Thursday, October 24, 2013

Saying sorry

I am looking at a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine.

Two thugs in dark suits and dark glasses are threatening a man who is tied to a chair.

The caption reads, "I'm giving you one last chance to talk before Vinny says 'Please.'"

The title reads "The Canadian Mob."

There it is again, that stereotype of Canadians as faultlessly polite, exceedingly understanding, and mild mannered in the extreme.

Don't believe it.

Foreigners fail to understand that we are perhaps the world's most passive aggressive nationality.

Beneath a thin veneer of self control and feigned good humour, you will find condescension, disgust,  and repressed rage.

Canadians know that, when they say, "Sorry," it is rarely an apology. It is perhaps the most nuanced expression in English as she is spoke north of the 49th parallel.

The trained ear will detect subtle inflections that convey the real meaning.

"Sorry?" with a question mark and a raised eyebrow says, "I can't believe you just said that, you tool. That's the most idiotic thing I've heard today!"

"Sorry" with a chuckle, sometimes while covering the mouth, means, "Oops, I shouldn't have said, or done, that but I'm glad I did, and you're going to let me away with it, aren't you. (Particularly useful after farting audibly, or when elbowing one's way into a queue.)

"Sorry" with a smirk might convey, "I am so glad that I'm not you, you inferior twit. How do you stand yourself?"

"Sorry?" with a question mark, two raised eyebrows, and a stony stare says, "Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it, asshole?"

"SO-RREE!" loudly, drawn out, with equal emphasis on the last syllable, and an eye roll, means "You're the one who should be apologizing right now, but you don't seem to realize that, so I'm doing it for you."

"Sorry, but..." says, "You are absolutely misinformed about that and I am about to deliver a long, instructive, explanation that will correct your thinking, and you should be grateful," or "Damn it, I've been putting up with your crap for years and this is the moment when I unload all of things I've always wanted to say to you."

Sorry, but you need to know this stuff.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Visit

We are so privileged to be here in Sri Lanka with Sleeping Children Around the World, the wonderful Canadian charity that has distributed well over a million bedkits to needy kids in 40 developing countries.

The Sri Lankan version of the kit contains a sleeping mat, mosquito net, shoes, socks, backpack, water bottle, school supplies, and new clothing, all produced and assembled right here in the country by local companies.

Two of of the families who received the kits invited us into their homes, and expressed much gratitude for your gifts. Many thanks to all of my friends and neighbours who contributed.

Three generations live in this little house. Note the shoes being proudly displayed by the young lady who received a bedkit.
This is the kitchen. Food is cooked and prepared outside.
Most of these kids sleep on the floor like this this fellow who we caught napping. I spoke with teachers who said children often fall asleep in class.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New shoes!

What is it about ladies and shoes?

I'm in Sri Lanka with Sleeping Children Around the World, the Canadian charity that ditsributes bedkits to needy kids in developing countries.

These kits include mattresses, mosquito nets, clothing, and school supplies, all items that are virtually unaffordable for poor families who often get by on a few hundred dollars a year.

This year's kits for Sri Lanka, include shoes from manufacturer DSI, and that is turning out be a big hit with the children and their parents.

Here's a short video showing some of the 4,500 kids who will get kits here, as they get fitted with their new footwear.

video

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hello from Sri Lanka

Well, gang. I'm in Sri Lanka as a travelling volunteer with my favourite charity, Sleeping Children Around the World. We will be working with the Kelaniya Rotary Club to distribute bedkits to needy kids in some of outlying areas.

The kit includes a mattress, mosquito net, shoes, school supplies, a backpack, a clothing outfit, and some other items. Receiving one of these kits is the biggest event these kids have ever experienced in their young lives.

Of course, it's all made possible by our donors back in Canada.

This little One Minute Movie shows some of the last minute preparations before we head out into the countryside. Click on the full screen icon at lower right for a larger image.

video

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cloudy thinking

Do you know where your data is?

Until recently, you would have answered, "On my computer, stupid."

But now we have The Cloud.

That's where many people are opting to store, and/or backup their Word and Excel documents, Powerpoint slides, personal photographs, family videos, financial information, and everything else that used to be on their own hard drives. In many cases, such as your e-mail or your online stock trading account, you have no choice.

For a decade, businesses have been using The Cloud, often paired with accounting and information management systems, to store their financial and customer data. Of course your Facebook, G-mail, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts are in The Cloud. This blog is in The Cloud. One of Google's businesses is managing health records for governments. Your medical history may be stored in Google's cloud.

Now this has arrived for consumers, thanks to Apple's iCloud and similar services.

Sounds nice, doesn't it. It evokes an image of benign, fluffy clouds scudding across the sky, but nothing could be more misleading. The Cloud is simply a collection of huge "server farms." A server farm is a giant, air conditioned building that houses huge numbers of hard drives.

If you opt to store your stuff in The Cloud, that's where you'll find it when you go looking. It's very convenient, enabling automatic backups and software updates, as well as access to your digital stuff from anywhere with all your devices.

The question is, who else has access to your info?

We've heard plenty lately about snooping by the U.S. National Security Agency and its Canadian equivalent, Communications Security Establishment Canada. Apparently, the Canadian government has no problem with American spooks keeping an eye on we Canadians, as our data is sent across the border to The Cloud which, it turns out, is mostly located in the U.S, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

As usual, big business is prepared to trade off your privacy for the potential of greater profits, as evidenced by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's lobbying against requirements to store personal information domestically, as BC and Nova Scotia have implemented.

How far does all this go? Who is poking around in The Cloud to see what they can find? How about companies who want to sell us stuff, and who find that easier when they know more about us? Big Data is the catchphrase on marketers tongues these days, and Big Data resides in The Cloud.

Frankly, I don't think you can go wrong by assuming that at least some of the players in the "Cloud" business are selling your info without your knowledge, despite assurances to the contrary.

Am I paranoid and anachronistic, or are you a bit creeped out by this, too?

My advice --- keep your digital stuff on your own hard drive, and install some good security software on your PC.

Stay out of The Cloud.

[Thanks to several articles by Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa for much of the above information.]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Denial in Detroit

As I have mentioned before in this space, I am a charter member of the automobile generation. For men my age, cars have always been a big part of our lifestyle, and a big consumer of our paycheques.

For gearheads, cars are more than conveyances. They are cultural icons, expressions of personal taste, status symbols, and just plain fun. We have vivid memories of the looks and sounds of the swoopy beauties with big V-8 engines that we coveted back in the fifties and sixties.

But I began to notice a change in the late eighties. I was managing a high tech services company, populated by young male technicians who, in earlier times, would have been signing up for loans to buy exciting rides. But most of these guys had little interest in cars, opting for 4-door Japanese econoboxes and old American beaters.

The staging area for the company car rally looked like a supermarket parking lot. If memory serves, I had the only sports car.

Apparently, that trend has accelerated with the iPhone generation, who are overwhelmingly urban and whose mobility is via the Internet rather than highways.  Many people do not own or lease a car, even if they can afford it. Renting a small vehicle for a few hours from a car sharing outfit is now popular with occasional users in big cities.

According to my morning newspaper, research by the University of Michigan reveals that 27% of young people are not even bothering to obtain a driving license. They find public transit, cycling, and cadging rides from friends to be sufficient for their transportation needs. High car prices and maintenance costs were also mentioned.

Is the auto industry worried? Not a bit.

"As the economy recovers and jobs improve, younger people will be in the market buying cars," opined General Motors' chief economist.

We'll see.



Monday, August 19, 2013

The fair

Well, it's that time again --- the "Ex" is on, signalling the onset of fall, and giving rise to nostalgic reflections by oldtimers like me.

As documented before, here and here, there have been few years in which I failed to attend the Canadian National Exhibition over the past six decades.

In the old days, there was so much to see that fairgoers would often return two or three times over the duration of the annual, two-week, event. Sadly, the great fair has declined dramatically from its heyday, becoming more flea market than exposition.

But old habits die hard, and this habit goes back to my 1950's one-room schoolhouse.

On the last day of school before each summer break, our teacher would stroll the aisles between the desks, presenting every student with a free pass to the CNE. That card was treasured as if it were the key to a magic kingdom which, in that innocent time, it was.

Back then, it was the place where you saw things, exciting things, new things, strange things. Now we have the internet for that.

The Horticulture Building was home to a huge variety of agricultural, horticultural and floricultural displays, while the Horse Palace and the Coliseum hosted livestock judging and magnificent horse shows.

There were competitions for every taste and interest --- fruits, vegetables, grains, floral arrangements, needlework, woodcarving, horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, cakes, pies, jams, jellies, pickles, babies, and so on, all the way up to the selection of the Dairy Princess and Miss Toronto.

Dominated by the old wooden rollercoaster and the ferris wheel, the midway wasn't all cotton candy and thrill rides. The bearded lady, the monkey boy, the world's thinnest man, the levitating woman, and various acts featuring scantily clad ladies, were all available in the sleazy little sideshows for a few quarters. You could soar above it all on the Alpine Way cable car.

The Aquarama show ruled the waterfront, with amazing high diving, water skiing, and powerboat displays.

The Bandshell featured concerts by Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Tony Martin, and other top level entertainers of the day. Music competitions were held in the Music Building.

Youngsters might not know that Exhibition Place was the original site of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Track and field competitions, dog and cat shows, art exhibits, and baseball tournaments were all part of the mix.

They even held a tugboat race in 1962!

The afternoon grandstand shows had circus acts, cowboys, slapstick comedy acts (The Three Stooges), dirt track car races, motorcycle stunt riders, and the tire-shredding shenanigans of the Helldrivers.

After dark, things got a bit more adult. The evening variety shows featured a live orchestra, dance troupes, trained animals, Hollywood celebrities, international recording stars and comedians (Bob Hope, the Smothers Brothers, Danny Kaye), and spectacular fireworks climaxes.

Of course, the Canadian International Air Show has been a permanent feature of the CNE since the 1950's. Most people saw their first jet planes at the Air Show.

1954 may have marked the peak for the fair. Officially opened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, the theme was Canada On The March.

It was the year that Canadian 16-year-old Marilyn Bell became the first person ever to swim the thirty-two-miles (52 km) across Lake Ontario. She encountered 15-foot waves and lamprey eels. Her American competitor, Florence Chadwick, had been unable to finish. 100,000 people were at the CNE to welcome her.

It was the first year for the new Food Building, perennially the most-visited of all buildings on the grounds. Water cascaded down the glass walls surrounding the entrances, and you could make a lunch out of all the free samples.

Or, if you had actual money, you could have a Shopsy's corned beef sandwich and a Honeydew.

It was also the year that Roy Rogers brought his show to the grandstand, complete with wife Dale Evans, horse Trigger, sidekick Pat Brady, and jeep Nellybelle. This was a major event for thousands of kids who had grown up with the singing cowboy's comic books, movies, lunch boxes, and cowboy gear. Some could even watch him on that miraculous new invention --- television.

But for me, age 11 in 1954, the big draw was always the Automotive Building. In those days, the car companies launched their new models in the fall, and the CNE was the place to see the latest offerings from Detroit.

Chevrolet's new Corvette caused a big stir in 1954. I had never seen anything like its low slung, sporty lines, a futuristic leap from the tall, boxy, sedan my dad was driving. I would have sold my soul for one if General Motors had been open to such deals.

None of this will be on offer at the 2013 version of the Ex, but I will go anyway. In my mind's eye, it will be 1954 again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What was grass?

"What was grass?",
he will ask.

And your great, great, great, grandaughter
will tell her son
that grass was green,
that there were lawns of grass
between the houses and the street,
and there were yards and parks,
where children played,
or so they say.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Retro retailing

According to this morning's newspaper, retailing is going forward to the past.

Canadian Tire, which long ago bought into the "big box" concept in order to compete with the Walmarts and Home Depots that were laying waste to the retailing landcscape, is trying out "small boxes."

The article notes that Walmart itself, the king of giant-sized stores, is experimenting in the U.S. with small neighbourhood and campus locations.

So let me get this straight. These behemoths, having decimated downtowns across the land by wiping out local shopkeepers, are now trying to become local shopkeepers.

This is resonating particularly loudly in the recesses of my cranium because, just yesterday, I was reminded of how much I miss the local hardware store that was within walking distance of my home for many years. It became a casualty of Home Depot, as its customers drifted away in the hope of saving a few pennies and having the choice of thirty types of doorbells.

The proprietor and staff of that old hardware store, where you could buy just one screw if that was what you needed, knew the location of every item, and were happy to advise on its suitability for your purpose and how to install it when you got it home. Unfortunately, customers didn't put a value on that kind of service, and were seduced by the shiny delights of the big box.

Anyway, getting back to my shopping experience yesterday at one of the big home improvement outlets. Buying a handful of items, which would have taken 10 minutes at my old hardware store, took an hour. Inadequate staffing, personnel lacking product knowledge, the need to search acres of aisles and, at the end of it, being stuck in a stationary checkout line due to a malfunctioning credit card terminal, provided plenty of opportunity to pine for a past that has disappeared forever.

No, while the Walmart and Canadian Tire small box stores might be closer to your house, they'll be a far cry from the shops that were wiped out in the retail wars.


Friday, July 19, 2013

The verdict is in

Can we finally put an end to the great experiment in self regulation by industry?

The results are in. It doesn't work.

It was a grand idea, premised on the hope that business owners and managers were ethical folks, good citizens and neighbours who would do the right thing.

They are, but the reality is that you can't regulate yourself or other people in your industry.

It is asking too much.

Shareholders demand increased profits, which means cutting costs, which translates into reducing staff, which means insufficient oversight in the abattoirs, inadequate train crews, and no one looking over the shoulder of bankers granting mortgages to people who have no ability to make the payments.

You can't sanction another member of your industry association because next week he'll be sitting in judgement on your company and will give as good as he got, or you'll be sitting across a table trying to do a deal with him.

Even decent, well-intentioned, good guys often cave.

So the cowshit gets into the beef, and the runaway train wipes out a town, and the entire world economy collapses. The fish disappear from the oceans, the glaciers melt, cancer patients get diluted drugs, the list is endless.

It's time to re-institute regulation by people who have no skin in the game.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Honours accepted

Who would want a prison named after them?

This thought was occasioned by an article about Nelson Mandela. I could discover nothing about Victor Verster, but there were thousands of mentions of the Victor Verster Prison's most famous inmate.

Interesting, and satisfying, isn't it? Victor must have been considered a personage (pompous word meaning person of rank or distinction) in his day. After all, a major government institution was named in his honour.

Could he have declined? Perhaps not.

Regardless, he has been flushed into the septic tank of history where all but the most worthy or egregious are blended into fertilizer.

Worse, he can not even be found through Google!

Meanwhile, a jailbird of his eponymous prison has become one of the most revered men of the modern era, a nation-builder and great statesman.

There's a delightful asymmetry about that.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Photographic memories

My wife found our wedding pictures the other day, after a multi-year absence --- the pictures, not the wife.

They were among the things that are still surfacing from cardboard cartons seven years after moving to a new house. Prior to that move, they had not been seen for decades (Words of advice to the betrothed --- be less concerned about the formalities of your wedding, including the traditional photographs, and more about having fun with your friends on the big day).

All of this coincided with an article in the New York Times about the changing role of photography in our lives. Not so long ago, people took photography seriously, spent big bucks on expensive cameras, took college courses, framed their work and hung it on the wall.

Some still do but, increasingly, photos are used for communication, and less for recording important moments. Social media is full of spontaneous smartphone photos that are intended for friends, classmates, family --- people who will get the context instantly and react with an OMG.

There is even an app called Snapchat where uploaded photos disappear after being viewed, leaving behind no indelicate images that might be embarrassing if seen by a parent or prospective employer down the road.

In fact, The Times says "Photos are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image ... is easier than bothering with words."

Suddenly, I feel so old.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ten brands that rule the world

We have the illusion that there are thousands of companies behind the products we see on supermarket shelves, but 10 big companies dominate the marketplace. Shown here are just a few of the hundreds of brands owned by each of these huge organizations.

Click the image to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A morning visitor

This young coyote strolled through our city backyard this morning.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Boss

"Boss" is an uncomfortable word for me, even though I have been the boss of somebody, sometimes many somebodies, for 46 years.

The word offends my notion of myself as a person who helps people discover the way to do things, rather than telling them how to do it. Give them the destination, but not the map. See how they make out. Help them learn. Nudge them a little from time to time when they get too far off track.

That doesn't work with everyone, but it usually does.

Not a buddy, though. That never works. You learn that pretty quickly.

I recall hiring a woman who had been at home for a couple of decades, raising her children. She said she liked the idea of having a boss again. So it's not always a negative term.

Some people have told me I'm a "good boss." Others have been less flattering. I've had some good bosses, too, and a few I didn't like.

But, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, when we're between a rock and a hard place, when the horse is out of the barn, when it's time to fish or cut bait, when the cows come home, when life gives us lemons, if somebody must be the boss, I'd rather it be me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The best laid plans

In the excitement of launching a new undertaking, optimism usually runs high. Natural, of course, as one would hardly embark on a new adventure if pessimistic about its success.

Sadly, the task often, perhaps inevitably, turns out to be much more difficult than initially anticipated, and optimism turns to despair as things get bogged down and ruin threatens.

Paradoxically, the anxiety that follows from such rash acts may very well produce results much greater than the original objectives.

This is the gist of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker review of a new book, Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, which focuses on the life, achievements, observations, and thinking of the recently deceased economist.

Gladwell cites the Karnaphuli Paper Mills in East Pakistan as an example. The multimillion-dollar mill was built near vast bamboo forests that unexpectedly flowered and died, making them useless for papermaking. There was great anxiety that fuelled a search for a solution, and the ultimate result was a much larger, more sustainable, more diverse supply chain that involved bringing bamboo from around the country, research into faster growing species, and the use of other kinds of lumber, all of which collectively brought great success.

Hirschman pointed out that, despite being viewed as risk takers, entrepreneurs are mostly attracted to propositions that they do not perceive as risky. When the harsh reality sets in, they must get creative to avoid a loss.

Of course, this is at odds with the traditional belief that careful planning, by avoiding such problems, will produce the best result.

I can attest to this on the basis of my own modest business adventures. Business school professors had drilled the importance of planning into my head, implying that failure was mostly a result of insufficient forethought. But in the real world, unforeseen complications always cropped up, and the final outcome was often quite different from what had been envisioned when starting out.

Hirschman suggested that anxiety is, in fact, the emotion that drives people to find solutions. In its absence, complacency takes over.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Questions for the 21st century

When information is coming at you in torrents, too fast to process, how do you avoid drowning? When change is happening at lightning speed in every facet of existence, what do you build on? When today's truth is tomorrow's falsehood, what can you believe? When your leaders routinely lie and cheat, who can you trust? When uncertainty is the only certainty, how do you make decisions? When computers erase careers because they can make decisions faster and better than people, how do you plan? When education no longer ensures a decent life, how should you advise your children? When your identity may be stolen, when your computer may be hacked, when your government spies on you, when details of your life are bought and sold by faceless database owners to enrich themselves, how can you avoid feeling like a pawn in someone else's game?

Fortune used to favour the brave. Who is favoured now?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The landfill harmonic orchestra

In an era when school music programs are under attack by the cost-cutters in Canada, it is inspiring to see the lengths to which people elsewhere will go to ensure that their children have an opportunity to create music.


Can't view the video? Click here.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Black and white

"You can only think black and white, and not grey."

That is Niki Lauda, one of the great Formula 1 drivers, talking about decisions.

Lauda's point is that even a bad decision is better than no decision. As he says, if you see that you've made the wrong decision, you can correct it. At almost 200 miles per hour, amazing reflexes are required for this to be true, but I take his point.

A decision allows you to move on.

Indecisiveness means that you are directionless. Time is wasted, momentum is dissipated, opportunities are lost, the game moves on without you.

And if you happen to be a leader,  all of this applies to your entire team.

In other areas of life, the ability to recognize shades of grey is desirable, even essential. But not when it comes to decisions.

Black and white only.

Which will it be?




Thursday, May 30, 2013

The melancholy of things done

"So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more." So wrote the Victorian poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson, in Tears, Idle Tears.

"What am I doing? What is my role in life now? I realized that I was experiencing the melancholy of things done," wrote moonwalking astronaut Buzz Aldrin in his memoir Magnificent Desolation, describing the descent into depression and alcoholism that accompanied his return to life on earth.

As one of the first two men to set foot on the moon, Aldrin had fallen from a great height.

Aldrin's questions are asked by many who, while they have not flown quite so high, have nonetheless enjoyed a sense of great personal accomplishment in their chosen field, and then wondered, "What's next?"

What's next?

A hard question that many try to avoid by striving to remain on the field of glory, even as it is apparent to them and others that their best days are behind them.

As the brilliant moments recede, remembered only by the few who were there to witness the record-breaking season, or the dealmaking coup, or the great discovery, or the brilliant performances, sweet sadness descends.

Then the final test revolves around another question --- Will the sweetness of the memory sustain and energize the present, or will it be overcome by the sadness of things that will never be again?



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A change of pace

Since I launched this blog on February 20, 2009, I have offered up 1, 085 posts for your edification and amusement.

It's been great fun, particularly when I hear back from you, or when you send me something new and interesting that I can share with the rest of our little online community.

But lately it has become clear that, too often, I am filling this space and your time with too many funny cat and dog pictures, and videos of the weird and wonderful gleaned from elsewhere.

I have drifted away from the "observations on the passing scene, spiced with the occasional rant" that I promised back on Day 1.

So from now on, I'll be posting here only when I have something to say that I think you might find interesting. I hope that's often but, as with lightning, one can not predict when inspiration may strike.

I do hope that you continue to check this channel. Thanks for hanging out with me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On the cutting edge

Unlikely as it may seem, even to me, I am actually a trendsetter for teenagers.

Yep, about a year ago, I realized that the time I was spending on Facebook wasn't delivering an adequate return, so I chopped it out of my life.

Now Pew Research has discovered that teens have come to perceive Facebook as a "social burden," and "an obligation." Their complaints about "annoying oversharers who drone on about inane events in their lives" pretty much mirrors my sentiments on the matter.

They're not cancelling their Facebook accounts, yet. But they are starting to explore "parent-free" alternatives like Twitter and Instagram.

Told ya!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Appraising grace


Friday, May 24, 2013

Signs of the times

• One in two Canadians has faked illness to get time off work.

• One in three Canadians foresees World War III in the next 20 years.

• One in four Canadians is obese.

• One in five Canadians was born abroad.

• One in six Canadians has used an illicit drug other than cannabis.

• One in seven Canadians has genital herpes.

• One in eight Canadians barf each year due to foodborne illness.

• One in nine Canadians are affected by Alzheimers disease by age 65.

• One in ten Canadians have gotten down and dirty in a canoe.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Friction

How much friction do you have in your day-to-day life?

I have been thinking about this since listening to a discussion among sportswriters and others who are in close contact with top-level athletes.

It was pointed out that these stars --- Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Roger Federer, Floyd Mayweather, David Beckham, and the like, have almost no friction in their lives.

That is to say that the large and small aggravations that the rest of us put up with, in getting through our days, are virtually unknown to them.

They are surrounded by agents, coaches, personal managers, sports psychologists, trainers, and assistants whose jobs are focused on allowing nothing to distract the athlete from the task of winning. That includes avoiding any negative or critical comments that might threaten the star's self esteem.

Nor can the star be burdened by the need to make travel arrangements, schedule medical appointments, find time for grocery shopping, find a dinner companion or a one night stand, fill out his tax return, have his car or his executive jet serviced, go out for a haircut, make sure there is food in the fridge, drive his kids to and from school --- well, you get it.

He (and they are preponderately male) is buffered from life as we know it. Others grease the wheels for him.

Frictionless.

The same may be said for major league movie stars, politicians, and CEO's. The sense of entitlement that this creates is a topic for another day.

Today, let's talk about the effects of friction as experienced to varying degrees by the rest of us.

Friction can be a long checkout line at the supermarket, or a bullying co-worker, or the enforcement of a silly rule, or work overload, or traffic gridlock. Aggravating, but that's relatively low-level friction, and most of us learn to cope with that, somehow.

Friction can be going to the drug store and discovering that your prescription has run out, which requires a doctor's visit to get it renewed, which requires time off work, which requires getting approval from a boss who has been complaining about your performance, and maybe the need to work a different shift to make up the time, which means you can't drive your kid to ball practice, which means asking your mother to do it, which means having to listen to her whine about you not visiting often enough, and so it goes.

Friction can be learning that your spouse or your child has a debilitating disease that will completely change your way of life, requiring you to devote yourself to her care, giving up most of the activities you shared, spending money you don't have on part-time caregivers, requiring so many hospital visits that it becomes impossible to keep your job, retreating into a small world centered on doctors and medical tests, fighting depression. Now consider that you have lost your car or your driver's licence, and live 100 km out of the city, where there is no Wheel-Trans.

Friction causes heat and wear when it builds up like that.

Our tempers rise to the explosion point, and then we say and do things that we'll regret later, perhaps with dire consequences. We hurt people, emotionally or physically.

Or we bottle it up inside, allowing it to grind us down, day after day, affecting our mental and physical health, shortening our lives.

At the extreme, friction can immobilize a person in the same way that an unlubricated wheel bearing can stop a train.

We all need to be alert to signs in our partners and friends that their friction is becoming too great, squeaky wheels and grinding gears that mean we need to reach for our oil can.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The spokesdog

Friday, May 17, 2013

Things I learned this week

• A Honus Wagner baseball card sold for a record $2.1 million in a recent auction. Wagner, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, broke into the majors in 1897. He is considered the greatest infielder in baseball history, and the 10th-greatest player overall.

• People are more likely to behave selfishly or less ethically when wearing sunglasses, says a University of Toronto study.

• People are more likely to comply with a request if told that they are free to decline.

• People make more indulgent choices when purchasing for friends than they do when purchasing for themselves.

• People are more satisfied with a decision if they follow it with a physical act of closure, such as closing the box after selecting a chocolate, or closing the menu after making a dinner choice in a restaurant.

• Too many choices can actually be paralyzing. In a famous experiment, 30% of shoppers purchased jam after trying samples from a store display of 6 flavours, while only 3% did so when the display contained 24 flavours.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

When there was the good

Francie, who blogs at North End Journal, mentioned the term "the good silverware" the other day.

Those people of my generation who were raised in families that were not wealthy, and with parents who had lived through the The Great Depression, will likely be familiar with the "good" concept.

"Good" in this context is the opposite of "Everyday."

You had your "good clothes," which were worn to church and other dress-up public occasions, and your Mom had her "good" china and "good" silverware," which were used for special events such as Christmas dinner or a visit by the minister.

The rest of the time, you wore your everyday clothes and everyday shoes, and ate off the everyday plates with everyday knives and forks.

I suspect that, in a time when people don't even dress up for weddings and funerals, this will be regarded as a bizarre concept for most folks under the age of 60.

Do you still have items that you keep "for good?"

I do. Those childhood lessons stick.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is water


Can't view the video? Click here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

New and improved lifesaving

I've always wondered whether I could properly perform CPR on someone experiencing a heart attack. Maybe you have wondered about that, too. After viewing this new, simplified method, I will have no qualms about stepping forward if needed.

Thanks to retired nurse Karen in Cobourg, Ontario, for sending this along.


Can't view the video? Click here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My dog ate my homework

Friday, May 10, 2013

Signs of futility

It seems to me that most signs are pointless.

Not those that help you get where you want to go, but the ones that preach at you.

One of the problems with signs is that they aren't needed for the folks who do the right thing without being told --- picking up after their dogs, not smoking near building entrances, not parking in the handicapped spots, not throwing foreign objects in the toilet, not littering, not fiddling with high voltage equipment, not driving too fast, not driving too slow, not rollerblading on multi-lane throughways.

The rest will just ignore the signs anyway, so why bother?

I concede that Stop, Do Not Enter, and One Way signs, are all absolutely needed to avoid carnage among drivers who are doing other things, like texting, eating breakfast, and applying their makeup.

A case can be made for Yield signs, although no sane person decides to drive into the path of a 22-wheeler because there's no sign suggesting he shouldn't.

But many other signs are just a waste of paint, eyesores that make urban landscapes even uglier.

Do you think admonitions to Buckle Up will change anyone's behaviour? What do you do with the information that you are driving on a Divided Highway, or that there are Security Cameras In Operation.

Maybe you should check that your fly is zipped up.

Why do people put Private Property signs on their obviously private property? Do they think people will otherwise think that their front lawn is a park, and erect a tent?

There are way too many signs. The Americans have a particular affinity for them.

A small example --- some interloper (person not possessing the required sticker) parked in the wrong place in our condo development in Florida about 20 years ago. The board was incensed that such a thing could happen, so they put up big, ugly, red and white signs everywhere threatening to tow such offenders.

To my knowledge, no one has ever been towed, which could be taken as proof that the signs are doing their job, or that they were unnecessary in the first place. I vote for the latter.
Sign, Sign, everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, cant you read the sign!
From the 1971 hit Signs by Ottawa's Five Man Electrical Band
On the other hand, trees have a calming effect, beautify the environment, reduce energy consumption by shading buildings, and soak up carbon dioxide while producing oxygen. So let's start yanking out signs and replacing them with trees.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Signs of the times

• The U.S. Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention was arrested on charges of groping a woman in a suburban Virginia parking lot.

• Robobee, the world's smallest drone, has been developed by a group of Harvard University researchers. It's about the size of a penny.

• Giving new meaning to the phrase "intoxicated by technology," the Beer Drone will deliver cold ones to concert goers at a South African music festival.

• A new study of DNA proves that everyone in Europe traces back to nearly the same set of ancestors only a thousand years ago.

• The U.S. gun homicide rate is down 49% since peaking in 1993, although 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago.

• At the current maximum pace of 800,000 messages per year, it will take 250 years to review and, where necessary, censor the 200 million eMail messages to be archived in the new George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Give me that old soft shoe

I think you'll enjoy this great clip of Bob Hope and James Cagney entertaining at a Friars Club. It's amazing how multi-talented these guys were. Hope was 52 and Cagney 56 at the time.


Can't view the video? Click here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A gift of travel

[Thanks to Ingrid in Guelph for sending this along. Author Unknown.]

A travel agent looked up from his desk to see an old lady and an old gentleman peering in the shop window at the posters showing the glamorous destinations around the world.

The agent had had a good week and the dejected couple looking in the window gave him a rare feeling of generosity.

He called them into his shop and said, “I know that on your pension you could never hope to have a holiday, so I am sending you off to a fabulous resort at my expense, and I won’t take no for an answer.”

He took them inside and asked his secretary to write two flight tickets and book a room in a five star hotel. As expected, they gladly accepted, and were off.

About a month later the little old lady came in to his shop. "And how did you like your holiday?" he asked eagerly.

“The flight was exciting and the room was lovely”, she said. “ I’ve come to thank you, but one thing puzzled me. Who was that old guy I had to share the room with?”

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sounds expensive

Friday, May 3, 2013

Saving the bees


As I've written before, our food supply is at risk because bees are dying off at an unprecedented rate, everywhere around the world.

Of the 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food, 70 are pollinated by bees. Pesticides are believed to contribute to shrinkage in the bee population.

Governments have been slow to react, but the European Union has now made a start by voting to ban three pesticides linked to bee deaths.

While activists say that the measures don't go far enough, allowing other substances that are also toxic to bees, there is no consensus on the reasons for the population plunge. Theories range from parasitic mites, to a lack of genetic diversity among breeding stock, to stress caused by the practice of transporting colonies by truck to different places to pollinate crops.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Phoning in a hijacking

Want to hijack an airplane? There's an app for that.

Maybe you heard about this. I hadn't, although I admit I don't pay much attention to what passes for news on TV.

Hugo Teso, a pilot and security consultant, spotted weaknesses in the flight communications and control technologies in current use. The effect of these weaknesses is to compromise the safety of flights on commercial airliners.

Teso developed an app for his Android phone that enabled him to upload information such as revised flight plans to a plane's computer, set off various phony alarms and alerts in the cockpit, and even "fly" the aircraft, or crash it. He tested it successfully, using a flight simulator.

His objective is to draw the industry's attention to such vulnerabilities.

Let's hope someone is listening.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Personal treasures

Reading a recent news item about people who collect old license plates got me thinking about the whole business of collecting, who does it, and why they do it.

Personally, I've never been much of a collector. As a youngster, I tried stamp collecting at the urging of my mother. I recall that you could send off for a starter kit of a dozen stamps from around the world. It was probably some sort of product promotion. I've long forgotten the product.

Stamp collecting works best if you have sources of foreign stamps, like relatives who travel abroad, pen pals in faraway places, or a stamp club where you can trade. I had none of those, so the whole stamp thing petered out pretty quickly.

You name it, somebody is collecting it.

The mom of one of my chums had a vast collection of teaspoons, impressively displayed in specially-designed, felt-lined chests. Another collected egg cups. A man once proudly took me through his impressive array of beer cans.

To qualify as a collection, some organization of the collectibles is required. If you're just throwing stuff into the shed or the attic, it's junk.

One of the advantages of collections is that it greatly simplifies gift-giving, but that can also get out of control, with the stuff still pouring in long after one's initial enthusiasm has waned.

Literally anything may be collected --- insects, photographs, birds' eggs, wine, guns, fishing flies, antique cars, navel lint, surgical instruments, airsick bags, baseball cards, hood ornaments, dolls, phonograph records, old bottles, matchbooks, stuffed animals --- the list is endless.

Why do people do it? Freudians say that a sense of ownership and control comes from possession of these items, starting with the stuffed animals and toys of childhood. Jungians think that it goes back to the collecting of nuts and berries by our early ancestors.

Could be.

While some people who lived through the Great Depression hold on to mundane things, often treating them with great reverence, such behaviour runs counter to the mainstream of today's culture of disposability, where everyday objects are tossed immediately after use.

When collecting becomes compulsive, and begins to interfere with living a normal life, it has become pathological and is called hoarding.

Unusual collections include mouse skulls collected from regurgitated barn owl pellets, tattooed heads, and toast.

What are you collecting?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Parental tutorial #1

Where does a parent's responsibility end?

I have a friend who thinks that his two daughters were poorly prepared for the vicissitudes of marriage because their parents never fought.

(Note that, while the latter claim challenges the limits of credulity, personal observation indicates that it may actually be true in this case. Guiness has been alerted.)

My friend muses that, if the girls had witnessed some parental spats while growing up, they might have been better able to understand that the arguments that surfaced in their own marriages were not inevitable precursors to the end of the connubial state.

As it happened, both daughters' marriages ended in divorce.

This may be instructive for those of you with children.

Behave accordingly.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Field test


Friday, April 26, 2013

Gender shift in Canadian politics

Down through history, there have been women who have run tribes and countries.

Boudica, Cleopatra, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, and Julia Gillard are among the best known today.

While still under-represented in the ranks of MP's and MPP's, women are now governing many of Canada's provinces and territories. Premiers Eva Aariak in Nunavut, Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland and Labrador, Christy Clark in BC, Alison Redford in Alberta, Pauline Marois in Quebec, and Kathleen Wynne in Ontario are current incumbents.

In the past, Northwest Territories, PEI, and the Yukon have also chosen female leaders.

As this got rolling with BC's Rita Johnston in 1991, we can hardly claim that it just burst upon the scene, but there has been little fanfare. Imagine the media hoopla if half the state Governors in the U.S. were women.

Maybe that's a good thing, indicating that Canadians don't see it as a big deal, but just something that is long overdue.

Does the shift to women in the top jobs mean politics will change?

Some think that estrogen brings with it more integrity, more morality, and less ego-driven conflict than does testosterone. Maybe better interpersonal skills, too.

We'll see.

One thing we won't likely see is lack of toughness. Think Margaret Thatcher dropkicking Argentina out of the Falkland Islands, and giving unsolicited advice to Ronald Reagan, or Angela Merkel laying down the law for the distressed countries of southern Europe, or the original "iron lady," Golda Meir.

Amazingly, I'm not hearing much resistance to this, even from the old white men who usually grouse about any change.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A temporary interruption

No blog post today, my friends. Geezer is working on his income taxes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Code red


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The joys of travel

International travel is so broadening, isn't it? Seeing new sights, sampling foreign cuisine, experiencing other cultures, meeting the inhabitants of far away places?

Well, maybe not, based on these comments received by Thomas Cook Holidays:
  • "I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts."

  • "It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons.

  • "I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time - this should be banned."

  • "On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food at all."

  • "We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels."

  • "The beach was too sandy."

  • "We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white."

  • "Topless sunbathing on the beach should be banned. The holiday was ruined as my husband spent all day looking at other women."

  • "No one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled."

  • "There was no egg slicer in the apartment..."

  • "We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish."

  • "The roads were uneven."

  • "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It only took the Americans three hours to get home."

  • "I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller."

  • "The brochure stated: 'No hairdressers at the accommodation'. We're trainee hairdressers - will we be OK staying there?"

  • "There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners now live abroad."

  • "We had to queue outside with no air conditioning."

  • "It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel."

  • "I was bitten by a mosquito, no-one said they could bite."

  • "My fianc√© and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."
Bon voyage.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Long may she reign

Whatever your views on the monarchy, surely you will agree that Queen Elizabeth has performed her duties with diligence and grace since inheriting the crown in 1953.

So, on her 87th birthday, here she is, as she was and as she is.



Can't view the video? Click here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The curse of interesting times

"May you live in interesting times."

The Chinese curse.

Frankly, I've had enough of it.

I grew up in the 1950's.

Those were wonderfully boring times.
We were called "the silent generation."

There wasn't much to talk about.

Louis St. Laurent was Canada's Prime Minister.

"Uncle Louis" gave us peace, order, and good government,
without excitement, and without upsetting the Americans.

He built highways.

Canadians were feeling pretty good.

Better times after two decades of poverty, joblessness, and war.

The future looked bright.

The Americans elected Dwight Eisenhower.

After winning World War II, "Ike" wanted to play golf, which he did.

Frequently.

He built highways.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ruled.

The future looked bright.

People sat on the porch,
waved to strolling neighbours,
relaxed in a backyard hammock.

There were picnics,
and church socials,
and baseball in the park.

There were Sunday drives.

There was a calm over the land.

Then the 1960's broke out, and things got noisy.

Fifty years later, threats, attacks, explosions, gunfire, gangs,
someone with a cause, a grievance, a grudge.

Always some idiot somewhere, making trouble.

Mindless violence and deliberate violence.

Now bombs at the Boston Marathon.

What the hell?

Interesting times? No thanks.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Paper is not dead

[Thanks to Ross of Brampton, Ontario, for sending this along.]


Can't view the video? Click here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Could Facebook become radioactive?

Facebook is ubiquitous, the operating system for modern life, with more than 1 billion members.

So far, people seem happy to trade off their privacy for the delights of the world's largest network.

Could that change?

People have been seduced into sharing an amazing amount of information about themselves via Facebook. A click to "Like" a post or a product seems such an innocent act. Sharing photos of a party, or an adventure, seems harmless. By the next day, you probably will have forgotten those clicks.

But Facebook never forgets.

Where you go, what you buy, who you know, what you like and dislike, who you voted for, whether you're gay or straight, whether you're religious or an atheist, whether you're a meat lover or a vegetarian, whether you live alone, where you work, where you've traveled, which organizations you belong to, whether you're poor or affluent, whether you're a gun owner, or a racist, or an illegal immigrant.

It's all there, and a whole lot more. Even when you are not posting explicit statements about such things, they can be deduced from comments, photos, friendships, and so on, not only on your own page but on those of your friends, too. All of that can, of course, be aggregated into a profile of you.

People are watching.

Some are just interested in selling you something. They're looking for clues to help target their ads more accurately. Although a bit spooky, this is relatively benign, maybe even desirable if it helps you find a product or service you need.

But some of those people work for police departments, insurance companies, prospective and current employers, government agencies, and others who can affect your life in more consequential ways.

As I mentioned in a recent post, the New York City police are attempting to prevent youth from leading a life of crime by making them "radioactive." The detectives use Facebook, and other social media, to learn about these teenagers. Then they create a dummy Facebook page with a fake profile of an attractive teenage girl, and bait the young men with “friend requests” to get around privacy settings. The goal is that they become "alienated" by those who would recruit them into gangs.

Surreptitious tactics used in a good cause, but how would you feel if similar tactics brought you to the attention of the authorities as they were investigating someone you had "friended?" Perhaps you just happened to be in a group photo that also included this person, or had been at the same party, or had happened to meet them while traveling, and now the police are scrutinizing everything you ever posted online? Things you wrote in jest may now be interpreted as "suspicious," even "dangerous."

Improbable? Perhaps.

Then consider that an insurance company may check you out on Facebook to see whether you have health problems, or engage in risky activities. If you have filed a claim for long term disability due to a car accident, they'll be looking to see whether you are out jogging or kayaking.

A prospective employer will take a look at your Facebook page to see who is in your network, what you're doing, and what you're thinking, that makes you a suitable, or unsuitable, candidate.

Did you mention that you and your family will be away for two weeks on a cruise? Did all of your Facebook "friends" wish you bon voyage? A perfect time for a burglar to visit your home.

What might an identity thief or a stalker learn about you, or your children, from Facebook?

Once you have "friended" someone, you are part of an exponentially expanding network that includes their friends, their friends' friends, and so on, most of which is largely beyond your control.

Now consider that other databases, maintained offline by governments, banks, credit card companies, and others, have lots of information about you. If you come under suspicion, despite being completely innocent, some of those databases will be searched, too, and when authorities are asking for information about you, that raises a red flag. If there's a police cruiser in your neighbour's driveway, your curiosity is piqued, isn't it? Same thing here, but with much greater consequences.

It's not just Facebook, it's Big Data. But Facebook is the easy place to start investigating, because it's easily accessible and everybody uses it.

Amazing technology, using powerful computers, is being developed to make this kind of thing possible. They can deal with exabytes of information, sifting it in seconds to suggest connections that may be further investigated. Exabyte is a term meaning "more data than you an possibly comprehend."

There is a profitable market in collecting and reselling Personally Identifiable Information (PII). PII is industry jargon for information that alone, or in combination with other information, can identify you, locate you, and contact you.

So, here's my question.

May we expect that when the mainstream media eventually latches onto this, and the headlines are full of regular folks who have been robbed, raped, killed, denied insurance, deported, arrested, sued, and fired, due to their use of Facebook, will it become like Chernobyl --- something that was once useful and valued, but that got out of control, caused massive damage, and was forever abandoned?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Primed for power

Four Canadian prime ministers appear in this 1967 photograph. From left: Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chretien and, PM of the day, Lester Pearson.

After decades in power, the Liberals had been defeated in 1957 by the Diefenbaker Conservatives. The Liberals reached out to Pearson to return them to power in 1958. Canadians said, "No," awarding 208 seats to the Tories and just 48 to the Liberals.

But in 1963, Pearson's party came roaring back to form a minority government, and repeated in 1965. That cabinet included Trudeau, Turner, and Chretien, all of whom would take a turn as prime minister.

In this photo, Trudeau, born of privilege and educated at Harvard, the Institut d'√Čtudes Politiques de Paris, and London School of Economics, appears to be sharing a joke with Turner, alumnus of UBC, Oxford University, and the University of Paris.

Pearson, former diplomat in London and Washington, Nobel laureate, and now Prime Minister, is obviously in a good mood.

How should we interpret the fact that Chretien, who came from humble origins, and styled himself as the "little guy from Shawinigan," stands alone, observing? A bit awed by all these worldly, sophisticated gentlemen, perhaps? He would win three mandates and serve as "the boss" for 10 years.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Big vs. BIG!

So, you think the Titanic was a big ship? Here it is, compared with the cruise ship Allure of the Seas.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Signs of the times

In news from south of the border:
• The majority of Americans now favour legalizing marijuana.

• A new study found that, in 42% of companies, low performers actually report being more motivated and more likely to enjoy working at their organization than middle and high performers.

A non-profit group plans to hand out free shotguns to residents in crime-ridden neighbourhoods of Tucson, Arizona.

• As recently as 2009, it was the world's fastest computer. It cost $120 million, covered 6,000 sq. ft., and used 55 miles of fiber optic cable. It was shut down last week, out-gunned by faster supercomputers.

• The New York City police are attempting to prevent youth from leading a life of crime by making them "radioactive." Joanne Jaffe, the department’s Housing Bureau chief, says “And we are going to learn about every bad friend you have. And you’re going to get alienated from those friends because we are going to be all over you."

• The first cellphone call was made 40 years ago, on April 3, 1973. Now, according to Pew Research, 87% of American adults have a cell phone, along with 78% of American teenagers ages 12 to 17. 44% of adult cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed; 67% find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls even when they don’t notice it ringing or vibrating; and 29% describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A cheer for the amateurs

Martha, who writes the blog Plowing Through Life, mused recently about the joy she experiences when taking photographs.

While not a professional photographer, her work is often very good. She has the "eye" to see the opportunity when it presents itself, the talent to compose the picture well, and the technical skill to capture a good image. She says she has been captivated by photography since receiving her first camera in her early teens.

I commented on her blog post that, while I greatly enjoy looking at good photography, I have no talent for doing it myself, nor any inclination to spend time learning to do it.

There is a sharp dividing line that separates the enjoyment of creating a thing from the enjoyment of the thing, itself.

For example, I enjoy making music with my guitars, composing tunes, experimenting with techniques to get a particular tone, and so on. This gives me much more pleasure than listening to recorded music.

My wife is, among her many talents, an excellent, gourmet cook. For her, cooking is an art, and her adventurous experiments in the kitchen have produced many memorable dinners. I am happy to be the beneficiary.

A neighbour showed me a finely crafted rocking horse that he had built for a grandchild. The joy of creation for him, a child's delight, and a future heirloom.

A volunteer in our Florida condo community has beautified our neighbourhood with plantings of flowers, shrubs, and trees. She has acquired the requisite knowledge, has a design sense that combines these elements in pleasing ways, and possesses the passion to drum up the necessary support.

Cabinet makers, sculptors, painters, gardeners, winemakers, jewellery makers, woodcarvers, poets, weavers, glassblowers, potters, candlemakers, aerobatics pilots, car customizers, and all the rest, doing it their way.

What good fortune to be surrounded by talented amateurs, to enjoy the fruits of their creativity, perhaps to discover our own gift, and to have the opportunity to pursue it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Golf magic

[Thanks to Ross in Brampton, Ontario, for sending this along.]



Can't view the video? Click here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Parents drug daughter, effects are lifelong

[Thanks to Libby in Caledon, Ontario, for sending this along.]

Monday, April 8, 2013

Have wine, will travel

[I came across the winebulance, thanks to Corinne in Vancouver, BC. Looks like a worthwhile public service.]


Friday, April 5, 2013

Signs of the times

A list of the countries that allow gay marriage:
  1. The Netherlands (2000)
  2. Belgium (2003)
  3. Spain (2005)
  4. Canada (2005)
  5. South Africa (2006)
  6. Norway (2009)
  7. Sweden (2009)
  8. Portugal (2010)
  9. Iceland (2010)
  10. Argentina (2010)
  11. Denmark (2012)
Legal in some jurisdictions:
  • United States (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
  • Mexico (Mexico City, Quintana Roo state)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bubba's hover

Man, I would love to have one of these! If you're having this much fun, who cares what score you're shooting?



Can't view the video? Click here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kings of the world



Nine European Monarchs attended the funeral of Britain's Edward VII.

Photographed at Windsor Castle on May 20, 1910 were, standing, from left to right: King Haakon VII of Norway, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Manuel II of Portugal, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George I of Greece, and King Albert I of Belgium.

Seated, from left to right: King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V of Britain, and King Frederick VIII of Denmark.

Absent: Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

In addition to these, 76 other members of various royal families were part of the funeral procession.

Just 4 years into the future, the guns of World War I would destroy their world.

The magnificent Prussian stallions that pulled the funeral hearse had been a gift from Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II to his uncle, Edward VII. The horses were destroyed at the outbreak of war in a wave of "Germanophobia.".

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opening day

As our beloved Blue Jays start a new season, expectations are high that a 20-year drought might be over. Hopes for the 37th opener are pinned on our new knuckleballer, R.A Dickey, who goes against the Cleveland Indians at 7:07 pm.

The Jays played their first game on April 7, 1977, with a small snowstorm sweeping over Exhibition Stadium just before game time. The new expansion team beat the Chicago White Sox 9-5, perhaps the high point of a first season that saw them finish in the basement of the AL East.

It took a while to reach the glory days of the back-to-back world championships in 1992 and 1993. Since then, fans have seen promising seasons repeatedly vanish but, as Canada's only major league baseball team, the Jays have an optimistic fan base that stretches from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland.

Backing up Dickie will be Bautista, Lind, Arencibia, Rasmus, Encarnacion (DH), and newcomers Reyes, Cabrera, Bonifacio, and Izturis. Canuck fan favourite Brett Laurie is on the DL and will likely be ready in about a week.

So here we go again.

OK, Blue Jays,
Let's Play Ball!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pride in the job #6


Source: theCHIVE

Friday, March 29, 2013

Canada explained

[Thanks to Libby of Caledon, Ontario, for sending this along. Author unknown.]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sing your song

[Thanks to Anita and Wayne in Alliston, Ontario, for sending this along.]

We have long known that music can stimulate the emotions, and now we are discovering that it can improve the functioning of minds impaired by dementia and Alzheimers. Young people, patients, and caregivers came together in London, Ontario, to create music, with some encouraging results. And some pretty good entertainment, too.


Can't view the video? Click here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Betting on yourself

"Studying entrepreneurship without doing it is like studying the appreciation of music without listening to it...

Until you confront the fear and discomfort of being in the world and saying, "here, I made this," it's impossible to understand anything at all about what it means to be a entrepreneur. Or an artist." ~ Seth Godin
Truer words were never spoken.

There are courses on entrepreneurship, taught by academics who have never ventured outside their educational institutions.

There are people who write about intrapreneurship, which is defined as the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.

There are a range of definitions concerning entrepreneurship. I define it as the act of commercializing your own new idea.

I sometimes think that, given the array of obstacles stacked against it, and the improbability of success, entrepreneurship may actually be a kind of mental illness.

But if you are an entrepreneur, you can not restrain yourself.

You will take the leap.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You know you wannabe Canadian



Can't view the video? Click here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pride in the job #5


Source: theCHIVE

Friday, March 22, 2013

Things I learned this week

• Men tend to marry younger women because men are capable of producing children for a longer time than women and thus, when they're older, are more likely than women to marry.

• Research seems to indicate that eliminating leaded gasoline lead to a major reduction in violent crime and teen pregnancies between 1960 and 2009. Something to do with lead making you stupid.

• Do not heat any liquid in a microwave oven for more than two minutes per cup and, after heating, let the cup stand in the microwave for thirty seconds before moving it or adding anything into it. Microwaved water and other liquids can actually get superheated and not bubble at all, then bubble up out of the cup when it is moved or when something like a spoon or tea bag is put into it. People have been badly burned this way.

• Not one of the top-five smartphone vendors from early 2007 (Nokia, RIM, Sharp, Motorola, and Palm) remains in the top five today.

• Of Americans who changed their minds to favour gay marriage, 37% said this was because they know someone who is gay or lesbian.

• A new study from the University of Colorado says that if you eat while you should be sleeping, you will gain weight. You heard it here first.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A woman of many parts

[This amazing, true, story was sent along by regular contributors Anita and Wayne of Alliston, Ontario. It was written by novelist, playwright, and journalist, Naomi Ragen.]

It all started with a skin flick.

In 1933, a beautiful, young Austrian woman took off her clothes for a movie director.  She ran through the woods... naked.  She swam in a lake... naked.  Pushing well beyond the social norms of the period, the movie also featured a simulated orgasm.  To make the scene "vivid," the director reportedly stabbed the actress with a sharp pin just off screen.

The most popular movie in 1933 was King Kong.  But everyone in Hollywood was talking about that scandalous movie with the gorgeous, young Austrian woman. Louis B. Mayer, of the giant studio MGM, said she was the most beautiful woman in the world.  The film was banned practically everywhere... which of course made it even more popular and valuable. Mussolini reportedly refused to sell his copy at any price.

The star of the film, called Ecstasy, was Hedwig Kiesler.  She said the secret of her beauty was "to stand there and look stupid."  In reality, Kiesler was anything but stupid.  She was a genius.  She'd grown up as the only child of a prominent Jewish banker.  She was a math prodigy.  She excelled at science.  As she grew older, she became ruthless, using all the power her body and mind gave her. Between the sexual roles she played, her tremendous beauty, and the power of her intellect, Kiesler would confound the men in her life...  including her six husbands, two of the most ruthless dictators of the 20th century, and one of the greatest movie producers in history.

Her beauty made her rich for a time.  She is said to have made - and spent - $30 million in her life.  But her greatest accomplishment resulted from her intellect... And her invention continues to shape the world we live in today. You see, this young Austrian starlet would take one of the most valuable technologies ever developed right from under Hitler's nose.

After fleeing to America, she not only became a major Hollywood star... her name sits on one of the most important patents ever granted by the U.S. Patent Office. Today, when you use your cell phone or, over the next few years, as you experience super-fast wireless Internet access (via something called "long-term evolution" or "LTE" technology), you'll be using an extension of the technology a 20- year-old actress first conceived while sitting at dinner with Hitler.

At the time she made Ecstasy, Kiesler was married to one of the richest men in Austria.  Friedrich Mandl was Austria's leading arms maker. His firm would become a key supplier to the Nazis. Mandl used his beautiful young wife as a showpiece at important business dinners with representatives of the Austrian, Italian, and German fascist forces.  One of Mandl's favorite topics at these gatherings - which included meals with Hitler and Mussolini - was the technology surrounding radio-controlled missiles and torpedoes. Wireless weapons offered far greater ranges than the wire-controlled alternatives that prevailed at the time.

Kiesler sat through these dinners "looking stupid," while absorbing everything she heard. As a Jew, Kiesler hated the Nazis.  She abhorred her husband's business ambitions.  Mandl responded to his willful wife by imprisoning her in his castle, Schloss Schwarzenau.

In 1937, she managed to escape. She drugged her maid, snuck out of the castle wearing the maid's clothes, and sold her jewelry to finance a trip to London. (She got out just in time.  In 1938, Germany annexed Austria.  The Nazis seized Mandl's factory.  He was half Jewish.  Mandl fled to Brazil.  Later, he became an advisor to Argentina's iconic populist president, Juan Peron.)

In London, Kiesler arranged a meeting with Louis B. Mayer.  She signed a long-term contract with him, becoming one of MGM's biggest stars.  She appeared in more than 20 films.  She was a co-star to Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope. Each of her first seven MGM movies was a blockbuster.

But Kiesler cared far more about fighting the Nazis than about making movies. At the height of her fame, in 1942, she developed a new kind of communications system, optimized for sending coded messages that couldn't be "jammed."  She was building a system that would allow torpedoes and guided bombs to always reach their targets.  She was building a system to kill Nazis.

By the 1940s, both the Nazis and the Allied forces were using the kind of single- frequency radio-controlled technology Kiesler's ex-husband had been peddling. The drawback of this technology was that the enemy could find the appropriate frequency and "jam" or intercept the signal, thereby interfering with the missile's intended path. Kiesler's key innovation was to "change the channel."  It was a way of encoding a message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum.  If one part of the spectrum was jammed, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies being used.  The problem was, she could not figure out how to synchronize the frequency changes on both the receiver and the transmitter.

To solve the problem, she turned to perhaps the world's first techno-musician, George Antheil. Antheil was an acquaintance of Kiesler who achieved some notoriety for creating intricate musical compositions.  He synchronized his melodies across twelve player pianos, producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.  Kiesler incorporated Antheil’s technology for synchronizing his player pianos. Then, she was able to synchronize the frequency changes between a weapon's receiver and its transmitter. On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey," which was Kiesler's married name at the time.

Most of you won't recognize the name Kiesler.  And no one would remember the name Hedy Markey.  But it's a fair bet than anyone of a certain age will remember one of the great beauties of Hollywood's golden age - Hedy Lamarr.  That's the name Louis B. Mayer gave to his prize actress. That's the name his movie company made famous.  Meanwhile, almost no one knows Hedwig Kiesler - aka Hedy Lamarr - was one of the great pioneers of wireless communications.  Her technology was developed by the U.S. Navy, which has used it ever since.

You're probably using Lamarr's technology, too.  Her patent sits at the foundation of "spread spectrum technology," which you use every day when you log on to a wi- fi network or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone.  It lies at the heart of the massive investments being made right now in so-called fourth-generation "LTE" wireless technology.  This next generation of cell phones and cell towers will provide tremendous increases to wireless network speed and quality, by spreading wireless signals across the entire available spectrum.  This kind of encoding is only possible using the kind of frequency switching that Hedwig Kiesler invented.