Sunday, December 20, 2009

Santa Claus Is Stalking You

I've been thinking about this for a while now. When my eldest daughter was just a toddler, we got all nuts about having her get her picture taken with Santa at the mall. We got her all dressed up and headed out. To make a long story short she freaked out and we didn't get the photo. I don't mean that she just squirmed and cried. She. Freaked. Out. This got me thinking, 'Why aren't more kids afraid of Santa?' Sure he represents a time of year (supposedly) filled with joy and peace and forgiveness and love, but the rest of the Santa Claus mythos is kind of disturbing when you break it down into it's individual pieces.

Think about the song 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. This song is filled with all kinds of scary stuff. 'He know when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!' Even as an adult I find this kind of disturbing. HOW dies he know if I'm sleeping or not? HOW does he know if I've been bad or good? More importantly, what happens if I haven't been good? Basically with Santa, you've got a strange hermit who watches us all the time and holds our behaviour out as a plan to get stuff. Last July I actually heard a mother in a store tell her child that he'd better be good or Santa wouldn't come! Six months ahead of time, she was placing a veritable Sword of Damocles over the kid's head. Most disturbing of all, this guy enters our homes in the middle of the night! He sneaks in and eats our food, has a smoke (if the old Coke ads are correct) and then climbs up the chimney to escape. Talk about stranger danger!

Isn't if funny how as we get older the magic of the season and the traditions involved change. We go from looking at the whole Christmas thing as a time of wonder and magic to thinking of it as an overly commercial and stressful time that is better to just get through and then be left behind. From enjoying a song about Santa to changing it into a disturbing narration of a stalker who enters our homes at night (even if only in jest). What if we all took a page from the books that the kids are reading from at this time of year. Take the time to look at Christmas through the eyes of a child. Isn't the magic that they feel better than the dread and stress of adulthood? Sure it is. Merry Christmas Everybody!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Problem With Christmas

Ah, Christmas! The time of the year that you love, or hate, or love to hate, or hate to love. A time of spending, giving, over eating and emotional stress – and that's in the good years. What about those years when the whole season goes off the rails and nothing goes right? I have a theory why many people enter the holiday season with hope and excitement and come out the other end feeling like they have been placed in the spin cycle of the washing machine and left in a damp smelly heap on the laundry room floor. I place the blame for the raised expectations and dashed hopes of the holidays squarely on three movies. Yep, it's not really our fault at all. It's the fault, once again, of Hollywood.

These three movies are White Christmas (1954), Holiday Inn (1942), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). These movies all have the same elements: Beautiful people, great clothing, perfectly coiffed snow banks, holiday decoration perfection and idealized happy Christmas endings. These are the reasons why people feel that something is missing. Don't get me wrong, I love these movies (even though 2 of them are musicals). I watch them every year – How can you resist Rosemary Clooney? I mean come on! But these are not the reality of Christmas as most people know it. These three movies, whether you have seen them or not, have dictated Christmas and what we expect from it for fifty years. Compared to the Christmases portrayed in these movies, none of us have a hope for the season.

For the more realistic view of Christmas I prefer the insanity of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989). Who can resist the chaos of 'an old fashioned family Christmas'. Basically everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the Griswold's and the hilarity that ensues makes most of our own Christmas misadventures look like a walk in the park. So in the hopes of giving you a guide to holiday viewing I have compiled a list (three actually) along with either a quote from the movie or a comment from me. One for 'feel good' ideal holidays. One for 'reality'. And one that will make even the worst holiday season look like paradise. Merry Christmas everyone!

The Ideal Christmas Viewing Guide

White Christmas (1954) – Rosemary Clooney, (and Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye too) 'nuff said!

Holiday Inn (1942) – Laughs brought to you by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)"Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink."

Muppet's Christmas Carol (1992) – Come on. Who can resist the Muppets?


The Reality of Christmas Viewing Guide

Christmas Vacation (1989)"I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."

A Christmas Story (1983) – Doesn't everyone want a shapely leg lamp and a pellet gun?

Home Alone (1990)"I'm gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your lying, yellow, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead!"


The Christmas Chaos Viewing Guide

Scrooged (1988)"You've got a program featuring America's favourite old fart. Reading a book in front of a fireplace. Now, I have to kill all of you."

Die Hard (1988)"This is agent Johnson. No, the other one."

Gremlins (1984) – When you want the perfect Christmas gift. Oh, ah… just don't get them wet!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Well it's the start of the second and final week of talks in Copenhagen on the state of the planet's environmental health and the effect we are having on our home. As usual the whole thing is almost completely off the rails with no real solution in sight. The problem, from my point of view, seems to be that there are too many people with too many differing agendas, all pushing their story.

First off, you have the environmental scientists. They of course are saying that we are on the verge of a major change and major problems in our environment and that we humans are the cause. Then there are the scientists who present a completely opposite view of the whole thing and say that the first group of scientists are fear mongering. In the third corner, we have the politicians who are blowing their own hot air (and thereby contributing to global climate change on their own). The politicians remind me of the adult figures in the Peanuts cartoons. No real substance to their talking, just a 'Wha wa wa wa Whaa wa wa wa'. In the forth corner of this drawn out fight are the protestors. They add to the general chaos of the situation but rarely add anything constructive as far as I can see from my seat here in the audience. All of these people are talking about things like climate change and carbon credits and environmental impact, but even though they might be speaking the same words, no one seems to be speaking the same language.

The first group of scientists seem to be too worried about the impact we are having on the planet, while the second group does not seem to be worried enough. Then the politicians add their brand of double speak and empty promises while the protestors are outside getting arrested for demonstrations that cause lots of noise and keep riot police busy but do little else.

I think we all need to take a step back and agree on a few things first. Firstly, is this planet important? Do we need this planet to live on in order to survive as a species? I mean, there isn't some other planet close by that we can all relocate to right? I think we can all agree that this is a firm 'yes'.

Secondly, is pollution a good or a bad thing? Is the reduction of the pollution we pump out of our cars and factories a good or bad thing? I don't know about you but I prefer to breathe clean fresh air rather than particle laced smog and I like to drink clear fresh water, rather than murky goo. So I guess that the answer to the second set of questions is another firm 'yes'.

The next set of questions need to be limited to a definite end. It is at this point that we seem to get bogged down. That being elimination of the pollution. Is living on cleaner, healthier planet worth doing something about? Is it worthwhile to begin limiting our pollution (and whatever your position, it is ours. Mother Nature did not build the chemical plants and oil refineries that dot the landscape.)? That's it. No more. It the answer to this set is a 'yes' then lets do something about it. If living on a cleaner healthier planet is worthwhile then all other concerns begin to pale in comparison. Let's do it and get on with other concerns. If not, I'm selling seats on my escape rocket ship for $1,000,000 each because it's time to leave!

Monday, December 7, 2009

‘Tis the Season for… Hyperbole

It must be the confluence of the sports world in the fall that causes it. You've got baseball ending in late October or early November. Then there's the blessedly short CFL season during the early fall ending in early November. The NFL runs through the fall into January. Finally the interminably long NHL season from basically September to June. Oh, and the PGA is in there somewhere as well. With all of the sports and over paid players and the scandals comes the grand dame of language – the hyperbole.

For those of you who might not have paid attention during English class, hyperbole is the intentional use of exaggeration. 'I hugged her a thousand times.' 'That was the best coffee in the world.' 'If you take away my cell phone I'll die.' All hyperbole. But it's not just in English class that we see hyperbole.

You hear it every day on the sports news. Athletes talking about the sports arena/field/court as a battlefield and the specific contest in question as a war. Can we not find another euphemism for this. Especially with soldiers on real battlefields fighting real wars. If the game was a close one we could say that it was a hard won victory. That the team pushed hard for the win. But a battlefield? Nope. Don't think so.

Another that I just love to hear is "We just went out there and gave 110%." No you didn't. You might have given all you had and pushed yourself to do your best but there is no way to give more than 100%. By definition 100% is eveything.

The one that got me thinking about this was something I heard the other day on the radio. The player in question said something like, "We overcame great adversity to take the win from them." Great Adversity. Not really. You played a little harder and got the ball over the goal line or the puck in the net or the ball in the basket or… whatever. You did not overcome great adversity. The people who float from Cuba to Florida, in an attempt to gain a better life, through shark infested waters in a leaky bathtub – these people overcome adversity.

To compare sports to a battlefield or to say that you overcame adversity to get another win on the tally sheet demeans the reality of what some people are doing every day. Perhaps if we put two NFL or NHL teams in leaky boats on shark infested waters and they had to play their sport in those conditions, with someone shooting at them, then I might agree with the whole adversity thing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Call Me Old Fashioned

Well, it's early December and here we go again. As seems to happen every week for some reason, I had to make my way to the grocery store the other day. We try to be as efficient as possible when it comes to grocery shopping and running errands. We make a list of things we want to eat in the coming week and then if there is any thing else we need at other stores, we try and pick those things up on the same trip. This cuts down on the time we spend running all over town and saves some a bit on the gas budget at the same time. Neither my bride or I like shopping at the best of times anyway so there is also that as well. Instead of heading out to the store three or four times a week we try to do everything in one trip. We still have to go shopping but it's like pulling off a bandage. Just rip it off and be done with it.

On my trip the other day I was bombarded with Christmas music. Every store I went into was blasting the cheerful holiday pap at the weary customers. From what I have gathered, some stores have been doing so for a couple of weeks now. Why? Why must we torture ourselves with this stuff? If I find it hard to put up with on my few trips to the store, how on earth do the employees of the stores put up with it every day for hours on end? I used to work retail. I loved Christmas. Even when I was working. People would come into the store all panicked and sometimes surly, and I took great pride in being nice to them. Sometimes my niceness really pissed them off! I thought it kind of funny, being the season of kindness and giving and all. But while I was on shift, the seasonal cds mysteriously disappeared and then returned when my shift ended.

Now the whole Christmas consumer culture we live in drives me nuts. It's too bad that the whole 'better to give than receive' thing has turned into 'It's better to spend more money than others'. The whole Christmas gift giving scene has become out of control. With the advent of so called 'Black Friday' sales in Canada, it's only going to get worse.

Anyway, as I went to the three stores that I need to visit the other day, I heard the same sappy Christmas song in those three different stores. Why can't we slowly gear up to the full on Christmas tunes? You know, start with one or two an hour early in December and as the month progresses, increase the number of tracks and frequency of play. Then the week before Christmas play however much you want (cause I'm usually done my shopping by December 15 anyway). Perhaps next year we will do all of our Christmas shopping online, because if I hear "The Little Drummer Boy" blasting at me again this century, that little drummer boy might be the one getting 'pa rum pa pum pummelled'. Bah, Humbug!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It’s the ‘80s Fault

Let me start off by saying that I love almost all things '80s. Movies, music, games, and even fashion for the most part. Like most of my friends, I grew into my teens during the '80s and so my life was influenced by the culture of the times.

Do you remember playing Trivial Pursuit till the wee hours? What about listening to the radio for hours in the hopes of hearing your favourite song play without the announcer's voice or a commercial, so that you could tape the song (without having to buy the whole album)? Remember the days before the internet and Cell phones? Did you have a Tandy computer? Intellivision, Atari 2600, Frogger, Pac-Man, Rubix Cube… Ah, the good old days right? For those of us who grew up during those ten years, it seems so.

The other day I was playing some music while we cleaned up the house. My kids love Genesis and a lot of the older music that I grew up with so I was playing some of the hits of the '80s for them. As they asked me what each song title was, I got thinking about mixed tapes. Do you remember the excitement you felt when that special someone made you a mixed tape? They would put songs on it that reminded them of you or had a message in that particular song that they wanted you to pick up on. Or when you made one for someone else? The effort that you put into picking just the right song? Hours spent fast forwarding and rewinding those tapes, in order to get the exact timing between songs. Then carefully printing out the song titles on the label. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Looking back twenty years on (yes, we are getting old!), this was kind of a strange thing to do. Especially when you look at the titles of some of the songs. Can you imagine if someone from the '80s, time travelled forward to today and had a crush on someone and made a mixed tape (or mixed mp3, or whatever), how strange and disturbing it would be. So in the interests of making my point here is my creepy retrospective mixed tape playlist (and yes, I know 'playlist' is not an '80s term!).

  1. Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys
  2. I Want To Know What Love Is – Foreigner
  3. Why Can't This Be Love – Van Halen
  4. Every Breath You Take – The Police
  5. Eye In The Sky – Alan Parson's Project
  6. Lay Your Hands On Me – Thompson Twins
  7. Can't Fight This Feeling – REO Speedwagon
  8. Missing You – John Waite
  9. Hard Habit To Break – Chicago
  10. Follow You, Follow Me – Genesis
  11. Better Be Home Soon – Crowded House
  12. I Just Died In Your Arms – Cutting Crew

Let the stalking begin!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Time After Time

"At the sound of the tone after ten seconds silence, the time will be…" If this rings a bell for you, you are obviously a listener of the longest running show on CBC radio – The National Time Signal. For those of you who have not, or do not listen to the CBC on a regular basis, a little explanation. Every day at 2:00pm, the national broadcaster here in Canada runs this public service so that you can set your clock to the official national time in your time zone. I find this to be one of the funniest things on the radio. Every time I hear that official government voice announce the "At the sound…" intro, I look at whatever clock is near and see how far off I am. From time to time I do change the time on the clock if I see it's more than a few seconds off, but then I wonder why.

As I go through my house I have a clock or time piece of some kind in almost every room. Alarm clocks in the bedrooms, the computer clock, the coffee machine and the stove all have clocks. Most days I have on a wrist watch. Not one of them shows the same time. Why is it so hard to have all of the clocks in the house on the same time? It's like living in some kind of broken time machine. I leave the living room at 1:00pm and enter the kitchen at 12:58pm. Then I go into the bedroom and it's 1:03pm. In the course of the day I must time travel a couple of dozen times. I wonder if I was to set each clock a couple of minutes slower than the previous one and ran through the rooms from the fastest running clock to the slowest, would I age in reverse? Could I travel back in time to change history?

I have long given up trying to set my clocks all to the same time. It's like trying to stay ahead of the laundry or setting the time on a 1980's vintage VCR – impossible. I guess it's good to know that the nice people at the National Research Council here in Canada know what time it really is, because I sure don't.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All You Need Is… A Little Perspective

I usually try to keep my blog entries on the lighter side of things. Those of you who have been reading for a while know this to be the case. But this morning while I was listening to the radio all I kept thinking about was the whole H1N1 pandemic panic. Why are so many people making a big deal out of this? It got me to thinking about what is really going on here. Is it really as bad as everyone thinks or is it being blown out of proportion like so many other things in the media and in the public rumour mill. So before you head out to the hardware store to get boards and nails for barricading yourself in your house for protection from the flu ridden hoards, lets have a look.

Since the H1N1 virus showed up about a year ago, there have been approximately 3000 deaths worldwide from that particular virus (WHO numbers). In a normal year, the regular flu virus kills approximately 40,000 people. I don't know how you do your math, but in any math book I've seen, 40,000 is WAY more than 3000. Most of the deaths from both H1N1 and the regular flu viruses are caused by complications arising from the virus and previously present underlying health issues.

Reports in the news have focused on the whole 'shortage of vaccine' and the long line ups at the various clinics set up to hand out the shots. Why? In our community, every year, we have a mass sign up for various activities for kids. Gymnastics, hockey, baseball, soccer etc. Every year people head out at 6am and wait for hours in line to be the first to sign their kid up. Every year my bride and I wait for a couple of hours and head out and get through the line in 30 minutes to an hour. Same thing with the H1N1 vaccine line ups. Those who rushed out at the crack of dawn waited, while others I know waited for a couple of hours and got through the whole thing in much shorter time. There is no shortage. People just have to be patient. You will still get your kid signed up, and a few hours sooner or later is not going to make a difference. Oh, and if you are not in a high risk category for this virus – wait your turn and let those who truly need this vaccine get it first! With less queue jumping there would be less problems with supply.

'But this H1N1 thing is more dangerous than the regular flu.' Nope. It is just as dangerous as the regular flu. Again if you are a healthy person with no underlying health issues then you will probably be fine. A few days of discomfort and laying in bed and then you recover. For the vast majority of people this is how things play out. If you have not already been sick, wash your hands with hot soapy water, and make sure your kids do the same. An ounce of prevention…

Will I be getting my kids vaccinated? Yep. Will I be getting vaccinated? Eventually, yes. Am I concerned about the whole thing? Absolutely. Will I be lining up at the crack of dawn to get a shot? Absolutely not. I know some of you will be thinking "What does he know?" Well, if you still have questions and want better answers than I can give you then follow this link for the November 1, 2009 call in with Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, . There is also an audio file from a few weeks back on the same topic.

Finally, lets not give the poor nurses who are administering the vaccines a hard time. They are working very hard to keep up with the demand. They have no control over how long it takes, it takes as long as it takes. They have to put in long hours dealing with worried people. When it comes your turn to sit in the chair and roll up your sleeve, why not shake things up for these nurses? Patiently wait your turn, sit down in the chair, smile at the person giving you the shot and thank them for their diligence and time. They deserve it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Am A Genius… Or Should Be Anyway

To some of you who know me the title of this blog will come as a surprise. I can hear the snickering now. For those of you who don't know me, I want to assure you that yes, in fact, I am a genius. Don't believe the snickerers (see, I can even make up words!). "How can he say that?" What makes him think he's a genius?" Well, I have a question for you – Why not? Have you ever taken the time to think about what is stored in your brain? The information about yourself, your memories, the ins and outs of your workplace and the day to day minutia that you have to remember just to make it through the week without falling off a bridge or something? Take a minute… I'll wait.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about the Top 10 Guilty Pleasure songs of the 1980s. I found it amazing that I not only remembered the tunes for these songs but also the words (all the words) to these songs. Think about that. All of the words and the tunes to 10 songs from twenty years ago, some of which I haven't heard since they were popular. Why do I remember this? Who knows. Especially, why do I know the words to 'Tarzan Boy' or, God help me, 'It's Raining Men'.

When will I ever need to know that the little dangling thing at the back of my mouth is called a uvula? For what reason will I ever have to know that the Templars were wiped out on October 13, 1307 (the origin of the belief that Friday the 13th is a bad luck day). Why? Why do I know this? I guess this information might help me when it comes to playing Trivial Pursuit or other such games, but usually I have no use for it day to day.

I can remember information about incidents and funny things that happen to people in order to tease and torment them at later dates. Those of you who know me, know this to be true. If only I could use my powers for good instead of evil. If I could only fill my brain with useful information like how to make clean water or energy, the potential is limitless. Sometimes I think that perhaps I could solve the world's problems if only I could remember the formula for making a baking powder volcano.

So you see, we're all geniuses – or we should be. All we have to do is learn to remember the information that is important. Too bad that's easier said than done.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here We Go Again

We got the good news this morning! After years of trying and waiting and praying and begging, it's happening again! The New York Yankees are going to the World Series! YaHoooo! This will be the Yankees' 40th appearance in the fall classic.

To be honest, I don't watch a lot of baseball anymore. What with all the scandals involving steroids and strikes and such, the shine has kind of come off the whole sport for me. I'm one of these people who prefers baseball for the pure enjoyment of the sport. The fact that one small error can affect the outcome of the game. One light tapper into the gap can win a championship. I love the crack of the bat against the ball. You don't even have to be watching the game to know when a home run is hit – it has a special sound all it's own. Those are some of the reasons I like baseball. If my favourite team wins, even better.

I know that some people out there are cursing and swearing about the Yankees trip to the World Series this year. Any year for that matter. That's fine, not everybody is a Yankees fan. But why rain on the parade of those of us who are? I'm not a Detroit or a Boston fan but I don't begrudge them their wins when they happen. Every time the Yankees win a spot in the American League Championship or in the World Series the same old whining begins. 'They bought the wins that got them there.' 'Why wouldn't they be there, they pay their players the most.' I even saw one post on a sports site this morning call them 'The best champions money can buy.' I hate to break it to you folks, but money doesn't always mean wins. Especially in professional sports.

It really rattles my chain when people talk like this. I agree, absolutely, that professional sports 'stars' are paid entirely too much. No one needs, or is worth, upwards of $15 or $20 million. Come on! You're playing a game for Pete's sake! But like I said, high salaries are no guarantee of wins. Let's look at the Yankees for a minute. Sure they have the highest payroll in baseball. Have had for years. They have won 26 World Series and have been American League champs at least twice as many times. But for all of their appearances in the championship series' why have they not won every time if payroll was everything? Why did they not win the World Series last year? Or the year before? Or the year before that? The same people who point out that the Yankees have the most money and spend it on good players to win ball games, conveniently forget that the Yankees have had long dry spells when they spent more time in the basement than on the top of the field. (Check out the stats for 1981 to 1996. Not much to brag about there.)

If money was everything, why don't all of the sports teams with the most money always win? Let's look at hockey. (Gasp! Don't badmouth hockey!) Of the 31 teams in the NHL, the top 15 teams have a payroll of $45 million or more. Of those top 15 teams, the worst team in hockey (not even the least paid) comes in at $46,445,180 – Toronto Maple Leafs. They, as of right now, have a record of 0 – 8. That's NO wins and 8 LOSSES! Sure you say but they don't have the highest payroll this year. Fine. Please step into my time machine. Oh! Watch your head! In the 2002 – 03 season The Leafs were among the top 6 teams in regards to payroll ($65,054,900). The team who won the Stanley cup that year was not. Why then, if money can buy championships, didn't one of the top paying teams win? Perhaps money isn't everything after all. Ever heard of the 'underdog'?

As in life, it's often the small things that trip us up. A dropped ball, a missed catch, an untied shoelace. Sometimes things happen that can be explained and some times things happen that defy our ability to accept them. Our mental game is often just as important, if not more so, as our physical skill. Perhaps the Yankees just have the right mix this year. Does money have anything to do with it? Sure. Is it the only reason they are in the world series? Nope. We won't know for another week who will win the series, but one thing is for sure -- I've got a long week ahead.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The End Is Near

Well, there has been a lot of hype about the new disaster movie '2012' in recent weeks. Previews show a spectacular CGI special effects movie with some real people acting in the middle there somewhere. The whole premise of the movie centres around the idea that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. That this is the predetermined end of the world. There have, of course been end of the world predictions for thousands of years. People thought that the turn of the first millennium was going to bring the end of the world. There have been predictions that the world would end in fire, or ice or that the rapture was going to occur. This doom and gloom continued into present day with the whole Y2K scare back in 2000, when all the computer systems in the world were supposed to shut down and end life as we know it. So these predictions about the end of the world are nothing new, it's just that the special effects are getting better.

I have to admit that there is a slight fascination with the disaster movie. Some people like to place themselves in the position of the hero of the movie. Kind of a 'better living through living vicariously through an action movie' thought process. Others are apparently just fascinated with the death and destruction involved. Maybe people like to be depressed, who knows. Just in the relatively few years that I've been alive, the world has ended (in the movies, not really) by asteroid collision, flooding, earthquake, alien invasion, giant monster attacks, disease, zombies, zombie virus, computer virus, regular war, nuclear war, global climate change and in the case of some of these movies, boredom as well. Every time a new calamity or public outcry about something happens, a new disaster movie involving that particular scenario arrives at the box office. I fully expect to see movies about N1H1, avian flu, the common cold and the scourge of male pattern baldness in the near future.

Every time I teach a history class, I have to go through the whole "Why do we have to study history?", "You study history because it's important," debate. You know, it's the whole "Unless you know your history you are doomed to repeat it" routine. It's important to know the how and why things happened in the past. The other thing that history teaches us is perspective. When a movie like '2012' comes out and the whole idea of the movie is that an ancient civilization predicted the exact day and year that the end of the world would occur, I have to think about what history teaches us happened to the Mayans. Here was a civilization that was very advanced, ruled their little corner of the world for hundreds and hundreds of years and (if you can overlook the whole sacrifice and barbarity thing) were probably the most advanced people in the western hemisphere. Things were going well for the Mayans until the arrival of the Spaniards and a little bug that caused small pox. Within a very few years they were gone.

My own theory on the whole 'Mayans predict the end of the world' debate is that the guy whose job it was to carve the calendar got up one morning and went to work. He carved for the day until he got to the date of December 21 2012 (the natural end of a calendar cycle in the Mayan tradition) and thought 'Here's a good spot to stop for today,' and went home for supper. The next morning he got up and wasn't feeling well so he stayed home to protect his co-workers from his cold and then he died. The calendar never got finished because his co-workers had the same problem and they all died too.

I have to smile at the whole end of the world thing because if it is going to end there's not much I can do to stop it. All I can do is wait and see what will happen. Hopefully the special effects will be good.




Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown

Well it is upon us again. That time of year when family and friends gather to eat huge amounts of food and give thanks for the birth of the Easter Bunny, who went on to grow up during the cold winter months and emerged from his burrow in time to deliver chocolate effigies of himself to us in the spring. Wait, what's that… I'm sorry, I've just been informed by my kids that what I just stated is not true and is not what Thanksgiving is about at all. Thanks for setting me straight guys. One thing is for sure though, it is the time of year when we all get together to eat great amounts of food and are able to do so without feeling guilty about it. (At least that's something for my brain to give thanks for at the very least, although my behind might disagree.)

I like the whole feast idea, whether it's Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving. The smells of the kitchen with baking pies and the turkey and the smells of the vegetables… MMMmmmm. Over the years it has become my responsibility to bake the pumpkin pie. In my head I have a memory of what pumpkin pie was like when I was small and I have been trying to reach that pinnacle for years. Each year I get closer to that ideal but I'm not there yet. What I have succeeded in doing is making a pie that is so good that even my kids, who usually try to find ways to get out of having to eat things that come from a garden, will willingly tuck into with no complaints and even ask for more.

I, of course, make my pie from scratch (for those of you with no baking/cooking experience that means no pre-mixed industrialized store bought items, except the flour, sugar, eggs… etc.). My kids don't even know that you can buy pumpkin pie filling at the grocery store. They just think that this is the way it's done. Most often I even grow my own pumpkins and then harvest them, cook them and freeze pre-measured quantities so that when the time comes to make a pie that part is done. Lots of work to be sure, but the finished product… WOW! (If I do say so myself.)

'Well let's have this fantastic recipe', I hear you say. 'What makes it so good?' Do you honestly think that I am going to give away at least ten years of toil and sweat so that you can make the same pie that I do? Not likely.

Anyway, whether you have pie this weekend or not, enjoy your time with family and friends, have some wine and some good food but above all – Give Thanks.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hit and Miss

Sometime I really have to wonder about the people we elect and the civil servants that are hired in this province. Their actions seem to be a combination of brilliant moves and semi-comatose fumbling. Every so often they come up with things like lower taxes for small business and the like that make all kinds of sense because most of our population is employed by small business. So the less taxes these business pay, the more they can pay their employees and then these employees have more money to spend on other things for the government to collect taxes on. But at other times it seems like these people have their heads stuck in some kind of hole. Take for example a few years ago. The provincial tourism department approved a series of ads which were supposed to (I would guess) draw more people into the province as tourists. These ads were so terrible that every time I saw them, they made me want to move somewhere else.

Then the provincial government decided to change our provincial slogan to the terribly ambiguous 'New Brunswick. Be… in this place.' Be what? What are we supposed to do with this? What is the point? I don't even want to know how much money we paid for this incredible piece of creative writing. What was wrong with 'New Brunswick. The Picture Province'. At least Picture Province provides us with the image that there is something in the province that we might want to remember. Perhaps the scenery is worth capturing for posterity at the very least.

Then last year the province decided that there was money to be made by producing and selling their own brand of beer. The reason for this brilliant decision was all of the money supposedly leaving the province to buy cheep beer in other places. Really? Is there really that many people travelling to other provinces to buy beer? If so they really have no concept of economics. Lets say that a case of beer is $14 here in N.B. and $10 in a neighbouring province. By the time you drive there, purchase the beer and drive home again (factoring in the time, gas and possible overnight costs) that $10 beer is more expensive than if you had just spent the $14 in the first place. (Maybe these people travelling to buy 'cheaper' beer are the ones coming up with the wonderful provincial slogans and tourism ads.)

It turns out that this new 'Select' beer is not selling as well as the people in charge thought it might. After the initial rush of people trying it out, sales dropped off significantly. Now, the provincial liquor corporation is going to try a bundling promotion (to test their new computer inventory software. Sure!) in which if you buy a case of this 'Select' beer you get a 200ml bottle of whisky as well. Wow! Fantastic! Not only do we get a lower priced (and to my palette, a lower quality beer), now we get a lower quality whiskey to go with it. (You don't really think they are going to give away the good stuff do you?)

For some reason, my bride and I have, in our book collection, a copy of the Bartenders Guide to Making and Mixing Drinks. How we got this and where it came from is now a mystery lost to the ages. In this book there is a recipe for a drink called a boilermaker. Basically you pour a glass of beer and then pour a shot glass of whiskey. Take the full shot glass and gently drop it into the glass of beer. Enjoy!

Perhaps the new slogan for the province should more correctly read 'New Brunswick. Boilermakers in this place'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

How Much Time is Too Much Time?

Have you ever seen that Seinfeld episode where Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer are in a rush to get to a movie and they go to a Chinese restaurant and have to wait for a table? The Host of the restaurant keeps telling them 'Five, ten minutes', in response to their questions about how long till they get seated. To make a long story short, the whole episode is them in the waiting area of the restaurant trying to get seated, eventually they give up and leave because they are starving and have missed the movie and just after they leave the restaurant the Host calls out "Seinfeld four!"

This past weekend my bride and I took the kids to Fredericton for the night and decided that we would go out for supper when we got there. After three tries at three restaurants we finally got to have our supper (it seems that no one in Fredericton cooks at home on Friday night). At two of the restaurants the wait for a table was 45 minutes or longer! The third restaurant we got to originally told us 15 minutes, so we thought, 'o.k. that's not too bad' and hunkered down to wait. The funny thing about this whole situation was that as each new person entered the restaurant and asked about seating, the hostess told them progressively shorter times. I looked at my bride and we both, in a moment of shared brain activity, whispered to each other 'Seinfeld four!'

This of course got me thinking, how long do you wait for a table before you just say the heck with it and leave? If you go to a restaurant and they tell you '10 minutes' say, and you wait and wait and then look at your watch and it's been almost 15 and you ask again and they say 'just another couple of minutes', have you invested too much time to leave that restaurant? Do you take the chance that it might be just a couple of minutes or do you bail in the hopes of getting quicker seating somewhere else? It's one of those circular conundrums. If you stay the wait might be longer than you are being told, but if you leave you might get quicker service at another restaurant, but if you leave your table will probably be ready in just a couple of seconds. Then there is the whole factoring in of the time it takes to get to that other restaurant… Ugh!

Luckily in our case we got seated faster than we were actually told and the meal was good, the kids had a good time and all was well with the world. Looking back at the weekend, and the faces I saw in the waiting areas of the three restaurants we visited, I can only remember three smiling faces – those of the owners.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I guess if I don't get it now I never will. No, not some disease or other illness -- the whole whoopla over the Beatles (I don't really get the Elvis thing either). This past week two new box sets of their albums and a new video game hit stores, much to the delirious delight of their fans. Some lined up outside stores all night just to ensure that they got to purchase the items they wanted. Kind of reminds me of the whole Cabbage Patch Doll mania in the '80s (something else I'll never understand).

I have never been a big fan of the Beatles. I'm not sure if it is because they were broken up before I was born (although I do like other bands from the same period), but their music just never appealed to me. The music itself is alright I guess but some of their lyrics just send me around the bend. "She loves me yeah, yeah, yeah She loves me yeah, yeah, yeah She loves me yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!" YEAH.

Do we really need to have another release of music that has been on the market for 40 years? Doesn't everyone who likes the Beatles already have all their music? What more could there be? I guess like so many other things, it comes down to money. Music companies, producers, record stores all must just love this repeat of Beatlemania. People lined up outside the door all night and the cash registers ringing like some mad symphony. Maybe Sir Paul (if it is really him. Didn't he die back in the sixties and someone else begin impersonating him?) just needed to replenish his accounts after the no pre-nuptial divorce he went through a couple of years ago. Anyway you look at it, it looks like there is money to be made and spent. Perhaps I should give them a chance but for the $200 to $300 bucks a pop for the box sets, I think I will probably just let it go. I don't play video games often so I guess I won't be buying that product either.

With a busy schedule, that never seems to get any lighter (work, running kids to sports, keeping a house up and all the other ten thousand things that seem to need to be done) I just don't have time to listen to a box set of anything. After all, there are only Eight Days a Week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back To The Future… Or Is It The Past?

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a time machine. You know, hop in, enter a date and travel to that period of time to see what things were like. The only problem with this travelling to the past is that if things change in the past then our present would also change (if you subscribe to that particular theory of temporal logic). For example, let's say that we travelled back to when your family made the move to where ever it is you now live. Perhaps something you do in that past time period makes your ancestors decide that they should stay in England or Ireland or where ever they started. When you got back to 2009, things would be different. Maybe you don't live in where ever it is you live, or perhaps your family is somewhere else. Maybe you don't even exist because your great grandparents did not meet at the barn dance. Gets kind of confusing eh?

It seems that someone somewhere has invented a time machine and is using it to change the past -- our entertainment past anyway. Have we gotten to the point in entertainment where there are no new ideas out there? Last night (while watching the very first episode of Jeopardy, from like 1983, apparently we are hard up for reruns too), I saw ads on TV for 90210, Melrose Place, and Degrassi (not sure if it was Junior, senior, university or old age home version). Granted these shows are 're-dos' or 're-imaginings' or continuations of the originals, but come on really! Let's be honest, none of these show were of top quality when they were on the first time, do we really have to subject ourselves to them again (and in the case of Degrassi, again)?

I do admit that sometimes this rehashing of old ideas does come up with some gems. The original Battlestar Galactica barely lasted a season back in 1978. While this has something to do with the fact that it was somewhat campy and the vision of the creators out paced the technology available to put it on TV, (and the fact that the more conservative call for less violence on TV made the shooting of robots repetitive and boring), it really wasn't very good. But the 're-imagining' of the show lasted 4 seasons, had compelling stories and was well made. The new version made stars of several of the actors and went on to spawn a spin off. (I bet Dirk Benedict would like to have the royalties from the new show instead of the old horse he was in.) On the other hand the 're-imagining', or what ever it was, of Knight Rider didn't even last as long as the (now) brutal original (the new versions one strong point was that it thankfully didn't star David Hasselhoff).

But I digress. The main point being, we need new ideas. Sadly the television and movie industry is notoriously difficult to break into. Show producers are very reluctant to accept scripts and ideas from 'unknown' writers and obviously they keep going back to the same old well for ideas and scripts. So if you are ever sitting watching television and are thinking to yourself 'I could write better stories than this,' you're probably right. So, to all the producers out there, please start looking elsewhere for ideas and scripts, because the well you have been using is quite obviously running dry.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Observations On A Stone

Today I spent some time doing what I should have done a long time ago. I've been putting off this task for some time, not because it is time consuming or particularly difficult but because I am a procrastinator. The one person out there who waits eagerly for my next blog entry will now be shouting "Writing a new blog entry!" as an answer to this statement, but that is not the task I am speaking of. No, the dreaded task I've been putting off is the downloading of digital pics from the whole summer into their appropriate files on my computer. Putting them in the topic specific file folders, (camping, sports, family, etc.) is not a task that I particularly enjoy, but there you go. While doing this I had the radio on in the background and there was a story about some kid who was 'well rounded' and this of course got me thinking.

This past summer we spent time camping and the kids collected all kinds of 'keepsakes' from the beach and the woods and where ever else they happened to be. In their collection of rocks there was the usual assortment of nicely smoothed stones that had obliviously been worn and shaped by the action of wind and waves. They often had some neat colours and shapes but all had the same thing in common, they were uniformly smooth. Then there were some other stones which were oddly shaped, cracked or broken, and had holes or depressions or pieces missing. While the smooth stones were neat in their uniformity of shape, the irregular shaped ones were infinitely more interesting. The kids were interested in the smooth stones but spent more time inspecting and speculating about the rough ones.

Why is it then that we use the phrase 'well rounded' to describe people? It seems to me that people are like the stones that my kids collected this summer. They come in all shapes and sizes, colours and textures, but the people with some rough edges are, to me anyway, more interesting. If we were all like those smooth stones that my kids looked at what a boring world it would be. So call me a diamond in the rough or whatever else you might like, but please don't call me well rounded. I'd like to at least think I'm more interesting than that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Satisfaction of a Job (mostly) Well Done

With the onset of what could be considered summer, home improvement time has also arrived. Usually at our house we choose one project and spend the whole summer picking away at it. Last summer was taken up with demolishing a huge old garage and the construction of a new one. While I miss the room and space of the old building, the process of building the new one was rewarding (and with 3 daughters, I really needed a place to hide out). This summer is one of gardening and landscaping. Sounds like a simple enough matter when you first consider it. Rake out some top soil and spread some grass seed. Plant a few flowers and a tree or two maybe. Seems simple until you actually start to consider what else needs to be done in order for it all to look 'just right'.

Here we are now towards the end of July. So far we have raked top soil, planted new plants, moved old plants to new locations, put a new fire pit in place, built a new picnic table, began to lay down a new Belgian stone walkway and patio and built a free standing deck. Phew! Now it might just be me, but that seems like more than the simple spread some grass seed and plant a few plants plan that we came up with in March. I know it's not building a house or anything like that but holy smokes!

Well the deck is 99% complete (just some benches and a planter left to build). The plants have taken hold in their new locations and are beginning to loose that droopy wilted look they get when you move them around. The new grass is starting to grow and things are starting to look more or less like I imagined them. Finally, the other night I was able to light a fire in the fire pit and sit on the new deck with a beverage (that I brewed myself) and watch the river pass by in front of the house. As I looked around me at the things I built with my own two hands I couldn't help but feel some pride in my work (and in the fact that it required only one trip to the Emergency room).

Next item on the list – painting the house. On second thought, perhaps I'll hire someone to do that and take pride in their work for a change.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Names Have Been Changed to Protect… Someone

We've all read those articles in magazines where there is a disclaimer saying that names have been changed to protect the innocent or the presumed innocent or whatever. There are times when I can see that this might be necessary. Perhaps someone witnessed a major crime and had to be protected against reprisals. My question is, are these names really changed or are they just telling us that? Maybe the names aren't changed at all. "When Jill (not her real name) was 12 years old she witnessed a butterfly stab a horse." Maybe Jill really is her name and they are just saying that the names have been changed to throw us off.

What got me thinking about this was a story in the news about a guy who is testifying against his former friends in a biker gang in a murder trial. The reporter referred to the witness using initials (JG or something like that) to protect his identity. Now feel free to correct me but why are we protecting this guy's identity from the public at large? Does the public at large have anything against this guy? Probably not. They bad guys he is testifying against are right there in the court room. They already know who he is. I'm sure that the other members of this biker gang who are still on the street already know who he is too. Seems to me that if they were trying to protect him they would come up with some other better way of doing it than just not saying his name. Perhaps some kind of memory erasing ray gun or an invisibility cloak or even just a bag to go over his head-- something.

I agree for the most part that some protection has to be provided for those who are willing to take a stand against the bad guys so that justice can be done. Maybe it makes the witness feel safer to know that his or her name is not being plastered across newspapers and websites from coast to coast. Maybe it helps to get the whole story out in court. Does it really help or not? I don't know.

The one thing that does occur to me about his biker gang story is that the only people who actually know who this witness is are the police and court officials – and of course the bad guys who might want to get him later on.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Odd Things Campers Do

After arriving home from our most recent camping trip, I got to thinking about all of the stuff we have that is for no other use but camping. This of course led me to begin thinking about some of the strange and odd things to do with camping. Here are just a few of them.

Strange Thing #1 – Camping Dishes

We have a whole set of dishes that we use for no other purpose than to eat off of when we are camping. We have unbreakable plates and bowls, steel coffee cups and heavy duty pots and such that only see the light of day when we go camping. Our regular pots for the kitchen are pretty good so, I can understand our aversion to not wanting to use them over open flame and have them all soot stained and blackened, but our dishes are another story. Why the unbreakable cups and plates? Why just for camping? Why not use them everyday, or better yet, why not just take our regular plates and dishes with us camping? A regular plate is just as likely to break (if not more so) if I drop it on the hard floor of the kitchen as it is to break if I drop it on the ground at the campsite. Why not use the unbreakable ones all the time?

Strange Thing #2 – Camping Clothes    

Most of my day to day clothing is of the regular everyday variety that everyone uses. Cotton shirts and shorts, denim jeans and a few 'nicer' clothes that I use for 'dressing up' to go out. My camping clothes are more practical. They are made of synthetics and dry quickly, they are light weight and last for long periods of time because I only wear them a few times a year. So if my camping clothes are more practical, why am I not using them all the time? They keep me cool when it is hot and if it gets cold I dress in layers and I stay warm. They look pretty good (I think) and so why not use them all the time? Why the special clothing just for camping?

Strange Thing #3 – Locks (or lack thereof)

This has to be one of the most bizarre things that I have noticed about camping. When you get ready to go anywhere what do you do? You collect the things you think you need. You put them in the car and you close the door of your house and then you lock your door right? When camping the steps are the same only there are no locks. When camping we try to keep the site tidy and so we place our belongings in the tent and make sure that our stove is closed but we often just leave it on the table. We leave our chairs in place around the campfire pit. If we happen to have our canoe with us and are not using it, we stow our PFDs and paddles under it and we go off to do what we are going to do. Not exactly Fort Knox is it? Why do we allow ourselves to believe that our things are any more secure on our campsite than they are at home? Do we trust our temporary camping neighbours more than our regular neighbours at home? Even at night we crawl into our sleeping bags and zip up the tent, secure in the knowledge that the thin layer of nylon that the tent is made out of is going to keep us safe from wild animals and knife wielding maniacs. Perhaps all of those people at Sleep Away Camp and in the Friday the 13th movies would have survived if they had been in tents. Delusional isn't it?

So there are just three of the odd things I have noticed about camping. I'm sure that everyone has similar oddities to do with their camping experiences. So if you have never been camping give it a try. You just might like it. If you already love camping and are going out this summer have fun, be safe and for god's sake don't touch the side of the tent if it rains!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Guide to Campers

My kids love to go camping. They are enthusiastic about every aspect of the whole experience-- from sleeping in a tent, to hiking in the forest, to eating roasted marshmallows over the campfire. From top to bottom, and left to right they LOVE camping. My bride and I also love camping and this past weekend proved to be another successful outing for the entire family. As I walked through the campground I got to thinking about some of the differences between various campers and the strange things we all do when camping. So this will be the first of a couple of blogs devoted to this activity.

As near as I can tell, there seems to be four distinct types of camper. The first type of camper is what I will call the minimalist. This camper arrives at the campground with the bare necessities of the camping experience. Basically they have a tent and sleeping bags, maybe a sleeping mat, some food and a book and not much else. They rely on their campfire or a small cook stove to cook their food and live a Spartan existence while camping.

The second category is what I will call the advanced minimalist. This is the category that my family falls into. We have the tent, stove, coolers for food, lanterns and flashlights, books, some games for rainy days as well as air mattresses for sleeping on and a power inverter for powering our electric pump for blowing up the air mattresses. With a little effort we can fit all of our stuff into our car and can entertain ourselves quite easily for 3 to 5 days. While as a whole my family falls into this category, when it is just my bride and I camping, we can easily revert to our minimalist roots.

The third category is the advanced camper. They can bring anything from a tent to a smallish travel trailer and also have a screened in shelter for eating and socializing in. The camp sites these people occupy look like small compounds or some sort of closed community. There are bikes and boats, lots of outdoor furniture and all kinds of toys littering the site. Just like home.

The fourth camper is the mega advanced camper. These are the people with the huge 40 foot long campers (often called 'land yachts') that have the video cameras on the back instead of a rear view mirror. They sport microwaves, electricity, generators, full bathrooms, dishwashers, air conditioners, satellite dishes and are nicer than most people's homes. More often than not they also pull a small car or truck behind as well. As near as I can tell, these people seem to want the 'atmosphere' of the campground without giving up their daily dose of Oprah in the afternoons or their toys. I have even seen this type of camper bring along their own inflatable pool and set it up beside their palace on wheels! I also saw one last summer pulling a Hummer behind.

So these are the basic types of campers that I have come into contact with. People in the first two categories are out there to enjoy nature, and to 'rough it' a bit. People in the third category like the outdoors and nature but want to have some comforts while they camp. As for the people in the last category… I'm not really sure what they're after.

Next time… The odd things campers do.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Truth in Advertising

I don't usually pay much attention to advertising. I like to think that I am smart enough to avoid the pitfalls that advertisers put out there in order to get me to spend money on things that I probably don't need in the first place. Over the last few weeks though there have been a couple of ads that have caught my attention – but not in the way intended.

The first ad was one I have seen several times on television. It is flogging a new 'frosty' kind of milkshake thing at a national royal dairy retailer. The ad shows the product and the voice over intones that it is blended by hand. All I can think, every time I see it is, "Really?" Is it really blended by hand? Because when I hear that I picture a big vat or bowl of the ingredients and someone's hand reaching in to mix the stuff up. Keeping in mind all of the studies that have been done in recent years about the unhygienic conditions in some restaurants (not necessarily this one in particular) and the poor hand washing techniques of some employees, 'blended by hand' is not a big selling point for me.

The second was a print ad I saw yesterday while perusing the bundle of sale flyers that gets dropped at the end of the driveway each week. Again, I'm not so much looking for inspiration on things that I might want, but more to see if there is anything that I usually use around the house that might happen to be on sale this week. The particular ad in question was for beachwear. The sale they were promoting was for women's bathing suits – bikinis in particular. The ad stated the colours available, sizing and of course price, but the thing that caught my eye was the phrase 'tops or bottoms'. Again, really? Tops OR bottoms – kind of risqué no?

Now I've never been a huge fan of the beach (too far to go, too hot, too much sand inside the shorts) but if this ad is true, then I might just have to rethink this position. It could be an interesting summer at the beach.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Graduation 2009

It's finally here! That time of year that all students work towards for 13 (in N.B., kindergarten to grade 12) long years – Graduation Week. That time of year when all of that hard work (or perhaps slacking off and then panicked work) all pays off. Time for the girls to spend loads of money on hair and make-up, tanning, and a dress you will never wear again (kind of sounds like a wedding). For the guys a time of trying to find that perfect date to show up at the prom with and then grope in the backseat of their '89 LTD in the parking lot. It's a busy time of year what with exams, dress fittings, tux fittings, Baccalaureate services, prom night insanity ('Does this dress make my bum look big?' 'No, honey, but it looks like your boobs may fall out!'), and graduation ceremonies. With all that is going on it is a good thing that we still have the mighty yearbook to fall back on to bring all of these fuzzy memories to light in the years to come.

One of my beautiful bride's responsibilities at the school where she works is to supervise the yearbook. You know, make sure that pictures of events get taken and that all of the various groups and teams get photographed for posterity, check to see that no inappropriate behaviour is photographed and published, that sort of thing. Most everything is done online now, no more 'cut and paste' in the 21st century in the yearbook room. But on thing that still has to be done by good old pen and paper is the grads list of future plans (FP), favourite memory (FM), date of birth, full name etc.

Being a helpful guy I try and lend my wife a hand whenever I can to lighten the load. This year I volunteered to help proof the grad listings. All I could do was laugh at the same mistake being made now, that some people made when I graduated. Most can get their own names spelled correctly. Some can even get the right birth date and some sort of future plan down on paper. The mistake I mean is listing a favourite memory for a date that hasn't happened yet. Because these books are produced on a schedule, these grad lists have to be entered weeks ahead of time. On listing after listing I continued to see – FM: Prom and grad night with Chris (or Sally or Bob or Martha or whoever). How do they know? It could be the worst night of their lives. Perhaps Chris and Mary break up before prom night. Maybe Bob or Martha get loaded and hook up leaving their real dates high and dry. No one knows how this night is going to turn out.

When I noticed the prospective grads filling out their lists this year I tried to offer some advice against doing this sort of thing. Some listened, others did not. All I could think of as I read the lists was the old adage – Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hockey Is Over

Halleluiah, Praise the Lord! The 2008-2009 NHL hockey season has finally, at long last, thankfully come to an end. I don't mean that it was a long season because my chosen team (I don't particularly like any of them) had a bad season. I don't mean that I am tired of hearing about the attempt of a group in Hamilton trying to get a team there over the protests of the league president (even though I am). I don't mean that now we have 2 ½ blessed months without Don Cherry. I mean just what I said – it is over. The whole experience from the drop of the first puck in the fall to the final goal of the playoffs is too long. Do we really need to be watching ICE hockey in June? NO!

Professional sports have to dial it back. NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, CFL… aaaAHHHHHH! Enough! It's all about money. Every professional sport extends their season as far as they can to make more and more money and the public eats it up. If it was really about the game, the experience, the players and the fans, each sport would play its regular season and then the two best teams would play a best of 5 series to determine the champion.

I like to think that I have a good attention span. I can pay attention to sermons in church, listen to teachers or lecturers droning on an on, sit through bad movies and listen to people tell me stories that I have no interest in hearing and less interest in learning the outcome of. But I cannot sit through another round of playoff hockey. I truly believe that hockey should be over when the last pile of snow melts outside the arena of the most northern NHL team. That way we won't have to bear the pain and suffering of playoff hockey in the middle of June.

It's not just hockey either, lest you think that I just don't like hockey. I think baseball should be over when the snow flies and that the NBA and the NFL should limit their playoffs to two weeks tops. Years ago a wise showman said "Always leave them wanting more." As it is right now, I've had more than enough.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Confessions of the Heart

I can't stand it any longer. I have to tell the world about my obsession with my mistress. She is only 25 years old but holds a fascination for me that's hard to explain and belies her years. The give and take of our interactions is intoxicating and keeps me coming back for more. When we're together time seems to stand still and yet fly by at the same time. We met in the summer of my 11th year and have had a stormy relationship ever since. At times our interactions seem more like a battle of wills or a contest of mental acuity than that of a relationship. She is a demanding mistress, and for the life of me I can't seem to shake her grip on my mind. I was reintroduced to her recently by a mutual friend after not having seen her for at least 10 years and her charms have not waned. Our love affair has been rekindled. But as ever, she is a guilty pleasure.

Her name is TETRIS. (You can meet her for yourself at ) I can't understand why this game gets to me. I find it utterly engrossing. It's hard to believe that a game as simple as this one can hold the imagination for this long a time. Now with the advent of MMRPGs online and the computer generated reality of the newer games on the market, TETRIS continues to hold the minds of players all over the world. It kind of reminds me of that ad with the slogan "Those Who Like It, Like It Allot!" It seems that people either hate this game or love it. I happen to fall into the latter category.

So, Happy Birthday TETRIS! Thanks for the years of wonderful time wasting entertainment. I look forward to many more.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride

The ingenuity of the human being is a wonder to behold. A few months ago, United States customs officials, in strange case of life imitating art à la Cheech and Chong, found a truck that was literally made out of cocaine! How does one do this? How does one even think of this? I guess if you really need to get that shipment of illegal drugs across the border, necessity really does become the mother of invention.

Now in a recent case, a woman trying to fly from Chile to Spain, was stopped when her baggage was found to be suspect. No, the drugs were not wrapped up in her clothing or cleverly hidden in her toothpaste tube or in her talcum powder bottle. Her suitcases were made out of drugs. Apparently the cocaine was mixed with resin and glass fibre and placed in a mould to create the hard pieces of her luggage. When the 'receivers' get the pieces, they use an unspecified 'chemical process' to separate the drugs from the unwanted material. Now I admittedly don't know much about drugs other than what I have read, but would you not want this stuff to be a pure as you can get it? Do you really want it to be combined with toxic materials and pressed into one shape, only later to be separated, by this 'chemical process' into the form you are buying? I mean, personally, I don't like anything I ingest to be 'chemically separated'. Although, I guess if you are taking cocaine, you're probably not all that concerned with the process of how it got to you.

Anyhow, the woman was caught and now faces the warm fuzzy embrace of the Chilean legal system. It does make me wonder though, what she said to her friends before she left. "See ya guys, I off on a trip… uh, I mean, I'm taking a trip. No wait! I mean I'm going on a trip, uh…"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer Is Here

It is one of the world's great existential questions – When does summer really begin? Is it, as the calendar tells us, the 21st of June, or is it when the first blade of grass on the lawn gets cut? Hard to say really. After cutting the lawn twice already this year, I tend to agree with the latter position. Not only is the grass growing and the leaves on the trees are either budding or already out, the most hated species of weed had begun to rear its ugly head again – the dandelion.

Let me be the first to admit that the well manicured lawn is, probably, the most unnatural thing in the world. At no time while you are wandering aimlessly through the woods, either by choice or when you get lost, will you stumble across an expanse of green grass, cut to uniform height and free of weeds or trees. Just doesn't happen. Why then, do we insist on cutting the grass and keeping the weeds at bay? I think it is a conspiracy perpetrated on the public by the rake manufacturers and the lawn mower companies. They have us all brainwashed into thinking that we need to have that green carpet in front of our houses.

I will also admit that I have, to some extent, bought into the whole lawn care thing. I rake the leaves in the fall and in the spring I rake off the dead grass. I cut the grass every five days or so depending on the need. I also do battle with the dandelion. I will not use chemicals or toxins on the lawn. I know there are some people who will say that when used correctly, these products are harmless. Call me crazy but anything that ends in – icide (infanticide, regicide, suicide, pesticide) can't be good for you. When you see the lawn poison guys applying this stuff, dressed in rubber gloves and boots and wearing respirators, you have to wonder. When I see one of these guys applying it to a lawn while wearing flip flops, shorts and a tank top, I might, possibly, after having determined if the guy has a death wish or not, then consider applying it to my own lawn. Until then…

So I guess until someone comes up with a proven method of getting rid of these annoying weeds, I will have to head out with my handy dandy dandelion puller and do things the hard way. I guess I should look on the bright side. I'm outside in the fresh air getting exercise. My property will look good and it won't kill me. And even if it does, at least I know it will be the hard work that does me in and not something scary that ends in icide.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If I Were In Your Shoes…

Who among us hasn't fantasized about winning the lottery? What car would you drive? Would you build a new house or renovate your current one. What would you spend all that money on? Every once in a while my wife and I talk about this. Usually the conversation occurs when the jackpot reaches 35 or 40 million dollars. What would we do for ourselves, our family and the community. In our case this fantasizing is really just that, because I can count on one hand the number of times I have bought lottery tickets in the last 4 years. It is not something we usually do. But it is fun to dream.

All this begs the question – What would you do if you suddenly came into a large sum of money? What would you do if that money was placed into your account by mistake? What would you do if both happened at the same time? With one couple the answer to all of these questions seems to be RUN! Apparently this couple applied for a line of credit at the bank and for some reason the bank mistakenly deposited 6 million dollars in their account. Did they call the bank? Did they call their friends? No. They disappeared! Packed up and left their home, business and friends and are now in the wind.

This, quite obviously, wasn't the most honest thing to do. Should they have called the bank and reported the error? Probably. Would they have gotten the line of credit or a reward for their honesty? Who knows. (Given the seeming greed of the banking industry, probably not.) They probably should have taken the course of action that says that honesty is the best policy. But obviously this couple took the advice of Steve Miller instead – "Take the money and run."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Hand That Feeds You

In an odd attempt to cut down on fake accounts, Facebook has begun to purge accounts with names that the networking site believes are fake. Names that sound made up like James T. Kirk, James Bond or Bruce Wayne and names that are big in the news (Susan Boyle) are being targeted in an attempt to cut down on fake accounts.

I'm not sure what the theory behind this is. In North America and especially the United States, the whole diversity thing is a huge deal. We are proud of the fact that people from diverse backgrounds, different ethnic groups and other beliefs choose to come to Canada and the U.S. to live (theoretically anyway). Whatever happened to the whole 'melting pot' idea of the United States? Facebook was designed as a way for people to come together and 'socialize'. To make contact with other people who have the same interests and are maybe from other parts of the world is the whole point isn't it?

If this purge is an attempt to cut down on people and their malicious ways it is doomed to failure. Do they really think that if someone is going to do 'bad' things in the world of Facebook that they are going to use strange fake names? Why would they not just pull two names at random out of the phone book and make up a 'normal' sounding name? Bob Smith? Tom Johnson? Barbara Jones? Are these names fake or real? How to tell? Not every 'bad guy' (to use a phrase popular with my kids) is going to make it obvious that they are bad -- Joe Malicious.

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt (this name set off my spell check, it must be fake!), said "The vast, vast, vast majority of people we disable we never hear from again", as a justification of shutting people down. Well no kidding! If a networking site I used, and was encouraged to use, suddenly cut me off I would probably just go elsewhere. Would I pursue the issue? Probably not. Coming hot on the heels of the whole user agreement dispute Facebook had not long ago, one thing is for certain -- Facebook really knows how to make and keep friends.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fool Proof Business Model

I have finally come up with a fool proof business model that is going to make me millions of dollars and I will never have to work again! I am going to set up a company with at least 20 Vice Presidents and give them all huge salaries and perks and pension and bonus plans. Everywhere we need to go we will travel to by private jet. Then we are going to set up an unwieldy distribution network so that we have at least 2 retail outlets in every town and city (some of them on the same block and in direct competition with each other). The products my company is going to make will be of fair to middling quality and over priced, and run counter to the needs and desires of the public at large. Finally my company will not change with the times and we will continue to produce our products well after the shelf life and attractiveness of the items is past. What could possibly go wrong?

If you haven't figured it out from the sarcasm dripping out of the first paragraph, I'm really not serious about this business. Strangely enough though, hundreds of thousands of people seem to think that this kind of business needs to keep running and should get billions of dollars in taxpayer money to help it to do so. The car industry in this country (and in the U.S.) is in serious trouble. Two of the 'big three' auto makers are on the verge of ruin and the third, although doing o.k., is not the healthiest business on the planet. Why are these businesses doing so poorly? Could part of the reason be that two of them have the business model outlined above and one of these, has consistently produced vehicles that people don't really want. In an age of rising gas prices, and the need for fuel efficiency they released big cars with gas guzzling engines. Who really needs a V12 5.6L engine in their truck to drive to the grocery store?

I feel sorry for the people who have to loose their jobs because of the stupidity of their bosses, but I don't think these companies deserve to get government money to allow them to continue in the way that they are going. If it were any other industry, any other business, the house of cards would have fallen and the company would be gone. If the only book store in town, only stocks lawn care books and the town is located in the middle of the desert, how long is it going to last? Should they get a government handout? Nope. Why would this kind of mismanagement be rewarded?

We need to focus on things that are going to pay off in the future. The age of high performance muscle car is past. As much as I might like to own a 1969 Dodge Charger (or even one of the newer versions), I know that I could not afford to put gas in it. I also know that gas prices are not going to drop dramatically in the next 10 years, if anything they will continue to rise and this will make the use of such a vehicle more and more impractical. The money spent in trying to prop up these companies would be better spent on perfecting alternative fuel sources and developing more and more fuel efficient vehicles. Will the demise of these companies hurt? Absolutely. But we need to look to the future and spend money on what is to come – not what is already beyond repair.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Please Pass The Penicillin

We try to be diligent in using our leftovers in a timely manner. We have plenty of containers for storing food in the fridge when we have made too much to eat in one sitting. In a busy household, the remains of previous meals can be a real time saver, when all you have to do is reheat something instead of creating a meal from scratch. But no matter how faithfully we try to use our leftovers, something always seems to get lost in the great wilderness in the back of the fridge.

These forgotten items in the back of the fridge seem to hide. We try and clean out the fridge weekly, but for some reason there always seems to be something forgotten at the back, just waiting to emit a disgusting odour. Nothing makes me gag more than having to clean out and wash a container that has been festering in the fridge for weeks. Everything, from the first cracking of the seal and the smell that seems to cling to everything, to scraping the goop into the garbage and washing the offending container, makes me want to gag (and sometimes does). While in university, I even sometimes resorted to just tossing the whole container in the garbage in order to avoid having to open it. Never though, have I closed down a place of business or sent people to hospital by cleaning out the fridge.

An office worker in San Jose, California was cleaning out the staff refrigerator and the noxious smells she created caused the closure of the building, required a HAZMAT team and sent 7 co-workers to hospital! My question is -- How long had it been since that fridge was cleaned?

To be fair it was the mixture of cleaning chemicals that the woman used that caused the problem and not the stuff in the fridge. I would like to say in my own defence that I have never had to use harsh chemicals to clean my fridge. This particular appliance must have been in some god-awful condition to necessitate the use of potentially poisonous cleaning products. How hard is it to remove your junk from the fridge at work? Were these people part of some terrorist cell? Why on earth would you leave something you brought to work in the fridge until it was on the verge of intelligent thought? I feel bad for the woman who took it upon herself to venture into the wasteland of the office fridge and brought the world down on herself. Not quite the thanks she was probably hoping for.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring Has Sprung

Well, I think it is almost safe to say that spring is here. The days are getting longer. Temperatures are going up and the sun is shining. The four feet of snow that was in my yard is now down to a few patches dirty white hold outs, and my canoe is calling to the calm waters of the river in front of my house. The only problem is that the retreating snow pack is revealing my shortcomings of last fall.

It is an exciting time, the spring. Ever since I was a kid I loved the challenge of what I now call 'tactical hydrological engineering'. Trying to find ways to efficiently remove the water from the melting snow cover from my property without washing out my driveway or ending up with an indoor pool in the basement. When it comes down to it I guess it is basically playing in puddles. But let's not split hairs here. Let's just agree that the former sounds more grown up than the latter and leave it at that. Spring is also the time when the kids miraculously 'discover' where that toy went, that they just had to have last January, and was nowhere to be found in the house. There it is, half frozen in ice like some kind of prehistoric mammoth, revealed by global warming. Unfortunately, spring is also the time of year when my lack of enthusiasm for raking leaves comes into full view.

I guess I just hope that somehow with the beginning of winter that the yard pixies or the forest dryads or whatever, will decide that they just have to have all the leaves covering my yard and will use the cover of snow to remove all the detritus of the fall. Then when the snow melts, I will have no raking to do. The grass will green up and I can enjoy the summer. Well, sad to say, no such luck yet. The snow is now almost all gone and there are the leaves, mocking me from almost the same locations that I last saw them in before the snow came. The Horror! THE HORROR!

Depressingly, I have no other choice than to buckle down and begin the hated act of raking. On the bright side, the only thing that could be worse than having to go out and rake the yard, would be heading to the garage to tune up the snow blower in preparation for a snowstorm.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Someone Save Us… From Ourselves

No doubt about it humans as a species are a resilient lot. We are one of the few mammals on the planet whose young cannot take care of themselves for years. Think about that for a second. Most other animals are up and walking within a few minutes of being born, a couple of hours at most. Human children take a year or more to even begin to attempt walking and even then are unsteady for months. Humans cannot look for food, feed themselves or defend themselves for years. We depend on others for everything we need for years. Even now, when most of don't have to worry about defending ourselves from wild animals, we need help protecting ourselves from that even more dangerous opponent – Ourselves.

A quick search of the internet reveals the depths we have sunk to in an attempt to keep people safe. Just search for instructions and directions on everyday products and you will see what I mean. We recently bought a new electric iron and printed on the directions sheet was the following, 'Do not iron clothes while wearing them.' Other silly instructions I have seen or read about are:

Rules on a tram in Prague:
Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.

On a toaster:
Do not use underwater.

"I just can't understand why my toast comes out soggy and I come out crispy."

I can understand directions like these to a certain extent. At least they are trying to keep us safe. I mean, I know everyone has had the urge to dry their hair with the blow torch, so the warning to not use the blowtorch as a hairdryer is appreciated. But when the instructions include directions on how to use a particular product, it can sometimes get out of hand. Does anyone not know that a box of Lego contains small parts, or that some assembly, might, just possibly, be required when putting a jig saw puzzle together. My favourite in these directives was found on a bar of Dial soap – Unwrap and use like regular soap. "Well, no wonder this soap wasn't working right, honey. We weren't using it like regular soap!"

The list goes on and on and on. When you think about it though, common sense must not be all that common. Companies usually do not do things for altruistic reasons. If a company places a warning on a product, it is because somebody, somewhere, used that blowtorch as a hairdryer. Someone ironed their clothes while wearing them. Somebody touched those wires. So I guess the lesson is if these warnings and instructions apply to you then perhaps you should follow them. Just remember that your new food processor is to be used for processing food, not the other thing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Fitness Dilemma

Like most people, I have a few extra pounds on me. From time to time I get motivated and decide that I will bite the bullet and loose some weight. Then after a couple of days I slack off and go back to my previous life of sloth and indolence. What tends to push me into these get fit kicks is realizing that an activity that used to be easy for me is no longer easy. Things like spending a few hours on a mountain bike or canoeing all day, bending over to tie my shoes or eating supper without loosing my breath. I can sometimes fool myself about this by using the old "I'm getting older" excuse, but deep down I know – I'm out of shape.

Recently I read an article about these exercise balls that have been all the rage in the last couple of years. You know the ones, they're made out of stretchy rubber and you inflate them and use them for a series of exercises designed to help 'tone and contour' your abs, bum, legs and arms (and wash the dishes, do the laundry and mow the lawn). They come with instructions and a little hand pump to inflate the ball. By the time the ball is inflated with that stupid pump you are so tired you don't feel like exercising anyway. Maybe that's the real exercise with these things. Don't do the exercises, just inflate and deflate the ball over and over again. But I digress. The article I read was about a recall on these devices because of the potential of over inflation and the danger that they might explode when using them.

I have to admit that the few times I tried the one we have here at home, the first thing that went through my mind was "I hope this thing doesn't pop". In my mind's eye I could see myself flat on the floor with the remnants of the rubber ball spread out in the aftermath of a gigantic explosion. Furniture piled up against the walls, windows blown out into the yard, strips of rubber hanging from light fixtures and plants, maybe the kids up in the branches of the tree outside the window, the huge mushroom cloud above the house. Once I got the hang of it the ball was kind of a neat apparatus. But like most exercise devices, not one that would magically turn me into my 20 year old self.

In all of the times that I used the ball though, not once did I think about it being over inflated. Never even crossed my mind that it might explode because I put too much air in it. My concern was not that the ball itself was over inflated, but that I was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Peek-A-Boo, I See You

The way some people are going on about it, you would think that Google Street View is a direct affront to them. "It's an invasion of privacy!", they cry. If you don't know, Street View is a new function on the Google Earth program that allows users to see eye level pictures of select cities and towns. Basically, the Google people send a car through a city and on top of the car is a 360° camera. The techno wizards then take these photos and incorporate them into the regular shots of the city. It is like taking a tour of a street from eye level. Some people of course don't like this.

People opposed to this say that they don't want their image recorded for the world to see on the internet. They say it is an invasion of privacy. In some places whole towns have banded together to keep photos from being taken. I wonder what the big deal is really. Our images are regularly recorded every day. If you go to the store, walk down the street, go to the bank, enter a school, go to the airport, stop at a traffic light or enter a government building your picture is taken for posterity (or to identify you after you rob the bank). Add to this the number of people with camera phones and I'm surprised we are not all being recorded 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Really the only way your image is not recorded in today's society is if you live in the basement and never go outside.

There was a case where a gentleman (I use the term loosely, I assure you), was caught on Street View leaving a porn shop. His image was uploaded to the site and he requested that it be taken down and it was. The argument this brought up was, what if he had not seen it and it had stayed online? Thousands of people might have seen it. Yep. But my take on this is that people see you every day when you walk down the street. Employees see you when they serve you. You are in full view of everyone you pass on the sidewalk. If you are embarrassed to be seen doing something that you think might reflect poorly on you – Maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lesson Learned

Well the world learned a lesson this week about not judging a book by its cover. If you are on of the few who haven't seen Susan Boyle's performance on Britain's Got Talent then stop reading this blog right now and go to youtube, watch the video there and come back. Here's the link: See you in 7 minutes.

O.k. now that we are all on the same page, I want to ask you this – When you first saw her and her introductory remarks at the beginning, what did you think? You thought the same thing as everyone else in the audience that night. Here we go again. Here is someone who is going to make our ears bleed and be dragged off the stage screaming that she has what it takes to sing professionally when clearly she does not. Right? That what you thought. That's what I thought. What a pleasant surprise.

Whether we want to admit it or not we all do this every day. We see someone who does not match up with our perception of what we think is right, or beautiful or smart or whatever and that snap reaction colours our dealings with that person from then on. I thought the same thing as everyone in that audience. What could this person possibly show us. The editing in the program did not help. It played into the first impression we had and helped to add to the surprise. The two backstage hosts obviously knew what was up.

What Susan Boyle showed not only us but the whole world is that no matter what the package, the gifts that we have on the inside are more important than the wrapping. Next time I find myself coming to a snap judgement about someone I will think about Susan Boyle and hopefully deal with the person differently. Thanks Ms. Boyle – Lesson learned.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Have Fun… But Quietly

I have to admit that I like things when they are quiet. I can sit and read a book, or listen to the birds in the summer. I especially like the early mornings when the sun is just coming up and the birds begin their daily song. There is no traffic noise and the city is not yet awake, but the birds begin to sing and the day starts off right.

I realize that there is a time and place for noise. I enjoy loud music from time to time, much to the distress of my children. They seem to think that I'm too old for this kind of behaviour. Parties, concerts, school playgrounds are all great places for noise.

Have you ever been near a school playground when the kids are there? Chaos is probably the best word to describe the action. Kids running this way and that, swings swinging, balls bouncing and above it all the noise. (Cue the Boris Karloff 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas' voice, "The noise, noise, noise!") They all look like they are having such fun that sometimes I wish I was one of them, but figure I'd be locked away if I ever decided to take part in the fun. Kind of goes back to that whole 'too old for that kind of thing' my kids believe. Too bad that not everyone see this fun and noise the same way.

In Texas, a man has complained about the noise coming from the local elementary school. "According to a police report, Armstrong [the complainant] told an officer that "police, fire, ambulances and the (air force) training jets are not unreasonable, but the noise coming from the elementary school was." -- Canadian Press WHAT?!? The noise from air force training jets was o.k. but the sounds of kids having fun isn't? What better sound could there be than a bunch of happy kids having fun? The school has had to remove outside loudspeakers, build a fence and install noise dampening insulation on the fence in an attempt to give this guy his much needed quiet. Perhaps next they should build a giant bubble over the school. I kind of feel sad for the poor guy who dislikes the sound of happiness so much that he feels compelled to have an elementary school charged with noise bylaw violations.

The whole situation reminds me of a song I heard recently. The chorus really struck chord with me – "God is great, beer is good and people are crazy!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Before and After

I read an article the other day about the benefits of indulging in cravings. Basically the article said that it is better to give in once in a while to that urge for a milkshake or chocolate bar, than it is to abstain indefinitely. By giving in you are more likely to be satisfied with less, rather than bingeing on a whole lot of the offending item. This got me thinking about before and after things. You often hear people say that they are craving chocolate. What did people crave before we had chocolate?

Another article I read outlined some of the reasons we are chronically overtired as a society. Two of the main reasons for this lack of sleep are the advent of the electric light bulb and later, the television. Before the days of artificial light, we tended to go to bed when it got dark. Work, business and socializing was done mainly in daylight hours and when the sun went down we went to bed. After cities and towns became illuminated, we began to do more and more things after dark. Television increased the options for us in that we now could enjoy entertainment in the comfort of our homes and often stayed up later as a result. We are now getting 1 to 2 less hours of sleep a night than our grandparents got only 50 or 60 years ago.

Some would argue that before the advent of the internet we had more face to face interpersonal communication and that interaction was more meaningful because we had to make an effort to accomplish it. We could not just sit at a computer and bang off an e-mail or type out a text message on the phone. Before e-mail we had to actually write letters with pen and paper in order to put our thoughts down for someone else. Seems like a more romantic pastime than typing an e-mail.

With each step up the technological ladder our world seems to have gotten a little faster and a little less personal. Not every thing is worse off for this advancement of course. I would rather have the medical treatments we have today than the blood letting and hocus pocus practiced in earlier times. I do rather enjoy indoor heating and plumbing. I wonder though, what was the best thing before sliced bread?