Monday, November 30, 2009

Cyber Monday

St. Andrew's Day

Good Speculative Fiction Author/Bad Futurist!

My light entertainment reading for the weekend was The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer. The story is pretty good; I am nearly finished and have really enjoyed it so far.

In short, the story is about Dr. Peter Hobson, who invents a machine that detects a brain pattern that leaves the body after death, a pattern many believe is a soul. There is also a company that is selling immortality by way of nano-technology.

In order to test his theories on immortality and life after death, Dr. Peter Hobson, with his friend Sarkar Muhammed, create three electronic simulations of Hobson's own personality. When people Hobson had a grudge against begin to die, he and Sarkar must try to find out which is responsible. But all three, two modified, one a "control", escape Sarkar's computer, into a worldwide electronic matrix.

As an adventure in speculative fiction, it is pretty good. (Though I think that I have figured-out the ending and thing that I knew the “who-dunnit” of the story from a pretty early point in the book.) As a predictive work, it leaves something to be desired.

Sawyer is a good story teller, but he is no George Orwell. 1984 was scary in its accuracy of what was to come; the use of the media to control the opinion of the masses, two-way video conferencing, widespread usage of video surveillance, a government spying on its own people. As a predictive work, it shone in the number of things that would be possible in the 36 years between its creation and the year it was set in.

By contrast, The Terminal Experiment, is set in 2011 and was released in 1995 – a difference of 16 years. (Though, to be fair, the idea was first serialized as Hobson’s Choice in Analog magazine a few months earlier.

While he predicts that by next year the web will be everywhere, that people will spend inordinate amounts of time in virtual reality locales on the web (Can you say World of Warcraft and Second Life?), and that computers will be in every home, taking-on a number of the basic tasks for automating the minutia of running a home.

The things he misses, however are so obvious that they are laughable. Hobson and his wife are often depicted reading things that look suspiciously like the Kindle which is good! But, they have to load the books and magazines they read on them by inserting a disc.

They watch television via time shifting, but they still do it on a video-tape recorder. Does anyone still use video tape? Sure, I time shift everything, but I have a DVR and On-Demand.

The email programs they use would have been more likely to have been set in the mid-nineties; they are clunky and completely text-based. (They refer at one point to having to fax a picture to someone that was referred to in an email. Why not just embed the picture?)

There is one cool idea, it never happened, though it could have easily been done years ago. The papers that Dr. Hobson reads while waiting for a meeting to start were bought at a smart box vendor. He puts in a couple loonies (Canadian Dollars – the book is set in Ontario) and the paper prints-out with up-to-date news on-demand.

Of course, the time for this is passed and gone, but had something like this been in place years ago, the newspapers may have staved off their eventual deaths a while longer.

On the whole, though, despite the humorously short-sited view of the future, it is still a good read and I recommend it! It was a nice way to pass a couple days of a nice long holiday weekend.

Wherever you are today, I hope that you’ve had a nice weekend!

Don Bergquist – November 30, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Editor's Note:

Having finished the book, I have to add to my original post. The author (while still telling a good story - I do not mean to detract from the story!) has missed the point (or displayed a lack of knowledge of) Moore's Law. The basic premise is that that computer hardware gets twice as fast every two years.

This has implications in everything from how fast graphics will render to your screen to how fast and good compression of data will be for transmission. In one scene of the book the author discusses how data travels around the internet (though he does not use this term) and how the swift movement of data is hindered by the limitation of passing it over a telephone line. He totally missed the advent of high-speed data transmission via broadband, fibre optic, etc.

Ah well... it was still a good story!

editor

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

Happy anniversary to Dad & Flo

Happy anniversary to Mary & Corey

The "Holiday Shopping Season" Begins

Today is the official beginning of the holiday shopping season! (Yeah!!!) Oh, but were there a way to express the absolute sarcasm with which that "yeah" was proffered.

It is not as if I am a total Scrooge, but I hate this time of year at many public venues but I hate it at commercial venues especially; Yule spirit does done not go over well with me when it is forced from without. The fact that Christmas decorations started appearing more than a month ago is not something that helps foster the mood.

Look: I dislike malls at the best of times; I like them even less when they are crowded with holiday shoppers. Since when has the commercial spirit been the spirit of the season? So I am staying home today to read. There is no reason for me to venture forth.

Wherever you are today, I hope your holiday season kicks off in whatever way pleases you best.

Don Bergquist – November 27, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Now That's Just Rude

No, it's not just rude it's downright anti-social!

I'm talking about a survey I heard about yesterday by the Consumer Travel Alliance which finds that over 73% or those surveyed would travel on a plane even if they thought they had the (H1N1) Swine Flu!

Having gotten the flu this season, presumably from someone who failed to stay home when they were contagious and broadcasting the virus, I have only one thing to say to those people: "Stay Home, you idiots!"

Have you not heard the news that there is a flu epidemic? Have you not heard that the flu can be spread? Have you not heard that there is a shortage of vaccine (and hence no shortage of people ripe for infection)? Do you really want to be the 2009 equivalent of Typhoid Mary?

In a related article that I found, some airlines are actively looking for people who appear to be infected and keeping them off flights, but it is not as sure a way of preventing the spread of the flu than having people act socially responsible.

Granted, that is asking people to act against their human nature, people tend to care about themselves and damn anyone that gets in their way, but what can I say? I still believe that people want to be nice to each other...

Wherever you are today, I hope you'll be socially responsible and stay home if you're sick!

Don Bergquist - November 24, 2009 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Change In Demographics

Something odd is going on here!

For years (at least while in Colorado) it has been my habit to watch the early morning news on ABC from whenever I happen to get up (usually around four) until I either leave for work or until the local news starts. Recently I have noticed that there must have been an odd change in the demographics.

When I first started watching the show the advertisers were mostly those electric wheelchairs (and scooters for people who can't walk well), hearing aids, computer learning products, and Medicare supplement programs. This morning I noticed that the commercials were all for tattoo parlors, porn shops, professional audio companies, and cell phones.

What does this say about the people who are up and around this time of the morning?

The one porn shop that advertises has the worst commercials. The guys who do the spots are obnoxious and annoying, the delivery is whiny, and that does not even touch upon the horrendous scripting. But worst of all is the lighting. The guys on the show look like they are horribly sunburned but then they lean in and they turn sort-of blackish. The color on the spot is horrible.

At least the mobility products had good production value!

Wherever you are today, I hope that you're morning is going well.

Don Bergquist – November 20, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Has Writing Really Touched A Nerve?

Wow! I really didn't think my idle and off-hand comments would elicit such response! I do believe this is more responses than I have ever had before… Well, maybe second most.

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting on my blog!

Wherever you are today, I hope that you’re having a good day!

Don Bergquist – November 19, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cursive

I recently saw a news report (I cannot remember which of the plethora of news programs I watch it was on, sorry) about how Cursive is a dying script. The point of the story was that we learn it in third grade and then practically never read it again.


I am reading The Salmon Of Doubt, the posthumous work by Douglas Adams. It is basically a collection of essays, articles he wrote, and the start of a novel that he was in the process of writing when he died. He makes note of how handwriting was going out as far back as the nineties and offers an answer to the question “Why?”

Thinking about it, I think he is right. Handwriting is dying out because it is not conducive to computing.

With the ubiquity of the computer in daily life we are more used to seeing things in print than in cursive, and though we could make the computers write things in cursive, it is not necessary. Computer keyboards are not in cursive, handwriting input devices do not understand cursive, and don’t get me started with text recognition. It is often had to get my scanner to import a typed document correctly.


So is cursive dead? Probably. If so, it was the computer that killed it.

Except for my signature, I cannot tell you the last thing I wrote in cursive (and as with most signatures that I have seen, mine is mostly initial letters and a suggestive squiggle). What was the last thing you wrote in cursive? So, take a moment to morn the passing of cursive, then get back to work in a print world.



Don Bergquist – November 18, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Happy birthday to my cousin Grainne

Monday, November 16, 2009

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

If you believe what Rudy Guiliani has to say, then it is a bad thing that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad will be tried in open court. It sets a dangerous precedent and changes the “war on terrorism” from a war to a law enforcement issue. It will give the defendant what he wants – publicity.

If you believe what Rudy Guiliani has to say, then it was a good thing that Zacarias Moussaoui was tried in open court. It gave the defendant his day in court. It showed that we were a nation of laws.

Mr. Giuliani was on one of the “talking heads” shows that I watch. The former comment was said live on the show, in response to the later which was a quote of his from 2006 which the commentator asked him about. You can’t have it both ways. Is it a good thing or a bad thing to try the people who were responsible for the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 in US criminal courts? I think that the reason for the confusion may be clear when you look at the former mayor of New York’s other comments from yesterday:

The administration has quit using the phrase the war on terror.” – Funny, but isn’t that exactly what the previous administration did when they decided to re-brand it as “The struggle against violent extremism” in July of 2005?

Trying him in open court presents the possibility of acquittal.” – But isn’t that one of the founding principles upon which our legal system is built; the concept of the presumption of innocence? Granted, this person has been tried and convicted in the media, and (if the press reports are to be believed) he has boasted about being the mastermind of the “9/11 Attacks” but he is still entitled to his day in court.

The administration has invented the possibility of military tribunals…” – Really!? The current administration invented the possibility of trying someone in a military tribunal? I suppose I must have been imagining the previous administration proposing/doing exactly that with the detainees that actually got any form of a trial.

Let’s face it. What is happening is not perfect, but then neither is our system of justice. It is, however, the only system we have. And as imperfect as it is, it is better than that present in many other places.

In some countries, a woman can be stoned to death just because her husband accuses her of infidelity. She has no right to defend herself or to present any evidence to exonerate herself. Okay, I can hear you whining that I have picked an example of a backward extremist country to make my point.

Okay, I’ll grant you that one. Let’s take a look at one of our most cherished (and maligned) rights as far as criminal proceedings is concerned. Along with the presumption of innocence, we have the right not to present self-incriminatory evidence. The fifth amendment (in case you have either not read it or do not remember it from your high school civics classes) reads as follows:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Why do we have this right not to testify against ourselves spelled-out in our constitution? Because no such right existed in England when we seceded from them in 1776. The system of English Common Law at the time had no assumption of innocence. It had no protection against self-incrimination.

But that’s what? 200 years ago?” I hear you ask. 233, but who is counting?

What’s more, according to discussions I had with my friends while living in London, no such assumptions or protections exist today. A prisoner in the dock of the Queen’s courtroom may be compelled to answer any question put to them regardless of the consequences. Failure to answer or to answer truthfully is an offense in itself.

Now, granted, it is an offence to lie in court, it’s called “perjury” but in an American court, if you ask me if I had committed an offense, I have the right to say nothing. You (as a juror) will be instructed by the judge that you may not draw any conclusion from the silence. And there are good and valid reasons for this right.

It keeps the power of the government in check and prevents them from arbitrarily pulling people into court on any old claim the want to make. If the government is going to pull you into court, they are going to make sure there is reason for you to be there first!

So, is it a good or a bad thing that we are going to try the architect of the 9/11 attacks in a US court. The answer is, quite frankly, both. It shows the world that we are not afraid to do so, that our justice system is capable of withstanding the attacks he is accused of launching against it. It is bad because it does give him a platform to spread his propaganda from. But that is the cost of freedom.

If you want the right to speak your mind, you have to extend that to others. Even others you disagree with. (I know that people on both ends of the political spectrums have just cringed, but it cannot be helped.)

Wherever you are today, I hope that you will exercise the freedom of speech you have.

Don Bergquist – November 16, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Happy anniversary to DeeAnn & Michael

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

Rememberance Day

Happy birthday to my friend John

Armistice Day

Flander's Fields
by
John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Product Placement

A brilliant new show on ABC, Castle, (well, at least a show I really like) has done something I have never heard of happening before. The program spent the entire first season with the author character "writing" a novel, Heat Wave. We heard about his process, saw how he researched the character, etc.

There is nothing new in this, what is (I believe) new, is that they had someone actually ghost-write the book and they introduced it in the season 01 season finale. An interesting move, but I wonder what the ramifications of this might be aboard.

In the US, the FCC (the regulatory body that regulates broadcast television) has adopted the Children's Television Act of 1990. This act mandated that in children's television programming, the broadcaster may not present more than 06:00 advertising time in any given half-hour of children's television programming. (Slightly more on the weekends.) Additionally, no character from the program may appear in any ad within that program as that makes the entire program a commercial for the product.

These rules were adopted because ACT (Action for Children's Television) successfully argued that children have a problem telling the difference between the commercials and the programming. If you can remember the '80s, you may remember how programs like He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe program tended to consist of 22 minutes of program content, five minutes of commercials for He-Man toys, and a minute or two of other content.

In Canada, for instance, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) is much more stringent in controlling what happens on the air. They have limits on commercialization around the clock. It was something like 7.5 minutes per half hour last time I checked. …or something like that.

The reason I bring this up, is something has been bothering me. If we apply the same argument to Castle that ACT applied to He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe do we now have a problem? Is the entire season 1 of Castle not just a commercial for Heat Wave?

Okay, perhaps this is just interesting to those of us who make our living with broadcasting and broadcast-related business.

Wherever you are today, I hope that you will have a good day!

Don Bergquist – November 07, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Guy Fawkes Night

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd (or by God's mercy)
With a dark lantern and burning match.

The Gunpowder Treason

There was a movie that a friend of mine lent to me while I was living in London that had some really interesting things to say politically, morally, and ethically. The movie, V for Vendetta is made from a graphic novel (an adult comic book) and is very much in the style of movies made from such sources, it is dark, highly stylized, and does not follow normal rules of physical motion (people appear and disappear without moving, return from the dead, seem to fly across great distances in no time at all, etc.).

The movie is set in a modern day London which is ruled by a harsh, authoritarian government which comes to power through questionable means and which maintains power through the use of fear and brutal enforcement of draconian laws. Personal freedoms and human rights have all but disappeared in the wake of the horrible events that gave rise to a highly nationalist and xenophobic government.

Into this hellish world comes an avenger. V, as he is known, is a crusader who has come to remind his fellow countrymen what they have surrendered to the powers that be and to let them know that no government has the right to rule through fear and oppression. V is only ever seen in the guise of Guy Fawkes and the British Celebration of Guy Fawkes night features prominently throughout.

There are shades of Thomas Jefferson in the quote most people remember from the movie:
"People should not fear the government. The government should fear its people."
Now, I was living over in the UK during the later years of the Bush-Cheney administration so I saw this not so much as an indictment of the the British, but more as a general warning about letting your government take away from you the rights that we have fought against those in power for so many years to win! I was constantly being asked how I could countenance the erosion of personal freedoms that were being foisted upon the American people.

We were being spied upon by the government, we were being lied to to induce us to allow the administration to start two ill-conceived and unpopular wars. (Okay, there was general consent that we should attack Afghanistan after 09/11, but the reasons and the support for invading Iraq was never as clear.)

The result of the November elections of last year should have been a turning point. It seemed to be. "Change" was what we were promised. Unfortunately, that change has been neither as copious nor as rapid as one might have hoped. I do not in any condone or support violent revolution, but a revolution is what is needed nonetheless!

A revolution of fed-up Americans who do the unthinkable: that get active in local affairs, an American public who take a genuine and active interest in politics, an American public who can be bothered to show-up at the polls and voice their opinion.

As Thomas Jefferson said:
"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."
Wherever you are today, I hope that you will find some peaceful way to at least give your government a brief pause for thought!

Don Bergquist - November 05, 2009 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Guy Fawkes


Happy birthday to my friend Gayla

Monday, November 02, 2009

ADOLAT

This weekend I stopped into a shop to pick-up a couple things I needed and there was this cool little doo-hickey on the counter that caught my attention.

It was a disk made of cardboard with a swirl pattern printed on it. On top of that was a sheet of some sort of Lucite or plastic or something that had a different kind of a swirl pattern printed on it. Set in the middle, serving as a pivot for the two was a faceted piece of plastic or Lucite or something that you could look through to get a sort-of bug’s eye view of the things around you.

Or you could spin the two discs relative to each other and get psychedelic patterns to show. It was pretty cool looking and I played with it a while and then put it down. Then while waiting for the clerk to finish ringing-up my order, I picked it up again and played with it some more…

My reverie was interrupted (when I had picked it up for the third time) by the voice of the clerk. “Ohh! Shiny. You want me to ring that up? You obviously want it!”

“No, just looking at it.” Was the lame response I gave.

“Yeah, I have been doing that all day myself.” he confided. “It must be my ADOLAT.”

“Excuse me?” I asked puzzled.

“You know: Attention Deficit” at which point he turned and looked suddenly at the back of the store as if I had been forgotten “Ooh! Look At That!”

I have to admit. It was one that I had not heard before. We chuckled, finished the transaction and I left; a new thing to snicker at occasionally in my bag one-liners.

Wherever you are today, I hope that you have something to chuckle at!

Don Bergquist – November 02, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Happy birthday to my cousin Michael

Happy birthday to my uncle Richard

All Souls Day

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Costume

Every year I try to make my Halloween costume something humorous; a visual pun, a political statement, something unexpected. This year in planning my costume I had thought about going as Sarah Palin’s speech writer.

The gag was that I was going to go with a bag full of slips of paper, each with a random comment on them: “I don’t want to talk about that let’s talk about energy,” “I can see Russia from my house,” “Lipstick,” “I’m a maverick…” that sort of thing. Then when ever anyone asked me anything I would reach into the bag and grab a handful of them and read them off as my answer.

Unfortunately, it was pointed out to me that with speeches as rambling and poorly constructed as he has there was no way she used a speech writer so the gag kind of fell apart.

Then, talking to my sister on afternoon, we hit upon a new idea. Off to my scanner and PhotoShop I went. After scanning and altering some Monopoly® money with pictures of myself (and Saga for the Million-Dollar Bill) I printed off stacks and stacks of money which I gave out freely at the party I went to.

“Buy yourself something nice, like a car company.” Was one of my lines I used. “Here’s your bailout fund. Pay it back when you are back on your feed. (Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink.)” Was another.

My costume? Timothy Geithner.

For the people who knew who that is, it was a pretty funny costume. Oddly, it was the children who liked it most! One little girl kept coming back asking if she could have some more money. A future CEO, no doubt!

Perhaps I went a little overboard, though. I am not at all sure that I needed to print a full ream of paper into money. I still have a good portion of it left over. (And when have you ever heard that about a government program!?)

Wherever you are today, I hope that you’re having a lovely day!

Don Bergquist – November 01, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

Happy birthday to my friend Heather

Happy birthday to my friend Terry

All Saints Day

Fall Back

I hope you remembered to set your clocks back! (Unless you live in a portion of the world that didn't go to Daylight Savings Time back in the spring.)

Most of the US "Falls Back" to standard time effective this morning. Enjoy that extra hour of sleep! (I don't, personally, set my clocks back until today... that way I get my extra hour of sleep tomorrow morning and I can enjoy it on a work day!)

Don Bergquist - November 01, 2009 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA