Monday, May 30, 2011

Nerd Test, Question 1

When you read an article about police subduing a sword-wielding man in downtown Vancouver, is the first thing you wonder:
          a) Was anyone seriously hurt?
          b) Did the police use excessive force?
          c) Where the hell is Vancouver?
          d) What kind of sword was it?

If you answered D, you could be a nerd. Further testing may be required to confirm this diagnosis.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Crossing guards

On TV and movies, school crossing guards are always adults, usually some semi-retired guy that holds up a stop-sign-on-a-stick to halt traffic and allow the wee ones to safely get to a new curb. I’ve never experienced this phenomenon myself. When I went to school crossing guards were kids, usually grade 5. Those little volunteers are still out there (well, new ones, obviously the original ones have long grown up) helping a new generation of chickens cross the road.
As a kid, I hated the little tyrants. How dare they tell me when to cross! I know when to cross. Look both ways, check for cars and passing tractors, then cross. It’s not that hard. The resentment grew particularly strong once I hit grade 6 and was older than the guards. They’re kids! Am I supposed to listen to someone a whole year younger than me? It goes against all the rules of the schoolyard. A complete disregard of the eternal childhood pecking order in which any kid is allowed to torment, tease, bully and generally be evil to any other child even a single grade younger. Size was irrelevant. Your grade was everything. So it was particularly galling to have these punks dictate my street-crossing schedule to me. Tiny little fascists in training, I remember thinking.
Then time does its usual trick and you get older. As with so many things, my perception of crossing guards changed. Now I think they’re adorable. The ones at my son’s school are exceptionally well-trained. It’s like watching a miniature para-military operation in action, and it amuses me every time.
Four little soldiers march out with flags and orange vests. Establishing their beachhead is the tricky part, where they must rely entirely on the actual cross-walk signal to flash and stop cars. They make sure all vehicles have come to a full and complete stop before they begin their advance. With bold strides they move out into unknown territory, crossing in single file, waving their flags in a waist-high figure-eight pattern. A soldier takes his/her position on the curb, two on the median, one on either side of the street. It is those two isolated warriors that are the most vulnerable: they have no one to talk with or consult and must take all clues on how to proceed from the median guards.
A child wants to cross. The outlying guard bellows “KID!” The cry is echoed by his compatriots. In the centre, on the median, the guards place their hands over the cross-walk signal buttons, but DO NOT YET PRESS. Instead they begin to reconnoiter. A pair of eyes are glued to each side of the street, watching for oncoming traffic. When one side has achieved a sufficient gap that would allow for safe deployment, that soldier begins the call: “YES!” Then his partner shouts back either affirmation or denial until both agree that all is clear. They have an excellent rhythm and volume while doing this. Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes, YES! Cross-walk buttons are pushed. Lights flash.
Flags waving, each takes three steps onto the road. They face oncoming traffic, legs slightly spread, arms wide, willing two-ton machines of death to a halt by sheer bravado. Children cross, sheltered in the orange vests of their guardians.
When the first bell rings, a scout is sent to see if more children are approaching around the nearest corner. If there are, the soldiers wait. If there aren’t, the soldiers begin their retrograde action (a retreat, to a civilian). When the last kid has crossed, their captain yells “Coming in with this!” Each guard repeats the mantra to ensure they all heard the order. Then they return in single file to safety, flags waving, mission accomplished. No casualties, no man left behind.
While my language of description might be a little florid, I have accurately described the near-military precision of the process. It’s really quite a sight. For those who haven’t had the privilege to witness the procedure, take some time out to do so.
A little advice? Watch once or twice. Don’t come every day. Adults watching kids that aren’t their own gets a little creepy after a while.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wild accusations still stick

I debated about making this post because I did not want to promote the website that will be under discussion. Then I realized that as it receives something in the neighbourhood of Canada’s total population in hits every two months, the impact my three readers have (even if they become rampant fans) will be pretty negligible. That’s the site. If you’re thinking it’s about porn, your mind follows the same path mine did. However, it isn’t “dirty deeds” but “dirty secrets.” It’s a gossip site. Not just generic, mostly harmless whispers that people exchange at an office, but nasty, cruel, vicious stuff. Basically you are allowed to post anything you want. At all. Complete with swears, details, and, most critically, names. All of your posts are anonymous.
There is no fact-checking. No effort at all to confirm if any of this stuff is true or false. If the site were in Canada, the host could be held liable for the libels. In America, the host isn’t. A Canadian citizen accused on the site has zero legal recourse to escape. Should you discover your name is up on the site, you have absolutely no way to have it removed. Anyone is free to claim anything about anyone they choose. Accuse them of crimes. Lies. Cheating. Personal attacks. It’s all allowed, in fact, encouraged.
The “gentleman” behind the whole deal goes by the name of Nick Richie, but that’s not his legal name. He believes his site is “helpful” and a very useful tool to hold people accountable for their actions. I would support the argument if he didn’t let people post in cowardly anonymity.
I am all for free speech. Even though I am regularly irritated/infuriated by what someone else says, I don’t want to take away their right to do it. Informed free speech would be even better, but you can’t really have both. If some third party can vet what you’re going to say because you’re too ignorant, it isn’t really “free.” What I don’t support is hidden speech. If you’re going to make some outrageous claims, have the stones to step forward and identify yourself. We don’t live in a nation where you’re likely to get shot for saying something unpopular (not everyone has that wonderful gift, I will grant you).
It is part of the legal process that you have the right to face your accuser. All of those people hurling slurs should at least be compelled to show themselves. Anything that allows a consistent and recurring ability to hide from your own stupidity inevitably generates a vicious cycle of vitriol and venom. Richie’s website is a classic example. It’s very popularity saddens and dismays me, as it should anyone with a sense of decency.
There. Let’s see him survive the staggering power my blog wields. (Is there an emoticon for sarcasm?)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Good, better, best

Back in my corporate days the company “offered” (ie, do it or you’re fired) a profiling test to its managers. After answering questions for a couple of hours, it spit out results that rated you according to key corporate attributes. These differ greatly from your standard “nerd package” of attributes, which usually include variants on Strength, Dexterity and Charisma. Instead, we were assigned a percentage that scored things like Team Leadership, Time Management, and Consensus-building. Like any test, all it really did was rate how good a person was at taking tests. Anyway, whatever your lowest score ended up being, that was where you were supposed to focus your “professional development” energies for the next quarter.
(If reading stuff like “professional development energies” and “consensus-building” don’t give you a case of the cold shivers, you should doubt your sanity.)
My lowest score was Decisiveness. At the time I scoffed. What did that test know, anyway? I can make a decision. But as time has passed, I have begun to see that maybe the All-Knowing Computer had it right. Maybe it was fluke, or maybe the test results have just made me examine my own definition of decisiveness a little more than previously. Regardless, the issue that has really convinced me is doing edits and re-writes.
A novel is completed. I am happy with it. It sits in my virtual shelf for a while. I go back and reread it and discover that a thousand changes “need” to be made. Then the next day I change a passage I just played with the day before, only I change it back to its original text. My definition of perfect is based on factors I don’t even understand. Phases of the moon, brightness of the sun, what I had for breakfast, music I’m listening to, whether I hear a lawn mower or not... who knows what manipulates me into thinking version A is awesome on Monday, but version B is way better on Tuesday.
Sometimes there is an empirical “better.” Most times there is not. It is why I find first drafts so much fun and re-writes so agonizing. If it were just a matter of going through 130 thousand words and picking the best ones for the story, it wouldn’t be great, but it would be achievable. Instead, though, it’s picking ones that are “better” and then changing your mind about what constitutes “better.”
A wise fellow said “A book is never done, only put aside.” How true, how true.
Now back to re-writes. Tell me, is “crimson” or “scarlet” a better word?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To protect and revive

Humans do a lot of weird things. One of the strangest, though, is the way we elevate a select number of our global tribe to near god-like status. What began this train of thought today is Queen Elizabeth’s II’s visit to Ireland. This is an historic event. Irish/British relations have been turbulent, to say the least, as you well know if you have watched the news or even movies over the last several decades. (The Irish should be happy they don’t have huge repositories of oil, or they would have been invaded en masse a long time ago, but that’s a topic for another post.)
However, the Queen is not just wandering the streets by herself, giving her trademark wave to the adoring crowds. No, she’s got an armour-plated car and 8000 bodyguards, fully a third of Ireland’s police force, to make sure she doesn’t take a pipe-bomb to the head. In fact, they’ve already found and disarmed one such explosive device.
To be fair, there are people cheering. But clearly not all of them.
Look at all the resources and manpower spent to make sure certain people aren’t killed by other people. The Queen of England is one example. Certainly the Pope springs to mind, what with his famous “Pope-mobile.” And I dare you - I just dare you - to make any sudden moves around an American president. You’d be at the bottom of a Secret Service dog-pile before you’d even feel your coccyx break.
How many assassination attempts are prevented by these overwhelming security efforts? Maybe a lot, maybe very few. It certainly isn’t the kind of statistic readily available to a stay-at-home Manitoba dad (if Wikileaks has any information about this, drop me a line, will you?). What I really wonder is how much of the necessity of providing protection for our cherished demi-gods is self-fulfilling prophecy? I am suggesting that maybe these people need ridiculous security because they have ridiculous security. A lot of effort goes into making sure they are safe and there is a certain percentage of humans that are perversely attracted to a challenge. If it must be hard or even impossible, it must be worth trying. For the minority of these folks who have a screw loose, it must be an irresistible tease to see someone standing behind a wall of black-suits with mirrorshades.
Bodyguards and security have been a part of being “important” since human history began. Probably the first tribal chief had a loyal thug at his side with the very best club the village could supply. But U.S. presidents used to walk around like normal people, maybe even popping in to their neighbourhood drinking hole for a quick drink. I know the Pope didn’t have a bulletproof bubble to live in during the time of the Crusades.
We may live in a more dangerous world than ever before. Certainly the media and special interest groups want us to think that way. I don’t buy it, though. If we stopped treating the precious few as though their lives were a billion times more important than normal, we might find that they didn’t require as much protecting as we think. Besides, the important part is preventing successful assassination, not just the attempt. Remember how much Reagan’s popularity soared after that gunman put a pill in him?
To be loved, clearly competent medical staff is more important than Secret Service. Imagine the Catholic conversions if the Pope were “miraculously healed” after being wounded. The spin doctors are really missing a beat here, I think.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In the Kitchen Part 2

Hamburgers don’t have ham in them, but they should.
I made burger patties the other week for a little barbecue. You know, during the two days of sunshine we’ve managed to have this spring? Instead of ground beef, I used lean ground pork. An egg, a few bread crumbs, a dash of seasoning, and we ended up with some seriously awesome burgers.
Not only were these “hamburgers” now more accurately named, they were tender, flavourful and moist. They retained these qualities even days later when reheated in the microwave as leftovers. The pork burgers were easier to barbecue, too: no flare-ups on the grill that often left my beef burgers scorched and “Cajun-style,” if you will. Carcinogens are bad for you, after all.
So, to sum up: pork burgers delicious, tender, and easier to cook. Beef burgers tough, burned, and not as tasty. The clear winner, once again, is the pig.
Pigs give us organs for transplanting, donated blood, a convenient analogy for communists in Orwellian literature, human body analogs for criminal sciences, bacon, and now this. Is there anything this magical animal can’t do?

In the Kitchen Part 1

I have been bequeathed a great gift. Grandma gave me her recipe for Päpänät!
Will anyone know what that means? Of course not. It’s a Low German word, so even German nationals probably won’t understand it. Growing up I thought “Low German” just meant “low-class German,” but it doesn’t. Low German is entirely different. Very few of the words carry from one language to the other. Take “Päpa” for example. It means “pepper” in Low German. In German it means nothing, or “dad” without the little dots over the A.
This isn’t news to me today, but it was quite the revelation when I finally moved out of Mennonite-land and into the rest of the world. (Remember, this was before the internet and the global village, so if you didn’t know something, you often remained ignorant.)
Anyway, Päpänät translates into “peppernuts.” It was the best thing my grandma ever made, and she made a lot of good stuff. Being Mennonite, though, she also made some things that made me cringe, but that’s not what today is about. No, today's a celebration of a tasty treat, which I will hereafter refer to as “peppernuts” because typing those A’s with the dots is a pain in the butt.
To make peppernuts, you chuck a bunch of stuff into a mixer:
5 cups Roger’s Golden Syrup (if it sounds like a lot, it is)
1 cup white sugar
1/4 pound butter
1/4 pound lard (it isn’t Mennonite cooking without at least a little lard, believe me)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom
3 eggs
That’s what the recipe said. “Flour.” Grandma was unable to be more specific. She just knows what the dough should look like. It took some experimentation to discover that it takes 12 cups of flour.
Then you take the dough and leave it in the fridge for at least 14 days, but not more than 20. What mysterious chemical reaction happens during that time? I have no idea. It didn’t rise or change colour or do anything particularly noticeable. But Grandma said “Do it,” so I did. Then you roll out the dough, cut it into small rectangles and arrange them in a pleasing pattern on a baking sheet. Don’t leave any space between the rectangles. Throw it into a 350 degree oven and bake for about twenty-five minutes, depending on your oven.
This recipe was huge. Enormous. The dough filled an ice cream pail. My freezer is full of peppernuts. In future I will be making a smaller version. But the end result was more than moderately successful. For the first time in my life, I have my own supply of peppernuts. No longer will I have to curry favour with Grandma just to get a taste of the good stuff. Did my Grandma realize she was a peppernuts dealer?

Peppernuts. The first one’s free.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Swedish prostate study

Great news for men has come out of Sweden recently. A twenty-year study has concluded that prostate screening does not - I repeat, NOT - significantly reduce death rates.
Sure, a glass-is-half-empty kind of person might read that and be depressed. If screening doesn’t help, what hope is there? Are we all destined to live in fear of sudden and deadly prostate troubles attacking us? Well, perhaps.
But the real point, the optimistic view, if you will, is that if prostate screenings aren’t particularly helpful in terms of saving your life, we don’t need to undergo the procedure. Yay for us! That yearly “gift” you were expecting from your doctor beginning around age 40? The one you’ve been dreading and that most guys put off as long as possible anyway? Don’t worry about it! It won’t help, so why suffer through the stress and discomfort?
Obviously there are many example of prostate screenings that have saved lives. The study shows, however, that for every life saved there is another one that develops problems in that dark and shadowy area because of the screenings. They conclude that rather than apply blanket screenings to every ‘Y’ chromosome owner, it would be more productive (both in terms of lives saved and medical costs) to pursue less invasive methods of determining risk potential before leaping for the latex gloves.
I applaud this sentiment. I’m guessing doctors do, too. Is this really something they look forward to in their day? Without getting into graphic details, men aren’t clean creatures, unfortunately. A disturbing number don’t even wash their hands after using the restroom; is it likely they’d be fastidious about cleaning other, less savory and harder to reach places?
It makes a fellow wonder if maybe the doctors have fudged the numbers of the study to get out of an unpleasant chore. I wouldn’t put it past them. These is the same group of people that used to appear in cigarette commercials, after all.
(As a side-note, apparently I have a problem typing “prostate.” By fingers automatically type an extra “r” in there, and the spell-checker doesn’t pick up on “prostrate.” I ended up using the “Find and Replace” feature; there were three of them to correct.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sandbagging 101

Today hundreds of people in Manitoba are frantically filling sandbags by hand while a perfectly good sandbag making machine stands idle nearby.
Maybe I shouldn’t call it “perfectly good.” If it were “perfectly good,” it would be working, saving a crapload of very critical time, time that could be better spent by the volunteers actually stacking those crucial sandbags to protect hearth and home. So why isn’t the machine in operation? It didn’t break down. Nope, nothing so prosaic. The problem is the sand is too wet. The machine won’t work when the sand is wet.
But this is a machine designed to do a single thing: fill sandbags. When do you need sandbags? Unless you’re preparing to repel a Normandy invasion, you need them when it floods. What causes floods? Generally speaking, water. Which makes sand wet. Which means the machine won’t work.
I feel like John Cleese here. I mean, honestly! What good is a machine that sits around day after day and when you actually want it, when you really need it, the bloody thing doesn’t work?
Was this wonder of modern technology field tested in the Sahara? Does it really take a genius to think that there might be wet sand during sandbag filling time? Talk about a useless design. What’s next? An ice-breaker that doesn’t work in the cold? Umbrellas made of sugar? Flammable pots? A lawn mower allergic to grass clippings? Come on, guys, a little thought here, please.
My sympathies go out to the poor people trying like mad to stave off the floodwaters. I cannot imagine just how frustrated I would feel to know that my job could be made infinitely easier by the expensive piece of equipment at my elbow, if only it hadn’t been designed in an isolation booth somewhere by Wile E. Coyote and Acme Industries.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Body spray

Commercials for Axe body spray would have us believe that women will drop from the sky or leap from every cupboard just to be close to us. They are reminiscent of beer commercials, and probably just as accurate (nothing says “I’m lovable” like a cloud of beer fumes, unstable balance and slurred speech). The stuff smells vile to me. I’ve never spoken to anyone that likes the scent, and yet the garbage still seems to sell (somewhat like Celine Dion). Not only do people use body sprays, but when they do, they nearly bathe in the crud, creating a zone of stink detectable anywhere in the same time zone.
So why? Is it purely that no one has the guts to say “You stink,” a sort of olfactory version of the Emperor’s clothes? Or has the predictable marketing effort convinced people they truly like the smell of ozone-in-a-can? I think neither is the answer.
As a kid, I could eat the sweetest, most cloying substance and consider it delightful. “Glass of syrup? Don’t mind if I do!” A bowl of Froot Loops with sugar on top was a wonderful treat, for instance. Now it would send me into complete physical shutdown as my body desperately tried to produce enough insulin to counter the sugar overdose. Sugar sensitivity isn’t the only change. There are frequencies of sounds that become inaudible to humans as they age. Schools have installed noise emitters to ward off young loiterers based on this idea (and apparently they work).
Maybe body sprays are the same kind of thing. If you are a teen or tween, they smell awesome, stupendous, even arousing. Post-25, though, they stink to high heaven. It isn’t a social impulse, but a biological one. The nose changes, just as the ears do, and suddenly you wake up one morning, shower yourself with scent, and realize you need to take another shower because you want to vomit.
It makes you wonder how many other things will be discovered to be inherently different based on biological age. Maybe getting weird things pierced is actually pleasurable if you’re only 18. It could be that having your waistband rest mid-thigh is comforting to a 16-year old. And maybe listening to parental advice is like nails on a chalkboard to youthful ears. Who can say what differences truly exist?
One thing will always be constant, though, no matter how old you get: the tendency to be mockingly superior to all other age groups. I haven't outgrown that yet. Judging by my grandparents, I never will.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Coming right at you!

I detest 3D. Not the normal kind, mind you. I have no problem with the fact that I have depth perception in my day to day life, that some things appear closer than others, or that I am capable to seeing that speeding bus come roaring down towards me without slowing. A 3D world makes sense and is perfectly comfortable.
3D movies are not. First of all, it’s a gimmick. It reminds me of performance art, where you might expect to be shot with a water gun as part of the drama, or suddenly snared in a spotlight when all you wanted was to remain blessedly anonymous in the crowd. 3D movies use technology as a way of overcoming flaws in other areas. Avatar, for all that it won a silly number of awards and made more money than Canada, was a bad movie. Terrible. It was an expensive version of Fern Gully or Dances with Wolves, only much worse. Everyone who went to see it in the theatre said the same thing: “You’ve got to see it on the big screen for the visual effects.” When you took that blockbuster and transferred it to TV, it blew. Without the glitz, you could see that the characters lacked depth, the plot was paper-thin, and the aliens were basically having sex with animals whenever they rode anywhere. 3D was a trick to make the audience’s eyes bug out in awe while the actual movie sucks.
Second, it’s expensive. Costly to shoot, that translates into more money paid at the box office. Sure, it’s only a couple bucks, but it’s still a kick in the junk. Movies are expensive enough. In an age where the movie industry is on the ropes, suffering from piracy, cheap DVD/Blue Ray prices, and kick-ass home entertainment systems is charging us more really the way to go? When I was a kid, “see it on the big screen” was a phrase with real impact. Our TV at home was 25” and the cinema’s was about five hundred feet (well, it seemed that way to a kid). Now people have five-foot wide TVs, surround sound, and comfortable sofas to sit on to boot. I guess 3D is their way of competing, but 3D TVs are already available, so good luck with that, Hollywood.
Third, I hate the glasses. I already wear glasses. Putting on a second pair to watch your silly “oh wow, look what’s coming right at my face” movie is annoying. They don’t fit right, they are awkward, and I have no faith that the last guy that wore them didn’t have head lice, syphilis, mange, and/or weeping sores. Maybe they clean the glasses, maybe they don’t. Either way, ew.
And finally, 3D sucks. This is the one that really gets me. I could probably forgive the rest of it if only they were using better effects. Anyone who has ever played catch knows that a ball coming to your face in real life looks completely different from the 3D they show in the movies. In the movie the ball (or whatever the 3D effect is) looks entirely divorced from its surroundings, as though its been badly Photoshopped in. It’s jarring and obvious, and anything that takes a person out of the movie, even for a second, should be avoided. You don’t read a novel and suddenly hit, “Okay, there’s a good part coming up where you probably won’t want to leave, so maybe you should go and empty your bladder - the scene runs long.” The fourth wall is there for a reason, so quit throwing things through it, 3D!
Sure, you may say that 3D technology will improve. Probably it will. But they had 3D in the 70s, and it looked pretty much the same as it does now. So either no improvements can be made, or they’ve stopped trying because the cattle are all complacently lining up to moo approvingly at how wonderful everything looks when it’s coming right at you. I’ve just stopped going to the 3D crap, no matter how tempting the movie itself looks. I’ll still watch the movies; I’ll just wait for the DVD and watch them at home, where popcorn doesn’t cost a day’s wages, there’s no gum under the seats, and I can pause it whenever I want.
There has been one positive aspect to 3D, though: it is saving me a ton of money on movie tickets.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Repo Games

Repo Games. This is a new “reality” show where burly, terrifying repo men, who have already hoisted up your car to be hauled away, ask the debtor questions for a chance to win their pink slip free and clear. I haven’t seen it and don’t intend to watch it, but nevertheless the promo spots caught my eye. They showed one of the contestants, a badly over-weight woman with leggings, struggling to answer. The question that stumped her? “The kimono is a native garment of what country.” Her befuddled reply? “France. No, wait; that’s a state.”
They didn’t reveal if she managed to solve the Japanese conundrum or not. My suspicion is “not.”
I did feel bad for her. Sure, she agreed to appear on TV, but it was still a showcase of her flaws and a mockery of her problems. Not only was she nowhere close to the societally-demanded standards of physical perfection, she was compelled to display her ignorance in the hopes of maybe winning back her car. It is an adult version of “keep-away,” that sick school-yard game that has been used to torment children since the invention of throwing: you have no choice but to embarrass yourself for the prize because it’s something you value.
You’ll notice I called her “ignorant” and not “stupid.” I have no idea of her level of intelligence. The fact that repo men are coming to your house (trailer, I think, in this case) to claim your vehicle is a sign that you have made some poor choices, but that doesn’t indicate idiocy. The way we’re raised teach us a lot, good or bad, and it is really hard to shrug off that indoctrination. Someone living on the edge of poverty (or below it) as this woman clearly was never did anything dastardly to arrive there. She was probably born there, or close to it, and lacks the knowledge/drive/opportunity to drag herself off to something better, and giving her a chance to win back a car that she can’t afford isn’t the magic bean that will change her life.
In short, the entire show is in extremely poor taste. How far are we willing to humiliate other people just to feel better about ourselves? I’ll confess that I watch “Canada’s Worst Handyman” or “Worst Driver” and think, “Wow, at least I’m not that bad.” But in those cases, we are watching people failing to perform specific skills that they suck at. In Repo Games, it looks like we will be watching people who are failing at life. Obviously there are plenty out there like that; it just doesn’t feel very fair to make them caper for trinkets.
Of course, my empathy could be entirely misplaced. The most eager fans of the entire “humiliate the common man” genre are probably those common men themselves. That still doesn’t make it right, so I will not be tuning in, voting as a one-man boycottl.

Let me know what happens, though, okay? I can always use a good laugh.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I’ve always been a big fan of laser printers. Inkjets seemed so wasteful, and while they were cheap to purchase, the ink cartridges could often cost more than the printer itself. They spewed colour shamelessly and somehow managed to dry out if you didn't use the thing for a few weeks. Plus they just weren’t as cool (lasers, man, lasers!). Now inkjets have gained a competitive edge over my beloved laser printer, one that I suspect laser machines will never be able to surpass.
Inkjets can make organs.
That’s right. With 3-D inkjet technology, actual human organs can be created. Instead of shooting ink, they shoot cells, and presto! A kidney. Or a bladder. Or even a heart.
I am not making this up. They have already created a quarter-size two-chambered heart that spontaneously begins beating. Kidneys? No problem. While they are years from actually implanting organs of that type, they have already used the technology to successfully create and implant simpler organs, such as urethras and bladders. Cells from the patient’s own body are loaded into the inkjet cartridges and an organ is “printed” over a dissolvable frame. The whole thing is put in the patient. After implantation, the cells mature and change inside the body, connecting to nerves and blood vessels naturally. To quote Anthony Atala, one of the scientists researching this technique: “There’s a genetic code within all your cells that drives them to do what they are supposed to do if you place them in the right environment.”
Now, I presume they aren't using your standard Lexmark model, but it’s still pretty impressive. Very science fiction. Very Star Trek replicator. But why stop at organs? Most of us (thankfully) don't  need organ transplants every day. Turn this wonderful discovery into something that can change people's daily lives. Will it really be that long before I trade in my trusted laser printer for an inkjet that can make me a turkey sandwich on toasted rye?
(The Chinese, of course, strongly oppose this technology. Its proliferation would mean an end to their entire power base. See my post on January 24 for more details:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A night of magic

What a night it was. After weeks of wrangling, it all came down to a handful of hours while the ballots were cast, tallied, tabulated, and presented. We all bore witness to many upsets.
Somehow Harper (as one clever wag of my acquaintance dubbed him: one of the lizards from “V”) was granted a majority mandate. This will be interesting on many levels, as he ruled us all like some Old World king, minus the crown, when he had a minority government. What will he do now that he has the House in his iron fist? Still, he deserves to be applauded for his victory (or else he might come and get me).
More surprisingly, the NDP made official opposition status. Good for you Jack! It’s been a long time coming. For both of you that read my blog, you’ll remember that I never thought I would live to see the day. But he convinced Quebec to give him a chance, and it paid off.
The Liberals went down in flames. So did the Bloc. For my entire adult life, the Bloc has been a force in national politics. I am very curious to see how their absence changes things, if at all. And our persistent friends in the Green party finally managed to make it official. It’ll be lonely in the House for Elizabeth May, but I’m sure she’ll make her voice heard.
In an evening of thrills and spills, joys and disappointments, there was one thing that stood out among it all. By far the most disturbing and harrowing scene of the night, it haunted me every time it showed its ugly head. For those who watched The National, you already know what I’m about to say.
Whenever they displayed party standings, they showed us pictures of the party leaders in little rectangular borders. Instead of still shots, though, the leaders were moving. They had filmed each one smiling and blinking and shifting for maybe fifteen seconds, and then endlessly looped the footage. It was creepy, like some ersatz-life had been given to these tiny little playing card homunculi. If you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, it was exactly like the paintings in Hogwarts, the ones that move and chat and annoy. Definitely an odd choice, and one I hope they do not repeat in five years.
Ironically, the playing card Harper looked more alive than the actual one. Go figure.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tinfoil Hat Brigade triumphs!

After nearly a decade of haunting American minds, bin Laden is finally dead. There can be no doubt that this is a great victory, but who truly wins here? Not the American people; it will take only days before another spectre is raised to scare them into complacency and obedience. Not for justice, either; can there ever truly be balanced scales after thousands of people die? And it isn’t the cause of freedom that prevailed, either, for bin Laden is only the most famous of the never-ending string of people that want to impose their tyranny on us all.
There is a group, though, that has gained a clear-cut tally in the old “Win” column: the Tinfoil Hat Brigade.
Forever after the momentous events of May 1, they will be able to march forward in unity, knowing in their hearts that bin Laden lives on and that the Government has lied. They will be ever certain that they are the clever ones that saw through the clever ruse, and the rest of us only gullible patsies waiting to be fed our next meal of deceit. What a triumph! It is a particularly good time for the Brigade, too, because they are also currently able to bask in the glow of successfully revealing the American President to be an illegal immigrant. These are indeed heady days if you wear a tinfoil hat.
The Brigade has enjoyed other victories before, of course, but this one will certainly be a feather in their tinfoil caps. Probably even as we go blindly about our daily lives, bin Laden is enjoying margaritas in Argentina with Hitler, Elvis, Roswell aliens, and JFK. Talk about a party! I almost wish the Government would fake my death, just so I could hang out.
Of course the Government (any government at all, since the time governments were invented) is capable of deceiving its population. There is no moral depths to which they won’t stoop in order to gain a fleeting advantage over their rivals. Take a look at the Weapons of Mass Destruction Fable propagated on us just a few years ago. It is certainly possible to fool some of the people some of the time. What I don’t believe is that the Government is capable of fooling us all forever. This is the age of the global village, the time of the whistle-blower. The moment an event is reported, hordes of Mountain Dew-swilling nerds begin dissecting it to discover discrepancies. When they find one, out comes the text/Facebook/Twitter/internet, and boom, mystery solved. Nothing lasts forever, and that includes lies.
Logic, however, will never sway a Tinfoil Hat Brigadier. Their faith is unassailable. After all, as Jonathan Swift famously said, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”