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


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.


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?