Sunday, May 28, 2017



I was shocked to read in The Atlantic that "Nationally, around 23 percent of men ages 23 to 54 are not working . . ."  This would be the age when traditionally most men would be working.   Maybe a few at the lower end were still students pursuing postgraduate degrees but the observation can be made that if a man is not working during that age span, when then?   The location covered in the article is the mid-west United States, an area that has experienced a severe decline in manufacturing jobs.

The article is entitled The Lonely Women of the Rust Belt and there are some overtones of the dated perspective that women are lonely without a man, a traditional man with a job who is able to fix things around the house.  But others might observe that the family is the time honoured unit of society without which things start to fall apart or at least crack around the edges.   I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.   It can be hard to be a single parent and a society without children would be lacklustre.

If it were only a slowdown in the economy it would be difficult enough for many to overcome but a byproduct has been an opioid and heroin epidemic.   Many people are dying of overdoses.  Which came first the unemployment or the drug addiction?   It is difficult to suss that out.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Disadvantages of being a sometime Mystery Writer


I have written a few mysteries of the type known as cozy mysteries.   This genre is also popular in television shows, the type you can watch with your children or your grandmother.   Maybe that sounds boring to some who are looking for more gore or sexual content but there's a place and an audience for everything.   Television shows like Murdoch Mysteries  set in  early 20th century Toronto or Death in Paradise, located on an imagined Caribbean Island (but filmed on Guadeloupe) in the present time.    An interesting location or time adds to the mystery.

One of the problems I have discovered arises from the limited budgets that television programs have as well as the constraints of time after commercial interruptions  are taken into account.   The whole point behind the mystery is that it is difficult to know who the perpetrator is and the show usually revolves around the detective(s) following various trails in an attempt to uncover the truth.    The audience of both the programs and similar books enjoys matching wits with the show writers.   But this is where the constraints of television enter into the picture.

  I was enjoying a recent season of the latter program when  a small scene was played out involving an incidental character.   It seemed a little out of place to my writer's mind and used up valuable air time.    The character didn't appear again so I was prepared to discount my suspicions--I'm not that perceptive apparently.  But just when all appeared to be lost, the brief scene did in fact play a pivotal role in determining the culprit.    Vindication all around!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pretending is the New Thing

When you buy a pair of  pre-dirtied, $425 (USD) jeans from Nordstrom you want people to think you are a person who works hard; physical work that makes you sweat.   You are so focussed that you don't notice and don't care that you are getting dirty:

No couch potato here;   a real man's man (whatever that is).  We expect rippling muscles from the man wearing these jeans.   All that exercise must have made a difference.
Naturally good looking but doesn't know it, or at least doesn't act like he knows it.   He's not so vain.  But even better than the real thing, it doesn't smell of dirt or tar or even dog poo.   And it doesn't leave a trail of detritus from the job site.   

I suppose it isn't very different from the ubiquitous yoga pants worn by many who don't practise yoga.  (now in see-through style):

One of the more conservative looks

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Future of Automation

Some newsmagazines and blogs delight in publishing attention getting headlines.   Actually, that's probably the goal.   So this article in the Huffington Post, citing The Economist, warns us that by 2034 forty-seven percent of all jobs will be automated.   I get a kick out of predictions with this degree of precision.   I mean, why not write half of all jobs which sounds more of an approximation compared to the implied precision of 47%.

2034 doesn't seem so far away now that it is 2017.   Most of us plan to still be alive on that date, especially with extending life expectancies.   Maybe some of us will be retired and reassure ourselves that we don't plan on having a job anyway as we will be, at long last, retired.   Maybe others are part of the Early Retirement movement that is saving and investing prodigiously to reach whatever amount will be sufficient at the prescribed four percent withdrawal rate to allow retirement at forty.  But then there are our children and grandchildren.   Will they all have to move into our basement?   

We sometimes think the automatons will look somewhat humanoid but the robots who work in Japanese car factories don't seem to mind their lack of charm.

This article by expat Karen McCann describes an automated restaurant with no employees.  Eatsa, in New York and San Francisco, seeks to fill a gap for good but less expensive meals in notoriously high priced cities.    The picture attached looks like a larger version of the automats seen in airports and railroad stations that hold a sandwich or muffin.   The difference here is that instead of pressing buttons on the automat, you enter your order on a mounted iPad.   Not really much difference.   Your order may or may not be prepared fresh and there may even be human hands behind the scene facilitating matters but you will never know.    No banter about the weather, you hardly have to take your eyes off your phone.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Someone's Always Watching


Britain leads the world in CCTV -- Closed Circuit Television -- with about 6 million cameras in public places according to this 2013 article in The Telegraph newsmagazine.     Some produce fuzzy images and others are out of operation but if the television show Caught on Camera on Netflix is accurate, you are always on view while walking down any street in a town or city in England.   Some also employ facial recognition technology.   In tucked away rooms full of computer screens and wireless connection to ground level police constables, individuals and groups are studied and perused by trained personnel who can follow anyone who engages in anti-social, criminal or even suspicious behaviour by clicking on the appropriate camera from street to street.  Scenes from cities like Rotherham, London and Manchester depict aggressive and violent attacks and mall and restaurant cameras show petty thieves and shoplifters in full action.   It's depressing to watch.

There was a time when things were different.   Yes, stores have had private detectives who walked around the store incognito and pretended to be shoppers, all the while keeping watch for shoplifting.  I suppose you can't complain when you enter private premises.  But I find the idea of being watched all the time as I walk down the street, into a park or wait at a bus stop to be unnerving.  Maybe it's because it wasn't always so.   If you have grown up without an expectation of privacy then you might accept it.

England also employs cameras, mounted on police cars or set at the side of highways that scan, read and evaluate license plates of vehicles speeding by.   This information is analyzed by a super computer that can instantly advise waiting operators if the car is stolen, uninsured or in some other way committing a transgression.

There is an expensive helicopter that can be deployed with night vision cameras that can be useful, if necessary, to track criminals whether they hide in the hedgerows or garbage bins.   There's no escape.  Even wearing hooded jackets and baseball caps don't seem to provide sufficient disguise.

Has this reduced crime?   I hope so, because all of it makes me uneasy.  Maybe because I read 1984 well before 1984 and thought it described an unlikely society.   The television program makes it look effective as burglars, copper stealers and purse snatchers are apprehended and brought to justice.  At least the cameras aren't mounted in our homes with clear view of all areas. Someone might tune in and note if you were following the prescribed daily exercise program.

But it all seems part of a bigger plan and designed to make some of us nervous.   I've read that photocopiers are required to keep a record of all copies made, cell phones record every call and text and computers can be analyzed to discover every site visited and every key stroke made.  I guess George Orwell didn't think of that.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Too bad about hacking and scams but for many reasons computers and the internet are a wonderful invention.   There's the ability to get great deals from people who have something to sell/get rid of that you need.   Others are able to set up a small business and have a world-wide audience for their products.

One thing I particularly value is product reviews.   I hardly buy anything or vacation anywhere without checking out various sources for opinions.   Because I value reviews I make a point to do my part as fairly and objectively as possible.   This is what makes the system work.  

I think it's important to review anonymously.   The review service, for example, TripAdvisor, will know who you are but don't make the mistake of identifying yourself publicly.   How ever well-meaning and honest you are, if you criticize someone's product/accommodation they may seek revenge through on-line trolling and harassment.   I remember reading once that colonies of habitu├ęs on GoodReads would delight in panning the books  online of a particular author who somehow offended them.   People perusing for books on Amazon would see a slew of one star reviews and back away.

I've never liked the fact that third party sellers of products purchased through Amazon can contact me and ask for a review although I don't believe they have my e-mail address but rather go through their seller link on Amazon.   I was once contacted three times over a six week period by the seller of a ten dollar item, entreating me to leave a positive review since they were a small family owned business who depended on reviews to sell their product.    On Ebay I have seen requests to the effect that you should  contact them prior to leaving a negative review with the promise that they will make things right.


Some sites like Fiverr allow an author, YouTuber or product producer to buy reviews.  This defeats the purpose.    I've also heard of writing clubs with the practise of inundating a member's newly released book with a deluge of five star reviews on the first day it is available.

Sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon allow viewers to see how long the person has been reviewing and to read their previous reviews.   Personally, I suspect one review posters, especially when they are over the top glowing and vague.   A decent history of thoughtful reviews, both negative and positive, comes across as more reliable.

It has been my experience that the overall comments, especially repeated themes, in reviews of resorts, hotels, books, restaurants and products can be relied upon bearing in mind that people who are unhappy are more likely to complain than those who are satisfied with the service will praise it.

What do you think of reviews?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

One Word Says a Lot


    There are some foreign words that have come into use in the English language.   Usually, it is because saying the same thing in English would involve using many words and even then it wouldn't be exact. Hygge is a Danish word that came into regular use in recent months. The word has appeared on the front pages of home magazines and in journal articles.   It has become a way of life to strive for or at least decorate for.

    Since I am in the position of having been long acquainted with that word from speaking the language that it comes from it has been interesting for me to notice the misinterpretations.   In my experience the word hygge is a verb and used in the form of  getting together with a small number of close friends and/or relatives and Let's hygge ourselves.    Kind of sounds like let's hug ourselves. In a way that is the meaning -- a group hug.   Spending time with congenial people and usually enjoying a cup of coffee and cake or a small snack.   You don't hygge around a large smorgasbord table.   Here's some more hygge if you want to know how to do it the British way.

    Schadenfreude.  That's a word you don't read or hear too often.   It means deriving pleasure from someone else's misfortune.     Sure sounds like a miserable sort of thing to do but I  suspect we all have a little of it in us.  Not that we want anyone to suffer but we've all had sufficient bad luck or unpleasant experiences to feel that the misery should be spread around a little.   Something to do with karma, I suspect.

    In some situations we feel quiet satisfaction when obnoxious people, self-absorbed celebrities or the snobbish neighbour down the street receives their just desserts.  As long as it's nothing too serious.   We're really nice people, you know.