Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do

graduation_diplomaI have never professed to be among the intellectual elite and I’m pretty sure if you could locate them, my high school math and science teachers would corroborate that statement. Some of them might even express a degree of surprise if they knew how far I have been able to make it in this little life of mine. Because, truth be told, I’ve held my own in the world of academe having completed more than one undergraduate degree and another beyond that. And since I’m tooting my own horn anyway (it’s what us shallows do), I’ll be so bold as to add that every once in awhile I write a pretty mean blog post. There are even the odd times that I run into people that I can confidently say I might even be smarter than. Like the cashier at the big box store I visited this weekend who, when presented with a rain check I had received the previous week looked like a deer in my headlights as she proclaimed “I don’t know what to do with that”. Or the supervisor she called over who, looking rather perplexed, shrugged her shoulders while echoing that sentiment. Now it’s been more than a few years since I have worked in retail but having mastered the “self-checkout” at the grocery store I took a flyer and suggested they scan the barcode on the slip I handed them just to see what might happen. And as Tom Cruise would say, mission accomplished.

Perhaps I was riding that wave of confidence when I decided it was time for me to kick it up a notch and experience the ivy league. How, you ask, did little old me manage to infiltrate those hallowed halls? Well I haven’t actually “been” inside them but I am taking a course at Harvard, online, in something called a MOOC. Now I realize not everyone is as familiar with the term as I am because, in case I have never mentioned it, I spend most of my daylight hours working in the world of online learning. And in that world some consider MOOCs to be the best thing since sliced bread, if you can pardon the vernacular. So, you ask, what is this thing they call a MOOC? Here’s the learnin’ part of the post. MOOCs are “massive, open, online courses”, massive because they attract hundreds of thousands of people; open because they are free; and online because that’s how you take them. For the most part they’re taught by big name professors from even bigger name schools who videotape their lectures so that those of us who can’t be there, can be there. And that’s how I ended up at Harvard, taking a course with what appears to be a lecture hall full of law students.

Now I don’t know about you but I have always thought that, unlike me, the students at Harvard really are members of the intellectual elite. Let’s face it, the list of Harvard attendees reads like a “who’s who” of well, everyone. I mean you’ve got your Presidents, your Nobel Prize winners and your game changers the likes of Misters Gates and Zuckerman, all with Harvard parchment on their walls. I suppose that’s why I had high expectations, so much so that I was a little concerned about my ability to comprehend the level of discourse that I assumed would be elicited from this group. And it quickly became clear that my professor (well I am taking the course) was want to engage the students in dialogue around tough philosophical questions, like whether it was ethical for a group of shipwrecked sailors to decide to kill and eat one of their mates in order to save the rest. Now most of us probably don’t want to imagine ever being in this particular situation but, nevertheless, we surmise that the answer to that question would be both difficult and complex. Which is why I was a tad taken aback when a pretty cool looking guy in the front row put up his hand and, when called upon, stood up in front of hundreds of his classmates, not to mention his esteemed teacher, and confidently stated that he would, in fact, sacrifice one for the good of the others. When asked to explain the premise upon which his decision had been made, he took a moment to think about it and then replied “ya gotta do what ya gotta do”.

Okay, so it’s not exactly what I was expecting. No matter. When I finish the 5 multiple choice quizzes and final multiple choice exam I’m going to get a certificate. From Harvard. And you better believe I’ll be hanging that up on my office wall.

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Blasts from the Past

emailThe internet has changed everything and I can say that with some authority since I spend an inordinate amount of time on it, both at work and at home. Of course it goes without saying there’s good and bad stuff about this relatively new phenomenon and it also has the unique characteristic of being both a time saver and time waster. I mean, let’s face it. All those hours you used to spend at the library seeking just the right book to support the rather spurious arguments you were making in your final history paper have been replaced by a quick search on Google Scholar where in just minutes you can find a multitude of like-minded authors making the same spurious arguments. And imagine the time and money you could save if, like me, you register for a course, free of charge at Harvard which, when successfully completed, will garner you a frame-worthy certificate to proudly hang on your office wall confirming to everyone that you really are as smart as you think you are. And I’m pretty sure you’ll be successful even if you check off the box promising not to cheat, which is important because this is Harvard and there’s an expectation of rigour associated with the ivy league. And let’s not forget the shopping. The internet has given new meaning to the “let your fingers do the walking” ditty as now one visit to your fav “bricks and mortar” store to nail down sizes will suffice and all future purchases can be made with just a click of the wrist. No more driving through traffic, combing the mall parking lot for a spot or paying exorbitant fees to occupy a ten by eight section of pavement for a couple of hours which, if factored out on a yearly basis, would probably cover the rent on a small penthouse.

But it’s not all “raindrops and roses” or, like my Mother says “peaches and cream”, as anyone who has ever whiled away more than a few hours managing a fake farm, building towers out of oddly shaped blocks or shooting throngs of attacking aliens, knows. The internet has led us down some less savoury paths, ones which are perhaps better off having not been chosen. Not that it hasn’t been exciting. I mean we can now connect to just about everything and everybody at the touch of a button, but there’s a flip side to that coin. You see it’s given rise to an odd sort of epidemic and since it’s caught up with me I’d bet a buck or two that it’s caught up with you too. What you ask, is this affliction to which I refer? Well, let’s just say that, of late, there has been a rash of people who, despite their better judgement, feel compelled to reconnect with old pals, most likely because they have shown up on their “people you might know” block on LinkedIn. Or maybe one day, with nothing else to do, they decided to google everyone in their high school yearbook, just for fun. Which would be fine if that was where it all ended. But it doesn’t.  I have to confess that this new trend confuses me a tad. Because when I think about it, I realize that communication tools have been around for some time and yet have not traditionally been employed in this manner. Perhaps they’re just so free and easy now, like my course at Harvard. Regardless, the bottom line is that one day, when you least expect it, you will open your inbox and find an email from someone who hasn’t contacted you in 40 years, and it will go something like this:

“Hey! Long time, no see. Saw your pic on [insert your favourite social media site here] and can’t believe you haven’t changed a bit. So what’s been happening?”

Before I go on, let me stop for a moment and explain that I have actually successfully connected in this way with one or two people from the past and have very much enjoyed becoming reacquainted. In fact some of you may be reading this blog but these are exceptions to the rule. Because even as a shallow person who is no stranger to the niceties and nuances of meaningless chit chat, and who, if I have to say so myself, is pretty darn good at it, I find most of these “blast from the past” conversations to be a bit of a stretch. Honestly, “what’s been happening?” Would that be over the last 40 years? Let’s see, where do I start because 40 years is a pretty long time and this could take a while. I mean it took Moses 40 years to get the people of Israel out of the desert and some pretty significant stuff went on during that time. And don’t get me started on that “you haven’t changed a bit” malarky which could only be true if I was prematurely wrinkled and gray at 20. Or just maybe I have had tons of “work” done, as they say, in the interim. And you gotta know I’m not going to share that information with someone I haven’t heard from in 40 years. The bottom line is you’ll probably share an email or two, promise to get together next time you’re in town, and then promptly forget that you did.

So here’s my advice. Next time you get the overwhelming urge to entertain the ill conceived notion that the internet should be used to connect with people from your distant past, think again. I’m guessing that in most cases you’ll quickly realize there was probably a pretty good reason that you didn’t stay in touch in the first place and won’t hit the send key. And please don’t worry about taking as much time as you need to decide. After all, what’s another 40 years between friends?

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ice_scoopI’ve been scooped! And as a shallow person, I’m ok with that. I mean I suppose it really is the highest form of flattery. As a matter of fact it’s kind of impressive to have someone think so highly of something I shared with them that they wanted to write about it even more than I did. Or at least they got around to writing about it before I did which is not all that surprising since, as you may have noted, my “not writing days” have begun to outnumber my writing ones. But that’s only because I returned home to the North and had a whole bunch of other stuff to do, which included deciding how many colours I could put together to cut down on the number of loads of laundry that were piled up in the basement. And then there was all that food shopping since, upon return, the cupboards were quite bare. Not to mention that, of late, I have been charged with doing some writing at work and there are only so many words in one’s head at one time. And the roads are slippery as all get out which I know doesn’t really have much to do with me writing the blog but thought I could throw it out there since I’m complaining anyway. You have to admit though that those first three are fairly plausible excuses that have me, at least, convinced that this temporary slowdown is justifiable. But now I’m back at it and since I am not going to share with you the link to the culprit’s (well that’s what I like to call him) blog, I figured it would be pretty safe to write about what he wrote about. After all, it was my idea in the first place and besides, it has lots to do with all those hours I spent drinking coffee on the patio and right now I’m feeling a little nostalgic about my recent time at the beach, especially since temps here are having  some trouble moving into the plus category. Done whining.

The origins of this escapade that I am about to describe go back to the days when the Kev and I (you remember the Kev) spent many hours going for coffee in one place or another, and I am being accurate here since it was the ‘90s and there was actually more than one place to go for coffee. A little aside here. What most people don’t realize is that there is a difference between “going for coffee” and “having a coffee” the explanation of which is much too involved for this post and will have to be picked up at some point in the future. Suffice to say that the former is what I am focusing on as it tends to be the more interesting of the two options. I think however, you can imagine that when you go for coffee with the same person day after day after day it can get a little challenging to come up with new and engaging topics around which to banter. I mean there’s work stuff, family stuff and general stuff but after a while all of that gets a bit stale and so you start to look outward for some inspiration. I have always found that if you keep one ear on the tables around you it’s possible to learn something interesting and maybe even confidential as most people forget that they are not Maxwell Smart and there is no “cone of silence” (if you don’t know, here’s the link). One caution here, if you happen to accidentally overhear what you think is a great stock tip don’t run back to your office and put down your life savings ‘cause unless you happen to be lucky enough to be sitting beside Mr. Buffet it’s probably not going to pan out.

While listening in can be one way to perk up a break it is a little passive so I’d like to help you take a more proactive approach to passing the time. Whenever the Kev and I got a little bored with each other we played a game that we like to call “Who’s that Guy/Who’s that Gal?” There are no rules to this game and it’s pretty straight forward. All you have to do is look around and find someone whose life you can recreate. That’s right. You are going to figure out who that guy/gal is without actually talking to them or anyone they know. It goes something like this.

Me: See that guy in the corner with the ponytail sipping on the frap? 
Kev: Yeah. Looks like he just lost his job as the cameraman at the local network affiliate.
Me: Bet he’s trying to figure out what he can do now without chopping off that hair. Good thing he has some severance to tide him over.
Kev: He’s just stopping off here on his way to pick up a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots.
Me: So he can mosey on down to Cow Town and join the rodeo.
Kev: As a clown.

And that’s it. Before you know it you’ll be sitting with some of the most interesting albeit bizarre people in the world.  Now that I think about it, there is one rule. Never let any of them know what you’ve done because their new life just might be better than the old.

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