One Long Month

Posted in Life and Times on August 2, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

August is upon us.  Since yesterday.  Guess I was too busy playing with ornamental explosives at a barbecue to post anything about it.  That or I’m a lazy bastard.  Your choice.

So, what’s going to make August long?  No classes.  No job.  Boring!  Perhaps what I should do is try to find a job with all the time that lack of classes is going to give me.  Perhaps work on some research for my again-stalled writing.  Fucking stolen thumbdrive.  Rage.

I’m having a hard time pinning down work for what I think is a pretty obvious reason: I’m a dick.  At my last job I got fired.  I blew my lid, and managers can’t do that.  Doesn’t matter that the kid was baiting me.  What matters is that I played my part as the bull quite nicely and charged the red cloth.  Pretty stupid, I’ll tell you what.  So now I’m out of work for over a year, with no reference from the last place.  Not a sweet spot to be sitting in.  On the other hand, I do have a reference from the co-ordinator of my program.

Professor David Pastirik, this is my shout-out to you, thanking you for having faith in my abilities.  And for telling me to shut up (in a nice way) when I answered all the questions in your last lecture without letting anyone else in the class get a chance to mull it over.  And for taking it with good spirit when I wrote the answer on Ana’s piece of paper so she could respond instead.  You’re undoubtedly the best teacher I’ve ever had, bar none.

Now, to get far enough in the hiring process somewhere that they’ll actually use the reference.  I’ve done hiring for places before, as both assistant manager and manager, so I know what these people are seeing as the problem.  Wish there was something I could do about it short of lying about why I left the last place.  Perhaps I should sugar coat it a bit, without actually uttering a direct untruth.  I do have a lot of soap at home with which to scrub off the dirt; the shame will take years of expensive counselling to repair.  So I should aim for a workplace with a good benefits plan and some kind of left-wing liberal feeling that they should turn all their employees into cuddly Care Bear types.

Aside from writing this post, which has currently eaten up all of ten minutes of the month, what else can I do with August, aside from the relatively futile job search?  The writing.  That’s right, write!  I need to replace all the research I had done, and add it to the bits and pieces I’ve compiled since.  Mostly stuff about terraforming and sentience quotients.  The former comes from the wonderful Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.  If you like hard science fiction, this trilogy will knock your socks off.  And if it doesn’t, go play World of Warcraft, you elf-loving son of a… Sorry.  Got off track there.

The latter is really interesting.  This fellow, Robert A. Freitas Jr., came up with this thing in the late 70s.  He must have been anticipating my need for it in the early 21st century.  Thanks, Bob!  This is a wondrous little equation, that I shan’t record here, that can be applied to any system that processes information.  Animals, computers, houseplants.  You name it.  What it boils down to is this: it compares the system’s ability to process information (in bits per second) and compares it to the mass of its “brain.”  Thereby we find out that human beings have a sentience quotient of +13.  Houseplants have 0 (though those carnivorous little beasts like Venus flytraps have an astronomical +1), and the Cray-1 computer had +9.  The most recent “artificial intelligence” supercomputer, the IBM Watson, scores somewhere between +11 and +12, so we can see that computers have made some headway, but we’re still winning.  Nyah nyah, Asimov.  None of this relates to sapience, which is a reference to a being’s intelligence or cognitive ability.  The limits are set at a minimum of -70 (I guess a rock or something) and +50 (God, or maybe one of those Q guys from Star Trek, or that nerd next door who can quote everything that Spock ever said).

Given that I got my ass fired, it’s fairly questionable whether I genuinely score a +13.

Priorities

Posted in News on July 23, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

Sometimes the world is an offensive place.  I’m just about to take my offensive part in it.  Again.

I want you to go on Facebook.  Right now.  Take a look around, and see how many people are remarking on the death of Amy Winehouse.  “R.I.P. Amy, you were such an inspiration!”  An inspiration for what, exactly?  Reasons to avoid drugs and alcohol?  Not to sound insensitive, but this woman was a poster child for a very dangerous culture, one that (I would guess) has now taken her life at the young age of 27.  Like it did to Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, and numerous others.  I struggled with substance abuse problems as a teenager, so I’m no angel, but the things these people did with their free time should have relegated them to the dregs of society.  Instead it was glorified, and thousands cry when their lifestyles put them in the ground early.

And nowhere will you find people commenting on the deaths of dozens of children in Norway.

At the same time that Western culture is lamenting the loss of a drug-addled, self-abusing, and generally debased adult who made her own choices and paid the price, some eighty or more innocent kids were brutally murdered near Oslo.  The only poor choice these children made in their lives was to go to this youth camp, perhaps to make friends, or enjoy nature, or just because it was the thing to do in the summer time.  Whatever the reasons, there they were, some of them begging for their lives as a grown man mowed them down with an automatic weapon.  And who knows who they would have been?  Nobel laureates?  Powerful CEOs or politicians?  Maybe even alcoholic singers.  They never got to make those choices.

And yet here we are, lamenting the loss of a person who made all the wrong ones.  We need to set our priorities straight.  Seriously.

Infinitely Renewable

Posted in Science on July 13, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

Well, not quite infinite, but effectively so.  Unless you intend to live for five billion years and see the Sun explode and wreck it all.  Good luck with that, by the way.

What I’m talking about here is the types of resources available to the spaceship Earth that will last effectively forever.  Most of these resources have the added side effect of virtually removing the pollution generally associated with coal, oil, and nuclear power sources.

Why didn’t we start harnessing these resources earlier?  Because we’re stupid, and lazy, that’s why.  Oil and coal were easy, and people like things that are easy.  Doing the easy thing is easier than doing the hard thing.  Inconvenient, but true.  Thing is, the hard things are generally more worthwhile.

Let’s look at some power sources “of the future,” that are sustainable and clean.

Geothermal:  This is a relatively new form of energy, as it’s extremely difficult for low-technology cultures to manage.  This is literally drilling into the ground, down to the regions where the internal heat of the planet is capable of boiling water.  The water, once boiled, spins turbines, creating electricity which is then shunted back up to a surface relaying station that transmits it to nearby communities.  Expensive to start, but relatively cheap in the long run.

Hydroelectric, Standard:  This one’s been around for a long, long time, but it’s limited to the regions where one has a relatively large body of flowing water, at least on a commercial scale.  Watermills have been used for ages to turn gears and grind grains; with the advent of electricity, the same basic concept was applied to create energy.  The flow of water is routed through a series of turbines, then released back into the river from which it came.  The only pollution created by this type of energy is the water’s effect of scouring gunk from the turbines themselves, which can be limited with proper maintenance.

Hydroelectric, Tidal:  Similar in some ways to standard hydroelectric, tidal power is achieved by allowing the rising tide to wash water into a secured basin, then forcing the water through a series of turbines to escape back into the ocean or lake from which it came as the tide falls.  Building a tidal hydroelectric station is expensive and requires advanced engineering, but the pollution produced by the system is similar to that of standard hydroelectric.  That is to say, quite limited.  Problematically, this type of power station is harder to shut down for maintenance than a standard hydroelectric plant.

Solar:  This is one of my favourites.  The Sun is beaming out energy by the bucketload, whether we choose to use it or not.  The down side is that, due to it’s small size, the Earth only collects the barest fraction of the total energy available, and even that can be significantly reduced by things like haziness in the air, or the fact that it’s often night time on the planet.  As technology develops, it may be possible to build orbiting stations that collect vastly more energy than ground-based solar stations could manage; the problem would be transmitting that stored energy down to the planet.  Solar energy is based on voltaic cells gathering energy from the Sun and converting it into usable electricity.

Wind:  Wind power is as old as, or maybe even older, than hydro.  Don Quixote was quite familiar with it, though he, for some reason, thought the windmills were giants.  Or something.  All wind power entails is allowing the flow of air across some type of rotating surface to power a turbine, and the turbine’s motion, in turn, creating electricity.

So, there’s several different methods of creating energy that don’t rely on burning dead things in order to create power.  And they smell better, too!

Social Butterflies

Posted in Humour on July 13, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

Chicken of the Sea

Posted in News on July 13, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

Take a gander:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14133913

I have some beef with this.  And I don’t mean hamburger.

I don’t mind fish.  I’m not huge on seafood in general, but I certainly don’t hate a nice salmon steak.  Tuna is a staple of my diet.  Cheap, healthy protein, right?  My question is this: why are people still fishing in the oceans?  We certainly don’t hunt commercially significant tonnages of cows.  We farm them.

So, what’s the deal here?  One would think that commercial hatcheries would be the rule, given that no other food source that is a significant portion of a nation’s or region’s intake is hunted.  I mean, you don’t hear quotas on the tonnage of wild bovines that can be brought in by professional hunters in a given year.

Hatcheries would allow for a sustainable, measurable source of fish protein, just like farms manage the amount of beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and so on.  I mean, we farm ostriches in Ontario, for Christ’s sake.  But commercial tuna hatcheries are so uncommon that tens of thousands of tonnes of the fish are “hunted” each year.  Screams stupidity.

Maybe one day I’ll open a tuna hatchery.  Then I can have as much tuna casserole as I want.

Winning.

Full Retreat

Posted in Fiction Writing on July 7, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

Expletive deleted!

I hadn’t written about this yet, because I was so morose, angry, and embarrassed about this that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  But, alas, I must.

The thumb drive on which most of my more recent work had been saved got up and walked away at school the week before last.  By which I mean to say, some asshole stole it.  With luck he, she, or it has the Guinea pig-like intelligence that so many of the college’s students exhibit (one of them did ask me how to spell “career” during the English assessment, after all) and doesn’t know what to do with the stolen data, provided it was even seen.  It was more likely blanked off the drive the moment someone ferreted it off to a secure computer.  That being one which was not in my line of sight.

So, I’m back to what I had on my home PC, which is not inconsiderable.  It’s just not where I was.

Motherfucker.

Progressive Taxation

Posted in Essays on July 7, 2011 by Sardonic Pariah

I recently began a debate with a friend of mine concerning the nature of progressive taxation.  I stated that I believe, and quite strongly, that the rich should always be taxed more than the poor.  The fellow disagreed.  I, of course, fail to see why, but the debate was cut short because he wanted to talk about it later.  Of course, I will.  However, I’m going to organize my thoughts here.  I am going to base this essay on the premise that progressive taxation is vital to modern nations, because it allows for a larger tax base, it is less harmful to the poor, and because Canada already implements regressive taxation via consumption taxes.

First and foremost, it just makes more money.  We’ll use numbers to highlight this premise.  Suppose the nation has a population of ten million people.  One million of these people make $250,000 gross per year; the other nine million make only $20,000.  Extreme numbers, but it will allow the point to be highlighted.  We’ll use two brackets for this example: the rich pay 35% taxes on income, where the poor pay 18%.  This is exemplified in the income tax system in Canada.  The total tax income received by the government in this case is $119.9 billion.  Taxing with a flat rate of 26.5%, the average between the two extremes, produces a total of $113.95 billion.  Therefore, it can be seen clearly that a progressive tax system will generate $5.95 billion more in tax dollars that can be devoted to a wide variety of purposes.

One of the best purposes this money can be directed towards is social services.  By social services, I mean those services that help the poor: welfare and employment insurance, food banks, shelters.  However, the best social service we can offer is to prevent them from ever needing those things listed above.  We’ll use the same numbers above to highlight this effect.  For reference, the poverty line in the average Canadian city is measured at $17,515 for a single individual.  A man who gains a net income of $250,000 and is taxed at 35% brings home $162,500, or 9.28 times the poverty threshold; a man who grosses $20,000 and is taxed at 18% will bring home $16,400, or $1,115 less than is considered poverty.  He’s obviously poor.  Now let’s say we averaged the tax rate again: the rich man now brings home $183,750, placing him at 10.49 times the poverty line, whereas our poor man brings home only $14,700, pushing him under the line by $2,815.  This man was going to have a hard enough time as it was, being more than a thousand dollars under poverty; now that we’ve “balanced” the taxes, he’s another $1,700 away from it.  He will be hard pressed to stay alive.

Finally, Canada already has a regressive tax scheme, in the form of consumption taxes.  Thus far we’ve only spoken of income taxes, which are obviously progressive in this country.  However, consumption taxes, popularly known as sales tax, are entirely regressive: they are the same for everyone making a purchase of similar products.  These taxes hurt the poor more than the rich.  Everything in Ontario that is not considered a necessity is taxed at a harmonized sales tax rate of 13%.  You want the shoes?  That’s another 13% on the price.  It’s the same for the sports car.  Things like milk, bread, and other staple foodstuffs are exempt, as are baby clothes, diapers, and medicines.  Sin taxes, applied traditionally to tobacco, alcohol, and motor fuels, are even higher, and just as equal to both the rich and the poor.  Given that these taxes apply to everyone, it may be fair to give the poorest among us a break on their incomes, particularly as averaging the income tax rate gives him far less money to spend on the things he needs, never mind the things he wants.

By this point, it should be pretty obvious that progressive taxation is the way to go; most modern nations do it, to some degree.  Some people will claim that it’s somehow unfair that those people who make exorbitant amounts of money be taxed so highly, but I see that argument as hedonistic.  The additional tax taken from the rich man could literally feed a family down on its luck for a year, and all he had to give up was twenty grand he didn’t really need in the first place.  A country is a group of people united under a common banner, and hopefully under common ideals; unwillingness to give up something in order to help those of your countrymen who need it smacks of selfishness.  Clearly, progressive tax makes more money for the government, it helps keep those at the bottom from slipping into complete destitution, and it’s applied where it counts the most, on incomes.  As far as the fancy shoes are concerned, you can pay the same tax as everyone else if you want to buy them, regardless of your income.