Sunday, April 20, 2014

Canned Popularity

It's a common practice and one that has been handed down through the annals of time – adding canned laughs and applause to sitcoms and game shows. Somehow we're conditioned to think it's easier to laugh at jokes when you hear others laughing, to learn the proper times to laugh (and not make a fool of yourself by laughing at the wrong times). Most of us grew up with these types of prompts.

It seems only natural, I suppose, to see the practice of self-generating prompts evolving today into business causes. Yes, I'm talking about people paying for "likes" in today's social media platforms, so others can see how popular their thread is (theoretically) so others will feel better about liking it themselves. And then (theoretically) the post will get more interaction and your group or company will attain more social media success. But over the past while folks have found their pages not as popular as they once were... for a number of reasons but basically because social media has calmed over the past while.

Up pops opportunistic companies offering illegal likes for a price, most coming from companies that garner likes from third world countries. (The so-called legal way to up your like count is to pay FB to advertise your page.) And they do deliver, evidently. Except a lot of these likes, both legal and otherwise, appear to be fake likes. Just like canned applause and shallow laughter but without the expected uptake.

When social media first hit the scene businesses and interest groups were sold the bill of goods that posts, and pages weren't just a complement to their marketing communications budgets but a cheap replacement. And a lot of them bought in.

Engagement is a natural thing in business and businesses involved in social media; based on keeping in touch, developing rapport, updating and maintaining contact with their present and potential client base. Social media is not supposed to be focused on revenue generation. And those that try to convince otherwise are playing you.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flatulence By Broccoli

Polite society has always frowned on open discussion of bodily functions but even the best of us sometimes, given the right company and circumstances, cannot suppress a tiny giggle inside when someone toots and blames it on the dog. Truth is, if we're healthy, we all pass gas. Up to 10 farts a day is not unusual. And it seems like a common consensus that broccoli farts are among the "most remarkable". The Mayo Clinic notes that a high-fiber vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and sprouts produce the most aromatic of emissions. The fact that these vegetables contain significant amounts of (very healthy) sulfur within their nutrients also contributes to the fact that farts tend to smell extra special for a few hours after consumption. Broccoli and other fibrous vegetables can be difficult to digest by the body, so the intestine creates excess gas. Science has determined that foods which contain galactans (fructose with a molecule of galactose attached) are found in legumes (beans, lentils, etc), Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

The safety zone of broccoli induced emissions in open air is said to be 10 yards. In enclosed spaces, it is at its most effective and often likened to chemical warfare (mustard gas comes to mind). Entire offices have said to be cleared by a single, even silent, toot. Cabs with closed windows are reported to be the most eye watering. And elevators often prove most effective in terms of social impact.

If you have the gift of extreme and constant flatulence, you might consider pursuing a career as a flatulist. Saint Augustine himself had nothing but high praise for the men who possessed such “command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.” Whatever your spiritual inclination (or non-inclination), we can all appreciate a religious man who admires artistic achievement.

Here's George...


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Sad Demise Of White Bread

Back in the fifties and sixties there were two types of bread: white and brown. White was the king: superior because it went with peanut butter and banana without adding an unnecessary third taste to the mix. Brown bread was okay (sometimes made brown with the addition of molasses) but not meant to be consumed daily. Then, things began to change. As things do.

Health freak revolutionaries began inventing things like organic foods and back to nature practices and things like our loved white bread were declared as bad for you. Fiber and bowel movement regularity was pronounced as necessary for a fully lived life. Almost overnight whole grain wheat moved in and took over. Or if white flour could afford it, they became enriched white bread (which we all know is just disguised whole wheat). Life, as we knew it, was over for traditional white bread.

So villanized did white bread become that it became synonymous with a bland and meaningless lifestyle. It denoted clean-cut, middle-of-the-road suburbanite breeders, somewhat reminiscent of the Cleavers from Leave It To Beaver. It became a dreaded white bread culture.

The term became representative of cultural naïvete, blind consumerism, and an unquestioning "follower" mindset. It seems white bread lifestyle traits include board games, Kenny G, SUVs and an irrational fixation on lawn fertilization, two car garages, church on Sunday, GAP clothing, moderate political affiliations, white wine served from boxes, instant coffee, cookie-cutter solutions, trendy advertized scented body washes, and recommended therapies to keep people from freaking out. In fact, people to this day find themselves shunned in social circles for being too white bread.

Having been brought up in an era when white bread was the better of two choices, it would have been nice if this one change hadn't taken place. It was a simpler time, when people didn't have to worry about locking their doors, there were like three channels on the television, the daily newspaper brought all the news you needed to read about, folks actually did math in their heads and didn't carry their phone/camera/computer in their pockets.

Seems like people talked a lot more back then. And got along better with their neighbors.

Life has become a lot more complicated since white bread was deemed a bad thing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

That Sweet Stuff

Sugar Bush, Spring 1958

Ah, the sweet taste of maple sugar made right there in the woods from sap taken from the tree. A taste of spring and incidentally where I learned not to eat anything bigger than my head. (Yes, that little guy with the maple lollipop is Rand, Version 1.3.)

Ask practically any kid whether they'd like a candy or a nice slice of raw onion and you know what the answer is going to be. We are slaves born to sweetness, delivered via one of four different taste receptors located in our tongue: 1) sweet, (sugar); 2) sour, (vinegar); 3) salty, (salt); and 4) bitter, (caffeine). It's all highly scientific.

What kids don't know is the real boss of the experience is the brain, which decides whether the taste is a good one, an interesting one, or one that demands immediate, prolonged spitting. And as the brain matures its preferences for taste, influenced over the years by a) experience, b) the amount of toxins that passed over and killed or maimed certain taste buds, c) psychological factors like guilt, peer pressure, allowability and rarity, and d) physical factors such as whether you have had your tongue cut out by pirates or whether your brain continues to function efficiently, all affect how much we like certain tastes. 

As we age, candy tends to lose some of its allure (except for chocolate, of course) and other things become sweet in our minds. Potentially sweet things include music, dance, art, poetry, people who we like to look at and talk to (anything that activates the pleasure center in our brain), even simple things – naps, a nice quiet sunset without mosquitoes, making someone laugh so hard milk comes out their nose, a child's wide-eyed look at hearing someone fart, a quiet moment away from obnoxious people, when the bad guy in a James Bond movie gets what's coming to him. A dog at your feet.

And if we're lucky, it's pretty sweet when you still get to put one foot in front of the other every damned day... as far as the car anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Seems To Be A Procreation Thing

So here we are, in the middle of the effects of the spring equinox. Whoop de do. The wind chill here has not improved significantly, the forecast still calls for snow, I'm still wearing several layers of clothing (the original prophylactic) and the damned dog refuses to stay outside and is currently barking at the back door. My cabin fever and lack of vitamin D has reached the critical level and I have yet to feel the urge to plant things in receptacles in the hopes of seeing new things grow. That said, it appears to be something that people still get their hopes up about.

Evidently, spring is all centered on this thing called fertility, epitomized in history by Eostre, the Norse Anglo Saxon goddess of new beginnings, who is symbolized by eggs and rabbits (which is also the root of the term given to the female hormone oestrogen). The whole egg thing is said to have started long ago with the story of the mythological Phoenix rising. The Phoenix earned its legendary immortality by refusing to eat from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Every 500 years, the bird is said to create a nest of herbs and spices, rest on it, and set itself on fire (which is something I've attempted symbolically a number of times). After the fire dies down, an egg laid by the Phoenix is found among the ashes. The egg hatches, and the Phoenix emerges, resurrected.

People all over the world celebrate the arrival of spring. Druids and pagans congregate at Stonehenge in the UK to perform fertility rites. Evidently the practice is quite messy and involves trances, chanting, mixing the blood of sacrificed bulls with mistletoe, passing it over twelve types of grain, sprinkling it over "goddesses" in several intimate places, followed by lovemaking that extends into the early morning hours. (I smell a new reality tv show here.)

In Romanian tradition it is the time for Mărţişor (an event traced back to more than 8000 years ago) in which a red and white string (talisman) with a small decoration attached is offered from men to women to indicate appreciation. Which I guess is the modern day equivalent of roses and a bottle of wine.

Interestingly, it is also the time of the year in New England that ancient sailors burned the socks they were forced to wear all winter: an act probably attributed to wives anxious to be close to their husbands again without retching. "The dreaded socks must be reduced to ash in a community bonfire." A tradition which the descendants of these people thank for their existence and are forever thankful.

So welcome to spring. May your eggs all hatch, your bull blood not stain, your string tie you to someone you love and your stinky socks be successfully reduced to ashes.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

If You Are An Alien Wondering About Cherries

I've had a number of inquiries about cherries lately. Cherries are edible and begin life as a flower called a cherry blossom. They are from the fruit family, with a skin on the outside and are kind of soft and juicy under that (when they are ripe) and a hard pit at their core (which you want to avoid biting on), and are grown on a tree, which is conveniently called a cherry tree. It is the sole responsibility of the cherry tree to grow cherries. Any other tree that tries to do that is faking it. Recently cherries that came from lemon trees were revealed not to be cherries at all. (They're pretty bitter about that.)

Cherries are the only fruit I know of, aside from oranges, (okay, and tangerines, peaches, and limes...) that have a color named after them (cherry red) and come with one of two personalities: sweet or tart. This orientation comes from their genes and is not a learned behavior. Both are very good when used to make a cherry pie; a dessert baked with a cherry-based filling instead of other things, like apples. Cherry pie is nice when enjoyed at a roadside diner with Agent Cooper sitting in booths with vinyl seats and accompanied with a damned fine cup of coffee (black).

Some things, such as cherry bombs, aren't related to the cherry family at all. These spherical shaped exploding fireworks, ranging in size from three-quarters-inch to one-and-one-half-inch (1.9 cm to 3.8 cm) in diameter. You light their fuse which causes the gun powder inside to go boom. Real cherries do not explode when you light them. Like cherry bombs, cherries are bad for cleaning out blockages in college dormitory toilets and clearing blocked sinuses. If you see a cherry with a fuse instead of a stem, do not eat it.

Cherries are seen as good things by humans and their names are included in special requests (pretty please with a cherry on top), describing something as pristine (that car is in cherry condition), and having a good life (a bowl of cherries). And then there is the incredible Neneh Cherry...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

National Horace Day

Meet Horace, occupation housefly (Musca domestica) and host of National Horace Day. Every year he appears after the first thaw. It's his one and only job. His appearance is met with great glee because it marks the beginning of the end of a long, cold winter. There are celebrations, music, dancing and much merriment amongst the common people who have nothing better to celebrate.

He showed up this morning (photo proof above). So I guess it's National Horace Day. Horace comes from a long line of Horaces and is of royal fly blood. His mere presence fills the room with promise and hope for the coming days.

Unlike the dubious and often unreliable predictions of National Groundhog Day, National Horace Day assures us in the northern climes that:
1) We'll soon be able to leave our butter dishes on the counter without having to microwave it to make it soft enough to spread on bread without ripping it to death
2) The days of getting up in the morning and putting on three layers of clothing (which conveniently hides all your body's imperfections) are soon to be replaced with looking for the least smelly, sweat stained t-shirt and shorts
3) You stop praying to your furnace for uninterrupted service and begin to think of opening windows to let the sweet smell of Bounce dryer sheets from the neighbor's dryer vent sift through your house
4) You remember what birds are, and how they can wake you up with the soothing sounds of their incessant, damned chirping every morning you want to sleep in
5) The backyard and balconies stop being just a second frozen food and yellow snow storage area and become somewhere to hang out half naked, burn your skin off, contract skin cancer and emit toxic charcoal barbeque smoke while burning your weenies, and
6) Shoveling of snow will soon be a thing of the past. For the next six months you'll be able to fill an afternoon out of every weekend sweating behind the handles of a lawn mower.

Happy Horace Day! Enjoy the promise of the change of seasons!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Animal Planet

There is a word for animal heads sitting on human bodies (and no, the word isn't "gross" or "surreal").

Wikipedia describes theriocephaly (from Greek therion ‘beast’ and kefalí ‘head’) as the condition of having the head of an animal - commonly used to refer the depiction in art of humans (or deities) with animal heads.

In Hinduism, the god Ganesha (also known as Ganesa, Ganapati and Vinayaka) is depicted with an elephant head. He is known to represent the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the benevolent supernatural being of intellect and wisdom.

While some find it fun to fill their blog posts and pin pictures of people with animal heads onto their pinterest pages, it's a very real phobia for others who are very fearful of seeing animal heads on people's bodies. I have not been able to find a name for this phobia. But if you're one of these fearful people I apologize.

And you shouldn't be surprised to find there are artists who paint animal faces onto people's portraits. They do this, they say, to reveal something about their personality or to explore their animal nature.

Not that I'm doing this here, of course.


There have been print ads and television commercials and commercial videos done using this technique. So, the technology exists. Here I've fooled around in Photoshop (using three photos manipulated in layers to make one image – two in the last one) but there is a free image authoring/manipulation software called Gimp that you can download if you want to give it a try. (I haven't used it so you'll be exploring untested waters.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Banana Playtime

The term "banana for scale" is a social media phrase. It's a lighthearted inclusion when people post pics of stuff – they put a banana in the shot to indicate the relative size of what the real subject matter is. This got me on a bit of a roll putting bananas into images. Please forgive me...

Please overlook the poor Photoshopping. Just playing around...

Maybe it's a guy thing but who hasn't used a banana to shoot someone (good until you run out of ammo)... ptew, ptew!

Enjoying a good Cuban banana is a rarity, especially in the U.S. where I think they are still banned. (Hard to keep them lit, I hear.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Love and The Bubonic Plague

Love. The modern meaning of the word love is actually a relatively recent thing. It was invented by King Louis XV of France (Louie de Ha-Ha to his friends) in 1728 as a way to take his subject's minds off of The Great Plague of Marseilles, an outbreak of bubonic plague which had killed 100,000 French citizens. Desperate measures were called for to repopulate homes and refill palace tax coffers so a royal proclamation was issued called Proclamation royale de l'amour français which was posted around the country by hundreds of the court's finest scantily-clad ladies of the evening, singing an earlier version of "What is this thing called love?" Essentially, the pronouncement was designed to begin the first hippie "free love" movement. Love beads made from dyed kidney stones, small seashells and hand painted rocks were worn around necks, beards became fashionable and sandals were to be worn only without socks unless one wanted to run the risk of beheading by guillotine.

The male population were immediately interested. Seeing the eye-popping reactions of the local men to these ladies and the proclamation explaining and encouraging new feelings of intimacy between the sexes, (feelings until then normally reserved for inanimate objects like favorite chairs and fine wines) the wives and girlfriends of these men chased the Court Ladies out of town and began to sing themselves, write beautiful poetry and wore patchouli oil to smell better; causing men to look at women with fresh eyes. Men began to take out the garbage, have baths more than once a month and fixed things around the house. And love was born. 

Before then, people had relations of course, but it was considered a messy, purely physical duty that included lots of grunting and splinters. Men and women didn't actually even like each other very much. Duties those days were firmly based on keeping men doing things that kept them away from what the women were doing. And women were just fine with that. 

After the proclamation came out though, things changed. Knowing that this new thing called amour had royal approval falling in love became la nouvelle chose populaire – a national mania. Everyone wanted a piece of that action. In honor of the King's proclamation the act of encouraging love by one person to another was called la courtoisie, or "courting". And it took very few years for the population of France to regenerate itself back to pre-plague levels.

(All of the above is a total fabrication, of course. Everyone knows the Greeks invented everything...)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Getting From A To B

If there is one constant in the human evolution equation, it's that we have always had to get somewhere. For something. Or someone. To get stuff done. Or to visit others whom we were secretly happy didn't live close. Used to be, in order to do so we walked everywhere.

Then somebody (there are no written records) figured there must be a better way to get around and set about devising ways of doing so. At first, a few stupid guys tried riding their wives around but found too often it ended with the women riding the men. (That idea was quickly abandoned.) Then, humans found horses, cows and donkeys (they tried sheep but they were generally much too short) and found them much more conducive to the task but discovered upon further experimentation that cows were pretty slow and donkeys too apt to take you where you didn't want to go, so over time the smart ones stuck mainly with horses which, once you both got over the bucking thing, worked pretty well.

Hemorrhoids, back problems, dignity issues surrounding the pouring of fine wines on a date ride and the problems associated with dragging huge sacks filled with goods on the ground behind them led people to invent the carriage – a device with wheels – to be pulled by horses. It was a successful transition. The horse union didn't complain because it meant better working conditions and getting the owners off their backs. So ingrained did this horse-driven custom become that once we started substituting combustion engines for the four-footed variety we still referred to the power generated as horsepower.

But the interesting thing is that over time, the progression from foot travel to horseback to being pulled by horses to zoom-zooming with horsepower, having no actual horses involved, has led to an another important thing. How we get where we're going and the journey involved has become as important as our destination.

We all know how words and phrases evolve over time. Don't be surprised if the word journey becomes more and more synonymous with quality of life. That while we have to get somewhere, the time it takes gives us the opportunity to share, learn and experience.

So there. I may have said something smart. Or not.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Complicated World Of Right

The world of design is ripe with those who would turn thumbs up or thumbs down on pieces based on their value systems, mood or blood sugar level. Interestingly, the world itself is full of different cultures, religions, viewpoints, languages, biases, tastes and interests. In other words it's complicated to get along these days. Everyone's empowered and seemingly entitled to their opinion, biases and prejudices. Such is the benefit of a free, messy world.

Philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Kant) did not address the source of right and wrong, they only say things are the way they are because that's how the universe works.

Moral relativists say that morality is imposed by some external authority, usually society. Bertrand Russell argued that individuals or societies which had certain types of moral understandings had an evolutionary advantage over those that did not.

"Right" comes from the Latin word rectus meaning base, which itself comes from the word reg = movement in a straight line, extension. The first meanings of the word meant "straight, not bent, curved or crooked." It wasn't until the early 16th Century that the word had the additional meaning of applying such mathematical concepts to people "of persons or disposition; disposed to do what is just or good; upright; righteous."

That said, we need to find a way to communicate, to share, to empathize. Across cultures. Across fences and political affiliations. Across a lack of intelligence that which would hold understanding and trust at bay. Because when what's right for the common good is overshadowed by individual ignorance, greed or interests, well, that's just not right.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Circle Of Life

Put a really old person and a very young baby in the same room and apart from size you'll probably find many similarities. This is not mere coincidence. There is a reason for this. After we reach our peak as adults and get older we slowly begin to return to our original state – the state we were in when we appeared in the world. We have others help us out with stuff we can't do anymore. Memories fade and our skills diminish. Some people are better at this than others. For those of us not yet there it's something to think about because we all may be unique individuals with differences, but we're all headed in the same direction: older. That's right folks, there is no fountain of youth.

If you believe in reincarnation, you might even say that people who lose abilities as they get older are getting a head start on their next lives. We have to shed our old lives before we come back so we can start fresh again in the circle of life. It wouldn't do to remember our old lives because our brains would get full and we'd never end up learning anything new. Some folks wait to shed their old life after they pass away but some people who begin to lose abilities before passing away have less work to do to prepare to come back. And with less work to do maybe those folks get to come back to a new life sooner. So things like a second childhood may be a good thing. And acting younger as we get older isn't just nasty.

It's all poppycock, of course, because we all know growing older is a sad thing to be avoided at all costs.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Doing The CSI Thing All Over The Place

I've been investigating crime scenes all around me lately. As a expert equipped with an official, patented, clue-finding penlight, it didn't take long to begin finding suspicious evidence. Things only a highly trained super sleuth's eagle eye would uncover (don't try this at home):

1) Suspicious looking cleaning products are lurking in the kitchen cupboard, some with the skull and crossbones insignia of a well known street gang
2) I suspect all the ceiling lights in my house have been drugged because they always appear so high
3) Close inspection of the sock drawer has several odd socks mysteriously missing (never disappearing in pairs). Their mates are the main suspects of course
4) When I am asleep, unsubs sneak into my house; sprinkle dust everywhere and drain my batteries
5) Snowflakes (read: illegal aliens) drop from international airspace into the backyard and settle wherever they want without filing the proper paperwork
6) Trace evidence shows someone has broken into my car and left dead leaves on the floor of my trunk (I suspect a ecological, global warming cult)
7) I have found dubious fingerprints left directly on the very end of all my fingers and have sent them to the lab for identification but the perp evidently doesn't have a record
8) Brazen assassins have been posting the day they will kill my cream cheese right on the bottom of the container – daring me to stop them
9) Numerous pictures around the house have been framed for things they didn't do and then hanged mercilessly
10) My burglar alarm goes off whenever someone calls me on my phone and all the lady at the alarm company will tell me is to change my ringtone – I smell a coverup
11) I'm fairly certain that my dog Roscoe is casing the joint for a future heist (he's always looking around) and imagine it involves a payoff of a lifetime supply of crunchy treats and milkbones, and
12) I am investigating the possibility that the covert disappearance of a full roll of my luxury two-ply toilet paper hinges on a visit by three of my female relatives last month. The visit lasted two hours. It may turn into a cold case though. Evidence may have been flushed.

We must all remain vigilant in this dangerous, crime-ridden time.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

12 Things That Lack Great Depth

Here we are in the New Year (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). I have been giving some thought to things because that seems to be my job these days. Here's what came out of this addled old brain when I emptied it into a strainer and looked for stuff that just shouldn't be stuck in there. Stuff like this:

1) Reality television shows that feature people you wouldn't have over to your house for stale Cheetos and warm beer – let alone dinner
2) Any message, conversation or post I've encountered that includes the word, “bitch” or any derivative thereof
3) Thoughts of setting up a zombie speed dating service. (It's all downhill once you get past "Aaaaaaarghphglugaaarfff")
4) Anything that came out of the Kardashian camp
5) Popular culture sites that open with a pop up window of Miley Cyrus twerking
6) Memories of eating cold hot dogs straight from the fridge at 3 in the morning (without ketchup)
7) How the toilet bowl appears incredibly shallow, until you drop your keys in it
8) Chick flicks disguised as mystery/action films (they no longer fool me)
9) A Valentine's Day card from your dentist reminding you it's time to have your teeth cleaned
10) Those senior's moments we blame for mismatched socks and the times we laughed way after everyone else did
11) Hearing the words, “How are you?” and “Have a nice day” at supermarket checkouts everywhere, and
12) Memes with cats or bears or nerdy people. Or dogs with crossed eyes. Okay, all memes.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A 2014 Message To Your Secret Identity

We all have a number of different roles we take on, depending on who we are, where we are and who we are with at the moment: parent, lover, professional, garbage-taker-outer, clown, miracle worker, couch potato, sports fan, Grand Poobah barbeque chef, dishwasher, super hero... And then we have this private person inside of us ~ our secret identity.

Your secret identity is the you that speaks quietly when no one else is around. It's the you that holds onto your dreams, and the you who understands and lends comfort in those private moments when you're confused or hurting. It's the invisible part of you that puts the twinkle in your eyes when good things take shape and nags at the back of your mind when things are off track. It's the person who knows you best and is always there, in the background, while you're busy making others laugh, fighting crime or cheering on your team.

May 2014 find your secret identity safe, healthy and happy.

Cheers, Rand

Friday, December 27, 2013

My 2013 Top 10 Things That Didn't Happen

As we move closer to the New Year, news people rate their best stories, late night hosts reveal their favorite moments and sportscasters evaluate the greatest games and players. It's only natural for us common folk to reflect back at what has happened in our year too. Hopefully, what we look back on is stuff that happened to us that we enjoyed or made our lives better in some way. Not to be contrary, but I take solace in what didn't happen. Here's my top ten:
10) I wasn't personally twerked by Miley Cyrus
9) The Mars rover Curiosity has not revealed the location of My Favorite Martian
8) The rash I would have been waiting to go away never showed up
7) I didn't unleash my inner sex kitten
6) I never had to sit through a daylong Dance Moms marathon
5) The doctor didn't look at my chart, shake her head, sigh and start talking about best before dates
4) Beer was not placed on the endangered species list
3) Snowden didn't release my tax files... (wait... why is Revenue Canada at my door?)
2) No one looked at any part of my body and said, “Implants, right?”
And last but not least, my favorite thing that didn't happen in 2013 (drum roll, please)
1) Rob Ford didn't raid my fridge.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The One Thing We Could All Use More Of

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

In case you haven't heard, Christmas and New Year's are just around the corner. It's a season of giving, reflection and resolutions. There are a number of things I'd wish for everyone, but at the top of the list I think I'd wish for life to be less complicated: Simpler. Like the effortless beauty of champagne bubbles rising in a glass.

There is a phrase in the design world: Simple is good. It's one of the most difficult things to master. Keeping things interesting without being boring and bland is a fine line to walk and an ongoing process because every job is unique. Simple means shunning things that make the work irritating and unnecessarily complicated – stripping away everything but the essentials, doing away with elements that delay understanding and superfluous things that only serve to confuse the eye. It means concentrating on the basics of color, movement, organization and balance. And it means telling a clear story.

Simplifying life is like that. It means having less clutter to trip over, fewer distractions and more wide open spaces to imagine great things. Fewer things to worry about and more room to explore. And we all could use more of that.

I was going to write more, but let's keep this simple.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Good Thing About Bad Situations

"For your condition you are in great condition" ~ Hawkeye

We've all been there. Right there where we really don't want to be and where we never figured on being. But one thing leads to another... and we end up making the best out of the situation. And if we're really, really lucky we come out the other end a better person, even if things are a bit different.

There's been a lot of professional online chatter lately about how it's okay to make mistakes as long as we have the right attitude and we learn something. But there isn't a lot being said about those who unfortunately find themselves somewhere they have to put up with a situation that they didn't ask for; but find themselves in nonetheless.

Things like illnesses. Things like disabilities. For those of us either inside looking out or on the outside looking in; who find it in ourselves to perform actions of care, then that teaches us something about ourselves.

In the end it is up to each of us how much we take away and ultimately how much we grow because of it. Some already know that hope for ourselves is built from compassion and caring for others. Even if we have our own troubles.

Here's hoping everyone this holiday season will remember that others are putting up with being where they don't want to be and making the best of it.

And a kind thought is a gift.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Orifices And The Dangers Of Wrong Placement

Warning: this post is in danger of possibly going south rapidly. It's about putting things into things. (You see the need for the warning.) People are always putting things where they don't belong. Feet in mouths, forks in microwaves, monkeys in parkas in Ikea stores. It's a big problem. And it seems like with all this interwebbing going on people are also putting their noses in when really, they might be better off using that time for something higher education related. At one time in my life or another I have been guilty of all of the above (with the exception of the monkey thing). The foot in mouth thing has been a well known practice of mine.

Fingers appear to be a big part of the problem. They're continuously being stuck in noses, pies and eyes. But I want to concentrate not on fingers but on orifices; mainly because they're so cool (for those orifice challenged, it means opening). They're so cool because we all need an orifice to put something into something else which is an important thing not only theoretically but practically. We need to put things into other things like plugs into sockets, movies into players, food into mouths, trains into tunnels... and in some cases we need to let things out to lessen pressure, evacuate unwanted contents (and I'll stop there). The act of putting in is important but potentially dangerous when the object in question is not meant to be there in the first place; in other words if they cause pain, interrupt the natural order of things, or are actions that require surgical intervention to get back out things that weren't meant to be put in (according to the natural order of things). Hospital emergency department and mother in law stories abound.

We couldn't live without body orifices. These openings provide opportunities for feeding, hearing, breathing and other pleasurable experiences. But fools will be fools and therefore someone really should invent an early warning "Wrong Orifice" alarm app. Someone smarter than I should take advantage of the idea. I'll take a cut.

Then again, if that app had been around in the fifties, songs like "Beans in my ears" would have never been written. A definite loss for mankind.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Winter, Snowy Days and Booby Trapped Mittens

Happy December. Seems like just a year ago it was December first. And it seems like not too long ago at all that waking up to the first snowfall of the season was a time of magic, excitement and trying to remember what closet your galoshes were in. Growing up in Ottawa, not the coldest but the snowiest capital of the world (around 200 cm per year), meant adopting a lifestyle where bulky one-piece snowsuits severely limited your range of movement and after spending ten minutes getting it on; the certainty the sudden urge to pee would hit the moment the zipper was pulled up.

One got used to voices muffled with scarves, perpetually runny noses and rosy cheeks. The good thing about mittens was you could make a fist inside them with all your fingers together for warmth. The only bad thing about mittens was when you first started wearing them and your mom gave you the ones with the string connecting them that ran inside your sleeves so you wouldn't lose them. We called them "idiot mittens" and they were booby trapped. The theory was if one mitten was off and one on, if someone pulled on the loose one it would make your other hand hit you in the nose.

And as the season went on the snowbanks became taller than you and walking along their tops became the favorite way to walk to and from school. After school meant building snow forts for snowball fights against imaginary marauders and odd-looking snowmen. Or lying in the snow thrashing arms and legs about to make snow angels and contests to see how far you could slide down the patch of ice in front of your house without crash landing (sliding with feet sideways worked best). And weekends meant throwing toboggans into the station wagon and throwing yourself down snow covered hills. Of course, memories would not be complete without images of ice skating outside (not in some arena) on the school rink and pickup games of hockey on shoveled ponds.

It was a wonderful time of the year back then. One wonders, as we grow older and wiser, what happened to winter? It seems to have become quite the bother. Unless one is looking out at it from inside a warm room beside a roaring fireplace...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Happens When We Talk

We look around us these days and what do we see? Everything from hate crimes to misbehaving political leaders. It's no wonder we're becoming hardened to injustice; examples of it are thrown at us every moment of every day. We are, in fact, an information-charged generation; desensitizing ourselves to the vitriol of others – relieved we're not the target. We are told about those who are isolated or victimized because they look different, come from different backgrounds or have different beliefs. And we feel powerless to help. (My, aren't I just a regular ray of sunshine today.)

Then, along comes a man in white robes who tells us it's more important to concentrate on our similarities than our differences. He figures, from what I gather, if we concentrate on those positive things we agree upon, that in itself opens up avenues of cooperation and possibilities to make the world a better place. Working together.

Here's what I have gleaned from his actions and words. Respect different lifestyles. Be inclusive, not exclusive. Denounce a capitalistic culture that evaluates a person on a monetary basis. Stop high-level members of his own organization in their tracks who would bling stuff up to impress others. Tone down the traditional opulent trappings of his own office and drive a clunker. Encourage giving to the poor. Love the afflicted.

Even those of us who don't have religion, or who aren't a member of his particular brand of it, have to admire this shift in perspective from powerful jewel encrusted figurehead to simple, humble servant. One who is noted for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cover Your Pizza... Please

"You'd better cut that pizza into four slices because I'm not hungry enough to eat six." ~ Yogi Berra

Maybe becoming an adult does this to you but over the years just I have not only adopted the practice of being fully dressed at all times I have come to prefer my pizza the same way. If I discover a naked pizza in my house I will immediately avert my gaze and rush to throw something on it to preserve its dignity.

Traditional pizza fashion allows for the wearing of a whole variety of items (some things never go out of style). Pepperoni, peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms and a mountain of shredded mozzarella cheese are standard coverings for the typical all dressed pie. I've had steak pizzas that spoke to me in loving tones, hot-hot-hot Mexican pizzas that spoke to me again at the other end the next morning and New Age yuppie wood-oven pizzas with things like pine nuts and smoked salmon that I had to hum Yanni tunes interspersed with rapping beat poetry to get down. Whatever you choose to throw on yours must most definitely hide all that is saucy because it is only proper etiquette that civilized pizzas should never show their sauce.

Of course, I've never dressed myself in any of this stuff – that would just be too kinky. Pizzas, however, are made to be dressed in edible garb. While some wouldn't classify anchovies as edible, everything else you'd normally dress pizzas with generally qualifies as eat-worthy. This qualification does not apply to what people adorn their bodies with. Folks who wear edible clothing tend to begin to smell rancid after a short while if they're not in sub-zero weather. And even then they attract polar bears.

Exactly what I wear is a matter of personal taste and what goes on my pizza is as well. The truth remains, people and pizza share one thing in common. Both should always be properly attired.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Art Of The Modern Day Laziness Activist

“Lazy is a very strong word, I like to call it selective participation.” Anon

Some words just get a bad rap. Lazy comes from the 1540's term laysy, of unknown origin but odds go to Old German. It replaced both slack and idle as the main word expressing the notion of "averse to work." Human beings are the first animal to pronounce that doing nothing for prolonged periods of time is a bad thing (whereas other animals think that's exactly what to do after you've eaten enough to survive and have mated enough for one day). Then again, we're not beasts, are we? We've got that opposable thumb thing going for us and that carries responsibilities.

We've been taught all our lives not to be caught doing nothing for too long because we're all supposed to be running around full-tilt boogie. It began in the Industrial Age where we all became parts of the machine. Anyone who isn't busy at an alarming pace is suspected of being a laziness carrier (horribly diseased and afflicted) and shunned lest they be contagious. Exhibiting such unproductive behavior is said to be having vegetable-like characteristics (like that's a bad thing, especially to vegetarians), and called couch potatoes or loafing (as in bread). Personally, I prefer indolent because it sounds more distinguished.

Ingenious people (we might call them Laziness Activists but that would be an oxymoron) have been devising ways of creative slothfulness for years. Hence, we have new age activities like meditation, zen retreats, forced solitary confinement, 24 hour COPS marathons, sleeping in front of the computer with your eyes open and zoning out in the middle of a conversation but still retaining the ability to nod at appropriate times. All highly valued skills. We don't hear about these successful heroes often because they go veritably unnoticed.

Which is the point, after all.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Online Haystacks and Engineer Goose Bumps

The almighty search engine. We use them to search for information online. Without them we'd all be wading through the biggest haystack in the world trying to find our needle. I don't know exactly how many there are but I've found 10 English or multilingual general search engines.

Search engines list search results but don't supply answers themselves. They're like the guy named Vinnie we go to in the neighborhood who doesn't have what we want but says "I know a guy who knows a guy who does." They shy away from providing actual information because they figure if they gave us the answers themselves it would be their fault if it turned out they were wrong so to remain blameless they send you to someone else. So, search engines = pure teflon

We know we're on a real good search site when they send us a ton of results to our search request (sorted by relevance, popularity and oh, let's throw in some who pay-to-play to get on top of the list) in such quantity and so quickly that what they really want from us is for us to throw up our hands in wonder. They really don't expect us to view all the results. They just want to dazzle us with their science.

To prove this point, if we do a search for the word "search" we'd get about 12,030,000,000 results in .26 seconds. Visiting 12,030,000,000 sites at, say, 10 seconds each would take 33,416,667 hours to do. Or approximately 1,113,889 months. Or 92,824 years. If we all live to 70 years old, that's about 1,326 lifetimes. In other words it would take a team of 1,326 people working their whole lives to cover all the sites offered in the search results.

The engineers out there just got goose bumps of delight. Gotta love 'em.