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 doesn'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.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Where We End Up


It was commented more than once that many known people died in 2016.   Every week brought news of the death of another well known celebrity.    I could name the ones I recall but you likely know most of them and then some.   Some had lived a very long life, some merely a good long life and others seemed to have gone too soon.   Perhaps we consider the average lifespan in North America and use that as a watershed.    Exact numbers vary but seem to be between 82 and 86, and have steadily increased over the years.   Check some statistics here.

     When relating some family health history to a physician including a paternal grandmother who died of a stroke at age 87 the comment was made that you have to die of something once you get to that age.  Or words to that effect.  Death and dying are difficult topics.

     I feel very sad when young children die.   They never had a chance to live their lives.   After I feel sad, I inevitably feel mad.   Could this have been prevented?    It certainly should have been.  Childhood cancer is an especially terrible disease.   My daughter's friend recently lost a seven year old nephew to cancer.   How can that happen?    What could that child possibly have done, in  health and lifestyle to bring on that fate?

     My post-secondary education has not been in the sciences or healthcare so I have a layperson's knowledge in these areas.    I have read that cancer is a complicated disease, that it is not just one disease, that we all have the potential for it in our bodies . . .    Some people are living longer, being cured we're told.   That doesn't help the ones left behind to feel better.

    I know oceans of money have been poured into research.   If money was the cure it should have happened by now.    My instinct would be to look for a cause.   Are there places in the world where no one gets cancer?   Were there times in history when the disease was unknown?    Do tribes in the Amazon without human contact and no use of modern inventions or products spare themselves this illness?   

     There is a lot of false information and rumours about various treatments and cures.   It's an industry and a lot of money is being made providing false hope.     Rich or poor, we all feel helpless in the face of illness and disease and the inevitability of death.   

Sunday, April 2, 2017



You've heard of Preppers, right?   People who spend a lot of time (and money) getting ready for TEOTWAWKI, otherwise known as The end of the world as we know it or at least a natural disaster of great scope and scale.   Think of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse), (here's an article to scare you), a meteor striking the earth or at least a hurricane or tornado.   Books have been written on the topic, for example,  One Second After, Death of Grass or Lucifer's Hammer.   I watched a show on Netflix about a family that gone to extreme lengths to be self-sufficient with back up systems for off the grid living.   The husband, an engineer, knew what he was talking about and revelled in describing what they had been able to do.  They raised cattle, had their own water and energy systems, complete with generators, tractors and solar panels.  The wife focussed on the domestic end with a large storage space and  professional grade canner enabling her to put up 15 years worth of food.

The fellow was proud of his accomplishments and had bragged to his neighbours and friends at the local pub.   They in turn had let him know that they would be looking to him should a world disaster strike.   He had no qualms in telling them to basically forget it;  he was not going to take food out of his child's mouth to give to them.   I guess they didn't buy him a beer.

Maybe it was because I have read the books listed above but I immediately thought,  "Foolish man, you're the first place people  who haven't prepped will go to take from you what they haven't done themselves."   Sure, he had a gun collection and would be able to take care of the first few of the hundreds of the desperate starving masses but he wouldn't be able to hold them off for long.   Actually, he'd be better off to invite his neighbours and friends to join him and create some safety in numbers.  He seemed to have enough to share.

Another likely scenario would be government confiscation of his carefully accumulated security.   In World War II they dealt with what was labelled hoarders who were widely castigated for not sharing.

Author Sarah Sundin has written a blog post here about required reporting and rationing of sugar in World War II.

I wonder if the prepper's knowledge and skill amply demonstrated in the setting up of his homestead is really his family's most valuable asset.   Most people wouldn't know where to start.