Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dry run for the boogeyman bomb

In the spirit of keeping us all in a state of high anxiety, the Heritage Foundation is suggesting an EMP Recognition Day to raise awareness about the threat from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

Such an attack would involve the high-altitude detonation of a nuclear device that would short circuit electronics on planet earth. That means no telephones, Blackberries, e-mail, internet, traffic lights, gas pumps, automobiles, pacemakers, credit/debit card payments, ATMs or, well, anything else that depends upon electronic devices.

All joking aside, this is serious stuff. Consider this quote from a previous GeezerOnline post from 2009:
"We're not just talking about Twitter being down for a day. Consider what the future might be like if all bits and bytes, from your personal financial records (i.e. your stocks and bank accounts) to the software that controls the Pentagon's weaponry, were vaporized. Period."
On the other hand, that big balance you're carrying on your Visa card would be zapped, too.

Or, you could think of it as Earth Day forever.

Watch the video.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Great Red North

Except for a slice of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada just had the warmest (7.2 °F above normal), and driest (22% below normal), winter on record, but how much warmer was it where you were? The following map from Environment Canada tells the story.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Striptease shows are now banned in Iceland.

• Baldness could be good for your health, according to US scientists who say "men who go bald by 30 appear to be less likely to develop prostate cancer."

• In the fiscal year ending in 2011, total spending on healthcare will total 42% of government expenditures in the Province of British Columbia. If current trends continue, healthcare will represent 70% of operating expenditures by the Province of Ontario in 12 years, Premier McGuinty estimates. The problem is not limited to these two provinces.

• In the period immediately after September 11, 2001, travellers drove more and flew less. One result was 1,000 more highway fatalities in that period than there had been the year before.

• A Russian said to be the world's cleverest man has turned down a $1 million prize for solving one of mathematics' toughest puzzles, The Poincare Conjecture. Dr Grigory Perelman, who is a recluse in a cockroach-infested flat, said, "I have all I want."

• The Polaroid camera will resume production in mid-2010. Dr Grigory Perelman will not be buying one.

• The latest move in the battle for the title of World's Strongest Beer is a Scottish brew called Sink the Bismarck. With 41% alcohol, it is a counterstrike to the German, 40% strength, Schorschbock.
How about that?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Congress, in a word

Just before the big vote on healthcare reform in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to provide one word that best describes their current impressions of Congress.

The result is displayed in the following "Wordle," which gives greater prominence to the most frequently used words.

A similar wordle for the Canadian House of Commons would be interesting.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

International terror alerts raised

[Sent along by Dr. Ingrid, and offered in good fun. Protestations should be sent to the original author, who is unknown.]

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross."

The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

The Scots raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line in the British Army for the last 300 years.

The French Government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

It's not only the French who are on a heightened level of alert.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Conduct Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans also increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbour" and "Lose".

The Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish Navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish Navy.

The Americans have ditched their colourful threat warning system, and are just carrying out pre-emptive strikes at random.

New Zealand has raised its security levels from "baa" to "BAAAA!". Due to continuing defence cutbacks (the Air Force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper airplanes and the Navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister's bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is "Shit, I hope Australia will come and rescue us."

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No Worries" to "She'll Be Alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I Think We'll Need To Cancel The Barbie This Weekend" and "The Barbie Is Cancelled". So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation.

As Canada's response was not mentioned, I should make you aware that Canada, after due consideration, will prorogue parliament. If the threat still persists after parliament reconvenes, a Royal Commission will be established to look into the whole thing. After the Royal Commissioners report in five or six years, and if terrorism is still an issue, a point will be knocked off the GST, and consideration will be given to issuing a statement to the effect that the healthcare system is a sacred trust.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A vote for change

Change starts in small ways that usually don't make headlines.

First, a little background to provide context.

Down here in our winter hideout in Florida, Sarasota County is required to put proposed new taxes to a vote. I don't recall that courtesy having been extended by my municipality back in Canada, but that's another matter.

Last week, voters here approved the fifth straight tax proposal. This time voters were asked whether a 1-mill tax to fund schools should be continued. There was a ferocious, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to defeat the measure. To everyone's amazement, it was approved by 66% of voters.

Other recent taxes approved by Sarasotans were for parks, roads, libraries, and the purchase of lands for conservation.

All of this is happening against an entrenched "starve the beast" movement to shrink government by reducing taxes, a movement that dates back to California's Proposition 13 of 1978.

Since then, politicians at all levels and in all jurisdictions across North America have promoted themselves as tax-cutters in order to get elected.

While, 30 years ago, we needed to get control of deficit spending, we let the pendulum swing too far.

We cut the fiscal deficits, but now we have social deficits.

Crumbling bridges, underfunded schools, potholes, rusted out sewer pipes and water mains, disgusting and dangerous jails, an overburdened judicial system, starved social service agencies, ridiculous hospital wait times --- these are harbingers of social decline.

Surely, this is not what we want for our communities.

Maybe the voters of Sarasota County are onto something. They said that, even in the face of a severe recession, some things are worth paying for.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Now that sucks!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
Poopsenders.com will send a pile of poop to anyone of your choosing. Select cow, elephant, or gorilla dung in either the quart or gallon size.

• 36% of Canadians have "re-gifted" stuff received from relatives and friends with a poor grasp of the giftee's taste. Never a good idea to re-gift poop, though.

• It is now mathematically impossible for the U.S. government to pay off the U.S. national debt because it owes more dollars than actually exist.

• The human brain is 20% smaller than that of Cro Magnon 1, who lived 28,000 years ago.

• The FBI and other federal agencies are going undercover with phony profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social networks.

• Scientists are amazed to find radiation-loving fungi living inside Chernobyl's damaged, steel and concrete sealed reactor unit, thriving amidst 200 tonnes of melted radioactive fuel, and clouds of radioactive dust.
How about that?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reflections

This little guy will get your day started with a smile.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Under the political radar

Long before rising sea levels engulf Vancouver and Manhattan, conservative politicians may discover that they have missed the boat to the political high ground in Ottawa and Washington.

Right now, particularly in the U.S. but also in Canada, the right wingers are dumping on the whole notion of climate change, attacking the intelligence of those who believe the science on this. They sense, correctly, that this aligns with the current public fixation on pocketbook issues. Conveniently, it also harmonizes with the views of their corporate donors, few of which are among the new "green" industries, and most of which have a short-term focus on the bottom line.

In Canada, for conclusive proof, they can also point to the electorate's sound whupping of St├ęphane Dion for his carbon tax ideas.

But political radar tends to be blind to anything beyond the next election cycle, and it may be missing an entire generation of under-30s for whom taking care of the planet is a deeply held value.

For them, recycling isn't something they had to learn. They grew up seeing it as normal practice. Their teachers, largely environmentally-sensitive folk, made sure they got the message about threatened polar bears and other potential victims of the greenhouse effect. They are appalled by the fact that Alberta's oil sands operations pump a huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Remember when the internet was mostly teenagers and college kids, pooh-poohed as a platform for business? Remember when it was ignored by politicians seeking office? When those kids got the votes and the incomes, look what happened.

Right now, the under-30s either have no votes, or have tuned out politics, which they view as hypocritical, ineffective, and out of touch with their issues.

But when they do tune in, and they will when they have kids and mortgages, they will be a major political force.

They will be a political force that thinks climate-change deniers have their heads in the (oil) sand, and they'll be looking for leaders who already have street cred on the environment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A well-planned retirement

Outside England 's Bristol Zoo there is a parking lot for 150 cars and 8 buses. For 25 years, its parking fees were managed by a very pleasant attendant. The fees for cars were the equivalent of $1.40, for buses about $7.00.

Then, one day, after 25 solid years of never missing a day of work, he just didn't show up, so the Zoo Management called the City Council and asked it to send them another parking agent.

The Council did some research and replied that the parking lot was the Zoo's own responsibility.

The Zoo advised the Council that the attendant was a City employee.

The City Council responded that the lot attendant had never been on the City payroll.

Meanwhile, sitting in his villa somewhere on the coast of Spain, or France, or Italy, is a man who'd apparently had a ticket machine installed completely on his own, and then had simply begun to show up every day, commencing to collect and keep the parking fees, estimated at about $560 per day -- for 25 years.

Assuming 7 days a week, this amounts to just over $7 million dollars ... and no one even knows his name.

[From The London Times]

Friday, March 12, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• 90% of social networkers aged 63-75 are on Facebook, the highest level of participation of all generations! Grandma Power in action.



• Men 75-85 are more interested in sex than are women of the same age, survey sez. The women prefer Facebook.

• Craigslist is not the best place to arrange a circumcision. Try Facebook.

• Tropical rocks now found in northwestern Canada came from the equatorial region, and are evidence that the entire world was covered by ice about 716 million years ago.

• The best way to escape the grip of a crocodile's jaws is to push your thumbs into its eyeballs.

• In 2009, the amount lost to debit-card fraud in Canada was $143.3-million.

• Chef Daniel Angerer of Klee Brasserie in New York City is serving cheese made from his wife’s breast milk.
How about that?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Canada in the digital ditch while the world speeds away

High-definition TV, worldwide long distance telephone, internet service at 4 times your Rogers/Bell/Telus broadband speed, and all for $40/mo.

Would you sign up for that?

You can, if you live in rural FRANCE. In Canada, fugheddaboudit.

You only get this sort of thing where there is real competition, which the comfortable Canuck oligopoly continues to stifle, with the blessing of the CRTC.

A one-time leader in high-speed internet, we are now falling toward the back of the pack, ranking 38th out of 180 countries, while others move aggressively to build this important component of national infrastructure. In fact, Canada ranks behind Lichtenstein, Singapore, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and, of course, the U.S.

Commerce is increasingly conducted online by companies large and small but, to date, the Harper government has evidenced no understanding that this is a competitive imperative. Does last week's throne speech reference to a digital economy strategy signal an awakening, or just more words from politicians who don't really "get it."?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Canada, still cool

With the benefit of a week's perspective, it seems to me that the Vancouver Olympics, capped by the Canadian gold medal in hockey, may have been one of two seminal moments for the country in my lifetime.

It's been a while.

The last one was Expo 67, the Montreal world's fair that showed us we need not take a back seat to anyone, that Canadians were more than hewers of wood and drawers of water.

43 years ago, Expo provided a stage for Canada's creativity and optimism. It broke new ground in architecture, the graphic arts, cinematics. It showcased our technology. It demonstrated that we could strive for excellence, and pull it off. It excited us.

It showed that normally self-effacing Canadians could walk onto the world stage and, confidently, take a bow.

It provided a springboard to launch us into the future.

Canada grew up in 1967. It had a new sense of itself, a new sophistication, a pride in its accomplishments and, without swagger, a confidence in its ability to handle whatever might come down the road.

We had become cool.

I sensed that old Expo spirit in Vancouver. Beyond the setting of a new world record for gold medals won, beyond the amazing triumphs of our athletes, beyond the uncharacteristic spunkiness of "Own the Podium," there was an unabashed pride, a sense that we were putting on this show our way, and that we knew the world would like it.

All of that was evident in spectators' singing of the national anthem at events, in the sea of red in the stands, in the quirky flashmobs on the streets, in Wayne Gretsky's cross-town ride in the rain to light the permanent torch, in the inflatable moose.

The closing ceremony spoof of the opening ceremony technical glitch said it nicely. No embarrassment. No apologies. No hand-wringing. Shit happens. No biggie.

That's Canada now, making fun of ourselves in front of the world.

Takes confidence to do that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• There is no end to the uses for handyman favourite WD-40. Miss America contestants spray a bit on their bodies to keep their gowns from sticking.

• A person can not fold a normal size piece of paper in half more than 8 times.

• This week, the U.S. Army announced a competition to create useful smartphone and Web applications aimed at making the military more efficient and enhancing "warfighting effectiveness." Can't wait for Pentagon Poker and that bunkerbuster ringtone.

• Sometimes a boob job can save your life. When a gunman shot Lydia Carranza in the chest, her breast implants took the force of the blow, shielding her vital organs from the bullet.

• Botox can make you feel happier. "By paralyzing the frown muscles that ordinarily are engaged when we feel angry, Botox short-circuits the emotion itself," according to a University of Wisconsin study.

• Most vacations have little effect on happiness after returning home, according to a Dutch survey, although very relaxing vacations can produce "a slight happiness boost" during the first two weeks back. Try Botox instead.

• Apparently the old adage that "you're only as old as you feel" has a basis in fact, according to research from Purdue University. Markus H. Schafer, who led the study, says "If you are older and maintain a sense of being younger, then that gives you an edge in maintaining a lot of the abilities you prize... there may be benefits of trying to maintain a sense of youthfulness by keeping up with new trends and activities that feel invigorating." Also, don't overlook the benefits of Botox.
How about that?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Can you hear me now?

[Sent by my friend Keith]

A man feared his wife Peg wasn't hearing as well as she used to, and he thought she might need a hearing aid.

Not quite sure how to approach her, he called the family doctor to discuss the problem. The doctor told him there is a simple informal test the husband could perform to give the doctor a better idea about her hearing loss.

"Here's what you do," said the doctor. "Stand about 40 feet away from her, speak in a normal conversational tone, and see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response."

That evening, the wife is in the kitchen cooking dinner, and he is in the den.
He says to himself, "I'm about 40 feet away, let's see what happens."

Then in a normal tone he asks, "Honey, what's for dinner?"

No response.

So he moves closer to the kitchen, about 30 feet from his wife and repeats, "Peg, what's for dinner?"

Still no response.

Next he moves into the dining room where he is about 20 feet from his wife and asks, "Honey, what's for dinner?" Again he gets no response.

So, he walks up to the kitchen door, about 10 feet away. "Honey, what's for dinner?'
Again there is no response.

So he walks right up behind her. "Peg, what's for dinner?"

"Frank, for the FIFTH time: CHICKEN!"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Managing problems is not progress

I am fond of saying that charities are the delivery system for civilization.

I can not imagine the kind of society we would have if they were not on the scene with their millions of volunteers. I can only say, with certainty, that Canada would not be near the top of those "best places to live" lists that cause us to puff out our chests.

I'm not sure that this is clear to our government, despite the fact that many of these charities are mandated to deliver essential social services that are in high demand due to the recession.

It must be said that the Finance Minister has a difficult task, juggling the demands of competing priorities against the background of a fiscal deficit and shrunken tax revenues.

Nonetheless, prior to the recession, many charities received just enough government funding to stay alive to continue managing the problems they address. This meant little or no funding for infrastructure (up to date technology, building maintenance, decent compensation and working conditions, adequate staffing, etc.) that would improve organizations' effectiveness and efficiency. It is widely believed that tomorrow's federal budget may be devastating for the sector.

Now consider that while some organizations, like those in medical research, are focused on solving problems, many more are geared to making life a little less mean for the poor, the jobless, the homeless, the recently immigrated, the abused, the addicted, the chronically ill, and so on --- managing problems.

Of course, all of this has great value, both economic and humanitarian, and is deserving of all the support we can muster. But we seem to have become satisfied with just managing, rather than solving, social problems.

An entire nonprofit "industry" perpetually begs for tax dollars and the support of donors, not to eradicate a need, but to manage the status quo.

It is broadly assumed that these problems are not going away so, grudgingly, we must pay enough to keep them from getting so out of control that they spill over into our relatively comfortable lives.

A real test of this is whether an organization's activities are likely to eliminate the need for that organization. Those who can honestly answer "Yes" deserve special levels of support, because they are the agents of change.

For example, food banks were conceived as an aid to those finding themselves temporarily overwhelmed due to job loss. It was thought, in the beginning, that there would come a day when food banks would no longer be needed. That day has not come, and food banks are now a permanent part of the social services landscape.

Essential as they are, food banks are not agents of change. They are managing the status quo.

Doesn't this all sound a bit like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike?

Is there a shortage of means, of will, or of leadership?

We can do better, but we can't make major progress on all fronts at once. Let's start with setting some national priorities. Who better to assist with this than the charities that swim in these problems every day. There is no history in government of tapping into the nonprofit sector for top level policy guidance.

That needs to change.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Grandma knows

[Sent by my friend Huck]

In a trial, a southern small-town attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly woman, to the stand.

Approaching her, he asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?"

She responded, "Why yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a boy and, frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you."

The lawyer was stunned. Flustered, he pointed across the room and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know the attorney for the plaintiff?"

She again replied, "Why yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women, one of which was your wife. Yes, I know him."

Both lawyers were mortified.

The judge asked both counsellors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, "If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Terms of endearment

Attention everyone under the age of 50!

Stop calling us over-50s "dear," "sweetie," "hon," "luv," and other affectionate names that imply a familiarity with which we are not familiar.

I'm sure that most of the retail clerks, check-out persons, bank tellers, and waitresses who use these terms do so with the best of intentions, attempting only to be friendly.

It is a serious misjudgement, though.

It is presumptuous, patronizing, and grating. It conveys that they see us as cute old folks with diminished mental capacity. It clashes with our self images as accomplished, vigorous, savvy, involved adults with interesting lives, who are deserving of respect.

I agree these self images hardly accord with reality, but please indulge our harmless illusions.

If you own or manage a business, please tell your employees to cut out this insincere, condescending claptrap.

Thank-you. That is all.