Friday, January 29, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• If you want to get pregnant, there's an app for that. Yep, after four years of infertility, 30-year-old Lena Bryce downloaded the iPhone application Free Menstrual Calendar, was pregnant within 2 months, and delivered on the exact day that it predicted.

• If you forget your wedding anniversary, the Remember Ring's "thermopile" will ensure you feel the heat. As a married man, I can assure you that the real heat will come from another source.

• If you want to stimulate your brain neurons, get naked. Just going shoeless is an anti-Alzheimer’s, brain-boosting activity because the sole sensation entices your brain into growing extra, efficient neuron connections and increases brain flexibility.

• If you're interested in free will, you should know that a $4.4 million project has been launched to dig into whether human beings have it. As a married man, I can answer that question free of charge.
How about that?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is a tweet-out on the way?

Is Twitter already entering its sunset years?

I signed up for Twitter about a year ago. Most of you are familiar with the mini-blog service that allows the posting of 140-character "tweets."

People who aren't on Twitter mostly think it's silly, useless, pointless, time-wasting, and juvenile. In truth, many tweets do confirm their senders' self-absorption. Initially, Twitter asked users to answer the question, "What are you doing?" Some took that literally and told us about their breakfasts, their cab rides, and so on.

However, Twitter allows us to choose whom we "follow," and boring "tweeps" get unfollowed pretty quickly.

I quickly became hooked on Twitter, checking it several times daily and sending lots of tweets about things I thought might interest my followers. As of this morning, I had sent 1,534 tweets to my 456 followers (Twitter tracks this stuff for you).

But the thrill is gone. I hardly ever tweet these days, and often let a couple of days pass without checking my account. I also notice that some formerly heavy tweeters have scaled way back, and some have dropped out of sight.

Frankly, on the list of things I have to do, Twitter is nearer the bottom than the top.

I went looking to see whether it was just me or a broader trend, and found a just-published study that confirms my suspicions. RJMetrics found that, "The monthly rate of new user accounts peaked in July 2009 ... A large percentage of Twitter accounts are inactive ... About 80% of all Twitter users have tweeted fewer than ten times ... Only about 17% of registered Twitter accounts sent a Tweet in December 2009, an all-time-low ... the average Twitter user has 27 followers, down from 42 followers in August 2009."

On the positive side, the report says there are "15 million highly active tweeters." My own observation is that a high proportion of these are people and businesses pushing products and services, some not too subtly.

Perhaps it will morph into something new and exciting as it matures, but it appears that for many of us, Twitter is twansitioning to the twilight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Canada is governed

Let's see, the guy in charge isn't the head of state, and the head of state isn't really in charge, and there's this woman in England with the Corgis, and there's this other woman with the French name from Haiti who eats seal meat, and if the game gets too rough the government can just take a time out, and it's all so confusing. Rick clears it all up, sort of.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Muslims in Canada --- What we don't know

Why don't moderate Muslims speak out against terrorism? Why don't they get more involved in the mainstream of Canadian life? Why aren't they more active in politics and community groups?

Many fourth and fifth generation Canadians are asking these questions because they have no personal relationships with Muslims. There is always wariness about the unknown.

So lets get to know them better.

There are about 750,000 Muslims in Canada, about 2% of the population. Muslim Canadians are concentrated in Ontario (61%).

There have been Muslims in Canada since the 19th century, but 91% are first generation immigrants. In that number, we find the answer to most of our questions.

Most newcomers initially cling to others with whom they share religion or ethnic origin, as there are barriers to integration into the larger society. In the second generation, we start to see more participation in the national life, and by the third we see almost complete integration. As a country built by two centuries of immigrants, we should be used to this.

Language is perhaps first among these barriers. Half of our Muslims still speak their mother tongue at home. It is difficult to participate in the national dialogue when one is still struggling to learn the basic words needed for survival.

Canadian culture can be jarring, even intimidating, on many levels. It is likely to be so dissimilar from that of the immigrant's homeland that his/her normal frame of reference is almost useless. [I experienced a little of this in reverse when visiting Bangladesh, a primarily Muslim country, even though I was travelling with other Canadians and had the comfort of knowing I'd be back on familiar terrain in a couple of weeks.] These people have a made a permanent commitment to making their way in a new country. For most, there is no going back.

Muslims in Canada are young, with an average age of 28, compared to the national average of 37. This statistic should give rise to optimism. Young people are more adaptable to change, more likely to adopt the customs of the new land. Think Nazem Kadri, star centre for the London Knights and Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick.

Six per cent have earned a Masters degree, and 1.5% have a Ph.D.

Muslims arrive from many countries, none of which have snow, hockey, 3-down football, maple syrup or Tim Horton's. They are South Asian, Arab, West Indian, Indonesian, African, and even Chinese.

So, to sum up, imagine you have landed with your family in a country where you have difficulty making yourself understood in a new language, it is colder than you could have ever imagined, you must find a way to earn a livelihood, people look at you strangely if you are wearing a headcovering, many others treat you with suspicion due to headlines about terrorism, there appear to be many dangers awaiting your children ... the list goes on.

Plus you have just bet your future, and that of your family, on this country.

How would you proceed? Right. Making public pronouncements, running for public office, and looking for volunteer opportunities would not likely be at the top of your immediate to-do list.

In the face of the obstacles, the accomplishments of Muslim role models are deserving of high praise. Think Yasmin Ratansi, Canada’s first Muslim woman member of Parliament; Sabra Desai, Toronto educator and social justice advocate; and Irshad Manji, Canadian journalist/activist/educator. There are many more, but most receive little attention from the popular media.

There is much more to know about Canadian Muslims. Check out

Monday, January 25, 2010

The $20 solution for amputees

Prosthetics are usually too costly for most people in developing countries, but now there's a $20 knee replacement. The JaipurKnee was invented by Joel Sadler for JaipurFoot, an Indian charity that assists amputees. It uses a joint similar to artificial knees costing up to $100,000. The following pictures tell the story:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The jungle of wires under your desk may soon be history if Witricity Corp.'s plans work out. The company's technology enables wireless transmission of electrical power to laptop computers, cell phones, and other appliances. A Chinese manufacturer has already demonstrated a TV set that operates without a power cord.

• In New Delhi, India, when the temperature dips into the 40s Fahrenheit, students are told to remain home. In Canada, that would not be a snow day.

• In 1903, Crayola had eight colors in its standard package of crayons. Today, there are 120.

• The dot over the letter "i" is called a tittle.

• Charlie Chaplin once won third prize in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.

• In the U.S., kids aged 8-18 spend more than 7.5 hours per day using electronic devices such as smartphones, computers, and television. When multitasking is factored in, the total media content rises to 11 hours.

• About 20 per cent of internet users pick their passwords from the same pool of 5,000 passwords, making them vulnerable to hackers who use computer programs to try thousands of password guesses per minute. Almost 1% use 123456 as a password.
How about that?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do good, feel good

Has anything been more studied, and more rarely experienced, than happiness? Countless self-help books, research studies, and TV shows are focused on this elusive feeling, and among these is The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia psych prof.

One of the ideas in Haidt's book is that people desire to act morally and do "good," particularly to work with others for a cause. Apparently, doing so lights up pleasure centres in the brain that are normally associated with selfish pleasures like sex and food.

So it seems that it is not only more blessed to give than to receive, but also beneficial to both the giver and the recipient.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An unwelcome message

Prejudice, the noun, is intolerant belief without basis. Prejudice, the verb, is to influence another's beliefs. Today's post involves both.

An acquaintance sent me the following e-mail message last week. It is one of those things that gets forwarded on, and on, and on, by people who presume that, because we share the same skin colour, we also share the same ideas:
"OH yes ! Do you agree ?

This hits the nail on the head !

An incident occurred in a supermarket recently, when the following was witnessed: A Muslim woman dressed in a Burkha (A black gown & face mask) was standing with her shopping in a line at the checkout.

When it was her turn to be served, and as she reached the cashier, she made a loud remark about the Canadian Flag lapel pin, which the female cashier was wearing on her blouse.

The cashier reached up and touched the pin and said, 'Yes, I always wear it proudly. My son serves abroad with the forces and I wear it for him'.

The Muslim woman then asked the cashier when she was going to stop bombing and killing her countrymen, explaining that she was Iraqi.

At that point, a gentleman standing in the line stepped forward, and interrupted with a calm and gentle voice, and said to the Iraqi woman:

'Excuse me, but hundreds of thousands of men and women, just like this lady's son have fought and sacrificed their lives so that people just like YOU can stand here, in Canada, which is MY country and allow you to blatantly accuse an innocent check-out cashier of bombing YOUR countrymen'.

'It is my belief that if you were allowed to be as outspoken as that in Iraq, which you claim to be YOUR country, then we wouldn't need to be fighting there today'.

'However - now that you have learned how to speak out and criticise the Canadian people who have afforded you the protection of MY country, I will gladly pay the cost of a ticket to help you pay your way back to Iraq'.

'When you get there, and if you manage to survive for being as outspoken as you are here in Canada, then you should be able to help straighten out the mess which YOUR Iraqi countrymen have got you into in the first place, which appears to be the reason that you have come to MY country to avoid.'

Apparently the line up cheered and applauded.

IF YOU AGREE.... Pass this on to all of your proud Canadian friends..

I just did.................!!!"
I have been thinking a lot about this message since receiving it, and I am disgusted by it. The "To:" header listed 35 people, some of whom live in my neighbourhood. I am offended that my name is on this list. I wonder how many of my neighbours agree with the sentiments contained in the message, and how many were upset by it.

Of course, the entire message is a fabrication. Canada's forces are not fighting in Iraq, nor did the people of Iraq cause their country's problems. Nonetheless, some will accept it as truth, and their bigotry will be reinforced.

This kind of thinking is bred and spread among fearful people who move only among their own kind, feeling threatened by the "other." It is tribal, and flies in the face of Canada's desire to be a welcoming, multicultural, nation. It leads to division and, ultimately, to retaliation.

Acceptance implies agreement.

Return to sender.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You have the power of life

Canadians like to think of themselves as a generous people, but by at least one measure, they fall well short of those in other countries.

Last year, there were only 492 deceased organ donors in Canada, while the list of people needing transplants grew to almost 5,000. Surprisingly, there were twice as many people donating organs while still alive than after death. These went mostly to close friends or relatives.

It's a simple matter to sign your donor card and tuck it in your wallet where it will be found, but it is equally important to discuss your wishes with your family so they make the right decisions in what will be a stressful time. Legally, even if you have already signed your card, your family can still refuse.

When your time comes, someone else will be staring death in the face, in need of a liver, kidney, heart or lungs. Please enable them to live by giving them something you no longer need.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Socrates on rumour mongering

Sent by my buddy Jim. No claim of authenticity, but good advice, nonetheless:
In ancient Greece, Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me, I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Test of Three."

"Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man replied, "actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not."

Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, "You may still pass, though, because there is a third test --- the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"

The man was defeated and ashamed and said no more.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sixties flashback

They say that if you remember the sixties, you weren't there. It was a weird and wonderful time --- Camelot, the British Invasion, psychodelia, Trudeaumania.

Let's see what you remember (Answers at the end):
1. What was the year of the "Summer of Love?"

2. Which Beatles album was released during the summer of love?

3. What drug became illegal in the U.S. during the summer of love?

4. Who told 30,000 hippies at the Golden Gate Park in 1967 to "turn on, tune in, drop out?"

5. In 1966, Canada's first major politics-and-sex scandal hit the headlines. What was it called?

6. Which Arkansas-born rockabilly singer became a permanent resident of Canada in 1964.

7. On May 1, 1960, the Russians shot down a U.S. spy plane. Who was the American pilot?

8. Who said the following words while addressing the UN on December 11, 1964: "Our country is one of the trenches of freedom in the world ...showing by its actions, its daily example ... that the people can liberate themselves and can keep themselves free."?

9. Which country was the above speaker representing at the UN?

10. The miniskirt was huge in the sixties. Which designer popularized it in 1965?

11. In 1963, which political party won a Canadian federal election that launched a 16-year regime?

12. Gene Roddenberry created a ground-breaking TV series that aired for the first time in 1966? What was it called?

13. On July 1, 1962, Canada's first provincial medicare plan launched. Which province took this step?

14. Who became the first human in outer space in 1961?

15. In 1966, this new NHL recruit became the league's top earner with an annual salary of $25,000.
1. 1967
2. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
3. Marijuana
4. Timothy Leary
5. The Munsinger Affair
6. Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins
7. Francis Gary Powers
8. Che Guevara
9. Cuba
10. Mary Quant
11. Liberal Party
12. Star Trek
13. Saskatchewan
14. Yuri Gagarin
15. Bobby Orr

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Straight talk

A euphemism is a mild, indirect, or vague term substituted for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive. Politicians, bureaucrats, spin doctors, and advertising copywriters use lots of euphemisms to lull us into complacency about uncomfortable truths.

I can turn a blind eye to bath tissue, correctional facility, pre-owned, and senior citizen, but there are a few others that I'd like to see replaced by something with a little more truthiness:

Global Warming --- This term has been gradually replaced by Climate Change, which still sounds a bit too much like the possibility of poor skiing. How about Global Destruction?

Suicide Bombers --- A better description would be Homicide Bombers, as they are premeditated murderers. They are just collateral damage of their own crimes.

Collateral Damage --- This sounds like your bank is calling in your loan. Why not call it what it is: Dead Civilians.

Sub-prime Mortgage --- The borrower has no chance in hell of making the payments, let alone ever paying it off, particularly after it adjusts to market interest rates. Call it Loony Lending.

Negative Growth --- Economist-speak for In the Dumper. Anyone for Kraft Dinner and mashed potato sandwiches?

Disadvantaged and Underprivileged --- Dress it up anyway you like, but this means Poor.

Chemical Dependency
--- Let's be frank. This is Drug Addiction.

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques
--- If you're on the receiving end, it's Torture, plain and simple. That's something human beings shouldn't be doing to each other, no matter what.

Food Insecurity ---
In North America, agonizing over whether to order dessert. For much of the world this is Hunger, maybe Starvation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Canada tops for geezers. For kids, not so much

Canada may have cracked the list of the top 10 places to live for affluent retirees, but we're far from earning a gold star on a variety of measures related to children.

Among wealthy OECD nations, Canada ranks as follows (1st is best):
• 12th in overall child well-being.

• 12th in students liking school.

• 13th in child deaths from accidents and injuries.

• 16th in immunization of children aged 12-23 months against the
major vaccine-preventable diseases .

• 17th in teenagers giving birth.

• 18th in teens being bullied.

• 21st in poverty rates for families with children.

• 24th in infant mortality.

• 29th in spending on early childhood education.
Canada ranked 23rd out of 25 countries on the percentage of 15 year-olds whose parents spend time ‘just talking to them’ several times per week, and worst of all countries for cannabis use by students.

The OECD also says Canada is one of the two nations showing the greatest increase in poverty and inequality over the past 10 years. Get the full PDF report.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Success defined

Sent by Jim:

At age 4, success is ...
Not piddling in your pants.
At age 12, success is ...
Having friends.
At age 17, success is ...
Having a driver's license.
At age 35, success is ...
Having money.
At age 50, success is ...
Having money.
At age 70, success is ...
Having a drivers license.
At age 75, success is ...
Having friends.
At age 80, success is ...
Not piddling in your pants.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
•Men of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect in Northern India, are volunteering to save hookers from exploitation and HIV/AIDS by marrying them. You could say this sect intersects sex workers for intersex marriage.

•Canada has the highest number of ABMs per capita in the world. It also has the highest penetration levels of electronic channels such as debit cards, internet banking and telephone banking.

•A rainbow can be seen only in the morning or late afternoon. It can occur only when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon.

•The coldest temperature ever recorded in Canada was -63C (-81.4F) in Snag, Yukon on Feb 3, 1947.

"Stalkbooking" is the term for Facebook users' dark side --- the surreptitious hunting down of details on old flames, teen rivals, and other people from one's past.

• Researchers have discovered that cell phone use may fight the memory loss of Alzheimer's disease. Now, where did I put that cell phone?

• The paint roller was invented by Norman Breakey of Toronto in 1940.
How about that?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Six Canadian loose ends from 2009

The year ended with the national fabric still unravelling in several areas ...
Planetary survival
. Individuals are getting the message, and changing their behaviour in small ways, but so-called world leaders have failed to get serious about reducing greenhouse gases and encouraging green innovation, despite overwhelming evidence that future generations will view them as a bunch of gutless wimps who let the planet drown. Prime Minister Harper and Environment Minister Jim Prentice are near the front of the parade marching away from the tough decisions, in denial and mired in oil sands politics. Statesmanship is dead, apparently.

#2 Two-tier healthcare. The Supreme Court of Canada's 2005 Chaoulli decision, which let the private medicine genie out of the bottle in the province of Quebec, continues to reverberate. Former Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Brian Day is suing the BC government, claiming the province's Medicare Protection Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by forbidding patients from seeking medical care from private sector providers. Similar lawsuits in other provinces are expected.

#3 Personal privacy. Just before Christmas, a nurse dropped a USB thumb drive in a parking lot. It contained the health information of more than 83,000 people who attended H1N1 flu clinics in Ontario's Durham Region. It was just the most recent in a series of horror stories about the lackadaisical attitude of public and private sector organizations toward the security of private information. Can you spell i-d-e-n-t-i-t-y-t-h-e-f-t?

#4 Radioisotopes. Long-simmering safety concerns at the problem-plagued Chalk River nuclear plant reduced world supply of the technetium-99 isotope by a mind-boggling 50%. This is the isotope used for much diagnostic imaging, so patients' tests may be delayed. A re-start is scheduled for late March, but previous deadlines have been missed. There is no long term plan for maintaining Canadian radioisotope production.

#5 The nonprofit sector. Ballooning deficits, rising unemployment, auto industry in crisis, main trading partner on a "Buy-American" kick, lumber sales in the tank, another year of stimulus spending to come, and a Mike Harris acolyte in the Finance Minister's chair --- all point to a major reduction in government funds flowing to the organizations that deliver a civilized society to Canadians. When combined with increased demand for services, reduced funding from foundations, and shrinking donations from individuals and businesses, it looks like a world of hurt in 2010 for everything from social services to arts and culture to amateur sports. Can volunteers save us from the worst?

#6 Colvin. The generals and politicians have found common cause in the effort to disredit senior diplomat Richard Colvin, who charged that detainees were tortured by Afghan security officers after being handed over by the Canadian military. It's hard to say how this will end, but the bad smell is not dissipated by selective leaking, bullying remarks, and heavy-handed redaction of documents by the Canadian government. Or by prorogation of parliament.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Weird rule

Continuing with tales of my recent trip to Florida:

I am checking into a Holiday Inn in Beaufort, South Carolina. It is obviously a brand new hotel, so I can understand they're still working the (figurative, I hope) bugs out, but it's not like the Holiday Inn company hasn't done this before.

You'd think there would be some kind of checklist for opening new hotels, but this Holiday Inn seems to be making it up as they go, because the desk clerk tells me he will hold my credit card for the duration of my stay as a security precaution.

I tell him I've never heard of that. He's says it's in case there is damage to the room, or smoking in the room, or any one of "a lot of (unspecified) things."

"You'd be surprised what can happen," he says.

I say I don't want to do that because I will need my credit card this evening for dinner, etc. My usual routine when on the road is to get out of the hotel, and treat myself to a nice meal in the best local restaurant I can find.

He says a $50 deposit is required for the aforementioned eventualities.

I suggest I just give him a cash deposit and, after due deliberation, he agrees to that. A receipt is provided. He says it will be refunded when I check out.

At no time, does he make an imprint of my credit card. When you have booked your room through Expedia, as I had, the normal drill is to take an imprint of a credit card for other charges --- room service, bar, dining room, and the like.

After a long day fighting the interstate wars, I am not at my sharpest and don't really start thinking about this until I'm in my room. Then, I wonder:

a) Wouldn't a credit card imprint provide even more security for the hotel in the event of damage?

b) Do other people readily hand over their credit cards to people they don't know?

c) As the room will not be inspected until after I am headed down the highway, with my 50 bucks back in my pocket, what is the point of the cash deposit?

d) What genius came up with this rule?

Just wondering.

Monday, January 4, 2010

An exchange on the interstate

A little incident on I-77 just after Christmas got me thinking about the ways we bring sunshine into each other's lives in little ways that cost us nothing, but brighten someone's day and our own, too.

I was toodling along in cold, drizzling rain when I hit a stretch of toll road in West Virginia, heading for Florida. I had been on a similar stretch of I-90 through New York and Pennsylvania where they give you a card when you enter and you pay when you exit.

In West Virginia, they want the money up front, so when I rolled up to the toll-taker's window, she had her hand out for the two bucks. Of course, I was expecting a card and had my hand out the car window to receive it.

So there we were, two empty hands outstretched, each waiting to receive something that wasn't forthcoming. Here's the ensuing dialogue:
Toll-taker: "You're supposed to give me money."

Me: "Oh, I thought you were supposed to give me money."

Toll-taker: "Nope, other way around."

Me: "I guess Christmas is over, then?"
We both broke up, laughing.

Just a silly little thing, but how many chuckles do you think she gets in a typical day? My guess is not many. I heard someone say recently that toll-taker is the loneliest job in the world because everyone else is going somewhere, but you aren't.

A half dozen times in the next few hundred miles of boring interstate, I thought about that little encounter and I laughed out loud. I hope she thought about it and laughed, too.