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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Some Of The Itchy Little Things

“When once the itch…comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. But f you have not a pen, then I suppose you must scratch anyway you can.” -Samuel Lover

So far, I’ve written about the Ontario Election, climate change, technology, politically correct language and stupidity. Those rank at the top of the list of things that make my skin itch but there are other things that make me want to scratch too. They just aren’t big enough to deserve an entire post of their own. (maybe they’ll get their own post when they grow up)

For example:

I like to cook and I am always on the lookout for new gadgets for the kitchen. The other day I purchased a new knife sharpener. It looked great in the store, black and chrome encased in hard transparent plastic packaging on a red cardboard background. It literally called my name as I walked by. When I got it home, it took ten minutes, a pair of shears and a knife that was waiting to be sharpened, to get the hard transparent plastic packaging away from the red cardboard background in order to set the knife sharpener free. Have you noticed how many products there are that come packaged like this and how bloody difficult they are to open? This was a $30 knife sharpener not something that demanded high security and tamper-proof packaging.

CD’s are a perfect example. I can never get the shrink wrap off the damn things without tools. Do CD’s have freshness issues that require vacuum sealing? You shouldn’t have to put the bloody thing in a vice, put on safety goggles and a hard hat just to get them unwrapped.

Then there is the text on the back of the packaging. How much smaller can it get? I already can’t read half the words on most packages without an electron microscope. It frustrates the hell out me although I tend to be a little more forgiving of manufacturers on this one. I blame government and all the the stuff they require put on packaging in both official languages. By the time you get instructions, contact information, safety disclaimers, government requirements and safety warnings on the label, it’s small wonder you can read anything at all.

It has never occurred to government that if you keep adding stuff to what manufacturers are required to put on their labels, eventually they run out of room and the text will be so small that nobody will bother reading the safety warnings they ordered. Of course, government will eventually realize it and demand that manufacturers use larger type which will lead to larger packaging which will lead to more waste in our landfills and that sort of defeats their environmental strategy, doesn’t it? (You almost feel sorry for government. The more they try to fix things for us, the more things they have to fix. It must be Hell going to work every day.)

The Canadian Federal Government has just announced that it will require cigarette manufacturers to increase the illustrations of the effects of smoking to cover 75% of packaging. Illustrations are good, especially for the illiterate and the intellectually lazy. They don’t require text and are easier to read, especially big illustrations but what is the point of this politically correct (and safe) stupidity? (other than giving the appearance of doing something proactive when you aren’t really prepared to do anything constructive at all) Government has already required that stores hide cigarette packages from the viewing public. They’re sold now like condoms used to be sold, under the counter.(and wasn’t that effective at stamping out sex) So, if you can’t see the effects of smoking before you buy the product, isn’t it a little late in the day once the consumer has purchased the product and lit up? If you really want to eradicate smoking, declare tobacco illegal, ban it and stop collecting tax money from it although banning marijuana hasn’t been a very effective government policy. Maybe what government should do in its war on drugs is impose ridiculous packaging regulations on illegal drugs before they can be sold.

And then there is Ikea, Sweden’s answer to purgatory.

North America’s largest Ikea Opens Dec 7 in Ottawa
(photo Ottawa Citizen)

They’re building the largest Ikea in North America here in the big city and I happen to drive by it the other day. It’s big, really, really big and my first thought was that if it was difficult to get out of the smaller Ikea we used to have, it will be impossible to find your way out of this one.

Then I got thinking of the government’s new omnibus crime bill with its imposition of mandatory prison sentences which some think will drive up the cost of operating and marinating prisons. But I have a plan (See? I’m always thinking.) Don’t send convicted felons to prison, send them to Ikea.

They’ll be in there for years wandering around trying to figure out how to get out. You won’t even need guards unless they make it past the ball play room and best of all, you could teach them a trade like how to assemble large home and office furniture with a tool the size of a Q-Tip. I believe that one of the reasons that Scandinavians are fair skinned and blond is because of Ikea. They spend so much time trying to get out of the store, they don’t get enough sun.

Finally (Settle down, this isn’t my last rant, I’m just getting ready to head off to bed. All this thinking has worn me out)  why are grocery stores trying to impersonate department stores and department stores trying to impersonate grocers? Everywhere you go now, everyone has a little of everything but never enough selection of anything because they no longer have room on their shelves for all the brands they used to carry. Even Canadian Tire, that great Canadian icon (and the last place guys could go to get their testosterone rejeuvenated) has expanded from automotive and hardware to include housewares and now, in some stores….food. Say what? I don’t go to Canadian Tire to buy eggs. I go there to get spark plugs. How long will it be before Fredrick’s Of Hollywood carries power tools? (I know, I know, they already do carry a couple but I was referring to Black and Decker type stuff)

All that this product expansion has done is undermine brand uniqueness and reduce real choice for the consumer. I can never find what I want anymore because it isn’t available…no room on the shelf. Now, instead of going to a couple of stores on Saturday morning to pick up groceries and some hardware or household products, I have to go to a half a dozen stores to try and find the brand product my old store no longer has room to carry. (It works on the same principle as cable and satelite tv. The more channels we subscribe to, the less choice we actually have….but I digress)

That’s real convenience isn’t it?

Iincreasingly it’s almost like our retail industry is run by government bureaucrats but then, isn’t that the Canadian way? I am Canadian and I like being a Canadian but sometimes, it seems like everything is run by government, if not by policy…definitely by attitude. If you read my earlier post called Get On The Bus, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I think we’re going to need a bigger bus.

© 2011 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to othersFollow The Bear on Twitter: @maggsbear or connect with a friend request on Facebook: Maggie’s Bear

Schyzophrenic Language

I’m tired of writing about the Ontario Provincial Election (I’m actually tired of thinking about it if you want to know the whole truth). I need a break from it so I’m not going to write about it until after the leader’s debates. Instead, I’m going to write about Jasper.

I’ve mentioned my dog Jasper more than once in this blog and if you have read my previous posts, you will know by now that Jasper is an 8-year old Springer Spaniel with way more energy than I have and more than a modicum of common sense. He doesn’t speak much having a limited vocabulary that is comprised of a few barks, growls and the occasional woof but despite the minimalist language, he can communicate quite effectively, especially with his eyes.

Jasper has very expressive eyes. They can alternately be sad, excited, happy, exasperated (usually with me but never with Maggie), bored, interested, annoyed and amazed that I really can be that stupid at times. He also uses his tail for some communication although there isn’t much to his tail so he often has to include most of his hind end to get the point across. Sometimes his back end is moving so vigorously, it really does look like the tail is wagging the dog.

I know way too many people that could take a lesson from Jasper.

With only a couple of exceptions, I’m not interested in having them try to communicate with my by wiggling their hind end but it would be nice if they learned to verbally communicate more precisely. Too many people use far too much language to express simple concepts, sometimes to the point where the meaning of what they are trying to say is completely lost.

It starts with stupid phrases like “we’ll wait to see how it all plays out” instead of “let’s see what happens”. The same message that can be delivered with four words, stretched to be delivered with eight. One of my favourites used to be in the U.S. Army Quartermaster’s catalogue. If you were looking for a zipper for something, you didn’t look under “Z”, you looked under “I” for “Interlocking Slide Fastener”. Three words to say what can be said in one.

We misuse words as well. We too often use impact when we really mean affect, use concept to replace idea and prioritize instead of setting priorities. The internet and text messaging are spawning a whole new form of languge that is about one step above cave drawings. BBW for big bold woman, LOL for laugh out loud and Gr8 for great. How about ROFLMAO. That means “rolling on the floor laughing my ass off”. Here’s a message I received once. “C U Tx.” It was internet/text speak for “See you, thanks” but I thought it translated to “See you in Texas” and I really didn’t want to go to Texas.

I sometimes play games online and most of the sites have chat capability. I’ve tried following the chat but can’t figure out what most people are saying. What does, “np gor1” mean? It meant, “Nice play, Gorgon 1” which was the online identity of one of the players. I thought the sender had leaned on his/her keyboard by mistake and a bunch of random characters had been sent.

Maybe I’m just getting to old to keep up, I know the daughters think that’s all it is but I’m not so sure. A lot of effort went into creating language, all languages and this looks less evolutionary than like erosion.

In Canada, the French have become almost fanatical about trying to protect their language and culture while we English folk are busy trying to change ours. The problem is that we’re schyzophrenic about it. We can’t decide whether we want to devolve the language down to a series of symbols and combine letters and numbers to make words or evolve it into something so grandiose nobody knows what in the Hell you’re talking about.

I do believe language is organic and that it should evolve and grow but in a logical manner. English is a language that evolved from French, Saxon, Latin and a bunch of smaller languages along the way. I don’t expect the English language, or any language for that matter to simply get frozen and never change. God knows that there is nothing pure about the English language but it has its beautiful moments. Simplifying language can be a good thing but don’t devolve it back down to grunts and symbols. We already tried that and have moved on.

It’s kind of a shame to see language being eroded by the politically correct, those too lazy to spell out an entire sentence and those who’s despite all the words they know and use don’t have a functional vocabulary any broader than Jasper’s.

© 2011 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to othersFollow The Bear on Twitter: @maggsbear or connect with a friend request on Facebook: Maggie’s Bear

Service Me, please?.

The other day, Maggie and I stopped at one of our local grocery stores to pick up a couple of items on the way home from work. It took only a couple of minutes to get the items and almost 30 minutes to pay for them. The line-ups at the three open cashes were so long, they flowed back into the grocery aisles and interfered with people still shopping. The wait was more than 20 minutes. How can store management not see that? Or if they see it, how can they not recognize that they are inconveniencing their customers, the very people they rely on to stay in business.

It’s a situation that isn’t unique to this particular store. Everywhere we go now, the concept of customer service is degrading. Retailers and businesses talk about customer service all the time. Even the government talks about it but that’s all it is. Talk! Either they don’t understand what customers want in the way of service or they understand but don’t know how to deliver it. Perhaps it’s that they try to save money by hiring fewer people or perhaps it’s  because they just don’t care. Whatever it is, I’m fed up with it and I’m not alone.

Updataing to Upgrade

I still remember the first real computer I bought. It was an IBM clone with two 5 1/4 paper disks; one to power the thing and the other on which to save data. I thought I had died and gone to heaven even though I couldn’t do much with it. It had less than 1MB of total memory and all of that memory was on paper floppy disks (for those of you born not so long ago, the original floppy disks were actually flimsy things encased in paper which is why they were called floppy disks) I learned to use it for simple word processing and spread sheets but other than that, it was pretty much a big desk ornament.

Then along came MacIntosh. Suddenly the world was all a twitter about this thing called a mouse and a completely different way of using computers. Microsoft soon followed suit with Windows 3.1 followed by the Internet explosion and finally Web 2.0 which changed my life forever but not necessarily for the better. Continue reading

Get On The Bus and I Ain’t Talking Rapid Transit!

“Think of how stupid the average person is and realize that half of them are stupider than that.”  — George Carlin

Let’s talk about stupidity. Nothing gets me more wound up than stupid people doing stupid things. Now, don’t be looking at me like I’m intolerant and being unkind. The truth is that many of us have encountered stupidity (some of us have even engaged in stupidity) and we almost all react the same way to it. It annoys the hell out of us.

For me, stupidity has nothing to do with educational level or intellectual ability. In fact, some of the stupidest people I know have MBAs (the degree of choice among the would-be elite) while some of the smartest people I know barely have a secondary school education. Stupidity is a lack of common sense and not being able to think. God help us! There are just so many folks out there who just don’t stop and think before they open their mouths or do something. Continue reading

Separation Anxiety

Not so long ago, my wife Maggie and I were at one of the larger shopping malls looking for a birthday present for our grandson. She was determined to buy him some books and clothes while I was pretty much focused on toys, especially anything Thomas The Train. The fact that he is only two didn’t deter me. I believe that great toys are like clothes that are a little to big, your grandson will grow into them and while we’re waiting for that to happen, your can play with his toys. I already have my own Play Doh and am getting quite good at making things with it.

Walking through the Food  Court, I noticed four young teenage girls sitting at a table and my first thought was how nice it was to see some younger folk out and about together. It reminded me of my daughter and her friends when she was that age. But then I noticed that while they were all busy communicating, it wasn’t with with each other. They were alternately texting other people, checking messages or just talking on their cell phones. Here they were out with friends but so intense is the fear that they might be missing something somewhere else, they were constantly checking to make sure they weren’t. It isn’t a phenomenon that is peculiar to young people.

You see it everywhere. People are constantly texting, tweeting, checking email and talking on their cell phones. I appreciate that a few of those people hold significant and important jobs and need to be in touch 24/7 but really. How many of us need to be in constant touch? My wife is a senior executive with the federal government and has an Ipad, a cell phone and a laptop. The expectation by her employer is that she will constantly check her email, even on Sunday evening in the off-chance something important has been sent. Screw that! Work/life balance is an essential part of a healthy life. Productivity, let alone health, deteriorate when your work becomes more important than your broader life, especially your family.

This is even more true with social networking sites which many can’t wait until after work to check. They constantly log in during the day to see if someone…anyone…has left them a message. The truth is that social networking has become an addiction in the same way that gambling, drinking and drugs are addictions. Don’t believe me? Turn off your cell phone and try to get through the day without feeling a growing sense of anxiety because you haven’t checked your email or your Twitter account or your voice mail or your text messages. Don’t log into Facebook or Linkedin or MySpace or one of the countless dating sites that you belong to. Let it go. The answer to what it all means to you lies not in whether or not you can get through the weekend or just a day without logging in but how not checking makes you feel.

If you hardly think about it, congratulations. You aren’t addicted…yet, but if you feel anxious for not knowing if you have mail or messages; if you find yourself distracted by thoughts of what you might be missing or just have an overwhelming itch to eat a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Uh oh! You’re an addict baby and it’s time for some serious reconsideration of how you’re living.

It starts with understanding that the operators of all this technology didn’t provide these services out of any sense of altruism or because they like you and they definitely don’t promote the use of their products and sites to enhance your life. They did it to make money. I have no issue with that and I don’t have an issue with the existence of the technology. What I take issue with is how we are over-dosing on it. Online is not the real world. Texting someone is not the same as being with them and talking face-to-face and interrupting what you are doing with someone to take calls or reply to messages on your cell betrays a significant level of separation anxiety and is just plainn rude. When you are constantly interrupting your real life, who you are with and what you’re doing, it is an indication of how the unknown has overwhelmed what you are actually doing at that moment.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I have been with someone who interrupted our meeting to answer their cell phone only to tell the caller that they couldn’t talk right now and would call them back. Let the damn thing ring and go to voice mail. Better yet, turn it off when you’re involved in something with someone. (I doubt you would jump out of bed if you were having sex, so why answer it when you are doing something else with someone?) That’s what voice mail is for, it allows people to leave a message to which you can respond when you have time. We used to understand that ten years ago. We’d go to work, come home and find a couple of messages on the home phone. We’d note them and respond to them when it was convenient. Now, we’re checking constantly and that is nothing more than anxiety at being separated from whatever may be happening.

Too many people find validation in being “connected” even though it is often unnecessary communication. They hide from whatever is lacking in their lives and bolster their sense of self-importance by constantly texting and emailing and going online. It is an artificial life. There is a place for electronic communication but when it takes control of your life rather than simply being a tool to be used as needed, then you have become its servant. Few of us are so important that we need to be in constant touch but too many of us feel insecure and insignificant when we aren’t.

It may sound like my life is pretty small and I don’t understand how important staying connected really is but I was a senior executive before I retired and I did need to be available.  I had a mobile phone, a pager and a laptop that went everywhere I went. My email traffic was ridiculously high (more than 70% of which was simply copies of emails sent to someone else by someone else). I was in constant touch, going so far to conduct conference calls on my cell phone while driving between cities.

But then I had an epiphany. Much of the communication and checking I was doing was unnecessary and was wasting myself. I weaned myself off social networking sites, closed my Twitter account and threw away my pager. I traded my Blackberry for a simple mobile phone which I use mostly to call upstairs to Maggie’s office to let her know I have arrived downstairs to pick her up. It was liberating and the amount of time I savd was unbelievable. I became more, not less, productive. I accomplished more but also had more time for me.

I’ve continued this approach to technology into semi-retirement.  I’m no less informed than I was before but now I don’t have to wade through mountains of extraneous nonsense to get to what I’m interested in or need to know. I don’t feel anxious any more and no longer feel like I’m missing something. The truth is that I don’t care what I might be missing. I’ve missed lots in my life and except for the odd dressing down from my sister for missing her birthday, it hasn’t made much of difference.

I refuse to be part of the Web 2.0 generation. I don’t need it. I talk to my daughters regularly, get to hold my wife every night when we go to bed and when I need or want to see or talk to someone, well…I just do it. Usually in person, sometimes by phone and occasionally by email. For me, email is simply letter writing sent by something a tad more efficient than Canada Post.

As for feeling separation anxiety, that’s pretty much gone. I have come to understand that old adage of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is true. If I missed something important today, it will come around again tomorrow or the next day and when it gets here, I’ll deal with it. What I don’t do anymore is constantly check to see if it has arrived. Jasper and I are too busy dealing with more important issues like trying to teach him how to fetch.

I throw the ball and he watches it bounce across the yard, looks up at me and says with his eyes, “You threw it, you go get it.” He never seems to feel anxious about being separated from the ball. There are more than just a few who could take that lesson from Jasper.




© 2011 Maggie’s Bear
all rights reserved
The content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it may be of interest to others

Follow The Bear on Twitter: @maggsbear or connect with a friend request on Facebook: Maggie’s Bear