Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Only Thing In My Life That Isn't Hard Is My Abdomen

Life wasn't meant to be easy. It really wasn't. Well, not for most people. There are those people (who don't really exist, because you don't know any and you don't know anyone who knows any) who have charmed lives. The concept of a charmed life is just that, a concept. Like winning the lottery and paying off your mortgage are concepts.

If one seems to have a charmed life, they should be living in fear of the inevitable difficulty or tragedy which will uncharm their charmed life. It happens all the time in books and movies, which are reflections of real life. The princess lives a happy, care-free existence in the glittering palace. The attendants take care of her every need. Even the elephants in the nearby forest seem to trumpet in tune with each other. Birds, butterflies, sunshine and all that. Then, while she is taking tea on the north balcony, the monster sneaks up behind her and devours her alive. It's going to happen. No surprises there.

If its going well, fear the worst.

You are having the perfect day. Work is flowing smoothly and everything is falling into place. All your private phone calls have been for good things and you had very few work-related conversations. You got out of attending 3 meetings and the cafeteria even served your favorite dessert. Can't you see that you are heading inexorably towards a homeward-bound car crash? Isn't it obvious that something is going to go wrong? Why didn't you prevent the accident by giving yourself a paper-cut on the way out of the office? While uncomfortable, it is much less painful than rolling your car down an embankment. Face it, life wasn't meant to be easy.

Still don't believe me? Here's a real-life case in point. "I thought it was a dumb way to die", was Jeff Bezos' recollection of his could-have-been-last-thoughts when he was the passenger in a near-fatal helicopter crash. Money.cnn.com views the helicopter crash as a metaphor to Bezos' "charmed life" - oh yeah, "But then came the dot com crash" they write. If everything is going perfectly then expect that dot com crash because, baby, life wasn't meant to be easy.

Then you have it going the other way, too. You are down in the dumps and, suddenly, you make it big. Rags to Riches. According to a Forbes.com article in 2007, "Almost two-thirds of the world's 946 billionaires made their fortunes from scratch, relying on grit and determination, and not good genes" So most of the wealthiest people in the world started off poor and then made it into the big-time. Not so charmed before; plenty charmed after, but still doesn't qualify as a "charmed life"because of the first bit. Points earned only later in the game don't make a perfect score.

But my strongest argument that a "charmed life" is nothing more than a popularized quote from Shakespeare is that people are human. That means they die. So even if the person's entire life is going great and they make it to 100 years old with nothing but good luck, success and happiness under their belts, they will still inevitably die. "He was doing great until a sudden heart attack killed him dead in a stalled elevator between the 14th and 15th floors during an electrical outage when an errant cigarette-lighter delivery van collided with a petrol tanker, which rolled into the lobby of his building, setting it on fire." Just one small incident can ruin such a perfect record. How charmed can that be?

So if things seem to be difficult and if life seems to throw you punches that you have trouble avoiding or absorbing, then just remember that those troubles are a blessing in disguise. Imagine if you had a "charmed life", you would do nothing but live in agonizing fear until something bad happened, petrified of the inevitable upsetting of the apple cart. Who wants that? Which is why I'm not so worried when sometimes it seems that the only thing in my life that isn't hard is my abdomen.


This post in in response to a challenge to write about "the only thing in my life that isn't hard is my abdomen".

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Something From Nothing

I do not recall in which of the Superman movies it was, but one of the characters took a special pen, drew a butterfly on the floor and watched as it instantly came to life, took off and flew away. In Star trek one would simply instruct the computer to provide a cup of "Early Grey. Hot", and the beverage would instantly materialize for your drinking pleasure.

I once saw an ingenious invention where the user would input a diagram or digital image of a mechanism into the machine and it would build a 3D representation of it using sand and glue. For example, you could feed the machine a diagram of a ball and socket. The machine would start whizzing away and build a working 3D model of it for you. Naturally, it took a really long time to produce such a thing, layer by layer. Also, the accuracy was not perfect and it was limited in its complexity. The 3D model was also not particularly sturdy, given the materials it was made from, but the idea that you can draw a two-dimensional picture and turn it into a physical reality so quickly is amazing.

Now, you might say that this is not so fantastic. After all, take any carpenter, for example, who would sketch a table on a piece of paper and turn that design into a real piece of furniture. An architect does the same sort of thing. However, the difference here is that anyone, without any skills to create something with his own hands, can actually partake of both the design and creation process. It is an exciting concept.

One of the oldest toy companies in America, FAO Schwartz (est. 1862), provides a similar activity for elementary school kids They have a service called “Imagine it”, where the child sits down at a kindergarten-sized table and, using nothing more than a Crayola Crayon, scrap paper and the world perception of a six-year-old, designs their own clothes. The drawing is then passed on to an eagerly awaiting staff of expert tailors who then proceed to create a life-size real version of the child’s drawing. Nifty.

The problem with this is that kids have wonderful imaginations. A third-grader would never design an outfit comprising blue-jeans and a T-shirt. Boring. They are more likely to draw a gaudy, glittering, colorful outfit which, if brought to life, would render them the school’s laughing stock. Come to think of it, that’s probably how fashion was designed in the 1980s.

I had to check this out, so I took a look at the FAO Schwartz website and came to the following conclusion: normally you would sit your kids down to draw pictures as a way of passing time, entertaining them and releasing their creative juices. Drawing can be a wonderful learning experience and fantastic for a child’s development in many ways. But for $900 a dress, you might want to consider reading them a story, instead.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Practical Jokes

There is nothing funnier than a good practical joke. I'm talking about a really well thought out, convincing set up. As long as you are not the victim, practical jokes are usually very funny. Take this oldie-but-goodie as an example (Link to YouTube):




Now that is just a classic.

I've played a few practical jokes in my time. Like when my colleagues went out to lunch and I replaced their computer monitors with cardboard boxes on which I had drawn a "screen" and a knob. One guy returned to his desk and sat there laughing for about five minutes. The other fellow didn't bat an eyelid. He sat down to work, typed a few letters and then called me on the phone to say, "Hey, Yossi, something's wrong with my computer".

Problem with that joke was that I had to schlep the monitors back to the workstations from the meeting room where I had hidden them. But it was worth the trouble.

Then there are other types of practical jokes, like those played on poor, unsuspecting people by Candid Camera or copy-cat programs. Like the time they got a delivery man to pull up outside a house on the side of a hill. When he opened the double-doors at the back of the truck thousands of unstoppable balls of all sizes rolled out of the truck. Funny, harmless, messy.

Jeremy Beadle was one practical jokester who had a show called "Beadles About" where he would play all sorts of practical jokes on people, like destroying their house and then showing up laughing "Ha! Gotcha!". Of course, he wouldn't do that every week. Sometimes he would go lower-scale and blow up their car or have their boss fire them, just for the gag.

According to this Wikipedia article, at the peak of its popularity, Beadle's About had 15 million viewers. It got so popular that, according to the Wikipedia article, in 1993 a man was arrested for pulling a policeman's beard thinking that he was Jeremy Beadle in disguise. Yeah, right. Twenty five heavily armed and highly trained SWAT policemen come bursting into a cocaine refinery in a grotty warehouse at the back of a strip club, shattering glass windows all around the illegal Chinese workers. The chief crook drops his weapon, doubles over in laughter and pulls on the policeman's beard and goes, "Ho! Ha! Very funny! We've been pranked by Beadle!" Likely story.

Take a look at this example of "Beadle's About" from Funny-Videos.co.uk

Funny thing is, they never told the victim that it wasn't his van!

What happens if one day an elderly gentleman comes home to find the house his family has lived in for seven generations completely leveled to the ground? While writhing on the floor in the agony of a heart attack, Beadle pops his head out and goes "Surprise!" Then the victim looks up at the grinning Beadle and scratches into the microphone "I hid my life-savings in the walls of the dining room that you just burned to the ground". Better call two paramedics.

When Jeremy Beadle died on 25 January 2008 at the age of 59, nobody believed him. They still don't.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's a Violent World and It's Your Fault!

I suppose that the majority of parents want their children to live full and happy lives, free of violence, murder, death, pain and suffering.

According to this article about school violence:

"The fact is, violence of one sort or another is part of many schools today. Fortunately, this usually involves a small group of people fighting amongst themselves...Since the 1992-3 school year, 270 violent deaths have occurred at schools across the nation."

So, in other words, it's fine for kids to shoot each other, as long as they only do it among themselves. Sounds like a plan.

The article goes on to report staggering statistics about how many schools across the United States reported violent crimes on school premises each year, stating that the rate of violence has decreased. They warn:

"We must fight against this complacency without overreacting. We must fight to make our schools safe."

Isn't that akin to "KILL ALL EXTREMISTS!"

But it is our own fault. We have taught our kids to be violent.

How? Language.

Case in point: what did I learn in English class in high-school? To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, Julius Caesar (among others) - all wonderful and highly acclaimed works of literature about rape, lying, murder, assassination, treachery and death. Just the sorts of things you would want your teenage children to study in depth. And we say that movies and computer games are responsible for youth violence! Harumph!

That's not to mention the fact that the English language itself is rife with oft used violent expressions:
  • break a leg
  • give my eye tooth
  • give my left arm
  • cut off his nose to spite his face
  • kill time
  • roll with the punches
  • beat a dead horse
  • to step on his toes
  • to force one's hand
  • to bite the hand that feeds you
  • a dead ringer
  • she cried blue murder
  • stick out like a sore thumb
  • ankle biter
  • it's a slap in the face
  • you beat me to the punch
  • like banging your head against a brick wall
  • hit me with your best shot
  • keep your eye on the target
  • hit the target
  • He's such a riot
  • to tackle a problem
  • better than a kick in the pants
  • when push comes to shove
  • he's a real lady killer
  • keep your nose to the grindstone
  • to gang up on someone
  • won the battle but lost the war
  • on the warpath
  • blinded by the light
  • straw that broke the camel's back
  • to put your nose out of joint
By educating these children we are turning them into thugs. By teaching them language skills, we are helping them to destroy society. Literacy is dangerous. Plain and simple. Keep the kids in the dark. Better to be stupid and alive than educated and dead, I say. Drugs and alcohol don't cause gang wars, Mrs Miller's 8th Grade Book Club does!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's Good I'm Not A...

I'm scared of heights, so it's good I'm not a professional hang-glider. That knocks out one profession. Given that there are possibly hundreds and thousands of different professions, and variations thereof, I suppose it isn't really practical to decide your future career by process of elimination. There are other ways to choose the direction of your career.

I like straight lines, so it's good I don't design modern office buildings.

I guess the easiest way to decide what career you want to have is to create categories of professions and strike out the categories that don't suit your personality or abilities. This way you can eliminate entire blocks of careers. For example: outdoor jobs, indoor jobs, computer jobs, scientific jobs, jobs involving animals, community jobs, finance jobs and so on.

I faint at the sight of blood, so it's good I'm not a professional hit-man.

So once you have knocked out the categories of jobs you don't like, you can then focus on the careers that seem appropriate. Try to think of things you like doing and see what professions fit. While doing this, it is important to keep in mind that some hobbies don't translate so well into real paying jobs. For example, just because you beat the heck out of your opponent on your PC kick boxing game, it doesn't mean that you will be any good inside a ring. You have to be realistic.

I like my tongue moist, so it's good I'm not a philatelist.

Also, think of the special skills you might have that will come in handy in your chosen profession. For example, if you are good with numbers, an accounting or finance job might be interesting for you. If you get on well with animals, taming lions might be your cup of tea. Or not. It all depends on you, your personality, your skills and whether or not you have a death wish.

I have a memory like a sieve, so it's good I'm not a doctor.

So you really have to take into consideration all of the factors, make informed choices, research, ask questions, talk to people and decide carefully. Once you have done that you will finally realize that nothing you choose will be exactly what you want, you don't know yourself as well as you thought, circumstances are limiting and so you will probably end up wherever life takes you.

According to this article:

"The statistics show that workers between the ages of 18 and 38 change jobs an average of 10 times"

That doesn't necessarily mean that the 18 to 38 year olds change careers, they just change employers, but sometimes they change careers, too. So, you see, no matter how hard you try to plan, you are almost guaranteed not to get it right.

...and it's good I'm not a career counselor.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Do We Eat Too Much?

I have been mulling over the question of whether or not we eat too much. Do we really need three meals a day, or will one or two suffice? Even if we eat healthily, are we being wasteful by eating too frequently? And is there too much emphasis on food in our lives?

Do a quick Google search for "eat too much" and you will find all sorts of sites about eating too much meat, not eating enough meat, eating too much salt, and not eating enough salt. It seems like every few years something on the "do not eat" list becomes healthy and vice versa. So don't despair, in ten years scientists will announce that gorging oneself on salty, oily, sugary, snacks is good for you - only, gorge in moderation.

A rather long article in Time magazine boils it all down to society and culture: "We eat together when we celebrate, and we eat together when we grieve; we eat together when a loved one is preparing to leave, and we eat together when the loved one returns. We solve our problems over the family dinner table, conduct our business over the executive lunch table, entertain guests over cake and cookies at the coffee table."

We have moved food from being merely a means for survival into a social ritual. But, nutrition and parties aside, food has unquestionably infiltrated itself into other aspects of our lives. So much so that even our lexicon is overflowing with gastronomically related expressions:

- to chew the fat
- too much to stomach
- spews forth information
- hunger for knowledge
- thirst for the truth
- bit off more than he could chew
- bite sized pieces of information
- eating her words
- have his cake and eat it, too
- to eat humble pie

...and so on and so forth. No wonder we are all so food-focused.

As interesting a picture as this may paint for you, whether you like it or not, food is on your mind.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Life Ambition

I have to confess that although I don’t mind working, the thought of going on a really, really long vacation is very appealing. I’m talking about taking at least a year off to travel the world and just enjoy life. Sounds idyllic? Read on.

My dream is to buy a luxury bus, outfitted like a first-class hotel suite: plush carpets, mahogany trim, marble bathroom, leather seats, comfy couches and all that. Then I’d drive the bus around the world, never needing to worry about packing, unpacking, checking in or checking out. I’d go where I wanted and enjoy hot showers, home-cooked meals and top-rate comfort in the middle of the city, desert, rainforest or mountain peak.

For that I’d need a bus license, a whole bunch of free time and a lazy $250,000 to purchase the vehicle. It is not a dream out of range, assuming I sold my house, quit my job, took a loan and sent my kids to live with an elderly wart-ridden aunt in a dilapidated mansion on the top of a dark, distant hill in a wooded forest. Okay, the last part is not essential. It doesn’t have to be a wooded forest.

Then I’d have to buy a beaver.

That’s one sentence that you weren’t expecting. "I’d have to buy a beaver". Actually, that would be a “Beaver”, which is the name of one of the companies that sells luxury motor homes. “Beaver”, as in www.beavermotorcoaches.com.

“Get into a Beaver” is their catch-phrase, which, taken literally, conjures up images of large, brown rodents holding their buck-toothed mouths wide open and pointing with their free paw down their gullets as they garble, “Get in, already!”

But I like that slogan, “Get into a Beaver”. Think of the newly retired couple stopping off at a gas-station in the remotest part of an Arizona desert. The husband goes to the cashier to pay for the diesel, feels his back pocket, turns to his wife and says, “Dear, I think I left my wallet in the Beaver. Would you mind getting it for me?”

“Get out of the fish!” is another sentence you didn’t expect to read here, but then again, you just did. It’s also a sentence that I never thought I’d utter, but I managed to say it often, making perfect sense each time. “The fish” referred to an inflatable swimming-pool toy in the shape of a fish and that the “get out” was directed to various children so that the other children could have a turn.

My life ambition is to sit in a fish inside a Beaver – and the scary thing is that you now understand exactly what I mean.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Volunteer Conspiracy

Recently at a restaurant I overheard a group of people talking about their ages. They were all about 18 years old. That's when it hit me that I am a full 15 years older than them. When I was 18, they were 3. That means that when I got my driver's license, they were still wetting their beds. When I was at university, they couldn't even spell university. It was a revelation because on some level I still identify with them, sort of. In my mind I am still 18.

Would I want to be 18 again and go through all of the stuff that 18 year olds go through? Hell, yeah! 18 year olds have the most fun. Most of them live at home with their parents (for some this is bad, for me it was bliss); most are studying; and socializing responsibilities come before all else. What more could you want out of life?

Ah, but I am wrong - fulfillment doesn't come out of "living it up", at least not in 2006. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, "In 2006, 5,227,000 people aged 18 years and more had undertaken some form of voluntary work in the previous 12 months" That's quite a nice number of fulfilled people.

Hang on, what are we saying here? Help others so that you can feel good about yourself? So is it about them or is it about you? Here are some extracts from the official blog of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA):

"On a purely selfish level, volunteering makes you feel good about yourself"
"From a professional standpoint, volunteering is a great way to add to your portfolio"
"There is no greater way to expand or add to your skill set than by volunteering"
On networking: "The more people you know, the more opportunities there are out there for you"

I was expecting the last paragraph to say something like: "Despite all of the benefits to you, volunteer work is about giving to others and helping the less fortunate in your community". However, no such luck. It seems that volunteering is about you!

Wait a moment. Let's not be rash. That's only one source, right? How about this survey conducted by "Imagine Canada" (www.givingandvolunteering.ca) in 1997 which produced the following results:

Three-quarters of volunteers (76%) reported gaining interpersonal skills such as understanding people better, motivating others, and dealing with difficult situations.

Two-thirds of volunteers (66%) said they developed communication skills in public speaking, writing, conducting meetings, and public relations.

Sixty-four percent reported an increase in their knowledge about such issues as health, women, politics, criminal justice, or the environment.


More than half of unemployed volunteers (54%) believed that volunteering would increase their chances of finding a job.

I could go on, but that's enough. I proved my point. Volunteers are single-mindedly hell-bent on squeezing the most out of the less fortunate. Let's face it, the underprivileged are being used as stepping stones for some self-important volunteer's career prospects. Soup kitchens are evil dens of self-centeredness, thinly veiled in a facade of "helping" people - yeah, volunteers helping themselves, that is.

My research has conclusively proven that "volunteers" are out there, everywhere, masquerading as a positive force, when they are actually a devilish cult. So next time someone does something "nice" for you, think twice. They may offer you soup, but they are really in it for themselves. Trust me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Getting Domestic

Here I am, getting into the whole "keeping house" thing while my wife is away. Enjoy.



Also available on Google Video here:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8142718001152119067

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Modern Dwarf

Imagine if your entire life you were someone else’s curiosity, a pet, a zoo animal, an object over which people “ooh” and “ahh”. I can’t imagine that it would be a pleasant experience. Think midget, circa 1600 CE.

Now imagine that your entire life you were someone else’s curiosity, as before, but this time you are paid millions to be gawked at. The more people who point their fingers, the more prestige, fame and fortune come your way. You are invited to meet the President of the United States, your wedding to a fellow little person is front-page news and your name lives on in history. Think Tom Thumb, late 19th Century.

The modern dwarf can thank people like Tom Thumb. The modern dwarf can now exploit his diminutive stature by acting in diverse roles such as Snow White or Star Wars. Alternatively, he can carry a copy of the equal opportunity act and sue the large-size pants off anyone who can even spell the word “discrimination”.

The modern dwarf has career opportunities open to him that are far more diverse and interesting than those of regular sized people. They can be teachers, computer programmers or circus performers. They can be accountants, doctors or human cannonballs. They can be actuaries, bus drivers or garden gnomes. The possibilities are endless.

The modern dwarf can be the star of professional sports that you and I cannot, such as Dwarf Tossing, which has an international professional league. All you need is a helmet, a landing mat, a dwarf and a six-foot drunk. Place a few bets, hold the little guy by his shorts (pun), swing him back and forth and then throw that dwarf in the general direction of the mat. It’s a team sport.

Make no mistake, the modern dwarf has it good. Oh, and they are also great at small talk…was that a little unfair? Perhaps a tiny bit.

(This blog is in response to a challenge to write about 'The Modern Dwarf').

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Perfect Business

One of the oldest and well-tested truisms of business is to be the first in the market. If you are first on the scene with a new product or service not offered by anyone else, you are more likely to succeed.

I was trying to think of a business I could start that would fit this requirement. Then, out of the blue, it came to me during a conversation with one of my colleagues. He said that if he was to start a terrorist organization, he wouldn’t call it something boring (think Al Jihad), he would name it something exciting, like a sports team (think Tamil Tigers).

He is right. Your name means everything – how people perceive your organization is vital to your success. Do you think your terrorist organization would be respected if you called it “Belligerent Bunny Rabbits”?

We live in a world of terrorism, where, like McDonalds, there’s a new group in the industry springing up on every street corner (see the US State Department’s list of terror organizations). Now is the opportune time to offer terrorist organization marketing services. Why not? Joe Average doesn’t really know the difference between Al Qa’ida, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Hamas or Fatah. To him, they are all just the same. If your organization is responsible for an incident and it is mistakenly attributed to some other organization, who will know and who will care? You have to stand up and get yourself noticed. A good marketing campaign is the way to go.

Logos, slogans, full-page advertisements in broadsheet newspapers, a visual media campaign, an interactive website and radio slots – that’s the way to get your message out there. We will get you on Oprah, if that’s what it takes to ensure that your terrorist organization gets the credit and reputation you work so hard to build.

The more I think about it the more I realize that terrorist organization marketing services really is the perfect business. Now, all I need is to employ someone to collect on bad debts. You interested?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Low-Risk Strategies for Buying a Used Car

Someone challenged me to write about how to buy a used car. The simple answer to that is to find a car you are interested in, approach the seller, give him money and drive the car home. But that would be cheating my challenger.

The topic should really be “low-risk strategies for buying a used car”. Although that title sounds more like a management text-book than it does a blog post, I think it more accurately describes the essence of my challenger’s challenge.

So what are the low-risk strategies you can use when buying a used car? The answer is that there aren’t any. You just have to take your best shot. Sometimes you will be lucky and find a good car, and other times you will end up buying a vacuum cleaner that sucks your money right out of your pocket. But there are things that you can do to minimize the risk of buying a four-wheeled-dud.

The first thing to do is to really ask yourself if you want to buy a used car or not. The high risk of wasting thousands on a lemon might be enough to push you to buy a new car instead. But new-car salesmen are just as bad as used-car salesmen. Certainly, the car itself will probably go okay, but new-car dealers will relentlessly push the buyer into buying all the extras. This often leaves the buyer with less in the bank account but some nice, fancy gadgets in the car that won’t ever be used (passenger-side airbags? Feh!). So when you are weighing the pros and cons of buying a used car versus buying a new car, just figure that you are going to get royally worked over no matter what you do. It’s easier when you learn to accept that fact at face value.

Never buy a car from a friend. That is my next piece of advice. You may have ridden in the car many times, or you may even have driven it from time to time. Over the years your friend may have described to you his dealings with car mechanics. He may have spun adventurous tales of danger and excitement, like the time when his car broke down on a busy six-lane highway and he had to cross to the other side to get to a phone booth, but was attacked by an angry chicken. You may think you know this car. But you don’t. For in the deep recesses of your friend’s mind is the thought that one day he might sell the car to you. So, whether he realizes it or not, he won’t tell you the full story behind the breakdown (he didn’t get a flat tire, the rear axle sheared itself off the chassis). He may not do it consciously, but your friend is holding back. I would believe the part about the chicken, but a flat tire? Come on.

Know to ask the right questions and then doubt every answer you get. “Has this car ever been involved in an accident” is a great question. Assume that the answer is “yes”, but you are more likely to hear, “I was once driving south on a vacation with my family, when the car in front of us spun out of control. Thankfully this car has great brakes so I managed to stop on time. The driver of the other car was okay, but his car had to be towed to the next town. Luckily my car is very powerful, so I attached the tow-rope and hauled it 100 miles down the road, in the snow, barefoot”.

Another classic question is, “When was the car last serviced?” The true answer is probably that Cousin Angelo came down last weekend and helped to get the car going by repeatedly whacking the starter-motor with a monkey-wrench. However, the answer that you will probably get is, “I service the car regularly. Unfortunately the service log-book was destroyed when I drove my car at high-speed through the collapsing wall of a burning building to save a trapped fireman, a small child and her teddy bear. I managed to save them and the car emerged unscathed, but on the way out of the burning building the fireman flipped through the log book, commenting on how I only used authorized mechanics, when a huge bird of prey swooped down, grabbed the log book and then dropped it into the fiery depths of the second floor, never to be seen again”.

So buying a car is a tricky sort of a business, new or used. If I were you, I’d just take the bus.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Ultimate Vacation

Where did you go for your last vacation? Disneyland? Hawaii? Europe? Colin went to Mongolia. He wrote about it in his most fascinating blog, creatively titled "Colin's Mongolian Adventure". Let's not knock Colin. He went to a different destination - to a place where he could see something new and exciting, to challenge himself and come back with engaging stories and lasting memories. I hope Colin doesn't mind if I reproduce a small section of his blog:

To summarize, everything in Mongolia can accurately be explained by merely adding the words "Crazy Mongolian" at the beginning of the name. (E.g. Crazy Mongolian bus drivers; Crazy Mongolian jungle birds; Crazy Mongolian construction workers; and Crazy Mongolian liver diseases.)

This is truly the best I can explain the country.

After all the planning, effort and expense he put into his adventure-trip to Mongolia, the best way he can summarize the place is to call the people "crazy"? Whatever would Gengis Kahn think of Mongolia's hard-earned reputation? "Crazy", indeed! He would be rolling in his grave if he read that. But I thought we weren't going to knock Colin. Let's face it, at lest he left his comfort zone and did something interesting, even if his summary of the whole experience is a little short on adjectives.

It seems to me, though, that the reason most people want to go away on a vacation is either for: luxury (think 6 star Hawaiian resort hotel), fun (think Disneyland), quiet (picture deserted tropical beaches, fine, white sand and exquisite solitude) or adventure (backpacking in Europe, a ride down the Amazon, or an African safari). I think the last category of people get the most out of their vacation. Adventurers get to meet interesting people, enjoy fascinating experiences and contract exotic diseases.

I bet that the ultimate adventure holiday would be a trip to space. According to this short piece on www.space.com, "on April 28, 2001, Dennis Tito, a California-based multi-millionaire, became the first ever space tourist". Mr Tito boarded a Russian spacecraft and then spent two weeks on the International Space Station.

Now that has to be the ultimate vacation.

Firstly, you have the excitement of the buildup. You are sent to a secret Russian camp to learn how to survive lack of gravity, oxygen deprivation and G-forces that push your face through to the back of your head. Then you pay millions of dollars and trust your life to a spacecraft made by a country that can't even produce a decent automobile. You then leave your spacecraft and live in an isolated metal box called a space station, which is basically a fragile pod equivalent to a tiny, vulnerable Lego construction, delicately floating in a great ocean of nothingness. You then spend two weeks getting in the way of a bunch of nervous scientists, hoping that the oxygen doesn't run out, that equipment doesn't malfunction, that asteroids don't crush you while you sleep, that food rations don't get accidentally shot out of an airlock, that aliens don't attack, or that the pilot for your return trip doesn't lose the keys to the spaceship. I can think of nothing more fun than that.

Tito's 2-week jaunt on the International Space Station in 2001 hasn't yet spawned a space-hotel industry. Despite the predictions (or fantasies) of futurists, techies and trekies alike, space-station hotels are still a long way off. A less-than-thrilling article by Leonard David entitled, "The Future of Travel: Aquatic to Cosmic Destinations" quotes an "expert" who says, "You can't have a successful hotel if you don't have the means of getting people there." How cleverly insightful.

Fortunately or unfortunately, at least for now, the majority of us are limited to searching for more Earthly adventures. So next time you feel like a break from the drudgery of life, either borrow a couple of million, learn Russian and bunk down with the Cosmonauts, or do what Colin did and find something different, like climbing Mount Everest using only a ball of string and a toothpick.

Send me a postcard.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

How to Open a Coconut

I was surfing the web and came across a very informative site called www.howtoopencoconuts.com. It shouldn't surprise me that such a site exists, but I found it amusing that there is an entire website dedicated to showing you how to open a coconut.

The way this website advises you to open the coconut is by delicately tapping holes in the end of the coconut and then draining the liquid (coconut water). Once the coconut water has been extracted, gently wrap the coconut in a towel and then sledge the thing with a hammer until pulverized. You may wish to bare your teeth, yell and think of something that makes you angry. I call that a bonus.

The funny thing about this method is that at the top of the website are the following words, "but we humans can't just sit around and let monkeys show us up, right?" - yeah, right. Monkeys can crack open a coconut with their bare hands, a banana peel and a pebble, but we use rusty nails and hammers. Sure, we are much smarter than them.

This got me thinking about the most efficient method for opening coconuts.

I went to About.com, which is a great resource for advice on almost anything. They suggest that after draining the coconut of its juices (by using a corkscrew to poke it in the eyes), you whack the coconut with the blunt
edge of a knife. If that doesn't work, bake the coconut in the oven for 15 minutes and then whack it with the blunt edge of a knife. I think they like whacking things with blunt edges of knives.

WikiHow suggests that you hold the coconut in the palm of your hand and have a go at it with the blunt
edge of a machete. "Hey, can you hold this coconut for a minute while I go crazy over it with a machete? Don't worry, I'm only using the blunt edge". Ah, no. Live-Food.com shows you a video in which the person demonstrating how to open the coconut wields a meat cleaver the size of Greenland and then tells you not to cut your fingers off. Thanks for the advice.

Jeremy and Michael, whose coconut-opening video is featured on lonelyplanettv.com, demonstrate their somewhat unique method. According to these two outdoorsey types, all you need is a swiss-army-knife, a coconut, a car jack and a heavy off-road vehicle. Simply puncture the eyes of the coconut with the swiss-army-knife and prop the coconut between the car jack and the underside of the heaviest part of the car. Pump the jack until the coconut explodes under the pressure.

So there you have it. If you are planning on getting yourself stranded on a deserted tropical island, all you need to take with you is a hammer, a nail, a towel, an oven, a corkscrew, a large, meat cleaver, a swiss-army-knife, a car jack and a heavy 4x4. I don't know about you, but to me it seems easier just to bring along a monkey.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Who's fault is it, anyway?

According to this article in USA Today, the Dolphins' Cam Cameron, was fired from his position as coach. Why? The team finished with one win and fifteen losses. They fired the coach? Don't you think they should have fired the players? Let's see, was it the coach who zigged when he should have zagged? Was it the coach who dropped the ball? Was it the coach who tripped over his shoelaces at a critical moment?

Certainly, the coach has overall responsibility for the players. He directs them where to run and what plays to make. He is the decider. He tells you when to play and when to sit on the bench. He sure does have a measure of responsibility. But if the players stink, they will lose the game matter how good the coach is.

Think of sports as a war. You have the General sitting safely in a tent on friendly territory (the coach). A superior officer (the team captain) directs his men (the players) to carry out the General's orders. If the on-field officer doesn't do a good job of directing his soldiers in the heat of the fight, or if the soldiers are incompetent, they will lose the battle despite that the General shouts orders through the radio. So who is to blame? The General? I think not.

Now, I know that it is the coach's job to properly train his team, motivate them and get them to perform the best they can. If he doesn't do that then he didn't do a good job. I get it. But there is a limit to how much blame you can lump on the coach. If the players lack talent, they should be held accountable.

Hang on, though. If you fire the coach because of bad decision making, then what about the decision to hire the coach? The coach was hired by management, right? Therefore, shouldn't the guy who hired him also get fired? After all, he didn't do a good job of recruiting, either. And who hired him? The President of the club? I mean, didn't he have something to do with this as well? Isn't he ultimately responsible for the entire team? He should go, too. But you know what? I think that we should take it all the way and fire club members, the fans themselves, because if it wasn't for their support of the club, financially and emotionally, then the club wouldn't exist. They are the shareholders of the club. If the fans would shout as one voice and protest the CEO's bad decision to hire someone who made a bad decision to hire someone who makes bad decisions, then maybe the club would win a game or two.

So it stands to reason that if you are a Dolphins fan, you should be ashamed of yourself.