Dave Preston
Got a lucky break and found myself in St John’s on the night of the 2011 Hockeyville game between the Jets and the Sens. Also fortunate to have breakfast with someone who was able to get me a ticket, and a great ticket at that - Thanks Ralph!

Got a lucky break and found myself in St John’s on the night of the 2011 Hockeyville game between the Jets and the Sens. Also fortunate to have breakfast with someone who was able to get me a ticket, and a great ticket at that - Thanks Ralph!

Flying Refined

I am sitting on a Porter flight en route to St. John’s. I would typically be flying Air Canada, but the flight attendants were threatening to strike and given that I am leaving on Sunday night with a 7;30 am Monday meeting, I didn’t want to risk it. I also didn’t intend on writing a post, but there is no ‘entertainment’ system on the Porter Q400’s so I pop open my PC and fire up iTunes. One of these days will get around to loading up my blackberry with music, but I didn’t think of this before I left and the endless drone of the propellers is getting annoying. So not being motivated to do any ‘work’ and not wanting to look like a total dork staring at the iTunes mixer bars bouncing up and down, I pop open a text box and start rambling.
Porter goes to great lengths to sell their message of ‘flying refined’. Major airports have a Porter Lounge that offers free coffee, juice and cookies to all clients, not just those riding up front. On the flight you are offered a snack - typically a 3 inch baguette sandwich, and a glass of domestic wine. The flight attendants are young and polite and pretend to be engaged. The seats are covered in some leather-like material and are generally well padded. And there is some nationalistic pride in flying in a Canadian made plane, but the reality is, despite the nice trimmings, you are still flying on a Turbo prop that is more Indiana Jones, than Donald Trump. These planes feature noise cancelling software in the cabin that reduces the drone, but I suspect that without it passengers would be required to wear ear protection. The cruising altitude of the Q400 seems to be cloud level so weather has a significant impact on just how refined the actual flying is, and with a cruising speed of 700km/hr you are definitely flying in the right hand lane of the air highway.
But despite all this, I like flying Porter, or more accurately I like the idea of Porter. Reasonably priced air travel, that goes to places you want to go, that tries to make the experience feel as pleasant as possible despite the fact that you are spending a couple of hours in a shaking metal tube,elbows squeezed against your sides,re breathing air with a bunch of strangers. Air Canada tells you they have been voted North America’s best airline, but Porter works hard to convince you that you are experiencing the best in air travel…at least the best available for the price you paid for your flight. There is no question that business class on an A380 is nice way to cross the country, but for a commuter flight from Ottawa to St.John’s, when you don’t have upgrade certificates, Porter does a good job of convincing you that the experience is bearable.

Field Camera update - My woods aren’t so barren after all. This large mink was seen wandering around early Monday morning.

The hills have eyes

One of my neighbors has an impressive collection of wildlife photos taken on his trail camera – a camera with a weather-proof housing and a motion / heat activated shutter. He has captured images of bears, deer, turkeys, and not the grainey bigfoot running across the field, type images, but high resolution colour pics worthy of publication. So not to be outdone, I went to Le Baron to get one of my own. It turns out that the majority of these cameras are sold to hunters, who use them to monitor their killing fields and identify the time of day, moon phase, etc when their chosen prey comes around. The sales clerk introduced me to one of his clients who happened to be in the store who was the local expert on field cameras. This guy was great, he showed me a series of photos that he had taken on a variety of cameras (he had at least four different brand of cameras monitoring his hunting camp) and explained the pros and cons of each, ultimately convincing me that the Bushnell Bone Collector was the camera for me. As helpful as this conversation was, it was also really disturbing. His photos weren’t just of random deer, but of a family herd, taken over a number of years. He could identity the animals by their markings, and watched them grow up and mature through a series of still photos taken by his robot camera.

“I followed this one since he was a fawn. By next year he’ll be an impressive animal. We’ll take him then”.

From Bambi to Silence of the Lambs in less than 5 seconds.

So $200 later, I am hiking up into the woods to place the camera at the edge of a pond, just off the trail, that I am convinced fills with wildlife any time I am not there. It turns out, my woods are barren. After several days of moving the camera from location to location, I don’t have a single image of anything other than my hand over the lens as I put the camera in place. I don’t feel too discouraged by this. I know another fellow who has one of these and tells me he has captured a total of three images: 1) his daughter sporting an ‘is this thing on’ face 2) a chipmunk 3) his neighbor Ed taking a leak in the woods, which is intriguing since Ed is the person who helped him install the camera in the first place.

But since purchasing this device it has made me start to wonder, just how many of these things are out there. When I walk through the local drug store, I  know there are cameras monitoring my every move, but I never considered that as I stroll through the woods, there could be some camouflaged-coloured spying device strapped to a tree capturing my comings and goings. This is not a pleasant thing to think about. The woods should be a place to be alone with your thoughts, somewhere you can trip over a log and land face-first in a patch poison ivy without worrying about the stumble ending up on youtube. Maybe I’m just paranoid. At a couple of hundred bucks a crack there can’t be that many of these things hanging from the trees. But then again, maybe the hills really do have eyes.

It is hard to do nothing

I find myself alone at the cottage today. Mary is out of town tending to a mom with a broken leg, and the kids won’t be getting here till later. I want to stay close to the phone to get updates on my mother-in-law’s situation, and since Mary drove, I don’t have a car. I also need to wait for the call to pick the kids up at the dock. So I am in that sort of limbo state – I don’t want to start a project of any significance and I can’t stray too far from the cottage, so I find myself looking around for things to do…or maybe not. It is not that often that I get a chance to do absolutely nothing. My vacation is drawing to a close, and I seem to have spent a good chunk of it responding to emails, and taking work calls. This could be a great chance to hang out and do nothing for an hour or two, so off to the couch for some R&R.

…..I’m back. I sat on the couch and a tumbleweed of big dog/little dog ‘poofed’ out from underneath so I vacuumed the cottage and then I shook the rug outside and realized that if I didn’t sweep the deck, I would just drag a bunch of pine needles in, so the deck got swept too. With that done, I am now going to just zone out.

…back again. I realized that I need my daughter to pick up some groceries on her way in, so I had to check the fridge for what we needed, but there were a few things rotting away at the back, and the garbage was rather full, so I had to change that, and while I have to do the garbage, I may as well check out the bathroom cans, which also need to be emptied, which takes me to the shed that needs some re-organization….

This do nothing thing isn’t going so well, so I refer to the web: ‘How to do nothing’. There are a lot of hits.

 http://www.wikihow.com/Do-Nothing an 8 step method

http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/ This one is good….if you touch the keyboard during the 2 minutes of rolling waves sounds, it flashes ‘FAIL’ in red

http://www.facebook.com/pages/How-to-Do-Nothing-without-Really-Trying/276572776093 Surprise, surprise…there is a facebook site, devoted to doing nothing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYgtUvgYi8UHow to do nothing at work and still get paid”….by videojug, who also have several other informative videos covering a range of useful topics such as How to stop farting.

Doing nothing actually takes a lot of effort, so since I only have 30 minutes left till the kids arrive, I give up and update my blog. No one reads it anyway, so it is close to doing nothing.

Cottage internet and the demise of getting away from it all

For 35 years, I have been spending summer vacations at Black Lake, a glacial finger lake that while small in size (one mile long, by a quarter mile across), has a lot to offer the weary city dweller looking for some respite from the worries and demands of the daily grind. There are bass to catch, boats to float, trails to hike, and ‘cottage friends’ to over-imbibe with. There is no road connecting our cottage to civilization. All connections to the outside world involve a boat trip to a community dock and the hauling of every scrap of food, article of clothing, bottle of wine…etc. from the boat, to the dock, to the parking lot and the car. That is until the arrival of reasonable speed internet service. Back in the day, two weeks at the cottage meant two weeks away from the office, news of the latest disaster or updates on the worsening economy. It was a chance to unwind and recharge the batteries worn down by 50 weeks of juggling priorities and putting out the fires of the day.

Not that it was perfect. There were several things that could turn paradise on earth, into the 10th circle of hell (cabin fever – Dante stopped at 9 circles, but he had clearly not spent a week of torrential rain with his kids, spouse, in-laws, dogs and cats in a 20x30 cottage): 

  • Rain – the number 1 joy sucker of the cottage holiday
  • Neighbours who pick your two weeks in July to let their twenty something kids (and their 30 closest friends) have the cottage ‘to themselves’.
  • The cottage across the lake with the dog that never stops barking and the outside speakers attached to a radio that is permanently tuned to the ‘Best of the 70’s’
  • Running out of beer by Wednesday

But all in all, time at the cottage really was a chance to get away from it all.

Then came high’ish speed internet. Now I can remotely work while on vacation, check the latest drop in the Dow Jones, and know days in advance that the entire week’s weather forecast is for thunder storms with a risk heavy rain and flooding. I tell myself that internet access has improved the cottage experience – I can come up on Thursday night, and work remotely on Friday, I can check the weather satellite map to pick the one hour in the day when the rain is likely to stop so that I can cross the lake and stay dry, and I can stay connected through twitter and facebook – a modern addition to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I could leave my laptop at home and go back to the halcyon days of carving mini-totem poles from birch twigs, rather than surfing the web, but that is not going to happen. Remote access is the new norm and while technology has changed the cottage experience, many things have remained the same: it still rains too much, dogs still bark, and that damn radio across the lake is still playing Hall and Oates, but at least now I can bitch about it on Twitter.

My other girlfriend is a supermodel

I love the t-shirt rack in the hardware stores in cottage country. There are always a few shirts, with a picture of a loon or a canoe, or both, with the name of the county in large letters blazing across the front. But I like the rows of novelty shirts: Money talks – but mine only says goodbye; The more you drink, the more charming I get; 1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, floor….but my interest is less about the shirt, and more about what happens to them after they are purchased.

There must be a market for these shirts. They wouldn’t get the prime real estate by the checkout counter if they didn’t sell. But I have never actually seen anyone purchase one. It is a rare event that I even see someone proudly walking down the street, chest proclaiming that ‘Insanity is hereditary – you get it from you kids’.  I suspect that most of these shirts are sold as desperation gift items, something for the brother-in-law you never really liked but still feel obligated to remember on his birthday.

My wife once bought me a cotton t-shirt printed with ‘I’m Right’ in large red letters. This was not a hardware store purchase, but a custom job inspired by an ad for a bank where the husband proudly rips off his shirt to display this same slogan for his wife on the occasion of the investment adviser agreeing with him on some financial decision.  She recognized my empathy with the fellow and wanted to assure me that at some point in the future I may actually have the same cause for celebration. I believe this was the same year my daughter bought me a box of Gretian Formula hair colour for men.

The shirt may have been a novelty gift, but the reality is I wear it, secretly hidden under my street clothes. Sometimes this is because I have neglected to do laundry, but other times, the selection is intentional. A secret rebellion when I know the conflict of the day, is not likely going to go my way.

Maybe this is what happens to the hardware store shirts. Maybe the halls of government are filled with people wearing ‘It’s hard to soar with the eagles, when you work with turkeys’ cotton tees hidden under their dress shirts and suit jackets.  Or maybe they serve their purpose as token-gifts then end up at Goodwill, to be sent to the shredder and recycled into boxer shorts dotted with red maple leafs, and the words ‘raise the flag’ plastered across the fly.

Super Elite – Got a problem with that?

Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, caused a minor twitter storm last week when he used his status of Air Canada Super Elite to get on a flight to St. John’s. While I have never met the guy, I will confess that I admire the sense of good sportsmanship and chutzpah of someone took a very public skinny dip on national TV with Rick Mercer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1blymg20dw

It started with an announcement that flight 696 to St. John’s was being delayed 2 hours. Fortune would have it, that that there was another flight – just about ready to go, but those delayed travelers on 696 who approached the desk were told that the plane was full and there were no seats left. Cue the smoke and wind machines. From the back of the crowd, cape blowing in the breeze, Mr. Rae emerges, drops a card on the gate desk, raises an eyebrow, and with a steely looks says, “Excuse me miss, I’m Super Elite”. OK maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but the fact is he got on the flight, and the Newfoundland author and infrequent traveler Kenneth Harvey didn’t (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/thank-you-bob-rae-for-stealing-my-plane-seat/article2105453/page1/).

Note to self, never say out loud that you are Super Elite when jumping the cue. Note to Mr. Rae, that SE on your boarding card … it tells the gate agent everything they need to know.  

The Globe and Mail piece was picked up with great delight by the live-bloggers and a twitter-verse pile-on the Super Elite ensued.

But I have to come to the defence of a fellow frequent flyer. Super Elite is not a badge of honour. It comes with literally spending several hundred hours a year on planes, waiting in airports, at the complete mercy of the weather and mechanical whims of an aging fleet of planes. Maybe some of those hours are spent in the lounge, but the wine is mediocre at best, and the scotch should only be used for mixing with coke.

If you fly once a year to Florida and you spend an few extra hours in the airport because maintenance can’t figure out if that flashing light means the plane might fall out of the sky, or there is just a problem with the display , it sucks. Try flying three or four times a week. Every week. For years.  You learn that when they say the plane is going to be 45 minutes late due to a mechanical error, it means they don’t have a clue what is wrong.  40 minutes later there will be another announcement of another 45 minute delay. This will repeat until it’s 1am and the flight gets canceled. It will take another two hours to arrange for a hotel and re-book on another flight. Since you have to be at your destination for a 9am meeting the next day, you have to be on the 6am flight out of town, so you get to the hotel at 3am, have a shower, then get back on the shuttle bus to the airport.

For the occasional flyer, this experience becomes the story that breaks the ice at the dinner table on the cruise to ‘5 islands in 7 days’. For the frequent flyer, it is one of many soul destroying events that become just a part of the fabric of life.

Yes, there is preferential treatment for the road-warrior with brand loyalty, but it comes at a huge personal cost. The romance of business travel, wears off the first time you fly to Calgary, during stampede, and spend all day in a meeting room, then a night at the Days Inn since it is the only room you could get at short notice. Then you catch an early flight back to Ottawa, only to be redirected to Montreal due to freak weather, and spend two hours on a bus to complete the trip.

Mock the Super Elite if you chose, but show some compassion. If we had our way, everyone would get a seat on the next flight to St John’s. You want show some outrage – how about the pilot and stewardess, dead-ended in Vancouver who take the last seats in Business Class, so that upgrade certificate that you have been saving to use for the 5 hour flight home, is rendered useless. Now there is something I can get outraged about.

Backup dog

Our backup dog is much larger than intended. I had been putting off all efforts by my wife and daughter to obtain a second dog for quite some time, but with my daughter home from university and me out of town, the two of them were able to hatch a plot and then pounce on me in a moment of weakness. It started with a cell phone picture, and a backstory of a middle aged dog, abandoned in Montreal, and brought to a shelter in west Quebec in a list ditch effort to find a home. He had the face and fur of our previous primary dog, and the colouring of our first, an affectionate personality, and calm disposition. It ended with my wife saying: ‘we’ll consider it my birthday present –  I bought you a sailboat for your birthday’.  Big dog also managed to compress himself while in the care of the shelter, making him appear much more compact than his actual ‘I own the entire couch, so why don’t you sit on the floor’ size.

This was a stark contrast to our current pet – little dog is a blue merle Australian shepherd / border collie, as high strung as he is smart. He has successfully trained our mailman to push cookies through the door slot in response to his barked orders, can trick visitors into throwing a ball up the stairs so that he can catch it and throw it back….a process that will repeat dozens of times, and can predict a thunderstorm in advance, enabling him to adequately prepare for the full body demonstration of panic that will burst forth with the first glimmer of distant lightning.

Little dog does not understand that walks are supposed to be relaxing. He paces from side to side, ready to jerk your arm from its socket at the sight of anything moving, all the while emitting a high pitched combination squeak and yelp that causes those new to the neighborhood to run from their houses to help an animal that is obviously in severe pain. If he sees another dog, he barks and twists violently in the air like a furry kite on the end of a leash, followed by rabid clawing of the ground when he lands. Little dog does not have a lot of friends in the neighborhood.

Big dog on the other hand lumbers along, oblivious to the histrionics going on beside him. He sleeps through thunderstorms, prefers to rest inside the cottage rather than endlessly dropping a Frisbee at visitor’s feet,  and has been know to lay beside his water bowl, extending his tongue out the side of his mouth when he wants a drink. And while he has managed to make his presence known to the mailman, prompting the delivery of two cookies through the slot, this has simply served to double little dog’s daily intake of milk bones.

Together they provide the ying and yang of pet ownership, a sense of balance and harmony. Big dog filled a void that I didn’t know was there. But most of all, he got me off the hook for an adequate response to the gifting of the sailboat.

Why can’t hospitals be more like garages?

I have spent significant time these last few months dealing with medical system and now I understand why costs are escalating, patients are dying of C-dificile, and why there are signs in doctors offices that say ‘Abuse of our staff will not be tolerated’.

I won’t rant about the arrogance of medical professionals (I got that off my chest in an earlier post), but I am shocked at the lack of effort on the part of anyone I have dealt with to use the tools at hand to make the system better.

We now have electronic health records, and from what I have seen of the system, it works great! Test results, imaging files, doctors notes, all the information is online and available to all the medical professionals I deal with. The problem is getting the doctor / nurse / surgeon…to log on and actually read what’s there.

Here is a typical patient / medical professional exchange:

Nurse (holding pen and empty file, with a blank cover sheet): What medications are you currently taking

Patient: Isn’t that listed on my file / electronic health record?

Nurse: Yes but it takes too long to log on

Patient: Could you try to log on?

Nurse: No, the doctor needs to see it written on the file

Patient: I take Diamox for high blood pressure

Nurse: What is the dose?

Patient: I can’t remember - since it was prescribed here at my last visit, wouldn’t that be listed on my electronic health record?

Nurse: Didn’t you read the sign at reception about not abusing the staff? Watch your tone or I might have to call security. Next time bring all your medications when you see the doctor.

Nurse leaves, placing file folder in convenient holder on door - 30 minutes later doctor arrives

Doctor: Sorry I am late.

Patient: I believe I am your first appointment, how come you are 30 minutes late?

Doctor: Didn’t you read the sign at reception?

Doctor (looking at empty file folder): What medications are you taking?

Patient: Isn’t that written on the cover of that empty file you are holding? By the way, since I have been here every week for the last two months, why is the file empty - don’t you have one file on me and just add information to it…or better yet, can’t you log into the Electronic Health Record and see it all?

Doctor:  We need to get a bigger sign

When my car is broken, I go to my mechanic and he looks through the service history for the vehicle (which he has online) before deciding on a course of action. The car goes in the shop, and he runs a series of tests and his diagnostic system suggests what may be the problem, and potential fixes. He takes this information and applies his own judgment to determine a course of action. 

If the problem reoccurs, I go back to the shop, and he reviews the previous visits results to aid in developing a new course of action.

My mechanic is on time - or calls me if he is running late, charges a fair price, and treats me with respect. And he doesn’t need a sign that says ‘Abuse will not be tolerated’.

**side note - my frustration is focused on the ‘specialist / hospital experience. My family doctor is great, and uses the Electronic Health Record extensively. That being said, there is still an ‘Abuse will not be tolerated’ sign in his reception.