March 2, 2015

Tale of My Two Cities

I was just catching up on the news and Google News had these two stories next to each other.  My hometown and my adopted hometown.  There are so many ways one can contrast Montreal and Vancouver.  Weather is definitely one of the ways.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

Welcoming March


Finally the month where, in this part of the world, things become habitable again.

Sometime over the next few weeks our gardens and lawns will start peaking through the melting snow.  The snow will recede leaving in its wake the gravel and sand that has been spread on surfaces for the last four months.  Neighbours will again start speaking to each other as they leave or enter their homes, no longer in a rush to get in from the biting cold and driving wind.  Our moods will improve as the smell of wet earth, three month old dog shit and flowers lifts into the milder air.

The question of why (and how) so many people live in such imposing conditions will recede into memory as we once again consider ourselves lucky to live in such a unique, safe, prosperous corner of the world.

Depending on the source this was either the coldest winter since 1979 or since 1904.  All I know is that I am so sick and tired of it.

March, I welcome you with joy and hope.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

February 22, 2015

Human Survival's March to Mars

You may have read over the last week that the Mars One Mission announced its 100 finalists to become the first humans on the red planet.  Fifty men and fifty women have been selected to proceed to round three of the selection process.  This once again reminds me of what an amazing animal us human beings are.

The need to know more, to explore, to go where humans have never gone is so strong across humanity when taken as a whole - as a system.  As individuals we may not all share the same level of interest in climbing Everest, diving into the Mariana Trench, walking on the Moon or, now, taking a one way trip to Mars.  As a group of seven billion we are remarkably adventurous however and have that inquisitive minority to thank for much of the progress, and leaps, we have made to date.

Even if many of the discoveries stemming from these adventures can be used by those less interested in the greater good it still is true that, on the whole, they build human knowledge and therefore increase our species chances of survival.  Ultimately we are programmed to do what we can to survive - to find a way even if the steps being taken do not necessarily seem related to survival.

I was discussing this with a neighbour last week and he made a great point.  He said that he hopes that those who finally get picked to go to Mars leave their books of scripture behind.  As humanity attempts its first colonization of another planet hopefully we have learned that blind faith can lead to ignorance, to a follower mentality and to acts taken in the name of something or someone that is not of the actor's.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

February 14, 2015

New Rule - Étage Tranquillité

Hello world.  It's been sometime (just over two years!) since I have written to the blogosphere.  Who reads?  Who cares?  Who cares!

For those of you who have read past blogs you'll know that there are two topics I have often written about.  One is Japan and the other is the use of rules in our society.  This post marries both topics.

One of the things that most impresses me about Japan is the respect that its citizens seem to have towards one another, towards public property and personal space.  Many say this is due to the close quarters the Japanese live in.  I happen to think there is much more to it than the close quarters.

I can recall multiple examples of respect but the one that pops into my head now is riding on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo.  Close to 4 million people ride that line on a daily basis.  I rode it one morning during rush hour.  I was in a sea of humanity.  At most a few centimetres separated me from my fellow riders.  More impressive than the sheer number of people was the calm I experienced.  It was quiet.  If people spoke to each other it was at a whisper.  No annoying ring tones.  No high pitched sound emanating from those piece of crap earbuds people use to listen to their tunes.  Silence.  Respect.  Only the fan of the car trying to keep the temperature bearable.

Now over to topic number two - rules.  It seems that human beings have a need to impose rules on each other to try to keep order.  The problem with rules is that often times they actually cause more external conflict.  What do I mean?  Let me use a recent example.  One which gives this post its title.

I commute on trains run by the Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (AMT) de Montréal.  Recently it launched some new behavioural rules which it wants its customers to abide by.  The upper deck of the two floor cars are now declared a tranquil or quiet zone.  A place where conversations are from now on to be had at low voice.  Where one must keep music volume low and where mobile phone ring tones are to be silenced.  All three points I agree with and so I was happy that the AMT put these rules in place.  I also wondered how long it would take for an argument to break out.

It happened within weeks.  A group of three Russian-speaking commuters seated themselves and were having a seemingly jovial conversation (laughing, smiling and good times included).  Within a few minutes a woman got up and angrily referred the group to the rules.  The group went back and forth for yet another few minutes calling each other uptight or disrespectful before all four sat down and tried to enjoy the rest of their commute in relative silence.  The Russians must have been murmuring about the woman and she must have been thinking of the three loud mouths.

It has now been two months and I am awaiting the next argument.  It will surely come.  The noise level has dropped off but there are still many loud mouths, deaf music listeners and mobile phone toting commuters that don't seem to get it.

Does society really need pointed, specific, location-based rules to be groom respect in its citizens?  Is there an alternative way?  Do we need to look at more fundamental teachings?

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 13, 2013

Lotto Apophis

Late last year I started buying lottery tickets again.  An interesting email, my thought that it may as well be me rather than some other dude that wins, my desire to free myself from the need to work, and the fact that it is a cheap $2 or $5 dream are all reasons why I have taken up the habit.

Chances are, sadly, that I'll never win. By the won't either.

The chances of winning the jackpot in the $2 6/49 lottery are 1 in 13,983,816.  The $5 Lotto Max has an even harder to grasp 1 in 28,633,528 chance of producing a jackpot winner.  Nevertheless on a regular basis someone in Canada wins and so all us ticket-buyers buy...and hope.  The odds are minuscule but we are often reminded in the newspapers that someone does win.  It is a probability that we wish for, hope occurs and will spend money on.

On January 9 all seven billion of us on Earth participated in another lottery.  Call it the Apophis Lottery.  On that day a rock with a diameter of 325 metres flew by Earth.  No concerns existed as it was 15 million kilometres away.  Earth thankfully did not win the jackpot.

The good news is that this recent fly-by also eliminated the potential of a jackpot in the 2029 draw of the Apophis Lottery.  It has not, however, completely removed the possibility of a winner on the April 13, 2036 (I love the coincidence of that date) draw.  According to the odd-makers at the Universal Lottery and Gaming Corporation (aka NASA) the odds of the eight or nine billion of us winning the lottery on that day are 1 in 10,989,000.

There is no need to remind me that only one Apophis lottery ticket is produced on each draw date compared to the millions of tickets sold for the 6/49 or Lotto Max.  Luckily the Apophis Lottery also does not occur twice a week!  I still find a comparison of the odds of these two lotteries to be an interesting one.

On the one hand, Canadians spend $14 million or so twice a week on a 6/49 ticket (that is $1.5 billion a year!) to win a lottery that has a 1 in 14 million chance of making us richer than we could imagine....eliminating, we believe, all our concerns.  Superficial concerns really.

On the other hand you have the "Apophis Lottery".  We Canadians spend a heck of a lot less than $1.5 billion a year trying to avoid winning this lottery - a lottery that presents much better odds of "winning".

The consequences of winning Apophis, (the elimination of most, if not all of human life) make the elimination of our superficial concerns very, well, superficial.

Maybe it is time to spend more money on Apophis than on 6/49.  More helpful might be a realization that we should re-evaluate our concerns.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

December 27, 2012

Nice Envelope!

Over the last few weeks I have thought about how gift-giving has changed over the last few decades.  In some ways I find that the act of giving has become more virtual, generic and risk averse.  As a result exchanges have lost some of their mystery.  They've become less tangible somehow, less memorable.  They relay less about the personalities of the individuals doing the giving and receiving.

As I child I used to go to my grandmother's house for Christmas. All my aunts, uncles and cousins were there. With so many of us present the presents spread out way beyond the shade cast by the fake silver tree.  Wrapped boxes with surprises waiting to be discovered were stacked all the around the back of the tree.  While some of the boxes did a poor job of masking their contents others were generic cubes.

My cousins and I were especially fond of music and so many of the gifts under the tree took the shape of a flat, square record sleeve. We were left having to guess whether it was an album from Supertramp, Styx, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Cars......  (I remember that we'd use a key or our fingernails to slit the sleeve open, careful not cut ourselves.)  In addition there were some gifts that clearly looked like Tintin or Schtroumpfs comic books.  The rest of the wrapped gifts would hide board games, play cars and airplanes, jewellery and clothes...or some other object.

These last gifts were always the wildcards as you'd never know how one would react to the sweater, its colour or its style.  Would the earrings match the recipient's personality (long-dangly and wild, stubby and conservative)?  Would the gathered relatives react positively or negatively to the giver's interpretation of this person's likes and dislikes?  What would be the intended person's reaction?

All of this added to the mystique of the exchange.  The uncertainty around the content, the choices made, the reactions.  As there were so many people and gifts, and since we followed the rule of "one-gift-opening-at-a-time" - so that all could stare, comment, take pictures and poke fun - it would take a lot of time to unwrap all the gifts.  Words, looks and thoughts circulated between aunts and uncles as we all watched the person unwrap their surprise.

We all left my grandmother's house with arms full.  Things have changed.

Most of what my children had on their wish lists this year either was, or required, some sort of iDevice, game console, etc. This got me thinking...

Today books, movies, music, games are all downloadable. They do not come in a box but come down over the internet and get loaded onto an iPod, iPad or Kindle.  What does one wrap-up and place under the tree? An envelope with a print-out of the "cover" of the book, movie or album.  Clothes are no longer given nor asked for.  Instead this has been reduced to the requesting and giving of a gift-card for a favourite chain (Garage, H&M, Abercrombie).  One might know a sweater is wished for but the wrong colour, size or style might be purchased.  Embarrassment avoided.

A crowd favourite seems to be plain old cash or VISA gift cards.  The giver no longer needs to even worry about where to by an item.  "Just go buy what you want.  I did not know what you wanted anyway."  What flexibility!  The recipient can buy whatever they want away from the stares of the gathered family (which by the way has shrunk considerably).  We avoid the need to call, write, phone and exchange words or lists with the intended recipient.  What efficiency!  In fact those cards are so convenient that they can be given with no thought whatsoever!  What ease and convenience!

The result is that one ends up with a bunch of envelopes and the potential for one lame exchange.

"What are you going to buy?"

"I don't know yet."

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook

The Sandy Hook tragedy has sparked many comments from all kinds of people. Journalists, politicians, left leaning, right leaning, city slickers, country bumpkins, seniors, children, parents, the educated, the get the picture.  Human beings of all colours, beliefs, ages, regions and backgrounds have commented either publicly or privately.

Whether or not an audience read or heard our thoughts it is likely that, in the grand majority of cases, we all reacted with instinctive emotions - shock and sadness.  In the end, those instincts, the ones that unite us all as a species, shows an amazing amount of unity among the seven billion humans on Earth.

Unfortunately, as the minutes passed from the time we heard the horrible news, our initial reaction of shock and sadness gave way to that other uniquely human characteristic - our ability to think, recall and imagine.  And so our divisions started showing.

The need to defend.  The need to protect.  The need to ban.  The need to arm.  The left, the right.  The liberal, the conservative.  The city, the country.  Them vs us.

It is often said that we should stick to our instincts when we are making decisions.  That if we listen to them, if we are conscious enough to feel them, we'll make the proper decisions.  This is a time where all of us, regardless of background, should take the time to think about how we felt when we heard the news, before the imagination and thinking kicked in.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!