Saturday, December 22, 2012

Things We Lost In The Fire

The title of this post happens to be that of a movie starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro, and directed by Susanne Bier, but I'm not here to talk about that movie today.  I'm here to talk about the massacre of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut. a scant eleven days before Christmas.

Much has been written about the tragedy.  The never-ending debate about gun control in America will certainly shift into high gear over the next while.  But I'm not here to talk about that, either.

There has been and will be much speculation about the motives of gunman Adam Lanza, who first killed his own mother before going on his killing spree.  Was he insane?  Could anyone in a rational state of mind do what he did?  Were there perhaps others behind the scenes, goading him on to commit his gruesome, unspeakable crime?  Beats me, and I'm not here to talk about that, either.

Upon reflecting on this incident, I was reminded of something that Mark Twain once said.  "When a man's house burns down, the smoke and wreckage represents only a ruined home that was once dear to him.  But, as weeks go on, first he misses this, then he misses that.  Like the death of a loved one, it takes months before he realizes he's lost everything."

As saddening and as shocking as the immediate impact of this tragedy is, I don't think anyone yet understands the full impact of what has been lost. Was one of the children who died that day a future Einstein, Beethoven or Ghandi?  Did the doctor who would someday find a cure for cancer die that day?  Perhaps it was the person who would finally find a way to reconcile the Arabs and the Jews and bring a lasting peace to the Middle East.  The first person to walk on Mars might never go there now.

We may never know just what was lost in the "fire" that engulfed Sandy Hook Elementary on the 14th of December, 2012.  Perhaps that's just as well.  Otherwise, who could bear it?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Peter's Pipes

Let me tell you about my good friend, Peter Karwowski.  Peter is a big-hearted, big-bellied bear of a man who, to my eye, looks more Scottish than Polish, owing largely to the large, woolly sideburns that cascade down either side of his face.  In fact, at risk of digressing, I once got Peter a book entitled "The Tartans of Scotland", just as a sort of gag gift, and his first reaction was "Ìf I find a "Karwoski" tartan in here..."

I first met Peter in high school, in the eleventh grade which, if you read my previous post, means that our friendship now goes back many, many years.  Peter was always fascinated with media.  In those days, he had gotten hold of a multi-track tape recorder and, after school, he would hole himself up in his bedroom at home, making the most amazing home recordings, just for the heck of it. 

The fascination with voice recordings naturally lead to an interest in broadcasting in general and it wasn't long before Peter found himself working as a volunteer announcer at the University of Waterloo campus radio station, CKMS FM.

He certainly had the voice for the work.  Peter was blessed with a clear, strong, broadcaster's voice, mingled with the creativity to convincingly mimic various ethnic accents (Scottish, Irish, East Indian, Southern U.S., etc.) as well as celebrities and other well-known voices (I always particularly enjoyed his "Pete Puma" and "Marvin the Martian" from the old Warner Brothers cartoons).  So it was no surprise to me when Peter decided to study broadcasting in college. 

As it happened, Peter`s fascination with electronics of all sorts soon had him dabbling with computers and, being an intelligent individual of many talents, he actually left the field of broadcasting behind after a short stint as an announcer at a Guelph radio station right after graduating and instead spent many years working in the Information Technology field.

Recently, however, Peter has returned to his first love and has been doing some voice acting work for various companies.  One of his earlier gigs was that of the voice of "Otto" the ottoman, for Pier 1 Imports. Here it is...



Okay, it was only a single word but, hey, you have to start somewhere!  Even so, a mutual friend told me that Peter spent an entire day, and many, many takes, just on that one word!  He recorded it with a huge variety of different inflections, giving the Pier 1 people a large repository of takes from which to choose exactly the right one.

I recently had the chance to touch base personally with Peter after a long absence, and he gave me his new business card.  He has dubbed his new voice services "Peter`s Pipes" and, thanks to his business card, I learned that he has even set up his own web site, where you can hear some entertaining demos of his work.  Here`s the link...

http://www.peterspipes.com/

If you, or anybody you know needs the services of a gifted voice actor for television, radio, an audio book or even just a professional or entertaining message for your voice mail greeting, I highly recommend you get in touch with Peter.  Besides being vocally gifted, he`s a just plain great guy to deal with.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fifty

Old age is the most unexpected of things that can happen to a man.     
        - Leon Trotsky
 
The wit in Trotsky’s quote is, of course, in the irony. Old age should be among the least unexpected of things that can happen to a person. We all know (or, dare I say, hope) that we will someday get old and yet, we’re never quite ready when it begins to happen to us.  Age has a way of sneaking up on us, slowly and stealthily. We go about the business of living our lives. The days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years until, one day, we wake up to find that we’re fifty years old, and we wonder “When did that happen?”
 
This week, that happens to me. I’m turning fifty and, though I’m not overly traumatized by the fact, I do find myself wondering “When did that happen?” Wasn’t it just the other week that I graduated from college? How long have I been married now? Twenty-three years? Impossible! Where did my little five-year-old daughter get to and who’s this young university student in her room? Did we get a new babysitter?
 
When I turned forty (just last year, wasn’t it?) my wife threw a big party,  inviting all my friends and family. There were lots of gifts and lots of cards. I remember one of the cards reminded me, in case I was feeling blue about turning forty, that it could be worse; in ten years I'd be turning fifty. Well, here we are. How did ten years slip by so fast?
 
I like to think of myself as an overgrown kid (I know that my mother would agree with me on that point, but for different reasons than my own), yet my body tells me differently. A friend of mine, who’s very close to my age, once noted that, as soon as we hit forty, our bodies seem to start giving out on us. Suddenly we can’t see quite as well. We tire more quickly and need to rest more often and for longer periods, and things start to ache for no apparent reason. Now that I’m fifty, I’m starting to notice that more and more of the people I know, people who are my age or maybe just a little older, are suffering heart attacks and being diagnosed with cancer. Time and circumstances keep reminding me of my own mortality.
 
I look in the mirror, examine my protruding belly and say to myself, “Man, I have got to start taking better care of myself; seriously!” When we’re younger, we can get away with abusing our bodies. We can eat junk food, smoke cigarettes, drink, stay up all hours and the our only punishment for these sins is the occasional headache or cough. Our bodies shake it off. At fifty, our bodies aren’t quite so forgiving anymore. Calories burn more slowly. Muscles tire more quickly. Facial lines come to stay. Everything about us contrives to remind us of the undeniable truth that we’re getting older.
 
I’ve always had this idea that I’d like to live to be a hundred. If I can manage that, then I’m only half-way through my life. That's an encouraging thought.  Hopefully, I've still lots of time left, and a lot more to do.  Pierre Trudeau was about my age when he became Prime Minister of Canada.  Coincidentally, his birthday was the day after mine. 
 
And yet, I realize that I can't live the next fifty years of my life in the same way that I lived the first fifty.  I realize that I need to treat my body with more care. I need to eat healthier food, and less of it, and I need to exercise more regularly.
 
This also seems like a good time to reflect on my life; where I’ve been, where I am and where I hope to go from here. So far, it seems that I’ve spent most of my adult life working to improve my own standard of living, and that of my family.  This seems to have translated mostly into accumulating “stuff”; a house, cars, clothes and entertaining distractions such as computer games and DVDs. 
 
My wife and I recently helped her sister to move. Compared with us, my wife’s sister has relatively few belongings, yet she had to get rid of an awful lot of things that she just doesn’t need or have room for anymore. I look around myself and realize the monumental task that I’d be faced with if I had to move my family and all of our belongings for whatever reason. Maybe it’s time to stop accumulating and learn to enjoy the things that I have more, or even begin to discard some of the extra detritus in my life. 
 
I also find that my attitude toward my career has changed over the years. When I was younger, I wanted to change the world. Now, I’m content just to put in my time and go home at the end of each day. This is not to say that I’ve become apathetic, but my career no longer defines me as it once did. When I lost my job a couple of years back, it occurred to me for the first time that I might not always do what I've been doing for a living.  In fact, I’m at that age now when I need to start thinking about a not-so-distant future when I'll no longer be going to work each day. And yet, I’ll still need some kind of income to live on. Now is the time to plan for that. In fact, the financial gurus say that those who wait until they get to my age to start (I didn’t) have already left it too long.
 
Turning fifty is not something that I dread. Life has been reasonably good to me so far, and I look forward to transitioning from school, career and building a life to grandchildren, retirement and enjoying the life that I’ve built. In a sense, this is the perfect age. My daughter’s generation sees me as something of a codger, yet my mother’s crowd still sees me as a kid. I can play either role as I choose. What’s not to like about that?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Brief History Of Time

The Halmanator is proud to announce that he has crossed yet another title off his Bucket Reading List.  The Bucket Reading List is a list of books that I've decided that I want to read sometime between when I officially conceived of the list and when I die.  Regular readers of this blog may recall that two of the titles that I've previously crossed off the list (because I read them, not because I changed my mind and gave up) were Moby Dick by Herman Melville and War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.  Now, added to this illustrious (albeit short) list of titles is A Brief History of Time, by Professor Stephen Hawking.

Again, this may somewhat surprise regular readers, who may recall an earlier post that was somewhat critical of Professor Hawking, but The Halmanator believes that it is possible to disagree with or criticize someone and yet still respect that person.  I further believe that one cannot properly criticize another's views if one has not given those views a fair hearing and understands them in their proper context.  If only our politicians were half so enlightened!

My main reason for adding Professor Hawking's book to my Bucket Reading List, beyond mere curiosity, involved wondering if my mind could even begin to understand the complex and abstract ideas that must surely emanate from the brain of such a widely-recognized mental giant.  Having read the book, I'm pleased to say that I was able to follow at least the basic concepts although, if I were one of Professor Hawking's actual students, I wouldn't count on passing the exam.

A Brief History of Time is considerably shorter than the first two books that I finished, which is good because I had to read it much more slowly.  Some parts, I had to read over two or three times before I felt as though I had any kind of grasp on what Hawking was talking about.  The book seeks nothing less than to explain the universe; how it began, how it works and what its eventual destiny might be.  In fact, had Hawking consulted me (and I state for the record that he most certainly did not), I might have suggested that A Brief History of The Universe might be a more appropriate title, or even Life, The Universe and Everything.  (No, wait, that's been taken).

To be sure, during the course of his dissertations, Hawking does discuss time; what it is, how it relates to space and whether it might be possible to make it go backward instead of forward, but this is just one subject in a larger discussion that covers the properties of light, the theory of relativity, gravity, dark matter, elementary particles and the forces of nature, the uncertainty principle, string theory, black holes, the big bang theory (no, not the sit-com) and quantum physics.  The underlying theme that seems to run throughout the book is the attempt to reconcile the fundamental differences between the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics in order to find a single, unified theory of the universe. 

To his credit, Hawking stays away from technicalities and complex mathematical equations which would surely leave the layman floundering.  Instead, he sticks to the concepts and offers analogies that the rest of us can understand as illustrations.  This is probably why the book has become such a big seller, despite its somewhat esoteric subject matter.

Hawking also occasionally breathes life into otherwise potentially dry subjects with the help of a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that some might find surprising coming from such an academic as he.  He apparently likes a good wager, as he relates several bets that he's made with colleagues, such as the bet that he made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology, in which he took the position that there were no solutions for the equations of general relativity which would allow for naked singularities (black holes with no event horizon) that could actually be observed because they would be too unstable.  Later, when solutions were worked out that would indeed allow for observable naked singularities, albeit only ones a very long distance away, Hawking made good on the wager by "clothing Thorne and Preskill's nakedness".  Although he chooses not to elaborate on exactly what that entailed, I'm sure that it had to do with buying his colleagues new suits or jackets or maybe "I Pwned Stephen Hawking" tee-shirts, making it not nearly as compromising as it might sound.

One of my favorite bets that Hawking lost is yet another made with Kip Thorne that the star Cygnus X-1 would turn out not to be a black hole.  In fact, it turned out to be one, so Hawking's payment was a year's subscription to Penthouse magazine for Kip.  I so wish that I could go through the rest of my life telling people that Stephen Hawking clothed my nakedness and then bought me a year's subscription to Penthouse.  I could die happy.  There'd really be nothing left to accomplish!  I mean, how do you top that?

In case you're thinking that, in spite of his genius, Hawking doesn't learn from his mistakes (such as betting against Kip Thorne), you have to realize that Hawking actually very much wanted to believe that Cygnus X-1 was a black hole, and bet against that fact mainly as a hedge.  Having lost, at least he has the satisfaction of knowing that Cygnus X-1 turned out to be what he had hoped it would be.  If he'd won, he would have gotten a four-year subscription to Private Eye magazine, apparently one of his favorite publications.  (I'm now forming an amusing mental image of Hawking in a worn-out beige trench coat and deerstalker hat).  In a sense, he couldn't lose either way.

Sometimes, Hawking is unintentionally amusing.  I offer, as an example, his discussion of string theory or, rather, M-theory, which is a sort of extension of string theory.  Here's a very simplified explanation.  There are particles.  We all know what those are.  Then there are strings.  Those are like particles that have another dimension; length (hence the "string" analogy").  Well, M-theory posits the existence of another basic building block of the universe known as a membrane, or "brane".  That's like a string with yet another dimension, making it more like a sheet (or membrane).  These are referred to as "P-branes" (not Hawking's idea, as far as I know), with "P" being the number of dimensions in which the membrane exists. 

The number of dimensions in which the membrane exists?  Concepts like that make me feel like a "P-brane" myself.  It happens a lot while reading Hawking's book.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

To All The Cars I've Loved Before

I think it fair to say that, in general, men are much more emotionally attached to their cars than women are.  This brings to mind a verse from the lyrics of Shania Twain's song, "That don't Impress Me Much"...

You're one of those guys who likes to shine his machine
You make me take off my shoes before you let me get in
I can't believe you kiss your car good night
C'mon baby tell me-you must be jokin', right!

Clearly, women just don't understand the male attachment to motorized transportation.  I suppose this might serve as evidence that women are much more practical than men ... if you dismiss the stereotypical female who can't seem to stop shopping for shoes, even though she already owns a hundred pair for every conceivable occasion, including (but not limited to) solar eclipses that occur precisely at the vernal equinox.

But I digress (as usual).  There's no denying that cars tend to be more important to men than they are to women.  The cars we drive become part of who we are.  To some extent, people judge us by our cars, and this includes women.  Momma always said there's an awful lot you could tell about a person by their car. Where they're going. Where they've been. I haven't actually owned all that many cars for a guy of my age.  I'll be fifty next month (but don't let it get around) and I've owned exactly five cars since I learned to drive at sixteen, and only two of those were purchased new.   I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my first car (this is where the picture gets all wavy and blurry and we fade to the flashback scene).

Of course I can remember my first car.  A guy's first car is like a woman's first love.  We never forget them.  No matter how many cars come afterward, that first one always holds a special place in our hearts.  Mine was a 1974 Dodge Dart, although I didn't become its owner until 1980.  Before that, it was the family car and belonged to my dad, who handed it down to me when he finally bought a new car; a 1980 Chevy Malibu (dad always had a flair for picking cool, "babe magnet" cars like that). 

Since the Dart was a hand-me-down from dad, it was the four-door family sedan variant; somewhat boxy and nondescript in appearance.  Naturally, I would have preferred something a little sportier, like a Porsche Carrera or, failing that, at least the two-door Dart Swinger variant, but I was not one of these spoiled teens who gets to be choosy about his first ride.  I had to take what I could get. 

Ironically, Chrysler re-introduced a new Dodge Dart this year after having put the model on ice for several decades.  The new Dart is much sportier than its predecessor, being based on Europe's Alfa Romeo Giulietta design.  Why couldn't my Dart look like that?

Still, I grew to love that car.  It wasn't flashy, but it was a tank!  It had to be in order to suffer the neglect with which I treated it, yet still keep rolling.  I had to run it without oil twice before I finally managed to kill it!  After the first time, it just made loud, rattling noises whenever it ran but, like a faithful dog that licks the hand of the master who just beat it, it forgave me and continued to serve me faithfully.  Besides, the rattle was useful in its way.  I still had the car during my first year of college, where I befriended a blind classmate who declared that mine was the only car that he could recognize whenever I rolled into the school parking lot in the morning.

That car and I went everywhere together.  It would take me on scenic suburban cruises on Sunday mornings when I was supposed to be in church.  It got me out of several speeding tickets.

Policeman:  I clocked you at sixty-five.
Me: That's impossible officer.  This car can't do over fifty.
Policeman (looking that Dart over):  My mistake, son.  Move along.

I could tell a million stories, but I'll limit myself to the time that I decided to drive the car down a narrow, gravel lane that ran through an area that was otherwise overgrown with brambles and high grass.  The lane was just barely wide enough to fit the car, which was precisely the reason why I chose to drive down it; just to see whether it would fit.  Unfortunately, the lane turned out to be more of a bike path and, as such, I encountered a couple of cyclists coming at me in the other direction before reaching the far end.  What with the narrowness of the lane and the fact that it was overgrown on both sides, I could hardly turn around and, my Dart being the bigger, heavier vehicle, it was the cyclists that finally had to leave the path and relinquish the right of way to me. 

The skull grinning out at them from the top of my dashboard may have helped to intimidate them as well.  You see, I had made a ceramic skull in my high school art class (I called it Yorick) and, not having any better uses for it, I decided that it would make a nice dashboard ornament for my car.

After I finally managed to drive the Dodge Dart into the proverbial ground, there came a car-free period as I was still a college student with a part-time job who apparently couldn't even afford oil for his old car, much less a new one.  As such, I didn't get my next car until after I had finished school, landed my first "real" job and had, in fact, been working at it for over a year.  On the other hand, my next car was my first new car, and it was another Dodge; a 1984 Dodge Omni.

Although it was purchased new, I didn't exactly pick the Omni myself.  My dad sort of picked it for me.  See, I had never purchased a car before, having only ever owned the hand-me-down Dart and I didn't really understand standard financing practices, what things to look for in a vehicle and possible pitfalls to avoid, so my dad took it upon himself to help me find something practical and in my price range.  As it turned out, "help me find" turned into more of a "choose for me" situation, but I never resented it.  He had my best interests at heart and, I must admit, the Omni was a pretty good fit for me at the time.

Like the Dart, the Omni was a fairly nondescript car (another example of dad's keen eye for style), but it had the advantage of being bright red and therefore just a touch sportier in appearance.  Still, I couldn't help feeling just a bit emasculated when I opened up the newspaper one day to see a car dealership advertising the Omni and pushing it as "The ideal second car for the lady of the house". 

I bought the Omni about a week before my first date with my wife who, unlike the Omni, is still with me to this day. I correctly surmised that any girl willing to be seen in that car might not be overly choosy about potential romantic partners.

As I was somewhat older and my wild oats had been well sewn (and had, fortunately, not borne too much evil fruit) the Omni and I didn't have near as many misadventures as did the Dart and I.  Being a four-door hatchback it was, once again, very much a family vehicle and proved a faithful, if somewhat sickly, work horse over the eight years that I owned it. 

It must have been one of those notorious "Friday" vehicles (you know, a vehicle that came off the assembly line on a Friday, when the factory workers' minds were already more on their weekend than on the task of assembling an automobile) because it seemed that things were constantly breaking and/or falling off that car.  Usually, it was little things like a dash light going out or a side-view mirror seizing up.  It went through more headlamps than Bugs Bunny went through carrots, which turned out to be a symptom of a larger problem with the voltage regulator. 

I'll never forget the day when, driving home from work, I noticed all the cars behind me leaving a large, respectful distance between themselves and me.  I discovered the reason for this when I parked in my driveway and got out of the car, to find my rear bumper literally hanging by a thread!  Of course I had heard the noise it made dragging along the road behind me, but the Omni always sounded like that, so I thought nothing of it.

The Omni was the car in which I had my one and only collision that was serious enough to leave the car in an undrivable state.  In fact, my insurance adjustor reported that it was a coin toss as to whether or not to simply write the car off, but it must have came up "heads" because the insurance company ended up paying for repairs.  Needless to say, the car only became even wheezier and more finicky after that.

In a way, it was the car's tendency to have weird things go wrong with it that caused the accident in the first place.  You see, it had rained the night before and water had somehow gotten into the car even though all the windows were up.  In retrospect, I can only speculate that it somehow leaked in through the open dashboard air vents.  Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed the water when I first got into the car, as it had pooled mostly on the floor of the front passenger side, and there was no-one in the car with me to complain about wet feet.  As I approached an intersection, I suddenly heard a strange sloshing sound, which finally alerted me to the puddle on the passenger side floor.  That distracted me enough that I didn't notice that the light at the intersection had changed to red and... well, it got ugly after that.

Unlike the Dart, which was towed away by a scrap dealer, I actually managed to trade the Omni in to a dealer for a surprising $1,500 discount on my next vehicle; which was a 1992 Chevrolet Lumina minivan (also purchased new).  By then, I was a family man with one child confined to a wheelchair, so I needed a minivan, but I was getting tired of driving these mild-mannered, unassuming family vehicles all the time, so I at least chose a minivan with a little style to it.  I loved the aerodynamic, wedge-shaped appearance of the Lumina.

Ironically, it was this same aerodynamic, wedge-shaped appearance that apparently put a lot of other potential buyers off.  People used to worry that it would be difficult to park because the slope of the front end made it impossible to see where the nose ended from the driver's seat.  While this was true, it was never a problem for me.  I recall reading a review of the vehicle which declared that "...the large, sloping windshield was meant to whisper 'panorama' but, instead, screams 'parking nightmare'!"

Equally ironically, while I chose a minivan partially because of my disabled son, a sales rep for a company that converted vehicles for handicapped access later told me that he would not have recommended the Lumina because the shape and size of the sliding side door made it impossible to install an electric wheelchair lift.  While this was, again, true I didn't want one anyway.  I had purchased a couple of simple telescopic metal ramps which I placed up against the side entrance and along which I simply pushed the wheelchair.  Actually, truth be told, I often dispensed with even the ramps and simply lifted the wheelchair into and out of the minivan manually.  My son's small, light build made this possible but, should any ladies reading this feel impressed at my apparent herculean strength, please feel free to swoon.

I might mention, in passing, that the Lumina is the other car which was involved in a collision, but that was more of a "fender bender" and I was able to drive away from that situation.

While I owned the minivan, I also came into possession of a Ford Tempo.  I say "came into possession of" as opposed to "bought" because I inherited it from one of my wife's uncles after he passed away.  As such, I wasn't even sure of its exact model year (circa 1993).  This was the only time at which our family owned more than one vehicle (my wife doesn't drive).  I drove the Tempo when I didn't need the minivan (mainly to and from work) because it used less gas.

Much as I hate to denigrate the Ford Motor Company or, at least, its products, the Tempo was the least impressive of all the vehicles that I owned.  To this day, I'm not certain whether my wife's deceased uncle had bequeathed it to me because I had incurred his favor or his wrath.  It didn't exhibit the weird component failures that the Omni did, but the body and the underside literally corroded away around me.  I only had it for about 3 years.  I bought the Lumina before getting the Tempo and I still had the Lumina for another four years after I finally sold the Tempo for $200 which I used to buy a pair of bookcase speakers, which I considered to be a trade up. 

Of all the cars pictured here, the Tempo is the only one that isn't the actual car that I owned (although it is the exact same colour and style).  That's because I have no pictures of my Tempo; not a one.  It wasn't a car that we "did" things in as a family (we used the Lumina for that).  It was just something that took me to work and back and, truth be told, in my heart of hearts, I never really adopted it as my own.  You might say that the Tempo was the bastard child that I never loved.  In that regard, it stands in stark contrast to my PT Cruiser.

When Chrysler introduced the PT Cruiser in 2000, I was smitten!  I so wanted one of those.  It was just something about the retro styling that attracted me. 

I'm apparently not alone in this.  Just Google 'PT Cruiser' and you'll find all kinds of PT fan boy sites full of examples of customized and embellished PT's.  I haven't known many cars to have such an apparent cult following as the PT Cruiser has.  There are even two songs about the car that I'm aware of; one by the Beach Boys (or, at least, a good sound-alike group) and one by Sha Na Na).  They seem to sell well too, because you see them all over.  It baffles me why Chrysler decided to stop building them.

Sadly, I had to admire the PT from afar for several years as my budget wouldn't allow the purchase of a new vehicle and they were impractical for wheelchair transportation in any case.  But my son passed away in 2005 and the thirteen-year-old Lumina was showing its age.  It was time for a new vehicle and I no longer really needed a minivan, so I consoled myself by at least buying the car which had so attracted my wandering eye those past few years.

Unlike the Omni and the Lumina, the PT Cruiser was not a new car, but it was almost new.  I bought it used from a Chrysler dealership.  It was a year old (the 2004 model year) and had 28,000 kilometers on it.  I had considered getting a new one but this one was the right colour (red is my favorite), it was several thousand dollars cheaper than a new one and it was in "like new" condition so, again, practicality trumped idealism and I settled for the used one.

I still own it to this day, and it's still going strong.  I don't mistreat it like I did my Dart and, unlike the Omni, things on it don't break or fall off every other week.  It seems that Chrysler and I have matured together.  Like all my other vehicles, it's not overly showy.  It isn't the turbo GT model (although I often wish that it were) so its acceleration and speed are somewhat underwhelming.  In the words of a review that I once read about the car, "It does what its name says it does best".  It doesn't have heated seats or individual climate control or even ABS for that matter (which even my Lumina had).  It's just your basic four-door family sedan with a bit of retro styling.  It does have a surprising amount of cargo room for its size.  It actually compares well with smaller minivans.

Like many guys, I do have a certain emotional attachment to my cars (except for the Ford).  It has a lot to do with the memories they evoke, both good and bad.  I think it also fair to say that, like pets, cars have a way of reflecting their owners' personalities.  In their way, the two cars that I chose for myself certainly reflect mine.  So here's a tip of my proverbial hat to all the cars I've loved before.  Thanks for the memories.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

There Will Never Be An Arrow

The Canadian Conservative government's decision to choose Grumman Northrop's F-35 joint strike fighter as the (recently reinstated as "Royal") Canadian Air Force's next-generation combat aircraft has been controversial, to say the least.  Many have criticized the aircraft as being too costly and, more importantly, unsuited to the Canadian air force's needs.  Combine that with the the ongoing technical problems that Northrop is having with the aircraft, it's apparent failure to meet projected performance specifications thus far and the fact that production and delivery are well behind schedule and there is arguably cause for concern.  So it didn't come as much of a surprise when I read in the news this past week that a Canadian group has suggested that an alternative aircraft should be considered.  What did come as a surprise is that the proposed alternative was the CF-105 Avro Arrow.

In case you're one of the approximately three people on the planet who have never heard of the Avro Arrow, I'll recap very briefly here by explaining that the Arrow was a next-generation long-range interceptor designed and built for the Royal Canadian Air Force by the now-defunct Avro Aircraft Company back in the nineteen-fifties.  It was generations ahead of its time and boasted performance not thought possible during that era so, after pouring millions of dollars into R&D and successfully building five viable, flying prototypes, the Conservative government of the day took the next logical step (in their minds, at least) and canceled the program entirely, masterfully decimating an industry, writing off all the money spent on the program to that date, to say nothing of the potential revenue from sales to foreign interests, destroying Avro Aircraft along with the jobs of all of its employees and opening the sluice gates for Canada's best and brightest engineers and technicians to be flushed southward across the Canadian/American border where they were immediately scooped up by American organizations such as Rockwell, Boeing and NASA.

All that notwithstanding, and as big an aviation buff and admirer of the Avro Arrow as I am, my initial reaction was still to chuckle when I first read the headline announcing the suggestion to reinstate it.  I mean, seriously?  Return to 1959 aviation technology?  Sure it was advanced for its time, but the electronics ran on vacuum tubes for crying out loud!  Surely this was the pipe dream of some Arrow fan-boy club.

As I read the article, I learned that my so-called "fan-boy club" included a company called Bourdeau Industries and the likes of retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie, one of Canada's top soldiers, and the group wasn't by any means suggesting that Canada rebuild the Arrow as it was (we couldn't anyway, since all plans, blueprints, drawings and technical documentation were destroyed along with the five aircraft that were built).  No, they were suggesting a new, modern aircraft, based on the Arrow design; a 21st-century Arrow, if you will.  As I read on, my chuckling stopped and gradually morphed into an unbroken chant of "DO-IT-DO-IT-DO-IT-DO-IT-DO-IT...." 

Now, as much as I would love to see the Arrow rise out of its own ashes, like the proverbial Phoenix, I know that it will never, ever happen in a million, billion years.  Why not?  One word; politics.  If Stephen Harper's Conservative government were to actually entertain the idea, it would be tantamount to simultaneously admitting that:

a) Their 1950's Conservative forefathers made a huge mistake in canceling the Arrow program, and...
b) Their support of the F-35 program has been so misguided that a cold war era design is a better fit.

Of course, they might have an interesting "out" if they were to point out that John Diefenbacher's Progressive Conservative party has no direct relationship to Canada's modern Conservative party (which is apparently no longer "progressive").  They could declare that that they, the "New Conservatives" are much more forward-thinking than the "Old Conservatives" and, as such, are bold enough to correct the mistakes of their misguided ancestors, but the Harper government has never been known for that kind of lateral thinking.  So it didn't surprise me at all that their response was that the proposal was "not a viable option" because, apparently, the Arrow wouldn't meet the technical specifications required by the RCAF.

Well, let's look at that claim a little more closely.  I was completely unable to find what the RCAF's technical specifications are (I suppose that the government could credibly offer national security concerns as a reason for not making such information public) so let's go with the next best thing and compare the known performance specs of the two aircraft, side-by-side. 

 
Avro Arrow
Grumman Northrop F-35
(Source: GlobalSecurity)
Wingspan
50 ft.35 ft.
Length
85.5 ft.50.5 - 51 ft.
Weight (Empty)
43,960 lbs22,500 - 26,500 lbs.
Weight (Max. Take-off)
62,430 lbs.50,000 - 60,000 lbs.
Engine(s)
Flown:
2 Pratt & Whitney J-75
turbofans rated at 23,450 lbs.
thrust each

Planned:
2 Orenda Iroquois PS.13
turbojets rated at 26,000 lbs.
each
1 F135 Pratt & Whitney turbofan  or
1 F136 GE turbofan
Both rated at 35,000 - 40,000 lbs
thrust
Cruising Speed
701 mph (mach 1.06)Unknown
Max. Speed
1,312 mph (mach 1.98)1,200 mph (mach 1.5 - 1.8)
Climbing Speed
(0 - 50,000 ft)
4 min., 24 sec.Unknown
Operational Ceiling
58,500Unknown

Those are the basics.  I could give a lot more technical details but I won't bore you with them.  The above comparison doesn't tell us much, especially since several of the F-35's specs are either classified or just undetermined.  The F-35 is a smaller and lighter aircraft than the Arrow, making it a smaller target for enemies, but then the Arrow wasn't designed to be a dogfighter; it was meant to intercept bombers.  Also, the Arrow's large size and weight can probably be mostly attributed to the lack of solid-state electronics in its time.  I'm sure a redesigned, modern Arrow could be significantly smaller and lighter.

Individually, the Arrow's engines put out less thrust than the F-35's, even if you compare the never-tried Orenda Iroquois engine.  However, the Arrow featured two engines whose combined thrust would exceed that of the F-35's single power plant, and that manifests itself in the Arrow's superior maximum speed, even using the inferior J-75 engines which were installed in the prototypes.  Also, it has long been argued that Canadian military aircraft need the security of a second engine in case one fails, due to the extreme conditions in the northern latitudes in which they are often required to operate.

In fairness, it should be noted that the F-35 is designed to be a stealth aircraft whereas the Arrow was decidedly not.  However, stealth properties are much more useful for attack aircraft which need to cross enemy borders without being detected and Canada has traditionally played the role of defender, not aggressor.  Again, the Arrow wasn't designed to go and bomb other nations; it was designed to keep them from bombing us.

None of the above addresses the additional prestige, jobs, talent and economic stimulus that would come from reviving a home-grown aircraft industry as opposed to buying something built outside of Canadian borders.

The Arrow program was canceled, ostensibly due to cost overruns, according to the federal government of the day, although there has been much speculation that this wasn't the true reason.  However, if we accept that at face value, our present-day Conservatives should be hard-pressed to support the F-35 purchase, given that both Canada's auditor general and parliamentary budget officer have projected the cost of that aircraft to be almost twice the original figure reported by the federal government.

In 1979, the CBC released a documentary film about the Avro Arrow and its eventual cancellation entitled, "There Never Was An Arrow".  Based on the Harper government's off-hand dismissal of the interesting proposal to revive the program, it's clear that there will never be an Arrow; not as long as Conservative politicians have any say in the matter, anyway.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain

Quick trivia question:  Who is Michael Collins?  Give up?  Here's a hint; yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of the first moon landing.  Some of you still look puzzled.  "Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon," I hear you pondering.  "And then there was that other guy.  The second one - what was his name?  'Buzz' something.  Was it Buzz Collins?  Maybe 'Buzz' was Michael's nick-name". 

No, my friend, that would be Buzz Aldrin, who's real name was Edwin (with a name like that, I'd prefer to be called "Buzz" myself!)  Michael Collins was the guy who didn't land on the moon; the guy who stayed up in the Command Module, patiently orbiting our grey, crater-ridden satellite, while the other two guys had all the fun and soaked up all the glory.  While the world watched Armstrong and Aldrin with rapt, awe-struck attention, poor Collins sat there in his cramped little tin can, patiently doing his job, largely ignored.  While I'm sure there are many reading this who actually do remember Michael Collins, he's the guy who's least likely to be remembered 43 years after the fact.

And yet, Collins' contribution to the Apollo 11 mission was by no means trivial.  He was a key player.  As Command Module pilot, it was his job to get the crew from the Earth to the moon, maintain his orbit while the other two landed and gathered their rocks and take them all back home again, not unlike a space-faring school bus driver or chauffeur.  Most importantly, it was up to him to dock the command module with the lander upon its return from the lunar surface.  If not for Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin would never have made it back home.

While Armstrong and Aldrin explored the lunar surface, Collins spent about 24 hours orbiting the moon.  Every time his orbit took him around the moon's far side, he lost contact with both his crew-mates on the lunar surface and with Houston back home.  He later commented, "I knew I was alone in a way that no Earthling has ever been before."  At one point, he radioed Houston on the high gain and asked how things were going on the surface.  Unlike the rest of the world, he couldn't even watch the historical event on TV. 

"The EVA is progressing beautifully," replied Houston, "I believe they are setting up the flag now." 

"Great!" exclaimed Collins without a hint of chagrin.

Later, Houston patched President Richard Nixon, who called from the Oval Office, through to the lunar surface so that he could personally congratulate Armstrong and Aldrin and tell them how proud he and America was of their accomplishment.  Collins didn't even get a "You too, Mike".

I don't mean to trivialize Armstrong and Aldrin's contribution to the Apollo 11 mission, of course.  All three men performed professionally, courageously and flawlessly.  But Armstrong and Aldrin have their place in history, while Collins stands in the shadows at best.

I have a program called All My Movies which I use to catalog my DVD and blu-ray collection.  One of the program's features is the ability to pull in a full cast list (from IMDB.com) for every title and then filter the movie collection by actor, answering questions like "In how many of my movies does Tom Hanks appear?"

In the process of cataloging my movie collection and building the cast lists, I've noticed that there is a class of what I like to call "working actors".  These are actors and actresses who are not big stars, are not well-known, but show up in multiple titles.  They tend to play bit parts like the bartender, the bus driver or even just "Man in front of store", but they seem to get regular work without ever coming into the limelight. 

For every Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts, there are hundreds of these "working actors".  For every Neil Armstrong or Chuck Yeager, there are meny lesser-known astronauts and pilots who may be every bit as competent and professional, perform crucial "behind-the-scenes" or support tasks, but get little, if any, recognition or thanks.  Here's a shout-out to Michael Collins and everyone else like him, the regular working men and women who go out into the world day after day, do their best and eschew the limelight.  The world needs them, even if it doesn't always acknowledge them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Penniless

While all the world has been wringing its hands over the dire financial straits of Greece, Spain and Italy, no-one foresaw Canada's recent shocking announcement that the country would soon be penniless. 

Ha-ha-ha!  I refer, of course, to the Canadian government's recent decision to stop minting pennies.  This is a subject that has been under discussion for several years now.  The hard fact is that Canadian pennies now cost more to mint than they're actually worth.  From that point of view, it makes perfect sense to stop minting them.

But it causes problems, doesn't it?  How do sellers of anything justify charging $24.99 for an item when it will soon be theoretically impossible to pay ninety-nine cents?  Do we start rounding all of our prices to the nearest nickel?  But wait; what happens when we apply the 13% tax (if you combine the 5% GST with the 8% Ontario provincial sales tax)?  Suddenly a $10.00 item costs $10.13.  D'oh!

Of course, the difficulty only arises if we try to pay with real, hard currency.  If we use our credit cards or pay by debit or write a cheque we can still pay any dollar fraction that we like, which once again underscores an observation made by myself in an earlier post that money is, after all, only conceptual.  My employer doesn't hand me a wad of bills every two weeks; they just hand me a pay stub and the balance in my bank account increases.  Then I write cheques or pay by debit or via on-line transactions and the balance in my bank account decreases.  Why stop at the penny?  Why not just do away with cash entirely?

I can suggest a two-fold answer to my own question.  First of all, because not everyone has embraced the digital age just yet.  Some people still like to pay with cash now and again, and I even know of some retailers that still don't accept debit.  The second reason is because, if we really did do away with cash, it wouldn't be a great leap for people to start realizing that our entire system of trade, one of the foundations of human society, is built on a fantasy.  It's all just numbers in the computers, with nothing of substance behind it.  And that realization would destroy the foundation upon which the whole system is built and bring it crashing down around our ears, all because Canada decided that pennies weren't worth minting any longer.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vinyl Time Capsules

My mother's birthday falls this week.  Like many people, the older she gets, the harder she is to buy gifts for.  I mean, she's had a good life, rarely wanted for anything, sired the kind of son that most parents can only dream about and basically has pretty much everything she wants.

Mom doesn't own a record player and hasn't owned one for years now.  The one and only turntable that she ever owned was built into one of those all-in-one stereo cabinets; you know, the kind that has a receiver, turntable, tape deck and speakers built right into it, with compartments to store a few records and tapes thrown in to boot.  This wasn't the kind of modular sound system that's been the norm for the last 30 years or so; this was a stand-alone piece of furniture.  They were popular back in the seventies.  However, that old relic was finally taken to the curbside in front of mom's house some years ago, to be replaced with a much more diminutive stereo/CD player. 

Being the pack-rat that I am, I,  however, still have an old Dual turntable and a sizable collection of vinyl records to go with it so, having no further use for her old records, mom gave them to me.  I'd always had this idea that some day I might hook up the turntable to my computer and convert my favorite old records to CD, and I thought that mom might like me to do the same with her old records as well.  It was just one more of the many personal projects that I never seem to have the time for.

That's where I got the idea that maybe it was time to take the plunge and give mom a little trip down memory lane for this birthday.  So I dug out my old Dual, hooked it up to a computer and chose three titles out of mom's record collection that I thought she might particularly enjoy.  There was Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hall (mom was always a big Belafonte fan; I get a little embarrassed when she Calypso dances in public, particularly after a few glasses of wine), a German singer who goes only by the name of "Lolita" (no, it's not what you think - apparently that's a perfectly acceptable name among certain ethnicities) and, finally, the lady who's depicted at the top of this post; a fairly obscure Canadian country songstress by the name of Jean Pardy.

Jean Pardy was actually never one of mom's favorites, but I chose to convert the album for its nostalgic, sentimental value.  You see, I`d purchased it for mom back in 1973, when I was still but a young lad of ten years.  Records were still something of a novelty in our household at the time as the old stereo cabinet was still brand, spanking new so I decided to get mom a record for her birthday.  I didn't know much about music in those days.  I had no records of my own and I only listened to the radio when it happened to be on in the background so I marched down to the local Woolworth's department store, found the section where they sold records and scanned the rows of album covers for something that looked appealing.  The only reason I can offer today for choosing Jean Pardy is because I was a big fan of Popeye cartoons back then, and she appears to have shopped at the same fashion outlets as Olive Oyl.

As the album title suggests, most of the songs are tributes to Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders, Jean being herself a native of that maritime island.  Several of the songs sound as though they may well have been written by the iconic Canadian country/folk singer, "Stompin' Tom" Connors, with a few well-worn (even at that time) country favorites such as `D-I-V-O-R-C-E` thrown in for good measure.  Listening to the album during its recording (because analog recordings can only be duplicated in real time after all) I realized that I had forgotten how astoundingly bad this album really was.  Let`s just say it`s no mystery why Jean Pardy isn`t exactly a household name down in Nashville nowadays, or even in Thunder Bay for that matter (maybe in Corner Brook though).

And yet, I couldn`t help feeling a certain nostalgic pleasure as I heard those whining slide guitars, the wheezy concertinas and the clickety-clack of the spoons (yes, those are considered musical instruments among certain people of Celtic and Gaelic origin) and I waxed a little philosophical as I so often do, thinking how the music that I thought had been lost for all these years had been right there, safely stored away among the peaks and valleys that form the floor of the spiral grooves that are pressed into the two faces of that vinyl disc.

My thoughts have wandered off along those lines before when listening to my stereo.  It's sometimes incredible to me to think that an electronic box can reproduce any music that a person might imagine.  Beethoven, Caruso, AC/DC, Rolf Harris, Mike Oldfield, Lady Gaga... you name it, this box can faithfully reproduce any of their masterpieces without "knowing" anything about music.  More than that, it could even, theoretically, play compositions that haven't even been conceived yet much less written, if we could only feed the correct sequence of magnetic signals to it.  This idea is somewhat akin to the "Infinite Monkey" theorem which states that a monkey banging on typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will eventually reproduce all of Shakespeare's writings.  If you fed random electrical signals to your stereo receiver for an infinite amount of time, it would eventually play any music you can name.

And now, having transitioned from the nostalgic to the silly and, finally, the completely whimsical, the nice men in the white coats tell me that it's time for my sedation.  I'll try not to stay away for so long this time, faithful readers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Roger Ebert has one of the coolest jobs in the world.  Imagine getting paid to watch movies and then either diss them or praise them or some combination of the two.  Where do you apply for that job?  How come I never see anything like that in the classifieds?

WANTED - Discriminating person to watch and critique movies.  You are a self-starter (meaning that you can drop a DVD into a player and press the "Play" button) with the ability to work under minimum supervision (although you can bring along a friend if you like) and have demonstrated excellent written communication skills (you have to be able to spell "masterpiece" and "travesty" and use both in sentences appropriately).  You are adept at multi-tasking (you may have to submit reviews for two or even three movies in the space of a single week) and can work quickly to meet deadlines.  If you agree that Francis Ford Coppola should have quit while he was ahead and retired after "The Godfather II" and can fathom the plot behind "The Fountain", please respond in writing to...

As sweet as it may sound, I'm sure there are some downsides to a movie critic's job.  For every "Shawshank Redemption" that you get to enjoy there are, no doubt, countless "Son of the Masks" that you have to endure and then attempt to critique with some degree of seriousness.  I suppose that a certain amount of hate mail from fan boys whose "all-time favourite most awesome and misunderstood movie ever" you had the poor sense to publicly shred is also an occupational hazard.  But, still, as cushy jobs go, this one has to rank up there.

There are other occupations which sound like pretty nice deals for those who are lucky enough to land them.  In the same vein as "Movie Critic", I always thought that working on the Quality Assurance team for a computer games developer would likely be a fun way to make a living.  I mean, you get to play computer games all day long!  What's not to like?  On the other hand, those games are, by definition, works in progress, so you're bound to find lots of bugs and things.  If you're an impatient gamer who gets upset the moment things don't work properly, this may not be your cup of tea.  Also, companies that develop games software are notorious task masters, often requiring their staff to work long hours in order to get those games finished and shipped in time for the Christmas market or some other sales deadline.  As with anything else, it's always possible to get too much of a good thing.

I speak from personal experience in this regard.  My very first job after graduating from college was with a software company that created educational games for younger children.  True, we`re not exactly talking about `World of Warcraft`here but I was still programming games of sorts for a living and I really did enjoy the work.  At least for a while, I couldn`t believe that I was actually getting paid to do this.  A few all-nighters spent trying to meet overly-ambitious sales deadlines soon cured me of my euphoria. 

Another appealing career, at least at first glace, would be "Male Porno Star".  Imagine making a living having sex with porno actresses!  It would be like being Charlie Sheen, only getting paid for it, and you could probably pick up extra cash on the side promoting penis enlargement products.  Where do you sign up for that job? 

I wonder if it ever gets old?  It would probably make maintaining any normal relationships somewhat problematic.  I don't know of too many women who are OK with the idea of their mates doing porno stars for a living unless, of course, your girlfriend was in the business as well, in which case you'd have to be just as open-minded about her doing it with other guys - in some cases at the same time that she's doing it with you!  Even if you reached an understanding about that stuff, would you ever have sex off camera just for the fun of it, or would it feel too much like bringing your work home with you?  Or what happens if you have to do a scene with an actress that you don't particularly like or that has annoying habits ("Oh, God, not Jenna Jameson again!  She uses her teeth!")

I`m afraid the sad truth probably is that even the best-sounding jobs can become something of a grind (no pun intended).  Except maybe for that dream Caretaker job that everybody was talking about around 3 years ago where you had to live on an Australian island for six months and blog about the experience.  I`m hard-pressed to think of too many `cons` for that one.  Unless it`s the box jellyfish.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Yabba-Dabba-D'oh!

I was, and still remain, a fan of The Flintstones.  I watched the shows at every opportunity during my boyhood years.  I'm certain I've seen every episode multiple times, and I own the first two seasons in the form of DVD boxed sets.  I still like to watch them from time to time.

I recently watched the episode entitled "Fred Flintstone: Before and After", which aired during the first season.  In this episode, Fred appears in a weight loss commercial for the "Fat Off Reducing Method", which extols the benefits of its product by offering the typical "Before" and "After" comparison.  Fred is mislead into thinking that he is to be the "After" model.  In fact, when the commercial airs, during a show called "The Happy Hour" ("sixty minutes of spine-tingling suspense guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat") there's Fred as "Mr. Before", with all his family and friends watching, much to his humiliation.

Incensed, Wilma threatens to sue the sponsor, report him to the FCC and slap his face.  To pacify her, the sponsor makes a deal with Fred, offering him one thousand dollars if he can manage to shed twenty-five pounds within a month.  Fred loses weight, makes some easy money, and the Fat Off Reducing Method gets some great publicity.  Everybody wins!

Fred agrees and the challenge begins with him stepping onto a scale on a televised weigh-in to record his starting weight.  As Fred mounts the scale, an official from the Bureau of Weights and Measures (if it had been the Bureau of Measures and Weights they could have called themselves the BMW for short, or maybe just "The Beemer") announces that Fred weights two hundred and twenty-five pounds. 

It was right then that I had one of those eye-opening moments of truth that we all dread.  I could stand to lose some weight myself.  In fact, the last time that I stepped on a scale, I weighed ... well, let's just say that it was more than two hundred and twenty-five pounds.  "Oh my God!" I cried, "I'm fatter than Fred Flintstone!  When did I get fatter than Fred Flintstone?"

Unfortunately, my exclamation was overheard by my daughter, who helpfully added "...and he eats freakin' dinosaurs!"  Jessica's very supportive like that.  Obviously, she still hasn't forgiven me for my previous post.  What goes around truly comes around.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Unplugged

I must have been one of the last hold-outs when cell phones started to become omnipresent.  This may seem strange, considering that I work in the technology sector.  The thing is, I don't agree that being reachable at all hours wherever I happen to be and no matter what I happen to be doing is necessarily a good thing.  Even back in the day when cell phones were still considered "car phones", I didn't particularly want one.  For one thing, I was never much into status symbols (which is mostly what they were back then) and my attitude was "Anybody who's trying to reach me will simply have to wait until I get to where I'm going".

I finally did cave in and got a cell phone, when I decided that having one in the car, for use in emergencies, might not be such a bad idea after all, but my cell phone is a very basic one.  It's not a "smart" phone.  I have no texting plan.  I have a minimal plan that gives me 60 minutes of calling time per month and I never use all of those.  The phone stays in my car at all times; I don't carry it around with me.  If I'm not at home or at work or in my car, then I'm out doing something and I probably don't want to talk to you (unless I happen to be with you, of course).

The first cell phone that I bought had no camera.  My current one does because it's impossible to find a cell phone these days that doesn't have a camera.  But I'm a simple soul.  I don't want to take pictures with my phone, or shoot video, or play music, or send or receive e-mail.  I just want a phone, plain and simple.  If I want to take pictures, I have a camera for that.  If I want to play music, I have an iPod and a CD player for that.  I just want my phone to be a phone.

I'm particularly irritated by people who constantly have their noses in their smart phones or iPads.  The implication is that my company isn't quite stimulating enough so they need some other distraction to stave off the boredom.  I know people who can never seem to just sit and watch a show or a movie on TV.  They always have to be texting or e-mailing someone at that same time.  Some call this "multitasking".  When did doing three things at once become a good thing?  I think there's a lot to be said for focusing all your attention on one thing at a time. 

I've noted before on this blog that I refuse to be assimilated into the Facebook continuum, and I continue to resist.  I don't need to know what every passing acquaintance is up to at every moment, and I don't need everybody knowing what's happening in my life.  In a world so outwardly obsessed with privacy (even your garbage collector probably has an official "privacy policy" for you to review if you only ask him), we sure do willingly surrender our privacy pretty easily these days. 

My daughter once posted on her Facebook wall that, on her birthday, the first thing that her grandmother did was to call her a slob for not brushing her hair.  I didn't read this myself.  It got back to me via an in-law who heard it from a second cousin.  I couldn't for the life of me understand why Jessica would want to broadcast that sort of thing to the world.  It reflects poorly on both her grandmother (who comes across as an insensitive nagging harpy) and herself (a slob who apparently doesn't brush her hair, not to mention a whiner).  I feel justified in mentioning it on my blog now, considering the whole world apparently already knows anyway (yes, I know you what you were thinking!)

The internet and wireless technology have made the world a much smaller place.  Global communication can be almost instantaneous.  This has its advantages.  But, in such an environment, we need more than ever to be mindful about what information we're broadcasting to the world.  There are some things that are best kept to ourselves, or at least within intimate circles.  And there's something to be said for unplugging from the collective (at risk of overusing an admittedly nerdy Star Trek analogy) from time to time and taking time for some reflection, meditation or even just some intimate one-on-one time with a close friend or loved one.