Monday, May 31, 2010

The Salish Sea

What is, and where is, the Salish sea? you ask. Well, although we live right next door to it here on Vancouver Island, when I asked my coffee buddies in the Flat Earth Society that question the other day, no one was able to give me the correct answer. So if you didn't know that either, don't feel too terribly bad about it.

In March 2008, the Chemainus First Nation proposed renaming the Strait of Georgia, which lies between Vancouver Island and the mainland, the "Salish Sea". The BC Provincial Government agreed with the concept, and a formal application was made to the Geographical Names Board of Canada. A parallel American movement promoting the same name south of the 48th parallel had a different definition, combining the names Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound with that of the Strait of Georgia. This latter definition was almost made official in November of 2009 by the respective geographic naming bureaucracies of the governments, however they agreed to replace the names of the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, or Strait of Juan de Fuca, with Salish sea as a collective term for all three waters, but to leave the three historic names intact.

 Across the Georgia Straight to
Mount Tantalus in the Rocky Foothills

So now you know where the Salish Sea is, and that it really doesn't matter whether you do know this or not, or even whether or not the name appears on your map, which it probably doesn't, because when we look east from our Island, we are still looking across the Georgia Straight... which believe it or not, was once known as "Gran Canal de Nuestra Señora del Rosario la Marinera". I guess anything is considerably better than that.

Wow! And I thought "Eyjafjallajökull", the name of that Icelandic volcano that has been causing the airlines so much trouble by spewing gigantic plumes of ash into the atmosphere recently... was a mouthful!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just a walk in the park

The other day, with the sun shining down on our island paradise as usual, I was enjoying my afternoon stroll along the beach trail in Rathtrevor Park when I was accosted. No not like that! By a television reporter with a very large shoulder supported video camera.

He wanted to know "if I was at all worried about the Cryptococcus Gattii virus". I replied "not in the least", and when he posed the expected follow up question. "Why not"? I said that I had read that I was many times more likely to be involved in a car accident on the way to the park, than to be attacked by that particular bug.

Actually its not a bug or a virus or even a Mafia Don, but rather a yeast like fungus that appears to have migrated to BC from some tropical or sub-tropical clime such as Papua or Northern Australia, possibly thanks to atmospheric warming. It has also now been detected in both Washington and Oregon States. Its airborne spores can cause various lung diseases, meningitis, and miscellaneous other rather unpleasant disorders, and may actually have been the cause of some 8 deaths within the 218 cases diagnosed during the past 10 or so years in BC, in addition to a number of other fatalities in the United States. Unlike most causes of human sickness, it is also known to affect animals, including dogs and cats, dolphins and koalas, with the latter specie being rather less likely to be a victim in our area.
Nice fish!
And the bottom line: I wished my wandering reporter a safe return home to Victoria, commenting that I trusted he would not himself stumble upon a Cryptococcus Gattii, or a grizzly bear while visiting our park. Not surprisingly, the local Chamber of Commerce was apparently responsible for removal of the signs warning of the fungus... not at all good for business. And no, we don't have grizzlies on our island... they are not allowed to board our beautiful new, and rather expensive, BC ferry fleet.

That's all I've time for today folks... I'm off for a walk in the park.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Five Minute Rule

I don't know when I first heard of this principle, but whenever or where-ever it was, or who-ever came up with it first, I have been most thankful that I did learn to live by "the five minute rule".

This is a concept that acknowledges that it is quite impossible to remain positive at all times, no matter how strongly you believe that you should... particularly immediately following a serious setback in business or in life. The idea is that on such difficult occasions it is absolutely OK to rant, complain or otherwise vent, if that provides a form of release in the moment... but never to do so for more than five minutes before getting back on an even keel mentally, accepting the circumstances, and either challenging yourself to develop solutions to the problem, or concentrating on the next priority item in your to do list.
Only five minutes more

I have had both friends and employees wonder out loud, just how I managed so quickly to recover my equilibrium after encountering a serious set back, and on those occasions I have frequently explained my five minute rule to them, and also strongly recommended that they adopt it for themselves.

I know a few who did, and also more than a few who to their detriment were unable to do so, or unwilling to give it a try.

That is why when greeted with a: "How are you"? I will often reply: "Terrific but improving", while many other will, with very little enthusiasm, respond to the same question: "As well as can be expected".

Nimby Paradise

Vancouver Island and Taiwan are similar in size. The population of Vancouver Island is only 700,000 on its 31,000 sq km, while Taiwan's is 27 million on its 36,000 sq km. Guess which of the two is the one I am referring to in today's headline?

I guess we do have room for one or two more folks... despite the views of one of our local nimby councils which believes it must permanently cap its population at a specific number... and won't even be allowing its voters to consider any other option in the upcoming public review of their official community plan. That might be seen as censorship, or perhaps even an infringement of civil rights, in an other jurisdiction. Obviously they don't even trust their own electors to make such an important decision for themselves.

All ashore... its time to "GO".

Anyone sufficiently foolhardy to suggest constructing a bridge from the mainland to our island, is likely to receive an immediate invitation to take a long walk off a short plank over that little strip of intervening ocean, rather than waiting for a bridge.

The Federal Government did, however, manage to build one gigantic bridge at the opposite side of the country, despite the substantial local, vociferous public resistance to that one. That's the now quite famous, 12.9 km long, and very expensive, Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, population only 141,000 and area only 5,600 sq km. When last I checked, this particular bridge had resulted in almost as as small a population increase as the infamous Alaskan bridge to nowhere.

But why, with all this emphasis on controlling population growth, is it that we can't figure out how to stop the population explosion of these flying poop machines, Canada geese, that are polluting our parks, lakes, golf courses and beaches... Whatever happened to shot guns?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Headlines and punchlines

Sometimes a headline conveys the sense of an entire story. It really jumps off the page and smacks you right in the eye. Other-times you may have to read on into the first paragraph, but rarely any further than that to garner the gist of the news of the day. That's the way journalists are trained to write, and news editors are trained to edit. This technique has certainly been reinforced by the invention of Google and the other web browsers of the world whose hoards of spiders haunt the internet seeking out these juicy titbits.

One hedtline that attracted me recently was: "Daily dose of exercise can be lower"... and continuing with: "This country (Canada) is witnessing a rising tide of gluttony and sloth"... Oh my, that's a turn of phrase that conjures up a dismal image, isn't it? (Canwest's Montreal Gazette 14 May 2010). Actually on this occasion it was necessary to continue into the following paragraph to learn that the ubiquitous "they", based on an analysis of more than 500 research papers, had concluded that 30 minutes of exercise a day was adequate to maintain the typical adult in reasonably fit condition.

Perhaps my favourite headline of all time was one that appeared in the "Scotsman", (one of Scotland's two premier news papers) some 60 years ago: "The floodgates of Hell have opened"... which greeted the news that the laws of my homeland had changed, and that the pubs would in future be permitted to serve booze on Sundays. I can't help wondering ow they would have headlined the Eyjafjallajökull (how on earth do you pronounce that?) volcano eruption in Iceland, or the BP oil rig fire and subsequent oil burning on the surface of the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps: "The floodgates of Hell have re-opened"?

As you can probably tell after following my blogs, I have always rather fancied myself as a headline writer. That's a real job you know, and as with all jobs there are a few really talented practitioners, and others who just can't quite make the grade because of a lack of imagination, creative talent or an adequate vocabulary.

I'm off to read today's headlines on Google... even if the bad news is bound to overwhelm the good news as usual. Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When I grow up

I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up... and perhaps I still don't.

I know that I never had a yearning to go to university, and probably would have preferred some technical college or even trade training, if not for parental expectations. But I must say I am grateful to them, and certainly have never regretted the time or energy spent in obtaining my science degree, nor the extra-curricular good times I had during my years at Edinburgh varsity. Never-the-less, I do occasionally catch myself wondering if I'd ever voluntarily opt for this particular form of schooling again.

Perhaps the fact that I decided, following my final exams, to go immediately into the army to do my mandatory national service, rather than waiting for my graduation ceremony several weeks later, says it all. I was definitely impatient to taste life after university, after all, wasn't it a fact that my allotted span on earth was already one quarter spent by graduation day. Surely there were more important things to experience and accomplish in life than absorbing more book learning in preparation for it?
 Happiness is... not knowing the future.
During my business career I frequently had to hire employees, and latterly had the responsibility for filling our company's senior executive positions. While the respective educational qualifications of the candidates was always a primary consideration, over the years I came to believe that this particular score card did little more than indicate an ability to learn for, and write exams. Far more important to my assessment was their verifiable work experience, and my own gut feeling that their work ethic, attitude and personality would complement those of our corporate team and our objectives. Back in those good old days, many workers remained with an employer for a lifetime, and it was sometimes necessary to employ head hunters to discover executives who were happily employed elsewhere, but might be convinced to transfer if tempted with the right incentive package.
Obviously times have changed, and with them, the employment picture and strategies, not to mention the high-tech revolution that has overtaken most industries. It's an employers' market now, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future. Because there is so great a choice, no doubt many corporations will be tempted to start their search with pre-determined high educational criteria, whether or not the job to be filled really requires a that degree of learning.
On the other hand, it is the candidate with the best education who will normally find his or her foot in the door first, so far be it from me to suggest that a good secondary education is not, at the very least, an effective insurance policy for job security.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


A cup of my favourite Americano coffee at my favourite Starbucks clone coffee house, just jumped by almost 20 cents, increasing from $2.25 to $2.44. Do you realize that that computes to an extravagant $73.20 for one cup per day in a 30 day month... and many of these custom coffees cost upwards of $4 or even $5... and some people appear to be addicted to them, drinking several each day. I guess my age is showing again because I can remember when a good cuppa joe would cost a dime, and an alcoholic might not have been able to run up a booze bill to the stratospheric level of this coffee shop's charges.

How many cups of coffee can you squeeze from a single 1 Kg, $8.00 tin of MJB, or any other grocery store brand, at between 5 and 8 grams per 17 oz cup of coffee (according to the fine print on the can)? That equates to between 125 and 200 cups doesn't it? Or 4 to 7 cents worth of coffee per cup?

Now I realize that the barristas, as the servers who build these fancy drinks are now known, must certainly require at least one university degree in coffee brewing to qualify to use the horrendously loud, steam emitting contraptions that have replaced many of the good old coffee drip machines. Surely the Starbucks of the world are entitled to make a modest profit, but $5.00 for a cup of java... gimme a break Matilda. That's enough to drive a good man to drink.
 Etiquette or ostentation?  Tea anyone?
And then there are the tea sippers and servers. Every Tom Dick and Harry (is there no female equivalent to these inconsequential names?) who has been able to dream up an exotic name for a tea flavour, appears to have done so, and they all seem to be competing to make their brand the most expensive in the world. Most of them also insist in packaging their particular herbal poison (I don't like tea) in colourful little envelopes, and wrapping their tea leaf concoctions in little cotton bags with an attached thread and another colourful label dangling from that. Oh my, I'll certainly have to train my pinky finger to stand out from the cup handle so that I can adequately advertise my superior upbringing.

No wonder that so many nations are now having problems balancing their respective budgets. Certainly many of their citizens now realize exactly what the consequences are for living beyond their individual means.

Curiouser and curiouser

Recently my wife and I went to see, or perhaps a more appropriate word is experience, two of the remarkable new 3D movies, and we were suitably impressed by this dramatic, much improved big screen technology. The days of the old fashioned red and green plastic, cardboard mounted spectacles, appear to have gone for ever.

However, after viewing the modern version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I couldn't help wondering two things. Firstly, if the movie's directors might not have over indulged in rather extravagant poetic licence with their version, as compared with that of the original author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson using the pen name Lewis Carroll. Secondly, how confused might those little children be, whose parents had kindly read to them the original version, written in a genre then known as literary nonsense, which portrayed Alice falling down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of peculiar creatures... then subsequently being exposed to this new, and substantially more terrifying, PG rated film version.

Equally unbelievable was the movie Avatar, although it benefited from more sophisticated, expensive and dramatic 3D flair and animation effects. In this story, the inevitably underdog environmentalists, depicted by the human-like avatars, thwarted the normally all-powerful, environment destroying, exploits of the big, bad, American industrial machine.

And now we must all look forward to the arrival of 3D TV. Actually that third dimension in entertainment has been around since its earliest movie version in 1915, and it has already progressed through several distinct TV technologies. Moreover, the Japanese have had a 3D cable channel since 2008, and another was inaugurated in South Korea early this year. The US, lagging as usual in this electronic field, did announce a full 24 hour broadcast channel at the 2010 Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. This will be a joint venture between IMAX, Sony, and the Discovery channel, and it is their intention to be up and running with their new channel by the 2010 year end.

Fantastic! Will someone please send me the money to purchase the expensive new TV set that this will obviously necessitate.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Is there any such thing as fail-safe? It certainly does not seem to have been the case with BP's oil well shut-off valves 5,000 feet down on the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. Or the braking system that was supposed to prevent run-away Toyotas, or the many "redundant" mechanical systems designed into the equipment at the Thousand Island atomic power plant. Undoubtedly you can think of many more such sad examples, or perhaps you simply believe that you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

What drives me round the bend, is just the thought that any man made contraption should be branded with a fail-safe stamp. Surely it is only a matter of when, rather than if, something is going to go wrong due to human error, metal fatigue, or some other hitherto invisible fault. After all, isn't that one of the Peter principles. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Gambling on survival & hoping for the best.

When you stop to think about it, don't you agree that the world is involved in far too many high stakes games of Russian roulette, and that the single bullet in the gun's chamber is inevitably going to explode, driving a missile into our collective brains. The environmentalists believe, and indeed many scientists more credibly agree (not that I am necessarily one of either of these groups) that if we continue to burn carbon-based fuels as an energy source, Armageddon is only a few decades away.

So should we purchase more insurance? Or do you believe in kismet, what will be will be, the world is actually evolving as it should, or any of that nonsense. I've heard so much negativity being expressed about the insurance industry recently that I rather doubt it will be around after the end of the world, and they would probably do their damndest to avoid a pay-out anyway on the grounds that it was an "act of God." Now there's a strange relationship, God and the insurance industry. But if you're a gambling man, who knows?

I for one will continue to cling to the perhaps rather optimistic hope, that a sufficient number of us worldly beings will come to our senses... before everyone discovers that it really is too late.

Photo opportunities

In the political world, there are some who have a special talent for being in the right place at the right time, to show their best smile for the camera. And you'd better believe that this finely honed talent is frequently aided and abetted by some of the best public relations brains that money can buy.

I, on the other hand, might be called an opportunistic photographer. I have a camera with me virtually wherever I go. Sometimes that camera may just be a compact digital model, although even that one has a 12 times optical zoom, plus most of the bells and whistles that we have come to expect in the more expensive SLRs. In an emergency I can always fall back on my iPhone and its 3 MP chip.

A completely natural pose.

Sometimes I refer to my photos of people as candid shots, but because they are rarely posed, many wind up being deleted after I've had a chance to view them on the computer. However, the occasional ones that are worth saving have a natural look that reminds me of the un-posed photographs of wildlife, that are in truth, my favourite subjects anyway. And I've certainly never been even remotely interested in photographing politicians for posterity, or for the record, or for any other political reason.

In any event, based on my many years of recording the sometimes peculiar antics of the human species, I am now totally convinced that birds, animals and even fish, make much more interesting and photogenic subjects than do their human counterparts... particularly those of the political persuasion.