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Monday, April 30, 2007
  Good Night, and Good Luck

Ok, so I'm two years behind on this movie... That's Ok, a good movie is a good movie, even if it's not a new movie. A good story should be timeless, and that's really the point of this blog post, of the timeless nature of this movie, and in particular a speech featured in the movie, but the main character Edward R. Murrow.

If you haven't seen the movie, here's IMDB's synopsis:

In the early 1950's, the threat of Communism created an air of paranoia in the United States and exploiting those fears was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. However, CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his producer Fred W. Friendly decided to take a stand and challenge McCarthy and expose him for the fear monger he was. However, their actions took a great personal toll on both men, but they stood by their convictions and helped to bring down one of the most controversial senators in American history.
I was blown away by the comments made by Murrow featured in the opening and closing scene of the movie. I googled around and found the entire text of the speech here - he talks about something that I've been sensing more and more lately, about how Television is becoming a sort of opiate for the masses, the thing is, he delivered this speech 49 years ago... Here are a few quotes, I'd suggest you read the whole speech, but for a taste...:

I have decided to express my concern about what I believe to be happening to radio and television. These instruments have been good to me beyond my due. There exists in mind no reasonable grounds for personal complaint. I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.


I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.


One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news.


Sometimes there is a clash between the public interest and the corporate interest. A telephone call or a letter from the proper quarter in Washington is treated rather more seriously than a communication from an irate but not politically potent viewer.


Are the big corporations who pay the freight for radio and television programs wise to use that time exclusively for the sale of goods and services? Is it in their own interest and that of the stockholders so to do? The sponsor of an hour's television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide."


Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations?


To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.


Finally - Speaking of Television Morrow says:

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.
Fascinating speech, and certainly timely in this day and age... I don't think a whole lot has changed, yes there are still some good reporters, but I think if you look at most network television, it's mostly garbage meant to entertain and amuse the general public, not to engage, educate and enlighten them. Here is potentially where the Internet, with it's decentralized structure can change all of that. Anyone in the world with access to the Internet (and with the $100 laptop project that number will grow exponentially in the coming years), can post an idea that can get picked up and spread like wildfire and reach millions of viewers without any large corporation or government controlling it.

If Morrow were still alive today - I'm sure he'd have a blog, and I'd subscribe to it... and who knows, he might have even stumbled upon mine one day!!
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
  Saying "Cheerio" to my Royally F*cked Foot Problem!
As many of my friends know, I've been having a recurring problem with my left foot for the past year or so... It occassionally flares up, in the location of my big toe, being swollen, red and quite painful, making it very uncomfortable to even put a shoe on, let alone run around a kick a soccer ball.

I'd been more or less putting up with it, figuring it was just related to a little too much physical activity, or maybe a bad knock or something.

Today, after having played indoor soccer last night, and despite icing my foot last night, waking up with it as painful as ever, I headed to the local walk-in clinic.

After a 30 second explanation of my symptoms, and a 10 second look at my foot, the Dr. quite confidently diagnosed.... GOUT!. Gout! oh my god! That sounds bad, I'm I looking at amputation or what? I'll admit, as of this morning, I knew nothing of gout, other than it sounds really bad, and not something you'd want to have...

The Dr. gave me a prescription for some anti-inflammatory pills, suggested that I take 3 doses today with food and, if it is gout, then by tomorrow I should be fine.

As soon as I got home, I looked it up on , and learned more about it. Basically it's caused by increased levels of Uric acid in the blood, which is caused either by consuming food/beverages - including red meats, and beer, which contain a high level of purines, which are converted to uric acid, or by your system being slow to eliminate them from your system. Interesting bit of trivia, historically this problem was referred to as the 'disease of kings', because these were the only people wealthy enough to have so much beer and red meat that it caused this problem... Funny...

Anyhow, I've now taken my 3 anti-inflammatory pills and already there's a marked difference. My foot is feeling much better, the swelling has gone down, and I'm really happy that I know what was causing the problem and how to fix it.

It's a bit of a bummer that beer is high in purines, I really don't want to have to give up beer, I guess I'll just have to watch it, try to keep as hydrated as possible, potentially take some other precautions to avoid further flare-ups, but this should mean that I can now start hitting the treadmill and gym and not worry that it's physical activity that is CAUSING the problem.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
  Why do most people still work from 9-5?
About the B-Society B-samfundet - Here's an interesting web site, a group based in Denmark who is challenging the Monday to Friday, 9-5 framework.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
  Ray-tracing software teaching physics...
Ok, I'll admit it... This is a pretty geeky post.

My son Jack was doing some artwork tonight at the dining room table, and at one point he had 2 playing cards standing up, just slightly apart, slipped into the groove in the table (where the leaf connects in), and he had noticed an interesting pattern in the shadow. I tried to explain to him that it was caused because there were multiple points of light coming from the ceiling light.

The situation reminded me of some really cool software that I hadn't touched in a long time.

So I whipped downstairs, downloaded it and took a trip down memory lane and created a series of renderings...

Here's what the cards would like like with a single light source:

and here's what they look like with 2 light sources that are offset:

In addition to the scene being brighter, notice the interesting pattern in the shadow, in particular that triangle in the middle, which is caused because the light coming in between the cards is coming from the 2 distinct light sources and thus passing at different angles...

The base POV-Ray software doesn't include a modeler, although there are modellers available, I've always enjoyed going old school... you create your scene using code that looks sort of like C, for instance, here's some of the code associated with one of the 'playing cards'

box { <-0.01, 2, -1.1> <>

texture {

pigment {

image_map { png "C:\Program Files\POV-Ray for Windows v3.6\imagemap\bicycle_blue.png"

translate <0,0,0.05>


Thursday, April 05, 2007
  a Nice light Snack
I'd had this book on hold from the Library for quite some time, it's Sam Harris' latest book (, it's funny, I'd put it on hold at the same time as Dawkin's The God Delusion, I picked up God Delusion before heading off to Jamaica, just finished it yesterday (about 400 pages), picked up Letter to a Christian Nation today, and finished it tonight! At only 90 pages, and a small form book at that, it really is a nice light, concise argument... It's so quick and easy to read that I'd really recommend it to anyone who is interested in religion, but doesn't want to devote the energy to read something larger like the End of Faith, God Delusion, or something along those lines...
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
  Jamaica Trip
I can't believe we've already been back for over a week... In some ways it feels like we were there yesterday, in other ways the place seems half a world away...

Anyhow, I haven't taken the time to put together a proper blog post with all of my thoughts on Jamaica and what a great time we had, but there are dribs and drabs coming together...

1) Trip Advisor Review - I think this is one way that we can help all of our friends in Jamaica, but encouraging others to go, telling whoever will listen what a great place FDR Pebbles is and encouraging others to go, so I made sure to post a quick review up there - check it out - here: Falmouth: FDR Pebbles - Traveler Reviews - Amazing, 2nd time, Fell in Love all over again! - TripAdvisor

2) Flickr pics - I've posted a few touched-up photos - - More to come, soon!
  Choices and Art - News - Thinking inside the box - Interesting story about an Art teacher in Toronto spending 3 days painting in a 2-metre box.

This reminds me of a funny little 'game' that I used to play with friends, and I suppose it still comes up from time to time.

The original basis of the game, which we'd call 'Choices', was a book called "The Book of Questions" by Gregory Stock. I first read this book at the Lorne Park Library when I was in high school, just picked it off the shelf in the Psychology section. This isn't a trivia book, it's a book which challenges you to ask yourself questions that relate to morality and ethics, that help you to understand yourself and whoever else you're sharing the book with.

A classic example of a question from the book would be:

You're on a hiking trip with your best friend and your father. A
poisonous snake bites both your father and your friend and you only have one
dose of antidote. You're too deep in the jungle to hike back to safety,
and if you divide the antidote between them they'll both die. You have to
decide who you'll give the antidote to.

In our game, we would typically make up 2 really BAD options and ask people to decide which they'd rather do, a common starting point would be:

Would you rather hit an innocent person in the back of the head with a hammer, or
spend a month in a 1 metre x 1 metre box.

Depending on the answer, we might then extend or decrease the period of time in the box, Ok, how about 2 months in the box? Etc, trying to find the point at which someone would 'snap'.

Anyhow, the article reminded me of that, and I thought I'd share it... The Book of Questions is a fantastic book, I strongly recommend it, it's also a fun game to play, around the campfire, or to kick start some interesting conversations among friends.
Monday, April 02, 2007
  BBC - Horizon - Human v2.0
BBC - Horizon - Human v2.0 - I'm always interested in finding and reading skeptical views, so that should also include skeptical views of my beliefs! - Here's a short segment from a BBC show which includes Kurzweil in a sort of debate with a more pessimistic futurist... Interesting...
  Edge: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE By Steven Pinker
Edge: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE By Steven Pinker - Good News! A very interesting article on, by evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker discussing how evidence is showing a trend towards an overall reduction in violence in our world...
A personal blog by John Walter.

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I think a lot. Some people say I think too much... However, I don't want to be seen as being aloof or pretentious, it's just that I really enjoy philosophical questions and deep thoughts. That's not to say that I don't find pleasure in more down-to-earth or trivial things, like beer and soccer :) I'm happily married with 3 wonderful children. I'm a partner in a technology services company based in Toronto. Myers Briggs says I'm an ENTJ

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