Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Impostor Tomatoes

You might think this is a tomato. Sorry. This is actually a teapot disguised as a tomato. Really.

Maybe the potter was hungry at the time they made it. The boss wanted them to make a teapot and they were thinking about the tomato in their lunch pail. And voila, the tomato teapot was born.

(You have to beware of these impostors. They're very hard on the digestive system.)

This sugar pot is evidence that the boss not only missed the teapot but must have been on vacation for a while... when the cat's away...

Actually these delightfully crafted pieces (which include fruit, sea creatures and wonderfully colored vases and wall pockets) are old Japanese Maruhon Ware from the 1920's through the early 1950's. The word "Maru" in Japanese means to mark or circle. The mark on the bottom of these pieces is the circled letter "K". The Japanese were required to mark their exports, "Made in Japan", a practice that continued until the beginning of WWII. During the years from 1945 to 1952, all exports were marked "Made in Occupied Japan". If you know the ceramics and pottery field at all, you'll know the town of Noritake, where these pieces were said to be made for American export. Because of the war, many records have disappeared so an exact history is impossible to trace.

Suffice to say, finding these creations was the discovery of something unusual, a bit kitschy, much fun and playful.

Oh, and I didn't tell you about them. Because up until now, they've been relatively affordable.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Me And My Shadow

Saw my shadow yesterday. Tricky things, shadows. You can never pin one down. But they're always attached to you somewhere. I find they like my feet mostly.

I looked down in the morning and saw it was a tall one. By noon it had shrunk to almost nothing but by the time I walked home it had grown up again.

Think I'll change my shadow today. This one made me look fat.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Semour Spice Has Lost His Zing

It appeared that Seymour's spice jar of life was empty. His zing was unzung. His zest simply exzusted. His zowie was no longer powie.

"I didn't mean for THAT to happen," he thought over coffee and Coronation Street one morning and promptly called on his friend Mr. Google for help. Mr. Google promptly made numerous suggestions, including:

1) How to spice up your sex life (skimpy undies and making out in a hot tub in Iceland were not really what he meant) although he noted for future reference that there are a lot of sex experts out there. And a few weirdos.

2) How to spice up your life by using certain personal feminine hygiene products. "Oh my," he thought and hit the back button...

3) How to spice up your marriage. Let's just say he did not want to change his lipstick shade. He did not want to give his husband (if he had one) a hug for no reason. And painting his toenails a wild colour...? Ah, no.

4) How to spice up your online life. He found he already did most of the things they list there. And he just didn't think he was ready to subscribe to RSS feeds or optimize his search engine. He thought he'd reached the age that either of those would hurt his brain.

5) How to spice up your home. Adding throw curtains, sponge painting a wall or putting fake plants in his old budgie cage? "Gosh, where have I been that I didn't think of that?" he sighed.

6) How to spice up your cooking results took his request for spice a little too literally. He really didn't really care if adding lemon and orange peel to muffins and scones will give them a zesty flavor. He already knew that oregano, basil, rosemary, and garlic are great additions for tomato sauce. And brew roasted chicory root as a coffee substitute? Pure blasphemy. 

He thanked Mr. Google and hung up. David Platt was up to his antics again. He'd run over his friend Jason Grimshaw after he'd begun dating ex-girlfriend Tina but he thinks he must have blacked out because he couldn't remember hitting him. Is it epilepsy?... While awaiting his trial he goes to live with Audrey, his grandmother the hairdresser because he's forbidden to come in contact with Jason, who is now out of the hospital and hobbling around on crutches...

Seymour glanced over at his spice jar. It didn't seem so empty.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Stupid Post About Being Stupid

You may have been wondering just what stupid was.

Stupid is having eyes bigger than your stomach and having one more slice of pizza when that last one was enough. It's falling in love and becoming a blithering idiot. It's spending money on a whim and getting home to discover that whims shrink in the wash. It's stepping off the curb without looking both ways. And it's stupid chickens crossing the stupid road. It's saying something without thinking and it's thinking too much and not saying anything. It's crying over spilled milk and milk spurting out your nose when you laugh. Stupid is snorting when you laugh which makes you laugh more. It's about being too slow and not being slow enough to let things work out for themselves. It's getting stuck behind someone going 5 mph slower than you. Stupid is a mosquito in your bedroom when you're trying to sleep. It's furry green things growing in your refrigerator. It's two spaces after a period. And it's starting a sentence with an 'and'. It's toilet humor and sneezing when you have to pass wind. Stupid is trying to make something into what it's not. It's being goofy and not caring.

It's you and me being stupid together and laughing our heads off.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Evil Eye

If you've ever been lucky enough to welcome a dog into your home for any length of time, you know this look. It's the evil eye. It is intense as all get out and it can destroy. In this case it means "you better let me out or your rugs are in danger."

Destruction of carpets as a result of the evil eye appears to be limited to house pets (or really gross college roommates). When a human person passes on the "look", some say the results are more dire: bad luck, disease, wasting, death, or even worse when it's passed by a life partner – denial of sex.

Belief in the evil eye was rampant in antiquity. Socrates was suspected of possessing the evil eye. In the Greco-Roman era Plutarch's scientific explanation stated that the eyes were the chief source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye. And the evil eye reportedly spread towards the east propagated by the Empire of Alexander the Great.

Today, some cultures still believe in its power. Amulets, talismans, protective sayings and gestures are all said to protect one from the evil eye's influence.

But there is no known protection from the canine version. So, I let the dog out. Even though I knew it was just the "I-go-out-turn-around-and-come-back-in-give-me-a-cookie" game. My carpets are safe. For now.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Do You Spell It?

I always thought that things like peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, the jingling of change in my pocket, finding that my favorite shirt didn't shrink in the dryer (and also didn't need ironing), and furry dogs that snuggled up to you on a cold night were good. Evidently I may have been mistaken.

Plato wrote that the idea of the Good is the ultimate object of knowledge, although it is not knowledge itself. Common man cannot see, understand or attain true good because it exists only as a concept. He also said things that are "just" gain their usefulness and value. According to Plato, humans are compelled to pursue the good, but no one can hope to do this successfully without philosophical reasoning.

Aristotle was critical of Plato's ideas of the Good. I guess he thought them bad. Sigh.

Today, Richard Kraut, one of Harvard's respected analytical philosophers, explores a good-centered moral philosophy, an "ethics of well-being" that requires all of our efforts to do some good. Kraut’s theory appears to come down to the fact that many common human pursuits – for riches, fame, domination – are in themselves worthless, while some of the familiar virtues – justice, honesty, and autonomy – are good.

Being a lowly common man I tend to think (when I do) that no matter how you spell it "good" is simply that which does no harm. That we can wish each other a good morning, or good luck without a fifteen page explanation about what exactly we mean...

I think I'll pick up some ice cream today. Simply because it's good, and not because it's useful or just. Call me a rebel.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Park Bench Romance

My eighty-seven year old neighbor was sitting on a park bench yesterday when a ninety-two year old man sat down beside her. 

She looked over to him and said, "You remind me of my seventh husband." 

He said, "How many husbands have you had?" 

"Six," she replied.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jack's Gone Home

Conté crayon on cardboard
Yesterday, Canada lost a man by the name of Jack Layton. He was well known for his compassion and always took up the cause for the common man. The homeless, the elderly, the young and the defenseless. 

Before he passed away, Jack wrote a note from his deathbed to all Canadians. And there seemed to be something he had to say to everyone. Part of his letter was this: "There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you... Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."

Rest easy Jack. We got it. 

Comments welcome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Short History Of The Shower

I love my showers. These days I hand shower because the ceiling above the old claw foot tub upstairs is slanted and a person of any height over 3 feet 5 and a half inches cannot stand in the tub unless one is bent over. And everyone knows you can't bend over to take a shower. All the water just bounces off your back and doesn't get to the good parts. So I sit and shower. It's really quite comfortable. I call it a "sitting while showering" (or "sitowering").

Ancient cavemen, from the time they grew limbs and crawled out of the sea, never really worried about cleanliness. In fact, getting wet was very irritating to them as they had just dried out after having been fish for centuries and so they used to hide in caves when it rained.

In the Bronze Age the Upper Mesopotamians, who were more interested in keeping clean, took a clue from the common sparrow, who would give themselves a shower by jumping in puddles, splashing water up and onto their bodies with their wings. They discovered that by dumping a gourd of water over their heads from the Euphrates River, they would clean the dirt from themselves after a day in the fields: which both invigorated them and made them more conducive to the attentions of members of the opposite sex. When the Greeks came to visit, they made the shower into a ritual, first with servants and water jugs, then devising lead pipes to bring water from the mountains into their homes. Baths became known as a poor man's shower.

The Romans, never ones to be one-upped, adopted the shower for their own and invented the communal shower room that still exist in gyms, prisons and military barracks to this very day. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity, cleansing yourself became a religious taboo and was abandoned almost completely from the late Middle Ages until the Victorian era. By the time the taboo was lifted, a grateful public eagerly brought showers into their homes. Today, having a shower in one's home is almost a given. The end.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Not In My Back Yard You Don't!

I must have had my head in one of the chipmunk holes in the yard all this time because this is the first I've heard about this. And I'm going on record now, that this is going to stop! I won't stand for it! There must be a law!

I'm considering a membership in NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), a group of concerned citizens (Nimbies) that oppose something in their back yard so much they'd probably rather have it in yours. Then there is BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything... or Anyone) in Great Britain. I may ask to open a North American chapter. Or I've heard of a group called FRUIT (Fear of Revitalization Urban-Infill and Towers) who specialize their concerns. They're in British Columbia I hear. I'm on the fence as to which group most fits my outrage.

I'm not exactly sure of what I don't want in my back yard. But suffice to say there's lots to provoke dissent. We're not talking about silly garden sculptures, pink flamingos, gnomes or an infestation of nasty howling cats here. (Although, I'd probably have a problem there.) No, we're talking tall buildings, power plants, landfills, group homes and wind farms!

First of all, my back yard is not big enough for any of the above, and second of all, how much are we supposed to give up in the name of progress? I make good use of my small yard. I plant things. I mow. I swat at small flying gnats. The lifestyle of my dog would be compromised if he had to reveal his private doings in the front yard. Besides, other dogs wander by and leave their doings there. It isn't sanitary! 

I haven't heard of anything yet but if it can happen to others it can happen to me. One day you wake up, take a sip of your morning coffee and look out the kitchen window only to discover that BOOM: overnight someone has plunked a chemical factory over top of your perennials. And once it's done, try getting it undone. It's never too soon to prepare.

I wonder if NIMBY has membership cards. That would be cool.

Friday, August 19, 2011

With A Little Help From My Friends...


A bit of a story today. Sorry if it runs a bit long.

A number of years ago The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse hired my firm to assist in their communications efforts. The Director of Communications was a chap by the name of Richard Garlick. Richard was quick with a laugh, would bike into work from his home in the Gatineau Hills, had an avid musical addiction and would cross-country ski his age in kilometers every year.

Richard kindly shared his passion regarding the issue of substance abuse with me. He taught me about issues such as harm reduction: where substance abusers are given the means of reducing the harm associated with their affliction, while giving them access into the health care system... That seems trite, a better source of information on the subject is here.

One day, he told me the Centre was interested in coming up with a yearly award for those who were outstanding leaders in the substance abuse field. Since the award would be given out by the wife of the Governor General of Canada at Government House a normal hockey-type trophy was, we agreed, out of the question. I set out to discover what was possible. I had an inkling that a bronze sculpture would be neat and Richard agreed. But I had never done one before. (Yikes.) I scoured the countryside for options...

I ended my search at the studio of Bruce Garner, a renowned Canadian artist. He was interested in the project. I went to Plantagenet to meet with him and his wife, Tamaya. A gracious, burly man, his handshake could cripple. We talked in length about the project.

I asked him if he'd allow me to sculpt the statue. He not only agreed, but gave me a lesson in the lost wax method and sent me away with a gift of enough wax to begin the process. We touched base over the length of the process. His kindness allowed me to learn and grow.

The result was an expression of three androgynous figures, each helping the other up. The lead figure's hand is raised in triumph.

Richard led the effort of course, with great interest. And a last minute change in direction was met with trust and confidence. Okay, I called him at the last moment and told him I wanted to redo the design and he agreed. Faith.

Bruce and Tamaya took care of the hard stuff and welcomed me into their home/studio to touch up the results of the molds.

The ceremony at Government House was a great success.

Several years later, Richard commissioned me to create a smaller version of the same award and Bruce again applied his skill and expertise with great care.

The original molds were destroyed in a cataclysmic fire at the Plantagenet studio later that year.

In 2009, Bruce Garner took a fall off a ladder which left him in a wheelchair with limited mobility and nearly no ability to speak. Bruce was moved to a nursing home to commence his long and difficult recovery. At last word, he continues to draw. (Update from Tamaya: Bruce didn't fall off a ladder but did take a tumble off their landing. Subsequent tests show Bruce had contacted progressive supranuclear palsy and in October, 2012 passed away at age 78.)

On Saturday, June 11, 2011 Richard Garlick died of cancer after a three-year battle.

When I think of this sculpture today, the meaning behind it – the love associated with it – I credit it to these two great, vibrant, intelligent and giving people. Thank you Richard, for your teachings, support and belief. And thank you Bruce, for your mentorship, good humor and robust love of life. I've learned from both of you. More than you know.

Peace.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Self Portrait – 5:30 a.m.

It's a wonder I allow myself to get up in the morning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Art Of Mindfulness

Your zen moment of the day, brought to you by Baba Ram Dass, who used to be known as Dr. Richard Alpert. His 1971 book, Be Here Now became a bestseller. Interestingly, Ram Dass is known for his association with Timothy Leary at Harvard University in the early 1960s. Both were reportedly dismissed from their professorships for experiments on the effects of psychedelic drugs on human subjects.

The variation, "Wherever you  go, there you are" resonates (Jon Kabat-Zinn). But the thought behind the phrase may be better known to you as living in the moment, or mindfulness.

The English term mindfulness has been in use for centuries, long predating its use in the Buddhist context. The OED defines it as "The state or quality of being mindful; attention; regard", with obsolete meanings of "memory" and "intention, purpose". This word was first recorded as myndfulness in 1530.

"If you have one eye on yesterday, and one eye on tomorrow, you're going to be cockeyed today." Anonymous

See you later. Gotta go be someplace... :o)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Be Nice To An Olive Today


Acquired tastes. An appreciation for a something that is strange to us and therefore unlikely to be enjoyed, usually because of smell, taste, or appearance.

You've heard the phrase, "It's an acquired taste."

Normally we'd be talking about things like raw oysters, olives, calamari, stinky tofu, durian, kimchi, haggis, hákarl, asafoetida (and other edibles that I can neither pronounce or spell). But the term may also refer to aesthetic, intellectual and cultural tastes, such as taste in music, art and certain individuals, groups and/or traditions.

Let's take the humble olive, stuffed or not, as a poster child for the things in our lives that may be an acquired taste.

Conquering one is not easy. But once past the appearance, or the texture, or the saltiness, or the smell, one can appreciate the inherent qualities within. Allowing oneself regular contact, as revolting as that might seem at first, sometimes helps one overcome and even like the previously unlikable.

So be nice to an acquired taste today. Because you might be someone else's olive...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gotta Watch My Dings...

I thought someone was going to call me over the weekend, mainly because when we parted company last week I said, "Gimme a ding over the weekend." And they nodded.

Maybe the nod meant "Yeah, in your dreams." The invitation wasn't meant to obligate them, or that I was actually needing a ding. I meant it as a friendly suggestion. Nothing more.

Of course I'm using the word 'ding' as a euphemism for the word 'call'. 'Call', being such an outdated word, because nobody ever actually calls anyone anymore, do they? So you have to call it something else in order for your invitation not to be outdated... and therefore more appealing.

So, when I said, "Gimme a ding," maybe they thought I meant 'ding' in a different way. Maybe this person is, as I speak, waiting around the next corner to hit me in the head with a baseball. That would also be a 'ding'.

Then again, should I find a 'ding' in the side of my car when I leave for work this morning I'll know where it came from and will assume responsibility for my miscommunication.

Or maybe they thought I meant it as an invitation to hit on me and took offense. As in, 'ring my chimes'. That would have been assumptive, suggestive and completely out of order. Although I think I would have said 'buzz' if I meant it in that way.

I assure you, I meant 'ding' in a purely platonic, politically correct manner... and I did make the thumb-to-the-ear-little-finger-to-the-mouth signal. Maybe they weren't looking. Or they thought I meant something else by that gesture...

(Historical footnote: "Gimme Dat Ding" was a 1970 novelty hit by The Pipkins. Have a listen. It's quite a nice way to begin a Monday morning. And the dancing is fun... Written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, it is a lighthearted duet between a deep, gravelly voice and a high tenor. The gravelly voice is a cross between the "dirty old man" played Arte Johnson on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and Wolfman Jack. It would become most famous for its use as an instrumental in silent sketches on The Benny Hill Show throughout the 1970s and 1980s and altered to "Gimme Dat Ring" for a Coca Cola ad their new Ring Pull Cans in the early 1970s. The song reached #7 in Canada and the U.S.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Somebody's Obviously Not Doing Laundry

Okay, Sunday. My day off. A job that I brought home with me on the go, several loads of laundry to do, leftover chicken wings to reheat for breakfast and several errands to run. If I stop to take a bath I may clean the washroom while I'm at it. Days are busy. No rest for the wicked.

Somebody obviously doesn't have enough to do. They call each other to get several hundred friends together on a moments notice to have a pillow fight in the street, or dance at an airport, or sing in a mall.

They call these seemingly impromptu gatherings Flashmobs.

And now, we find those who-don't-play-well-with-the-other-kids-on-the-playground have adopted the technique to instigate riots and lootings en masse. Phhhft. One looter, interviewed recently with a bandana over his face stated, "It's nuffin', it's like Christmas, innit?"

Officials are thinking of taking away cell phone use to curb such violent gatherings. One commentator likened it to taking away telephones twenty years ago. Pretty silly.

I must admit I was taken in when the phenomena began. It was like improv art. The greatest thing was the expression on the surprised public faces. But surely these singers and dancers and pillow fighters would have stopped to think about where their seemingly innocent and sometimes pointless antics would lead.

It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Obviously they all need something else to do. Like laundry.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Dirt On "Clean"

Over the past couple of decades we have been told things are good for us only to find down the road things things have been turned upside down and we're told to use caution.

Now I'm as clean as the next guy. I bathe regularly and wash dishes religiously. Every now and then I'll binge out and dust, vacuum and wash the floors. But some people go absolutely nuts about cleanliness.

Here are four instances where keeping clean may not be as beneficial as we have been lead to believe:

1) Hands up if you're sanitized. A number of issues have surfaced lately regarding the use of hand sanitizers. While still good, the CMAJ reports recently that they are no substitute for good old soap and water in preventing infection spreading and may, in some cases, actually increase the risk for outbreaks of highly contagious viruses in health care settings. 

2) Inside-out cleanliness. CNN reports, to my relief, that colon cleansing, promoted as a natural way to improve your heath and cleanse the soul, can actually cause dangerous side effects and "tout benefits that don't exist." I'll leave that one there...

3) A hiccup regarding household cleansers. The use of cleaning agents that kill all bacteria on surfaces on your home is now said to aid in the development of super resistant strains of evil bacteria. Besides, being exposed to bacteria helps us keep our immune systems up to par. But if you should feel the urge to kill germs, I stumbled across this post that advocates the use of vodka, not rubbing alcohol, to clean your house. Rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol, which is toxic when absorbed. Vodka is ethyl alcohol, which is safe for human consumption should your child put a toy you cleaned with it in their mouth.

4) No more lilac-scented living room. You know those plug in air fresheners and shake on carpet deodorizers? Ah, to live in a garden of delightful scents. It seems they're said to constantly release toxic chemicals into your home. A small spritz in your bathroom is evidently still okay because you're not subjected to it constantly.

It's hard to know who to believe anymore. But I know one thing. Baking lasagna is not toxic. I'll continue to use my world famous recipe to give my home an appetizing scent.

Have a great day!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back To An Old Habit

This past weekend I read a book. A real book. With real paper pages. 438 of them. And I had to physically turn the pages myself. What's more, it was a hardcover. It wasn't that I needed to for research or anything. I did it purely for enjoyment. I read it from cover to cover.

Seems like years since I did that. I even had to dig out a light that I had retired to the basement. I read for hours.

I think I weirded out the dog. He looked at me and then looked at the silent tv then he looked at me and then the closed laptop... then he grabbed his squeaky toy and buried it in the laundry basket.

Then I read him a bit of the story. Now he wants his own books. I'll have to pick up a copy of "Cat in the hat" for him.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ode To A Tart

So I went to lunch with my boss
Assuming dessert to be a part.
But we got talking about business
And I forgot to order my tart.

The tart stayed on my mind
So I went and bought a pretty one.
But when I asked my friend for a photo
He ate it and again I had none.

So here I sit sadly tartless
Such is the story of my life.
Anyone know of a tart maker
That I can take for a wife?

(Thanks to Sue for the lunch and chat, and to Martin for the picture and, oh, for EATING MY TART!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Imagery As A Shared Experience

A slice of a photo becomes a full bleed photo illustration for a book on volunteering. What was secondary subject matter turns into drama and verve...

A cropped and filtered photo becomes an illustration of purpose. More than that, it becomes an expression. More than the sum of its content. It becomes a shared experience.

Just thought I'd share the experience as well.

Have a great day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ten Things About Humor At Work

Tom had this problem of getting up late in the morning and was always late for work. His boss was mad at him and threatened to fire him if he didn't do something about it. So Tom went to his doctor who gave him a pill and told him to take it before he went to bed. Tom slept well and in fact beat the alarm in the morning. He had a leisurely breakfast and drove cheerfully to work. "Boss," he said, "The pill actually worked!"
"That's all fine" said the boss. "But where were you yesterday?"

Having cut my teeth in the high tension studio atmosphere of jokes, practical jokes and lighthearted humor, I'm a big supporter of having a laugh on the job. But like wearing funny hats and singing comedic opera, you can push anything too far. Common sense prevails.

Ten pros and cons of "making funny" in the workplace:
1) Humorous storytelling is a great way of making a point. Or rather, letting people make a point themselves. When you tell someone something directly, walls can go up. But couching it in a story with a laugh attached lets the listener (or reader) find the value of the message themselves.
2) Sarcasm can be misinterpreted as mean, or critical. And you're not really mean and don't really mean to be critical, right?
3) There is nothing better than hearing peals of laughter coming from an office where someone is talking to a client or a supplier. Laughter is a great relationship builder. And most of us benefit from great relationships with customers and clientele.
4) Inside jokes amongst co-workers when in the presence of visiting clients, can be divisive and seen as not taking your job (and therefore their work) seriously. Know when to turn it off.
5) You might think about avoiding humor regarding race, age, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, religion, ethnicity, gender, or weight. It may be fine away from work but in this age of political correctness can land you in serious waters without a life preserver. Oh, that reminds me. Add politics to that list.
6) Self-deprecating humor works. Being able to make fun of yourself is often a tension reliever and shows you are human. I find my own foibles a virtual goldmine of subject matter.
7) People sometimes have to be gently shown the power and strategic benefits of the addition of humor into the workplace. And some simply do not want to laugh. Leave well enough alone. Humor is not a prerequisite to good work.
8) Loudly delivered humor does not always get people to listen and can divert fellow worker's attention just when they're on the verge of working out an issue. Sometimes a quiet expression shared can bring a laugh.
9) Emailed laughs can lift a person's day. But seven emailed jokes in an hour can defeat the benefit.
10) Any humor that involves the dropping of one's pants is probably not a good idea. Unless they drop themselves, there is no nudity involved and you happen to be wearing heart decorated boxers. And this only works once.

They say laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. A shared chuckle, snicker or outright guffaw brings your mind and body back into balance. Humor is said to strengthen immune systems, boost energy, and protect from the damaging effects of stress. Survivors of Nazi concentration camps have attributed humor in helping in their survival.

To those who chose to avoid the lighthearted side of life at work in an effort to preserve a reputation as a serious professional, 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.”

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Art Of Gathering Human Intelligence

Okay, I may seem like a boring middle-aged, management type, but do not be deceived. The reality is I have been a secret agent for over thirty years: infiltrating and collecting evidence of Human Intelligence (HUMINT). This is not only a dangerous avenue of spycraft but one can go long periods of time between the findings of evidence.

Even though most of my sources are of the "cooperative and friendly" type, one can never let one's guard down. During the course of my espionage career I have assumed many disguises: all subtle and learned from spy novels. How the putting on of a wig and a dress can shake a tail. How growing a grey goatee can make you look 20 years older... and stooping when you walk gives people the impression you are shorter than you really are.

Interrogation techniques, like the mastery of the act of drooling stupidity, can be quite effective. People are apt to talk about things in front of you. Secret things. Things they figure you can't understand. And okay, maybe you don't but if you remember certain key phrases long enough to steal away to the washroom and write them down on toilet paper (and then eat it), you can pass this information on later.

The reporting of human intelligence might seem quite easy to the layperson but the spy industry knows there is no security in high tech methods. Cell phones, email accounts and such can be easily hacked with a mobile scanner. Instead, the industry has returned to the tried but true Cold War methods. Wearing a flower and meeting on a park bench is good. But dead drops are ideal. I can't tell you how many coded messages I've inserted into a folded newspaper, dropped nonchalantly into my recycle box and left at the curb on Sunday night (with a piece of masking tape on the side to let my superiors know the drop has been made). Sure enough, the next morning the box is empty.

So, I'm sharing this information with you knowing that you'll keep it under your hat. I never said this and I was never here. And should you have some human intelligence to pass on, you know how to contact me... the usual spot. I'll be the short, old, drooling, grey-bearded lady with the white carnation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Eyeballing New Media Messaging

1) We live life judged by measurement but often decide import after just a quick glance.

2) Eyeballing, by casual definition, is the act of taking a quick look at the complex and making a quick and informal assessment. The more intelligent we are, the more successful this can be. 

3) Web media is no different. When people look at something online, no matter how much statistical data there may be, nine times out of ten they will form an opinion based on their personal interests or needs.

It is said that the average adult at the best of times has an attention span of eight seconds. Distractions keep us from focusing attention over a long period of time. To compensate, we scan and determine. Historically, marketers have long known that magazine ads have but an eye blink to connect with the reader before they flip to the next page. 

4) Internet browsing enables users to easily move from one page to another. Figures reveal most internet users spend less than one minute on the average website. The attention span of humans is decreasing as the use of modern technology increases.

The answer may lie in brevity, creativity and simplicity. Packing something interesting into a simple package can be the hardest thing to do. But the most effective. Perhaps we are seeing the return of the rationale for creative messaging in order to capture more eyeballs.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Historic Moment Captured

So, the Prime Minister was on campus yesterday to make a significant funding announcement for research scholars. Right on! The whole place took on a different light. People had a glow, there was an aura of expectation and all the lawnmowers got a long lunch.

I was so excited I stole away from my desk for a few moments at the appointed hour to maybe get a picture for posterity. But as it turned out only those with an official invitation were allowed access to the proceedings. I checked my pockets.

Alas, no invitation.

Ever resourceful, I managed to capture the image of the Prime Minister going out via satellite. (If you hold your hand over the picture above you'll be able to see it. It's a nice shot.)

Thank you for coming to visit, Mr. Harper. Hope they gave you lunch.

(BTW: do you think I could get you to sign this and send it back to me? Thanks.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where Does Change Start?

Two concept illustrations for 2011 United Way fund raising. "Change Starts Here" is the theme for this year's campaign and the challenge was to interpret it in context and give it meaning.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Art Of The Vision

The leap of a jaguar, the power of a ram. The glory of wings.

In the first half of the 20th Century, the humble radiator cap was dignified. When radiators disappeared under the hood, car makers continued to express their vision. Not a logo. Not a mere decoration. A feeling. A passion.

Here was the modern version of the figurehead on sailing ships: said to ward off evil spirits. The mystical personality who saved the ship from sickness, rocks, storms, and dangerous winds.

Now, a car was no longer mere metal and moving parts. A car became more: the stuff dreams are made from.

And the love affair of man and car began... 

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Brain On Breakfast Cereal

So it's a holiday today here in Canada for some. The short of it is I get to enjoy a leisurely bowl of cereal.
 
But holiday or not, it is still a workday to those of us who's minds will just not shut off and I'm one of those afflicted I'm afraid. In fact, while having breakfast a rather contrived history behind breakfast cereal popped into my head. Please let me take this opportunity to share it with you.

Many of you might not know this but breakfast cereals are a conspiracy of the evil vegetarian movement dating back to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Being that ham and eggs seemed to be the only thing on the menu those days, and corn on the cob and Waldorf salads were just too time consuming, they decided to concoct a ready-to-eat version of dried gruel, the traditional porridge-like mush of the dark ages.

Seems packaged cereals have a connection to sanitariums. Sanitariums (as opposed to "sanatoriums" – the medical facilities) were the ancestors of today's health spas and people would travel to them to partake in their fresh air and mineral waters. Patrons, once ensconced, were held innocent captives to these herbivore masochists and passive compliance and deprivation therapy appeared to be quite a normal practice.

The first packaged breakfast cereal was invented in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson, operator of the Jackson Sanitorium in Dansville, New York. The cereal never became popular, as the heavy bran nuggets were as hard as hockey pucks and required soaking overnight before they were tender enough to eat. Which made it, I would imagine, too closely resemble gruel – the very dish that it was meant to replace.

In 1877, John Harvey Kellogg, operator of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, invented a biscuit for his patients suffering from bowel problems (he was also big on enemas, I hear). His most famous contribution, however, was an accident. While plotting other tortures, he forgot a batch of boiled wheat and left it soaking overnight. A frugal sort, he thought he'd make pancakes and rolled it out. Getting it too thin, it dried rapidly, crumbled before his eyes and wheat flakes were born. His brother Will Keith Kellogg, a broom salesman by trade, stole the process and invented corn flakes. He left his brother in the dust and went on to found the Kellogg Company in 1906.

After WWII, superheroes "Snap, Crackle & Pop", Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit (among others) came to the rescue of young children of the world and mercifully refined the flour to remove fiber, (which at the time was considered to make digestion and absorption of nutrients difficult), and added tons of sugar to improve the flavor. By 1953, some of the better cereals had 56% sugar by weight. It was a time of enlightenment, (Captain Kangaroo, deep fried everything, Elvis, four-for-a-penny mojos and Little Lulu comic books) and one I am proud to be born into. 

Alas, the vegetarians gradually returned to seize control in the '80s and '90s. Sadly, fiber was once again introduced and sugar content was reduced dramatically in most offerings. Rumors are they are so enamored with fiber that they have teams of vegan monks with modified cheese graters sprinkling particles of two-by-fours into the mixture. Secret documents obtained through online whistle-blowers reveal a plot to return us to, yes, gruel by 2020.

So there you have it – the abridged and highly messed with history of breakfast cereal. Next week: the Cheerios Effect; or how Cheerios are attracted to each other in clumps while floating in milk. (A real theory of "fluid mechanics".)