Monday, September 19, 2016

Motorcycle math

We’ve all seen variations of this meme:

Motorcycle math

Well, in keeping with the theme of today’s post, N will soon equal N + 1 as I am about to acquire yet another project bike (imagine the missus’ eyes rolling here). This time it’s not an orphaned mid-60s Honda to keep company with the ones I already have, but rather a relatively (with an emphasis on relatively) new mid-80s Kawasaki 440LTD.

Relegated to the back of the garage by the current owner, the bike comes into my possession as a result of a casual comment on the golf course, “It’s yours if you want it.” How could anyone who considers himself a biker ever say no to that?

And so tomorrow I will be in a rental truck heading down Highway 401 to Kitchener to pick up another stray needing some TLC and a home for the winter. It’s a disease for which there is no known cure. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Race of the Century – a review

Race of the Century1908 – 108 years ago – the US was not crisscrossed by an interstate highway system like it is today. In fact, outside of the major population and commercial centres in the northeast, actual roads were few and far between and road maps nonexistent. Travellers either went by train or followed trails and cart paths originally established by settlers heading west, and for the preferred means of travel at the time – horseback – that was more than adequate. And in the winter, when snowdrifts covered even those trails to a depth of several feet, people just stayed home and waited it out.

Such were the conditions when 6 intrepid teams of ‘automobilists’ started the Race of the Century in New York City on February 12, 1908.  Destination: Paris. Seen off by by a crowd estimated to be more than 250,000, the 6 cars (1 American, 1 Italian, 1 German, and 3 French) left New York’s Times Square shortly after 11:00 AM, embarking on what would be an epic 5-month, 22,000 mile journey through some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

What followed was months of hardship for the teams as they shoveled roads clear of snow with daily progress sometimes measured in yards, not miles. Frequent breakdowns meant waiting, sometimes for days, for spare parts to arrive by train. Rivers and streams had to be forded or bridges built to cross them. Mountain ranges had to be traversed. And that was just in the US. In Siberia, where these would be the first automobiles ever seen, conditions were even worse as spring thaws turned the ground to gumbo. But still they motored on, bent but unbroken.

This is the story of that race, a tale of perseverance and resilience, of ingenuity and strength (both mental and physical), and of a small group of men who ultimately overcame all obstacles put in their path to succeed in what was variously considered either a foolhardy or heroic undertaking at the very dawn of the automobile age.

It is a good read. Recommended.

Photo: The Great Auto Race

Monday, September 5, 2016

Guilty pleasures

When it comes to what we watch on TV we all have our guilty pleasures – those shows that we watch faithfully but sort of cringe when we have to admit to watching them. And with the explosion of reality TV over the past decade there’s no shortage of cringe-worthy television, whether it’s Housewives of ---, Pawn Stars, or The Kardashians. Okay, maybe the last example is so bad it doesn’t even deserve to be listed along with, by comparison, such intellectual heavyweights as Duck Dynasty. But you get my drift.

Still, we watch this pap.

My present guilty pleasure (because I’m a serial guilty pleasure kind of guy) is Scandal. Playing in modern day Washington (There’s a First Lady who wants to become President in her own right; how much more modern can you get?) the show centers on a group of lawyers who, by means fair and foul, “fix” things for people who get themselves into trouble of a legal, ethical, or moral variety. Anthony Weiner would be a typical client.

Complicating issues is that the head of the firm is having an on-again, off-again affair with the President, the First Lady is having an affair with the Vice-President who is staging a palace coup, and the Chief-of-Staff is an ends-justify-the-means guy not above using murder and less violent means of coercion to advance his (and the President’s) agenda. Of course this doesn’t all come out in episode 1; you need to spend several many hours in front of the aptly named idiot box before all the details emerge.

And then – Yes! There’s more – there’s B613, a secret paramilitary group established to protect the republic but which reports to no one, not even the President. Funded by hidden budgetary line items this shadowy group is a law unto themselves, causing mayhem wherever and whenever they are deployed. Not above killing US military personnel when they deem it appropriate, or reporters getting too close to a story, or anyone else for that matter, the most remarkable thing about this group is they leave mutilated bodies behind by the dozen that the authorities never seem to notice. That and the fact that they are everywhere, including the President’s Secret Service.

Think of it as a variation of ‘24’ but at a slower pace and not nearly as believable. Seriously.

So it’s all very silly, but it follows the pattern of success for this type of show – get the viewer invested in the characters early on and they’ll stick with it, no matter how stupid the storyline gets, just to see what happens next. But 106 episodes? Good grief, I’ll be at this all night!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

All politicians lie

How else would they get elected? Every election campaign I have ever followed consists of candidates promising the moon to their constituency even when ‘the moon’ is any or all of impossible, idiotic, insane, or illegal. And many, many voters lap it up, generally without any form of second thought – sober or otherwise.

Examples abound. A few years ago provincial candidates in Ontario promised to reduce auto insurance premiums by 15%, even though they had no control over the insurance industry other than to threaten to remove their license to operate in the province. This had the entirely predictable result of companies reducing basic coverage by a significant amount allowing them to offer a skinny policy at a 15% reduction. If you wanted to bump it up to the coverage you had before, you could, but it would cost much more than the 15% ‘saving’. So the voters voted, the consumer lost, the politicians checked off another “promise kept”, and the people wondered what the hell happened.

Stephen Harper, our last Prime Minister, famously said on the campaign trail that a certain type of investment vehicle (Income Trusts) favoured by seniors for income generating purposes were a “sacred trust” and would never be touched, in spite of rumours to the contrary. Within weeks of being elected he banned them, driving tens of billions of dollars out of pension funds (both personal and public) overnight. He remained unapologetic in spite of economic evidence that it was a disastrous assault on Canada’s economy and seniors’ incomes for years afterwards. People believed him and then wondered what the hell happened to their pensions.

A border wall will be built and paid for by Mexico. Sounds like a great idea; I’ll vote for that guy. But it can never happen. Not only is the basic premise stupid (Mexico will pay to cut itself off from it’s largest market? Yeah, right.) it’s quite possibly illegal as well. So if Mr. Comb-over should, by some freak of nature, find himself in the White House, the people who put him there expecting the Great Wall of Mexico to be erected in the next 4 years will be left wondering what the hell happened.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s municipal, state/provincial or federal, the electorate seems unwilling or unable to actually consider what is being promised in the context of what is possible. So we keep electing representatives who, through the very nature of their campaigns, have proven themselves to be unethical and immoral, willing to lie through their teeth if it means one more vote.

And they do it because we reward them for it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Random observations in an ER

web IMG_20160819_171233362Due to a serious car accident (don’t worry, everyone is fine – the car, not so much) I got to spend several hours hanging around an emergency room observation area on Friday. When you have nothing but time on your hands it’s interesting what you can see and learn.

First of all their procedures. All the medical stuff seemed okay to me; how would I know otherwise? But the non-medical was the worst hodge-podge of systems and processes I’ve seen in a long time, in fact since I was in the hospital myself a few years ago. One example: The central monitoring area was replete with large screens, patient status information, etc. However when x-rays and CT scans were called for the ER faxed (that’s right – faxed!) the request to the appropriate department, they’d get an acknowledgement back, and a porter would eventually come and take the patient for the requisite test and then return them to the ER afterwards. Their central system has all the information – I could see it on the screens. Why are the imaging department and others not simply plugged in to see what tests are required and proceed accordingly? Faxed? How 70s. 

The porters work their asses off – literally. The one young lady I spoke to says she walks, usually pushing a bed, some 20 to 25 kilometers per shift. That’s in the region of 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) per year. As she said, “I don’t need a gym membership.” I didn’t ask if she got to write off her sneakers as a tax deduction, but I bet she goes through numerous pairs a year.

The young (and very handsome, according to the missus) ER doctor took his lessons on bedside manners a little too much to heart. I understand the need to not talk past the patient, but when I would ask direct questions about possible after affects or treatment plans for her injuries he would always respond to her directly, and not to me. The only problem was she was still in shock and somewhat sedated and hardly able to remember anything he said. Of course if that’s the only nit I have to pick (and it is) I suppose it’s no big deal; it just struck me as odd.

And when it comes to odd, one unfortunate woman came in apparently suffering some sort of seizures. The paramedics brought in not only her but also her companion dog, a male golden retriever. While a number of the staff were attending to her another nurse put together a water dish and a mattress pad for the dog’s comfort. Of course the dog preferred the bed and staff had to keep moving him so they could get at his owner. But it seemed just as normal as anything that there’d be a dog in the ER, the porters would carefully move beds around him, and every so often one of the nurses or other patients would stop and scratch his ears. It was quite heartwarming to see.

I remarked to one of the nurses that all the biologic and dangerous waste bins were in locked cages, and most were bolted to the walls. He replied it was for staff and patient safety as apparently it’s not uncommon for some visitors to the ward to flip out (non medical term) and try to get at needles or other dangerous items to do themselves or others harm. Not really surprising when you think about it, but a bit shocking to see the extremes staff have to go to to feel safe when they’re just there to help.

I would like the contract to provide the ER (and the hospital in general) with hand sanitizers. They go through the stuff by the gallon. I can only imagine how dry the staff’s hands are after 8 or 12 hours of rubbing them with what is essentially alcohol every few minutes. Actually, perhaps a contract for hand cream would be more lucrative; I didn’t see any of those dispensers around.

And finally, after all this attention and care, x-rays and CT scans, finding out that there are no injuries other than scrapes and bruises that will heal with time is simply awesome!