Apr 082017
 

Remember what radio used to be like, especially shortwave?

Many stations had an interval signal. This signal, usually just a few musical notes, was played whenever the station would otherwise be silent (e.g., between the end of a program and the time signal at the top of the hour.) I remember many an interval signal fondly.

But one of them, I just cannot identify. Namely this one:

Bugs the devil out of me.

 Posted by at 7:59 pm
Jan 202017
 

It is well known that the despicable Biff Tannen character from the Back to the Future movies was based on a certain real-life despicable mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump. In particular, the “rich Biff” of 1985, having established a casino and real estate empire after receiving a sports almanac from the future back in 1955, was modeled after everyone’s favorite Trump.

In light of this and today’s historic events, it is only appropriate to imagine how the real-life Biff, I mean Trump, would have fared in one of the movies’ iconic scenes:

I hate manure…

Yes, I know it is more than a little crass to share this tweet. Even so, it is far less distasteful than the many racist caricatures that followed Obama’s inauguration and frankly, it makes it a lot easier to deal with this historic day.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jan 022017
 

I captured this close captioning gem several days ago but then promptly forgot about it.

I know, I know, it’s not easy to caption a conversation in real time. But it was still hilariously funny. Thanks for a good morning laugh.

For what it’s worth, as I recall the word that was actually used was “agree”. How that turned into “pee”, I have no idea.

 Posted by at 8:37 pm
Dec 252016
 

Today, I was trying to explain to someone the difference between entering a Web site’s address in the address field of a Web browser, vs. entering a search term in Google. I was not very successful. In the end, it doesn’t really matter… Google happily accepts a Web site address in its search field, and all modern browsers accept search terms in the address field, passing it on to the preconfigured search provider.

But this experience reminded me of a clip from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It’s when Scotty and McCoy talk to a factory manager and Scotty tries to show the chemical formula for “transparent aluminum”. When McCoy suggests the use of a computer, on old Mac sitting on a desk nearby, Scotty first tries to talk to it; and when McCoy helpfully points at the mouse, Scotty picks it up as though it was a microphone tries talking into it.

What I realized is that thirty years later, we basically gave up on the idea of trying to educate users. If that computer was built today, with users like Scotty in mind, we’d just put a damn microphone into the bleeping mouse. It’s just easier that way.

 Posted by at 10:09 am
Dec 232016
 

Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.

As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.

Runner-ups include Nena’s 99 Luftballons and Anita Kelsey’s version (known from the film Dark City) of Sway (¿Quién será?)

As to why I am thinking about the end of the world…

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Nov 222016
 

The horrific bombing of Guernica in 1937 inspired one of the best known of Pablo Picasso’s paintings. Yet images of the ruined city were not enough: The world did nothing, and two years later, another war began that brought the same horror, but on a much larger scale, to all of Europe and many parts of the world elsewhere.

Die Ruinen von Guernica 5603/37

And here we are in 2016, and it seems we learned nothing. Another civil war rages on, this time in Syria. And another rogue great power intervenes with its mighty warplanes, conducting indiscriminate bombings against civilian targets.

Just like in 1937, the world remains largely silent. Appeasing a great power and its power hungry despot is more important than lives. And we forget the lessons of history: despots cannot be appeased. They always want more. The demons of nationalism, awakened by false promises of restored pride, cannot be appeased. They will always demand more.

What horrors will follow in the coming years? Will we see the streets of Europe, perhaps North America, look like Aleppo’s today? Is Aleppo just a prelude to what is yet to come, just like Guernica was 79 years ago?

As I think of this, it brings to my mind a 33-year old German-language hit song, Nena’s 99 Luftballons.  Here is how that song ends (my less-than-perfect translation of the German lyrics; they also produced an English version but it was, well, rather lame):

Neunundneunzig Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger

Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

Ninety-nine years of war
Left no room for a victor
There are no more war ministers
Also no more fighter bombers

Today as I took a stroll
Saw a world, ruined by war
There, I just found a balloon
Thinking of you, I let it fly soon

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Nov 142016
 

Heard on tonight’s episode of Lucifer, featuring the adventures of Lucifer Morningstar, aka. the Devil, Lord of Hell, in present-day Los Angeles:

capture_20161114_221630

So, we can… you know, talk about Caligula, Stalin, Trump. I mean, I know he’s not dead, but he’s definitely going.

I am glad I wasn’t sipping a drink when I heard this, as I would surely have choked. Even without a drink, it was a close call.

Thanks for the laugh of the week.

 Posted by at 10:21 pm
Nov 062016
 

Hungarian piano virtuoso Zoltan Kocsis died today. He was only 64.

This is him playing the first movement of Bartok’s second piano concerto:

May he rest in peace.

 Posted by at 5:12 pm
Jul 042016
 

Not sure how I landed on this page (maybe I was reading too many gloomy assessments of the post-Brexit world?) but here it is anyway: An incredible collection of dioramas by artist Lori Nix, titled The City, depicting a post-apocalyptic world:

A world without humans. Scary visions. Real life examples exist, of course, in places like abandoned sections of Detroit or the Zone around Chernobyl, to name just a couple of prominent ones.

Recently, someone on Quora asked where one would place a time capsule to survive a trillion years. Yes, a trillion. Ambitious, isn’t it? Meanwhile, we have yet to learn how to build things that survive a mere thousand years or less. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that humans constructed, or can construct, that will survive in any recognizable form for a trillion years, be it on the Earth, in space, or on another planet.

 Posted by at 10:26 pm
May 182016
 

In the fourth volume of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy”, we learn that just before the Earth was about to be destroyed by the Vogons to make way for a new interstellar bypass, the whales left. They left behind a simple parting message: “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

Which makes me feel rather alarmed now that I am learning that hundreds of North Atlantic right whales went missing. I hope it’s not a bad sign.

 Posted by at 7:55 pm
May 052016
 

And just when you least expect it… Russia celebrates its victories in Syria over ISIL with a class act, an amazing concert by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra of St. Petersburg, held at the ancient amphitheater that is at the center of Palmyra’s Roman era ruins, badly damaged (not to mention desecrated with barbaric public executions) by the Islamic State.

Russia, of course, intervened not for reasons of altruism but because American indecisiveness offered them an opportunity to prop up Assad’s regime. Nonetheless, I much rather watch an amazing concert like this than public beheadings.

And the music was, in fact, amazing. It included a piece titled Quadrille, from contemporary Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s opera Not Love Alone. I think I ought learn a little more about contemporary Russian opera.

The concert was carried live (of course) by RT, complete with a televised greeting by Putin. Not unlike a similar concert that the same orchestra held in South Ossetia, after Russia’s brief war with the Republic of Georgia a few years ago.

 Posted by at 11:12 pm
Apr 192016
 

I have been, and will continue to be, critical of many of the policies of Israel. I think that the policy of occupation, while tactically perhaps important, is a political dead end in the long term. I think it is in Israel’s best interest to help create a viable, strong Palestinian state, as any other solution leaves the Palestinian people in perpetual misery, and may ultimately lead to Israel’s own destruction.

That said… anyone who suggests a moral equivalency between Israel’s policy of occupation and Palestinian terror ought to look at such artistic gems like this Hamas cartoon from yesterday:

Line Jerusalem-Hell

Line Jerusalem-Hell

I don’t think even the most rabid far-right press outlet in Israel would find it suitable to publish a cartoon that ridicules the suffering of Palestinian civilians. The fact that Hamas (and many other Arabic press outlets) think it’s okay to publish stuff like this speaks volumes.

I have little doubt that Netanyahu’s government will retaliate. I also have little doubt that they will not target civilian buses on Gaza; on the contrary, they will make quite an effort to avoid civilian casualties. I also have little doubt that they will not be successful, and given Israeli firepower, a number, perhaps a sizable number of Palestinian civilians will die, and Israel will be the target of severe criticism, much of it well deserved.

But as you wonder who the real injured party is in this never-ending conflict, look at that cartoon again and ask yourself: who is it who actually glorifies violence on civilians, who is it who believes that the indiscriminate killing of civilians is something to be encouraged and celebrated?

And in case this one cartoon is not sufficient, do yourself a favor and search a little bit on Google. Some of the published anti-Israeli cartoons are so depraved, even Hamas disowns them. No, not because they have any sense of remorse, simply the explicit depiction of the rape of an Arab woman by a Jew was too much in conflict with their, oh, Islamic sense of modesty I guess, and they were also concerned that they may have offended their West Bank brethren by making them appear too submissive. Ah, here it is:

Gaza man: “West Bank, get up and defend your honor and your children!”
West Bank woman: “Yes, I would like to, but I have no permit.”

Lovely artwork, isn’t it? Shows a deep concern for humanity, civil rights and all. Dr. Göbbels would be proud.

 Posted by at 9:24 am
Apr 082016
 

I just finished reading an online-only novel, Armageddon, part of The Salvation Wars series, originally planned as a trilogy by author Stuart Slade.

The premise: God gave up on the Earth, and let it be known that from now on, it all belongs to Satan. However… Earthlings fight back. And pity the poor demon with his pitchfork when he is confronted with machine gun bullets, cluster bombs, incendiary bombs or Sarin gas, brought about by an impersonal modern military machine that is designed to destroy and annihilate its enemy… and then they haven’t even seen the worst of it yet.

And just as I was finishing the book, I came across this GIF meme: a machine, crucifying Christ at a rate of about one crucifixion per second. And suddenly, I started to feel really sorry for Hell’s demons.

OK, I may be the stupid atheist here, but I find this short clip more than creepy. It speaks volumes about the human race, about what we became and where we are heading, and none of it is nice.

 Posted by at 1:22 am
Mar 222016
 

Today is a remarkable day. I spent more than the usual amount of time peeking at either CBC Newsworld or CNN, and I have yet to see the face of a certain American real estate magnate turned reality TV show host turned politician; not that I particularly miss the sight of his toupee.

The reason why Mr. Trump didn’t appear on screen is the multitude of other things happening.

For us here in Canada, the most consequential news are the federal budget, the first by Justin Trudeau’s recently formed liberal government. As promised, it’s a budget about spending and spending some more; the projected deficits are huge. The premise of this budget is that deficit spending is necessary in order to help the stagnant economy.

News of the budget were almost dwarfed by news of the death of Toronto’s larger-than-life former major, Rob Ford. Rob Ford was intensely disliked as a politician, but I think few people wished him to die a miserable death from a rare form of cancer. As Ford himself said, his tenure as major, for better or for worse, will be remembered.

Then there is, of course, that terrible series of coordinated attacks in Belgium, with dozens dead. In addition to an impotent, and likely excessive response by inept authorities (I just saw that the airport in Brussels will be shut for three days), it will also likely trigger a new wave of islamophobia, xenophobia. A message that, thankfully, has few followers in Canada, as splendidly evidenced by the negative response in Quebec to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s visit, which is coming to its conclusion.

What was supposed to be the big news of the day is the end of another politician’s trip abroad, namely Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba… but the CNN anchors broadcasting from Havana are talking mostly about the Brussels attacks and their aftermath.

The other big news of the day was supposed to be the “winner-take-all” Arizona caucus… but with all the other stuff going on, I have not yet heard this mentioned on CNN or CBC Newsworld today. Thus, no Donald Trump on my television screen either.

All this news makes me wonder if The Globe and Mail tomorrow might end up being published with not one but maybe three consecutive cover pages.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm
Mar 202016
 

Recently, it was proudly announced that Canada now has a state-of-the-art emergency preparedness system, with the participation of major telecommunication companies like Bell or Rogers.

The problem… well, here is an example of the problem:

This is what was on my television screen a little earlier this afternoon, in place of CNN, for something like a full minute or so.

And not just in place of CNN. In place of every channel. Even if I was trying to watch a recorded show on the PVR.

What’s wrong with it, you ask? Well, I live in Ottawa. That is more than 400 kilometers from Toronto, and the last time I checked, a 1997 Toyota Camry is not a hypersonic jet aircraft.

But even if the abduction happened next door… I don’t mean to be heartless, but this kind of dramatic alert is something I would expect to see if World War 3 was imminent, or if my city (not Toronto!) was about to be hit by an F5 hurricane. Not in case of a domestic abduction (which, in the vast majority of cases, is just a family member like an estranged father, taking a child without permission.)

The last time this happened, I wrote to the CRTC, who told me that it’s not their responsibility (even though they were the ones who mandated it!) but that of provincial agencies and the telecommunication companies that implement the system.

Today, I wrote to Rogers. I do not expect a meaningful reply*.

As if I didn’t already have enough incentives to cut the cable.


*Update: A day after I sent my e-mail complaint to Rogers, a gentleman by the name of Aaron called me from the “President’s office”. He very patiently listened to me as we discussed not just the emergency alert system but also other issues related to the digital transition, the cost and limited choice of decoder equipment, and other topics. We spent more than 20 minutes on the phone. I still don’t expect anything meaningful to happen, but I appreciated it that my complaint was taken somewhat seriously.

 Posted by at 6:06 pm
Jan 142016
 

Recenly, there was a particular piece of music that caught my attention on CBC’s The Signal: Sapokanikan by Joanna Newsom.

The song begins with the lines,

The cause is Ozymandian
The map of Sapokanikan
is sanded and beveled
The land lone and leveled
By some unrecorded and powerful hand.

This made me re-read Shelley’s timeless poem about the ruined statue of Ozymandias in the desert:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look at my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

And then here is a real-life Ozymandian tale from a few days ago, from China: A 37-meter tall golden statue of Mao erected in the middle of nowhere.

The ending, however, is different: After the statue has been ridiculed on Chinese social media (with many quoting from Shelley’s Ozymandias) the statue was hastily demolished. Wisdom has not yet departed the Middle Kingdom, it seems.

 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Nov 292015
 

Everyone, meet the early 5th century saint, Christian theologian and philosopher, Augustine of Hippo. This is the oldest surviving portrait of him:

Why am I so impressed by Augustine? Well, some 1600 years ago he gave the perfect answer to anyone attempting to read science into holy texts. In his opus, The Literal Interpretations of Genesis, Augustine wrote:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about [science] and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics […] The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and […] the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

Of course, you could replace the word Christian with, say, Muslim and [Holy] Scripture with [Holy] Koran, and the meaning remains exactly the same.


As a curious footnote, when I checked my blog to see if I might have written about Augustine before (I haven’t) I noticed that the only other occurrence of “Augustine” here is in the context of the US space program, which was reformulated under the Obama administration in response to the recommendations by the Augustine Commission. Even more curious is that there were two Augustine Commissions, set up 20 years apart, chaired by the same Norman Augustine, former CEO of Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin. Nothing to do with St. Augustine, of course.

 Posted by at 9:52 am
Nov 212015
 

One of my favorite science fiction novels is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. In the distant post-apocalyptic future that is the setting of the novel, a piece of sacred memorabilia attributed to the founder of a monastic order, Isaac Edward Leibowitz, is in fact a 20th century shopping list.

As it turns out, something similar exists in real life. However, Gal Sal was no saint; he was the owner of two slaves, En-pap X and Sukkalgir. Their names are recorded on a more than 5,000 year old clay tablet that probably served as a receipt or title of sorts.

OIM-A2513

Though the dates are somewhat uncertain and there are other tablets of similar age, this trio may be the first people in history whose names have been preserved for posterity.

No heroic deeds. No epic battles. No dealings with gods or otherwordly spirits.

Just a receipt. Bureaucracy may, after all, be the oldest profession.

 Posted by at 11:36 pm