Sunday 28 February 2016

Lost memories

I have been taking pictures since I got my first Kodak Brownie as a youngster. If memory serves, that so-simple-even-a-child-can-use-it camera took 127 format film with 12 photos on a roll. Developing and printing cost a small fortune and took a couple of weeks for the local drug store to ship the film off to a lab somewhere in Toronto or Montreal for processing.

I still recall having exposed rolls of film on my dresser just waiting until I had saved enough of my allowance to have them developed, and then the excitement of tearing open the envelope, while still in the drugstore, for a quick first view of the printed pictures, weeks after the photo was originally taken. Black and white was the only option; colour film may have been available in that format back then but the cost was beyond my very modest budget.

Black and WhiteOne of my favourite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Over the intervening years my interest has waxed and waned as it relates to ‘serious’ (as opposed to snap-shot) photography, often peaking just after I acquired a new ‘serious’ camera or lens, and then tapering off as other interests intruded on my time. Cameras and formats changed. Kodak Instamatics were followed by Olympus and then Nikon SLR’s. Black and white was replaced first by colour prints, then 35mm Kodachrome slides, and then back to prints. Commercial processing was replaced by a basement darkroom for several years. And then eventually film was replaced by digital media.

As a consequence I have stacks of photo albums bursting at the seams, many thousands of digital images on my computer, envelopes full of negatives, and tray upon tray of Kodachrome slides.

Of all the formats the least convenient were the slides. While I liked the sharpness of the direct image and the brightness of the colours they were a pain to view.  It was always such a production to drag out the projector and set up the screen that the pictures would languish for months and years without ever being seen.

Last year I finally decided to do something with those slides and embarked on what became a lengthy project to convert them to digital. Sadly, 40+ years of storage had not been gentle on them. Dust, fading, and colour-shifting meant that many of the images required significant post-processing to make them even marginally acceptable. Many  were beyond saving.

But I am now done. The projector has been recycled to someone going through the same exercise, I have a few more cubic feet of cleared space in my storage closet, and many lost memories have resurfaced. For I came to realise that was the ultimate value of the exercise, to travel back in time and relive past experiences, childhood pets, first cars, ski and motorcycle trips, and good times with friends and relatives – some of whom are, sadly, no longer with us.

So get out those albums, browse your photo files, even drag out the projector if necessary, but enjoy the images you took way back then; they are of no value stuck away in the dark – digital or otherwise.

Thursday 25 February 2016

I’m sorry, but I really am really sorry.

SorryOne of the Canadian stereotypes is that we apologize too much. I don’t know if the stereotype is accurate or not, although I did once apologize to a door frame after I walked into it.

True or not, saying “sorry” is mostly harmless; an interjection used the way some would say “uh-huh” or “sure”. That is until politicians start to throw the word around. Then it takes on a totally different significance.

This week Ontario’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, felt it necessary to offer an apology on behalf of the Ontario government for legislation passed back in 1912. Yes, 1912 - 104 years ago. ( Interestingly the provincial government of the day wasn’t even the Liberal Party (currently represented by Wynne) but the old Conservative Party under Sir James Whitney.

This is not the first time Canadian governments have apologized lately. In 2006 the Harper Conservatives apologized to Chinese Canadians on behalf of “the people and government of Canada” for a head tax that was applied to Chinese migrants from 1885 to 1923. In 2008 the same government apologized for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident where  a number of Sikh would-be immigrants were rejected by Canada and the ship forced to return to India.

The common denominator in all these occurrences (and there are many others) is that the apology is generally offered on behalf of people who were not responsible to people who were not affected. And they often include some form of compensation paid for by taxpayers who weren’t even born at the time of an event which ethics are now being evaluated against a 21st century standard. Sadly, with no statute of limitations on apologies, these crop up frequently as various grudge-bearing special interest groups lobby any politician seeking electoral support.

But let me ask you this: When was the last time you heard a sitting politician stand up in public and apologize on behalf of themselves and their government for their own bad policies, ill-considered laws, illegal wars, lapses in fiduciary responsibility, or even borderline taxpayer fraud? Never. Until they do the issuance of these pro-forma, belated apologies for events that took place long, long ago in a far, far different world will continue to be meaningless vote-getting gestures earning yet more so-what shrugs.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Fly the not-so-friendly skies

DeltaIt wasn’t long after I read David’s (Life on two wheels – the scoot commute) rant about his experience at the airport with United Airlines trying to get to Tampa that I came across this item in the Economist.

That’s right folks, you now have an even lower class of air travel than you thought was possible. Don’t like all that luxurious leg room you get in economy? Now you can travel basic economy and be assured of one of the most uncomfortable seats in the airplane – which one will be a surprise when you check in. No cancellations, no changes, no upgrades, and don’t even think about sitting beside a travelling companion.

The only thing they haven’t announced yet is that instead of snacks you get to lick the salt from the insides of the empty crisp packets passed back from business class. With water.

I can’t wait for Granny class: a rocking chair strapped to the fuselage. Wind goggles extra.

As the article stated, the traveler has no one to blame but himself, willing to put up with less and less service to save a few bucks on a flight – probably equal to the amount they spent in the terminal restaurant because the rock-bottom fare doesn’t include an in-flight meal. I’m not suggesting everyone should travel Business or First Class, but this drive to the bottom with cheaper and cheaper fares, crappier connections, and terrible service makes me glad I no longer spend most of my days either flying somewhere or returning home.

Politics – Theatre for the simple-minded?

As a long time follower of politics I have become increasingly disturbed by the dumbing down of political discourse. Perhaps it’s the ubiquitous 15-second sound bite on the evening news, or the relentless politics of fear and division, or the 24 hour news cycle (the media have to fill all that time with something – anything), or the myriad other societal upheavals and changes, but never have so many people supported so many politicians who have so little of substance to offer.
China.” Response of a young Trump supporter when asked who would pay for the wall The Donald wants to erect to keep out illegal immigrants to the US. After prompting he then tried, “Mexico?”
While the scene playing out now in the US with the presidential primaries is, without doubt, plumbing previously unimagined depths of extremism and intolerance, and stupidity, last fall’s election campaign in Canada was little better. The Conservative Party campaigned, in part, based on implementing a “barbaric practices snitch line” and limiting the freedoms of those who were “not like us”. Although the brain trust was careful not to put it in quite those terms the vast majority of Canadians understood and rejected their politics of fear. But they still enjoy a significant following who feel that their own lives would be immeasurably better if the government would only restrict the rights of “the others”.
“You’re a lying piece of shit.” Conservative supporter screams at a reporter attempting to ask questions about a fraud trial involving a Conservative Senator.
What is most frightening about all of this is that a single overly simplistic hot button issue resonates with so many of our fellow citizens. There is no room, nor desire it seems, for subtlety or nuance. The average voter’s support can apparently be bought by a well-timed pull  on the political equivalent of a fire alarm.
“You’re either with us or you’re with the child pornographers.” Vic Toews, then Member of Parliament, when challenged about his proposed bill to allow for increased surveillance of electronic communications. Wedge politics remain their stock in trade.
We have become so fractured as a society, so ensconced in our tiny insular camps, so frightened and disdainful of each other’s opinions that  it is virtually impossible to have a reasoned political conversation any more. Now the typical response one gets is, “Well so-and-so is an idiot/ bleeding heart/ closet Muslim/ terrorist supporter/ coward/ Lieberal/ Repugnican/ Socialist/ Fascist …” . And the list goes on, with an entire policy platform and world view neatly summed up in a single, usually pejorative, noun or adjective by a citizen who, while unable to see beyond their own shallow, biased understanding, is totally convinced of the righteousness of their position.
Positive, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one's voice.” (Ambrose Bierce)
The conversation, such as it is, allows for no alternate viewpoints, leaves no room for compromise, no space in which to moderate positions or share insights. It is tribal in nature with its with-us-or-against-us mentality, even more restrictive in that it is often based on a single policy plank, or worse, something they read on Facebook.

We are losing the ability – and have almost certainly lost the desire – to discuss and share viewpoints on subjects critical to our own futures and those of our children and, as a result we all, as the philosopher Joseph de Maistre opined back in the 1700s, “get the government we deserve”.

And we, as a supposedly advanced society, are the weaker for it.

As Mencken said, “For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution and it is always wrong.” If only we could understand that and act accordingly.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Walking by moonlight

It’s nippy at -12°C but the air is absolutely still with not a breath of movement.  A nearly-full moon hangs high in a deep black sky, a sky so clean and crisp that Orion, the hunter, stands majestic, unaffected by the brightness.

I’m out walking the grand-dog. We have no need for artificial light; the moonlight reflecting off a fresh snowfall is more than adequate to see by. We walk through patches of light and dark as the trees cast long, sharp shadows across the road. I know that deer, coyotes, and even wolves sometimes use this path at night, especially when the snow is deep, but we see no other living creature. Nor do we hear any. My footsteps crunching on the packed snow are the only sound; even the dog is silent as he pads along beside me.

It’s winter as city-dwellers never get to experience. And it’s truly magical.

Sunday 14 February 2016


This is one of those beautiful winter days we like to brag about – clear blue sky, fresh snow on the ground, idyllic. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves as we try to justify living in a place where you can freeze your ass off for six months of the year.

Yup, idyllic. Until you check the temperature.


For any of you who are metrically challenged, that’s –20F, or –35F with the wind chill. Good news is, tomorrow is supposed to be warmer.

Makes you want to hunker down in front of the fire with a good book and the tipple of your choice to wait it out. But the wood box is empty as are the bird feeders. The wind has blown drifts across the driveway that must be cleared. And it’s Sunday which means a dump run to clear the trash and recycle bins – both of which are overflowing because yesterday, when it was even colder, I spent the day purging some of the unneeded and unused stuff I had collected over the years. I mean, who really needs motorcycle magazines going back to 2006, 6 different large print phone books which contain no one’s number any more ‘cause everyone has a cell, and South Carolina golf brochures from 5 years ago? And that was just from the bottom couple of shelves in my office.

Now it seems like I'm rambling just to avoid the inevitable.

Time to bundle up.

Stay warm everyone and remember, this too will end. Eventually.

Tuesday 9 February 2016


Call it woolgathering, lollygagging, or just plain daydreaming, it’s something we don’t do often enough. Hardly surprising when we think back on the number of times we got our knuckles rapped in grade school for sitting and staring out the window on a nice spring day. Or the times the boss found us seemingly mesmerized by the blank wall in front of our desk and asked if we didn’t have anything better to do. We have been trained to think of it as wasted time, non-productive time.

And in today’s fast-paced world  we need no knuckle rap or scowling boss – an external enviroment populated with smart phones, email, tablets, iPods, a perpetually-on television and/or radio ensures we rarely have any quiet time, time to sit back and think. It’s go, go, go all the time.

But the fact is this little guy has it right. It’s good for us to spend time with our heads above the clouds. Improved productivity, better overall health, enhanced memory, improved relationships, more creativity are but a few of the documented benefits that can arise from daydreaming. 

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to ‘the nothing box’. Mark Gungor is a marriage expert who has a hilarious take on men’s brains versus women’s brains, one of the basic tenets being that men’s brains contain a ‘nothing box’ where men’s thoughts typically go when fishing, for example. And while he plays on crass stereotypes and broad generalizations there is, in spite of what we’d like to think in a politically correct world, a nugget of truth in what he says. (Check it out here:

But my take is slightly different. I don’t see it so much as an empty box, but more of an incubator of ideas, sort of a box containing a primordial ooze where random thoughts bubble to the surface. Most will burst and disappear into the ether without leaving an impression, but every so often one of those bubbles will contain a gem, a prize to be captured, cherished, and placed in its own box for a more detailed exploration at some later time. Would that same idea have surfaced while you were listening to AC-DC’s Thunderstruck? Or while watching episode 485 of CSI Miami? Probably not.

So go forth and gather wool – it’s good for you. And the next time you’re standing in the shower thinking about nothing in particular except perhaps that irritating ear worm you heard on the radio at breakfast and you get a sudden brainwave for a new project, a brilliant insight into the human condition, or finally recall what other roles that actor in last night’s movie played, just remember it’s all because you were spending some time in your nothing box.

(No sheep were harmed in the production of this post.)

Saturday 6 February 2016

The cat man

Last Thursday Dan Smith, a 65-year-old retiree using a cane and carrying a plastic bag containing his meds turned himself in to Gatineau police to begin serving an 11-day sentence for refusing to pay a fine for having an unlicensed cat.

It turns out our hero was separated from his wife and living in Ottawa, but he frequently visits her in her home across the river in Gatineau. That’s where he got nabbed.

One day Dan answers the door and there’s a bylaw officer there who claims he has an unlicensed cat. “I don’t have a cat” he says, “There’s a stray that comes by periodically and we sometimes feed it. But it’s not our cat.”

“Too bad” says the officer. “You feed it, it’s your cat.” And Dan’s given 10 days to purchase a $30 tag for the cat. “Not my cat” he says and ignores the warning.

Ten days later the bylaw officer is back, with 2 police officers in tow, and issues a $100 ticket for not licencing the stray cat.

Dan says, “Not my cat; I’m not paying.” and goes to court to fight the ticket.

At court he presents ID that shows he lives at a different address. His ex-wife confirms that Dan doesn’t actually live at the house where the ticket was issued, and that it’s a feral cat that she occasionally feeds. Doesn’t matter, says the judge, and hands him a bill for $326 that covers the original fine plus court costs. Or jail time.

At this point our hero really digs in his heels and refuses to pay, so jail it is. His ex-wife doesn’t seem to mind the jail option. “Maybe I’ll have a rest for a few days” she says.

And that’s how Mr. Smith ended up surrendering to police last Thursday, which was when he got the first bit of good news - he was only going to have to serve 3 days instead of 11. He spent Thursday night in an overcrowded cell (3 inmates, 2 beds) where he was treated like “a rock star”, and then Friday got the second bit of good news – due to overcrowding at the jail he was being kicked out to make room for other scofflaws who were arriving to serve weekend sentences.

Apparently his ex-wife has since licensed the feral cat.

And that’s your tax dollars at work. Pathetic.


Wednesday 3 February 2016

Rrroll Up The Rim (It’s a Canadian thing….)

Anyone who follows my posts knows that I’m an unapologetic Tim Hortons fan. In fact I believe that anyone who does not frequent Timmies deserves to have their Canadian citizenship questioned. I mean that would be tantamount to being an American and not being a rabid football fan. It just shouldn’t happen. But I digress.

Like all fast food outlets, Tims is struggling with the issue of waste – cups, lids, styrofoam containers, napkins, etc. – that litters the landscape around such establishments. One part of the solution is to offer reusable travel mugs for sale. Selling merchandise is a revenue stream, but it also helps to cut waste when people reuse their mugs. Great idea. In fact the Tim Hortons website even advertises their travel mugs as being a way to “Help reduce waste.”

Hold on, not so fast.

IMG_20160203_161209031Right now Tim Hortons has one of their periodic promotions underway. Called Rrroll up the rim, the idea is that every paper cup sold represents a contest entry and has a potential prize notification hidden under the rolled rim of the cup, anything from free coffee to a Honda Civic (but not very many of those). It must be a successful promotion for them because they’ve been doing it for 30 years, and Mac’s Convenience Stores have now copied the idea with their Flip The Lip promotion.

Here’s where it gets stupid. When I stopped at the drive-thru window today and presented my travel mug for filling the server gave me my mug back (filled) and also handed me a new paper cup “So you can roll up the rim.”

So now, even though I am using a travel mug, I also have a completely unused (except for the rolled up rim – and, no, I didn’t win anything) paper cup to dispose of. Makes absolutely no sense. Why not have a scratch card or something similar so those of us who use travel mugs can still participate but not at the cost of additional trash?

Well I posed that question to Tim Hortons some time ago and here is a part of their response:
We have investigated the option of producing an alternative contest entry form to replace the hot drink paper cup.  In performing this assessment, we have determined that producing an alternative contest entry form (such as a scratch card) may actually increase our paper waste because it does not decrease the number of hot drink cups printed.  Our current system allows our hot drink cups to serve a 'double purpose'. (i.e. as a drink container and as an entry form)
There’s an obvious fallacy in their argument in that they seem to be saying they will print the same number of cups whether people reuse travel mugs or not, and therefore, using a travel mug does not, in fact, “Help reduce waste.” Clearly not the case.

Saving the world is really hard some days. Time for a nap.