Friday, March 31, 2006

Laugh of the day

   From this month's Guitar Player Magazine's cover story, 99 WAYS TO PLAY BETTER NOW!
Spinal_Tap13 PLAY LOUD
"Start playing loud when you're young, and you'll be one step ahead of the game. If you start off playing soft, it will get you into a lot of bad habits. Terrible, terrible, habits. Look at these jazz people. Of course they play soft. It's a trick so you can't hear them." --Nigel Tufnel

   So, I guess when I buy Matthew an electric guitar and amp combo, I should make sure it 'goes to eleven.'

tags:, ,

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Skeptic's Circle

   Terra Sigillata. Skeptics' Circle. Thirty-first meeting. Today is the day.

   Head on over and say hello to Abel PharmBoy, this week's host of the blog carnival that tackles topics pertaining to skepticism and critical thinking.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A long awaited call.

   I have put out a call for CarnivAOL submissions. Please drop over there and check out my little blog carnival for AOL and AIM journals. Thank you.


They call themselves Christians...

An anecdote.


Is it Friday yet?

   I always look forward to Fridays, when I can read Swift, the weekly commentary written by James Randi on skeptical topics. Unfortunately, several weeks ago Mr Randi experienced a cardiac event that required him to undergo immediate bypass surgery. Thankfully, the surgery was successful, and Mr Randi is currently enduring an intense period of enforced rest and relaxation. He informs us he should be able to resume his activities at the JREF in about two months.
   In the interim, his weekly column is being handled by a series of guest writers who have been very entertaining. In this past Friday's commentary, Hal Bidlack, the man who is temporarily acting as Swift editor, talked about why he thinks James Randi is an important figure in our world:
Mr. Randi is, I’ve decided, a searchlight. He stands astride mountains of foolishness and indifference, and his light sweeps the horizon, looking for chimera and character. But as a searchlight, he is also a beacon. Those of us who may feel trapped by the nonsense showering down from the media, from strangers, from friends, from family, can feel trapped in the dark. And, often, quite alone in the dark.  But if we glance up, we can see this light. It seems dim, but only because it is piercing so much darkness. And as we move toward it, the world becomes a bit brighter.
   While I find the metaphor apt, and the description compelling, I have always had a slightly different view of Mr Randi. I mean let's be honest, he's an old curmudgeon. He does not suffer fools gladly, and he has no patience for those who attempt to tapdance around, just outside the circle of light cast by the spotlight of cold, clear reason. Deal straight with Randi, and he'll deal straight with you. Try to weasel your way through with specious, unfocussed, pseudoscientific drivel, and he'll cut you off short, and tell you, in no uncertain terms what he thinks of you and your unsubstantiated claims.
   No, I have always thought of Mr Randi as a lightning rod. He stands not astride mountains, but astride the foundation and structure of our society. He attracts to himself the lightning of surprising, and sometimes outrageous claims of paranormal talents and abilities. In drawing them to himself, and subjecting them to his challenge (put up or shut up would be a good, concise description for the JREF $1,000,000 paranormal challenge), he allows us to see them clearly for what they are, to let them harmlessly go to ground, rather than harm
 us with their dangerous high voltage claims.

   Make no mistake, paranormal beliefs are harmful. A 'live and let live' attitude sounds all well and fine on the surface. The problem is, belief in the paranormal, and other silly things, actually harms people. Psychics, faith healers, alternative medical practitioners, all these people subsist by preying on the credulous and the emotionally fragile.
   Your belief in the existence of ghosts, or psychic phenomena, or a god of some description has no impact on my life, that is true. However, were you, for example, the parent of a missing child, in a very emotionally fragile state of mind, I would like to see you protected from the alleged psychics who come out of the woodwork to re-victimize these people. Were you suffering from a cancer, I would like to see you protected from those who would encourage you to eschew traditional medical treatment, take tens of thousands of dollars of your money, and offer only carrot juice and coffee enemas in return.

   The simple fact is, there is no credible evidence to support the existence of any paranormal phenomena, of any description. You are free to believe in the efficacy of accupuncture, reflexology, or therapeutic touch. You are free to believe in the accuracy of astrology, Nostradamus, or biblical prophecy. You are free to believe in the existence of ghosts, fairies, and occupants of interplanetary craft. You say, "what's the harm?" We, the skeptical community, know what the harm is, and we will continue the fight against all these charlatans and con artists so that our friends and loved ones are not taken advantage of.

   Did I just end a sentence with a preposition? It's far to late for me to really care.

   Oh, one more thing. That edition of Swift I mentioned also includes an excellent piece of writing by Rebecca Watson, the author of the Skepchick Blog.
At the age of ten, I ran a casino. I dealt blackjack, rolled craps, and I even had a roulette wheel I picked up during a lucky night in an amusement park arcade.
With a beginning like that, how can you resist?



You Are 32% Evil

A bit of evil lurks in your heart, but you hide it well.
In some ways, you are the most dangerous kind of evil.

How Evil Are You?

via Respectful Insolence

Friday, March 24, 2006

Press Release



graphic courtesy of The Newspaper Snippet Generator, via Cyber Chocolate.


Quest, interrupted.

Weekend Assignment #104: Tell us your favorite color.

Blue.  No yel--  Auuuuuuuugh!
Damn you and your clever questions, John Scalzi!


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It seems like only yesterday

   It was twelve years ago today. I was standing there in a surgical smock, mask and cap. I even had the little paper booties over my shoes. Then the nurse came out and told me that they were unable to give my wife an epidural, so she would have to go under a general anesthetic for her caesarian section. The offshoot: I would not be allowed into the operating room, but would be relegated to standing in the waiting area looking ridiculous.
   Our family doctor scurried in, and asked me where Pat was. We didn't know she had left standing orders at the hospital to be called, any time day or night, when Pat went into labour. I indicated that the patient had been moved to the operating theater, and she ran, she ran full speed down the hallway in the direction I had gestured. I still have the vision clearly in my mind of her going through the swinging doors, hopping on one foot, trying to slip a paper bootie over one of her shoes.
   I don't know how long it took. I'm sure it wasn't too long; these things are pretty routine these days. Seemed like a while, though, before they rolled a bed and a cart topped with a plexiglass hospital bassinette back into the recovery room. Pat was still asleep, and I stood beside her bed with my mother, and held my newborn son, and cried, and cried, and cried.


   Happy twelfth Birthday, Matthew. You are the best thing in the whole wide world, and your mother and I love you with everything that we are.



Sunday, March 19, 2006


Your results:You are
An Expendable Character

Since your accomplishments are seldom noticed, and you are rarely thought of, you are expendable. That doesn't mean your job isn't important, but if you were in Star Trek you would be killed off in the first episode you appeared in.

Unnamed Crewman #6 -- 80%
Captain James T. Kirk -- 55%
Pavel Chekov -- 55%
Will Riker -- 55%
Geordi LaForge -- 45%
Jean-Luc Picard -- 40%
Beverly Crusher -- 40%
Deanna Troi -- 40%
Montgomery Scott -- 35%
Data -- 32%
Hikaru Sulu -- 30%
Worf -- 30%
Spock -- 29%
Uhura -- 25%
Leonard McCoy -- 20%

Click here to take the "Which Star Trek character are you?" quiz...

via By The Way
my apologies to the creator of this quiz for the liberties I have taken with it.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

I'm getting an M...

   The other day I mentioned this news item about a mother and two young children being murdered just around the corner from where I live. On Friday, walking down to the barbershop for a trim, I passed the site, and was struck by this image.
   At the extreme lower right of the picture, you can see all the flowers, stuffed animals, and other tributes to those who lost their lives that day. What struck me was the house immediately next door. You see, a psychic lives there. If you take a close-up look at the banner on the side of the house...
You can see that this psychic offers to pass on information about the past, present, and future. You'd think, if said psychic could really see the future, a little advance warning might have been forthcoming.

I'm just sayin'.


Friday, March 17, 2006

This is rather fitting today

You Are Guinness

You know beer well, and you'll only drink the
best beers in the world. Watered down beers
disgust you, as do the people who drink them.
When you drink, you tend to become a bit of a
know it all - especially about subjects you don't
know well. But your friends tolerate your drunken
ways, because you introduce them to the best
beers around.
What's Your Beer Personality?

   Actually, while I like Guinness (on tap, I'm not so fond of the canned stuff), stout is not my favourite beer style. Right now I'm rather partial to Pale Ales.

via Respectful Insolence


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Weekend assignment

  John Scalzi is throwing a huge house party this weekend, and wants our suggestions on what music to play to kick things into gear.

Weekend Assignment #103: List the songs you'd play to kick a party into gear. You can choose up to five.

   In order to add my own flavour to the assignment, I thought I would limit myself to Canadian music. As an added challenge, I restricted myself to Canadian one-hit-wonders. So, here are my top five suggestions for Canadian kick-ass party songs.

Teenage Head--Let's Shake. A great song that absolutely everyone can dance to, no matter how inept and clumsy I, I mean they, are. Besides, every party needs a heaping helping of good, old-fashioned, teenage head.

Colin James--Chicks And Cars And The Third World War. OK, I cheated a little bit with this one, because Colin James cannot truly be called one hit wonder. But there really are only three things worth fighting for...

Trooper--We're Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time). If you are looking for a rowdier party, substitute Raise A Little Hell instead.

The Kings--Switchin' to Glide/This Beat Goes On. The ultimate Canadian party tune. If you have never heard it, go out and find it now.

Headpins--Don't It Make Ya Feel. This great, rocking tune with a fantastic, driving guitar riff was sung by Darby Mills, a total hottie.

Extra Credit: Name the song to play to start winding down the party.
Blue Rodeo--Try. It is not possible to listen to this song without singing along; at the top of your lungs. And, because it is somewhat long, by the time you've finished singing, your beer is warm and flat. Time to go.

   The other side of the equation is, of course, party killing songs. As I know that most of you will be completely unfamiliar with Canadian music, I have included this cautionary list. Do not, under any circumstances, choose one of the following songs to play at your party.

Snow--Informer. Snow had all of the requirements to be a big hip hop/rap star. He was originally from Jamaica. Being an ex-con, he had street cred. He was white, which the record company liked, but unlike Vanilla Ice, he was cool. He was only missing one thing: talent.

Leonard Cohen--Bird On A Wire. A great song writer, but I want to talk to the person who told this guy he could sing.

Bruce Cockburn--If I Had A Rocket Launcher. A good song, but do you really want to be at a party with a bunch of really angry people?

Terry Jacks--Seasons In The Sun. A good song, but do you really want to be at a party with a bunch of really depressed people?

Celine Dion--My Heart Will Go On. I don't believe this one requires any explanation. But hey, if you want to leave me an indignant comment, telling me how wonderful you think Celine is, go ahead. It will help John know who to scratch off his guest list for the weekend.

Extra Credit: If you have played any of the above listed five songs, you will have no need for a wind-down song. Won't be anyone left to listen to it anyway.


Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'll hoist a Guinness in your honour.

You're 55% Irish

You're very Irish, and most likely from Ireland.
(And if you're not, you should be!)
How Irish Are You?

via Rachael Anne

p.s. I'm really 0% Irish. The Scottish in me made me tell you that.


March Madness

   I'm not a huge college basketball fan, but I always participate in a March Madness pool with a group of friends. Never win, but it's fun, you know? Take a look at my picks. Comments and criticisms, as always, are welcome. Trash talking is mandatory. Bring it!


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rhyming not required

   After a brief hiatus, the Poetry Dance Hall is once again open for business. Step up to the wickets, and buy your tickets. Two dances for a dollar. If you have a bit of a poetic bent be sure to drop on by and play along.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Face in pant leg Santa Claus?

  Julie, of Julie's World has seen something odd in a photograph she took, and asked for opinions:
in the kitchen doorway to the left is what appears to be [ecto-plasm], which is creepy and ghostly enough...but if you look closely in my husbands pant leg behind that you can see a creepy fricken face...take a look and see what you all think. Do you think it is the real thing or my imagination?
I will tell you my opinion. Be aware of some facts first.

One: I am skeptical that things like ghosts exist. I have never seen any evidence for them that I consider compelling.

Two: I have a significant amount of experience with cameras and photography. I worked in the photographic industry for several years.

Re: The "ecto-thingy" - While it looks like it is behind her, nowhere does she actually occlude it, so that conclusion is unsupported. Translating a three dimensional scene to a two dimensional image sometimes screws up our perspective, and makes it hard to say exactly where things like that are.
   There is one thing to understand about the way a camera works. Not everything in a scene is sharply focussed in any picture.  The camera lens has a specific "depth of field" of focus that changes depending on the type of camera, the size of the aperture (or lens opening), and the point of sharpest focus. For a general scene like the one in your picture, things from about three feet away from the camera to about 15 feet away from the camera will probably appear sharply focussed. Things closer and farther away will be fuzzy to some degree. Things very close to the camera will appear very fuzzy, often even diaphanous.
   Here's a fun experiment. Make a two thumbs up sign with your hands held at arm's length. Close one eye. Look at your thumbs, and slowly bring one thumb closer to your eye, as the other stays at arm's length. Keep your eye focussed on the far away thumb. As your other thumb gets very close to your eye, you will see that it gets very fuzzy, and almost looks like it has a halo around it. That is because your eye cannot focus on both things at once. It almost seems like you are looking through the edge of your thumb.
   Sometimes the same thing happens in a picture. Something really close to the camera sticks a little bit in front of the lens. In the picture, it appears very indistinct. You can almost see through it, like you would expect a ghost to be. Also, because it was very close to the camera when the flash went off, the object appears white. It has been illuminated very strongly by the white camera flash.
   What was the object? Could have been many things. The camera's wrist strap is a common culprit. A finger or thumb also has been known wander. A bit of sleeve from a sweater. A little bit of cigarette smoke, maybe. Here is an example of a similar image I took tonight.
   Pixie appears to be examining a ghostly apparition hovering just in front of her. In actuality, she was not looking anywhere near it. She was about twelve feet away from me when I took the picture, and the corner of a cushion (for that is what that white blob is) is mere inches in front of the lens. These kinds of photographic anomolies are very common.
   But wait, I hear you say. I didn't see whatever-it-was through the lens when I took the picture. Well, that's because you aren't actually looking through the lens when you take a picture. Your camera has something called a viewfinder that you look through that is separate from the camera lens. In your case, I would guess that your viewfinder is to the right hand side, as you look at the back of your camera. That is how something could stick very slightly in front of the left side of the lens without you seeing it.
   An important thing to remember in all this is that our eyes are much more sensitive than a camera. If you didn't see anything in the room, the camera certainly isn't going to pick it up. I think you can rest assured that the photograph you have displayed there does not show a ghost.

Re: The face in the pant leg - Well, you've got a couple of things going on there. First, that part of the picture is less sharply focussed than the rest, primarily because it is farther away. Second, a little wisp of whatever that white stuff is, is sticking up in front of the pant leg, partially obscuring it. Third, there are some digital artefacts in the picture. All these things serve to make the actual details of the picture somewhat indistinct.
   Thereis a very well known psychological phenomenon called Pareidolia. Basically, it is a human being's tendency to look for recognisable patterns in random things. A common example is seeing shapes in clouds. Along with that, people's brains are especially attuned to the shape of the human face. It is, perhaps, the first image we ever see. Some psychologists have suggested that our brains have been hard wired to look for it by a million years of natural selection. The result is silly things like the 'face on Mars' brouhaha we had a couple of years ago.
   Consider these squiggles I doodled this evening.


Look like anything? No? What if I turn them upside down?


   Now they are a face. Two dots above, one in the middle, and a somewhat horizontal line. A human face can be represented by less information than any other concept because we are predisposed to see it. So the random bits of imagery that seem to form a face in your husband's pant leg? Relax, they're just random bits of imagery.

   A funny story... On a web forum I frequent, a person posted a photograph of a row of about twenty trees. The person claimed that there was the clear image of a face to be seen in the photo. Several people posted to say that they did not see any face, but several others did, and pointed to three or four different places in the picture where it appeared. None of those places were where the original poster thought she had seen a face. Moral of the story? The Madonna is in the grilled cheese of the beholder. Or something like that.

   For more examples of photographs that do not have any ghosts in them, read my earlier entry on spirit photography. A caution. It contains satire. Be assured that I have never advocated the eating of babies. Or baby back ribs.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

You couldn't invent a better story.

Psychic never saw trouble coming
A PSYCHIC medium was arrested at one of his events after he punched a member of the audience who accused him of being a fake.

Today Stephen Holbrook, who was given a police caution after admitting the assault, said: "I never saw it coming.
   I had to laugh out loud at this news item.


Stupid headlines.

Lawyer wants DNA test on 'Roll up the Rim' cup.

   Here's a story I couldn't quite believe upon hearing about it. A ten year old school girl found a Tim Horton's coffee cup in a trash bin. Tim's is currently running their "rrroll up the rrrim to win" promotion, whereby one must unroll the lip of the cup to reveal if a prize has been won. The cup in the trash bin had not been unrolled, so the girl enlisted the help of her friend to unroll it. Guess what. The cup was a winner. The holder of the cup is entitled to a brand new Toyota RAV4 sport utility vehicle. Sweet!
   A problem presents itself. The girls are too young to claim the prize. Agreeing to share it, they went home to tell their families the good news. Another problem presents itself. The parents of one of the girls hired a lawyer in an attempt to keep the whole prize for themselves. No, I'm not kidding.
      You haven't heard the worst of it. Now, a man claiming to be the original owner of the cup has lawyered up as well, in an attempt to claim the prize for himself. Here's where the headline comes in. The guy's lawyer wants to run DNA tests on the cup to prove his client was the one who drank the coffee in the cup.

   To me, this all sounds like stupidity of the highest order. I want to be the judge in this case. Here is my ruling:

1) To the guy who threw the cup in the garbage without rrrolling up the rrrim: you're a loser. As Forrest Gump famously said, "stupid is as stupid does." I sentence you to have a device installed in your 1978 Hyundai Pony that makes a laughing sound every time a Toyota RAV4 passes you on the highway.

2) To the parents of the little girl who wanted to keep the whole car for themselves: you're assholes. It wouldn't be so bad if you wanted to have the full benefit of the prize for your own daughter, but what you really wanted was to get a cool brand new car for yourselves. Well, screw you. As the girls had originally decided to share the prize, this court decrees that the vehicle shall be auctioned off on eBay, with full proceeds to be divided evenly, and put into two trust funds, one for each girl, to be paid out when they enter university, or reach the age of 21 years, whichever comes first. As card carrying members of the Greedy Jerkface Club of North America, you are sentenced to administer the trust, not only for your own daughter, but for the other girl as well. This court also decrees that statements of the trust fund shall be mailed monthly to your residence. Said statements will have printed on the top of them, "remember that you will never touch a single penny of this money, assholes." You will be required to open, read, sign and return each statement each month to remind you how much of a jerk you are.

3) To the lawyers who took on these cases: you are what is wrong with the world today. The belief that each and every dispute in the world needs to be taken before the courts is wrong. I sentence you, hell! You're already lawyers. Everyone in the world hates you. How much more could your life already suck? 

   This court now stands in recess


Weekend assignment

There are those who believe that life here began out there...

   One of the offshoots of having a blog with almost 350 entries in it (yes, I hear you old-timers calling me a pup) is being unable to remember if I have previously written about a specific topic. Thanks to
Journals Editor Joe's expertise, a quick search revealed that this particular topic, which I was almost certain I had written about, is still open.
press release from NASA regarding the suspected presence of liquid water on the Saturnian moon Enceladus has revived Internet discussion of the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and prompted John's latest weekend assignment:

Weekend Assignment #102: Do you honestly think there is life out there in the universe? And if so, what kind of life do you think it is?

Extra Credit:
Name your favorite (fictional) alien creature.

   In answer to the first question, I would have to say, "yes, of course." Answering the second is stickier. Life has a pretty wide definition. The African Violets on my kitchen windowsill? Life. The piece of fungus stuck to the underside of the fallen tree in the forest? Life. The green pond scum coating the surface of the watering hole in the dog park? Life. The little particles of bacteria floating around in the air after your kid coughs without covering his mouth? Life. Somewhere else in the universe, maybe even in our own solar system, basic life exists.
   But, that isn't the kind of life we all think about when we ask ourselves John's question, is it? No. We are talking about life like ourselves; life that creates and manipulates technology; life that communicates over long distances using that technology; life with which we might, one day, converse.
   The kind of life that Astronomer Frank Drake called a "technologically communicative civilisation." In 1961, Drake, in a thought experiment designed to encourage further speculation on the possibilityof the existence of extraterrestrial civilisations, formulated what has become known as 'The Drake Equation.' The Drake equation was an attempt to estimate the likelihood of other technologically advanced societies being 'out there.'
   I learned a version of the Drake equation in Astronomy101, the university science course all arts majors chose to fulfil their "breadth requirement" and receive a well rounded education. I say 'a version' of it because a bit of googling has revealed that it is commonly stated in several similar, but not identical forms. I find that odd, considering the guy is still alive and working, and can certainly vouch for the way he originally stated it. The version of it I learned resembled (to the best of my memory) this: N=N*(fp)(fe)(fl)(fi)(fc)(L). The terms were defined as follows:

N - The number of technologically communicative civilisations on the galaxy. Why technologically communicative? Well, Frank Drake was one of the founding members of an organisation called SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). The only way for us to determine if there is another enclave of intelligent life out there is if they are communicating, and we manage to overhear them. They have to be using some form of technology for that to happen.

N* - The number of stars in our Galaxy.
fp - The fraction of those stars that develop planetary systems.
fe - The fraction of those planetary systems that have one or more planets at an appropriate distance from their sun. Too close is too hot, and too far away is too cold.
fl - The fraction of those 'earthlike' planets upon which life (of any description) forms.
fi - The fraction of life bearing planets upon which that life develops intelligence.
fc - The fraction of those intelligent societies that develop both the means and the desire to communicate over interstellar distances.
L - The average lifespan of a technologically communicative society.

   That last one is the kicker, of course. For all the others, numbers can be plugged in based on one estimation or another. The last number defies description. Our society can be said to have been technologically communicative since about 1957, when the first communications satellites were launched. So, we are going on fifty years. How much longer will our civilisation last? Who knows? Although estimates are certainly more positive now than they were back in the eighties, when we were all convinced that Ronald Regan was looking for any excuse to "press the button."
   In my first year university astronomy class, our professor suggested a set of values for the variables in the Drake equation that led to N=L. That is, all the other variables multiplied out to 1, which made the number of civilisations in our galaxy equal to our estimate for the average lifespan for said civilisations.
   Other estimates to be seen around the web range from less than one, to several thousand, and there is much discussion and disagreement surrounding the various values used for each term in the equation. Which, of course, was Drake's intent all along. He had no illusions that there was some right answer to the question. He just wanted to prompt discussion. Smart guy.

   When a significant amount of that discussion resulted in solutions for the Drake Equation that were significantly greater than one, a physicist by the name of Enrico Fermi decided to pitch in his two cents. If, he postulated, there are, indeed, dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of these advanced extraterrestrial civilisations, then where are they? We theorize that there are many, yet we have discovered evidence of none. This is what is known as the Fermi paradox.
   It's a good question. If there are all these aliens out there, why haven't we found them, or they found us? Let's just leave aside all those wackos who insist they have found us, and are currently studying us via probes to Uranus, if you know what I mean (Real mature, Bradley).
   There are a number of potential answers to that question. My favourite one is the laws of physics barrier explanation. It goes like this: The interstellar distances necessary to cover in order to visit other star systems are so great that, given our current understanding of the physical universe, journeying to even our closest stellar neighbour could not be done in time frames measured in less than centuries.
   So, do I think there is life somewhere, out there? Yeah, I do. Do I think we will ever meet them? No, I don't. At least not within the next several thousand years.

   Oh, and that extra credit question? Gotta be Klingon. Coolest aliens ever invented. EVAR!!1

"Sir, I protest. I am not a merry man!"


Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday random ten.

   The wife got an iPod from work, so I spent several hours ripping about 40 CDs to the computer last night for her. Amazing little thing, smaller than a pack of gum, and it holds about 135 songs. But, that's not what this entry is about.
   This entry is about The Friday Random Ten. It's a meme I see played out regularly at several blogs, but as I, up 'til now, have not used my computer for music, I have not previously participated. Now, I have no intention of changing my ways. I'm a little bit nose in the air when it comes to my music, and the sound quality on the computer just doesn't cut it for me. But having iTunes open anyway, I thought, "wot the heck," clicked shuffle, and noted the first ten songs that came up.
   Be aware that these songs have been chosen from 40 albums I loaded based on my wife's musical preferences. Not that I actively dislike any of this music, but if it were based on my preferences, the list would be dramatically different.
   So, now, with no further ado, here is the first (and likely only) ever AWV edition of The Friday Random Ten.

1) Dire Straits--So Far Away
2) Eric Clapton--Layla (Unplugged)
3) Great Big Sea--Beat The Drum
4) Jeff Healey--I Wish I Were Twins
5) Jesse Cook--Beloved
6) Billy Joel--Ain't No Crime
7) Robert Michaels--Tandura
8) Dire Straits--Walk Of Life
9) Lee Aaron--I'd Love To
10) Barry White--I Only Want To Be With You


Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Monday Photo Assignment

   John Scalzi (A.K.A. AOL's Blogfather) has various regular assignments he posts for people to participate in on their blogs. My participation - mostly in his weekend assignment category - has been sporadic, at best. I think I may have participated in the Monday Photo Challenge once before. This week it's about books. How could I resist.

Your Monday Photo Assignment: Show us what's in your bookshelf right now. That's right, right this very second!

   Well, John, here it is. You can click on the picture to see a larger image. The ones stacked up in front were rescued mere moments ago from my bedside table. They are the current quenching for my ever thirsty mind.
Bookshelf   On top is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, which came highly recommended by almost everyone I have ever met in my entire life. So I read it. And it was excellent. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but haven't put it away because I think the wife will want to read it.
   Of course, she is currently nine books deep in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, so she won't even consider looking at anything else. I'll tell ya, she's gonna be right pissed if book ten isn't the last one. (Edited to add: Duh! We already have book eleven sitting on our shelf. And I'm willing to bet there's another one coming after that. I mean, if you were writing them, and people just kept buying them and buying them, would you ever finish the story?)
   Next in the pile is Le Morte D'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory. As you can see by the bookmark, I have only just started that one. I was intrigued by Guy Gavriel Kay's treatment of the King Arthur legend in his Fionavar Tapestry (another three books I have just finished reading (again) but do not appear here), and wanted a closer look at an earlier incarnation of the story. It is slow going. Although the spelling has been modernised, the language is...different, and it is dry, dry, dry.
   Under Malory is LeGuin's Three Hainish Novels. I read The Dispossesed and The Left Hand of Darkness years ago, and found this on sale at my local Chapters, so I bought it. Three times. I'm not kidding. Twice I came home with it under my arm, only to find it already on my bookshelf, and had to return it. I really do need to learn to exercise some restraint in the book store. Or, at least pay some attention.
   The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell is the non-fiction member of the group. I want to have a better understanding of how so many of the works of fantasy I read are constructed, and my wife had it kicking around in a box of other books she studied in university, so I snatched it. I haven't started it yet.
   On the bottom of the pile is Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before. I read and enjoyed his Name of the Rose, and Baudolino, but the prose in this one is much denser, and I'm having difficulty plowing my way through it. Never fear, I will keep working on it.
   Behind those, you can see a small selection of other works by various artists. To the left, books one and two of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy by Roberto Pinto. They were published in 1999 and 2002 respectively. As of this writing, I understand he is still working on the first draft of the third volume. ::sigh::
   Also visible are several books by my favourite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. The Last Light of the Sun is staring out at me, demanding a second read in the light of the in depth commentary it has been subjected to over at BrightWeavings, Mr. Kay's authorised website. Ah, well. Better add it to the pile.

Wednesday-edited to add: In looking at that photograph, I have just noticed that my copy of Kay's The Lions Of Al Rassan (soon to be a major motion picture) has a bookmark in it, yet it is filed away on the shelf. This is somewhat of a minor embarrassment to me. While Kay is my favourite author, and I like to subject all of his books to multiple readings, I have been unable to get through a second helping of that one. In three tries I have got part way through and set the book down in disinterest. This is the book that is named by a significant number of the man's fans as being their all-time favourite Kay novel, and I can't get through a simple re-read.
   Why? I suspect it has something to do with how Kay has examined the way people's understanding of unfolding events affects their opinions. There are two different places in The Lions of Al Rassan where the author leads his reader to believe that an event has had one outcome, and revealed later that the outcome was, in fact, much different. I remember feeling manipulated when I read it the first time. Perhaps I simply want to avoid the experience again. Sheer speculation, I know, but in three attempted re-reads, I have put the book down before reaching the first occurence of that perceived literary manipulation.


Monday, March 6, 2006

Local news

Father charged after woman, two kids found slain.

   This happened just around the corner from where I live. Unsettling, to say the least. The main street of town was closed off all day Sunday for the police investigation. While I did not know the people involved, I do recognise the woman from the photo attached to the news story. What goes on with people?


A voice for the missing.

   I would like to draw to your attention a new blog series beginning today. Project Jason: A Voice For The Missing is starting a series called Psychics and Missing People. Kelly, the blog owner, is the mother of two boys, one of whom went missing without a trace almost five years ago. Kelly and her family, once their story gained media attention, became the target of  numerous psychics and mediums who claimed to be able to give them information about thier son. Needless to say, Jason is still missing. Kelly points out:

There is not one proven case in which a psychic, using special powers or abilities not given to the typical person, has located a missing person, whether dead or alive. It may be possible that some persons have an ability that defies science and logic, but there is no known scientific evidence of this. These persons re-victimize families by taking away hope where it should stand, and giving hope where there is none. No person has the right to do this to another.
   Over the next several weeks, Kelly will be presenting her story, and the stories of other loved ones of missing persons who have been victimized by these so-called psychic detectives, as well as commentaries from noted skeptics and critical thinkers. This blog series will be one of the most important illustrations of how people are victimized by psychics in our society. I think everyone should read it.


Sunday, March 5, 2006

Well, they've got me pegged.

You Have a Choleric Temperament

   You are a person of great enthusiasm - easily excited by many things. Unsatisfied by the ordinary, you are reaching for an epic, extraordinary life. You want the best. The best life. The best love. The best reputation.
   You posses a sharp and keen intellect. Your mind is your primary weapon. Strong willed, nothing can keep you down. Your energy can break down any wall. You are an instantly passionate person - and this passion gives you an intoxicating power over others.
   At your worst, you are a narcissist. Full of yourself and even proud of your faults. Stubborn and opinionated, you know what you think is right. End of discussion. A bit of a misanthrope, you often see others as weak, ignorant, and inferior.

What Temperment Are You?


The sub-title game updated.

   Have you ever played 'the sub-title game?' You play by watching a bad foreign language film and inventing your own sub-titles. Now it seems someone has created an online version of the game for anyone to play.
   Many thanks to
The Mad Secretary for this bit of whimsy. Click on the picture at left for my version of the subtitled dialogue to this movie. Then, if you like, you can subtitle your own clip. If you do, make sure to drop a link here so I can see what you've done.

   That was so much fun I had to do another one. Click the picture at right to see it.
   True to the genre, the e-mail they send out to invite any friends you specify to view the movie has a subject line that reads: "Come and see the movie clip of from PLittle." I have no idea if that is intentionally, or accidentally funny.


Friday, March 3, 2006

Silly hat.

   I'm busy painting right now. To amuse you, here is a picture of Shadow wearing a rubber frisbee as a hat.


Thursday, March 2, 2006

Skeptics' Circle

   It gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of the 29th Skeptics' Circle at And guess what. I'm in it. Yay me!
   Also, because I was away for a while, here is a list of
previous Skeptics' Circles for your skeptical reading enjoyment.

   I gotta tell you, though. I've buzzed around huge-entity for a while, and I haven't got the foggiest idea what a mu-haiku is.


Wednesday, March 1, 2006

HPV follow up.

   A reader sent me an e-mail yesterday, concerned about what I had said about HPV:
I am really worried about the virus that your wife described. Kindly tell me if you think my children need the vaccine. How old are children when they first take it?
   Remember, the few versions of HPV that are related to cancer are sexually transmitted diseases. I don't know how old your girls are, but if they are too young to be having sexual relations, you need not worry immediately.

   The links in my journal post will provide some information. After that, try google, or for some more concrete information, and an informed opinion, ask your doctor. Don't be too unduly alarmed. HPV is not a new thing that has suddenly appeared. In fact, in some of its forms, HPV is the virus responsible for common warts. And, the nationwide incidence of cervical cancer is not increasing. Rather, it is declining due to the excellent influence of modern medicine.

   To the best of my knowledge, the vaccine is not yet available, although it is not too far away. For information on that you might try contacting Merck or GlaxoSmithKline, the two companies who make the vaccines. As well, your local Congressman or Member of Parliament might be a good person to whom to make your views on this issue known.


Here's to ashless Wednesday.

   For one of the best descriptions of Lent ever, check out The Evangelical Atheist today:
Now, here’s the best reason of all to give up god for Lent. If it lasts, and you give up god permanently, you don’t have to give up anything next year. Nothing at all. In atheist circles, Lent is known as “March.” There’s no sacrifice involved, but you still get the benefit of lion and lamb side-by-side (at least according to some old wives I know). During atheist “March,” we don’t smear you with anything at all (unless you want us to, but that’s none of my business). If you want to pick up some leaves, we don’t make you listen to a lecture first. Just go to the grocery store or your local garden center. They have all the cellulose and none of the guilt.
   This is one amusing writer. For more interesting reading of a highly provocative nature, I recommend the God is a Dick series.


Distillery to Revive 184-Proof Whisky

LONDON (AP) - A Scottish distillery said Monday it was reviving a centuries-old recipe for whisky so strong that one 17th-century writer feared more than two spoonfuls could be lethal.

Risk-taking whisky connoisseurs will have to wait, however - the spirit will not be ready for at least 10 years.

The Bruichladdich distillery on the Isle of Islay, off Scotland's west coast, is producing the quadruple-distilled 184-proof - or 92 percent alcohol - spirit ``purely for fun,'' managing director Mark Reynier said...
   I've tried Bruichladdich's (pronounced brook-laddie) single malt whisky, and quite enjoyed it, but I don't know if I'm up for a 184 proof version. I've tried 180 proof rum, from both Jamaica and Barbados, and it seems to be a product created for only one pupose: to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. There is certainly no pleasure in drinking it. The multiple distillations have taken out everything that adds flavour, leaving behind only the alcohol.
   I drink expensive single malt whiskys for the enjoyment of experiencing the unique and varied flavours imparted by the various distillation processes. A glass of Aberlour, for example, is quite different from a glass of Talisker, or Laphroaig (pronounced just as it looks). I can't imagine that the distinctive characteristics of these whiskys would still be present at 184 proof, after four distillations. To each his own, I guess. I'm sure there will be a market for the product, even if it is only to collectors who have no  intention of ever opening the bottle.
   Still, the distillery has an innovative idea for customers. Says Reynier:
customers will be able to watch the whisky's progress on the distillery's webcams.
Live webcam feed of whisky aging in the
Bruichladdich warehouse.
Time remaining until bottling:
9 years, 11 months, 17 hours, 42 minutes