Elected Office is for Chumps

It is election time around here. Not Provincial or National, just local. City Councilmen, Mayors, that sort of thing. Last summer my sister stopped by for a visit and I mentioned that there would be an election in the fall in my little town. She immediately asked if I was running. Actually I was more than a little offended that she’d think I’d even consider it. I hate politics and me running for office would be the stupidest thing I could ever do.
But it’s deeper than just my hatred of politics. I just do not understand why anyone would run for office. I mean seriously. In the last few months the CBC has had several stories about people running for office, or more often deciding not to run because its just too much of a headache with too little reward. Stories about the difficulty the parties are having to get candidates for office, especially local offices. The number of good people who were thinking about running but somebody found a record, a post, a tweet, an article they did years before. An article that if taken out of context and twisted just right made them look like utter scum, so they decided not to run. The list goes on and on. People just don’t want to run, and I completely understand why. It simply isn’t worth it. Honestly, I have no idea why anyone would put themselves through that. Oh yeah, something about public service. I’m not buying it. What public? In this day and age if you run you’ll get elected if fewer people hate you than the other guy.
And rest assured that even if they didn’t hate you before, after the campaign they quickly will. After you’ve been in a term you can be sure that way over 50% will hate you. Not just mildly annoyed either. Not just “yes he’s a rascal, but he’s our rascal,” way. I mean spit on the sidewalk when your name is mentioned HATE. “But what about those long serving public servants?” I hear you asking. “Surely some people must be popular enough to get reelected.” Sorry, but the way someone gets reelected today is to get more people to hate the other guy. There is no love in politics.
Why would anyone, outside of a near psychotic narcissist, put themselves through that?
Then there’s the abuse people get once they are in office. Even if you get into office the people are lined up with knives. Say anything, even innocently, that they can twist into something insulting and they will crucify you, just because they can. Of course, sometimes you’ll get crucified for NOT saying something too. Even if you do a good job, do exactly what you promised, you still can’t win. People will find reasons to hate you and your government for doing what you said you would.
Recently the government here in BC eliminated the tolls on the major bridges in Vancouver. It was something they said they’d do. They were elected on a promise to do it. The tolls were massively unpopular. Locals were upset because the neighbourhoods near the bridges were clogged with traffic from people who were avoiding the toll bridges. The bridges themselves were however mostly empty. Dropping the tolls was something everyone wanted done. So they removed the tolls. What was the response? Talking heads on the radio saying that it would destroy BCs credit rating. People screaming loudly how much longer it was talking them to drive to work, despite studies showing that the average commute was in fact noticeably quicker. Social sites and the air waves were full of vitriolic complaints. The howls could be heard all the way to Seattle. Nobody had a good thing to say about it. You see even if you do the right thing the masses will be at your doorstep with torches and pitchforks.
This only hints at all of the abuse and even death threats elected officials get on social media. Not the old fashioned, “I don’t like how you voted on this”. I mean physical threats, rape threats, death threats, threats against their children. I mean really. You’re going to threaten to kill someone because they approved a dog park in your neighbourhood? You are going to threaten someone’s children because how they voted on a water contract? Seriously? But it happens. It happens regularly, and with increasing viciousness. Why would anyone put themselves in a position to receive that? Why would they put their families through that?
And of course, nobody thinks you should get paid for your time. Let’s be honest, most local elected officials are paid far less than they could earn putting their time in the private sector. Yes, there are lots of stories, mostly gossip, about officials living like kings on other people’s taxes. In reality for the vast majority, the hours are long and the checks are short and nobody appreciates the work you put in.
I’m always amused when people say that some industrialist, Tim Cook, Bill Gates, etc, should run for office. How did you think they got to be vastly wealthy industrialists? By not making stupid decisions. By not going into no win situations. By not being idiots. By carefully avoiding stupid mistakes that lead to disaster. By not wasting their time doing thankless jobs for people who automatically despise them, and assume that everything they do is somehow criminal.
So that is why I cant understand anyone running for office. I am sorry but I do not understand why anyone that is capable of putting a coherent thought together would ever run for political office at any level. That’s why I was offended when my sister suggested that I might run. No, I’m not going to try crack or naked ice hockey either. I don’t do stupid things that are self destructive and doomed to failure.
Like elected office.
So, let me make something clear. If I do ever run, I want someone to dig up this post and hold it up for everyone to see. Because if I ever do run, it will be because I had lost my mind and become a psychotic narcissist and would therefore be unfit to hold office.
Remember that when you go to the polls.

Evil Taints

Doing something bad for a bad reason is bad
This we all understand
Stealing for greed is never okay
No matter where the rational may land

But doing something bad for a good reason is bad too
Though many try to justify
Robin Hood was still a thief
No matter how hard we want to deny

Then there is doing something good, but for a bad reason
Many people fall into this trap
Helping someone so you get something from them
Is still wrong you stupid sap

Only when you do the right thing for the right reason
Will your action be just and true
For what you do is just as important
As why you did it too

For evil taints whatever it touches
To be truly good, a deed must be pure
No becauses, no if-then clauses
Of this I am completely sure.

Lake of the Woulds

Far to the North is a special place. 
They call it the Lake of the Woulds.
People stumble across it quite innocently
Instead of doing things that they should
 
They come to it with great intentions
Meaning to accomplish many great things
But once there they always find
Achievements always come with strings
 
From far across the landscape
You can hear how they lament
They didn’t accomplish what they meant to
Much to their great regret.
 
I would have built that house
With the beautiful deck out back
But somehow I just didn’t get started
My week went all to heck
 
I would have written that novel
Filled with deeds of great renown
But the air conditioner was bothering me
I did not like the sound
 
I would have liked to get married
And had a family back in the day
But I was always just too damn busy
Though doing what I cannot say
 
I would have finished that invention
That was going to make me filthy rich
But I never quite got around to it
So I’ll just say ‘life’s a bitch’
 
I would have gone to school
Become a Doctor, cured a disease
But somehow it was less effort
To sit here and take my ease
 
So if you find yourself at the  Lake of the Woulds
You are welcome to enjoy a pleasant time
Or you could get off your ass and do something
Instead of sitting around writing silly rhymes

Circles

At first  we were a million tiny bands. 

Small groups of people, each subtly different in some way, clinging to each other and scrabbling to survive. 

Each thought of themselves as people and everyone else as the other. We are the band in this area. They are the band on the other side of the river. 

Soon though, bands started to associate. To gather into tribes. The bands on this side of the mountain are a tribe. The bands in the forests on the others side are that tribe. This tribe is us and we wear this symbol to show who is us. If they don’t wear the symbol they must be killed.

Then tribes gathered into nations, and nations fought for supremacy. We all salute this flag and kill those that don’t. 

After a long time, and many wars people came to realize that nations, and tribes, and bands were artificial. There was a realization that we all were human. A realization that all humans should be respected and protected. 

At first we were all human. 

Then people started looking around. They said yes we are human but I’m male and you’re female. 

Then people noticed colour. I’m a black male, you are a yellow female. 

Then people started to resent people who had different beliefs. I am a yellow, Buddhist, male, you are a brown, Muslim, female. 

Then people began to claim each subtle difference as identity. I am a caribbean, black, queer, Jew, you are a slavic, white, bi, Catholic, and they are an indigenous, brown, gender-fluid, Atheist.

People’s identity became more important than their humanity. They began to segregate themselves into small groups. Soon there was no longer a single humanity trying to make the world better for everyone. 

Instead there were just small groups of people, each subtly different in some way, clinging to each other and scrabbling to survive.

At first we were a million tiny bands…

Gif or Gif?

So one day I called the file Gif
My friends acted like I’d emitted a bad whiff
I’m not really sure
If there is a cure
But it seems to have caused quite a tiff

So then I started calling it Gif
And still some people are miffed
I know not what to do
Or which way is true
From now on I’ll just use an MP4

Fuck it

The Expatriat

My friend he was feeling low
The news had dealt him a blow
All he could see around was worry and deep fear
He then went on to say
That the world that we’re in today
Was so bad he felt he was about to shed a tear

I looked at him a while
And then said, as if to a child
One man can only do what he can do
Did a woodsman up in Gaul
Worry about Rome’s awful fall
Of course not, there was nothing he could do.

He thanked his gods he was free
And took his child upon his knee
And enjoyed the peace and quiet that about him reigned
So sit back and watch the show
For an empire is about to blow
Just be glad we’re safely here out of harms way

For all things made by men
Have a beginning and an end
And the spirit of ’76 is long gone and spent
The USA today is in a very bad way
With the shootings, and the hatred.
And Donald The Bent

For he sews a fear of the other
Pits brother against brother,
It is better for us to stay out of the way
Seriously, what can one man do
When common sense goes up the flue
And simple decency is a scarce commodity

For when dinosaurs did clash
and the landscape they did smash
’Tis the ants that paid the price so some would say
But that is only true,
For those that are red or blue
The clever ones watched from safety far away

So be glad my good man
We have our families and our friends
Safely o’er the border where the madness will do no harm
And you can say you were there,
Watching the collapse from your chair
To your grandchildren on some frosty distant morn’

You see we were smart enough
To pack our families and our stuff
And get out while the getting out was good
To a land where peace did reign
And people care about each other’s pain
And being decent is just normal in the ‘hood

So turn off the news, open the door
Go out and walk along the shore
And forget the awful events by that far off band
Feel the breezes in your hair
And smell the salt sea air
For you are safe and cared for in this lovely land

The Least Common Denominator

“You want to do what?” was the incredulous reply.

“Scan all of the religious and philosophical texts into a computer,” replied Mr. Simonsen. “Then the pattern matching AI we’ve created will go through them looking for patterns, common themes, connections.”

“Why would you want to do that? What possible use could there be in such a endeavour?” grumbled Mr. Blickx. He was a tough businessman. He had no overt religion himself. His formative years had been spent studying physics and engineering. Spirituality was something that was just not part of his makeup.

Mr Simonsen smiled. “The purpose would be twofold. On one hand it would be a resource for the company. We have had problems entering new markets. On more than a few occasions we’ve run afoul of local beliefs and religious edicts. This could advise us on whether what we are about to do is problematic. It would keep us from putting ourselves in a corner where we are faced with violating the moral code of the locals or forcing our employees to violate theirs.”

“I like that idea. Yes, that alone would be worth the cost.” Mr. Blicks smiled. He remembered an unfortunate episode from a few years before. Quite inadvertently their branch in Western Venlatenda had found itself in just such a dilemma. The Chief of Operations had made a deal to open a mine. Without realizing it, had also promised his daughter’s hand to the local warlord. Failure to deliver would have been a dreadful insult and would cost all the local staff their lives. But the Chief of Operations did not HAVE a daughter to hand over, even if he had been inclined to, which he was not. Only a frantic satellite phone call to the Regional Operations Manager averted tragedy. Quickly chartering several helicopters, the local staff was evacuated from a nearby football pitch, and disaster averted. Unfortunately this killed the deal, and rendered the possibility of another totally out of the question. It had been a hard lessen that Mr. Blickx did not want repeated.

“You said there was a second reason?”

“Yes, it will be great for Public Relations.”

“How could that be?”

“We would make it available online.”

“Why?”

“It would be a resource,” said Mr. Simonsen. “Many people are becoming concerned about the increasing percentage of their fellow citizens that are not part of any religious group. There is a belief that without religion people won’t have morals. Now I don’t want to debate if that is true or not. But some are concerned that people are looking for answers and are rejecting the traditional sources. If we put the AI on line and let people ask questions, it could answer them with the distilled morality of all religions. The common moral and ethical standards that apply to all. This would be a great resource and the fact that we made it available for free would improve our image.”

“You want to make a robot messiah?”

“Oh no no no. Nothing that grandiose,” laughed Mr. Simonsen. “Computer systems are nowhere near capable of anything like that, if in fact they ever would be. No, this is more of a philosophical guide. If someone says they want to kill themselves, it could answer that doing that would be wrong, because pretty much ALL religions say so. If someone wanted to know if it was okay to cheat on a deal if the boss told them to, it would say no, because they would be the one doing the deed. Pretty much all religions would say that. If someone wanted to know if…”

“Okay I get it.” Said Mr. Blickx abruptly. “It would be more of an ethical councillor for those that did not have a priest, or rabbi, or monk to turn to. That sounds like a good idea. I also like the business plan and the budget you’ve proposed. I will approve it and authorize you to start work Monday morning. The fifth floor of the McCormack Research Centre is empty right now. I’ll reserve it for your operations. As far as computers, you’ll have desktops as you need them of course. Also we’ll start out with some shared server space. Eventually you may need a server farm and even a supercomputer for your own data crunching. But that can wait for a few months as you get set up.”

With that Mr. Blickx rose, shook Mr. Simonsen’s hand, and left the room.

As promised the office space was available the following Monday. Initially Mr. Simonsen was alone. Soon more people came on board. Within three months the team numbered twenty-four, mostly programmers and a few linguists. They refined one of the companies existing AIs to ingest and interpret text based material. Not just English though. It had to know thousands of languages, both currant and extinct. It had to be able to read every written language on earth, and understand spoken languages as well.
This was not going to be a superficial scan of human ethics. No, the plan was to feed the computer every translation of the Bible they could lay their hands on going all the way back to the very first written version, and the writings of any and every obscure sect that split off from the main church. The same was done for the Torah and other Jewish holy books and sects. The same was done for the Koran and other philosophical writings of the different sects of Islam. The same was done for Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and the subgroups that split from them. They did this for any and every faith they could find. Where written records were not available, interviews were done with religious leaders. Six months after the project started fifty anthropologists were hired. They spent the next five years travelling the world interviewing people from Inuit in the high arctic, to obscure tribes with no name in the Amazon. From Kalahari Bushman in Africa, to indigenous people in the wilds of New Guinea and the outback of Australia. Spiritual leaders from the Lakota and the Maori spent weeks discussing the details of their belief system and morality as their cultures saw it.

Now keeping this all quiet was impossible. Too many people were involved. Too many resources were being spent on the project to not have it get noticed. So a cover story was put out. The press release said the project was to catalogue all religions and religious teachings. It was like a Google Books for religion and philosophical writing. Not only did this provide an explanation for that the company was doing, soon being included became a point of honour. Being included was seen as “legitimizing” a faith system. Rather than having to dig around for them, small sects were banging on the door to get the writings of their leader included.

And sometimes they were.

The first time the In or Out question came up was a year after the project started. When it did, it raised a huge moral dilemma for the team. Yes, all faith systems were equal in the eyes of the project. Equal in the eyes of God. Theoretically everything should be included. That was the idea they started out with. But it became clear that some judgement calls were going to be necessary. The first “Class C” group, as they came to be classified as, called themselves Silvers. They believed that God was The Silver Surfer. Yes, the one from the comic books. They believed in all absolute seriousness and devotion that the comics were in fact holy books handed down from heaven. They preyed to the Silver Surfer. The four people that followed this faith all moved to California to live on the beach and take up surfing just to emulate their deity. After dealing with them a meeting was held and a decision was made. From then on, everyone would be listened to, but the obvious crazies would just be humoured. The books would be accepted, the leaders rambling were taped, a record was made. After the people left all of the material was quietly put into a climate controlled storeroom marked Class C “for later study and inclusion”. That way the researchers were not lying, but the AI would not have to wade through the ramblings of schizophrenics.

After five years the field work was done. All of the data that was going to be included had been fed into the database. Now it was up to the AI to do its work. To prevent any sort of bias, the AI had not been put into analyze mode. That would only happen after all of the data was collected. This was to prevent the number of Christian bibles that were scanned in the first month from skewing the results. All faith systems were to be processed simultaneously. No added weight was to be given to any particular religion, or any region, or any language. The goal was to level the playing field, and find the common beliefs within the teachings of all religions.

Mr. Blickx and Mr. Simonsen were in the room along with the core of the team. “Well,” Mr. Simonsen said. “It’s time to start this.” He beamed as he stepped to the workstation. He leaned over to the keyboard and typed one word “EXECUTE” and hit return.
Immediately the screen went black. Black except for a number in the middle of the screen “0.000001%”

“How long is this going to take?” asked Mr. Blickx.

“Well,” began Mr. Simonsen. “That depends on a number of variables. The complexity of the connections the AI makes. The difficulty of the moral questions it poses for itself. The number of logical contradictions it has to resolve.”

“Just give me a ballpark figure,” said Mr. Blickx impatiently. “I just want to know if I can make lunch plans for tomorrow.”

“O-Oh, I think that would not be a problem.”

“Well, how long then?”

“It’s really hard to put a number to…”

“Just a ballpark figure, that’s all I want.” Mr. Blickx said somewhat exasperated.

“Okay, at least a year.”

“A year?” replied Mr. Blickx incredulously?

“Maybe longer, it is a difficult problem.”

“Okay then call me when it’s done,” said Mr. Blickx. He turned and left the room. The rest of the team followed him out. Soon, Mr. Simonsen was left alone with the humming computer.

And so it went. Each day Mr. Simonsen would go to his office, note down the number on the screen, and spend the day monitoring the system. Once a week he would take a “snapshot” of the server, all of the data and status of the program, and store it in a secure location off site. That was in case of a disaster, a power loss, an earthquake, a fire. If disaster struck, the last snapshot could be loaded onto new hardware and the run would continue from the last saved state. This went on day after day, week after week, month after month. Soon all of his staff was transferred to other departments to work on other projects. Even his Receptionist/Office Assistant moved on. The space on the fifth floor of the McCormack Research Centre was given over to other projects. Within a few weeks all that was left was Mr. Simonsen alone in one conference room. In it was his desk, a table for backup drives and other equipment, and a workstation with the black screen and the current percentage on it.

In all it took not a year, but eighteen months, for the run to finish. Now, monitoring a server that is not having any problems is boring work. As the days dragged on, Mr. Simonsen more than once wished that he could ask the AI a question. “Would it be ethical to play video games on company time?” “Would it be ethical to sleep on company time?” But the days passed, the weeks passed, the seasons passed, and the number on the screen slowly inched upwards. Finally one day Mr. Simonsen came into the office and the screen said, “100%. What is your question?” He whooped with joy. It was done. Finally the project was complete.

Hurriedly he picked up the phone on his desk to call Mr Blickx. Part of him was pleasantly surprised that it still worked. He hadn’t used the phone in nearly a year. “This is Simonsen, it’s done,” was all he said. Mr. Blickx immediately understood. “Excellent, I will have my secretary contact your core members. We will meet at your office in ten minutes.”

Mr. Simonsen hung up the phone. He was about to try the System himself when he glanced around the room. “Holy crap, I think building maintenance has forgotten I was in here,” he said out loud. Talking to himself was one of the habits he’d picked up from spending his days alone. Overflowing trash cans sat in the corners. Muddy boots were still where he had left them last winter. The floor needed a good sweeping. The stain on the wall where he’d leaned his bicycle was obvious. Several of the lights in the room were even burned out. “I’d better make this place look presentable.” The next ten minutes saw Mr. Simonsen rushing about, cleaning, putting things back where they belonged, running a system snapshot for backup. Hiding a few things that he’s brought in that were not necessarily businesslike or productive. He had just finished when everyone started to arrive.

There was a lot of catching up to do. Some of the team hadn’t seen each other, in months. None of them had seen Mr. Simonsen in almost a year and a half. Quickly the room filled with chatter. Then Mr. Blickx arrived and that would all have to wait. The noise died down and for a moment all was quiet. Then Mr. Blickx barked, “Well, let’s see what all this work was for.”
Mr. Simonsen stepped to his desk. Tapping a few keys awoke his computer. Than touching another button the screen was mirrored on the giant display screen on the wall. “Okay, let me bring up the site,” he said.

“Why can’t you use that one,” commented Mr. Blickx pointing to the workstation where the number had been counting up.

“Oh that one is just for maintenance,” replied Simonsen. “You actually interact with the AI through a web browser.”

A web page appeared on the big screen. It was very simple. The company logo was at the top, and faintly repeated numerous times as a watermark on the background. At the bottom of the page was the company name, address, phone numbers, and other contact information. In the middle of the page was a largish box with the words “What is your question?” just above it.

Mr. Simonsen turned to look at the gathered throng. “So what should be ask it?”

A murmur went through them. “It should be something simple,” came a voice from the back. “Yeah, straightforward,” echoed another. “Something we know the answer to?” suggested a third.

“I’ve got it,” said Mr. Simonsen. Turning back to the keyboard he started typing. “If you accidentally run over your neighbour’s dog, is it ethical to not say anything?” and hit Return.

The box disappeared and was replaced by a tag saying PROCESSING. After a few seconds the AI returned with its answer.
“Don’t Be a Dick” was all it said.

“What the hell is that?” said Mr. Blickx.

“L-L-Let’s try another one,” stammered Mr. Simonsen. How about this? He then typed “Is it ethical to have an affair with some else’s wife?” A few seconds later the answer appeared. “Don’t Be a Dick”. Mr. Blickx grunted and left in disgust while the engineers frantically tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Laptops were opened and logged into the remote server. Samples of source code were poured over trying to find the cause, all to no avail.

An hour passed. Mr. Simonsen was desperate now. “What about other languages? Is this just an english problem?”

“No,” replied LaPlante, the chief Linguist on the team. “There are slight variations in the response between languages. A question in French replies with ‘Ne Sois Pas Merdique’, which means Don’t Be Shitty. Chinese comes back with Bùyào Chéngwéi Máoniú De Húndàn meaning ‘Don’t Be a Yak’s Asshole. Swahili returns Kuwa Bora Kuliko Shitusi meaning ‘Be Better Than Warthog Shit’. Russian replies with Srtop Deystvuyet Kak Konskiy Pin meaning Stop Acting Like A Horse’s Penis. The translations are not perfect. It’s a machine translation so it misses the nuance a person would give it. But the meaning is there. We’ve tried multiple questions in every language we can scrape up. It always gives the same answer for each language, but all of the answers are of a similar vein.”

The room became silent as they all pondered the problem. Suddenly one of the engineers started laughing uncontrollably. It was Geonelli. He was unique among the team. He had a Phd in computer science/computer programming. However he also had a degree in Divinity. In fact he was an ordained Minister and had officiated for two of the team who got married during the project. Now he was laughing almost hysterically. Simonsen rushed over to where he had collapsed and was sitting on the floor.
Grabbing Gionelly by the shoulders he gave him a good shake. “Get ahold of yourself man. What is wrong?” slowly Gionelli got himself under control and climbed to his feet. “Don’t you see“ he finally was able to exclaim. “The AI isn’t broken. It’s working exactly the way we programmed it. It’s doing what we asked.”

“What do you mean?” said Simonsen in shock.

“What are all of these belief systems saying?” asked Gionelli. “They are all saying the same thing. Take the ten commandments. Don’t be a dick, thou shalt not steal. Don’t be a dick, thou shalt not kill. Don’t be a dick, though shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. The same is true of the writings of Islam or Buddhism, or the oral stories of the Australian Aborigines. Culture, religion, all of this, is based around the need to have rules so people treat each other nicely. Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. It’s right there in Matthew. The shorthand version of all of that is Just Don’t Be A Dick. It’s the eleventh commandment. No scratch that. It’s the core meaning of the other ten. The rest, the ritual, the treasure, the pomp, the stories, the martyrs, the saints, the various names for God, all of that is just window dressing.” Now Gionelli was nearly hysterical. “The core message is the same for all religions. ‘Be better than warthog shit’. Don’t be a dick. Distilled down, that IS the core of religion, of civilization.”

Gionelli collapsed into a chair still laughing to himself. Everyone else was silent. Finally Simonsen spoke up. “Well at least it’s a damn good thing this isn’t live online. No telling how this would be received if it got out.”

“But Mr. Simonsen, sir,“ came a voice from the back. “It is online. It was programmed to enable the web server as soon as the run was complete. It’s sending the site out through the port we used to access the system remotely from home. That’s how we were able to do the development early in the project. That’s how we were able to test it today.”

Mr. Simonsen spun around to face the screen. Reaching to his computer he scrolled down to the bottom of the page. At the very bottom of the web page, below the company name and up till now below the bottom of the screen was a hit counter tallying up the times the page had been accessed. It said the page had already been loaded fifteen million times. At the rate the counter was moving it would surpass 20 million in the next few minutes. Apparently people had been eagerly waiting for the run to finish. The second it came up someone had seen it, and posted it to Reddit, from there it spread to Facebook, and Twitter. Screen shots went to Pinterest and Instagram, essays about it to Tumblr. By the time Mr. Simonsen got to work it had gone viral. The rest of the world knew about the issue before he did.

“Oh shit,” thought Mr. Simonsen to himself. “Maybe we can tell everyone this was a joke?” he asked hopefully.

Just then someone ran into the room. It was Mr. Blickx Office assistant. “What the hell have you been doing? The phones are jammed. We are getting more hate calls and messages than I’ve ever seen, and it’s all because of your damed religion page.”

“I guess we’d just better just shut it down,” said Mr. Simonsen. Reaching over to the workstation he tapped a few buttons. The screen went blank and the web page on his main computer disappeared, replaced by a 404 Page Not Found error. “With a bit of luck this will blow over in a few days,” he thought.

But it didn’t blow over in a few days. Once the web page was down, stories of what it did and said spread and in the retelling were magnified. The world was filled with outrage at what the site said their religion stood for. The word blasphemy appeared in nearly every corner of the globe. Almost immediately attacks began on Company property, facilities and personnel around the world. Bombings and shootings and violence of all kinds against anyone and anything connected to the company.

All done by people that most assuredly were acting like dicks.

Passion

Last month on CBC Ideas they did a documentary on Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winning author. ( http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-enduring-power-of-albert-camus-l-étranger-1.4439630 ). He was an interesting character. I learned things I never knew about him. His opposition to capitol punishment. His connection to Algeria. How he died in 1960 almost exactly one year before I was born. I knew none of this, and that is the most disturbing part.

You see in high school we read The Stranger. I hated it. It was dark and confusing and just unpleasant in every way. I slogged my way through it, took the test and went on to other things. The core issue I now realize wasn’t the book. The problem was how it was presented. It was just another book by some french guy that we had to read. In class we discussed novels, the theory, the form, other writers, the history. We had no context, no history, no explanation of The Stranger. It was just a book we had to slog through outside of class and take a test. Can you think of any better way to get people to hate a book or a subject than to dump it on them with no explanation? If I had known who Camus was, that would have made all the difference. Heck, it was 1977 and I was 15. Maybe tell me where Algeria was and why it was so important to France. Then I might have gotten a lot more out of The Stranger. But they didn’t so it was just another hard, unpleasant thing we had to do to graduate.

It was not the material that was at fault. It was how the material was being presented. When you are dealing with young readers you can’t just tell them it’s a classic and assume they will love it. You have to hold their hand, answer their questions, keep the book in context. Explain where the writer is coming from. It’s very easy to forget what it’s like not to know the background, the context of what you’re teaching. The history of an author and a book is intrinsic to the work. For each student it is your one and only opportunity as the teacher to have them get it, to understand, to appreciate what you’re teaching. You’ve got to make sure that they get the context, the history, the beauty of the subject.

Did you know that JRR Tolkien was a foot soldier in World War One? Much of what he wrote for the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings, especially in The Two Towers, came from what he saw in the trenches and on no-mans-land in France. Hand to hand, knife and bayonet, slipping in the mud, and killing to save your own life. The Battle of Helms Deep, The siege of Minus Tirith, and carnage in the alleyways of Osgiliath were shaped by his experiences. Tolkien just replaced knife and bayonet and pistol with sward, and spear, and bow. When Frodo says “It’s a pity that Bilbo didn’t stab him (Gollum) when he had the chance” and Gandalf replies “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?” you know this was a conversation he had, with himself and with others, during those terrible days on the planes of France. It puts the whole book in a different light.

When I was in high school I had a chance to see this from both sides. First I took a Shakespeare class. It was awful. We read the plays aloud, got stuck on the words, got lost in the characters, and muddled our way through. I hated Shakespeare. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Then a year later the Public Broadcasting Service in America started running good quality performances of Shakespeare plays, one a month if I remember correctly. Suddenly, Midsummer Nights Dream, A Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, Henry the Fifth, Macbeth, all came ALIVE. They made sense. The odd words I struggled with just disappeared. I somehow just knew what they meant when said in context. They also introduced each play with a brief explanation of the history, and covering the more difficult parts. The beauty and grace were there to be seen. The meaning was clear. The play was not dead words on a page it was ALIVE. I learned more watching the plays on TV than I ever did in a whole term sitting in my Shakespeare class.

And I guess that’s the point. If you are teaching a subject, literature, mathematics, chemistry, history, whatever, you have to make sure it comes ALIVE. You have to make sure the students see the beauty of it. The excitement of it. You studied the subject for a reason. Transmit that passion to your students. The subject is not numbers, and formula, and words, and data. It is the beauty, the grandeur. That is what you are teaching. The details are just the scaffolding to display that.

Teach the passion and the details will follow.

Apple’s Mouse Curse

Why can’t Apple make a good mouse?

OK, that may be a bit strong. They have made some great mice. But every mouse they’ve produced has always had a fatal flaw. Never the same flaw mind you. But they seem to be incapable of making a mouse without some major issue.

Apple was the first to introduce a mouse into the consumer computer world. It was great, so much better than the keyboard commands everyone else, from MSDOS, to Commodore, were using to get your computer to do things.

 The trouble was, the original AppleMouse was, to be honest, the shape and size of a pack of cigarettes. It was about as comfortable to use as sliding a box of smokes around the table. But, hey it was the first and you have to expect some flaws with groundbreaking technology.

Apple came back with the AppleMouse II

The AppleMouse II was a great improvement. Vastly more comfortable to use. OK it was still a ball mouse, but optical mice were some years in the future. The problem with it was, at that point most mice in the Windows world had two buttons. Primary click and then an assortment of special “right-click” functions. You could get the same functions by holding down the, if I remember correctly, the Open-Apple key. But wasn’t the point of the mouse to get away from keyboard commands? And I haven’t even mentioned the other workstations, Sun for example, and aftermarket mice that had several buttons.

Later Apple moved over to optical mice, but still with one button. Most mice had, in addition to two buttons, also adopted the Windows scroll wheel. This was a vastly useful device for moving up and down through a document or graphic. It was great. It was very conspicuously not from Apple. It was during this period that I started buying my mice from MacAlly. First just two button mice. Later on I was getting two button USB mice with a scroll wheel. They were inexpensive, durable, two buttons and a scroll wheel, and you could even change the cover so they glowed in red or blue or green or smoke. They were great. It just felt weird that I would buy a new Mac and as soon as it arrived replace the brand new mouse from Apple with one from somebody else.

Then Apple decided to get really creative. They came up with the Puck Mouse.

I have to admit that when I first saw pictures of the puck mouse I thought it was cool. One main button and those two coloured things on the sides were Alt-Function buttons, and then the Apple Logo at the top was a track ball for scrolling. Only they weren’t. The colours were just decorations. The Apple Logo was just an Apple Logo. It was still a one button mouse, still without a scroll wheel. Keep in mind that by this point mice had evolved into a huge variety of forms. Two-three-four-five-even six button mice. Trackballs had appeared. The first trackpads appeared. And yet Apple was still selling a one button mouse. Worse yet the Puck Mouse had a huge ergonomic issue. The cord would push it around. You’d grab it only to find the cursor going crazy because the mouse was sideways and you couldn’t tell what direction it was facing without looking. Functionally the Puck Mouse worked adequately, despite it’s limitations. The fact you ALWAYS had to stop and look to make sure it was facing the right way however made it a royal pain. After a few days of really trying to like it, it went into my unused Apple mouse box.

Apple made a number of mice in the following years. I didn’t follow them too closely to be honest. I had moved from desktop Macs to PowerBooks and then MacBooks. The TrackPad worked very well and on the rare occasion I needed a mouse I’d just pull out whatever generic USB mouse I had in my parts bin.

Then last fall I retired my MacBook Pro and bought an iMac. It came with a Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse II.
 As a mouse, the MagicMouse is fantastic. It has two buttons. OK you can’t see any but you can both right and left click. And in place of a scroll wheel it has a touch space so you can scroll up and down AND side to side. This is the best mouse I have ever used. Well, mostly. Functionally it’s great. I love working with it. But the thing is, it’s a BlueTooth mouse. Don’t get me wrong, I love not having a cord. The freedom is great. It does mean however, that it requires recharging, and that’s where the problem lies.


Who in the hell thought it was a good idea to put the plug on the bottom? It means that the mouse is unusable while charging. The Magic Keyboard has a plug on the front. You don’t have to lay it down its back to charge. You can keep using it while it’s charging. Why the hell didn’t they think of this with the MagicMouse?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because Apple is cursed. Apparently, many years ago, Apple offended some all-powerful being who cursed it with being unable to get a mouse right. The Macs are great. iPhones are great. MacBooks are great. Their keyboards and other accessories are great. But Apple cannot make a mouse without a fatal flaw.

It’s Apple’s curse.

2017

Yes, 2017 has been a wild ride. Three trips to the states. Ruth’s funeral. Mary’s funeral. An eclipse. Reduced hours for a while at work. Then late in the year Overtime. Two plays. Catching up with my cousin I hadn’t seen in at least 40 years. It’s been exhausting. Done with my iPad and Procreate for the tree and Graphic on my iMac for everything else.