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. 

12
Aug

What "Our Menu Options Have Changed" Really Means

It seems that every time I call a company these days, the first thing I hear when the line is picked up are the following words.

"Thank you for calling Our Big Megacorporation. Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed."

Feel free to substitute "Our Big Megacorporation" for any business name you please. For the sake of this discussion, it's pretty much all the same.

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to believe that the menu options on the automated phone trees of every company on this planet has recently changed. In all likelihood, some companies are using the same menu they've been using for quite a while with few, if any, changes. This must be true unless, of course, there is only one automated response company in the world and they supply only one message for every company on the planet. Again, that seems unlikely. So why then, if it's impossible for every automated answering system's menu to have recently changed are we being told this over and over again. After a great deal of thought, maybe as much as five minutes, I think I've nailed it.

What the message actually means is, "Listen you stupid caller. We know that you think you're clever and that you remember every damned company's phone tree. You hitting the wrong number means that you're going to disturb one or our people with requests to be transferred to somebody who doesn't even work here and frankly, we'd rather than them not be disturbed by losers like you." That's one version. 

Here's the second. "Dear halfwit caller. We don't enjoy being bothered by people like you so we've created this complex menuing system which, while it hasn't been updated in years, claims it does because we're on the other end placing bets as to how long you're willing to continue pushing buttons before hanging up in frustration." And we hate your little dog, too.

A third scenario. "Hey moronic caller, don't you dare push zero to reach an operator.  Besides, the operator does pretty much all the work at this company, including answering the phone and we need her to fetch coffee right about now. If you listen to the menu, there's a 50/50 chance you can reach the answering machine of somebody who doesn't work nearly as hard as the receptionist."

And this forth, also highly plausible,scenerio. "Dear caller. We spent so much money on this phone system that we never bothered changing the default message that says our menu options may have changed. Since we don't know how, claiming that our menu options have changed makes us sound important and very much the company on the move while making sure we never have to learn this damned menu system."

There may be other meanings associated with the "our menu options have changed" message, but I think I've pretty much got it. 

What do you think?

10
Aug

The Last Separatist

The following bit of prose goes way back to the early 1990s. It's interesting to be able to look back on these things and reflect; partly to see how you've grown and where your opinions have changed. In the piece, there are many references to various political events here and around the world as they happened or were happening as the time (happy hunting). By and large, I still feel much as I did back then. The only change I would add has to do with the concept of countries. If you manage to read to the end of my piece, I'll tell you what that change is.

My original comments follow.

For this one, it helps to be a Canadian, I suppose. I don't know how exciting the whole Québec referendum thing is anywhere else in the world, however, the market watchers would have us believe that the world is VERY interested. This piece is unusal for me since I rarely write anything that resembles poetry, but right around the Charlottetown accord, (or was it the provincial election in which Parizeau rose to power?) I was so sick of the separatist talk that I sat down and composed The Last Separatist. You see, I am proud of my heritage and my country, but I honestly believe that the time for countries is past. The world I envision is a complex organism with numerous and diverse entities all working toward a common future. That we should still be seeking to create ever smaller states baffles me. But, that's just me.


The Last Separatist

Around the world, elated voices cried,

"Freedom!" as the spectre of red doom was
Exorcised in the birth of disparate states.

Untainted by the heralding gloom,
Of economic collapse and civil war,
Committees of individuals defined their uniqueness
And thereby several new nations sired.

The walls came tumbling down.
The two are one again.
But some are more equal and some are bad.
It's time to clean up.

"Here's to ethnic purging, and the birth of a nation!"

Dictators were devoured in the arena.
In dying colour. In your living room.

After much talk and fear of cultural death,
A united Europe was rejected as a bad idea.
"We are Europe's distinct society," the Major said.

These stories and more; news at eleven.

But that's all far away, so don't worry.
All we want is self government. Oh...
And our own country. No. This province will do nicely.
Thank you.
Oh, and veto over anything we don't like.
And use of your currency, armed forces and postage.
Oh, and...

Then the west cried "What about us?"
We want all those things too.

The states having already fallen, fell further.
"Too much individuality is bad," they said.
"Let's outlaw this and outlaw that. Can't have
these sick and depraved among us."

Those left behind created their own societies
since they could not share those who declared them
criminals.

Then came the cities who declared their individuality.
And the suburbs who felt their distinct flavour being
swallowed in low income housing.

Fences rose higher.
Borders grew more defined.
Better make it electric.
Can't trust anybody.
Look out for number one.

Each by each the distinct societies grew.
First Joe on Park Ave, then Horace on Main.
Ellen, Maria, Jacob, Pedro, and Ted grew walls,
But Gloria's were nicer. She used real brick.

Until there was only me.
I did not want to separate.
I believed in unity and freedom for all.
Yet I gazed at the fences that surrounded me
and by process of elimination, the last
separatist became himself distinct.

And alone.

At least I will be able to preserve my individuality.


And now we return to 2012 and where my views differ from my 1992 self. I still believe that no state should be allowed to act as though it can do whatever it damn well pleases. Much as I am sometimes unhappy with what goes on (or doesn't) at the United Nations, I believe that something like the United Nations does need to exist. But central control on a global scale is, I now feel, a naive concept at best. But just as no man is an island, no country stands alone and each nation must understand that what it does has consequences, not just for themselves, but for the world. And since what each nation does affects the rest of the world, the rest of the world does have a right to respond. It's messy, but as a species we're still young and we still have a lot to figure out. Growing up, however, will mean casting off some of the things of youth and those things that divide us. What that all means is going to take a lot more space to explore than my quick single-paragraph update. So stay tuned . . . 

-- Marcel Gagné (August 2012)

09
Aug

Too Many Sites?

Too many notes? How about too many sites?

I've always had trouble focusing, at least for long periods of time. Focusing long enough to get this job done or writing an article, is well within my capabilities. Perhaps it's more a question of too  many interests. When I fill out a questionnaire that asks for my 'Interests', I don't know where to start. You see, I'm interested in everything!

  • science fiction and fantasy
  • religion
  • Linux and open source software, including Android
  • space exploration
  • genetics and epigenetics
  • politics
  • sex
  • psychology and the theory of mind
  • ethics and morality
  • superstition and mythology (which could go under religion)
  • libraries, data storage, and archiving content
  • history
  • movies
  • physics . . . oh might as well add science as a general category
  • books
  • music, which includes rock, opera, classical, baroque, big band, blues, and pretty much everything else
  • silliness and various ephemera

I could go on and on and on . . . but as you can see, I really am interested in everything. I'm an information addict. Worse, my passions are equally widespread. How is a guy supposed to function under these crazy conditions? How are you, dear reader, supposed to follow my work if you happen to be interested in Linux and free software when only every tenth post is on that subject. Or religion, or politics, or science fiction.

To be honest, I find it hard to keep up with me and this does pose problems when it comes to organizing my thoughts, whatever that might mean. Since I run a company that does Website hosting, among other things, I tend to create new Websites. I have a general Website under the marcelgagne.com (you are likely here) banner and various others depending on where I think I should be concentrating certain types of content, like Linux and Open Source. Heck, I even have a Website for those things that interested me only briefly (Look! A Shiny Object!) before I move on to the next distraction.

And yes, all this means that I have a dozen or more domains registered that are basically all for my own writing.

What about you? Am I the only one who has decided to create Websites as he sees fit? Is this just plain crazy or a normal part of blogger/journalist evolution?

If you are part of the eternally distracted set with countless interests, tell me how you handle all this. I'm genuinely curious.

07
Aug

NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

Awe-inspiring . . . spectacular . . . glorious! Let's see where Curiosity will take us.

An amendment to the state constitution that says "no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs," may be coming to Missouri shortly. Does evolution violate your belief system? No worries. You can skip that class.

What if your religion teaches that members of other religions are inherently evil or not quite human? Or perhaps your religion teaches that women do not deserve equality and any course that shows them to be equal to men should be avoided. And what if the history curriculum promotes racial equality when your religion disagrees or paints your particular brand of faith in a bad light? Witch burnings, anyone? How far should this farce be allowed to progress?

For more on this nutty idea, read the USA Today story here.

01
Aug

Music was better in the sixties, man.

I have personally argued that the 1970s represents the most important decade in music history, specifically rock music, but music in general.

I will argue that topic passionately but, unlike this article from Discover Magazine, I don't have the science to back me up. 

31
Jul

Making the breast mandatory

Apparently, new mothers in New York who want to use formula instead of breastfeeding will have to sign out the infant formula like a prescription. 

Choosing to breastfeed, and for most women in the civilized world, is just that, a choice. Children who are fed infant formula still grow up big and strong. In fact, at least initially, they generally grow bigger and stronger than their breastfed peers. Eventually, the breast fed kids catch up.

For many women, breastfeeding can be difficult, or painful, or damn near impossible. Making it harder for them to choose not to breastfeed doesn't help them.

What people forget, especially those who are passionate about breastfeeding (you know who you are), is that whether or not it's better for the child, bringing up baby isn't just about the baby. If the mother isn't healthy, or she's stressed out about not being able to adequately feed her child, the baby isn't going to do well either. It's about mother and child, not just child.

If you want to breastfeed, great. If you want to educate people on the benefits of breastfeeding, great. Do so. But don't put the formula under lock and key. Don't make new mothers feel like trash because they'd rather use formula. That's just plain mean. And it's just not right.

To read all about it at the Huffington Post, click here.

30
Jul

Jesus doesn't want you to go to church

Many of us live for the weekend. Time to kick back and slack off a little. You've worked hard all week and you deserve a break. But the day after Saturday is Sunday, and for many Christians, it means a mandatory trip to the local church to do a little praying and worshipping.

As an non-believer, Sunday is just another day off, like Saturday. But on Sunday, many Christians believe they should be going down to the house of God for a little shot of the Almighty. The only catch is that Jesus was totally against this idea. That's right. By going to church and praying with friends and family, you are disobeying the very man around whom the whole church is built.

Harken to the Word . . . Matthew 6:5-7
New King James Version (NKJV)

5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.[a] 7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

So you see, Jesus doesn't go for that whole getting together in Church and praising God thing. If you're going to pray, Jesus wants you to do it quietly, at home, in your own room. He also doesn't think you should recite prayers. God likes original content and that stuff in the Bible or the other holy books . . . He's heard it all before.

And so, when the next weekend rolls around, take a pass on the whole church thing. Not going is what Jesus would want you to do. 

30
Jul

50 Shades of Grayskull

Nothing is sacred. This video, which you will watch, even if you tell yourself you don't want to, proves it. Please enjoy, "50 Shades of Grayskull".

One of our local radio stations, CFCA-FM, aka Kool FM at 105.3, did a week's worth of takes on the "50 Shades" series with titles like:

  • 50 Shades of Eh!  (the Canadian version)
  • 50 Shades of Gay
  • 50 Shades of Hay

and a couple of others.

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