"So you're a writer," they say, time and time again. "That must be very interesting."

Must it? My work, such as it is, consists of sitting alone at a typewriter and tapping fitfully at its keys. It has occurred to me that the only distinction between what I do and what a stenographer does lies in my having to invent what I type.

- Laurence Block, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

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First Contact

I recently read the short story "First Contact" by Murray Leinster.

It is about the first contact between a human spaceship exploring the Crab Nebula and an alien spaceship doing the same.

You might expect a cautious story about miscommunication and cultural faux pas. However, there was no ambiguity about the mindset, or concern about misunderstanding - the tone was pure distrust and paranoia.

The essential argument was that while it would be great to establish trade and communication with the other race, they could not be trusted. Neither spaceship was willing to let the other leave in case it should follow it home or learn of its origin - since the next logical step would be for the other to launch a military campaign.

The premise is that you could not have two equals negotiating. One has to be dominant, the other subservient. And since no race would willingly besubservient, it was necessary to make it subservient through force.

The story revolved around both ships pointed at each other, ready to destroy the other, exchanging information while being careful not to give any useful information away.

There is a character who works out how to end this Mexican standoff and let everyone go home without the need for destruction.

This sort of mentality is alien to me. I naturally expect people to want to work cooperatively with one another as peers rather than against one another or as master-slave.

However, human history is replete with examples of "Hit first. Hit hard. Negotiate with what remains." school of diplomacy.

Image nabbed from here. It is a non-tradition image of the Crab Nebula.

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Free Will or Free Won't?

When I was younger, the issue of free-will was easy for me to answer: of course we have it, and we are 100% responsible for each and every action and immediate consequence thereof.

Of late, I took to wondering if we really do have free will because people tend to behave predictably (if irrationally). Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my explanation of "popular culture" and trends was that people's judgement was clouded by drug use (how else would you explain people liking Elton John or Genesis?). The 80s in my mind was the aftershock of the 70s. By the 90s I started to wonder what was wrong with people, after all, 20-30 years should have been plenty of time for people to shake themselves from their torpor. In the 00s, I began thinking that maybe popular "culture" actually was popular and people actually enjoyed it. Then I started thinking maybe there is something different about me, about the way I process and react to the world around me. Culminating with my thought that perhaps free-will is an illusion and humans only think they have it; each of us acts the way we do because we are wired to behave that way and I am just wired differently.

Some friends who have decided to bite and engage me on this have suggested that we have a partial free-will - our nature and nurture limit the free choices we have available, but do not eliminate free choice entirely. For example: assume there are 100 different free will ways to make a certain choice. Because of conditioning and biological determinism, a number of those choices are simply not going to happen, maybe person A is left with 43 free will choices, person B with 72. It is an interesting idea since I had not heard it advanced anywhere previously. But it did not satisfy me, as far as I am concerned, either we have free will or we don't.

What distinguishes us from other animals (so we are told) is all that lovely grey matter in our frontal lobe. It is documented (though, not without controversy) that when this area is damaged, personality changes occur - people lose behavioural control and begin acting inappropriately; they may become aggressive, violent, profane, substance abusive, lusty, etc. For this reason, this area of the brain is believed mediate our impulses.

So perhaps we do not have free will. Perhaps the mindless primitive which lies deep within our brain stem, generating primal urges to copulate, to eat, to kill, to fight or to flee is the real controller. Our impulses are not of our control, but rather we control whether we act on them or not.

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I was a racketeer for Capitalism

"I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country's most agile military force -- the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism...

"Thus I helped make Mexico...safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in...I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras 'right' for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

"During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotion. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We...operated on three continents."

-- U.S. Major General Smedley Butler, Common Sense (1935).

Nabbed from here.

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It is too late to begin to live just when you must cease to live!

I should like to buttonhole one of the oldsters and say to him: "I see that you have reached the highest life expectancy and are now close to a century or more; please give us an itemized account of your years. Calculate how much of that span was subtracted by a creditor, a mistress, a patron, a client, quarreling with your wife, punishing your slaves, gadding about the city on social duties. Add to the subtrahend self-caused diseases and the time left an idle blank. You will see that you possess fewer years than the calendar shows. Search your memory: how seldom you have had a consistent plan, how few days worked out as you intended, how seldom you have enjoyed full use of yourself, how seldom your face was unflurried, what accomplishments you have to show for so long a life, how much of your life has been pilfered by others without your being aware of it, how much of it you have lost, how much was dispensed on groundless regret, foolish gladness, greedy desire, polite society --- and then realize that your death will be premature."

Why should this be? It is because you live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last. Like the mortal you are, you are apprehensive of everything; but your desires are unlimited as if you were immortal. Many a man will say, "After my fiftieth year I shall retire and relax; my sixtieth year will release me from obligations." And what guarantee have you that your life will be longer? Who will arrange that your program shall proceed according to plan? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the tail end of life and to allot to serious thought only such time as cannot be applied to business? How late an hour to begin to live when you must depart from life! What stupid obliviousness to mortality to postpone counsels of sanity to the fifties or sixties, with the intention of beginning life at an age few have reached! . . .
- Seneca, "On the Shortness of Life"

[Updated 22-March-2007 @ 08:31 to replace text with a better version which can be found here. The page I grabbed it from is an excerpt from the beginning of the essay. Too bad they did not publish the whole thing, but it is quite long. This is the same as the translation found in Penguin's Letters From a Stoic. I would link to the Amazon site, but the past few weeks every time I go to Amazon, it sends my browser into a fit. The book is an excellent read and highly recommended by me.]

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Internet Blues

Our Sympatico connection in Montreal is not working. It has been flaky for a while and now it is mostly not working.

The problem is a connection one, not software or setup. Unfortunately, getting that through tot he first line of tech support is very, very hard to do. They assume it is a software problem and ask you to uninstall an reinstall various bits of software. Unfortunately, as Sofia found out last night, this left the computer even less functional. There solution, contact Microsoft to fix the OS setup and then call them back. Bah!

How do I know it is a connection problem and not a software problem? Simple, my laptop has problems connecting in Montreal, but when I connect to a Sympatico service in Ottawa, it has absolutely no problem. Aside form that, the DSL lamp on the modem keeps going out.

The past weekend was absolutely brutal, we hardly had any service at all.

It will have to wait until I am back in Montreal Thursday night for me to start addressing it. sigh.

I have to confess being very disappointed with the Sympatico service in Montreal. We had it in Ottawa (it is provided by Bell Canada, the national carrier) and worked great. The reason I chose Sympatico was so that I could keep my e-mail address where ever I moved in Canada. Guess what? I couldn't. Apparently, for "technical" reasons, Bell was not able to move our Ontario account to Quebec (it moves across provincial borders). This was pure hogwash, because I was perfectly able to log in and use my Ottawa, Ontario Sympatico account while in Montreal, Quebec. For a time we had two accounts, one in Ottawa and one in Montreal. I had the Ottawa account disconnected two years ago when I took a 6 month sabbatical.

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Locking In

Received a letter from a natural gas supplier encouraging me to sign a contract to lock in to a guaranteed price for natural gas for the next 5 years. It is filled with the usual scare propaganda such as natural gas prices have risen 103% over the past 5 years and are expected to continue to increase. Their lock-in price is a little more than 20% above what I currently pay at market cost.

I have had my home in Ottawa for 9 years and in that time my home heating bill has gone up only 20% as I continue to pay market cost for natural gas.

Why did my heating bill go up only 20% over 9 years when natural gas prices have risen 103% over the past 5 years? Simple. A lot more goes into my heating bill than just the cost of natural gas, there is delivery (despite being piped into my home, I still get charged delivery), infrastructure costs, taxes and one or two other things. The natural gas component of my heating bill is not bulk of the bill.

Even so, why don't I lock in? Because the company is in the business of making money, they have calculated the cost of natural gas based on them making a profit, i.e. having a little extra after paying market costs. Besides, they have a little opt out clause that lets them raise the contract price if the cost of natural gas goes above a certain price - which guarantees they won't lose money, but my bill would still go up.

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The Magician's Nephew

This is the first book (chronologically, though the sixth to be written) in The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.

I had read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the kids over Christmas and they enjoyed (despite my finding some annoyances with it).

I wasn't sure if I wanted to read more from the series, but not finding any good books to read, I decided to gamble and borrow The Magician's Nephew from the library.

It is a much better book than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A lot more happens in it and the kids enjoyed it more. Tania even remarked that this book was more interesting because there was more stuff happening.

Even I enjoyed it. The story of the creation of Narnia wonderfully parallels the Genesis account of Creation, but in a manner that is novel and fresh; there was clearly a lot of thought given to it. While Aslan's sacrifice in the second book paralleled Christ's crucifixion (with Edmund standing in for fallen humanity), it was not as satisfying - although, after reading this book, it makes more sense since it occurs in a better framed context.

Image nabbed from here

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What Colour is your Brain?

Your Brain is Purple

Of all the brain types, yours is the most idealistic.
You tend to think wild, amazing thoughts. Your dreams and fantasies are intense.
Your thoughts are creative, inventive, and without boundaries.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people and places - or a very different life for yourself.
What Color Is Your Brain?





Last Friday I registered Tania for a day camp at the Ecomuseum. I also took Jason there, but he was too young for the camp, so we just enjoyed a nice walk outside with the animals.

Photo credits: Richard of Forbidden Planet

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Winter photo blog

Seeing as it is still officially winter, why not post a few more winter pictures from Canada? All shots are taken in either Montreal, Ottawa, or somewhere in between.

Photo credit: Richard of Forbidden Planet

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How many Wedges?

Being a daring, living life on the wedge sort of guy, I recently counted the number of wedges in mandarin oranges.
Total# Wedges









I was inspired because I had once heard (many years ago) on a science show that every ear of corn has an even number of rows. I have never actually confirmed that. But I decided it would interesting to see if any regular pattern appeared in Mandarin oranges: always the same number of wedges or always even or odd numbers of wedges. It seems to be a 2:1 preference for even numbers of wedges.

Image nabbed from here.

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Some people just don't get it

A while back I posted a piece of SPAM e-mail I received. It is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it is responsible for the majority of search hits on my blog (about 60% at the moment, just after New Year it was running around 90%). But it would be nice if other topics were drawing people to my blog instead.

I've had two comments on the post. One was an anti-curse comment aimed at exorcising Anthony de Croud in the name of Christ. I have deleted that one, since I think it was left by a robot that scours the web looking for references to this letter and then posting the anti-curse.

The second is this one came yesterday evening from an IP address in Guatemala:

LUCK is nothing more than adequate timing in a particular situation, I have received this letter from a loved one and it hurts to see that this wish of luck hides such thoughts of anguish relating to health and well being,if one wishes LUCK one does not threaten someone to do something he does not wish, I have always believed that one forges his own LUCK with hard work and correct behavior, money to me is the poison that corrodes the structure of society,and because I live in one I am forced to depend on it for everything, along with making a name for one´s self because that is what´s expected in society.


Get a life. There is no Anthony de Croud. The e-mail is SPAM. I am a blogger, I post things that pique my fancy at the moment. I like the 8 precepts, but the rest of the e-mail is junk. However, I thought it fair to post everything in its entirety.

Some of the searches that have brought people to this blog (less those referencing the accursed e-mail) are:

  • alchemist test answers from van helmont

  • charybdisian

  • covenant hymn

  • covenant hymn lyrics

  • covenant hymn lyrics wherever you go i will follow

  • covenant hymn words

  • deep cavity in molar avoid root canal

  • enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trails to keep strong. enough sorrow to keep you human.

  • file hotget

  • forbidden montreal

  • forbidden planet

  • forbidden planet set up gallery

  • forbidden planted

  • forty isn't old if you're a tree

  • how would cheetah's feel and act when caged

  • i abhor the dull routine

  • libby reid

  • listen to the return to the forbidden planet

  • maelstrom box oven baking

  • montreal french -nation

  • nicodemus pidgin english

  • non conformant person

  • novamoxin dogs

  • places you cannot miss in peru colca canyon blog

  • planet life in montreal, quebec

  • pollos brasa restaurant

  • return to the forbidden planet song lyrics

  • sheldon souray sightings

  • the covenant hymn lyrics

  • The name that shall not be mentioned

  • twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do

  • use avuncular in a sentence

  • uv rays deliver vitamin

  • what are the forbidden pronouns?

  • what causes people to be arrogant, ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial

  • what happens to dead germs

  • Sometimes I wonder how people actually find this blog because when I use some of those searches, I don’t appear anywhere in the first 10 pages of search results - I don't bother looking beyond that.

    Why you should take the automatic grammar checker with a grain of salt. It suggested this wonderful ordering fir the last sentence of the second paragraph:

    I have deleted that a robot that scours the web looking for references to this letter and then posting the anti-curse left one, since I think it.

    Image nabbed from here. They sell a bunch of interesting / cute self stick notepads (and, no, I do not get any commission).

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    Don't like the new URL

    The Ottawa library is changin their URL from library.ottawa.on.ca to biblioottawalibrary.ca and I don't like it.

    Mind you, I mostly use their portal located at lirico.ca any how, so it is not a big deal.

    I suppose if I was like most people, I would just bookmark pages, but I don't. I insist on typing in each and every URL I visit. Just as I insist on typing in each and every username and password I have.

    For a software developer, I can be a terrible Luddite at times.




    Today it is snowing

    In Canada, in the Winter, from time to time, it snows. Like today.

    It is more of a snowstorm, actually. The morning began with strong winds and frozen ice pellets looking very much like styrofoam beads (the sort you might find in Floam or a stuffed toy).

    There are still strong winds and the ice pellets have changed to snowflakes - briskly driven snow flakes.

    Looking out the window I can faintly see the outlines of the pine trees across the parking lot in the blowing whiteness. It is the sort of image one imagines when thinking about the barren, windswept expanses of Antarctica.

    It is the sort of day that makes you want to go out and brave the elements.

    The video is not mine, I grabbed it off YouTube. It is claimed to be Oswego, New York during a snowstorm 05-Feb-2007.

    [Updated @ 13:31, just recieved an e-mail saying that because of the poor weather, they are shutting the office down early today. Which is good for me, since I get to leave for Montreal earlier. It should be an interesting 200Km drive. School was closed in Montreal because of the snowstorm, so Sofia stayed home with them today.]

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    Political language ...

    ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

    - George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

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