Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Shredded Wheat Mystery

As strange as it may seem, I happen to like Shredded Wheat. I've been eating the little straw cakes since I was a kid. I learned to like them at the annual summer scout camp. At breakfast we had the choice between Shredded Wheat and porridge. Now you must understand that this is not ordinary porridge, this porridge was scout camp porridge. I think they never quite emptied the huge pot they made it in, they just kept adding to it, day after day. They may not even have emptied it at the end of camp, just put on a cover and kept it as a starter for next year's camp. It had the consistency and colour of a fine Portland cement. It could have been used to build the Montreal Olympic Stadium (might have made it more solid). Since we had swimming just after breakfast (must go swimming when the water is at its coldest, builds character don't you know) filling your belly with something that had the specific gravity of concrete was just plain suicide, not to mention the fact that it tasted like... well like scout camp porridge. So I chose the lesser of the two evils and ate the little straw cakes for breakfast, got used to them and even got to like them.
There is a whole ritual around eating them. First of all you need a wide bowl that will comfortably hold two little straw cakes side by side. (At a certain moment Nabisco even sold square melmac bowls to hold your straw cakes in comfort.) Next you put them in the bowl, flat side down. (Yes there is a flatter side and if you put the rounder side down they'll wobble) Then you pour the milk over them making sure you thoroughly soak them, softens the straw a bit. Then finally pour the sugar on top. Never put the sugar before the milk since the milk will just wash the sugar off. Now quickly eat them, do not wait, soggy straw cakes are not a pretty sight.
Now here is the mystery. How many people can there be that love Shredded Wheat? I am asking this question because the last few times I went to the grocery store, the Shredded Wheat had disappeared. Their price was there, their space was there, but no Shredded Wheat. Of well, I said to myself, I'll just go to the grocery across the street. None there either. The next day I stopped at the last grocery store and once again gone... AND THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME THIS HAPPENS. Do the baby boomers need so much fiber that they are cleaning out the shelves? Have the younger generation taken to smoking them in the hopes of a hallucinative breakfast? What is going on?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Let's celebrate...its Book Day

Today April 23rd is the 12th International Book Day. Let's celebrate. It seems that everything has it's day now, but at least this one is worth while. Did you ever stop to consider the lowly book? In today's high tech world it seems a trifle dowdy, low tech, old fashioned. Yet look again people, for a more perfect invention does not exist (or if it does I won't go into it here). The lowly book gives hours of pleasure where the only energy required is that used to turn the pages. The special effects are only constrained by your imagination or lack there of. (When I was in my late teens I read "The Exocist" in a marathon reading session that lasted until 4 am, talk about spooky. When I went to see the film I laughed because what I had imagined while reading was way scarier than anything in the film.) They are eminently portable, I have carried some in my backpack across the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, the Appalachians, the Rockies, while traveling with Mrs. BB around the many countries we have visited. The low tech book never needs batteries, is easy to find, (in the UK Tesco's usually has a good selection of murder mysteries at a cheap price) and if you find a used book store you can usually exchange them for a minimal price. (Did that in Namche Bazare in the Kumbu region of Nepal, can't get any farther than that) They can also be given to libraries, so others can get the pleasure of reading them, and at the same time make you feel good about yourself. (When we travel, we usually end up with a bunch of books that we give to a local library. It's our way of saying thanks for sharing their beautiful country) It has had a permanent impact on society and how we think and act. It has preserved the thoughts of great thinkers and artists throughout the ages, and the list goes on.
So let us celebrate the book, low tech or not, it is the closest thing to a perfect invention that man has ever designed.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Random thoughts on Earth Day

This will be a blog of random thoughts since those are about the only thing I am capable of at the moment. First of all it is now 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees F for non metric folks) and yesterday it was just as nice. Finally some warm weather, seems strange that only a week ago we were in the middle of a snow storm.
Today is also Earth Day, nice of them to celebrate the whole world at the same time as my b'day. Makes one feel kind of...... hmmm old? I hope they'll treat me better in my old age than they do the earth, cuz if they treat me the same, I'm sure in for a rough retirement. ;o) It's in spring that we realize how much garbage we dump on poor old mother earth. When the snow melts, there is garbage everywhere, plastic bags, different types of beverage containers, fast food take out stuff, paper, cardboard, miscellaneous junk, un-picked up doggy-do (I hate people who are too lazy to clean up after their stupid pets, almost makes me want to go buy a bag of ripe manure and dump it, in a pile, on their front door steps.) and that is just the stuff we can see. We sure could make more of an effort to clean up our acts, because if we don't, sooner or later, old mother earth will do it for us because she has before (just ask the dinosaurs or the trilobites) and she surely will again. The dinosaurs probably got wiped out because like dog owners, they kept leaving gigantic piles of dino-poop all over the place and mother earth got tired of the mess. ;o)
I went to see godwhacker's blog just now and he had a very interesting article for Earth Day. There may be hope yet, but then again I'm sure that the world's governements will find a way of screwing everything up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Guns and all things that go bang.

Having spent ten years in the 6e Régiment d'Artillerie de Campagne, I think that I have a pretty good knowledge of things that go bang. From field stripping an FN C1 to firing a 105 MM Howitzer, I've pretty much done it all, and the one thing that I can tell you is that weapons are made to kill, that is their sole purpose, always has been always will be.

I can hear the gun lobby right now. "Guns don't kill, people do." Yeah well if the killer didn't have a gun, it would be much harder for him to kill. Now I hear them say, "Well he'd use something else.". Yes I'll admit that is probably right. I can see it in my minds eye, "Ok lock and load your .... baseball bat, your knife, your ax." Let's face it, other weapons just don't have the sheer killing power of a handgun or a rifle. It would be pretty hard to have a massacre, like the Polytechnique de Montréal, Dawson College, Columbine, or Virginia Tech by using a baseball bat and a knife.

Now let us look at the classes of weapons that are available to our killer. Let's start with the handguns. What use are they? Can we go hunting with a handgun? Shoot a deer? No, a handgun is used for one purpose only, to kill human beings. Beyond 100 meters a handgun is pretty well useless. When I was in the army, I was a marksman with a 9mm Browning automatic pistol and beyond 50 meters it is almost impossible to get any accuracy. People will say, "Well I need one to protect myself"... most people are more likely to shoot themselves than hit a target. On top of that most murders that use a pistol, are by a member of the family using the family firearm.

Ok next, the rifle. Yes here I'll admit that a rifle has its uses, besides shooting innocent people. Many people love to hunt and need a rifle for that sport. (Personally I find that hunting would be much fairer if the deer and moose could shoot back.) But today people are buying semi-automatic military style assault rifles (copies of AK47's, M16's etc) Those weapons were designed to kill people. They can deliver a tremendous amount of firepower in a brief amount of time. The 7.62mm steel jacket can penetrate a brick wall, go through two people and keep on going. They were designed that way. Using one to go hunting is ridiculous. If the hunter is such a poor marksman that he can't bring down his deer with his first shot, he shouldn't be allowed in the woods. He is a menace to himself and everything else around him. (A marksman should be able to group his shots in the bullseye at 400 meters, I know it's possible because I have done it. ) Hunters should only be allowed to use a bolt action rifle with a 2 or 3 bullet magazine. My preference would be that they use a single shot bolt action with no magazine, but I only allow a second bullet in case they wound the deer. (Frankly they should get their meat at the supermarket like the rest of us but to each his own.)

The killer at Virginia Tech had two automatic pistols, a 9mm Glock and a .22 Beretta. The killer at Dawson had a .45 Magnum Pistol, a semi-automatic assault rifle and other weapons. The killer at the Polytechnique had a semi-automatic assault rifle. Those at Columbine had an arsenal to make a third world country proud. Why should those weapons even be sold? Until we as a society finally put our collective feet down and simply banish firearms, the killings will go on, in schools, public places, at home when the man of the house decides to take his family with him and anywhere else where a sick ego can aim a gun. When will it finally stop?

Monday, April 16, 2007

More @#$%$#@?&**$ snow

Last night we received another 10 cm of the #@$%%$#&?* sticky wet white stuff along with 80-90 km gusts of wind (which is still blowing). I'm starting to sound like Jazz. Enough said :o(

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

I was listening to the news today and heard a story about the World Bank's governor Paul Wolfowitz. He is the man who orchestrated the invasion of Iraq using the invisible WMD's as an excuse. They must have been really well camouflaged. Then his buddy Dubbya gave him a nice cushy job in the World Bank. As he started his job his first comment was to say how he would clean up the corruption. Well the chickens have come home to roost. On Thursday he was having to explain how he had orchestrated (read ordered) a tremendous pay raise for his girlfriend.
Here in Canada we have our very own Lord Conrad Black, who is in court with racketeering charges and may spend the rest of his life in an American prison. (It shouldn't surprise anyone since he started early on by stealing and selling exams at his school (UCC). I guess he would say that it was only capitalism at work.) He has been quoted as saying, “Humility is a good quality, but it can be overdone.”. Wall Street Journal interview, Nov. 8, 1994. Well both he and Paul are about to learn what the word hubris* means.

Exaggerated pride punished by the fates. In classical Greek ethical and religious thought, overweening presumption suggesting impious disregard of the limits governing human action in an orderly universe. It is the sin to which the great and gifted are most susceptible.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's April and it's still #@$%$ snowing!!!!

There is joke that goes around in Québec every year. It has to do with that favorite winter stuff...snow. I'll try and translate and abridge it a little for you.

"First snow flakes, wonderful, so pretty."
"Ah finally a nice snowfall, a white Christmas. Let's go out and shovel and then we can make a snowman"
"What it's snowing again? Grumble... Ok I'm going out to shovel. At least we can ski."
"Still snowing...will it ever stop. Too cold to ski, boy I'd like some warmth."
"Snow again...@#$%?"
"@#$#@$% F$%#$g WHITE SH*T #@$#%?!!!!! "

We are now almost half way through April and it is still snowing. We are getting days with 15-16 degree Spring weather and then just when you think that you'll soon be able to get out your bike (18 speed road bike with magnesium alloy frame, carbon fiber front fork) it starts snowing again. You can't go cross country skiing because there isn't enough of the white stuff and you can't go biking because there is too much... AHHHHHHHHHH!

This picture was taken from my front porch this afternoon when I came in from work... big fat marshmallow snowflakes were falling and sticking to everything. Quite beautiful but you're soon soaking wet since they are as much water as snow. ;o(

Friday, April 06, 2007

Thoughts on technology

In his last blog Ian talked about keys and how they hadn't really changed in a long time and in the comments Jazz remarked that keys are pretty much perfect just the way they are. If we look at today's technology, we see that this is often the case. There is a rapid evolution of the technology in question until it reaches a plateau and there it stays except for minor improvements.
Here are some examples to illustrate. I am sure that if you took a 2007 model car and brought it back to the 1920's, people would instantly know what it was and how to drive the thing. There have been improvements but for all intents and purposes the car has been on a technological plateau for the last 80 years at least. Four wheels, a steering wheel and an internal combustion engine. Yes, there are improvements, ABS brakes, electronic fuel injection etc, but the basic concept hasn't changed.
The airplane is the same thing, we had a rapid growth of the technology from the Wright brothers until the Second World War where the piston engine airplane was at its height and another spurt when the jet engine came in. Since then it has been pretty much the same thing. An airliner of the 1960's is pretty much the same thing as one used today. In fact most of the planes used today date back to the 1970's (Boeing 747's, 737' etc) They did build a faster aircraft in the Concorde but the concept of faster than sound aircraft never really took off (pun intended), So here we are today with aircraft that though bigger in some cases, are not much different from aircraft 40 years ago.
The bicycle is another invention that hasn't changed in 100 years, The materials it is made of have become lighter and more high tech (carbon fiber and exotic alloys) but the basic concept is the same.
Why does technology reach a plateau, probably because the form it evolves into is almost perfect for its use. The bicycle is an almost perfect example, it would be very hard to improve upon the technology as it is now. It is perfect for its use, so why change it? Airplanes could be built to go faster but the cost penalty would be prohibitive and the benefits minimal, therefore they stay the same since the technological level they are at is perfect for the use they are put to. Replace the internal combustion engine? Up to now there has been no reason to, maybe with global warming that will change, but then the question becomes with what? We really have nothing to replace it with. We have hybrid cars, but even they have a gas burning engine. Why, because up to today it has been the most efficient means of propulsion for personal vehicles.
Will our information revolution reach the same plateau, probably, since computers will sooner or later push up against the laws of physics (there is a physical limit to how small you can make the pathways on a silicon chip). As for the information, well there is a limit to what a human being can read and use. For example try to "google" words like "homes for sale", according to Google it gives you "Results 1 - 10 of about 30,600,000 for homes for sale. (0.09 seconds) " You will read maybe the first 50 if you are very persevering, but what about the other 30.6 million? Yes maybe the first 50 are the most relevant, but by whose criteria? So we'll reach a plateau, since we'll just not be able to assimilate the vast amount of information that is out there.
So the old adage of building a better mousetrap really depends on what is already there. If the old technology is perfect for the job it does, you'll have a lot of difficulty selling your new mousetraps.