Thursday, August 31, 2006

I love the smell of asphalt in the morning.

They've finally paved the street perpendicular to ours.


They scraped the cracked old surface off early this summer in preparation of replacing it, and we waited... and waited... and waited... while they did lots of other repairs and upgrades to the sewers and sidewalks in the neighbourhood.

I'm not usually an impatient girl, kids, but tottering across this =>
in high heels twice a day, five days a week, was no picnic.

Nice work, boys :)


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What the #$%&?

The American Family Association is trying to drum up a campaign to stop CBS from airing the documentary "9/11" on September 10, 2006, uncensored - that is, with the profanity uttered by the firefighters, cops, EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), and bystanders in the documentary, shot on-site that awful day, uncut and unbleeped.

Because it's just fine to get all weepy about the sacrifices of the brave heroes who suffered and who died on that awful day. In fact, it's even fine to create tacky, kitchsy, heartstring-tugging consumer goods commemorating them, and it, for pathos and profit.

But see them as real people? Big, sweaty, rough-edged blue collar guys with New York accents who let a "goddamn" or a "fuck" slip out when they are facing the most overwhelming, terrifying, confusing, rage-generating day of their entire lives?


This is no made-for-tv movie, folks. This is the gritty documentary shot by two French filmmakers who happened to be shadowing a rookie NYC firefighter on the day his ladder crew was called to answer the worst call in New York City's history. It is by far the best depiction we have of what happened that day from the perspective of the emergency response crews. A lot of the guys in the film who are seen running up WTC stairs never got to run back down them, and out into the sunlight, not ever again.

And in the process, the filmmakers captured a lot of blue language on tape from the mouths of those brave, annoyed, frustrated, men. And CBS wants you to hear the sound as it was recorded, that day, on tape as events unfolded.

What's that, you say? Those who find the profanity offensive can just not watch?

How dare you deny these bowdlerizers their right to wallow in the pathos of reliving the anniversary to the fullest on their terms! They're the Christian right - they own 9/11!

Dear God, won't someone think of the children?

Initially in this post, I suggested people use the AFA's own web form to contact the FCC, substituting their text for the pre-written text provided by the AFA. A friend of this blog commented that nobody at the FCC is going to have time to read the contents of all those emails and they have a heavy risk of being counted as "from the AFA" and supporting their position. So, fire up your own email program and send an email to the FCC at Mine went something like this:

"Dear FCC,

I ask that you respect human decency and dignity and allow the documentary "9/11" to be aired by CBS affiliates in its entirety on September 10, 2006, with profanity intact. I encourage you to refuse to exercise your option to heavily fine stations which air it uncensored.

The brave men and women depicted in this program were real people. They lived real lives and many died real deaths on September 11, 2001. Their words are real expressions of fear, dismay, confusion, heartbreak and anger.

Affiliates are being urged to warn viewers heavily of the profanity in the documentary. Anyone who does not want to be exposed to it, or who does not want their children exposed to it, will have ample opportunity to change the channel.

Please, do not be pressured by so-called "Family Associations" to prohibitively fine stations for this broadcast. Please do not support the censoring of these heroes' words. Instead, show respect for the sacrifice of those depicted in the film by allowing them to speak their reality unfiltered.


Feel free to copy and paste my version here


This post has been edited since it first appeared.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This is big.

Canadian woman to lead Muslim group

She's a Canadian. She's a convert. She's a scholar. She's a woman. She's an outspoken proponent of equality between the sexes, particularly within Islam. (With some degree of rationalization, to be sure; she doesn't disagree with the prohibition on women leading males in prayers, but argues that being able to lead female prayer services, which she may do, is an equal task.)

Electing a new President with all of these qualities sends important messages about where the North American Muslim population, as represented by this, the largest and oldest Muslim organization on the continent, is, and where it wants to go as part of these multicultural democracies.

No, she still can't lead males in prayer in a mosque. But her election may mean that that limitation, too, will begin feeling feeling the hot, impatient breath of progress on its neck.


Monday, August 28, 2006


Holy cats! Check out what just might be cochlear implants: the next generation.

Incredible. And I thought my model was a Cadillac.

And it is. It's just last year's Cadillac.

Bumping into an old friend; or, the beautiful kindness of people

When I was growing up in Newfoundland, there was a fellow who wrote - among other things - a humour column in a local magazine. Now, one stereotype about Newfoundlanders that happens to be absolutely true is that we are, as a rule, damned funny people; so in order to rise to the position of public humourist, you're going to be a very funny person indeed.

Ed Smith was a teacher, school administrator, and, eventually, community college principal, who had turned his hand to humour writing and was very good at it. I was very surprised, therefore, that when I unexpectedly bumped into him again, it was in the role of a writer on very weighty matters indeed. In 1998, Ed Smith became a quadriplegic in a car accident, and he is now one of a tag-team of columnists who write on disability issues for the CBC News website.

But as soon as I started reading his latest column, it was evident that he'd lost neither his fine writing style, nor his eloquent Newfoundland earthiness, nor his self-deprecating humour and his fine eye for human nature. This article expresses with pinpoint precision exactly the one shining, positive facet of the experience of living with an illness or disability. While I've thought about trying to capture this experience in writing, Ed Smith with his homely descriptions of Lions Club dinners and nerve-wracking encounters with scary teenagers in the Big City says it much better than I could've.

The beautiful kindness that is in people. Experiencing it is inexpressible. How sorry I am, and glad I am, that most of you will never experience it the way we do.


Closed-captioning Cockup of the Day: Special Classical Sports Edition

A particularly elegant howler on NewsNet this morning:


Pre-loaded key combos for frequently-used words and phrases can be your friends. Or not.



Saturday, August 26, 2006

A question of ethics

Earlier I told you about joining Second Life, the online virtual world. I thought I'd share this image with you of an ethics discussion group I attended inworld. I am not in the picture since this is my first-person view. The boxes above the avatars' heads are their names and, in the case of those "chatting", their comments.

The topic of discussion was ethics surrounding intellectual property rights in Second Life. People create clothing, animations (such as dance routines), jewelry, hair, physical objects, and textures (which can be applied to many of the above things). The creator of these various items can make them available for sale or for free, and can set "permissions" for them controlling whether the recipient (purchaser or freebie recipient) can modify, copy or transfer ownership of the item. The question of ethics can arise in many ways, but most often arises when someone takes a free item which has been made fully customizable by the creator in the spirit of sharing - free to copy, modify, or transfer - and then passes that item as his own or sells it as his own, as-is or with minimal modification. The rationalization by these people is that they are not "really stealing" because they are virtual items, infinitely copyable and sellable by the original creators.

It was an interesting and free-ranging discussion that veered into other examples of intellectual property sharing - and stealing - such as downloading warez (cracked copies of commercial software, music, and movies). It was made all the more interesting by the fact that the opinions in the room, while largely sqarely on the side of respecting creators' rights, were not unanimous; a couple of participants were firmly of the opinion that downloading warez, for example, was also "not stealing because you are only taking a copy, and the creator still has limitless copies of the original to sell'.

The discussion was of great interest to me since I am extremely interested in learning to create art and clothing for distribution in-world. It certainly reinforced the importance of understanding setting permissions and what keys to your work you are giving people with the various combinations thereof.


Friday, August 25, 2006

UnReal Women

When Stephen Harper's Conservative Party was elected to govern Canada in January my genuine concern, and that of many of my peers, was not so much that the party itself would rush us headlong into a social regression (their margin of victory was slim enough to suggest on election night that that would not be the case), but that the right-wing social conservatives in this country - and there are rich pockets of them, particularly in the west - would take advantage of the opportunity to try to arm-twist the Conservatives into regressing on specific selected issues through targeted campaigns. Gay rights, I worried, was one of them - and I worried that acceptance of gays is still just weak enough that they might force some changes there to, say, marriage or adoption rights.

And while the Tories pretty quickly showed themselves to be reluctant to follow up on opening some of the cans of worms they had waved around while courting the right-wing vote in order to secure its support, they quickly found that their supporters were sitting outside their constituency offices on January 24, can-openers in hand.

A good example of one of these attempts which came unexpectedly (to me) out of right-field but which is proving to have legs is the campaign by so-called "REAL Women" to have Status of Women Canada shut down, or at the very least have its funding slashed. This right-wing anti-feminist organization has managed to focus the attention of the Canadian right-wing blogosphere into supporting their regressive campaign. (The group's often-repeated criticism that one of Status of Women's greatest sins is daring to define what is good for women and to "speak on behalf" of women is pretty funny coming from a group bluntly named "REAL Woman". Which makes me, and every woman I know, presumably, a wombat, or perhaps a gekko.)

This issue has been on my radar for some time; information circulated in activist mailing-lists that I am on, and on Canadian progressive or feminst websites, and so on. Calls to write one's MP expressing support for Status of Women and its work. At first I was not really worried; frankly I consider REAL Woman to be a bunch of right-wing nutjobs (for a bunch supposedly all about being "Canada's alternative women's movement" they spend an awful lot of time worrying about gay marriage and physician-assisted suicide for some reason), and most Canadian women have been far too equal for far too long to really worry much about ending up back in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. But now the campaign has caught the eye of mainstream media - which does worry me. Harper is walking an uncomfortable tightrope. He can't risk frightening Canada's center-left majority by making changes to suit right-wingers' demands. But he will need every center-right and far-right vote he can get in order to hold onto power in the next election. And he can't stall forever.

And, let's face it: even among moderates right now, "the f-word" is not terrifically popular. For whatever reason - my guess is anger at "reverse discrimination", coupled with women being in the discomforting position of both holding power and - since we have not really achieved total equality, with the wage gap, the housework gap, and so on - demanding more, feminism hasn't been quite so disrespected and reviled in the mainstream since it was openly mocked in the 1970s.

So this issue just might have legs. That's why I'm suggesting that you, too, if you care about this issue, write to your MP and/or the Prime Minister. If you have the time to write an email, you have time to copy its contents into Word or WordPerfect and print a hard-copy - the reality is, snail-mail still gets more attention than email, and you don't even need a stamp to mail your MP. As with any issue, those who are angry and demand change will make a lot of noise; if those of us who don't want to see that change don't also make some noise, there is no reason for the PMO not to decide Status of Women is a money-sink that is not needed anymore, pleasing his right-wing base with little political cost in exchange.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

All your Snakes are Belong to Us

"Snakes on a Plane" + "All your base are belong to us" = this very funny mashup.

The ophidiphobic will want to refrain from clicking on the image below and watching the snake-laden clip. Those who have a problem with on-screen text profanity are in the wrong place and should immediately repair someplace else anyway.

The rest of us - especially those familiar with the various net memes in the clip - will find it pretty damn funny.

Thanks to Kid Sis who brought this to my attention.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And the recognition just keeps rolling in....

"Mom's Cancer" has been nominated for yet another well-deserved honour - a Quill Book Award in the category of Best Graphic Novel.

Vote for it here.


My Second Life

After being intrigued by an article in the Globe and Mail (subscription-only but extensively excerpted here), I began researching a virtual online community known as Second Life (or "SL"). It's pretty much the next logical step in life online; upon joining (a basic account is free but requires a credit card number, a PayPal account or a SMS-equipped cellphone for personal verification) you become an "avatar", a completely customizable computerized entity which navigates around a virtual world comprised of hundreds of islands, each with a certain theme or focus.

I am just learning about this other world, but I'm enjoying it so far. Avatars range from human, to humanoid (many people are "furries", or bipedal animals), to cephalopod (I met the nicest giant octopus this evening), to mechanical. (Today, for example, I saw a chap whose avatar was a Dalek.)

What do people do in-world? Well, ironically, much of the charm of Second Life is that it is refreshingly like Real Life - but with almost none of the limitations. There are libraries, art galleries, games and competitions; there are clubs, meetings, and lessons and lectures. There are protest marches and concerts. (Suzanne Vega just gave a concert there; U2 gave a free concert there just Saturday to promote the One campaign against poverty. In these cases, avatars closely resembling the artists are created in cooperation with the SL team, and they perform "in-world", as Second Lifers call the virtual worlds.)

A number of real college-level courses take place "in-world". Students log in at predetermined times and listen to lectures or take exams. There are hundreds of interest groups. I've joined a feminist group and a group for deaf and deaf-interested SLers called "Flying Fingers". There are groups for Christians, for Buddhists, for gay and lesbian people, for people coping with depression. There are complex role-playing islands set in a particular time period or fictional world.

Money is little or no object; there is an in-world currency called the Linden dollar; $298L = $1USD. You get a pot of Linden dollars when you register, but I have spent a total of $3L so far in two weeks of exploration - and I currently have nearly 2,000 items in my personal inventory. There are ample free clothes, avatar modifications (hair, tattoos, etc.), objects, vehicles (I own a motorcycle, a jeep and a saucer-shaped UFO), animations, and even houses (you must have a paid membership to own land on which to put a home) given away by the community to keep an avatar entertained without ever spending $1L. Better yet, you can create your own objects in-world by following the simple instructions to learn to create and manipulate "prims" (primitive objects), or by learning to design SL clothing, jewelry and hair with software like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.

Finally, you can engage in commerce in-world; you can learn to create any of the items or animations that have value in-world, or create art or poetry or music, and offer it for sale. You can also get jobs in-world - wedding or party planner, dj, club dancer, bartender, shopkeeper. And finally, you can buy $Ls by converting real-world money to Linden dollars via a credit card - but with all the above options, I can't imagine why you'd need to.

There are downsides. Dark places. Bullies. Rowdy kids. Sticking to the better neighbourhoods and sticking to my own business, I've had no trouble at all. Pretty much just like real life.

What all this means is that SL is in effect very much like Real Life with no limitations. Money is no object. You are never tired, sick or hungry. You can choose to work - or just play. You pick where you go and when, and who you associate with. And here's the thing that really got me - there are few or no physical limitations.

Oh, physical limitations are part of the reality of SL; there are fundraising activities and donation kiosks all over the virtual world for Real World projects like the Relay for Life - in fact, here's an image of a statue commemorating 2005's in-world Relay for Life. With the connection to real-world currency, these activities and fundraisers generate real dollars for real causes.

But the freedom SL gives you to leave physical disability behind is startling. Nobody is deaf in SL: conversations appear in text on-screen. Nobody need be physically handicapped: you have total control over your avatar and its movements. You can fly, for heaven's sake, and everybody does, all the time. Nobody need be visually impaired: everyone accesses SL through their home computer system, which can use audio cues and sophisticated technology to zoom in on, and view, the images onscreen.

One evening for fun I dyed my virtual hair blue and went to a rave. Because that's the kind of thing you can do in SL. I was warmly greeted, handed a package full of free rave goodies (dance routines, light bursts and glowsticks and cool effects), and invited to dance all by myself with about 50 people doing the same thing. And as my little avatar danced I thought, "Wow, the effect is remarkably engaging. I feel as if I really were dancing." And then I thought, "My god, how would this feel if I was physically handicapped in real life?" I mean, my avatar could be in a wheelchair. Or not. I was totally free to create the me I wanted to be, just for a few hours.

Of course, the danger would be to live one's life completely online. I can see how it would be dangerously seductive for a shy teenager with a handicap and few social skills. But the possibilities this technology offers us, the "different", is still really, really exciting to me. Consider the fact that a seriously handicapped person with computer skills could get a job in SL as a dancer, clothing or jewelry designer, artist, poet, planner, musician, retailer, club security guard or bartender -- and earn a salary which he or she can then convert into real world currency to support him or herself. That's an amazing opportunity.

If you take the plunge and go into Second Life, email me at ronniecat at ronniecat dot com with your "avatar name", and I'll be your buddy and guide - as much as I can guide, given my own limited experience. But you'll have at least one guaranteed friend "in-world" to start out with!

Happy exploring!


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bear surfs in hammock. Film at eleven.

Some time back, on his journalism blog, Mike Peterson wrote about the inanity of network news, as typified - with nukes in North Korea and Iran, Iraq turning into a quagmire, and the polar ice caps melting so fast that polar bears will probably be extinct in our lifetime - by the ridiculous fascination of all the media he could access with images of a bear in a hammock.

I told him that I would forevermore think of such journalistic fluff pieces as "bear-in-a-hammock stories".

And, so, ladies and gentlemen, in our neverending effort to let you know which pointless news story is currently in endless rotation live in the local media in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada - television, radio and newspapers - while having no meaningful bearing (pardon the pun) whatsoever on our lives here - and yet which is still so inconsequential I couldn't even find a link to it on any local media websites - and which you're going to see over and over and over and over on your local news anyway - here is today's locally-spotted "bear-in-a-hammock story".


Great news!

Sign language put on par with English, French

Ottawa must provide services to deaf

The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, August 22, 2006

All government services must be available in sign language free of charge, according to a court ruling hailed by the deaf community for giving their languages de facto official status alongside English and French.

Deaf Canadians have fought for years to have the same access to federal services as everyone else. Until now the 300,000-strong community has had to pay for sign-language interpreters, a policy it argued was discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This month Mr. Justice Richard Mosley of the Federal Court agreed, ruling that the government must pay for interpreters.

More at The Globe and Mail or


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rediscovering Newfoundland's French Past

My sister, who has moved back to Newfoundland, is a Museum Technician at a museum there, and a couple of days ago I was really surprised and delighted to get a package in the mail from her containing information about the latest project she's been working on.

"Newfoundland's French Shore Depicted 1713-1904" tells the story of the French part of Newfoundland's early history (the rest of the story being made up of the Beothuk, the English and Irish, and the Portugese/Basque - and the Vikings, who dropped in - who together built the very first European discovery point of the New World into what would become the second-youngest province in Canada). Much of the early shaping involved dramatic battles between the French and English as they battled back and forth, taking, losing and re-taking great chunks of the prosperous fishing grounds and the shoreline that was key to supporting them by providing land for flakes where the cod could be salted, dried and packed for shipment to Europe and the Carribbean; burning each others' settlers out; and then doing it all over again.

The town names around my native part of the province, the Burin Peninsula, bear witness to its own French history - Baie Verte, Jacques Fontaine, Lamaline, the optimistically-named Baie l'Argent, and Baie d'Espoir ("Bay of Hope", which in an amusing linguistic twist has been Anglicized 180° to be pronounced "Bay Despair"). My own family name, I was startled to discover, was not English or Irish in origin, but French; although our culture is as Irish as Irish can be. On the west coast of the island, there are still pockets of French-speakers; their language was in great danger of dying out two decades ago, but a concerted effort to ensure the children attend French Immersion schooling has nurtured survival of the fragile francophone population.

The book and CD are really beautiful, as you can see; richly illustrated with full-colour maps, prints and very early photos. They're high-quality artifacts to be proud of, and I am so glad she thought to share them with me. I wish I could see the installation she created based on them - maybe someday. I'm very proud of her role in this!


Well, I've been told.

And by no less than Stephen Colbert.

This suggests, of course, that someone tipped him off to my ongoing efforts to insidiously spread the gospel of bleeding-heart-pinko-liberal-Canadian-multiculti-socialism and "honest broker'"-wussy-Peacekeeper-foreign-diplomacy across the internet and, yea, verily, eventually the globe.

You know who you are.


Friday, August 18, 2006

King's Landing with the kids.

On Wednesday, Husband and I booked the day off work and took our two nieces, their girlfriend who's here for the summer, and our nephew to King's Landing for the afternoon. (Three girls - aged 10 to 12. One boy - aged 6. A day out - challenging! It was C. who initially suggested King's Landing as a day trip. Brill idea, as is par for C.)

How King's Landing came to be
- or how a dam and a flood generated a provincial historical project and jewel - might be of interest to some of you.

Each home and trades shop in the village is faithful to a specific year, and contain rooms like this one. For my part, the antiques, fabrics, china and embellishments were so beautiful they could have kept me interested all afternoon. This bedroom is from Jones House - 1830. "Thomas Jones, a prominent Justice of the Peace and farmer, built this fine house for his new bride in 1828. Typical of many St. John River Valley homes, it is built into the side of a hill. It is furnished with Colonial American objects as well as some fine New Brunswick-made furniture..."

The place is populated with a large number of actors, locals from the surrounding communities; young ladies stroll about with market baskets over their arms, nodding to visitors and saying "Good Morning, Madame! How are you today, Misses and young Master?"; little girls and boys sit on the front stoop of the general store gossiping and giggling and playing with tops. Every working building has a tradesman or woman who can explain in detail the work they are doing, from keeping house to spinning yarn to - well, you'll see. These two ladies were keeping house and baking bread over a hot fireplace on a hot day. They were appropriately modest and camera-shy for their characters, but happily posed when I asked "May I take a photo?"

Particular highlights for our crew included the working sawmill, its great vertical saw and the log-pulls that fed it powered by its mighty waterwheel. The mill is "typical of the many mills along the Saint John River valley...".

(On the other side of the river is a water-powered grist mill that today produces a variety of grinds of buckwheat, including buckwheat flour for resale at King's Landing's gift shop.)

Inside the sawmill there was not only incredibly cool working machinery - but this guy - playing the role of mill operator, who was remarkably entertaining and really knew how to engage the kids. By the end of his patter, he was asking questions which even Husband and I were shooting our hands up in response to.

"And not only did the boards which these mills produced build houses, and barns, and carts, like the ones ya see around here, but the vast majority of them went to Saint John, where they built... do you know?"


"YES! Ships! Saint John, New Brunswick was one of the major shipbuilding centres in the new world, and they built some of the fastest ships in the world. They built one in 1851 which was the first ship to sail around the world in under six months. Does anyone know her name?"

"The Marco Polo?"

"Yes! The Marco Polo! A three-masted wooden clipper, she was built with boards cut in sawmills just like this one..."

We also went to the print shop, where the printer answered all the kids' questions and a couple of dozen from Husband and I as well. This is a long shot of about 1/4 of the shop - I made it a little bigger than the others so you could see some of the massive print equipment he had.

The printer also demonstrated a very simple form of small-item roller-printing for the kids. He showed how a business card, for example, or a calling card might've been printed 200 years ago.

We also enjoyed the sash and door factory, where they do the glazing and... oh, gosh, a whole bunch of other building stuff, including stained glass windows they were working on. Oh, and the Carriageworks - carriages and buggies and sleighs - had been moved in there temporarily because - true to the spirit of the project - they were in the middle of moving another Loyalist-era barn to the Landing, (or "up where they're raisin' the barn" as one of the employees told us) and had to temporarily move the site of the Carriageworks to do so.

There was a whole lot more - a general store and a team of oxen and a blacksmith and a cooper and horses and a boat (The Brunswick Lion) but the whole visit would take much more time and bandwidth than you have to spare. But we did have a really, really good time, and my niece found some lady's glasses and we turned them in at the visitor's center and they were so happy because the lady had been looking and looking for them; and god I love those kids.

And whether we take them to Science East, or shopping (I remember one day we laughed our asses off riding all the plastic animals in the mall - without putting coins in) or hanging out at the lake and looking at the beaver dam, or going for ice cream, they are just so happy to be with us and they are just the best. I hope we are helping them make memories they will carry with them for the rest of long and happy lives.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Life keeps happening.

When I was ten years old, a little girl named "Allie" moved in to a new house her family built two doors over from my house. Her family, originally from our tiny town, had been living in Ontario for some time, and her parents had just moved, with her and her siblings, back to the province they pined for.

She was eleven, but because I'd skipped a grade we were in the same class, and we quickly became fast friends. We went through Junior High together, and then High School; got our drivers' licenses together; went, together, best buds, through boyfriends and exams and parties and drama and angst. We went to University together at MUN (Memorial University of Newfoundland), and for our last two years shared an apartment off-campus.

We got our first jobs around the same time and then got our own bachelorette pads, still in St. John's, still fast friends and enjoying the incredible heady excitement of being young and cute and single, with cars and money in our pockets, having lunch together during the week, clubbing on Saturday nights and spending Sundays hiking or driving in the South Side hills, cross-country skiing in the winter and horseback riding in the summer.

Eventually she moved to Ontario and got a job teaching high school, started a career; met a nice man there who had two kids from a previous marriage, married him, bought a house. And I met a nice man from New Brunswick and moved here, and got a job and started a career and got married and bought a house. She was my Maid of Honour; I was her Matron. Our husbands became friends through a shared interest in aviation and model-building and boats and other things. (But really - what choice did they have?)

And no matter how long it was between visits, when we got together the years and the distance were completely irrelevant and it was as if we were simply resuming that same, long conversation that we'd started when we were ten and eleven years old catching frogs in the stream by the side of the road. She is not a friend; she is family, and now her husband and her stepchildren are too. I have learned, as I got older, how very rare that kind of deep and long-lasting friendship is.

Maybe that's partly why I took it so very hard when her father died a couple of weeks ago. It was a stunner, really - he'd successfully come through surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, and the news was fantastic, they got all the cancer, the family's mood was celebratory. He was moved from Intensive Care onto a ward; Allie's younger sister went back to Ontario, her brother returned to his job in a town four hours away from the hospital.

Then all of a sudden, their father was having trouble breathing; all of a sudden, he was back to the ICU, then back into surgery - a blood clot in his lung. Bang, just like that - nothing to be done.

It all happened too quickly for me to get back for the funeral, even if traveling to Newfoundland wasn't prohibitively expensive and difficult at the best of times (in summer it's not unusual for ferry passage to be booked solid months in advance); but yesterday, Allie and her husband stopped overnight with us on their drive back to Ontario.

Her father's death hit me disproportionately hard - it wasn't that I was close to the man himself, but that I see him as so much a contemporary of my own father. They're around the same age, lived two doors apart, both deeply committed Lions, active in their respective churches; traveled in the same social circles, played darts in the same league, camped in the same campgrounds and drank at the same kitchen parties. Allies' father's illness and sudden death has brought some home truths right to my doorstep, and I'm not liking them very much.

While I wasn't able to get there for the funeral, I was, thanks to my Dad and Sis, able to email a note to Allie while she was still in Newfoundland, which they printed and gave her. "If there is anything we can do," I wrote, "anything, please don't hesitate to ask."

And she asked, or, rather, she didn't ask, she left a message on my cellphone saying that she and her husband would be crossing on the ferry between Port aux Basques and Sydney on Saturday night and "if we were going to be home" (the good friends' 'out' in case of emergency) they'd stay with us Sunday night. Because they're not guests, they're family.

"If there's anything we can do," we write and say. And sometimes we really, really mean it. We think that our heart will break, because someone we love so much is going through such unimaginable pain, and we are utterly helpless to ameliorate it. I was very grateful last night that we were able to give them a place to bunk on the long drive back to Ontario, a few hours of relaxing and talking and listening to the weird black humour stories about the funeral over cold beer, and this morning making them tea and bread with my mother's partridgeberry jam and hearing them say it was the first time they'd slept through the night since her father had died and the whole damn family descended on her mother's house.

Life's happening too fast lately. I think of the words of Californian philosopher-hippie-poet Ashleigh Brilliant (who I met through his little self-published books in the 70s, but who I see has nicely made the transition to the web):

"I'm exhausted.

I understood so much today."


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Signs of the times.

ASL, like other languages, evolves to meet the needs of its users. On a mailing list I'm on an interpreter recently asked what the sign was for "terrorist". Sadly, she has found herself needing to use it so often nowadays that fingerspelling it has gotten to be a pain in the digits.

Nobody seems to know of one. Discussions of signs that people on the list actually used included "terror person", "terrible person", "terror group" and "awful group".

We don't get ASL interpretation of our news here. I'd be quite curious to see what professional news interpreters are using. Perhaps a common sign or combination of signs (I expect "terror person" and "terror group" will be the most useful) has emerged already.

Because it's not as if we don't need one.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

A very merry Unbirthday to us! To us!

As I have mentioned in these virtual pages before, Husband and I have a coupla soccer teams' worth of nieces and nephews whom we absolutely love and adore and the ground upon which whom walk we worship.

Problem is, almost all of them live out-of-province. And birthdays - theirs, and ours - tend to pop up on Aunts' and Uncles' and Moms' and Dads' palm pilots and calendars so fast, that by the time you realize it's someone's birthday, it's already too late to buy, wrap, postal-wrap, and mail a present in time for it to be relevant. Plus which, I've always been concerned about catching sibling 1's birthday, missing sibling 2's birthday, then catching sibling 3's birthday.

I mean, the lawsuits for reimbursing therapy costs alone would destroy our meagre retirement savings.

The solution for us, for the out-of-province niephlings and nephlews, has been to do a one-day birthday-fest during the summer, when all the nieces and nephews are in-province on vacation. ("Your Aunt and Uncle love you very much," we explain. "They're not very well-organized. But they love you very much.") The idea has caught on so well that now they also give us their birthday presents for us on "Unbirthday" and out-of-province kids give in-province kids their birthday gifts on "Unbirthday" as well.

And, of course, everyone still gets their special day on their real birthday, with their local family and friends. Unbirthday is... sheer gravy, really.

It's also nice that Husband/Uncle's and my Mother-in-Law-slash-Family-Matriarch's realbirthdays both fall in August, so there's a realbirthday around Unbirthday every year as well.

Today was Unbirthday. We drove out to the lake this afternoon and took out the paddle boat, and the kids took out the wind surfer, and "the boys" (Husband and his brothers) and the kids drove RC boats around the lake and later we had potato salad and grilled burgers and hot dogs, and string beans and cucumber and my Sister-in-law's Patented-Broccoli-and-Something Salad, and birthday cake ("happy BIRTHday, dear EVERYONE, happy BIRTHday tooooo yoooooooo...", we sang, before EVERYONE blew out the candles) and ice cream. And got and gave presents. And, best of all, the middle-niece and our Goddaughter, the child I told you about earlier, gave us - as she always did - things she made with her own hands, and things she'd chosen, carefully, based on her brief lifetime of caring about us. She gives Husband things she's made herself, about airplanes and ships. She gives me things she's made herself, about elephants (it's a long story) and fashion. They all give us photos of themselves. Then we all troop outside and play with the presents. Stuff like this. (HOLY LIFTIN', did this sucker ever fly, whether it was the five-year-old or a 43-year-old stompin' on it.)

Those kids - so grown-up now! Before my eyes they went from being anticipated bumps in their moms' bellies, to being infants, to toddlers, to kids, to tweens. And they're on the cusp of teenhood. And still good, good, smart, funny, creative kids. Who, incredibly, still find their old Auntie and Uncle worthy of spending time with.

Lucky? You bet.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"This is our Superbowl."

That's how Husband describes the significance of elections to political junkies (by both vocation and avocation) like us.

Thus yesterday's announcement of a Provincial Election on September 18 was greeted with excitement, anticipation and the beginning of what will be one long, breathless political gossipfest between now and voting day. Last night's participants were myself, Husband (whose birthday we were celebrating), and C., we three who haven't missed watching election returns together - federal, provincial or by- - since I moved here.

Today's Telegraph-Journal is calling it the "Last-Chance Election", noting that
"for [incumbent Premier Bernard] Lord, it's a chance for a third consecutive term and a chance to emerge from the big shadows cast by his predecessors Frank McKenna, Richard Hatfield, and Louis J. Robichaud. A loss would likely see him step down as leader.

[Opposition] Liberal Leader Shawn Graham has already acknowledged this election is his last chance to ascend to the premier's office."
While it is probably not Alison Brewer's "last chance" to pull the NDP out of the funk it's been in since their sole elected MLA Elizabeth Weir retired as leader, it is another opportunity to try to make the party a relevent voice in the province again.

Fasten your seatbelts - it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Birthday presents! I got Husband the Lone Gunmen DVD set which he's been wanting for some time, and at Mojo's insistence I Mojo also gave him an I.O.U. for the September issue of Mojo music magazine (which the cat assumes is, of course, named after him). That issue is a tribute to one of Husband's most significant musical influences, the recently-deceased "Crazy Diamond" Syd Barret. (C. said, "What did Veronica get him?" I said, "Veronica doesn't give presents. Veronica gets presents.")

So we started celebrating early after work and ended late, and I am some tired. Big weekend ahead about which more later.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Husband!

And many, many happy returns of the day!


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sighting Mom's Cancer in the wild

Remember a while back when I embarrassed myself by posting a picture of the Boondocks collection Right to be hostile at Venus Envy in Halifax without noticing that Mom's Cancer was in the shot, on the very next shelf?

Well, to quote Pete Townsend, won't get fooled again. On Saturday I spied this copy of Mom's Cancer at Westminster Books, an independent bookstore on King Street in Fredericton. Looks like it was their last copy in stock!

I also asked about the book at Strange Adventures, an independent comic and graphic book store with locations in downtown Freddie and Halifax. They didn't have any copies at the Fredericton store - which was great news, because they'd had five in stock and had sold every copy! "Guess it's time to order more," Derek said.

I'll have to pass him along the books' "Sell Sheet" (pdf format) Brian recently posted on his blog. It's an order form developed by Abrams for bookstores to order or re-order copies. There's a phone number on the sheet for "organizations interested in buying books in quantity at a special discount". Single or few-copy buyers, as always, can buy through or,, or their country's online equivalent, if they can't do so through their local independent bookstore (but I betcha your local independent bookstore will have it or get it in for ya - ask!)


Friday, August 04, 2006

I am unashamedly...

...crediting J.C. Dill with posting both these bits and Mike Peterson for noticing them and pointing them out on r.a.c.s.

Police in Germany are hunting pranksters who have been sticking miniature flag portraits of George W. Bush into piles of dog poo in public parks.

and, thanks to a brilliant mashup,

The cast of "Star Trek: The Original Series" sings Monty Python's "The Knights of the Round Table".

I challenge you to watch the latter in particular without laughing.

As for me - long weekend, dudes!!!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A History of Graphic Design

Husband bought me a book today.

Philip B. Meggs' A History of Graphic Design (also known as The History of Graphic Design) is a big, fat, heavy, richly-illustrated (in b&w) book. It begins with the words "It is not known precisely when or where the biological species of conscious, thinking people, Homo sapiens, emerged." So it pretty much covers graphic design from there to, well, 1992, when this second edition was published.

A page from "MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan Book of [typeface] Specimens", dated 1881 and featuring terrifyingly ornate Victorian type, suggests that "the bewildering range of possibilities available to the nineteenth-century designer of printing" were almost as bad, bewildering and ripe for abuse as the dizzying array of computer fonts available now.

I've barely had time to stick my nose into it, but most interesting so far are the chapters on how - and with what goals and motivations - familiar logos (ranging from the "CBS eye", to the "Solidarity" logo) were developed. Equally interesting is a large section on how "international symbols" - such as the symbols for "toilet" or "first aid station" in airports around the world are developed - how do you create a symbol instantly recognizable to everyone of every culture speaking every language everywhere around the world? Well, it turns out you start by using examples of the symbol for "toilet" or "first aid station" from all over the world; then you have an international committee review the top 19 or so to choose the one that says "toilet" or "first aid station" to the most people from the most places around the world.

Not only have the latter chapters on modern design inspired me a lot with some projects I've got percolating, but his unexpected gift of the book - picked up at a used book sale - has reminded me of one of the unexpected pleasures of a long, happy partnership... having someone in the world who knows you so well and loves you so much that not only do they know you would love "A History of Graphic Design", they buy it when they see it, for no reason at all, except to make you happy.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sobering. Heartbreaking.

And, if you watched Peter MacKay's stubborn defense today of Canada's refusal to call for an immediate cease-fire, and refusal to call Israel to task for its share of this ugly mess, infuriating.

Canadians, however, appear to be losing patience.

Thanks to Mike P. who does a great job of sharing the important and thought-provoking things he finds on the net with his correspondents.