Sunday, August 13, 2017

Don't Take it for Granted!


CTV News

It is easy to take for granted some of the most precious aspects of life.  We would only survive three minutes without air, three days without water and thirty days without food.   More or less.    Even if these commodities are available, we have come to expect a certain quality.   The air should be fresh and unpolluted, the water potable and cold.   As far as food is concerned we expect the government to monitor the safety of anything that is allowed to enter our borders or served to us in restaurants.   We are responsible for our own cooking skills when we eat at home.  To paraphrase Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.   He probably inferred that this society would include the basics listed above.

British Columbia has had a surfeit of forest fires this summer, something that is becoming alarmingly regular.     The seriously reduced air quality, even in areas far removed from the fires, is a reminder of the winds that swirl around our planet on a regular basis.    Some people have difficulty breathing, others find the air stale and smelly, views are substantially diminished and tourists are disappointed.  But nothing can be done.   We are not as omnipotent as we like to think.   Advice is given to stay indoors and avoid exertion.

A hazy skyline is not a natural disaster, but it serves as a reminder to be patient, to be prepared, and to be appreciative when eventually normality returns.   We can spare a thought for those evacuated or made homeless and bear our lesser complaints with good grace.   It wouldn't hurt to treat the planet better then has been our wont in the past hundred years or so.   Gaia may be getting annoyed.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hanging on financially

   



I was interested to read  The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans in The Atlantic about the prevalence of people who would have great difficulty in finding $400 for an emergency.  Who could live like that?    Emergencies come around regularly, if by that is meant a car repair, painful dental problems or your hot water tank expiring.     Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve would have to borrow or sell something to find the money.  

The subject. Mr. Neal Gabler,  chose his profession, writing, for love not money.   He's published five books, hundreds of articles and television scripts.   He's won awards and describes a respectable reputation.   Unfortunately, writing has never been a well paying career except for an exalted few.   In addition, as a self-employed person he must engage in the annoying and time-consuming task of chasing payments.   Anyone who works for themselves will know what this is like.   The work has been delivered but a finely tuned dance must be commenced to pry payment loose without offending the payor and cutting off a future supply of work.   

There was good money at times.  Neal Gabler describes years of a solid middle class and even upper middle class income.   I suspect the more prosperous years were in the past, or at least before the internet was well established, with sites like Fiverr providing writers for amounts that would just about buy latte at Starbucks.   When you have to borrow money from your adult children to pay for heat in the winter, there's a particular kind of shame attached.

It may be that Mr. Gabler did not manage his money as well as he might have.   Saving in the years of plenty for the years of want.   Creative types of people don't seem to manage their finances well as a multitude of rock stars who end up destitute have described.  You can meet Mr. Gabler on Youtube here.

Some Americans end up in financial straits because of medical bills.   The Canadian health care system is far from perfect and a middle class person will have to cope with  many expenses considered non-emergency, like glasses or root canals.   But hospital and doctor visits are covered, albeit with payment of a monthly premium of $75 for the middle class individual.

In the past, families managed on one income.   What's changed?   Wages have remained stagnant, good union type jobs with benefits and pensions are a dying breed.   There's so much more to need or at least want.   It's hard to imagine living without a computer and internet connection and many people are attached to their cell phones.  

Gabler is relieved to come out of the shadows and admit his problems.   Sharing doesn't solve his problems but finding out that half the people around him are in the same position offers some solace.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Both hands take away







If you have somehow forgetten you have money in a bank account and move away, you will be relieved to know that your money does not go into the bank coffee fund.   There's a process set up to attempt contact but eventually the governing body for banks, The Bank of Canada here in Canada, receives the funds.   Here are some details.   You can check on-line if yu have been remiss in keeping track of all your funds.

A news story on the topic prompted me to check and lo and behold it appeared somehow in our youth $40 had been left behind.   The on-line form is reasonably quick and easy to fill out but then you wait.   Remember, the government only works quickly and ruthlessly when you owe them.   Long since forgotten as a momentary impulse, a couple of months later the Bank of Canada letter appears in the mail.   We may have been hoping for a cheque but, no.

There's a four page form, densely written, to read and blank lines to fill out.  The Bank of Canada had helpfully filled in the line indicating one balance of $40 was being claimed.  But although the government tax department is happy to receive a large cheque from me paying my income tax bill and even credit card payment for the medical services premiums of $150 monthly, this $40 return of my own money requires a statutory declaration before a Notary or Commissioner for taking Oaths.   The cost of a lawyer or notary visit would eat up most if not all of said $40.   Then there is the request for an account passbook/cheque book/statement that matches the account number.   Would it be facile to suggest that were I in possession of this I would be aware of the money and would have made arrangements to have it sent to me long ago.

At this point I was relieved to discover that the offending bank account resided in Ontario where we have never lived and apparently belonged to someone with the same name.   We forget that such people exist, no matter how special and unique we think our name is.

Let him work for the forty dollars.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Walking Computer Chips







In A New Premise, written a few years ago now, I describe a future where all residents have a small computer chip, called a grain, implanted.   The device has various purposes, including paying for purchases.   I was interested to read here about a firm that has something similar implanted in their employees.   The stated reason is to gain access to company files, copiers and even snack machines but like I wrote in my book, this would be easily adapted to other purposes.   

I wonder if I can claim royalties of some kind?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

ADDICTED TO OUTRAGE


   



A lot of information, articles and posts available these days seeks to access our outrage.     Presumably once this goal is achieved, the reader's outrage will lead them to take some sort of action such as writing a letter to a politician, sending donations, changing their lifestyle and generally spreading the word.  That is the main goal in generating the indignation or even fury.   It can seem that increasingly disgusting stories are required as time passes.

Even if no direct action is taken, sometimes the forcefully expressed opinions can be intimidating.  We say nothing on the topic in the interests of not disagreeing.   Various 'cards' could be shoved in our face:   we are accused of being racist, sexist, carnivores, or just plain stupid  . . .  who wants to be that?   Saying nothing means only one point of view is presented.

News media is controlled by a few corporations and those that own them have a point of view.   They may have business interests that do better under certain political parties or policies.  There was a former Canadian prime minister whose newspaper photographs always showed him in a poor light:   he was tripping down airplane steps, he stumbled on a curb or his face was somehow contorted in conversation or while eating. It was pointed out by a more independent writer that media sources have hundreds of images to choose from and the ones they pick said more about their editorial slant than about the prime minister. He was shortly thereafter defeated but I've never forgotten that lesson.

Be attune to the photographs used, the language and even the placement of articles.     It is a truism that scandals receive front page coverage, apologizes for errors are on the last page.   Somehow politicians, and news organizations, seem to thrive on doom and gloom . . . and they are just the ones to solve it.

But take heart, despite what you read things are getting much better in the world.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

ANNUAL TRADITION






I read an interesting blog post here by Margaret Powling about her annual tradition of re-reading a book which she first read as a young girl and which had a great impact on her.  In some ways, the books that touch us significantly tell a great deal about ourselves and even as we get older and change, re-reading a treasured novel can provide us a hint of the person we were that we had almost forgotten.

That's a gift.

This practise isn't something I have done myself but it makes we wish I had.   Ms. Powling kept the book, originally filched from the local library, for over 60 years.    You would have to own the book as most library books could not survive sixty years of wear and tear not to mention frequent necessary culls that libraries engage in.

The post is fascinating to read because Ms. Powling eventually met and interviewed the author, the well known Rosamunde Pilcher and she signed the tattered novel which, being of the author's earliest writings was never re-printed.   Having lived in the area where the novel, entitled April, was set made it all the more poignant.

I have enjoyed re-reading books that I have enjoyed in the past.  For example, see here. Sometimes, there is nostalgia and the recall of an age and stage where a genre or plot of a book was particularly meaningful, other times the location is one that I visited or lived in and hearing those familiar names mentioned and framed in the story's setting adds personal involvement.

It is likely better than re-watching an old movie or television show as you come to realize how stilted the acting was or how unrealistic the sets.   I was shocked when I realized that the Ponderosa home on Bonanza was a set with painted backdrops.  We must have been easily distracted by the action.   Although I was recently told that real fires are no longer used in movies and television programs since it can all be added after filming by means of CGI (computer generated imagery)   For safety reasons I will have to let that pass.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Environmental issues, large and small.




There's an enormous chunk of ice waiting to fall off the Antarctic ice shelf.   It's the size of Prince Edward Island (or Manhattan), 5660 square kilometres.   There are unknown dangers but there are definite consequences when a chunk of ice this is size reaches shallow depths of ocean and scrapes its heft along the ocean floor.  Penguins and their chicks have difficulty traversing around something this large and entire colonies become unviable.    Scientists seem to be uncertain as to long term, less localized consequences but the sheer size adds to the drama.





Then there is the matter of the much smaller honey bee whose appearance is much less dramatic but the importance of this small insect is difficult to overstate.


This article in The Guardian details how despite years of research and warnings we are still setting ourselves up for the catastrophic consequences that would arise from the death of bees.


You can start small and in doing so save yourself a tedious task.   Let dandelions take over your lawn.   This article in The Guardian makes us aware that in addition to bees, beetles and birds benefit.



The BBC is hosting a series The Wonder of Bees  which should be worth watching.



Sunday, July 2, 2017

What are we entitled to?

   




There are regular news stories and articles about the cost of housing in Vancouver and Toronto.   In Britain, housing and accommodation is even more expensive.   I came from a poor immigrant family but grew up in Vancouver.   But that was then and this is now.   Is there an entitlement to live in the location one chooses?

A large cities has many amenities, sources of entertainment, easy access to top medical facilities and good rapid transit.   These are all things that are either lacking or present in much smaller quantities in small towns and rural areas.   I imagine that their presence is part of what drives up the cost of urban housing.    Perhaps only one or even no vehicle is required in the city;   a considerable cost saving.   Vancouver has an ever increasing number of bicycle lanes, lovely to use when the weather cooperates but can't be pleasant from November to March.   

Of course, one must accept the crowds, the traffic jams and the cost of paying for parking so there are trade-offs.   Some people love the big city atmosphere -- the buzz.   There's always something happening, there's something for everyone.   Alternative ways of living are more easily accepted and there's more privacy as it is easier to become lost and faceless in a city.  This can lead to more loneliness, paradoxically.

  



If you grew up in a big city like Vancouver or even if it is everything you want in your choice of personal venue, are you entitled to live there?   Assuming you have the correct immigration status, the answer is yes.  But don't leap for joy yet, there's that small matter of the cost of housing.   You can't live in Vancouver unless you either:

a)  bought a place to live years earlier and can afford the mortgage;
b)  have a GOOD paying job.   I would estimate $100,000 annual salary for a       single, $150,000 for a couple, maybe even with 1 child.   This is to own or rent.
c)  still live at home with your parents
d)  Are exceedingly frugal, clever and original in your thinking about housing.



You may be wondering about what is meant by the last option.    It means you are prepared to think outside the box in terms of housing and live in a tiny house in a place that permits it, share a 5 bedroom house with 5 like-minded people, or do the usual climb the property ladder game with great patience, buying a $250,000 studio condo, making double payments on your mortgage and moving up each 5 years or so until you can buy a fixer-upper in an undesirable neighbourhood.   Your children will thank you as they will likely be the ones to move to the home you always wanted after you depart this life.   Housing becomes a generational thing.

People protest about housing costs;  does it help?   Everyone wants the maximum they can get when they go to sell their house.   Should landlords subsidize their tenants?   If you are not employed, do you need to live in Vancouver, much as you might like to?   Some people live in a tent city in a local park;   the residents generally protest vociferously.     But everyone should have a roof over their heads and those unable to provide it must be looked after by others.   Switzerland requires that all relatives, older and younger provide assistance first, before the state will invest tax revenues.  So both grandparents and children could be required to assist parents and so on.   Does this obligation extend to second cousins, twice removed? 

Governments promise subsidized housing built by the taxpayers as they have difficulty persuading developers to lose money.   Or adding cheaper housing to more upscale units becomes a condition of receiving a development permit at city hall. 


Young families contribute life and atmosphere to a city.  Without them schools close and playgrounds wither.   A city of retirees who were fortunate to buy when housing was cheap is not desirable from many perspectives.   Vancouver has put a tax on non-resident purchasers, something already present in other locales.   Does it help?   Starting this month, July, a tax is to be levied on homes that are not occupied at least six months of the year.   I imagine enforcement will be onerous.   As was done with illegal basement suites, the city ends up relying on neighbours calling to complain.   Is that the right approach?   I imagine there will be work available for companies to supply individuals to make the rounds of empty homes,  turn on the lights, crank up the heat and leave the faucets running, all in aid of raising utility usage to acceptable levels.   Since government agencies provide these services they provide a means to track owners' presences.    Do we want this type of intrusion into our lives?   What if you follow recommendations to conserve energy and save the planet by using less power?   What would be an acceptable level to avoid suspicion?

We could start by looking at how other countries have dealt with this issue.  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Waste not . . .

   
http://www.heartofhosea.com/?cat=5

The streets of Cairo are strewn with garbage, something that doesn't figure in tourist brochures.    A still developing country, it might seem that Egypt shouldn't have enough left over to discard.   Perhaps the brochure photographs make use of the same apps that can be used to remove the other tourists from your scenic shots to remove the detritus.   Similarly, selfie seekers need to be avoid certain angles where the heaps of garbage detract from the historic splendour of the Taj Mahal. 



Times of India



Partly, it is just habit.   In some neighbourhoods litter is rarely seen, despite the presence of public litter boxes.   Tossing trash can be contagious;  once there is one item, more easily follow.   A former mayor of New York worked wonders by dealing with matters like litter, graffiti and broken windows under the belief, proven correct, that reduction in crime is a by-product.   We take our weekly garbage pick up for granted, but where does our garbage go?



This article in The Guardian describes a convenience culture.   Food packaging is a major source of waste, much of it plastic based and not bio-degradable.   Even poisonous.   It might be a radical suggestion, but what about unwrapping the excess packaging and leaving at the checkout is mentioned in the article.

Think about starting small.   This blogger, at Going Zero Waste has a plethora of ideas.   Surely one will be easy to incorporate into your lifestyle.   Start small.

It is also important not to get discouraged about the world; that makes it easy to give up and just toss that wrapper on the ground.   Have a look at Professor Pinkers' article in Guardian and statistics here.  Things are getting better;  the least we can do is pick up the trash.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

IT'S ALL MY FAULT

Saying those words can be difficult but they open the path to change.   It doesn't have to be phrased like that unless you just hit a baseball into someone's front window.   (You did stick around and make arrangements to cover the cost, right? ).  You might have said something like, 'I could have done better,'  or 'I think next time I'll try it this way," or even 'I'm going to start writing down my appointments so I don't forget them.'    Any of these phrases, or something similar, all have something in common:   You are taking ownership for your actions.

It's interesting how people like taking credit for something they did that turns out well, even if success was also a surprise to them.   But admitting that what happened was a direct result of your actions is not so easy when the outcome is negative.    Perhaps society, in the form of parents and teachers, must bear some responsibility.   We could see errors, bad choices and poor behaviours as teachable moments, suggest ways to improve and then --this is the important part -- hold children accountable for improvement.  But sometimes we choose to rain down criticism and punishments without future solutions that leave the child/student deciding to avoid future similar events at all costs.   Thus, is blame someone else born.


                                  




Some children/adults will lie -- if they think they can get away with it.  Even with the chocolate cupcake icing smeared on their face they will deny that they took one after being told not to before dinner.   In a two year old it's almost comical.   Some people get good at lying, straight-faced and with righteous indignation that someone else was to blame.   The problem is there is this thing called credibility.   The courts rely on it a lot to decipher the truth and most of us develop a sixth sense about it even though it is not reliable.    But once you have categorized someone as a liar or at least prone to fantasy or wild exaggeration their future veracity is in doubt.   Kind of like the boy who cried wolf.

I think there is an inherited component to it.   Young children who never acknowledge that there are areas of their education they need to work on - like not habitually losing assignments before handing them in will often have parents, who at parent/teacher interviews, will tell me that relatives came to visit or that the child had to go shopping with them or that Johnny wasn't feeling well as the reason homework was undone.   How many times do excuses work before they don't?    Children grow into adults and hang onto their habits.   It's always someone else's fault  that they can't hold onto a job, get into a financial bind, smoke and abuse prescription drugs.   I don't know if by now they believe their own excuses but I sometimes notice that they seem to check to see if the person they are talking to has bought into their excuse or do they need to work on honing their pitch.



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Keeping Track of Characters





This morning I picked up an ordered book from our local library, my favourite place to find books to read (but don't let that stop you from purchasing mine!).  It might have been a donation because on the inside cover someone had written the characters names with their occupation next to it.   At first I thought, 'what a shame to disfigure a book' but when I started to read I found occasion to check back as to the significance of a name.  I was aware of the name of the main character as it had been given and explained on the back cover as a Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, but there was no mention of the other character in the opening scene.    I felt a little guilty as if I was validating the desecration but suspected I might have need of the information further on.   I've written before about the occasional difficulty in keeping track of a multitude of characters and that wasn't even about War and Peace.    


I will give the name of the book:  A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch.   I found this title when reading an on-line blog.   I've formed the habit of immediately going to my library account and ordering a book that strikes me as something I would enjoy whenever I come across an on-line recommendation.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ah, MIllennials . . .


  

If you are anything like me, you will find yourself going down an internet rabbit hole -- or is it following a trail of  bread crumbs --  on a topic that has caught your imagination.   Recently it was all about how millennials (which is is not a group I am a member of) are thumbing their nose at what the establishment thinks they should be doing.   If I were an old hippie, which I am also not, I would be fist pumping, 'Yeah, go for it!' But I am silently cheering them on in their rejection of what the mainstream marketers think that age group, presently about 18 to 35 years, should be doing to keep the present business model going.

How are they not cooperating?  Why they are not buying diamond engagement rings? I can remember the ad that oh so helpfully advised young men that two months' salary was the right amount to spend.   Not working anymore, it seems.   I find many past (and present) advertisements degrading to women.   Is it just me?

They are also not so interested in buying cars.   Too much pollution, fracking, unstable oil prices, exploiting companies and workers and so on.   They are not interested in staying in the same job for thirty years, slowly working their way up the corporate ladder, hoping their loyalty will be matched by the corporation.  Millennials tend not to play golf;   takes too long and costs too much.   Not much exercise either.   Shopping in malls?   Not so much.   Nightclubs with expensive, watered down drinks and cover charges.  Not much fun to be had there.  Even car and home ownership seem dubious goals.

But, but, but say the baby boomers.   They should want these things.   We did . . . eventually.   Plus we need them to buy our million dollar+ homes and finance our retirement.     We need them to keep old industries afloat, pay a lot of taxes and finance our healthcare and relaxing retirement.    

Frankly, I don't blame the millennials one bit.   Wages and salaries have been stagnant for decades; prices and taxes have gone up.   Whereas a new immigrant, one income family (my parents) could buy a house in one of the most expensive cities in the world for housing (Vancouver) within 18 months of arriving, it would be more realistic now to suggest 18 years of saving plus help from the bank of mom and dad to buy a small condominium.

I'd rebel, too.   


  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

NOT WORKING

                   



I was shocked to read in The Atlantic that "Nationally, around 23 percent of men ages 23 to 54 are not working . . ."  This would be the age when traditionally most men would be working.   Maybe a few at the lower end were still students pursuing postgraduate degrees but the observation can be made that if a man is not working during that age span, when then?   The location covered in the article is the mid-west United States, an area that has experienced a severe decline in manufacturing jobs.

The article is entitled The Lonely Women of the Rust Belt and there are some overtones of the dated perspective that women are lonely without a man, a traditional man with a job who is able to fix things around the house.  But others might observe that the family is the time honoured unit of society without which things start to fall apart or at least crack around the edges.   I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.   It can be hard to be a single parent and a society without children would be lacklustre.

If it were only a slowdown in the economy it would be difficult enough for many to overcome but a byproduct has been an opioid and heroin epidemic.   Many people are dying of overdoses.  Which came first the unemployment or the drug addiction?   It is difficult to suss that out.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Disadvantages of being a sometime Mystery Writer


   




I have written a few mysteries of the type known as cozy mysteries.   This genre is also popular in television shows, the type you can watch with your children or your grandmother.   Maybe that sounds boring to some who are looking for more gore or sexual content but there's a place and an audience for everything.   Television shows like Murdoch Mysteries  set in  early 20th century Toronto or Death in Paradise, located on an imagined Caribbean Island (but filmed on Guadeloupe) in the present time.    An interesting location or time adds to the mystery.

One of the problems I have discovered arises from the limited budgets that television programs have as well as the constraints of time after commercial interruptions  are taken into account.   The whole point behind the mystery is that it is difficult to know who the perpetrator is and the show usually revolves around the detective(s) following various trails in an attempt to uncover the truth.    The audience of both the programs and similar books enjoys matching wits with the show writers.   But this is where the constraints of television enter into the picture.

  I was enjoying a recent season of the latter program when  a small scene was played out involving an incidental character.   It seemed a little out of place to my writer's mind and used up valuable air time.    The character didn't appear again so I was prepared to discount my suspicions--I'm not that perceptive apparently.  But just when all appeared to be lost, the brief scene did in fact play a pivotal role in determining the culprit.    Vindication all around!



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pretending is the New Thing

When you buy a pair of  pre-dirtied, $425 (USD) jeans from Nordstrom you want people to think you are a person who works hard; physical work that makes you sweat.   You are so focussed that you don't notice and don't care that you are getting dirty:







No couch potato here;   a real man's man (whatever that is).  We expect rippling muscles from the man wearing these jeans.   All that exercise must have made a difference.
Naturally good looking but doesn't know it, or at least doesn't act like he knows it.   He's not so vain.  But even better than the real thing, it doesn't smell of dirt or tar or even dog poo.   And it doesn't leave a trail of detritus from the job site.   

I suppose it isn't very different from the ubiquitous yoga pants worn by many who don't practise yoga.  (now in see-through style):


     
One of the more conservative looks

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Future of Automation






Some newsmagazines and blogs delight in publishing attention getting headlines.   Actually, that's probably the goal.   So this article in the Huffington Post, citing The Economist, warns us that by 2034 forty-seven percent of all jobs will be automated.   I get a kick out of predictions with this degree of precision.   I mean, why not write half of all jobs which sounds more of an approximation compared to the implied precision of 47%.


2034 doesn't seem so far away now that it is 2017.   Most of us plan to still be alive on that date, especially with extending life expectancies.   Maybe some of us will be retired and reassure ourselves that we don't plan on having a job anyway as we will be, at long last, retired.   Maybe others are part of the Early Retirement movement that is saving and investing prodigiously to reach whatever amount will be sufficient at the prescribed four percent withdrawal rate to allow retirement at forty.  But then there are our children and grandchildren.   Will they all have to move into our basement?   

We sometimes think the automatons will look somewhat humanoid but the robots who work in Japanese car factories don't seem to mind their lack of charm.





This article by expat Karen McCann describes an automated restaurant with no employees.  Eatsa, in New York and San Francisco, seeks to fill a gap for good but less expensive meals in notoriously high priced cities.    The picture attached looks like a larger version of the automats seen in airports and railroad stations that hold a sandwich or muffin.   The difference here is that instead of pressing buttons on the automat, you enter your order on a mounted iPad.   Not really much difference.   Your order may or may not be prepared fresh and there may even be human hands behind the scene facilitating matters but you will never know.    No banter about the weather, you hardly have to take your eyes off your phone.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Someone's Always Watching


                                   




Britain leads the world in CCTV -- Closed Circuit Television -- with about 6 million cameras in public places according to this 2013 article in The Telegraph newsmagazine.     Some produce fuzzy images and others are out of operation but if the television show Caught on Camera on Netflix is accurate, you are always on view while walking down any street in a town or city in England.   Some also employ facial recognition technology.   In tucked away rooms full of computer screens and wireless connection to ground level police constables, individuals and groups are studied and perused by trained personnel who can follow anyone who engages in anti-social, criminal or even suspicious behaviour by clicking on the appropriate camera from street to street.  Scenes from cities like Rotherham, London and Manchester depict aggressive and violent attacks and mall and restaurant cameras show petty thieves and shoplifters in full action.   It's depressing to watch.

There was a time when things were different.   Yes, stores have had private detectives who walked around the store incognito and pretended to be shoppers, all the while keeping watch for shoplifting.  I suppose you can't complain when you enter private premises.  But I find the idea of being watched all the time as I walk down the street, into a park or wait at a bus stop to be unnerving.  Maybe it's because it wasn't always so.   If you have grown up without an expectation of privacy then you might accept it.

England also employs cameras, mounted on police cars or set at the side of highways that scan, read and evaluate license plates of vehicles speeding by.   This information is analyzed by a super computer that can instantly advise waiting operators if the car is stolen, uninsured or in some other way committing a transgression.

There is an expensive helicopter that can be deployed with night vision cameras that can be useful, if necessary, to track criminals whether they hide in the hedgerows or garbage bins.   There's no escape.  Even wearing hooded jackets and baseball caps don't seem to provide sufficient disguise.

Has this reduced crime?   I hope so, because all of it makes me uneasy.  Maybe because I read 1984 well before 1984 and thought it described an unlikely society.   The television program makes it look effective as burglars, copper stealers and purse snatchers are apprehended and brought to justice.  At least the cameras aren't mounted in our homes with clear view of all areas. Someone might tune in and note if you were following the prescribed daily exercise program.

But it all seems part of a bigger plan and designed to make some of us nervous.   I've read that photocopiers are required to keep a record of all copies made, cell phones record every call and text and computers can be analyzed to discover every site visited and every key stroke made.  I guess George Orwell didn't think of that.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

REVIEWS




Too bad about hacking and scams but for many reasons computers and the internet are a wonderful invention.   There's the ability to get great deals from people who have something to sell/get rid of that you need.   Others are able to set up a small business and have a world-wide audience for their products.

One thing I particularly value is product reviews.   I hardly buy anything or vacation anywhere without checking out various sources for opinions.   Because I value reviews I make a point to do my part as fairly and objectively as possible.   This is what makes the system work.  

I think it's important to review anonymously.   The review service, for example, TripAdvisor, will know who you are but don't make the mistake of identifying yourself publicly.   How ever well-meaning and honest you are, if you criticize someone's product/accommodation they may seek revenge through on-line trolling and harassment.   I remember reading once that colonies of habitu├ęs on GoodReads would delight in panning the books  online of a particular author who somehow offended them.   People perusing for books on Amazon would see a slew of one star reviews and back away.

I've never liked the fact that third party sellers of products purchased through Amazon can contact me and ask for a review although I don't believe they have my e-mail address but rather go through their seller link on Amazon.   I was once contacted three times over a six week period by the seller of a ten dollar item, entreating me to leave a positive review since they were a small family owned business who depended on reviews to sell their product.    On Ebay I have seen requests to the effect that you should  contact them prior to leaving a negative review with the promise that they will make things right.



   


Some sites like Fiverr allow an author, YouTuber or product producer to buy reviews.  This defeats the purpose.    I've also heard of writing clubs with the practise of inundating a member's newly released book with a deluge of five star reviews on the first day it is available.

Sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon allow viewers to see how long the person has been reviewing and to read their previous reviews.   Personally, I suspect one review posters, especially when they are over the top glowing and vague.   A decent history of thoughtful reviews, both negative and positive, comes across as more reliable.

It has been my experience that the overall comments, especially repeated themes, in reviews of resorts, hotels, books, restaurants and products can be relied upon bearing in mind that people who are unhappy are more likely to complain than those who are satisfied with the service will praise it.

What do you think of reviews?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

One Word Says a Lot



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    There are some foreign words that have come into use in the English language.   Usually, it is because saying the same thing in English would involve using many words and even then it wouldn't be exact. Hygge is a Danish word that came into regular use in recent months. The word has appeared on the front pages of home magazines and in journal articles.   It has become a way of life to strive for or at least decorate for.

    Since I am in the position of having been long acquainted with that word from speaking the language that it comes from it has been interesting for me to notice the misinterpretations.   In my experience the word hygge is a verb and used in the form of  getting together with a small number of close friends and/or relatives and Let's hygge ourselves.    Kind of sounds like let's hug ourselves. In a way that is the meaning -- a group hug.   Spending time with congenial people and usually enjoying a cup of coffee and cake or a small snack.   You don't hygge around a large smorgasbord table.   Here's some more hygge if you want to know how to do it the British way.


    Schadenfreude.  That's a word you don't read or hear too often.   It means deriving pleasure from someone else's misfortune.     Sure sounds like a miserable sort of thing to do but I  suspect we all have a little of it in us.  Not that we want anyone to suffer but we've all had sufficient bad luck or unpleasant experiences to feel that the misery should be spread around a little.   Something to do with karma, I suspect.

    In some situations we feel quiet satisfaction when obnoxious people, self-absorbed celebrities or the snobbish neighbour down the street receives their just desserts.  As long as it's nothing too serious.   We're really nice people, you know.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Where We End Up

     


It was commented more than once that many known people died in 2016.   Every week brought news of the death of another well known celebrity.    I could name the ones I recall but you likely know most of them and then some.   Some had lived a very long life, some merely a good long life and others seemed to have gone too soon.   Perhaps we consider the average lifespan in North America and use that as a watershed.    Exact numbers vary but seem to be between 82 and 86, and have steadily increased over the years.   Check some statistics here.

     When relating some family health history to a physician including a paternal grandmother who died of a stroke at age 87 the comment was made that you have to die of something once you get to that age.  Or words to that effect.  Death and dying are difficult topics.

     I feel very sad when young children die.   They never had a chance to live their lives.   After I feel sad, I inevitably feel mad.   Could this have been prevented?    It certainly should have been.  Childhood cancer is an especially terrible disease.   My daughter's friend recently lost a seven year old nephew to cancer.   How can that happen?    What could that child possibly have done, in  health and lifestyle to bring on that fate?

     My post-secondary education has not been in the sciences or healthcare so I have a layperson's knowledge in these areas.    I have read that cancer is a complicated disease, that it is not just one disease, that we all have the potential for it in our bodies . . .    Some people are living longer, being cured we're told.   That doesn't help the ones left behind to feel better.

    I know oceans of money have been poured into research.   If money was the cure it should have happened by now.    My instinct would be to look for a cause.   Are there places in the world where no one gets cancer?   Were there times in history when the disease was unknown?    Do tribes in the Amazon without human contact and no use of modern inventions or products spare themselves this illness?   

     There is a lot of false information and rumours about various treatments and cures.   It's an industry and a lot of money is being made providing false hope.     Rich or poor, we all feel helpless in the face of illness and disease and the inevitability of death.   

Sunday, April 2, 2017

PREPPING FOR SOMEONE ELSE


             



You've heard of Preppers, right?   People who spend a lot of time (and money) getting ready for TEOTWAWKI, otherwise known as The end of the world as we know it or at least a natural disaster of great scope and scale.   Think of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse), (here's an article to scare you), a meteor striking the earth or at least a hurricane or tornado.   Books have been written on the topic, for example,  One Second After, Death of Grass or Lucifer's Hammer.   I watched a show on Netflix about a family that gone to extreme lengths to be self-sufficient with back up systems for off the grid living.   The husband, an engineer, knew what he was talking about and revelled in describing what they had been able to do.  They raised cattle, had their own water and energy systems, complete with generators, tractors and solar panels.  The wife focussed on the domestic end with a large storage space and  professional grade canner enabling her to put up 15 years worth of food.

The fellow was proud of his accomplishments and had bragged to his neighbours and friends at the local pub.   They in turn had let him know that they would be looking to him should a world disaster strike.   He had no qualms in telling them to basically forget it;  he was not going to take food out of his child's mouth to give to them.   I guess they didn't buy him a beer.

Maybe it was because I have read the books listed above but I immediately thought,  "Foolish man, you're the first place people  who haven't prepped will go to take from you what they haven't done themselves."   Sure, he had a gun collection and would be able to take care of the first few of the hundreds of the desperate starving masses but he wouldn't be able to hold them off for long.   Actually, he'd be better off to invite his neighbours and friends to join him and create some safety in numbers.  He seemed to have enough to share.

Another likely scenario would be government confiscation of his carefully accumulated security.   In World War II they dealt with what was labelled hoarders who were widely castigated for not sharing.






Author Sarah Sundin has written a blog post here about required reporting and rationing of sugar in World War II.

I wonder if the prepper's knowledge and skill amply demonstrated in the setting up of his homestead is really his family's most valuable asset.   Most people wouldn't know where to start.