What Indiana Jones was looking for

It's been found, and it can be yours for only $7.00! Just remember not to open it or your face will melt off.

Pears with Tuna

This is a quick and easy appetizer that is really good. I've often made a whole batch and eaten it as a meal. It works well in the summer since it's served cold. The combination of sweet pears and salty tuna works very well, and everyone I know who's tried this loves it.


  • Canned pear halves, drained
  • Canned tuna
  • Mayonnaise/Miracle Whip
  • Pepper


  • Pat dry the pear halves with a paper towel
  • Mix the mayonnaise, tuna, and pepper to taste
  • Arrange pear halves on a plate with the inside up, so that they appear to be little bowls
  • Fill the pear halves with the tuna mixture
  • Serve immediately.

Cream of Wheat

I like Cream of Wheat. Invented in 1893 and first promoted widely at the Chicago World's Fair, this is a basic food that fills you up and warms you on those cold days in winter or when your air-conditioning is on too high. The box art for cream of wheat usually features a black chef, who dates back to the days when it was fashionable to adorn new products with black faces (such as Uncle Ben or Aunt Jemima). This chef is named Rastus, and if you visit the Wikipedia link for Rastus, you'll see that his image in early advertising was not very complimentary. However these days such obviously racist ads are a thing of the past and we can enjoy our hot cereal without insulting anyone.

I like to prepare cream of wheat using milk to give it a better flavour; I tried once with water and it was basically awful. I mix 3 tablespoons cream of wheat to 1 1/4 cups milk, and boil until it thickens. This gives a nice solid bowl of cream of wheat that is rather bland, and is in need of the secret ingredient. My secret ingredient is Heinz Mixed Fruit baby food. This is pureed fruit, much like applesauce. Just mix in some mixed fruit and voila, a delicious hot breakfast. I've been eating cream of wheat this way since I was a baby; my aunt recommended feeding me cream of wheat, but when my mom made it she thought it didn't taste good, so she mixed in the fruit. Since then I've even introduced this recipe to others. It sounds strange but it tastes great.

LEGO Skeleton Tower

I just got the LEGO Skeleton Tower, part of this year's Castle line. This set features a tall tower with a giant skull on it, whose drawbridge is the skull's lower jaw, as well as an evil wizard, a damsel in distress, two skeletal soldiers, a fearsome dragon, and a heroic knight on a white stallion.
Overall the set features good playability because of its nice mix of good-guys and bad-guys and the skeleton tower looks pretty good from the front. The wizard can stand at the top, working his evil magic with his lightning staff and his crystal ball; there is a catapult that can fling burning rocks at the hero, and the dragon is, well, a dragon. The minifigs really stand out in this set; LEGO has fixed the mistakes of the past castle lines and given us great minifigs. The classic swords are back; the heraldry looks good and not too cartoony, the wizard is quite detailed and has an excellent cloth cape, and the princess has a two-sided head, so that you can change her from happy to scared by turning her head around. The evil undead skeletons are pretty good as well and have good weapons, including (in this kit) a flail and a sword that can double as a scythe. The evil shield is great as well.

The set is not without its flaws, however. The skeleton minifigs in this line are different from the previous skeleton figs; the old figs had ball-and-socket arms and so couldn't hold a weapon while posed. The new skeletons have arms with a tight clip-hinge and thus can be posed, but their arms are perfectly straight, meaning they hold their swords at shoulder level. Also, unlike regular minifigs, the skeletons hands are frozen in the horizontal configuration, and can't be rotated. This limits their posability a lot and makes the skeletons look a little silly. This unfortunate situation affects all the castle sets this year.

The skeleton tower also has its own defects. There are two main defects: First, this set, like most LEGO castles, makes no attempt to be "anatomically correct" and thus is full of unreachable places; there is no way for a minifig to get to the top of a tower, or even up to the dias where the wizard has his crystal ball. However, worse is the construction of the tower itself: there are gaps everywhere that are not aesthetically pleasing, and there is what appears to be a middle storey in the tower that is not tall enough for the minifigs to stand in. It's a shame because the set could have 20 more bricks and it would be significantly better.Overall the set is quite good and a worthy set for the castle line. It features some compelling minifigs and lots of useful parts, and enough potential for hours of play.

The Lighthouse Restaurant

Lighthouse signI ate at a nice restaurant near Niagara Falls. It's called Lighthouse and it's located on Niagara Parkway between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. It's a 5 minute drive from the Falls and well worth it.

Stir-fryThe restaurant is located in a 200 year old building renovated by the owner, Mr. Young. It features indoor and outdoor dining and there is also a party room on the second floor. Entrees range from Italian to Asian to your basic steak sandwich. My fatSeafood Linguiniher-in-law ate the steak sandwich and exclaimed that this was the steak sandwich he'd been searching for his whole life. I ate the stir fry with Udon noodles and it was delicious. My wife wasn't going to try anything else on the menu but I convinced her that she should at least try one other thing, and she wasn't disappointed. She ate the seafood linguini and thought it was delightful.

The house speciality, however, isn't found on the menu. They're not always available, but if they are, you'd better not miss the spring rolls. These amazing spring rolls are thick and loaded with pork or shrimp, and they have a nice crispy shell. They are truly incredible.Spring Rolls

The Lighthouse is open until 9:30 (kitchen closes at 9) and is found at 4301 Niagara Parkway, Fort Erie.

Demon Cat terrorizes Nursing Home

A hellish spawn has been making rounds of a nursing home, cursing patients and sending them to their eternal slumber. This evil feline must be captured and burned before more people succumb to its terror!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Well, I've finished reading the book. Overall it's not bad, about what we've come to expect from Ms. Rowling. There are some flaws, however, which I will try to discuss without spoiling the story for those of you who haven't finished yet. There are, however, spoilers from book 6 here.

First, as I mentioned in my previous post, book 6 ends with the bad guys cleaning up with Harry because he's unable to make spells silently. This, I thought, proved that Harry was, compared to his elders, completely unprepared to deal with adult wizards who were performing magic. Ms. Rowling didn't address this at all in the 7th book and instead most spells were spoken aloud and it was considered a good defence to render your opponent mute. This brings us closer to the other books where such things were normal, and highlights the problems with book 6.

Secondly, there are things that happened in book 7 that seemed a little incredible. As you can probably guess, there is a war going on between the bad guys (Death Eaters) and good guys (various). Naturally the Death Eaters are making headway and a decisive victory is required by the good guys but this victory is elusive. Things have to get worse before they get better, otherwise it's a boring story. The problem is that things get worse so fast in book 7 that it's really not believable that the wizards would let it happen. People achieve positions of power without the outcry you'd expect from others. I'd expect to see, or at least hear about, good guys resorting to more extreme measures in order to prevent the ascent of evil: We are, after all, talking about bad guys so EVIL that nothing is beneath them. I mean, they have spent the last several books trying to kill children, among other nefarious deeds.

Finally, the book contains some rather predictable plot "twists" which many people have seen coming. Thankfully most of these were reasonably well explained but still it would have been nice to have a bit of surprise. The only part that surprised me was when one of the characters said the word "Bitch".

The book does have its good points, but the main improvement over the previous books is the acceptance by the characters that they are at war, and that lives are truly at stake. One person says "we duel to kill" and this is indicative of the tone. However there are still too few good guys using Avada Kedavra. Overall, the book is a pretty good end to the series.

Newsflash: Diet drinks are bad for you, no wait, they're ok, no wait, it's all pop, no wait...

The Toronto Star reports that diet drinks are linked to increased health risks such as heart attack. The article waits until the last few paragraphs to state that the study they cited doesn't prove that diet drinks have anything to do with these risks; it's actually far more likely that people who drink diet pop are also people who otherwise eat badly. So the conclusion is: we don't know why, but people who drink any pop, diet or otherwise, are at higher risk of heart attack and other health problems.

Border guards

The other day I decided to try something crazy, which I should have known was nearly impossible in this day and age. I rented a car, drove to Niagara Falls, and, get this, drove across the Rainbow Bridge to Niagara Falls USA.

Crazy, eh? Of course the US is at war, or something, and Canada is a haven for ... movie pirates? I think that's the latest accusation... anyway, I was unprepared for the total jackass that was barring my way to the "Land of the Free".

First, she was quite rude when asking for our ID, which we had thoughtfully brought along in the form of passports. Things went downhill when she asked us whose car we were driving.

"It's a rental," I said.
"Can I see the rental agreement?" she asked.
"Sorry, I don't have it with me."
"Then how do I know who rented this car?"

I was at a loss to answer that when she flew off the handle.

"What are you going to do in the US?"
"Drive around a bit, go shopping"
"So you rented a car, drove all the way from Toronto, just to drive around here? You realize you're entering a foreign country? How am I supposed to know who rented this car? Where do you work? What day are you going back to work? You know they give you the rental agreement for a reason! Put the car in park, give me the keys and pop the trunk!"

She then proceeded to search the car, tapping things to see if they were hollow, or something... frankly she didn't do a good job, since the trunk IS hollow... thank goodness she didn't find my spare tire, or I might have to explain why I needed FIVE tires in my car, wasn't four good enough, did I think US roads were going to give me a flat, etc, etc. Finally she yelled at us that next time we should be more prepared and told us to go across. I resisted to urge to call her a "Shatner-stealing Mexico toucher".

In the end the trip across the border was a complete waste of time; Niagara Falls USA is a squalid hell-hole and I didn't find any good deals on Lego. Even driving there was annoying, because the traffic lights were too close to the stop line, so when you stopped at an intersection you couldn't see the lights anymore.

The best part of the cross-border excursion was the drive back, where I got to feel smug satisfaction at the polite and friendly Canadian customs official who welcomed us home.

Strawberry Mousse Meringue Torte

This recipe is from Canadian Living. It looked nice in the photo so I made it. It tastes good, and because it's served cold it is suitable for a nice light summer dessert.


  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp icing suger
  • 12 strawberries


  • 4 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 tsp unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 cups whipping cream


  1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Draw two 8-inch circles on each sheet; turn paper over, set aside. Line side of 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. In bowl, beat together egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until soft peaks form; beat in granulated sugar, 2 tbsp at a time, until stiff glossy peaks form. Beat in vanilla.
  3. Spoon one quarter of the egg white mixture onto each circle, using offset spatula or knife, spread evenly to the edge. Bake in the top and bottom thirds of a 275ºF oven, switching and rotating pans halfway through, until tops are firm; about one hour. Let cool on the pan on a rack; peel off the paper.
  4. In a food processor, puree strawberries with sugar until smooth, pour into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced by one third, and a spoon drawn across the bottom leaves a space that doesn't fill in; about 30 minutes. Pour into a bowl.
  5. Pour water into a small bowl, sprinkle in the gelatin. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture to the strawberry mixture and stir until melted. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the consistency of raw egg whites, about 10 minutes.
  6. In a separate bowl, whip the cream. Fold it into the strawberry mixture 1/3 at a time.
  7. Place one meringue into the springform pan. Spoon 1/3 of the mousse over the meringue; spread to edge of pan. Repeat twice, covering the top with the remaining meringue. Cover with a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze, until firm, about 4 hours. To serve, let torte soften in refrigerator for 30 minutes, garnish with strawberries and icing sugar.


Well, they installed a monorail but Main Street is still full of potholes.You'd better hope they have a damn good conductor.
Source: The Metro July 19 2007

Neti Pots: not the WORST idea ever...

Tired of blowing your nose? Got caught picking one embarrassing time too many? NeilMed has the answer for you: The NasaFlo Neti Pot. Basically it's a teapot that you fill with saline then pour into your sinuses. It washes away snot and boogers and leaves you feeling, well, like you just poured water up your nose.

My wife bought one of these and I decided to try it. She mentioned something about "some powder" you mix in but she gave me the pot filled with regular filtered water. I bent down, tipped my head to one side, and poured the water into my nose. Let me describe what that's like. First, water is flowing through your head. Second, this water was not saline so it burned (ironically), and I felt like I was drowning. Third, and this is important: BREATHE THROUGH YOUR MOUTH! I can't stress enough the dangers of breathing through your nose while you're filling it with water. Let's just say that it was possibly the most unpleasant experience of my life. After I coughed and sprayed water everywhere, I had to blow my nose for 5 minutes to clear out the mess caused by the neti pot.

Then I decided to read the directions, and found that the box comes with a bunch of saline powder packets, which you are supposed to mix with the water. I thought that before I wrote a nasty blog post about this product I should try the saline first.

With the saline mixture well dissolved I tried it again. This time the process went much more smoothly and I didn't feel like I was drowning in my own snot. The water flowed cleanly from one side of my nose to the other, washing away... whatever was in there. But in the end I still had to blow my nose a lot and half an hour later I have a nagging feeling of having been swimming upside down.

I suppose some people may derive some benefit from this product, but for me this product is fit for the pit.

Hybrid Noise

Blind people of developed nations are facing a new crisis: they can't hear hybrid cars. Electric cars are quiet and are essentially undetectable to the visually impaired.
Stein, who is blind and prides herself on being attuned to sound, says she was shocked to find she couldn't hear hybrids. While she listened from the sidewalk on a quiet side street, she heard a friend climb into his Toyota Prius and slam the door. After that, she heard nothing as her friend drove to the end of the block, backed up and drove away again.
What do they propose be done about this? Make the cars louder.
John Rae, president the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. urges manufacturers to act "before individuals are killed because they could not hear an oncoming quiet hybrid."
Options discussed include using sound from the radiator fan or building something into the axle that would emit sound as the wheels rotate.
Frankly adding noise to cars seems like a major mistake. Noise increases stress, even white noise, so reducing noise pollution is an important goal. Governments should offer incentives for automakers to reduce noise emissions in their cars, not mandate minimum noise levels. The proper solution to this problem will lie in technology: cars can be outfitted with transmitters that are inaudible without a special machine. This press release from the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians suggests that this is not an appropriate solution as it will not let blind people "read" an intersection the way they do now, however I am sure there is a solution to this problem: simply transmit a low power signal that can be picked up by a hearing-aid-like device. With proper care this signal can mimic the directionality that is required for accurate reading, and as a bonus it can even transmit encoded details, such as whether the car is slowing, stopped, or accelerating.

Hopefully the government won't jump to mandate the solution to this problem without consideration of the alternatives. Adding noise to cars is the worst possible outcome.

Your cup size is too small

Second Cup changed their cup sizes for cold beverages a year ago but it seems some franchisees are still using a mix of old and new cups. The result is that they are selling "medium" drinks that are the same size as "small" drinks. In the Toronto Star article it mentions that franchisees are unwilling to throw away old stock because they have to buy the new stock themselves. The article's author suggests Second Cup crack down on franchisees and make them throw away the stock. There's an even simpler solution: since the old "medium" cups are the same size as the new small, just use old mediums as smalls and buy new medium cups. Until then, franchisees who are selling old medium cups and new small cups are ripping off their customers.

Thinking outside the bun

I was walking down the street and remembered I needed some groceries. I saw some cardboard lying on the ground and immediately thought "bingo!" My inspiration is a man in Beijing who has a plan to deal with pesky recycling issues. What do you do with all that excess cardboard? Easy: Pick up the cardboard on the street, soak it in caustic soda, then make delicious steamed buns. He mixes 60% cardboard with 40% pork fat and seasoning. He says most customers can't tell the difference, but he wouldn't eat them.


I learned about in interesting concept today: The Eruv. In a nutshell, Jewish beliefs prohibit certain activities on the Sabbath, such as moving an item from one domain to another. This presents certain problems, with some Orthodox Jews believing that things like a wheelchair are prohibited items that can not be moved. Luckily, the concept of a "domain" is broadly defined and some clever Jews have found a loophole: put a fence around the whole neighbourhood/city and declare it to be one big domain. The fence can even be a piece of fishing line at the top of a tall pole, so that it is basically invisible.

What I find ironic about this is how much of a technicality this is: God decrees that you can't do something, but doesn't specify all the details, so Men stretch the details as far as they can. In all fairness though, opinions are split in the Jewish community about how large an eruv can be, and whether it makes sense for one to be the size of a neighbourhood. My feeling is that it's rather silly to make an eruv that large, since that basically neuters the entire Law (or does it spay it? Is the Law male of female?).

I read somewhere an interesting idea for those who believe an eruv can be as large as they want: make one eruv for the whole earth. The Earth is a sphere, so by definition any enclosed shape on the surface of the sphere actually just divides the sphere into two surfaces. It's then merely a matter of convention about which side of the line is the inside. Thus one eruv would serve the whole world. Somehow I doubt they'll go for it though.

Bye Bye Logitech RX300

The verdict is in: the Logitech RX300 mouse is out. The mouse-wheel buttons are too hard to click properly. The main mouse-wheel click, which replaces the traditional middle mouse button, is very hard to click because the wheel clicks twice: the first click happens when you press down with normal strength, but when you use your whole arm you can push the wheel further to get a second click, and this click is the one that actually works. The first click is just a decoy. This is annoying, but the problem is worse because it's very very easy to inadvertently tip the wheel to the left or right, thus activating the side clicks. This behaviour is annoying and it makes it difficult to manage tabs in Firefox: I middle-click to close a tab, but accidentally side-click, which scoots the active window somewhere else and closes THAT window. Or else I try to middle click something but realize I didn't lean on the mouse hard enough and only reached the decoy click.

It's too bad, because I like the rolling of the wheel better than my old mouse, but I depend on the ability to middle-click properly. Bye bye RX300.

True tales from Customer Support: A new hard drive for my modem

"Ever since you guys put a new hard drive in my modem I can't see the Swedish Bikini Team"
This is how the conversation started. I knew right away that I was dealing with a novice, but this man had the nerve to admit WHY he wanted his modem to work. Another customer, who was using Netscape 3.0 back when browsers stored your browsing history in the address bar without giving you a way to erase it, had a different problem:
"The kids were doing something on the computer, and now there's smutty websites showing up when I try to type in a web address. How do I get rid of them before the wife sees it?"
In the first case, the problem turned out to be the modem settings. Modems have never been easy to set up because several poor design factors in computers; first the classic modem hardware competed with other devices for scare resources, and then, when hardware started improving, modem manufacturers started cheapening their designs with buggy, unreliable, CPU-hogging software modems. Now things are pretty sane, and lots of people have high-speed Internet anyway. The customer's settings were messed up because we installed a new hard drive in his computer, which had an internal modem; I guess someone told him the box with the phone line is the modem.

For the second user, there was little he could do since he was unable to edit the registry. I told him to browse the web to 10 different sites so that he could replace the history entries. Unfortunately I couldn't walk him through it because he only had one phone line, and needed to dial-up to access the 'net. Now I'd ask him to call me back on his cell phone. Ah cell phones, high-speed Internet.... heck these days some ADSL and cable modems probably do have hard-drives.


I complained to my optometrist that I was seeing slightly double. He prescribed some glasses for me and I bought them, but they didn't help. I then began a wild goose chase, visiting several specialists who each said "There's nothing wrong with X, go see a specialist who deals with Y", until I ended up at an ophthalmologist. He examined my glasses and said "These don't do anything for you, do they?" and proceeded to prescribe glasses with a prism lens, to bend the light and correct the horizontal mis-alignment of my eyes. Seems like the logical thing, right? Why didn't the first guy think of that? Thanks to him I've used up my optical health coverage on the wrong prescription and now it's going to cost $140 for custom prism lenses. But at least I'll be able to watch TV without closing one eye.

Creationists versus The Eye

The fundamentalist Christian group Answers in Genesis (AiG) preaches that evolution is wrong and everything was created directly by God. In this article they discuss why the eye must have been created. The argument essentially boils down to "If it wasn't built exactly the way it is, it wouldn't work at all". This suggests that the eye could never have arisen naturally. The article uses, as proof, the fact that the eye twitches constantly. This twitching (microsaccades) is imperceptible but has an important side-effect: twitching changes the light that appears on the cells of the retina and in essence refreshes the signal from those cells, so that your eyes can see constantly, even when nothing is moving. If there was no twitching, you'd stop seeing the image after a few moments, until something moved. This is because the retinal cells only respond to a change in light. Since the muscles that control this twitching are tiny, and the twitching is responsible for continuous vision, God must have made the twitchy muscles.

There are so many things wrong with this argument it's hard to know where to start. First, the argument is one of incredulity. Saying "It's absurd that such and such occurred naturally" is the same as saying "I can't imagine a way for such and such to occur", but some people have a better imagination than others. The fact that AiG don't understand how an eye might evolve microsaccades doesn't mean that those microsaccades didn't evolve.

The second problem with this argument is that it is quite obvious how microsaccades might have evolved. First, an eye evolves that doesn't have microsaccades. As the AiG article mentions, this eye can't see something if it isn't moving. However an animal can be born with a mutation where this animal's eyes are naturally twitchier. As a consequence, this animal sees better than his brethren and is a better hunter (or is better at escaping hunters), and thus has a better chance of surviving. Animals that survive longer have more offspring, thus propagating the mutation. This is only one possible scenario; in order to account for the tiny twitching muscles in the human eye it's probably required that the twitching evolved at the same time as the eye. Twitching is often a defect, but as a computer programmer I can assure you that defects often become features.

The third problem with this argument is that it denies God's own perfection. This isn't a problem for evolution, but a strange paradox in the creationists' arguments. If God is perfect, and he designed the eye to perfection, why did he make it so that it has to twitch in the first place? It doesn't make sense. If you're designing an eye, you don't make a photo-receptor that only works when the light changes, and then fix that by constantly changing the light with twitchy muscles. Rube Goldberg would have come up with a better system. And don't get me started on the testicles being outside the body.

Petitioners demand more Potter

Harry's fans are at it again. Not content to get the seventh and final book, they have started a petition demanding that J.K. Rowling continue to write the adventures of the boy wizard. As a fan myself, I would like to raise my voice and say, "No!" Please let the story end when it ends. There are rumours that Harry will die. If he does, he must stay dead. Nothing makes a story lamer than when authors resurrect characters who are meant to remain dead. I fear, however, that Ms Rowling will take a lesson from George Lucas, and she will succumb to the desire to make more money, despite the damage done to the artistic integrity of her work. Feel free to re-use aspects of the Potter universe, Ms Rowling, if you aren't brave enough to create a new setting, but please don't bring back all the same old characters again.

We've endured irritating house-elves, blast-ended skrewts, rules of magic changing under our noses, movies that get more rushed and confusing with every instalment, and, worst of all, an interminable wait between books, please do what's right for the story and put it to rest when its time comes.

Girl, Boyfriend kill family

How do you show you love your underage girlfriend? She's only 12, so you can't take her to Vegas. Her parents have locked your 23-year-old-ass out of their house. What should you do? Why, break into their house and kill them, that's what! Nothing shows you care like making an orphan of your significant other! Better make sure you finish off her little brother too. Once you're done, you can celebrate by going to a party and bragging about your deeds to your friends. In Jeremy Steinke's case, it seems to have gone over well with his girlfriend, except the part about being arrested while on the lam.

Long term thinking

Sometimes I think about tomorrow, or next week. Usually these thoughts are within one or two themes:
  1. Is tomorrow a weekend? Will it never arrive? or
  2. Crap, I have a deadline tomorrow, if only it were the next day.
This kind of thinking is not what anyone would call long-term. For me, long-term thinking occurs when, on a weekend, I wonder if my wife has made plans for me for the next weekend. Sometimes I exhibit long-term thinking when I remember to marinate the meat the day before I mean to cook it, or, even longer-term, when I remember to buy the meat when I'm grocery-shopping.

There are, however, longer time-frames that I sometimes think about. OMNI Magazine had an article in the early 90s about how to store nuclear waste. The article discussed two problems: the first, and most obvious, is how to make a vault strong enough to store plutonium for 10,000 years; the second is stopping people from opening that vault 10,000 years from now.

Consider the pyramids. We know them to be tombs, but much about them is lost. We don't know (exactly) how they were built. We don't even know how many there are, since many have decayed. People claim that the pyramids are cursed, but that's just what they'd say if the pyramids actually were toxic or radioactive and all who entered died painfully. If the pyramids were built to contain some evil, current generations are unaware of that evil and have entered and plundered most or all of the pyramids. Another mystery is the sphinx. What is it for, and why is it there? It could have been intended to frighten away would-be intruders, a job it has not done well. Nobody knows when, why, or by whom the sphinx was built, or even if it should be called a "sphinx" (legendary sphinxes were winged and had female heads, and were a Greek legend anyway, not an Egyptian legend). Now I don't really believe that the pyramids are ancient Egypt's nuclear waste dumps. But the point is we don't know much about them, and much of what we do know we only learned by entering the pyramids. What would happen to a future society that broke open our poisonous nuclear time-capsules?

The problem is that we're no good at transmitting information across the ages. We can't even transmit an automobile across a few decades. The folks of Oklahoma thought, in 1957, that their car was safely stored for future generations, but when it emerged it was a rusted heap. Every document printed on thermal paper will disappear when it's a few months old. Documents printed with ink jets fade after a few years, even if the paper and ink are so-called "fade resistant". And in the 1980s the BBC tried to digitize the Domesday Book in a multimedia presentation, yet the computers used for this project are obsolete, and broken, and all the data is essentially lost. Ironically the original book, over 900 years old, is still around and perfectly readable, but the fancy digital version lasted only 15 years.

The Domesday project used custom computers to achieve a goal that wasn't practical on contemporary PCs, and thus, in a sense, sealed its own fate. But even modern software, designed to transmit information from one person to another, is falling to decay. These days PCs don't have floppy drives anymore, and lots of people don't even remember that there were dozens of floppy disk formats before the ubiquitous 3.5" floppy. Most of these are essentially unreadable to most people, and for archivists who need to access these old disks, doing so relies on hardware that is no longer manufactured and which nobody can service. The only solution to this is to re-archive all the data every few years onto newer storage devices. But the physical storage is the easy part.

The hard part of accessing the old file formats is the fact that these file formats are often designed to work only with a single program. These programs often won't work on modern computers, which leaves us with no way to access the data. Microsoft suggests running virtual computers with old software but even this will only solve the problem so far. The real, long-term solution is to use open file formats with clear semantics and documentation. This way it will be easier for archaeologists to reconstruct the old text when they dig up an old digital file.

Over time digital storage of information will be a great benefit to society, but if the information isn't archived properly it will all disappear. And even if we keep it, there's no guarantee that future generations will know how to use it. In some sense society fell into decline after the fall of Rome, and information was lost; over time people regained their lost knowledge, but can we be sure our current knowledge will be preserved? Or will we build devices meant to store our toxic waste, and our society's collective history and knowledge, only to find that the latter failed our descendants and thus the former injured them, because they had no way to know what it was?

Chocolate Penguins

So I decided to buy some chocolate penguins for my wife for our anniversary. We had originally given away chocolate penguins at our wedding, and so I called the store that made them. Sure enough, they had two in stock, and I asked them to hold them for me. When I arrived to pick them up, the shop owner didn't remember me or the origin of the penguin mold (he'd ordered it for us) but he mentioned that these penguins were a special order. I was puzzled because when I called he already had them in stock.

The mystery was revealed when my wife and I exchanged gifts. It turns out she also had the idea to give me chocolate penguins, and had called the shop to get an estimate on the cost of the penguins. Since this shop rarely made these penguins the owner didn't know how much they'd cost until he made them and weighed the resulting creation. Consequently he made one batch of penguins, but my wife decided to get penguins elsewhere, and thus there were two penguins in stock when I decided to inquire about purchasing some.

Coca-Cola: Black Cherry and Vanilla

In case you were wondering what happened to your delicious* Vanilla Coke, it's been transformed into something new and marvelous. No longer content to add flavour to cola, which some would say is already cola-flavoured, the Coca-Cola company has reached a new pinnacle with Black Cherry and Vanilla Coca Cola. This is the summer drink that makes Cucumber Pepsi seem like a good idea.

When you first drink the Black Cherry and Vanilla concoction you will find your taste-buds numbed slightly by the fizzy bubbles, but then you will sense the vanilla-esque aromas fighting the cola wave in your mouth. However once you swallow this carbonated battle, you will be hit with the after-shock of artificial black cherry, a taste the majority of pharmacists and bloggers polled** said "tastes like cough syrup". Having downed the brown fluid, you are free to repeat the process until the bottle is empty, at which point you'll realize you drank 150 Calories of sugar and you never want to eat a cherry again.

* And by "delicious" I mean disgusting
** I polled one pharmacist, and one blogger

Andrew Speaker Update

Some good news has been reported in regards to the Andrew Speaker saga. It turns out his TB is not XDR-TB, or extremely drug resistant, but simply multiple-drug-resistant MDR-TB. This means that he may be treatable and anyone who may have been infected would also be treatable. This reduces the risk of a catastrophic outcome.

What this doesn't change is that Mr. Speaker willingly, and with full knowledge of his actions, risked the health and lives of hundreds of people to get back to the US when ordered by the CDC to quarantine himself in Italy. Mr. Speaker is still guilty of gross negligence, but at least the potential victims of his selfish behaviour have less to worry about now.

Shrek and McDonalds: evil unmasked

This letter to the editor of an Australian paper, says it all:
As a parent and school teacher, I appeal to companies like McDonald's to stop using Shrek in their promotions.
Shrek is an unappealing character, teaches unfaithfulness, immorality, has low, coarse crude humour, promotes homosexuality, cross dressing and divination (super-natural means).
By allowing these influences, McDonald's is numbing the hearts and minds of children.---Judith Bond, Glen Alpine, NSW
First, I'd have to say that children DO find Shrek appealing.... maybe this teacher isn't in the target audience for the movie? Shrek's definitely crude: he's an ogre for crying out loud. That's the whole point, and the movie definitely contains fart jokes. But fart jokes are not a new danger to children, and there is more to Shrek than stinky bubbles in the swamp. Shrek tells a story of love despite appearances and fighting even when the fight seems lost. Ms Bond just doesn't get it. It's too bad that teachers aren't taking the time to watch children's movies so that they can form intelligent opinions about them before writing angry letters, however since this teacher doesn't seem to understand that children can tell the difference between fiction and reality, the only thing that surprises me is how such a person gets to be a teacher in the first place. Must be a shortage, I guess.


Ah, bacon. It is the world's most wonderful food. It turns a burger from "menh" to "wow!" It turns a hotdog from "pork" to "pork with added pork!" It's true that the world needs more bacon. Luckily, Wendy's restaurants are on the ball, with their new product: The Baconator. This sandwich fills the missing link in the food industry. I bought one the other day and it truly was a bacon experience. The only way to make it better would be to replace one of the beef patties with back-bacon.

Ocean's 13

I just saw Ocean's 13. The basic premise is that Danny Ocean and company want to get revenge on someone who did something bad to them. This someone (played by Al Pacino) is, naturally, a rich casino owner. Since this is a new movie, they can't re-use any stunts from the first two movies, so instead of a heist it's a scam they're trying to pull.

Minor Spoilers Follow

Overall the movie is pretty formulaic. There's the unbreakable security, which they break, using a combination of totally outlandish actions and magical technological ability. There's Danny's crew impersonating VIPs. There's the egomaniacal bad guy. Nothing is beyond infiltration; if they want to rig a craps game they infiltrate the dice factory, et cetera. What follows is a basic re-hash of the first movie, without the novelty or the excitement but with a slightly different story. The first movie was good because it seemed that what they were doing was impossible, yet they found a way to accomplish it. In this movie they do the same thing, but by the third time around it's just routine. They tell you the plan up front, then they do exactly what they told you they'd do. They turn supposed setbacks into victories by virtue of preexisting plans to deal specifically with those setbacks. There's nothing surprising anywhere in the movie, except perhaps the number of connections Ocean & Co. have: they know a guy at every company from the engineering firm that dug the Chunnel to the mobile phone division of Samsung. But even that seems mundane in this movie, as every character just plods along in his role. If you've never seen the first movie, you might enjoy this movie, but otherwise you won't find anything new and only a little entertainment.

Zeitgeist the movie

Zeitgeist The Movie, really three movies, is a film that attempts to demonstrate that several widely-believed things are myths. The first film deals with Christianity. Broadly, it begins by claiming that Jesus is nothing more than a "Sun God" in new clothes, and presents lots of arguments to support this, and then ends with a brief sidebar about how Christianity, specifically the Catholic Church, was created through political motives at the Council of Nicea. While it's true that the Council of Nicea was likely put together for political motives, and it's also true that the Catholic Church has a several blotches on its permanent record, one can't claim, based on the evidence in the film, that Jesus is a Sun God and that Christianity is merely a re-packaging of old Egyptian beliefs.

The film presents many similarities between astrology, sun-worship, and Jesus. First, it identifies many deities who share similar characteristics with Jesus, namely a birthday on or near the winter solstice, various nicknames such as "Prince of Peace", death then resurrection, and other similarities. The film proceeds to discuss how many icons and themes associated with Jesus are reminiscent of astrology, such as Christian artwork showing a cross and halo behind Jesus's head resembles the zodiacal chart. There are, however, some flaws with these arguments.

First, artwork showing cross and halo behind Jesus's head, is said to resemble a pagan symbol of a cross inscribed in a circle.
This symbol is shorthand for the sun and 12 zodiacal signs. The problem with this argument is that a symbol can have different meanings in different contexts. For example, the word "cong" would be pronounced "kong" (or maybe "song") if it were an English word, but in Mandarin Pinyin it'd be pronounced "tsong". One can't claim that the "c" in that word has any special significance, or that it somehow connects English and Mandarin. What happened is the Pinyin co-opted the symbol but gave it a new meaning. This is co-opting is a common theme in early Christian history: the incorporation of old ideas re-interpreted in a new light was often used as a tool to make Christianity more palatable to the new converts. Furthermore Christ was crucified; it stands to reason that he might be depicted on a cross. Is the cross a pagan symbol? Certainly, but we need to be careful not to reason in a circle: Do Catholics believe that Christ was crucified on a cross because crosses are an old symbol, re-used for a new story? Or was he crucified on a cross because the Romans used crosses, since crosses were already (astrologically) significant? Christ either died on the cross because that's a good way to tell the story, thus incorporating a pagan symbol (as the film says), or else Christ died on the cross because the symbol was important to his killers. The film itself claims that the cross was already important to the legions of sun worshippers; the fact that there is a similarity is not proof of a connection.

Another problem this film has is that it blindly accepts that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. Even the Catholic Church admits that they don't know when he was born. The early Church didn't even celebrate his birth but rather his conception. In the 4th century his conception was believed to be March 25th because the Church believed that he DIED on the 25th, and all prophets must live a whole number of years. The Bible doesn't tell us when Christ was born, the Church doesn't know, nobody knows. The Church claims that Christ's birthday was chosen to be on the same day as a pre-existing "Sun God" holiday, the feast of the Unconquered Sun. Again, this was done not because Jesus was a Sun god, but because the parallels made the new religion easier to accept for the new converts. Linking Christ's birth to the astronomical events (Sirius lining up with Orion's belt at the solstice) as is done in the film is circular reasoning: The film claims that Jesus is astrological because his birthday falls on an astrological day, however in reality the day was chosen to BECAUSE of the coincident, pre-existing astrological similarities. Jesus doesn't represent astrology: the astrology was co-opted to represent Jesus.

There are several other arguments in the film that also rely on convenient coincidences or circular reasoning. One that springs to mind is the argument that Moses's anger toward Jews worshipping a bull idol (when he returned from the mountain) was because, astrologically, a new age was beginning and the new age (Aries, the ram) was replacing the old (Taurus, the bull). The film claims that this is why Jews blow into a ram's horn. A simpler explanation is that the Hebrew people farmed sheep, and thus would be quite familiar with rams horns and use what's at hand.

Overall the film is entertaining and highlights some amusing similarities between Christianity and Astrology. But since the only evidence in the film is circular, this film falls short of being a documentary or research paper, and instead is merely sensationalist and reminiscent of a conspiracy theory.