Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rising seas may threaten Halifax, Boston

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet in this century may threaten Halifax, Boston and New York more than had been forecast, according to new research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

According to studies funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, sea levels could rise by "12 to 20 inches (about 30 to 50 centimeters) more than in other coastal areas" by the year 2100.

The report notes that "Unlike water in a bathtub, water in the oceans does not spread out evenly. Sea level can vary by several feet from one region to another, depending on such factors as ocean circulation and the extent to which water at lower depths is compressed."

"The oceans will not rise uniformly as the world warms," says NCAR scientist Gerald Meehl, a co-author of the paper. "Ocean dynamics will push water in certain directions, so some locations will experience sea level rise that is larger than the global average."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Just like being there

Okay early adopters, prepare to have your socks ballistically removed.

The Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) display screen is 10 times as sharp as the LCD computer display you're probably looking at right now, AND it's only 3mm thick.

For you metricphobes, that's less than 1/8 inch.

Get it now and help fight the recession. Currently the 11-inch Sony XEL-1 television will set you back about 2500 U.S. bucks, and big screen units should be available by Christmas for the price of a Hyundai.

iPhonists can expect an OLED screen when they next trade up, according to the perpetually pumped Apple rumour mill.

Bonuses are that they use 40 per cent less energy, and can be bent. I'm not sure why bent is good.

Expect to see them in volume at less stratospheric prices by 2012.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's necessary now?

The current recession has many families making decisions about what is necessary and what isn't.

Pew Research Center took a look at this and its findings are revealing about the way we live now.

With the caveat that they were looking exclusively at the U.S., here's what they discovered:

Dishwashers, clothes dryers, microwave ovens, and air conditioners are now considered much less necessary than in 2006. In fact, just 21% said a dishwasher is a necessity, down from 35% just three years ago. You wash, I'll dry.

I found it a bit surprising that TV is now seen as a must-have by only 52%, but perhaps this is explained by the increasing importance of the internet, an essential of life for 31% of respondents.

No surprise that cars are essential for 88%, or that almost half would freak without their cell phones.

Many are changing their behaviour, with 57% buying less expensive brands or shopping more at discount stores. Spending on booze and smokes is down. Vegetable gardens and DIY home repairs are in.

It remains to be seen how much of this sticks when good times return.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sex in the boardroom

Caught Allan Gregg's TVO interview with Barbara Annis, author of Leadership and the Sexes.

Now, stay with me here, because this isn't just esoteric, academic droning, but something you may find interesting and useful, always a good combination.

If you're a man who has worked with women, or vice versa, you have undoubtedly experienced many moments when you have asked the question "What the hell just happened there?"

On each side of the gender divide, we tend to assume that people problem-solve and decision-make more or less in the same way.

Not so, says Annis. For example, the word "Yes" means very different things to men and to women. Women say "Yes" to indicate they are following your train of thought. To men, "Yes" means that's it, the decision has been made, let's move on.

There's much more. Women wonder why men often don't seem to be listening. Men wonder why women seem always to be talking. Annis explains all this stuff in the following video.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mismatch in the milk wars

Monsanto, the huge company that sees genetic engineering as its present and future source of megabucks, is at it again, this time beating up on Stanley Bennett's dairy in Maine.

Stanley's a good guy. Ten percent of his profits go to organizations that promote healthy kids and a healthy environment.

This is a standard pattern for Monsanto --- threats and intimidation of small operators in the expectation that they will cave-in before the phalanxes of high-priced lawyers retained by the multinational. They can just drag out these lawsuits until the small guy runs out of money, in which case the merits of the case are moot.

Canadians may remember the courageous battle between Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto, ultimately won by Percy. The situation there was that Percy's Canola field somehow got contaminated with some Canola grown from Monsanto's "genetically engineered" seed, even though he had never purchased such seed. Speculation was that the stuff probably just blew in on the wind. Hear Percy tell his story. It will piss you off.

But getting back to Stanley Bennett. His "crime" was selling his milk with a label that said Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones. Monsanto thought that reflected negatively upon their drug Posilac, the brand name for rBGH, which is now injected into about 1/3 of the nation's 9 million dairy cows, so they went after him as they had done previously with dairies in Texas and Iowa.

Anyway, cutting to the chase, Stanley settled, agreeing to state on his label that the FDA says there's no difference in "milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone."

What's in your milk?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Secrets of a good life, revealed?

Fascinating stuff published in The Atlantic with the title What Makes Us Happy?.

It's a compelling story, and an entertaining read.

In the 1930's, physician Arlie Bock at Harvard University designed a longitudinal study, initially sponsored by department-store magnate W. T. Grant, to discern the "combination of sentiments and physiological factors which in toto is commonly interpreted as successful living.”

They chose 268 male students and examined them from every angle. Brain waves, blood chemistry, physical characteristics, and more, were measured. They then tracked them throughout their lives.

Over decades, Dr. George Vaillant has observed and chronicled the study, which continues today with the survivors, all in their 80's. By the time the subjects were in their 50's, he had "identified seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically. Employing mature adaptations [to the vicissitudes of life] was one. In simple words, rolling with the punches.

The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight."

He found childhood temperament, social ease in early adulthood, and cholesterol levels in old age to be among factors that didn't matter much.

On the other hand, depression in mid-life was predictive of early death, optimists were healthier than pessimists, healthy relationships were very positive for late-life adjustments.

There's much more here. The personal stories are riveting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No groaning please, we're British

Man, what a country!

No, not here. England. Mother of democracy. Home of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order.

The French have joie de vivre. The Italians, la dolce vita. The English, the ASBO.

This particular bit of Orwellian, kill-joy bureaucracy came to my attention via a Toronto Star article about a Wearside housewife arrested for "excessive noise during sex."

It seems that 48-year old Caroline Cartwright is a repeat offender, having been issued on a prior occasion with an ASBO for enjoying the procreative act just a wee bit too much. So, she was arrested at the behest of neighbours, and will now appear before the judge at Newcastle Crown Court to defend her right to unrestricted shouting and groaning while in the throes of passion.

Anyway, back to these ASBO's. Introduced in 1998, they enable anyone to apply to stop someone else from conduct that, in their own view, is causing them "harassment, alarm or distress." There is no requirement to prove anything in court. Just present your complaint to a local magistrate (similar to our justice of the peace). Hearsay evidence is allowed, meaning the defendant is denied the ability to cross-examine all prosecution witnesses.

The real kicker is that if, like Ms. Cartwright, you break the conditions of your ASBO, you can be arrested and charged with a crime.

A clear case of put up vs. shut up.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Daydream believers vindicated

Daydreamers may solve problems faster than focused thinkers, according to a study co-authored by University of British Columbia neuroscientist Assistant Professor Kalina Christoff. The study used MRIs to study brain activity.

Yep, turns out that vacant stare that so irritated my high school algebra teacher merely indicated that I was engaged in intensive problem solving and not just cooling my brain.

"People assume that when the mind wanders away it just gets turned off - but we show the opposite, that when it wanders, it turns on," says Christoff.

Apparently, people spend one-third of their waking time daydreaming. Personally, I think that's low, but I can only speak for myself.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Peace of mind worth the price

A post entitled The Impact of Change on the blog A Shift in Action got me thinking about whether, how, and why people change their beliefs and perspectives as they mature. When you get on the back nine of life, you tend to think more about these things.

The post points out that the people around you may not take kindly to such change, particularly if your new point of view conflicts with theirs, and this can be a powerful deterrent to standing up for what you have come to believe is right.

I mean, you and your buddies have been shaking your heads for years over those crazy beliefs held by the "other guys," and now you're thinking those beliefs aren't so crazy after all.

But, straddling the line is usually a pretty uncomfortable position, so at some point you pretty much have to pick a side.

The best recent example, mentioned in the above post, is Senator Arlen Specter who, on April 28, declared that he was no longer a Republican and would henceforth self-identify as a Democrat. In the U.S, this was a really big deal because Specter was a big wheel in the party, former member of the Judiciary Committee, frequent party spokesman on TV public affairs shows, and so on.

His Republican friends were, as you might expect, not amused.

I applaud Specter for publicly announcing his reoriented beliefs in the certain knowledge that he would take a lot of heat. That takes guts.

There is a myth out there that suggests change is impossible after a certain age, that lifelong opinions are so deeply entrenched that people won't change them even when confronted with contrary evidence. Instead, the myth says, they will dismiss the evidence, or find a way to rationalize their way our of the logical bind.

Apparently not. Specter is 79 years old.

Holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously is called "cognitive dissonance" and it's not that uncommon.

For example, if you want to pay lower taxes while receiving more, and better, government services, you have cognitive dissonance.

Other examples: Want a lower golf score, but refuse to practice; fear lung cancer, but continue to smoke; believe all people are equal, but don't believe in mixed marriages; want to lose weight, but refuse to diet or exercise.

You probably have a few of your own. Me, too.

Anyway, hats off to Arlen for being true to himself. My guess is that he has been wrestling with this for a while, saw the end of the line approaching, and decided it was time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

LostWorld, my own reality show

I see where Google is rolling out some new features that will help us find online stuff faster and with less hassle.

That's great, but what I really need is something that can help me find stuff in the real world, and I'm not talking about Bigfoot or the Holy Grail here.

Well, the Holy Grail would be cool, but I'll settle for the TV remote. We actually lost a remote for two years. It had been stuck in an atlas that had then been put on a shelf, just a few feet from our TV watching chairs. We found it when we moved. By then we had a new TV, but it was still reassuring to know that aliens hadn't swooped down and abducted it for scientific experiments, and that the dog hadn't eaten it. Now our new remote is taking frequent vacations away from us, too.

Also, where is my car! I drive into these underground parking labyrinths, walk somewhere, walk somewhere else, go for dinner, say goodbye to friends, then spend an hour stumbling around looking for my ride. I once had to get a Toronto parking attendant to mount an expedition in search of my car with his little truck. That garage must have run from Eglinton to the lakeshore. Good thing he had sandwiches.

Winter stuff. Where do boots, gloves, toques, and scarves go to die? Every year, it's off to the mall with the first snow flurries to get re-equipped.

Where is my room? In the old days, your hotel room number was on your key. Now with these new fangled smarty cards, the desk clerk writes the number on the little envelope that contains your card. Of course the envelope is left in the room when you go to dinner, with predictable results.

This is just a small sampling. A lot if time is wasted on this. Time that could be better spent, er, Googling online, for example.

Now, I'm no engineer, but wouldn't you think there must be some way to hook up RFID and GPS and other alphabet stuff so I can go on Google Maps and track down my galoshes?

So Google, how about it?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Canada, not too bad, eh?

What a strange place, this Canada.

While we natives constantly gripe about its many perceived deficiencies, outsiders continue to tell us it is one of the world's best countries.

The Toronto Star's David Olive, one of my favourite columnists, points out in his blog that Canada has recently ranked high on three global surveys.

First, Canada is the only country from the Americas to be found among the world's happiest countries, according to a survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

They asked such questions as "Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday?" How would you have answered?

Second, a survey by leading executive relocation firm Mercer found Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa to be among the world's 20 best places to live. Again they were the only cities in the Americas on the list.

Rating factors included "political and social environment (including stability, crime and law enforcement); the strength of the economy; restrictions, such as censorship and limitations on personal freedom; the quality of health care as well as exposure to infectious diseases; and school quality."

Finally, the HSBC Bank International Expat Explorer survey named Canada as number one among the world's 10 friendliest countries.

Happy, friendly, great place to live.

How about that?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Are we going back to Main Street?

Just read Return On Influence, a thought-provoking article by digital marketing guru George Benckenstein. George is one of the real thinkers in this field, and often comes up with a new perspective that is worth sharing.

In this article, he says "None of us remember the era when all commerce was localized — meaning, anyone you did business with lived in your immediate community. There was no such thing as advertising, marketing channels and brands. You did business with people you knew."

The thing is, George, I do remember this, or at least something not far removed from it. When I was a kid, shopping meant physically walking down the street from the grocer to the hardware store to the dry goods store, each owned by the guy behind the counter. The merchants knew your name, your childrens' names, and the items you liked.

They would make a point to tell you when a shipment of your favourites had just arrived. They'd often hand you a sample or a free treat over the counter. One smart store-owner would regularly give me a free ice cream cone when I tagged along with mom as she shopped. A time that has long passed.

Or has it? George says this was a "Trust Economy," and history is about to repeat itself, but not just on a local level.

He says people are fed up with the constant pushiness of mass marketers who obviously have no interest in us beyond the checkout counter, and advises those selling stuff to "let people get to know you, trust you and befriend you... Relationships are back."

I like the sound of that, and hope the shouters are listening. It remains to be seen whether Home Depot can "relate" as well as my local hardware store. The one they put out of business. Doubtful. They're even automating their checkout, so I don't even get a phony "Have a nice day" any more.

Lots to ponder on his website.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Seven minutes of coming together

A lonely older man watches a lonely young woman on her balcony. He goes to her apartment, uninvited, carrying the photo album that contains his memories. She gives him tea. Together they make ...

A commentary on loneliness and friendship.

Find seven minutes to watch it.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mom's soup pot and the CBC

Just listening to the CBC radio show The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean. Significantly, I am listening to a podcast of the program as I walk the dog, and not to the actual radio broadcast.

I say "significantly" because podcasts are one of the many ways people now consume "content." We are bathed in media, all the time, everywhere. Our index fingers hover over the buttons on our iPods, channel changers, and car radios, ready to search for something better if interest wanes.

Anyway, Stuart is story-telling as usual about small town life in the era of movie theatres and libraries, both of which are archaic leftovers from the age that preceded Google and earbuds and the 500-channel universe.

All of which brings me to my own memories of rural and small town life, and my mother's kitchen where both the soup pot and the CBC were usually "on" through most of the day. I muse about the passing of this constant companion that made us feel part of something larger, part of Canada.

I think the passing of rural and small town Canada is perhaps chief among the many reasons for the decline of the national network. Sure, people still live on farms and in smaller communities, but they have the same access to news and entertainment media as their big city cousins, and so most perceive no compelling reason to tune in the CBC.

The CBC will never again find that special intersection of time and place that made it the main, sometimes the only, link to the world for millions of homes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The joys of peroxide, and more

World moving too fast for you these days? Interwebz got you down? Take a Metamucil break with Dolly and Charlie and catch up to the latest breaking stories from Sunshine Seniors Centre.

Old People News

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Silent generation made some noise

Happened across a Pew Internet & American Life Project report, Generations Online in 2009 . Quite interesting. Describes what people of various ages are doing online. Turns out oldsters are holding up their end pretty well in cyberspace, e-mailing, googling and so on right along with their grandchildren.

My attention was grabbed by the reference to my age group as the "Silent Generation." This term was unknown to me, or just forgotten, which amounts to the same thing. So I thought I'd dig further, as I have never felt that I was silent, and have never noticed this trait in my buddies either. In fact, it's hard to get a word in edgewise much of the time, and several of them keep right on yammering while I'm putting or making a tee shot.

Apparently Time magazine coined the term in 1951, and called my bunch, among other things, "grave and fatalistic, conventional, possessing confused morals, expecting disappointment." Then author William Manchester chimed in with "withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent." What a dreary bunch we were.

Well, maybe we were just late bloomers, because this generation produced Elvis Presley, Margaret Trudeau, Jesse Jackson, the Beatles, Martin Luther King, Bruce Cockburn, Gloria Steinem, Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins, Bruce Lee, Martha Stewart, Cannonball Adderley, and me. For a more complete list of "silents" who were far from wallflowers, check out The Silent Generation.

So "Shush."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fail your way to the top

Success breeds success, right? But failure can also breed success. It all comes down to how much you want it.

For proof, take a look at this short video on famous failures. Some will surprise you.

Okay, get out there and try something!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Your tax dollar's inaction

More ammunition for those who think government can never do anything right. Why are the federal and provincial governments handing your personal information over to marketers, scammers, and identity thieves? You may well ask. Here are the deets:
First bomb: The Canadian do-not-call list. Not satisfied with dragging way behind the U.S. in responding to the pleas of citizens suffering a continuous onslaught of telemarketing calls, when they finally got around to it the CRTC screwed it up royally, according to Michael Geist of the Toronto Star.

The list's effectiveness was greatly reduced by the huge number of organizations exempt from its restrictions. Now, Geist says, the list has been accessed by marketers, including U.S. outfits beyond the CRTC's jurisdiction, as a source of new prospects, so by registering for the do-not-call list you can actually be added to some telemarketers' call lists. Confused yet? Also, enforcement is virtually non-existent. It gets worse. Bell has been given the task of reviewing complaints, INCLUDING COMPLAINTS ABOUT ITS OWN TELEMARKETING PRACTICES as well as those of its competitors. You can read Geist's article for yourself. Suffice to say NO penalties have been levied, despite thousands of complaints. What a shambles.

Second bomb: Ontario's new "enhanced" driver's licenses. These are the ones you'll need if you don't have a passport and want to enter the United States after June 1. Turns out that if you carry one of these unprotected in pocket or purse, your personal information can be "sniffed" by anyone with a cheap RFID scanner.

This info could be used to create fake passports for sale on the international black market, or to aid in theft of your identity, or simply to track you.

No, we're not kidding. Read Jesse Brown's article.
Do our politicians and government bureaucrats have any clue about technology? Do they care at all about our personal privacy? If you care, make a noise.