Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why The World Needs Another Hero

What do. John A. MacDonald. John F. Kennedy, and Winston Churchill have in common? Aside from all being former leaders of their respective nations – Canada, the USA and Great Britain – they were all exceptional heroes.

Real heroes – not the like Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman. Although comic book heroes have their place, real heroes like MacDonald, Kennedy and Churchill accomplish really great things.

They motivate people to change, to become better than they are, and to improve the world around them.

Throughout history, we’ve seen living examples of real heroes, and not all of them politicians. Princess Dianna was one – always striving to save the world, despite enormous pressures from a British Royalty that really didn’t care about anything but themselves. Steven Spielberg may be considered a hero of sorts, by showing us who and what we are, through his films.

But none of the heroes of today, has even come close to what MacDonald, Kennedy or Churchill in terms of heroic acts.

MacDonald was one of Canada’s founding Prime Ministers, shaping the very fabric of the country as he wrote policies which created the very notion of what it means to be Canadian. Kennedy was an exceptional orator, and had an imagination which put a man on the moon, and averted an atomic war with Cuba. Another powerful presence, Churchill led the British through tough economic times, and on to Victory Day after the war.

Our society has changed much since those early years – some good, some bad changes. Much of the negative changes in our society stem from the lack of any real heroes. Real heroes give of themselves so much, we can’t but want to fall in line, and assist.

Would you really follow Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on anything he’s got going on? How about US President George W. Bush?

I certainly wouldn’t consider any of our current world leaders and other celebrities heroes. Most celebrities these days are strictly candy coating – they look all sweet on the outside, but they really aren’t good for you.

As technology improves, making it even easier to destroy each other, to watch each other, to get in each other’s way, we really need a hero to guide us. We need someone to motivate, to encourage, to mentor and above all else, lead by example.

That’s what real heroes do – they show us that although they may go through tough times too, they are more than willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the greater good.

Until another hero surfaces, there will never be a greater good.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Once in a While Microsloth Gets it Right

For those regular readers of this blog, you know my disdain for Microsoft’s products. We are forced to use ‘em, because they are the ones which come shipped with our computers fresh from the store.

Usually, Microsloth uses you and me to fix their buggy software – they release their products full of issues, and as we complain, they resolve them and issue patches and fixes.

Today I finally got around to upgrading my MS-Office 2003 to MS-Office 2007. I haven’t been using the software long enough to discover any bugs – but I’m sure I will. However, so far, I am very impressed with a lot of the new gizmos they’ve tossed into this package.

They have considered usability for a change, and made the whole string of applications (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, etc.) more slick and easier to use. As I type this in Word, I can see how many words I have typed up to this point (168 for the curious). This functionality has always been in Word, but usually you have to go up to the toolbar, and add the option. This looks built-in to the bottom info bar – clever.

I also like the use of big icons to clearly show you what is what. Gone are the old days of having to squint at teeny-tiny icons, eventually having to hover over them to see the pop-up bubble help descriptions.

Maybe this was Bill Gates last true test of fate – getting at least one software application released without major fatal flaws?

Though Office 2008 has been out for a while and Office 2009 will no doubt come out soon too, so my “new” upgrade to 2007 has already gone through a slew of updates and fixes. After the install today, Windows Update downloaded over 300MBs of updates for Office 2007.

Still, Office 2007 makes up in large part for the Windows Vista mess-up. Vista should never have been released when it was. It wasn’t ready, and it was still full of many major bugs. Microsoft even admitted this in a sense, when they allowed people who bought new computers with the Windows Vista platform pre-installed to “downgrade” to Windows XP free of charge.

We the public, shouldn’t be the unpaid quality assurance team to Microsloth. And maybe they’ve finally learned that over there, because Office 2007 is a very big improvement over previous installs.

There weren’t any long, meaningless and horrid error messages, I didn’t get any missing file messages upon reboot, and when I opened the applications, they actually ran without crashing either themselves, or other applications.

Still, this is only day one of the new install – so anything can happen. But let’s hope Microsloth finally got this one right.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Packing it in and Up

When I was a kid, I always used gym bags to cart around my stuff. I’d stuff my school books, pens, papers, stinky gym shorts and probably right on top of that my lunch, into a big old gym bag.

I went through many gym bags over the years – they wear out, become frail and break. Or they just get plain nasty, all stinky and eventually my mom would complain about the smell.

These days, all the kids use backpacks. Backpacks are easier to, using your back to toss all your possessions on. This frees up your arms and hands, but I wonder what back problems today’s kids will have – or already have – from putting their lives on their backs?

I see little kids with enormous backpacks – often the backpacks are bigger than the kids! And these things look like they are overflowing, as they probably are.

Just as when I was their age, I’d stuff as much as I could cram into them, kids these days probably do the same.

The start of every school year is filled with media reports about the proper use of backpacks, but as the year progresses, those stories fade away and the backpacks become these giant back breakers.

I have a backpack even today, I use it for carting my laptops from place to place. But I don’t overload it, and I sure don’t jam in my stinky workout shorts into it!

Kids today have access to things we never had when I was growing up. Computers and the Internet have made great strides in developing the future leaders of tomorrow.

But backpacks probably have ensured that those future leaders will be more hunched over and in pain, than we ever are.

Well, I suppose someone has to keep the chiropractors in business.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Breaking News Is Not Always Broken

All the news that's fit to print but not necessarily. When I was a journalist many eons ago, all the news that was fit to print probably was. Back then news was actually news and when a newsflash was announced in big bold ominous letters on the screen -- it was really was breaking news.

These days when you see the words on the screen “breaking news,” more often than not they're just trying to get your attention.

Newsrooms in print, television and radio, are in the business of being in business. So, what this means is they make more money with more viewers, watchers and listeners. How do they get more people to watch? Easy, all they do is call something “breaking news” and figure you’re more likely to read, watch and listen.

But, sadly most of the time this so-called “breaking news” isn’t really anything more than just another news story. Sometimes, it may even be the big story of the day, or in some cases, just some government official giving a live press conference on some report which in a couple of months will all but be forgotten.

Being Canadian, I grew up on the CBC and Peter Mansbridge’s solid reporting style. I remember watching many real breaking news stories told by Mansbridge over the years. From the space shuttle Challenger explosion in the 1980’s, to the death of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1990’s, to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in the 2000’s. These all were legitimate, and real “breaking news” stories.

These days, I see the words “breaking news” tossed onto just about every newscast at least once, on everything from stories about some cat stuck in a tree, to stories about gas prices on the way up. None of these are what professionally trained journalists – such as myself – would call “breaking news.”

Nope, these are just poor attempts at getting more people to pay attention. Which says something awful about the news media today.

Back in the day, when I was a journalist, we never had to make up the news to get people to pay attention – if it was news, there were always people interested.

These days, journalists seem to have lost their sense of what is and is not news. They go out and cover everything and anything which happens, hoping that their editors will run it, and that you will be interested enough to read, watch and listen to it.

I don’t know who is at fault – the editors for hiring people that don’t know how to do their jobs, journalists for not knowing how to do their jobs, or journalism schools for not teaching journalists how to correctly do their jobs. All I know is what I see – and what I see disappoints me, frustrates me, and makes me wonder how I’m supposed to stay informed, when those trained to keep us in the know, don’t know.
Granted, we do live in a far different world than the one in which I was a journalist. When I was a young reporter, we only had a handful of major daily papers, television stations and satellite radio didn’t exist. The Internet was still just a dream, and everyone watched at least one late night newscast, read at least one daily paper, and then fell asleep to Johnny Carson on the “Tonight” show.

These days, we have far too many newspapers, more television stations than any one person could ever really watch in lifetime, and an Internet full of instant information from reliable and not-so-reliable sources.

I can see how understand how easy it is to fall into an informational overloaded burn out. But journalists – print, radio and television – are supposed to be able to filter through all the information, and make sense of it for you and I.

That is their job. Or at least, that was my job when I was a journalist, and I worked in television, radio and print, so pardon me while I toot my own horn – I really do know what their job is supposed to be.

I know if you don’t like what you read, hear or watch, you can easily just go elsewhere for your news. I can change the channel, turn off the radio, or even just stop reading the paper.

I can surf the net for the information, and try to find the real sources, and wade through the trashy sources.

But I shouldn’t have to do that – that is no different than me taking on a co-worker’s tasks, because that co-worker is incompetent and unable to do his or her job.

Maybe there lies the real problem – today’s news media is just incompetent when it comes to actually doing their job?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Winter Is Back

In case you’ve been in a cave recently, you’ll have seen the changes too. It is getting darker sooner, the leaves on the trees are changing color, and there are more leaves on the ground. And there is that bitter chill in the air.

Winter is back. Soon the snow will fall, the wind will pick up and it will be dark longer than it is light.

I’ve never been a big fan of winter. I am more of a summer person. I don’t like it too hot, but I prefer the warm summer breezes to the goose bump causing winter winds. I prefer sitting on my balcony watching the stars on a pleasant summer’s eve, than having to bundle up just to go out for dinner.

As great a country as we live in, Canada has the worst weather. I enjoy having four distinct seasons – many places on the globe don’t even have that. But for what it’s worth, I wish summer lasted longer.

Our summers seem to be getting shorter every year. This summer was pretty much a wash out, as it rained almost every day. We had the wettest summer on record, and we’ll probably have the wettest and coldest winter too.

Winter does have it’s perks. It is nice to go out and ski, or make a nice hot fire in the fire place, and winter is the season for hot chocolate.

But we seem to have longer winters than summers here. And winter is always such a dark season – looking forward to the February blahs anyone?

I think not!

We have to deal with big, heavy and bulky winter coats, mitts, hats and toques. Slush and mud, and watch you don’t slip and fall on the ice.

And we always – always – have that one or two major snow storms, which cause traffic chaos. I still can’t understand how anyone can forget how to drive in a winter snowstorm, when chances are they do it every year. Must be a Canadian thing.

Good thing we have Canadian beers to keep us warm – cheers.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Time to Watch the Leafs Fail

The Toronto Maple Leafs are amazing. They haven’t won the pinnacle of hockey – the Stanley Cup -- in over 40-years, yet they still draw sell-out crowds to their home games.

Most professional sports teams usually go out of business or are bought out by someone in some far off city or country elsewhere when they continuously lose, because the fans stop going to the games.

Not the Toronto Maple Leafs – nope. In keeping with the meaning of the word “fan” (it comes from the word “fanatical”) they continue to spend millions every year on tickets, jerseys, gloves, sticks, bobble heads, and other merchandise, all of which continues to fund the worst professional team ever.

If the fans weren’t so fanatical about their Toronto Maple Leafs, maybe they’d actually start to play professional level hockey and win a few trophies.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are owned by a teachers union, and those teachers are sure smart. They know they don’t have to do anything to keep fans coming back year after year. Most professional sport franchise owners have to spend millions on marketing and promotions, to ensure they fill the bleachers. Most professional sport franchise owners spend millions on the top athletes, so that the team as a chance to play professional-level games, and even has a shot at the playoffs.

Not the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They don’t have to do anything to keep fans coming back, because the fans somehow just keep showing up for more of the same crappy results every year.

Oh, every year around this time of year, when the hockey season is fresh and new, there is always talk about how “this will be the year.”

But it never has been or will be “the year” the Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Not so long as the fans keep lining the owners pockets with wealth, without forcing them to spend.

The owners aren’t stupid – they know if people will continue to spend their hard earned cash on their losing team, they don’t have to spend their not so hard earned cash to attract people to their losing team.

Which is why I don’t go to Leafs games. I don’t buy Toronto Maple Leaf bobble heads, or other merchandise either. I’ve never really been a big hockey fan – my sport of choice is baseball – but even if I was a hockey fan, I wouldn’t spend money on the losing team.

Why cheer on someone when you know the outcome already?

But I suppose I’m just yelling into an empty void, because my one person protest won’t stop the masses of fans from continuously spending on the worst team ever.

And that is why the Toronto Maple Leafs will never win the Stanley Cup. Not because they don’t have the players (even though they don’t) nor because they don’t have the solid coaching (even though they don’t). The Toronto Maple Leafs will never win the Stanley Cup because the fans keep going to games.

So, if you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and you actually want them to have a chance in your lifetime of winning Lord Stanley’s Cup, maybe you too should stop spending money on the team.