Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ode on an Earworm





Kansas in their heyday
Late in the afternoon yesterday I realized that, for no readily apparent reason, I had for hours been humming Carry on Wayward Son by Kansas (contrary to what you might think, the word "My" does not appear in the title). Not the whole song, either: just the melody of the verses and not so much that of the more famous chorus. It was lodged in my brain so deeply I don't think a full frontal lobotomy could have excised it. It was such a bizarre choice of music—not that any earworm can ever truly be a "choice"—to be stuck in my head that I turned it into a sort of "Twenty Questions" with Sarah to see if she could guess what song was tormenting me. (She could not.) It wasn't until much later last night, after we had returned home from watching our friends' daughter's ringette game in Richmond Hill, that I found myself sitting at the computer, playing a recently downloaded game (Bejewelled 3) from Big Fish Games, when suddenly the light went on. The game has one of those looping, shifting kinds of electronic soundtracks that play in the background, the kind where the music is repetitive but not too repetitive so it doesn't become annoying. At one point I started whistling along with a sixteen-bar phrase that seemed to pop up every several minutes and it struck me that what I was whistling was....you guessed it: Stairway to Heaven. Ha ha! No, of course it was the opening verse of Carry on..., for even though that wasn't the exact song playing behind the game, eight of the sixteen bars were close enough that they put the whole My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine plagiarism case to shame. Once I had solved the "mystery" of why the song was stuck in my noodle, of course the spell was broken and I immediately stopped humming it to myself. Ha ha, again! As you can imagine, it's still rattling around in there today. I can't remember what time I ate lunch, but I know all the words and syncopated rhythm changes to that song inherently. There really should be a way to harness that power for good and not for evil.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Welcome Back, Inukshuk!


Inukshuk patrolling familiar ground
Yesterday I headed to the Zoo again, this time to attend a class on how to use the AEDs (Automated External Difibrillators) on site. It was a very short class, running from only 9:30 to 10:30—at which point the Tuesday Volunteers practically ran us over trying to set up the room for their pot luck lunch, but that's another story—so once it was over I had plenty of time to take advantage of the mild temperatures and occasional brilliant sunshine and walk around a little bit. I was especially interested in making my way to the Tundra Trek and specifically the polar bear exhibit, because last Thursday night—just in time for the "big storm"—an old friend returned: Inukshuk, father of Hudson. He's been off in Cochrane at their Polar Bear Habitat since last October (because Aurora was pregnant with three cubs that, sadly, didn't survive) and will be returning there at the end of March. He's back here purely for "stud duties"; a pretty good gig if you can get it! The keepers have their fingers crossed that he might actually "hit the jackpot" with both of the sister bears currently at the Toronto Zoo, Aurora and Nikita, the latter of whom has never been pregnant. It would be pretty special indeed to have more than one "Hudson" roaming around come the fall, but a lot has to go right for that to happen. Inukshuk won't really care either way: his job is done once he gets back on the plane for Cochrane.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Benny, We Hardly Knew Ye



Well, you got your pope pennants, buttons, your pope clothes,
You got your pope binoculars to see him up close
And I cried when I saw that man in white;
I cried, much to my surrounders' delight.
I cried, 'cause I couldn’t breathe anymore; I cried
'cause people were stepping on my feet.
Hey, hey Mr. Holiness way over there,
Maybe we love you, but we're sadly lacking air.
Then he scooted away in that great Popemobile
I was feeling so trampled, I didn’t know what else to feel
— Meryn Cadell, The Pope

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Walk out to Winter



Walk out to winter, swear I'll be there.
Chance is buried just below the blinding snow.
— Aztec Camera

Late in the storm on Friday
After weathering the Snowmageddon™ storm on Friday (or "Nemo" if you live on the east coast), Sarah and I awoke yesterday to a stunningly beautiful vista in the park next to our building. As promised in yesterday's post, we went out and took a walk through the still-fresh snow in the brilliant sunshine. It won't last long on the ground—it's supposed to be six degrees tomorrow and raining off and on, starting this evening. When the temperature then hovers just below zero the next day the roads should be absolutely perfect for driving back out to the Zoo...assuming Tuesday is opposite day. I had no trouble with the commute on Friday; I expect to have all my Spidey Senses tingling both ways on Tuesday. Snow = no problem; black ice = not so much. It might require another non-highway commute. In any event, during our walk yesterday the light conditions were perfect so I snapped off a large quantity of photos. For most of them, adding a lot of extra verbiage will accomplish nothing, so I am going to post my favourites here with a minimum of loquacious distraction. Besides, if the Old Math holds true, then this "plog" post should be worth nearly 25,000 words. So, without further ado: a pictorial of our hike on The Day After Snomageddon 2013™.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snowmageddon™ 2013


Oh, what a beautiful moooooor-niiiiin'...
It's a stunningly beautiful day here in Toronto. Sunny and crisp with nary a cloud in the sky—a picture-perfect winter's day. A friend of ours posted on Facebook yesterday that he was taking his kids tobogganing this morning in Riverdale; we opted not to go because the side of the park he chose—the west side—is difficult enough to get to and park at when snow isn't piled up on the narrow streets in the area. We'll make sure we get out for a good, long walk a bit later, though, to make up for it. In this area of the world, days like this are woefully rare indeed. I love the long shadows and pristine snow you can see in the photo here; the mounds on top of the cars, though, don't seem nearly as high to me as the hand-wringing on social media yesterday led me to believe they would be. The City of Toronto received 24cm of snow yesterday (actually, 1/10 of that amount if you check the official Environment Canada site, which clearly is having some math issues today), which is only single digits in inches, the scale many of us still cling doggedly to when discussing precipitation.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Neither Snow, Nor More Snow, Nor Snowmageddon™...


Om nom nom—brownie kebob!
Today was supposed to be our final Volunteer training class at the Zoo, complete with a pot luck lunch. When I attended the presentation on "To Theme or Not To Theme" yesterday, Karen was wrestling with whether to postpone the class for one week because of the impending storm, but had not yet decided either way. So "Aussie Tom" and I got into Babar at about 7:45 this morning and, after five or six tries to get up the steep ramp leading out of our underground garage, began to forge our way out to the Rouge Valley (avoiding all highways along the way). When we had reached Markham and Kingston Road, a little over halfway to our destination, Karen reached us in the car to let us know the class had, indeed, been postponed. We decided to continue on to the Zoo, if for no other reason than to hand out some of the "brownie kebobs" that Sarah and I had made for the pot luck and which would not last until next week in any event.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Zoo Presentation and New Pictures


Spectacled owl pair at the Zoo (a bit fuzzy due to the low light)
My triple-decker presentation day was last Friday. I followed the three scripts I posted on this blog pretty closely, but I ran out of time and was "cut off" long before I could finish my talk about the owls or tie it all together at the end. This was pretty frustrating, especially since: 1) I was the only one this happened to, even though others in my group ran over their time limits; and 2) the other two groups had quite a bit more time allotted to them to get through their three animals. Luck of the draw, I guess, but a bit annoying. In any event, the prairie dogs were still "off exhibit", but that gave me more time to talk about the signage at the Zoo. (Unfortunately, the trainee who was supposed to talk about the black-footed ferrets immediately before me was absent which meant I had to touch on those animals briefly as well in my prairie dog talk.) Only one of the two spectacled owls (the male) was visible, too; I learned later that the female is brooding at the moment in a hollow trunk in the exhibit. But the wonderful octopus put on an amazing show for us: she was up in the corner of the tank when she noticed the whole clutch of people standing there, so she came down and pranced around in front of us for a while, sizing everyone up with her eyes and showing off her underbelly. It was pretty obvious she was interacting with the group and I'm finding the giant Pacific octopus to be more fascinating every time I see her.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Climes They Are A-Changin'


Norm Kelly, living in denial
credit: Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Does anyone think it would be a good idea to hire Todd Akin as the head of Planned Parenthood? Or Ernst Zundel to run a chapter of B'Nai Brith? Completely absurd notions, aren't they? And yet, here in Toronto, we have a climate change denier as the chair of the Parks and Environment committee for City Council. Norm Kelly, Ward 40 (Scarborough-Agincourt) councillor, met last week with several environmental experts regarding how climate change will affect Toronto's aging infrastructure, listened to each of them speak in turn, and then told reporters that there's "information coming along the academic pipeline" that will, in some way, "prove" that climate change is a myth. Kelly is not nearly as radical as the men I cited in my earlier analogy—and to his credit seems to be allowing for some debate (which he will likely just ignore at the end of the day)—but he's symbolic of a pretty big problem in this country: people in positions of authority who are not under-qualified but "anti-qualified" to be in charge of hugely important portfolios.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Farewell to the Penny


"Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you'll have good luck."


Sad penny face
links to: forgetthebox.net
I seem to be in the minority here, but I find it almost indescribably sad that the Canadian penny is on the verge of being lost to history forever. The last Canadian one-cent coin was minted on May 4 of last year and today the Royal Canadian Mint officially ended its distribution of pennies to financial institutions. Today also marks the day that independent businesses will begin to stop accepting or giving out pennies at points-of-purchase; some of them will be reprogramming their systems to automatically round up or down each sale to the nearest nickel but most will do it the "old-fashioned way" for the foreseeable future: cashiers will calculate the rounding in their heads and hilarity will most likely ensue. The government claims it will save $11 million per year by no longer minting these bronze beauties (and you know the Harper Cabal never lies about financial figures) but the cost to us as consumers and business owners in the immediate future, at least, will easily rival that $11 million savings. In the first place, it will likely cost businesses collectively hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars to reprogram their check-out registers to round everything to the nearest nickel. Try to imagine a scenario where those costs are not passed down to the people who shop there; I'd be very interested in hearing from you if you are successful. The businesses that do not choose to go this route (at least at first) will cause some pretty impressive bottlenecks at their checkouts while harried front-line employees who are already under pressure not to make mistakes with their tills try to work out "rounding rules" in brains that haven't had to calculate a total since they were seven years old. Frustrated customers who leave those stores and vow never to return may become a pretty serious problem not too far down the road.

Pro Sports are Losing Me


Before the lights went out
It's Super Bowl Sunday, the day of the Greatest Sporting Spectacle in the World™ or, as I like to call it, Sunday, February 3, 2013. I've never really been a football fan at any point in my life; I do watch the occasional game if there's some significant reason to do so and will try to at least follow if not actually watch a Championship Game from time to time, at the very least for pop culture value. Last night, for example, the importance of a solid social media presence was once again driven home to me: I hadn't watched even a moment of the "festivities" (and especially not the half-time show) when I was alerted on Twitter that something extraordinary was happening in the Superdome—specifically, half of the lights had gone out due to some sort of power surge. I immediately switched over to the channel carrying the game and left it there for about twenty-five minutes, soaking up the historical occasion. Then the game itself resumed and we all went back to watching the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. I did switch back at the very end when I learned how close the game had become; I really only watched it for curiosity's sake, though, from there on in. But that's always been my attitude toward football; there's nothing new under the sun there, although I do watch it—and basketball and tennis and pretty much all professional sports—even less often now than the miniscule amount I once did.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

In the Shadow of the Groundhog




How could he not see his shadow??
It's Groundhog Day again today, or, as I like to call it, "Rodents Suck at Math Day". Or maybe it's not their fault: after all, they didn't choose the date of the "holiday". February 2nd is "Candlemas", supposedly midway between the start of winter and the start of spring, but somewhere along the way our calendars changed just enough that it's actually not the midway point any more, if it ever was. "Candlemas", by the way, is yet another Christian holiday that was co-opted from the pagans (who called it Imbolc); another story in their long tradition of demonizing "witchcraft" while simultaneously "purifying" the important days of Celts and Pagans everywhere. That, of course, is a story for another time: my main point here is Candlemas or Imbolc or however you like to refer to it comes forty-two to forty-three days from the beginning of winter but forty-six to forty-seven days before the beginning of spring. Remember those numbers; I'll return to them later.

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