Friday, February 22, 2013

The Hockey Stick Graph at TAL

The Global Warming debate is complicated. One of the major battles is about the hockey stick graph. My understanding is limited, so I have to simplify. This graph shows a long straight line, followed by a quick upturn at the end. The straight part represents the old days, with stable temperatures. The upturn, or the blade of the stick represents the recent increase in temperature. This shape is the essence of global warming. Not just the upturn, but the straightness of the shaft. Because if the shaft is bent, then the upturn loses significance.
Yesterday I attended a lecture in the Third Age Learning series on global warming, by Ross McKitrick. Ross is a global warming denier, who I have blogged about previously. I was expecting a one sided and misleading presentation, but it was far more balanced than I expected. Ross is mentioned in Wikipedia's entry on the hockey stick controversy, as being a critic of it. If I understood Ross correctly, he thinks the normal peer review process is not right for global warming. He believes that an adversarial approach would be better. Now, we appoint a panel of unbiased experts to write the report, then have it reviewed by many other unbiased experts. I assume Ross thinks this can't work because you really can't find unbiased people. So he suggests setting up something like a court of law, two teams arguing opposite sides. I don't know how that would work, but if it did, I think it would be like the Scopes Monkey trial. That trial dealt a real blow to Creationism and religious fundamentalists, but.. here is the problem. Peer reviewed science got the answer right. The Scopes trial got it wrong, it was won by the fundamentalists. But their ridiculous  arguments and tactics were exposed. So for many years after, Creationists were forced to retreat. They have reemerged recently, however.
Although, during the lecture, Ross was much more even handed than I expected, he did present the denier's side of the argument. But I thought it was OK because he did not pretend to be unbiased. Everybody in the audience had gone to several other lectures on global warming. He answered all the questions. He did not engage in any obviously inflammatory and misleading statements.
In the end, I was left puzzling over why he ever signed that ridiculous Evangelical statement on Global Warming. In answer to a question of mine, he claimed to be Anglican, and that church generally supports global warming.
Ross's main contribution to the debate seems to be in successfully questioning the hockey stick shape. Since then other scientists have challenged Ross McKitrick's calculations and methods, but all that is over my head until I go for at least a one year course on the subject. But the Third Age Learning series was a good start.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Even More Stuff You Can't Say in Canada

While Googling "Seven things that you can't say in Canada" I stumbled across this one by Joel Johannesen.

He lists the seven by Margaret Wente, then adds 16 of his own.  If you didn't know Joel already, you might be forgiven for thinking he was American, as the banner at the top of the blog is an American flag, and the title "Bold Colors" is spelled in the American way.  But he has another blog with the Canadian maple leaf, called "PTBC" or "Proud to be Canadian".  I was wondering if that really should read "PTBAPTBC" or "proud to be American pretending to be Canadian", just because the 16 things Joel says make him sound like he is American.

I am not trying to bash Americans here, but as a Canadian, I do feel that there are some slight differences between Canadians and Americans.  Subtle differences in speech patterns, in some political beliefs, in the sense of humour.  Slight differences, enough to be of interest to Canadians, at least. So I was wondering if I could analyse one of these statements to figure out if Joel was really an American who (possibly) had recently moved to Canada, or a born Canadian who had moved to Alabama when he was three but still claims Canadian status. Or just a American born again Christian with a fake Canadian identity in order to better push a right wing agenda.

According to one of Joel's websites, in 1978 he was working for the Trudeau Liberals, and shows a picture, presumably of him wearing a moustache standing almost next to Pierre Trudeau.  Joel does not actually say where he was born, but he claims to currently reside near Vancouver B.C. So if that's true, his liberal beliefs have undergone a fairly major change. It can happen. I know someone who worked for the NDP in the seventies and now has many of the same beliefs as Joel - but not all - and more importantly, my friend does not vote Conservative, and did not become a Born Again Christian (yet).  Also, I have a sister who became a Born Again Christian and holds most of the same beliefs as Joel, but even she would not say hockey sucks.  And neither would any Canadian who knows when Henderson scored that goal.  So Joel's case of brainwashing is extreme, if he has actually lived all or most of his life in Canada.

Let me take one thing Joel says, and see if it can be analysed to discover whether he is Canadian or not Canadian .  He says:

“Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God” is the first line in our Constitution.

Does this sound like something a Canadian would ever say?  Frankly I had no idea that this was the first line of the constitution, in fact I was not really sure Canada had a constitution, even though I went to a Canadian high school and was a history teacher. But as a Canadian, I would be willing to at least look it  up on Wikipedia.  First, the Canadian constitution was not yet written when I went to high school, and not even when I was teaching history. Also, that is not really the first line of the constitution, unless "and the rule of law" doesn't count.  I'm glad the writers of our constitution (whoever they may be) saw fit to include "the rule of law".  And that later on, these people also included a bit about Canadians being free to have any God they want. Also, the reason that we include the words  "recognize the supremacy of God" is  because of a campaign by American-backed Evangelicals when the Canadian constitution was written.  Canadians are the sort of people who make compromises and let everybody put in their own ideas, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else. Also, as of 2013, not all the provinces of Canada have ratified the Constitution, which also apparently doesn't bother Canadians too much.

But Joel's statement is not something I would ever expect to hear out of the mouth of a Canadian. It implies that Canadians have a near-religious respect for our constitution.  That is one a major difference between Canadians and Americans. Americans have a constitution which they worship, and is drummed into them in school. Canadians do not do that.  Secondly, Joel's statement is not even correct, as he cut off the last part of the sentence, which is the only part that all Canadians would actually agree on - I mean recognizing the supremacy of rule of law.  As Pierre Trudeau said "I don't think God cares if He is in the Canadian constitution."  And if that's how God feels, I'm with Him.

Picture:  I propose a simple test to separate Canadians from Americans.  Answer the question "who is in this picture?"
A. Mike Duffy, senator from Prince Edward Island
B. Svend Robinson, Canada's first openly gap Member of Parliament
C. Maurice Richard, hockey player
D. The "God" mentioned in the first line of Canada's constitution.
E. The correct answer is C and D

(Correction that should read "gay")

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Upgrading Ubuntu From Ocelot to Pangolin 12.04

I used to have the Ubuntu version called "Oneiric Ocelot", and for months I have been getting popup messages to upgrade to Precise Pangolin 12.04. A few days ago, I gave in and finally clicked "yes", instead of "remind me later".  The only truly positive result of this upgrade (and I'm reaching for straws here), is that now I know that Pangolin is another word for scaly anteater.

Now for the details.  I was quite discouraged to see that the new version of Ubuntu can no longer show Youtube videos, in other words, it cannot show Adobe Flash animations, as apparently Youtube works through Flash software.  Flash is also used on many other websites, such as Google Streetview, and for a few screens on the Weather Network.  I used to think that Ubuntu was steadily improving, and would one day rival Windows, sadly it appears that this may be a major roadblock.

The reason that Ubuntu can't theoretically run Flash, from what I understand, is that Flash is proprietary software, which apparently Microsoft can distribute on its computers, but Linux is not allowed to do because of some kind of copyright restriction.  In the past Linux could always let the users load it themselves, and it wasn't too difficult for the users because Flash is given away free by its owner, Adobe.  But in a recent development, Adobe has announced it is stopping support for Linux versions of Flash. This is a real setback in Ubuntu's progress toward user friendliness.  It seems to me that some Linux experts are secretly pleased that they can plunge back into obscure incantations to get some functionality back into their machines.  But it is no fun for for non-fanatical users like myself.  I was amazed by the number of sites offering conflicting remedies for Flash, none of which ultimately worked for me.

But then I noticed by chance that some Youtube videos worked, and some didn't.  With a little further research, I found that the videos that worked were displayed with HTML5, not Adobe Flash.  And investigating further, I found that Youtube is trying to move all its videos to HTML5, which is not owned by Adobe, and runs the videos more smoothly anyway.  The major problem here is that HTML5 has no provision for embedded advertising within a video.  I noticed that those advertisements have been getting more and more aggressive of late, popping up over, or delaying the main videos.  Anyhow,  when HTML5 can't run those, Youtube switches back to Flash, which does not work for my computer with Precise Pangolin, and the video simply terminates with the message "You need Flash to be installed".

After a few days of exploring other websites, I came across a work-around, where I can force the video to play in HTML5 with the ads stripped away.  It's a bit clunky to type in the code every time, but seems to work, and the videos seem smoother and of course, no ads.  It's also kind of fun to feel like I'm cheating, so maybe I'm getting more into the Linux frame of mind here.

Another benefit of my days of investigation was that I installed MiniTube, which allows me to download Youtube videos.  So now I can download any video off Youtube and it will play from my hard disk.  Again, no Flash required.

Otherwise, Precise Pangolin looks about the same as Oneiric Ocelot to me.  The left side main menu does not pop out as readily as it used to, but when it does, the menu background is translucent instead of opaque.  Wooo hooo.  Ok maybe that was a bit too sarcastic.  Although it was a free upgrade (as usual for Linux), it did take four hours or so to complete the upgrade itself, then another day of troubleshooting to get Flash to work part of the time, and two more days to figure out the cheat code.  At least nothing else seems to be lost in the translation, except Ubuntu's user friendly face.  But now I know what a pangolin is, both the scaly little animal and the scaly version of Ubuntu.

Any questions can be posted in the comment section below.

Picture: From

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cycle Canada Slams Cruisers

I just got my March 2013 Cycle Canada, and the controversy started by Michael Uhlarik in the January 2013 issue is growing.  In January, Michael stated

"Not for them the land yachts of the cruiser ilk.  The influence and relevance of the cruiser, in world terms, is fading - and not a moment too soon."

Apparently, some sharp eyed readers spotted this barbed comment, and now Cycle Canada is getting letters starting off with variations of "You, sir are an idiot."  By the way, Michael has also expressed interest in electric motorcycles, so he will be no stranger to controversy.

This month, the editor, Neil Graham, has waded into the fray:

"Uhlarik's quip that the cruiser style can't die 'a moment too soon' reflects a surprisingly common view within the motorcycle industry.'
"no one who writes about them [cruisers] wants to own one."
"even the companies that make cruisers find no enthusiasm for them.  At cruiser press launches, long after the rhetoric of the PR people has faded, company staffers often lament the necessity of making cruisers at all.  'The bike works OK for a cruiser' they say"
"The cruiser's flaws as a dynamic work of engineering are more pronounced than those on other styles of motorcycles.  That's just a fact."
"Simply put it's hard to go back to a type of motorcycle that doesn't handle, brake, or cover the miles as effortlessly as another type of bike."

First, I applaud Cycle Canada for carrying on the tradition of annoying their readers.  Second, I think this is a worth while controversy, because far too many people choose to buy a cruiser without even considering any other type of motorcycle.  But in the end, I do ride a cruiser (A Kawasaki Vulcan 900), so I feel the urge to defend my choice.

In defence of cruisers, strangely enough, I would start by conceding that Neil and Michael may be right. Other types of bike may have better performance (braking, steering, accelerating, top speed, suspension), and other types of bike may be more comfortable on a test ride.  So objectively, they are better. Furthermore, the non-cruisers are more innovative, and thus more interesting to people who know bikes and the motorcycle business in and out.

But I own a cruiser, and there are reasons for my choice.  Sure, one reason is that there are lots of them for sale - and that's exactly what Neil and Michael are arguing against.  So maybe another point for them.  But now here is the thing.  I don't want to go fast any more, and with my Vulcan I am not really tempted to get any more speeding tickets.  So that's one point in favour of cruisers, and other people are free to have different opinions on that.

At first, cruisers may not be comfortable, but I have found with time that I have adjusted to riding a cruiser with a low seat and the feet placed forward.  The low seat has the advantage that you can pile cushions on top of it.  And the feet forward has the advantage in comfort when you have a backrest.  I don't have a proper accessory backrest, but when I'm travelling long distances without a passenger, I can use my duffel bag.

So far my arguments only really apply to people who typically like to drive slower, and like to rest their aching backs.  And people who don't really care about all the new technology that makes it possible to go even faster, in even greater discomfort.  (i.e. old people)

Now here's another argument.  Cruisers come with back fenders that stop the spray.  Most other bikes seem to be designed to see just how much spray they can direct up the rider's back off a wet road.  I have no idea why they do that, but I don't like it.

Cruisers don't corner fast because they don't have enough ground clearance. But on the up side, cruisers don't need super-sticky tires that cost $400 and wear out every 8,000 kilometers.  Long lasting tires may not appeal to magazine editors, (they don't pay for tires) or the motorcycle industry (they get paid for tires), but as an owner, I like it.  And at lower speeds, it corners and brakes fast enough to stay safe on those tires.

Maybe if the designers and manufacturers concentrated on innovations that made motorcycles more comfortable, and safer, and cheaper, and easier to maintain, I would consider a new style bike.  So far I'm not seeing it.

Picture: I love pictures of cats, if Mary Ann allowed, I would make all my blog pictures cats.  What I am  illustrating here is that bikes must be made to fit the life forms that ride them.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Are You Smarter Than a Fox Newscaster?

I will confess that I don't very much like Howard Stern.  Howard accuses late-night comedian Jay Leno of stealing his ideas, but let's look at the ones mentioned in the Fox News session with host Megyn Kelly.  Megyn puts on two "experts" who hate Jay Leno to discuss the case. But none that like him, that is not fair.  But then I guess that Fox's motto "Fair and Balanced" is beyond a joke, it is mocking the entire concept of fairness.  Not too surprising, the verdict is that Leno is a swine, but that unfortunately Howard does not have a good legal case due to technicalities.

In the above Fox News clip, Jay is accused of taking these ideas from Howard Stern:  The Jaywalking bit, the Chicken predicting NFL games, "Are you smarter than a fifth grader", and the "Earn your plugs" idea.  Furthermore, Jay Leno hired one of Howard Stern's characters "Stuttering John" away from him.

I'm going to just go over the basics here of copyright, one is that you need to actually copyright an idea to protect it, which Howard didn't do.  Second, you have to actually come up with the idea first, which Howard also failed to prove (as far as I know, and this may be linked to point one, failing to get copyright).  Third, the idea must be implemented, or executed in the same way, which I don't think is true either.

I should explain that there is a big difference between Jay Leno's type of humour and Howard Stern's.  Jay Leno generally takes the high road, and when I watch his show I don't get the idea Jay is mocking and humiliating people for laughs (although some might see it like that).  On the other hand, Howard Stern's stock in trade is shame and degradation.  I don't happen to like that type of humour, so I might as well make that clear again.  For one relevant example, take "Stuttering John".  Stuttering John was basically a punching bag hired by Howard Stern.  He was ridiculed, first for stuttering (hence the nickname), but eventually also for the way he farted, burped, and smelled.  Also how he took dumps, and how he urinated. You can catch a sample from Howard Stern's show here.

Stern's original idea for Stuttering John was to get a stutterer to ask embarrassing questions of celebrities, who would be too polite to snub a stutterer.  Later, Stuttering John was driven off the Stern show by nasty comments from Howard.  To some people, Stuttering John  was funny, and Jay Leno had reportedly planned to use John the same way as Howard Stern did, but in a less abrasive way.  In all the time I watched the Jay Leno show with John Melendez, he was never referred to as "Stuttering John" (by anyone) and I never knew he stuttered until I saw some bits on Howard Stern.  That helps illustrate the difference between Jay Leno's brand of humour and Howard Stern's.

The hiring of John Melendez was the beginning of the feud between Howard Stern and Jay Leno, and honestly I have never heard Jay Leno criticise Howard Stern, but Howard has been lambasting Jay heavily since then.  That again shows the difference between the two,  Howard is well known for hateful comments, Jay rarely says anything bad about anyone.

Now let's look at Jaywalking.  In this bit, Jay walks down the streets of Los Angeles and interviews ordinary Americans, or tourists.  He asks questions about sports, geography, current events.  This does not really sound like something Howard Stern might have invented, and indeed Howard Stern's bit was all about asking homeless people simple questions and betting on the result. The idea of interviewing people on the street is not original, but Jay's idea is not about making fun of the homeless, but about making fun of the mass culture in America, that places such a low value on education.  In one segment, Jay interviews someone who was claiming that he "staged" the dumb answers in "Jaywalking", so to prove her wrong, he simply asked her a few questions, and amazingly enough, her answers seemed to prove Jay's point.

To me there is a huge difference between the tone of Jay's humour, and Howard Stern's.  And honestly, is there any original funny bit that cannot be traced to some earlier idea?  Although I never saw Jay do the chicken bit, animals predicting the future is not all that original.  It's really what you make of it.

Jay does a weekly bit called "Headlines" that I think is funny, he reads newspaper headlines with mistakes or double meanings.  But that bit is only funny because of what Jay does and says while reading them.  Without Jay's personality, the headlines are not funny at all.  (I tried watching the bit once with the sound turned off.  I did not laugh.)

"Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader", as far as I know, was never used by Jay Leno.  It was taken and made famous by Jeff Foxworthy, on the FOX TV network.  So if anybody stole it, it was FOX.  Megyn Kelly, an employee of Fox, accuses Jay of ripping off "Smarter than a Fifth Grader" at 0:50 in the first video. And just when I thought Fox News could go no lower. Who watches Fox News?  I think we all know - it's the people interviewed in "Jaywalking".

In one final clip, here is Megyn Kelly, on the Howard Stern Show, talking about breasts and penises.  Just to show once again the difference again in the target audience, subject matter and type of humour.  I think Megyn, and probably most of the other Fox News People, "get" Howard Stern's humour better than she gets Jay Leno.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Anne of Green Gables Goes Blonde, Press goes Wild

Controversial cover
Tess Benger
Yesterday I was looking up places to visit in PEI, because Mary Ann and I would like to go there by motorcycle one day, and her sister has a cottage on the island.  So I started by looking up Mike Duffy's** address, and I thought we could pop in and say hello.  And since he lives in Cavendish, just a stone's throw from "Green Gables", where Anne of Green Gables lived, I put a pushpin on that location too.

But then, later that night a story broke (actually two stories), one about Mike Duffy not actually living in PEI, and the other about Anne of Green Gables being turned into a trollop.

I believe there may be something to the Mike Duffy Story, but a minimum amount of Googling indicates to me that the Anne of Green Gables story is the usual bu**sh** that comes through in the news all the time without any fact checking.

This is how Anne's story was presented in the press.  A new edition of the book Anne of Green Gables" is coming out, but the girl on the cover looks like a blonde sexpot instead of our impish red-haired, skinny and pigtailed 10-year old Anne.  As one commenter put it "The book is Anne of Green Gables, not Anne Does Green Gables".  And there were thousands of other similar comments.

Megan Follows as Anne
But here is what I found out.  The book is published in "Createspace", a website where all you need is an email ID to create a book.  Usually, these books are made with your own writing, not the writings of others, but these days, who writes their own stuff any more?  (Well, I do, and I'm The Lost Motorcyclist, and if you are reading this in another blog, it means my work has been stolen.  Once again.)  But I digress, let's get back to Anne of Green Gables.  The book Anne of Green Gables has been in the public domain for many years, and so apparently anybody can copy all the words off the internet, then paste them into their "own" book, slap on a cover page using the free graphic tools provided by Createspace.  Then wait for somebody to buy a copy.

So, there is no "Publishing Company" involved in the traditional sense.  More likely one person.  And there is no run of books to be printed, as it is all "print on demand".  There are no up front royalties paid, no advances, no expense accounts.

The only worry is that the image of Anne and Green Gables still belongs to the heirs of the author.

But who is the girl on the new cover?  Was she Googled and copied from some farm girl porn site?  I think she actually looks a lot like the actress playing Anne in the latest production of Anne of Green Gables, Tess Benger.  To me they look about the same.  So really the only heinous crime involved was not putting on Tess Benger's fake red wig with pigtails, and the possibly sexy pose.  Or maybe people should get worked up about choosing Tess Benger for the role in the first place.

Pictures: One is Megan Follows, one of the most well known actresses to play Anne Shirley.  Another is Tess Benger.  And the third is the "new edition" of the book with the controversial cover, that I think might be Tess Benger.

** Mike Duffy: Famous Canadian news commentator turned senator, currently mired in a controversy about whether or not he lives in P.E.I., the province he is supposed to represent.  He is not related to me in any way.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Put on Your Hip Waders, the Gun Debate is Back

As the gun debate heats up again, I remain convinced that it is one of the most illogical debates I have ever heard.  It makes about as much sense as debating witchcraft or runaway Toyotas  (actually those of two of my favourite topics.)

This morning I read the story of a US Navy Seal gunned down on a shooting range.  I am pretty sure that the NRA will not be able to use the old argument that it happened because "there were not enough guns at the range" and/or that "more guns are needed to protect people at the shooting range".  I wait to hear what their response will be.

But the other story is Sarah McKinley, an 18 year old mother living alone with her baby, who shot and killed knife-wielding intruder Justin Martin.  This story is of course the ideal one to support the NRA's position that assault weapons should be allowed, because it would have made Sarah McKinley even safer than just using a 12 gauge shotgun.  Does their position make any logical sense?  Of course it does if

1. You assume Sarah McKinley will do a better job killing the intruder with an assault rifle than with a shotgun.  (hint, he's dead.  He can't get any deader)  I'm sorry, I didn't present the NRA's side fairly.  They actually said, not that she would kill him deader, but that she would have more chances to kill him if she missed, and that she would be braver with a scarier looking gun, and that Justin Martin would more likely have been scared away by a scarier looking gun.  I don't buy that argument either, because it really does not make a lot of sense to me.

2. The biggest, most illogical assumption is one that I do not see mentioned anywhere. It is the assumption that only Sarah McKinley will have access to buy and carry an assault rifle, but Justin Martin will not be able to do so.  Nowhere in the NRA manifesto does it say that only mothers with babies can have scary guns, and not the men breaking in.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  They want everyone to have access to scary guns, and they are not supportive even of background checks.

Now my question is, was it Obama who took away Justin Martin's gun?  Justin apparently carried only a 12 inch hunting knife.  The point of this story is relevant to the issue of gun control.  In fact, I might even call it the central issue of gun control.  The NRA wants to make it possible for the Justin Martins of the world to have more guns, and the proposed NRA solution is to also give scarier guns to defenseless women.  If that is going to make the women safer, then please refer to the Navy Seal story this morning.

Picture: Another kitten picture. I am using kitten pictures because they are cute.  I got this off the internet, a great source of kitten pictures, and some other stuff too.