29 March 2007

Goodbye Wisdom

As the work piles up in the office and deadlines loom, not only does the server that houses our software licenses die leaving me computationally impotent, but I'm going to miss at least a day tomorrow getting my wisdom teeth out.

I'm suffering a little trepidation about it. It's not that I've never had major oral surgury before - I had 4 teeth yanked prior to getting braces - it's that I've never been gassed or otherwise seriously drugged up before. Since I like being in control of my own brain, I'm not looking forward to it. I have been told by others that they loved the gas, so we'll see if I get converted, too.

Also, I'm not looking forward to potentially bad reactions to the surgury. My sister-in-law swelled up really badly when she got hers out. She had to go to student health services for some reason a couple of days afterwards while she was still really puffy in the face and, for some reason, the receptionist talked to her as if she was mentally challenged, speaking really slowly to her, etc. My teeth appear to be reasonably straight so they should be easy to take out. Hopefully, that will result in less swelling.

I'm well-stocked of pudding and Jell-o.

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27 March 2007

Jared Diamond's lack of respect for priests

I've just started reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is so far an outstanding book. Just a quick note: early on, Diamond is discussing the beginnings of food production and its repurcussions, including the establishment of chiefs, bureaucracy, scribes, artisans, and priests. The last one, priests, he does not justify as being to tend to the spiritual needs of the early villagers, rather, as he term it, "Stored food can also feed priests, who provide religious justification for wars of conquest...." Get that? Religion is just there so that the masses will support the greed of the powerful.

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22 March 2007

Stolen Link Dump

Go to The Bronze Blog for a neato collection of time killing links. First is an interesting strategy game about placing guard towers to shoot invading monsters. Second are reviews of the movies Moonraker (very poor James Bond movie) and Moonwalker (Michael Jackson, need I say more), respectively (side note, over the Christmas holidays, my wife's family pulled out their old Sega Genesis to play NHL '94, but I also noted that they had the video game based on Moonwalker - scary). And third are two very high quality fan-made lightsaber duels. Note, though, that in these duels it is very easy to a disarmed person to dodge the lightsaber attacks of the other and in turn successfully attack his opponent with his hands and feet, making me wonder why you wouldn't just dodge your opponent's lightsaber in the beginning and then stab him. On the whole, I still prefer the lightsaber duel from ESB; it's not over-the-top flashy and complicated like the duels from the prequels.

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20 March 2007

Online Test thingy

I just took another one of those damnable online tests (got it from Skatje) because I'm procrastinating at work. At least the test that I'm lazy rather than a workaholic. The test itself claims to be the ultimate Everything Test, which seems to mean that it looks at your personality and your experiences for a number of different topics.

The results page is too wide to fit comfortably on the blog, so click here for the results.


19 March 2007

Time heals all wounds, I guess

I just got back from the Iron Ring ceremony, and let me say, I was disappointed. My sister-in-law's friends and classmates who I tortured and belittled as their TA two years ago were no longer afraid of me. Nor were they still mad at me. In fact, some of them were pleased to see me. And not even in the "ha ha, you said I'd never pass, I sure showed you" kind of way - they were genuine in their pleasantness.

I don't get it. I thought I had done a better job scarring them for life. They certainly hated me at the time.

I was more scarred than them, for, at the reception afterwards, I ran into one of my superiors at work, which, since I'm not good at sucking up, is not a good thing. His daughter is one of my sister-in-law's friends, and I was left chatting with him while the two girls had a gab-fest.

As for the ceremony itself, which I'll remind you is not to be shared with non-obligated engineers, I'll just say that it's a lot easier to understand the ceremony when you attend as an audience member rather than as a graduating engineer. They give you a book with which to follow along, whereas the candidates are thrown in cold turkey.

My only other observation is that my old department was poorly represented. Only one prof and a couple of grad students I knew attended, and all left before the reception so I couldn't catch up with them. Lazy bastards.

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16 March 2007

Iron Ring Ceremony

This weekend, my wife and I are traveling back to our alma mater to attend her youngest sister's Iron Ring ceremony. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the Iron Ring is a symbol of pride and humility for Canadian engineers. It originated in 1925, soon after the completion of the famous Quebec Bridge (which I had the pleasure of visiting in August), which, in addition to having the longest cantilevered bridge span in the world, also experienced two collapses during construction which killed 86 workers in total. The Iron Ring is meant to remind those entering the profession that when they screw up, people die.

Ok, that's a little melodramatic, but it still symbolizes that our first duty is not to the client but to the safety of those who would be affected by our works.

The Iron Ring itself is no longer iron; it's stainless steel, and it's worn on the pinky. It's given out in a special, secret, hokey, and cultish ceremony that usually only attended by other engineers. And if I tell you what goes on in it, I'll have to kill you. It's kinda like the Stonecutters.

What's frightening about this weekend is that, in about two months, my sister-in-law and her classmates are actually graduating from engineering. They are so young. And stupid. Hell, I wouldn't trust them to design a cardboard box. Good thing that they can't work alone as professional engineers until they get 4 years work experience as an engineers-in-training.

It seems like just yesterday, but was it really only 2 years ago that I was TAing her class in 2nd year mechanics? I have to give some background on this. I was in the 2nd year of my masters in civil engineering. It didn't look like I was going to get a TA job that term, but at the last minute I was assigned to the dregs: 2nd year mechanics and materials for mechanical engineers. I don't even know why the civil dept teaches that class - for us, it's probably the worst class to TA: the class is too big, the material is too basic, and they aren't even in our department. Still, I needed the extra money so I kept quiet about the conflict of interest (ie. TAing my fiancee's sister) and took the assignment. So I guess if they're stupid, it's partially my fault. Anyway, don't worry about the conflict of interest; I played hardball with her when she came whining to me for 20 minutes about the 1/2 mark I took off (she's smart - I didn't have to take marks off very often). All of her classmates hate me though. You see, I was really strict with them and took off tonnes of marks for neatness and organization. Now all her classmates make fun of her because she's related to me, the mean, unlikeable TA.

I'm looking forward to going back and terrorizing them, but I've got some trepidation. It really doesn't seem like 2 years have passed. I feel like an old fart.

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15 March 2007

Confessions of an Anonymous Coward: Playing God

Playing God is a neat, long, rant about the Anonymous Coward's conversation with his religious mom about cloning ("what if they don't have souls!"). It reminds me a lot of the crazy discussions I get into with my wife's family when brains fall by the wayside in the face of convoluted religious dogma.

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Hop-Head or Dying Patient?

From msnbc: Dying woman rebuffed on medical marijuana - California appeals court rules against mother suffering brain tumor.

This is really a case I don't get. This woman is dying slowly of a brain tumour. She has a family that she still needs to look after, and her doctor says that medicinal marijuana is far and away the best treatment for her because it not only eases the pain but also boosts her otherwise nonexistant appetite, thus helping to keep her healthy. Unless the doctor is known to be crooked and bending the truth, that's a pretty darn good reason to let her use the stuff.

The judiciary, however, feels she can't break federal anti-drug laws. She will keep on using marijuana anyway.

This brings up the question: What makes some drugs okay and others not okay? Americans are among the most medicated people on the planet. They have drugs for everything down there, and everybody is taking something for some real or perceived ailment. This is a woman with a very real problem and a very real drug-based solution, yet the feds are giving her a hard time simply because the prescribed drug is "evil"? Doesn't make sense to me.

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14 March 2007

Silent and Deadly Prayer

Last night, in the midst of saying all of her typical humdrum prayers for health, wisdom, her family, etc, my wife prayed for death-dealing ninja skills.

So, to any Christians or those who live with Christians: Does that strike any of you as odd? What are its implications? What would you pray for? Discuss.

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13 March 2007

Music and Thick-headed Fundies

A while ago (in fact, when I first started this blog last year) I wrote about my seething, festering, boiling-over raw hatred at the crappiness of the music played at my wife's church, and practically all modern evangelist churches. It is vacuous as music, like the crappy pop music that fills the airwaves only crappier still: fluffy love songs that, as Eric Cartman says, replace "baby" and "girl" with "Jesus."

I then progressed from wanting to kick John Tesh in the nuts to declaring my suspicion that most religious people liked crappy pop music even outside of their church goings. At the time, the now semi-retired (at least blog-wise) Hallq challenged me and said that he had doubts that was the case. He was right, of course, and I myself know some religious people who do like more intelligent music. So it's definitely not a slam dunk that if you're religious then you'll like Britney, Mandy Moore, et al. I still had my suspicions though.

And now these suspicions are bearing themselves out. On Mixing Memory, Chris reports on new research by social psychologist Sam Gosling on the correlation between musical preference and a person's personality. I'd highly recommend that you read his post, and I'll let Chris sum it up here:
In short, people who listen to jazz are smart, liberal, adventurous, and poor; people who listen to heavy metal are smart, liberal, adventurous, athletic, and prone to social dominance; people who listen to Madonna or the "Dancing With Wolves" soundtrack are agreeable, conscientious, conservative, rich, happy, dumb, emotionally unstable, and hot; and people who listen to hip hop are extraverted, agreeable, liberal, athletic, and hot. Well, those are the tendencies at least (I've known some smart Madonna fans, though I have to say that they were pretty emotionally unstable). (Emphasis added)
Of course, you can typically substitute "conservative" for "religious" in most cases. Now, it's certainly not true that all people who like pop music are religious or vice versa, but here it says that there is a positive correlation between pop music and conservatism(religion)/stupidity. You gotta trust the science*.

*At least until the next study shows up refuting those claims ;-)

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Evolution front and centre

On the msn.com homepage today, surprisingly the first feature was a Newsweek article on human evolution. Not much, just 5 pages recapping current molecular clock techniques and summarizing findings, but I still think it's amazing that they are candidly discussing the science and history without pandering to Christian fundies. I hope some fundies checking in for their daily gossip, fitness, and consumer guide stuff will be interested and click the link - if only to piss them off a little - but hopefully articles like this will get people to trust science rather than 2000+ year old books.

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12 March 2007

Here comes the sun (do-do-do-do)

As of yesterday, we're back on Daylight Savings Time. (Spring Forward/Fall Back... hmm, that old mnemonic device makes just as much sense as the opposite Fall Forward/Spring Back, so I get screwed up anyway). The spring time change is always hard for me, since I live for sleep, and this messes-up my already messed-up biological clock. Conversely, the time change in the fall is very nice.

However, I must say that I love going back to Daylight Savings Time. It's never made any sense for me that it should be dark so early in the afternoon and bright early in the morning when you can't enjoy it. I suffer from seasonal affective disorder a bit. Having the sun rise at 8 and setting at 4 makes no sense - 90% of the population is working during that time and doesn't get to see the sun at all during winter. So this change to go to DST earlier is great for me - 3 weeks on either side of summer that are a little brighter and happier.

This will probably go down as the only good thing Bush ever did during his presidency.

My question is: why do we have DST at all? I've heard some damn arguments about farmers or little kids walking to school, but come on. These are horrible reasons. Kids walk around in the dark all the damn time these days and farmers can just follow the sun regardless what time it officially is. Morning people? Screw 'em.

In my book, it would make more sense if we used DST as our baseline and if we did Fall Forward and Spring Back, so that in winter, the sun would come up at 10 and set at 6, so that we could at least see a little sun on the way home*.

I wouldn't be surprised if we even realized some healthcare savings from the reduction is SAD cases and some increases in productivity to boot.

*then again, this may mean driving with the sun in your eyes

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09 March 2007

The "Power" of Prayer

Does prayer work? What, if anything, can it do? Why should an omnipotent God with divine plans beyond our comprehension* do anything we ask of him at all? If he's planned it, it will happen; if not, your prayer will go unanswered, wouldn't it? From what I've gathered from my readings, a typical Christian will either a) use selective bias to claim that God answers prayers, or b) pray for such mundane things that a little bit of elbow grease will provide without difficulty. Also from what I've read, a lapsed Christian will notice that the proportion of prayers answered positively follows what one would expect from chance, with the more unlikely requests usually failing.

I've got a case in point for Christian prayer type b). Recently, my wife was telling me about a friend of one of the women in her Alpha class. The man, who we'll call Bio Bob, owns a Christian-based biomechanics company in Ottawa that he started up four or five years ago (don't worry too much - the biomechanics part is secular, but it's a Christian company with prayer time and crosses on the walls, etc). After posting an $800000 loss in his first year, Bio Bob decided to ask desperately for prayer support, enlisting the help of friends, family, and even obtaining the prayers of a group of people in Africa. This continued as Bio Bob posted smaller losses in the second and third years of about $50000 each, until he eventually saw some profits in the fourth year - not enough to get out of debt, but enough to be healthy.

As my wife explains it, evangelicals hold that everybody has some spiritual gift that enables them to do God's work. These include miracles, speaking in tongues, faith healing, teaching, among other. Some even include being a "prayer warrior" - one who excels in praying for others. And that is what Bio Bob tried to tap into when his business was struggling.

Now the obvious problem with their claim is that Bio Bob's finances followed a pretty typical loss-profit pattern, at least according to the various business classes that I've taken. So in that case, he's attributing mundane business performance to the power of prayer and the will of God.

The second problem is this "prayer warrior" crap. Man, is that a scam - those people in Africa get to be lazy (it's not very hard to add "we pray for the success of Bio Bob's business in Canada" to your daily prayers) and still get the credit for Bio Bob's turn around.

In that case, I'm going to pray for my brother to get over the stomach flu he has. Even though he always gets over his illnesses without any help, this time, it'll be all because of me, and I can lord it over him for the rest of his life.

*if those who claim "God works in mysterious ways" are correct

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08 March 2007

Divine Justice @ Russell's Teapot

If you don't read Russell's Teapot, a handy comic that pokes at Christianity (linked to by my personal favourite, Jesus and Mo) you should probably start.

Here's Monday's issue, which is pretty darn good.

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05 March 2007

The Vatican is Progressive for Once

But the bad news is that it's about soccer.

To most Canadians, soccer as a sport is lethargic to watch, though we can appreciate the athleticism. They have funny rules seemingly designed to slow the game down and make it more boring: lots of diving, a strange system of penalties for fouls, excessive shootouts, very limited substitution, no time outs, and an odd thing called Silver Goal extra time, where, in a sport where the score is likely 0-0 or 1-1 heading into overtime, the teams play a full extra period regardless of whether a goal is scored.

Well, the Vatican has started up its own fun soccer league and have tweaked the rules a little bit to be more progressive, including adding time outs and a funky fresh blue card penalty which sends a player off for 5 minutes instead of a game. Cool.

Now replace the ball with a puck, play it on ice instead of grass, use sticks instead of feet, allow fighting, and replace all the pansy catholic Italians with tough-as-nails Canadians and then you'd have a real sport :-)

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