Thursday, May 31, 2012

A lost soul

[Sent along by Suzanne. Author unknown]
As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the back country. As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.

I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.

As I played Amazing Grace, the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothin' like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dancing Mathilda

94-year-old Mathilda Klein is still kicking up her heels.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Quizzical

I took a quiz online about how I use computers, the internet, cellphones, and the like. The quiz said I am a Digital Collaborator. I looked it up. A collaborator is someone who assists in a plot. It all sounds very cloak and dagger, neither of which I have. If I am assisting in a plot, I'd like to know something about it. Who else is in on it? Does it involve a bank? There was no help forthcoming from the quiz people.

I took a quiz online about who decides what in our household. The quiz said my wife makes 43% of the decisions, and I make 26% of the decisions. The rest we make together, the quiz said. I think the latter are the ones where my wife says, "Please do this," and I say, "OK." It's this kind of power sharing that keeps a marriage working.

I took a science knowledge quiz online. The quiz said I scored in the top 10% of the population. This is amazing! In high school, science was one of my worst subjects. Science teachers would just shake their heads in wonder that anyone could be so bad at science. If they were still alive, I would send them the results.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Or you could buy a soft drink

When you have just a small preference for avoiding pregnancy, why spend big bucks on birth control?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Signs of the times

Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed. ~ Irene Peter
 • Nike has applied an idea from golf balls to track suits for the Olympics. The new suits use dimples to reduce drag.

• Tata, the Indian manufacturer of automobiles, will soon sell a model powered by compressed air. It has an onboard compressor that can refill the air tank in 3-4 hours, which gives a range of 300 km.

• A new bylaw in Oakville, Ontario, will prohibit motorcycles operating louder than 92 decibels (roughly equivalent to a lawnmower or snowmobile). Preventing them from doing so will be a more difficult matter.

• Pete Porath of Portland, Oregon, "rehomes" hens from backyard chicken coops to his farm so they can retire to live out their lives after their egg-laying days are over. [Source: New York Times.]

• Couples average three arguments a month about financial issues.

• The presence of happy people appears to raise suicide risk. Researchers speculate that unhappy people may become suicidally distressed by others' contentment.
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The news about the news

The consensus is that newspapers are yesterday's news, on their way to oblivion in the digital age. So why do rich guys keep buying them?

Back in the day, Conrad Black and his gunslinger David Radler went around snapping up newspapers all over North America. Gazillionaire Rupert Murdoch owns about 170 newspapers ranging from the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier to the Wall Street Journal.

Now I am reading that Warren Buffett, the sage of Omaha, everybody's pick for smartest investor in the last hundred years, is spending $142 million to buy 63 newspapers, adding to a holding that already includes the Buffalo News, the Omaha World-Herald, and a big chunk of the Washington Post.

According to the Toronto Star, Buffett says he thinks newspapers have a future "if they continue delivering information that can't be found elsewhere."

"In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper," he says.

I wouldn't bet against him, but what is he seeing that all the pundits are missing? Nobody under 40 is subscribing to a newspaper, and most of my retiree friends are getting their news free through online editions.

I think he has seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is shining on a "paywall," industry jargon for "the free ride is over, pal."

Yep, newspapers everywhere will soon expect you to pay for the online version just like you always did for the paper that arrived via your front porch. The Toronto Star recently announced that this is coming for their web version.

The internet mantra for 20 years has been "Information wants to be free." Now it is becoming "Publishers want to be paid."

If that's what it takes to ensure that good journalism survives, so be it. Sign me up.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Optimistically speaking

Someone asked the other day on Quora, an online discussion forum, "Why are U.S. Americans more optimistic than Canadians?"

I dislike questions like that because they contain an assumption. As far as I know, it hasn't been proven that we are less optimistic than the Yanks. Maybe a bit quieter, less rambunctious, less dramatic, less flag-waving, but less optimistic?  Doubtful.

In fact, if you listen to American talk radio or Fox News, if you read the op-ed pages of an American newspaper, if you get into conversations with average Americans you happen to meet on the golf course, it seems exactly the opposite.

Americans are not happy, and they are happy to tell you so. They are not optimistic about their country's future, and many are pessimistic about their own personal future, and that of their kids and grandkids.

Now, they have been through tough times lately, tougher than we have experienced in Canada, so maybe their natural optimism is at a low ebb, and maybe we Canadians are riding a little higher than usual. That's possible.

By and large and over the long haul, I don't think you'll find that we are less optimistic than our southern neighbours.

But if we are, it may be because, as one discusser noted, "Americans don't live next door to the United States."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Subterranean master builders

Much is going on out of sight, in the sea and in the earth. Small creatures can build amazingly large, and cleverly engineered, structures.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A lesson in sportsmanship

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

At one point during a game, the coach called one of his 9-year-old baseball players aside and asked, "Do you understand what cooperation is? What a team is?" 

The little boy nodded in the affirmative. 

"Do you understand that what matters is whether we win or lose together as a team?"

The little boy nodded "Yes". 

"'So," the coach continued, "I'm sure you know, when an out is called, you shouldn't argue, curse, attack the umpire, or call him a peckerhead or asshole. Do you understand all that?" 

The little boy nodded "Yes" again. 

He continued, "And when I take you out of the game so another boy gets a chance to play, it's not good sportsmanship to call your coach a dumb ass or shithead, is it?" 

The little boy shook his head "No." 

"Good," said the coach. "Now go over there and explain all that to your grandmother!"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A bad day

Last October, Marian Andrzejewski had a bad day.

He's 74 years old, and lives alone in Ottawa. He has no close family or friends. The woman next door offered him sex for money, he says. He turned down her offer. She did not accept this graciously, he says.

She threw his furniture around and kicked his paintings, so he escorted her out of his apartment, he says.

He called 911. The operator was unsympathetic, mocking, impatient with his broken English, condescending, and chilling, he and his lawyer say.

Then two guys broke down his door and attacked him, he says.

The cops arrived, but they were intercepted by the woman next door. She tells them he had offered her money for sex, pulled her hair out, and ruined her fingernails.

He is arrested, interrogated, charged with forcible confinement and assault, and spends 77 days in the slammer. Did I mention he is 74?

He was acquitted of all charges earlier this year.

Is your life a bit on the boring side? Say a little prayer of thanks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Digitally challenged

I don't text. People sometimes text me, but I don't usually text back. I'm more likely to call them back on my cellphone or, if they are sitting across the table, just say words.

My problem is chubby thumbs. They are not designed for those tiny smartphone keyboards.

And now I learn that I'm not the only one. Research In Motion, maker of the Blackberry, has applied for a patent for a keyboard that is friendlier to chubby thumbs. So you know there must be millions of us out there, sending messages like:
Jihn: ate ypu xoming to thg meetimh tpday diwntpwm?
Billions of dollars have been invested in communications infrastructure to make this possible.

That autocorrect thing doesn't help either. Turn on autocorrect, and the message becomes:
Jive: atom yperite ox to thug meerschaums tap dinner?
Can you imagine receiving such a message on your smartphone?

Right!

Emoufh saod. Czll me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dangerous curve

Most of us are slugs.

Dawdlers, drones, idlers, laggards, loafers, slouches.

Maybe you knew this all along, but the rest of us have been kidding ourselves, figuring we average folk were pulling our weight, doing okay, so to speak. Our self-esteem was tied to the bell curve, but the bell curve is no more. You can forget the bell curve. The bell curve is old thinking.

Researchers have discovered that in every field --- sports, entertainment, politics, science, and so on --- there are a few superstars who outperform everyone else.

If you're not a superstar, you're everyone else.

Sorry. Have a nice day.



Monday, May 14, 2012

Whaa?



Friday, May 11, 2012

Signs of the times

Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed. ~ Irene Peter
• Canadians spend more than twice as much each year attending live performances in the arts than all sporting events put together.

• Over the past 30 years a man singlehandedly created a 1,360 acre forest on land where Indian government experts said trees could not be grown. It is now home to creatures big and small, including birds, deer, rhinos, tigers, and elephants.

• Speed is money. A new fiber-optic cable on the ocean floor between England and Nova Scotia shaves 5 milliseconds off a round trip for data between the London and New York securities exchanges. Shortening another cable between Chicago and New Jersey by 160 kilometres knocked off 3 milliseconds. [Source: New York Times]

• By 2013, anyone in the United States with a cellphone will be able to text to the 911 call centers.

• Apple shipped 67 million iPads in just 2 years after the product launched. It took 24 years to sell that many Macs, 5 years for that many iPods, and over 3 years for that many iPhones. [Source: Forbes]

• Jaguar engineers have found a way to cover the body of an electric car with a layer of so called piezoelectric cells that help recharge its batteries from the force of the air flowing over the body.
Looking for change? Check the sofa.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aging gracefuly

Do you complain about stiff joints, back pain, and similar ailments we all assume to be the result of getting older? Take a look at this amazing 86-year-old's performance. Then get moving.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Caine's Arcade

While I don't know what this 9-year-old will become, I bet it will involve people having fun. And he'll be very successful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Could Black be the new red?

I nominate Conrad Black for leader of the Liberal party.

First, he's available. Back in Canada again, and ensconced behind the walls of his Bridle Path mansion, Black will soon tire of overseeing the groundskeeping staff and letting the dogs out. He'll be looking for new battles to fight, and the Liberals are battling for survival.

Second, he's already known far and wide, possessing a strong "personal brand" in the current jargon. No need to go through a long and expensive process of creating a public identity for the candidate.

Third, he has the gravitas to pull it off, with the stereotypical craggy, shaggy-maned, look of a statesman, and the presence to dominate a room. He's a man with considered opinions on many topics, the desire to push them forward forcefully, and the vocabulary to do so. Party leader material, without doubt.

Fourth, he appears to have acquired some liberal inclinations while in prison. The news media are reporting that he is dead against the mandatory minimum sentences so beloved by the Tories, and has become an advocate for educating prisoners, preparing them for release, and providing alternatives to incarceration for many offenders.

Fifth, Question Period would be so much more entertaining. Imagine Conrad bombastically ripping into ministers of the crown over some tomfoolery or breach of protocol. Riveting stuff. It could even be televised in prime time as a reality TV show, a welcome source of revenue for deficit reduction.

Sixth, he's already in tight with Elizabeth II and her circle, so royal visits would be like old home week for his lordship and the missus.

Seventh, speaking of the missus, the Baroness Black of Crossharbour, having had the experience of renovating the London mansion, would be well-suited to remedying oversights in the original designs of Stornoway or 24 Sussex --- fur lockers, additional evening gown storage rooms, jewellery vaults, and the like.

Eighth, he has built on the Ignatieff precedent of spending a few preparatory years in American institutions in order to add depth and breadth to his world view.

He may need some coaching prior to embarking on the campaign trail --- backyard burger flipping, shopping mall small talk, baby kissing, that sort of thing. And, there is the matter of Canadian citizenship (lack of), but I'm sure that can be worked out without too much difficulty, given that the Conservatives would likely see his candidacy to be a guarantee of their majority government for another term.

From the Big House to the House of Commons --- it has the ring of a campaign slogan, don't you think?

Do I feel a groundswell building?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thanks, Marilyn!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Leaving home

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Up

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

The two-letter English word "UP" has more meanings than any other two-letter word. It can be an adverb, preposition, adjective, noun, or verb.

When we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election, and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and fix UP the old car.

People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, meet UP with friends, and think UP excuses. Some folks are UP to no good.

To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And isn't it confusing that a drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning, but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look UP the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, earth soaks it UP. When it does not rain for a while, things dry UP. One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now.

My time is UP!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sleight of hand

Master magician Lance Burton puts on an amazing show. Click at bottom right for the full screen view.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Health warning

Last Saturday, I realized that I am addicted to something that is hazardous to my health.

I'm a longtime news junkie. After almost six decades of reading the daily newspaper, it finally dawned that the only part that fails to distress or irritate is the comics section. The rest produces a feeling of downright downheartedness.

Not a good way to start the day.

This particular morning was typical. It was a fine spring morning, all sunshine and chirping finches. I made some fresh coffee, and settled in to review the events of the week. That was the best I was going to feel all day.

First, I was treated to the most recent sins of Bev Oda, our federal International Development Minister, for whom excess is not enough. Only the very best of hotels and limousines meet her high standards, cheap at a few thousand taxpayer dollars per day. Reaction: Indignation, then quiet resignation, and a nagging recollection that this was not Bev's first offence.

Bev was closely followed by Mike Ignatieff, erstwhile Liberal candidate for the highest office in this fine multicultural country. Mike went on the BBC to prognosticate that Quebec will exit confederation. Reaction: Head shaking and mumbled epithets.

Close on Mike's heels came Jan Wong. You may remember her as a tough, investigative reporter with an instinct for the jugular, and wondered why she had disappeared several years ago. Turns out she has been suffering from severe depression, and has just published a book on her battle with this debilitating, misunderstood, illness. The grabber for me was the filming of her launch party by her insurance company, hoping to catch a moment when she didn't look sufficiently depressed. Reaction: "What assholes!"

In the sports section, it was confirmed that my beloved Blue Jays had fallen from first to just one game out of worst in their division, having blown a lead to hand Seattle the win in a game I missed. Reaction: Sigh.

And so it went --- uncaring stupidity at city hall, the lackadaisical approach to protecting Canadian investors from corporate fraud, police officers who lie to get a conviction, the likelihood that Canadian athletes unwittingly abetted the massacre of Israelis at the 1972 Olympics, the descent of Spain into economic chaos. Plenty more in similar veins.

A disheartening stream of savage attacks, pompous pronouncements, disheartening revelations, grudging confessions, unconvincing apologies, and outright prevarications.

This, I am convinced, is the chief reason that newspapers are in their death throes. People just can't handle this much crap, let alone pay to have it dumped it on their front porch.