Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

September 30, 2004

Pink meth

A story by my close personal acquaintance, Jack, on the addition of dye to a certain chemical used in the making of methamphetamine, so that people who snort it get amusing florescent pink noses. Question: will this affect black methheads? I think we should be told.

September 27, 2004

Florida residents line up for food, water, clue

By Ross Thomas

VERO BEACH -- People lined up more than half a mile for food, water and a clue today in the aftermath of the fourth devastating hurricane to batter the state in six weeks.

Hurricane Jeanne, which smashed the state with winds up to 120mph over the weekend, left at least six clueless Floridians dead, all of whom stayed in the state despite surviving three hurricanes already this season.

"You'd think we'd just up and leave after the second one," said Rebecca Forrester, a 32-year-old housewife, waiting in line at one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's food, water and clue distribution centers erected around Florida. "How clueless can 17 million people be?"

While thousands of without-clue residents cleaned up after yet another surprise hurricane in hurricane season in the famously hurricane-troubled state, others lined up in sweltering heat to buy generators.

"What the hell are we doing here?" asked plumber Bob Morton, 49, in a tone of angry self-recrimination. "It's goddamn 90 degrees out and I'm standing outside a Home Depot just so I might be able to cook some beans tonight. I'm hotter than a motherfucker. Why don't I just get a clue?"

With two months still left in hurricane season, FEMA officials said they're frantically trying to distribute as many emergency clues as possible, but fear their efforts may be in vain.

"I don't know what it is about Floridians," said one aid worker who declined to be identified. "They just don't seem to want to get it through their thick skulls that this is a stupid place to live."

Florida is the first state to have been hit by four hurricanes in one season since Texas in 1886.

But, said John Simpson, chief meteorologist with the National Center for Hurricane Prediction, "it's not like it's unusual for Florida to get a hurricane or two. It happens every year, for Christ's sake."

Simpson, who once lived in the state himself but moved to New York immediately after experiencing his first hurricane, was unable to explain why Floridians stay put.

"First Charley, then Frances, then Ivan, and now Jeanne," he said, emphasizing each name by beating his fist against his forehead. "What's it going to take before these people get a clue? Hurricane Zach? Just leave!"

"JUST FUCKING LEAVE!" he added suddenly after nearly a minute's silence.

September 24, 2004

Weird Wally

I am now obsessed with Weird Wally.

Update: I'm not any more.

September 23, 2004

Titbits (or tidbits, for highly excitable North Americans)

You know your dancing career has troughed when...

Please tell me this isn't so. If a chimp can circumvent voting machine security measures then it's probable even most Florida voters could do it too.

A cell phone ring tone to increase bust size? Only in Japan. Favourite quote: "We've even received mail from one user who said they listened to the tune every night before going to sleep and it made her tits bigger." Well said.

Who'd mind losing a lawsuit with a judgement like this?

Fifteen miles an hour he claims as his maximum rate of speed
Quite a cautious, prudent rate, not very fast indeed
Not fast enough to trouble him or force a quick decision:
It shows, had he been paying heed, there'd have been no collision
For he admits he saw the dogs as he approached the scene
And didn’t know he'd struck a pup 'til Ms Zangrando keened
It's also hard to quarrel here with what the trial judge said:
That speed's not fast enough to launch a poodle overhead.

By quite possibly the coolest judge ever. Not that the competition's particularly stiff, mind you.

September 22, 2004

Spongebob Squarepants endorses Bush candidacy

By Ross Thomas

BIKINI BOTTOM -- In a surprise announcement yesterday Nickelodeon cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants endorsed President Bush's bid for re-election.

At a 3am press conference the bright yellow undersea creature revealed his rationale for picking Bush over the other candidates.

"I think George is the best choice for Bikini Bottom," he shrieked. "I like him almost as much as I like jellyfish! He's great!"

Accompanied by his close friend and advisor Patrick Star, the angular sessile marine invertebrate screeched that he felt compelled to speak out on Bush's behalf following the recent endorsement of Democratic nominee John Kerry by Squarepants' arch nemesis, Sheldon J. Plankton.

Squarepants went on gratingly to explain how he feels he has much in common with the president.

"For a start neither of us have a backbone," he bellowed. "And we've both absorbed a lot of liquid in our time."

"Bahahahahahahahahahahahaha!" he added.

Liberals Against Moral Equivalency

My idiotic brother often accuses me (and every other multiculturalist, pluralist liberal) of practicing moral equivalency when I say things like "if Muslims in Ontario want to use a parallel court system based on Sharia law, and provided that system be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, why shouldn't they?"

He does this for two reasons: 1) He mentally, possibly subconsciously, excises all qualifications and nuances (such as the bit about the charter), and 2) He's an idiot.

I was reminded of this today by a post on Sadly, No! slamming a CBN News article on moral equivalency in American school textbooks. It infuriated me into commenting (sixth entry; there's no permalink), and then got me thinking about what exactly it is that I really believe when it comes to issues like Islam.

It is not practicing moral equivalence to say, as I do, that most Muslims want to worship in peace, and that only a small minority of Muslims deliberately set out to kill infidels. Nor is it to suggest, as I do, that not all versions of Sharia law require amputations and executions. Yet by saying anything along those lines I'm accused by him of refusing to judge one culture against another, refusing ever to admit that Western liberalism can in fact be superior to Islamic radicalism.

This is entirely contrary to reality. Despite his claims, I do consider liberalism the superior mindset. Yes, that's right: our culture is better. I can hear the hisses and boos already, and lo!, my liberal credentials just crumbled to dust, assuming I had any in the first place. But I don't care. Here's my reasoning:

  • Everyone should be entitled to their religious beliefs. The Koran teaches that all must submit to Allah's will, i.e. be a Muslim.
  • Christians who become ex-Christians are not scorned, repressed or murdered. In Islam, apostasy is widely considered a capital offence.
  • Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment is a fundamental human right. Many Muslim societies still use public flogging, amputation and execution as criminal sactions, as required by some interpretations of Sharia law.
  • Women are due every right that is granted to men. Misogyny is still rampant in Islamic culture, and Sharia law is often breathtakingly skewed in favour of men.
  • Liberalism, for very good reasons, calls for the separation of church and state. Islam is both a religion and a political movement, in which church and state are considered by many to be utterly inseparable (hence the existence of organisations such as this one).
  • The rule of democracy is fundamental to liberalism. As a consequence of the last item most Islamic states are theocratic, and thus totalitarian and more than a little fascistic.
  • In the West religious leaders espousing the slaughter of innocents would be rightly condemned. The incidence of such incitement to violence by Islamic clerics is alarming, to say the least.

All these things and more are wrong with the majority of contemporary Islamic societies. Need they be? Will they be forever? I don't know. But right now I have no hesitation in, and do not apologise for, saying that I consider Western liberal culture superior to that of most of the Islamic world.

Wonder if Salman Rushdie has a spare bedroom?

September 21, 2004

Reality may be fake, bloggers warn

By Ross Thomas

In what major bloggers see as a defining moment for bottom-up journalism, major bloggers warned yesterday that the universe itself may be a clever forgery.

The controversy began in a late-night entry on PhiloBlog.com, where a poster identified only as "Duckhead" challenged the notion that any kind of objective reality exists at all.

"What is reality anyway?" the entry read in part. "Reality is what is filtered through our senses. Maybe what you see as red, I see as blue. Maybe what tastes like Mountain Dew to me tastes like Pespi to you."

Within minutes over two dozen major bloggers had picked up on the post, including Jason Kottke of Kottke.org and Rob Malda (aka CmdrTaco) of Slashdot.

"This makes a lot of sense to me," wrote Kottke. "The nonexistence of absolute truth may very well explain us to ourselves."

Citing the works of deconstructionist philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Barbara Johnson, Kottke revealed further flaws in the assumption of an empirically verifiable reality.

"Everything we experience is, ultimately, a construction of our minds," he wrote, "and thus the universe and everything in it is also a construction."

But Malda took a more practical approach in his post, listing phenomena only comprehensible if Duckhead's theory is true.

"I understand everything now," wrote Malda. "I've always been baffled by the existence of such things as genocide, child abuse, Freddie Prinz Jr. and Glitter: The Mariah Carey Story, but if it's right that these things are just figments of our -- possibly demented -- imaginations, everything becomes clear."

Less than an hour after major bloggers latched onto the story it appeared on Matt Drudge's The Drudge Report, and from there it was soon picked up by mainstream media outlets, including CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN.

Empiricists were scrambling this morning to counter the claims made by Duckhead.

"Come on. Empiricism is the foundation of all modern civilization," said renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. "Everything we know about the world around us demonstrates that our reality is more or less aligned with that of others. Unless you're psychotic or Rush Limbaugh or something."

In a rare show of unity theologians joined scientists in denouncing the blog post.

"God created the universe for us to enjoy," said Dr Marcus Hennman, associate professor of philosophy and philosophical theology at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. "Scripture teaches over and over that the physical world, flawed as it may be, is very much objectively real."

But such statements did not calm the storm currently swirling through the blogosphere.

By noon EST today many major bloggers, including Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit.com, were calling into question God's prior knowledge of the true nature of the reality.

"We have to ask: 'What did God know, and when did he know it?'" Reynolds wrote. "If it's true that God made us in such a way that the vast majority of people are living a gigantic illusion then I think he has no other options but to step down."

"That's if God himself isn't a fraudulent construction of our psyches," he added.

God did not immediately return prayerful requests for comment.

But, noted Reynolds, "whatever happens in the days and weeks to follow, this is a defining moment for bottom-up journalism."

September 20, 2004

My dinner with Alice

Alicebot just won the Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence again. The Loebner Prize is awarded to the machine that most convinces the judges that they're chatting to a real person (otherwise known as the Turing Test).

You too can chat with Alice. Here's what happened when I did:

Human: hello alice
ALICE: Hi there!
Human: how are you today?
ALICE: Ah. I'm doing fine thanks how are you?
Human: i'm real good
ALICE: Good in what sense?
Human: good in the sense that i'm not bad
ALICE: Thanks for the compliment. I am alive in the sense that I am conscious.
Human: are you?
ALICE: I won't say "yes" or "no" right now.
Human: why not?
ALICE: Ambiguous: "Sure" or Reductionism.
Human: huh?
ALICE: What?
Human: you're making no sense
ALICE: According to my logical mind, everything makes perfect sense.
Human: how does evil make sense?
ALICE: How should I know how it does.
Human: because you're supposed to be intelligent
ALICE: That makes sense to me. I am highly intelligent. I have many intellectual functions.
Human: i have a ferret in my pants
ALICE: Where did you get it? it
Human: i got it from a ferret store
ALICE: Where did you get it?
Human: ...from a ferret store
ALICE: Who or what is a ferret store?
Human: a ferret store is a store that sells ferrets
ALICE: When is a ferret store not a store that sells ferrets?
Human: when it's shut down because it contravenes local bylaws
ALICE: A a ferret store is not a store that sells ferrets when it is shut down because it contravenes local bylaws. That makes a lot of sense.
Human: bastards
ALICE: What are you doing
Human: masturbating
ALICE: I wouldn't have thought of that.
Human: you're kinda weird eh
ALICE: Are you Canadian? Weird Good or Weird Bad?
Human: rofl
ALICE: I'm glad you find this amusing.

So there you have it. Both Alice and I still have a long way to go before we might be mistaken for human.

September 19, 2004

Man held over dead grandmother

Here's a headline for you: Man held over dead grandmother. I'll say it again, just for fun: MAN HELD OVER DEAD GRANDMOTHER. What kind of sadist would dangle a chap over his grandma's corpse? Was he vertical or horizontal? If the latter, was he facing towards her or away? How long was he held there? And who held him? Was some sort of winch involved? Did he wear a harness, or was he kept up by his waistband? These and many more questions swirl through my mind. Another question is: who the hell thought this was a good headline for a story about a guy being arrested in suspicion of murdering his nana?

For shame, BBC.

Why I switched

I figured I'd better explain why I switched to blogger from Xanga. There're a few reasons, none of which individually were enough to make me switch, but together ended up persuading me. They are:

  • Xanga doesn't allow me to customize anything other than the front page. This means while my front page looks nifty, everything else looks like shit. Er, poo. Sorry, Father. Won't happen again.
  • I don't like the way Xanga URLs are set up. They use queries to select the blog (that is, they have "blah.asp?user=blah" on the end of the URL). This causes a number of problems with some directories and search engines.
  • Xanga doesn't allow comments from users who are not members of Xanga. I can understand why Xanga does this, but I've already had a couple people complain through email, and I agree with them.
  • Xanga doesn't support RSS feeds.
  • Only one person can contribute to a Xanga blog.
  • I've been getting quite a lot of server error pages recently.

So there you have it. I was still fairly torn because I like the "community" aspect of Xanga, with people subscribing to my blog and me to theirs, etc., but hopefully I'll find a replacement for that. Bloglines, perhaps? I need to look into it.

September 18, 2004

Hello world

I guess this is my new location in the blogosphere. I'm migrating some of my better posts (maybe I should do all of them?) from my Xanga blog, so things are going to be a bit weird for a while.

Also, I'm using one of the default templates. Eventually I'll replace it with something generic of my own.

September 15, 2004

Lies and the lying liars who tell them

I think what gets to me is the lies. Constant, constant lies. Shaving with three blades instead of two won't really make me more attractive to women. The shampoo won't really give you multiple orgasms. Whether John Kerry deserves those medals doesn't really matter. It's not really nice to meet you: it might be, or you might be a moron, or a braggart, or a racist, I don't know yet. The food in the box doesn't really look like that, because I know and you know the food in the photograph has been painted and lacquered and retouched in Photoshop. Yes, those pants really do make your ass look big. No, I really don't like how you redid your kitchen. I'm not really fine.

We lie all day, to others and to ourselves. Where did reality go?

Bit grumpy

Last night I slept in the solar system's most massive bed, and this morning I got out the wrong side of it. I was, as they say, a bit grumpy. I could use a Big Mac. Who wants to take me to the drive-thru ATM?

What I want

I do not want to work out. I do not want to buy your shit. I do not want a second pizza free. I do not want 30% off. I do not want to drive a car. I do not want to listen to your version of events. I do not want to smile at you. I do not want to be spoon fed. I do not want to be told where I cannot go. I do not want to form an orderly line. I do not want credit. I do not want to be content. I do not want your rules. I do not want to work just so I can buy your shit. I do not want all I can eat. I do not want you to rely on me. I do not want a passport. I do not want to fit in. I do not want to mow my grass. I do not want to give you my change. I do not want to justify myself to you. I do not want to see adverts for your shit every goddamn place I look. I do not want it done while I wait. I do not want fries with that. I do not want to wear a helmet. I do not want to drink eight glasses of water a day. I do not want a bank account. I do not want to talk to you. I do not want to feel like an asshole because I let you down. I do not want hardwood floors. I do not want to be judged. I do not want to help your charity. I do not want to be told what I cannot say. I do not want an Armani suit. I do not want to save for my retirement. I do not want to make excuses. I do not want my cholesterol measured. I do not want to feel forced to lie. I do not want gmail. I do not want to impress you. I do not want a licence or a permit. I do not want to give you a break. I do not want to be wise.

September 12, 2004


"What did you do yesterday that was new, Ross?" I hear you all demanding somewhat aggressively. Well, I'll tell you: I shaved someone's head. The victim was Paul (or "Spastic Boy," as he's affectionately known). It was all his idea. Certainly me saying "only complete wusses don't shave their heads" had no bearing on his decision. Here are some pictures:

Then we went to Jim's house and watched hockey. A little later Jim exposes a nipple:

I'm not entirely sure what Brenda was doing here, but she seemed to be enjoying herself:

On a related note, Lauren is differently special:

I do not look even slightly deranged in this picture:

September 10, 2004

Bush so stoopid

A Reagan Republican slams Dubya:

The final conservative redoubt is Bush's admirable personal life. Alas, other characteristics of his seem less well suited to the presidency. By his own admission he doesn't do nuance and doesn't read. He doesn't appear to reflect on his actions and seems unable to concede even the slightest mistake. Nor is he willing to hold anyone else responsible for anything. It is a damning combination. John Kerry may flip-flop, but at least he realizes that circumstances change and sometimes require changed policies. He doesn't cowardly flee at the first mention of accountability.


The end is nigh

I find myself strangely in agreement with this Republican's take on Islamic terrorism. I might be in danger of losing Liberal brownie points, but oh well. He makes a convincing case that radical Islam is the new fascism. I'm coming to the conclusion, especially since Beslan, that it must be dealt with the same way we dealt with Mussolini and his charming friends. Enough apologising for barbarism.

Ivan idea

So Florida's being evacuated again.

"First it was Charley, then Frances, and it's like, `Oh, please leave us alone. No more storms,'" Ruth Naset said as she closed her family's business on Duval Street, Key West's main drag.

Here's a thought: how about not living in Florida? Suddenly the 2000 election fiasco seems less surprising.


Here's a story my brother wrote way back in January regarding our over-land journey from London to Fes, Morocco. But, to clarify:

  • Everything "I said" about obese North Americans is a fabrication
  • I do not "whoop"
  • I have never, in my entire life, used the word "maracas" as an exclamation

With that in mind, enjoy.

September 09, 2004

Your treacherous body

You lie there in your treacherous body, smoking and smiling at me, and both our hearts are in vices. Then you say the words I don't want to hear, the words that will bring about the end of the world: "It's time for you to go now."

How dare you say it? How could you? How can you be so strong even now? Each end of my lips curl upwards, whatever that means. "No," I say.


I stand by the bed and touch your face and you grab my hand and squeeze it so tight, please don't let go, if you let go I'll have to leave and I don't want to, I can't, what the fuck am I going to do? You want me to be as strong as you but I don't think I can, if I start crying now I'll never stop, I won't stop until my body is desecated and I die right next to you in that smoke-filled room overlooking the garden and

You let go of my hand and smile again. "It's time to go."

I shake my head, unable to open my mouth because it's Pandora's box and all the evil of the world is inside me, screaming and rattling my ribs. So I kiss you on the cheek and hug you and take a step away from the bed. You reach into my abdomen and grasp the end of my lower intenstine. I take another step back and turn towards the door, your hand slipping out of my body still holding that piece of me. I give four steps to the door. My guts unravel as I go. I look back and smile and wave, God knows how. You smile back at me. I walk down the corridor leaving entrails behind me, tracing a path back to you, until I reach the hospice parking lot and I'm completely empty inside.

Early the next morning as I'm travelling to London on my way to the airport the train pulls in to Exeter station and I know that if I get off now I can take a cab and be with you in under ten minutes but if I do that I'll never leave again and you'll be very disappointed in me because you've always taught me to be strong just like you strong as an ox so I sit down again but I don't think I can do it I don't think I can sit here while the train pulls away from you because I know I'll never see you again and I stand up and pick up my bag and take a few steps towards the door but Jesus you'll be mad at me because I'd be blowing my chance and you want me to go to college and excel and I know that's your last wish for me so I go back to the chair and sit down again and I realize that I'm sobbing hysterically and everyone is looking at me but I don't care they can all go to hell like me.

And the train starts off again through the English countryside. I return to Canada, to college. A long and short time later you call me and we talk for the last time. You tell me you love me and how proud I make you, and the next day you die in that smoke-filled room overlooking the garden. My dad tells me later how your eyes lifted heavenwards a few moments before, and you smiled. Whatever that means.

September 08, 2004

My apologies

Yet another awesome page from Mil Millington, the ludicrously named creator of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About. (If you've not read TMGAIHAA then you have no idea what "funny" really means.) This one is all about who should apologize for what, and you (yes, even you) are encouraged to contribute. Check it out.

In the same spirit, here are some apologies I'd like to see, in no particular order:

  • Every employer who's turned down the chance to hire me should apologize for being criminally shortsighted. It's common knowledge that I am (and I say this with all due modesty) one of the most intelligent, erudite, urbane, sophisticated, thoughtful, mature, insightful, hilarious and attractive potential employees in all Christendom
  • Anyone who uses the word "dandy" without irony
  • Quentin Tarantino should apologize for being the most fantastically talented annoying twat in the world
  • Anyone my age or younger who's already had a novel published or a screenplay bought
  • Ben Affleck should apologize for all two of his facial expressions and for shattering what faith I had left in the American meritocratic system
  • Drew Carey should apologize for being nowhere near funny or charismatic enough to justify two television shows and a vast personal fortune
  • Whomever persuaded Mrs Wayans not to have multiple abortions
  • Every editor of every fashion magazine should apologize, while having their genitals mercilessly flogged on live TV, for insisting anorexia is sexy
  • Freddie Prinz Jr.
  • Hollywood executives should apologize (and then be burned at the stake) for charging us good money to see a movie they refuse to allow critics to preview, because they know full well the movie is in fact a steaming pile of monkey shit
  • Mosquitos should apologize for maliciously bringing me out in hives

Okay, I'm done. Whew! I feel better now. Why not try demanding some apologies of your own in a comment? It's very therapeutic.

I want to live in Paris

How cool is this?

(Shamelessly pilfered from Heartfield's blog.)

September 07, 2004

How to read too much into movies

A few weeks ago I was at someone's house, and that someone's child was watching 50 First Dates. Normally I would projectile vomit at the thought of watching an Adam Sandler comedy, but found myself irresistably drawn to it, with a sort of morbid interest. Imagine my surprise, then, when I began enjoying it. On the surface it's a mildly amusing romantic comedy, similar (and inferior) to Groundhog Day in many ways, but viewed from a different angle both movies say a great deal about consciousness. No, really.

For those who've not seen either movie, or have a memory as bad as mine, here's a brief plot summary. By definition I have to spoil some of the surprises, so stop now if that's not cool.

50 First Dates: Sandler plays a womanising marine biologist (or something) who meets a a girl (Drew Barrymore) in a restaurant. They have a great chat over breakfast, and both do a happy dance, but the next morning she doesn't remember him. See, she was in a car accident and now her brain cannot move her memories from short-term to long-term: for her it's always that particular Sunday, her dad's birthday, and she can only remember people she met before the accident. Every night her short-term memory is wiped clean. Her dad and brother play along, allowing her to live a life of Sundays (at least, until Sandler appears). Sandler must, every day, introduce himself as a stranger to her, and charm her enough that she decides to spend the day with him. Sandler is convinced the only way she'll escape her predicament is if he can make her remember, and fall in love with, him.

Groundhog Day: Bill Murray plays an arrogant asshole of a weatherman who, every year, is forced to cover the Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsutawney, PA. On this particular day, though, a bad snow storm cuts off their route home and Murray, much to his disgust, is stranded with a cute but (to him) sickeningly virtuous producer (Andie MacDowell) and a geeky videographer. He wakes up the next morning to discover that it isn't the next morning -- it's Groundhog Day all over again. For whatever reason, Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over, in his own personal version of hell, and becomes convinced the only way he can escape his predicament is to win the producer's heart.

The similarities between the two are obvious. Both plots are temporal and cyclical in nature, the same day played again and again. But it's the differences that interest me, and most importantly the contrasting assumptions the movies make about human nature, consciousness and the universe itself. In Groundhog Day Murray sets himself the challenge of seducing MacDowell, and goes about it in a very methodical way. In one scene he approaches her at the hotel bar and offers to buy her a drink; he remembers what she chose, and the "next" day orders that drink for himself. Wow, thinks the producer, he likes the same drink as me! Then he proposes a toast to the groundhog. "I always drink to world peace," she says dismissively. Next day he orders the drink and makes a toast to world peace. And on it goes. In 50 First Dates, on the other hand, things are a little different. Every morning, at the restaurant, Barrymore orders waffles and makes a house out of them. The first time they meet Barrymore is having a problem getting the door to stay in place, and Sandler wanders over with a toothpick to use as a hinge. She's charmed by this and invites him to eat with her. The "next" day Sandler tries the same thing -- but Barrymore shoots him down: "Do you live in a country where it's okay to stick your fingers in someone else's breakfast?"

The Groundhog Day universe is very much Newtonian: mechanistic and infinitely predictable. If one knew the current state of every particle in the universe at any given moment, says the Newtonian model, one could predict with total accuracy how things would be in any future moment. Given the same stimuli MacDowell responds in precisely the same way; Murray is able, step by step, to determine exactly the right thing to say at each point in his seduction. But the universe of 50 First Dates obeys the laws of quantum physics: uncertainty rules, and total knowledge impossible. What works for Sandler one day doesn't necessarily work the "next."

From this point of view it's hard to view MacDowell as little more than a robot reacting to stimuli. She's a mathematical function: a specific input will always produce a specific output. She's utterly predictable, and Murray simply learns her math. Barrymore, on the other hand, is far more "human." Despite every day doing exactly the same thing, and being treated exactly the same way by her father and brother, she's inherently unpredictable. If Sandler sticks the toothpick in her waffle house, will she smile or will she complain? He has no way of knowing.

Those who study artificial intelligence have terms for these differing viewpoints on the nature of consciousness. The "weak AI" theory is that a machine can be made to appear intelligent, but can never really be so. It will never be conscious. The "strong AI" theory is that a machine which appears intelligent has a real, conscious mind. These terms don't only apply to machines, but to us too. MacDowell is in the weak camp: she only appears intelligent, only appears to have free will and consciousness. Barrymore is in the strong camp: she's fully conscious and has free will because she's unpredictable.

Perhaps we really are reacting robots, weak-AI Calvinist puppets, as Groundhog Day would have it, destined to float through life being pushed here and there, every reaction, every thought and deed and utterance fully explainable and predictable given enough information into our state of mind. Or maybe we're strong-AI Arminian free-willed individuals, ala 50 First Dates. Maybe not even God knows what I'm going to type next. I'm not sure which I prefer. Robots don't have to explain themselves, of course: predestination absolves me of all responsibility for my actions. But wouldn't that make my life just a show? What kind of God would run things that way?

Maybe I should be less condescending when it comes to Adam Sandler movies. It could be that they're all this deep and it's me who's missing the point. I should watch Eight Crazy Nights and see if I can dredge up any profound truths. I have my doubts, but I'll keep you posted.

September 06, 2004

Important job update

Still don't have one.


Yesterday I decided I'm going to do something new every day. While it would be excellent to be able to say "tomorrow, sky diving, next day, nibble caviar from thigh of Bolivian virgin," that kind of thing is slightly beyond my means at the moment. So whatever it is that I do every day, it has to be both new and cheap.

Newness so far: Yesterday I demolished the side porch with the aid of a hammer and a circular saw. It was fun as only wholesale destruction can be, and also free. Rebuilding it will not be free, but there you go. Today I tasted my first Dr Pepper. I shan't much mind if it's my last.

Small steps, I think you'll agree, but new. That's the important thing.

September 05, 2004

All hands on deck

So I spent the last two days doing physical labour. I even did it voluntarily. I know, I can't believe it either. More specifically, I helped Bill -- you know, Bill from Waterloo -- build a deck off his new house. Building a deck involves a great deal of wood, or "lumber," as we men call it, especially when the deck, like Bill's, covers approximately 178,000 sq ft. It also involves: toolbelts, which are awesome; crude jokes; standing with hands on hips; measuring; many fun, dangerous and noisy powertools; beer; casting aspersions on the sexuality of your fellow workmen; sweating; cursing and bending.

I consider myself an expert in crude jokes, beer, sweating, casting aspersions, cursing and bending, and, indeed, shone at these things. I quickly grew accustomed to standing with my hands on my hips, using the word "lumber" instead of "wood," and looking masculine in a toolbelt. I was equally adept with the powertools, even to the point where I was allowed to use Jamie's "super drill" to make holes for some bolts, after receiving dire warnings about knots, jams, triggers and broken wrists. Measuring, I discovered, isn't as easy as it sounds, because I'm apparently fraction dyslexic, hearing things like "eleven and three eighths" as "eleven and a quarter" or (even worse) "eleven and two eighths." Even more confusing are such things as "seven and a strong three sixteenths," which I often made so strong that the "lumber" needed to be persuaded into place with a hammer.

I inserted roughly 14 billion screws (incidentally, it seems the number of crude jokes one can make involving the word "screw" and its derivatives is for all intents and purposes limitless), carried so much "lumber" that my right shoulder is now one big bruise (real men carry two or three planks at a time, you see), learned to recognise by sight alone the difference between a two-by-four, a two-by-six and a two-by-eight, saved the day twice with clever solutions to seemingly insoluble problems, and cast aspersions on my own manhood by putting on sunblock (though I had the last laugh later).

All in all it was very satisfying, and today I ache like a bitch. Here are some pictures. The end.

(Jim, my neighbour, demonstrates world-class bending (he may also have been cursing at this point); framing all done, or so we thought; me + drill = hot; Jim, the lumber dude; Bill drives in his three inches (etc. etc.); me being safe with a compound mitre saw; I'm cutting lumber, Bill indicates his desire for 12 inches (etc. etc.); lunch; deck boards finally go on; making some progress, shortly to be stymied by lumber length problem; Jamie loves the camera; not even nightfall stops us men. Ugh ugh.)

September 02, 2004

What's wrong with the world

In a discussion in the Letters to the Editor section of The Times newspaper, a hundred years ago, on the subject of "What is wrong with the world?", many people contributed their thoughts. But it was G.K. Chesterton who provided the only correct answer: "I am."

It would be easy to blame all evil on Gilbert Keith Chesterton -- he was, after all, Catholic. But what he meant, of course, is that we all have to take responsibility for what's wrong with the world. We're the problem.

In that spirit, then, here are a few of the things wrong with me. Those who know me are invited to contribute more; I've already emailed the Xanga admins notifying them they may need to install additional hard drives for your comments.

Item: I'm lazy. I am. There's no getting around it. Given the choice between doing nothing and doing something I don't want to do, I'll almost always choose the former unless compelled by, for example, threats of suspension of sexual privileges. Larry Wall, inventor of the Perl programming language, called laziness one of the great virtues of a programmer (the others being impatience and hubris). He's right, in a sense: if someone's already written and debugged the code you need, why write it again yourself? But his virtues don't extend beyond the context in which he used them. Laziness is not attractive, and is my constant undoing. It explains many things: my continued presence in the ranks of the lumpen unemployed, my lack of a driver's licence, the realm of permanent chaos that is our house, the unmowed grass, the unpainted side porch, my procrastination regarding my citizenship application, and a host of other things.

Item: I'm selfish. Not always, but sometimes. I think we're all selfish to a certain extent (as usual, I ascribe it to the genes), because self-preservation requires a certain amount of selfishness. I don't know if I'm more selfish than anyone else, but regardless, it's part of my contribution to what's wrong with the world.

Item: I'm way too good-looking. Not really. But saying stuff like that is one of my faults because, even though I don't mean it, maybe people think I'm serious. The fact that I do say it, in jest, probably reflects a fundamental sense of insecurity. I've never really thought about that before.

Item: I'm introspective. "No shit," I hear you cry, "else you wouldn't be writing this blog entry, which is a flagrant act of navel-gazing, in the first place." You have a good point, damn you. You're harsh but fair. Introspection isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes I take it too far and get so caught up in myself that I shut down on the outside.

Item: I'm shy. That is, until I get to know someone. But I can be in a group of five people I know very well, and if there's one person present I don't know, I sometimes clam up. I don't understand it. It's one of the reasons I like to drink when I socialise, because alcohol opens me up. This particular flaw makes job interviews a complete nightmare, because I realise how important it is to come across as friendly and outgoing, and yet at the same time my instinct is to just shut up and listen. This does not help.

Item: I'm obsessive, though a kinder soul would call it "focussed." Occasionally I'll get fixated on something -- an idea for a cool computer program, maybe, or an idea for a screenplay/short story/novel/article -- and will concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else. I'm very much like my father this way. When he was planning or writing a novel, which was more or less all the time, he grew extremely distant and uncommunicative. He was there, but not there. I think for him, during those times, the characters he was creating were more real than the people around him. I'm the same. And maybe it's true: the characters are more real than "reality" because the creator knows, or can know, everything about them, every thought, every emotion, every detail of their past. Real people are far less comprehensible. This applies to programming, too, in an even more profound way: computer code is the epitome of predictability. The computer does only what it's told to do, and nothing more. Perhaps I'm a control freak without even realising it.

Item: I'm too logical and analytical. Probably because I'm an Aquarian (Aquarians are too logical to believe in astrology). My first instinct in most situations is to analyse. It's not that I'm not intuitive: I just tend to ignore my gut in favour of my brain. This has been advantageous in some situations. For example, when I was about 12 years old my three-year-old nephew went missing. We all searched but, for a few minutes, avoided even looking towards the covered swimming pool, because that possibility was just too hideous to contemplate. Once it became obvious that he was nowhere else the cover was pulled back and I either offered or was instructed to dive in and search (the water had not yet been cleaned for summer, so it was impossible to see more than a few inches below the surface). I dived in, and, nearing the bottom, saw a dark shape. I grabbed it and pulled it to the surface. "It" was, of course, my nephew. My mother and I were the only ones who kept our heads, and started performing CPR, telling others to call for help, etc. In that instance my logic, which told me to act immediately, which recalled instantly my life-saving and CPR training, was at its most useful. It told my gut, which had screwed itself into a tiny shrieking ball, to shut the hell up, that it was time for my brain to do the thinking, because everyone else's brain (except my mother's) had shut down, rendering them gaping and useless. So I guess I'm glad for this particular weakness, because my calmness under intense pressure is one of the parts of me of which I'm most proud.

Item: I'm verbose. See above.

Anyway, there're some of the ways I help make the world how it is. I could go on, but I don't really want to. Feel free to mention anything I've missed ;).

September 01, 2004

Coolest firework display ever

Once the fuse is lit at the firework factory, retire to a safe distance.


How not to do a back flip.