Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Loves Me Some Cake!

Bonus points to anyone who gets the title. Dust? Anybody? Dust? High in fat? Low in fat?

It's my birthday today! I am now officially 2 years older than the age I thought I would live to. When I pointed this out to a friend recently, he reminded me that I also thought I'd have, like, 6 children by now.
"Well, yeah," I replied, "I figured I'd need pallbearers."

To celebrate my birthday, after the doom and gloom of the last post, I would like to post something whismical:
This is two chairs at a little table, complete with table cloth, sitting in the middle of a walkway on U of T campus*. On the table are two forks, two (full) glasses of milk, a little candle and a piece of chocolate cake (McCain Deep'n'Delicious, if I'm any judge). Just sitting there. At 8:30 in the morning on Friday the 13th.

I thought about eating the cake, but decided not to. I wonder if anyone else did, or drank the milk. A friend told me it was still there at 4:30 in the afternoon and the candle was still burning, so someone was tending to it. In any case, it made me smile. I like guerilla art installations.

* In the Davenport Garden, between Lash Miller and McLennan Physics, for people who know the area.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

With "Friends" Like This...

I have never been more disappointed in my species than at this moment, or at least my country.

The Globe and Mail has brought to my attention a non-profit organization called the Friends of Science. I don't have time to go over the entire website, nor to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge of the Earth's climate and the effects of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, but I happen to have some background in the subject, so I would like to take this time to discuss the "6 Things Everyone Should Know About Climate Change"

1. The Earth Is Cooling
Go look at their graph. Their own graph. Then tell me that you can see a cooling trend there. I can't even imagine how long it took them to cherry pick their regression line to get a negative slope. Only for two brief periods during the past decade does the average global temperature anomaly drop into the negative. And at this exact moment, according to their graph, we are on one of the sharpest temperature increases since the '70s.

2. The Sun Causes Climate Change
Well, I can't actually refute this one because I don't even know what it is they are trying to prove. Any kind of scientific reference would be nice, here.

Solar irradiance typically means sunlight at the surface of the Earth. So, I mean, yeah, the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth is going to have a huge effect on the surface temperature. The question of why more or less solar energy reaches the surface of the Earth is a pretty big one and still under active debate.

3. Al Gore Was Wrong About Carbon Dioxide
So, this graph actually has a reference. Unfortunately, it is not from a scientist. I checked her out in Web of Science; there are four entries under Nova J and none of them are about climate or even geophysics.

This graph appears to be another case of cherry picking data. Does it seem strange to anyone else that the picked the period from 100,000 to 150,000 years ago to present? When in fact, there is 400,000 years worth of Vostok core data and 800,000 years worth of combined ice core data.

Now does it seem so cut and dried? The fact of the matter is that yes, the ocean is less able to take up CO2 when its temperature increases, so CO2 levels will increase at a greater rate as temperature increases. And since we're talking about basic science, the greenhouse effect of CO2 (and CH4 and H2O and various and sundry other trace gases) is something you can test in a lab. You, personally, can buy some equipment (or devise it yourself if you feel so inclined) and generate those exact curves. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere affects the Earth's radiation balance. The real question is: what positive and negative feedback mechanism exist?

4. Violent Weather Isn't Getting Worse
"Climate alarmists claim the[sic] global warming may increase severe weather events."
May. May. May increase severe weather events. Boy, that sure sounds alarmist to me. I haven't personally heard a single scientist use this in an alarmist manner and I suspect I won't until there is more evidence one way or the other.

5. It's Been Hotter Than This
I can't find any data that looks like this cartoonish graph. I can't find the Schönwiese paper online. I'd like to promise I'll go dig it out of the stacks, but I can't, so if anybody can send me that, I'll gladly add it to the post.

6. Climate Computer Models Are Proven Wrong
These are, presumably, the same climate computer models which this very website was using in all the above points (except 4, I think it was solely from observation).

I like the first graph. It looks very sciency. Unfortunately, I can't find that graph in any peer reviewed journals. Lindzen's website lists 2 submitted publications and 1 in preparation with Choi on the author list. It's possible that the graph is exactly what they say it is, but it seems more likely to me that they're taking it completely out of context.

If we move down to the second set of graphs, we can see that the difference we're talking about here is around 0.5ºC. I am also very curious about where these sondes were taken and whether the model averages were taken at those locations or not. They are a little sparse on methodology.

So, I hope I've shed some light on the "skeptics" arguments. I don't know what it is they're playing at. I can only guess that someone is giving them a lot of money to run a bad science propaganda machine, but who knows. I encourage you to go through the rest of the site, particularly their Climate Change Science Essay, and see what else you can find.

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's not nearly so cut-and-dried as the "Friends of Science" would have you believe. The atmosphere is a big, complicated place. I study it every day. I have seen mountains of data on all sorts of things. And the truth is, we don't know much about how it all works. But one thing I can say for sure is that our industrial society has now put the atmosphere into a state which hasn't been seen since before the advent of agriculture. Where we go from here is anybody's guess, but I don't think it's going to be status quo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bohemian Like You

I've had a weird last few days.

I got my flu shot. Swine flu that is. The ol' H1N1. It hurt more than any flu shot I've ever had. Like, mobility limiting in my left arm. Also, I think I've determined that I have some kind of repetetive strain problem in my wrists, since those hurt the most. I had the shot Thursday afternoon. Each day after that I woke up in more pain than the day before. Then, miraculously, on Sunday afternoon, the pain vanished. Three days, almost to the hour.

I bought a table on craigslist. The listing claimed the table was in Liberty Village. Then, the seller responded to my email saying that the address was "XXX-XX XXXXX Ave (Liberty Village)". Weird. Apparently this person was very proud of living in Liberty Village. When I got there, I discovered it was a very up-and-coming neighborhood. The exact kind I usually avoid like the plague. The condo where I met the guy to buy the table had a concierge and all the residents were wearing Lululemon. Disturbing. But I got the table and got out alive and without catching yuppie.

The table was for my sewing machine. Which I also bought on craigslist. I paid $25 for it, which works out to about 50¢/lb. I don't know what year it was built, but I suspect it's older than me. It came with a lot of accessories, but not a lot of instructions. Mainly, none. I tried very hard to hunt them down, but the brand name is Domestic; you try a googling "domestic" and "sewing machine" and see how many hits refer to the brand versus how man refer to the adjective.

In desperation, I posted a facebook status pleading for any kind of lead. Fortunately, an old friend of mine managed to discover that the Domestic company was absorbed by the White company and that all White instruction manuals are available on the Singer website, for some reason. It turns out my sewing machine is capable of all sorts of things I didn't suspect like buttons, buttonholes and narrow hems. Not bad, for an old girl.

L dropped by my lab today for coffee, as she had the day off. We went for coffee. This is the first time I've been to my local Starbucks in about a week. This is because a week ago is when the $%&#*$ Christmas decorations went up. November is too G.D. early for Christmas decorations. Also, they've changed their medium/bold coffee to Christmas blend. I complained about this to the barrista who, after mocking me briefly, told me we could call it November blend if that'd make me feel better. It did.

After a long day TAing a 2nd year chem lab, I arrived home to a Toblerone bar on the kitchen table. This would have been a pleasant surprise in and of itself, but it turns out that Toblerones come in $#*@%mas themed cases. Fortunately, L had predicted my rage and replaced the *$(#%masy snowman with a badminton playing pirate.

For our final act of the day, just to prove we're still young, hip and with it, we went out to our local tavern for a little live music. We wouldn't normally go out like that on a Wednesday, but the bar is two blocks from our house and the lead musician in the band is a friend. It's extra weird going to a concert and yelling "I love you Barn" and having the lead singer yell back that he loves you too. I think the band has even improved since last I saw them perform, too, which was a pleasant surprise, since I quite enjoyed their playing last time.

And, on top of all that, a random stranger appears to have stumbled across my blog and added a very welcome comment.

All in all, it was a good day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Morning Smile

This made me smile on the way into work this morning. Or school. I'm never sure what to call it. It's both. Anyway, without further ado, here is a van which does not appear to be advertising anything:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Useful or Funny, But Not Both

In academia, no matter what your field, there are two things you spend a lot of time doing: reading and writing. I have always read quite a lot and over a wide range, so I had a pretty good feel for what sounded good and what didn't, but not much of a toolbox for identifying why something sounded good or bad or how to deal with my own bad writing. To that end, I took a technical writing class last fall. I'm not going to lie; it was painful. But also, enjoyable. And thoroughly useful.

It's funny how much bad writing there is in academia. The teacher of the technical writing class never tired of reminding us that her former life was as a technical editor at a peer reviewed scientific journal (she never did say which one) but that all the journals had since fired all their technical editors (editors are bad for the bottom line) and therefore anything written in the last 10 years or so is a lot more likely to be garbage. There is also the fact that English has all but been adopted as the universal scientific language. I don't know what the stats are, but I suspect the majority of scientific writers are not native English speakers. And, again anecdotally, the advents of the internet and text messaging appear to have basically destroyed what semblance of good writing most native English speakers might have had to begin with.

So, all this adds up to the fact that there is very little good writing out there in the scientific community. Which means that when you do find good writing, it stands out. At least to me it does. I genuinely feel that people who go out of their way to stand above the crowd in terms of good writing will be rewarded (with higher citation counts, hopefully).

A (now former) colleague who just returned to China after only 3 years in Canada obviously feels that way too. He has been asking me for help with some of his writing over the past few months. He recently sent me a cover letter for corrections. Never having written a cover letter for a peer review journal article submission before, I was a little fuzzy on what tenses to use in some circumstances. One of the best ways to learn about these sorts of things is to seek out examples. Sadly, this is not a topic on which the internet has much useful to say. However, to the internet's credit, when it's not useful, at least it is usually funny: http://www.devpsy.org/humor/manuscript_cover_letter.html

Maybe it's that I have seen the frustration that the writer is expressing, maybe it's because I spent 6 hours today supervising an undergraduate chemistry lab and inhaled a lot of fumes, but I found the above example laugh-out-loud funny. Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

There's all sorts of stuff I could write about: I just got back from Halifax; I've been to two scientific conferences in the last 2 weeks; the gardens (there are two this year) are in and growing; there are countless other things in my head right now.

But there's something that's been bugging me for a while, and the way the markets are behaving right now has reminded me. It's like, deep down inside, people are terrified that the current system is broken, but they don't really know what to do about it because there is no alternative, so they're just swinging their money around panicky willy-nilly.

All the while, the so-called experts are saying that everything is fine, the system is on the mend. Nothing was wrong with the foundations of the old system, it was only some dead wood that needed removing. So go ahead and invest in banks and manufacturing and all those other things which led to the economic catastrophe. The experts can see the future and it is good.

But wait, aren't these the same experts who spent 6 months telling everyone that the financial meltdown wasn't their fault because "no one could have predicted it"? Ah, so, don't blame you for the crisis because you don't have a crystal ball, but listen to you now because you can forsee the recovery?

Well, which one is it, guys? Can you predict the future or not? Evidence suggests not.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's What's For Dinner

Yay! Green things finally come from Ontario again! Not many; just asparagus and baby spinach, really. It's early in the growing season yet. In any case, in our ongoing effort to try to eat more locally, L and I had this for dinner last night. L had hers without the tomatoe sauce. It was de-freakin-licious, I highly recommend it.

And since I can't miss an opportunity to get up on my soap box, this is a friendly reminder that when you eat food grown locally in season you get fresher, more healthful, more delicious food and you put less pollution into the air. It's win-win-win. Your tongue, your waistline* and your lungs will all thank you. So next time you're at the grocery store, take a second to check where it was grown before you buy it.

* I'm assuming that you're choosing local produce over some processed thing full of junk ingredients, here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Like a Better Me

I haven't been writing here as much as I'd like lately. There are a number of reasons for that. First off, I'm hellabusy being a born-again student; grad school is exactly like I remember my older friends/colleagues describing it. Secondly, a lot of my creative thinking drifts very quickly in the rant category these days and I'd like to spare my readers too much of that. And finally, sometimes I have trouble expressing my ideas in ways that are understood by people who don't spend all their time inside my head*.

So imagine my delight when I came across a very well thought out piece which expresses many of my very own feelings in crisp, compelling prose. It is actually the introduction to a book which I have now reserved at the Toronto Public Library. If I had to summarize the article, it would be a phrase I started using sometime shortly before the housing bubble burst: home ownership is the new serfdom. But that is a very cursory summary, indeed.

I found the article by trying to learn more about a particular guest blogger on boing boing after being taken in by some of his posts. He puts very elegant words to some pretty complicated thoughts I've had: it's like reading what I would write if I were a better me. Which sounds a bit vain, but really, if you stumbled across an author like that, wouldn't you bask in your discovery for a little while?

Set aside a good chunk of time before clicking the link: the article is a bit long, but I think it's well worth sticking with. I strongly encourage you to read it, if only so that some of my rants sound a little less insane and baseless the next time we speak. And maybe it will stir in you some of the same thoughts and feelings it did in me.

Introduction to Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back.

* As a solipsist, I know that everyone spends all their time inside my head. Unfortunately, not everyone else knows that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

In the last few years I have learned a lot about nutrition. My first foray into that controversial cesspool of knowledge was a book called The Longevity Diet. The idea goes something like this:

In the 30s, an Italian researcher needed dwarf mice for an experiment. So he starved them and sure enough they were tiny. However, a strange thing happened: they lived 50 to 60% longer than normal lab mice. Nobody really paid much attention to this til years later. Now there have been experiments performed on a variety of different types of organisms and it turns out that if you greatly reduce the amount of food a creature eats, it lives longer. Unfortunately, as primates tend to have long lifespans, it's hard to say yet whether this effect actually carries over to humans.

I usually get one of two reactions to this: 1) you are insane; 2) it only feels like you live 50% longer if you don't eat a lot of food. However, living longer is not the real reason I think this book is important. If you eat only the very minimum amount of food required to survive, you have to be extremely careful about what that food contains: simply starving yourself is going to have the opposite effect. So the calorie restriction people have done a lot of research into what things are very important in human nutrition and done an excellent job of compiling that information in the Longevity Diet.

Not a day goes by that I don't hear about the obesity epidemic. I'm never really sure what causes it: ignorance, stupidity, or laziness. I expect the reason varies on an individual basis and exists as a continuum. The internet, however, is perfect for fixing the first cause and so, many people have put up blogs and suchlike in the name of educating people about what they're actually eating, or, in some cases just guilting people into eating better.

If I'm busy, I forget about food. Then, along comes one of these delicious looking links and bam, I'm drooling all over my keyboard thinking "mmm.... blizzard." Or worse, wandering down the hall to the snack machine wishing I had some gravy and cheese curds to put on my overpriced bag of doritos.

I suppose the one consolation in all this is that, whether or not they are helping curb the obesity epidemic, they are at least helping to spur the economic recovery, one chili-cheese-pizza-dog at a time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

21,108 Days Remaining, 13,305 of Them Happy

I got a very strange email the other day. The subject line was: [Reminder] 10,000 days alive @ Sat Apr 11, 2009. After racking my brains and asking a few friends if anyone had hacked my google calendar, I eventually concluded that I set this reminder myself. I used to work with a lot of time data and it would have been a trivial task to write a little computer program to tell me the date of my birthday + 10,000 days. Today, Earth Day, April 22, 2009, I am 10,011 days old.

According to the Happy Planet Index survey, this means I have 21,108 days remaining. My overall score was 54.7, which I have equated roughly to "years of sustainable happiness." If we assume that I've already used up some of them by living happily 2/3 of the time, then I have 13,305 days of happiness remaining: about 2/3 of the total days I have remaining, which is a comforting thought.

I stumbled across the Happy Planet Index , ironically, not really thinking about Earth Day at all.

GDP is frequently used as an indirect measurement of happiness. And whenever you can only measure the success of a goal indirectly,i.e., by measuring something which is related to the goal, sooner or later, there will be a subtle shift in efforts from achieving the ostensible goal to achieving increases in the thing being used as a proxy for that goal. And so, in an effort to measure how happy people are, we measure the GDP. Except that somewhere along the line increasing GDP replaced our happiness as the end goal. And now, the entire economy is hell-bent for election on increasing GDP without regard to how it affects our happiness.

There has got to be a better way, I thought. So I started looking into it. It turns out that the wikipedia article for GDP contains a list of alternatives to the GDP. I strongly urge you to check out any or all of them. The one that struck me as including most of the things that are important to me while still being simple enough to calculate with real data was the Happy Planet Index. It includes both subjective happiness and objective sustainability.

So if you didn't do anything else to celebrate Earth Day, go take the test. And if you did do something to celebrate Earth Day you'll get a better score on the test. And isn't that the important thing? Getting a better score?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Part of the Precipitate

I came up with a plan, last week, to solve both the economic crisis and the climate change crisis. Climate change is caused by an imbalance between the energy coming into the earth-atmosphere system and the energy exiting that same system. Almost all of the energy coming into the system is in the form of light from the sun. Almost all of the energy exiting the system is radiation, the amount of which is dependent on the temperature of the earth-atmosphere system.

At present there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been for a very long time. CO2 effectively blocks some of the radiation that is trying to leave the system: there is now more energy coming in than there is going out. The result is that the temperature of the earth-atmosphere system will go up, shedding more energy in the form of radiation.

If the problem will correct itself as the temperature of the system changes, who cares? Well, there are a few important things to consider:
  1. We keep adding to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere which means the temperature has to increase at an even higher rate to keep up.
  2. As the temperature of the system increases, more water will evaporate, which will block radiation from leaving the system, which will increase the temperature, which will cause more water to evaporate.
  3. Coral reefs are sensitive to temperature. If we let the temperature rise too quickly we could find that 70% of our planet's surface is covered by septic tank rather than ocean.
The way I see it, if things stay the way they are, we will turn the whole planet into a giant cesspool.

Solutions to this imbalance come in two flavours: decrease radiation entering the system; increase radiation leaving the system. Actually all of the currently proposed solutions that I know of are of the first flavour. So why, thought I, aren't there any of the second flavour?

My proposed solution is this: We build an enormous geothermal power plant. Normally this would result in no net change in the radiation of the system. But, what if we use the electricity generated by this system to power a giant laser which is tuned to the atmospheric window? Bam, we have now increased the amount of energy leaving the planet. And, since building a giant laser and a massive geothermal generation facility is no mean feat, we will have to employ thousands of labourers, thus sovling the world's current economic woes.

No plan is perfect, of course. Drawbacks of this plan include a defacto no-fly zone in the beam of the laser (I propose we place the laser in an area with a high seagull or pidgeon population) and the possibility that we will accidentally hit a distant planet, thus precipitating an interplanetary war thousands of years in the future. But really, that is some future generation's problem.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shooting the Moon

A lot of my computer gaming came, unfortunately, before there were very many cool computer games and before I could afford the few cool computer games that existed. As a result of this, as a teenager, I played a lot of hearts in Windows 98.

Hearts is scored like golf: lower is better. Each heart you hold at the end of a hand is a point against you. The goal of the game is to wind up with as few hearts in your pile as possible. Except there's this thing called "shooting the moon," whereby you collect all the hearts in a hand and instead of adding 26 points to your score, you subtract 26 points from your score. Obviously this is quite a risky move, since, if you miss a single heart you are screwed.

I sort of feel this way about the idea of using technology to "fix" the environment. This planet has had a few billion years to work out the kinks. Humans, on the other hand, have had a scant few hundred thousand years to get themselves together and an even shorter time to figure out all this science and technology stuff.

Don't get me wrong: all this science and technology stuff is fabulous. I have been studying both quite hard for quite some time now and I still find them fascinating. I think using science and technology as a way to improve human life is a great boon to the generations surrounding mine. But technology is rarely without its consequences, frequently unintended, sometimes harmful to the environment.

The idea of piling one technology on top of the other in an attempt to curb these deleterious effects while maintaining our own comfort brings me back to the game of hearts: if we are successful in chaining all those technologies together to cancel out their negative side effects, if we succeed at shooting the moon, then everybody wins. But if we miss just one link in the chain, we risk making the world very uncomfortable or even uninhabitable for humans.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Deus Ex Radioactiva

When you get down to a very small level, sometimes refered to as the quantum level, the universe becomes a strange place, at least to our human sized preconcieved notions of How Things Work. Radioactive decay is an example of this sort of weirdness: we can never tell when a particular atom is going to decay, but if we have a big pile of them, we can say how long it will take for half of them to have undergone decay with pretty good certainty.

Let's assume for a moment that the Christians are right: God exists and He's a vicious tyrant bent on forcing His creations to live in eternal pain, but who has nonetheless managed to convince a handful of those creations that He is loving and kind and just, mainly so that they will go out and visit unspeakable horrors on His other creations.

It would not be unthinkable that a creature that clever would be able to set up the universe in such a way that His own presence would be undetectable. How might He go about doing that? Why, with quantum mechanics, of course! You see, He would make everything run according to some probabilistic law: the outcome of any particular event would be completely unpredictable, but the pattern of those outcomes would become quite apparent given a large enough sample set. In this way, He could intervene by changing the outcome of a single event without violating His own laws.

The result of this would be a completely undetectable God who was able to alter the universe in large and detectable ways. In fact, given the current body of evidence, this is about the only way God could exist. So there you have it, Christians: your God is the ultimate jerk who uses only your belief in Him to determine where you spend all enternity while covering His tracks and making it completely impossible to detect Him until Judgement Day. And to me, that sounds a lot like "He beats me because He loves me."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Six Million Dollar Cat

When I posted a while ago about our new cat, I was contacted by my friend J, who is studying to be Prosthetic-Orthotic Technician at George Brown College. She knows someone who does prostheses for dogs (and thus might have some insight into working with cats) and thought she might be able to make a project out of it. So yesterday, we crammed Carmen into her cage and hauled her up to PawsAbility, stopping to pick up J on the way. This entry will mainly be a blow-by-blow of the process, which was surprisngly fast and painless for everyone involved.

Janice, who runs Pawsability is a clinician, while my friend J is a technician. This means that Janice does most of the patient related things like making the cast, and J does most of the mechanical things, i.e. building the actual prosthesis. When we arrived, Janice greeted us. I panicked a bit when I realized that Janice's dog Kate was there.

New Friend

Kate was very well behaved and didn't bark once while we were there. Carmen didn't seem to be bothered by Kate one bit; she was probably preoccupied by the thought that every time she goes in the cage, someone stabs her with a needle when she comes out. Luckily for her, that didn't happen this time.

Janice prepared a little sock to put over the leg to be cast, the residuum, to keep plaster out of the fur. She poured a bowl of hot water and cut some plaster strips. She explained that, rather than building a fully circumferential cast, she would wrap the plaster around and pinch it on one side. That way, while it was drying she could pry it off instead of having to wait for it to dry and then fire up the saw.

Materials Crash Test Dummy

About halfway through, Janice had to stop and cut more strips because she didn't expect Carmen's leg to be so muscly. That's our girl!

Starting... Shaping and Forming

Janice used clothespins to keep the cast pinched shut and used her fingers to ensure she got the shape of Carmen's residuum.

Only 5 to 10 minutes after beginning with the wet plaster, it was already stiff enough that she could peel it off and it would retain its shape. She did so, then pinched it back together and left it to set.

Peeling Back Finished Product

We dried off our unhappy kitty, stuffed her back into the cage, said goodbye to Janice and brought Carmen home. J told us to pick out some fun patterned baby socks to add some colour to the outside of the prosthesis. In a few weeks, we will take Carmen back to see Janice for fitting.

I'll Get You For This Little Trooper

Carmen was surprisingly calm during the whole process — her usual response to being manhandled is to go stiff, which was helpful. After we brought her home she recovered almost immediately and this morning she followed me around meyowling while I made coffee just like usual. I'm not sure if she'll want to wear the thing once it's done but so far it's been a neat process and doesn't appear to have traumatised her. Also, I'm going to talk to J about adding a little rocket booster and maybe the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I Gotcher Cancon Right Here

I came across a very well written article in the Globe and Mail today. Not only is it enjoyable to read but it espouses some viewpoints very close to my own. I have often said that when I am king, the CRTC people will be the first against the wall.

According to their website, the CRTC's job is "regulating and supervising the broadcasting and telecommunications systems in Canada." This means that my cell phone bill is $50 a month because I have cut my usage to almost nothing; it used to be in the $100 range (and somehow Rogers lost money last quarter). It also means that when I listen to the radio, which is a rare occurence these days, I have to listen to at least some certain percentage of Canadian music, good or bad.

I can understand the want to maintain some kind of a Canadian culture, but I don't think that forcing it down peoples' throats is the right way to go about it. People, instead of being forced to consume Canadian culture, should want to consume Canadian culture. And there's lots of Canadian culture out there to want to consume. Watch Bon Cop, Bad Cop for a shining example.

The way to get good content is not to micromanage the cultural climate, but rather to foster creativity and a spirit of wanting to do something great. If I want to produce a Canadian television show and I know it's going to get played because of Canadian content rules, how much effort am I going to put into making it awesome? Probably not nearly as much as if I'm told: "here is enough money for a short production run. If you make something popular, there will be a lot more money." But maybe that's just me.

I disagree with the Globe and Mail article on one point:
The free-for-all of the Internet has not led to an abundance of high-quality free video content; it has instead yielded pockets of brilliance in a sea of YouTube pet videos.
This implies that all CRTC funding ever has produced excellence, that the CRTC has some magical ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. I disagree. At the same time as there is a lot of Canadian content which I love to watch, there is a lot of crap out there. Like, a lot.

And that's the great thing about the internet. With tools like facebook, digg and myriad bloggers and micro-bloggers, if you put something truly great on the internet, it will get out there. People will watch it. If it's awesome, they will come. And so, with the unregulated internet, we get the best of both worlds: anyone can produce content and nobody will force you to watch it if it sucks.

And if my internet bill has a "Canadian Content Levy" line-item on it next month, I'm moving to Norway.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Poor Judgement

Apparently photos recently surfaced of Olympic hero Michael Phelps smoking pot. In light of this, Kellogg has decided to stop sponsoring him. That's right, Kellogg, the people who make cereal.

One article I read called this "poor judgement" on Phelps' part, but I think it was poor judgement on Kellogg's part. I mean, seriously, could you alienate a more lucrative market segment than potheads when your main product is cereal? And let's not forget university students who aren't necessarily potheads but probably sympathize with potheads and who, for various reason concerning extremely limited supplies of money and time, eat cereal for several meals a day sometimes.

A spokesperson for the company said that Phelps' behaviour was "not consistent with the image of Kellogg." Well, I guess when your humble beginnings are rooted in stuffing corn up peoples' bungholes to keep them from wanting sex, someone actually enjoying themselves after achieving something tremendous is probably not consistent with your image.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some General Mills made Cheerios to eat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bye, American

Can anybody explain to me why we need to create jobs*? It seems to me that there's enough stuff that needs doing to keep everyone busy and that's before you factor in (now fanciful but once standard) things like "everyone gets a new car ever 2 years."

The United States has started their protectionist sabre rattling. The US began yesterday debating a nearly $900b "stimulus" package which includes a Buy American clause. This has obviously got Canada, whose largest trading partner, the news is fond of reminding us, is the United States. So,what is Canada's response to this Buy American clause which is being taken as tantamount to a declaration of war? Why, in true Canadian fashion, it's a strongly worded letter, of course.

My favourite part of the letter is "If Buy American becomes part of the stimulus legislation, the United States will lose the moral authority to pressure others not to introduce protectionist policies." That's right, US, this is for your own good.

Since when does a 500 lb gorilla need moral authority? I think the US has shown time and again that if they want other countries to do something, they tell them to do it. And should the people of that country disagree with the US, they will suddnely find themselves unable to trade or or the hosts of the US military. I'm not going to weigh in on how many of those sanctions and invasions I think were or weren't justified: that is clearly a matter of personal taste.

The important thing is that the Canadian Ambassador's letter to the US Senate leaders is hogwash. It is not the product of a well-reasoned point-of-view about the wellbeing of the citizens of the Ambassador's motherland, but rather the product of prodding by politicians at home which is in turn the product of wanting to be seen to be doing something. Because really, isn't that what government is for?

Ultimately, I think that any sort of stimulus package is a bad idea. It has little chance of achieving any sort of lasting happiness or prosperity and it is all but guaranteed to prolong this balance sheet recession in which we now find ourselves.

Want to create jobs in Canada? How about joining a local community support agriculture program and pushing for sustainble farming practices? L and I are currently considering Plan B Organics, which some friends have belonged to for almost a year. And remember, it's good for the environment, the food is better for you and sustainable agriculture is labour intensive so it creates jobs.

* I am well aware of the arguments for creating jobs, but I believe they are predicated on an outdated system which is a lot like feudalism but the landowners are now the bankers with bigger brains, armed with confusing economics instead of the lords with bigger muscles, armed with swords.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hidden Message

Sometimes, men try to grow facial hair when, really, they just shouldn't. Like when my brother wore mutton chops. No es bueno. I've heard these people told, near the beginning of their ill-advised foray into the world of bearded men, "you've got something on your chin. I have a cat that could lick that off for you."

. . .

I woke up this morning at 6 AM. This was because my hands were above the covers. When Carmen sees a hand sitting idly, she cannot help herself but try to weasel under it to get pet. So for several minutes, I succumbed to her advances and let her sit on my chest while I pet her, half-asleep. I tried to stop a few times but every time she would nose under my palm again, until finally I put my hands under the covers. I let her stay on my chest, since, well, what harm could that do?

Apparently she got bored because just as I started to drift back into sleep, I felt something on my chin and then realized that Carmen was trying to eat my beard.

She didn't draw blood so I gently shooed her off and went back to sleep, but not before wondering whether she was just captivated by the movement of my chin in my sleep or whether she was trying to tell me something.

Maybe it's time to start shaving.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bitter Much?

I'm TAing Nuclear Engineering this semester. I was kind of worried about it because I don't actually know all that much about nuclear physics or engineering. Well, it turns out that the undergrads know basically nothing about it, so I didn't have anything to worry about.

Right now we're in the section on dosing. I was reading through a textbook almost as old as me. My supervisor loaned it to me, noting that the name scrawled on the inside front cover is his supervisor's name.

The author felt it would be useful, in discussing the deleterious effects of ionizing radiation on the human body, to do a quick rundown of cellular biology. I came across this passage which I found quite comical:

The germ cells, which are also called gametes, function only in reproduction. It is the union of the gametes from different sexes that is the starting point of a new individual. The gametes also carry the hereditary material of the species that makes children look more like their parents than their neighbors[sic], and ensure that the evils of mankind pass with little change from generation to generation.
How's that for unbiased scientific writing? That passage was in a textbook! Well, John R. Lamarsh, I shall see that history remembers you as a great nuclear engineer and misanthrope.

And hey, maybe I just found a new role model.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Episode IV: A New Hope

I watched Obama's inauguration speech today. He's a hell of a speaker. I was quite relieved, also, as I had been worried that the speech would go something like this: "Your old government was bad. The new government is good. Now sit back and relax while we fix everything." Y'know, the standard peddling easy answers schtick.

Luckily, that was not the case. I hope the speach will motivate everyone, not just Americans, to think hard about what it is they want from the future and what they can start doing to get there.

Governments are kind of like children. A lot of people seem to have forgetten that you are responsible for your own. When they are misbehaving – y'know, the usual trouble kids get up to, unilaterally starting wars and the like – you must rein them in. I think Obama's speach today reminded Americans of that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hop, Hop, Flump

Since we moved into the new house in September, L has been saying she wants a cat. I continued to say no on the grounds that if she got a cat, I was pretty sure I'd wind up doing all the feeding and litter cleaning and vet taking and so forth. Well, this Christmas I relented.

Meet Carmen!

Sensory OverloadCute FaceMake My Day

On Christmas morning, L got only one box from me. Which I had smuggled to her parents' house by her father, so she didn't even see it til Christmas morning. I had to have the box smuggled because it was too big to fit under my coat. It was too big to fit under my coat because it contained a litter box and a cat carrier. One o' them thar fancy-type litter boxes with an activated carbon air filter and a swinging door, what to keep the stink in.

So on the 27th of December, after making all the family rounds and putting about 8-zillion miles on my friend E's car (which was borrowed for the purpose of driving the entire width of Southern Ontario several times over the Christmas holiday), L and I drove to the local Toronto Human Society adoption centre. We looked at cats. Many cats. Hundreds of them. Possibly more. Of course, L decided she liked the little black one that liked to sleep in her litter box — "Sandy", said the name tag on her cage.

We went to the counter to ask about how the process works. We were told that adoptions were done for the day and we should come back between 12 and 6 the following day. We noticed that they let a number of cats run loose behind the counter. I have a soft spot for cats that like to sit on projects — many a science fair project was completed with the late Muffin sitting on whichever part was least convenient. I pointed to the cat sitting in the paperwork tray.

"Is that how you file the incoming ones?" I asked.

The man behind the counter picked her up, showing us clearly her missing back paw.

"This is Legolas," he said, plunking her down on the counter. "Get it? Legolas? Like from Lord of the Rings?" Perhaps when you spend all your time talking to cats your sense of humour gets a bit... dulled. The man explained that the missing paw was a deformity and not an injury and showed us, much to kitty's chagrin, a partial pawpad on the end of her truncated appendage. After that we got to pet her on the counter for a while. She was very friendly and one of the cutest cats I've ever met.

In any case, we had to think it over for the night. We went back the next day and L decided then and there that we were going to adopt little Legolas. We filled out the paperwork and the man assured us that she had received a clean bill of health. Paper work finished, we crammed her in the cage and drove home, which thrilled her to no end.

It was decided that Legolas was too patronizing a name and a new name would have to be chosen. For a while the forerunner was Trike, which I thought was hilarious, but L couldn't make up her mind, or wouldn't, and kitty's name was Kitty for the interim.

That afternoon, kitty ate a lot of food, which I stupidly continued to put out for her. She then threw it all up a few hours later. We also noticed that she had diarrhea. Fortunately, the Humane Society gives 48 hours of vet care with adopted cats. So we crammed poor Kitty into the cage again and took her right back to where she came from. The vet on duty was not the King of Bedside Manner, to quote a song. Ultimately, he said she would need to be kept, just in case, and so he could put her on intravenous antibiotics.

Like nervous, new parents we called the next day. We went to visit her and pet her in the cage. The poor thing had a bald patch on her arm, but they'd removed the IV by the time we went to see her. The non-weekend vet was much more informative. He said that her belly didn't feel abnormal, as the other vet had noted (but not told us about) which was a good sign, but the diarrhea was a possible parasite symptom.

They kept her right through til New Year's Day. We brought her home and, with the exception of having to cram liquid medicine down her throat 3 times a day for the first 4 days, things have been hunky dory. L has finally named her Carmen, which I think is a nice name. She seems to have gotten over the parasite, fingers crossed.

All in all, she's a great cat. She is extremely friendly and loves company and gets quite worked up when she decides it's play time. Although the best thing about her is her walk. I think hopping around on only 3 legs gets a little tiresome so she falls against the nearest wall or piece of furniture every few steps — hop, hop, flump.