Sunday, December 30, 2012

Come On In – 2013 Style

Happy New Year from a snowy Canada.

We've had a few healthy dumpings of snow in the past week. I don't mind winter, it's just that I'd rather the snowflakes that show up for a visit not park themselves in my driveway. But they do. And there I am, out moving it all around like the control freak I am. It's shovel-time.

For those of you who do not get to shovel snow, it's a wonderful experience. You dress up in multiple layers of clothing that guarantee both limited movement and slow strangulation and put on huge boots that only allow you to move six inches at a step. Then you exit a perfectly good house and go out into weather suitable only for flash-freeze food storage and pick up a shovel. As muscles that haven't worked since the last snowstorm scream at you, you begin shoveling at the door and work towards the street so if you get lost, fall or suddenly remember all the nice things about your warm bed; you have a clear path back home. Once you get going, shoveling becomes second nature and amid the shrieks of neighbors doing the same thing you're doing; you are free to think about other stuff.

So I began shoveling yesterday and as I uncovered my door mat (which was gasping for air), it occurred to me just how much I've welcomed in folks by way of social media over the past year – way more than through my front door. I've met many nice people online, regularly converse with some and have had amiable ongoing relations (without the danger of catching anything communicable) with folks (for example) from India, South Africa, Australia, Denmark, England, Columbia, Singapore and several scattered about the States – all online.

There are a few benefits to meeting with folks on the World Wide Web:
1) You do not have to go through invasive airport body searches
2) Bad breath and poor choice of fragrance is not going to enter the conversation (unless you bring the subject up)
3) There is no danger of getting stuck in a hotel elevator with someone with claustrophobia and a voice that can strip the finish off of furniture
4) Having to listen to cab drivers yell into their cell phone in a foreign language the whole trip to the meeting is a thing of the past
5) Your client's facial twitch* never has to divert your attention again, and
6) Mismatched socks, bad hair days, zippers at half-mast and wardrobe malfunctions are inconsequential*.
*Skype conference calls exempted.

According to Internet World Stats, out of an estimated 7.18 billion people in the world at the moment roughly 2.06 billion are connected to the internet. That's a 566.4% increase from the 361 million souls who were connected in the year 2000. Over 66% of that 2.06 billion people (that would be roughly 1.4 billion) participate in social media. So much for me thinking myself special.

The broader story, of course, is about how the tools we use to communicate have changed over just a generation. Growing up, we had a telephone on the wall of our kitchen (granted, with a long cord). That, and snail mail was it. The way we talk now would have been totally unimaginable back then. You can celebrate New Years Eve in Times Square via webcam, share a cheer with a friend on a houseboat in San Francisco via Facebook, exchange blown kisses with someone nice in a pub in England via Skype, and check in with a whole group of possibly tipsy, like-minded professional friends on LinkedIn. Then, just to be jaunty, you can tweet the Canadian Commander of the International Space Station (). Orbiting the world. In outer space. All from your place. Without having to shovel snow.

Social media makes distances between people disappear, and thank heaven for that; because we get to talk.

Happy New Year to all. And thanks for tuning in to Rand's Place and making my 2012 a very special year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top 10 Losers of 2012

Well, Christmas is over and this here teabag is just about all steeped out.

Last December I pledged to make 2012 free of personal angst and, looking back, I think I did pretty darned good. Oh, I got excitable a few times but nothing messy. Over the year more than a few people told me they were expecting to find me curled up in the fetal position on the floor, crying wails of self pity. But you'd be surprised at what a little denial, a fair amount of sublimation and never, ever looking at oneself in the mirror will do for one.

As I prepare to wax poetically on world events over the past year, my thinking is, if you're going to be a loser, you might as well be amongst the best of the bunch. These folks have earned my undying respect for doing just that:

1) That Facebook Geek: You know who he is. He was one of the youngest and fastest billionaires in the world. But unveiling his IPO this year was not the critical success it was hoped to be and he stands to lose 8.1 billion bucks. That's a whopper of a home page status update for you
2) NHLPA and the NHL: Rich players and richer owners are playing fans as suckers in the belief they will remain devoted to the game despite losing what is now half an entire season with a labor dispute. They believe the fans can't wake up, bid the NHL adieu and usher in a return to the glory days of hockey when it was a sport played by poor people with a genuine love for the game. These guys score big in my net
3) The Ex-Champion Bicycle Racer: It only took a thousand page report to reveal a sophisticated program of doping, stripping this guy of his titles, banning him from competitive cycling for-like-ever, losing his multiple endorsement deals, and forcing him to step down as chairman of his charitable organization. When Lance goes down, he doesn't fool around
4) Apple Maps: Australian police called the app "life-threatening." It was supposed to be Apple's in-house replacement to Google Maps, but offered landmarks moved to random locations, other locations dropping off the map entirely, and 3-D pictures that reminded users of a bad acid trip. How these guys managed to get Mr. Jobs to roll over in his grave is truly awe inspiring...
5) That Guy Who Didn't Win The U.S. Presidency: From my vantage point this guy could make a fortune, if he didn't have one already, giving lessons in changing stories as you go along to suit your own purposes. Recently, I hear he said he didn't want to run in the first place but his wife talked him into it. Wow. He just never stops
6) Hello LiLo: Personally, I never understood the allure, but despite an attempt at a career comeback playing Elizabeth Taylor on the small screen, her numerous run-ins with the law, family drama and hospitalizations has been like watching a train wreck in beautiful slow motion. I am in total awe.
7) Crackberry: I admit going through the ten-step program to get off of RIM's devices a few years ago. And despite the fact there have been a few delays in the release of its new product, the new management team continues to up their dosage and refuses to admit a lack of pulse. Just wow
8) Twinkies Makers: Hostess declares bankruptcy, putting 1500 workers out of a job and failing some more expecting pension cheques while a judge approves bonuses worth up $1.8 million if top executives meet certain liquidation goals. Meanwhile hungry buyers line up at the checkout to buy the brand
9) Walmart: Here's a chain of stores selling assault weapons at a brisk pace, while at the same time banning music with swear words. That takes real big gonads. 'Nuff said. And finally, I gotta save room for
10) The Donald: The diatribes and rants heard over the past year have been a wonder of unparalleled weirdness and a pomposity worthy of being the product of the back end of only the finest canine. I'll be ordering my Donald wig ASAP.

Thank God for these people.

It's about time to chuck this wet bag of used-up stuff in the waste bin of life. And put a fresh kettle on for the next year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hallelujah

 "I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah"

Hallelujah. Canadian poet, singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen, originally released this song in 1984. It achieved little initial success but has gone on to be covered over 300 times since and is often cited as one of the greatest songs of all time.

Best of the season to you. May you groove on it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art That Pauses, The Comma Project

"Commas have no meaning, but they help us to see the structure and therefore the meaning of the sentence." ~ The English Club

Ta-da-da-DA! In-troducing The Comma Project, Vision 2013.

Why "comma", you ask? Commas are funny things and you'd never think to name a project after one but if you pause to consider they represent a pause that allows time for consideration, then I'm good with that.

As a bit of a warning, this is an entirely socialist pie-in-the-sky project because all are invited to join in for the common good. And it's an artsy-fartsy thing only because, well, it's about art. So you can see I'm making a lot of sense here. Here's the poop:

People look all day long, it's in their nature. They see good things and bad. And when they find something of potential value they pause and think about what they see. But a lot of what we see out there these days doesn't want you to think. People are being told, persuaded, lectured to, belittled, sworn at, alarmed, conned, admonished and nagged at. It seems, to some, the loudest, stupidest voice wins. And the top shelf stupid stuff is celebrated as being so stupid it's funny.

This bad stuff often blocks the truly great creative material out there.

So my thought was to take roughly a year to talk about the stuff that often gets lost in the landscape of the riff raff. Work done for the love of it, not for bucks, hype or awards.

Thought provoking work gives purpose and richness to the pause it creates. It prompts feelings, it relates to our lives, our intelligence and it prompts us to express ourselves. Words and images ultimately mean more than the sum of its parts. It happens everywhere: a verse about the wind in the trees is really about love, an image of a child's embrace is reminiscent of all the good in the world. Whether it be an illustration, a photo, a graphic, a poster or a poem, piece of writing or a painting: meaningfulness, wit and invention provides a unique experience, a chance to enliven the spirit and motivate.

This is the gentler, kinder side of art. It pauses, enriches, surprises, punctuates and makes smiles, sighs and cheers. It creates positive culture.

So for 2013, let's look at art in different forms that gives more than its surface value: stuff with a fun twist, that puts heart in where there would otherwise be none, that gives pause for thought, that tells a story. Let's talk. Friends, followers and readers are invited to contribute their work. My hope is that it'll be deserving of your consideration. Being of no cost to collaborators doesn't make it worthless, merely the best of inexpensive. I'll update progress throughout the year. By next December let's see what we have. And we'll go from there.

Contact me if you're interested.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Like A Tragic Love Triangle

Lots of drama this week. You know what I'm talking about. I needn't add to the sensationalism already rampant by going into detail. Suffice to say, it was a terrible event that made many a hardened spirit stop in their tracks, followed by a massive out-pour of emotions and debate. I found myself thinking about what happens when, for some reason, passion is incapable of compassion. If I may, a film noir moment unrelated to current events...

Passion, Love and Desire grew up together in a small town. When they were all still young Passion and Desire, who were from different sides of the tracks, hooked up and planned on running away to join the circus. Love was just this weird kid with a runny nose who no one really wanted to hang out with. On the night the young couple were to escape Passion got caught up in events that prevented her from getting away and Desire was left to join the circus by himself. Everything comes to a head years many later when Desire returns to town and learns what has become of Passion and Love.

Passion: Rich and beautiful, Passion began life thinking she would have an easy life full of joy, if only she could get away from her evil aunt. But on the night she and Desire were to escape she inadvertently kills her aunt with her own cane after the aunt attacks her kitten. Love, the son of her tutor, witnesses the event. Passion, worried her life would be over, makes up a story about a stranger in the house and ends up marrying a conspiring, snivelly-faced and inebriated Love to keep him quiet. Time goes on and, without Desire, the intervening years has been like having to watch reruns of television demonstrations for vegetable cutters over and over. Passion slowly loses touch with reality.

Love: Maybe it was because Love was raised being told over and over that he was flawed that he became so. While intelligent and well intentioned, his insecurities made Love desperate and when he witnesses Passion's indiscretion, he offers his silence in return for her hand in marriage. The union is doomed never to be all Love wants it to be. Still, Love holds Passion hostage to his embrace. Because the dirty little secret is all that is keeping the marriage of Passion and Love together, the arrangement simmers like a pot of overdone oxtail soup left on the stove too long, its wine long turned to vinegar.

Desire: Years after leaving and drifting from job to job, Desire returns to town with no knowledge of the train wreck Passion's life with Love has become. Both Passion and Love think Desire knows about their dirty little secret and expect Desire to blackmail them. Passion turns on the charm and Desire goes about trying to figure out whether there's still a spark between Passion and himself, even though she's tied to a weak and drunken Love. Passion, trying to avoid the inevitable, tells him of her wish to leave Love for him. Nobody's fool, Desire figures out that Passion's plan is to have Desire kill Love for her. He ponders the ramifications like a dog torn between a bone at his feet or a whole cow he can smell just around the corner.

On the final night, Desire tricks Passion into confessing her dirty little secret, realizes she is quite mad, refuses to kill Love and wisely leaves both Passion and Love to their fates. Alone in the house, Love and Passion realize their dirty little secret is out of the bag. While Love holds the gun on Passion, Passion reaches down and pulls the trigger herself. Then, with his Passion dead, Love expires in a second flash of light from the library window.

And Desire is left to walk alone into the fog on a dark, rainy night...

---------

Based on the public domain film noir, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, (1946) staring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas, produced by Hal B. Wallis. Screenplay by Robert Rossen and Robert Riskin. Directed by Lewis Milestone. No disrespect intended.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Impending Epidemic of Repost Disease

It's a world of constant change out there with almost daily innovations; technological and otherwise. We scramble to some degree to keep up, lest we miss "the new norm" and are labelled "not with it." Because if we get that label we all know the people who are "with it" think they can eat us for breakfast.

While we play catch-up, it's relatively easy to fake it by tooting slogans du jour from the social media influencers or industry gurus and a lot of people do just that. And keeping up posts and discussions by reciting the teachings of the famous, the powerful and the anal retentive is common practice. But this seemingly harmless but highly infectious behavior is a slippery slope. You may just find yourself suddenly in the gutter, nursing a six pack and sniveling uncontrollably. Because you now have the dreaded Repost Disease. BS levels go through the roof, the drooling begins, knuckles drag on the ground beside your desk and you find yourself only able to post what other people tell you to post. It's so prevalent lately, I've been getting worried that maybe I should be stockpiling vaccine.

Don't get me wrong. I like BS in moderation. I think it can be fun and recreational. But heck, if I'm going to spout BS, which I do (especially on this blog) I'm going to make sure it's my own, it's obvious (i.e. not disguised) and possibly a tad funny.
"BS is not just telling lies or stating untruths for one's own benefit. It's also attempting to portray oneself as someone you're not, or always following the crowd, or sharing opinions that somebody else tells you to share. And Reposting Disease is the bottom of the barrel." ~ (me)
I suspect, as shown in the chart to the right, the more BS people spew is inversely proportional to the amount of trust they garner. In other words, the more BS people post, the least amount of trust you have in them. And I don't know about you but I don't think that's very healthy. In fact, the badly afflicted Reposters are not far removed from those who only say what others tell them they should say in real life. It's something akin to the cashier at the register with the glazed eyes who hands you the receipt and says, "Thank you for shopping at Walmart" or "Have a nice day." I find myself wishing they'd say something real. I love going into a store and hearing a cashier complain about their shitty day. It means they're human. Then, the next day hear maybe what their dog did that made them laugh. This means not only that they are alive but they are their own person with their own lives and that to me is a plus, because I don't want them to be a Walmart clone zombie living a Walmart zombie life.

Personal opinions, discoveries and expressions of individual wonders are healthy, do not normally require preventative medical care and are the stuff of which innovation and progressive thought is made of. Feeding the interaction online in a personal and informed manner spurs other people on to think, respond and grow themselves. And maybe, if you can; you should. And if you find yourself constantly reposting, try posting something original...

...before we're all overwhelmed by posts from people who are just saying what they've been told to say by people who tell people what to say.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Bizarre History Of Hats

Where did you get that hat?
Where did you get that tile?
Isn't it a nobby one, and just the proper style?
I should like to have one just the same as that!
Whe'er I go they shout, 'Hello!
Where did you get that hat?'


Sorry for the long post today but the subject of hats is a complex one that goes way back in time. Except for the crazy sculptural ones that show up at royal weddings and fashion runways (and such) hats have pretty well disappeared for normal people, men in particular, in the past half century. If I were a person who looked good in hats I suppose I'd wish they'd come back into fashion because I like the idea tipping them at total strangers all the time just to be cordial and civilized. Or pulling the brim down over one eye just to look cool. Nowadays, if we're having a bad hair day and don't want strange looks all we get are baseball caps or maybe a cowboy hat if we're mucking out the stalls in a barn. The lack of hats these days is a shame really. 

Ever since humans began taking care of their appearance heads have been covered, especially wherever sun and rain were severe. As shown by the sculptures of Egypt, the drawings of ancient China, and heads on coins of early Greece and Rome wearing of a hat has always been a mark of rank (not smelly rank – highness of station rank).

Felt is believed to have been discovered by the nomadic tribes of Asia, who made tents and garments by felting sheep's wool. Washing their tents caused them to shrink so much they became their first hats but people found they smelled like wet sheep when it rained so gentlemen stayed indoors if showers were predicted until someone invented the umbrella. In the 14th and 15th century proper head attire was considered necessary for men while it took until the 18th century for millinery fashion to catch on for women. Until then women of class wore men's hats or had Marge Simpson hairdos. 

For a time live, small animals and docile birds were also worn by both men and women especially in winter as they kept the head warm (see Davy Crockett pic, okay it's Fess Parker, with rifle Betsy, right).

By 1600 the use of fur felt took a huge leap when the hat-making qualities of beaver from the New World were discovered. The tall beaver came into fashion and crowns reached a height of 7 inches or more. Short beavers were left alone and today very few tall beavers are found, having been hunted to near extinction.

Next came the derby, invented by William Bowler in London, and was originally a piece of riding headgear. The name came from its appearance at the English Derby. But horses are fine in their place and the derby found itself abandoned in preference the bigger, more stylish summer brim of the straw panama hat and more expansively brimmed soft felt hats in the next fall and winter; thereby leaving the derby wearing for more formal occasions, like hangings and balls and such.

Then all was well with hats and everyone wore either a fedora or a pork pie or a homburg until the 1960's when one's hair became important as a status symbol of hippydom and rock starness. Hats lost their social appeal and thousands of millinery jobs were lost to China. And now when we wear many hats we don't have to be wearing one at all. When you come to me hat in hand your hands may be empty and if you expect something at the drop of the hat or throw your hat in the ring there may not be an actual hat involved at all. Just the suggestion of one. Talking about hats without them being in the room is all old hat now.

I know, I've gone on long enough and have worn out my welcome. "Here's your hat what's your hurry"... I get that a lot. Without being handed an actual hat of course.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Poor Auntie Anteater Is Afraid Of Ants

Poor ol' Auntie Anteater. Deathly afraid of ants. A sad state of affairs. While the rest of the Anteater family loves ants, eating upwards of 30,000 of them a day (each), Auntie Anteater, on the other hand, can't be around them, let alone poke her snout into an ant hill. She doesn't like the taste of them. All the tiny little legs scurrying around give her the heebie-jeebies. And to this day she can't even hear the rhythm of "The Ants Go Marching" without totally losing it.

My mother had the same thing with snakes. Couldn't even watch them on television or hear the word without writhing in disgust. Even the most friendliest of snakes would have her squirming and squealing in terror. Not that we eat snakes in the MacIvor family mind you... still, you catch my drift.

You would think this would make her the black sheep of the Anteater family, beloved Auntie or not. But they try to understand even if they don't and do their best to facilitate her fear.

They suppose her hatred of ants is psychological, due to an unhappy experience while she was a wee one riding the back of her mother but she won't say. My brother had the same thing happen with onion rings. And thus far, no amount of therapy has helped.

So what, you ask, does an anteater eat if it doesn't eat ants? She eats the rarest of foods (chopped into ant-sized bits): Almas Caviar, Kobe beef from Wagyu cows in Japan and White Truffles. Quite the bother. She had to marry for money instead of love. But, luckily she also has a love of ketchup and this gets her through on those days when she can't find the rare stuff. Like the rest of the Anteater family, she has no teeth and a tongue that can measure up to 2 feet in length which makes her very good at getting the last of the ketchup out of the bottle. Being virtually indistinguishable in appearance from the rest of the Anteaters who do eat ants, one can usually recognize her by the collection of very clean Heinz bottles scattered about.

Life is funny like that sometimes. So be nice to someone today who has a fear of something they wouldn't if it was a totally rational world. Because we all know it's not always a totally rational world, through no fault of folks like Auntie Anteater.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Things On Sticks

I don't know whose idea it was to put things on a stick. Musta been a pretty smart cookie though.

Human beings have probably been putting stuff on sticks since the ol' opposable thumb thing happened. Maybe some dude or dudette was eating Tyrannosaurus rex drumsticks one night and discovered they have a knob on the end that allowed them to pick up their food without having to put their fingers all over the end with the meat on it that they were going to eat. And the next day when they were spearing fish or small rodents – they said to themselves, "Hey, maybe I'll just leave it on the stick to eat it."

It's a mystery lost in time. But I'm pretty sure it lead to popsicles and other neat things. 'Cause things on sticks are cool.

Things on sticks isn't the same thing as 'sticky things' but sticky things are great when put on sticks. Candy apples to name one. Marshmallow brooms and all-day suckers are pretty sticky if you let them heat up in your pocket for a bit.

(not an actual tag line)
When I was a kid, popsicles (invented by mistake by eleven-year old Frank Epperson in 1905) came with two sticks and a dent running down the middle that helped you break the popsicle into two when you hit it against the corner of the building outside the store (while still in the wrapper) to share with a buddy. You had to eat them right away while sitting on the curb on a hot summer day because even with your 3-speed Supercycle they wouldn't last if you tried to take them home. And the great thing was if you saved up all your popsicle sticks you could glue them together and make boxes for trinkets or death-defying jumps for sandbox dinky toys.

And you want hot? Get yourself a hot dog dipped in batter on a stick and you save yourself the cost of a bun. If you're into lining small bits up and eating them in a row, give yourself over to exotic yogurt-marinated lamb kebabs or Thai chicken satay with a spicy peanut sauce.

Cold or hot, it's all about convenience and allure and most of all, it's all about the stick. About the only thing that isn't better on a stick is anything thin, slippery and long; like spaghetti... or worms. (Although I hear snakes on a stick are great... with cinnamon.)

There's a phrase in Dutch that goes, "Alle gekheid op een stokje." I don't speak Dutch but I'm told it translates to, "All the silliness on a stick" – and is what people from Holland say when they want to say, "Joking aside," or, "Silliness is great but let's get down to business." The fact that they make it a point to put their silliness on a stick says to me that they recognize that sticks make even silliness better.

This made me realize that things other than food can be put on sticks to make them go from good to great.

So, of course, this week I went around putting things on sticks. I think they look much better.

You can do your bit to make things better too.