Friday, August 31, 2012

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• In 1927, the U.S. was worried about possible aggression by Britain, and developed a war plan to invade Canada, if necessary. The secret plan was declassified in 1974.

• The amount of water the atmosphere can hold increases by about 8% per degree Celsius temperature rise (the Clausius-Clapeyron relation). Consider this in the context of global warming. Perhaps we Ontarians will be living in a rainforest?

• About 13% of the world's population lives less than 10 meters above sea level. Portions of many major cities are actually at sea level, including New York, London, Miami, Boston, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Singapore. Sea levels are predicted to rise due to global warming.

• North America's first vertical urban farm is being built on a downtown Vancouver parking lot. Beginning in October, it will deliver leafy green vegetables and herbs to local markets.

• 70% of Facebook and Twitter followers are fake or inactive.

• Nearly four-in-ten Americans surveyed say that marriage is becoming obsolete.
How about that?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stealthy selling

It's spooky.

I'd read that Google uses our search terms to direct advertising at us, but I hadn't thought much about it until it started happening to me.

About three weeks ago, I Googled "porch light," as ours is one of those crappy little jam jar things that builders stick up to cut costs, knowing that most people won't pay much attention to it when considering a house purchase. Builders spend money where it will be noticed.

Anyway, after almost seven years here, that light fixture is looking a bit tired, so it seemed time to find something a bit nicer. Hence the Google search.

Well, guess what. Almost immediately, I started noticing ads for an online lighting store showing up on websites I visited.

Now it seems that these damned ads are everywhere. I can't escape them.

My immediate reaction was that I didn't like the idea that someone, or something, was paying that much attention to what I was doing online. But upon reflection, I realize it's also a bit helpful, reminding me that I still haven't bought a porch light, and that this outfit might be a good place to look for one.

I might not feel that way if I had been Googling "incontinence" or "dementia," though.

One of these days, I just might click on that ad.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Squeaky the pig

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sounds like change

One techno-plague of the late twentieth century appears to finally be in descendence.

The rolling subwoofer has been particularly beloved by late-teen/early-twenties drivers of otherwise nondescript Hondas. It saw its heyday in the period 1980-2000 as the bolt-on goodie of choice for those compelled to affront the rest of us with the thumping bass of hip hop music.

Every generation has its rebels without a cause, and those who cultivate an image of disdain for the conventions of polite society. The symbols for my generation included duck-tail haircuts, an Elvis-like sneer, motorcycle boots, and the bark of a Hollywood muffler. The intent is always to shake up the old fogeys. I get it. Rites of passage and all that.

But the subwoofer was a particularly insidious assault on tranquility. It wasn't just a matter of people imposing their musical tastes upon the rest of us. The low frequency, standing waves it produced seemed to carry for a mile, an assault that resonated in your head, disrupting your backyard naps and other outdoor activities.

Thankfully, I notice there are fewer of these sonic ambushes lately. I'd guess it is now viewed as so-last-century by the trendsetters, who have undoubtedly moved on to some new way of sabotaging the social order.

Ah, the sound of silence.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It depends on your point of view

[Found on Funny Picss]

Friday, August 24, 2012

Signs of the times

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln
• Passengers on a recent Air France flight, forced to make an emergency layover in Damascus, were asked to check their wallets for gas money. The plane was low on fuel, and French sanctions against Syria made it a sticky situation. Ultimately, the airline made the necessary arrangements, and the passengers could breathe easy. [Source: New York Times].

• Applied mathematician Max Little is testing a simple, cheap tool that is able to detect Parkinson's Disease with 99% accuracy by analyzing a person's voice in a 30-second phone call.

• According to a Time survey, one in four people check their smartphone every 30 minutes. One in five check it every 10 minutes. One third of people become anxious if they don't have their phone for even short periods of time. 75% of those aged 25 to 29 sleep with their phones.

• Rats have been discovered in Calgary and Medicine Hat, shocking residents of Alberta who have long prided themselves on maintaining a rat-free province. A stampede of bull snakes will be unleashed on the unwanted critters, and no piece of garbage will be left unturned until ratlessness is restored.

• Canadian border guards have discharged their handguns three times since July, 2007. --- twice in loading/unloading accidents  and once to put an injured moose out of its misery. [Source: Toronto Star]
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Exhibitionist invitations

I went to the CNE yesterday. As mentioned previously, I am drawn to it year after year by some deep, primal, need to reconnect with candy floss and midway rides.

Decades ago, as a fresh-faced lad, I actually worked the "ex,"in the Better Living building, demonstrating my employer's futuristic concepts for home entertainment.

So I have a lot of empathy for folks who work at the fair, required to smilingly repeat their script verbatim, with enthusiasm, hundreds or thousands of times over two weeks, on a diet of greasy food, and mostly to people who couldn't care less.

I'd guess most fairgoers switch off as they jostle through the crowds, but I actually like to listen for interesting invitations designed to get my attention.

"Are your underarms ready?," asked the young woman.

Is she speaking to me, I wondered. Doubtful. I can't think of any of my activities where the state of my underarms is a factor. Many of my body parts are showing signs of wear these days, but I think my underarms are serviceable. It does get you thinking, though.

"Are you interested in jumping out of an airplane?"

Another young woman. She seemed serious. Then I realized she was promoting a sky-diving school. As much as I hate sitting in airplanes for long stretches, jumping out of one has even less appeal. I do wonder how many people, wandering on the midway, suddenly realize that this is something they need to do.

"May I demo you?"

Whoa! I have never been demo'd, whatever it is, so why not? I mean, I'm at the fair, I've had lunch, and how often do you get an invitation like that? So, I turned to inquire about it. But this young woman sized me up and quickly looked away, obviously finding me unsatisfactory as a subject for demoing. Geez!

"C'mon it's fun. Get hypnotized!"

I am often eager to try something, and sometimes willing to try something despite a certain amount of trepidation. But hypnosis is none of those. It is in the category Not In This Lifetime. But I am happy to watch other people being hypnotized and doing goofy things as instructed by the hypnotist.

Which I did, yesterday. Watching, that is. If you're going, check it out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hands-free trading

Back in the day, a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange could lose a bundle if he/she made a bad decision. Maybe go broke.

Now computers can do that for them.

Knight Capital Group lost $440 million recently when they uploaded a program containing errors to their servers as part of a software update.

Computer programs now account for much of the trading on the world's markets. They make buy and sell decisions in milliseconds based on market activity in a stock, a currency, or a commodity.

Of course, with so much of this going on, these algorithms are responding to trades made by other algorithms. Many fear that, in the absence of human intervention, extreme volatility could develop, producing a sudden market plunge.

In fact, we had a taste of this in the "flash crash" of 2010, in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 1000 points within minutes.

If your pension plan is invested in these markets, and it probably is, you could be forgiven for worrying just a little.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Morning shower

[Thanks to Suzanne for sending this along.]

A delightful bit of serendipity when a mother moose and her two calves wander into a backyard. The music behind this video is by one of my favourite singers, Alison Krauss.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Deal of the day

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hire learning

In 1853, the University of Toronto had the opportunity to hire T.H. Huxley, one of the world's best known and most important scientists, an English pioneer in evolution, and a colleague of Charles Darwin.

U of T needed a head for its new natural history department. Huxley applied with recommendations from many top scientists, including Darwin.

Puzzlingly, the university instead chose the relatively unknown Irish Reverend William Hincks, who rejected the theory of evolution in favour of the Quinarian system, a soon to be discredited method of classification that organized all living things into groups of five.

Some suspect that the choice might have been influenced by the fact that the reverend was a brother of Francis Hincks, then Premier of Ontario.

[Written with material from The Toronto Dreams Project]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Truth in advertising

You may or may not like this guy, but you must admit he tells the unvarnished truth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A bit of sport

If you have a few quid burning a hole in your tweeds, you may want to pop on over to Chichester, England this coming September 15 to bid on a piece of rolling history.

At auction will be the beautiful, racing green, V12 Lagonda in which two twenty-something English lords, Selsdon and Walaren, toodled across Europe in the summer of 1939, mere weeks before World War II exploded.

The young lords were looking for a bit of sport, and were taken with the notion of swinging by France to have a go at the famous, gruelling, Le Mans endurance race.

Studiously unprepared in the British amateur tradition, they used the ramble from England to the Circuit de la Sarthe to get the feel of their brand new car.

Source: Silodrome
The competition was daunting. Aston Martins, Bugattis, Delahayes, and the like were out in force, driven by the great racers of the era, some supported by factory mechanics.

No one else was there on a lark.

Of course, the Nazis were thick on the ground, with orders from der Fuerher to take no prisoners. The Reich had equipped its three teams with the new, fast BMW 328's --- the best of German engineering from the firm that was building engines for the Luftwaffe's fighters.

It was a tough 24-hour race, and in the end a French team won, followed by British teams taking second and third.

As for the lords, they battled to fourth place ahead of all three German teams, no doubt a surprise to all, including themselves.

Next month the sunshine will fall again on the car that carried the lads on their excellent summer adventure.

Does this scream screenplay, or what?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Your little friends

You are crawling with creatures, right now as you read this.

They are on your skin, in your hair, in your mouth, in your ears, up your nose, and in your guts, but don't freak out. Mostly they're friendly, helpful little fellas.

In fact, Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute says that humans are made mostly of microbes, adding, “We may just serve as packaging.”

That may strike you as an exaggeration, but consider that 100 trillion bacteria live in or on your body. That's a lot.

Yes you, who showers every day, rolls on underarm deodorant, religiously washes your hands after using the toilet, rinses your vegetables, wipes the kitchen counter with antiseptic towels, and routinely uses a squirt of hand sanitizer after any contact with humans or animals or anything they may have touched --- You are a walking metropolis of invisible living organisms and, by and large, that's a good thing, according to the Human Microbiome Project, a five year study involving 200 scientists at 80 institutions.

More fun facts:
• Up to 1,000 strains of bacteria live on each of us, and each person’s collection of microbes, the microbiome, is different from the next person’s.

• Not only do bacteria help keep people healthy, but they are also thought to help explain why individuals react differently to various drugs, and why some are more susceptible to certain infectious diseases than others.

• Disease-causing bacteria lurk in everyone’s microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

• The gut is not jam-packed with food, it is jam-packed with microbes. Half of your stool is not leftover food. It is microbial biomass.

• The adult body carries two to five pounds of bacteria.
For more, check this New York Times article.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Please do it elsewhere

[Found on Funny or Die]

Friday, August 10, 2012

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• There is a shortage of helium, a crucial ingredient in MRI machines, cryogenics, high-energy accelerators, arc welding, silicon wafer manufacturing, and party balloons. The reasons are complicated.

• Canada’s Aboriginal population is younger and has a high fertility rate compared to the non-Aboriginal population. This will likely produce growth in the relative numbers of Aboriginal people.

• We are not eating enough dirt. When most people ate vegetables pulled from their own gardens, their diet included pathogens and benign microorganisms that protected them from food allergies and autoimmune disorders, which have skyrocketed in the age of shrinkwrapped veggies. [Source: New York Times]

• Voices that "carry" contain a pitch with a frequency around 3,000 beats per second, about the same frequency as that of fingernails scraping a chalkboard.

• The Maldives, an island nation long expected to be the first casualty of rising sea levels due to global warming, is now working with a Dutch company to build floating replacements to provide sanctuary for its citizens. The artificial islands will be anchored to the sea floor.
How about that?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Say cheese

A group of Canadian seniors were travelling by tour bus through Holland. As they stopped at a cheese farm, a young guide led them through the process of cheese making, explaining that goat's milk was used. She showed the group a lovely hillside where many goats were grazing.

"These," she explained, "are the older goats put out to pasture when they no longer produce." She then asked, "What do you do in Canada with your old goats?"

A spry old gentleman answered, "They send us on bus tours!"

[Author unknown.]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hello, tech support?

[Sent along by one of the Freds]

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Marketing marches on

Friday, August 3, 2012

Signs of the times

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln
• New electronic pills, when swallowed, transmit medical data straight to your phone from inside your body.

• Sea piracy has dropped by 54% in the first half of 2012.

• A new study indicates that natural, carbon-removing processes involving oceans, trees and other vegetation, have not yet reached capacity, in spite of humans' increasing emissions over recent decades.

• Flags placed by astronauts on the moon are still flying after more than 40 years in space.

• Canada has 940,000 Muslims, representing 2.8% of the population.

• A couple shoplifted some sexual lubricant at their local Walmart, and decided to try it out right there in the store.
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rescue operation

[Thanks to Anita and Wayne for sending this along.]

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The prevention of good works

As municipal budgets get tighter, and demand for services continues to increase, we'll be encouraging more folks to step up and get involved in building their communities, right?

Not in Toronto, it seems.

For two decades, Stickie Caddle and Blue Jays Curtis have worked at Fergy Brown Park for free, taking care of the place, digging drainage ditches, cutting weeds, mowing the cricket pitch, and generally keeping the place looking good.

They won awards for their volunteer work.

Curtis even planted a garden, bagged the vegetables, and distributed them to neighbourhood seniors.

It was all on their own time and their own dime.

But city bureaucrats told them to back off, cease and desist.

Something to do with legal liability, they said.

This is how far we've come from the days when, if you saw something that needed doing in your neighbourhood, you could just jump in and do it.

Too bad.