Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sorry, kids

The school my oldest kid goes to has two entrances. The younger students use one, the older another. Last year we were at the high end of the young, basically our last year among the wee ones. Now we’re the smallest at the older end, and there are some stark differences. One thing I noticed right away is the difference in appearance of these children.
Last year, the kids were cute. Dimples, baby fat, big eyes, infectious laughter, carefree attitudes evident as they tore around the playground participating in games that had no rules any adult could understand. This year, though... Wow.
The kids got ugly.
Sorry, but it’s true. Those of you who have children drifting into and through adolescence know what I’m talking about. Oh, you probably think your own kid is still awesome, but surely you’ve noticed his friends are looking a little weird. The other odd thing is that it’s only the boys.
They barely look human anymore. Their facial features are distorted. Lips, nose, and ears have all grown and the rest of the face hasn’t caught up yet. Hair is shaggy. Some of them are sprouting that upper lip hair that looks more like a dirt smear than a moustache. Limbs are gangly. Movements are jerky and uneven. Even though their voices haven’t deepened yet, their laughter is harsh and troll-like. The girls, on the other hand, appear to be having a smoother transition into their adult forms. There are some exceptions, but for the most part the really weird mutations aren’t affecting them.
(I have been informed by reliable sources that all the horrible girl changes take place where you can’t see them. I’m in no position to argue. However, I will submit that boys undergo some significant hidden transformations as well. Menstruation versus nocturnal emissions and NRBs. I won’t say it’s a draw, but boys are at least in the race.)
Maybe those grotesque adolescent years are a downpayment of suffering against the later decades when men (allegedly) get more handsome while gravity wreaks havoc on our female counterparts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I love driving. Not the act itself, mind you. While there’s no doubt everyone else on the road is an idiot (and they are all thinking the same about me), I never forget that I’m driving a couple tons of metal death to anything that chances across my path. Squirrels. Smart cars. Old ladies with walkers. Kids chasing their soccer balls into the street (although that one doesn’t really happen much anymore, kids being far more likely to be using digital soccer balls on their Playstations). A few things are immune, like big rig trucks, buses, and trains, but pretty much anything else that I drive over is going to either a) die, or b) be very late for work. Cars are dangerous, deadly weapons, and everyone sixteen or over is entitled to try and use one. Best of all, you only have to display skill with this terrifying device ONCE in order to be cleared for decades of use. Isn’t that crazy? You have to get retested every couple of years for your first aid certificate, or to handle anhydrous ammonia, and your body count using either of those skills improperly is NEVER going to be able to match a single afternoon joyriding through the local mall.
My point is, I don’t find driving relaxing. I don’t believe it should be relaxing, the same way you shouldn’t be casual about lighting someone’s cigarette with a flamethrower. Discretion is advised. No, the reason I love driving so much is sloth.
That’s always been my favourite among the classic “Seven Deadly Sins.” All of them have their merits, but ‘sloth’ is the only one that I can do all day. I suppose I can envy all day, too, but how is that fun? The same goes for greed or pride. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of strutting around snatching candy from children and proclaiming “That’s right, I’m the best.” Being wrathful or lusty is tiring, so after a few (seconds? minutes?) hours I’m right back to sloth. As for gluttony, forget it. What’s the first thing you want to do after a huge meal? Take a nap, right? Boom, sloth wins again.
Primarily, then, I drive because I am lazy. The number of times I have driven two blocks to 7-11 to buy something unhealthy are legion. We have a grocery store four minutes away by foot. Four minutes! I’ve timed it. That’s close, particularly when you consider turtles can lap me in a footrace. Yet I often drive. I would probably hop in the car and drive to the fridge if my house was paved.
Laziness is not limited to overuse of motorized transportation. Like many nerds, I often play the “what superpower would you have game.” Sometimes I have grand dreams, where I save the world from itself or become a Dr. Evil-style villain, complete with ridiculous cackle and desire to crush all free will. More times than not, however, I end up imagining how those world-changing, awe-inspiring super-powers would make my daily life easier.
Teleportation? No more waiting in traffic on my way to the school. Flight? Changing lightbulbs in a 10-foot ceiling would be so easy, not to mention getting leaves out of the gutters. Mind control? Think of how many people there are who could fetch me things! Super-strength? That would be an end to the days of struggling with the pickle jar. The list is endless. You give me a super-power, I’ll find a way to use it in a prosaic and mundane fashion. Really, a car is just a super-power that you can buy, giving you the ability to travel at a speed our ancestors wouldn't even believe.
The “super-power” game is something I’ve played forever, and I have to admit the uses to which the powers are put changes as I age. As a kid, it was all about defeating fictional bad guys or defending me and my friends from bullies. As a teenager, pretty much any power was used to get girls to like me (“Hey, baby, want to see me juggle cars?”). Now it’s all about sloth. In a few decades, my powers will almost certainly be bent towards the destruction of those pesky kids that walk on my lawn and make all the racket with their new-fangled music.
I will be the bad-guy that they will use THEIR fake powers to beat. Life will come full circle.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street. I applaud the sentiments behind the movement. When you hear stats like “in the last ten years, one-third of all income earned in Canada has gone to the richest 1%” it is hard to believe that capitalism is a good idea. Is that really the best system we can come up with? A system that allows the rich to become richer on the backs of the poor? I get it. Without the carrot of reward, it’s hard to get anyone to do much. If you have to give most of your reward away, why push yourself? Star Trek may be filled with selfless humans eager to slave all day for something vague like “personal growth” but that’s science fiction. (Awesome, awesome science fiction.)
Sharing doesn’t come instinctively to human: ask any parent how many times they had to hassle their toddler to get them to give up a toy. The idea of taking a little less than everything just so that someone else can have some, too, just isn’t the way we’re built. There is a benefit to accomplishing tasks cooperatively, but it only takes one guy to realize “I don’t have to be in the FRONT in order for us to kill that mammoth” to spoil the whole thing. One selfish person breeds another, and so on. Very few people are capable of doing their absolute best, working to capacity day in and day out when they are surrounded by slackers playing Farmville and still getting the same paycheck. In the old fable of The Grasshopper and the Ant, the ant works all summer and the grasshopper lazes about. When winter comes, the grasshopper nearly dies until the ant takes him in. The lesson we are supposed to learn, in theory, is that hard work pays off in the end. The lesson it ACTUALLY teaches is that someone else will save us if we goof off. That’s what proponents of capitalism try and promote in our minds, anyway. Hand-outs are evil. Only the indigent are unemployed. Get a job, slacker. Pull up your boots.
On a level playing field, that might be the case. But capitalism doesn’t create a level field. All humans are NOT created equal. In nerd-speak, you roll your 3d6 for each attribute, and you take what you get, no exceptions. Some get inborn gifts that allow them to thrive in their environment, whether that’s intelligence, cunning, greed, amorality, or just plain luck. Others get gifts because they were born to wealthy parents. Are we really supposed to believe that a kid born to a single mom working three jobs to pay the bills has the same chance to make something of himself that Richie Rich does? Sure there are examples of “poor kid makes good” and “rich kid blows it all away.” But for every rich-guy-that-started-poor there are a million poor-guy-that-started-poor. And I’m not sure we’d find even a single homeless person who could truthfully answer “Yes” to the question “Did you start your adult life with a billion dollars to your name?” Capitalism best helps those who already have.
So you go, Occupy people. You march wherever you want and hopefully you’ll make a positive change. In the novel 1984 there is a suggestion made that all revolutions, at best, only serve to elevate the Middle to replace the High, at which point the oppression carries on, albeit with new masters. Hopefully this won’t have the same result. Even if it does, I don’t think it’ll pain any of the have-nots one bit to see a few of the haves booted out of their mansions for a while.
The problem that exists now is one of organization and leadership. Because this movement began organically, there is not hierarchy or even concrete goals. They’re doing very well without a leader, but there is a problem looming that a prudent leader might perhaps have been able to foresee. Much of the territory that they are trying to “Occupy” is located in places that experience winter. This movement only began in September. It is a bad idea to embark on any attempt to occupy a wintery country in autumn. Bad. Just ask Napoleon or Hitler how it went when they tried to occupy Russia in the winter. It didn’t end well for them.
With October upon us, and the Occupiers only now moving into Canada, I have to say that you have already given the victory away. The late-year start means that the wealthy just need to play a waiting game and eventually you’ll crumble. Just try living in a shanty town during December in this country. You’ll be begging for an ant to take pity on you.
Too bad, though. I love the idea of socialism. Share and share alike, I say. Of course, if we expand that to a global scale, everyone is North America is going to be catapulted below the poverty line, because there are billions of people out there for whom a refrigerator is a myth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Two kinds of people

Every time I think of the expression “there are two kinds of people in the world” (or some derivative) I always think of this example. There are three kinds of people in the world; those who understand statistics, and those who don’t.
Today is about one of those “two kinds” instances. There are two kinds of people in the world; those who park in your driveway, and those who don’t.
Some people roll up to your home, see that long strip of gravel or pavement, and immediately think “Man, my car would look AWESOME there.” Others instinctively find someplace on the street. What’s the difference? Consideration.
The driveway parker may not think at all before he pulls in. There might also be a relatively length process where he judges that parking in the driveway is okay. Maybe it’s a double driveway, and he’ll be leaving a spot. Or the family car’s already there. Or the car’s gone, and he believes it’ll be a while before it comes back. With a garage he’s operating without some crucial information, but he trusts that all will be well if he takes up that driveway. And of course he’s right. Very few deaths are caused in the average year due to driveway-occupation. It’s not a matter of emergency, tragedy or real pain. It’s about consideration.
That’s basically the willingness to inconvenience yourself for the benefit of others combined with the ability to perceive times when that might be handy, kind, or necessary. The driveway parker doesn’t believe in that. He blithely assumes that there is nothing more important in your immediate existence then his visit. No one will need to use your car while he’s there, or need to get into the garage, either. HE’S there. All other activity will cease. He wants to be able to save himself fifteen or twenty steps, and damn the cost! Consciously or unconsciously, he’s being an inconsiderate jerk.
What about times when he just has to drop something off and he leaves the car running? Still inconsiderate. Not only is he blocking your driveway, he’s increasing the local concentration of carbon monoxide on your property, potentially putting the lives of everyone you know at risk. Not to mention the disservice he’s doing for the environment! Leaving your car running... why don’t you just run an oil tanker into the rocks off the coasts of Labrador?
The street parker, on the other hand, puts your needs first. He doesn’t know what frantic shopper is about to burst from the home, intent on a mall trip RIGHT NOW. There might be a doctor appointment someone’s late for, or a hot date. Maybe someone is expected to arrive after driving nonstop from Lynn Lake, and their need to get to the bathroom cannot be overstated. Wouldn’t such a person be within their rights to tear the head off anyone who stood in their way?
Depending on the day, each person might be a street or a driveway parker. Everyone has good and bad moments, and each person rates the acceptability of a driveway park differently depending on circumstances. (Don't fool yourself, it's never acceptable.) The point is this: if you park in someone’s driveway without specifically being told to do so, you are a jerk. So do better tomorrow, or better yet, just choose the curb. Come on, admit it, those flabby legs could use the exercise.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Cookie Monster inside me

There it is. You are looking at the best cookie in the world.
It is sweet without being cloying, soft without falling apart in your hands, chewy without being tough, nutty without causing allergic reactions. The cookie is all things. It is glorious. “Delicious” is too small a word. It is safe to say that I have never experienced a cookie that has given me more pleasure. (And that’s a big statement, as the cafeteria in my high school used to make a cookie that was, until now, King Cookie in my world. The only way in which that old cookie trumps this new one is size: it was as big as a plate. Still, the new one is better.)
Since there is always a risk of being slaughtered by my own wife for revealing her secret recipe to the world, I will speak of it only in vague terms. Essentially, the construction of this delightful treat has as its foundation the self-same cookie dough that results in a chocolate-chip cookie.
Chocolate-chip cookie dough is awesome. I used to scam spoonfuls of it all the time when my mom would bake, in spite of her constant warnings against the salmonella I was certain to get from the raw egg in the batter. It used to be a mainstay snack (ie, meal) during the marathon gaming sessions of my late teens and early twenties. We’d buy it in tube form and just dig it out of the plastic wrapper with spoons. (Repeating that feat these days would probably kill me now, or at least put me down for 72 hours groaning and clutching my aching stomach.)
The only problem with chocolate-chip cookie dough was the chocolate chips. Most bakers add semi-sweet chocolate chips. First of all, why is there even such a thing as SEMI-sweet chocolate? Screw that. Chocolate is a desert. It should be so filled with sugar I can hear it hiss and sizzle through my tooth enamel. People who eat dark chocolate and crow about the “delightful bitterness” are weird. Bitter is bad. The only reason we have taste buds that detect bitter is so our caveman ancestors could taste something, spit it out, and say “Grog no like. Berry activate Grog’s bitter taste receptors. Berry probably poison.” Enjoying bitter is the gastronomic equivalent of being masochistic. “Oh yeah, hit me with that hammer again. I LOOOVE the pain!”
Sweet or not, I’m not the biggest chocolate fan. It sure doesn’t belong in my cookie dough. So when my wife made these cookies, I was immediately in love (with the cookie). Instead of chocolate, she adds chopped pecans and Skor bits. Since the Skor bar used to be my fifth food group, the flavour of the “bit” is extremely appealing and certainly appeals to my sweet tooth. Chocolate chip cookie dough without the chocolate, pecans, Skor. The perfect cookie.
Feast your eyes while I gorge myself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Autumn mystery

Welcome to October. It's a beautiful autumn day. The leaves are golden and scarlet. The neighbourhood is peaceful and quiet, a soothing change from summer, where at any time of day you will hear a lawn mower roaring in the distance. It's sunny but not too hot. Perfect.

I walk out of my front door and see something strange at the end of the driveway. It looks like paint.

Puzzled, I take a closer look. It's not paint. It's poo. Bird poo. Lots of it, and all localized into a couple of square metres. Note the skillful grouping. Those buggers were pooping for accuracy.

There are tree branches overhead, but no nests. No birds are perched up there. Come to think of it, I've never seen birds perch there. They much prefer the backyard, where they get to gorge themselves on our bird feeders before taking a restful break on the fence, the typical repository for their brand of whitewash. Not this time, though. This time, the sidewalk gets it. One day, clean sidewalk. The next, it looks like the scene of a paintball massacre.

What had changed? If you look at the pictures, the droppings are in a pretty tight pattern.

They all look about the same age, so I doubt it's the result of one bird just liking that spot better and doing his business there every day for weeks. No, an entire flock of poopers chose that place, either deliberately or by happenstance. There's no similar cluster of bird offerings anywhere on the block (no, I didn't go hunting, I just kept my eyes open when I went for a walk).

It's a mystery. If I were a gang member, I'd see it as some sort of avian drive-by. "You better keep feeding us... or it'll be your car that gets it next time." If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd try to analyze the poo pattern for a secret code, perhaps marking my house for some nefarious purpose. I'm just a nerd, though, so instead I'll just idly wonder and make no effort to investigate the truth of the matter. Did a hawk or crow literally scare the crap out of some flock of sparrows? What went on here? I may never know, but I do know one thing:

This will haunt me for the rest of my days.