Friday, March 31, 2006

games and amusements

Here are a few fun things to do on line.

Sketch Swap.

For the osessive-compulsive in all of us. Monk!

Test your intelligence with this tricky quiz.

Become a blues musician instantly.

Become a bacterium and grow, grow, grow.

Turbo Tanks

What do you do with a spare Giraffe? Milk it!

A challenging puzzle. I haven't gotten it right yet.

This may be my new favorite Chinese restaurant

A couple of optical illusions to amaze your brain:

Moving Wave

Oh my god. I've seen Jesus!

And yet another amusing video.

and finally, one filthy one.

F*** the S*** Not for children!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

videos for your viewing pleasure

The clown killer.

The Matrix Cow

"The Shining" in 30 seconds as reenacted by bunnies.

Counter strike Legos

Bad Parents

Lighting a candle

and finally

The Numa Numa Dance: A classic

Friday, March 24, 2006

On censorship

A couple of recent cases have once again put the subject of book banning and censorship back into the news.

The first case comes from the great state of Texas where superintendent Ed Lyman pulled Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale from the AP English program because of a complaint from one student's mother. As is so often the case in these situations, the mother, Cindy Pyo, complained about sexual content in the book as well as finding it offensive to Christians. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and the school board voted 5-2 to reinstate the book.

The second case comes from the not so great state of California. Parents of kids attending Malibu high school are objecting to the selection of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones for a campus wide reading program for 9-12th graders. Again, the parents are objecting to sexual content and in this case, violence. It's hard to believe this is happening in Malibu, California, a bastion of liberal "free thinking".

Both of these cases raise important questions about censorship and specifically, book banning in schools. Should a book be banned because a small minority of parents or students find the book offensive or think that it's inappropriate? My answer to this is no. What you have here is a small minority trying to impose their ethics and beliefs on the majority. They have no right to do that. Just because one mother finds a book offensive doesn't mean she should be able to prevent the other children from reading it if their parents approve of the book. And that, in my opinion is the crux of the matter. It should be up to each individual parent to decide what's appropriate for his or her child to read.

I can understand where these parents are coming from. Many of the books selected for school reading increasingly have graphic sexual content, violence and other mature themes. Some are definitely not appropriate for young children. If they don't want their child to read the book, fine. These programs always have an alternate book the kid can read. They don't force them to read the assigned book if the parents strongly object. But most of the time the "controversial" books that show up on the banned books lists are either classics or really outstanding current literature. That's why they were selected in the first place. And in these 2 cases the books were selected for either an AP English class or a highschool reading program. Were not talking little kids here. These are kids who should be able to handle this kind of material

I've read both The Handmaid's Tale and The Lovely Bones and they are both wonderful books. These are great pieces of literature, especially Atwood's book. She's a marvelous writer. When Cindy Pyo says "I'm appalled by this trash book. When garbage goes in, garbage comes out. This is trash and it will corrupt the American youth", it becomes obvious she knows nothing about literature. She wouldn't know a good book if it hit her on the head. Margaret Atwood is one of the world's best writers. She's widely considered to be Canada's premier novelist. True there is sexual content in the book and puritanical religious fanatics might be offended by the way the book attacks and satirizes fundamental religion, but this is one truly great and thought provoking novel.

Would I let my 8 year old read either of these book? No I wouldn't. But I might when he's 12 or 13. I think kids today are already exposed to more sex and violence at a younger age than we were as kids. I also think they understand what's going on better than most adults think they do. I think they are able to handle mature themes, tell the difference between reality and fiction, know what's right and what's wrong.

This leads to a second important question. At what age do you let your kids start reading books with mature themes or sexual content. We've been having this discussion recently on the SKEMERS newsletter. Specifically, this topic arose when some people asked if it was appropriate for a 10 year old to read Stephen King's It. Not only is the book scary (it's a Stephen King book after all) but there is a scene near the end of the book where there is a group sexual encounter among kids. Do you want your kids reading about that? The responses have been variable but most have fallen along the lines of "Yes. I'd let my kid read it". I don't think you can make a blanket statement about something like this. I believe it not only depends on the child's age but on the individual child as well. Some 12 year olds could read this book and not bat an eye. Some 15 year olds may read this book and be shocked or embarrassed. It depends on the individual child involved. It's up to the parents to decide if their child is ready for something like that. I have an 8 year old and a 6 year old. They're not ready for books like that. My 8 year old is pretty mature for his age and quite "streetwise". I might let him read It at age 11 or 12 if he wants to. My 6 year old on the other hand is completely different. I can't see him reading a book like that before age 15.

The point is, every child is different. It's the parents responsibility to make sure their child is reading appropriate material. It is not a parents responsibility to police other kids reading material. Books should not be banned. Period. If you don't want your kid reading a certain book then don't let them, but don't try to censor what others can read. You don't have that right.

* a footnote. Since I first posted this yet another case has come to my attention, this one in my own hometown. Parents in Lawrence township challenged the book "The Kite Runner" because of language and graphic violence. Fortunatley, the school board voted to keep the book.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Dragon Illusion Video

This video is cool. I'ts amazing how the mind can play tricks on you.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What is the point?

When I first created this blog a few months ago I did it primarily as an experiment. First, I wanted to see how easy or difficult it was. Turns out it's pretty easy. I guess that's one of the reasons there are so many blogs out there. Using the help files and various web sites I quickly learned how to edit html, change the look of my blog, and add things such as counters and blog polls. It was fun. A chance to be creative.

The other main reason for starting a blog was to have a place to write down my thoughts and opinions. I'm a fairly educated person who has always been interested in what's going on in the world around me and I've always had very definite opinions about most things. I thought this blog would be a place where I could organize my thoughts and ideas and present my arguments to the world at large. Isn't that why most people blog? To show the world how right they are about everything. Or how clever they are. Or witty. The internet is the ultimate stage upon which anyone can perform and show off their talents. Right?

Actually, I'm not sure that I really intended for anyone to ever read this blog. I haven't promoted it. I've told almost no one about it. I've always been rather reserved and introverted. Unless I get drunk. Then you can't shut me up. That's the time I let people know what I really think. (Me, at a party after way too much red wine "So, you're pregnant? I guess you're having a baby to try and save your marriage." Or this, also at a party where I've just lost some party game and felt like the others were cheating "Everybody here is an asshole but me!"). I'm not looking for recognition or public adoration. In fact, I've never cared (much) what people think of me. I don't need to have my thoughts or actions validated by others. This blog was mainly to be for me. An outlet. A release.

So why haven't I been blogging much? Oh sure, I've posted here and there. Told a few anecdotes, reviewed a book or two. But mostly it's just been posting links to things I've come across online. I guess I just don't have that much to say after all. It's not that I don't have opinions, beliefs or strong convictions about things. I just don't feel like writing about them. When I really sat down and tried to examine the reason for this change of heart, what I came up with was this: What's The Point?

Who really cares what I have to say about anything? I can express a viewpoint on this blog and there will be a number of people out there who agree with me and an equal number who won't. Such as: I believe that all the world's problems are either directly or indirectly due to religious fanatics and/or lawyers. (Which is one of the main tenets on which my philosophical foundation rests.) I'm probably not going to change many people's minds with what I have to say. The people who agree with me may continue to read the blog. The ones who disagree with me won't. I think that's the ultimate fate of most blogs. You just end up preaching to the choir.

What could I do to make this blog unique and interesting. Or at least interesting to me? I could go the entertainment route. Tell funny stories about my family and life like you'd find on Dooce or manky stories like the ones on Scaryduck. But I'm not as funny or clever as Heather B. or Scary and frankly I'm not sure I want to expose my family life on the internet for the world to see. I've got two little boys whom I think are hilarious but I'm pretty sure the only ones who'd find their stories funny are my relatives and I'm not sure I want them reading this blog. I doubt my wife would like me posting pictures of her on the web either.

I could review books. I'm a voracious reader, consuming everything from classics to science fiction to history to biographies. I've tried to do that a little on this blog, but I'm not very adept at literary criticism. I can tell a good book from a bad one, but have some difficulty in explaining this in an erudite or entertaining fashion. There are plenty of people on the web already who do a much better job than I ever could. Steph or Bookslut for instance.

What about a political blog. In the past I was very passionate about politics. I watched the news chanels, read the newspapers and stayed well informed on the current political issues. Now I'm just disgusted by politics. The political process in this country and the world at large is a mess. It's degenerated into partisan personal attacks and character assassination.There are no longer any meaningful discussions about the issues. Politicians seem to only be interested in getting re-elected and consolidating their parties' power, rather than doing anything constructive to help our country. The Middle East is in turmoil and probably always will be. European leaders are pathetic. Quick to criticize the US for anything and everything but unwilling to take any action or provide any real solutions for the crises that are consuming the planet.

I guess this takes me to one of my main points and that is: I'm very pessimistic about the way civilization is headed and about the future of our existence on this planet. Things seem to be headed in a downward spiral with no end in sight. Society as depicted in books such as Orwell's 1984 or Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale seem close to becoming a reality today. Postapocolyptic stories like King's The Stand or Atwood's Oryx and Crake are a real possibility for our near future. I fear for my children and the type of world thay will grow up in.

It's this overriding pessimism that I think is the real reason behind my developing apathy. I could write about the things that interest me, bother me, "get them off my chest" so to speak but again, what's the point? It won't make any difference and it probably won't make me feel any better.

So what should I do? Keep plugging along and hope I'll snap out of this funk I'm in and regain some of my passion for life? Continue to blog and treat this site as a sort of personal diary? Or just chuck it all, delete this blog and retreat to my study never to emerge again. Maybe the problem is that I haven't promoted this site or told my friends about it. Maybe I need the readers, the comments, the interaction with others to make this seem worthwhile. Maybe it's time I developed the courage to show my blog to everyone I know, let them read it and let the chips fall where they may. Yes, I think that's exctly what I will do.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

March Madness

Well it's that time of year again. The time of year when millions of Americans become obsessed with college basketball. The time of the ubiquitous office pool where brackets are filled in by people who are suddenly experts in college basketball despite the fact that they haven't followed the regular season and know little or nothing about any of the teams that made the tournament.

To paraphrase Dick Vitale: It's the NCAA Basketball Tournament Baby!

And to this I say: BFD!

I'm sorry. I just can't get into it anymore. I no longer care.

That didn't used to be the case. I used to be a big sports nut. I loved it all. College and professional hoops, football, auto racing, golf. The Olympics. I'd watch just about anything on TV. (Anything that is except baseball. I mean come on; baseball on TV? How do you spell baseball? b-o-r-i-n-g. Plus every game is essentially meaningless. "Well we lost. That sucks. At least we've still got another 145 games to play". How can you get excited about that.) I'd never miss any of "my teams" games. "Oh, you're getting married next Saturday? You know I'd love to come but there's a playoff game that day and I really can't afford to miss it. I'd be letting down the team." As if the teams success depended on my actually seeing the game; and wearing my lucky shirt.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact time when I became apathetic about the whole thing. It was probably more of a gradual process. At first I'd be like "if I don't watch today's game and they win, they'll still be alive in the tournament so I can watch the next game and if they loose, I'd just be pissed off and upset so it's better that I didn't see the game at all". Eventually it became "Oh, the games on? I can't watch it, I have to clip the cats toenails. Then I need to organize my sock drawer. The black and white socks are touching again".

What caused me to loose my interest in watching sports? It's probably a combination of several factors. As I've gotten older I've had less time to watch sports. Work's busier. I've got 2 kids who demand a lot of my time. I've developed interests other than sports. Reading, playing with my kids, riding my bike. I no longer have time to spend 9 hours on a Sunday watching back-to-back-to-back NFL games.

Then there's the cost of going to professional sporting events. At one time we had season tickets for both NBA and NFL teams. But the cost has gotten outrageous. Ticket prices are high, the concession prices are ridiculous, then there's all the "authentic" team apparel and merchandise you have to get. The average person can't afford to take the family to one of these games. They'd have to skip the rent or mortgage payment to do it. Then you've got these multimillionaire teenagers or twenty somethings who make like 5 thousand dollars a minute and billionaire owners complaining about the lack of fan support and threatening to move their teams to another city if their city doesn't build them a new stadium to play in. It's disgusting. What do they expect. If they want the fans to come out and support them, lower the ticket prices, cut players salaries, sell a cup of beer for less than 7 dollars. Jeez. There's no way these professional athletes are worth the millions they're making. It's sports for crying out loud. If professional sports didn't exist it wouldn't make a bit of difference to the planet.

That being said, perhaps the primary reason I stopped following sports is that it got to be too big of an emotional investment. I cared too much. It was too painful. When my team won it was thrilling. When they lost; depressing, demoralizing. It would ruin my day; my week. It was particularly painful the year the teams were good. When the teams sucked it didn't matter so much. You didn't expect them to win. When they did it was a nice surprise; a bonus. But when they were good things were different. Expectations were high. You thought they had a real chance. This was going to be the year they went all the way; won the championship. But alas, it didn't happen. They'd get so close, only to fail at the last minute, the last second. Or, they'd get get their butts kicked in the first round of the playoffs, eliminated by a lesser team. That's when I'd get really pissed off. "How could you loose to those jokers? Where was the intensity? Where was the effort? You get paid millions of dollars and that's the best you can do".

Frankly, I got tired of being continually disappointed year after year. One of "my teams" hasn't won any kind of a championship since 1987. That's almost 20 years of disappointment. I felt like I was wasting my time (and money). If I add up all of the time I've spent watching sports it probably amounts to a few years of my life. I could have put one of my kids through college with the money I've wasted. There are so many other things I could have been doing. So now I'm doing them. And you know what? I don't miss the sports much at all. Sure I'll still watch an occasional game. The superbowl for instance. But it's not important anymore. It's merely entertainment like a movie or a concert. I don't really care who wins or loses.

Back to the NCAA Basketball tournament.

Interesting fact about the tournament. Apparently our country loses billions of dollars in lost productivity because of the amount of time people spend on line at work following the tournament. It's only going to get worse this year as CBS is webcasting all of the tournament games for free. This is probably a somewhat bogus finding. If they weren't watching the tournament on line they'd probably be doing something else on line. The work would get done regardless.

As for these office pools, very few people that enter them have any idea what they're doing. While there are a few knowledgeable fans who can rank the teams correctly, most people aren't that good. They either A. Pick their favorite team to win it all irregardless of how good the team is or B. Pick the winners based on who is the higher seed for each game. They might throw in a dark horse picked at random and hope they get lucky but that's about it. In one pool I was in, one girl who entered picked her teams purely based on the color of their uniforms. Red teams beat gold. Blue beat green. Black lost to everyone. She came in third.

For those of you still into the tournament I hope you enjoy it. Me, I'll be reading the latest Charles Stross book or playing Parcheesi with the kids. And I won't be too upset when they beat me.

random bits

No good deed goes unpunished!

I wish this was my home.

But if I can't have that then at least I'd like to have this.

One of my favorite "A Softer World" comics yet.

And finally, glow in the dark pigs!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Y'a du monde au balcon!

I was having lunch with # 2 son today and he started playing one of his favorite games, "Stump the Dad". Both # 1 and # 2 sons love this game. It consists of them asking me questions they already know the answer to, in the hope that I won't get it right. Then, they can proceed to tell me the correct answer.

I love this game as well for the simple reason that I almost always get the question right. The look of amazement/disappointment on their faces is wonderful.

It usually goes something like this:

Dad, do you know how many miles it is between New York and Tokyo?

"6760 miles" I reply.

How did you know that?

"Because I know everything."

You don't know everything.

"Yes I do."

Todays exchange was similar. After I said "because I know everything" #2 son (who is 6 years old remember) said: "Alright dad, what's the French word for Vagina?"

I looked at him trying not to laugh, to not even crack a smile. But I couldn't do it. First a slight smirk. Then a barely muffled giggle. Then outright laughter. He started giggling too. He knew he'd come up with a good one. I looked him straight in the eye and said "I don't know". "Yes!" was his response, a huge grin of satsfaction on his face. So I asked him what the answer is. Turns out, he didn't know either.

Now I'm somewhat surprised that I didn't know the answer. You'd think that after 4 years of highschool French and 1 year in college I would have picked up a few naughty words other than the ubiquitous 'Merde' that everyone knows. I decided my education had been lacking in an important part of the French language so I decided to correct this deficiency. I proceeded to consult The Alternative French Dictionary. This is a wonderful resource for finding useful and colorful umphemisms for body parts, sex acts and swear words in general.

In answer to # 2 son's question I found this:

Noune (vagina)
Moule (vulva)
Chatte (pussy)
Cramouille (somewhat derogatory word meaning literally "wet slit")

I also found:

Doudounces (breasts) and finally
Y'a du monde au balcon (what a set of knockers)

Many more useful words and phrases are listed in the dictionary. The web site also has alternative dictionaries for just about any language out there. Hours of interesting reading. I urge everyone to conult this resource and try and work some of these words into everyday converation:

"There's a paper jam in the copier again; cette putain de machine!"

Friday, March 03, 2006

Google knows your secrets!

This is scary and somewhat unbelievable. Read this article about Google Desktop.You need to protect yourself now.

I recently bought a new computer. Google Desktop automatically launches at start up. I thought it was pretty handy. But now we find out about the "Search Across Computers" function. On the surface it sounds great. You can access the contents of your computer's hard drive from another computer. Could be great for obtaning files at work from your home computer or vice versa. But, if you use this function Google stores the contents of your PC on it's servers for all the world to see. Anyone can get access to your files.

Do you want people looking at your previous year tax returns? How about your collection of internet porn?

What were the geniuses at Google thinking. At first they resisted the Bush administrations attempt to look at their search logs (and rightly so). Then, they turn right around and open up your computer to everyone. When did they come up with this great idea? Brainstorming in a pub after about 10 shots of Jagermeister? Maybe the bigwigs got a donation from Jack Abramoff?

I've disabled Google Desktop. I think you should too.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hermione Granger: Girl gone wild.

We're currently slogging our way throught the fifth Harry Potter Book;
The Order Of The Phoenix . We've been reading it to the kids everynight for about 3 months now. The first 300 hundred pages or so were quite dull and painful. We're up to about page 650 and it's finally getting interesting.

# 1 son loves Harry Potter. # 2 son, not so much. I'm somewhat ambivalent. I kind of lost interest after the third book. The movies however have been good. It's been interesting to watch the characters as they've grown older.

I wonder what my boys would say if they saw this picture?

Miss Emma Watson (age 15), who plays Hermione Granger in the films, swilling a beer in a London pub. (I wave my wand)-Drinkus Coronas inebriatos!

I'll never look at Hermione quite the same way again.