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?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Tangled Web We Weave

Sometimes I am completely amazed that this planet still holds surprises for us. You would think that after inhabiting the planet for several hundred millennia we would have seen it all. We have spread out to cover the planet with cities, explored the dark jungles and highest mountains and still the planet is just now revealing some of its secrets.

Just last week a scientist in working in Papua New Guinea, announced that he had found a previously unrecorded and unknown species of jumping spider. Think about that for a minute. With all of the combined knowledge we have accumulated over the last few thousand years, we still have things to discover! Pretty amazing eh?

My only concern comes when I think about what we have done with some of the other 'previously unknown' species we have found. All kinds of animals on this planet have survived perfectly well until humans got their fingers into the mix. We have fished cod until the fishery collapsed. Hunted whales for their oil until a couple of species have only a few hundred members left. Look at the poor Dodo bird. When we found it there were thousands of them. Then sailors looking for an easy meal hunted the trusting birds (which were too stupid to run away but had survived perfectly well) into oblivion. So with this track record you can see my concern for this new spider.

I know, I know. We are getting better at taking care of the planet. Slowly we are learning that if we as a species want to survive we have to take better care of our home. But when humans want something, there is little that will dissuade them from taking what they want. God forbid that this new spider turns out to be good for something we need. What happens when scientists figure out that its squished remains are the cure for that global scourge of hangnails? Or the terrible, debilitating ailment of receding eyebrow lines? If it turns out that this spider is good for something that we think we need… Let the extinction begin.