Friday, September 30, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• A surgeon's apology will often head off a malpractice suit, or expedite the settlement process, but doctors are typically unwilling to admit error, so U.S. states are passing "apology laws."

• A two-man team from Poland and Switzerland has come up with a way of making inflatable steel.

• American parents may be trying to save by skipping a few diaper changes. Disposable-diaper sales fell 9% last year, three times the rate of decline in the number of babies age 2 and under, while sales of diaper-rash cream rose 2.8%.

• Research indicates that our sex hormones affect our career choices. Specifically, people of either gender who have higher levels of androgen (a type of male sex hormone) will tend to be attracted to occupations involving things, while lower levels are associated with occupations related to people.

• E-reader users must read 50-100 e-books before those gizmos become more eco-friendly than the plain old ink-on-paper variety.

• The pupil of the eye expands as much as 45 percent when a person looks at something pleasing.
How about that?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Strawdog

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Signs of the times

Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed. ~ Irene Peter
• Bank robberies are declining in Canada. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), they're down from 202 in 2006 to 122 last year. Even in BC, the country's bank robbery capital, they're down from 472 to 217 in the same period.

• Legitimate graffiti is no longer an oxymoron, Toronto having declared that graffitists who get permission from the owner of a building are artists, not vandals.

• Locations of the now-defunct Blockbuster movie rental company, are now clothing stores, food outlets, and even campaign headquarters for local politicians. The company is another victim of the trend to online shopping.

• The king of Saudi Arabia says he'll allow women to vote and stand for office. No mention of allowing them to drive. [Update: Two days later, a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for getting behind the wheel, then two days after that, the king overturned the sentence.]

• After three decades, the Lincoln Town Car has been discontinued. Will the limo industry switch to a stretched Prius?

• Some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are attending seminars on "Quick Exits," learning how to sell their start-ups to big tech companies.
Looking for change? Check the sofa.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guy lips out

[Author unknown]

A foursome of guys is waiting at the men's tee while a foursome of women is hitting from the ladies' tee. The ladies are taking their time.

When the final lady is ready to hit her ball, she hacks it 10 feet. Then she goes over, and whiffs it completely. Then she hacks it another ten feet, and finally hacks it another five feet. She looks up at the patiently waiting men and says apologetically, "I guess all those f**king lessons I took over the winter didn't help."

One of the men immediately responds, "Well, there you have it. You should have taken golf lessons instead!"

He never got a chance to duck. He was just 43.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flying to the future

This flying club, seen here in 1930, became Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dead solid perfect

[Sent along by Ross]

Even if you're not a golfer, you will find this story of courage and friendship heart warming and inspirational.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How it came to be

[Author unknown]

On the first day, God created the dog and said, "Sit all day by the door of your house, and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years."

The dog said, "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?"

So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span."

The monkey said, "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"

And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the field all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years."

The cow said, "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?"

And God agreed again.

On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years."

But the human said, "Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back. That makes eighty, okay?"

"Okay," said God. "You asked for it."

So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years, we slave to support our family. For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

If you are looking for me, I will be on the porch.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gettin' the hang of it

They try to turn on their new webcam, and inadvertently become internet stars.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Here's lookin' at ya

[Sent along by Fred]

Friday, September 16, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Elk can get drunk on fermented apples. Drunken elks are common in Sweden during the autumn season when there are plenty of apples lying around on the ground and hanging from branches in Swedish gardens.

• A runner recently beat an Aston Martin Vantage S sports car in a 2.5 km race through downtown Toronto.

• In 2009, 16% of U.S. car crash fatalities (5,474 people) were caused by driver distraction.

• A drug derived from the saliva of vampire bats can thin blood and dissolve blood clots in the brain, saving lives and limiting the damage caused by strokes.

• An artist named Sputniko thinks that, in this day and age, menstruation shouldn't be limited to ladies, so he has invented a machine that makes it available for men. It even simulates menstrual cramps.

• Possibly of greater interest to most gentlemen will be the next McLaren sports car, which will allow technicians back at the dealership to diagnose your car's problems remotely and, in the event of a breakdown, dispatch an engineer to your location with all the required parts to get you going.
How about that?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blame the seniors

We senior citizens have to get with the program, pull up our socks, pick up the pace, so to speak.

According to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article, we are to blame for many of the current ills.

First, we are retiring. This is bad because it shrinks the workforce thereby weakening economic activity. The article says we can expect two decades of this. (We seniors would be pleased to still be experiencing anything in two decades.)

Also, retirees are not forming new families. Most are sticking with the ones they have, meaning sales of houses, appliances, and general stuff, suffers.

Then there is the frugality of seniors. They just don't splurge on "impulse" items and useless trinkets like they did in their teens.

And now that they aren't working, their income is down quite a bit, and this hits consumer spending. Motorcycle sales are expected to fall.

That's not all.

The stock market will also take a hit, as older investors try to hang on to their nest eggs rather than taking a flyer on the next hot play in stuffed animal vending machines, or whatever.

The picture is pretty bleak so, for the good of the country and the world, we need to come off the bench and get in the game.

You up for it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An old farmer's advice

[Author unknown]

“Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.”

“Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.”

“Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.”

“A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.”

“Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.”

“Meanness don't just happen overnight.”

“Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.”

“Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.”

“It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.”

“You cannot unsay a cruel word.”

“Every path has a few puddles.”

“When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.”

“The best sermons are lived, not preached.”

“Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen anyway.”

“Don't judge folks by their relatives.

“Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.”

“Live a good and honourable life, then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.”

“Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't bothering you none.”

“The outcome of a rain dance has a lot to do with timing.”

“If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.”

“Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

“The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every mornin'.”

“Always drink upstream from the herd.”

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.”

“Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.”

“If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Catchin' the rays

Friday, September 9, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Canada has three of the world's 10 most liveable cities, according to The Economist: 1. Melbourne 97.5 2. Vienna 97.4 3. Vancouver 97.3 4. Toronto 97.2 5. Calgary 96.6 6. Sydney 96.1 7. Helsinki 96 8. Perth 95.9 9. Adelaide 95.9 10. Auckland 95.7

• The Lancaster London hotel has ten hives on its roof, housing a million honey bees that are drawn to the blossoms of Hyde Park.

• Using Velcro, researchers have found a simple way to grow engineered muscle tissue in the laboratory.

• A school teacher and a radio presenter in Veracruz, Mexico, now face up to 30 years in prison for allegedly using Twitter to spread false reports of gunmen attacking schools and kidnapping children, causing a panic.

• Among boomer-aged (50-64) internet users, use of social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn on a typical day has grown to 32%, according to Pew Research.

• Most people don't wash their thumbs when they wash their hands.
How about that?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The education bubble

Sorry, I don't know how I missed this.

I like to think I keep informed on current developments, up-to-date on the trends, au courant as some would say, but I'm just now catching up to the notion of an education bubble.

No, this isn't about a sophomore prank involving detergent. It's about belief in the merits of higher education being pushed to unreasonable extremes, and the likelihood that it will all come crashing down like the dot-com boom and the housing bubble.

The reasoning goes like this --- easily available student loans fuel an increase in tuition prices and produce an oversupply of graduates for a shrinking job market. Graduates' inability to find high-paid jobs to support repayment of the loans puts them behind the 8-ball financially and motivationally, and threatens the stability of the student loans industry. No doubt, the situation is self-correcting, but the cost may be a generation of people who never get their careers on track.

Those of my generation will remember being pushed to "stay in school" with an implied promise that a university education would guarantee "a job for life." That was good advice from a generation of parents who had lived through the Great Depression and knew something about the value of a steady job.

Two more generations have been urged to do the same, and the value of a degree has been hitherto unquestioned. Student loans, deferred pleasures, second mortgages --- such sacrifices were made, without question, by parent and child in the conviction that the investment would be returned many times over in job security, career fulfillment, and earnings. And, it was true!

Not so, now, apparently, some think.

Google "education bubble" and you will find 444,000 results, so there is a lot of chatter about this.

A university education no longer guarantees an affluent, secure, future. Hannah Seligson, in the New York Times, writes, "More college graduates are working in second jobs that don't require college degrees." These are low-paying, service sector jobs, and it eventually dawns for many that their dream career is not going to materialize.

Doug French, in the Christian Science Monitor, points out that two massive employers of university grads, government and the financial sector, are in the early stages of a huge downsizing. To this we might add the private sector trend to offshoring professional jobs --- software engineers, project managers, and the like.

These developments mean large-scale shrinkage of the number of opportunities over the next decade.

In a TechCrunch article, visionary entrepreneur Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) challenges the widespread belief among graduates that the high cost and hard work involved in getting there means they are entitled to success. He thinks that dropping out of school and starting a company instead might be a better alternative for some. Thiel correctly predicted both the dot-com and housing blow-ups, so his opinions carry weight.

Lost in all of this is the notion that the university experience has value that can not be measured in dollars, having more to do with creating well-rounded people who lead enriched lives due to their exposure to the world of ideas, and so on.

Hard to focus on that while flipping burgers or making telemarketing calls, though.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Marital math

[Thanks to B.B. for sending this along.]
After being married for 40 years, I took a careful look at my wife one day and said, "Forty years ago we had a cheap house, a junk car, slept on a sofabed, and watched a 12-inch black and white TV, but I got to sleep every night with a hot 23-year-old girl.

Now I have a $500,000 home, a $35,000 car, a nice big bed and a big screen TV, but I'm sleeping with a 63-year-old woman. It seems to me that you're not holding up your side of things."

My wife is a very reasonable woman. She told me to go out and find a hot 23-year-old girl, and she would make sure that I would once again be living in a cheap house, driving a junk car, sleeping on a sofabed, and watching a 12-inch black and white TV.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Before birth control

Friday, September 2, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• On August 28, 1964, Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana.

• German scientist Hennig Brand stored 50 buckets of urine in his cellar for months in 1675, hoping that it would turn into gold. Instead, an obscure mix of alchemy and chemistry yielded a waxy, glowing goo that spontaneously burst into flame. It was the element now known as phosphorus.

• Panda poop may help to save the planet. A study has identified it as a source of enzyme-producing bacteria that break down plant materials in a way that is useful for biofuel production.

• The U.S. government is seizing guitars from owners who can't prove they are made from wood that is legal. Some musicians are no longer taking their guitars with them when they travel outside the country, fearing that the instruments will be confiscated by U.S. Customs upon re-entry. The feds also raided Gibson Guitars, and grabbed $1 million worth of wood.

• Tropical storm Irene ripped off a hollowed-out branch of an enormous tree in a Brooklyn park, exposing a hive of 30,000 to 40,000 honeybees. Word spread quickly on Facebook and Twitter that a feral hive was up for grabs, setting off a feud between two beekeeping groups.

• At least 25 American CEOs earned more than their companies paid in income taxes in 2010, according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies.
How about that?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Can we cure healthcare?

With the possible exception of peace in the middle east, is anything in this world more studied, to less effect, than the Canadian healthcare system.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, outgoing president of the Canadian Medical Association, led a year-long public consultation with the organization that represents 75,000 physicians. Thousands of citizens shared their concerns.

Now, as he says goodbye, he is frustrated by the absence of [political] leadership for essential changes needed to ensure the healthcare system's survival, and he fears that it may slip away.

Turnbull's study follows the well-trodden footprints of the Health Care in Canada (HCIC) survey (1998-2007), the Romanow Commission on The Future of Health Care in Canada (2001-2002), and the First Ministers' 10 Year Plan to Strengthen Healthcare (2004). Another 38 studies compared patient outcomes for the Canada and American healthcare systems, and there are countless books and articles written on the topic.

Currently, the 5-year McGill University research program, Healthier Societies Initiative, is underway.

Why are we so incapable of addressing the problems of this public healthcare system that, polls repeatedly confirm, is revered by Canadians and viewed as the country's principal defining symbol? It is so central to our self-image as a country that we voted Tommy Douglas, father of medicare, the Greatest Canadian ever!

Remember how defensive we were when our system was criticized by opponents of American president Obama's healthcare initiatives in the U.S?

Well, wake up kids. This system is heading for the intensive care ward if we don't come out of our national coma of denial. If nothing changes, this huge program that instils such pride will be on life support in a very few years.

Consider:
• The population is aging, as baby boomers enter their patch-it-up years. For folks up to the age of 64, annual healthcare costs per person average about $4,000. By age 80, it's about $17,500. Average life expectancy of Canadians now exceeds that age.

• In Ontario, healthcare is 46% of the provincial budget and, if present trends continue, it will represent 80% of the province's spending by 2030. Other provinces face similar funding crises.

• By many measures, service has fallen to unacceptable levels. The Wait Time Alliance, comprised of 14 national medical specialty societies such as the Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, and Canadian Medical Association, issues an annual "Report Card."

This year's report [PDF] again points to long wait times for a wide range of treatments.

(Among the chief causes, the report cites the "high number of hospital patients waiting for alternative levels of care such as rehabilitative or long-term care." In other words, patients for whom homecare or chronic care facilities would be more appropriate and less expensive than a hospital bed with all its attendant costs.")
In his farewell address to the CMA last week, Dr. Turnbull described, "a startling lack of vision and imagination, widespread apathy and self-interest. He went on to say that he has "been struck by the lack of leadership, coordinated management, accountability and responsibility, and the needless waste."

So, now what?

We have a right to expect that our federal and provincial political leaders will demonstrate the good sense, stewardship, and courage to make changes, unpopular as they may be in some quarters, in order to save this most prized of public programs.

Will we get it?

Or are they deliberately waiting until the costs become so unsupportable that wholesale amputations of fundamental services become the only recourse, with the choicest bits going to the private sector? Too cynical?

We'll see. Stay well.