Waste Of Money

This week the World Health Organization released “shocking” results confirming that, yes Virginia Slims, second hand smoke causes cancer. Really. Not to be too sarcastic, but in the words of Denis Leary: “These things are bad for you?!? …I thought they were good for you! I thought they had Vitamin C in them and stuff!”

What amazes me is that we’re still spending money on this type of research. It’s not like we don’t already know smoking and cancer are linked, the evidence has been piling up since the “Cancer by the Carton” article appeared in Reader’s Digest fifty years ago. People are starving halfway around the world, and we’re spending money dissecting the implications of smoking with such forensic detail that had the same been done with the invention of fire, we’d only just have wrapped up the research necessary to safely conclude that it was hot and burned things. Haven’t we got other, more important, things to spend money on?

Of course, as I say this most of the world is mobilizing the most advanced communications technology for the purpose intently watching twenty-two men kick a ball around a field, or some guy put a small ball in a hole. Sports. It’s always about men and their balls, and money is no object.

And it’s not like governments are faring any better. Just this week the US House of Representatives approved H. Res. 269, which states:

“That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged.”

Sure, the US Government can’t come up with a way to reduce pollution, but there’s plenty of time to spend taxpayers’ money to debate a bill to recognize Meucci, despite the fact that doing so has very little impact on the world at large.

Every day it becomes a little more apparent that mankind is doomed to destroy itself because we’re too stupid/under motivated to actually get off our asses and do anything about it. That said, it’s time to go home and do nothing all weekend.

Repent Sinner!

For about the last year or so, I’ve seen a recurring message around Vancouver wherever I look. It’s been on bus shelters, on pieces of paper strewn throughout the city, even on duct tape stuck to walls and billboards. The form of the message is always the same, written in the same familiar cursive handwriting, one half of the message in red Jiffy marker, the other half in black Jiffy marker.

The message is simple:

Repent Sinner

Is it some kind of art project? In some ways the message reminds me of the Obey Giant guerilla art phenomenon started by Shepard Fairey. But there seems to be some deeper meaning to this message than just an experiment in pop art or counter-counter media. The word on the street is that the message is distributed by a (supposedly crazy) elderly homeless man, though part of me wonders if that’s a cover story. It might just be some religious nut on a mission. After all, there’s enough of them around Vancouver.

Take the Friday-night Granville Street preachers, for example. Every time we visited Vancouver for a summer vacation, we’d inevitably go out to see a movie on Granville Street. It’d be a Friday night, and just like the wallpaper in the Capitol 6 Cinema bathroom (silver with sillouettes of classic film stars), the entertainment on the opposite side of the street never changed. Fours geezers, three guitars, two bibles, and The Truth. Handing out pamphlets and singing hymns, these guys were earning their way into Heaven the hard way (unlike some other people in the Catholic church we could name).

Could the “repent sinner” messages be another face of the same group? Some kind of subliminal depth charge hidden in a sea of media noise waiting for its next victim? That has to be it…it’s a meme, a contagious idea that only exists in the minds of those exposed to it, waiting to be spread.

Congratulations. You’ve just been infected.

Fun In The Sun

It’s a rare occasion in Vancouver for the sun to shine on a weekend, the fickle visitor preferring to taunt the inhabitants of Lotus Land on Thursday before departing for an early weekend sometime around lunch on Friday. However, the unprecedented sunshine of the last two weekends was enough to drag even a photophobic nerd like myself to seek a source of Vitamin D other than my CRT. So, what to do in the sun?

Aaahhh! We're gonna die and this raft will be our casket!Well, how about some rafting? We spent the weekend before last on a getaway with Ashley’s employer, Resort Reservations, up at Whistler enjoying a day out with Whistler River Adventures. We took a nice “trip” down the Birkenhead Rver near Pemberton, paddling like fanatics and pretending to control our destiny. And then back to the ranch for barbeque. Mmm…barbeque.

The only bummer part of our weekend in Whistler was the Blackcomb Lodge. Though the accommodations themselves were nice, their location in the heart of Whistler Village was, well, unsuitable. We were located on the “noisy” side, directly across from one of the restaurants…it was so noisy, I thought the cleaners had left the window open in our room. Alas, no.

Note to self: never stay at Blackcomb Lodge again.

After recuperating at work all week, we headed out to C-Fest, a beginner’s Ultimate tournament, with our fearless team leader Evan. Though we’d never played Ultimate before, except for the two practices we had beforehand, we did pretty well, had a lot of fun and, most importantly, didn’t do ourselves any irreparable serious injury. Well, most of us anyway. Ashley pulled a groin muscle and I’m currently walking like an old man because my ankles are sore, but other than that nothing major.

Next weekend is Farshad‘s boat party. So much for a quiet summer spent sleeping. Oh well.

Déjà Déjà Vu

Nothing pisses me off like a rip-off artist. Waitaminute, haven’t I said this before?

Why yes I have.

This is second time I’ve found some blatant rip-off artist while perusing my server’s logs. I’m the first to admit that I have a nice site, but a web site is a form of personal expression.

What does it say about you when you dress yourself up in another person’s web site?

It says you’re a jackass, that’s what it says.

These are the kind of vacuous bubbleheads that dress up in clothes with huge brand name logos plastered all over them. Psst! Guess what? You’re not fooling anyone! Nobody thinks you’re a completely different person just because you changed your packaging. People can always strip away the wrapping, discarding the superficial exterior to get at the truth within. And when they get there, what would you prefer they see? A creative individual with a strong work ethic and original ideas, or some copycat who’s too lazy or uncreative to even create their own web site?

I think the choice is clear. Let’s just hope I don’t have to revisit this issue yet again.

Past, Present and Future

Over the weekend I finished reading The Light of Other Days, a sci-fi collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. The novel takes place in the near future, where a power-hungry media mogul develops a technology that allows him to use a wormhole to view any location on Earth. As if that isn’t enough, the technology soon proves to be capable of not only viewing across space, but backwards in time as well. This discovery unleashes widespread changes as society struggles to come to grips with the loss of privacy and the discovery of the true horror of mankind’s past.

I found the subject matter intriguing, especially when the media mogul’s scientists discover the technology’s ability to view the past. At that point, he recognizes that there are probably many people watching him from the future using the exact same technology that he has just discovered. Makes you wonder: when you’re alone and you feel like you’re being “watched”, are you just being overly paranoid or extremely perceptive?

For me, I’ve always had this trick of “sending” messages to myself in the past and in the future. When I was either sick or under some severe amount of stress, I tried to ask my future self to assure me things would turn out OK. And when I was well again, I tried to remember to tell my past self that everything turned out OK, and remind myself how good I felt at that moment. Sure, it sounds kind of stupid and I know it doesn’t really work, but it always allowed me to endure the tough times and focus on getting things done.

But who’s to say that there isn’t some future self, even an ancestor, watching me and making sure the message gets through?

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The media industry’s assault on fair use is now entering its final Orwellian chapter with the MPAA‘s latest suggestion to plug the “analog hole” by legislating manufacturers to incorporate watermark detection technology into analog-to-digital converters (ADCs). ADCs are hardware components that convert analog signals (such as the input into a soundcard) into digital signals suitable for storage on digital devices. By requiring devices to refuse to convert analog signals containing a watermark, the media industry would achieve complete control over all digital content and effectively eliminate consumer’s right to fair use of copyrighted material. As pointed out by John Gilmore, the consumer may have the protected right to fair use of copyrighted material but not the technological means to extract and reuse copyrighted material.

This move by the media industry should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. For those who haven’t been paying attention, here’s what you’ve missed:

  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA): Designed to update copyright to address the new challenges posed by digital technology, the DMCA included provisions making it illegal to circumvent copyright protection technology. While this may sound reasonable, opponents of the law note the media industry is using the law to squelch legitimate security research. Front and center, the case of the RIAA versus Dr. Richard Felten, a case that illustrated the law’s deadly double-edge. Most disturbing is the fact that other countries, including Canada, are looking to adopt legislation similar to the DMCA.
  • The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act of 2002 (CBDTA): Introduced as a bill in March by Senator Hollings, the “Senator from Disney”, the CBDTA seeks to force all software and hardware to incorporate copyright control technology. This bill is a re-tooled and re-named version of a previous bill introduced by Hollings, the “Security Systems Standards and Certification Act”. The bill requires manufacturers to create a standard within 18 months of the bill becoming law; if manufacturers fail to agree on a standard, it will be up to the US government to set the standard.

With this latest suggestion, the media industry is illustrating how small changes, each perfectly logical, can result in a society where civil liberties and free will are next to non-existent. What’s to prevent the media industry to seek mandatory implantation of copyright protection mechanisms in humans once the appropriate technology is available? Sure it sounds crazy, but think of the advantages for media industry if every human’s sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight were regulated to squeeze out every last cent of profit from copyrighted material:

  • “Premium” experiences: While you may pay for food or clothes, the implanted technology could be used to prevent you from fully experiencing the taste of your food or the sensation of your clothes. Want that extra experience? It’ll cost you.
  • Don’t whistle while you work: Say you’ve got a cool song in your head, so you decide to whistle it. By doing this you’re reproducing a copyrighted work, so the implanted technology prevents you from doing so without paying a royalty. Even once you pay the royalty, the implants force the sounds you produce to contain an embedded watermark forcing anyone around you to pay a royalty to listen to you. Good-bye impersonations and catch phrases.
  • So much for casual teenage sex: Want to enforce teen abstinence? Install NetNanny software into the implants that prevent the teens from experiencing sex in any way!

Is this stuff far-fetched? Sure, but as pointed out in The Age of Access this culture of paid-for experiences is already exists today, even without the benefit of copyright control technology. If we give companies the tools to commodify our culture, our experiences, our very lives, they will use it. Companies exist for one purpose: to make a profit. And in the war of business, everything is fair game.

Dave Matthews Band

We went and saw Dave Matthews Band at General Motors Place last Friday night. While I’m a fan of the band, the key reason I’m a fan is because they’re a jam band. Unfortunately, there was little jamming to be found at the concert until the last twenty minutes of the encore. Only then did the band reveal the Dave Matthews Band I originally coughed up $50 (plus service charge) to see.

To start with, we had Dave Matthews Fan Club members #2 and #3 located directly in front of us. And when I say directly, I mean directly. These were the variety of rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth fans that insist on standing up during every song, continuously commenting on the various nuances of bootleg copies of live concert recordings of the current song that they’d picked up off the Internet. I couldn’t stand it. One of the guys was six-and-a-half feet tall. I could only partially experience the concert through one of the two gigantic screens that were projecting a live feed of the concert.

Television. I had paid to attend a live concert, only to end up watching it through television.

You’ll notice that I only mentioned Fans #2 and #3. That’s because Fan #1 deserves special recognition. Fan #1 was located directly behind me and to my right, at an ideal position to deliver a mind-splitting whistle at each and every possible inappropriate juncture. Several times. Followed by an annoying hoarse laugh and a “Whoo-hooo!”, to make matters worse. Hell. I was in Hell, and this was how I was going to spend the eternity that was this concert. $50. And what the hell was that service charge for? It should have covered the cost of two burly men to drag away Fans #1, #2, and #3, with enough change left over for a tip.

In a moment of supreme self-control, I politely asked Fans #2 and #3 to take a seat. And after convincing them that, yes, I truly was “into” the Dave Matthews Band, and no, shuffling awkwardly in a standing position did not constitute “getting into it” and was not a fitting tribute to such a truly spectacular band, they sat their asses down. Two down, one to go.

Little did I know that Fan #1 would soon prove his worth, even if only by coincidence. After a quiet opening encore song, Fan #1 displayed heroic effort by insisting on screaming “TWO STEP!” repeatedly at the top his lungs, as if the concert were request night at the local watering hole and the Dave Matthews Band were a second-rate cover band. Amazingly, they played the song, though it was unclear if this was their intention all along or if, like me, they’d grown tired of this bozo and just wanted him to shut up at any cost. The song turned out to be the best of the night.

The rendition of “Two Step” consisted almost entirely of an improvised solo by the session pianist on the tour who, despite a slow start, quickly energized the audience with a jazz-style solo that changed the entire dynamic of the song. While the rest of the concert was well executed, complete with dazzling lighting and incredible camera work by the live TV team, it lacked the passion or spontaneity I had paid to see. In the end, I paid $50 for a single song.

But, in the end, it was all worth it.

And You Are…?

I was walking back from the office this evening, after I decided I needed to upload a file from work so I could continue working on my follow-up to last year’s MP Survey. As I walked down the alley, I spotted a man walking towards me that looked eerily familiar, but not so familiar that I could figure out where I’d seen him before. Then I realized who it was: William Gibson. I didn’t even realize that he still lived in Vancouver, so I was a little surprised. It’s only once I had successfully completed Stage One, recognizing him, that I proceeded directly onto Stage Two: Operation “Make A Complete Ass Out Of Myself.”

Here was my opportunity to ask the author of several highly regarded sci-fi books, such as Neuromancer, Idoru, and The Difference Engine some insightful questions. Of course, that would be somewhat out of character. Instead, the conversation went something like this:

Me: <incredulous>”William Gibson?!??”</incredulous>

Him: <hesitant>”Uh, yes?”</hesitant>

Me: <idiotic>”What are you doing here?”</idiotic>

Him (shaking my hand): <amused>”Well, I just went for dinner with a friend, and now I’m going home.”</amused>

Me: <idiotic>”Oh. I was just uploading some files from work to my home machine and here you are. Well…see ya!”</idiotic>

Him: <confused>”Uh, okay. See ya.”</confused>

I know what you’re thinking: you &%$*’n idiot. Then again, this isn’t the first time I’ve embarrassed myself in front of a first class science-fiction author, so you shouldn’t be that surprised.

Two years ago, I attended a Neal Stephenson reading where he read from Cryptonomicon, his newest book at the time. During the reading, Stephenson revealed that the Electric Till Company in his book was based loosely on IBM. I worked for IBM at the time and so when I went to get my copy signed I flashed my IBM badge and asked when the company could expect residuals. Dumbass. At least I managed to get an autograph that time.

So, long story short: if you’re out there Mr. Gibson, feel free to contact me so I can redeem myself. Or at the very least, make a dumbass out of myself again, but this time with a little more preparation.

Kids In The Hall

We went to see The Kids In The Hall at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The original quintet was there to parade old sketches and favourite characters, such as Simon Milligan and the Pit of Ultimate Darkness. All in all, a good show by a bunch of funny guys.

It’s strange. For a bunch of guys with an original comedy act, they disappeared into obscurity after the series ended in 1995. With the possible exception of Dave Foley, who went on to lead “News Radio” and land a number of roles doing voice work for animated movies, none of the others really seemed to do that much. I suppose in a lot of ways they were probably victims of their own success. After being such well known faces on the CBC, making the transition into the gigantic wading pool of American television might have required a whole new set of skills that perhaps they didn’t possess. Or maybe they just didn’t want to play that game.

That aside, the Kids are still a force to be reckoned with, judging by the welcome they received at the hand of the capacity crowd. Given the legions of fans, you’d think they’d reunite for good and replace some of the mindless drivel polluting the TV these days.

Nuclear: Clean Energy?

There’s a lot of things we’ve all heard about nuclear power, but I don’t think any of them come close to this ad from the Nuclear Energy Institute in the May issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It would appear that advocates of nuclear energy have chosen to capitalize on the United States’ desire to balance its growing need for energy with the public’s desire to protect the environment. But can nuclear energy really be the source of clean air energy? Or is this simply the industry attempting to exploit public’s ignorance of the dangers of nuclear energy?

I doubt most people are unaware of the real threat presented by the by-products of nuclear energy. Just this week, the US Congress voted on the establishment of a centralized storage facility, under the Yucca Mountains in Nevada, for the country’s nuclear waste. Nevada’s governor, Kenny Guinn, is understandably resistant to the idea. I wonder why?

Fact: Though nuclear energy doesn’t pollute the air directly, the by-products of nuclear energy are extremely toxic. For example, depleted uranium, a by-product of enriching uranium for use as fuel in nuclear reactors, has been linked to birth defects and cancer. Depleted uranium can be aerosolized, making it an airborne inhalation risk.

Fact: The NEI’s membership is predominantly comprised of companies from the nuclear energy industry, all of who are attempting to turn the public’s fear of air pollution into cash. Noteworthy members include General Electric‘s Nuclear Energy division, and American Electric Power, two prominent names among the other universities, insurers, and energy-brokerage institutions.

Fact: There are alternatives. Though dismissed by one member of the House of Representatives, alternatives such as wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal energy sources are not only viable, they are also more environmentally friendly. For example, a local Vancouver company, Blue Energy, has created a power generation technology based on tidal energy that has met with the approval of a number of environmental agencies, and offers to many advantages to ignore.

The most telling part of the NEI ad is its tagline: Clean air is so 21st century. It gives the reader the impression of a bored Valley girl commenting on a unfashionable and outdated trend. Is that the message NEI wants us to take away from their ad? That clean air is unfashionable? Perhaps this is a fatal Freudian slip that reveals the NEI’s true intentions.