Jul 292009

I am somewhat surprised that this idea has not become more popular yet, even though it’s yet the clearest “scientific proof” that we are, in fact, all immortal.

The “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics says that the wave function never collapses: instead, every time a measurement is made, corresponding to each possible outcome a new universe comes into existence. You measure the spin of an electron and presto: there are now two universes, in one of which the spin is +1/2, in the other, -1/2. You flip a coin and presto: there are now two universes, the “heads”-universe and the “tails”-universe. (And many other universes in which the coin lands edgewise, explodes in mid-air, gets snatched by a passing eagle, or any other bizarre, improbable, but not impossible outcome that you can imagine.)

But if this is true, well, human death is just another measurement; and whereas in one universe, your heart might stop beating, in another, it beats one more. Or two more. Or two hundred million more.

In other words, as the universe keeps branching, you may cease to exist on many of those branches but there will always be branches on which you continue to live.

Think about it. That which you call your present consciousness will exist in an ever growing number of copies; some of those will be extinguished, but a few won’t be, not for a very, very, very long time. There is a continuous line from the here and now to the then and there, no matter how far that “then” is in the future, along which you continue to live. In other words, you can look forward to everlasting life… at least in a few of the many universes that await you.

How do you know if you’re on one of those “lucky” branches? Well, so long as you’re still alive, you are on a lucky branch, since the possibility exists that you will stay alive. Forever.

Of course there is a downside. Among the many parallel universes that represent possible futures, there are those in which you stay alive, but just barely, and in terrible pain and suffering. Or, you stay alive but you lose all your loved ones and even when you decide that it’s time to end your own life, you cannot… there is, after all, a nonvanishing probability that all your attempts at suicide fail.

But that doesn’t change the basic concept: in the multiverse, everyone is immortal. Although I am personally not too fond of the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, I remain a little surprised that this idea has not yet become more popular among the religiously inclined.

 Posted by at 7:08 pm
Jul 292009

Another software product I’ll not be buying because of activation is Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I just received a promotional e-mail from TigerDirect Canada, offering this software for only CAD 59.97. Back in the old days, I’d have placed the order without much hesitation. But that was before the days of activation.

Simply put, I don’t buy software the license of which is tied to my computer hardware. My computer hardware is always changing. I have backup and test computers, and I often install software on those before risking my main computers. I only use licensed software and I abide by the terms of the license, but I do not put up with police state nonsense. Software companies do NOT have the right to police which of my computers I install their software on, so long as the spirit of the license is not violated: I am the software’s only user, and I only use one copy at a time. The purpose of test/backup installations is not to violate the terms of the license but to ensure that my ability to work remains uninterrupted by system failures or software incompatibilities.

In any case, my computer has no money. It is silly to tie a license to my computer, which has no ability to purchase anything. I, on the other hand, do have money, and I can purchase things, but why would I want to purchase things that would be tied to a computer that really is a transient entity: tomorrow, its hard drive may change, the day after, its motherboard, and so on? (The particular computer on which I am writing this text has been through many incarnations since the days when it began its existence as an Intel ‘486 machine on my then two-computer home network in the early 1990s, yet in a sense, it still has the same “identity”. Unfortunately, not quite in the sense in which computer identities are interpreted by activation software.)

Activation was supposed to boost sales by reducing software piracy. Perhaps it does that, though I remain skeptical. Meanwhile, at least in my case, I probably saved several thousand dollars over the years by no longer buying software on a whim. What can I say… their loss, my gain, I get to keep more money in my retirement account or pay off my mortgage faster.

I also note with a mild degree of amusement that cracks for most popular software are widely available on the Internet. Further, because activation and copy protection can be cumbersome, a growing number of people who purchased legitimate copies actually use cracked versions for comfort and convenience. I am guilty of doing the same: in order not to have to insert the blasted CD every time I play some particular games, I am using cracked versions instead, in which the copy protection code is bypassed. And this is when one feels compelled to ask the obvious question: if I, a legitimate purchaser, am nonetheless forced to use cracked (i.e., illegal) copies of software just so that I can use it the way I want to, what’s the point of paying for it in the first place?

This is a sad question to ask, given that I also make a living from writing software and as such, software piracy can hurt my wallet.

 Posted by at 3:13 pm
Jul 282009

We have a genuine no-kidding UFO mystery in Ottawa today: in what sounds like a Doctor Who plot (just replace London with Ottawa), according to many eyewitnesses on both sides of the Ottawa river, a flying object fell into the river around 10 PM last night. Yet no small planes are missing from any airports in the vicinity, and no pilot is known to be missing either. Now police have found an object underwater, and it’s reported to be about 9 meters long… but it turned out to be a bunch of rocks or logs, not an airplane. Hence, the FO that fell into the river last night remains firmly U for the time being. Curious.

 Posted by at 9:16 pm
Jul 282009
An aerial view of the Finch Avenue W. sinkhole on Monday, July 27, 2009.

Finch Avenue W.

This July has been the rainy season here in Ottawa. Indeed, we may yet break the all-time record for July rainfall. In some parts of Ottawa, homes and streets have been flooded, and yet we can consider ourselves lucky: unlike the folks in Toronto, we have not yet had to cope with a giant sinkhole in the middle of a major city road.

 Posted by at 1:28 pm
Jul 222009

There is an interesting article in The Globe and Mail this morning that asks a very curious question: given the amounts of money spent in Canada to help save GM and Chrysler (who do most of their research and engineering outside of Canada), why was there not a similar government effort to save Nortel from bankruptcy, even though this company was by far Canada’s largest contributor to private research?

 Posted by at 10:01 am
Jul 212009

In one of my favorite cartoon series of television, Futurama, there is an aging science professor with many fictitious inventions. One of them is the smelloscope: a device used to detect, amplify, and measure smells.

Except that this device is not fictitious. They might not call it a smelloscope, but CBC News was using it nonetheless to measure that unpleasant consequences of Toronto’s ongoing municipal strike:

Smelloscope in Toronto

Smelloscope in Toronto

Ah, the wonders of modern science. Is there nothing in fiction that does not eventually get turned into reality?

 Posted by at 10:53 pm
Jul 212009

In addition to my primary Internet connection, I also use a cable modem for backup, and also for large downloads. Earlier month, I downloaded a fair amount of data.  Today, when I visited Wikipedia (using the Rogers connection), I was confronted with a rather strange message:

Rogers warning

I suppose I should appreciate the warning. I feel a little more ambiguous about the method in which it was delivered: my Web page request was intercepted by a transparent proxy, which then wrapped the page in question inside a frame. Apart from potentially breaking the page (indeed, as a result all links that I clicked on in this page afterward appeared with the Wikipedia URL showing on top) it also raises a whole host of privacy and other issues.

Now in my case, it’s a matter of seconds to switch back to my primary connection, which is straight to a backbone provider (MCI), with no ISP acting as an intermediary. But others may not enjoy the same luxury.

 Posted by at 7:19 pm
Jul 202009

I was 6 years old 40 years ago today, visiting family in Romania with my parents. I did not really appreciate this moment (hey, I already read Jules Verne, isn’t going to the Moon a perfectly natural thing to do?) but I did see the first landing of a human being on another celestial body on television.

 Posted by at 11:39 am
Jul 162009

I received a notice from Rogers Cable in the mail this morning, about their decision to shuffle some channels about in the cable lineup. The notice is a little confusing: two stations are moved from channels 61 and 69 to 95 and 96, but does this mean that they are becoming digital-only stations? 95-96 do exist as analog cable channels, but Rogers never used these high channel numbers in the analog lineup, so I am not sure. I am concerned because I am not a fan of proliferating set-top boxes and remotes, so I remain a happy analog cable customer for now… but I fear that the beginning of the end is near, and set-top boxes will soon be inevitable.

But I am even more concerned about another change: the station on channel 64, WPBS from Watertown, is altogether being removed from the lineup, to be replaced by a PBS channel from Detroit. Rogers has done this in the past, replacing US network channels that were coming to us from Watertown with their Detroit equivalents, and I can’t say that we are better off with that change. However, WPBS is special: it has many supporters, even many volunteers in the Ottawa area, and the channel has been serving the Ottawa valley faithfully for many decades.

Rogers claims that they’re doing what they’re doing in response to customer demand. Forgive my French but… piss off, will ya? Months ago I phoned Rogers about a simple problem, namely that the audio on several analog channels (including music channels) is missing either the left or the right channel (yes, I checked, it’s not my equipment.) You’d think that a company concerned about their customers would fix such a simple and embarrassing technical issue. But they didn’t. So I can perhaps be forgiven if I call their sad little excuse a flat out, unadulterated, shameless lie.

 Posted by at 10:43 pm
Jul 162009

Forty years ago this morning, Apollo 11 was launched: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on their way to land at Mare Tranquilitatis, in the most significant journey in human history to this date.

The scary part is that this year also marks the 37th anniversary of the last trip to the Moon, indeed the last voyage by a human being beyond low Earth orbit.

I was only 6 when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon, and I had no doubt in my mind that by the time I turn 46, there would be people on the Moon, on Mars, possibly on select satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, perhaps even on their way to the stars.

Now that I am 46, I am doubtful that I will live long enough to see another human fly beyond low Earth orbit. This is not a pleasant thought. Perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to live another 40 years in good physical and mental health, and get a chance to be proven wrong.

Until then, I keep dwelling on the irony of the fact that nowadays, most of the documentaries you can find on manned deep space missions and exploration of the Moon are aired on the History Channel.

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Jul 152009

When I heard yesterday that the government of Canada was about to impose visa requirements for Czech and Mexican citizens visiting Canada, my first thought was to wonder just how inept Harper’s government really is: imposing a visa requirement smack in the middle of the summer tourist season, with no warning and no preparation, is just plain stupid, it will inconvenience tens of thousands of legitimate visitors, and will cost the Canadian tourism industry millions of dollars.

But today, there are comments from the immigration minister that the Canadian immigration system is in need of a serious revision. What a wonderful country we live in, with all those rocket scientists working for the government who figured this out. But if this ever so clever minister of ours actually knows this, then why the visa requirements? Why not spend his efforts instead on these supposedly much needed revisions of the immigration system itself?

Ah, I got it. Now that the whole thing is on the national news, which wouldn’t have happened without seriously pissing off the Czechs and the Mexicans, he can claim urgency, and perhaps even get credit in the end for a decisive solution. That the urgency is a result of his own ineptness, I guess he hopes it will be quickly forgotten.

 Posted by at 3:09 am
Jul 142009

I have to thank a fellow blogger (ouch, does that make me a blogger, too? I still can’t stand this word, but I suppose it’s now inevitably part of the English vocabulary) for an excellent post that helped me out: during the install of VISTA SP2 on my laptop, the machine failed with the error code 0xC0190001 associated with explorer.exe. The first thing I did was to try Google, and the first Google hit I found was the above-mentioned blog entry, advising me to reboot into Safe Mode, allow Windows to do its thing and reboot again, and presto: VISTA is back, with SP2 properly (I hope) installed, and I saved myself a significant amount of unpleasantness associated with a system reinstall.

Or maybe I’ll have to reinstall something in the end… because although SP2 came up just fine, for some reason I lost the Aero desktop altogether, and I am back to a standard Windows 2000 style theme, the Aero theme nowhere to be found. Curious. Good thing that laptop is not mission critical, except when I am traveling, which I am not planning to do anytime soon.

Ah. Stupid service pack upgrade disabled the Themes service. It also monkeyed with one of the VMWare services, but now that I started everything that needed starting, things seem to be working fine.

 Posted by at 7:56 pm
Jul 132009

I have this hard drive. Two hard drives, actually, two out of many, these two being distinguished by the fact that at one time or another, they’ve been used in my old Fujitsu laptop.

The original drive was a 40 GB drive, which I replaced with an 80 GB drive years ago. I’ve since used the 40 GB drive in an external enclosure as a backup drive. I have several other drives of varying sizes in similar/identical enclosures.

Then there is the 80 GB drive, which has been the drive in this laptop for the last couple of years. But now that I no longer use this laptop myself, I figured I’d set it up for my wife. And since she doesn’t need an 80 GB drive, and the 40 GB drive was proving to be rather small for my backup needs, I decided to swap the drives back.

But then, the 80 GB drive that I took out of the laptop refused to function properly in the external enclosure. It was recognized alright, but no data could be read off it, not even the partition table. Same behavior on several computers running different operating systems (various Windows versions and Linux.)

Oops, I said, and swapped the drives back. Lo and behold, the 80 GB drive was again working fine, inside the laptop. But when I put the 40 GB drive back into the enclosure, I was in for a surprise: it was no longer working!

What the… I swapped the drives back and forth, they were both working fine in the laptop, but not working in the enclosure. Perhaps the enclosure is faulty? A logical thought, except that when I swapped enclosures using one of my several other backup drives, the enclosure was working just fine… but neither the 40 GB nor the 80 GB drive works in any of the three enclosures that I tested them with so far. Yet they both work fine in the laptop.

I must say I am stumped. I’ve never encountered a problem like this. Why would a drive work fine in a laptop but not in an external enclosure? Why would another drive, which used to work fine in the enclosure, fail after it has been inside a laptop (with, I should hasten to add, no operating system booted, so it’s not like there was a chance for a virus to affect the drive or anything like.) Modern drives do have persistent memory, but surely there are no persistent settings that would affect a drive like this? In any case, the 40 GB drive used to live in this laptop for years, and worked fine afterwards in the enclosure for years. But now, after it has been in the laptop again, it fails in the enclosure. Why?


And I am supposed to be an expert at this.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Jul 122009

Discovery Canada advertises its lineup of programs for next week. On several occasions now they announced the following:

Destroyed in Seconds… right after How It’s Made.”

I could be wrong but I don’t think that the humor was intentional.

 Posted by at 12:24 am
Jul 112009

Hah! I just happened upon the blog site of my favorite British writer, actor, and tall person: John Cleese.

I especially enjoyed the video interview with him made shortly before last year’s American presidential elections.

 Posted by at 2:32 am
Jul 092009

Ever since I first read about the Peter principle, named after the late Canadian psychologist Laurence J. Peter, it always made sense to me: promoting people based on their competence likely lands them in jobs that exceed their competence level, lowering the overall effectiveness of the organization.

Now we have proof: a new paper on ArXiv (which works fine today, thankfully) shows the results of a computer simulation demonstrating a rapid decrease in efficiency as a result of a competence-based promotion system.

 Posted by at 4:07 pm
Jul 092009

The big news on Canadian news channels today comes in the form of a question: did Prime Minister Harper eat his communion wafer?

Harper, who’s not a Catholic, accepted a communion wafer anyway during the funeral service of the late Roméo Leblanc. Unfortunately, the camera cut away before he was seen actually eating it. So people are upset: not treating the body of Christ with the proper respect is a grave insult to Catholics, it appears.

As to why actually eating something that symbolizes the body of Christ is not a grave insult, well, I suppose people have pondered this question ever since Roman times. And here, I thought we live in the bleeping twenty-first century…

 Posted by at 2:46 am