It’s that time of the year!

Yep, it’s that time of the year again. The trees are adorned with colourful, twinkling lights, shoppers are scurrying to find the perfect gifts, children are dreaming of presents under the tree, bakers are baking, drummers are drumming, bells are ringing, and in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas. Which I am sure you know better than I because Christmas has never been on my radar. It’s simply not part of my life. So while I enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season, I’ve really never taken part in most of the festivities that mark this special time of year.. But please don’t worry about me. I’ve got plenty to do. Because Hallmark, that purveyor of all things sweetness and light has, for 2018, released twenty-two, brand spanking new, Christmas movies. Which, of course, I watch. Now that may seem like a daunting task to you because this is a busy time of year and you might not have 44 hours of extra time to devote to this rather addictive (you’ve been warned) endeavor. But it’s not a busy time for me and because I have become somewhat of an expert on the aforementioned subject and have likely now peaked your interest, I thought I would take a moment to summarize the flicks for you. I know. You’re wondering how in the heck is the shallow gal going to do this? And why would she take on such an onerous task just to relieve her readers of their FOMO? Well contrary to what you might think it’s not really difficult at all  because, you see, Hallmark has really made one movie twenty-two times. Yes they have. So here, in a nutshell, is my recap if it (them).

The Woman: There’s always a woman. Usually a rather successful one who has pretty much dedicated her life to her work leaving little time for outside relationships (more on that later) or holidays. Somewhat incredibly, without exception and in a variety of ways which usually involve transportation and a snow storm, the woman finds herself spending Christmas in a very small but friendly town that has very big plans for Christmas. Sometimes it’s her hometown. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes she’s a princess. Most often she is not. 

The Man: Without too much ado the woman is going to meet a man. Could be a kindred soul stuck in a snow bound airport or the tow truck driver who happens upon her car stuck on a snowy road. Understandably perhaps, due to the stressful situations in which they meet, the initial contact doesn’t go all that well and once the dust settles they go their separate ways, although since there is only one way to go they inevitably end up in the same place. That small but very friendly town. He could be a prince. Most often he isn’t.

The Town: Often with names like “Christmas Creek” or “Evergreen” this is your proverbial small town with a main street that houses the “Mom and Pop” restaurant/coffee shop, independent general/hardware store, local antique emporium and country inn or lodge. More meeting place than commerce, each of these seems to be run for the sole purpose of providing the townsfolk with a venue to get together to discuss plans for the upcoming festivities  which include one, some or all of a) snowman building, b) gingerbread house building and c) cookie baking contests, a Christmas choral concert, a tree lighting extravaganza, and the not to be missed Christmas Eve extravaganza dance. Unless of course some scrooge has decided to cancel the whole thing due to heretofore unforeseen circumstances. But maybe that’s giving too much away.

The Kid: There’s always a kid. Once in a while it’s a niece or nephew but more often than not it’s either hers or his. Which brings me to something I neglected to mention. There has regretfully been a divorce (not too recent) or sadly a death (usually even less recent) which has left this child to be raised by a single but very devoted parent who wants to make this the best Christmas ever even if they find themselves stranded in a snowstorm in some small town in the middle of nowhere instead of on their way to Florida where they had planned to spend the holiday basking in the sun trying to forget all of the painful memories of Christmas’ past. Which really wouldn’t have been very Christmas-like at all. The kid is cute, smart and surprisingly adaptable.

The Ex: There will be an “ex”. If there’s a widow rest assured it won’t be his or hers. But everyone else is fair game. The “ex” will likely be a “big city” kind of guy/gal who will eventually show up but, unlike their soon to be “ex” partner (am I giving too much away?) won’t find the small town quite as enchanting as their mate has. The “ex” is usually a jerk.

The kiss (almost): As you can imagine there’s going to be romance. It won’t be easy but somewhere along the way the two main characters will realize that their serendipitous meeting was meant to be and while it took them the better part of the holiday to realize it (they were very busy getting ready for all of the celebrations and contests) they do actually like each other. A lot. Finally they decide to kiss. The problem is, just when the moment is right who should arrive but their (pick one) Mother, child, boss, best friend, ex, an errant snowball, or just some random passerby and the magic is gone. Just like that.

The misunderstanding: We all know that life is not one big bowl of cherries and somewhere along the line you are going to have to deal with the pits. Just when everything seems to be hunky dory and it looks like the population of this town is going to grow by one or maybe two, someone gets something wrong and the whole darn thing is called off. Airports open, tickets are booked back to the big city and with nary a turn of the head or even a pause to pick up the trophy for best gingerbread house, all bets are off and our hero(ine) heads home. It would seem that Hallmark has decided there is nothing more heart wrenching than some unrequited love. Fortunately we are close enough now to the two hour mark to know that it won’t take long to get this train back on its track.

The Kiss: Finally (again). Both of them are miserable after their decision to part. Well really only one decided. The other most often is left bewildered by the quick exit. Fortunately the departee recognizes the folly of the rash decision to leave and he/she quickly heads back to the small town (after all, the kid has already made a new bff), because they always knew it was where they were meant to be. No longer surprising to us, they declare their love for each other and have that kiss…uninterrupted. That’s it. Happily ever after. And all that’s left are the credits.

So there you have it. One story. Twenty-two movies. Now if only I could figure out how to make that formula work for this blog.

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Remember When

I’m not really the nostalgic type. While I am never one to speak for all, I’m thinking most shallow people are with me on this. At times I think the desire to recreate the past happens when we’re not so happy with the present. At other times I simply can’t remember what it is I’m supposed to be nostalgic about. Whatever, it seems to me that living in the here and now, not in the past or in the future, is best. So it was with some surprise to myself and others that I decided to go on the hunt for a manual (yeah, there wasn’t always a plug) typewriter. As expected, it wasn’t long before someone asked me “Why? Why would you want a manual typewriter?” To which I provided what seemed to me to be the most logical response, “because I want to write using a typewriter”. Which is partly true. I mean the idea of taking the time to tap hard on each key and having no easy way to correct my mistakes has an odd appeal to me. Possibly it could make me a more deliberate and mindful writer. I’d have to think carefully about each and every word, how to properly structure my sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into stories. I’d have to learn how to spell again. The other part is I have this handcrafted pine desk crying out for me to put something on it and I thought an old typewriter could be just that thing. More decor than function really. Regardless, this little journey of mine into the past got me thinking about how things have changed even over the relatively short time (come on…in the scheme of things) I have been living on this earth. So as I am wont to do in this cases, I will share some of these thoughts with you.

Remember when a phone was something you only had in your house? If it rang and you were home you normally picked it up as there was no way of knowing who was on the other end. If it happened that you were having one of your daily chit chats with your friend from down the street, catching up on all the comings and goings of that neighbour you were pretty sure, but not entirely confident, was having a fling with the grade 4 teacher, (it’s possible there was just some tutoring going on) your caller would get a busy signal (you can play it here if you don’t know) and be left to redial over and over again until their fingers got tired and the incessant sound of the rotary dial made the whole endeavour seem a little too onerous . And if you weren’t home at all?  Well if a phone rings when no one is home does it really make a sound? Now, short of putting your phone on “do not disturb” which no one really understands, there’s simply no escaping it. It’s with us everywhere and all of the time. For most of us hearing that catchy little jingle we have chosen triggers an immediate response. Like Pavlov and his dog. We text, we talk, we FaceTime, and we pretty much know exactly when that grade 4 teacher comes and goes.

Remember when a coffee shop was a place you could stop off on your way to work to grab a cuppa joe for a quarter? Pretty much always it was better than the sludge they percolated in the coffee room. Sure, sometimes you would linger for a moment to hear what Sam the owner, who knew everyone’s business and was more than happy to share theirs with you and yours with them, had to say.  But unless you were under five and could be entertained by continuously spinning on those metal stools that someone somewhere decided would be a viable alternative to a chair, it was a pretty uncomfortable place to spend your time. Now coffee shops are a destination. A retreat even. You go, you sit, you read, you meet, you greet, you make new friends, lose old ones and, of course, you spend inordinate amounts of money on drinks that bear only a faint resemblance to the roasted beans from which they came.

Speaking of friends, remember when they were people you actually knew? And liked. There was a time when making friends wasn’t so easy. First you had to identify people who were somewhat like-minded and with whom you had something in common. Like a shared interest. Or work. Maybe a hobby or two. Then you had to actually meet them. In person. Once that happened you would spend some weeks or months getting to know each other and somewhere down the line you would realize you had made a new friend. If you were really lucky you might find a few more people that you could call friends. Now I have 82 friends on Facebook (a paltry number by most standards) and I don’t even know where some of them came from not to mention how they have come to know me. One thing I do know for sure. They must really like me because they all seem to remember my birthday.

And we couldn’t leave this trip down memory lane without remembering when no one, and I mean no one, spoke openly about marijuana. Not that it wasn’t around. But if it was around you sure as heck didn’t want anyone to know. Apparently, (well this is just hearsay) to get some you had to know a guy who knew a guy and your guy had to be pretty sure that guy wasn’t from Precinct 52. And from what I understand, there were no choices. You got what pot you got. Unlike today where you can meander down to your corner weed boutique and find a litany of choices with enticing monikers like Moon, Forest Rain and Ocean View. Not sure if the names reflect the effect but if they do, might I suggest you stay away from something called Shark Shock

Finally remember when Barack Obama was President? I do and lately I have found myself pining a little for that time. So at the risk of sounding just a tad nostalgic, I would like to pose one question. Does anyone happen to know anyone that has access to a time machine?

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It’s simply too easy

For those of you who care, this is not a shallow blog. How could it be?

The last, and admittedly, only time I was in Pittsburgh was a few years ago. On our way out of town we stopped at a Starbucks for a bite. Like most people who are roaming around in large and unfamiliar cities, we were a little concerned that we might find ourselves in the “wrong” part of town. I mean we have been told over and over again that taking a right instead of a left can lead to all sorts of problems. Face it. In all cities there are places that are less welcoming than others. So when we stopped I did what I always do. I  took a look around, just to see where we were. And while we have stopped at more Starbucks than I can reasonably remember, I do remember this one. It was a Saturday morning, the sun was shining and as we sipped our coffees and munched on our muffins I looked out the window and saw, what for me, was the familiar sight of families walking by on their way to synagogue, men wearing their tallit and kepas, women dressed in their Saturday finest. And I felt, at that moment, that we had made the right turn. We were in a safe place. At least that’s how it seemed to me on that day. Today I wonder if some of those people I saw will never walk by that window again.

I have to say that I was one of the few people I know who wasn’t surprised that Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States. As a matter of fact, I kind of predicted it. Not sure why. I just had a feeling. Even when everyone assured me that it “just couldn’t happen” I seemed to know that it “just could”. And I was right. When it did happen I also told people not to get too concerned. I mean he’s just the president. Just one person in a much larger governing body. How much impact could he really have?  Look at Obama. Obama was never able to get anything he wanted done. And if Mr. T did try to do anything crazy, well there are checks and balances in place to stop him. After all, even with D.J. Trump at the helm the United States of America is still a democracy. It has a constitution that protects the civil liberties of the people. If nothing else he has more experienced politicians surrounding him for guidance. Surely they would help him to understand what is right and what isn’t. To do the right thing. And there are laws. Laws that prevent him from turning the place upside down. Boy was I wrong.

What I never realized is that no laws need to be passed, no policies enacted for the worst to happen. I never imagined that in this day and age, someone in a position of power would use words that are so caustic as to incite the kind of violence and unspeakable acts we are now experiencing at an unprecedented rate. Of course history tells us this can happen. But because we know, I thought we would know better. And yet here we are. Two black people killed as they shopped for groceries. Fifteen pipe bombs mailed out to critics of 45. Eleven innocent Jewish people murdered as they prayed. Many of us are left wondering what it is we can do to help. So we attend vigils. And  we express our disdain by posting on Facebook. By “liking” other people’s posts to let them know we stand by their side. But, it seems to me, this is simply too easy. This is not enough.

Because what isn’t easy is having to worry every time you go to get your mail. Or answer your door. What isn’t easy is having to bury your dead. The ones that died in horrific ways, too soon. And what isn’t easy is worrying about what might be next. Unfortunately on this one I don’t know how to be right or wrong. I just don’t know. But like everyone else, I do know that something needs to change. Fast. While we try to figure out what to do up here in the north country may I make a request to all of my American friends. On November 6th  go out and vote. Take a couple of friends with you. See what you can do to make a change. Even if it’s a small one. Please do this. For all of our sakes. 

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It completed me

I’ve always had a healthy skepticism about technology. It’s not that I don’t use technology. Like many I rarely leave a room without some sort of device attached to my hand. And I’m certainly not a Luddite (although I would have been proud to be one in the day) as I spent the later part of my career (yes, I am that old) devoted to making learning online the best experience it could possibly be for those who wanted that experience. But that doesn’t mean I buy in holus bolus to every knicknack or gadget that promises to make my life oh so much better than it already is. “Cause, if I might say so, my life ain’t so bad right now. Besides, how often do you invite the latest and greatest into your life only to discover that without a millennial in the house there’s no possible way to figure out how to make it work? Sure they showed you what to do in the store. But get the thing home and without all that fluorescent lighting nothing looks the same. As for me, you can bet your bottom dollar that, if there’s an “app for that” I’ll take a “pass for that“.

It’s not just figuring stuff out that’s the problem. There’s the whole over promising thing too. Like the self park feature on my car. Pretty exciting, eh? I mean all you have to do is press this one little button and lo and behold, the next thing you know you’re on the sidewalk waiting for the car to finish up and hand you the keys so you can be on your way. At least that’s what I thought it would do. Then I find out the car doesn’t actually find the parking spot for you. It just parks the car and what’s the point of that?  I know how to park a car. The problem is driving around the corner 15 times with the false hope that someone might actually leave just at the moment you sidle up to their spot. Or waiting for the person who has been sitting in the driver’s seat for nigh on 10 minutes (n reverse, I might add) before you realize they clearly have just broken up with their partner and are now calling each and every one of their friends to commiserate about the bum and how they never should have put up with all his/her nonsense in the first place. Fellas, It’s finding the parking space that’s the real problem. When you get that one worked out, call me.

Having said that, every once in a while something comes along that’s right up your alley. Something that fits like a glove, is on target and hits the proverbial nail on the head. Like those rather spendy noise cancellation headphones that you dithered about buying and then wondered what all of the anguish was about the very first time you wore them on a five hour flight and realized you no longer had to listen to the person beside you crunching on chips or worry every time the pilot “dinged” the flight attendant. Your logical self knows she probably just has to use the bathroom but there’s that niggling feeling it could be something else and at 39,000 feet “something else” can be a little disconcerting. Best not to hear at all which makes those buds worth their weight in gold. Then there’s that new fangled device that lets you see who’s at your front door without actually having to be anywhere near your front door. If that means not having to run down the stairs to find out there’s yet another person who wants to paint my “just been painted” house then, as Martha would say, it’s a good thing. But as good as those might be, neither can hold a candle to the hi tech wonder that has recently come into my life. If you ask me, it’s not even a horse race.

As you can probably imagine I spend a fair bit of my time at a computer, much but not all, dedicated to sending and responding to emails. It’s not that I don’t like writing emails. It’s just that so often I say the same thing over and over and over again. Like me, I’m sure that you have thought to yourself “if only there was an easier way”. “If only this computer could read my mind and finish all of my sentences”. Well my friends, you are in for a very pleasant surprise! The other day as I was typing away, much to my amazement my computer started typing all on its own. That’s right! Before my very eyes it was anticipating what it thought I wanted to say and then said it. Without any help at all, it completed me. At first I wasn’t all that receptive to this rather personal intrusion. My immediate reaction was “how do I get rid of this pesky little feature which is clearly something new from those Google peeps?” After all, it can’t possibly actually know what it is I want to say, can it? The truth is, it can’t but the reality is that, most of the time, what it had me say wasn’t so bad. I could live with it. And so it was that I decided to let the computer say what it thought I should say. Rather than the other way around. Which makes a lot of sense if you are a shallow person like me. I mean if it’s willing to do the work why the heck would I not let it? In most cases what I was going to say wasn’t really all that much better anyway.

Of course as it oft does, this got me thinking.  Why just emails? Why not let the computer finish all of my sentences everywhere? I gotta say it would make writing this blog a whole lot easier and I’m pretty sure that my computer could learn to be as shallow as I am in no time at all.

Yeah. Now I’m just gonna sit back and watch that skepticism of mine fade away.

PS: Thank you to the person who left the Starbucks mug on my doorstep. Just a guess but I’m thinking it must be someone who reads this blog as otherwise it was a very uncanny random act of kindness. Gotta admit. The last time I was in Saskatchewan I don’t think there was a SB, let alone a mug dedicated to the “Breadbasket of Canada“. It is very much appreciated and a wonderful addition to my collection!

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I’m back…sort of

Yes it has been a very long time and no I haven’t forgotten that I am the writer of this blog. So at the risk of sounding perhaps a tiny bit presumptuous it seems that I have had some more important things to do lately. First of all there was that little contract I may have mentioned three, four or five times before. It has kept me busier than expected. And then there was the 103rd birthday party I attended which, if you have ever been to one (and most I am guessing have not) was a really big deal. Beyond that there’s nothing much more to say except that I’m back now….sort of. And I say “sort of” because once again, and not for any reason connected to those excuses I just made, this will be a blog post, but not a shallow blog post. Mostly because I have had a long time to think about what I am going to say next and what better place to say it than in my own blog? At any rate, I do this every once in a while ‘cause even I can’t be shallow all of the time.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, although it may be a surprise to those who don’t, but the thing is I have quite an aversion to dolls. I especially don’t like dolls that can talk, walk, eat, pee or do other things that something without blood coursing through its veins shouldn’t be able to do. And to be totally honest, it’s not just dolls I don’t like. While it’s a little hard to explain, for the most part I don’t like any type of inanimate object made to look like people, animals or even insects. Anything really that can be purposely or accidentally dismembered. Because when things can be dismembered they will be. Like when your little bro’ decides it would be fun to see what Barbie looks like without her head. Or has a grand old time slowly but surely eating each of the parts of a gingerbread man, delivering a virtual play by play in between bites. And it should suffice to say that I can in no way condone the travesties that occur around Easter and Christmas when the markets are flooded with chocolate bunnies, chicks and Santas.

Before you get too concerned let me state categorically that there was no early trauma in my life to blame for this state of mine.  As Ms. Germanotta would say, “I was born this way”. This is not a phobia (I’ve checked) but rather a preference, one which doesn’t have a significant impact on my life. It’s quite simple. My chocolate comes in bars, my cookies are round or square and it’s been a very long time since Barbie has been in my life. Besides, as someone once politely suggested when I explained why I was turning down their offer of a gummy bear, everyone has their quirks. This is mine. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about robots. Because for reasons I am sure you now understand, I don’t like them very much either. And while my problem with other inanimate objects might not have a huge impact on my life or yours, robots will.

In case you missed it, (or as the young people say icymi) not so long ago there was an article in the Globe and Mail, (so most probably not fake news) about a start-up in Vancouver where some very smart people are dedicating their lives to the development of some very smart robots. These robots they proclaim, will “move, speak and think for themselves and interact – as intellectual peers – with real people on a daily basis in intimate and vital roles…” . This, the article goes on to say, “will fundamentally alter the basis of capitalism itself by introducing an entirely new type of synthetic species that could do much of the work now done by humans”.  And not only will this new species talk, walk and think like us, they will also look like us since the creators have determined that we (as in humans) prefer to interface with our own likeness. Just in case you should think that this is some “pie in the sky” hoopla, the writer assures us that Mr. Rose (the fella at the helm of this project) is a successful visionary entrepreneur who is “the closest thing Canada has to Elon Musk”, although given the events of the past few weeks that might not be as stellar an endorsement as one would have previously thought. Nonetheless, it seems to me, even as a shallow person, that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that what these people (yes there is more than one really smart person involved) are doing is just about as big a deal as that 103rd.  

As I made my way through the article, learning perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about things like AGI (that would be “artificial general intelligence”) and the apparent inevitability of robots becoming part of our not so distant, and depending on your perspective Utopian or Dystopian future, I found myself wondering if any of these enthusiastic, and possibly overzealous geniuses had spent even a moment of their time thinking about the ethics of what they are doing.  So you can imagine my relief when quite near the end of this very long article the question of ethics was finally raised. I mean they had to, didn’t they? And they did. In black and white. Because they know there might be issues. Like what would happen if some unscrupulous human got fed up and decided to erase their robot’s memory? Or started taking advantage of their robot? Or treated their robot as a lesser being?

Wait a minute. Am I mistaken or are they thinking more about the welfare of the robots than they are about us humans? Surely these people have thought about how the creation of a whole new species might impact the species that currently inhabits this planet of ours. Alas, it would seem not. When asked “what if thinking robots challenge the goals or motivation systems programmed by humans?” or “who would be responsible if human-like robots commit crimes?” the answer was a very definitive “I don’t have any solid answers to these questions yet.” So here’s a suggestion. Maybe we should all try to come up with a few solid answers to these questions before you start creating robots that can fundamentally change the course of history, not to mention the human race. You know.  In case something goes wrong.

Ok, I’ve gone on a little long so I’ve only got one more thing to say. Truth be told, this whole thing scares me a whole lot more than biting off the arm of a gingerbread man.

BTW…If you want to take a gander on what’s going on in the lab, have a look at this.

All excerpts from Sean Silcoff, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 8, 2018. In the Company of Robots.

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