Friday, November 30, 2012

Signs of the times

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln
• A downtown shop worker in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, tired of Salvation Army bell-ringing, called in a noise complaint to the police.

• Victoria's Secret had to apologize for dressing a model in a Native American-style headdress, leopard-print undies and high heels, for its annual fashion show.
• A New York cop's wife discovered her husband's intention to kidnap women in order to eat them when she read his plans on his computer. He had 100 women earmarked.

• 800 million human beings are now unemployed or underemployed in the world.

• The newest Japanese train will travel at more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) per hour.

• No one was reported shot, stabbed or slashed in New York City on Monday this week. Police officials can not remember that happening in living memory.
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, November 29, 2012

The best guests

When we're traveling with our dog, we have to identify in advance the hotels that accept pets. They're not too hard to find, but many more do not allow a dog in the room.

This item, author unknown, resonated with us.

A man wrote a letter to a small hotel in a midwest town he planned to visit on his vacation.

He wrote: "I would very much like to bring my dog with me. He is well-groomed and very well behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to keep him in my room with me at night?"

An immediate reply came from the hotel owner, who wrote:
"Sir: I've been operating this hotel for many years. In all that time, I've never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes, silverware, or pictures off the walls. I've never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly. And I've never had a dog run out on a hotel bill.
Yes, indeed, your dog is welcome at my hotel. And, if your dog will vouch for you, you're welcome to stay here, too."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Step into these shoes

You're a single parent. You're down to your last $1,000. Can you make it through the month? Click here, or on the image below, to see how far you can stretch a dollar.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thinking the unthinkable

I was in a weird place recently.

It was an eerie, silent place, unlike anything I had ever seen. Things seemed to move of their own accord, as if imbued with some supernatural intelligence.

It was a warehouse, and while you may be visualizing some haunted, forgotten, ruin left over from the Great Depression, this was a state of the art distribution facility operated by one of North America's leading clothing retailers.

Pallets of product moved around the huge, spotless, climate-controlled space, subject to a central command system as they followed electronic paths embedded in the floor.

I saw no forklift trucks or workers during the couple of hours I visited. The scene was a far cry from the 1960's shipping dock where I slugged boxes around to earn beer money during my student days.

This is the rapidly approaching, automated future, and it's bringing huge problems for masses of workers with skills geared for the 20th century.

Robots, information technology, and self-service are eliminating the jobs that enabled millions of families, over almost seven decades, to live comfortable, middle class lives.

Self-serve gasoline pumps, automatic tellers, and do-it-yourself checkouts in retail stores gave us early warning that things were changing, that technology could do many things more cheaply, and more dependably, than people.

Granted, advancing technology also creates jobs, but most of those require very specialized, high level skills, not the sort of thing that can be picked up in a quickie job retraining program. And whereas the technology train has historically delivered more jobs than it destroyed, it now seems to be shifting into reverse.

Many manufacturing plants are highly automated, and becoming more so. The latest robots can each perform several functions.

Some forecasters think that automobile plants, for example, will be operated with just a handful of humans who program and maintain the robots and other machines. Robots are are now moving into second tier manufacturing operations, and we have previously mentioned the new versions being built for small businesses.

Futurist Jeremy Rifkin sees technology largely replacing farm workers, factory workers and, eventually, service workers.

That sounds like a hollowing out that leaves only the low skilled, low paid jobs at the bottom and the very high skilled, high paid jobs at the top, with those in the middle largely disappearing.

I am old enough to remember the forecasts of a "leisure society" that were being bandied about fifty years ago. That turned out to be a pipe dream, but maybe we ought to start thinking about a world without jobs for the middle class, and the dramatic impact that would have. On everything.

Update: At mid-day on Saturday, January 5, 2013, I was shopping in a Wal-Mart in Venice FL, and found that there were no human checkout clerks, only a few automated self-scan checkouts. The lines were long, and grouchy, but customers passively stood in line awaiting their turn. I abandoned my purchase, and went elsewhere. If enough of us do this, there's a small chance that things might change.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Patience will be rewarded

Friday, November 23, 2012

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Psychopaths are four times as likely to be found in senior management as in the general population.

• Kids in big families get less, but achieve more.

• About half of the countries and territories in the world have laws or policies that penalize remarks or actions considered to be against God or religion

• 30% of men wear colourful socks to express their personality according to a survey by

• The cardiac pacemaker was invented in Canada by the "Father of Biomedical Engineering," John Hopps.

• A pound of potato chips costs two hundred times more than a pound of potatoes.
How about that?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The battle of Melancthon


The megaquarry is dead, and citizen action killed it.

Background for those who haven't been following this story:

In 2006, Highland Companies began buying up land in Melancthon Township, a rural area about an hour and a half northwest of Toronto. Their story was that they were going to create a "world class" potato growing operation. Many suspected that aggregates, not potatoes, were at the bottom of this, and in March, 2011, Highland finally 'fessed up, announcing that they would develop an 2300-acre aggregate quarry.

Then the fight was on.

The prospect of losing thousands of acres of farmland, an abundant water supply, and a way of life, mobilized the farm community. Of course, big money was on the table, and there was much speculation among neighbours about who would cave in, and who would stand their ground.

Some, particularly those without heirs who would farm the land, rightly saw this as their chance to cash out and enjoy a comfortable retirement.

There was a recent precedent for all this in nearby Caledon, where a citizens coalition had won a 14-year fight to keep a quarry out of their scenic hills and dales. I know some of the people who led that fight, and they celebrated deservedly when the Ontario Municipal Board finally agreed with them in November, 2010.

But this was a different situation. Whereas Caledon is full of hobby farmers, affluent professionals and retirees, Bay Street money men, and well-connected business people, Melancthon is populated by real farm folk, many living on land passed down through several generations.

The revelation that the Highland project was backed by a multi-billion dollar U.S.-based hedge fund served to stiffen local resistance. Major fundraising events were organized, and people from the city brought their money and support. Meetings and media interviews were held in farmhouse kitchens.

It was the little guy against the big guy, the farmer against the hedge fund, the stuff of Hollywood movies.

And it had a happy ending, for some.

Highland Companies withdrew their application yesterday, noting that they felt they did "not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process." Their president resigned at the same time.

No doubt, there were cheers in Melancthon when the word got around.


Ontario, and especially the Greater Toronto Area, need aggregate for the concrete and asphalt that go into construction and maintenance of highways, bridges, sewers, houses, shopping malls, condo towers, schools, office buildings, industrial plants, recreational facilities, and the rest of the urban and suburban landscape.

It has to come from somewhere.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doggie act

This starts out a bit slow, but stay tuned for the big finish. Thanks to Grasshopper for sending it along.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Suddenly Toronto is actually excited about the Canadian Football League after years of disinterest. The local pigskin franchise has always had a hard core of fans, but the Argonauts are largely ignored between Grey Cup appearances.

The Leafs dominate the local sports scene, with baseball's Blue Jays and basketball's Raptors sharing what remains of commentators' and fans' attention.

So, here's a quick primer for those who want to sound "in the know" over the chips and dip at the Grey Cup party:
• This is the 100th Grey Cup game.

• The first Grey Cup game was played on December 4, 1909, and the University of Toronto won.

• The Argonaut club was founded in 1873, and is the oldest pro sports team in North America that is still playing under its original name.

• This will be the 22nd time the team has contested for the Grey Cup.

• Argos have the Grey Cup's best winning percentage (71.4) and have won in their last four appearances (1991, 1996, 1997, 2004)

• Argos' last Grey Cup game was against the BC Lions in 2004, and they won 27-19.

• They moved from Exhibition Stadium to the Rogers Centre in 1989.

• The famous Grey Cup "mud bowl,"was played in 1950 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. My neighbour, Nick Volpe, kicked two field goals in that game to help Argos win it 12-zip.

• The "fog bowl" was played at Exhibition Stadium  in 1962 between Winnipeg and Hamilton. After the first quarter, the game was virtually invisible to fans, and players couldn't see the ball once it was airborne. Commissioner Sydney Halter halted the game with 9 minutes and 29 seconds left and the Blue Bombers up by one point. In the morning, the fog had lifted and the game resumed, with no change in the final score (28-27).

• The 1996 edition of the Grey Cup game was called the "snow bowl." It was played between Toronto and Edmonton at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne stadium, and snow was so heavy that tractors were needed to clear the field before the game and again at halftime.

• This year's tussle matches the Argos against the Calgary Stampeders for the third time. The Stamps defeated the Argos in 1971 (14-11) but, in their 1991 match up, Toronto came out on top (36-21).
There you go. That should get you to halftime, when the conversation will probably shift to the NHL lockout and mayor Ford's latest antics.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Friday, November 16, 2012

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Campbell's Soup, knowing that soup sells in miserable weather, developed an algorithm that uses meteorological data to track weather patterns and triggers media ad buys in regions that are currently cold or wet.

• A recent survey [PDF] conducted by research company Edelman Berland found that consumers view advertising and marketing as one of the professions least valuable to society. Surprisingly, only 35 percent of marketing professionals considered their own profession valuable.

• Fisher Pens spent $2 million to develop a pen that would work in zero gravity for use by NASA astronauts on space missions. The Soviets used a pencil.

• Firms whose male CEOs have wider faces achieve superior financial performance, according to researchers.

• Powerful people feel taller than they are.

• Having sex burns off 360 calories per hour.
How about that?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vive la différence

Well, maybe not.

France places 48th on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap list. In the seven years that the list has been published, there has been "slow progress" in most of the countries sampled. Iceland tops the list, followed by Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Canada ranks 21st, the U.S. 22nd.

France actually dropped two spots since 2010, and is down there with the Kyrgyz Republic and Macedonia. This might have prompted the Prime Minister to send his ministers back to school for anti-sexism classes.

But it was more likely some recent, embarrassing, gaffes by those in high office.

Yes, the Equality Ministry is offering a series of "gender equality sensitization" sessions to help them become more "égalitaire"and avoid gender stereotypes in their references to their female colleagues.

Presumably female ministers will be subjected less frequently to catcalls when they wear dresses in Parliament, or dismissed as incapable of understanding technical subjects, as in the past.

All of this is happening against a background of constant revelations about the sex lives of senior government members.

The president's live-in girlfriend has a tiff with the mother of his children; the previous president divorces his wife when she has an affair, and immediately marries a model/entertainer; the French chief of the IMF is accused of sexual assault by a hotel chambermaid in New York; the former justice minister accuses a hotel tycoon of siring her child.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Enjoying the beach

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Different standards?

We often hear about immigrant doctors being required to jump through many hoops by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons before they can practise in the province. Sometimes, it seems that the rules are unreasonably restrictive, given the shortage of family physicians.

Too often, they must drive taxicabs or do other unskilled jobs for years in order to feed their families.

But it seems that, once a member of the College, one is subject to much more relaxed standards. At least, that's how it looks from the outside.

Doctor John K. Pariag is a case in point.

In a routine procedure, Doctor Pariag cut open a man's hepatic artery. He bled to death.

He misdiagnosed a 12-year old girl, performed unnecessary surgery, and then bungled it so badly that another operation was needed.

He removed healthy appendixes from three patients.

He punctured a patient's bowel while performing surgery.

He removed a patient's thyroid without the necessary training to do so.

He left a sponge inside a woman, and performed a second surgery to remove it, while keeping this information from her.

In all, he admitted to 21 cases of professional misconduct and incompetence in a March hearing, which found him lacking judgement, skill, knowledge, and regard for the patient's welfare.

You would expect him to be driving a cab now, right?

No. Thanks to a "plea bargain," he continues to practise at a Mississauga walk-in clinic.

He says his complication rate is "not worrisome."

[Written with information from the Toronto Star.]

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Signs of the times

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln
• In a recent study, 62% of college students said they could not live without the internet, and 31% said it would be a struggle. One in three said it was as important as air, shelter, food, and water.

• While engineers work hard to make cars more fuel efficient, the increasing weight of drivers and passengers is also increasing fuel usage. Every 100 pounds of excess weight cuts fuel efficiency by 2%, not to mention that larger folks prefer larger, less efficient, vehicles. [Source: Toronto Star]

• An employee of restaurant chain Arby's was fired after escaping an armed robbery by climbing out of the fast food restaurant’s drive-through window.

• Brazil has started a program to clone animals from species at risk of going extinct, including black lion tamarins, maned wolves, and jaguars.

• A Dutch company, uniQure, will start selling the first human gene therapy to be approved in the West by mid-2013. Gene therapies modify a patient’s DNA to combat specific diseases, and have been used in China for 10 years.

• A man in China sued his wife for giving birth to an ugly baby, and won.
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, November 8, 2012

A catty catechism

The following was developed as a mental age assessment by the School of Psychiatry at Harvard University .

Take your time, and see if you can read each line aloud without a mistake.

The average person over 45 years of age cannot do it!
1.This is this cat.
2. This is is cat.
3. This is how cat.
4. This is to cat.
5. This is keep cat.
6. This is an cat.
7. This is old cat.
8. This is fart cat.
9. This is busy cat.
10. This is for cat.
11. This is forty cat.
12. This is seconds cat.
Now go back and read the third word in each line from the top down.

[Author unknown. Thanks to Fred for sending this along.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Travels with Charlie

We have a new addition to the zoo here.

On Monday, we arrived home from Maryland with Charlie, a 10-week old Corgi pup. He has some learning to do, like where it's not okay to pee and poop, and how to deal with cats, but he'll figure it all out soon.

Right now, he has information overload, having never seen anything but his brothers and sisters in a big pen in the breeder's home until suddenly being whisked off by strangers for a night in a hotel room, and then a long car ride to this cold place called Canada.

Here are a few photos along the way.

I'm really sorry I peed on the bed, but can you let me outta here?

Hey, what's this thing around my neck, and why are you tugging on it?

Why can't I go run around out there?

Didn't I hear the dinner bell?

I'm really sorry I peed on the floor, but can you let me outta here?


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Promises, promises

In case you didn't already know this little bit of trivia, it might give you a chuckle.

On July 20, 1969, as commander of the Apollo 11 lunar module, Neil Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon.

His first words after stepping on the moon, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," were televised to earth and heard by millions.

But just before he re-entered the lander, he made the enigmatic remark "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky".

Many people at NASA though it was a casual remark concerning some rival Soviet cosmonaut.

However, upon checking, there was no Gorsky in either the Russian or American space programs.

Over the years many people questioned Armstrong on the meaning of the statement, but Armstrong always just smiled.

On July 5, 1995, in Tampa, Florida , while answering questions following a speech, a reporter brought up the 26-year-old question to Armstrong. This time he finally responded.

Mr. Gorsky had died, so Neil Armstrong felt he could now answer the question.

In 1938, when he was a kid in a small mid-western town , he was playing baseball with a friend in the backyard. His friend hit the ball, which landed in his neighbor's yard by their bedroom window. His neighbors were Mr. And Mrs. Gorsky.

As he leaned down to pick up the ball, young Armstrong heard Mrs. Gorsky shouting at Mr. Gorsky.

"Sex! You want sex? You'll get sex when the kid next door walks on the moon!"

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tech support has arrived

[Thanks to Fred for sending this along.]

Friday, November 2, 2012

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Boring is productive. Several experiments showed that making choices depletes mental energy. Therefore, you should develop routines for mundane decisions, like what to have for breakfast or which tie to wear with each suit, in order to have more mental resources for important decisions during the day.

• Boredom is stressful. It is worsening, as people are becoming less tolerant of a lack of stimulation, says Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at England’s University of Central Lancashire. Routine work and dull meetings are parts of the problem.

• Although many may prefer e-readers to paper, 47% of young people are reading long-form content such as books, magazines and newspapers, according to a Pew study.

• 85% of Canadians rate themselves as "Happy," lagging behind India (89%) and Indonesia (93%), but well ahead of Americans (79%), according to Ipsos. Surprisingly, Canadians were cheerful even though just 38% felt their personal finances were strong, about the same proportion as in the U.S. (35%).

• It's a good idea to keep your car keys beside the bed at night. If you're burglarized, just push the panic button on the key fob to set off the car car alarm, which makes a heck of a racket and may scare off the intruder.

• Tiny Sicily employs 26,000 auxiliary forest rangers, 17 times as many as British Columbia, where forests cover about two-thirds (60 million hectares) of the province’s total land mass. [Source: Toronto Star]
 How about that?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Conrad, the reboot

As you know, I worry constantly about Conrad Black and the turns of fortune that have troubled him so much over the past few years.

Loyal readers will recall that, in the spring, hoping to be of assistance in some small way, I put him forward for leadership of Canada's Liberal Party, but that seems now to be an unlikely chance given Justin Trudeau's ascension.

Meanwhile, the costs of operating a baronetcy continue, so I have been pondering how we might help his lordship occupy his time gainfully. There is some urgency surrounding the matter.

Surely we can not have him idling on the runway indefinitely like a B-52 without a bombing mission. The exhaust fumes will accelerate global warming, and the noise is scaring off the game birds.

Perhaps we may find inspiration in Conrad's past. If memory serves, he was quite a croquet player, back in the day.

This suggests a sporting opportunity heretofore uncovered, and one that has a good deal of commercial potential, in my estimation.

I will outline the whole undertaking for you, if you'll bear with me.

For those unfamiliar with the game, the objective is to get both of your balls through the hoops before your opponents get theirs through.

Once through, the balls are removed.

Some may find it difficult to discern the appeal of this for the players, but it's all laid down in The Simplified Laws of Association Croquet, so there can be no disputation. I suspect that some of these matches might be quite prolonged in the late going.

When played at the highest level, croquet displays sufficient action and drama to get the crowd on its feet, and it dovetails nicely into the time-honoured tradition of glamourizing sport in the pursuit of big bucks.

The formula for that, which involves getting just the right mix of testosterone, cleavage, and human growth hormone, has been proven effective across the full gamut of professional sports.

A croquet match, if you've never seen one, is really something.

Quoting from the rules, "A ball can be wired by a hoop upright ~1-3/4" away from its edge as this could prevent the striker's ball from being able to clip the nearest edge of the target ball. You can be wired if the peg or a hoop prevents you from playing a normal backswing to hit an 'open ball' (the other balls being of course wired). A ball with any part lying in the jaws of a hoop is wired by definition from the other balls; again the opponent must be responsible for its position."

You will now grasp the reason for my enthusiasm. Can't you feel the excitement, the thrill of it, the crowd's roar, urged on by the cheerleading Croquettes.

Anyway, the idea is to set up the Croquet Mania Global Nuclear Overlords Naildown (CroMaGNON) Championship Series. We'd be looking for the biggest, baddest, meanest, sweatiest, croquet players in the world to go head to head out there amidst the hoops in pursuit of the Crossharbour cup.

Future expansion is envisioned, perhaps Lingerie Croquet, or Croquet Fantasies On Ice.

Bestride the entire enterprise will be Commissioner Black, directing the whole affair, bestowing honours and trophies, levying fines and suspensions upon those in breach of the ancient rules --- touching another chap's balls, that sort of thing --- and taking 20% of the gate, of course.

In his lordship's own words, "The only charge that anyone can level against us is one of insufficient generosity to ourselves."