Thursday, April 30, 2009

200 years that changed the world

Professor of International Health at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, Hans Rosling, has captured the past 200 years in this amazing short video that tracks changes in life expectancy and income for countries around the world.



Get more at Gapminder.org.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Your froofiness is the shiznit

I now realize that I have completely lost touch with the English language as she is spoke today.

While reading my morning newspaper, I stumble across the headline "Canadian men froofy, and that's good." I have no idea what positive implications being froofy might hold for Canadian manhood but, being one of those inquiring minds that wants to know, I immediately Google it.

This brings me to the Urban Dictionary, a reference work that has not previously entered my cosmology.

Turns out there are 3,920,364 words there that I have never heard spoken or written, or that mean something completely different now than they used to. I had thought myself fairly literate. Sure, I can never remember how many c's and m's there are in the word "accommodation", but this gives a whole new meaning to "out of touch."

I digress. Froofy is "hair that is frizzy and poofy," or it can also mean "consisting of a feminine nature..." How is this good, man-wise?

Other words that caught my eye as I browsed the Urban Dictionary included:

Alculate: To calculate how cost-effective an alcoholic beverage is. Otherwise known as the cost per shot ratio. Where was this when I was in college? We had to use the trial and error method.

Shiznit: Shortened term for "That is the shit, isn't it?" Really good. The greatest. Okay, is that the shiznit or the shiznot?

Twatted: The past tense of tweeting, or to be hit on the head by another head. Whew! For a second there, I thought we'd strayed into adult territory.

Zizebots: Those unpleasant, sometimes painful spots sunglasses cause on either side of your nose. they ruin your makeup, and look crazy. Man you're froofy, but those zizebots are shiznot!

3,920,359 more. Check 'em out.

Dude!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Little beach house on the prairie

Who said nothing ever happens in Canada? I did? Well, I take it back. Something happened just the other day, in Alberta.

Cabinet ministers in "the energy province" are saying there is nothing embarrassing or misleading about using a photograph of an English beach in an advertising campaign designed to improve the province's global image.

This gives rise to several interesting questions.

First, where the heck are these English beaches? Would that be Kinosoo Beach over in Cold Lake? Haven't noticed too many folks taking high tea there. Or maybe Moose Lake. That place is full of English toffs wakeboarding and waterskiing and showing off for the young ladies. Hardly a square metre available to set up your beach brolly. No, I'll bet they're thinking about Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park on Lac La Biche. There you go, nothing more English than old Winnie.

Second, hasn't the cabinet heard from the multiculturalism authorities over at Citizenship and Immigration Canada? Quebec will be pissed! I mean, geez, they're definitely going to need some French beach scenes in the campaign. I'd recommend the topless beaches in Cannes. Definitely some nice counterpoints to the English theme.

Third, are Alberta legislators aware that the Atlantic does not actually splash upon the province's soil and, if not, should geography be reintroduced to the high school curriculum?

Fourth, what is happening on those Alberta beaches that, if seen, would repel tourists? Other than all the Englishmen wakeboarding, and sitting around in black socks eating crumpets and jam, that is. (Sorry, flashed back to an old Carry On Gang movie just then.) We need to know before we book that little ivy-covered cottage at the end of the lane, the one with the thatched roof and the rose trellis.

Finally, what is the "global image" of Alberta, and why does it need improving? Hmmm. Perhaps Whitehall can advise.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Back in good old Canada

Each winter, I spend three months or so in the states. Well, in the state of Florida to be specific.

This is always an opportunity to be reminded of the ways in which the U.S. is different from Canada. Not better or worse, just different.

I admit to liking most Americans, having been around them quite a bit over the years as university classmates, business associates, and neighbours, and finding them mostly friendly and generous.

They in turn seem positively predisposed toward Canadians, when they think of us at all, which is not often. Canadian news is largely missing from U.S. media. The big story about Canada this winter was Obama's visit to Ottawa.

Knowledge of Canada is virtually nonexistent. I have been asked whether Canada is a communist country, and whether we have TV.

You can't miss Americans' passion for politics, a passion that the media happily feeds. Fox News and MSNBC. Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann. Ann Coulter and Rachel Maddow. No middle ground. Party affiliations are proudly proclaimed from bumper stickers, even between elections. Golfers will detail their disgust with the other party while waiting for the green to clear. Drinkers will do the same while waiting for their glasses to be refilled. Any break in the proceedings is an opportunity for a diatribe on the stupidity of folks on the other side.

Canadians, on the other hand, are pretty apathetic before, during, and after elections. Politicians are not exalted as they are in the states. In fact, a senate appointment in Canada is usually viewed as nothing more than a reward for a party hack who will treat it as a paid vacation, opting to keep track of things on CPAC from Whistler or Muskoka.

There is no polarized debate on Canadian TV because nobody would watch. By and large, Canadians view politics as a sideshow to the real business of living, something to be tolerated, or even ignored. All perspectives are usually represented on Canadian political affairs shows, and all are pretty much in agreement by the time the credits roll.

The U.S. is a big country. There is so much happening within its borders, that there really is no need to look abroad for excitement. In Canada, on the other hand, there usually isn't much going on. When I return, I find that the headlines are pretty much the same as they were when I left. The country is essentially an expanded episode of Corner Gas. The positive side effect of this is that Canadians pay attention to the larger world, and tend to be better informed about events in faraway places than are their American cousins.

Other differences? Whereas virtually every supermarket in the Toronto area is selling 99-cent reuseable bags to wean us off plastic bags, that was not happening in our area of Florida, and the cashiers and bagboys viewed us as environmental extremists when we asked to have our groceries packed in the Canadian reuseable bags we had brought with us.

But those supermarkets do offer virtually endless variety. Twenty-five kinds of mustard, each in six different types of container. When it comes to products and services, Americans have unbelievable levels of choice.

Visitors can't believe the portion sizes in U.S. restaurants. These are usually sufficient to sustain the diner for a couple of days on the Tamiami Trail, and are trucked home in polystyrene containers for future lunches. And they are cheap. Check the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's.

What else? I think Canadian newspapers are, with a few exceptions, better. Also, America seems incapable of producing an old cheddar on par with Canada's Balderson's. HP sauce and corn relish are hard to find. And there is no American equivalent of Rick Mercer.

Finally, there is the American penchant f0r action. While Canadian governments have perfected the art of burying contentious issues in Royal Commissions and judicial inquiries, the Yanks hold televised Congressional hearings that interrogate, in a very direct way, those suspected of behaving badly. And when have you ever seen a Canadian stock swindler doing the perp walk to one of our courtrooms? Our securities watchdogs are toothless tigers compared to the American Securities and Exchange Commission, although they did miss Bernie Madoff.

Glad to be back north of the Great Lakes, but by next January I'll be ready for a few more months of America-watching.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who's up, who's down?

Have you checked out Google Trends? Two graphs. The upper graph shows how often people have searched for a particular word or phrase. The lower graph shows you the number of times the topic appeared in Google News stories.

But the really cool thing is that you can compare the level of interest in, and news coverage of, two or more topics over a time period, in a specific country or worldwide.

For example, I wanted to know which of the world's major bad boys was attracting the most attention. So I keyed in
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, and Kim Jong-il. Surprisingly, to me anyway, Venezuela's Chavez topped the other two screwballs with ease on number of searches. Maybe because his name is easiest to spell. On news stories, hard to pick a winner.

What threat captures the world's attention? Since at least as far back as 2004, pirates have received way more attention than either Al Quaeda or nuclear war.

Does anybody care about Canada? Apparently so. Right now, Canada is in a dead heat with France for both searches and news mentions, away ahead of both Germany and the Netherlands.

How about Iran and Afghanistan? After years of being in Iraq's shadow, Afghanistan has now caught up in public attention and in the news.

Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan? Britney wins, not even close.

Air pollution and water pollution? Air.

Musical instruments? Guitar.

Grow hair or remove hair? A big uptrend in growing hair.

Fun.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Weird Wednesday, again

I know you have a life, and don’t have time to wander around the web looking for completely useless drivel, so Geezer takes on that chore for you. No need to say thanks. I’m happy to do it. Consider it a little gesture of appreciation for your continuing support.

Okay, here’s the situation. You know no one whom you can tweet, e-mail, phone, or visit. There isn’t even a friendly bartender within driving distance. You need conversation. You have nowhere to turn. Ta-dah! Omegle is there for you. Chat with a random stranger who also knows no one he/she can tweet, e-mail … well, you get the picture. Ain’t technology great?

Okay, chatting with the social reject didn't work out? Try this. Remember John Cleese’s silly walks on the old Monty Python show? Now you can relive those moments for yourself with the Silly Walks Generator. Don’t forget to save your creation so you can come back and enjoy it time after time.

Here's the ultimate test of nethood. 101 2-litre bottles of Diet Coke and 503 Mentos mints. You aren’t a true netizen until you’ve experienced it.

What could be more boring that watching grass grow? How about watching paint peel. Yes, friends, you can actually watch paint peel in real time, from the comfort of your home, on the Peeling Paint WebCam.

Geez, let's go shoot some bunnies.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I feel good

Getting cynical, skeptical, overdosed on corrupt politicians, drugged-up athletes, and ponzi scheme scoundrels? Is that what's got you down, friend?

Though hard to find, there are some heartwarming stories out there, and we've tracked down a few to brighten your day.

• A Calgary guy gets his wallet back, with the money inside, three years after losing it, and takes out a newspaper ad to thank the Edmonton guy who returned it.

• A 16 year old raises almost $4,000 for her favourite charity.

A 107-year old climbs out of her wheelchair to celebrate her birthday by driving a BMW M3 at 108 mph.

• A deceased dad picks a winner in the Grand National and wins his family £20,000.

The Miracle League provides children with mental and/or physical challenges an opportunity to play baseball in an organized league.

A blind basketballer makes free throws to win the game.

• An activist for the homeless puts those people into empty houses that are in foreclosure.
Having a James Brown moment yet?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Glimpses of lives

Change of pace today. Peeking into the everyday joys and hurts of fellow wanderers in cyberspace, as recorded in their online journals and diaries.

A guilty pleasure, poking around in these little clips from real life.

"Today, I stumbled upon my boyfriend's Facebook. His second Facebook. On which I also stumbled upon his second girlfriend."

* * * * *

"I am DIVORCED! That's right! I woke up happy this morning, even though it's Tuesday :=) I already went to the Social Security office and had my last name changed back to my maiden name. I have to go to DMV next. It's so exciting, a new beginning :+)"

* * * * *

"Today, I was talking to a guy I met online and have known for 4 years. I've fallen in love with him twice, one of those times being currently. He was supposed to visit this summer. I got an email from him saying he's really a 17 year old girl..."

* * * * *

"Ok, here is the deal...I think i am going to try to find my mother. Not the mother that has took care of me for the since i was around eight years old. I am going to try to find my birth mother. Hopefully i can find her but if i happen to see her, i wouldnt know what to say or what to do. Its going to be hard but i will try my hardest to find her so i can ask her where my sister is. and hopefully i can find her and see her cause i havent seen her since i was like 4. And its kinda bothering me that i cant find my sister cause i dont know who she got adopted to. but wish me luck i am about to call someone who could probably help me."

* * * * *
"It was great to see her again, but slightly weird. It wasn't awkward or anything but when I was with her it kinda felt like when we first met. We would have a great time, but I had to think more carefully about what I said, or what I do. Example, in Nandos we ate egg tart, I cut them up and gave a piece to her in a fork. Obviously when we were going out I would feed her, but this time she picked the piece from the fork and ate. Just little things like that."

* * * * *

"My friend is pregnant and i am going to be the godmother she is having it in December i am really scared for her because she is only 14 and she hasn't told her mother yet i was the 1st one to know (lucky Me) but i don't think she need the baby because all the drugs and stuff she does but i don't know how to tell her but if the baby is a girl i want to name it Kellie Felisha Estell i always like that name and if its a boy i want to name it Tyler Lane but if the baby cant live with her i will take it even though i am 13 but i can take care of it i already have a job and i can get another one and my older sister can babysit the baby y i am at work and school and she might have a better house than me but everyone in her house does drugs and i don't want the baby to get sick"
Are they writing for themselves, or for us?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weird Wednesday

There comes a time in life when you have to let go of all the pointless drama and the people who create it, and surround yourself with people who make you laugh so hard that you forget the bad and focus solely on the good. After all, life is too short to be anything but happy. --- Anonymous
So in the cause of changing your focus, at least for a few minutes, we ask:

Ever wonder what Ozzy Osbourne is on about? What the heck was Gollum saying in Lord of the Rings? You need the Pop Culture Translator.

Want to experience a day in the life of a McDonalds hamburger builder? Do it with this simulator.

How drunk would you have to be to order this tattoo?

Why is bird poop white? Why do dogs eat poop? What else do we need to know about poop? The answers are at The Scoop on Poop.

What are the reasons to fear Canada?

Is there something that can shield your brain from electromagnetic psychotronic mind control carriers, brain scanning and mind reading, and keep the secrets in your head truly secret. Can you make one at home?

What is the Guiness world record for number of t-shirts worn at the same time by one guy?

Okay, nothing more to see here. Move along.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Get a room!

Holy raging hormones! People! Show a little consideration for your fellow travellers. I know you're jumped up on Viagra, now that you're using that new ready-anytime version, but come on, pull off the highway.

Yesterday, the cops noticed a guy "driving erratically" on a motorway in Norway (oh, those Scandinavians). They then observed a woman sitting on his lap. They were, well, you know. Looks like he will get a major fine, and a license suspension, but apparently it's not illegal to be an accomplice in such driving infractions. The 21-year-old woman was permitted by police to drive her lover home.

This comes hard on the heels of news just last week that a helicopter pilot will not get his license back after having "an adult film actress perform a sex act on him" WHILE FLYING OVER SAN DIEGO! And, they were videotaping it! (Sorry about all the exclamation marks, but in this case I think they are called for.)

There's more of this sort of thing, but you get the picture. Google amongst yourselves.

And remember that public safety is everyone's responsibility.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Moose poop in aisle three

Attention online shoppers! Move fast to get these great deals.

Science documentaries? We've got the Eddie Page Story alien abduction video, which tells how Eddie, while operating with an elite assassination team deep inside North Vietnam, is picked up by a UFO containing his real father, who is an alien. Entertainment for the whole family. $14.99

Tired of change rattling around in your pocket, tumbling out on the car seat and so on? What a nuisance. You need the genuine Kangaroo Scrotum Coin Purse. Just like Crocodile Dundee's. $15.95 each, or get a pair for $20.00.

It's always tough to find that special gift for the lady in your life, but Moose Poop Jewellry is here to save the day. Cheap, but good, and guaranteed to please. $8.00 and up.

For those times when it's just too much effort to put the hamburger on the bun, make sure you have Cheeseburger In A Can in the pantry. Imported. € 3.95

Don't you hate it when those flimsy hot dog holders leak mustard and relish on your T-shirt at the ball park? The Porcelain Hotdog Wrapper solves that problem once and for all. Dishwasher safe, too. $30.00

So the old neighbourhood has gone downhill a bit since this recession started, what with the grow ops and crack houses moving in behind the repo and foreclosure guys? Feeling a little trepidated about walking over to the local coffee shop? You need the JL421 Badonkadonk around-town tank. $19,999.95

And don't miss the specials in our lingerie department.

Will that be credit or debit?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

You can change the world for the price of a nice lunch

My wife Pat and I just made a loan of $50 to Chicas Rebeldes, an entrepreneurial Bolivian community group, using a wonderful website called Kiva.

It is not a handout. Our 50 bucks will be aggregated with contributions of $25 and up from other people to make up the $3,375 Chicas Rebeldes needs to carry out their business plan. Like all Kiva microloans, it will be repaid so we can re-lend the money to other entrepreneurs in developing countries.

We have previously made similar small loans to Consocia Apdo in the Philippines to purchase fertilizer for her banana and root crop production; Soy Khann in Cambodia to purchase fertilizer to increase her rice production; Elizabeth Yawson in Ghana to buy more sacks of rice, oil, milk, Milo, soft drinks and other products to sell in her store, and other people growing small businesses that develop communities.

Several have fully repaid their loans, and none have defaulted. That is typical.

This latest group (seen below), organized by María Flora, is in its fifth loan cycle. They make sure the people in their group are responsible, enthusiastic folks who are responsible borrowers. Their incomes come from sales of food, salteñas [a savoury pastry], medications, cereals, cosmetics from catalogues, public transportation services and cleaning services. The loan will be used to increase their merchandise and invest in new tools.



So I encourage you to go to Kiva's website and check it out. Find someone in Asia, Africa or South America who needs a loan for their business, like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent --- and you get updates letting you know how the entrepreneur is going.

Kiva's loans are managed by microfinance institutions on the ground who have a lot of experience doing this, so you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.

What I like best about this is that I'm not just donating money that may never get to the people who really need it --- used to pay some big aid agency's fancy ads or siphoned off into the bank account of a corrupt official. I know that I'm helping someone build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after my loan is paid back.

Please join me in changing the world - one little loan at a time.

Thanks!

What others are saying about www.Kiva.org:

"Revolutionising how donors and lenders in the US are connecting with small entrepreneurs in developing countries."
-- BBC

"If you've got 25 bucks, a PC and a PayPal account, you've now got the wherewithal to be an international financier."
-- CNN Money

"Smaller investors can make loans of as little as $25 to specific individual entrepreneurs through a service launched last fall by Kiva.org."
-- The Wall Street Journal

"An inexpensive feel-good investment opportunity...All loaned funds go directly to the applicants, and most loans are repaid in full."
-- Entrepreneur Magazine

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lose 20 pounds in 20 minutes

We all suspect that many of the photos we see in advertising, and even soft news stories, are doctored. But how pervasive is the practice, and what effect is it having on our self esteem?

This short video shows how it's done, and who is doing it:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Just the way dad did it

"The lean, lanky frame is hunched over the camera. The man peers through the viewfinder. Then he straightens and yells "OK." Three skinny, shoeless children -- sitting ramrod straight on overturned plastic buckets, hands on knees just so -- break into shy grins and yell "OK" right back at him."

So begins Steve Buist's compelling account of a milestone reached by a little 39-years-old Canadian charity that does big things in the developing world.

Steve, a writer with the Hamilton Spectator, went to India with Sleeping Children Around the World as part of a team distributing bedkits to poor children. He accompanied Dave Dryden, and members of the Dryden family, as they retraced the steps of his father's first bedkit distribution.

That was a million kids ago. Steve tells it much better than I can, so read his article.

And if you're interested in another first-hand account of Sleeping Children in action, check the blog I maintained while travelling as a SCAW team member in Bangladesh last fall. I also made this little video about the adventure, using photos taken by members of the team.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Still dead, still rich

Here's something I bet you were wondering about. How well are dead people doing, money-wise?

Turns out that dying can be a pretty good way to go, financially speaking, if you're a celebrity. For most people, not so good.

For example, take the Forbes Magazine list of top-earning dead celebrities. Last time they checked, the top 10 looked like this:

#1 Kurt Cobain - $50 million. The new king. Unplugged in Nirvana.

#2 Elvis Presley - $42 million. The old king. You hound dog!

#3 Charles Schulz - $35 million. Charlie Brown is still bringing home the bacon.

#4 John Lennon - $24 million. A Beatles reunion album would bump this up for sure.

#5 Albert Einstein - $20 million. Yeah, really. Go Einstein!

#6 Andy Warhol - $19 million. Still recycling soup cans after all these years.

#7 Dr. Seuss - $10 million. Hey, the Grinch is making off with it!

#7 (tie) Ray Charles - $10 million. Let the good times roll.

#9 Marilyn Monroe - $8 million. No need to marry a millionaire.

#9 (tie) Johnny Cash - $8 million. Let's go to Jackson.
Keep those cards and letters comin' in.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

UFO sightings way up in Canada

Today we're looking into the latest developments in the world of aerospace, and what could be more timely than a recently released survey from UFOlogy Research of Manitoba.

Until I came across this report, I hadn't been thinking much about UFOs. There's very little about them in the popular media anymore, other than the Discovery Channel, which seems to have "UFO week" pretty regularly.

But apparently, they're back big time, according to The Canadian UFO Survey. As you can see on this chart, the number of UFO reports was way up in the 2004-2007 period, and the accompanying 2008 report [pdf] says sightings hit an all-time high of 1,004.

BC and Ontario folks sighted the most, but the Strangeness Rating is down from its peak in 2000, and the Average Number of Witnesses is way down from a 1996 high.

Now, a couple of things. First, you were wondering about the Strangeness Rating thing, right? Okay, the report explains this by way of an example: "[A] detailed observation of a saucer-shaped object which glides slowly away from a witness after an encounter with grey-skinned aliens would be considered highly strange." Yep. There's lots more of this kind of clarification in the full report.

Second, you probably noted, as I did, that sightings are up but witnesses are down. You do the math. Obviously, some people are really good at UFO spotting compared to the rest of us who see very few.

Please try to do better.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sorry, too shifty. Next please.

We all make judgments about people every day that are based on their appearance, some would say unfairly so.

But those judgments may be pretty accurate, if we are to believe a study written up on Economist.com, the online version of the famed Economist business news magazine.

Dr. Jefferson Duarte of Rice University conducted a survey that suggests a person’s creditworthiness can be seen in his face.

The study involved loan applicants on the peer-to-peer lending site Prosper.com. Duarte's team recruited 25 workers from Mechanical Turk, to assess the likelihood that potential borrowers would repay a loan based on pictures they had posted on Prosper.com as part of their loan application.

They looked at 6,821 loan applications and, you guessed it, those opinions "did indeed correlate with potential borrowers’ credit ratings based on their credit history."

It didn't stop there. "People flagged as untrustworthy by the Mechanical Turks were less likely than others to be offered a loan at all...[or] were required to pay an interest rate that was, on average, 1.82 percentage points higher."

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Gross National Happiness

Michael J. Fox was on Letterman Thursday night, and he mentioned that, in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, they work to improve the Gross National Happiness.

Now, I have to admit that Bhutan has never loomed large in my consciousness. But I was intrigued by this Gross National Happiness (GNH) thing, and knew you'd want the skinny.

Turns out that the GNH is the guiding philosophy of the Bhutanese. Unsurprisingly, it is not based on the number of iPhones per capita or availability of the Golf Channel.

Simplifying a bit, the idea is to grow the economy, preserve the culture, take care of the natural environment, and ensure integrity in government. It's not just political blah-blah-blah either, but the unifying vision for Butan's five year planning process.

So, how are they doing?

in 2006, Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia, and the eighth happiest in the world, according to a survey conducted by the University of Leicester.

Of course, eventually, all the trappings of western society will arrive, and we'll see what effect they have on the Gross National Happiness.

I'm betting on a decline.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spring thoughts

Good Sunday morning to you. Today, a little video on the miracle of spring, that wonderful season of hope and rebirth. Enjoy.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Geezer's excellent musical adventure

Responding to popular demand, the Geezer has released his new album Creepy Fingers. You'll find it over on the left, there. Just scroll down a bit, and click on the "play" button.

It's mostly fingerstyle. A couple of tracks are picked over a fingerstyle rhythm. All the tunes are original compositions.

This stuff was recorded on a Taylor GS8 guitar in standard tuning through a Belkin TuneStudio mixer, using Audacity freeware editing software on a MacBook Pro. An old 5-string banjo, a relic from my 1970s bluegrass period, accompanies the guitar on a couple of tracks.

I hope you like it. If you enjoy it, let me know.

Are we smart yet?

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2006 alone, "the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010, it is estimated that this number will increase to 988." That's give or take a few thousand terabytes.

These numbers are as unfathomable as "trillions of dollars," a phrase getting even more play these days.

But, back to the exabytes --- Is this a good thing? The CJR article says an AP study showed people have "news fatigue." Not surprising, given that there are "70 million blogs and 150 million Web sites today—a number that is expanding at a rate of approximately ten thousand an hour. Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day."

Even considering that 200 billion are selling pharmaceutical products or body part enhancement, and 9 billion are from representatives of dead Nigerian clergymen wanting to deposit millions into your bank account, that's still a lot of friggin' e-mail.

On top of that, people have to tweet and update Facebook and check Bloomberg on their iPhones, while having dinner, chatting with their significant other, and watching Newshour on TV. We live in an "and" world.

So, are we smarter, wiser?

Better informed, yes, I'll give you that. I am exposed to more information in a day, than my dad was in five years or so. But on the data ---> information ---> knowledge ---> wisdom continuum, I don't think we've made much progress toward true enlightenment.

In fact, most of this just distracts us from working through the really important stuff. Engineers talk about the Signal-to-Noise Ratio, a concept that can also be used to assess useful information vs. irrelevant data. In the wired world, noise is drowning out the signal.

Wisdom is the capacity to apply knowledge, understanding, experience, discretion, and intuition to finding solutions to problems.

I have information, maybe even knowledge. Dad had wisdom.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The art of apology

A couple of high profile apologies this week got me thinking about the topic of making amends.

First, Canadian contract hitman Gérald Gallant, with 27 kills on his résumé, said in court, "I regret the hurt I have caused the victims and their families." Those would include the family of Hélène Brunet, an innocent waitress shot by Gallant while being used as a human shield by one of his targets.

Then Kaing Guek Eav, the Cambodian torture house commandant, expressed his "regret and heartfelt sorrow" for his part in killing 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979. He is in court, charged with innumerable atrocities.

You might have noticed that both gentlemen were the defendants in trials when they suddenly had a kinder, gentler moment.

Now, in matters like this, I turn to Oprah, or at least to her magazine O. There I found an instructive article by Martha Beck on this very topic. Martha says, "The perfect moment to apologize is the moment you realize you've done something wrong...When you really don't want to say you're sorry, it's almost certainly time to do so." So both of these guys are a little late.

Like most things in Oprahland, there is a multi-step program for getting it done:
• First, volunteer a full acknowledgment of the offense. Start by describing exactly what you did wrong, without avoiding the worst truths. Gérald and Kaing flunk this one, having to be persuaded by cops, lawyers, judges, etc. to come clean, in Kaing's case after 30 years.

• Second, offering a truthful explanation is your best shot at rebuilding a strong, peaceful relationship...Explanations help you and your victim understand why you misbehaved and assure both of you that the offense won't recur. As their victims are dead, they are not wondering why these guys "misbehaved."

• Third, there needs to be a genuine expression of remorse. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of the comment "I'm sorry you feel that way" knows the difference between sincere regret and an attempt to avoid responsibility for bad behavior. Sounds like this pair are finally 'fessing up, but remorse? You be the judge.

Finally, the offender must give reparations for damage...The question "What else do you want me to do?" can start this process. Spending the rest of your life in the slammmer would be a start.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Weird Wednesday

Hey kids, let's take the geezerocket to the outer reaches of the weird, weird web:
• After a long trip through cyberspace, caught with the urge to go, no toilet in sight --- Get fast relief at SitorSquat where you'll be directed to the best, cleanest, closest public toilet.

• Somebody went to a lot of trouble to put this together. Why?

• It’s a 24/7 world. Who knows when you may get a hankering for a soccer ball at 4:00 a.m., or maybe some used underwear. Whatever you need, there’s probably a vending machine for it right around the corner.

• Looking for instructions for building your own potato launcher? Do not ignore the warning about the chemical thermal hair removal thing.

• Remember those thrilling days of yesteryear when we chose up sides in the school yard and nobody wanted to be last, or was that just me? Anyway this will take you back, or not.

• Seeking an interesting destination for that family drive this Sunday afternoon. Check out Large Canadian Roadside Attractions. Do not miss the World's Largest Pyrogy in Glendon, Alberta.
Tune in next Wednesday for the next episode of weird, weird web.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

National insecurity

I hear that Americans are concerned about what people in other countries think of them.

We Canadians can relate to this. Fretting about our image abroad, particularly the way we're seen by our big pal to the south, fills many hours of airtime and pages of print.

But I don't remember this being an issue for Americans for quite a while. We're accustomed to an America comfortable with leadership, convinced of the rightness of its position in all matters, confident in its ability to win the day with "good old American know-how".

A bit arrogant, maybe, but insecure? No. Americans were always the gung-ho guys who invented the best way to do something, and then spread it around.

This was usually a good thing for everybody.

But now Wall St. seems to have screwed up the global financial system, and triggered a worldwide recession. In addition, the Yanks' vaunted management skills are in question as companies at or near the top of the 2007 best-managed list are now bankrupt or on life support. And then there are the Chinese.

The Chinese are sweating the safety of the $730 billion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds they hold. In fact, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said recently "To be honest, I am definitely a little worried. We have loaned huge amounts of money to the United States, so of course, we have to be concerned. We hope the United States honors its word and ensures the safety of Chinese assets."

In last night's Newshour on PBS, Minxin Pei, senior associate in the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said "Well, there's both resentment and disappointment, disappointent in the sense that the U.S. let us down. I mean, China has been aspiring to be another America for the last 20, 30 years. Now ... their intellectual model has collapsed."

He continued, "There's resentment in the sense that China is now, along with the rest of the world, suffering the consequences of American policy mistakes."

Now France's President Sarkozy is threatening to walk out of this week's G20 summit unless his views on financial regulation prevail. And there is disagreement among European nations with regard to the need for major economic stimulus. Further, the World Bank has identified 17 countries that have taken protectionist actions when exactly the opposite is needed to stave off an economic depression.

So, a healthy pause for reflection, maybe a little penance for past sins but "Hey, get over it!" We all know who we need in the driver's seat.

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Footnote: Business Week interview with Paul Kennedy , author of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.