Friday, May 27, 2011

What a spring it’s been

“The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy.  The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour.”

Charles Dickens could have been describing the past two months in most of the eastern US and Canada. Rain, rain, and more rain.

Watching the grass grow offers nearly as much fast-paced excitement as Formula 1. Gravel roads are cut by rivulets of running water seeking lower ground, and wash-boards rattle even the most solid tooth fillings. Farmers Weather map 2look on in desperation as their fields remain wet, muddy, and un-seeded. And every week a new generation of ravenous mosquitoes arises from each tiny puddle, just waiting for a few seconds of exposed human flesh.

All thanks to el Niña and a seemingly immovable jet stream that has funnelled cool temperatures and unrelenting rain from Georgia to points north and east until it finally heads out over the north Atlantic.

Where I’d normally have 1,000 miles or more on the bike by now I have less than 100. Ten golf games played versus 30. A garden still unplanted instead of enjoying the first harvest of early radishes and the promise of more fresh veggies in a few weeks.

But the weather prognosticators still predict a hot, dry summer ahead. And for once I choose to believe them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The digital dilemma: What will we leave for future generations?

I recently completed a family photo album/history that relied heavily on faded photographs, some going back nearly 100 years, and various pieces of written correspondence and other documents. And as I scanned this material into my computer-based digital repository I began to wonder what we, our children, and our grandchildren will be leaving for future genealogists.  

Fred Blackburn and family 1916Our family collection of photographs, passed down since the early 1900’s, consists of perhaps three or four hundred images. Some are faded and some are blurry but they are real and they are physical, capable of being passed on again and again without any concern about technology or data formats. A couple of shoe boxes and a coffee table to spread them all out on is the extent of the technology required.

But in today’s digital era I have some 14 thousand pictures stored on my hard drive (a mere trifle compared to some). Do I advise my executor that upon my departure from this earth my hard drive is to be removed and handed to my family? Or that everything gets printed out and a garbage bag full of images gets passed around to surviving relatives? No. Any images that were not committed to paper (i.e. most of them) will simply be lost to future generations.

hard driveTo be sure, the ease of taking photos and storing them is what leads to ballooning repositories, but even if we were as diligent as when working with film and printed images there is no technologically-independent physical product to pass on to others.

And this doesn’t just apply to still images. More and more music is being relegated to the computer, so gone are the days of inheriting your father’s 78-rpm jazz collection. Home movies? Ditto. Your parent’s love letters? Lost in the ether.

So ironically the very technology that allows us to so easily capture those important moments in life is the same technology that renders them so ephemeral, which will make us the last generation that will have this kind of insight into the lives of our predecessors. And that’s sad.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So you sent him packing....

Now he's gone and you rejoice in your victory. You have politically destroyed a man who's only failings seemed to be that he was a decent and intelligent person. And that scared you. A man whose credentials were undisputed and recognized globally you deemed inadequate,unsuitable. 

"Not a real Canadian," you said, because his career blossomed outside the parochial boundaries that you have decided must limit our leaders' life experiences.

"He's just visiting," you said, of a man who gave up a successful career at a world-renowned university to come home to make a contribution to the country that, ironically, welcomed his family so many years ago.

"I don't trust him", you said, while trusting the others for whom breach of trust with the Canadian people has become a defining characteristic.

"He comes from Russian noble stock," you said, "and is therefore elitist, a snob." Meanwhile you are glued to the television, revelling in every elitist, snobbish moment of the William and Kate royal wedding.

"I wouldn't want to have a beer with him," you said, as if what this country lacks is more Johnny Walker wisdom.

He wasn't a streetfighter, and in these days of UFC you needed to see blood flowing. The pen is no longer mightier than the sword and it was a death by a thousand cuts. You sent him packing and the Liberal Party shamefully obliged by applying the coup de grâce.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A man with two watches

There’s an old adage that goes something like, “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.”

Well the same applies to weather forecasts.

CaptureOf three separate forecasts for tomorrow (Weather Network, Environment Canada, and the newspaper) we have two calling for rain with a high of either 7 or 9 degrees. The third is predicting 9 degrees and sunny.

This has been the pattern all winter as various sources would regularly have quite significantly different forecasts. And sometimes none of them were right, with the only reliable forecast being the look-out-the-window one.

It amazes me still that we pay people for this.