Friday, December 31, 2010

Ishmael #62: "Confirmation"

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ishmael #61: "Clueless"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ishmael #59: "Season's Greetings"

Well, that was a nice few weeks. After the next few weeks of Ishmael comics, I'll be taking another break. I know, I'm irresponsible and a terrible person, and I know it's frustrating to deal with my on-again-off-again relationship with this blog. But from the beginning, I decided I didn't want to update it unless I had content, and I think it's better to update sporadically than not to update at all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ishmael #58: "Horatio"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ishmael #56: "Non-Canon"

As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ishmael #55: "Sporkmanteau"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ishmael #54: "Probability"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ishmael #53: "Sleepy"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ishmael #52: "Download"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ishmael #51: "Stars"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ishmael #50: "Labour"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ishmael #49: "Forever"

(Note: I'm experimenting a little bit, so I'm trying to practice writing legible text. Until I get better at writing legibly, I'll put a transcript below the comic just to be safe.)

Mort: "A stopped clock is right twice a day... but a working clock that's set to the wrong time will always be wrong, forever."

Ishmael: "But what if..."

Mort: "FOREVER."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tetris (NES) Theme C + Improvisation on Piano

This is a pretty messy recording, but some parts of it are pretty good.

UPDATE, December 16th 2010. Here is the sheet music for the basic theme. It's slightly different from the original NES version, but the basic melody is there (Click on the image to see the full-sized sheet music):

I'm bringing Ishmael back this week, at least for a little while (an anti-hiatus, if you will... a low-atus*, if you will.) In order to keep myself in mental busy, and to practice my writing and drawing skills, I'm going to post comics on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays--that way, if I come up with something else to post, like music or writing, I can do it on a Tuesday or Thursday, and still have the weekends to recuperate.


* I don't know why I thought that was funny. Can you see why I want to improve my writing skills?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Quick Thought on Paradoxes (Paradoces?)

Is there a word for the phenomenon of people calling statements "paradoxes" to make them sound more interesting than they are, even if they make sense and aren't actually paradoxes upon closer inspection (e.g. the Monty Hall paradox, the Twin Paradox, the Birthday Paradox)

If not, I'd like to jump on this opportunity to coin a term, "Buckley's Paradox". You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lucid Dreaming #3: Perception and Skepticism

I had a mildly interesting dream a few nights ago:

I was confronted by some cult leaders who claimed to have supernatural and telepathic powers, such as the ability to predict the future and communicate with the dead. They attempted to impress me with their tricks in order to get me to join them, such as appearing to read each others’ minds or claiming to channel spirits of ghosts. Within the dream, and without becoming lucid or anything, I pointed out to them that they were just using the same tricks that “psychics” secretly use in real life, such as cold reading, and found that they refused to subject their claims to critical testing.

For example, when the main leader of the cult was speaking with his wife, his wife said “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.” I pointed out that, if they could really communicate telepathically, she would have been able to understand what he meant to communicate without his saying it, and she claimed that telepathy didn’t always work perfectly. When I asked her to communicate with a specific famous dead person to see what they were thinking, she claimed that she didn’t want to “disturb them from their rest”. And so on.

The important thing here isn’t that people who claim to have supernatural abilities are frauds (although that is generally the case). My point is that this act of skepticism occurred in a dream. Within dream logic, there’s no reason that the cult leaders couldn’t have had “real” powers. Yet, even within the dream logic, the events unfolded such that it was clear to me that their abilities were phony.

My skepticism in the dream brings me to a point which I think may be relevant to the subject of lucid dreaming: the psychology of perception, and a bit about what this has to do with skepticism and dreaming.

First, a short psychology lesson:

What are sensation and perception, and what’s the difference? Sensation is the encoding of physical energy from the environment into neural signals through the use of sensory neurons. These include the rods and cones on your retina, and the hair cells in your cochlea in your inner ear. Perception, on the other hand, is the process of your brain interpreting your sensations to make them fit your mental concepts, memories and expectations. To put it another way, sensation is the gathering of raw data, and perception is making sense of that data.

Another important subject is memory. After you’ve perceived an event and stored it in your long-term memory, your brain makes further modifications to the memory each time you recall it: essentially, you rebuild the memory from scratch each time you bring it to consciousness, and it remains that way when you put it back “in storage”. And each time you recall the event, your brain makes more changes to make it fit with your expectations and conceptions, not to mention your other memories. This is one of the reasons that eye-witness testimony is so unreliable: people can easily be fooled into thinking they remember seeing things that they never actually saw. It’s also why so many people remember going to Woodstock without having actually been there.

If you’re a psychologically normal person, chances are you perceive things pretty accurately most of the time; it helps that you’re pretty much constantly getting some kind of feedback from your environment. But perceptions aren’t always completely accurate. This is evident from the study of optical illusions, images that trick you into seeing things that aren’t there. It also shows itself in little moments we experience in everyday life, but perhaps don’t think about very often. For example, I once wrote a Psychology test in a room full of 40 or 50 students, and I became so focused on the test that, when I looked up, I was surprised to find that half of the students had already finished the test and left, leaving the room emptier than I had remembered it.

I promised in my first post that I would try not to get too philosophical and abstract unless it was absolutely necessary. But it’s important to note that our perceptions—that is, what we experience—don’t always match the real world. Our perceptions are influenced by the concepts and expectations we hold, they’re limited by our senses (yoru eyes don’t see as much as you think they do), and as a result, they’re sometimes wrong. Reality is not an “illusion”, as some philosophers like to say, but we always experience it with a bias. It is important to have some skepticism about what we experience and remember in everyday life, and to be aware of how our brains can fool us. If you’ve ever had an argument with someone over an event you both saw firsthand, but which you have completely different interpretations of, chances are you perceived the event differently from each other, and upon remembering the event, your brain further coloured the memory in order to fit your preconceptions and fill in whatever missing information there was.

What does this have to do with dreaming? Well, one of the theories of why we dream is the “Activation-Synthesis” theory, which states that, when we dream, neurons basically fire randomly in our brains, and our experience of dreams is how our brain makes sense of these firings—in other words, perceiving events without any external sensations.

If I may speculate, this would certainly explain why dream environments are often inconsistent: we have perceptions without any external sensations as feedback to verify them or calibrate them. Speculating even further: the more I become aware of the little mistakes my brain makes in interpreting the facts of reality, the more I find that I have a lingering awareness in my dreams that what I perceive isn’t always what’s really there—i.e. that there’s a chance I’m imagining some of the things I’m experiencing, and perhaps that it might even be a dream. Sometimes I spontaneously become lucid, and at other times, I’m still able to catch onto the logic of my dream environment fairly quickly.

I find the psychological study of perceptions and concepts to be very interesting, and I’ll try to include some relevant links on the subject at the end of this post. In the future, I might write more about how to apply these principles to dreaming in the form of reality checks. This post was intended to provide some psychological understanding into perception and the role of skepticism in both dreams and reality, rather than giving you a list of instructions to memorize.

Interesting Links: – 5 Ways your Brain is Messing with your Head. An amusing article about some of the ways in which your perception of reality isn’t always perfect. This one is also pretty interesting. Both articles contain some mature language.

Reality Checks on I haven’t seen very many of the articles on, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the website as a whole, but this article is worth reading if you’re interested in reality checks.


Myers, D.G. (2007). Psychology: First Canadian Edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Captcha Comics

(Click on images to enlarge)

This is based on the CAPTCHArt internet meme.

ReCaptcha's Website

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Video

Here's a short humourous movie I made for an online contest. In a review of Ultima 3: Exodus, it was found that the game had such difficult enemies to defeat as The Floor, and even The Grass. The idea is to submit videos of ourselves fighting grass to the death, whether it leads to a glorious victory or an agonizing defeat. Here's my entry:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Very Quick Thoughts on Inception (SPOILERS)

The poster is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, the distributors of Inception. The image is reproduced here for review purposes, and qualifies as Fair Use under Canadian copyright law.

If you've read a few of my posts on dreaming, you're probably wondering what I thought of the movie Inception. I suppose it was an okay action movie--the effects were impressive for what they were--but on the whole, I was disappointed. It was marketed as being a cerebral, thought provoking thriller, but I think it would really have helped if the writers had known a little more about psychology and neurology.

I'm willing to suspend disbelief to some extent--for example, the idea of sharing dreams is an interesting sci-fi concept in the first place--but I'm worried that people are going to leave the movie thinking they've learned something about psychology, when they haven't.

A few things that bugged me:

1. In the movie, dream time always had a consistent ratio with real time (i.e. 5 dream minutes = 1 real minute, or whatever). In reality, dream time usually corresponds fairly closely with real time, with some minor dilation here and there.

2. There are no "dreams inside dreams" in real life. You can DREAM that you're having a dream inside a dream, but it's all just part of the same dream sequence (does that make sense)? To put it another way: if you have a "false awakening" within a dream--that is, you dream that you've just woken up--it's just a perceived event, it's not caused by your "dream body" being asleep or anything metaphysical like that.

3. I was disappointed at how consistent the settings were. In a movie about dreams, I would have expected more weird and scary imagery, like a David Lynch movie or something. In fairness, this is somewhat justified by the fact that the dream settings are designed ahead of time by the characters. Also, Christopher Nolan has reportedly said in interviews that the reason they avoided surreal imagery was because dreams seem real when we're in them. Still, from an artistic perspective, it seems like a missed opportunity to me.

I mention this not to be a know-it-all or to show my superiority. I just think that the actual facts about dream psychology are interesting and, in themselves, worth using in fiction.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Drawing

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sketch: Leo Tolstoy

(Click on the image to enlarge)

I've recently started working as a tourguide/interpreter at Doukhobor museum. The Doukhobors, originally a sect of Christianity, have evolved into a thriving community in our area. They were oppressed by the Russian government for a long time, but in the 1890s, they made an agreement with the government that they would be allowed to emigrate to Canada if they raised the money for their trip, and Leo Tolstoy was a major benefactor in raising money for their move. In fact, his last novel, Resurrection, was written specifically to raise money for the Doukhobors. I didn't mean for this picture to make Tolstoy look evil, but in a lot of the pictures, he certainly has a bit of a crazy look in his eyes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lucid Dreaming Post #2: Intro to Dream Journalling

A basic skill in any study of dreaming is the habit of remembering one’s dreams. When people say they don’t dream, that almost always means they just don’t remember their dreams without realizing it. It should be pretty obvious that remembering your dreams is important if you want to get anywhere in understanding them or going into lucid dreaming.

We all have several REM sleep periods every night (assuming you sleep at night), and they get progressively longer as sleep goes on. The dreams are generally forgotten if the dreamer doesn’t put some conscious effort into remembering them, or if the dream itself was emotionally intense or interesting. I’ve had trouble finding an answer to why we forget so many of our dreams, but one theory is that the neurotransmitters involved in transferring information from short-term memory to long-term memory are inhibited during REM sleep. If I find out any more information about this, I’ll update this post.

Remembering your dreams is a habit, it’s not something you can easily choose to do in the middle of the night. If you want to remember your dreams, it’s important that you tell yourself, before going to bed, that you will wake up after your dreams and remember them. You should make remembering your dreams a priority. It is a difficult habit to wake up after every REM sleep period, but reminding yourself to do so during the day will increase the odds that you will remember to do so at night.

There are a few ways to go about remembering your dreams, but the most common way, and arguably the easiest way, is to keep a dream journal. This is essentially a pad of paper or a tape recorder near your bed so that you can record your memory of what happened in a dream right after waking up from it. Sounds simple enough, but it is important to put some thought into how you will go about keeping a dream journal.

My dream journal is a hard-cover notebook with lots of space between the lines. That way, I don’t have to worry about having a hard surface to write on, and the space between the lines means that my groggy, tired mind doesn’t have to worry about maneuvering my hand to write tiny letters. I use a ball-point pen, just because I don’t want to have to sharpen a pencil in the middle of the night. It can also be frustrating to run out of ink, however, so I always keep a second pen nearby.

When writing about a dream in your journal, you should try to write from the beginning to the end of the dream as much as possible. However, if you can only remember a section, or even just a single moment of the dream, write that down, because the goal is to form a habit. Even if you don’t remember the dream at all when you wake up, just write a little bit about how you feel and what you found yourself thinking about upon waking up. The hardest part, for me at least, isn’t remembering the dreams so much as getting into the habit of making myself write in the journal.

Note the general plot, and whichever familiar people or locations appear. Also, write down any specific phrases or interesting words you hear in the dream, because they are often very interesting (I once dreamt that I was on a mountain during an earthquake, and when the person next to me said “This isn’t good”, I replied “I’m INCLINED to agree with you”. Get it? Incline? Because it’s a mountain?). If there are any images or icons in the dream that interested you, draw them if you feel like it. I used to keep a piece of sheet music by my bed to write down any melodies in my dreams that interested me. I generally put the date in my journal before going to sleep, and then use dashes “-“ to distinguish one dream from the next. Some like to add titles to their dreams as well. If that helps, do it.

I can’t say much about using a tape recorder, because I haven’t done it much myself. I just don’t think I could easilymanipulate the buttons in the middle of the night, and the audio quality would likely distort my already tired and mumbly voice. But if you have a good tape recorder and you think you could make it work, try it and tell me how it works out.

Some people don’t keep external dream journals, they just form the habit of remembering their dreams mentally. It’s more difficult than it sounds. Generally, the process is something like this: when you wake up from a dream, you quickly go back over your dream, and consciously make an effort to go over every detail of the dream you remember from beginning to end. It’s important that you make a conscious effort, because they will fade away if you’re not on the ball. This method works for some people, but I prefer to have a solid copy. It allows me to look at dreams as far back as the journal goes, and it’s not susceptible to memory decay.

This is one of the hurdle I’ve always had trouble getting over in my attempt to learn lucid dreaming, but I don’t intend to give up this time, and writing this article for the world is one of the things I’m doing to show my commitment.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lucid Dreaming Post #1: Introduction, Common Questions

Note from Ben: In the interest of adding some variety to my blog, I’m going to write some articles on dreaming and lucid dreaming, a subject I have some knowledge in and am interested in learning even more about. This is not a replacement for my sketches or comics (I’m still toying around with new ideas for a comic).

A lucid dream is, basically, a dream in which one is aware that they are dreaming as the dream occurs. I have had quite a few of them, some by accident and some intentionally, and I’ve always had some interest in learning more about them, and teaching myself to control when I have them. I’m interested in dreams in general, and I remember my dreams more often than most people do. The trouble is, I never quite have the patience to form the habits necessary to have lucid dreams on a regular basis, and usually give up early. I’m hoping that, by writing blog posts about the subject as I learn more about it, I can give myself the slight push needed to get myself started.

For my first post on the subject, I’d like to address some common questions and misconceptions about dreams, just to show you I’m on the level.

Q: Is lucid dreaming just a pseudo-scientific* hoax?
A: Lucid dreaming, in itself, is not made up. I have experienced lucid dreams myself, a small amount of research has been done on lucid dreams, and there are consistent methods that can be used to increase the likelihood of having them.

This is a legitimate question, because people too often think of dreams as mystical or spiritual experiences that can’t or shouldn’t be studied scientifically. While spirituality can be a laudable pursuit, it’s not a replacement for critical thinking and the scientific method. Many of the books and articles I’ve seen about dreams and lucid dreaming convey legitimate and applicable ideas about lucid dreaming, but these ideas are often mixed in with claims of using lucid dreams to achieve spiritual enlightenment or to communicate with supernatural entities.

This is one of the reasons I’ve wanted to write about lucid dreaming myself, to offer a relatively more critical look at the subject without the pretense of being spiritually or philosophically enlightened. I don’t promise that I will always use the highest standards of scientific rigour, but I will try to do research in the psychology and neurology of sleep and dreaming, along with telling you about my own personal experiences as objectively as possible.

I will keep religion and spirituality out of my articles, partly because I don’t want to alienate anyone for their beliefs, but mostly because it’s not necessary in order to appreciate lucid dreaming. I think dreams are interesting in themselves, you don’t need to make up fairy tales or theologies to enjoy learning about them. As for philosophy, I will only mention philosophical ideas if they are directly relevant to the study of dreaming and lucid dreams, as they sometimes are. After all, dreaming is a mental activity, and some introspection is required.

Q: I don’t have dreams!
A: That’s not a question, but yes, you do. Unless you don’t sleep, or have a disorder such as sleep apnea which prevents you from going into REM sleep, you have dreams every night. Once you wake up from a dream, it’s easy to forget it if you’re not focused on remembering it. That’s why, if you want to remember your dreams, it’s important to keep a dream journal (I’ll probably write a post about dream journals in the near future).

Q: Is it true that dying in a dream causes you to die in real life?
A: No. We can apply some common sense here. First of all, I have had many dreams in which I’ve died, or gone through situations in which I should have died, and I know that other people have had such dreams as well. Second, if dying in a dream caused you to die in real life, how would we know? You can’t exactly ask dead people what they were dreaming about.

I think the more interesting question is this: If a person dies when they’re in REM sleep—say, from a heart attack—would their dream character also experience a heart attack before the person dies?

Q: Do blind people see in their dreams?
A: If they were blind at birth or became blind at a very young age (usually before the age of 5), then no, they do not, and interestingly, the Rapid Eye Movements that occur in REM sleep are weaker than in people with sight. If they became blind later in life, they can see in their dreams.

Whether they see in ALL of their dreams would be an interesting question. I’d suspect that, the longer they’ve been blind, the less often their dreams contain images or the more abstract the images would become, but I have no factual basis for that, so don’t take my word for it. It might be an interesting subject for a future post.

Q: Is lucid dreaming harmful to the dreaming process? Shouldn’t we just let the dreams play out without interfering with them?
A: I’ve never heard of any specific cases, not even anecdotes, of lucid dreaming actually causing someone to acquire a mental disorder. I suspect that such claims are unfounded, and they’re probably a relic of Freudian psychology and psychoanalysis, the belief that dreams are a manifestation of inner desires or serve as a catharsis to other emotions (another interesting topic for a future post).

The only harm I’ve heard of in relation to lucid dreaming is that some people get carried away and spend the whole day sleeping, but even that sounds a little far-fetched.

Q: I once woke up in the middle of the night, unable to move, and I saw a human figure standing at the foot of my bed/felt a strange and evil presence in the room. Was it a ghost/alien/leprechaun?
A: No. It’s much more likely that you’ve experienced sleep paralysis. There are many theories surrounding sleep paralysis, but the gist of it is this: when you’re dreaming (in REM sleep), your brain temporarily paralyzes your body to keep you from hurting yourself or anyone around you by acting out your dream. Normally, when you wake up, this paralysis goes away, but sometimes your brain miscalculates, and voila: sleep paralysis. You are unable to move, and will likely either feel anxious or terrified, possibly hallucinating about someone or something “evil” being in the room. This is something I’ve experienced, and it’s less frightening when you know what to expect. It isn’t permanent, and it isn’t supernatural.

Q: I had a dream about X, what does that "mean"?
A: It probably just means that you’ve been thinking about X recently, nothing more than that. Again, I think that dreams are interesting in themselves, without attaching hidden meanings to them. In my experience, most (but not all) of my dreams tend to be somewhat disorganized combinations of images, sounds and experiences from the last two days of my life. However, I’ve also found that some dreams are actually coherent as narratives, so I don’t believe that the content of dreams is completely random. I could do a whole post on this, and I probably will in the future.


One more thing: In the interest of keeping this at least somewhat critical and scientific, if you can verify that something I’ve said is incorrect, please politely say so in the comments (providing a source if possible) and I’ll look into making corrections if necessary. Again, I won’t always adhere to the most rigourous of scientific standards, but I believe that a little bit of science is better than none.

*I really think it should be spelled "pseudo-pscientific", but Oxford has stopped answering my calls.


Corliss, W.R. (2001). “What Do Blind People Dream?” Science Frontiers, 131. Retrieved from

Mooney, C. (2005). “Waking Up to Sleep Paralysis”. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved from

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sketches: Birds

Until I start another comic, you can probably expect to see more sketches for a while. Since I've been so interested in drawing birds, I'll probably spend some time in the near future to learn more about the anatomy of birds so I can improve my drawings. As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

Eagle Owl:

House Sparrow:

Laughing Gull:

Parrot, don't know what kind:


As a matter of interest, I recently designed an image for a grad reunion program for a local school. The school is called the Crowe, and this image is based loosely on their old logo:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Who the heck was C.W. Glover?

(I apologize for the poor image quality. I didn’t want to take the frame apart, and I’m not sure if it’s possible for our camera to take a picture without the flash.)

There’s a framed picture in our house, it’s actually the cover for a book of music. It’s a piano piece called "The Life of a Soldier" by C.W. Glover. What? You’ve never heard of C.W. Glover?

Apparently, you’re not the only one. There’s not even a Wikipedia article about him, and as far as I can tell, the only Wikipedia article that mentions him is an article about an Irish festival called "The Rose of Tralee", a festival whose name is inspired by a song whose music was written by Glover.

Charles William Glover was born in either 1797 or 1806, and died in either 1868 or 1863. He’s the composer for many timeless classics we all know and love, such as "The Life of a Soldier", "The Rose of Tralee", "Do they Think of me at Home", "The Poppy", and "The Life of a Sailor" (Cover seen below):

Glover must have been running out of ideas, repeating the same basic concept twice. No wonder he never made it big...

Still, I hate to see someone be forgotten in history, so I hope this recognition will serve as a humble tribute to the memory of Charles William, uh, whatever his name was.

EDIT: As of November 5th, 2011, there is an article about C.W. Glover on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review - Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan

There comes a time in every person’s life when they must ask themselves the difficult question, “Who was the President of the United States between the years 1981 and 1989?” The answer, of course, is Ronald Reagan, whom you may remember from such classic films as “Santa Fe Trail” and “Tugboat Annie Sails Again”. Today, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to review Edmund Morris’s* Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.

* Note: Edmund Morris is not related to Desmond Morris, the author of such books as The Human Zoo, which I’m guessing, based on the title, is a more detailed study of the Reagan administration.

I haven’t read the book, and I don’t really know anything about Ronald Reagan. All I know is, the Liquidation store in a nearby town has had hundreds, possibly thousands of copies of the book on sale for $0.25 each for at least two years. Most businesses would have recycled them or used them as firewood by that point, but Liquidation World was bold enough to keep the books in stock, and gain the respect of the community (on an unrelated topic, I’m pretty sure Liquidation World has been out of business for several months. I haven’t checked).

Although I haven’t read the book, I must say, it’s changed my life. Let no one say this isn’t a book with a solid foundation: it is a heavy-handed literary endeavour, with more depth than you might expect.

It’s a useful book, whether you need to keep a door open...

...elevate your coffee maker so you can pour coffee...

...protect your expensive cutting boards from being damaged...

...and even keep incriminating documents from flying away before you destroy them!

In conclusion, you don’t need to read Dutch to appreciate it as a work of literary, or at least engineering, genius. I proudly give Dutch 8.5 Reagans out of 10.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Ishmael #47: "Internet Debate"

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ishmael #46: "Male Enhancement"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Even More Sketches

Here are some more sketches from photos. This might be my last post like this for a while, just because I don't want to become too dependent on photos unless I'm consciously learning to draw something specific (for example, I might focus on drawing different parts of birds--wings, heads, claws--and post them all at once). This time, I've also used ink in a few drawings. Here we go:


What better way to end the post than with a self-portrait, currently my Facebook profile picture:
Creative Commons License
It Seemed Funny at the Time by Ben Buckley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.