Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Light Bulb Stays On

The fourth annual Earth Hour is upon us. As I write this, several cities in the eastern hemisphere have already killed their lights for sixty minutes. My turn, here in southern Ontario, will come in about 9½ hours from the time of this writing. Except that my lights will not be going out.

What??? Heresy! Has the Halmanator no social conscience? He must be a climate change denier. Let the shunning begin! Out, demon! Out we say!

I am not a climate change denier. I believe that global warming is a real and immediate threat to humanity's future and I further believe that it's directly attributable to human activity on this planet. So why do I refuse to turn off my lights for an hour?

Because I see it as a meaningless gesture, that's why. Don't get me wrong. I understand the symbology behind the Earth Hour. I get the point. However, I don't see it accomplishing much, beyond making a point. Worse, the whole thing gradually seems to be taking on the characteristics of a social fad. We turn our lights out for an hour, we pat ourselves on our collective backs and then we go right back to our regular lifestyles, leaving lights on in empty rooms, leaving television sets on for no particular reason, driving our cars on short trips and errands for which we could walk or bicycle and idling their engines in long drive-through queues.

Want to help curb global warming? Leave your lights on today, but swap out all the regular incandescent light bulbs in your home for those curly-cue energy saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Have your furnace cleaned and serviced if it's been a while. At the very least, clean or change the filter. Lower your thermostat overnight or during the days if nobody's at home. Wash as much laundry as possible in cold water, and do full loads rather than partial ones. The same goes for your dishwasher loads. Heck, do the dishes by hand! You'll ultimately be doing the planet a whole lot more good by doing these things than you will by sitting in the dark for an hour.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dropping the Ball Lange

I have a new certificate to add to my ever-growing collection of certificates of accomplishment. Yesterday, I completed a three-week job finding and self-marketing seminar with a human resources consulting firm called Ball Lange & Associates.

The program is funded by the Ontario government (so far), and I've found it to be invaluable. All aspects of job finding are covered including evaluating my goals and my personal work profile, résumé writing, interview skills as well as what resources are available and how best to use them.

The program's biggest focus is on tapping into the "hidden" job market; that is job openings that are never advertised. To that end, it focuses heavily on networking as well as researching and cold calling (sorry, "gold" calling) organizations. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of all job vacancies are never advertised. That means that those who limit themselves to the classified ads and the internet job sites are limiting themselves to only 10 to 20 percent of the market.

So, for the past three weeks, I've spent seven hours a day, five days a week at the Ball Lange offices with a group of eleven other people, learning how to mine the job market more effectively, market myself more successfully, and basically working full time at looking for full time work. I had full use of their facilities (business directories, computers, internet, photocopiers, fax machines and phones) with the right to continue using the Ball Lange offices and facilities even after completing the program, and I even got 250 personal calling cards printed and a genuine Ball Lange coffee mug, all at no charge to me. Such a deal!

I estimate that this program has probably at least doubled my effectivity in looking for a new job to replace my previous, non-functioning one. That concurs with Ball Lange's statistics, which estimate that 75 percent of those who completed the program found work relative to their skills and experience (i.e. not asking "Would you like fries with that?") within three to six months of completing the program.

Okay, pop quiz, hot shot! You're the Ontario government. Your province is in a recession, so unemployment is high. You're funding a program that teaches invaluable job search skills and gets three out of four people who take the course off unemployment and back to work, happily paying taxes again. What do you do? Why, you cut the program's funding of course! That way, you not only put an end to a proven effective job search program, but you also shut down the organization that ran the program, thus putting all their people out of work as well, all in one fell swoop! On the bright side, at least those people know how to effectively look for new jobs.

That's right, as incredible as it may seem, the Ontario government has "changed their funding formula" for programs aimed at getting the unemployed back to work and, apparently, the new formula involves not giving any further funds to Ball Lange & Associates. Why? Because Ball Lange specializes in job search skills, but they don't do re-education or re-training, and the provincial government, in its wis-dumb, has decided they only want to fund organizations that do everything - you know, jacks of all trades, masters of none.

I have just two things to say about that. One, it's a bloody shame and, two, I'm sure glad I got in before Ball Lange & Associates close their doors in July. Three, (Three things! I have three things to say about that!), see you at the polls, Mr. McGuinty.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Free Software for Doctoring Photos

One web site which I check regularly (in fact, pretty much daily) is They give away free software! The premise is pretty cool. Each day, a new title is offered. The titles offered aren't shareware, nor are they time-limited or feature-limited versions that you have to buy in order to fully enable. They are one hundred percent, fully functional programs that you can have for free and use for as long as you want.

The catch? You only have twenty-four hours to download and install them while they're being offered. After that, they won't install anymore. Once installed, they work just fine but, if you ever uninstall them for any reason, or upgrade to a new computer, you can't reinstall them. Still, I think this is an excellent way to evaluate software.

Unfortunately, the software offered is something of a mixed bag. Giveaway Of The Day has offered a few gems in their day, such as The Glary Utilities (a suite of system cleanup and optimization tools something like the better-known Norton Utilities, but cheaper) by Glarysoft, or AnVir Task Manager (a much more robust task manager than the one that comes standard with Windows that gives you much greater control over tasks, processes and services, flags suspicious or possibly malicious programs and even provides some rudimentary virus and spyware protection) by AnVir Software. I got both of these very useful programs from Giveaway Of The Day. However, the site has also offered a lot of software that adds very little to Windows' standard functionality or for which much better freeware alternatives already exist.

Sometimes, the software offered seems way too specialized. Take, for example, NoWires; an Adobe PhotoShop plugin for removing power lines from digital photographs. I kid you not. "Imagine you have photographed a beautiful sight. And there is only one ugly thing — electric wire crossing the picture," trumpets the web page that offers this plugin, "Get rid of this annoying wire using NoWires!" Boy, am I ever glad I found this thing! If I had a nickel for every time my photos were spoiled by unsightly power lines...

Okay, okay, I'll sop up the dripping sarcasm. Look, I'll grant that NoWires might prove useful if you have a lot of photographs that are marred by power lines but doesn't it seem just a little, well, overly-specialized? For one thing, it's a PhotoShop plugin so, if you happen to use a photo editor other than the very expensive PhotoShop, you're S.O.L. as they say. Besides that, PhotoShop is pricey for a reason. If you do happen to own it, I'm just sure it has its own tools for getting rid of unsightly power lines, not to mention any number of other unwanted items in your pictures. The individual who markets NoWires (and it does appear to be just some Russian guy by the name of Pavel Dovgalyuk) wants $29.95 for his plugin. Seems a bit steep for such a one-trick-pony bit of software.

A much better alternative is Inpaint, by Teorex, also previously offered by Giveaway Of The Day. Inpaint removes any kind of object from photographs; airplanes, cars, buildings, people, scratches, watermarks and, yes, even power lines. What's more, it's a stand-alone program, so you don't need PhotoShop or any other photo editor in order to use it. I've used it several times, so I can attest to the fact that it works nicely in most situations although, obviously, there are limitations. It works by extrapolating the background behind the object that you want removed so, obviously, you can't take out a building that fills 80 per cent of the picture. Also, the simpler the background, the better the results that you'll achieve.

A personal license for Inpaint (if you missed it on Giveaway Of The Day) is about ten bucks more than NoWires, at $39.99, but it's also much more flexible and, therefore, much more useful. If it sounds good, but you can't justify ponying up the cash, all is not lost. Giveaway Of The Day frequently does reruns, meaning that they may well offer Inpaint again at some future date.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Canonization of Brother André

This will be one of those posts that would stir up all kinds of controversy and probably get me excommunicated from the Catholic church if more than three people were to actually read this blog.

I read in a news article last week that Pope Benedict (you know, the new one; the one who looks frighteningly like Darth Sidious) has approved the canonization of Montreal's Brother André Bessette. No, this does not mean that the Pope intends to fire Brother André's remains from a cannon. It means that Brother André has officially been declared a saint by the Vatican.

Actually, it means that the Vatican intends to officially declare Brother André a Saint. The canonization won't actually happen until October 17. Until then, I guess Brother André remains a heavenly intern.

Brother André Bessette was born Alfred Bessette in Saint-Grégoire d'Iberville, Quebec back in 1845. Even as a young boy, Bessette showed an intense spirituality. By the time he reached his twenties, his parish priest, having noticed his generosity and devotion, presented him to the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Montreal.

He had a particular devotion to St. Joseph and would recommend the sick to him in prayers when visiting them in their homes. Some of those people were cured and many proclaimed that they had St. Joseph and Brother André's intervention to thank, although Brother André himself always refused to take any credit for the healings.

In 1904, Brother André started a campaign to erect an Oratory to honor St. Joseph. It took twenty more years before construction on the Oratory actually began in 1924. In the meantime, his reputation as a healer continued to grow as more and more people, and even some doctors, proclaimed cures resulting from Brother André's intervention which defied medical explanation.

When Brother André died in 1937 at the age of 91, millions of devoted admirers filed past his coffin. He was like a Canadian Mahatma Gandhi. His remains were, fittingly, placed in a tomb at the foot of the Oratory which he had championed, except for his heart, which lies in a separate shrine in the same oratory after having been stolen and eventually retrieved. You know, for most of us, "You stole my heart" is just an expression.

Because of Brother André's reputed powers as a faith healer, millions petitioned the Vatican to canonize him. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982. For you non-Catholics, that means that we Catholics were formally allowed to pray to Brother André to intercede with God on our behalves, but it didn't yet make him an actual saint.

In order to qualify for sainthood, a person must be credited with at least two miracles by the Vatican. Until last week, although Brother André reputedly helped to heal thousands during his lifetime, the Vatican officially recognized only one as a bona fide miracle. Last week, the referees at the Vatican apparently watched the replay tape for a second miraculous healing one more time, and decided to allow it.

Here's my problem with all this. Who gave the Vatican the authority to promote a man to sainthood? Since nobody ever becomes a saint until after they've died and the afterlife is supposedly under God's jurisdiction, wouldn't it be up to God to decide whether or not Brother André gets his halo?

Understand that I don't mean to denigrate Brother André's selfless devotion nor the man himself in any way. All I'm saying is that, if he deserved to become a saint, I doubt that God waited all these years since Brother André's death for the Vatican's permission to make him one.