Been There, Done That, Got The Badge

May 2, 2011

I see that the good folks responsible for hosting the A-Z Blogging Challenge have provided a nifty badge for participants to show the world that they managed to complete the challenge successfully. And here’s the badge:

A-Z Blogging Challenge April 2011 Winner's Badge

It was fun coming up with post topics to match the letter of the day, and it’s been a good exercise for my writing muscles.  I don’t think I will continue posting at the same pace, but it has definitely encouraged me to write more often than I had been doing.

I’d like to thank all the organizers – you can find them listed over at Arlee Bird’s Tossing It Out blog – and congratulate all of the bloggers who took on the challenge.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give special mention to my friends Mark and Maureen Blaseckie, who also participated in the challenge (and through whom I found out about the challenge to join in) and entertained me with their posts throughout the month, as well as providing encouraging comments on my efforts.  Thanks also to everyone else who left comments on various posts.


Zip, Zilch and

May 1, 2011


That – nothing – was almost what you got for today’s A-Z Blogging Challenge chez Unconventional Wisdom.

You see, it’s been a long day, spent almost entirely away from home and thus not at a device from whence a post could fly out upon the Interwebs (reading that sentence should give you some idea of how tired and punchy I am at present).

We were up early to get ready for a trip into Toronto for the Downtown Knit Collective‘s 2011 Knitter’s Frolic – my wife K has just published a new knitting pattern for a beaded shawl called Hana-bi (Japanese for fireworks) and it was making it’s first public appearance in printed form (as well as having on display a couple of samples she had knitted) at the booth for Shall We Knit?, a yarn store owned by a friend of ours.  The pattern was also put up for sale on PatternFish yesterday as a downloadable PDF.

Anyway, we spent the day at the Frolic, checking out the vendors in the Marketplace, making useful connections with some and getting K some yarn for future pattern design projects, as well as putting in a couple of hours volunteering at the yarn winding table (knitters could donate money towards the Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life fundraiser in exchange for having skeins of yarn they’d bought from vendors in the Marketplace wound by volunteers into balls on ball winders and swifts – yes, I know a lot about knitting for someone who doesn’t actually knit).  At the end of the show, we helped the Shall We Knit? crew pack up their wares and load them into the trailer for the return trip to the shop – which has moved now from New Hamburg to Waterloo.

So, a good day, an enjoyable day and most definitely a tiring day.  By the time we finished with loading the trailer, got something for dinner and drove back home it was quite late in the evening by the time I could sit down to write.  My apologies for a somewhat rambling and not terribly focused account of our day, but I hope you’ll agree that something is better than nada, or zip or zilch for that matter (er, you do know that today is the final day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, and thus the letter of the day is “Z”?).


April 29, 2011

Tick… tick… tick… counting down the last few letters in the A-Z Blogging Challenge, with just “Y” today and “Z” (and that’s pronounced “zed” around here, OK?) tomorrow.

Tick… tick… tick… counting up the years – there have been a few elapse since I first took a breath, although it doesn’t feel like as many have passed by as the calendar seems to tell me.  Perhaps age is just a state of mind.

And things go in cycles through the years – for example, my birth being followed some years later by the birth of my two sons, and now No. 2 son (who will turn 27 in a couple of months – just realized that I was about a year older than that when he was born) has in turn had his own new baby boy arrive in his life yesterday.

No. 2 son's new baby boy: Gryphon, born April 28, 2011.

Well, I guess the years do eventually start to add up, no matter whether we ignore them or not.  So we may as well make the best of them and not have too many regrets when looking back.

Xenophiles and Xenophobes

April 28, 2011

Almost all the way through the alphabet now – just two more days left after this in the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  So for today, the letter “X”: xenophiles and xenophobes, two sides of one coin, or perhaps more literally two sides of a gaping chasm.

Those who know me IRL will be able to tell you which side of the gap my feet are firmly planted on:  I think they’d say I’m a certified (or perhaps “certifiable”…) xenophile.  Yup, I do love me some foreign stuff.  Foods, drinks, fillums, books and the places they come from – oh, and the people in those places too.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the stuff closer to home – plenty of things to love here too.  But you can carry that a bit too far… and end up on the other side of the Great Divide, over in xenophobia land.

Now, I’m not talking about just being disinterested in that stuff over yonder, but full blown mistrust and hatred of foreign things, people and their cultures.  It’s just not right.  And it doesn’t even need to cross a border to show its ugly face – as a person of mixed race parentage (i.e. part of a visible minority), I can assure you I’ve experienced it often enough throughout my life even in the country I was born and raised in (that would be Canada, eh?).

Xenophobes are fearful of anything not like themselves – foreign countries, their peoples and cultures are all targets of their irrational prejudices, but so too is anyone or any group that doesn’t conform to the xenophobe’s image of “just like me”.

In some respects, things have improved over the course of my life – the advent of the Interwebs and the WWW for example, have opened new horizons and peoples’ eyes to what lays beyond the edge of their metaphorical garden; at the very least the exposure will help desensitize them to foreign things and perhaps understand them better with the resulting realization that they’re not really threatening after all.  But there’s still lots of progress to be made, and as the song by the band War says “Why Can’t We Be Friends?


April 27, 2011

We’re all rounding the last turn onto the homestretch of the A-Z Blogging Challenge with the letter “W” today, and I’ve chosen to write on three Ws: the World Wide Web, and the Internet in general.

WWW logo by Robert Cailliau (released to the public domain)

First, thanks are due: to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, credited with creating the World Wide Web at the beginning of the 1990s, and to Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, who are known as “The fathers of the Internet” for their pioneering work that led to its creation.

Of course, I wouldn’t be blogging without either of these existing, and despite having lived a large part of my life before the creation and phenomenal growth of the Internet and the Web, it’s difficult to remember the time when it wasn’t there.

What’s more interesting to me than the technology which enables the Internet and the Web (although I still marvel that it works as well as it does, or perhaps that it even works at all given the many potential points of failure in routing all those bits and bytes across the globe) or the explosion in online commerce that it’s brought (a two-edged sword, but that’s a discussion for another day) is the way it has enabled personal connections and the growth of communities.

I can honestly say that the bulk of the friends I now have were connections that have been made, one way or another, through the Web.  Not much more to say than that, really – other than to observe that perhaps the greatest contribution to society that technology makes is to intermediate those personal connections.  To paraphrase a well known ad campaign – Internet connection: $50 a month; Having a conversation with people across the globe: Priceless.

Vegetarians and Voters

April 26, 2011

“What”, you ask, “do vegetarians and voters have to do with each other?”

Well, apart from the obvious – they both start with “V”, the letter of the day for the A-Z Blogging Challenge – they are both about choices and outcomes.

Eating a strictly vegetarian (or vegan – hereafter any reference to vegetarianism can be assumed to include the more restrictive prescriptions of veganism unless otherwise noted) diet is a matter of choice, just as eating meat products is a choice – and there are further choices within the confines of each type of diet which lead to different outcomes: conditions like obesity, malnutrition or heart disease being the result of poor choices.

For example, a poorly planned vegetarian diet can be high in fat, potentially increasing risk of obesity. As well, there are some nutrients like essential amino acids which can’t be synthesized by the body.  These are readily found in meats, as well as dairy products and eggs, but are only found in a handful of plant derived foods – fortunately, the correct combination of foods (beans and rice, for example) in a vegetarian diet can combine to deliver these essential amino acids.  But not understanding this can lead to malnutrition.

There are certainly benefits – both physical and possibly psychological (if you object on moral grounds to eating foods derived from living creatures) – to a well balanced vegetarian diet, and even choosing a “mostly vegetarian” diet can have very beneficial effects on health.

And that brings us to voters – they also have choices, which result in outcomes.  In this case, however, it is often much less easy to determine whether a particular choice in an election will have a positive or negative outcome.  The fear of making the wrong choice often seems to lead voters to throw up their hands and not exercise their franchise, leading to poor turnouts and a government elected without the support of the majority of the population.

In Canada, we are presently in the final few days of an election campaign and there is once again a real possibility that voter turnout will be extremely low.  If you’re eligible to vote in the federal election, I urge you to make the small effort required to get out and vote.  I won’t try to sway you to vote for any particular outcome, but if you don’t vote you will have no say at all in what the results will bring in terms of future policies and the fundamental nature of the country we live in.

If You Love Canada Vote May 2nd, 2011

I’ve already cast my ballot in one of the advanced polls – if you have too, congratulations.  For the rest of you, make sure you get out to vote on May 2nd, 2011.

User-fiendish Design

April 25, 2011

The letter of the day, for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, is “U”.  I wasn’t really sure what would be a good subject, and then I thought perhaps it was time to inject a small-scale rant about one of my pet peeves.  Feel free to keep moving on by if this doesn’t interest you, I won’t be offended.

Now, in designing things – physical objects, software interfaces and gizmos that incorporate both of these – much has been made of “user-friendly design“.  And yet I often find examples of what I call “user-fiendish design” – things that seem to have been designed expressly to make their use difficult, obscure or downright unpleasant.

I won’t single any one product out here – your experience with the same product may be profoundly different than mine – but I’m sure you will have run across a few that provoke an “Ah-ha! I know exactly what he means” reaction.

Most often, I suspect, these user-fiendish designs are the result of “design by committee” – there’s no overarching coherency to the design; as they say “Too many cooks spoil the broth“.  That’s not to say that a design which is the product of the vision of a single individual is automatically going to be better – it could just end up being coherently bad (although I can tolerate that better than the alternative – at least if it’s consistent, interactions with it can be learned more easily than where the same action produces different results depending on where the interaction takes place).

Since I would expect that most people who are designing things for other people to use have good intentions (they say “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions), I can only surmise that the existence of user-fiendish products is simply an indication that there are a whole lot of unique ways of looking at the world and the things we interact with.

And I can only hope that any of the various things I have been involved in the design of over the years haven’t left too many people muttering “user-fiendish design” under their breath while using them.