Your Lucky Day

I just read a report about what happens to Lottery winners within a few years of the windfall. Lotteries are kind of a modern thing. A hundred years ago your only way to make money legally was to either work hard or play bingo. But now they have these lotteries where you can win millions and millions of dollars just for buying a $10 ticket. The first section of this essay I read, was to explain why anybody who had even a passing grasp of high school math would not be suckered into playing a lottery. They say that there is more chance of being hit by lighting three times than there is of winning a lottery once. But in my opinion, they’re missing a key fact – no matter how bad the odds are, they are never zero. When they advertise with the slogan ‘You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket’ that makes sense to me. Whereas saying ‘You have almost no chance of winning’ strikes me as irrelevant, except for the ‘almost’. And who would buy a ticket to be hit by lightning three times, even if the odds are better.

The next point is that when you win, you are winning other people’s money, other people who bought tickets and lost. It’s not a lost treasure tht you’re recovering. It’s losers’ money. So what? They knew what they were getting into. Unless they don’t have high school math but who’s fault is that? When the winner bought a ticket, it was based on hope, not expectation. Same thing with the losers. Nobody who wins ever feels bad for the losers. Every winner has been a loser at some point. And probably will be again.

This brings me to the key focus of the story which was that almost every time a poor person on the verge of bankruptcy wins the lottery, within a few years they’ve blown it all. Sometimes they end up in actually worse financial shape than they were before the win. And the conclusion the author came to was that people in economic distress should not be buying lottery tickets because they can’t afford to lose and even when they win, they will eventually lose. Huh? What kind of logic is that? How can winning a lottery be bad luck?

This author concludes that lotteries should be played for fun by people who are financially solvent and are not looking to the lottery to solve their cashflow problems. I beg to differ. I have a whole different take. I think if you’re financially solvent you shouldn’t be ALLOWED to buy a lottery ticket. Who wants to hear that Warren Buffet won the lottery? Not me. I’m rootin’ for the guy living under the bridge in a cardboard box. And so what if he blows it all in a couple of years? The rich guy would probably hide it in a Swiss bank account. The poor guy will just spend it. On toys and cigarettes and booze and who knows what. He’ll be helping his own community because anybody who lives under a bridge tends to shop locally. So all these businesses and stores and street vendors benefit. In a way, they’re all lottery winners. I say let the poor folks play and let’s all hope they win. And I’m fine with it, if they blow it all. My only hope is that they’ll put enough aside to be able to buy another lottery ticket.

Flying Your Flag

According to the Bible, Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. To me this means two things – (1) they were attractive and (2) they lived somewhere warmer than Canada. But after they ate the apple, suddenly the fig leaf trend hit and everybody was wearing one. The Bible says Adam and Eve felt ashamed and that’s why they needed to cover themselves. So the original purpose of clothing was to hide our shame. Some of us need to remember that as fashion trends come and go, A velour leisure suit is every bit as shameful as a naked body.

But clothing has gone way beyond that original purpose. It’s been used to identify groups of people like cowboys and Indians or armies or the Amish. If armies were naked, the two sides would only be differentiated by the size of their weapons. Many people are more comfortable in a group so dressing the same is a comforting way to blend in and not have to defend any individual choices. But as confidence and ego came into fashion, clothing became an extension of ourselves. ‘Clothes make the man’ my relatives used to say. Except for my uncle who said ‘Man makes the clothes’. He was a tailor. But I know what they were getting at. They were saying people judge you by looking at your clothes. Are they the latest fashion? Do they look good on you? Are they clean? Do they have holes in them? Are they supposed to have holes in them?

I think it’s all a trap. The fashion industry wants you to rely on your clothes to make up for any of your other inadequacies. And they try to get you when you’re most vulnerable – while you’re a teenager. Teenagers are the easiest customers in the marketplace. Strange things are happening to their bodies and their voices and other things. They’re inbetween childhood and adulthood for six or seven years and that’s a lotta time to be in the ondeck circle. They wanna be up to bat. They want to be making their own choices and running their own lives. But they can’t. At least not in most things. They have to live at home and go to school and pretend to listen to Dad.

So whenever they can express their own identity, they do. Through their music. Or their haircuts. But the most dramatic way is through their clothing. They can look tough or slutty or both or neither. Mom has dressed them for 12 years, those days are over. Teenagers want to fit in and stand out all at the same time. They want to be seen as innovative as long as their friends are innovative too. Wearing the latest fashion trends is a way to do that. And once they do that, the fashion folks have them for life. The kinds of clothes they buy will change but the need to buy them will last forever.

Not me. I have a few reasonably nice clothes that I can wear on social occasions. They’re not new but they’re ambiguously semi-classic and most of the time I can get away with them. And if somebody calls me out for wearing a shirt I’ve had for five years, I’m not embarrassed, I’m proud. They call it being out of style. I call it being in charge. Open your closet and take inventory. Chances are you’ve got $5,000 worth of clothes in there, most of which you never wear. My closet is around the $750 mark – $700 for social clothes and the other $50 for the clothes I wear day to day.

I don’t want to wear even somewhat expensive clothes day to day and I’ll tell you why: BECAUSE I DO THINGS. I change tires or replace spark plugs or rebuild carburetors or install toilets. I don’t hang out at the mall all day sipping lattes and looking at what everyone’s wearing. At the end of the day, I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something. I don’t care if nobody complimented me on my jeans. If I got the lawnmower running, that’s a good day.

And good clothes are wasted on me. If I’m dressed up and the furnace goes dead, I’ll be down in the basement with my tools ruining a really nice shirt. I know my wife would prefer it if I dressed better but she also likes the fact that I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. As long as I eventually wash ‘em.

So if you really like clothes and fashion and want to always look your best, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. But don’t criticize those of us who go another way. Remember clothes were created to hide shame not to spread it.

Your Royal Obeseness

There are 350 million people in the U.S. and about 340 million of ‘em are either on a diet or should be. The only reason I’m not in that category is because I’m Canadian. I know there’s a big push on these days to end ‘body shaming’. It’s seen as a form of bullying to demean people based on their physical imperfections. I’ve seen where lingerie companies are starting to use plus-sized models to advertise their frillies. These are larger, full-figured women who are confident and comfortable with their bodies. I still haven’t seen an ad featuring a really fat guy in a Speedo yet but I’ve been to a couple of Club Meds and believe me, it isn’t pretty. No matter how confident Fat Boy is.

All in all I think this new approach is a good thing but it only goes so far. It’s a lot easier to change what people say and even what they do but it’s almost impossible to change what they think. When they compliment you on your beach cover-up, it’s their way of begging you not to take it off. This latest wave of implied acceptance is part of a pattern that’s been evolving over a long period of time. Many years ago when you met a grossly overweight person you would say ‘Man, you’re a fat bastard.’ That era ended abruptly when it was discovered that a lot of fat guys can really throw a punch. In the next phase, when you met that same person you would say ‘Hello. How nice to meet you.’ and then you would turn to your friend and whisper ‘Man, he’s a fat bastard,’ That didn’t last long either due to one of the mysteries of Nature which is that most fat people are sensitive. And have excellent hearing. And now we’re in the final phase where we meet the person and say ‘It’s an honour to meet you. You’re looking well,’ And then whisper nothing to your friend. Or anyone else. Ever. But in your mind you’re still thinking . ‘Man, that is one fat bastard.’

I’m okay with almost all of this. I think it’s wrong to be mean to fat people. I don’t think their weight is any of my business. And I’m happy for them that they feel good about their largeness. Where it falls apart for me is when I’m supposed to revere them for having the courage to be fat. I can accept but I can’t revere. I save revere for heroes and moral leaders and good people who work hard to make the world a better place. Not for fat guys who have no shame. I don’t believe that anybody who had the choice between being a fat guy and being a normal guy would choose to be a fat guy. They would never consciously choose that route. Yet subconsciously they choose it all the time.

That’s because of one of the sad truths about human existence – most of the enjoyable things in life aren’t good for you. skydiving, eating a four pound cheeseburger, having sex with your secretary, having sex with your secretary while skydiving. Our challenge is to deny ourselves those kinds of pleasures. Many of us do not rise to that challenge. Especially when it comes to eating. The original concept is to ‘eat whenever you’re hungry’ but that has expanded to ‘eat whenever you’re awake’.

When humans are doing something destructive, like slowly killing themselves with a knife and a fork, they often come up with excuses as to why it’s not their fault. We’ve all heard about slow metabolism and water retention and genetic predisposition but in my opinion, there’s a simple scientific explanation. As our old pal Al Einstein proved, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed. Think of a potato as energy.

When you eat it, you take that energy in. Your job now is to transform that energy into something else. You could use it to do some activity. Breathing and yawning don’t count. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Climb some stairs. Do anything other than eat another potato. If you don’t use that energy. It will go somewhere. But not here:

The only way to get all the unused energy to go down the toilet is to throw the potato directly in there. Instead your body will store the energy. As fat. That’s because your body is hoping that you will come to your senses one day. That you will do something that requires energy. Your body is ready for that day, hoping and praying that it comes. If all that comes is more potato energy, your body will continue to store it as fat because your body still believes in you. No matter how cruel you are to it.

One final troubling spin-off from this new idea that fat is beautiful, is the attitude that the world feels obligated to the new reality. Restaurant portions need to be larger, we need alternatives to stairs and even walking itself. People don’t need to be smaller, airplane seats need to be bigger. Well okay but all of these changes raise the cost of living for everybody. A normal-sized guy is now paying more for a dinner that’s way too big for him to finish. Escalators and elevators are expensive. Do we need them everywhere? I lived in a community where the residents complained because there was no elevator to the fitness room. And sure the airlines could make airplane seats big enough to accommodate Mr. Jumbo but there’d only be 20 seats on the plane instead of 300 and the airfare would be $10,000 one way instead of $199 return.

I know I’m coming across as a hard-ass here but I can’t seem to find a way around it. I’ve been overweight most of my life. Not to the point of a health risk and I can buy clothes at normal stores but I’m not proud of how I look and it’s got nothing to do with body shaming. The ideal is to be fit – mentally and physically. When you see the Greek and Roman statues from thousands of years ago, you don’t see a guy with a massive beer gut and 200 pounds of back fat. Nobody wants to see a statue of a fat guy. No offence, Buddha.

Here Comes Da Judge

The other day my wife told me that I tend to be too judgmental which I’m pretty sure wasn’t a compliment. But if she’s right, that’s not for me to say. So of course it got me thinking, as most things my wife says, do. I started with a detailed examination of her comment. She didn’t say I was judgmental, she said I was TOO judgmental. It’s always a tough one when an activity is acceptable in certain doses. Like it’s okay to drink – as long as you don’t drink too much. And who makes that decision? The drinker? That happens a lot. I’ve often said only a guy who’s had 9 beers would think a 10th beer was a good idea. So the outside world, or as it’s more commonly known, your wife, makes the call when what you think is enough, is actually too much. Now I agree completely with the concept that a certain amount of judgmental behaviour is a good thing. When you come face to face with a rattlesnake or a biker gang or a women’s activist group, you need to be judgmental. You need to react. You need to be somewhere else. The ability to avoid life threatening situations is why we have ancestors. If your great-great-great-great-great grandfather had just gone willy-nilly out into the wilderness without making judgments between good and bad ideas, he would have lost both his willy and his nilly. I’m not saying being judgmental is good or bad – at least not yet – what I am saying is that being judgmental is natural. Maybe even essential. That’s based on the theory that survival is a priority. So when you meet someone for the first time, it’s natural that you will be judging them at least to the point of identifying whether or not they’re a threat. Do they look angry? Do they seem tense? Are they packing heat? Do they smell bad? If they pass those tests, they move on to Round 2. Now you’re trying to find out if they’re smart and/or amusing and do you want to continue your conversation or never speak to them again for the rest of your life. If they pass that test, they get into the semi-finals, which is you finding out if they have common areas of interest or common social or employment experiences or political viewpoints. If you get a match in those areas, you are on your way to becoming friends. That’s because, although they say opposites attract, we much prefer to be with people who are just like us. It’s less work, you don’t have to watch what you say and do and, most importantly, when their life choices match yours, it’s a subtle re-affirmation of you and everything you stand for. That’s a feel-good moment. It’s called ‘group-think’ these days and it’s natural and not even a bad thing, unless the group is wrong. When that happens, it starts an evolution where the more independent thinkers drop out of the group, causing the group to re-think their position and, if they’re presented with overwhelming relentless evidence, they will all agree to change their minds, which will eventually bring the dissidents back into the fold and re-establish that ‘all for one and one for all’ warm, fuzzy feeling. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Or at least NOT ENOUGH wrong with it. Besides it’s human nature and both humans and nature change very very slowly. All of that aspect of being judgmental is fine in my book. Where we run into problems is when we start judging things on either the wrong information or no information at all. We make up our minds before we find out about the person or the product or the service or the accident or the timeshare. But that’s not being judgmental, that’s being PRE-judgmental. That’s where the word ‘prejudice’ comes from. That’s a bad thing for everybody but it’s especially bad for the victim of the prejudice. So I’m now ready to translate the true meaning of my wife’s complaint. What she was actually saying was ‘It’s okay to be judgmental but don’t get ahead of yourself.’

The Trial Separation

Recently a friend told me that he and his wife are having problems and are now having a trial separation. Whenever someone who’s been married for a while hears about somebody else calling it quits, it makes them pause and daydream and even get a little giddy. Not me but other people. I tend to take a more analytical approach.

Let’s start by looking at the phrase ‘trial separation’. The first word is ‘trial’. I know that can be interpreted as ‘attempt’ as in ‘trial and error’ but from my experience a ‘trial’ involves a judge and a prosecutor who know what they’re doing and have done it many times before. So in this case I would say ‘trial’ means ‘formality’. We already know the verdict.

The second word is ‘separation’ which was first made popular by the WonderBra corporation. It means to divide into two different and independent parts. When it refers to people, it means that these people are no longer together, geographically or otherwise, and the ‘otherwise’ is the big part. Because if you think about it, most couples are separated geographically most of the time. They go to work or play different sports or go shopping or take business trips or even holidays apart. Sometimes when they’re together geographically, they’re not really together. Like when they’re watching television or eating dinner without talking or just staring blankly off into space.

Every time any of those things happens, the couple is having a mini trial separation. Is that a bad thing? I say no. Most of us love our wives or husbands but once in a while when we come home we’re hoping they’re not there. Not forever but just for an hour or two so we can relax and kick back and come up with a credible explanation as to why the lid of the barbecue is in the neighbour’s tree. With these kinds of separations, we’re planning to get back together in the long run. In a trial separation, there is no long run and at least one of you is never planning to get back together.

Sometimes a couple will live together for a while before they get married. Like a rehearsal for being married. Whereas a trial separation is a rehearsal for being divorced. I’ve heard that odd things can happen in a trial separation. Like both people change their minds. The person who wanted it discovers they hate it while the person who didn’t want it has moved on. That’s because of a common mistake people make in relationships and in life – it’s called bluffing. In my opinion, bluffing does not work. It’s like good luck – it’s great when it happens but it shouldn’t be a big part of your plan. People who bluff almost always lose. Even in that song The Gambler, the poker expert who knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, ended up bumming cigarettes on a train.

The advice I would give any married couple if I was ever asked which I haven’t been so far, is that you need to find that sweet spot for yourself that puts you between being a martyr and being a self-centred AH. (see an earlier blog). If you’re a martyr who stays in a one-sided relationship because you think it makes you saintly or God will reward you or you don’t deserve any better, you will hate yourself and never laugh or even smile at things that are really really funny. On the other hand if all you think about is yourself, that will eventually be your only friend and you will be denying your basic need to have social interaction and will end up very lonely and with an STD.

The trick is to be somewhere in the middle. Where the relationship works for your partner but also works for you. If you’ve got that, keep finding ways to make it work. If you don’t, get out and save yourself while they’re still enough of you to save.

I feel I should end with a joke so here’s one. Three Irishmen walked out of a bar. It could happen.

The Dangers Of Golf

There are several good things about the game of golf. It’s a great way to meet people and make friends. It’s good for old guys because it fools them into thinking they’re not useless. It’s also good for old women because it gets old guys out of the house for most of the day. It’s good for fat guys because they’re nowhere near the fridge. It’s good for drunks because you can only get so much beer into a golf bag. At most golf clubs there is a dress code so guys have to wear nicer clothes than the ones they sleep in. It lets you drive a golf cart even when your license is suspended. It cuts into your disposable income to the point where you can’t afford to buy firearms.

But all in all, the game of golf is evil.

Hardly anybody is any good at it. And the ones who are need to be born that way. Despite what the golf pros tell you about taking lessons and practicing, they can’t make you good, they can only make you less embarrassing. True natural golfers are like albinos. They’re rare and they’re obvious. So unless you’re one of the chosen few, golf will only be a source of frustration for you. Not all the time. Just most of the time. They don’t tell you that so I felt I should.

Golf will make you angry. Some of you will throw your clubs or break them over your knee or strip naked and run down the middle of the fairway screaming at the top of your lungs. (That’s gonna take a lot of sunblock) In time, you will eventually learn to control your anger. Your golfing buddies will commiserate with you because they know what you’re going through. That’s all nice and everything but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re angry. Why would you continue to do something that makes you angry?

Golf will make you feel bad about yourself. You’re a reasonably athletic person. You have a functioning mind, capable of understanding the physics and logic behind the golf swing. Why can’t you do it on a consistent basis? The pro says you need to practice more but you know down deep inside that you will never be any good at this. And it diminishes your self-image. Especially when that big fat idiot at your club beats you every time you play him.

Most human bodies, and especially yours, is physically incapable of executing a successful golf swing on a regular basis. To hit a baseball, you have to swing the bat on a horizontal plane. To hit a croquet, ball you have to swing the mallet on a vertical plane. To hit a golf ball, you have to swing the club on a horizontal AND a vertical plane, simultaneously. That’s like doing a quadruple saukau, every five minutes. Only an albino can do that. Golf is asking you to do something for which you are totally unsuited.

Golf is a huge waste of time. You get there a half hour early so you have time to warm up. The game itself takes at least four hours. Then you have a couple of drinks to ease the pain. That’s six hours out of your day. When you’re a young man with a family, you don’t have that kind of time. And when you’re an old guy who’s running out of time, is this how you want to spend it? The point of our lives here in Earth is to make something better for somebody – even if it’s just ourselves. Whose life got better from you playing golf? Just the guy you lost to but that won’t last. He’ll lose to somebody else tomorrow.

Golf is a con. The golf industry knows that you would welcome any opportunity to blame your poor play on some outside element. You don’t have the best clubs or golf balls or shoes or golf glove or bag or tees or hats or shorts or underwear. They’re happy to sell you all of those. And they’re not cheap. They don’t have to be. The golf equipment companies don’t think of you as a customer – to them, you are an addict. And that brand new driver with the melon-sized head and kryptonite shaft is the only thing between you and your potential. And what about all the golf training gear? The swing analyzer, the big hoopy thing, the practice club with the universal joints, the shaft with the ten pound weight on the end. They want you to think that if you train hard enough with their miracle tool, one day you will be an albino. Not gonna happen.

Golf is expensive. The annual cost for each member of a private golf club is around $10,000. If you join a club at the age of 30 and play until you’re 80, you’ll have spent a half million dollars on golf. Wouldn’t it have been better to pay off your mortgage or put your kids through college or bought your wife more shoes?

Golf takes up a lot of space. Augusta National Golf Course is on 345 acres. That’s over 300 football fields. An NFL football game seats 100,000 fans. The Masters gets only 30,000 and they don’t even get to sit down. The stadium is so big, they have to walk all over the course to see the game.

Golf is tough on the environment. Think of the tons of chemicals they put on a golf course that the rain then washes into the rivers and streams. And the golfers are no better. Doing random excavation work, one divot at a time. They hit so many golf balls into our lakes and ponds, they look like fish hatcheries.

Golf is an insult. We all have our faults and our shortcomings. We’re not proud of them. We try to correct them but at the very least, we work hard to keep them private. Golf doesn’t allow that. Instead they have what’s called the ‘handicap’. On the surface, it looks like an attempt by the golf directors to level the playing field so that all members can compete with each other and have an equal chance of winning. But in reality, it’s a horrible message that promotes profiling, discrimination and, in many cases, fraud. It’s a multi-step process. You start with a bad golfer. Let’s say he has a 24 handicap. The last thing he wants is to tell anybody that but sadly, it’s the first thing other golfers ask. In many golf clubs it’s available on the computer for all to see. Oh sure for a while he tries to get the number down. He tries playing more and if he has a really bad score, he won’t even turn it in. So maybe his handicap creeps down to 18. He’s proud of himself but he loses every golf tournament he’s in because his handicap has been artificially lowered. Eventually he gets tired of being a loser and goes to the dark side. He starts playing really badly in his daily games and only enters the worst scores into the computer. Soon his handicap is 36. The other golfers point and laugh until he starts winning everything. Then the ‘sandbagger’ accusations start. So most of us have two choices in golf – be an honest loser or a cheating winner. Too close to call.

Instead, find something you’re good at, that brings you joy, and do that. I’m going to start right after my next round.

Working Man vs. Lazy Boy

Throughout history a lot of great things have been accomplished through hard work and determination. There’s a dignity to work. Successful work brings a feeling of accomplishment. The work ethic is revered. The old saying is ‘The Devil finds work for idle hands.’ Actually the Devil finds work for everybody but the people who are already working are too busy to do it. I agree with all of that. Work is a good thing. But from what I can see, it’s unnatural. It is not the default position in nature. Left alone in the wild, animals do not work and would never work unless forced to.

Animals are naturally lazy. They don’t set the alarm, they get up when they feel like it. Some of them sleep for the whole winter. They don’t get dressed, they don’t brush their teeth, they don’t comb their fur. The only grooming they do is licking themselves which is generally discouraged for humans. They don’t make their beds, they don’t even get dressed. They laugh at the concept of casual Fridays. Now I know some people are going to disagree with my position. They will say that animals hunt which is not a lazy activity. But hunting is not work, it’s survival. They hunt so they can eat so they can stay alive. They’re not hunting so they can afford a nicer car or a bigger house or a timeshare in Maui.

The only animals that work are the ones that man has gotten his hands on. Elephants moving logs or horses carrying cowboys or pigeons delivering mail. Man has such a distaste for anything that doesn’t work that he forces animals to get up off their duff and start making a living. Bird dogs and hunting dogs and guard dogs and drug dogs and service dogs and cow dogs at one time were just dogs. We changed all that. We gave them jobs and made them work. We think we’re doing them a favour but we’re really just making them more like us.

If animals ever figure out how to talk, we could be in for some serious criticism. And it’s not just the captivity that makes animals work. When I go to the zoo, they’re all either asleep or just sitting there. Once in a while one of them will move and the crowd goes nuts. I know they often put on zoo shows with birds or monkeys or dolphins or whatever but they’re just restricting access to the food supply to get the animals to do what they want. If somebody ever leaves the food pantry open, those animals won’t be coming to work any time soon. Go out into the wild and see if you can get a falcon to land on your head. Not a chance. Instead he’ll scarf down a mouse and go for a nap.

Most of us put pets in a different category from working animals. We don’t expect them to do much. Oh sure maybe a trick or two but generally we just like them to be there when we get home and to be glad to see us. They say one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven human years. It’s certainly true for hours of sleep. Dogs sleep about 18 hours a day. Even with their abbreviated lifespan, they don’t seem to be pressured into an ambitious work schedule.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should all be lazy. I just think it’s healthy to accept that in nature, laziness is not an embarrassment, it’s a sign of extreme accomplishment. If you can lay around for most of the day and most of the year and most of your life and still be able to feed yourself and your family, you are da man. Maybe one day, humans will adopt that attitude. But according to my wife, it will not be in my lifetime.

Mission Control

I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately and I finally realized it’s from watching television. Not from the content, just from the process. Please take a look at the picture above. These are my remotes. These are the essential tools that allow me to watch tv and DVD’s. Bear with me as I walk you through it.

The remote on the left is for the tv itself. It turns the tv on and off, selects the input and adjusts the volume of the tv. It can also change the channel but that only works if you have a tv antenna or rabbit ears and is mainly for people off the grid. It also does a bunch of stuff that I don’t understand. You can see it has 39 buttons. I use 2 of ‘em – the ‘on/off’ button and the ‘input’ button when I want to watch a DVD. The other buttons I ignore until the tv is not working right and it’s during the Stanley Cup final. That’s when I start pressing any button I can get my hands on.

If I could now direct your attention to the remote to the right of the tv controller. This one works my cable receiver. It turns the cable box on and off, selects the channel and adjusts the volume of the tv. It also has a tv guide and allows you to record shows you’re not watching so you can also not watch them at a later date. It has 47 buttons. I know some of you are going to tell me that you can program the cable remote to also work the tv. I tried that and found that if both units are turned on and then somebody who shall remain nameless (actually Mrs. Nameless) turns off the tv using the tv remote, they are now out of sync because the tv is off but the cable box is still on. So when you press the cable remote on/off button, the tv comes on but the cable box goes off. You then use the tv remote to turn the tv on and they’re back in sync until you-know-who once again weaves her magic.

Before moving on I should also mention that some channels are Standard Def while others are Hi Def. Not only are the Standard Def pictures crappier, they’re also smaller. Why have a 42” screen if you‘re only getting a 28” picture? But if you look at the cable remote, one of the buttons says ‘Aspect’. You press on it a few times and it might solve the problem. If it doesn’t, you go back to the tv remote and there’s a button marked ‘P-size’ which is a particularly sensitive issue for a man of my age. Why can’t they call it ‘Aspect’ like the cable remote does? It does the same thing. Anyway you keep pressing one or both of those and you will eventually get the right sized picture until you go back to Hi Def and then it’ll be way too big. I’m starting to get another headache.

Please join me in moving one more remote to the right. This one controls the audio receiver. In today’s society, the speakers inside a television are only good enough for the people at the absolute bottom level of the socio-economic spectrum. To truly enjoy the television experience you must have 1,000 watts of amplification driving 8 external speakers and a sub-woofer. My wife and I insist on watching Wheel of Fortune in surround sound. So this remote turns on the audio receiver and controls its volume. It obviously does a lot of other stuff because it has a total of 48 buttons making it the most complex and least used remote in the herd.

And just to make things even more fun, the sound from the external speakers is slightly delayed from the sound of the tv so you can’t have them all on at the same time or it’s like somebody yelling in a cave. The solution is to turn the volume all the way down on the tv. You can do that with either the tv remote or the cable remote so that’s a huge break.

And finally we come to the DVD remote. It opens and closes the DVD player and makes the DVD play, pause, fast forward and reverse. That sounds reasonable but why does it have 45 buttons? Excuse me while I pop a couple of Tylenol.

When I was a kid we had a 17” black and white tv and my Dad was in charge. He must have been in pretty good shape because he never needed a remote. He would just walk from the lazy boy all the way to the tv. Like it was nothing. He would then bend over and pull out one knob and that would turn the tv on. Then he would adjust the volume using, you’re not gonna believe this, THE SAME KNOB. Then he would click a dial around to the channel he wanted. There was a plastic ring around that dial that was supposed to adjust the reception. It never really did anything but Dad would turn it anyway just to look important.

My Dad accomplished a lot in his life and now I know why. When he watched tv, he only had one switch and one dial to deal with. When I watch tv, I’m faced with 179 buttons. It’s less complicated for a pilot to fly a 747 than it is for me to watch Say Yes to the Dress.

And the worst part is that somewhere deep down inside of me, I get this feeling that I’m falling behind. That I’m not capable of working with modern technology. I don’t need the tv to tell me I’m stupid. That’s not a new message. They even call them “Smart tv’s” now. That’s not lost on me. It’s a warning. If you’re stupid, don’t buy one of these. So tonight my wife and I have decided not to watch tv at all. Instead we’re gonna have a conversation. Not sure how we’ll kill the rest of the half hour.

Easy Peddler

A couple of years ago my wife bought a bicycle. It’s been sitting in the garage ever since. I know better than to make any type of comment on the situation so I have never questioned the acquisition, Then a few weeks ago she said to me ‘Do you know why I never ride that bicycle?’ Yes I do but here again, I know better than to share that information. ‘I don’t ride it’ she went on, ‘because you don’t have one. If you had a bike we could go riding together.’ Okay so all of a sudden I’m the problem. Again. I don’t like to lie so I just stay quiet but here’s the thing – I’m not a bicycle guy. I’m a car guy. I could be a motorcycle guy if I had to but I am certainly not a bicycle guy. Sadly that point of view is not regarded as an acceptable defense in my local courthouse/family room.

So I went to WalMart and bought a bicycle. But I didn’t want it assembled. I asked them to deliver it in a box. Then I went online and found a company in Alabama that makes small gas engines for bicycles. I ordered one and it arrived a few days later. There was an engine with a gearbox mounted on it and a whole bunch of nuts and bolts and a hub with a sprocket on each side and other stuff. But no instructions. I called the company and was told they don’t provide instructions. Instead I was to go the Photo Gallery on their website, find a bike that looks like mine and do that. About twenty-seven trips to Lowes later, I had the engine mounted on the bike:

I didn’t do the whole job myself. You have to remove all the spokes from the back wheel, take off the old hub and replace it with this new hub that has sprockets on each side. One for the pedals and one for the engine.

I got a bicycle shop to swap the hubs. To my surprise the removal of the old hub meant I no longer had brakes. The process of adding an engine while removing the brakes didn’t seem like an ideal plan to me. So I installed hand brakes but I was concerned about slamming on the brakes and cartwheeling forward over the handlebars so I put both brakes on the rear wheel.

As you see I had to also remove the rear fender to make the engine fit. I made a mental note not to ever ride through puddles. The next issue was that the added weight of the engine moved the centre of gravity so far back that the kickstand was ineffective. Rather than replace it, I just added another one closer to the rear hub.

Now it was time for a test drive. I fired up the engine and away I went. With the gear ratio I ordered, I had to pedal to get the bike moving and then I could open the throttle and the engine would take over. Everything worked well but I was curious about how fast I was going and how far I could travel on a tank of gas so I installed a little wireless gizmo that would give me that info.

It was like a mini-computer or something. You had to program in your age and weight for some reason. Once I got it working I went for a ride around my neighbourhood. When I got back I pressed the buttons and got the report. I had travelled 3.58 miles at an average speed of 15 mph and a top speed of 23 mph and here’s the best part, I had burned 375 calories. The gizmo didn’t know I wasn’t pedaling. I went in the house and had a piece of pie. Later that week my wife gave her bike to a friend. I’ve still got mine.

All Natural

ALL NATURAL

California has always been regarded as the hub of logic and rational thinking and they’ve proven it once again with their recent discovery of the benefits of ‘raw water’. This is bottled water that comes straight from a pond or a river or a spring and gets bottled without the benefit of any chemical treatments. The important aspect of that statement is that I‘m not kidding. People are now giving testimonials about how drinking raw water enhances their health and sense of well-being. They will never drink treated water again. Probably because they won’t live long enough to.

I know most people would prefer to not drink chemicals, just like most people would prefer to not take medication, but they should. Let’s try a little reverse engineering on tap water to try to understand the rationale behind water treatment. By the time it comes to your house it’s been filtered and treated with alum to remove the particulate and socked with chlorine to kill the bacteria and maybe even given a splash of fluoride so your teeth don’t fall out. Why do they do that? Is the city in bed with the chemical companies? Do they like wasting money? Are they just stupid? If raw water is so great, why doesn’t the city just stick a big pipe into the nearest river and pump that straight into your house?

It’s not because they’re wasteful, it’s because they don’t want you to die. Or at least they don’t want to be responsible for killing you. It’s a big part of their job. They’ve looked at the evidence and have decided that sticking your head into a pond and taking a big gulp is probably not all that good for you. They’re convinced that there is bad stuff in raw water. And so am I. Mosquito larvae and spider webs and tree roots and rotting fish. And the main offender – poop. Lots of poop. Nature is a wonderful place but it does not have restrooms. Animals that live in the water, poop in the water. There’s a reason fish don’t swim on the bottom. And not just fish poop. Turtle poop and muskrat poop and weasel poop and the biggest treat of all – bear poop. So if somebody pours you a glass of raw water, hold it up to the light, look at the little specs floating around in it and try to guess which one is gonna put you in the hospital.

Of course the raw water thing is just an extension of the movement towards all natural, organic meat and vegetables. There are a lot of people who want to take the chemicals out of the farming process. The logic is that whatever they spray on the vegetables to give higher crop yields or feed to the cattle to make them grow faster, is going to end up in peoples’ bodies and hurt them. Or even kill them. Nobody wants that. If you thought processed food was dangerous, you wouldn’t eat it. And neither would I. But I do eat processed food because I don’t believe it’s dangerous. I haven’t done any research. I really don’t know anything about it. If I googled ‘the evils of processed food’, I’d probably be paranoid too. Instead I just bumble along with my approach to life. I have a pretty simple way of looking at things, including all-natural organic food, based on four premises:

Premise #1 – I am not immortal. I will eventually die of something, even if it’s boredom.

Premise #2 – I trust people. I don’t believe the food industry is trying to kill their customers.

Premise #3 – I like value. Until somebody convinces me that organic food is going to make me immortal, I’m not willing to pay double for a head of lettuce that has a two-day shelflife.

Premise #4 – Historical evidence. Four hundred years ago there were no chemicals sprayed on crops and no hormones injected in cattle. Everything they ate was all-natural organic and the average life span was 37 years. Why would we want to go back to that?

I don’t run marathons either but that’s a whole other blog.