Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ladeez and gennulmen, your 1967 Stanley Cup Champions

With the hockey season getting underway, hope springs eternal in the breasts of Leafs fans, as it has for the 43 intervening years since the boys in blue and white last won the cup.

I'll bet some of you oldtimers can name all of these guys.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• According to a new study from Ohio State University, oldsters prefer to read negative news about the younger generation, rather than positive news, because it boosts their self-esteem.

• Clean people feel morally superior. A Northwestern University study found that we feel morally cleansed after a good scrubbing, and are inclined to judge others more harshly.

• Humans are predisposed to select physically strong, tall, firm-jawed people as leaders, according to a new book, Selected: Why Some People Lead, Why Others Follow, And Why It Matters. Experience and competence apparently influence us far less than personality, appearance and language. It all goes back to the Pleistocene era.

• Drugs and accupuncture are no more effective in curing depression than are placebos, according to Irving Kirsch’s book, The Emperor’s New Drugs. All three activate the same cortical regions. Kirsch says the theory that drugs correct a chemical imbalance in the supply of serotonin in the brain is wrong.

• Being racist is bad for your health, according to Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology, a new book by Elizabeth Page-Gould. She says this is because, in cities, it is almost impossible to avoid talking to someone of another race. If you are prejudiced, your body responds with an acute stress reaction, stress hormones surge, heart pumps harder, blood vessels constrict, blood flow to limbs and brain are inhibited. Not good for either of you.

• Academy Award winners live an average of three years longer than the runners-up.
How about that?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Incoming! Surviving the information barrage

Time was, kids amused themselves with a fishing pole, or a softball, or a toboggan, or a bike, or a sandbox, or just watching the clouds go by.

Time was, their parents would sit on the porch, chat with neighbours, wander down to the park, or just watch the clouds go by.

No more. Watch people lined up at the bank or the supermarket checkout. Most are talking on their cellphones, staring at the tiny screens, or poking out text messages. This behaviour has become compulsive for many. They can't stop in meetings, at lunch, while walking down the street, even while driving, despite the knowledge that it can kill them, and others.

Electronic gadgets like videogames, iPads, laptops, and smartphones are seductive. The lure of social media is everpresent. I have experienced this myself, this compulsion to frequently check Twitter, check eMail, check Facebook, check LinkedIn.

We workaholics have always felt guilty when not working. We are conditioned to see not working as goofing off, slacking, not holding our end up, being irresponsible. We think vacations are for sissies, and meditation is a fancy word for daydreaming. We are sick, but society rewards us for it, so we keep doing it.

For us, the Blackberry and the iPhone are crack cocaine, and now social media are constantly beckoning.

Surely someone is looking for me, has posted something I need to know, has commented on my update, wants to tell me something, wants to hear from me, wants to do business with me, needs my help, needs an answer, needs a decision from me, right now.

I have become engrossed in online diversions while minutes, even hours, ticked by, and then felt guilty because I was NOT WORKING.

What is the effect of all this?

Our productivity is suffering (Of course, as a workaholic, I put this first). With a few exceptions, overuse of social media and gizmos of the information age that promised increased efficiency have had the opposite result. We spend countless hours on unproductive activity, and the constant interruptions destroy our ability to focus on the task at hand. We kid ourselves that we can multitask, but that has been shown to be a myth.

Our physical and mental health are suffering. In her article titled Repairing our culture of distraction, Emily Breder writes, "Unfortunately, constant activity is neither possible nor healthy. The toll this has taken on our health is obvious - rampant depression, obesity (self-medicating the depression with food), stress disorders, digestive and skin problems."

Our effectiveness is suffering. We have no time to think. Thinking is an important part of the management job, but we have little time for it in the wired world of 24/7 close-coupled connectedness. Too often, we allow incoming eMail messages and cellphone calls to direct our workday, diverting us from our intended agendas. We fail to distinguish between the important and the urgent, too often focusing on the latter at the expense of the former.

Our creativity is suffering. Creativity requires space and time, even isolation. Big ideas rarely emerge when we are under pressure. The creative parts of our brains seem to work best when we are not being overstimulated. Hiking, lawn mowing, gardening, cloud watching, fishing, canoeing, and similar pursuits that are not brain intensive seem to fertilize creativity.

Our relationships are suffering. Look around your home. Is each member of your family huddled away with their own screen, immersed in their own private world, unaware of and disinterested in what's going on around them? Same thing with your fellow carpoolers? How about the other folks in the lunchroom? What do workmates do while waiting for a meeting to start? 'Nuff said.

So what should we do? Some suggestions:
• Know when to unplug. All those gizmos have switches to turn them off, so go off the grid at drive time, lunch time, dinner time, recreation time, and family time.

• Schedule regular, cellphone-free, think-time meetings with yourself.

• Set explicit personal and business goals you want to achieve through social media, and cut out other online activity. Ask yourself, "Will this make me happier or wealthier?"

• Limit yourself to a couple of media, perhaps one for business and one for personal friends, rather than trying to keep up with the full gamut.

• Set aside a specific block(s) of time each day for social media. Otherwise, ignore it. If necessary, set your computer's alarm clock.

• Establish routines for business-related social media sessions (e.g. start or participate in 1 conversation every morning; reach out to one new person every day).
What techniques do you use to preserve sanity? Send them along.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Pregnant ladies should stick to beans and hard cheese if they want a baby girl. Said to be almost 80% effective.

• If drivers would just keep their feet off their brake pedals, freeway traffic tie-ups would disappear, according to transportation engineers.

• Black and white photographs are more powerful than colour, and are often preferred for photojournalism and fine art photography. Photojournalist Andrew Stawicki explains: "Your eye goes directly to the red sweater. But with black and white it goes to the face, the expression."

• If you’re over 18, you’ve lived through two years whose dates are palindromes: 1991 and 2002. That’s a rare privilege. Since 1001, the normal gap between palindromic years has been 110 years (e.g. 1661-1771). The 11-year gap 1991-2002 has been the only exception, and we’ll wait a millennium for the next such gap, 2992-3003.

• Women's wear makers have been fudging sizes for years, and now the practice has crossed the gender gap. It turns out that waist sizes shown on men's trousers can be up to 5 inches less than actual.

• To make a hotel elevator go directly to your floor without stops, hold down the "close door" button and the button for your floor until the car starts moving.
How about that?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Boogers 101

A Brief Guide to Boogers

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gardening tip # 5: Dynamite

From a 1910 Dupont sales brochure, tips on how to use dynamite to grow 60 lb. watermelons, among other things. Ordinary ploughing just keeps turning over the same old soil. Forget fertilizer. You gotta go deep to get results.

Try it at home. Your neighbours will be amazed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Comical commerce

My friend Dave and I were talking the other night, indulging in advanced nostalgia as we older folks are prone to do, the sort of thing that sends the video game generation into spasms of eye rolling.

Dave recounted a story about his teenage pal who had the nickname Lard-ass. The kid reacted to his moniker by getting into intensive body-building, and ultimately turned himself into one of those pumped up guys who seemed to always be posing in ways that displayed their muscles to best advantage.

I commented that this reminded me of those "90 pound weakling" ads for Charles Atlas weights in the back pages of 1950s comic books like Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel. Of course, these were the comics aimed at subteen boys who were still wrestling with all the insecurities of youth, still working out who they were and what they would become, how to get a date with Mary Lou, that sort of thing.

The clutch of ads in these books were completely predictable. There would be the kid getting sand kicked in his face on the beach, while his disgusted girlfriend looked like she was about abandon him for the muscled up guy. Geez, that would be about the worst thing ever, and it could all be avoided if you just signed up for the Charles Atlas program and spent 15 minutes a day.

There would be the ad for Daisy "Red Ryder" BB rifles. Boy, if you coulda just gotten your hands on one of those, you woulda been the big man on the block. Unfortunately, your mom said "Forget it, you'd put your eye out with that thing."

The Schwinn bicycle was also a standard part of the mix. The Schwinn people cleverly designed their bikes to look like a motorcycle, at least in the mind's eye of a 10-year-old with a lot of imagination. It was way cooler than the CCMs available at Canadian Tire and Eatons.

With a playing card clothespinned to the forks so the spokes made an engine sound, you were Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

Targeting youthful fantasies, these three advertisers, along with Double Bubble, pretty much financed the golden age of comic books.

It's a testimony to the power of advertising, and the talents of those long ago copywriters, that sixty years later we still recall them so vividly and with a certain amount of fondness.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

Git yer farwood fer yer farplace.

I love to be surprised by great customer service.

Huh? Gives new meaning to the phrase, "Gotta go."

The first of life's hard choices.

Caution, you are entering a falling cow zone.

Have any of these cows been involved in a road accident?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that marvellous things are available for the fall shopping season. In order of increasing weirdness:
• Elf fairy ears are the season's hot new accessory for adults and teens. They will ship to Canada.

• The Annoy-a-tron is just the thing to drive your co-workers slowly mad with short, random beeps. The 12 kHz tone with built-in noise is particularly effective, ThinkGeek claims. Buy the 3-pack and triple your fun! Hiding it in food is not recommended.

• Save on shipping charges and add the Scrolling LED Belt Buckle to your order. It's the perfect way to "announce your brilliant thoughts to the world."

• New York garbage is on sale at the amazing price of $50. Hand picked and dated. Get yours now while supplies last.

• An authentic reproduction of Ecto-1, the vehicle that rushed Vennkman and the Ghostbusters to paranormal emergencies and ectoplasmic slimings, is up for auction.

• Just in time for Christmas, gifts for those embarrassed by insufficient body hair. Buy that special someone this underwear with realistic, screen-printed pubic, chest and leg hair. Gift box included if you order the full set.

• For $12, Rap Master Maurice will make a "vigilante mind battle rap call" to anybody who has done you wrong. Check out the samples, then don't delay because Maurice says the price is going to $17.
How about that?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Going budless

I'm in the habit of listening to my iPod on those little earbuds while doing routine tasks --- walking the dog, puttering around the yard, riding my bike, and so on.

Last spring, I began to notice a constant, high-pitched ringing in my ears, and it was not Jeff Beck playing Freeway Jam.

Googling around the intertubes suggested it was probably tinnitis, a common ailment for people my age. About 20% have it. There are a variety of causes, including exposure to noise and natural hearing impairment as we age.

So, as an experiment over the summer, I stopped pumping sound into my auditory canals via the earbuds. Frankly, I don't think they were the cause, as I always kept the volume at reasonable levels. More likely, the damage was caused decades ago by being around bulldozers and rock bands. I can remember a violently loud concert in Sauble Beach with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks ... but that's another story.

No improvement with the tinnitus has resulted, but I am back in touch with the world around me. I am enjoying the sounds of children's laughter, the chirping and fluttering of birds, the thrum of a '69 Boss 302 Mustang.

Not so much the repetitive gangsta rap thump of subwoofers in the pimped out Honda Civics stopped at the major intersection a half mile away.

So, I think I'll leave the buds on the shelf for a while longer, and just tune into the music of life.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

I will never complain about my job again

A special Labour Day feature:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• A witch is selling spells on eBay. Moonstruck9000's prices range from $8.95 (Break up a couple) to $14.95 (The Love/Luck/Money Combo).

• Rev. Lisa Vaughan, Anglican minister at St.Timothy's in Hatchet Lake, Nova Scotia, is holding a blessing service this coming Sunday for Blackberries, iPhones, laptops and any other communications gadget you might like to bring along.

• The profits at fast food restaurants are mostly in the french fries, which are marked up 500%, and soft drinks, which are marked up 1200%.

• North Sea fish stocks increased dramatically when commercial fishing was interrupted by World War II.

• An electric car made of hemp is being developed by a group of Canadian companies

• Thorium, an abundant metal with vast energy potential can take us a long way toward reducing our dependency on oil, according to Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia and Norwegian firm Aker Solutions.

• This recent August had 5 Sundays, 5 Mondays, 5 Tuesdays, all in one month. It happens once in 823 years.
How about that?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mind game

This is strange. Follow the instructions! NO PEEKING AHEAD!

Just answer the questions one at a time and as quickly as you can!

But don't advance until you've done each of them.

1. Think of a number from 1 to 10.

2. Multiply that number by 9.

3. If the number is a 2-digit number, add the digits together.

4. Now subtract 5.

5. Determine which letter in the alphabet corresponds to the number you ended up with (e.g. 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, etc.)

6. Think of a country that starts with that letter.

7. Remember the last letter of the name of that country.

8. Think of the name of an animal that starts with that letter.

9. Remember the last letter in the name of that animal.

10. Think of the name of a fruit that starts with that letter.

11. Are you thinking of a Kangaroo in Denmark eating an Orange?
If not, you're among the 2% of the population whose minds are different enough to think of something else. 98% of people will answer with kangaroos in Denmark when given this exercise.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The car keys blues

If you've ever walked into a room and wondered why you went there; if you've ever blanked on a friend's name; if you suffer from tip-of-the-tongue syndrome, this song is for you.