Friday, July 30, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• A Swedish study raises the possibility that your mattress may give you cancer. The theory is that the metal springs amplify the intensity of broadcast FM/TV radiation. As we slumber, a wave of electromagnetic radiation envelops our bodies, and may contribute to the development of cancers.

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), are now using container hospitals in earthquake sites where hospital buildings have been destroyed. Based on a standard 6-metre shipping container, the hospital modules are flown and trucked to their destinations, then unpacked. They contain walls, floors, and conduits for electrical, HVAC and plumbing.

• The microscopic plants that form the foundation of the ocean's food web are declining. The tiny organisms, known as phytoplankton also gobble up carbon dioxide to produce half the world's oxygen output. Researchers at Dalhousie University say the global population of phytoplankton has fallen about 40 percent since 1950, apparently due to rising sea surface temperatures.

• A light bulb manufactured in 1901 still burns brightly at a fire station in Livermore, California.

• While sexting, the practice of sending and receiving of sexualized images and text, has been popular among teens for some time, it is a bit surprising to learn that 28% of U.S. parents are also exchanging naughty pictures of themselves, and not only with their partners, according to a recent survey.
How about that?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Let Leviticus be your guide

[Sent along by Fred]

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a U.S. resident, and posted on the Internet.
Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law.

I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Radiohead, 1931

Before the Walkman, before the Discman, before the iPod, there was RadioHat for early adopters in 1931.

With RadioHat, you could tune in hits like He Played His Ukulele As The Ship Went Down, I've Got Five Dollars, and When Yuba Plays The Rhumba On The Tuba.

Told the world that you were on the leading edge of technology, but was not recommended if there was lightning in the forecast.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

School days in Zim

I am winding down this series of posts from the Sleeping Children distribution in Zimbabwe with a few photos that you might find interesting.

These feature some of the schools we visited. Education is highly prized in Zim, but not affordable by all, as there are fees to attend even the government-run schools. The school supplies in our bedkits received applause at every site.

School bell

School library

The campus

A classroom

School toilets

Headmaster's office

Next: Snapshots

Monday, July 26, 2010

Home from Zim

Arrived back in good old Canada yesterday afternoon after a return trip that took 34 hours, including about 22 hours in the air and a lot of waiting around between flights.

Unfortunately, I caught a cold almost a week ago, and it has gotten progressively worse, finally settling in my chest, so I was hacking, blowing, sneezing, and wheezing throughout the trip, much to the discomfort of fellow passengers.

It was a somewhat difficult distribution, as we were opening up a new country for Sleeping Children Around the World, so it was all new ground for our Rotary Club partners. Sometimes things didn't arrive on time, or in the correct numbers.

But, in the end, we achieved our objective of distributing 4,000 bedkits to needy children.

Thanks to those GeezerOnline subscribers who helped out with a donation. I assure you, it was money well spent.

On our second last day, our driver took us for a look at a stone carving yard, where I took the photograph above. They do amazing work with very simple tools, and receive very little money for their art. Looks like a ripe importing opportunity for someone.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


A few snapshots taken as we went about our work in Zimbabwe. Click on each for a full-size image.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rock stars

These huge rocks are piled up everywhere in this region of Zimbabwe, presumably due to glacial activity many eons ago. These stretch to the horizon in every direction.

My new friend Jethro poses (above) in front of a mammoth grouping called "the three wise men."

Next: School days in Zim

Get 'er done

Sorry for the long lapses between posts.

We are being kept very busy, so not much time for this. Here's teammate Helen giving the gift of sleep to children at a rural school.

Next: Rock stars

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A glimpse of the past and the future

After our distribution today, the Canadian team was honoured at a wonderful dinner at the home of Ann Hamilton-King, a descendant of a family with deep roots in Zimbabwe that was influential in the country's development in days past.

Ann is a Rotarian, and much involved in assisting our efforts here as a member of the overseas volunteer organization that prepares the way for us and provides support for our distributions of bedkits to the most needy children.

Her home (shown above and below) is the former family homestead, and once sat on a large farm. Ann now operates the grand old house and surrounding grounds as a charming bed and breakfast that also serves as a wedding venue. In fact, 259 guests are coming to a wedding reception there tomorrow. Unfazed, she hosted this large gathering of friends and fellow Rotarians this evening, and arranged for a troupe of local young people to entertain us with traditional drumming and dancing.

Ann epitomizes the indomitable spirit of those from both races who work hard for the betterment of Zimbabwe. They are optimists who look forward to the prospect of a great future for this beautiful country.


Next: Get 'er done

In and around Harare

Ladeez and gennulmen, kids. We continue with our African adventures. For your amusement we present a few snapshots of things that caught our eye over the past few days in Zimbabwe.
They have tea here to cure whatever ails you, from ulcers to AIDS, and everything in between. Here’s a sample:

The heavyweight champ of grasshoppers, this one held by the deputy headmaster at a local school, the site of our first bedkit distribution here.

A stone carving in a hotel courtyard (this is a major industry here) that I like to call “Monkey with cellphone.”

We're very busy, working long days, so not much time for blogging. More to come when time allows.

Next: A glimpse of the past and the future

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the still of the night

Writing this at 4:30 a.m., having been awakened by an alarm at 3:00. Sounded like a car alarm, followed by a revving engine, then squealing tires, then silence for about 15 minutes, then resumption of alarm, silence, more alarm, finally bird singing outside window.

Now fully awake, decided to use time productively, so am recounting random observations and experiences from yesterday.
• Watched a boy, maybe 10 years old, dancing through a hotel garden courtyard. No pretense, no self-consciousness. Leaping, spinning, laughing, full of the joy of life. Nice.

• Sampled a fine local beer, Castle, at lunch. Also nice.

• While you are enjoying long, warm, summer evenings in Canada, the days are short and cool here in July. Oscar informs us that we are near the end of the Zimbabwe winter. It’s a bit uncomfortable at night, as the hotel has no central heating, and the building is designed with wall vents open to the outside. These would be welcome in the heat of summer.

• The smell of exhaust fumes is pervasive outside, reminiscent of Dhaka, and waft into my room via the aforementioned wall vents. Not nice.

• I inquired into the hotel’s laundry service, and the gentleman at the front desk seemed to think this an unusual question. I said that, in a few days, I would need to send out some things to be washed, and he said they could be sent to the hotel across the street. I asked for a laundry bag, as there were none in my room, and he said he would see whether one might be located in the next day or two. Puzzling.

• Car nut that I am, I give a look-see to a BMW 520i in the hotel parking lot. This model designation, which I have never heard of, indicates a 5-series luxury sedan with a small, two litre, four-cylinder engine. In Texas, they would call that, “All hat and no cattle.” Or maybe eco-friendly?

• Very dark around the hotel after sundown due to many burned out streetlights, and they use the British system of driving on the left, so we are all trying to remember to look to the right before crossing the street, which we must do frequently to get to the “other hotel,” the one with WiFi, laundry, restaurant, bar, garden courtyard, etc., etc.

• The building next door is occupied by the Head Office of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association. It is surrounded by a high wall topped by razor wire. Hmmm.

• Oscar joined us for dinner, and dropped off two sample bedkits, so we will get to see them for the first time in the morning.

• I am totally mixed up with regard to dates, and learn that the distributions will actually start day after tomorrow (which I am told will be July 16), not this morning as I indicated earlier.
5:30 a.m. Signing off.

Next: In and around Harare

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zooming into Zim

Arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday at about 9:45 PM after 18 hours in the air, a couple of long flights with just enough time to make our connection at Heathrow.

By 11:00 pm, we checked in to a Road Lodge, the South African version of Motel 6. Pretty basic, but clean. It was cold, down near freezing overnight, and in low single digits during the day. We think of Africa as a hot continent, but they’re having winter down here.

Up bright and early Wednesday morning to catch a 1 hour and 40 minute flight to Harare, where we will be based for our bedkit distributions.

That’s us in the photo at the Harare airport, surrounding our Zimbabwean Rotary Club partner, Oscar Orange. We’re told that the locals call the country “Zim.”

We’re in a nice little hotel, but without internet access. The more upscale hotel across the street has WiFi (sometimes), so I’ll be sending my blog posts from their lobby.

Right now, we have a couple hours of free time, and then a dinner meeting with Oscar to plan the distributions, which start tomorrow morning.

Should have some interesting photos for you.

Next: In the still of the night

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sorting it out

The biggest, and most important, task our Sleeping Children Around the World team has to complete before departure for Zimbabwe is the sorting of the labels.

These labels, showing each donor's name and other information, appear in the photos of bedkit recipients sent to you folks who purchased the bedkits.

The label sort also determines the sequence of events during the distribution, so getting this right is critical to having things go smoothly on the ground. There is much to consider --- some donors have purchased single bedkits while others have purchased larger numbers --- so there will be photo groups of various sizes. The labels for each location must total the exact number of children who have been promised bedkits.

There are other factors, but our team leaders have done this many times, and the sorting goes well. Each of us will carry a portion of the labels in our carry-on, instructed to protect them at all costs because the loss of a label is the loss of $35 (the price of a bedkit). We are distributing 4,000 kits, so these pieces of paper are worth $140,000!

Next: Zooming into Zim

Saturday, July 10, 2010

An adventure begins

Via this blog, you will be travelling with me to Africa for the next two weeks, as I head out with a team from Sleeping Children Around the World (that's us above) to Zimbabwe.

Our mission: Distribute 4,000 bedkits to needy children in that country.

Sleeping Children Around the World, a Canadian charity, has donated more than a million such kits to kids in 33 developing countries. This is the first time for Zimbabwe.

Many of you have supported us with donations of bedkits for the Zimbabwe trip, and I am most appreciative. Sincere thanks on behalf of the children who will receive your gifts. Glad you could be part of the adventure.

I will try to keep you updated on what we're doing over there, time and internet connections permitting, and I invite you to use the commenting function at the bottom of each post to tell me what you think. It's always nice to hear from home.

For more info on Sleeping Children Around the World, check the website at

Away we go!

The Zimbabwe Trip:

Sorting it out
Zooming into Zim
• In the still of the night
• In and around Harare
A glimpse of the past and the future
Get 'er done
Rock stars
School days in Zim
Home from Zim

Friday, July 9, 2010

Things I Iearned this week

I learned that:
• Whales now have to "shout" to each other over an increasingly noisy ocean.

• Every Finnish citizen is entitled to education, healthcare and, as of this month, a 1Mbps broadband internet connection.

• Paper money was invented in 13th century China by Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty.

If you are right handed, you will tend to chew your food on your right side. If you are left handed, you will tend to chew your food on your left side.

The odds an online dater will lie about his or her height on his or her profile are 1 in 2.08.

• You can have an "unexpected relationship" with a cow of your own via a new cow sponsorship program for tourists visiting Switzerland.
How about that?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Horse's asses rule

[Sent by Robert via Pat]

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did ‘they’ use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England ) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’, you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.

The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s ass.

And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important?

Ancient horse’s asses control almost everything, and current horse's asses are controlling everything else.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Something extra, no charge

A Japanese tourist orders an ice cream cone in Istanbul, and the show begins...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Coping with childhood

Gee, I don't know how I turned out so well.

My parents knew nothing about child-rearing, I'm now discovering, 60 years after the fact. I should have been psychologically damaged. Maybe I am, and just don't know it.

For example, consider this thing called learned helplessness. Did you know about that?

If a kid says things like, "Bobby hates me and will never be my friend again," or "I'll never be good at math," that kid probably has learned helplessness.

Err, don't all kids say this stuff? No? I guess I had it, then, because Bobby did hate me and I was never any good at math. I don't think I have it now. Well, except for carpentry and periodontal scaling. Can you unlearn helplessness?

Sorry, I had to come to terms with that.

Symptoms include believing that temporary negative stuff is permanent (The other kids made fun of me today. I'll never be popular.); generalizing one situation to others (I didn't get picked for the team. I'm no good at sports.); and blaming oneself for everything (Mommy and daddy had a fight. It's my fault.)

Rob Stringer's advice to parents includes avoiding phrases like “That’s too hard for you,” or “Let me do it for you,” or “I’ll talk with your teacher for you,” or “Our family isn’t good at math.”

He suggests replacing them with ”I know you can do it; I’ll start it for you, then you can finish it; Let’s find a way you can do this yourself; or How could you get more help with this?”

I guess, for parents, you could call that "learned helpfulness."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• About 10,000 Americans died by handgun violence in the four months that the U.S. Supreme Court debated Chicago’s ban on handgun ownership. The ban was struck down by the court.

• A German company has invented a cheap plastic gizmo that uses the sun to turn seawater into drinking water.

• As the story goes, on a previous trip to Canada, a waitress at a northern Ontario town hall dinner whispered to Prince Philip, "Save your fork, Duke, there's pie."

• Nuclear war was narrowly averted in 1983 when Soviet lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov chose to ignore a signal to launch a retaliatory missile strike on the U.S. The signal later turned out to have been a false alarm.

• There is such a thing as an electric kazoo.
How about that?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sometimes I dislike Canada

Sometimes I dislike Canada when I'm standing in a line of twenty people at Canadian Tire to pay for an 89-cent item because there is just one checkout clerk. In The States, they always have plenty of checkout clerks.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when I try to open one of the double doors on a store, and it is locked. What's up with that? In The States, both doors are always unlocked.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when a product I see advertised on TV from The States isn't available north of the border.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when I'm driving on a multi-lane highway and my lane disappears down an exit ramp, which happens a lot. I don't notice that happening much when I'm driving in The States.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when I buy something online from The States, and the shipping and customs duties double the cost of the item.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when my TV cable company hikes its rates again, and I realize I have no alternative because it is the only cable company servicing my town. I don't think that happens in The States.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when the loonie takes a dive, and I have to take out a second mortgage to pay for a trip to Disney World.

Sometimes I dislike Canada when politicians do stupid things, say stupid things, spend money on stupid things, appoint stupid people to important positions, pass stupid laws, stupidly ignore serious problems, introduce stupid taxes, and treat the rest of us as stupid people who stupidly elected them, which is to say when they don't behave in accordance with my priorities, wishes and desires. I'm sure those things don't happen in The States.

But, most of the time I like Canada, for being a safe place, a clean place.

Most of the time I like Canada, because its people are usually polite and considerate of others.

Most of the time I like Canada, for being a place where people are tolerant of others' politics, religion, and race.

Most of the time I like Canada, because people are not walking around in public places carrying a sidearm.

Most of the time I like Canada, because it offers everyone the opportunity to succeed, based on their own hard work and talents.

Most of the time I like Canada, because it tries to take care of those who fall behind, through no fault of their own, due to illness, impairment, or bad luck.

Most of the time I like Canada, because no one will go bankrupt when they, or their child, gets seriously ill.

Next time I am standing in line at Canadian Tire, I'll try to remember that.

Happy Canada Day.