26 January, 2011

Fathers are like heartbeats

(UPDATE) Dad is home and resting comfortably. (He called me and said he'd "split some wood and shovelled the driveway"--his driveway is long enough that shovelling it is out of the question, heart attack or no--and when I began to express some misgivings, he laughed and said he was joking).
------------------------------


Fathers are like heartbeats.

Always there, sustaining, essential to life; and yet nearly always in the background, away from conscious thought, easy to take for granted.

************

Ken was shovelling off a friend's porch when the pain hit. Indigestion, he thought. Pulled muscle, he thought. In the back of his mind--in his heart, you might say--he knew those diagnoses were unlikely, yet he clung to them ferociously for a time. Indigestion was nothing to be afraid of. A pulled muscle wouldn't abort his trip to Florida less than two weeks away, a trip he and his wife were eagerly looking forward to.
He drove the short distance home, pulled the car into the driveway, and sat, motionless, thinking and trying not to think. The pain was really quite bad.
At the nursing station down the road, he was given an ECG. Clear as a bell. Yet the nurse was concerned. When a patient who is also a friend presents with chest pains, concern is only prudent, no matter what the ECG might say.
An air ambulance arrived, landing on a heliport that Ken himself had helped establish some years ago. Twenty minutes later, Ken found himself at Sudbury Regional Hospital.

**************

I was sitting in my living room when the phone rang. I looked at the television screen's call display and recognized my father's cell phone number, which alarmed me. Dad never calls from his cell. Something must be wrong.
"Hey, dad, how are you?"
"Could be better."
"Sorry, was that--" Could be better? He said couldn't be better, right?
"Had a heart attack. I think it's because the Leafs won the game."
"Very funny, Dad. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, I'm calling from the hospital." From Emerg, I later learned. "It was just a little one, nothing to worry about. Don't even think about coming up here, I'm okay, there's nothing you can do, they're doing an operation on Monday to put some stents in and I'll be out soon after."
The conversational autopilot engaged as I tried to make headway though the thicket of wrongness I'd just heard. "Just a little one"--is that like a little bit pregnant? A minor war? A little bit dead?
"Nothing to worry about". Yeah, right. Why do the people I love always insist on saying that? Anyone with a shred of humanity would worry, given this particular information.
"Don't even think of coming up here." Does that mean "don't come up"? Or, more likely, "get your ass up here, don't stop to think about it, your dad's dying"?
"There's nothing you can do". That's the only unambiguous and completely truthful thing and goddamnit it hurts more than the rest of this put together. There's never anything you can do.
Sleep did not come easily that night.

****************

Saturday morning. Visiting hours, the first of the day. Ken's beloved wife Heather was chatting with him when a charley horse hit without warning. Ken grimaced, and tried to stretch his leg out and massage it. The damned hospital bed restricted his movements. Stretch. Just a little m--

The pain was sudden and huge. Unimaginable. It was as if a tombstone had fallen across his chest, squeezing the life from his body. That's what you get when you take your heart for granite.
I'm going to die.
I don't care. It fucking hurrrrrrrts---

--hurrrrrts-- The pain grew, suffusing everything else.

Nurses rushed in, followed an unknowable time later by a cardiac surgeon. "Couldn't wait 'til Monday, could you?" he asked amiably.
They placed four stents on the left side of Ken's heart: two at the front, two behind. The two on the right could wait until Monday. Ken was conscious through the operation, but not very aware of it.

******************
I was still torn over whether or not I should bus up to Sudbury. At work, I explained the situation and asked if I could just place some orders and go home. "Of course", my boss said.
On my way out the door, the phone rang. "Ken, line two..." came over the P.A. and the dreadball settled more deeply in my gut. Nobody calls on Saturday morning. This will be bad news.
And it was. "Your dad's had another attack, a bigger one," Eva said. "Are you able to come home?"
I hopped online as soon as I got in the door and checked the bus schedules. The 12:30 bus would get to Toronto at 2:05, giving me ample time to make the 4:00 bus to Sudbury, which would arrive at 9:05. The trouble was making that 12:30 bus.
I packed hurriedly and haphazardly, fighting fatigue and recalling that windchills in Sudbury were forecast to approach minus 50. Among the things I forgot: deodorant, shaving cream and a razor. Eva drove me downtown just in time. "Try to sleep on the bus," she counselled.
As if. I envy you people who can sleep on busses and planes and trains. As for myself, my bed doesn't move. Even without the added weight of worry, I'm unable to sleep in anything that does.
Thoughts circled in my head like a flock of crazed vultures. Seemingly everybody I know in Dad's generation is, if not at Death's door, at least approaching the freeway exit that leads to Death's neighbourhood. Anticipatory grief is hard enough when there's only one person involved. I had a nightmarish image I couldn't shake: playing some grotesque version of Whack-A-Mole where the moles were the bodies of people I loved and each whack of the mallet would tumble them into coffins which would sink out of sight.
Greyhounds are so called for a reason. Those busses fly. This one flew north into deepening cold and roaring wind, depositing me at the Sudbury bus depot twenty minutes early..not quite early enough to catch the last visiting hour of the day.
My stepmother Heather, my aunt Dawna and her partner Barry plucked me out of a frigid parking lot. (I'd stepped outside for some air and the door had locked behind me.) It had been a while since I'd experienced this level of cold: minus 32, windchill minus 47, and if that won't wake you up, nothing will. The infusion gave me just enough energy to get to the hotel across the road from the hospital, where I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

********************

I think the worst moment I had over the past five days occurred Sunday morning, just prior to the first visiting period (9:30-10:00) of the day. Sudbury Regional Hospital is huge. It broods on its hill, looking for all the world as if it might gobble up the rest of the city one day for a snack. There's no denying a building like that. It's not a hospital but a HOSPITAL, and it has swallowed my father.
The elevator spoke to me on my way to the fifth floor cardiac step-down unit. "Going up...nous montons." Sudbury is a bilingual city. What would Dad look like? How would he really be feeling? You can count on Ken Breadner Sr. to make light of any situation: I've learned over the years to read the barometric pressure inside my Dad's skull by the quantity and quality of his jokes. "Fifth floor. Cinquieme etage. Going down. Nous descendons. I left the elevator burbling to itself. The vultures cawed in my head.
They're really strict at that step-down unit as to when visiting hours begin. 9:30, not a minute before. You have to pick up the phone in a tiny waiting room and seek permission to enter. Like a dark castle, I thought.
I entered the room, armed with a Sunday SUN. "That's m'boy", Dad said, grabbing the paper eagerly. I relaxed. Dad looked like...Dad.
"You didn't have to do this to get me up here", I said.
He chuckled. "Worked, didn't it?" The smile ran away from his face. "Thank you for coming," he said. "I appreciate it."
"I couldn't not come, Dad", I said. "I just wanted to see you and make sure you're okay."
"Well, now you've seen me, and I'm fine. Bye", he said, before laughing, grabbing his angiogram pics and showing me the blockages that had threatened to kill him. We talked for a while, father to son. "This is hereditary," he said. "Now you know. Watch out." He was extremely happy with the quality of his care, and we reflected on how lucky he was. "That second one," he said, "that was a big one. I was two, maybe three minutes away."
"Well, Dad, if you're going to have a big heart attack, I guess you couldn't pick a better place."
He talked about how this had been sneaking up on him for months, if not years. Scary stuff. Then he started goofing off, deliberately holding his breath to set off the alarms, musing about fastening the blood pressure cuff to his groin, just being Dad.
His operation, he told me, was postponed until Tuesday. I visited him throughout the day, and his only complaints were the lack of a television and the discomfort of a hospital bed.

*********************

Monday morning. "You're free to go", the doctor said.
Ken blanched a little. Still, this is a doctor, and doctors know what they're talking about, right?
"But, the two other stents", he said.
"Not necessary", said the doctor. "We'll discharge you later today."
This was just shy of 9:30, just before Heather went in for the first visiting period. I stayed out in the waiting room for twenty minutes, and so I didn't get to be treated to the sight of my stepmom on the warpath. A pity, really. I would have loved to lend a voice. Not that I needed to.
"My husband is not leaving here until the other two stents are put in", she said. "He almost died."
"Oh, they always say that they almost died," sniffed the cardiologist. Heather straightened up and glared. "I was right here", she said in her nurse's brook-no-bullshit tone, "and he nearly died. He was two, maybe three minutes away. There are two stents on the left front and two on the back and we were told he still needs two on the right side."
"The right side?" asked the doctor, as if he'd momentarily forgotten the difference between left and right, and went to confer with the cardiac surgeon. "The wife is under the impression that you are still going to put two stents in", he said, still in Heather's earshot, leaving her bristling at under the impression. As if she was delusional or something. "I am", said the surgeon. "I will". The doctor returned, only a little chastened. The surgery was back on.

********************

Dad came through the second operation just fine. They only placed one more stent, as it turned out. He now faces cardiac rehab and a fairly radical lifestyle adjustment I, quite frankly, am not convinced he fully appreciates. Dad is a helping person. He spent his working years helping society as a police officer, retired from that to become a volunteer firefighter, and he remains a Lion. There's nothing he wouldn't do for his legion of friends...but now there's lots he can't do. Hell, he can't even drive for a month. That's a nontrivial issue in a place, as he calls it, "fifty miles from nowhere."

But as he'd also say, it beats the alternative.

My thanks to Heather, for putting me up and putting up with me in the midst of a very trying situation. To my Aunt Dawna and Barry, for being there, for supporting Dad and Heather now and in the time to come. To Heather's sister Donna (and you don't have to tell me how confusing that gets) for the same and for the laughs you got out of me when I didn't feel much like laughing. To Annie Palamar, who sent Dad to the right place, and everyone else who chipped in along the journey. And to my Dad, for still being there. Fathers are like heartbeats, and I promise to pay attention to mine.

19 January, 2011

This post is so 2005

I wonder just how long it'll take before I'm fluent in teenspeak.
Despite being surrounded by teens eight hours a workday and thus being in total immersion, I don't seem to have the lingo down pat. On those few occasions when I text somebody, I almost always spell out entire words, no matter how complicated they are and in spite of the fact I'm cursing at the tiny keyboard on my phone.

That keyboard? Still larger than a BlackBerry's. This being Waterloo, Ontario, the home of RIM, nearly every teen at work has a BlackBerry, and so I've played with one a bit. My thumb covers four keys. How anybody can type on that thing without the aid of a pin, I'll never know.

I can appreciate the need for abbreviation--kids think they live such hectic lives, after all--but some of the things that get abbreviated boggle the mind. Like "ily".
Does "ily" make your heart go pitter-pat? It should, because it means "I love you". Wow. You've saved all of five keystrokes and removed any trace of emotion from the three most emotion-laden words in the English language.

Related: <3
I see this in Facebook statuses all the time, and it still trips me up. "Lovely time tonight <3"...lovely time tonight, but less than three...huh?
Maybe I don't see the heart because, unlike the majority of the teen population, my head's not screwed on sideways. I've begrudgingly accepted the simple smiley :-) [or in my case, 8-)], on account of it's been littering the Net for more than twenty years now and doesn't seem to want to go away. But XD? What the hell is XD? (For any other adults that might be reading, it's a laughing face. See it? Me, neither. I see an X and a D. And if I turn my head ninety degrees, I can maybe grasp that the D is an open mouth, but what is a sideways X supposed to signify? And how come everybody else just automagically sees what they're supposed to, while I toddle along exing and deeing myself into a major headache?

The acronyms are spreading. You're apt to see OMG on the cover of Cosmo nowadays, which probably pisses off any atheist that reads Cosmo and incidentally should piss off anybody who doesn't want to sound like a dumb blonde. (That said, last year I ran across OMGWTFBBQ, which I thought rather inspired.)
And then there's number creep. I first saw this abomination in song titles: Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U and Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi (and by the bye, Avril, the word is "boy"). Do people still think they're being clever or something? It just reeks of high school (sample yearbook quote: "2 good 2 B 4 gotten")--and well maybe that shouldn't be surprising--these kids are in high school, after all--when I was in high school I couldn't wait to get out of it and didn't want anyone to know I was in it.

Words, damnit, I deal in words. I think in words, I speak in words, and I write words. In short, I appear to be a walking anachronism.




16 January, 2011

Screaming Zellers

As a Canadian, I'm usually uncomfortable when American corporate entities buy up iconic Canadian companies. It happens all the time, and it's far too blatant a reminder that Canada is not the sovereign country it imagines itself to be.
But I cheered when I found out Target bought the leases on 220 Zellers stores. I cheered long and loud. Not because I love Target (though I did appreciate the Targets I have visited in the U.S): because I hate Zellers.

We have two Zellers stores in this city, and I have found myself in a number of other locations throughout Ontario. Almost without exception, they are dark and dingy. Random piles of boxes clutter the floors. Bare shelves dot the store, showing the places where items pictured in the weekly flyer would be if they had any in stock. And some of the worst customer service experiences I've ever had have been at Zellers stores. It's almost as if staff are trained in how to ignore customers.

I remember the time I decided to improve the atmosphere in the Bridgeport Zellers. We were standing in line, ready to check out. Without warning--indeed, without consent, in fact without my immediate knowledge, an unbelievably toxic cloud issued from my nether regions. It rapidly filled my pants, spilling out into the open air and very shortly hitting my nose, which recoiled in abject horror.
Words cannot express how noxious this cloud was. It smelled like slowly baking Death. I tried to breathe and found I couldn't; my wife standing with me, suddenly commenced to choking.

An idiosyncrasy I must mention here about my darling wife, one of her many endearing qualities: somebody farts, she giggles. She can't help herself. She's been doing it since she was a baby, relaxing in her crib, pffting and giggling to herself.
Now, I have given her many reasons to giggle over our eleven-plus years together. I have driven her from rooms, scowling furiously and giggling in spite of herself. This, however...this was most emphatically NOT FUNNY. It was terribly inappropriate, for one thing. Such smells should be confined to bathrooms, sewage treatment plants, and Lovecraftian night-swamps. They most certainly have no place in department stores, no matter how ill-lit and grungy they may be.

Ever laughed at a funeral?

As the smell, impossibly, worsened, I progressed beyond mortification and into a species of perverse pride. I'd outdone myself this time. Any second now, somebody was going to vomit. It might even be me. This'll be one to tell the grandkids about, I thought.

The laughter boiled up and I bit down on it, hard. What escaped from my clenched lips was a weird teakettle whistling. That'll go with the steam coming out the other end, I thought, and then I was off and chortling, Eva just as unwillingly joining in.
The cashier regarded us suspiciously. Suddenly her nose twitched, and then all she could do was stand there and blink ineffectually as the fetid reek caressed her.
With every unwitting laugh, my sphincter released a tiny puff, adding to the miasma surrounding till seven. There I stood, sputtering from both ends, willing with all my might for the cashier to don breathing apparatus, process our odor...order...and let us get the hell out of there. Which she eventually did, without saying so much as a single word. I couldn't exactly blame her.

We christened that holy terror a "screaming Zeller". It's something of a blessed relief that the store for which that atrocity was named will soon pass out of existence.

There was a time when Zellers was actually a decent place to shop. They had a loyalty program called Club Zed and every Canadian knew "The Lowest Price Is The Law." Meanwhile, their upscale sister The Bay was suffering from hideously inflated pricing and a tired atmosphere. Sometime roughly coincident with Wal*Mart's arrival in Canada, the Bay reinvented itself and all the energy seemed to go out of Zellers, never to return.

As I say, I hate to see Americans take over live Canadian chain stores. But Zellers has been dead for years, and just didn't know it.




Sure Glad Eva's Not A Habs Fan



I am on friendly terms with fans of the following teams:
  • Montreal Canadiens
  • Ottawa Senators
  • Boston Bruins
  • Washington Capitals
  • Colorado Avalance
  • New York Islanders
  • New Jersey Devils
It's fun razzing the Devs and Isles fans...if only because everyone else razzes me to the dogs and back. Every...damn...year.

Another lost season. When the only thing your team is playing for is to minimize the second of the two first round draft picks Boston so eagerly plucked in exchange for Phil Kessel, it kind of weighs on this fan's spirit.
I'm starting to wonder if the Toronto Maple Leaf franchise has an honest-to-God curse on it. As in witchcraft, sorcery, bad voodoo, what have you. It grows mighty tiresome to watch player after mediocre player leave Toronto to blossom somewhere else; it's even sadder when players who tore up the league as rookies (cf. Phaneuf, Dion) come to Toronto and proceed to fail to live up to even modest expectations.

I'll be giving my annual report card at season's end, but I'll tell you right now there are only three players, to my mind, earning every penny of their paycheques: Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur...all keepers. Burke is eager to upgrade the team, and he has no shortage of offers, but the problem is that most if not all of them are for....Grabovski, Kulemin and/or MacArthur. Maybe Burke can pull another hare out of his hat, but this being Toronto, that hare will just end up in the stew by this time next season.

Oh, the vicissitudes of being a Leaf fan.






Pairing Rather Neatly With The Last Post:

...there has been a recall on the product pictured below:




...due to unacceptably high levels of lead. These are, of course, imported from Pakistan...

09 January, 2011

One Soylent Green, coming up


(click to embiggen)

Sometime soon after I started working in my grocery store, back when parmesan cheese was in the dairy aisle and not above the pasta sauce where it is now, I bristled at the store brand of "parmesan cheese'. It was called "Compliments Value Grated Cheese Product".
That bothered me immensely and still does. Is the word "product" necessary? Isn't everything a product? In a sense yes, but then again, not really: real parmesan cheese would simply say "parmesan cheese". The same way ice cream--which is a frozen dessert--wouldn't be called "frozen dessert", and chocolate milk--which is a dairy beverage--wouldn't be called "chocolate dairy beverage".
(For the record: actual chocolate milk must contain at least 90% milk. Whereas a "chocolate dairy beverage" may contain as little as 51% milk. Much of the rest is "modified milk ingredients"...i.e. fat globules and such. In short, reconstituted milk. Why is this reconstituted milk in our chocolate dairy beverage? Tsk, tsk. In the grocery industry, the answer to any question that starts with "why" is "money". It's cheaper to transport and store fake milk. You haven't noticed the price of chocolate "dairy beverage" any lower, you say. Well, no. That's because our cost hasn't gone down. I can't say for sure where the money's going, but being as there are only three or four companies responsible for most of the items in my dairy aisle, I can guess.)
A few weeks ago, I noticed a new one, on what used to be Black Diamond cheese slices: Black Diamond "Cheddar-style" cheese slices. I don't know when the change happened--could have been years ago, I don't examine my cheese slices for style--but it has.
Now, processed cheese slices, I often joke, are one molecule removed from being plastic garbage bags. That's NOT TRUE, incidentally, but there sure isn't much nutritional value in a processed cheese slice. No matter. Adding the 'style' just accentuates the negative, you know?
I'm kind of scared what I'll see next. Fresh-processed orange-style juicy-juice? Henny's Ovular Eggish Delights? Or how about a label that just says "FOOD"?

08 January, 2011

Obscenity

What a horrible tragedy today in Tucson, AZ.

The "horrible" needs no explanation. Nineteen people shot, six people dead, including a judge and a nine year old girl; a congresswoman critically injured. (As of this writing, it looks as if Gabrielle Giffords will survive a direct headshot. While not a miracle, this is perhaps the only good news in the whole story.)

I must confess I felt an immediate and overpowering urge to join what seems to be everyone else of note and politicize this event. The speed with which this image proliferated


--almost faster than a speeding bullet--compounded my sense of horror at this atrocity. (Yes, those are actual crosshairs, with a helpful list of "targets" for any aspiring wackos out there).

And yet...

I'm sure that Palin and her cotillion will call this an unfortunate coincidence. I'm also sure that in placing little crosshairs over Gifford's district, Palin did not intend that Giffords should actually be shot. Indeed, the most recent news suggests that the attack had nothing to do with Palin's call to arms: the shooter was NOT a Tea Party member, and his online scat reeks of craziness and inherent violence, but doesn't really say anything (coherent, at least) politically.

The left, of course, accused the Tea Partiers before any facts were, or could have been, known. It seemed like a foregone conclusion, after all. The congresswoman's father, when asked if she had any enemies, replied "Yeah...the entire Tea Party". Her office had been vandalized hours after she had voted for Obamacare. A Tea Party member and unsuccessful Arizona Senate candidate had suggested "Second Amendment remedies" to some of America's problems; she presumably would have named Giffords as "a problem".

The facts are being dismissed in some quarters as fast as they come out. Maybe Loughner wasn't a Tea Party member, or even a Republican, but he could have been. Should have been?

In short, the political culture in the United States, and increasingly here in Canada, is deeply disturbed. It seems to me--and I might well be wrong--that in days gone by, it was permissible to disagree with a political opponent and still respect him or her. You could think someone's views were misguided without believing they were stupid, much less evil. I'm as guilty as anyone else: I immediately assumed Loughner was a right winger for many reasons, all of which boil down to well, hey, I disagree with right-wingers . Shameful of me. It's a good thing I held off on blogging. The rush to politicize an obscene tragedy is distasteful in the extreme.

There will always be crazies out there, willing to kill and die in defence of their craziness. That''s not to suggest we couldn't all use a massive injection of civility into our political discourse, only that by itself, such an injection won't stop events like yesterday's.

I WOULD suggest that the ease with which persons with criminal backgrounds can acquire thirty-round Glocks doesn't help matters much. Somehow I doubt the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment to be the cultural touchstone it has become.

I hope Congresswoman Giffords pulls through. I hope that something is learned from the deaths. And I hope we can all take a step back, whenever these awful incidents occur, and not immediately blame our political enemies. In fact, I hope the term 'political enemies' can be retired some time before I die.




07 January, 2011

I'm Weird (Volume 2893)

I have said before that I care little for appearances: we're all gonna be ugly someday, after all. Very few people believe me when I say things like this; if I stress the point, I doth protest too much. So I'm going to give you a few concrete examples.

Armpit/leg hair. I don't shave my pits or my legs and I don't understand for the life of me why women do, or are all but forced to. My wife does, but certainly not because I've asked her to. It's not that I have a preference for the fabled "gorilla my dreams"...I...just...don't...CARE. One way or the other. It's hair, fer Chrissake. What's the big deal?

High heels. I've only mentioned this is passing, but shortly after I moved in with Eva--that happened on our third date, by the way--I found myself cleaning out a closet one day while she was at work. I came across some high heels. Four or five pairs. I threw them in the trash without stopping to imagine possible reactions or indeed my defences should those reactions come to pass. It was just that they were quite clearly garbage, in exactly the way that sandals, flats and boots aren't. High heels are not shoes. They're torture machines that will utterly wreck your body, from the toes on up.
This probably sounds incredible, but I had literally no idea what high heels were for, i.e., attracting men. They certainly don't attract me. I see a woman in high heels and my first thought is wow, what a masochist. I don't find pain sexy, myself, no offense to those of you who do. It never even occurred to me that 99.999% of women would have flipped their lid at my presumption and arrogance: you don't need these anymore, honeybunny, you've got ME now. Never crossed my mind.
Eva asked me, quite calmly, why I had thrown her shoes out. I told her, quite calmly, that they were absolutely the worst possible things she could wear on her feet and that I didn't want to see her hurt herself. Wonder of wonders, she accepted that...told me later she was grateful for it, in fact.

Makeup. It has its place...I suppose. This falls into the same category as the shaving: I don't wear makeup....why should anyone else? I know women who wouldn't dream of leaving their houses each morning without applying makeup. Because without makeup, people see you as you are. The horror.
Now, if you've got a praying-mantis-shaped birthmark or a winking zit and you're off to the job interview or the soiree, well, I can see the point of a little misdirection subtly applied. But I will contend with my dying breath that most women don't need makeup, the same way most men don't.

You get the picture. I don't care about the picture. I think it's pretty just as it is. In short: I'm weird.

06 January, 2011

Have A Nice Day

From the Online Etymology Dictionary, entry for NICE:

late 13c., "foolish, stupid, senseless," from O.Fr. nice "silly, foolish," from L. nescius "ignorant," lit. "not-knowing," from ne-"not" (see un-) + stem of scire "to know." "The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (late 14c.); to "dainty, delicate" (c.1400); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful" (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830). In 16c.-17c. it is often difficult to determine exactly what is meant when a writer uses this word. By 1926, it was pronounced "too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness." [Fowler]
------------------------
I don't have a 'nice' day anymore. Frankly, I don't bother with them. I feel as if I've outgrown the nice day. Let someone else have a few. I've had my share. Why should I be hogging all the really nice ones? So I feel I'm beyond the nice day now. 'Course people still want me to have one. Everybody wants me to have a nice day. "Have a nice day!" "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Would you give me my fuckin' change, please!" Some people are really insistent- "I said have a nice day!"
"Okay, okay goddammit, all right!" That's the trouble with 'have a nice day'; it puts all the pressure on you. Now you've gotta go out and somehow manage to have a good time. All because of some loose lipped cashier. 'Have a nice day'...Maybe I don't feel like having a nice day. Maybe, just maybe, I've had 63 nice days in a row. And, by God, I'm ready for a crappy day. Let someone wish me a crappy day. I never hear that. "Have a crappy day!" That's no problem at all. All you have to do is get up some mornings. There's no planning involved.

--George Carlin, of course

I had a nice (late thirteenth century meaning) day today. Actually, to be nice about it (late fourteenth century meaning), I've had a succession of them. I don't really want to bore you with details--it's mostly just more of the same sort of details you've heard before in my 'Tales From Aisle Ten' posts. Suffice it to say that the Peter Principle is alive and well in my place of employ...as I'm sure it is in yours.

I turned off the World Junior gold medal game last night at the end of the second period and stumbled off to bed. I have to say, given the demonstrated unreliability of Team Canada's goaltending in this tournament, the third period collapse did not surprise me one bit. But you gotta feel bad for Ryan Ellis and Brayden Schenn...not to mention most of the rest of that team. Schenn was playing with a separated shoulder. That's one of the reasons I love hockey so much: no wusses allowed. It's not like soccer, where players get carted off the field if they get a splinter.
This country is appallingly arrogant at times, especially when it comes to hockey. Any of four teams had a legitimate shot at gold in this tourney. The media acknowledged this before the round-robin began, saying that Canada was an underdog this year. And yet...as the games wore on, expectations grew, until gold was the only acceptable outcome. Take a step back from that statement and really look at it. "Gold was the only acceptable outcome". Imagine the pressure.

I'm about to say something vaguely treasonous: I often find myself rooting for the little countries in the World Juniors. Countries like Switzerland and Norway and Kazakhstan. I like to see them score goals. I love to see them throw a scare into a Great Power...even if it's us. After Canada dismantled Norway in the prelims, the Norwegian coach said "look, we have 150 hockey players in our country to draw from." Given that, they played very well, I thought. Sure, their goaltending was awful, but don't blame the goalie: it's not as if he had much access to top-flight training. Besides, Canada's goaltending wasn't all that much better. Not when it counted.

And yet...silver is nothing to sneeze at, no matter how many Canadian players and fans are going around today with runny noses. Congrats to Team Russia, and in particular Vladimir Tarasenko. And congrats to our world juniors, who played their hearts out...

02 January, 2011

And This Is Why I Don't Use Hotmail

...or Gmail, or any other 'cloud'-based email servers. One reason, anyway. Because things have this nasty habit of disappearing..
Not often, mind you. It's not something you can predict. Most emails sent to me from Gmail or Hotmail get through just fine, building my trust bit by bit until I feel I can rely on the cloud to rain on me every single time. And then, inevitably, something important goes poof.
Now, that linked story above is more serious: actual received messages going poof. Neat trick, that. Way to build my confidence.

Time was I used to have nearly infinite patience with computers. That was back in the days of BASIC. Between my place, my dad's, and school, I became relatively fluent in Atari, Commodore and TRS-80 dialects of Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, with a smattering of Apple and IBM BASIC thrown in just because. I still recall hours and hours of transcribing programs from COMPUTE! magazine, then, often, even more hours spent debugging my transcriptions.
Debugging never used to bot her me, much. I viewed it as a challenge. Okay, the computer's not doing what I'm telling it to. Why not? What's it doing instead? There's one wrong character somewhere in this eight hundred lines of code...what is it? Finding and killing bugs was immensely satisfying, a real accomplishment.
That was back in the days when machines required you to learn Computer if you wanted to communicate with them in any meaningful way. Later on, of course, machines learned English--

--well, no, that's not really what happened. Instead, the Computer language morphed into some strange pictograph system and the primary communication device changed from a keyboard into a rodent--

(have I ever mentioned how much I HATE mice?)

I pretty much gave up on the Computer language when it abandoned all semblance of English. Some rekindling occurred in second year university, when I discovered the Unix shell. One of my programs ran to over five thousand lines of code. It didn't do much except make it considerably easier to avoid going to classes where professors would read textbooks at me.

Then the Net came along and caught me but good. I abandoned all pretence of using a computer for anything useful, instead spending more time than you'd believe surfing. Search my name on Usenet and you'll discover almost fifteen hundred posts, many of them quite lengthy.

I said all that to say this: If a computer's not doing what I want it to, I no longer feel it's my fault. And I have no patience whatsoever any more. With any computer issue, my immediate reaction isn't gee, I wonder why this is happening and how I can fix it but Eva, what the hell is going on here? Can I scrub the bathroom and suck out the cesspool while you restore this to its proper state?

I'm a creature of habit, and one of the habits drilled into me by long years of dial-up access is: don't open any more Web pages than you have to. And since Gmail and Hotmail require you to open a new webpage with every action, that can simply be restated as don't use Gmail or Hotmail.
Honestly, I don't get the appeal. I've been told the best thing about Gmail is that you can log into your mailbox from any computer anywhere. Hell, I can do that two different ways--either directly, from my ISP's home page, or using a nifty-neato site called mail2web. It's kind of like buying bottled water when you've got a perfectly good tap. At least Hotmail's free. Then again, you get what you pay for, right?

I could maybe understand an auxiliary Hotmail account to deal with sites that contributed to spam...if I ever got spam. I think maybe I've seen maybe three spam messages in the past two years.

And now we've got Hotmail burning up messages. Definitely not my fault. Definitely not something I'd care to risk (although I have to say, leaving your only copy of something important way up in the cloud somewhere strikes me as--well, I believe the correct medical term is batshit crazy.)




01 January, 2011

The Flip Side Of The Coin


With the death of the old year comes the birth of the new, and it's hard to attend any birth without feeling hope.
We are living in an increasingly peaceful world. It's sometimes hard to appreciate this, what with North Korea and Iran pounding their chests, not to mention a handful of lesser conflicts raging (and conflict can only be called "lesser" until you're in it). But our planet has been getting progressively less bellicose for centuries. As recently as twenty five years ago, it was commonly believed that we would blow ourselves to smithereens, something like this:





All joking aside, the possibility of total nuclear annihilation is only slightly more plausible now than the notion of California breaking off the western coast of the U.S. to go and hang with Hawaii.

So that's a good thing.

Better: the rate of world population increase is steadily dropping. Since the time of Malthus, we have been told that eventually, the spread of humanity would overwhelm the earth. I learned this in high school: it was treated as an established fact, on the order of two plus two. Like much of what I learned in school, this turns out to be wrong...and for reasons that, with a little thought, would have been obvious: increasing prosperity and mechanization obviates the need for surplus labour in the form of children. Increasing freedom for women worldwide--hell, even in Saudi Arabia they're discovering that women can work, and work well, outside the home--eventually means those women won't view themselves as receptacles and baby-incubators. Not to mention: given money, some folks suddenly imagine ways they could spend it on themselves. This is stated merely as an observation; I make no judgment on those who either choose or do not choose to have kids. I only notice that enough people are choosing to limit their families...a Malthusian extinction is highly improbable.

And people are getting wealthier. Particularly the abject poor. There remains a great deal of work to be done, but people in China and India are MUCH better off than they were a generation ago. Africa is sitting on vast reserves of natural resources, including much of the world's coltan, an indispensable component in the manufacture of electronic devices. Right now a guerilla war is being fought over that resource--typical human behaviour--but history has shown people tend to wise up and recognize their own self-interest...eventually. (Funny how so much of the world's wealth is concentrated directly under so many poor people.)

Democracy is spreading. When I was born, according to Freedom House, there were 44 countries classified as "free". Today there are 89. In 2007 I suggested that "tyrannies only succeed so long as they convince people they have no power. The moment people begin to understand they are collectively more powerful than even the worst tyrant, the death of tyranny is a foregone conclusion." That moment is happening for more and more people worldwide.

We are making progress against the scourge of disease that has plagued us since we first came down from the trees. While not the answer to everything, at least not yet, stem cells have shown great promise in a wide array of therapies.

Technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. Information storage is trivially cheap and getting cheaper: at this rate, we're not far off true lifelogging. Suppose that everything you see and do is captured by video and sent to a secure storage facility, accessible by you at any time and by the authorities in the event you are accused of a crime. (Robert Sawyer imagined this possibility in his excellent Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, which I highly recommend.)
This prospect used to be widely ridiculed. If taken seriously, it was considered with dread. Nobody would consent to record their lives! Who would forfeit their privacy to that extent? That was before YouTube and Facebook and Foursquare conclusively showed that a great many people care very little for privacy, at least as their parents understand the term.

All in all, things look pretty damn good. Give me some breakthroughs in harvesting solar energy by the gigawatt and I'll be a very optimistic man.

Here's hoping for a prosperous 2011 for you, dear reader, and as many others as possible.