It seems like no one is ever happy these days. I think we can blame this on Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, although apparently he never depicted his theories in pyramid form. But I digress. Maslow theorized there are basic and essential needs that must be met before we can turn our attention to more esoteric things like self-actualization. Until we are fed, clothed and housed we can’t think of anything else. Then we need to be confident we won’t lose our hard fought corner of dirt before we can begin to form lasting social relationships (Israel and Palestine anyone?). Once we have peeps to hang out with, we can start to turn our attention to competence and mastery of some skill and yes, status seeking.
I think, though, what’s gone wrong is that Maslow never anticipated what would happen when people and societies started to zoom up his pyramid in record time. What happens is preoccupation with first world problems like whether to build subways or LRTs. This is such a huge problem that I doubt it can possibly be solved within my lifetime and certainly not before I will be entitled to a discounted transit pass. In Toronto, several iterations of local government have decided and undecided what to do so many times that we could have been crisscrossed with subways and LRTs several times over by now. It seems the essence of the dilemma is that subways are expensive and slow to build and LRTs are cheaper and faster to build, which wouldn’t seem like much of a dilemma to most of us. But of course we are in the first world where we view the issue a little differently. Subways are a hallmark of ‘world class-ness’. Subways zip under the ground, leaving the cars full reign of the streets. And of course the people who are in the position to potentially maybe possibly decide to get on with building transit of some description don’t actually use it.
And if you need more examples of first world problems you need go no further than the ads you see every day. For example, did you know you can buy a winter cover for your plastic outdoor storage box (you know, the one you use to store your outdoor living room and probably your outdoor kitchen accessories, which are different than your backyard pool accessories – of course those go in the pool house or in the cabana). And speaking of winter, when you go shopping for replacements for the gloves you bought last year (this year’s black is a little more indigo than last year’s, which had touch more magenta) make sure you buy a pair that is certified as ‘touch screen’ compatible or you will be perpetually freezing your fingers off while tapping out that important text (OMG its soooooo cold!!!!!!!).
But perhaps the most epic of first world problems that has come to my attention lately is the one that has been recently solved by Vitamix. As its website attests, “Vitamix is one of the most trusted brands in high performance blending technology”. Vitamix’s claim to fame is that its two horsepower engine could do double duty as both your lawnmower and leaf blower. It is indeed a ‘luxury’ blender, starting at only $499. As you can imagine, a Vitamix blender has some heft to it – eleven pounds to be exact. It also takes up a fair amount of real estate on the kitchen counter, and anything that big is capable of churning out kale smoothies by the truck load. Fortunately, the folks at Vitamix have felt our pain. The new ‘personal’ Vitamix tops in at 15 inches high to fit under our kitchen cabinets! The new ‘personal’ Vitamix can blend a single (20 oz or close to 600 millilitres) serving in a portable container! And if that doesn’t meet your need for food, belonging and self-esteem all for the introductory offer of $409 (plus shipping, handling, lifetime warranty and recipe book), I don’t know what will.
It wasn’t only bad news for oil on the Stock Markets this week, it was also very bad news for Barbie. Apparently retailers are still clearing out dusty Barbies from last year’s Christmas season, leading to a 21% drop in global sales this quarter, which is the fourth straight double-digit decline. And of course as Barbie goes, so does the fortunes of Mattel, which had a corresponding 22% drop in profit and a stock price decline of 38% so far this year.
Barbie has been under the cloud of controversy several times, but I am prepared to cut her some slack since at 55 it would be more alarming if she hadn’t ruffled some feathers in the course of her relentless fame. As far as I know there is no definitive (or any) Barbie biography or autobiography out there. Perhaps since she appears poised on the edge of doll retirement it might be time to publish one. Here are some of the facts that are likely to be revealed in a Barbie tell-all.
1. Although she has been referred to by one name much longer than either Cher or Madonna, her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. She quite wisely quickly ditched the Millicent part (I’m not sure a Milly doll would have caught on quite so quickly).
2. Barbie apparently did attend High School but the details are rather sketchy. Was it Willows High in Willows, Wisconsin or Manhattan International High School in New York City? Some investigative reporting is clearly required here.
3. Despite her dubious educational qualifications, Barbie has about 150 jobs on her resume, spanning from registered nurse to rock star, veterinarian to aerobics instructor, and pilot to police officer. This works out to about 4 jobs per year if we assume she started working as a model at age 17 and means her resume falls far short of being able to be contained on 2 pages. It also begs the question of who keeps hiring her knowing her half-life will be 3 months on average.
4. Barbie has run (unsuccessfully) for President of the United States six times since 1992. I guess this shows perseverance if nothing else. She could probably also claim to be Sarah Palin’s role model in more ways than one.
5. Barbie also claims to have gone to the moon as an astronaut four years before Neil Armstrong (see Sarah Palin). Although she does hold a pilot’s license and spent some time (I would guess three months) as a flight attendant, this is clearly such a fabricated claim that I hope it has been purged from her current resume.
6. In her most recent grandstanding effort, Barbie said she was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue this year. In fact, her PR people struck some kind of deal to feature her on an ‘overwrap’ of the real cover, which presumably had girls inside who were at least somewhat less plastic. Good try Barbie.
I rode on a berserk subway train the other day. At every stop the woman inside the PA machine issued a different Cassandra-like announcement: “this train is delayed due to weather” “this train is delayed due to mechanical difficulties” “this train is delayed due to signal problems” “this train is delayed due to passenger illness” “this train is delayed due to smoke at track level” etc. There are several things I find disconcerting about this experience, not the least of which is that these announcements came through clear as a bell, something that never happens in an actual delay. Here are some other things that occurred to me.
1. Somebody somewhere must have made a list of all of the reasons a train might be delayed in order to have these pre-recorded announcements handy. I can imagine there must be hundreds of different reasons why the subway would grind to a halt. Things like “this train is delayed because some jerk held the door open” or “this train is delayed because a mouse got stuck inside the wheel well’. I picture a room full of men (because only men would care about this kind of thing) generating the list of disasters then arguing about which ones are sufficiently disastrous to make the final finite list.
2. Probably a different somebody somewhere has to choose the most appropriate reason for any given delay from the vast collection of reasons. I can imagine that sometimes this is difficult. First, because you have to get the announcement on right away so there is some pressure to press the right button quickly. Second, because there may be some nuances of the delay situation that require choosing between several related messages. For example, “this train is delayed due to flooding” versus “this train is delayed due to water at track level”. This type of stress must surely command a huge salary.
3. The amount of effort being spent on obsessing about telling us about delays would indicate that the transit system believes that delays are an inevitable and even a normal occurrence that will continue to persist. I respectfully suggest that spending more cycles on preventing the delays than explaining them would be a better use of the time.
4. Actually, why is it even necessary to communicate exactly why our subway train has come to a grinding halt mid-commute? The only information that has some value is when (or whether) the train will move again. Which is also the only information they never seem to be able to accurately tell us, or if they do, it is impossible to hear it.
5. There is yet another career path that has passed me by: dire announcements announcer. Or actually, pre-recorded dire announcements announcer. Imagine being able to do all of your work without needing to do anything or be anywhere? You literally ‘phone it in’. Nice work if you can get it.
Last week I went down to the freezer in the basement to look for something to cook for dinner. It turns out I am more in the habit of putting things into the freezer than taking them out, since the package of meat – at the top of the pile, by the way – was dated November 2007. Or old enough to ride a two wheeler without training wheels. That’s kind of the problem with freezers. Stuff disappears into their frosty jaws, never to be seen again except when it is way past time to throw them out.
I suppose it makes us feel prepared to have things in the freezer. You never know when you might need to assemble a meal without time to go to the store, that is, if you are better at freezer management than me. It also makes us feel prepared for the fall or the winter or whatever ravages of weather might prevent foraging and harvesting fresh food. There is of course a flaw in this logic. Typically any event that would interfere with sourcing food would also mess with the power grid and prevent both the ongoing preservation of frozen food and the ability to cook the rapidly defrosting mystery meat. This is especially true at the cottage where several brushes with freezer meltdown have relegated the cavity above the fridge to mostly storage of ice cubes (ice puddles?) and bread that in a worst case scenario would be ideal for stuffing.
But the freezer, along with the refrigerator, are things that have rescued us from the drudgery of preserving fresh food to tide us over the non-harvest seasons. However, like many of the core household maintenance skills of the past, canning and preserving has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity, probably driven by those same retro-loving hipsters that have rediscovered the sewing machine.
And truth be told, I have also secured a seat on the preserving band wagon. As long as you aren’t trying to deal with bushels of fruits and vegetables, it is a very satisfying thing to create your very own jam and pickles with ingredient lists that don’t require a degree in chemistry to decipher. The problem is the average home jammer will still produce many more jars of stuff than is possible to consume in a year. That’s partly because each jar is a little work of art that is hard to stop admiring. And hard to open because then the pristine jewel-like contents will be sullied by toast crumbs. But even more because who can actually eat all of that jam and trot out all of those pickles? So what we end up doing is giving it all away. You’re welcome.
Apparently the freezer was invented in 1748 by William Cullen and at that time he couldn’t figure out a practical use for it. I think William Cullen was right.
How was your summer? That’s the question this time of year and perhaps the most telling part of the ‘how was your summer’ question is that it is never asked about any other season. I’m just never sure what the right answer is. Is it the same as answering ‘how are you’ where the questioner really doesn’t want an answer other than ‘fine thanks’? Probably. I don’t think they really want the details about my mosquito bite tally, my soggy flower bed, or my neglect of kayaking. And what they really don’t want to know is, regardless of how cold or wet or otherwise suboptimal, I hate, hate, hate the end of summer. One problem is that I am always a year older and unfortunately that issue will remain until I am no longer around to complain about it. The most obvious issue is of course the start of the painful slide towards winter. However, since I don’t otherwise get the chance to answer the question with the degree of detail it deserves, here is really how my summer was.
My summer started with a dead Rhododendron. Okay, technically the deadness of the plant actually preceded June 21 and could probably be traced back to one or more of the arctic vortexes that descended in January and February and March and maybe even April. Anyhow, that meant one of the few redeeming features of my front yard did not make an appearance this year. The black knot on the chokecherry tree is doing just fine though, thanks for asking.
This year I hung Boston ferns on the porch rather than something with flowers. I’d like to say this was in anticipation of the very fern like weather that showed up this summer but I’m not that smart a gardener. No, my fern foray was really because of being out of town for about six weeks in a row, including over the May long weekend, a time period that corresponds to the availability of summer plants. But this actually worked out well in the long run because aside from the fern success, I picked up some sad looking deeply discounted mystery flowers that turned out quite well. And next year I won’t buy anything before the middle of June either.
I can tell that the turkeys had a very good summer. They showed up (or more correctly, showed themselves) the first week in May. There are seven or eight of them and they walk up the path to the cottage with an air of entitlement and seem to enjoy horrifying the cats. I’m not quite sure what they do or where they go for the balance of the summer, but come the beginning of September they show up again, crashing through the bush and cutting a swath from one side of the island to the other. Then they are gone until next year, at least between Thanksgiving and Easter if they know what’s good for them.
Anyhow, the water was quite swimmable until it wasn’t but I swam anyway. The weather was okay except when it wasn’t. The power stayed on except when it didn’t. And the summer wasn’t very summery. But how can it be over already?
There is something about four in the morning for my cat, especially when he is at the cottage. His internal clock says, no matter how comfortable his sleep on my bed and no matter how dark it is outside, it’s time to go out and roust out the creatures of the forest. Earlier in the summer it is in fact almost light at the cat witching hour but not now. I know you might say that I am an idiot not to chuck him out before I go to bed. I tried that the other day, however with the windows open a cat outside sounds very much like a cat inside, and since I had forgotten how smart I had been at bed time, I got up and went down to let him out, only to let him in.
But the good news is that I always know what time it is when Dennis wakes me up. That’s because chances are the power has flicked off for a nanosecond at some point in the night and some number bearing no relation to the actual time is flashing on the clock. This is somewhat understandable if there had been a thunderstorm or wind storm that was violent enough to bring down wires or take out transformers.
However, if that had happened I think it would have woken me up.
One night last weekend when Dennis and I played our little game, the power was alive and well at 4:15am. When I got up once again at a more civilized time to greet a flawless weather day, I didn’t actually know what time it was because the power had gone AWOL. And it continued on its (literal) sabbatical for the balance of the day while repair crews searched for the errant weak link in the grid that had no apparent cause.
This week, when there were ample reasons for outages, it only went off at very brief intervals. Brief enough and random enough intervals to lure me into playing whack-a-mole with the stove, microwave and coffeemaker clocks. Which leads me to one of the great mysteries of the 21st century in terms of technological advancement, or lack thereof: the inability for manufacturers to standardize on things that seem quite simple to the average person. For example, is it really necessary for every digital device to have its own proprietary power supply requiring an equally proprietary charging device? And of course the one that you need is at home when you need it at the office, or in the car when you need it at home or broken. But I digress. Back to the subject of clocks.
In Mr. Maytag’s world you set the time by pressing the ‘Clock’ key (with a picture of a clock on it), selecting morning or afternoon (1 for am, 2 for pm), entering the correct time of day, then pressing ‘Start’. Not all that unreasonable. But when we move to Mr. Hamilton-Beach’s world things start to go a little sideways. He thinks the most logical way to set a clock is pressing the ‘Settings’ button three times to get to the ‘clock’ option, entering the appropriate hour, pressing OK, entering the appropriate number of minutes, pressing OK again, then selecting morning or afternoon (3 for am, 6 for pm), then pressing ‘Start’, at which point the number of minutes is no longer accurate. And at which point I decide to give up on all but the one clock that never stops: Dennis.
John Venn of the eponymous diagram turned 180 this month, or at least reached the 180th anniversary of his existence. In case you were wondering, he didn’t call his diagram a ‘Venn diagram’ but Eulerian circles and that’s because he sort of ripped them off from Euler who had his own version of a Venn-like diagram. Fortunately this didn’t cause too much outrage at the time because the diagrams kind of languished in obscurity until the early 1960s, when we were inflicted with the new math. I did not know this at the time, but there was a very logical reason for injecting more logic into math education. According to the internet, the reason behind our childhood trauma was the success of the Russian Sputnik satellite program. In order to counter the threat of the intellectual prowess of Soviet engineers, we all had to pull up our collective mathematics socks. Just one more example of a small group of people ruining things for the rest of us, but I digress.
Here are some other observations about Venn diagrams and the new math.
1. That whole thing about learning the ‘base this’ and ‘base that’ number systems (that is, anything other than 10, the number system we actually use) was all the fault of new math. By using number systems more complex than our own, we were supposed to understand the nature of numbers better. Unfortunately it didn’t contribute at all to our ability to add and subtract.
2. In grade 1 and 2 we had a math aid called rods, which the internet tells me are more correctly called ‘Cuisenaire rods’. This is what happens when a violinist treads into math territory (see above re spoiling things). Anyhow, these rods are a set of 10 coloured sticks of varying lengths that represent all of the numbers between 1 and 10. I guess the zero, widely considered the one of the most important inventions in mathematics, was not considered important. However, although these rods were supposed to “expand children’s latent mathematical abilities in a creative and enjoyable fashion” they fell into disfavour in the 1980s, probably partially due to the propensity for six and seven year old boys to use the ’10′ rod as a weapon.
3. You can download a template for a Venn diagram from a website of educational support materials. I am tempted to say that if you are teaching Venn diagrams and don’t know how to construct one without a template (circle, meet circle) perhaps you should find a different line of work. But I’ll just keep that thought to myself.
4. Despite the downfall of the new math, virtually everyone knows what a Venn diagram is. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that if you draw one to illustrate a point everybody will understand what you are talking about. The bad thing is sharknado.
There are lots of ways to get news on the internet. You can go to the newspaper sites, you can go sites for news outlets like the BBC, or you can hang around on aggregator sites like Yahoo. But it all depends on your definition of news. That’s because the internet does not distinguish between news and ‘content’, which pretends to be information but isn’t really.
The invention of the online concept of content has also spawned all kinds of dubious jobs. We have content creators, content curators, content marketers, search engine optimizers, and on and on. These are the source of the ground breaking stories currently masquerading as something interesting or useful including “Boy finds Stanley Cup ring in a river”, “Kourtney Kardashian wears skintight lace jumpsuit” and “Bill Gates vacations on a $330 million yacht.”
But content is not about you. Content is about enticing you to click on a link to spin off an invisible payment transaction with the content creator and one or more advertisers. It doesn’t matter whether or not you actually read the article in question. It doesn’t even matter if the content in question is accurate or even real (that ‘Stanley Cup’ ring? Made of plastic). Or even if it is so self-evident that only someone with very little imagination would read it (what other type of clothing could Kourtney possibly have, and where else should Bill Gates vacation?)
There are many people who have written about the decline of civilization as we know it because the internet has turned our brains to mush and hobbled our critical thinking skills. But according to the internet, Socrates raised a big red flag when writing started to overtake the verbal method of imparting knowledge (and threatened the very existence of the Socratic method of learning) because he thought it would eliminate the need to remember things. This of course did not come to pass within his lifetime or the many lifetimes since 399 B.C. until the invention of the internet as we know it.
But back to the news thing. All of the halfway reputable newspapers (and even the un-reputable ones) have installed some form of mechanism to extract payment for their ‘high value’ content, a euphemism for anything that doesn’t involve any of the Kardashians. This is extremely annoying to people who do want to wade into the internet shark pit to find out what’s going on in the world. But I guess it does prove the adage that you get what you pay for. So I continue to pay for my real newspaper. The one I can sit in my comfortable chair and open up. The one I can still read in any order I like. And the one that never crashes, installs cookies, loses its links, or infects me with viruses. That’s all.
Last night the setting sun was a perfect circle of DayGlo pink that slowly faded to a hue of orange, which if you didn’t know better, you would swear was not a colour found in nature. But are there really colours not found in nature? Surely the internet can illuminate the subject.
Apparently as recently as 2012, the scientific debate continued to rage about the existence of pink. This will no doubt strike fear into the hearts (and outfits) of proto-princesses. But there is some method to this madness. It seems that pink is derived from a melding of red and violet. And why is that such a big deal you might ask? Because, as any student of the rainbow (which is evidently the ultimate colour authority) knows, violet is on the exact opposite end of light spectrum from red. That means there is no possible combination of natural wavelengths that will produce pink. In nature that is. The saving grace is that we can do whatever we want with respect to combining invisible colour swatches, a fact that petunias everywhere are eternally thankful.
Next they’ll be telling us that black doesn’t exist. What’s that? They already did? Now all of science will be in deep trouble with everyone in New York. The story about black, if you believe the colour purists, is that anything in ‘nature’ that appears to be black (even you, Mr. Panther) is really very dark brown. I was horrified to learn that even ‘black’ ink is really a very dark grey. In fact, when printing ‘black’ ink, the pretend black is over-printed on top of some kind of secret concoction of cyan, magenta and yellow to make sure that our eye stays fooled.
Blue food does not occur in nature. There are no leafy blue vegetables. And blueberries are not blue, they are purple. That’s why we don’t have an automatic appetite response to blue and probably also explains my aversion to Smurfs. Also, according to the internet so it must be true, when our earliest ancestors were foraging for food millions of years ago, potential food that was blue, purple or black was considered a warning sign of something poisonous.
Delving further into the literature on the subject, like all scientific inquiry it is important to clarify the definition of the matter at hand. As in, what exactly do we mean by nature? For example, if you include the whole of the universe and can accept the existence of the smallest speck of a colour for the briefest period of time then there may be very few that do not exist. On the other hand, the contrarian view is that nothing in nature has any colour at all. That’s because colour exists only in our eye’s ability to interpret the electromagnetic energy emitted by the molecules in the item in question.
But all of this is making my brain hurt. I think I need a glass of pink lemonade.
The most annoying sound in the world is not a jackhammer crew at 6 am or fingernails on a blackboard or even thousands of vuvuzelas. No, the most annoying sound in the world is the hum of a mosquito somewhere in the vicinity of your head in the dark after you have gone to bed. Actually, let me correct that. The most annoying sound in the world is when the hum of the mosquito stops. That’s because when the hum of the mosquito stops it means the mosquito is doing something other than flying. It’s possible it could be resting on a wall but only the most optimistic of optimists would put much money on that.
Since I am sustaining countless generations of mosquito dynasties, I thought I should learn a bit more about the recipients of my philanthropy.
• That bump you get after a mosquito bite actually has a name. It is called a wheal. Further research revealed that a wheal is actually any area of the skin that is temporarily raised, reddened and accompanied by itching. So take that mosquitoes. You have no monopoly on raised bumps.
• Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, preferring to rest and digest their dinner during the day. Of course I didn’t need a scientist to tell me that part, although I beg to differ with this rather narrow notion of mosquito behaviour. Unless my colony has insomnia or are compulsive overeaters, in my experience there is no moratorium on when a mosquito might choose to help itself to blood donation.
• There is no known purpose for mosquitoes, which is another thing I could have told you without the need to consult an authoritative source. Unless maybe their ultimate purpose is to destroy the human race. The deadly diseases exclusively transmitted via mosquitoes include dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, lymphatic filariasis, west Nile, encephalitis and tularaemia. To be fair, most of these thrive in the Southern hemisphere. That’s why in the Northern climates we are told to suck it up and slather on the calamine because after all, mosquitoes won’t kill you. This of course is not true. I have discovered it is possible to be affected by mosquito-induced anaphylaxis and I am certainly a poster child for mosquito allergen sensitivity. I’m not sure what’s worse: the bruises and welts (sorry, wheals) from the bites or the hives from the mosquito repellent. Maybe I can get a doctor’s note to exempt me from mosquito exposure.
• Mosquitoes have no definitive predators. The proof for this is that nothing manages to put any measurable dent in their population. Sure, dragonflies do their part but I am convinced they spend more time swooping about admiring their iridescent wings than chomping down on mosquitoes. Some also believe that installing purple martin bird houses will create a mosquito cone of silence. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, less than 1% of a purple martin’s diet consists of mosquitoes.
• There are no mosquitoes in Antarctica, which is likely where you will find me next summer.