Welcome! You've arrived at award-winning author Marcel Gagné's personal Website. I am the author of the "Moving to Linux" series of books, a regular columnist for several tech magazines, a public speaker, radio and television personality, and a well known voice in the Linux and open source universe. I created the famous (perhaps infamous) Cooking With Linux which ran for ten years in the Linux Journal. I'm also a published science fiction author and editor, a onetime Editor in Chief, a pilot, a former Top 40 disc jockey, and I fold a mean origami T-Rex.  This site is home to my insights, opinions, gripes, brags, tech stuff, and whatever else comes to mind when I have the time or the inclination to publish it. 


To all my freedom-loving friends, drink up!

Yes, they are beer coasters. I got them at one of the big Linux conventions, many years ago. Yes, there used to be such things.


Pirate Santa

This Halloween, I'm dressing up as a Pirate Santa.

Instead of saying, "Ho ho ho", I'm going to say, "Har Har Har, ye mangy landlubber. Tells me what ya want for Christmas quickly or I be sending your barnacle-encrusted hide to Davey Jones' locker. Aaarh!"

So Merry Christmas, you scurvy bilge rat! And Happy Halloween. Now hands over the goodies before I makes you walk the plank!

Aaaarh . . .


Happy Halloween! An Excuse To Party!

Feeling a little on edge? Like someone is looking over your shoulder? Do you hear a creaking sound in an otherwise silent room? Wait! Was there something moving in the shadows? You could swear you just just heard a low kind of moaning sound, as though the saddest, loneliest creature in the universe were writing in solitary pain. 

Buck up! It's Halloween!

The day after Halloween was once considered one of Christianity's holiest of days. Enshrined as "All Saints Day" by Pope Boniface IV, the holiday, like many Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas), borrows from earlier Pagan religions. This rite of the church was actually a two day thing, with a prepatory celebration knows as "All Hallows Eve". As such, Halloween was one of the holiest nights of the year, making way to All Saints Day. It's sort of like Christmas Eve and Christmas. The following day,  November 2nd, became All Souls Day, to honor those who hadn't quite made it to sainthood. Since the focus of these days is about the dead rather than the various eternal beings (God, Jesus, angels, etc), you get where this whole Haloween death thing comes from.

All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day is borrowed from the pagan feast of Samhain and comes to us courtesy of the ancient Celts. Samhain is the Gaelic harvest festival. The fields have been harvested, things are starting to look a little dead, and winter is coming. The harvest is cause for celebration but winter, if you don't have central heating (as with the ancients Celts), isn't all that exciting. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the prospect of some serious downer days.

They threw a party. 

The days got shorter and the air got colder and finally, the solstice (which later became the ispiration for Christmas) arrived. The shortest day of the year. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the darkest gloomiest day of the year prior to it getting brighter and (eventually) warmer. 

They threw a party.

As you can see, whenever people are faced with momentous events, in and out of their control, they throw a party. And now, it's Halloween. Or Samhain. Or All Hallows Eve. Take your pick. Either way, it's a great excuse for a party if, as Vincent Price observed in Michael Jackson's "Thriller", you've got the "soul for getting down".

Happy Haloween!


Jesus Is Alive - So Is Elvis

Meanwhile, near Peterborough, Ontario, a battle rages for the hearts and minds of drivers making their way down the roadways. 

One man, deeply devoted to Jesus, decides to make it clear by using his own house as a billboard.

In case you can't read the words on the roof, let't take a look at a close-up (you could also just click on the image).

His next door neighbour might be just as passionate about another man made god, the King of rock and roll himself, the immortal Elvis Presley. Of course, he may just be annoyed at his neighbour's billboard and chose to respond with a billboard of his own. Check it out.

If you're having trouble reading the rooftop on that one, look at the closeup below or, once again, just click on the image for a full sized view.

So? King of rock and roll or King of kings? Are either really alive and living in Spokane where they work at a local greasy spoon serving up burgers and fries?

Myself, I take a more pragmatic view of the whole debate. It seems to be that Elvis is just as alive as Jesus. Maybe just a little more so but only because he hasn't been dead quite as long as Jesus.


Help! I've Been Seach Engine Optimized!

Riddle me this . . . why don't the SEO companies that promise to make you number one on Google show up in the number one position for SEO when you search for them on Google?

I begin this post with some trepidation. You see, after posting the above comment on Twitter, I received a deluge of emails from people offering to make my site "number one on Google and other search engines" (as though there are other search engines worth considering; I'm only partially joking). If a Twitter post got me this much automated response -- it's not like human beings are actually looking at your site or your posts -- imagine what a somewhat lengthy post on the subject of Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) will deliver upon me. Yet I still wander into the churning waters of criticism.

I posted my opening question question on my various social feeds after getting a small deluge of people telling me that they could get my name, Marcel Gagné, to the number one site position on Google. Newsflash! A search on my name already serves up my Website as the number one result on Google. If an actual human being had checked on this, they would have noticed. But I digress . . .

Friends and colleagues had their own take. The first answer I receive to my question came from Aaron Seigo, who summed it up by saying, "same reason fortune tellers never know you're on your way to see them ;)" To which I added, "or win the lottery." Seriously, you never read about psychics winning the lottery; I wonder why.

When I'm not writing about free and open source software or Linux, I run a computer consulting company. In that role, I sometimes get customers calling me up for advice about SEO. When the question arises, a battle erupts in my subconsious, torn as I am between calmly explaining the concept, theory, and methodlogy behind SEO, and running away screaming.

Hiding out on the East Coast, Jon Watson said, "SEO is the 21st century's snake oil. It's an industry in conflict. It attempts to figure out search engine algorithms which is exactly what the search engines spend most of their time protecting and changing. Total waste of money paying someone for that IMHO."

Jonathan Blaine, a tad closer in Toronto, said "I find it interesting, when looking at logs, that these bozos say I'm not highly ranked when I can see the search parameters they used to send me their crap via the form on my website... and the Google or MSN search string they used shows that I am... (um, and why would they send it to a highly ranked marketing company website in the first place?)"

Sound familiar?


Two Sides Of The Gun Debate

An old friend of mine, over on Facebook, posted a story about a young woman who surprised intruders in her home by shooting both and killing one. He held this up as a sample of how wonderful and useful it is to have a gun in the house. His comment, "Imagine what would have happened if her Father hadn't trained her so well...." is an important one to consider in light of how this story was framed.

I responded with my own post suggesting that having a gun in the house isn't necessarily a good thing by posting a story where a father, thinking the house was being broken into, shoots and kills his own daughter.

My reponse, predictably, set up a spirited discussion on Second Amendment rights and why gun control as a means of reducing the number of people getting killed by guns is a myth, complete with links to a pamphlet by a gentleman who sees that same amendment as "the only civil right under perpetual attack". Really? The only civil right under perpetual attack? Clearly this guy is not paying attention. 

My point, and my only point in posting this story, was that my friend picked a story out of the air (off the net, actually) where someone with a gun at home stopped (killed) an intruder. He used that story as 'proof' that having a gun at home is a good thing. So I randomly picked a story off the same net, the first that came up in a Google search, which demonstrates the exact opposite. I typed "father accidentally kills daughter" in a search bar. There are tons of returns for those stories. Ditto if I use "son" instead of "daughter". One incident of a someone stopping and killing an intruder does not qualify as proof that "guns are good to have around the house".

So here's a sample of the first few stories in a Google search looking for parents accidentally killing their kids with the house gun.

Story 1

. . . the man was awoken by a commotion at his house on Glover Street. "He went upstairs to fetch his firearm and while he was there, he heard the commotion again near the door. He fired a shot which hit and injured his... daughter," said Dlamini. "She was taken to hospital in a critical condition, where she died."  (Link to story)

Story 2

The Army Ranger charged on Thursday in his 2 year old daughter's death say he is devastated by the loss of his angel. "I live with the guilt everyday. It was an accident and I miss her and think of her constantly," Josh Henry said.

Henry left his gun near the bed he was sleeping in with his daughter. His daughter Cheyanne was asleep and he left the room to talk with a fellow soldier recently back from war when he heard the gun go off.

The 2 year old shot herself in the chest. (Link to story.)

Story 3

Phoenix Police are looking for a man who is suspected of accidentally shooting his 12-year-old child. Residents in the area of 3900 S. 3rd Avenue were having a party early Sunday morning that included several children. At some point during the party, the father reportedly shot his child while attempting to clear his gun. (Link to story)

Story 4

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident in which a 12-year-old boy accidentally shot his father in the chest while firing at roosters on a farm in Thurmont, authorities said Thursday.

The boy and his father, a 48-year-old Frederick resident, were outside at the farm, where the boy was shooting a .22-caliber rifle, said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

“What they were shooting at were Bantam roosters, which were very aggressive on the property,” Bailey said.   (Link to story.)

Story 5

The investigation continues into the accidental fatal shooting of a 37-year-old Rochester man by his off-duty police officer father at the Adirondack lakeside motel where they were spending the weekend.

State police say Matthew Leach was pronounced dead at a Utica hospital after being wounded early Saturday morning at the Clark Beach Motel in the village of Old Forge.

Troopers say 59-year-old Michael Leach called 911 around 12:50 a.m. to report the shooting. Police say Leach told them he thought he had fired at an intruder. (Link to story.)

Story 6

A Connecticut grade-school teacher accidentally shot his 15-year-old son during what he apparently thought was the attempted robbery of a neighbor’s house, police said Friday.
“Something like this is a tragedy, a loss of human life,” State Police Lt. Paul Vance said.

The incident occurred in New Fairfield about 1 a.m. Thursday when a woman called her neighbor, Jeffrey Giuliano, and said she thought there was a robber in front of her house. (Link to story)

All of these stories make a stark and undeniable point. Guns are dangerous and one person's protection is another's dreadful mistake. Notice how often the theme of "I thought there was an intruder" comes up.

As I have mentioned more than once and in more than one post, I am not 'anti-gun' but anti-promoting guns as an answer to society's ills. I countered my friend's suggestion that having a gun in the house had been a 'good thing' in the case he mentioned. My rebuttal is there to show that it's hardly that simple. A gun in the house can be used against a perpetrator just as quickly as it can against a family member. Accidents happen and I would argue that the vast majority of gun owners haven't a clue how to properly use them.

The Second Amendment was put in place to prepare the population against an impending attack by the British. You know what? It's been a while and as near as anyone can tell, the British aren't coming to invade America.  As my stories demonstrate, most Americans wouldn't know "the enemy" if it came down to it. What we've got isn't a 'prepared population' but a bunch of people living in fear that someday somebody is going to attack them. And so they keep their finger close to the trigger while we wait for the next unfortunate accident.

Edited : Putting good/bad stories aside and looking to statistical results from a large study of gun mortality in the United States, the following study from the American Journal of Epidemiology makes for fascinating, if occasionally a little dry, reading.http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/10/929.full Some highlights include the fact that a gun in the house increases the risk of suicide by about 500% and plain old homicide by 300%. Over 76% of victims knew their assailant. 32% of gun murders occur during a family argument, whereas only 15% involve a robbery. Read on.


Praying For Peace In Winnipeg

Image from Radio Canada article here http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/manitoba/2012/10/04/002-winnipeg-chef-police.shtml

I'm trying to decide just how much fun I want to poke at this guy. 

On one hand, Devon Clunis has an unenviable job, one I certainly never want. While Winnipeg is a quiet rural town when compared to comparable US cities when it comes to crime, tackling crime in Canada's murder capital is a hard job by anyone's reckoning. 

Unfortunately, I must temporarily suspend my respect for the person willing to take on this kind of job because Devon Clunis needs to sit down and think seriously about what policing involves and how best to deal with crime. Winnipeg's new police chief has apparently decided that the way to reduce crime is to get everyone to pray.

Yes, pray.

"I'm a little tired of us…being '[the] murder capital of Canada,'" says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. "People consistently say, 'How are you going to solve that?' It's not simply going to be because we're going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that."

"What would happen if we all just truly—I'm talking about all religious stripes here—started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" he adds. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it's coming. I don't think I've arrived at this position just by chance."

What bothers me so much about this is what bothers me about prayer in general. It's a way to make yourself feel like you're helping when, in fact, you are doing absolutely nothing at all. Why work hard to solve the world's problems when you can pray them away? Besides, your god is coming back some time real soon now and this life is just something you do while waiting for eternal life and paradise. 

Praying for peace, or health, or anything else good for that matter is not only nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense. It renders you impotent and powerless and keeps you from actually doing something.

In a landmark (2006; Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer), which involved six major hospitals, the results showed that prayer had no effect on the outcome of surgery. Worse still, if the patient knew that people were praying for them, they actually got worse than those who simply had no idea they were being  prayed for. So if anything, prayer is harmful, particularly if you know people are praying for you.

Are you paying attention, Devon?

When it comes to murder, the more religious a country, the higher the murder rate. In the US, since I compared their murder rate to Canada's, the most religious of states have the highest murder rates while the least religious have the lowest. This holds true all over the world (see "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being" by Phil Zuckerman, PhD). To the believers out there, this must sound totally bogus but study after study proves it. The same is true of teen pregnancy rates. Check out this report from Reproductive Health which demonstrates a direct corelation between how religious a state is and the incidence of teen pregnancy. Abstinence and God are lousy methods of birth control. Sex education, on the other hand, works wonders. That's because religion's greatest contributions to the human condition continue to be ignorance, intolerance, and fear.

I'm sure Devon Clunis is a good man and a dedicated officer, but in his quest to help the residents of Winnipeg, he is looking for help in the wrong place.


My Own 50 Shades Novel

So, like I'm writing my own "50 Shades" novel, eh.

This one is going to be about surfing guys and babes, getting high, and basically just hanging out on the beach, you know.

It's going to be called "50 Shades of No Way, Dude!"


IKEA and Starbucks Bow Down to Islamic Misogyny

In a misguided effort to placate the misogynistic government of Saudi Arabia, IKEA bent over backward and kissed ass by taking the morally bankrupt step of erasing all women from the Saudi edition of their catalog. By erase, I mean the same catalog pages now have the women photoshopped out (see the image below for a sample). Saudi Arabia, that bastion of human rights, is a strange land where men apparently can't keep their penises in their pants if they even see an inch of female flesh. To that end, they encase their women in black bags leaving a small slit for the eyes. After all, the women still need to do all that woman work and if you can't see, you can't sweep the floor. Since the women in the IKEA catalog wore more civilized dress, they couldn't be allowed to remain, so out came the magic eraser.

IKEA has been rightly reamed in the media for this and they deserve every piece of bad press they get for this. They now say they 'regret' their callous move, but will they show moral fortitude and allow their standard catalog images to appear in the Saudi Arabian edition? Are they willing to face down the repressive Islamic regime in the name of human decency? And if Saudi Arabia claims it hurts their religious feelings, will IKEA take that regret to the bank and close its Saudi stores? Time will tell just how much regret they are willing to show. I remember back when IKEA was Swedish for "common sense", not "who cares about women anyhow".

Meanwhile, over in the coffee aisle, Starbucks is busy caring about the environment, but women are apparently not part of the environment. When I posted my dismay about IKEA earlier today, a friend pointed out that Starbucks is also big on kissing Saudi fanny. They too have erased women from their corporate image when it comes to placating the sexuallly repressive misogynystic male population. It seems that the mermaid logo still shows too much female flesh, so Starbucks also chose to erase half the population, if only symbolically. Their famous logo, featuring the two-tailed mermaid, was changed for the Saudi market to show only a stylized crown over waves; see the image below left for the current Starbucks logo with the Saudi version to the right.


All this while the United Nations General Assembly pushes for an international law that would make blasphemy a crime, and imposing a worldwide ban on insulting or criticizing religious beliefs or customs. This should scare the hell out of you because a law like that can only be used to opress and silence opposition to even more heinous crimes. It means you and I will no longer to criticize and ridicule criminal states like Saudi Arabia for their catalog of human rights abuses if they explain that it's part of their religious culture. It also means that we'll have to accept that companies like IKEA and Starbucks are just showing respect instead of displaying a love of money that supercedes any moral compass. 

The justification pushing this blasphemy law comes from outraged Islamists who figure that destroying property and murdering people is a fair balanced response to some idiot making an atrociously bad film about the prophet Mahummad. 

This is why we need to crush any attempts to institute blasphemy laws.  We, as evolved, civilized human beings, must not shy away from speaking out when religion trumps human rights. At these times, blasphemy, heresy, and ridicule are some of our best weapons. 


Innocence of Buddhists

Cox Bazar image from Reuters story linked here.It's not just American based Coptic Christian filmmakers (a generous term for the brains behind the incendiary "Innocence of Muslims") who seem to be doing their best to offend Islam. Now it's the Buddhists. It seems that a Buddhist, acting on behalf of all Buddhists, just as Nakoula Basseley was no doubt acting on behalf of all Americans and anyone who even remotely likes Americans, posted something on his Facebook page that was apparently blasphemous or offensive to Islam. Militant Muslims, offended as they often are, went after Buddhist temples and homes in Bangladesh, burning them to the ground and beathing up the Buddhists who had the audacity to hang around. 

Wait . . . Buddhists? Who attacks Buddhists?

Sure, they can be annoying, with their pesky smug Vegan superiority, always pushing their beliefs on me and trying to get me to eat less red meat. And yes, I get pissed off when they picket my local Montana's or Keg restaurant as I try to enjoy my medium-rare tenderloin. More than once I've gotten angry reading a "Cow Killer!" plackard as I try to chow down on bacon-wrapped goodness, but I would never attack them. 

Oh wait, maybe those weren't Buddhists. Now that I think about it, they might have been members of PETA.

But it doesn't matter. My point, whatever it might have been, stands.

Buddhists are always going out of their way to annoy and offend other people's faiths. They even go after people of no faith as the following quote illustrates. When the Dalai Lama gets on his high horse about Buddhism changing if science uncovers something that conflicts with Buddhism, he gets downright annoying. 

So you can understand why Muslims are going after Buddhists now, right?

Me neither.

If one religion can claim the mantle, "Religion of Peace", it's probably the Buddhists. The Richard Gere version anyhow. Who knows? Maybe that's what makes these guys so offensive.


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