Monday, December 28, 2015

Some things are very cheap . . .






One of the advantages of living a little longer is that you are able to observe on a personal level how things have changed.   What I have been considering recently is that over time some items or services have become very cheap and others are now  more expensive.   But this situation is in a state of flux, changing from time to time and usually without notice.

For example, long distance calling has become very cheap.   That's a good thing. I can recall when making a long distance telephone call to the 'old country' was saved for births, deaths or marriages.   At about $5 a minute--which was a lot more then, than today (for example, minimum wage was about $1.50, so the equivalent charge today would be about $30. a minute)  the cost was prohibitive.  Of course, in those days, we also shouted into the telephone during those calls;  the better to be heard across the great distance.

Reading has become most inexpensive.   This might be considered unfortunate, at least for authors, but I'll save that for another post.    Why if you check out the number of books available to be read for free on Amazon or other sites, you will never run out of reading material.   There has always been the library, but that's not really free since it is supported by our tax dollars.    Does anyone still pay $3 for a used paperback anymore?

Watching movies via a service like Netflix cost little --about $10 a month for unlimited viewing.   On the other hand, cable television is ridiculously expensive, something like $50 a month to watch thirty year old programs and infomercials.   I think it may be only the live sports that keeps people around.  I read regular reports of people 'cutting the cable cord'.

By comparison, food--which is really more necessary that telephone calls or entertainment--is quite expensive, especially for good food.   Apples for a dollar each, steaks (for the carnivores) are about $20 a kilogram.  Except meat is now often priced in 100 gram weight which, of course, appears more reasonable, that latter amount being quite miniscule.   The ancient Romans knew to keep bread cheap (along with circuses) but today $4 to $5 a loaf is typical.

Our first colour television -- 20 inch colour -- cost us $500.   Recently we purchased a 32 inch one (lighter in weight and a better picture) for $250.   Many years of inflation have intervened between the purchases.

I'm still working on discerning a pattern to these changes.   Any ideas?

Monday, December 21, 2015

HOLIDAY SHOPPING

                                                               



I was interested to read some statistics regarding holiday shopping, specifically as it pertains to shopping on one of  Amazon's websites.   It seems on-line purchasing is ever increasing, almost rivalling in store purchases.   Merchants and malls invest considerably in holiday decor, in store carollers, special promotions but it hasn't stopped the rate of defections.   Some reasons that are suggested:



1.   The crowds that are avoided

2.   The ability to comparison check and look at product ratings and evaluations

3.  Variety.   It isn't the stores' fault but they simply cannot stock 5000 varieties of socks or dog toys

4.   Fewer impulse purchases - not necessarily

5.   No paying for parking or a restaurant lunch

6.   No risk of being robbed of any items you leave in your car in the mall parking lot.

7.   Better prices?   I'm not sure about this one.



Some articles and bloggers suggest making your presents but that would still require obtaining the raw materials.   Are fabric and hobby shops busy at this time of year?

Miss Minimalist suggests a 'One Less Gift' certificate.   If your family and friends concur that would 
enable you to skip the shopping and spend more time on . . . .   You decide!


               To all of you:    HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bees are Important!





This article  and also this one at least show that the issues of declining bee populations is still one we should care about.

Here's a passage from When Bees Die:









‘Buzzzz’

“Are you expecting anyone?”   Kas went over to the door of their apartment and spoke through the door.   “Who is it?”

“Kas, it’s me, Sarah.   Can I come in?  Please?   They’re looking for me.”

Kas opened the door to his sister.    Her dirty, tear-streaked face contorted into sobs as she flung herself onto him.

“What’s up, what happened, Sarah?   How’d your clothes get so dirty?”

“Hey, you want a drink, Sarah?”   Coral got up and took down a glass from their cupboard and filled it from their small filtered water supply container sitting on the counter.

“The guards . . . they came for me . . . at school.   I was so scared, Kas, I just ran.”

“When?   Who?   You mean the pollinator guards?”

Sarah nodded, slowly, taking a long drink of the offered water.   “Mrs. Marsh—that’s my teacher—she had talked to Mom and Dad about it a few weeks ago.”   She looked down at the floor.   “I haven’t been doing very well on the tests, I think.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me?  Damn it all, I’m always the last to know anything that’s happening at home.”   Kas began pacing again.  

“Why don’t you sit down, Sarah.   Kas, simmer down! Don’t go and do anything drastic.”   What were they going to do though?

Kast stopped pacing and stood for a moment looking at the two girls huddled at the small kitchen table.   Coral had passed a handkerchief to Sarah and the girl was wiping her nose and eyes with it.  Kas took a deep breath.

“So, what happened, Sarah?   Better fill me in on what I’ve been missing.” 

“You mean from when Mrs. Marsh talked to Mom and Dad?”

“Okay, were you there?”

“Yes . . . well, most of the time.    Mrs. Marsh said I wasn’t passing the math tests.   I didn’t know my number facts.   You know that’s adding and subtracting and times tables and stuff like that.   I just can’t remember.  I’ve tried but if I don’t use my fingers I just can’t figure out what 7 plus 5 is or anything like that.”  Silent tears were creeping down the corner of Sarah’s eyes.

“It’s okay, Sarah, don’t cry,” Coral said.     

 “But you do the tests at your carrel, on the computer, right?  Nobody sees if you use your fingers.”

 “But there’s only five seconds for each question.   I get behind and I can never catch up.  I’m just not good at math.  I stink at it.  Not like you, Kas.”

“Okay, never mind.   So what did mom and dad say?”

“Just keep practicing.   Mrs. Marsh gave them some flash cards.   I was supposed to practice them an hour a day but . . . but, well, I didn’t.    I guess I never thought anything would happen.”

“Something happened today then?”

“I went to the washroom to get a drink.  It’s so hot in the school.  While I was refilling my water bottle, my friend, Yvonne, came in and told me that there were guards back in class waiting to pick me up.   I knew I was going to be sent to the pollination fields, I just knew it.   Kas, I was so scared, I just ran.    I hid out at the playground, you know the one over on Norland Street?   I’ve noticed that the tracker doesn’t seem to work well there so I thought I might be safe.  At least just for a while.”  Sarah paused for breath and took another drink.

“Doesn’t work there?   Are you sure?”


Monday, December 7, 2015

WAITING FOR DISASTER




                                                               





We love our technology . . . when it works.   If not, why then it is downright frustrating.   A recent 2+ day power outage due to a minor windstorm made me realize how dependent we are.   Everything stops.     It was still early fall and warm enough outside that the furnace wasn’t missed.   But looking around our home, it became apparent that even though the furnace, the gas fireplace and the stove were natural gas powered, they were useless without electrical power because they required an electronic ignition to start.   Similarly, our cordless landline did not work without electrical power nor did cell phones because the cell phone towers were somehow not functioning either.  

At least the toilets still flushed.   Candles provided a modest amount of light, just enough to avoid tripping over the furniture but not sufficient to read or do many tasks.   Obtaining any news or information required a trip out to the car to listen to the radio.   A trip to a nearby gas station to purchase a block of ice was made in an attempt to deal with the thawing refrigerator full of food. Cash only—debit and credit card machines weren’t working either.   Traffic lights were out and driving felt hazardous with some vehicles ignoring the required four way stop provisions.   No lights working seemed to some to mean go ahead green. 

By the next morning, the annoyance that we were attempting to face with good grace deteriorated to downright annoyance.   Playing pioneer days was wearing thin.   We didn’t have the skills, we didn’t have the tools.  We had lots of time for conversation, sitting in the near dark.   Conversations ranged from the ineptitude of the local power company—it wasn’t like it had been a hurricane or tornado—to commitments to invest in solar or battery operated radios, flashlights or a generator or at least a cooler. 

Emergency preparedness advisers, both government and private, suggest that households arrange to be able to manage for 72 hours—3 days—without outside help.   After the almost three day power outage from a windstorm, I don’t like to consider what a major earthquake, something that is overdue in the Pacific Northwest, would do to local officials and government service providers. 
It’s unpleasant to feel helpless but it’s a situation that we’ve allowed to happen.   Pa Ingalls on the Prairie needed no one and nothing but his skills, ingenuity and hand tools.   When my computer starts working I’m going to order some survival tools.   For sure.


  

Monday, November 30, 2015

Who's in charge?

                                                        




Jerry Seinfeld joked that if aliens came to earth and saw people walking dogs, they would assume the dogs are the leaders. The dog walks out front, and a gangly creature trailing behind him picks up his feces and carries it for him.  I do wonder what my dogs think when I diligently remove their detritus from the neighbours' front lawns.   

I believe cats consider that the dead bird or mouse they place on the doorstep is their token of appreciation, their gift of thanks, to their owner.   Maybe a dog thinks it is giving a present.   Must work for them as long as they don't notice the bag being deposited in the nearest waste container.   Of course, they probably don't acknowledge it as a garbage can.   
I remember reading a suggestion that an alien race looking down on earth might think that it is populated by vehicles that periodically disgorges some of its contents.  Is that more likely?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Retail Therapy

                                                         
 



                  I first heard this phrase--Retail Therapy--while on vacation in New Zealand, maybe ten years ago.   The meaning was explained to me as shopping to cheer yourself up, to make yourself feel better.  I suppose the phrase is somewhat self-explanatory.   And people do engage in this behaviour, some more than others.   

      I don't go to shopping malls much anymore.   Somehow the endless trudging under artificial lights, burden down by my outside coat becomes tedious before much time has elapsed.   I must also admit that as I became older, the models in the clothing store windows no longer reflected me in style, size or appearance.   That didn't help.    Nor did the changing room mirror should I venture to try on a garment.

      I do recall the pleasure, almost a thrill, of finding the perfect item, preferably at a perfect price.   Waiting in line only enhanced the anticipation.   I suppose the height of pleasure came when the item was wrapped in tissue and placed in the store shopping bag.   You'll noticed I skipped over the part about paying.

     I used to have the habit of purchasing clothing for the lifestyle I thought I had, or perhaps wanted to have.    Maybe it was the one reflected in the women's fashion magazines so widely available.   Hung in my closet the item might wait anxiously for some time, longing for just the right occasion to be debuted.   I might even receive the credit card bill before I'd even enjoyed the admiring comments that I secretly expected would occur.    I would pay the bill right away to remove the connection between expense and the garment.   Too gauche to consider money where such loveliness was concerned.

     But hanging in my closet with the clothing that received regular rotation, some of the bloom dissipated from the rose.   Perhaps, just perhaps the outfit wasn't me, a little voice whispered.   It was still lovely--wasn't it? But it wasn't quite me.   Could I change myself to be more like the outfit?   Would my lifestyle be upgraded in the near future?

       After a year I was forced to face reality.   I had worn the item three times and I'd had to make myself do it.   Yes, there had been a couple of compliments but had they been preceded by a raised eyebrow?   It was true the fuchsia tone was a shade on the bright side.   Yes, I loved fuchsia but realistically, in smaller doses.   I forced myself to face reality.   Navy blue would have been more useful;  I wasn't comfortable with the attention a bright colour could attract in winter.

     That was the bitter truth:   Retail therapy, despite the negative affect on my wallet, had not delivered long term happiness.   But there was a treatment, if not a cure.    The outfit was placed at the back of my closet where it could no longer laugh at my foibles on a regular basis.

Monday, November 16, 2015

LIVING LIGHTLY


A Spork





I've heard about travelling lightly and I'm a big proponent of carry-on only travel, even before airlines starting charging exhorbitant amounts to check a suitcase.   But I haven't considered living in the same way.   Leo Babauta who writes on Zen Habits is trying this out as a lifestyle change.   It seems he travelled for almost a month with one modest sized back pack and enjoyed the benefits so much he is going to try it at home.  As a life style counsellor of sorts he may feel he should test out things before recommending them.   I have always enjoyed reading Zen Habits so I never dismiss Mr. Babauta out of hand.  



One bag living  would mean a minimum amount of clothes, hand washed daily, one set of eating supplies, and  stringent limits on anything else that smooths daily life.   It is true that those folks who have an iPhone or equivalent Smart phone encompassing a computer, camera, telephone and GPS in one, not to mention Apps for just about anything you might imagine, manage to limit their technological baggage considerably.



Now that I am planning, and definitely not anticipating, moving house in 2016 I can't help but regard with  a mixture of scorn and regret all the things I have accumulated.   I was grateful to read that Mr. Babauta does allow himself--and his family--the luxury of furniture.   Too bad, that is the most difficult and expensive to move.   Denying himself a second spoon or fork means he would have to get up to wash off said spoon if a meal included both soup and ice cream.   But Leo is a vegan so ice cream wouldn't be on his menu anyway.  But I have a suggestion Leo may not have considered:   A spork!


Monday, November 9, 2015

You get what you pay for?





I've written before about not being a fan of free books (except for the library, of course).   Some/many writers disagree with me.   Those who find it is successful in increasing sales/adding readers say it works best when the first book in a series is free.   Kind of like the first shoe in a pair is free.  (I'm joking!)  Writers are sincere in their belief that it is unfair to ask readers to take a chance on an unknown (to them) writer.   Free takes away the fear.

With the new (as of this summer) subscription system at Amazon, writers sign up to have their e-books exclusively published on Amazon.   Paperback or hardcover books can be published/distributed widely.  Books in the Kindle Unlimited library (KU) can be borrowed by subscribers and authors are paid a varying amount based upon pages read.   I believe the present renumeration is $.0053 per page. 

On this blog  author Andrew Updegrove gives a lot of detail (probably more than most readers care to wade through) about the results he obtained with a recent free promotion where he made his books free for a period of time, presumably the maximum of 5 days.   The goal was to obtain follow up sales and some book reviews, hopefully favourable, or at least not lose money on the venture.   Judge for yourself if he was successful.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lottery tickets



     I'm old enough to remember when gambling was illegal.   The only lottery available was the Irish Sweepstakes, based on a horse race in Ireland.   You had to know somebody, who knew somebody to be able to purchase a ticket.  It all seemed deliciously semi-illegal.  The winnings were something around $135,000, an enormous sum in those days.  We could while away some hours, planning the best use from homes to cars to vacations to renovations.   

     While the goals for the funds have remained static, the methods of potentially obtaining them have not.    At some point the governments realized that gambling could be  a source of revenue for them.   What had previously been the purview of religious and charitable organizations could increase government coffers.  No more poker parties in someone's garage or surreptitiously purchased tickets;  casinos, on-line poker, bingo and lottery tickets became an important adjunct to government coffers.   Occasional trips to Las Vegas became weekly bus trips to the local slot machine heaven.

     I've read that your chance of winning a lottery ticket is as likely as being eaten by a shark or struck by lightning, fates I would prefer to avoid.  Some people seem to mess up no matter what.  But, as the ads state, someone has to win and you can't win if you don't play.  I've also read that a substantial percentage of people figure winning the lottery into their retirement plans.  The financial community has rebutted this, demonstrating calculations that indicate that the same $5 a week you invest in lottery tickets could provide you with a substantial windfall of your own after 20 years or so.

     My father used to buy a one dollar ticket twice a week on the federal lottery.   But at least he did it thoughtfully.   When the jackpot exceeded a pre-determined amount, he would refrain from buying a ticket.    His reasoning was that while a million or two could be divvied up and spent thoughtfully, $20 million would change things too much.   I don't know if he thought his children would end up lounging  their lives away on a tropical beach or in a downtown flophouse in a drug induced stupor.   Probably not that extreme.   More likely, he knew that too much money could be as much of a problem as too little.

     I related this to my daughter, who was delighted to offer a quote she had heard:  "I know money can't buy happiness, but it will do until happiness comes along."   I think she was only teasing!
     

Monday, October 26, 2015

FOOD

                                                                         



Food.   We need it to survive but it's about far more than survival.  Food has psychological overtones, cultural ramifications not to mention political messages.   At a basic level,  we think it shows love.  Most of us buy it at the supermarket or maybe farmers' market.   We expect a wide variety of  nutritious and even unblemished produce to await us.  A few talented individuals grow their own.


Ireland's infamous potato famine came from a crop that did not originate in Ireland.   Potatoes were imported to Ireland  from the New World, aka North America, yet  the humble potato became a symbol of Ireland.  Reliance on monocrop led to disaster when the potato blight struck.

Going back millions of years,  misconceptions about hunter and gatherers--the first human cultures--are entrenched in our belief system.  Their lives did not simply involve wandering around a verdant paradise picking nuts off trees and hunting woolly mammoths.   We assume that the women collected and the men hunted.   But the traditional male and female roles we assign to that era originate in our own belief systems.   But there's no proof of this.  This way of life continued for almost two million years,  perhaps, in part, because hunter/gatherers could pick up and leave for more abundant resources over the hill.  

But their lives were more complicated.   There were social connections among groups, including trade.  Although we think that there must have been a lot of hungry hunter/gatherers waiting for the next herd to pass by, in reality they had more security than the next phase of human evolution, the agriculturalists.  Agriculturalists stayed put and were at the mercy of crop failure, insects, weather, soil degradation, not to mention enemy incursions.  Famine happened to agricultural societies.  This way of life  only started about ten thousand years ago and slowly spread to other areas of the world.

Hunter/gatherers thrived because of their limited numbers.    Some people today fish and even hunt but it wouldn't be possible on a large scale today.      We need organized, mechanized food production to even attempt to feed seven billion plus people.   Some people aren't happy with factory farming methods, pesticide and herbicide use, irradiation and genetic modification.

Is there another solution in the wings?


Monday, October 19, 2015

This Sounds Familiar

  This article in the Huffington Post concerns a man who had an embedded chip in his hand.  It seems relevant to my novel, A New Premise.  Here's an excerpt:






      Alexa remembered the old days when people used money: the paper and coins or plastic cards.   People had different amounts of money at their disposal and could save it up and spend it however and whenever they wanted . . . and wherever.  Workers were paid different amounts depending on their education and experience as well as the job.  Now, the government set wages and salaries and controlled rents and interest rates. Everyone received a base amount, an allotment.   Saving money, or hoarding, as it was now described, was not allowed.  Describing how things used to be sounded unbelievable now but Alexa knew well that was the way it had been.

      Nine years ago everything changed.    Alexa had been twenty-eight years old; a special year because Max had been born.   She still had high hopes of her marriage to Jack.  Then terrorists had flooded the world with money and cards that were fake but indistinguishable from the real thing.   Not coins though; they were too expensive to manufacture, apparently.   She had thought it ironic that while elaborate preparations had been made against missiles and other weapons, a different type of destruction was being secretly planned. 

      The terrorist’s cards and bills could somehow be used to obtain unlimited amounts of money without detection.   Everything was chaotic.  Banks closed.  Stores would only take silver or gold coins; who had any of those lying around?   Some would take smaller coins, half dollars and dollar coins, the older pennies, nickels and dimes been phased out although lots of people had a jar of pennies somewhere.  But not much could be purchased with them.   Most people could barely get together enough of them to buy a loaf of bread.  

     Then came the riots.  Many people were killed or just disappeared.  Stores and businesses lost millions, billions of credits or dollars as the money was called then.    When the government came up with the idea of the implanted microchip or grain as it came to be called, it seemed the best solution.  It was supposed to be a temporary solution.  People were desperate for someone to take charge and fix the situation.


     Alexa remembered her mother’s scathing remarks that it used to be that only the family dog had an implanted microchip but her father had shaken his head at her and that had ended the conversation.  Everyone was afraid, even afraid to speak.




      I'm going to start putting  up excerpts from my novels, especially when it is relevant to a current issue.