Monday, November 26, 2007

I must own this

A guitar that tunes itself by measuring the pitch of each string as you play it.

Also in that story, another automatic tuning product that has a library of different tunings, and allows you to switch between them on the fly — even in the middle of a song.

Now, how do I convince Gail that I need this?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Daddy, what's erectile dysfunction?

It's Saturday morning around 7:45. My kids (8 and 5) are watching Popular Mechanics for Kids, their favourite show. I'm not watching with them, but I'm sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper, and I can hear the TV, and I have been in a couple of times to see what they wanted for breakfast, and stuff like that. During this show, there have been commercials that featured scantily-clad models (for an HD TV), feminine hygiene products, and even one for Viagra. I'm no prude, but there is no way that a Viagra commercial should be aired during a show that contains "For Kids" in the title.

I sent an email to the National Geographic Channel telling them that someone needs to revisit the types of commercials that are aired during kids programming. Not only are these completely inappropriate for kids, but totally pointless from a marketing perspective. Their sponsors pay them for a certain amount of air time or a certain number of commercials played — would they be happy that their commercials are being played to an audience that has no chance of buying their product? It's not even that kids have little money are so aren't likely to go out and buy these products — that's true for many toys that are advertised as well. But the kids aren't going to ask for these things for Christmas or birthdays, which is pretty much the sole purpose of toy commercials. Do the manufacturers think that the kids are going to think "Hey, maybe for Christmas I'll buy mommy some of these Always with Wings, since the women in the commercial seem pretty happy about them"?

I'm not one of those parents who wants to shield their kids from the "evils" of the world so much that the kids grow up in a bubble. (If I were, I'd be pointing them at Conservapedia.) But at the same time, some things are simply inappropriate for kids. The Viagra commercials may not be explicit (they're entirely innuendo, which my kids don't get, though I think most of them are quite funny), but I still think they fall into this category.

Friday, November 23, 2007

24 in '94

If you're a fan of the TV show 24, and you know anything about computers, you have to watch this video, which places the show in 1994, rather than 2007. Not only does it capture Jack and the gang pretty well ("dammit!"), but the computer references are hilarious.

"He's hacking into the mainframe"
"We just installed Windows 3.1, there's no way!"

OK, so Windows 3.1 was about three years old in 1994, but still.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Conservapedia -- Wikipedia for the hard of thinking

Well, folks, here it is — the encyclopedia you've been waiting for if you're afraid of the truth and want to live in your own little everything-is-wonderful world. It's called, "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia". I don't even know where to start with this one. It's wikipedia except they abandoned the Neutral Point of View concept, and decide to write everything from a conservative Christian point of view (which is fine), but then treat that point of view as fact (which is not). Its criticisms of Wikipedia are funny — a Wikipedia article can present all kinds of facts about something like homosexuality, but because it doesn't explicitly say "Homosexuality is immoral" or "wrong" or "an abomination", they view this as an endorsement and therefore Wikipedia has a liberal bias. Because you are allowed to describe years and time periods using BCE/CE in place of BC/AD, Wikipedia has an anti-religious bias. Because you are allowed to use British English rather than American English on pages about British topics, Wikipedia has an anti-American bias.

The articles use all kinds of faulty logic — how can evolution be true if smart people like Archimedes, Aristotle, and Isaac Newton didn't propose such a theory? Plus, Hitler believed in evolution. A quote even hints that Hitler's evolutionary beliefs caused him to believe that Germans were superior to other races, and that Jews were to be segregated. Ergo, if you believe in evolution, you are evil. Also, atheism is obviously evil because Stalin, Lenin, and Karl Marx were atheists. And of course, the old standby, "If science cannot currently conclusively prove something, it must be false" (eg. evolution, the Big Bang, a genetic basis for homosexuality). Yup, definitely trustworthy.

Here are some "trustworthy" "facts" that I learned from Conservapedia:

  • The opening paragraph of the article on homosexuality says "homosexuality has a variety of negative effects on individuals and society at large"
  • homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be engage in promiscuity, violent behaviour towards their partners, homicide, pedophilia, cigarette smoking, and illegal drugs
  • most hate crimes against gay people are not actually hate crimes, and hate crimes committed by gay people against heterosexuals are vastly underreported
  • abortions cause breast cancer
  • the theory of evolution is evil — "a vast majority of the most prominent and vocal defenders of the evolutionary position since World War II have been atheists"
  • "a virgin is a person of either sex who has not married"

Obviously there are going to be articles that have incorrect facts on them; I'm sure you could go through Wikipedia and find plenty of incorrect information. However, the article on homosexuality has thirty-five sections, 290 references, and at least two thousand edits. It's not like someone added some incorrect or misleading information — many people have. The virginity page doesn't even mention sex, but to give an accurate description of what virginity is would require actually discussing sex, and we can't have that, now can we? In order to "protect" people from a description of sex (and come on people, this can be done without an explicit description of how it is performed), they choose to publish something that is patently untrue. And I'm supposed to take this site seriously?

The Conservapedia article on Wikipedia is also particularly "trustworthy". The following quotes all take place within the opening two paragraphs of the article:

  • "Despite its official "neutrality policy", Wikipedia has a strong liberal bias"
  • "It has millions of entries on topics ranging from an explanation for "duh" to singles by obscure rock bands to arcane British royalty."
  • "Initially, Wikipedia was hosted on servers operated by Bomis, Inc., a company that also sold pornographic pictures."

There's even a page on how Conservapedia differs from Wikipedia. One of the 16 listed reasons is: "We do not allow liberal censorship of conservative facts. Wikipedia editors who are far more liberal than the American public frequently censor factual information. Conservapedia does not censor any facts that comport with the basic rules." This is laughable, since Conservapedia not only allows but encourages conservative censorship of liberal facts, though I suppose they are up-front about it. Also, they treat the Bible and biblical scholars as a source of "facts" and conveniently ignore scientists whose findings don't agree with their agenda.

Do I want my kids perusing Wikipedia? To be honest, no. There are indeed explicit and disturbing pictures on some pages, as well as explicit descriptions of things that an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old really do not need to have described to them. However, Conservapedia, while family-friendly, presents opinions as facts, and tries to spin homophobia, general intolerance, and anything that disagrees with their beliefs (however misguided) as "faith". Faith has as much to do with hating gay people as Islam has to do with murdering Americans. A few extremist crackpots ruin it for the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims, and similarly, the people who created this site are simply Christian extremists teaching hate and masquerading it as faith. I won't let my kids anywhere near this site until they are old enough to be able to distinguish facts from bullshit presented as facts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Green Tea

Another example of how trying to do your part to save the environment doesn't seem to help.

A week or two ago, Gail bought one of those new Tim Horton's reusable mugs. She figured that she gets at least one (decaf) tea a day when she goes to work, so this would cut down on cups that get thrown away. Sure they get recycled and not just thrown away, but reducing and reusing are still preferred over recycling. Plus Tim's charges 10 cents less for the tea when you put it in one of these mugs.

When she stopped at Tim Horton's this morning for her morning tea, she watched what the (attendant? waitress? I refuse to use the idiotic made-up term "barista") lady was doing. First, she misunderstood the order, so she made a decaf coffee rather than tea. The thing is, she made it in a paper cup, then poured it into the reusable mug, then threw the cup away. When Gail told her that it was supposed to be decaf tea, she apologized, poured the coffee out, and made the tea in another paper cup. Then she poured the tea into the reusable mug and threw the second cup away. Even if we ignore the ordering mistake (which could have been avoided if Tim Horton's were to use my brilliant idea), she's using a paper cup, which completely defeats the purpose of having the reusable mug in the first place. When Gail asked about this, she explained that she's not allowed to put the spoon she uses to stir the tea into the reusable mug, so she mixes the tea, milk, and sugar in a paper cup, then pours it all into the reusable mug once it's mixed. (I would think that using a disposable wooden stir stick to stir the tea in the reusable mug would be less waste than the cup.) I understand the logic, but if that's the case, why bother introducing the reusable mugs at all? I suppose if you don't take anything in your coffee or tea, then there's no need for stirring and no extra cups would be used. But what percentage of Tim's customers don't take any milk or sugar? Just listening to people ahead of me in lines, it seems to me that "double-double" is by far the most popular order.

I also get a tea on my way to work almost every morning, so I was considering getting a reusable mug too. When I heard Gail's story, my first thought was that I shouldn't bother, since a cup is getting thrown away for each tea I buy anyway. Then I remembered that I always ask for a second cup, since the tea is too hot for me to hold when I get it, and the second cup insulates it. If I get the reusable mug, it's insulated anyway, so only one cup gets thrown away instead of two. There. That should put an end to this global warming stuff once and for all. You're welcome.

iPod Meme

iTunes Survey copied from cahwyguy:

How many total songs?
6919 songs, 20.9 days, 41.79GB

Sort by song title - first and last
First: A by Barenaked Ladies
Last: 99% Of Us Is Failure by Matthew Good

Sort by time - shortest and longest
Shortest: You to Me (0:04) by Bystander (entire lyrics: "Everybody says '<bleep> you' to me" — the <bleep> is an actual bleep in the song)
Longest: Octavarium (24:00) by Dream Theater (second longest is "A Change of Seasons" (23:08), also by Dream Theater)

Sort by Album - first and last
First: "Abacab" by Genesis
Last: "90125" by Yes

Sort by Artist - first and last
First: AC/DC
Last: 54-40

Sort by Album Artist - first and last
I'm not sure what this means - why is "album artist" different from "artist"?

Top five played songs:
The top song is In Between by Linkin Park with 4, and then the next 20 (the rest of Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight album, all of Saga's debut album, and a Robben Ford song I was trying to learn on guitar) are all tied at 3. Not a very useful stat thus far. Ask me again in a couple of years.

Find the following words. How many songs show up?
Sex: 6
Death: 4
Love: 239
You: 535
Home: 42
Boy: 34
Girl: 60

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle
1. Extra Pale by Goo Goo Dolls
2. 5 Days in May [Live] by Blue Rodeo
3. Naked Sunday by Stone Temple Pilots
4. The Journey by Joe Satriani
5. The Master & Margarita by The Tea Party

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?

We went to see We Will Rock You in Toronto again last night. Gail and I saw it back in August, and we loved it, and since my dad's 70th birthday is coming up, we decide to take my parents and my sister to see it. They all loved it, as did we, although the crowd didn't seem to get into it as much this time as the first time. The guy singing the lead role ("Galileo Figaro") was the usual guy, and he was very good, but when we saw it in August, the guy playing Galileo was not even the understudy, he was the second understudy, and he was simply amazing. He had easily as strong a voice as the regular lead, and I found his speaking easier to understand, since he didn't have the slight French accent that the regular lead does. The female lead, Scaramouche, was played by a Toronto girl named Erica Peck in her professional stage debut. The fact that it's her debut is unbelievable to me, since she was simply outstanding. Her acting was great, her singing voice is incredible, and she just looked really comfortable on stage. The entire cast was really good, but Scaramouche was my favourite character, and Gail's too.

While looking through the program before the show started, I noticed a vaguely familiar name in the band — the drummer was a guy named Sean Kilbride, and it took me a few seconds to place the name. He was the drummer for Haywire, a PEI-based pop-rock band in the 80's that I was a fan of. This is the second time I've noticed something like that at a musical theatre performance — when we went to see The Lion King a few years ago, I found that the musical director was a guy named Rob Preuss, who was the keyboardist for both Spoons and Honeymoon Suite back in the 80's.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Slate quotes little ol' me

I just found out that a blog entry I wrote last year about circumcision was quoted in an article on Slate magazine:

At Cut the Chatter, anti-snip Graeme Perrow retracts some of his criticism of the practice in light of these findings. "These results are certainly interesting, and if I lived in sub-Saharan Africa, I would have to seriously reconsider having it done to my kids. However, incidence of HIV among heterosexual non-drug-using men is far lower here than it is there. … I must take back my (implicit) assertion that it's pointless and has no benefits."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Leafs, books, quirks, and Adam's fall

A few scattered things...

In the past couple of years, I've actually hoped that the Leafs wouldn't make the playoffs, so that this would send a clear signal to the Leafs' management that serious changes needed to be made, not just little tweaks here and there. They've missed the playoffs two years running now, but nothing really significant has been done, so this year, I'm hoping the Leafs miss the playoffs again so that management is replaced. Ferguson has done a lousy job of building this team, so he needs to be sent packing. I'm hoping that Tannenbaum et al have noticed the dramatic changes in the Raptors after they went out and got Bryan Colangelo (last year's NBA Executive of the Year); maybe that will force them to rethink the Leafs' situation. Rather than just getting some guy to run the Leafs, they need to go out and get the guy — someone with a proven track record who is not afraid to blow the team up and rebuild. I have no idea who the guy is (would Lou Lamoriello ever leave New Jersey?), but Ferguson just ain't getting the job done.

Wil Wheaton has a new book out called "The Happiest Days of our Lives", which is a collection of some of his best blog entries, and talking about the best blog entries on Wil's blog is really saying something. I ordered the book a few weeks ago, and shortly after, Wil (I call him "Wil" like he's a friend of mine) complained that the Canadian orders had to be processed by hand, and he was doing it himself (Monolith Press, who's publishing the book, is Wil's own publishing company). Lo and behold, my book arrived last week, and the envelope had a customs sticker on it signed by Wil himself. It's not an autographed book, but pretty close...

When I first got my iPod, I spent a month putting all my music on it, and as an afterthought, I subscribed to a couple of podcasts. Since then, I've found that my main use for the iPod is listening to these podcasts on my way to and from work every day. I don't know how I'd manage this if I didn't have a 45-minute-each-way commute. Since you asked (lookin' at you, CaHwyGuy), here are my podcasts:

  • Prime Time Sports, the FAN 590's afternoon show with the legendary Bob McCown, recently voted North American sports radio's "Air Talent of the Year".
  • Bob McKenzie - the TSN hockey analyst's five-minute podcast, once or twice a week.
  • Quirks and Quarks - CBC's science show, which has been around since the mid-70's (though not in podcast form).
  • Scientific American's 60-Second Science - a daily 60-second science report, usually a brief summary of a recent scientific discovery.
  • This Week in Tech (TWiT) - a discussion of recent news in the world of technology.

I have also downloaded, listened to, and enjoyed a couple of audiobooks from So far, I have only listened to audiobooks from guys named Stephen: Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" and Colbert's "I Am America (And So Can You)". Just the title of that second one is enough to make me giggle, and the rest of the book is also very funny; I literally laughed out loud on numerous occasions while listening to it.

I found this on Boing Boing, and could not stop laughing. Author John Scalzi has written a review of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which is a museum that promotes "young Earth" creationism, i.e. the Bible is literally true, and the Earth was created in 6 24-hour days about 6000 years ago. The other things that these young Earth creationists also believe are mind-boggling:

  • dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans, possibly as late as when the Egyptians were building the pyramids
  • there was nothing bad in the world until Adam ate that damned apple — there was no disease, no pain, every animal was a vegetarian, snake's venom was harmless, and there were no weeds. Yes, there's a sign in the museum specifically talking about weeds, and how they didn't exist before "Adam's fall". (They didn't explain why a vegetarian T. Rex would have had such huge teeth and claws — maybe they quickly grew after Adam's fall turned this gentle giant into a vicious carnivore.) Man, you make one mistake, and everyone pays for it for the rest of eternity. God may be merciful and kind, but don't piss Him off.
  • Cain's wife was also his sister. This must have been true, since Adam and Eve were the only other people around, so it's not like he could have married someone from next door. However, before Adam ate the apple, incest was OK and wouldn't cause genetic problems. Ew.

The whole creationist thing seems to come from the dizzying logic that "the Bible must be true because it's the word of God. How do we know it's the word of God? It says so in the Bible." It's best explained by this.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

And so it begins.

I put the cover on the air conditioner on Sunday. The leaves are all raked up, mostly. I've had to scrape the windshield of my car a few times already. The kids have been wearing hats to school for a week. We all wore hats and mitts at the pumpkin patch just before Halloween. I will be putting the bikes and summer toys in the shed or basement over the next week or so, so that I can get the car in the garage. And summer's coup de grâce, It was snowing a little bit this morning as I got to work. Winter is coming.

Bring it on.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Eric Clapton vs. Elton John

Here are ten reasons why the guitar is a more difficult instrument to play than the piano:

  1. Once you tune a piano, it's tuned, and can stay in tune for years. A guitar that's perfectly in tune at the beginning of a song can be out of tune halfway through that song. Plus, the piano is always tuned the same way. The key that plays a C note on one piano will always play a C note on any other piano. Guitars can be tuned in any number of different configurations — the open top string is usually E, but it might be D, or F, or something else; it depends on the tuning.
  2. On the piano, the right hand and left hand are doing essentially the same thing. They play different notes and such, but basically the same thing. On the guitar, the left hand is fretting notes while the right hand is picking or strumming them. Fundamentally different actions.
  3. A chord on a piano is usually three notes, sometimes four. On a guitar, you frequently have to play six-note chords with only four fingers (the thumb on the fret hand is almost never used).
  4. On the piano, there is one set of keys in strictly ascending order. You always know whether one note is higher or lower than another based on whether it's to the left or right of the other note. On the guitar, there are essentially six different sets of notes which overlap. Is the 3rd string, 6th fret higher or lower than the fourth string, 12th fret? Answer: lower, but unless you play the guitar or have one in front of you, it's not obvious.
  5. Unless you press the sustain pedal on the piano, as soon as you remove your finger from the key, the note stops. On the guitar, you can remove your hands entirely and the open strings will ring unless you deaden them.
  6. If someone has never played a piano in their life, you can teach them a C major scale in about 10 seconds: Black keys are grouped in either 2 or 3. Look for the 2 black keys together, and the white key immediately to the left of that is C. Hit that key, then each white key next to it (to the right) until you get to the next C. That's it. Teach someone that, and if they find themselves at a piano a month later, they could probably repeat it. On the guitar, it would be 2nd string from the top, 4th fret, then 2nd string 6th fret, then 3rd string 3rd fret, 3rd string 4th fret, 3rd string 6th fret, 4th string 3rd fret, 4th string 5th fret, and 4th string 6th fret. Or instead of 3rd string 3rd fret, you could do 2nd string 8th fret. Or numerous other ways. I've been playing guitar for 20 years and I had to do little air-guitar fretting motions in order to figure out how write it down here. Someone who had never played a guitar before would have no chance of remembering the notes a month later. (On the other hand, playing a C-sharp major scale on the guitar is easy once you know the C major - just move everything up one fret. On the piano, I'd have to think for a minute to figure it out.)
  7. If you don't play the guitar often, playing for more than a couple of minutes causes the tips of your fingers to hurt. Piano — no pain.
  8. You've got grands, baby grands, uprights, and other types of pianos, and they all look different, but excluding quality differences, they play pretty much the same way. Playing an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar are very different. 6-strings and 12-strings are also very different.
  9. With a piano, you play a note or you don't, though you can play it louder or softer. Same with a guitar, but you can also play the note and then bend it, or hit the note below and bend up, or hit the note and slide up or down, or hit the note above and slide down, or hit the note below and slide up. You can bend strings behind the nut in some cases, and if you have a tremolo bar (aka whammy bar) or a slide, you have even more options. Plus there are natural and artificial harmonics, which are impossible on a piano.
  10. The location of a note in relation to position of the black keys tells you immediately what note it is. I haven't taken a piano lesson in over 25 years, and I can't read music anymore, but if you asked me to fine a G on a piano keyboard, I could find it right away. On a guitar, you just have to know, or remember the notes that the open strings play and figure it out from there.

Note to piano players — don't get all bent out of shape. This list was made tongue-in-cheek.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Am I a music thief, or not?

I understand the idea about why music sharing is wrong. If I want to listen to a CD as much as I want whenever I want, I should have to buy it, and the artist and record company should get some financial benefit from that. If my buddy buys a CD and I rip it, then both of us are listening to it as much as we want whenever we want, then the record company has only received payment for one CD. When I rip it, the record company and artist each lose some potential income so in a sense, I've stolen it. I get that.

Recently, I went to the local library and borrowed a CD by Liquid Tension Experiment. I listened to it for a while, and then returned it. Since then, every time I've been to the library and I look on the CD shelves, the one I borrowed is there on the shelf. In theory, every one of those times I could have borrowed the CD for another two weeks. I live in a small town, so the odds are high that I can get this album pretty much any time. I called the library (holy crap, look at me doing research for a blog entry!) and asked them if I was allowed to borrow a CD as many times as I want, and they said that as long as I return the CD to the library now and again (I can renew it without returning it, but only twice), there is no limit. This means that I can listen to this CD pretty much as much as I want whenever I want, and it's perfectly legal, even though I didn't pay to borrow it, the library doesn't pay anyone each time I borrow it, and I didn't pay to get the library card in the first place.

Here's the kicker — when I borrowed the CD, I ripped it to MP3s. It's now on my iPod. This means that I can still listen to it as much as I want whenever I want, just I could before, but I don't have the inconvenience of having to go to the library to get it out or return it. The record company is still not getting any money, nor is the artist, but they wouldn't have anyway. Was ripping this CD wrong, and if so, why? Who loses when I do this?