Friday, September 28, 2012

Signs of the times

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln
• Homer Simpson says, “Barack Obama, I don’t know. I already got one wife telling me to eat healthy. And, plus, he promised me death panels and Grampa is still alive. Mitt Romney? I hear he wears magic underpants. I expect the leader of the free world to go commando.”

• Planes of the future could fly on fuel made from sawdust or straw.

• Myanmar legislators have been watching old clips of the TV series The West Wing to learn about the mechanics of self-government.

• A top young American Scrabble player was caught cheating in the recent national championship competition

• More than half of Canada's 86,000 registered charities have less than $100,000 of annual revenue, and rely on volunteers to carry out their activities.

• Between 50,000 and 100,000 cats live on the streets of Winnipeg.
I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. ~ Robert McCloskey

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yanks irk queen

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The end of grammar

Spotted on Twitter:
"Someone on my Facebook thinks 'dads cooking' doesn't need an apostrophe, a charity wants me to 'save the worlds species' ...

... Is it national Down With Apostrophes Day today or something?"
Seen on a lighting store's web site:
"Please visit our expended showroom."
Seen on a résumé:
"Recipient of a plague for Salesperson of the Year."
If not dead, grammar, punctuation, and spelling, are breathing their last. They have lost many rounds over the years, but social media now has them on the ropes.

I feel that I am witnessing the bludgeoning of some old friends.

Some will say that, in the era of OMG and LOL, this concern is snobbish and irrelevant, that these things only matter to novelists, playwrights, and professors of English.

I recently read newspaper interviews with several young people who had won distinction by graduating from high school with grades of 100%. Two young men, headed respectively for studies in engineering and science, said that they hated their English classes, didn't see the point of them, thought them a waste of time.

It is painful to hear this from our brightest students.

They fail to grasp that there will come a time when they must convince people that their marvellous engineering concept or promising scientific research is worthy of support, when a business case must be made, or venture capital obtained. They will need grammar, punctuation, spelling, and compelling language then.

Or maybe they will just be getting a tattoo, and prefer to avoid "typos."

Please, dear friends, there must be verbs. They are not optional. There must be commas and apostrophes, and they are not to be scattered around at whim. A semicolon is not a medical procedure. 'Accept' and 'except' are different words.

There are two good reasons to comply with these rules. First, it ensures that you are understood. The second is that people make judgements about you based upon your facility with the language, and those judgements can affect your success.

So if yore seen alot of sign's out their of pour grammer an if their to bad oar missplaced comas or colins send too me an ill put them in a futour bog posit. Thanx for yer assfistence.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tune out, drop in

Monday, September 24, 2012

Potty training

In the men's rooms of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the tile under the urinals would pass inspection in an operating room, but nobody notices. What everybody does notice is that there is a fly in each urinal.

Of course, if a man sees a fly, he'll aim at it.

Research showed that etching the black outline of a fly into the porcelain reduced overspray by 80%.

Nice shooting, gents.

[Thanks to Ross for sending this along.]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Class project

This short video was a teenager's final project for his high school video production class.

He attempts to tell the story of our planet in two minutes, and he did a pretty good job, although it is history as seen through an American lens.

It has been viewed by more than 2 million people in the four months since he uploaded it to YouTube.

[Thanks to Libby for sending this along.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Signs of the times

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln
• Apparently there is a Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve.

• There is virtually no interest in Group of Seven paintings in the international art market, said Sotheby's Canada president David Silcox while commenting on a recent art heist. [Source: Toronto Star]

• The number of single people in America is growing at more than twice the rate of those who are married. If that trend continues, single adults will soon outnumber married couples for the first time on record, according to CNN.

• Starbucks is trying out a new recycling process that would turn stale muffins and coffee grounds into bio-plastics and laundry detergent.

• Virtual assistants comprise a big new trend, according to the Toronto Star. These digital helpers, already on many websites, provide answers to customers' questions, and are taking over from employees in airports, malls, hospitals, and elsewhere. They show up every day, aren't temperamental, and give complete, consistent information.

• $21 trillion are stashed in tax havens such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, according to the Tax Justice Network. The sum, equal to to the combined gross national products of the U.S. and Japan, are owned or controlled by just 92,000 people.
I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. ~ Robert McCloskey

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Memo to old white dudes

Please stop whining!

Hey, you've accomplished a lot. Provided for your family, made sure the kids got an education, paid your taxes, kept your nose clean, and socked away enough for a decent retirement.

You were the guys everyone depended on to get it done, without fussing and without expecting anyone to throw you an appreciation dinner.

But I am tired of hearing you growling that we ought to cut social programs for single moms, kids living in crime-ridden neighbourhoods, jobless teens, impoverished seniors, newly arrived refugees, and others who are struggling to make a life in difficult circumstances.

Please stop sending me those vitriolic eMail messages that continuously circulate around the internet, usually ending with "If you don't pass this on, you are part of the problem."

Please stop saying, "If we could make it, why can't they," as though 2012 is like 1972.

I happen to know, because I am one of you, that our generation enjoyed the most amazing run of good luck ever seen in modern times.

Most of us grew up with two parents, and our moms were homemakers. Our streets and playgrounds were safe. In high school, we were not surrounded by drugs, gangs, and weapons.

We could find a permanent job and earn a decent living with a high school diploma.

We were provided with access to affordable higher education. Upon graduation, most of us could choose from several jobs.

Our working years coincided with a period of enormous economic growth and prosperity. There were no wars, so our careers were not interrupted by military service, or death. It was also a period of hitherto unknown mobility, so we could live and work wherever we wanted.

We lived in a stable, relatively classless, democratic country, filled with widespread optimism about its own future.  Our healthcare system ensured that we would never go bankrupt due to illness or accident. If we were smart and worked hard, the opportunities were almost limitless.

Hell, who couldn't make it in that environment? As someone said to me recently, "We won the lottery!"

So, you guys need to lighten up because, frankly, you're coming across as a bunch of crybabies.

Canadians like to think of themselves as the good guys, fair-minded, civilized, kind. But this meanness of spirit has taken root, and seems to be thriving.

In most societies, elders are expected to be good stewards, ensuring that important cultural values are passed on to future generations. Our dialogue seems mostly about paying minimal taxes while making others pay for their mistakes.

Look, I know all old white men don't think this way. I also know there are no silver bullets that will solve all the problems of 21st century society, and that many folks bear much of the responsibility for their predicaments. Dropping out of school, getting pregnant too young, failing to save enough for retirement are all dumb moves.

But letting those lives continue to spiral down without offering a hand up will come back to bite us in the longer run with more crime, more jails, more police, higher unemployment levels, more homeless people and panhandlers on our streets, more drugs in our schoolyards, and general erosion of our quality of life.

So, whether you're doing it for humanitarian reasons, or to ensure a decent future for your grandchildren, you need to be part of the solution.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Collateral damage in the robot invasion

In the 20th century, changes in technology reduced employment in agriculture from 40% of the workforce to 2%. In the 21st century, it appears that robots are having a similar effect in manufacturing and distribution.

While robots have been used in the manufacture of automobiles and other products for several decades, there were many tasks best handled by humans. But, the latest generation of robots have much improved vision and touch capabilities, and can complete multiple tasks, so they can perform a much wider spectrum of manual jobs.

These range from riveting the bodies of jetliners to packing lettuce for shipping. In warehouses, robots can find and sort packages and boxes in seconds, much faster than a human being.

Costs of this equipment is coming down rapidly, making them much cheaper than human labour over the lifetimes of the machines. In fact, Rethink Robotics is now designing inexpensive, easy-to-use robots for small businesses.

While all this adds to efficiency and productivity, the downside is the potential for massive reduction in the requirement for low-skilled and semi-skilled workers. Where people are retained, many will be directed and tracked by computers. This is already happening.

In an era of austerity, will the necessary safety nets and retraining be ready to aid the huge numbers of workers who will be dislocated by these changes?

For a peek at the current state of robotics, here's a look at a BMW factory:

[Written with information from The New York Times]

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gets your attention

Friday, September 14, 2012

How to get to Mars

[Thanks to Jack for sending this along.]

Even now, 43 years after the moon landing, I am amazed that objects can travel through outer space and land on planets, when I can't get a golf ball to land on the fairway.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An estimable man

I rarely delve into politics here, but the recent defeat and retirement of Jean Charest deserves a mention.

Many have perhaps forgotten that, as leader of the Progressive Conservatives following Kim Campbell's crushing 1993 defeat, Charest rebuilt the party from the virtual oblivion of 2 seats to 20 seats in the next election.

As a rising star in Ottawa politics (some thought a future Prime Minister), in 1998 he sidetracked his career (and possibly the survival of the PC party) to answer the call from the Quebec Liberals to lead them in their desperate hour of need.

This young, dynamic figure, survivor of motorcycle crashes and dedicated federalist, plunged in to push back the separatist tide that threatened to float Quebec adrift from Canada once and for all.

By 2003, he had become Premier of the province, and governed until last week's PQ victory.

Accusations, yet to be proven, have been levelled, but no one can deny his decade-long contribution to keeping Canada intact.

Merci, Jean.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A whale of a good time

This short video shows whales and dolphins playing together in the waters off Hawaii.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A trip to the highlands

The techie gremlins struck last week. Pat and I were off to Cape Breton Island on a golf junket, so I had scheduled some items to be automatically posted here. Not sure what happened, but apparently the robot didn't show up for work. Life was further complicated by an iPad that failed on Day 2, and the absence of Rogers cellphone service in that area.

I do appreciate the messages of concern that awaited my return. Nice to be missed.

The golf was great, although we happened to catch the first rainy days that Cape Breton has had in weeks. Nonetheless we managed to get around the Highlands Links course at Ingonish, one of our favourites. This was our third trip to the famous 1941 masterpiece that Stanley Thompson carved out of the wilderness, and we stayed again at the adjacent Keltic Lodge, a sprawling old pile with an excellent dining room and magnificent views.

But the highlight of the trip was the new Cabot Links course, which is a cross between a day at the beach and Marine boot camp. I believe that this is the only true links course in Canada, built on the dunes along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the latter visible from every hole, often just yards away.

Golfers are exposed to wind, surf, mist, and driving rain, all of which were present, with brief glimpses of sunshine, for our two rounds there. Power carts are not allowed, so one is ready for a wee dram, a fine meal, and a comfortable bed by the end of the day, all of which are available.

This course has deservedly attracted much attention in the golf world, and the experience is further sweetened by the Inverness locals who staff the place. Cape Bretoners are open and generous, with a wry sense of humour, loving a bit of devilment, and having no time for pretense.

Here's Pat enjoying a typical view. Note the cottages on the cliffs at upper left.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Let your freak flag fly

If you were around in the '60s, you might recall Jimi Hendrix singing, “I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.”

The term became shorthand for letting people know you didn't buy into the conventional thinking, that you had a different angle on things and were proud to put it out there.

Most of us don't have the guts to fly our flag, afraid of what others might think, of upsetting teachers, bosses, and other authority figures who have the power to screw up our lives if we step too far out of bounds, of being seen as "weird" or "off the wall" by friends and family. The phrase "Go along to get along," sums this up neatly.

So, we keep our mouths shut and pretend that we belong to the herd, while keeping our antennas tuned for others who can tell crap from cupcakes.

Thing is, you can't change minds unless you fly your flag, challenge your friends' and associates' beliefs, invite them to reconsider their assumptions.

Do you care enough to run it up the flagpole?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Just sayin'