some vacation!

When you're a rural telecommuter, being locked out is a lonely business.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

recent hostage taking

It was with great sadness, but not surprise, that I heard that Jim Loney was among the captives taken hostage in Iraq earlier this week.

Jim is a committed pacifist who has chosen to put himself in the path of conflict in order to help those most affected by the aftermath of war, specifically the displaced and the grieving. The group he represents, Christian Peacemaker Teams, is founded on the principles of the Mennonites and the Quakers and finds kinship in the liberation theoligists of the Catholic Church.

I met Jim about 10 years ago when the group home for refugees and the homeless he was co-managing in Toronto became involved in a community farm project around the corner from my home. I can say without hesitation that he is hard-working, good-humoured, and that he has a greater capacity for compassion than almost anyone I have had the pleasure of knowing.

He is not a spy. He is not a fundamentalist, nor is he militant or ill-intentioned in any way. He is also not naive. This is Jim's third trip to Iraq with the CPT. On a previous trip, he witnessed his colleague, George Weber of Chesley ON, die as one of the trucks their convoy was travelling in had a tire blow out and rolled.

Please join me in holding all the hostages in your hearts and minds through this hostage taking and in wishing them a safe and speedy resolution.

Friday, November 25, 2005

don't buy this blog

Today was Buy Nothing Day, and I forgot (at least this year we didn't buy a house on November 25th, as we once did).

My son Nate needed a winter jacket desperately. He grew about 5 inches since last year, and his jean jacket simply wasn't cutting it in the 50cm snow drifts that blew in on Wednesday. I took him to town, and after finding nothing second-hand, bought him something snug and warm and new. We also bought fruit, cheese, and a pack of ballpoint pens. I consoled myself with the fact that none of the purchases were frivolous.

As fate would have it, there was a discussion about Buy Nothing Day on Radio Noon, which gave me a chance to talk about the concept with my kids over lunch. As fate would also have it, they've been listening to Chumbawamba a lot lately (I think they're drawn to the up-beat rhythms and memorable sing-along choruses).

Thinking about the Chumbas of old, the conversation over our black bean soup naturally led from Buy Nothing Day to anarchism (pacifist-communitarian vs. militant-nihilist strains) to libertarianism, to community justice models, to prison reform, to homeless issues and squatting, to fetal alcohol syndrome and sociopathy. Admittedly, 6 year-old Nate left the room to play on his own, but 10 year-old Cleo was fast with questions and hungry for answers.

Never, never in my wildest imaginings could I have thought that the plump, mewling newborn I held in my arms 10 years ago would be discussing political counter-culture and social reform ideologies with me before she hit puberty. But there you are.

Parenting is a wild and deeply satisfying adventure.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

the $100 wind-up laptop is here

Found at: Pocket Lint
See also: MIT

MIT unveils $100 laptop to the world

Posted by Stuart Miles

17 November 2005 - MIT has unveiled its $100 hand-cranked laptop computer to the United Nations technology summit in Tunisia and said that it hopes to make millions of the devices to give to the poorest people in the world.

The lime-green machines, which are about the size of a text book, will offer wireless connectivity via a mesh network of their own creation allowing peer-to-peer communication and operate in areas without a reliable electricity supply.

"The $100 laptop is inspiring in many respects", said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "It is an impressive technical achievement, able to do almost everything that larger, more expensive computers can do. It holds the promise of major advances in economic and social development. But perhaps most important is the true meaning of 'one laptop per child'. This is not just a matter of giving a laptop to each child, as if bestowing on them some magical charm. The magic lies within - within each child, within each scientist-, scholar-, or just plain citizen-in-the-making. This initiative is meant to bring it forth into the light of day".

The goal is to provide the machines free of charge to children in poor countries who cannot afford computers of their own, said MIT Media Lab chairman Nicholas Negroponte.

Governments or charitable donors will pay for the machines but children will own them, he said.

"Ownership of the laptops is absolutely critical", he said. "Have you ever washed a rented car?"

Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria are candidates to receive the first wave of laptops starting in February or March, and each will buy at least 1 million units, he said.

The computers operate at 500 MHz, about half the processor speed of commercial laptops, and will run on Linux rather than Microsoft’s or Apple’s Operating systems as previously hoped by the two companies.

The computer uses a screen from a portable DVD player, which can be switched from colour to black and white to make it easily viewable in bright sunlight, said Mary Lou Jepsen, the project's chief technical officer.

MIT plans to have units ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007. Manufacturing will begin when 5 to 10 million machines have been ordered and paid for in advance.

Monday, November 21, 2005

how "yearist"!

I was amused to read this funny essay on Tom Kernaghan's Oakwriter blog this morning. Tom seems to have become enamored of a certain rare species of North Americans: those born in 1964.

First off, let me make this clear: I was not born in 1964. But I was conceived in 1964, so I think I'm close enough to offer some insights. Not that Tom would expect me to, but what the hell.

Being born in 1964 or 1965 means you spend your life at the ass-end of a pig moving through the demographic python. This translates to spending your formative years following a huge wave people who have already been there, already done that, and already gotten bored with it just a few years ahead of you, but are only too willing to tell you why it was so much better when they did it first.

My life was constantly filtered through another boomer's lens. No matter where I was on my journey towards maturity (and I'm still working on it...), there was someone 7, or 11, or 17 years older who told me "Oh, don't bother, the FILL-IN-THE-BLANK (music, drug, destination, emotion) was SO much better when I did it in 1974. It's crap now".

Part of that is true: boomers had sex before AIDS. Boomers had drugs before crack and crystal meth. Boomers had cheap travel. Boomers had property before inflation, jobs before Free Trade. Boomers could stumble out of university in the 70's and into great careers, or spend 10 years travelling with a backpack and a guitar and still come home to fulfilling work. If you came out of university in the late 80's, like me, you probably worked in telemarketing or waited on tables for several years because someone 10 years older than you was occupying the entry level career-track job you thought you'd have.

We on the the tail-end of the pig were witnesses to a lot of folly that our elders in the "me generation" indulged in, from disco to cults. If we have bullshit detectors, it's because there were finely honed as we watched so much of it fly around us. It's no wonder we "got" punk (yes, yes, I know it was a boomer invention, but how many boomers really got it?).

I remember when I discovered punk. It was February 2nd, 1979. I was 13, in Grade 8, and I had just heard on the CBC Radio news that Sid Vicious had been found dead in his bed after celebrating his release on bail pending his trial for the murder of former lover Nancy Spungeon. I sat on the edge of the guacamole-coloured bathtub where my mother was bathing and tried to make sense of it.

The thing is, it wasn't that mystifying to me. I got it. As part of the hand-me-down generation, I understood the rage, I understood the "fuck you" that was Sid Vicious. Days later I got my first period. Then, as the Rheostatics song goes, "that summer I saw The Ramones". Heady stuff.

And yes, the Beatles were brilliant, and yes, the Beach Boys were geniuses and you know what? Stiff Little Fingers and The Buzzcocks still make me tingle with pleasure.

And you know what else? Some of my best friends are boomers. There are simply so many to choose from... chances are some of them are bound to be great.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

northward, ho!

Everyone that celebrates Christmas has some meaningful event that marks the beginning of the season: the first Advent, the lighting of the municipal tree, the Charlie Brown Christmas special on TV. Egg nog. The Canadian Tire flyer. Whatever.

The annual CBC reading of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has become the real beginning of the season for me. In years past, I've been a bit of a humbug about the whole commercial Christmas culture. Still am, actually. But the readings always help dispell that seasonal feeling of spiritual disconnect for me.

I've had the pleasure of reading for the benefit of several charitable groups in towns across Ontario over the last several years: my home town of Durham, neighbouring Walkerton, Orillia and Mississauga come to mind.

Despite the archaic language and despite the vague discomfort of being trussed-up in fancy clothes and heels, I'm always moved at these events. I usually tear up during the last stave, even though I've known since I was a child exactly how it was going to end. Forgive me if I overstate things, but I find these readings transcendental. (Being a pragmatist, I have to consider that maybe it's just the flickering candles, the bum-numbing wait on hard church pews, and the turkey-induced sleepiness brought on by the requisite pre-reading "Christmas dinner" all conspiring to play tricks on my state of conciousness...).

Childhood Christmases for me often meant going north. Regular family trips to Timmins around the solstice have imprinted in me the memories of long, still walks down mining roads in the nostril-freezing cold and mugs of foamy hot chocolate after. No picture-perfect holiday card can compete with my own memories of blue-black skies festooned with stars and a moon so bright that diamonds twinkled on purple-shadowed snow.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that I've been invited to read The Christmas Carol in Goose Bay, Labrador on December 2nd. To paraphrase Sook-Yin Lee (whose trip to Happy Valley-Goose Bay made for one of the best DNTO shows in years), WHOOHOO!

I'm so glad I bought that little rabbit-fur-trimmed wool jacket last week. Now I just need to replace my 13-year-old Sorels and parka - they've earned their retirement.

For those of you closer to home (my home, anyway), I'll also be reading in Owen Sound on December 11th.

Monday, November 14, 2005

to boldly go

I just got a note from my producer, who is working in the CBC building today while I work from home.

It seems that sometime since last Friday, there have been advertisements installed in the washrooms at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto. Yes, even on the second floor, where much of "commercial-free" CBC Radio lives.

So, this is how we're going to generate new revenues for the corporation? To sell the eyes and asses of our own employees to corporate advertisers?

We're in worse trouble than I thought.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

say it ain't snow!

It's snow.

Hard little pellets of corn snow, freezing to the ground where they hit. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

c'mon CBC, show us your hits

I was distressed to read the article by Guy Dixon in the Globe and Mail today about the new CBC Radio One afternoon schedule. This quote from host Kelly Ryan about the new program "Freestyle" leapt out at me:

..."we're playing lots of music. Music that doesn't normally make it on the CBC," such as Madonna, Elton John and Top 40, Ryan added. "This is the kind of show you can have on in the background at work, in the dentist office, moms at home. We're really hoping we can move into the work market, the office market, retail..."

OK, I'm a music programmer with interests in something other than Top 40 fare. Admittedly, I'm biased. But I'm also a work-from-home mother of two kids for whom the CBC is a lifeline. Some days it is my only contact with the outside world.

The very last thing I want to hear on the CBC in the afternoon is Madonna and Elton John. I choose to listen to the CBC because there's a very good chance that I won't ever hear Madonna, Elton John, Shania Twain, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey or Phil Collins. It's enough that I have to hear them when I do go to the dentist.

I sincerely hope that Ms. Ryan is grossly overstating the case for the kind of music that we can expect to hear starting next Monday.

my brain is finally of interest to someone

Last Tuesday, a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo came to my house and spent a couple of hours testing my brain. This was a follow-up to the on-line synaesthesia study that I mentioned in earlier posts.

My own type of colour-number association is not as vibrant as some peoples' synaesthesia in which seeing or hearing a specific digit or letter causes the person's visual field to be temporarily coloured by "blobs", "screens" or "auras" of colour. I get the "sensation" of certain numbers when I see certain colours. Perhaps the best description of my experience is that it feels like the seeking process your brain goes through when something is on the tip of your tongue. The fact that I associate certain symbols with specific colours qualified me for testing.

The researchers set up a laptop and screen on my kitchen table and asked me to choose specific digits that represented distinctly vibrant shades of the primary colours red, blue, yellow and green (for me they were 4,7,2,3). I was asked to choose the exact colours from a Pantone-style chart. They then created a series of coloured numbers which could be flashed on the screen for me: a red 4, a red 7, a red 2, a red 3 and so on for each colour and digit combination.

First they did a test run: the researchers flashed each coloured digit on the screen in random sequence and asked me to identify the number I saw as quickly as possible into a microphone which recorded the time from image-flash to my blurted word. I assumed the theory is that a red 4 (which is a correct match) would be easier and therefore quicker for me to identify than say, a green 4 (the wrong colour match). To my surprise, this did not, in fact, seem to be the case when I was asked to call out number names. A 7 was a 7, regardless of colour.

Then came the brain cramp: when I was asked to identify the colour of each image on the screen, it was virtually impossible for me to identify the colour without concerted effort if the corresponding digit was not "correct". So, a red 4, and I could say "red", no problem. A yellow 4, however, felt like I was fighting my way through molasses to form the word "yellow" and make it come out of my mouth. A yellow 7 actually made me feel anxious and queasy when it flashed on the screen. This was a revelation to me.

Since all of evolution is a process of differentiating attributes (including one's senses) from one another, synaesthesia seems to be an evolutionary throwback. Research into syneasthesia suggests that it is a product of brain development in utero. If the part of the brain normally proscribed for a certain type of sensory process is unavailable at the time in which the body normally forms those neural nets, another part of the brain may be used for those processes. Idiosynchratic neural nets are formed which permanently link 2 or more normally distinct senses.

In other words, if wise old mother nature can't get the job done one way, she'll try another. Some people have no overlapping of senses whatsoever. Some, like me, have a faint sensation of sensory mixing. Others are overpowered by stimulus: something as simple as the fridge turning on creates a light-show of colours, smells and textures.

I had never noticed that my synaesthetic associations had any effect on any mental function before in my life. Obviously, they do. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for those who actually see colours with each digit or letter (rather than "sense" numbers, as I do) to swim through this extra layer of perception.

It was a welcome relief to me when I stumbled across anecdotal evidence that synaesthetes often do poorly at math and at learning second languages. Math, grammar and French were the only courses in my entire school career that gave me any distress (I was carrying 85-90% averages across the board in other subjects, but would repeatedly fail both math and french, despite putting the work in). I remember thinking "I can HEAR the language perfectly well, I can even get by in a conversation, so why do I fail every test?".

It was also a welcome relief to read that synaesthetes report a significantly higher than average level of diagnosis for ADHD and clinical depression. As someone who struggles (and fails) to keep order in even the simplest of tasks and then becomes emotionally overwhelmed by these repeated small failures, this is good news, indeed.

I'm not crazy, I'm just wired that way!