive, and would set the tone for all our culinary experiences in Ottawa. Maybe living in Montreal has spoiled me, but the trip seemed salted and peppered with universally shitty and expensive food.

Finally, it was check-in time, and we repaired to the hotel for a quick nap. The rest of the day was spent in a whirlwind walking tour of all the salient touristy parts of Ottawa: the Hill, Byward Market, the Canal. We finished off the night with a dip in the hotel pool, and a light show on Parliament Hill, and hit the hay.

Sunday was breakfast at Chez Cora, more Byward Market, watching the boats in the Rideau Locks, then hitting the Museum of Science and Technology on the way home.

The Museum of Science & Technology was a heterogeneous mélange of the mundane and the fascinating, the old and the new, the shiny whiz-bangery of The Future and the insufferably dull nincompoopery of "The Future". Believe me, it's a subject for a whole other post, but by way of a tempting morsel of Things to Come, check it. I came across this unassuming black box in the "History of Radio" section of the museum:


Herald of the age of Bakelite and cast-iron, the "fathometer", I assumed, was used to gage how Fat one's "Ho" was. Not so! (I was informed by a patient museum volunteer) In actuality, submarines had this on-board to determine the depth of the sea bed, in order to avoid the embarrassment and inconvenience of running aground on the bottom of the ocean.
Another miracle of the future: The Satellite Phone! According to the plaque, in distant 199?, "Earth stations like this, forecast for the future, would let you be in contact with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Would you want one?"

Gosh, and how! What won't they think of next?

Lately I've wondered about my qualifications. (I'm not, after all, an expert.) And not in any specific way, like "Am I qualified to do my job", but am I qualified to do anything really? Be a father / husband? Be a (yuck) "blogger"? What the hell qualifies me to try and make people think, when I can barely bestir my own gray-matter from it's perpetual hibernation?

Some people are uniquely unqualified for specific tasks. You wouldn't ask a gay man to judge a "Miss Nude Hawaiian Tropic" competition, for example, any more than you would ask a Catholic priest to babysit your kids, or an esotropic homeless man with an inner-ear infection to lead a firing squad. There are some specific unsuitabilities (all racism, sexism, ageism, creedism and nationalism aside) that simply cannot be overlooked.

When you're interviewing prospective employees for a position involving, say, fire safety, are you going to hire the former chief of the Asbestosville Fire Department, or a three-time convicted arsonist? Arguably, the arsonist knows a lot more about fire.

But this isn't a question of being uniquely unqualified. My disqualification feels, at times, universal, and I flash on the image of myself, or the meager accomplishments of my life, gathering dust in some Museum of Human Nature, atop a faux-brass plaque inscribed with my various paleontological vital statistics. And the sum of my contribution to the universe will be Son. The torch is passed, and now no light falls on me.

The good news is that you can't be fired from any of the really important stuff (short of a court order, and if you're reading this, Kevin Bacon, stop calling me). Sometimes, a nearly infinite series of second chances awaits. And I figure, if a four-year-old can offer unconditional forgiveness and acceptance, then how hard can it be?

It's a fucking work in progress, is all. Cut me some slack.

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's Not a Race


So we stand once again on the edge of the stream of consciousness, and prepare to skip a rock across the placid waters of the mind. Prepare for unimaginable boredom.

One of Zeno's paradoxes of motion is illustrated in the parable of Achilles and the Tortoise. Basically Achilles - indestructible killing machine of the Myrmidon army, hero of various engagements in the Trojan war, and all-around stud - is set to race against a tortoise - wizened armored slowpoke and butt of philosophers' jokes.

Being a good sport, Achilles gives the tortoise a head start of, say, a hundred meters. If Achilles runs at ten meters per second (a prodigious pace of 22 miles per hour), and the tortoise runs at one meter per second, Zeno, venal and doddering old rascal that he is, says that Achilles can never catch the tortoise.

The theory is that by the time Achilles has run a hundred meters to catch up to the tortoise, the tortoise will have run an additional ten meters. In the time it takes Achilles to cover that additional distance, the tortoise will have progressed another meter, and so on, ad infinitum. This is the same logic that irrefutably proves that the minute hand on your watch can never overtake the hour hand. And as slow as time may seem to crawl on certain painful days, it is immediately apparent to the most casual observer that there must be some flaw, some hidden fallacy, in Zeno's perfect logic.

Ever get the feeling that no matter how hard you work, how much you apply yourself to a task, you'll never reach the end? All the tortoises are writing the rules and, slow as they are, they can't be beaten. Now I'm not such a good sport, and rarely give head starts if I can avoid it, but I've run a lot of those races recently, and visions of turtle soup are starting to dance through my head.

The tortoises will tell you "Work Smarter, Not Harder". This is a facile platitude for they that have no intelligence to lend. The only way to win this kind of race is to be the tortoise, and have other people try to catch up to you. But who wants to be a fucking tortoise?

Our philosopher's stone, flat, round and smooth, whipped with all the speed and skill that our feeble modern minds can muster, skips off the water here, causing easily ignorable ripples, sails low through the air, and splashes down again on the Fletcher's Paradox.

Another of Zeno's illegitimate sons of politics and philosophy, the Fletcher's Paradox asks us to imagine an arrow, released at speed. Maybe shot by that consummate archer, Achilles. Maybe he's trying to kill that fucking tortoise.

We are then asked to imagine an indivisible unit of time. Observing the position of the arrow at any of these moments, we see that the arrow is not moving. But, the theory goes, movement must occur in the present. It can't be that the thing only moves in the past, and in the future, but right now is motionless. Straining the credulity of the sane, we are asked to deduce that throughout all time, the arrow is motionless.

That makes no sense. Let me try again: If we posit an infinitely small period of time, then the amount of movement permitted in that period of time will be correspondingly small. Infinitely small movement is about as good as no movement at all (at least in 450 BC, when the value of PI was 3). But since all time is composed of the sum of these tiny moments, there must be no movement throughout all time.

Of course, this ties in nicely with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principal (doesn't everything?), which basically describes how precisely the position and momentum of a particle (or arrow) can be simultaneously measured -- if we increase the precision in measuring one quantity, we are forced to lose precision in measuring the other. So if Zeno has us imagine an infinitely small, indivisible unit of time, wherein we may observe the arrow's location with pinpoint accuracy, then yeah, our measurement of it's momentum will be correspondingly inaccurate.

Okay, so it's not moving. So what?

I've been doing whatever it is I do for going on 15 years now. And I do it well (according to my own unbiased and objective evaluation). A couple months ago I got "promoted" to Team Leader. I know, it sounds cool, like I'm captain of the Super Friends or something, but really, in a team of two people, it's a little underwhelming.

Time crawls. I go nowhere.

I need a vacation.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Batting .750

This weekend, Wife, Son and I piled into the car and struck out to visit my parents in Corwnall, Ont. There was a local fair, with rides, fireworks, and musical extravaganzas, featuring such high-profile Canadian Has-Beens of Rock as Tom Cochrane, Sass Jordan, and April Wine. Ten bucks gets you a five-day pass, and they also have hot-air balloons! Of course we got rained on, so the balloons and fireworks were cancelled.

At some point, we borrowed some windbreakers from my parents, since the show was by the water. Pictured here is Son, indulging his nostalgia for the great old days of hockey by representing for the noble Nordiques du Quebec. The jacket's old, borrowed and blue. All that's missing is something new, and he's ready to get hitched!

So, according to Pablo Neruda, "Laughter is the language of the soul". And we've all polished that old chestnut: "The eyes are the windows to the soul". And the Three Stooges, arguably the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, frequently gouged each other's eyes with the goal of evoking laughter. Soul + Eyes + Laughter. Full Circle.

I just know this means something, but what? This is a perfect illustration for the limits of my capacity for reason. I'm perfectly able to detect the presence of some deeper meaning or pattern, just not what that important, life-altering message might be. There is always a missing piece, always an incomplete understanding. We have the old, the borrowed, and the blue, but the new, the final tantalizing nugget, is always missing. Good thing I've never read the bible, it'd probably drive me nuts.

This evening, Son and I invented a new game called "Hugs & Kisses", which is meant to replace our previous favorite "Knees & Knuckles". The object of this new game is for me to "kiss" him, by blowing a raspberry on his tummy, and for him to "hug" my neck until I pass out. This game still retains the entertaining core of our Ur-Sport, "Kick Daddy in the Balls". We've toned it down a little in deference to Wife's express desire for a kinder, gentler Son, but ultimately I think we've made it pretty clear that such is The Manner in Which We Role, and to divert these potent energies to a course inconsistent with our masculine imperative would be to break faith with the father-son bond.

So when Wife catches us in the act of tumbling around on Son's bed, bruising and contusing each other, I try to cover:

Me: "We were just, uh, checking the sheets for crumbs, because, uh, Son was eating toast in here before..."
Wife: "Why the hell do I bother?"
Me: "If loving me is wrong, you don't want to be right."
Son: (giggle).

Go Nordiques.