Friday, February 20, 2009

What’s In A Name?

When you really think about it, our name is really the only thing we have that is ours. I mean really ours. Someone, usually our parents, gives us a name when we are born and that name follows us through our entire lives, good or bad, forever. When we are given our names sometimes they come with a history. Perhaps you were named after you grandmother or grandfather, maybe one of your parents or aunts or uncles. Whoever you were named after, the shared name sometimes creates a bond that lasts through the decades and sometimes not.

I do wish that some people would think more about the names they decide to saddle their kids with. I can't imagine that Stanley Harold Isaac Thompson thanks his parents when he gets his monogrammed towels each Christmas (apologies to anyone out there with that particular name—I chose these particular names only for comic effect, I assure you). Or that the triplets Candi, Randi and Bambi, appreciate the stereotypical image that these names might bring to mind. Then there are those more obscure names that kids are punished with like Snowflake, Dandelion or Pussywillow. I mean, where do people get some of these odd names, at the bottom of the Chardonnay bottle?

Love them or hate them, take them or leave them, our names are usually ours, by the fact that we are given them at birth, registered legally with the government and used throughout our lives. Now it seems that there is one area that our names might not be our own. Yes, as always, the internet. Did you know that you can register your name as an internet domain name? So yes, Theophilus Dondilinger, you can name a website after yourself. For a yearly fee, you can be the (possibly?) proud owner of But did you also know that anyone else can register your name, either with or without your knowledge and consent?

In the wonderful world of the internet your name can be someone else's for a small fee and some paperwork. You have no real control (much like getting your name in the first place I guess). Anyone can use your name for any reason, good or bad as long as they keep paying for the privilege. There are ways to get it back but they all take time, effort or money (rich and famous people often have to pay the registered owners of their online name for the rights to get it back) or all three and there is no guarantee of success.

This isn't a problem for most of us, nor will it ever be. But if you ever become rich and famous, please let me know—just make sure I have the correct spelling of your name when you do, would you?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weather, Weather Everywhere

Well, it looks like we are in for another snow storm tonight. For some reason I always have to smile when it comes to the weather. I can think of no other subject that causes so much discussion and that we can do so little about. "Is it hot enough for you?" "Is it cold enough for you?" I wish we would have more sun." I wish it wasn't so hot." "It's too humid." Any of these ring a bell? Just about the only thing we don't wish for when it comes to the weather is rain.

As anyone who lives around here knows, the weather changes almost minute by minute (or seems to) and that must make it terrible for radio announcers and the like to try and keep up with the current conditions. I remember once when listening to the radio, the announcer, in a very authoritative voice declared that there was no chance of rain and that the humidity was 65%. I just happened to be looking out the window at the downpour happening and thought, "Looks to be about 100% humidity now." Why the guy could not just look out the window at the radio station is beyond me.

Looking at today's forecast, makes me laugh. In big bold letters in a red banner the website proclaims, "Winter Storm Watch". All I can think of is a bunch of people hiding out in their houses and peeking through the curtains, waiting for the first few flakes of snow. Like the storm is going to jump out from around the corner, "WATCH OUT! HERE IT COMES!" It's weather, for Pete's sake, not a horror movie.

I think we should all stop worrying about the weather—it happens every day. I know everyone has their preference for weather. Not everyone likes hot weather, some people like it when it's cold. But, hot or cold, sunny or snowy, you have to look on the bright side. At least it keeps us all entertained enough to keep talking about it. I can think of some television shows that might wish for that kind of attention.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Safety in Anonymity

Have you ever listened to or read a news item that really set you off? You know the kind I mean, the ones about government overspending, the criminal who was guilty as sin but got away on a technicality or the ones about some criminal mastermind who stuck his tongue to a frozen post and got caught. You see or hear these news items and perhaps you have a laugh or maybe even, shall we say, an uncharitable thought. Perhaps you even comment on the item to a friend or family member.

I follow the news allot. For anyone who knows me, that, is not a big surprise. I don't have a voyeuristic streak or anything like that. I just like to be informed about the world around me. I tend to avoid the entertainment news, mainly because it is singularly un-entertaining. I also try to avoid the stories about individual tragedy and loss. But after that, pretty much anything is fair game. Being a kind of news junkie, I tend to check out news sites on a regular basis. I browse the headlines and if something catches my attention, I will take a few moments to read some of the piece and see what it is about. Sometimes I am rewarded by a good piece of journalism and sometimes not.

If you have ever taken the time to get your news online you have probably seen the stories where people can comment on the item by posting their thoughts on a discussion thread. Sometimes these comments are thoughtful and add something to the discussion or the story. If an avalanche happened, for example, perhaps someone with background in that particular field will post a further explanation of the events or the science behind the story. This helps people make sense of what happened and perhaps adds to the public understanding.

More often than not however, people with no expertise and no other intention than to say something foolish or hurtful post their thoughts instead. They make assumptions about motives or results. They jump to conclusions, with no proof, which are not based on anything that they have just read. They take small things, like a misused word, and blow them all out of proportion when it has nothing to do with the point of the story. They insult the subject of the news item, the families involved or the victims of the tragedy in one fell swoop and care less for the consequences of their comments.

The one thing I notice about most of these rude comments is that the people who make the most inflammatory remarks are the ones who do not use their real names or location. Often, it is some made up user name like 'IamAnIdiot123' or some other equally quaint name that is used to hide who the commentator is. Why? If you make a comment in a public forum, why are you allowed to hide who you really are? Like I said, I follow the news allot and sometimes the item makes me think uncharitable things, but before I can give voice to the thought, the little filter that I have in my brain slides into place and I keep the thought to myself. Some people, it seems, lack this filter and say whatever they like, regardless of who they insult or hurt.

Until news sites finally make it mandatory for everyone to provide their real names and locations before commenting on a story, imbeciles with nothing better to do will continue to post insulting and derogatory remarks and hurtful comments. These people hide behind the fact that no one can hold them personally responsible for the things they say. They feel safe in being anonymous. The only way I can see for this to change is for disclosure of identity. But what about privacy and freedom of speech? I agree with both concepts. But if you are not willing to stand behind your words with your identity known to all—then perhaps what you said should have been left unsaid in the first place.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Olympics, Here We Come!

Well, as of this morning, we are officially one year away from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Excuse me while I yawn for a second. It should be interesting come next February if there is actually a couple of snow storms during the fiasco… uh, I mean festivities. We are talking about a city which basically closes down when 2 cm of snow falls from the sky. What is going to happen when people from all over the world descend on a city that can't deal with winter weather and a snow storm hits? It should make for entertaining television viewing for those of us with no intention of, or interest in, going to this thing.

With all the fanfare of a circus, the organizers held a big show to unveil the official countdown to the Olympics clock. They should probably have called it 'The Countdown to Debt Repayment'. It amazes me that anyone (a country or a city) would want to take on the organization of this over hyped sporting event, especially in these tough economic times. The Vancouver/Whistler Olympics are being billed as the biggest, best Olympics in history. They should be considering the costs involved. From beginning to end, the whole 2010 Olympic effort has been one cost overrun after another and there is no end in sight. The security costs alone are expected to top one billion dollars. Yep, billion with a 'b'. For one element of the whole ridiculous show.

The Federal Government has even jumped on the band wagon with their 'Own the Podium' project. This effort saw the government inject millions of dollars into the various winter sports in an effort to win some gold medals. Did you know that Canada is the only country to host the Winter Olympics twice and not win a gold medal? Fantastic! By the time this thing is all over the costs will be through the roof and the taxpayers of British Columbia and Canada (you and me) will be on the hook for the bills. 'Own the Podium' is right. We'll own the podium alright, and the athlete's village, and the ski hills and the bobsled runs and the…

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love I$ In The Air

Well, the commercial holiday known the world over as Valentine's Day is almost upon us and the universal conundrum (known to everyone in a relationship at this time of year) is rearing it's ugly head again—what to get for that special someone in your life. Aside from the fact that the day is presently a vastly overrated 'holiday' and that it is a concoction of the evil empire run by greeting card companies, chocolate makers and florists, I still feel obligated to get my bride something. Should I really have to feel obligated to show my love for her by spending hard earned money on something that will, 1) get thrown in the trash (a card), 2) make her fat (chocolate), or 3) wither and die and then get thrown in the trash (flowers)? Not to mention the fact that, any and all of these items can be purchased on any day after February 14th for less than half the price that they are sold for leading up to that date.

Why do we all feel the need to bow to the pressures of this one particular day? I have heard it said that it is because of a guy named Valentine and the love he showed to his captors while he was in jail for crimes of a dubious nature. Alright, but which Valentine? There are at least 7 Saints listed by the Catholic Church in its official Roman Martyrology. Is it the priest who was martyred, the bishop who died, the other bishop who died, the priest who lived as a hermit or the Spanish guy who lived as a hermit, the guy who was martyred or the other guy who was martyred? Would the Valentine who we all owe our gratitude to for starting this whole 'romantic' mess please stand up! O.K., so like most of the things we celebrate in the world, the origins of the exercise are foggy at best.

So by now you are probably saying to yourself "Wow, his wife is in for a great day, come Saturday!" Well guess what? She is. I will clean the house. I will take her out for dinner. I will take her to a movie, and if I can swing it, I will find somewhere for the kids to go so we can enjoy some romance when we get home. Will I spend money on useless junk that she neither needs nor wants? Nope.

So even if you feel the need to spend outrageous amounts of money this Saturday, enjoy the company of your significant other this weekend. Think about the fact that they put up with you. I know I'm lucky to have a bride who will put up with me. Few others would! Especially after this!

Monday, February 9, 2009

They’ll Never Find Me Here!

I like to pride myself as being a law abiding person. I don't steal things from stores. I don't buy, sell or use drugs. I follow the rules of the road while I'm driving. All this means that I don't often have to think about what I would do if I was on the run from the police.

There are plenty of shows on television that have to deal with this, so I guess I could just watch more of them if I wanted to learn some of the finer points of evasion. The only problem I see with these shows is that they hinge on having or acquiring items that are just not available to most people. The super-duper-high-intensity-thermal injected laser for cutting through the wall of the prison. Or the satellite uplink gizmo that allows you to tap into the surveillance cameras so you can run a loop of video and pass by unseen. I'd like to think I am capable of figuring out how to do things that are new to me, but these items are probably beyond my meagre skills. And really—who has the time?

Maybe simple is the best way to go. You often hear about criminals sending themselves out of the prison in the laundry. A few months ago there was the guy who actually mailed himself out in a parcel (he worked in the mail room). But even those avenues require access to special areas of the facility. Recently a young offender in Michigan escaped from the holding cell where he was being held after an appearance before a judge. He managed to find a car in the parking lot that was unlocked and hid in the trunk. He might even have gotten away if an eagle eyed guard had not seen a piece of paper on the ground beside the car and decided to investigate. He then found the kid in the trunk.

Why is this case an example of good escape technique? Well the kid thought outside the box (literally, considering he was headed to jail!). He did the unexpected and almost got away. His only mistake, aside from the ones he obviously made to get into court in the first place, was not making sure he did not leave behind a trail for the authorities to follow.

Oh, and the car he was in—it belonged to the judge! Who would have thought to look inside the vehicle, of the guy who puts the criminals away, for an escaped criminal? I wonder if no one had found the kid in the trunk and the judge got home with him there, if the judge could have been charged with kidnapping? Probably not. Maybe just taking his work home with him!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

One For The “What?!?!” File

I know this is going to sound like a bad joke, but did you hear about the guy who lost his bag of (ahem!) crap? No joke. This was reported in the news.

Apparently a doctoral student spent five years studying some lizard in the wilds of somewhere and collected the lizard dung for study. When the janitorial staff at the university came across the bag of dung, they did what most people, janitors or not, would have done—they tossed it in the garbage. Now the student is headed to court to sue the university.

Now, I have a few problems with this whole story, not he least of which is that it is in the international news. Firstly, what is there to be learned from this pile of crap? I mean, if you have already spent 5 years studying the animal, shouldn't you know what the thing eats and the processing time? Secondly, why bring this stuff home at all? Would it not be better to study it (if you intend on doing that) when the stuff is, how shall we say—fresh? My next question would have to be, if you are trying to get a degree from a university, is it really the best course of action, to sue said university? I would think that a lawsuit would cut down the chances for a successful dissertation defence.

Turns out the university offered the guy $750US for the loss. Holy smokes! Who knew that it could possibly be worth that much? I mean think about it! It's not like he lost a bag of gold. The guy didn't make a special trip to get it. He was already there! Did he not make any friends who could maybe go out and get some more for him and ship it to him using a courier?

I'm not sure what this guy wanted to prove with his bag o'smell, but you have to give him credit. Not everyone would do this in the name of education. It's a crappy job, but I guess someone has to do it!

Congratulations! You May Have Already Won!

Ever get one of those prize envelopes in the mail? They're from a major publisher that provides a monthly 'digest' of short excerpts of stories and articles. They seem to have a never ending contest in which people try and win thousands of dollars. If you subscribe to said magazine then you know what I'm talking about. If not let me enlighten you.

Every couple of months a manila envelope arrives in the mail, which contains official looking documents extolling the fact that you have been issued a series of code numbers and that 'You may have already won," the super grand prize. Included in the 'prize pack' are stickers which have to be placed on the proper piece of paper and need to be returned to the prize department. Also included are special offers for books, and subscriptions and other equally useless items which it would seem might, may, could, enhance your chances of winning that aforementioned big prize.

By the time you manage get the proper stickers in the proper place, you might qualify for an advanced degree in spatial dynamics. The process seems designed to weed out people who could not possibly handle the thousands of dollars up for grabs. After jumping through the hoops you have to send the whole package back, at your expense, after noting your prize codes 'for your records'.

But why not take the chance to win some money? Maybe I'll win! Sure, whatever you think.

I used to jump through the hoops myself. I admit it. I'm not above trying to win money and trips. My car is getting old. But what killed the whole thing for me was the notice that came that said, "You are one of 6 people in New Brunswick in the final contest round," or something like that. You get a little excited when you see that, in spite of yourself.

Thousands of people spend thousands of dollars on stuff they don't need or want just to get a chance to win the grand prize. Envelopes come on an almost monthly basis and no matter what you try you never seem to get any closer to the final draw. I almost think it might be some kind of money grab between the company and the post office (you do have to buy postage for the return envelopes). Or as seems more likely, a psychological torture experiment of some kind.

Oh, and the notice about being one of 6 people in New Brunswick who might be a winner. Well turns out that at least 4 of the other people from New Brunswick were in my family too. Can't wait for Christmas!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Where’s The Beef?

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it's probably a duck right? Now, if it doesn't look like a duck, doesn't quack like a duck and doesn't walk like a duck, it's probably not a duck. Right? So why is it that people insist on trying to pass off things that are not meat as meat?

In the quest to provide ever healthier foods for our consumption someone got the bright idea to try and trick us into eating things that in no way resemble the item we want. Have you heard of dehydrated vegetable protein? Kind of looks like sawdust. You're supposed to be able to make meatballs, burger patties, sausages and the like out of it. Guess what? Not meat.

Last summer I went to the grocery store for some hamburger patties for a barbeque we were hosting. I was in a hurry and grabbed a box of patties. On the box was a beautiful picture of a juicy hamburger with all the fixing's. When I got home and cooked them up they tasted kind of strange. On the chance that they were bad, I went back to the box with the nice photo to find that the patties I had purchased were in fact not hamburger patties, but soy burgers. Guess what? Not meat.

Then there is my favourite gross thing in the grocery store. Tofu, a blob of pasty greyish goo. I mean, YUCK! Just cook it in with what ever you are making and it will take on the flavour of what you're cooking. Why not just eat what it was you were going to eat in the first place? Tofu-- REALLY not meat.

Let's make a deal. If you are a person who likes to eat some of these things, fine. You eat them and enjoy. But let me eat what I like in peace. Don't try to trick me into eating something that I would not willingly eat on my own. I like my steak to look like a steak. I like my hamburger to contain ground beef. I like my turducken to be a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. To each their own. Now please pass the barbeque sauce.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Growth Through Stupidity

You know sometimes you just can't win for trying. You know what I mean. You think of something you might like to try and you try it. Sometimes things work out great and you succeed in completing the task at hand and sometimes things do not always work out. You fail. Right? The world did not come to a crashing end and the sun rose again the next day. Right? So when did it become a bad thing for people to fail? When did we enter a world of success at all costs?

I read recently that children only learn through success until about age 6 or so. This is why you see parents making a big deal out of little Bobby when he learns not to pick his nose at the dinner table. The child learns that if he does (or in this case does not) do something, he will get praised for it and learn "Hey look at what happened there! I will have to remember that!" Same goes with tying your shoes, getting dressed properly and going to the potty. After age 6 the brain begins to change and the child learns more through mistakes and failure. Kind of a "Hey, I guess the egg shells don't need to be in the cake batter!" eureka moment. If something does not work, then the child will remember that and try something different the next time.

I guess that's what gets me about the 'helicopter parent' phenomenon. These parents hover about their children, smoothing social bumps, correcting mistakes and removing obstacles that their children encounter. What are these parents teaching their children? The kid learns that if they wait someone will fix the problem. If they make a mistake someone will make it go away. That they can't fail. So basically they learn that they can get away with anything and end up with no skills for coping with problems and obstacles.

When I was young my parents let me figure things out for myself. They made sure I was safe and that I wasn't in any danger of course, the provided advice and encouragement, but they also let me have space to grow. When I went out to play I remember my father saying "Don't do anything stupid." Did I do stupid things? Yep! Did I learn from doing stupid things? Yep! Am I a better and more capable person now because of that? I'd like to think so.

While growing up we all have to learn that there are consequences to our actions. We all have to learn to develop the persistence to try and try again. We have to learn how to deal with life's little problems. Have you heard the old adage about learning from your mistakes? Maybe the reason for this saying is that we really do.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Good News and Bad News

Well, I will give you the bad news first. Kind of like pulling off a band-aid—best to do it fast and it hurts less. It's Ground Hog's Day and it is now official. The rodents have predicted 6 more weeks of winter. Thank heavens for this fool proof weather forecasting system!

What better way to tell what the weather is going to do for the next six weeks, than by yanking a peacefully slumbering rodent out of its den and waving it in front of a bunch of television cameras? Then declaring proudly that (if it is cloudy) spring is coming early or (if it is sunny) six more weeks of winter. What could possibly be wrong with this method? Apparently since weather forecasters are not to be trusted we have collectively decided to put our faith in a rodent. Brilliant!

I'm surprised that the animal rights/protection people have not jumped on this long before now. I mean, here we are (as a society, not us in particular), every year pulling an animal that has nothing to do with weather (and could probably care less), out of its home and using it to predict the weather. At least it is only once a year I guess. I do feel sorry for Wiarton Willie, Shubenacadie Sam and Punxsutawney Phil. What did they do to deserve this dubious distinction? Did the whole of the ground hog population get together and declare these three individuals the sacrificial lambs (uh, ground hogs) of the species?

Anyway, that's the bad news—six more weeks of winter. What's the good news you ask? Well go and have a look at your calendar. Now count the number of weeks from now (February 2) until the first day of spring. That's o.k., go ahead, I'll wait.

Yep, the good news is that spring is only six weeks away!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weather Woes

I know I go on about the fast paced technology driven age we live in a bit. I remember when computers first started to come into wide use. The manufacturers used to tout the paperless office! I don't know about you, but it seems like there is more paper now than there ever was. Technology has done allot of things for us, instant music, MRI machines, heat and lights and lots of other things. The one thing I wish technology would do for us is to produce better forecasts for the weather.

You would think that in a country that is affected by the weather so much, we would be putting more money into getting the forecast right. We can't complain too much I guess. For the most part I know that if I want to go somewhere in a couple of days I can pretty much count on the weather. But at times I wonder if weather forecasters have a big chart on the wall and wherever their dart hits the wall ends up being the weather outlook.

I was at the grocery store yesterday and every second person I knew was talking about the 'big storm' that was coming. When I asked when it was due in, because I hadn't heard about it, they said 'oh, next week." Next Week? Where are these people getting their weather from? Psychics or crystal balls?

Did you know that forecasts are only accurate for the first 24 to 48 hours? That's right. Anything beyond the day after tomorrow is basically useless. If you look at a weather forecast today, for three days from now, you have less than a 50% chance of seeing that forecasted weather on that day. Most people can do better than that by guessing based on a thermometer, a barometer and a weather almanac. When it comes to weather in Canada—just worry about tomorrow, after that anything is possible.