Sunday, July 22, 2012

Learning about myself

It's amazing what you can learn about yourself on the internet. Thanks to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics, today I discovered that I am no standard nerd - I am an Alpha Nerd!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Skepticism and sports

So the New Jersey Devils lost to the Los Angeles Kings in game six of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals (congratulations, Kings. The refs wrapped up the final game for you and you took it to the bank).

They deserved to win, but that doesn't
mean I have to like it.
During my enjoyment of the Devils' run to the finals, I employed the handful of rituals that I generally observe in an effort to exhort my team on to playoff success. These customs have morphed and expanded somewhat over time, building on what seemed "successful" in the past.

These rituals include obvious things like wearing team colours (my #30 Martin Brodeur jersey that I purchased in 1995, and my 2000 & 2003 Stanley Cup champions hats), drinking a beer per period in my 2003 Stanley Cup champs mug (the 750ml volume means if the game goes into OT I'm heading to work the next morning with a hangover!), and munching on peanuts during the game.

If the Devils score a goal or win the game, my dog is rewarded with a peanut treat (which is a variation on when I used to have pet rats instead of a dog) and I hit the play button on Hammer (a mechanized plastic mouse with a helmet, jersey and hockey stick that dances to "The good ol' hockey game").

There are a few other actions I practice as part of my playoff rites, but you get the idea. This year however, my wife snapped a couple of photos of me performing my rituals and commented, "You're the most superstitious atheist I know!"

This of course led me to review exactly why it is I perform these idiosyncracies while watching a hockey game. Do I really think that these actions will affect the results of what is happening in a hockey rink thousands of kilometers from my house? Certainly not. So why act out these peculiar traditions?

This happened because I finished my first period beer
before the end of the period.
I think part of it is to feel a little more "involved" in the game instead of merely watching it passively. It creates a sense of responsibility and builds a greater (albeit false) connection to the team resulting in a greater emotional investment. Thus, the little rituals provide that extra collective elation when my team is winning because it makes me feel like I've contributed in some small way to team success instead of merely watching images on a TV screen. On the flip side, it can be a sense of comfort when my team loses, because missing a ritual or doing one improperly becomes the reason why the favored team wasn't ultimately successful, avoiding the reality that the rival team was just a better team.

So then, my customs have some similarities to religious rituals: they offer a sense of community, build emotional attachment, and offer comfort when disappointment strikes. And, just like religion, they are also complete bullshit.

However, my rituals are fun, I don't really believe they have any actual power, and I certainly don't try to force my little traditions on anybody else or demand respect for my silly practices. So they are also very unlike religion.

Am I a hypocrite for claiming to be a skeptical atheist, yet observing these little superstitious acts? I don't know. I don't think so, but I'm pretty sure that it shows I'm more than a little weird because, after all, shouldn't enjoying the game of hockey be enough?

Friday, June 8, 2012

When nerds feel smugly superior

Sadly, I'm only certain of about 70% of the people on the left, and I do know who the person on the right is. But still, us nerds have to say stuff like this to make ourselves feel at least a little better than the average person (we call you "normies").

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dear Jim Flaherty (Canadian Finance Minister)

I say this with all due respect to the office that you currently hold within my (imperfect but) beloved country of Canada:

"Fuck you."

Hmmm, that doesn't quite fully capture the emotion that I wish to express to you after I read your comment that "There are no bad jobs. The only bad job is not having a job." I'll have to dig deep and quote from an eloquent song by the Canadian band Strapping Young Lad:

"Fuck you, you fucking fuck!"

I currently work in the IT industry, making about 10% less than the average wage for a single-income Canadian family. My loving wife, stricken with a number of health issues, has been apparently struggling at a "bad job" for a number of years now, since she's not able to work at this time, and may not be able to for the foreseeable future.

Back when my wife's health issues originally surfaced, my income was insufficient to cover our mortgage payments, and within a year we were forced to sell our house and move a thousand kilometers away into a mobile home so that I could chase down work that would eventually pay me enough for us to live off of. Over the next six years, as I worked my way up the ladder at work to my current level, mere survival required us to incur a fair amount of debt that we are now struggling to pay off.

To make our lives even more interesting, in the last year the company that employs me merged with (by which I mean we were "acquired" by) a larger company in the same industry from the lower mainland. We employees have been assured there will be no job losses, but it is common knowledge as to what can happen to employment positions when there is duplication of responsibilities in a pair of newly merged companies. 

Sadly, my wife and I currently live in a place where there isn't a vast number of companies clamoring for IT technicians. If something were to happen with my job, it's quite reasonable to believe that I will be unable to find work in my field of expertise that pays the same amount that I make currently. If this were to happen, I don't really want to think of the consequences of settling for less income, but I assure you that within short order, our financial situation would easily spiral out of control. We sure as hell can't afford to move anywhere else in the hopes of better employment opportunities. Perhaps I'm expecting too much when I assume the Canadian Finance Minister should understand what the phrase "working poor" means.

Finally, the one reason that you have drawn my ire, Mr. Flaherty, and why your party is reaping the whirlwind about your remarks that Canadians should be willing to settle for less instead of relying on Employment Insurance (EI) to bridge the gap until they find reasonable employment, is that I've been working and paying into EI for over fifteen years now. During those years, I have never drawn a single cent from the program that was created in order to help Canadians survive through difficult economic times. Canadians are entitled to withdraw money from a program that many of them have paid into for years without receiving any benefits from.

You've essentially insulted all of us hard-working Canadians by insisting that we are lazy and undeserving of the money that your government mandates be set aside to assist us at the time in our lives when we need it most. I'd suggest you think hard about how your Compassionate Conservatism sounds to the average Canadian before you open your mouth again. If not, I sincerely hope my fellow voters kick your ass out during the next federal election.

I'll happily suggest that you can  go back to driving a taxi instead of collecting your gold-plated government pension.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dude, my hands are huuuuge... Or are they tiny?

In the great grand scheme of things, it can be difficult to wrap your head around concepts such as the incredibly massive objects  filling out the expanse of the universe, down to the infinitesimally tiny building blocks that make up those objects.

This is why I appreciate people like Cary and Micheal Huang, who produced a pretty cool interactive representation of the size of the components of the universe. Check it out, it's informative and a little bit fun.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Clearing the cobwebs

It's been almost two months since I put anything new up. I'm going to retreat to my usual defense: a busy home life and lack of impetus to blog lately. It's not like I can complain that there's any lack of interesting things to blog about, it's mainly been that thanks to a relatively recently acquired sense of responsibility, I've been focusing on more important things than poisoning the blogosphere with my thoughts.

The one big piece of news (for me, anyways) during this blogging absence was that my hockey team won it's beer league division championship!

Thanks to a recent comment, I plan on finishing a long-over due post, and eventually I hope to return to a semi-regular schedule of updates.

Carry on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Women's Work

A couple of weeks ago, my wife had to go under the surgeon's knife. Thankfully, the surgery went well, and her recovery has been proceeding pretty much according to plan, which of course is excellent news.

However, due to the nature of the medical procedure she received, I've basically had to take over every aspect of maintaining the house, from cooking three meals a day, vacuuming, laundry, dishes, walking the dog, cleaning the cat box, etc. My wife is pretty much only capable of getting up to do minor puttering, like going to the washroom or dropping a dish or two into the kitchen sink. I have to take care of everything else, which is certainly not something I'm accustomed to (nor is she - it's painfully obvious that she's just as frustrated at my feeble attempts at housework as I am trying to perform those tasks).

Occasionally, the patriarch in me rears its ugly head (it used to be a lot stronger back in my teens and twenties) and I get all pissy about being forced to perform all this menial "womens' work". Thankfully, shortly afterward my inner tantrum, my equalitarianism kicks the misogynistic part of me back into submission, and I realize just how much effort my wife must put in to taking care of me, the house, our pets, and our belongings.

Truth be told, I'm barely accomplishing a quarter of what she usually gets done in a day, and it's every bit as wearying as a full eight hour shift at work.

So, to my wife: thanks for everything you do. I'm sorry that sometimes it takes situations like this to make me recognize the effort you put in at home. I'll definitely complain less often when you ask me to perform any number of housework later in the future.

PS: Get better soon.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Geek Hypocrite No Longer

I've been languishing for three years now, toiling in an IT department utterly devoid of True Geeks. Nobody in my department has read the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, I'm the only person who played (and would continue to play, if given the opportunity) D&D, and my Cthulhu fish car emblem only received confused "what the heck is that" looks from my coworkers.

Sure, when I introduced my cohorts to The IT Crowd, it became immensely popular around here, but four short seasons of it wasn't able to displace their favorite shows like Two And A Half Men (pre-Kutcher, if that means anything) and Sons Of Anarchy. (They also like Big Bang Theory, but that doesn't count, because most of it's jokes are the audience laughing at the geeks, not identifying with them.) All my coworkers think Spaced is too boring , and they're all surprised that anybody still listens to Weird Al (and seemed to think it odd I went to see him in concert a week after I started working here). There's not even any point in attempting to spark a Star Wars versus Star Trek war (a generally quintessential topic in any computer department) here at work. You're better off sparking animosity by playing up the Battle Of Alberta, pitting our Oilers fans against the lone Calgary Flames supporter. Don't get me wrong, I like my hockey, but I'm pretty sure my coworkers long ago became deafened to my complaints that our IT department is not geeky enough.

That said, I harbour a deep, dark geek secret, of which I've been ashamed for at least ten, if not twenty, years. I'm not certain it's wise to admit this, especially on the internet, where nothing is ever forgotten, but this needs to be brought out into the light, in order to properly deal with and dispel the horror.

Over the last decade, I enjoyed the movies immensely as they came out, and I considered them epic triumphs of fantasy movie making, but it is time to reveal a terrible truth.

Deep breath. I can do this. Phew! Who knew this would be so difficult? Okay, here it is:

I've never actually read anything written by Tolkien. (Please let me keep my "White & Nerdy" hoodie!)

I started reading The Fellowship Of The Ring back in middle school, but I don't think I ever actually finished it. I certainly recalled almost nothing of the plot when I joined my wife, my cousin Shawn, and my mom in going to an Edmonton theater to see the initial Peter Jackson incarnation of the Lord Of The Rings released in 2001. At the time (and ever since then), I was too ashamed of admitting to my kith and kin (not to mention anyone else) that, despite being the family nerd, I hadn't read the series.

Fast forward to December 2011, when Peter Jackson gifted (or tortured, take your pick) his fans by releasing a trailer for upcoming film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I enjoyed the Lord Of The Rings movies so much, that I could barely contain my excitement at seeing the prequel laid out in similar fashion. However, there was one thought tempering my enthusiasm for the upcoming film.

A number of times in the following month I found myself reading and revisiting various nerdy internet discussions I had previously scanned over, mostly regarding how true Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy had (or rather, hadn't) been to the source material. Spurred on by those discussions, and driven by the fact that, almost invariably, original books are vastly superior to the movies inspired by them, I determined that I would read The Hobbit before the film was released.

Realizing that I hadn't actually read a book in years (beyond the 4th edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, plus various computer technical manuals in PDF form), I guessed that it would probably take me at least a month to read. Coupled with my well developed and vast capability to procrastinate, I decided that if I pledged to read The Hobbit in January, I might just have a chance of finishing it by the film's December 2012 release date. It turns out I need not have worried.

At first, I found the book a bit difficult to get into, as it wasn't quite what I was expecting. After over twenty years of D&D (and D&D-esque) books, manuals, and video games, a fair amount of the book seemed quaint, and even downright non-canonical in places. But Tolkien is one of the greatest sources for modern fantasy and role playing, and eventually I found I couldn't put the book down. Four nights after starting, I read the last lines of the book and flipped to review the map of Mirkwood that mark the final pages of the novel.

My thoughts? The book was good. I liked the characters and atmosphere. There wasn't quite as much detail or action as I was expecting, but overall I definitely enjoyed myself, and wonder why it took me so long to get around to reading even one book of this iconic series. I certainly will continue on to read the three Lord Of The Rings novels.

Mostly, though, I just can't wait to see how badly Peter Jackson screws the story up.