Yellow Stars & Uniforms

By noon on Wednesday, Eastern time, I knew. Knew that two Canadian Armed Forces members had been killed in just three days, taking me back to the distressing place of hearing of war dead and casualties in Afghanistan. Knew that they were murdered in Canada, by Canadians, taking me to a place I had never even imagined.

Later on Wednesday, Canadian Armed Forces members were ordered not to wear their uniforms unnecessarily outside their workplaces. In the uncertainty about the extent of the attack, it made sense as a Force protection measure.

What made less sense, perhaps, was my reaction. I didn’t want them to stop wearing their uniforms: I wanted to put one on too. If they were a target, I wanted to be one too. Fight my gang, fight me.

I trace this reaction to a story that has inspired me for years. When Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, they issued an edict requiring all Danish Jews to wear an armband emblazoned with the Star of David. But the Germans were unprepared for the reaction they got: the King and a significant proportion of the population started wearing the armbands, too.

It’s a great story. There’s just one thing. It never happened.   Continue reading

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The Dialectic of Kitchen Appliances

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.

I look at my visitor happily ensconced on the black-vinyl bench of our built-in kitchen table. Happily because it was fun to scramble up and sit like a big girl: at home she has to use a booster seat. But that happily-ness is fading fast if her expression is anything to go by, and when is it not, with a two-year-old?

It’s 1990 and my visitor and I have retired to the kitchen to get her a drink. Long done with bottles, she still expects her milk to be warmed up slightly. But as a card-carrying Late Adopter of Technology, I have no microwave. Putting the glass on the table in front of her, I apologize for falling short of expectations.

Sorry, sweetie, I can’t heat it up.

And that’s when it started.

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.
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Clams Got Feet: Do Computers Cheat?

Vext.

I wrinkle my nose, bringing it into alignment with the skin around it.

Vext? That’s not a word. Why is the Scrabble® judge letting the computer get away with playing a non-word?

Then the penny drops. The Scrabble® judge and the computer against which I am playing are one and the same. Talk about your conflict of interest. This electronic version of the game offers no challenge mechanism, so I suck it up and play on. But I make a mental note for future investigation.   Continue reading

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But Fear Itself

Shh-gurgle-shh-gurgle-shh-gurgle-shh

Notwithstanding a certain rhythm, the sound of running water is not music to my ears. Not, at least, when and where no water should be running.

gurgle

Like a dogged douser, I track it to its source: the toilet in the main bathroom is definitely shh-gurgling. As I lift the tank cap—shh—my eyes quickly confirm what my ears have already diagnosed. The tank is emptying as fast as it’s filling.

Trained to show no fear in this sort of emergency, I authoritatively jiggle the flapper to reseat it and wait hopefully for the change in tone that will indicate the tank is filling. I wait in vain.

I squint at the chain affixed to the flapper and see that the doohickey—which should loosely connect the chain to the flapper—is wedged into an unnatural position. I unwedge it, releasing the slight tension it had put on the chain.

With an almost audible sigh of relief the flapper subsides almost imperceptibly, and that beautiful toilet-tank-filling sound fills the room.   Continue reading

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Life Is

Life is a bucket brigade: Don’t slop the bucket when it’s your turn.

What’s that you say? You’ve never heard that metaphor for life before? You wonder if I made it up?

Well, OK. I understand your skepticism.

What else? You’re not crazy about it?

Well, OK. I understand your preference for the more standard and, I admit, more popular metaphors for life. Although those would just be, ahem, something someone else made up.

In this regard, a little internet surfing on this topic even turns up a Canadian songwriter.

Life is a highway, I’m gonna ride it, all night long.
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Stick. String. Nerve. Not.

Why don’t you put down “stick and string”?

Standing on the public side of the counter, pen in hand, I glance up at the speaker. She is standing on the working side of the counter—what some would call the pointy end of the stick in this business, I guess, but I’ve pretty much had it with sticks at this point. As it were.

Her sally is greeted with broad smiles from her colleagues, of whom there seem to be an unreasonable number, milling about amid stacks of flat cardboard boxes, bags of Styrofoam™ peanuts slung from ceiling hooks, toffee-coloured towers of packing tape, and waist-high metal tables with stray bits of toffee-coloured packing tape adhered. Do all these people really work here? And if so, why aren’t they, you know, working?

Although my answering smile might be a bit forced, my annoyance is not really with the smart-aleckette but, rather, with myself. How did I let it come to this? My mind drifts back to the previous day.   Continue reading

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Is That the Best You Can Do?

Netflix traffic accounted for 34% of North America’s downloads
during the busiest hours of the day this year.
Drew Fitzgerald, Wall Street Journal, 2014 May 14

Maybe you already knew that Netflix accounts for one-third of internet downloads. But maybe you didn’t know that I accounted for another one-third of internet traffic this last week, downloading new software and uploading my documents and photos to online storage.

OK, not quite a full one-third share. But combined with our current Netflix preoccupation (“MI-5,” a BBC intelligence thriller with ten (count ’em, ten) seasons), my reconfiguration of my laptop and my foray into cloud storage did push us over the bandwidth limit on our internet package. A limit we’d never paid any attention to before, not in six years with this provider. It’s hard to get to 60 GB/month just by downloading Word files from shared work sites and uploading vacation photos to Google+ albums, 30 at a time.

But it turns out it’s quite easy to blow through 60 GB watching Netflix offerings—especially in the dog days of the network summer schedule—and uploading, oh, say, 30 GB in accumulated photos for backup. Just to pick a number out of the air.

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We Appreciate Your Business

Thank you for calling the blank-blank-blank. All of our associates/agents/technicians are currently serving other customers. We appreciate your business. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.

In the recovery period after the Great Crash, I’ve spent quite some time on the phone with various folks, reconstructing my suite of downloaded software. I’ve spent almost as much time on hold.

We appreciate your business and apologize for the delay. Call volumes are higher than normal.

Just my luck, eh? To have a hard drive fail when higher-than-normal numbers of other failures are occurring. What are the odds of that, do you suppose?   Continue reading

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We Know Where That Information Is

Have you seen a blue binder?

From his glassed-in perch, the bulldozer operator frowns for a moment at the note in his hand, looks down suspiciously at the guy with the mop of curly hair who is looking up at him hopefully, and then checks the note again. Yup, that’s what it says, all right.

Have you seen a blue binder?

The operator shakes his head, trying to look regretful rather than stupefied. As the guy with the mop of curly hair walks off, shoulders slumped, the operator reaches for a lever. The bulldozer lurches forward, pushing the next mound of garbage into the channel prepared for it, and life at the Saskatoon city dump goes on.   Continue reading

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Life is a Purse

3:10

Sitting in an airport holding pen, I look up, disoriented. Have I missed my flight? As panic rises, the thinking part of my brain rouses. Reluctantly. Sluggishly. My watch is still on Vancouver time from a trip a few weeks ago. It’s 6:10 where I am. Whew.

But, once roused, my snippy internal monitor is not content with merely correcting my mistake, or with alleviating my (mis)apprehension. What’s that she’s saying? That if the watch showed the correct time, I’d be early for my flight, not late?

Thanks for that. Given that the 6:10 in question is the oh-dark-hundred kind, not the glass-of-wine kind, and that I’ve been up since oh-4:30, I’ll cut myself some slack for slow thought processes.   Continue reading

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