30 August 2007

Demonic Dreams

(Image cred here)

Dreams are a funny thing. In the '70s, the late Carl Sagan wrote a landmark popular science book called The Dragons of Eden which explored the brain as a product of our evolutionary history. His son's 'sequel,' Up From Dragons, continues on the elder Sagan's work using more up-to-date research. The Sagan view of dreams is that they may be a way to process thoughts and emotions perceived during the day's experiences, allowing for the organization and storage of information into short and long term memory. So basically, when you dream, the more primal parts of your brain are re-experiencing the thoughts that you are tucking away.

I don't dream much (well, that's not true - I probably dream about as much as everybody else but I don't tend to remember them much). Last night was the first dream I remembered in over a month, and it was stupid: Hyde, Fez, and Kelso from That '70s Show playing a triet(?) together on an electric keyboard (employing some very fancy and completely unrealistic fingering techniques, I might add).

On the other hand, my wife remembers her dreams frequently. Moreover, she has nightmares a lot. While a portion of these present physical terrors, many are supernatural in variety, or, as she terms them, demonic. She had another demonic dream last night.

Now, if the Sagans are correct, it means two things:

1) I watch too much That '70s Show

2) My wife worries about demons way too much.

As a little explanation, my wife does worry about demons a lot. In her theology, demons are very real: they possess people, they harm people, and they tempt people into sin. My wife often worries about the last one in particular; she thinks she has demons hounding her to be slothful, or gluttonous, or vain, and she often prays for help from God to combat these demons (when she's not praying for ninja skills, that is). In her dreams, the demons perform more of the first two options, I guess because they have a more striking visual component; a dream is more obviously demonic when it mirrors a scene from The Exorcist than when it shows you sitting on your couch eating Fritos and doing your nails.

If this isn't an example of how religion is child abuse, I don't know what is. Before you argue that my wife's not a child (or that I'm a pedophile), consider that she was indoctrinated when she was a child and it still traumatizes her to this day. Her religion, which is supposed to help her and give her peace and strength, literally gives her nightmares in a regular basis. That's messed up.

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28 August 2007

Back from Montreal

Hi all (and by that, I mean all 4 of you).

Just got back from Montreal. I'm freakishly tired right now. We had planned to see the Body Worlds exhibit at the Montreal Science Centre on Saturday but the damned thing was so popular that the only available time was first thing Monday morning. Normally on vacations, I go to bed really late and sleep until 11:30, but for Monday I went to bed late but had to get up at 7:00am. That is really painful in and of itself, but then I still had to drive the 6.5 hours back home, getting here around midnight. It should have been 5 hours but the traffic was oppressive - way too much construction - and did I mention from last year that Quebec can't design highways? They can't. Also, I was terrified whenever I drove under any overpass in the Montreal area. It's easy to see why their bridges have fallen down; they are highly cracked and in rough shape.

Anyway, trip was good though expensive. Ate too much. Did the usual - the Old Port, Notre Dame Basilica (I had an interesting conversation with my wife about the differences between evangelical Christianity and Catholicism, and also noted that when I was in a catholic school, the mandatory masses were held in the crappy-looking school gym, not a gold-plated basilica), Schwartz's Deli, Rue St. Denis, Mount Royal, and the Chinatown, among other things that I can't remember at this time.


23 August 2007

6:00am + 1 Thunderstorm + 14m Deep Pit = 1 Crappy Morning

This morning I went to visit my hole. It is currently less than 3m away from its final depth of 14m. It's getting big and scary and, miraculously, it hasn't fallen down yet. I was required to go observe the stressing of the last level of soil anchors. This was problem #1 - the stressing was supposed to start at 7:30am, meaning I would have to leave at 6:30am to get there, further meaning that I would have to get up at 6:00am. As I am not a morning person, this was excruciatingly painful. Excruciatingly. However, I appear to be getting smarter: unlike last time, I remembered my safety boots and hardhat so I didn't have to drive all the way home again.

Things started well when I got there. Then the rains came. It started as a sprinkle, then died. The contractors said that if it rained too much, they'd have to take their trucks out of the pit and stop construction because the pit would be impossible to leave if it got too muddy. Well, it started to sprinkle again, then we saw some lightning and heard a thunderclap somewhere in the distance. Then another, closer. Then the deluge started. The contractors hustled to their trucks, desperate to get them out of the pit before the access slope got too muddy, stopping only for essentials, like lighting up a cigarette.

The first truck made it up okay. The second truck required 3 runs at the slope and all of it's 300+ horsepower to make it up, sending up huge plumes of mud in its wake. Man, did it get muddy in a hurry; my boots were so heavy I could barely walk. Those of us not in trucks hid under a steel beam protruding from the wall, that is, until the thunderstorm came closer overhead and the potential for electrocution outweighed the certainty of getting very wet. As we abandoned our refuge, we realized that the rain was decreasing in intensity, and, within about 15 minutes or so, it was actually getting a little sunny. It was too late, though; the deluge had turned the entry slope into a big, muddy Slip 'n' Slide, and we could see in the horizon that more rain would be on the way eventually. There would be no stressing of anchors today.

So the result? I woke up freakishly early (by my admittedly nocturnal standards), drove about an hour through frustrating construction, got rained on, found my clothes (and myself) to be covered in mud, and we didn't even accomplish any of what we set out to do; all this while I should have been in the office doing design work on stuff that's already running behind.

However, the morning wasn't a total loss. For instance, I learned that the two most popular words among construction workers these days are "fucker" and "cocksucker," which they use to address each other (jovially) and to refer to consultants (this includes me, while I'm within earshot - decidedly not jovially).

Stressing has been postponed to Friday and Monday, and someone still needs to observe on our behalf. It won't be me, though. I'm going on vacation until Tuesday. So long, Suckas!

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21 August 2007

They'll have to make the illness immune to common spells such as "Cure Disease"

For all you nerds out there, a pair of disease researchers are seriously looking into using massively multiplayer online gaming environments to study the spread and control of epidemic diseases. The researchers are already talking with Blizzard to use their World of Warcraft environment to run the tests. They plan to unleash carefully designed diseases into the world to infect player characters and let them interact realistically with each other to simulate a real life disease.

People had been thinking about using World of Warcraft or other online communities like Second Life for disease research since the infamous high-level Warcraft disease that got out of hand, temporarily wreaking havoc on several servers. These researchers look to go ahead with the promise of that unplanned outbreak with research of their own.

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20 August 2007

Breaking New: Dutch Priest is a Contemptible Jerk

From CBC.ca, a catholic priest in the Netherlands by the name of Harm Schilder is being a assheaded jerkwad to his neighbours. Schilder's church holds services every weekday morning. Much to the dismay of the townsfolk around him, at the ungodly hour of 7:15am, he rings the church bells loudly and proudly (well, 7:15am is ungodly for me, though everything is ungodly for me, but anything taking place at 7:15am is more ungodly than most things). And the townsfolk want him to stop, or at least turn down the volume a bit. Municipal officials have been urging Schilder to stop ringing the bells for months (Update: according to www.katholieknederland.nl, since March 16th)and recently told him that, starting Aug 16, if he didn't stop he would be fined a whopping 5000 euros each morning.

Says municipal spokesman Thomas Heesters, "The council does not want to get involved in this - it's a house of prayer - but we have to take into account the feelings of local residents." That actually bothers me a bit. Just because Schilder runs a church instead of any other establishment, the council isn't keen to get involved. Thankfully, they are putting aside their misplaced respect for the church and are proceding with the fines. The church rang its bells on Thursday and Friday, incurring fines worth 10000 euros.

That Schilder fellow sure seems like a nice accomodating person.

What's Schilder's reply? "People who are bothered by the bell should know that we pray for them in the mass." Seriously, this is what he said on the church website. What a dillhole. That's basically a giant "screw you" to everyone who is pissed off at loud noises in the morning. He's saying that, because he's on the side of God, he can be as inconsiderate as he wants.

Reports have just come out this morning that the church did not ring its bells today (Monday) as Schilder bowed to pressure from his diocese and his lawyers. Apparently the diocese that controls the church wants Schilder to comply with the municipality's wishes to prevent further escalation in the case. Here's to hoping they make Schilder pay the fines out of his own shallow pockets instead of out of the collection plates.

I hope someone in the Netherlands kicks this guy in the nuts. It'd be fair punishment for waking everybody up. Actually, no; fair punishment is more creative. Some Dutch person needs to open up a new church placed next to Schilder's house that holds services complete with bell ringing at 12:30am when Schilder is trying to get to sleep. Let's see how he likes it.

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Protection Prayer

Whenever my wife embarks on a journey or activity, she prays for protection from harm. It's a pretty standard prayer type that a lot of the faithful do with some regularity.

A couple of nights ago at softball, my wife was playing catcher. The batter took a mighty swing with his $300+ carbon fibre composite bat. At the moment of contact, the bat sheared in two just above the handle sending the barrel, edged by razor-sharp serrations, whizzing past my wife's head, bouncing of the backstop behind her, and whizzing by the other side of her head in the opposite direction.

My wife claims that her prayer for protection saved her from getting a bat in the face and likely seriously injured. I have a small quibble with this: is God so petty that He would give one of His faithful a mouthful of carbon fibre unless she remembered to ask for protection from it in prayer? It's a good thing I'm not like that:

KA: (walking up to my friend Bill) "Hi Bill!"
Bill: "Hi King Aardvark!"
KA: "Say, you didn't ask me not to kick you in the nuts today!"
Bill: "Uh, is that really required?"
KA: "Yup! Sure is!" (kicks Bill in the nuts really hard)
Bill: "AHHHH!!!" (slumps to the ground in agony)
KA: "Remember, you're my buddy and I'll always protect you from kicks in the nuts as long as you ask me nicely."

However, that's not my real quibble about the prayer for protection. You see, a few innings after (allegedly) protecting my wife from a bat to the teeth, my wife stretched to catch a high fly ball, missed, and the ball landed squarely on her big toe. It's not broken, but her toenail is turning black, the toe is swollen, and she'll be limping around for the next few days. Her toenail will likely fall off soon, yet she still claims that God protected her because of the whole bat-not-quite-hitting-her-in-the-face thing.

So does this prayer for protection only cover one item per prayer, thus requiring separate prayers if you suspect you will be injured in two or more different ways during a given event? Regardless if this is the case or not, my wife surely doesn't blame God for not coming through on the toe thing and is content to focus on praising him for the bat thing. It seems like a weird deal to me.

In fact, listening to my wife pray for stuff, especially protection, seems to be more like trying to get wishes from a genie; you have to word it exactly right or else the genie will twist your wishes around to give you a suboptimal or even harmful result. I doubt this is a version of God that most would find comforting.

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17 August 2007

Free Weekend

Only 15 minutes to go before I can get out of the office. This weekend is special because it's the first one since May where I don't have to go someplace long distance and sleep on a sorry excuse for a bed that isn't my own and isn't full of allergens. Thank (nonexistant) God. Now if only my wife won't drag me to church on Sunday...

Other than that, I watched The Simpsons Movie the other day. Not too shabby. Not as good as the earlier episodes but still satisfying. My problem is I've got the choral/orchestral version of the Spider-Pig song from the end credits burned into my brain right now and I can't get it out.

I hope your weekend is Spider-Pig free.

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Is there more to life than this?

Alpha Course ads have been springing up all over town on bus shelters and billboards. These slickly-produced ads are part of a new compaign to promote the Alpha Course on behalf of the local churches who run the program. You should already know my distaste for Alpha. If not, click the "Alpha Course" tag below to see what I've said previously.
As slick as the ads are, Alpha is still using the clipart-esque man carrying a question mark logo, which is extremely cheap-looking.

That said, my main interest in the ads is not their production values but rather what they portray. Of course, they make no mention of God or Christianity in them. Instead, the two different ads have a photo with a caption "Is there more to life than this?" The slogan is typical, but the photos are odd. One shows a young man in climbing gear standing triumphantly at the top of a mountain; the other is of a small group of happy, attractive younger people drinking and stuff. I know they are attempting to appeal to younger people, that much is obvious. But I tell you, if I'm climbing mountains and living it up with cool friends, I'm not too worried about finding "more to life." Life would seem pretty good, thank you.

To me, it would make more sense if "Is there more to life than this?" was attached to photos of my life: dull grey cubicle, family sedan, taking out the trash, etc. More people would be able to associate with that than with climbing mountains and being popular. Also, more people would be searching for meaning and that elusive "more" when their lives are boring and monotonous. I think they missed the target on this one.

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15 August 2007

Schizophrenia or demons?

One of my wife's sisters has been problematic recently. She had been a reasonably successful bank employee (not that I condone people becoming bankers) until she sank into depression after having to leave work due to being hit by a careless driver. It was then that her already troubled mind started to exhibit violent, erratic tendencies. Several family members think she may have schizophrenia, clinical depression, or some other mental ailment and should go see a doctor about it. This includes most of the siblings who are very religious; however, when praying for her, instead of talking about mental illness and seeking medical help, they ask God to protect her from the evil demons that are tormenting her mind. Ugh. What is it with these people? Can't tell the difference between mental illness and demon possession? It's downright embarrassing - they know that schizophrenia is a real mental condition yet it's confused in their heads so that they think this real condition is caused by demons poking at her brain. It's like we're living in some strange bastardization of the 21st and 14th centuries.

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14 August 2007

I was at church and a wedding broke out

I'm sure most of you have had the experience: going to a wedding at a church where it seems like the soon-to-be married couple is the farthest thing from the mind of the officiant. Instead, the whole wedding is just one big church service sandwiched between a woman in an expensive white dress walking up and down the aisle and interspersed with the same woman and a sweaty, nervous guy exchanging rings and kissing; apart from those distractions, you might as well just show up to church Sunday morning and you'll get the same thing.

Over the weekend, I went to the wedding of a friend from undergrad. And you know what? This wedding was almost the opposite of the stereotypical church wedding. It was great, it was outdoors in nice weather - not a church in sight. The thing is, my friend, the bride, is from rural Ontario, but the groom is from Jordan. I can't think of a more opposite set of homes. The wedding itself was non-denominational. I couldn't even tell if the officiant was a pastor or something and his affiliation was never mentioned.

The ceremony did have some religious elements. The officiant read a passage from each of the bride and groom's "faith traditions," as he called them, not mentioning either by name. Surprisingly, the two passages, from the Bible (a psalm of some sort) and the Koran, did not mention God at all and instead focused on love and family. Secondly, a Unity Tree (I have never heard of this before, but I'm guessing it's a Muslim thing) was included as part of the ceremony, and it was supposed to be watered with spring water from Mecca and have rocks from each of their hometowns placed alongside. Turns out my friend left all of these at her parents' house so they used two rocks they found on the site and some bottled water. Oh well.

Anyway, wedding was good, reception was excellent (open bar, hehehe). The reception was actually held in my old university cafeteria that I ate in every day for almost all of first year. The food we got was never close to as good as the food at the reception.

One freaky thing was that we were seated at a table with a girl who went to elementary school with me. She was in french-immersion so I had no idea who she was. She remembered me though. Fortunately, she told no embarrassing stories to my wife, only saying that me and my brother were brilliant and won all the academic awards at graduation. Very true. Well, that and saying that I was a nerd, which is also true. Still true, actually; I'm not sure about the brilliant part.

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09 August 2007

Left Below!

My wife and I were watching The Simpsons the other day. The episode, which worried me, was the one where Homer watches the movie Left Below, a parody of the Left Behind series. I was worried because my wife typically takes anything "end times" related way too seriously, gets flustered and worries about my soul, tells me that I must read Revelations, and generally ruins the fun of any of it. I was especially worried in this case because she takes the Left Behind movie in particular way too seriously; she hasn't even read Revelations herself and got all her apocalypse-related info from stupid Kirk Cameron.

(Hmm, Kirk Cameron. Now there's someone I'd like to kick in the nuts, and not for his assheaded fundiness, either. Growing Pains was pretty awful. Did you know that his sister, Candace Cameron, married former hockey star Val Bure? It's funny and sad at the same time; most NHLers marry models - or puck bunnies who look like models - but he comes all the way from Russia to end up with the pudgy girl from Full House who's the sister of a wacko fundamentalist who thinks bananas are proof of God. But I digress...)

Long story short, my wife didn't get worked up about the Simpsons episode at all and actually thought it was funny. Can it be that she's actually developing a sense of humour about religion?

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08 August 2007

Music Project

In my youth, I used to be quite musically skilled. I played piano to a Royal Conservatory grade 8 level and scored extremely well (very high 90s) on the music theory exams. Alas, in the many, many years since, my skills have dimminished and my knowledge of theory has evaporated - I couldn't construct a chord to save my life, I find myself confused by any time signature that isn't 4/4 or 3/4, and I couldn't tell you what those funny knobby and dotty signs above, below, or next to the music notes mean. What was once crystal clear is now utter gibberish; I might as well sneeze on a sheet of blank staff paper for all the good it would do me (Hey! I remembered that it was called staff paper! Yay! - note, this is not sarcasm, I really am pleasantly surprised that its name just came to me as I was writing this)

Keeping this in mind, I need to reacquire these music composition skills because I have an idea for a wondrous musical project: One day, I'd like to compose and produce an epic orchestral piece the likes of which the world has never seen. What would make it so special? An orchestra consisting of nothing but bagpipes, accordions, kazoos, tamborines, didjeridoos, Sousaphones, tympani, and a triangle - that's what. It would be awesome, nay, glorious.

Or horrible. Either way, it should be done.


03 August 2007

Implications of the Minneapolis bridge collapse

By now, everyone has heard of the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed, and some of you are probably wondering if I have any special insights because of my having a masters in structural engineering.

Answer: no, not really. We've been talking about it at the office, sure, but we really don't have access to any of the structural reports, better photos, etc, so we have no idea specifically why the bridge collapsed.

In more general terms, the big story is the massive infrastructure deficit - the gap between needed and actual infrastructure investment - in North America right now. That's right, it's a serious problem in Canada, too. According to Canadian experts, Canada faces an infrastructure deficit of $74 billion, with $10 billion of that due to bridges. That's a significant amount of coin. Of course, it's much much worse in the States right now, so it's amazing that more structures haven't fallen.

That's part of the reason why I did my masters research in the field that I did. My research was under the umbrella of the ISIS Canada (Intelligent Sensing for Innovative Structures) Research Network. Their goal is to make our structures more sustainable and durable by incorporating lightweight, non-corrodible synthetic structural materials into buildings, either for new construction or for repair and refit(the "Innovative Structures" part), as well as using fibre-optic sensing systems and other high-tech computerized monitoring methods to ensure that our structures are performing as desired (the "Intelligent Sensing" part).

As for what the collapse means for us, as my boss put it, it means we'll be very busy with bridge inspections for the next little while. In typical political knee-jerk fashion, my boss got a call almost immediately after the collapse from the local municipality asking him how long until their bridges collapse and if we can inspect stuff for them. It's a good time for us business-wise, but it's sad that it takes a tragedy like this to get politicians on the move when the underlying problem is already so well known.

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02 August 2007


Via PZ, I just took an online quiz testing for signs of Asperger's Syndrome. Average is apparently in the 14-18 range, with more masculine and typically geeky people (read physicists, comp. sci, math contest winners) scoring progressivly higher from 19 to 24. Asperger's may be diagnosed at scores of 32 and up. I scored 30. Whew, that was close.


01 August 2007

Scientology is legit enough to be on the same footing as other religions

So says a new article in Slate. The author, Mark Oppenheimer, argues:
But Scientology is no more bizarre than other religions. And it's the similarities between Scientology and, say, Christianity and Judaism that make us so uncomfortable. We need to hate Scientology, lest we hate ourselves.
His argument is that the only difference between Scientology and religion is time:
Religions appear strange in inverse proportion to their age. Judaism and Catholicism seem normal—or at least not deviant. Mormonism, less than 200 years old, can seem a bit incredible. And Scientology, founded 50 years ago, sounds truly bizarre. To hear from a burning bush 3,000 years ago is not as strange as meeting the Angel Moroni two centuries ago, which is far less strange than having a hack sci-fi writer as your prophet.
Fun read, check it out.