DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Tossing Pebbles in the Stream: 10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sharing Through the Internet

Today two ideas have come together and been dividing my attention. They are: today is the 40 anniversary of the "creation" of the Internet; and, musical delights they are having in Toronto this week, focused around the presentation of the Glenn Gould Prize to Jose Antonio Abreu.

The moment of the creation of the Internet was the successful Login on between two computers from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute.,lo-it-began-internet-founder-recalls-first-message--feature.html

Leonard Kleinrock has spend a career at UCLA. He was there at the beginning It was his theory of packets that was used to transmit information over the Internet.

It was called the ARPANET but it was the beginning of a series of developments which developed what came to be know as the INTERNET.

What a wonderful thing it has become as a resource for a wide range of activities from the frivilous to the profound. For me, it has come to be a source of pleasure to write a small personal blog which allows me to share ideas and friendship with a small circle of friends who have come to mean more to me that I would have predicted before I came to know them through cyberspace. It has also become a seemingly bottomless source of imformation on ideas I find interesting intellectually stimulating. I just love researching any and all ideas that come to my attention or just pop into my head. I no longer have to laboriously spend hours going through books in a library or or read a series of Encyclopedia articles following connections mentioned in each. It also has largely replace for me letter writing and even allows me to chat frequently to special people as if they were in the room. For others, I am sure it has other important aspects: online banking, seeking medical information, looking for government forms to fill out, play games, watch movies, download music connect telephones, sell and purcxhase items or even enjoy erotic stimulation. It certainly has become a wonderful part of my life and the lives of countless and growning numbers of people around the World.

I have also been thinking how fast the Internet has become so important. My son was born the year of the creation of the Internet. The personal computer and the Internet was not really available to me until after I graduated from University and worked several years. I was reluctant to embrace it and only did so because I had an old one given to me. It now is almost a necessity. It certainly makes living in a remote place a lot less isolated.

The radio for me is my first line of information as to what is going on in the World while the Internet is where I find in depth information about some of what I learn.

This week I learned that Jose Antonio Abreu was being awarded the Glenn Gould Prize of $50,000 in Toronto. Well who is he? I was first tweeked to find out when I learned he was from Venezuela. I have been following the politics of Venezuela and emailing with a Venezuelan friend for several years. He is the founder of a wonderful music program in Venezuela , Le Sistema (the system).

Hundreds of thousand of young people in Venezuela are involved in orchestras learning to play music. Classical music as well as popular music is no longer the prerogative of the well educated elite in that country. It belongs to young people and their families all across the country. You have to understand that Venezuela is a country where 80% of the people are poor, and half of them are in abject poverty. So while 20% live in relative luxury comparable to the upper middle class and the wealthy in North America the vast majority struggle living in the countryside or increasingly live in the barrios (slums) around the cities. (My friend in Venezuela told me that she and her friends never go into the barrios. It reminded me of white people who used to tell me they never went into the black community in the US) Many of the children involved in the music program founded by Dr Abreu are from the barrios.

The following is a wonderful statement by Dr. Abreu after he was awarded the TED award. I urge you to listen to it all if you are at all interested in the education of children and social transformation through musical education. What he has done around music could be done around literature, art or even science. It reminds one of what opportunities we may have lost in North American with the decades of cutting back on music and art education in the schools.

The TED prize is $100,000 plus one wish. At the end of this video the last remarks were Dr Abreu's wish. Briefly, it was a wish that his music program in Venezuela could be spread to other countries. It seems his wish is being granted. There is an effort underway to establish El Sistema in the US I suspect this week in Toronto there will be an effort to establish El Sistema in Canada.

There are a number of activities this week honouring Dr Abreu. On Thursday, the greatest event will be at the Rogers Centre when the Venezuelan Bolivar Youth Orchestra will perform for 14,000 school children. The musicians and the students will then have an opportunity to meet and interact.

The orchestra will be lead my the "greatest young conductor" Gustavo Dadamel who is now with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He is a product of Le Sistema in Venezuela. He is an exciting conductor and an inspiration to young and old alike.

Watch this video as a taste of the exciting performance he and the youth orchestra put on. This is a performance at the 2007 PROMS Festival in Britain, a classical music festivals that has been a part of the music scene in Britain since 1895.

I hope you found this as exciting as I did. I might even become a music fan. The Internet makes it possible for me to find out about these two men and the Le Sistema program in Venezuela and to share it, and my excitment, with you.

The Internet has made profound differences in our lives in just a short time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

John Irving's Latest Novel

I spent the morning listening to a long and interesting interview with John Irving, the novelist,on the CBC ( Blessed is non-commercial radio where intelligent conversations can be found). It was very informative about him, the writing process, the themes of his novels (12 as of now) and something about his latest novel, Last Night in Twisted River.

I am not a frequent reader of novels, although if I think back I have managed to read a number of outstanding ones in my time. A few years ago, I got excited about Appalachian literature and read several novels which I thoroughly enjoyed and which gave me a greater appreciation of the worth and pleasure in novel reading.

I don't know if academics group modern novelists from New England as New England literature but there are a few which I have read at least one novel from, such as John Updike and of course, Kurt Vonnegut. Most of the novels are set in the Northeastern part of the US, which I know and love having lived there for several years.

Unfortunately, I must admit I have not read any of John Irving's novels although I have experienced his cultural impact by seeing the movies made from his novels. (Not the best way to appreciate a novelist's work) They were Cider House Rules and The Hotel New Hampshire.

Most readers of his novels will have read his most successful one, The World According to Garp.

Well, the interview with John Irving got my juices flowing. Being the irrepressible researcher I am I looked up articles on him on the Internet. There are several excellent articles on his biography and his body of work. Read the essay, recommended by John Irving, about his work, by Terrence Des Pres

One questions which spurred me on was, "What was his connection with Toronto. It was not immediately obvious for he seemed well rooted in New England, living in the Green Mountains of Vermont. He mentioned that his characters in his latest novel fled to Toronto. In reading the synopsis of his novels on his personal website, I noticed at least three other novels made a reference to Toronto. I finally learned that he lived part time in Toronto as his second wife is a Canadian, from Toronto. It was interesting that this fact was not discussed in the interview, even though it took place in Toronto.

The other thing that caught my eye was the use of the iconic twisted Pine tree often found on the rugged windy rocky shore of Georgian Bay on the cover of his novel. The Canadian school of artists, the Group of Seven often painted the rugged Canadian landscape of the Canadian Shield. A. J. Casson painted one of the most familiar Canadian scenes featuring a lone pine tree bravely surviving in a beatiful but torturous land. (How Canadian is that?) It resonates with the myth of ourselves that we are a hearty Northern people surviving within a beautify landscape. (Some us do anyway. There are too many who do not want to venture too far away from the urban centers crowding the American border.)

The White Pine A. J. Casson

This blog entry is not meant to be a book review. They tell me you have to have read a book before reviewing it, (Although I must admit to reviewing a couple of books in college which I have yet to read.) I did find the discussion about this book interesting, enough such that I will put it on my Christmas wish list. I connect with this book in a couple of ways. While it opens in Maine I know a little about logging and lumber camps, which are historically part of the region I live it. It is also about a father and son relationship after the mother was not longer there. Such was our life. It is a story of flight which my life has been, not in a physical sense but psychologically. I too have been hiding out in the northwood. Of course, I know Toronto so it will be interesting to have that city as background. I also know the Georgian Bay coast around Pointe au Baril, which I believe is a location in this novel. I look forward to reading this well crafted tale.

Below is a video of John Irving speaking about his novel and some of the ideas behind it. If you watch closely there is a view of him standing before a weathered wind shaped pine tree, the iconic type found on the cover of his book.

I was touched by John Irving's opening comment about people dropping into your life suddenly. Just as suddenly as people often leaving it in spite of your assuming they will always be a part of your life. And, we should love these people because of their temporal existence in our lives.
This has happened to me a couple of times in my life. Very recently it happened again when an old grade school chum dropped in on my life, quite unexpectedly for both of us. It is a lovely and promising reunion.

I think I will be reading more of John Irving's books. A couple have caught my eye and seem to resonate with my life experience: 158-Pound Marriage, Widow for One Year, Until I Find You and Prayer for Owen Meany.

I would be interested to know which of John Irving's books other's have read and how did they enjoy them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sharing a Bed with a Long Legged Dane

(I know they are really a German breed, bred to hunt wild boar; but, Dane sounds so much more elegant)

This is what happens when you share your bed with a Great Dane.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Heidi looks around before she settles on my pillow.

Moments later she is either asleep or faking sleep.

She has left me about 18 inches of bed to lie on once I have eased her long legs back a bit.
Sometimes I just give up and I curl up at the foot of the bed.

I get in and fall off to sleep with her warm snout on my neck.

In the morning, after I have gotten up at five o'clock and taken her outside, in the cold and dark of night, she rushes upstairs before I get some coffee made and is back hogging the pillow.
She likes to sleep in late now, until about 9:00 AM.

I get to fiddle with the computer and enjoy my coffee, wishing I had had a little more sleep. Thanks goodness for afternoon naps.
(She enjoys those, also.)

Heidi makes be laugh with her antics. She thinks she is a wee lap dog and tries really hard to be gentle and not take up every space she inhabits. (Someday I will get a picture of her sitting on my knee with both her front feet on the floor.) She is one of life's simple joys for me. I don't mind sharing my life and space with her.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simple Pleasure . . . Sunday Breakfast

One of the things I enjoy about this time of year, when there is a definite chill in the air, both inside and outside my house, is cooking on my wood burning cookstove. The smell of the food, the warmth of the stove and the aroma and sound of wood burning, all add to the enjoyment.

Somehow the food tastes better.

Breakfast well underway: fried onions, pea-mealed bacon and eggs

Necessity being the mother of invention I made the toast on the top of the stove. My woodstove

toaster being over at the cabin.

Voila! the breakfast meal with coffee and unsqueezed orange juice. A meal worthy of this country gentleman on a quiet Sunday morning listening to some intelligent discussion on the CBC.

It would be nice to share this meal with a friend. . . . so if you are near by on a Sunday morning, drop around. Until then, I am content with my thoughts, my gal dog, Heidi and several cats. I can do this every morning but for some reason Sunday it feels the best.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What was that you said?

I woke up the other morning with ABC broadcasting in my room. No not that ABC( American Broadcasting Company) the other one, Australian Broadcasting Corporation. My radio was on and I found myself in the middle of a conversations. It was about "Street Swag". For a while I couldn't figure out what the two women were talking about. "What was that they said?"

They appeared to be well educated articulate women but they were using an expression which I had never heard before. For them, I am sure it was common speech; for me, it was a little strange and must surely be slang.

Well it was just a little Aussie speak. Of all the English speakers in the World I think the Australians are among the most colourful with unique words and usages. I suppose this is the result of being so distant and isolated for others who spoke the mother tongue, being from a country of wonderfully different flora and fauna and having cultural roots in the poor and undereducated who were sent there as prisoners to populate that distant land in the Empire.

Here and here you will find some Aussie words.

Swag is a bundle that is carried by an itinerant which may not only be a bed roll but also contain his possessions, which is also called his swag. Call it a pack sack if you like. A swagman is a hobo.

The street swag is a bedroll that rolls up into a tidy weather proof bundle that a teacher in Australia developed to give to street people to help them survive living and sleeping out of doors. It is also big enough that items may be rolled up in it. It is made of very light weight material with a built in tight insulated mat.

Jean Madden, the teacher, who designed this street swag and is getting it into the hand of the people who can use it to help keep them alive, won a design award for it. She even beat out a project of Brad Pitt. This got my attention.

I have long been interested in colourful words. I have a small library of books about unusual words, archaic words, slang and even foreign words that have meanings not found in English.

Some words I save up and try to find the right moment to drop them into a conversation. Go ahead call me a pedant. You will not be the first.

My favourite conversation ending sentence, I use when people are really trying to impress or bragging in a way that puts those standing around in an inferior place, goes something like this,
"Say isn't that exactually what Jean Pico della Mirandola said? Invariably, the conversation ends when not one wants to admit they do not know this obscure scholastic thinker."

Single words are even more fun. My favourite is "quim". Around here no one knows to what I am referring . When I can connect it with a "merkin". It is a delicious moment. I will let you scramble for your dictionaries.

On a similar note I love the difference use of the word "fanny" between North American and Britain. Here it is an attempt at the more polite word than "ass" or as they say in Newfoundland "arse". I once gave a woman, I thought I knew quite well, an affectionate pat on her fanny. She was highly offended. As it turned out she had been sexually abused as a child and such a touch reminded her of that. Needless, to say I apologized. We are still friends., but I won't do that again.

Well in Britain to pat a woman on the fanny would be turn her over and touch her on her quim is highly offensive and could get you arrested. It also give the title of the book "Fanny Hill" a whole different impact which got by most people in North America.

People who travel a lot must stumble into embarassing situations using words that are locally inappropriate. This is a problem in every language. While exploring Spanish slang I realized that there are different words and meanings of the same words, which are offensive in the various Spanish speaking countries in Central and South America.

Even within groups within our community colourful words can be fun. When I taught sex education one of the first lessons was an effort to get the class to list out loud all the slang terms with regard to things sexual. I always thought I know a lot but invariably I would hear words for the first time that were being using within the youth culture. In the end, I would tell the student that these were all fine words used with the context of the street and among their friends but we would use the more formal polite terms in the class. The helped to end the snickering of students in their discomfort. It also let those who thought they might offend me with some word on purpose that I knew all the words and would not be phased by anything they might say.

Of course, it is slang which gives a richness and texture to a language in various areas. How dull it would be it we all spoke a very formal standard English. Relish your local usages whether it be Franglais, or Newfie speech, or the accent from the Ottawa valley or the colourful Southern speech of the US or countless ways of speaking wherever people communicate and celebrate in their local language. I shall continue to find opportunity to slip interesting words into casual conversations.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **

For those interested in what the American Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, is up to, he maintains a blog you could read from time to time.

He is currently traveling around the country getting to know us a little. He is a close friend of President Obama so he should be able to get easy access to the President, hopefully to expain Canada's concerns to the US government. I wish him well while he is in Canada.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Monday is Thanksgiving in Canada, the second monday in October. It is both similar to the famous American Thanksgiving and yet different. The biggest difference is that it is not treated like a religious occasion which makes up part of our National myth about ourselves. The American Thanksgiving is best understood in this way. It is attached to the iconic early settlement of the Pilgrim Plantation which over the years has been part of the American vision of itself as an exceptional country upon which God has given it special meaning.

The Canadian Thanksgiving is just an occasion to give thanks for the bounty of the harvest and our company with one another. The explorer Martin Frobisher is given credit for holding the first "Canadian Thanksgiving", in 1578. The early French in Canada had the "Order of Good Cheer" feast where they, like the pilgrims shared their bounty with their native neigbours.
When the United Empire Loyalists came to Canada from the US after the Revolutionary War they brought with them the traditions of the American Thanksgiving. Over the years, other groups have come to Canada and contributed to lesser degrees elements of the Canadian Thanksgiving.

As an English Canadian, I very much identify with the American Thanksgiving traditions. Living years in the US and having lovely memories of sharing in the American Thanksgiving has reinforced my affection for these traditions. I always enjoy reading from Bradford's Journal the accounts of the early Pilgrim celebrations of Thanksgiving and sharing and exchanging foods with Massasoit and his tribe from the Cape Cod area. I shall always remember former American friends for their affection for me and my family and their sharing there wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations with us.

Both Canada and the US eat the similar kinds of foods at Thanksgiving: turkey, potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie among other elelments. In Canada, these are not held as being absolutely essential. Other meats, particularly ham, and other vegetables may be easily used in this special meal. Ethnic groups within Canada also may include special foods of their tradition as well as adopting the North American diet.

In both countries, Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to gather to feast and socialize.
In former years, I have accepted the invitation to join my son and family. This year, while he called, I had already agreed to stay and share a meal with June, my tenant. This year, her husband is not here, he is now in a nursing home.

It occured to me after talking with Parker, he and his family may not have been eating their Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day. I might have been able to have two meals. This I find is another difference between Canada and the US. I don't think Americans would easily shift the day to have Thanksgiving Dinner. I think many Canadians will have their meal tonight, Sunday. I have heard on the radio that others have already had it on Saturday and even Friday. For me, a holiday should be on the holiday so I will have the meal on Monday.

Thanksgiving Greeting from the North Wood!

To my American friends. Happy Columbus Day.

Come next month. I will be acknowledging the American Thanksgiving with all the fond memories it has for me.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Moose Hunting Season

We are at the season when wild eye men (mostly men but I have seem a few wild eye women also) haul some temporary shelter and lots of beer up into the bush for the annual hunt for the noble moose.

In our area, area 41 (not Area 51 that is that not so secret military base in the US)
the season runs from October 10 to November 15. We will be seeing swarming all around, often just hunting from the comfort of the cab of their trucks, the men in hunter orange vests, camoflage costumes clinging to their big weapons.

I am not a big fan of the moose hunt, (I guess you figured that out by now.) But it is part of the culture here. And many hunters, both local and from far way who feel the blood lust rising in their souls which they have managed to supress for a year, show up and take to the bush.

The Yanks are in town. You can spot them they have the bigger late model trucks and enough gear to go and fight in Afghanistan. They also are eager to drink long and deep lots of Canadian beer, so much better they tell me than the American swill.

I offer no protest for it would serve no end. No one would understand. Real men hunt. That is what they do. I try not to let anyone know I don't even own a gun.

When I had cattle, I moved them close to home so that some hunter would not mistake them for a moose or decide after an unsuccessful hunt they were not going home empty handed.

Few people hunt to sustain themselves. No longer are their poor families around with 12 to 20 children, for whom a large moose would make a difference. The pursuit is for trophies, the satisfaction of killing something and an excuse to bond with you buddies over several cases of beer swapping lies of previous hunts and conquests over women. (I am also not fond of men in groups.)

Native hunters seem to go about the hunt with less blood lust, more care and a respect for the beast that is being sacrificed so they may live. Sacred tobacco is burned and a prayer to the Great Spirit offered, so that the brother moose willingly gives up his life.

Some hunters who don't want to share in the riggeur of camping out in the bush stay in local lodges and go out on day trips, if the weather is not too wet snowy and cold (wimps). Camp Horizon is the closest lodge to here. They are nice folk who I happen to know as I officiated at the memorial service of a friend and I officiated at their daughter's wedding. Like all lodges it is a difficult living requiring offering year round services for families, fishermen and hunters.

Here below is a video of moose hunting in Newfoundland. Singing is that famous Newfie group,
"Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellas". For those who are unfamiliar with moose, the largest of the deer family, this video has lots of images of them. Also the song is a celebration of the culture of moose hunting. The moose is not native to Newfoundland. They were introduced there and with few predators, other than the drunken hunters, they have fourished and even become a problem.

For your wonderment is a video of " un orignal " (moose) which was raised and domesticated by a family in Quebec. It is against the law in Ontario to keep and domesticate a wild animal. Years ago, it wasn't and so a soldier from Winnipeg, Manitoba, passing through White River, Ontario, captured a black bear cub and took it to Britain with him. It became the famous Winney, the Pooh.

This video makes me think of my living with a large dog, Heidi, the Great Dane and the issues of sharing space with her. Having a moose in the house is a Great Dane times 10.

The moose is the most dangerous animal in the forest. They wolves are dreadfully shy and black bears are quite mild mannered. The moose are hunted during the rut and they are "called" out of the bush by men pretending to be a potential mate. Man and moose contacts can be interesting and dangerous. Most often the moose loses but occasionally the hunter or his truck pay the price. Also, the number of people killed each year when moose collide with vehicles is quite large compared to those killed by any other animal in the bush.

The Ignoble end to one of Nature's magnificent beasts.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Charged-Coupled Device?

Well what is? A charged-couple device, CCD, is what won the Nobel Prize for physics today for three scientist who worked at Bell Labratories in the United States. It is a semi-conductor curcuit which changed light into a transmittable signal.

This little device has transformed our lives. On a personal level it has made the digital camera possible, instant photography without film. It also has made possible the great quality of the awe inspiring pictures from the Hubble Telescope from deep in space, which we would not see otherwise. Likewise, the pictures from the Mars Rover were made possible. Without it we would not have such realistic pictures of the planet Mars. There are other uses in science for this device and more being worked out, yet.

Congratulations to the three scientists that are sharing the Nobel Prize for Physics for this work:
W.S. Boyle, George E. Smith, and Charles Kao. W.S. Boyle is a Canadian. He makes us proud.
I heard him and his wife of 65 years interviewed on the radio today. A humble man he is. He said he thought at first when he got the call from Sweden someone was playing a joke on him. He also said not all things developed from his creation of the CCD is necessarily good. He thought a telephone that can take pictures was not a very admirable item.

Charles Kao also is responsible for fibre optics which makes broadband internet connections possible. How great is that.

Sometimes basic physics is rather esoteric and not always easily understood as affecting our lives. In this case, it has enriched our lives in so many ways.