Sunday, January 21, 2018

How Much is Too Much?

Children in my family circle seem to get a lot of Christmas presents.     Thirty gifts would be a fair approximation of the number opened by each child.   Franchises like American Girl and Lego are heavily marketed, successfully it would seem.   Some people have a business buying and then reselling popular toys, at sometimes  greatly increased prices.

Fingerlings



I don't wish to deprive children of a happy Christmas and I know that they look forward to adding to their toy collection.  I always did.  I sometimes wonder if the amount of interest and fun is in inverse proportion to the number of gifts.  Or maybe I'm turning into an old curmudgeon.   This website, Gapminder.org has a lot of information about family life in other parts of the world, including a child's favourite toy.



Haiti, for example,



and Cambodia:




It gives you a new perspective.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

How do you decide what to read online?





I read quite a lot on-line.   I have my favourite bookmarked sites and I enjoy getting lost going from link to link, ending up somewhere completely different from where I started.   There is an abundance, nay, a plethora of reading material to be found.   And that's just the written word.   You can spend a similar amount of time watching videos or listening to podcasts.   You'll never run out.   That can be good in one sense and you can learn a lot (or not) or be entertained tremendously (or not)  and be rewarded or insulted in turn.  

Many people are used to turning to the internet for information.   Want to know how to knit?   Lots of sites and videos want to show you.   Suddenly find yourself in the position of having to teach shot put to a group of 12 year olds?    You'll learn enough to get by and hopefully keep yourself out of trouble. Find out the answer to some obscure question?  The capital of Mongolia?  It's on-line and you only need to give google a hint and the answer will appear.     It's Ulaanbattor.   Sometimes it's scary how intuitive the whole thing is now.

What makes you return to a blog or site more than once and what makes you drop it like the proverbial hot potato?   Some blogs or sites list many recommended or favourite bloggers or sites of interest.   If you like the initial blog or site you may click on the recommendations in sequence to see if similar delights can be found.

Flashing icons and pop-up ads are irritating to some, including me. A cluttered page with multiple fonts, text boxes and advertising do not encourage me to linger.   

What's your preference?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Are you easily offended?

   





If you are, 2017 was your year.   The National Post has an article about all the innocuous things (according to them) that have been deemed to be racist this past year.   You may want to know why Dr. Seuss, hoop earrings and French Fries are now unacceptable, depending upon their context.    A separate article could be generated about things that are now deemed sexist.    

But who are the arbiters of taste and acceptability?     It is interesting that truth and reality are not particular factors.   Even though the vast majority of soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk were white men, some people don't consider it acceptable that the movie depicts this lack of diversity.    It reminds me of Winston Smith in the novel, Nineteen Eighty-four whose employment involved rewriting and revising previous news stories according to the current government perspective.

Why does this happen?   There must be a certain notoriety, maybe even fame, fortune and job opportunities for the initiators of a new perspective.   Feelings of power must ensue when large corporations like Unilever, manufacturers of Dove Soaps, can be made to grovel and beg forgiveness.

Innocent and logical acts like donning latex gloves before serving food at a soup kitchen can be twisted to appear racist or insulting to the diners.   Maybe the soup kitchen will be discontinued to avoid further offence.   Will that be helpful in the long run?    

It has occurred to me that groups or individuals that complain long and loud about perceived offences are lofting a trial balloon.   Will there be money forthcoming in addition to profuse apologies?   Monetary compensation sweetens the apology, oh so much.   If you can arrange to be sufficiently offended you might never have to work again.   

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Progress/Not Progress

     





I had a frustrating experience recently trying to send a wire transfer overseas.   The fact that it is called wire transfer gives you  a clue that it originated in the 1800's and used the telegraph system.  Read more here.    But this is 2017 and things should have improved . . . and sped up.  There's a thing called computers now.    I can send money via Paypal and have the recipient receive the funds within five or ten minutes.    I suspect banks are using computers now as well and know how to click a mouse also.   The time period quoted to send a wire transfer?   Five to eight days!   I suppose the funds leave my account right away (so no further interest is paid) and then slush around in the bank's account for the rest of the time.




Then there are taxis.   It probably varies from place to place but in the Vancouver area taxis are expensive and hard to come by.   There was a recent video of a taxi driver refusing to take someone out to the suburbs -- too far.   So much for not drinking and driving and taking a cab home.    Saturday nights you have to pre-book a cab because they often run out.   Does away with spontaneity on your night out.  Then something like Uber  or Lyft comes along and it's so unfair.

Government monopolies are the hardest to get around.   CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Agency)  the Canadian agency dealing with airport security for people and baggage cheerfully advised me on their website that they anticipated it would take 4 to 5 weeks to get back to me with an answer to my query.  It seems the tax office is blocking calls  and giving taxpayers incorrect information.   Read more here.

I must admit I love to find a way around what I see as incompetent and slow service.   And I give a silent little cheer when they go out of business.   But governments have a monopoly--at least until the next election.


Happy Holidays!   On blog break until the New Year.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Jellyfish Taking Over the World?










Some would feel apprehensive reading this article in The Atlantic with the ominous title, 'Imagining the Jellyfish Apocalypse'.   We know deep down that we've abused the world, polluted the environment, gorged on earth's resources but somehow we expect that Mother Earth, like many mothers, will shake her head and forgive us.   Or perhaps we expected some extreme devastation that would end things quickly and not leave us to suffer for our folly.


Jellyfish may be the Earth's alternative response.  In Australia the most common type, Irukandjii, of which there are 25 species, has a body the size of a pea.   What harm could they do?   The article describes the various forms of suffering you could endure which for an unfortunate few ends in death.   But don't take it personally;   these jellyfish typify the stimulus-response lack of consciousness with not much intelligence and certainly no motive.  Each animal is driven by basic compulsions and does not possess the kind of intelligence that could ever be trained, harnessed or reasoned with. 




Will our world's oceans return to the primordial soup with jellyfish smothering out all other life?   Considering the vast numbers of people that depend on the oceans' bounty for food, this would be devastating.   A number of countries including Sweden, Scotland and Israel have suffered power blackouts due to jellyfish clogging up their coal and nuclear powered energy facilities.


It all sounds like science fiction.   Jellyfish have been around for 500 million years;  perhaps they will outlive us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Life can be Difficult

    


Mazatlan cab - Pulmonaria





Modern life is complicated.   There are various skills without which it is difficult to get by.   It's possible to decline to attain this knowledge but life will be more challenging.   If you don't drive you will have to make other arrangements.   You could live in a town or city that has terrific transit in place.   You could use taxis or something like Uber if that is permitted in your town.   You could arrange to live close to everything you need and then walk everywhere.   What a healthy suggestion!  But choosing not to drive means making other choices/concessions in your life.

It is difficult to manage without computer skills and access to a computer although for some/many a smart phone substitutes.     Booking a flight, checking out accommodation options, getting notification of a flight cancellation, paying bills and doing general banking are facilitated by a device of some sort.  You can manage without a computer if you rely on intermediaries to help you like travel agents.   You can pay your bills in person in the bank but most charge a fee for this.   You can wait a long time for a letter to arrive in the post if you can persuade your friends and relatives to communicate with you in this way.

You can avoid ever cooking if you have an agreeable spouse or partner.   You can resort to take-out food or fast food or even elegant restaurants if your bank balance permits.    Or eat your food raw.   Chopping and peeling are easier than cooking but not much.

Sometimes a little knowledge can go a long way.   You could learn to make seven simple dinners and repeat ad infinitum.   Omelettes and crepes permit many variations.   Once your computer is set up by some helpful techie type  you can write yourself a few cheat sheets for very basic uses such as sending an e-mail and using google.   Or maybe everyone is past that now. 




I've been reading The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton published in 1975.   Proof that good books age well.   In Victorian England, circa 1855, a totally different set of skills was necessary to get by.   

Friday, December 1, 2017

The News Cycle


  






Do you ever find yourself wondering what happened with a particular story or situation that featured prominently on the News?   I do.   The national evening news (morning news, noontime news) seems to be all about large dramatic stories. If it bleeds, it leads I have heard it described.   A major hurricane, a military coup, a mass shooting in a mall are all sure to be the top story of the day.    Various angles are pursued and interviews with locals and photographs of the devastation are obligatory.   Two weeks later?   Everything's over.   Or is it?

Years ago, a family member brought this up.   

"You remember the war in Yemen?" she said.   

"Vaguely, haven't heard about it for a long time.   I guess they settled things."   I replied. 

 "Well, it's still going on.   It's just not news anymore."


That was my introduction to the News Cycle.  It seems the term has been around in the 1920's.   The Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus:  

  A round of media coverage; the period from one broadcast or printing to the next.



  




If an event only lasts a day, it is surprising it made the news in the first place.   The local news might cover a house fire or a rush hour auto accident but the national news looks for events that can hold up for at least several days.   The decision must be made whether the story has legs,  ie. will carry on for a long enough period to warrant sending a reporter and photographer to the scene.   In these fiscally prudent times, arrangements have usually been made to piggyback on another news station or broadcast network.    In obscure locations, a search is made for an English speaking local, maybe a teacher on exchange, who will have their ten minutes of fame in front of the camera describing the scene after an earthquake.

Sometimes these events will be recalled to memory or come up in conversation.   Awhile ago it was the war in Ukraine.   Whatever happened to that?   Sometimes I am suspicious that governments have intervened, threatened removal of broadcasting licenses or other dire consequences like a tax audit if the topic is not at least muted. All in the interests of keeping the public calm no doubt. Perhaps I am being paranoid.   I don't hear about refugees streaming into Europe from Africa anymore.   Should I assume it has stopped?  The stories that last the longest are scandals about a political figure.   The Mike Duffy story comes to mind for the Canadian press.   Monica Lewinsky went on and on in the United States.  After a while I wonder if the opposing political party wants the story to continue.   

Local news has cooking demonstrations, celebrity gossip, travel tips, various witticisms, local music events and regional sports team scores.   It's entertainment.  Bad news is an intrusion.




Next week's post will be delayed a few days.