Friday, February 29, 2008

Informed Dissent

I was pleasantly surprised during a recent political conversation with a co-worker. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's name came up, and the fellow I was talking with made a mild disparaging remark about him. I don't even remember what it was now; just that it was obvious he had some distaste for Harper.

On more than a couple of occasions when this has happened, I've asked the person making that sort of remark exactly what they don't like about Harper. Never before had I gotten a real answer.

Usually I get a reply like, "He's soooo right-wing." When I ask the obvious followup question, for an example of Harper's ultra-rightness, they have nothing substantive. "He's homophobic." Oh, is that why he didn't bother putting up any fight at all on gay 'marriage'? "He's anti-choice." Ahh, that must be why he's reportedly warned all his Members of Parliament that no bills limiting abortion are to be presented.

I once had someone tell me that they didn't like Conservatives (or maybe conservatives) because "they're anti-everything." My reply was, "They're actually anti- the same number of things anyone is, and they're pro- just as many things as they're anti-, because being anti- anything means being pro- its opposite."

I had a heck of a time washing the gray matter out of my hair and clothes after their head exploded trying to parse that.

Once confronted with facts counter to the CBC's talking points and engaged in actual painful thought, Harper's nonfans usually say something like, "Well, he's.....ummm..... he's just scary."

Nice to see that those ridiculous attack ads during the last election actually worked on a few people. Barnum was right, there's lots of profit in treating people like idiots. They'll often live down to it, and reward you with their dollars - or their votes.

Actually, I thought those ads were hilarious. They were so far over the top that I would have expected to trace them to conservatives (note the small "c", it's deliberate) mocking liberal (again, capitalization counts) histrionics. You can read about them here, including transcripts of most of them, but you really won't get the full effect unless you read the text aloud in your lowest, most ominous, watch-out-kids-I'm-the-boogeyman voice.

As a sidebar, as someone who's actually out on the right wing of most issues, I find many of Harper's policies weak and very disappointing. Especially the two issues I noted back in my third paragraph. Those mushy positions may help him get elected, but they certainly don't impress real conservatives (do I need to point out the lack of capitalization every time? No? Good, I'll stop.). He's good on defense, though, and I've liked some of his economic policies. While I'm not a Harper cheerleader, and won't become one unless he spines up a bit on a few core issues, I think we could do a whole lot worse. For instance, the leaders of any of the other major Canadian political parties, who range from useless and benign to full-blown loopy.

Back to the conversation.

After the mild anti-Harper remark, I asked this fellow for a concrete example of what he doesn't like about Harper. My usual, "Can you tell me something he's done that you don't like, or that he hasn't done that you want him to?"

I have to give him full credit - he had two actual, concrete, valid examples. I was duly impressed.

He said that first, Canada's troops should not be in Afghanistan and should be withdrawn immediately. I disagree with that, but it's a legitimate, defensible position. (Although I'd like our troops home as soon as feasible, an immediate total withdrawal would be a death sentence for a whole lot of innocent, peaceable civilians as the savages take advantage of the "force vacuum" and conquer, rape and pillage to their heart's content. Regardless of how the situation reached that point, that's how it is now. If our troops can prevent that, then I would like them to. This also sums up how I feel about the U.S. in Iraq at this point.)

Second, he believes, and doesn't like, that Harper's campaign received financial support from the American Republican party. I don't know if that's true and don't much care, but again, it's a legitimate position at which a thinking person could arrive. My only objection, if this allegation is correct, would be that ideally foreign interests should not be interfering with Canadian elections regardless of the ideological positions of the foreign supporters or the domestic supported. However, since there's probably no way to prevent foreign interests from at least speaking their minds, thereby potentially influencing the electorate, without at least attempting to stomp all over freedom of speech, then we'll have to live with it. Hearing Michael Moore put in his two cents on Canada's election is a small price to pay for preserving our fundamental freedom of expression.

Getting to talk with someone who holds legitimate, thoughtful objections to Stephen Harper's administration was so unusual that I felt it worth writing about. That should tell you something about the normal level of political discourse around these parts.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture of my DVD-ROM drive, disassembled at this point, after a CD-ROM shattered in it (see previous entry).

First The G.I. Joe Fan Club, Now This!

Last night I officially became a member of the Shattered CD-Rom Club! I was sitting at one computer, doing I-don't-remember-what (probably playing Desktop Tower Defense; I'm in relapse, which is part of why posting is light this week), and my wife was at the other playing Diablo II.

We heard a cracking sound, loud enough to startle us both. Neither of us could tell where it had come from, but it sounded like perhaps one of our many bookshelves had given way under its burden and snapped. We took a look around the room, but couldn't find anything out of place.

Shrugging it off, we returned to our games. However, my wife's game of Diablo II had frozen up. She couldn't even use the Windows key to get back out to the desktop, or bring up Task Manager to close it. Being our domestic tech support, I took a quick look and told her that we'd probably have to restart the PC the hard way, by turning the power off and back on.

Then I thought of another idea - ejecting the disc, which needs to be in the drive to play Diablo II. Just in the milliseconds as my finger moved toward the eject button, I realized what had happened.

Sure enough, the tray would only open partway, and as it did, shards of plastic and slivers of silver dust that had recently been the CD label came spilling out.

I managed to pull the tray all the way open, as you'll see shortly. I wound up taking the drive out of the PC and taking it apart to remove as much debris as I could. I used a vacuum cleaner and cotton swabs to clean the drive's innards, but still couldn't get it all.

Remarkably, when I reassembled and reinstalled the drive, it still worked. In fact, my wife played Diablo II some more this evening on the same PC with the same drive. Lite-On makes a hardy product. Fortunately, the disc that met its violent demise was just a backup copy (*ahem*), and we had another.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of what I saw when I first got the drive tray open. (Nope, these pictures won't all be random and unrelated to the article, although this is the first one I've posted that isn't.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Go Bang A Log

I often find myself in meetings or other discussions where the participants get onto the topic of communicating quickly with more members of the group or larger community (think, for example, church committees trying to get info out to the larger congregation on short notice).

The usual solution proposed is some variant of a phone tree. Make a chart, and each person calls two others until everyone is informed about whatever's going on. Or, some enthusiastic individual volunteers to be the designated dialer, calling everyone themselves.

At this point, I usually recommend supplementing (not supplanting, although that seems to be how my hearers always interpret the suggestion) the telephone method with a mass e-mail. It's easy enough to define a mailing list in any mail client I've ever tried, and I personally would much rather get an e-mail than a phone call (and I'm far likelier to read the e-mail in a reasonable timeframe than to be available to take the call).

At this point, I invariably get the same reaction. Someone (always a woman - that may be significant, but I'm not touching it with a ten foot pole just now) gives me a tight-lipped smile and says in as condescending a tone as they can manage, "Not everyone has e-mail, you know."

At this point I usually withdraw the suggestion and apologize for having brought it up. Sometimes, if the tone wasn't as condescending as it usually is, I'll try to wedge in an explanation that I wasn't suggesting eliminating the phone calls, but bringing in an additional method.

I now have a response when the tone is just a little too condescending for my liking, as well. I've only actually used it a very few times, but I'm sure it'll be back (I've added it to my ongoing repertoire):

"When the primary means of long-distance communication changed from banging rocks against logs to smoke signals, I'm sure there were a few log-bangers saying, 'But not everyone has access to fire!' " (Say those last seven words in as whiny a tone as you can muster without wanting to slap yourself.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a plastic radius, with free bonus plastic ulna at no extra charge!

Give The Gorehounds What They Want - Part 2

Continuing on...

Warning: if you're not a horror fan, and especially if you're sensitive and easily disturbed by horror movies and such, don't read this one. Give me another day or two and I'll probably go back to nice safe complaining about checkout lines or something, and it'll be safe for you to come back.

There have been a few bright spots in recent horror movies, but not many. The Others was very good, and one of the few "twist ending" movies where I honestly had no idea that the twist was even coming, much less what it was going to be. I expected a straightforward haunted house story, like The Changeling (one of my favourites), and it turned out to be much more.

If we're going to talk twist endings, then of course I have to digress to discuss Shymalan. The Sixth Sense was very well-done, but I actually thought that we were supposed to know, right from when he got shot, that Bruce Willis was dead. (Whoops, spoiler alert a couple of sentences back or so.) I was puzzled by the audible surprise reaction from the rest of the audience when his condition was made clear - I thought it was meant to be an emotional moment for him, since he apparently hadn't realized (or admitted to himself) he was dead until then, but I thought the audience was supposed to have been in on it all along. I thought the movie was about a dead man's coming to grips with his own death, whereas the rest of the audience was watching a whole different movie. The funny thing is, I think both of those movies worked pretty well.

The Sixth Sense was actually spoiled for me by a trailer I saw for it shortly before its release. It was the standard "random clips from the movie while poignant lines of dialogue play in voiceover" formula. The dialogue, though, was the conversation when Willis told Osment that his relationship with the ghosts "doesn't work that way." Osment asks Willis how he knows, and then the shot onscreen cut to Willis smirking, clearly telegraphing that he knew all about how ghosts behave because he was one. So, when I saw the movie shortly thereafter, my only question at the start was how long Willis would survive, and Marky Mark's bullet seemed to provide a clear answer.

As for Shymalan's other works, briefly: my initial reaction to Signs was that it was a terrific, faith-affirming story. Once I got time to think about it, though, I was troubled by the ending. So Gibson's a priest again. For how long this time? Until something else bad happens to him? I may write more about this, but not today.

The Village was again rather predictable, and ultimately just a big-budget Scooby-Doo story. The villagers would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling blind girl.

Unbreakable - saw it, wasn't that interested. Not much further opinion. I've read enough comics to have thought the "surprise reveal" was obvious.

Lady In The Water - haven't seen it, probably won't.

Of course, there's more to being a horror fan than movies. I've read almost all of the works of Stephen King, for starters. My favourites are The Stand (of course) and the Dark Tower series, especially Wolves of the Calla. I've read everything of King's up to Cell, with one exception: Black House. I have a lovely hardcover copy which was given to me as a gift sitting on my bookshelf. It's never been opened, and may never be. You see, I read The Talisman, and it's the one book with King's name on it that I really intensely disliked. Whereas I've read and enjoyed every one of King's other books, I've decided to hold Straub responsible for the mess that was The Talisman, and probably won't be reading anything else with his name on it.

I tried Anne Rice. I really did. My wife is a big fan of hers, and just this past Christmas I got her the last Rice book she needed to complete her library (Vittorio The Vampire). I find Rice well-researched, very highly technically skilled as a writer, and insufferably dull. I made it through Interview With The Vampire, and found it adequate to keep going with the series, but just barely. As the chapters in The Vampire Lestat drug by, I had a harder and hard time to maintain my interest (and my consciousness). When I turned the page to see a section headed The Vampire Armand, Armand having already been established as possibly the least interesting fictional character of all time, I closed the book and never went back.

The other aspect of Rice's writing that stood out to me was summarized much better on a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update review of the Interview film adaptation. I believe it was by Norm MacDonald, a strong candidate for the title of Funniest Man Alive, and the entire review consisted of three words, delivered in a very sarcastic tone: "Not gay enough."

Back to movies.

Recent years have seen something of a resurgence of the zombie genre, and much of it has been to the good. Resident Evil (but only the first one) was a surprisingly good zombie movie with distracting sci-fi elements, the 2004 remake of Dawn was solid if not as groundbreaking as the original, Land of the Dead was worth it if only to see Romero get to work with a budget for a change, and 28 Days / Weeks Later and I Am Legend were worthy close cousins, fitting the genre in everything except the fact that the antagonists weren't actually dead. I have a strong preference for Romero's vision of the zombie - shambling, not-terribly-bright hordes whose main threat comes from their inexorable nature. One Romero zombie, alone, is not much of a threat. The problem is that there's rarely one Romero zombie, alone. Slow, relentless, painful death is worse than a relatively quick end. If you disagree, think about this: would you rather face being burned at the stake, or a quick drop of the guillotine?

One movie stands above all others, though, as the leader of the modern zombie pack. Even Romero has to take a back seat to Shaun of the Dead, one of the very few movies that I actually own on DVD. I can't think offhand of any other movie that works as both comedy and horror (most attempts fail miserably at both). Wright and Pegg deserve credit for essentially singlehandedly (doublehandedly?) reviving the zombie genre (yes, I did that deliberately, and no, it isn't very good).

Zombies have shown up in other media of late, as well. The Walking Dead is a comic written by Robert Kirkman, and it makes me wish I still worked in a comic shop, because I could sell the daylights out of this book. It's drawn in stark black-and-white, and is one of the very few success stories in modern comics, having seen its readership snowball since its debut. The trade paperbacks are a terrific value, but the individual issues allow for a great addictive, immediate experience as Kirkman manages to end almost every issue on a cliffhanger and generally holds to a pretty solid monthly schedule. He also has the best letters pages in the business these days (except maybe Groo), and they aren't reprinted in the trades.

Several other zombie comics have seen print in recent years. Notably Marvel Zombies, a series of mini-series taking place in a world where a zombie plague has overtaken the world where Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk, and all the other Marvel characters live. Of course, the superheroes remain dominant, leading to tales of Zombie Hulk and Zombie Iron Man. It's entertaining black humour, but it's probably all too inside if you aren't already a comics geek. The Walking Dead, on the other hand, can easily be enjoyed by people who don't normally read comics.

There have been a spate of others, mostly amateurish and forgettable attempts by smaller companies (known in the biz as "independents"). Sometimes one stands out from the pack, though, by offering something different, and that brings me back to my originally intended topic.

Crawl Space: Xxxombies (CSX hereafter) is created by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer and Tony Moore. Like The Walking Dead, it's published by Image Comics, but the two titles have nothing to do with one another and do not take place in the same fictional world. CSX is meant as a black comedy, and its initial premise was to show the effect of a zombie outbreak on an adult film set (hence the XXX in the title). The book itself is not pornographic, but if it were a movie it would be a hard R rating due to nudity (but no explicit sex), harsh language, and violence that would make Tom Savini wince.

I thought the first two issues were pretty good, but nothing particularly special. Then the third issue came out, and I saw a scene I've been waiting for for twenty years. Had I been the writer / artist / director, I would have framed it differently (more on that in a moment), but the base concept is there and I'm surprised that in the war to outdo, outshock and outhorrify, no one had done it before:

Zombies get into a hospital nursery.

If you're already revolted - well, that's what they were trying for.

Remender, Dwyer and Moore handle the scene more explicitly than I would have envisioned, and take it in a direction I hadn't considered. I'll just say this: remember what traditionally happens to someone who gets bitten by a zombie? The person who tried to come to the children's rescue evidently didn't. If you like "dead baby" jokes, this issue is a must-read.

I've been saying for years that I expected (not necessarily wanted, but that's a whole other odd distinction for horror movie fans) this to happen in a zombie story. Personally, I would have done it like this (and I think Romero would be far likelier to handle it more along these lines): it's early in the chaos, and zombies are just starting to overrun a hospital. There's general panic. One zombie wanders, more or less unnoticed in the pandemonium, down a corridor and through a door. Entering the room, it stands there looking around aimlessly for a moment, and starts to turn to go back out. Then we hear a baby's cry. The zombie stops, turns, and notices the rows of bassinets (or whatever you call those plastic box-cribs hospitals use in the nursery). As the baby continues to cry, the zombie shuffles toward the sound, raising its arms as it looms closer.

End scene.

I wouldn't make it any more graphic than that. If I really wanted to go (what I'd consider) over the top, I'd later include a shot, from outside in the hallway, of the zombie coming back out through the nursery door, perhaps visibly bloodied.

There. I've probably now managed to drive away most of my readers. You did read the warning at the top of this entry, right?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a receipt.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Give The Gorehounds What They Want - Part 1

A comic that recently came out finally did a scene I've been waiting for for years. I want to talk about it, but first I've got to go over some history.

I was a serious horror movie fan for almost two decades. I got my real start in the early 1980s, when my Dad managed what was at the time the largest video rental store in our town. That meant free rentals, and I worked my way through the entire horror section.

Even as I ploughed through the whole category, usually at a rate of a movie a night, there was one I deliberately left for last. Somehow I knew just from looking at the box that this movie was something special. It was almost as though I was working toward it as a goal, and all the other movies were distractions from the actual object of my quest.

That movie was George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. The yellow box with its cover depiction of a man transforming into a zombie (a huge spoiler, in retrospect - that man is one of the leads) captivated me. I even remember its item code at Dad's store: 160-585.

When I finally finished off everything else and Dawn was the only one left - when I had earned it - I brought it home. I was not disappointed. It was probably two weeks before I got a good night's sleep again.

Through the rest of the 80s and 90s, I kept up my habit of consuming anything in the horror category. I read magazines like Fangoria, Gorezone, Horrorfan, and Slaughterhouse. In high school I hosted parties that we called Gorefests - marathons of movies specifically selected for their capacity to make the viewers sleep with the lights on. I remember Salem's Lot being a recurring favourite at those events.

Although I'd happily watch any horror movie, one subcategory was always my favourite: zombies. Even before watching Dawn for that first time, I loved zombie movies. It may have stemmed from a very early memory of watching Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things when I was very young - probably around seven years old - and having the living daylights scared out of me. Nope, I'm not quite sure what my parents were thinking either, but in retrospect I'm glad they were thinking it. Some parents hand their kids condoms or let them smoke pot - mine let me watch Shock Theatre when I was in elementary school. I'm absolutely certain that was less damaging in the long run, and I'm grateful for it.

Speaking of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, I got to watch it again years later. I was expecting to be terrified all over again. I wasn't. It's passable at best, even for a serious zombie enthusiast, although these days I have a greater appreciation for watching occultist hippies get disembowled.

At some point, my enthusiasm for horror movies waned. I can't put my finger on why; I think it's just a matter of changing priorities as I age. These days I'll rarely commit the time it takes to watching an entire movie, or even an entire TV show (another future post will discuss my abandonment of the idiot box, which I would not have thought possible a few short years ago). I usually only get a few minutes in before realizing that the time would be better spent doing something - almost anything, really - else.

I also don't think that my becoming a Christian, which happened somewhere during those same years, was a major factor. I've always been good at separating fiction from reality, and can still enjoy some entertainment that would really upset Donald Wildmon.

The state of horror movies these days may also have something to do with my gradual loss of interest. Although there are still bright spots, and I'll come to those, most horror films these days have abandoned atmosphere, plot and characters in favour of shock attempts.

The craft of horror filmmaking is also in dire straits. For this I blame first of all The Blair Witch Project (which I did not like). It was shot for nothing, with no script and amateurs in charge of most of the process, and it shows. Far, far too many horror directors now think that jerky camera work, no budget (or at least looking like it), and superfast cuts are "artistic", I guess, and many potentially scary movies have been ruined because of it. There's no shame in using a tripod, or in shooting a coherent scene.

I blame Seven (the Brad Pitt / Morgan Freeman / Kevin Spacey movie whose title I refuse to spell in the cutesy way that seems to be official) for a couple of other problematic tropes of the modern horror genre. First, the scratchy, jerky opening credit sequence. Yes, it was cool once. It may have even been interesting once or twice more. The problem is that it's since been used on, like every single stinkin' horror movie of the last ten years. Directors, stop it. I don't care if you want to go all Blake Edwards on us and have your opening credits delivered by animated anthropomorphic neon-coloured felines, just stop with the jerky scratching.

Second, and far worse, I think that the Torture Porn subgenre (which I was calling that long before I saw the term used by anyone else) may be traceable to Seven. Saw, Hostel, and their revolting, artless ilk are not horror movies. They are simulated snuff films with no art, no craft, and no redeeming qualities. I've never managed to sit through more than a few minutes of one of them (I've tried, in the interest of seeing if I'm wrong), and I hope I never will.

The final major problem with horror cinema over the last few years is the reliance on Japanese remakes (or slavish wannabes who clearly hope you'll think their dreck is based on a Japanese original). The Grudge and The Ring started this trend, which shows no sign of giving up. The Grudge had a few really genuinely creepy images (creepy is good), but no plot, script, or characters. The Ring had two creepy images (the figure walking down the hallway toward the security camera and the ghost crawling out of the TV) and nothing else. The most recent of these I suffered through was The Pulse, which was just awful with nothing memorable about it besides its massive awfulness.

This is turning out to be much longer than I expected, and I'm still not even particularly close to discussing the comic, and in particular the scene, that inspired the whole shebang. Now it's late and I'm getting sleepy, so I'm stopping here with my first-ever


Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son's shadow. On some concrete.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tickle Me Dead

CNN, and maybe even some reputable news agencies, are reporting about a woman who says that an Elmo doll has begun threatening her son. I wonder if she also believes that the toaster's been laughing at him.

This Elmo doll, after a battery change, began saying something that admittedly does sound like it could be "Kill...James" in Elmo's halting, grating voice (James is her son's name). She may be looking at this from the wrong angle, though. It could be an exhortation to James, not a threat.

Mom is agonizing over what to do. This Elmo doll is her son's favourite toy, but as a good mother, she doesn't really want him playing with a toy that's making threats on his life.

It's a shame that those new batteries can't be removed, isn't it? You'd think that toy manufacturers would grow a brain and start using battery compartments that can be opened more than once.

This all reminds me of a 2006 rumour that the book "Potty Time With Elmo" said "Who wants to die?" when you pressed a button on it. Elmo may have some repressed socially inappropriate urges.

(Incidentally, my son just happens to have that exact Elmo book, and what it actually says when you press the button is, "Who wants to go?" Since Elmo's voice even in high fidelity sounds like flourescent tubes being lowered into a blender, I can understand the confusion.)

Enough rambling. Here's yet another picture of some concrete. No Hoffa joke this time. Twice is OK, but going back to that well a third time would just be insensitive. (Hey, that gives me an idea! Maybe they put him in a well!)

I Don't Want The Extended Warranty Either

Note to grocery store executives: stop making your cashiers ask me if I found everything I was looking for. If I didn't, it's too late by the time I reach the checkout.

I asked a friend, who works at a grocery store with this pointless practice, what happens if a customer answers yes. They confirmed my worst-case-scenario suspicion: the checkout line grinds to a halt while the cashier calls a floor employee to go look for whatever the customer wanted. Everyone gets to stand there twiddling their thumbs while Joey from the stockroom wanders the store looking for precooked bacon.

Unacceptable. Once you're in the checkout line, you're committed. If you realize you forgot something, holding up the line while you send one of your kids to look for it - or worse, leaving your stuff on the conveyor belt and wandering off for a while yourself - is a crime that will merit severe corporal punishment when I am king. Put it this way: you'll probably wind up going with mittens in cold weather, rather than gloves, because you won't have the common number of fingers anymore.

If while in the checkout line you realize you forgot something, leave the line, taking your cartful of goods with you, find it, and come back. When you return, go to the back of the line. If you've already started loading the items from your cart onto the conveyor belt, then you're too late. Finish cashing out, go load your stuff into your car, and come back in for the Monistat that somehow slipped your mind.

If it's unacceptable for a customer to hold up the line, it's even worse for the cashier to bring it about because they know better. It's only the store managers and executives, who rarely set foot on the floor or talk (or more accurately, listen) to an actual customer, who think this last-minute "did you find everything" nonsense is a good idea. If I haven't found it by the time I get to the checkout, I'm going somewhere else to buy it.

That being said, there is a time and place for staff to help customers find items: anytime before the customer reaches the checkout. It's fine for Joey from the stockroom to ask the lost-looking guy who keeps glancing from the list in his hand to the shelf he's been standing in front of for the last seven minutes if there's anything he needs help finding. (That's probably me.) It's also fine to just have a few staff accessible somewhere on the floor. If I need them, I'll find them.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some other concrete. Jimmy Hoffa is of course not visible in this batch. How could he be, since he was already in the last one?

(Ooooh, right. The dismemberment.)

Hugh Grant Should Have Brought A Camera

If prostitution is illegal, then why isn't pornography?

(This article should bring me some new search engine referrals. If that's how you wound up here, sorry. You're probably going to be disappointed. But by all means feel free to stick around and browse. I'll be here all week. Try the veal, and don't forget to tip your waitress.)

It pretty much has to be admitted that the participation at least some pornographic "performers" is motivated primarily by money. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that this is true of almost all of them without a Y chromosome.

That having been established, these then are people engaging in sexual activity in exchange for financial renumeration. I'm pretty sure there's a word for that. I won't repeat it here, because my Mom might read this blog someday.

So, my real question boils down to this: is there any other criminal activity that suddenly becomes legal when a camera is introduced? And why is that true of this particular criminal activity?

Please note that I'm not raising the issue of whether pornography should be illegal, or prostitution legal. I could (but probably won't) write a post about either or both of those debates, but this isn't it. I'm just a bit bewildered by the whole "but-if-you-film-it-then-it's-OK" issue.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the edge of my kitchen table. Beyond that, the abyss.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Effervescing Sycophants

This post will tell you everything you need to know about CNN's "journalistic objectivity". Next time somebody starts whining about Fox News, or any other mainstream media outlet, having a conservative bias (tip: "right-wing rag" is how folks who don't like to think describe any publication more sensible than High Times), I hope you'll remember this, and point and laugh at them.

I watched CNN for twenty minutes or so (about as much as I can stand in a single sitting) earlier tonight. They were still hyperventilating with excitement over a debate between the remaining Democratic presidential candidates that took place, what, last night? Last week? Ah, who cares?

John McCain (of whom I'm no great fan either) was mentioned only briefly. They had Tom Daschle, a former bigwig in the Democratic party, on so that he could tell Wolf Blitzer what a putz McCain is, and how McCain isn't fit to tie Barack Obama's shoes. Daschle was helpfully billed onscreen during this as "Obama Supporter."

Then, Blitzer said something that made me simultaneously laugh out loud and reach for the remote to change the channel to something (anything) else. I don't remember his exact words, so the quotation marks below are a stretch, but this is the very close gist:

"Coming up, in the interest of balance, we'll be talking to a Hillary Clinton supporter as well."

Ummm, CNN guys? I know it'll come as a shock to everyone there, but there are two major political parties in the United States. Balance would not be running free puff-piece campaign ads (or as you call them, "hard-hitting breaking news stories") for two candidates from the same party. Especially when those candidates are essentially identical aside from genitalia and melanin level.

Real balance would mean occasionally taking a break from polishing apples for whatever wingnut socialist empty suit the Democrats have managed to prop up in front of a microphone. (Feel free to interpret "polishing apples" as a euphemism. Now whatever unpleasant imagery you conjure up is your problem, not mine.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some concrete. If you look closely, you may see Jimmy Hoffa.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Of Shoes & Ships & Killer Plummeting Satellites

The Killer Plummeting Satellite has reportedly been successfully shot down. That's good, just for the record.

According to the RCMP by way of CTV News, apparently it had a 25% chance of coming down on Canadian soil. This did not upset me as much as it did some of my social circle. (The wag in the back who said "A point is not a circle" - yes, you in the Che Guevera t-shirt - you can leave now. Thank you.)

A one-in-four chance of something happening that may or may not have negative effects, and that the U.S. Navy was hoping to put a stop to anyway, just doesn't ring that many alarm bells for me.

Plus, Canada is a big country with a small population. Taking a cold, objective look at the matter, Canadian lives aren't intrinisically worth more than anyone else's. If a large object has to fall from the sky and crash somewhere, it'll probably take fewer people with it by hitting the Yukon than say, Albuquerque or Tokyo. Sorry, Yukonians. (Yukonites? Yukonners? Ukranians? No, I'm pretty sure that's not it.)

I'm not sure what people thought they could do about it on an individual basis anyway. Stock up on Pop-Tarts? Buy umbrellas?

There's a bigger issue here, though. By focussing on the Killer Plummeting Satellite, people were overlooking the real threat: the inevitable aftermath of zombie hordes.

Trust me. I've seen every movie ever made whose title ends with the words "of the Dead", and they all start with a satellite crashing.

Now, fortunately I suppose, it's not going to happen. I must admit it's a bit disappointing to have all the training, preparation and stockpiling I've done go to waste. Ah, well, maybe next time.

While we're talking about the shambling undead, check this out:

But friends, your dead will live, your corpses will get to their feet. All you dead and buried, wake up! ... Come, my people, go home and shut yourselves in. Go into seclusion for a while until the punishing wrath is past.

Sounds positively Romeroesque, doesn't it? (Romeranian? Romeroish? Ukrainians? No, I'm pretty sure that's not it.)

So, you may be wondering, from whence does that passage come? (OK, you probably didn't think "whence", but I'l give you the benefit of grammatical doubt.) Skipp & Spector? John Russo? A little Stephen King, perhaps?

Nope. The Bible - Isaiah 26, to be precise. I bet your Sunday School teacher never covered that one.

Unless you were in a Sunday School class where I was the teacher, in which case I hope you've made a full recovery.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son, when he was much younger than he is now, peeking out from his crate. (They're much easier to housebreak later if you start with crate training.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Environmentalist Theory

Save Bamboo: Eat a Panda.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a boat.

Oaths Revisited

Today I'm going to revisit the topic of oaths. I already wrote an entry on this (which you can read by digging through the archives or clicking right here); today I want to cover three new elements. One that I read about right after writing that entry, one that I forgot to include, and one response to a comment made on that entry.

That last bit makes this a good time to explain that if and when I respond to reader comments, I'll tend do so by writing a new entry rather than by engaging in a dialogue within the comments sections. This is mainly because I think people are at least marginally more likely to read a new entry than the comments section on an old one.

First up, the new information I found after writing that. Not long after I wrote about oaths, a friend gave me a stack of Christianity Today (CT) magazines that he had piled up. Unlike me but apparently like most normal people, once he's read a magazine, he's finished with it and doesn't have the storage space or inclination to archive it. On the other hand, I still have almost every magazine I've ever purchased (or inherited, like these) and I could count on one hand the number of times I've simply thrown magazines in the garbage.

So, thanks to his much-appreciated handoff, I have reading material to keep me occupied for a while. (In addition to those CT issues, I've also recently picked up stacks of Maximum PC, Rolling Stone, Archaeology, and Discover at library book sales and the like. My "light reading" pile, where all the new magazine arrivals go, is almost a foot high at the moment.)

When I was reading the March 2007 issue of CT, an editorial entitled "Why Isn't 'Yes' Enough" caught my eye. I've since learned that it's available online as well, so you should go read it. I must admit, I'm far likelier to read the entire contents of a printed magazine than that same magazine's complete online article archive, so I missed this when CT put it up on their site.

I was very pleased to see again that I'm not alone in thinking that oaths are unnacceptable based on Scripture. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Quakers and Anabaptists agree with me. Or more accurately, I agree with them, since I'm guessing that at least some of them arrived at that conclusion before I did. Especially Irenaeus and Tertullian, who've both been dead for 18 centuries, give or take.

Others, the article notes, have disagreed - notably Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. If any of them were the Messiah, then their opinions would sway me. As it is, not so much.

Second, I forgot to mention note a video I had recently watched where the issue of oaths was discussed in some depth. It was an episode of The John Ankerberg Show, which may be available online if you know where to look (and can get in). Since downloading and watching it could theoretically violate one or more laws in your jurisdiction, I wouldn't know anything about that. Let's assume that I saw it whenever it first aired and have a very good memory.

Anyway, the episode was about the Masonic Lodge. If it were floating around various file-sharing sites - and remember, I'm not saying it is, ever has been, or should be - it would probably be called something like "Christianity and the Masonic Lodge - Are They Compatible?"

The episode took a debate format. A gentleman named Bill Mankin was arguing the "yes" side as to the title, with Dr. Walter Martin taking the "no" position. Watching the entire series (it was spread over five half-hour episodes), I found it pretty clear that *SPOILER ALERT* Dr. Martin was the clear winner on pretty much every possible level.

One of the issues tackled was the fact (or, as Mr. Mankin would argue, "opinion", but let's get real) that Masons swear some pretty elaborate and sometimes explicit oaths of secrecy and loyalty to the Lodge. Dr. Martin tried to address those oaths in light of the same passages I cited from Matthew and James.

Mr. Mankin tried the usual, tired arguments that those passages don't really mean that Christians can't / shouldn't swear oaths. "In the historical context of...(blah, blah, blah, fingers in ears, I can't hear you)"-type arguments that deny the clear reality of "Do not swear at all."

Dr. Martin would have none of it, although he was clearly amused (if a bit disturbed by the disingenuous misinterpretation of Scripture - Mr. Mankin is also a professing Christian). He at one point asked a terrific hypothetical question to clarify the matter.

Dr. Martin proposed that for just a moment we forget about the passages in Matthew and James that forbid oaths. Never mind those, pretend they aren't there.

Now, having done that, suppose that we were to "write in our own passage", wherein Jesus fully intended to clearly forbid His followers to swear any oaths, including oaths of office, being sworn in to testify in court, etc.

How do you suppose He would have worded that prohibition?

I think it would look very much like: "Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." And, hey, that sounds kind of familiar!

Point made, I trust. On to my third issue for this entry, the question asked in the comments of the earlier Oaths thread. Quoting from a reader named Anonymous: "Do marriage vows count as oaths?"

That's an excellent question, Anon (do you mind if I call you Anon? Cool.). My answer is that it depends entirely on how the vows are worded. If they contain "swearing language", as demonstrated by terms or phrases like "swear" or "so help me (deity of choice)", then I would say that yes, they are at least dipping a toe into some dangerous waters. I have no problem, though, with something more like "Do you, Groomster, take this chickie to be your wife? How about you, Lady In The Fancy Dress? Want to hang out with this schmoe in the rented suit until death do you part?", followed by each party letting their Yes be Yes (or their No be No, depending on how the day is going).

If memory serves - it may not, and I'm not digging out the video to check - that's how my wedding ceremony went (possibly including the words chickie and schmoe). Two pretty straightforward questions, two pretty straightforward answers. If I'm misremembering, and we went into places where we shouldn't have, then once again I have reason to be glad that the blood of Christ atones for my myriad failures. (Sidebar: I strongly advise that you never consider my beliefs or behaviours, or the beliefs and behaviours of any mortal human being, as normative for Christians. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. And if a statement or practice can't be backed up by Scripture, take it with a metric whack-ton of salt.)

So a more seriously worded answer would be: I believe that marriage ceremonies should take the Scriptural prohibition on oaths very seriously, and avoid any language that could reasonably be interpreted as the swearing of an oath. Ask the bride and groom each a simple question (feel free to embellish with as much of the "for richer or for poorer" boilerplate as wanted, as long as "oath language" is avoided), to be answered with a simple yes or no (feel free to go with "I do" if you want your wedding to be more like the ones on TV).

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son in his award-winning pirate costume, trying in vain to hide from the paparazzi.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. -Proverbs 27:1
And that's why I don't listen to weather forecasts.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a dog's tail and some feet.

Friday, February 15, 2008

EasyShare Update And Short Work Story

My new Kodak EasyShare 5100 printer is working. The culprit turned out to be a USB extension cable. When I bypass it and plug a USB cable directly from the printer to the PC, everything's good. I'll either need to find an extension cable that'll work or a much longer USB cable, though - my computer room setup doesn't allow the printer to be especially close to the PC.

I'm not absolving Kodak altogether. I tested this exact same USB configuration (same device cable, extension cable, and port) with other devices, and they worked just fine. I used to troubleshoot for a living, so testing cables is pretty much always my first impulse when something doesn't work. So, I'm thinking that the cable is functioning well enough for most use, but the new printer isn't quite robust enough to work with it.

I also still don't like the Kodak software very much. I had a hard time finding how to scan something - turns out that the EasyShare software that defaults itself to launching at startup and perching in the system tray (behaviours I quickly slapped down - if an app's going to sit in my system tray, gorging itself on clock cycles, it better be constantly useful) isn't what you use to scan. To scan, you have to open yet another Kodak app that doesn't default itself to starting automatically. So, at this point, I don't know what I'm supposed to do with the (formerly) autolaunching software. Looks like it's a useless (to me) photo album organizer tool, so I'll start trying to carve it off my PC altogether. You can never have too much free hard drive space.

The end of the printer saga also means that I'll either be returning to more substantive posting, or scrambling for other excuses.

Which reminds me of a Story From One Of My Jobs. My current job, actually. Yesterday at work, I was explaining why I'd made a decision with which some of my colleagues disagreed (imagine that). As I outlined my reasons, one of my co-workers sighed and said, "Did you have Rationale Flakes for breakfast this morning?"

I salute them. I was especially impressed by the correct use of "rationale!"

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a miniature castle.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don't Wanna Be A Canadian Idiot

This is another convergence - a True Story From One Of My Jobs and Another Reason Why People Don't Talk To Me. Funny how often those collide.

Canada Day was fast approaching, and empowered individuals at my workplace had decided that having ostensible adults play dressup was an appropriate observation. We were encouraged to wear any red and white clothing and accessories that we could think of.

Some people got way into the spirit of the occasion. Face paint was involved. I had thought such fervor reserved for watching steroid users do various things with balls of various types, but there you go.

As the astute reader may have surmised, I was not interested in participating, so I didn't. I didn't deliberately avoid the colours of the day, since doing so would be allowing the "festivities" (Whee! Red pants!) to control my behaviour just as much as those who had cheerfully festooned themselves into looking like bloodstained snowbanks. Since red and white are not particularly common in my wardrobe, however, it was obvious that I hadn't made any effort.

I was quickly confronted by one of the office cheerleaders, demanding to know why I hadn't dressed up like everyone else. Oddly enough, I don't remember when I explicitly agreed to justify my every decision, down to how I dress in the morning, to this person, but I clearly must have at some point. Because if I hadn't, for them to tackle me with such indignance would seem presumptuous to the point of insane, wouldn't it?

Anyway, I gave them the first response that popped into my head: "When I was at college, the other people in my dorm liked to get together in the TV room, put an Eddie Murphy movie in the VCR, and take a drink every time he swore. I didn't do that either."

This didn't satisfy them. Puzzle, mystify, befuddle, yes; satisfy, no.

I gave a more nuanced explanation, outlining a slippery slope theory. Ostentatious displays of patriotism make me nervous. It starts with "Our country is great", then it moves to "We must be great", then it moves to "Those people over there must not be quite as good", and before long the masses are applauding as racial purity laws are passed.

My assailant - whose actual work duties must have been even lighter this day than mine - went from puzzled to offended. However, they also went to the defensive: "Oh, lighten up. It's all in fun."

Me: "Yep, it's all fun and games until they start rounding up the Jews."

I've since realized that I really need to get that printed on t-shirts. Silkscreeners, call me!

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some otters.

A Definition

No time for a real post yet again tonight, I'm afraid. Last night was spent at a Right-to-Life Association meeting, and tonight was spent shoveling my driveway yet again. I haven't even had time to wrestle with the new printer any more.

I only have time for a quick definition. I know, it's lame and juvenile, but for some reason it amuses me.

Serendipity-doo: the oddly coincidental use of hair care products.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son as a newborn. For a while this image made me suspect that his DNA was at least partially extraterrestrial.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

EasyShare Update

I uninstalled and reinstalled the Kodak software on my new PC, and my brand new EasyShare 5100 printer still didn't work.

My next move, when I have some time free (maybe tomorrow night) will be to call the Kodak support number that's provided in big print on a flourescent green sheet that was packed in the box. If it's anything other than brain-dead simple to use that service (i.e., if there's a long hold time, an inscrutable phone menu, or a need to provide credit card info or an overabundance of irrelevant personal info before they'll help), I'll be hanging up and moving on to the next step.

The next step is to return the printer to the store for an exchange. Not a refund - I want the printer, I just want a unit that works. I'm actually now hoping that my firmware upgrade failure was the problem (not that I'll be mentioning that particular aspect of the situation to the nice folks at the returns counter). Next time I'll just install from the CD and refuse any updates.

If the new unit doesn't work either, I'll reinstall Windows on the off chance that something's wrong with my current installation. I know that since I had no printer when I built this system last fall, I turned off a couple of services that are used for printing (notably Print Spooler) and had to re-enable them.

Reinstalling won't be as bad as it sounds, since as I've mentioned before, I run a pretty clean C drive with almost everything but the OS on separate partitions, for just such an occasion. Over the last couple of years, that's become one of the first tips I give relatively inexperienced system builders. However, I could face some family backlash if I don't figure out how to preserve / restore all our stored profiles for Hot Wheels: Beat That.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a friend's newborn baby, whose body appears to be approximately 30% eyeball.

Useful Idiocy

Yes, referring to "useful idiots" is probably exactly the kind of thing from which I said I wanted to refrain, way back in one of my first posts. However, it's the most exact and apt term for what I want to talk about today.

Besides, I can live with some hypocrisy. I'm a Christian, which by definition means that I'm constantly trying to change my ways while knowing that I will continue to be a sinner as long as I'm in this flesh. I am well aware of my failure to reach the standards laid out. Why, on at least three occasions already this year, I didn't sell all I own and give the proceeds to the poor.

If you don't know what the term "useful idiots" means in political discussion, please go read about it on Wikipedia, which provides a pretty good overview. Then take a look at this article on the American Thinker site, which gives some terrific perspective. For that matter, after reading those you could always punch the phrase (in quotation marks) into a search engine and see where you wind up.

Useful idiots are basically people who enable evil. They do so by at least ignoring but more often defending it. They usually believe that by doing so, they are proving themselves wiser, more enlightened, and just generally better than the average person. They are wrong. They are actually proving themselves to be tragically naive, and are usually the sort who will be first against the wall when the actual bad guys they're defending get their way.

I hadn't intended to write about this topic, but I somehow stumbled across an article that demonstrated useful idiocy in a simply spectacular manner. I think it was linked from Ezra Levant's site (Ezra is most emphatically not a useful idiot, and is in fact currently battling a cluster of them).

A writer by the name of Warren Kinsella, writing for the National Post, wrote an appalling article discussing the cartoons that caused offense to some Muslims, who responded with sternly worded letters to the editor. Oh, no, wait. They responded by setting things on fire and throwing lots and lots of rocks. You can see how those are easy to get mixed up.

I was tempted not to link to Kinsella's article, because doing so may lead to some more hits for him. It's entirely possible - and I hope - that he doesn't even believe the tripe he wrote, and only put it out there to generate controversy (with its accompanying page views). I could have just quoted the one truly outrageous statement that I'll be quoting anyway, and left it at that. But, I decided to link to him so that anyone who's interested can go see that I'm not taking him out of context.

For most of the article, he sounds reasonable enough. A bit on the soft-and-squishy side for my tastes, but then so are most people.

His early self-admission that he is willing to be called a censor raises warning flags. However, that may just mean that he didn't pay attention when his English teacher assigned Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. (That he may have read them of his own accord seems unlikely; if he has, then his reading comprehension is pretty atrocious.) That admission, by itself, doesn't throw him into the category of useful idiot.

What catapults him into the category - even the hall of fame - is this passage, very near the end:

And, when all is said and done, what Muslims seek from the rest of us is not anything we do not already seek from them. Which is, mainly, a modicum of respect for the things they hold closest to their hearts.

Remember, he's talking about folks who riot over editorial cartoons. &^$*)!!&-ing editorial cartoons. (I'm trying to keep this blog clean, but sometimes I've just got to go to the internationally recognized comic-book profanity standins.)

When they decide to experiment with peaceful demonstration, they hold up signs with such charming slogans as "Behead Those Who Insult Islam", "Freedom Go To Hell", and "Butcher Those Who Mock Islam".

After living in a more-or-less free nation (Great Britain), over a third of them would like Shaira law imposed and conversion out of Islam to be punishable by death.

If you really want to be shaken out of complacency, go to Jihadwatch and read until you'll have trouble sleeping tonight. It won't take long.

Kinsella is not talking about all Muslims, and neither am I. His article is talking about the cartoons and reactions to them, and reactions to other potentialy offensive speech. His closing must be read in that context.

Of course most Muslims, especially those who have made the effort to escape to civilized nations,do want the same as the rest of us: to peacefully live their lives. To raise their families, make their livings, and to get along with their neighbours, and, yes, to practise their faith in peace. Unfortunately, there's a vocal - or more accurately, explosive - minority of Muslims who want to blow things up and throw rocks whenever anyone hurts their oh-so-delicate feelings. And thanks to convenient doctrines like taqiyya, you never know who is really in this latter category.

I wish the militants wanted the same things I do, because what I want is for them to stop murdering people.

Unfortunately, what they want is to kill, conquer, and enslave the civilized world.

As for the "modicum of respect" that's all that "the rest of us" want - I'm not that concerned with their respect. Especially if Kinsella is using "respect" as most leftists do, in the modern politically correct (and utterly inaccurate) sense of "fauning approval." Or, wait, does it only mean that when they talk about "respecting" homosexual marriage rights or a woman's choice to abort? It's so hard to keep track.

I don't much care what Islamists think of me (although I've got a pretty good idea what it would be). And there's no reason why they should care what I think of them. Mutual respect should be of very little concern.

I'll make a deal with the Islamists. Let's assume that we do want the same things from each other, and make a deal. We can meet halfway. Here's my proposal:

Drop the whole "respect" idea, especially in the modern sense I discussed above. Let's feel free to think, feel, and say whatever we want about each other. However, let's all agree not to kill anybody.

I'm not concerned with the respect of the Islamists. I just want them to stop blowing things up.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of some Beatles dolls in Sgt. Pepper uniforms that my wife crocheted for me. The trim wasn't finished on all of them when the picture was taken.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

EasyShare - ImpossibleSetup

Posting has been - and will continue to be (for now) - light, because my limited PC time is being eaten up by a new printer.

I just bought a Kodak Easyshare 5100. I had been meaning to pick up a new printer for a while. I have a couple of old printers kicking around, but new ink cartridges for them would cost more than simply replacing them, and I love Kodak's new business model: make a little money on the printer, make a little money on the ink (instead of the industry standard exorbitant markups), leverage price advantage to dominate the market. Or force others to play the same ink-pricing game, which benefits consumers too.

Anyway, I had decided a couple of weeks back that I wanted one, so when one of the big electronics chains put them on special this week, it was a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, the Easyshare hasn't been the least bit easy to get working. I have 2 PCs in regular use. I first tried hooking the new printer to the old one, which for various reasons of household politics, is the one I usually use. My first impression on trying to set it up was that the installer software was quite ingenious. I loved that it offered, during installation from the bundled CD, to check Kodak's website for a newer version and install that instead.

That was my last good impression. The installer crashed every time, at various points, giving different indecipherable error codes each time. Searching any of the error codes on Kodak's knowledge base just kicked back that I needed to uninstall and reinstall the software. Plus, it won't uninstall cleanly on its own - a clean removal requires downloading a special app from Kodak. That doesn't make me happy at all. If your program doesn't remove all traces of itself when I use the Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs app, then I call shenanigans. If my OS can't cleanly uninstall it, based on how it installed itself, what else are you hiding on / doing to my PC?

I tried installing from both the CD and the website, with nothing but a growing collection of crash error codes to show for it. Then I tried going to Kodak's website and downloading the installer fresh (i.e., as though I didn't have the CD at all). In an infuriating twist, the "installer" that I downloaded was tiny, and just launched another online installation. What if I was on dial-up, or trying to install somewhere where I didn't have net access (for instance, if I'd burned the "installer" onto a CD-ROM)?

Plus, the various Kodak installers and uninstallers kept obnoxiously filling up my C drive, despite having been told it was off limits. I run a very tight C drive - pretty much just the OS, with almost all other apps installed to another partition. Being told that installation cannot proceed because my C drive is full, when I've already told the installer to use D, does not please me.

Anyway, I finally got the software to install. I have no idea why it worked this one time, but I was willing to take the victory and run with it. However, at no point was I asked to connect the printer, which uses a USB interface. According to the instructions, I should have been, and plugging the printer in before being asked is supposedly a big no-no.

Since the software was all installed, including (according to Kodak) the driver, I decided to forge ahead and plug the printer in anyway. No go. Windows spit back that a USB device attached to the PC was malfunctioning, and helpfully suggested that if unplugging it and trying again didn't fix it, I should throw it out and buy a new one. I tested the USB cable and port by plugging another device into it, and the other device worked fine. I also tried plugging the printer into a different USB port that I know for certain works, with the same failure each time.

Enough. I went to the new PC.

On this one, the software installed smoothly. I was even asked to plug the printer in when the instructions said I should be. It detected, and all seemed good. Hooray!


During installation, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade the printer's firmware. Sure, why not? The upgrade failed. No other info was provided - just that the upgrade failed.

I also can't print. The PC sees the printer, and I can view its status and all kinds of info about it from the Kodak software - it just won't print anything. With one exception: I can print a calibration page from the Kodak tools. I can also print things that are on the glass using the Copy function, so I know the print head and ink cartridges work. However, printing anything other than a calibration sheet from the PC just hangs. I've tried test pages and documents; as I type this, a 128KB, 468X371 JPG has been "printing" for over an hour without the printer showing any signs of actual activity other than a blinking LED (green, not an error alert) indicating that it's busy.

I've restarted the PC, I've restarted the printer, I've turned print spooling on and off - nothing's helping yet. The firmware upgrade failure may have given me a large paperweight, but I'm not leaping to that conclusion just yet. I think I'll leave it for tonight, and try a fresh uninstall / reinstall of the software tomorrow (or whenever I next get a chance). Hopefully I'll have better news later on.

Kodak, I'm unimpressed. I've worked in IT, and installed and serviced many, many printers over the years. If I'm having this much trouble, then Joe Average is simply not going to be able to use this printer. It doesn't matter how low your ink prices are if the blasted thing doesn't work.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a Desktop Tower Defense juggling layout I tried. It didn't get me through the 100-level challenge.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A True Story From One Of My Jobs

This one goes back to when I worked in a comic shop. I never quite became Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but he was one of my co-workers.

On this day, there was a small group of boys in the store, ages in the low double digits. That was not at all unusual, of course. What was unusual was the fact that they were sort of huddled in, excitedly discussing something in hushed tones. Clearly a matter of great importance, but not one they wanted to share with the entire store.

I began to hear whispered urgings that made it clear that they wanted my input on something. "Go ask him." "No, you go ask him." "I'm not gonna ask him, you ask him!"

A comic shop is nerd Mecca (which I say with respect and affection - for the "nerd" part, if not the "Mecca" part). When you work there, you are revered as the Ultimate Authority on a great many deeply geeky matters.

After a couple of minutes of the debate, during which I pretended not to notice them (comics fans, even the young, sometimes startle easily), one of the group was pushed to the front and toward me. A spokesman had apparently been elected, probably quite against his will.

He approached me, clearly reluctant, the others watching vigilantly but remaining a safe distance behind. They occasionally offered an encouragingly hissed, "Go on, ask him!".

"Ummm... we have a question."

"OK, what can I help you with?"

"It's kind of stupid."

Working in a comic shop pretty much entails stupid conversations all day long, so I assured the young man that I'd probably heard worse. Probably several times already that very day.

"No, it's really stupid. You're going to laugh at us."

"I probably won't."

He turned to the others and made one last plea for his dignity. "Come on, we don't need to ask this. It's stupid." They were unsympathetic.

Although I was intrigued, my patience was beginning to wear. I don't remember now exactly what I wanted to get back to doing, but it probably involved reading comic books. I hauled out the cliche.

"It's OK, go ahead. The only really stupid question is the one you want the answer to but never ask."

After one last deep breath, he asked, "Who would win in a fight... Star Wars or Star Trek?"

"I stand corrected."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of one of my bookshelves as seen through a toy basketball net.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Laughing With, Not At

Last night I was blessed to spend the evening playing a Bible quiz game with some friends.

I'll take my first digression to state that the actual game we played was Bible Challenge, published by Faithkidz. I highly recommend it. Although I urge you to support your local Christian bookstore whenever possible, if you want this game and just can't get it locally, it's item # 00920 from (who also sell it for less than SRP).

It's your standard board-plus-question-cards quiz game. The rules that come with it are too vague for my liking, but the rules sheet explicitly recommends that you come up with your own rules variations to suit your group. If you've ever played a quiz game before (e.g., Trivial Pursuit), that won't be difficult.

This is not intended as a full review / critique of the game, though, so I'll move on to my second digression. Or is this a subdigression within my first digression?

No matter. Onward.

Although most people would call this a "Bible trivia" game, I don't like that term. "Trivia" means "stuff that doesn't matter." Scripture matters - all of it. Even if a passage may seem to be completely irrelevant to you right now, there are two important qualifiers in this sentence: "you" and "right now". Different passages speak loudest to different people at different times.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as "Bible trivia". The chapter and verse divisions are later additions to the original Hebrew / Aramaic / Greek text, and are not generally considered to be divinely inspired. And, although I'm sure (or I hope) that the translators of each version prayed strenuously for guidance, I would not necessarily consider the exact phrasing of specific English (or other modern language) translations inspired either.

So, some examples of what I would rightly consider Bible trivia would be questions such as "How many chapters are there in book X", or "How many subjunctive clauses are used in the New Living Bible translation of Zephaniah?"

Most of what people call "Bible trivia", though, actually involves the body of the scriptural text itself, and so is not trivial at all.

The manufacturer of the game even seems to acknowledge this principle - there's a marketing tagline printed on the box: "Some knowedge is trivial, some is eternal." I was disappointed to see that they describe it as a "trivia game" on their website in the link above.

There were four players: me, my wife, and a husband-and-wife couple, both pastors. All four of us are fairly well versed in Scripture, so none of the games were blowouts, which made playing much more enjoyable. We played four times. My wife and I each won once, and Mr. Pastor won twice. Mrs. Pastor was in a dominant lead for most of each game but overtaken at the last minute each time.

This is really all preamble to my two favourite funny bits from the evening. Time for another digression.

Some people, and I've been maybe-something-other-than-blessed to spend time with a few of them, don't like people having fun during Bible study or similar Scriptocentric discussions / activities (like playing a Bible quiz game). Making jokes in those situations can get you any reaction from stony silence to open rebuke, and I've been on the receiving end of both for alleged irreverence. (I'd defend myself against the charge, but that would be a whole other digression that the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome precludes my pursuing at the moment.)

Nobody who was here last night was one of those people, so although we all hold the Bible in the utmost esteem as the word of God, we were still cracking lots of jokes and generally having a pretty boisterous time. Jesus came that we may have life more abundantly. Don't be afraid to laugh.

Anyway, here's the question-and-answer combo that got the biggest laugh last night. (The correct answer was given after the laughter died down.) Remember, it was a Bible quiz game:

Q: "Who did Ahab blame for the drought in Israel?"

A: "Moby Dick."

(Feel free to take a look at I Kings 18:17, preferably including reading the section around it to get some context, for the actual answer.)

The other high point came when a question about Jude led to a brief tangential discussion of that book. It was suggested that if you wanted to distill the book of Jude down to its core theme, that theme would be, "Don't make it bad." It was also noted that reading the book of Jude can be tedious because the last several pages just repeat, "Na, na na, na-na-na-naaaa" over and over.

These things seemed really funny last night (alcohol was definitely not a contributing factor). Maybe I'll read this all again in a few days to see whether that remains the case.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the bannister at the bottom of my house's staircase.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Anharmonic Convergence

Today's story is another convergence of categories. It's both a True Story From One Of My Jobs and Another Reason Why People Don't Talk To Me.

This goes back to a time when I worked with a lady named Marie. For some reason, it had become apparent that Marie was really irritated by alliteration. So, of course I began using as many alliterative phrases as could reasonably be worked into conversation. There finally came a point where I quit being reasonable. Read the following aloud for best effect.

One day as Marie sat down at her desk, next to mine, I began a conversation with the random co-worker sitting on the other side of her.

"Hey, random co-worker, know what I heard?" The random co-worker may or may not have responded; it really doesn't matter now and certainly wouldn't have mattered then. I forged ahead with the bit.

"Mischevious monkeys mauled Marie's minivan."

Marie, unsure whether to laugh, cry, or drop a heavy object on me, expressed her admiration for this turn of phrase by muttering, "Shut up, you idiot."

Prepared for a negative reaction, I had my apology ready. "Sorry. I'll stop saying silly sentences with strings of similar sounds."

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my bathroom door.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Not Dealing Well With Change

Thankfully, my student loan has been fully paid off for a long time now. Today's story takes us back to a time when it hadn't been. As background, the interest rate for a Canada Student Loan is (or at least was) the prime rate plus a fixed amount (2.5% then; I don't know about now).

I went into the branch to make my monthly payment. After waiting in line for a teller and making the payment uneventfully, the fun began. To get an idea how much interest I'd be charged over the next few months, I asked the teller what the prime rate was. A simple question, I thought. She gave me a deer-in-headlights expression, blinked a few times, then said "It changes all the time."

Yes, I know that - what is it now? I told her that my student loan rate was prime plus 2.5, and I wanted to figure out its current interest rate.

"Your student loan wouldn't be at the prime rate. It would be different."

I know. I just told you that. So, what's the current prime rate?

Again, blank stare. Then she hurried off to confer with a woman who sat way behind the counter. They both came back. The new arrival (apparently some sort of supervisor) gave me a nice long blank stare, then said "The prime rate changes all the time."

Thank goodness I hadn't asked them for the time. I'd still be there while they marvelled over the fact that it's different every time they look at the clock.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my dog after hip surgery. Fair warning: I have a closeup picture of the incision that might go up here sometime too.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
These words were spoken by Jesus Christ, during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37, wording from the New King James version, courtesy of The same idea is reiterated in James 5:12, again presented in in the New King James Version, from guess where:
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
Seems pretty simple. I can understand how Christians disagree on some things. For instance, Old Order Mennonites will not allow their photographs to be taken because they consider it a violation of the commandment against graven images (Deuteronomy 5:8, in the King James Version, which they would probably prefer):
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.
I don't agree with their interpretation, but I can see how they get there and respect their position. I can understand getting from "graven image" to "photograph", but I can't understand getting from "do not swear" to "swearing oaths is permissible".

I'm in the minority on this. I asked a Christian lawyer (no, not an oxymoron) if he's ever seen anyone refuse, on these grounds, to be sworn in on the Bible before testifying. He said he's never even heard of or considered such a thing. (He did, however, tell me that a judge would probably allow me to refuse the oath as long as I could cite the passages in question; I'd be hauled into chambers and severely warned of the penalties of perjury, oath or no oath, then allowed to return to the stand and testify).

I've seen Bible commentaries and footnotes in study Bibles that say these passages do not preclude being sworn in to testify in court, oaths of office, etc. I have never seen a basis for this claim beyond "because we say so". I'll take the clear statements of Scripture over the baseless statements of "scholars".

I've had a Christian argue with me that those passages can't mean that Christians can't / shouldn't swear oaths, because "I was never taught that growing up, and it just doesn't sound right to me." God help us if this is now the basis for Biblical interpretation among Christians.

I find it heartening that I've had some people agree with me. I've presented variations on this essay to different people, individually and in groups, several times over the past few years. Most of the professing Christians have agreed with the point, or at least realized that it was something they needed to think about.

This brings us to a True Story From One Of My Jobs. This entry is the first convergence of categories that I've written up; it probably won't be the last.

A while back, I had a civil service job. I started with a group of twenty or so other people. We spent our first day dealing with such formalities as an office tour, and learning to fill out our voluminous personnel forms. One of those formalities was the recitation of an oath of allegiance, with one hand on the Bible yet.

I really didn't want to cause trouble. At the time I really needed the job, and was worried about what would happen if I rocked the boat on my first day. But I knew I couldn't deliberately violate my conscience, so when my turn came I quietly took the Bible from the person administering the oath (all the new staff were in the room with us, and I wasn't doing this for show), opened it to one of the passages quoted above, and explained that I could not take the oath.

I told them that I found it particularly ironic that they were having people swear on the Bible to supposedly emphasize the gravity of the oath. We all remember that from childhood - a lie is one thing, but to lie after swearing on the Bible is in a whole other realm of wrongdoing.

However, it doesn't work. If someone doesn't believe (or at least respect) the Bible, then swearing on it means nothing to them. They would lie after making a Biblical oath at least as quickly as they would have lied without it. If, on the other hand, the person holds the Bible in esteem, then yes, swearing on the Bible may have more meaning for them. However, the same Bible they're swearing on says that they shouldn't swear on it (or anything else), putting the lie to their sincerity. Or, at least, to their knowledge of the Bible - which, again, reflects their true opinion of it.

There is a real paradox here. Swearing on the Bible shows that you don't care (or at least don't know) what it says about doing so, which means that swearing on it should mean nothing to you.

For a long moment, as the official debated what to do with me, I figured I had just lost my new, much-needed job. I was already trying to rationalize my way into backpedaling and taking the oath and justifying it to God later (that should work, right?). Then, a voice from behind me: "Excuse me... could I see that passage?"

One of my new co-workers had stepped forward. Not to stereotype, but I had a hunch from her long, tied-back hair and floor-length denim skirt that she had spent some time in a Pentecostal church or two. She looked over the passages, then handed the Bible back to the offical saying, "I won't be able to swear either."

I don't mind being out there alone sometimes, but it's awfully nice to have backup when I'm wavering. I will always appreciate God sending this lady to speak up with me.

The official was now flustered. They set the two troublemakers off to one side and finished getting everyone else to take their turns swearing in. After the others left, the official said that they just didn't know what to do with us. A few more bureaucrats were called in, and we dissenters were left to sit in a corner while they rumbled ominously.

We were finally asked to go catch up with everyone else to be dealt with later. I was allowed to twist in the wind for a few days, during which I was told by a few managers that refusing the oath was simply not an option, until finally I was summoned to the office of the HR director. They explained that they had made calls all the way up to Ottawa, and my refusal was unprecedented. I didn't, and don't, believe that for a second. I was quite sure - and told them so - that at least one atheist somewhere had refused the oath, albeit on different grounds (in addition to the Bible, I seem to remember the oath itself containing some vague religious language). Furthermore, I was quite sure that an atheist's refusal would quickly be accomodated, or there would be a major civil rights lawsuit with lots of publicity.

Before I was able to follow that train of thought very far down its track, the HR director pulled out a piece of paper headed, "Solemn Declaration". It contained much of the same wording as the oath, without using the words "oath" or "swear". It was essentially a contract stating that if I did any of several unpleasant or illegal things, I could be fired and prosecuted. I happily signed it, and went on to be profitably employed there for quite some time.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a birthday cake.

Ambush Bug returns!

This post will be far more extemporaneous than most. Normally I plan my posts out ahead of time, write drafts and continue to edit and revise even after posting. This one's going straight out there, because I just read some really good news and want to talk about it:

Ambush Bug is coming back!

I was a serious comic book collector for almost twenty years, and I worked in a comic shop for five more (more stories about both of those to come). When it was all done, I wound up keeping one "short box" of comics and a bookshelf of trade paperbacks. All my other comics, many thousands of them, found their way out of my house one way or another.

I was always a Marvel fan in my hobby years - Spider-Man, especially. I had unbroken runs of about 150 issues each of Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, and I also spoke fluent X-Men and Avengers. Later on, though, my preferences switched more to DC, and most of the issues stowed away into that single box of comics for permament retention are DCs. I couldn't bear to part with my complete runs of Suicide Squad, Hitman, and, of course, Ambush Bug.

Ambush Bug was complete lunacy. Giff and Flem acknowledged no boundaries and left no sacred cow unbarbequed. To this day. "Mr. Brown is dead" cracks me up. (Or was it Mr. Green? Oh, well, same joke either way.)

I really, really hope this does better than the current Suicide Squad revival (which also features the original writer, John Ostrander, and would be selling huge quantities in a just world).

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the stairs at a friend's house. No photo manipulation going on - the stairs are really this steep.