Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

on spam

From Monty Python’s Spam sketch:

Wife: Have you got anything without spam?
Waitress: Well, there's spam egg sausage and spam, that's not got much spam in it.
Wife: I don't want ANY spam!

Spam is like the electronic equivalent of direct mail. I remember reading that direct mail had about a 3% success rate, meaning that of all the mail that was sent out, only 3% of it generated a response - and I don’t even think “response” included a sale. I wonder what response spam generates? Maybe less than 1%? I also wonder who on earth ever responds to a spam ad? I get a few each day by email and they are usually for university degrees, viagra, mortgages and software. Even if I was interested in these products, I would go out of my way to avoid buying from the people who sent me spam. I don’t think I’m alone in that either. So who is buying from the spammers? They must have someone buying. If no one ever bought a single thing, wouldn’t the spammers give up on the spamming? (I was going to compare spammers here to trained animals and behavioural response but I realized that would be unfair to the animals.)

I got a spam “comment” on an entry to my other Blog so I clicked on the link in the comment and went to the web site of the spammer. I looked around and found “contact” and sent them an email. It was very polite and would not have been rejected for language or anything. Nevertheless, I got a “could not deliver” message from my server. I am tempted to try an experiment and respond to a plain spam email and see what happens. But then, I fear getting a barrage of spam for even daring to click on a link and I don’t want to have to activate firewalls and things. This could make an interesting story for an investigative reporter, perhaps. But for now, all I plan to do is rant about it a little here.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

more on burning garbage

As a follow-up to my previous post, I sent this letter to the paper today:

In yesterday’s paper was an article in the City section about using plasma gasification to burn garbage AND produce electricity with the heat. Hallelujah and it’s about time. Of course, the good news is tempered by the doom sayers saying it might not be able to work because of legislation about “incineration”. You know, legislation is drafted and produced by people and it can be redrafted and eliminated by people too. Laws are just rules we make up to have a little order in society. If the current laws on incineration are anachronistic, then we should change them and allow plasma gasification. Of course, calling it “incineration” would be easier but the mere word would be a red flag to the diehard anti-polluters of the 60s and 70s. It still boggles my mind how they could accept the mass pollution of land by land fills but they couldn’t accept pollution by incineration. Anyway, let us move forward into modern times, let us build garbage burners and benefit from the electricity produced by the heat. Let us also make it abundantly clear to our representatives, whether local or provincial, that they are there to represent us and our best interests. And if they complain that the law doesn’t allow then to build garbage burners, remind them that WE make the law and WE can change it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

in remembrance

Never mind me, look in the background. I call this "Ghost Towers"

From James Lileks today, on the anniversary of 9-11:

"I wish they’d build it again. The same two towers. Because we can. Because they can’t."

burn baby, burn

Recently, I read an article about a theory on BSE. I am not sure the theory is correct but even if it isn’t, it brings up another interesting point. First the article:
An excerpt: “The UK imported hundreds of thousands of tonnes of whole bones, crushed bones and carcass parts in the 1960s and 1970s to make fertiliser as well as meat and bone meal feed. Nearly 50% came from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, where gathering large bones and carcasses from the countryside and from rivers is an established local trade. Hindu funerary practices require that human remains are disposed of in a river, preferably the Ganges. Although the body should ideally be burned, many people cannot afford enough wood for a full cremation, the report's authors claim.”

My problem arises from the cremation angle and leads to the more general issue of the burning of unwanted items (including people and animals). I have never understood burial, either of humans or of garbage. Cremation is sanitary and leaves you with a small amount of solid matter. When humans are buried, they rot. People choose to ignore that aspect of burial but it’s reality. The ancient Egyptians learned how to preserve bodies but they did so in the belief that the spirits would come back to inhabit the bodies. We know that doesn’t happen now, but we maintain a certain fiction by continuing with embalming practices.

On a much larger scale we have garbage. When garbage is buried in landfill, all you get is contaminated land and a waste of acreage. I’m going to have to do some research but for now, I believe that burning garbage on a large scale was frowned upon by the anti-pollution scare mongers of the 60s and 70s and it never got off the ground. And perhaps there was an air pollution aspect to burning garbage back then. And perhaps it was easier to turn a blind eye to landfills because there was lots of land to ship garbage to and you could kind of hide it away.

However, in recent years, garbage landfills have become a problem. Some American cities even want to ship their garbage up here and are willing to pay to do it. And of course, we have developed an emotional attachment for (politically correct) recycling programs whose effectiveness should be more closely examined. What surprises me is that no one suggests burning garbage. Today, we even have super hot plasma burners that leave very little residue and take care of any toxic gases. In fact, they use small versions of these plasma burners very effectively on cruise ships.

So why are we not pushing our municipalities to look at burning garbage? We have the technology to burn garbage cleanly and I bet we could even come up with a way to turn the heat generated from the process into electricity. Imagine that. Not only would we get rid of garbage, we could generate electricity. Wouldn’t that be better than acres and acres of wind generators? And the fuel (garbage) is effectively a “renewable resource”! Somebody, please take this and run with it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Now I have to post to two blogs

I decided to start a second, distinct blog for the puppy walking. It's at which may show up on my "main" site, or not. I haven't figured it all out. I'll do that later, after a nap.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It's a BOY!

Well we must be okay folks because Guide Dogs just called to say that not only are we approved but they have for us an 11 week old yellow Lab male named “Rockwell” (from an R litter obviously) and he will arrive here on Friday! Woo hoo! Now we have to put up a fence tomorrow and puppy-proof the house (there will be a distinct “browse line”) and he will be ours for the next year or so. Wow. What a treat. I am thinking we will be calling him Rocky. :)

The fence will be some form of plastic netting and Peter will devise a method of holding it up as well as allowing it to be rolled up when the lawn-mowing guys arrive each Thursday morning. We were at the Home Depot today and saw what they had to offer and we figure we can do the trick tomorrow.

Someone asked me how I got into “puppy walking”. When I first heard of puppy-walking, I was working right beside the Guide Dogs place and heard about their volunteer program. I couldn’t imagine a better-sounding volunteer job than something called “puppy walking”. When I looked into it, I found out that of course, one was a foster parent to a puppy until it became old enough to understand training. One didn’t actually “walk” puppies. And dogs don't understand training until they are at least a year old. They have to be responsible for a blind person after all. So I decided back then I could do this and I got my Uma who I socialized until she was the perfect dog and then she flunked guide dog school. I think she couldn’t handle being alone in kennels (among other complex personality traits!). Anyway, after she passed away on June 16 of this year, we hemmed and hawed and then called Guide Dogs up again and boom! We are getting a puppy in two days.

It is work of course and that puppy does NOT belong to you. And yes, you cry when you give it back for training. But someone needs that dog far more than you ever will. So it’s not so bad.

Friday, September 02, 2005

nerve wracking

In less than an hour, we will be biking south to Manotick, to attend the orientation session for prospective guide dog puppy walkers. I am all nervous, both for fear I will be rejected and for fear I will get a puppy. But I think I'm more ready for the puppy than the rejection. I am already imagining where I will put the giant crate to house said dog and what I will be doing for the first couple of weeks while house training said puppy. Expect lots of blogging about it. in fact, I think I will set up a separate blog just about the puppy. If I get one.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

on politicians

Interesting thoughts from Lileks today (
About politicians:
"Sometimes you just tire of spin, the endless carping, the incessant pissy miserabilism, to quote the Pet Shop Boys. It’s as if there’s a superior breed of humanity, uncorrupt and all-knowing, waiting in the wings to solve all our problems if only we’d let them have the reins of power and speak the honeyed words."

I watched some of “Primary Colors” last night. That John Travolta had Bill Clinton down to a tee. What is it about people like Clinton that makes other people think they are so special that they (the other people) will spend their lives trying to get this person into power? I don’t get it. Maybe people need a leader, a figurehead, someone to follow, someone who will make everything all right. I think it’s the longing for some lack of responsibility that does it. It takes work to be an adult and you have to make the decisions yourself and take the consequences for them. When you are a child, your parents take the consequences. Sure you might get spanked if you make the decision to disobey a parental rule but consequences that involve other people, entire nations, are hard to swallow.

Someone has to decide how to deploy our health care resources, our army, our education programs. When we started with democracy, what we did was hire representative people to go somewhere central and make our decisions for us. You can imagine the village, having a meeting about this. They said, “you go Joe. We trust you to do what we would do if we were there.” It’s still a little bit like that, sort of. But now, only people who want to make those decisions, or at least those who want the power to make the decisions (and there’s a huge difference), are going somewhere central to represent us.

I don’t like it and I’m not alone. This nagging feeling that there has to be a better way is what is bothering a lot of regular folks these days. You know, maybe it’s because the representatives are involved in far too many things that just aren’t their business. We want government to protect us and to run the big infrastructures. But we don’t need government to tell us anything about culture, we don’t need them to dictate our ethical behaviour. Can you imagine if government decided to get in on fashion and tell us what to wear? Well as silly as that sounds, that’s what government is doing when it gets involved in the arts. Run museums, fine. Preserve history, okay. But don’t tell people what hours they can keep their shops open and don’t run any shops. Maybe I would feel less nagging if I knew our government reps were just doing their job, instead of being there for personal aggrandizement. If a person wants to fluff up his ego, he should do something that gains him fame in some other way - be a sports hero, a movie star even, invent the cure for something, write something wise. But don’t be a politician.