Sunday, March 29, 2009

Signs of Spring

Well, the robins have returned! I noticed a couple of these welcome signs of spring yesterday when I was outside enjoying the sun. Not only is it the time of the year when the snow melts and the grass begins to green up and the birds return but it is also the time of year for that essential Canadian experience – Roll up the Rim. For those of you who might not know about this, a national coffee/donut retailer, Tim Horton's, has a contest each year where their coffee cups are printed with a message under the little rolled rim at the top of the cup. After you finish your beverage, you roll the rim up to see if you have won a prize. Much has been made about the seeming unfairness of how these cups are distributed across the country. Depending on where you live and the amount of coffee sold, your chances of winning the big prizes are either higher or lower. Basically if you live where the most coffee is sold, you have a better chance of winning.

Depending on your temperament, the "Sorry Play Again" message can range from "You've won a chance to play again", to "You've won a chance to pay again." Prizes range from a donut or bagel to flat screen televisions, cash and automobiles. Some people get really involved in this 'contest'. I have heard of people tracking the prizes they won and how many they won from year to year. I have heard of people who order, and pay for, coffee for the whole office in the understanding that any prizes won revert to them. I have even heard of people who buy extra coffee, that they have no intention of drinking, just to get an extra cup or two for the chance to win something.

I like coffee. I even like to win things. But I tend to take the view that, if I am spending extra money for something that I don't really need, then even if I have won something, I'm still out the money I spent. If I happen to be going by a location and happen to want a coffee, I might stop and buy one, but I don't make special trips for the chance to win a donut. That being said I do like the anticipation of rolling that little rim up. I have won coffee, donuts, bagels and muffins. I have heard of people winning cash prizes and televisions and cars. There is one prize that many people seem to win that I have never won though -- the chance to throw my cup on the ground and leave it there.

From the amount of these cups I saw on the ground this morning, their little rims chewed and gnawed like starving rats had found them, there must be a littering prize that I have never won. My cups tend to accumulate in the car until I begin to feel self conscious and scared that someone will look in and see the pigsty I drive around in. Heaven forbid someone gets in the car before I can clean it out and I embarrass myself. Never, never, NEVER, have I thrown a cup out on the ground when I was finished with it, no matter how disappointed I was not to win. As far as I know the contest is 'Roll up the Rim to Win' not 'Roll up the Rim to Litter'.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot Means Hot

Human beings are funny creatures. I don't mean funny in the Buster Keaton or Jerry Seinfeld way. But funny in that we do things, that, if we thought about them for just a second, we would rush to avoid.

This weakness really comes into play when we are told not to do something. I speak here of the warning label. Never in the history of the world has an invention so encouraged us to do exactly the opposite of what the sign is warning us not to do. Not only do we often read the label, we proceed to ignore everything the label said to do or not to do. The other day I saw a guy smoking. While smoking, he was intently reading the warning on the pack of cigarettes and looking at the disgusting picture on the package. Right on. Obviously the warnings were not meant for him I guess.

Sadly, I am not immune to this foible of the human being. Just this morning I stopped at the local national retailer of hot beverages to buy a hot chocolate and a muffin. As I sat in the sun enjoying my muffin, I casually read the side of the cup my hot chocolate was in and saw the warning – "CAUTION: CONTENTS MAY BE HOT!" When I first read the warning I thought to myself, "Yep. Hot chocolate is usually hot. Why would they need to put that on the cup? Obviously they need to protect people from themselves." I proceeded to finish my muffin and peeled back the lid of the cup. Just before I took a drink a friend stopped to say hello and we spoke for a few minutes. Then my friend left me to run an errand and I returned to my hot chocolate. Now I don't want to exaggerate too much, but the liquid in that cup could only have been that temperature if it had been scrapped off the surface of the sun only minutes before I arrived in the store. I managed to choke down the blistering drink and not spit it on the window of the store, but WOW! They weren't fooling! I guess hot really does means hot.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I’m There But Not There

I try to be an involved parent. I think it's a good thing when parents can take part in their children's activities. I think if a parent can manage to show an interest in their child's development it helps the child to feel important and builds confidence for the future. In the last few years as my children have begun to get older and take interest in different activities, my wife and I are travelling to more and more events, activities, recitals and locations, in an effort to support our children and stay involved. Some of these activities, we can take part in as coaches or 'support staff' but for some things we are just proud members of the audience, and as such we do the things that proud parents do. We wait expectantly for our child to take centre stage. Fire off enough pictures to fill a museum. Clap like idiots for the performance our child just finished, and nod and compliment other parents in the same boat as we are in.

All of this can be fun, nerve racking and embarrassing, sometimes all at once. But I find that my digital video camera gets in the way. I spend time making sure that my child is in the centre of the frame. I follow the action with the camera trying to keep it steady so that future viewers don't have to take motion sickness pills before they watch. I fight with other parents for the perfect spot to take my video. All of this means that even though I am in attendance at the event I'm not really there. I don't get to actually 'see' my children perform, except through the LCD screen on the camera.

Yes, I know, we want to be able to go back and see how our kids danced, or sang, or played in later years. Yes, it's great for the grandparents and aunts and uncles who could not attend to be able to see the performance. But why? Until the advent of the still camera and later video, events happened. People watched and remembered the performance. If someone missed the performance, too bad. It was described to them and life went on. When did this need to record everything become so ingrained in society.

I think from now on I am going to 'forget' the camera at home. At least for a while. I think that I will attend the events and enjoy what is happening, while it happens, instead of watching it when I get home. And if someone can't make it to the show, maybe I'll do a puppet show for them later.


Friday, March 20, 2009

How Did That Happen?

A crack of the bat and the ball rises into the blue sky. It rises higher and higher, almost in slow motion, fighting the pull of gravity until it reaches the apex of its trajectory and begins its high speed journey back to the ground. A player positions himself under the ball and waits for the satisfying thump of the ball finding the pocket of his glove. The crowd holds its breath and waits for the end of the inning. Then a roar from the crowd—joy from the visitors and derision from the home crowd as the ball hits the turf and rolls past the fielder. The runners advance and the visiting team gets another chance to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. In the aftermath, the player who missed the ball looks at his glove like a friend who has let him down, a mixture of bewilderment and embarrassment on his face.

You see this scenario every season. And not just in baseball. Tennis players who miss a shot look at their rackets. Curlers look at their brooms. Football players look at their hands. In every sport in every league from the smallest child to the highest paid professional, if they miss a shot, miss a catch or foul up a play they all look at the tools of their trade, as if for some reason, it's the equipment's fault.

We have all done it. Maybe you are playing Frisbee with the kids. Or badminton with friends. We miss, or drop or otherwise fail and we look for something to blame. Human nature I guess. Nobody wants to be at fault. Not that there is anything wrong with this I guess. It's not the end of the world. Except maybe to the guy who looses the big game when he misses the ball and it rolls between his legs and makes him look like a 5 year old t-ball player, and everybody remembers it for the next 25 years.

There are very few people who play sports who do not do this. I have to laugh every time I see it. After all, it's a poor carpenter who blames his tools.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Congratulations, You are the 12,769,878 Visitor!

No, you are not really the 12,769,878th visitor to this blog. Sorry to get your hopes up. If you were I would be significantly busier than I am.

Often, for some reason, the need to win something takes people over. I guess that's the reason for all of these banner ads that show up on some websites. People seem unable to resist the chance to get something for nothing. When a flashing box on the screen promises you a new laptop, or a vacation or some other wonderful expensive prize, the need to win takes some people over I guess. How can it be that I have won something for doing nothing but click on a website? As Homer Simpson once said "It doesn't matter that we didn't enter the contest, all that matters is that we won!" I guess it is the same compulsion that people feel when they buy lottery tickets. You know, maybe this time, perhaps, I will win that big prize and live forever in a house made of gold with diamond windows.

The thing is, I always figured that these things were some kind of scam. So being a curious sort, I did a little experiment. While on a website that I visit every couple of weeks, I noticed a banner ad that said that I was, lets say, the 12,345th visitor to the site and had won a prize. No, no, I did not click the link! I went old school. With a writing implement called a pencil and a pad of what is called paper, I wrote down the website, the company the ad was for and the number 12,345 and the date. A few days later I was at the same site and again there was the ad, saying I was a winner. Same thing for the next 5 visits to the site. Funny thing was, although the day, time and frequency of my visits to the site changed the number 12,345 did not. Do they really expect me to believe that no one else visited the site over the same time period? And even in the unlikely event that I am the only person in the world to visit this particular site, if I visited the site at least 7 times should the number not have increased to 12,352?

Needless to say, I never did click the link. Lord knows what I would have ended up with on my computer, or how much spam I would have had to contend with. I've never really been one for entering contests and buying lottery tickets so these banner ads don't really matter to me much. Maybe I'm wrong and I really did win something. I guess I will never know because I don't intend to click these ads. I tend to follow that wise old adage when I'm online, If something seems too good to be true—it probably is.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All Of These Things Are Just Like The Others

Do you remember that song from Sesame Street, where the characters present several items and sing "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong…"? Kind of a catchy tune for little kids but apparently not entirely scientific in basis.

Let me ask you a question-- What do the following products have in common? Salad Dressing. Toothpaste. Mascara. Spicy Peanut Sauce. Sorbet. Underwater Concrete. Lets see-- salad dressing, toothpaste, peanut sauce and sorbet, all go in your mouth, but not mascara, or concrete. Toothpaste and concrete can be used to fill holes of various sizes, but not the other things on the list. Just you try and fill that drywall hole with salad dressing. Sorbet will fill the hole for a short time but it always melts, and usually stains the wall. So, nothing you say. These things have nothing in common. If you look at these things from a purely functional perspective, you're right, they have nothing in common.

Commonality comes into play when you consider the ingredients. All of these diverse products contain the wonder of the product world—Xanthan Gum. This stuff is used as a thickener in all kinds of products that seemingly have nothing in common. Basically it helps things that become liquid when shaken, thicken back up when they stop being shaken. Pseudoplasticity it's called. Cool word eh? Really rolls off the tongue doesn't it? P s e u d o p l a s t i c i t y. It's hard to believe the range of products that this stuff ends up in. Everything from makeup to toothpaste, food products and construction materials. Maybe we should be looking at it for fuel for cars too. You can buy bags of the stuff at the grocery store. Wouldn't that be great. Need some gas for the car, run to the grocery store, pick up some xanthan gum, mix it up and drive away. I can see the commercials now (cue the announcer voice), "Need gas?
Buy Acme brand home petroleum mix. The only petroleum mix with Xanthan Gum, the best fermented corn sugar polysaccharide money can buy!" Of course some fool would probably blow himself up while mixing it so maybe not such a good idea after all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Makes The Wind Blow?

I know that many people who know me and my sense of humour often wonder how my loving bride puts up with me. My range of humour goes from sarcastic to ridiculous. I can usually find something humorous in almost any situation. This can be a good thing sometimes, when the mood needs lightening. At other times… maybe not so much. I love to grab on to something and tease the person mercilessly. It helps that I have a good memory. I can store away little bits of information about someone or an event and then bring it out at the most opportune time to cause the most hilarity, at least for me. Kind of a humour blitzkrieg.

I remember in university when my phone number was a couple of digits off from the local pizza place. From time to time my roommates and I would get calls from people wanting to order pizza. Eventually, I began to get sick of this and started to take orders. "It will be ready in twenty minutes sir." Bad, I know. But eventually people began to dial the right number and the calls stopped and I had fun doing it. And no, the pizza place did not go out of business.

My wife is (thank God) a very understanding and tolerant woman. She puts up with me day in and day out and often just smiles and nods at my observations. I know my kids often get fed up with my antics, but what can I say? While travelling, I often hear from the back seat, "Are we there yet?" I just smile and reply, "Nope, we're still here." Drives them nuts! What else are kids for, right?

I remember once, when my daughter was quite young, she said to me "Daddy, look at the wind blowing the trees!" I wish I could adequately describe the look of utter confusion and wonder that came over her face when I gave her my answer. I knelt down to her level and looked her straight in the eye. Then I said to her with a completely straight face, "How do you now the wind is blowing the trees? Maybe the trees are moving and making the wind!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Internet, What Would We Do Without You?

I really think we are becoming too dependent on the Internet. I mean, we can hardly do without it in the early part of the 21st Century. From banking to social networking to research on essay topics and dating, the internet is a part of everyday life for most of us.

I wonder if this dependence is really a good thing. In its original format, the internet was simply a method for sharing information. Used mostly be the military and later research scientists, it was a way to move information from point A to point B quickly and somewhat easily. Now the internet is a bastion, not only for people looking to share information, but for those with too much time on their hands. Do we really need to see video of a stupid kid abusing a cat? Or some overly distraught fan of Brittany Spears crying and ranting like the end of the world has come? How did we ever survive as a species when we actually had to go out and meet people in order to find a date?

I got thinking about this the other day when I was online, vainly trying to find an accurate weather forecast (you already know my feelings on this subject). As I scrolled down the screen I noticed a little box that said "See What The Weather Is Doing Where You Are". I have to admit, it caught my curiosity and I clicked the link. What followed was a list of webcams that showed real time footage of various locations across the country. Not a bad feature I guess. Especially if you never leave the basement and daylight burns your skin like a vampire.

I think we are finally coming to the end of society as we have known it. We no longer have to leave the house to do our banking, pay the bills, shop or date. Now it seems that we no longer have to even look outside to see what is happening with the weather. Perhaps more people should follow the advice my father used to give us when he thought we had not been outside enough. He would enter the room, have a look at the destruction we had wrought and ask "Why don't you go outside and blow the stink off?" Why not indeed, Dad.