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absurdities / rant

I’ve mentioned before that I’m easily confused. Especially by odd (by my definition of course; your mileage may vary) things that people say or do.

This is probably the reason that I’ve written a lot about various ‘adventures’ I’ve had with the healthcare industry. (It’s not really an industry, but I can’t think of a better word right now.) With healthcare you have people (sometimes confusing), technology (often confusing) bureaucracy (almost always confusing) and politics (practically the reason for the existence of the word in the first place).

Another setting is retail. Weird stuff happens there for some many of the same reasons. There are a lot of things about the retail mindset that I just don’t get. I was reminded of this the other day

because it’s now spring.

There was no Sign, of course (well, I guess maybe there sort of was), nobody recited that stupid poem (you know the one) and there was snow yesterday (and today AND they’re predicting more for tomorrow) so wool socks are definitely going to remain in my wardrobe for the forseeable future.

But it’s spring.


Delusional flowers in the rose garden. The roses
have enough sense to keep their (metaphorical) heads down.

All the signs are there — the accumulated dog poop of the winter (dog walkers often, um, ‘linger’ behind the radish where they think we can’t see them — I should put up a sign that says I CAN SEE YOU AND I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING) is now visible, psychotic avians have begun their annual siege of the house and its occupants (nature is not always pretty), delusional flowers have made their appearance and been covered in frostonite for their trouble and

it’s spring hockey time.

Now, there’s not really a lot of difference between winter hockey and spring hockey. The personnel changes a bit, it’s on a different day at a different venue but the ice is roughly the same and the dressing rooms, while newer, are still generic, slightly too small and slightly too smelly with less-than-ideal showers and wi-fi that you’re not supposed to use.

But since it’s spring it’s just that little bit warmer.

Which is a bit of a problem because when it’s ‘too warm’ I tend to get overheated, overtired and overcranky (by which I don’t mean to imply that I’m ever ‘undercranky’). But I can leave a hopefully refreshing beverage in the car and — because it’s spring — it won’t freeze. Which kind of makes the long (Was it this long when I came in? It was? I find that hard to believe.) walk back to the car worthwhile. I get there, dump my bag (which is significantly heavier after the game than before, what’s up with that?) in the back, sit (there’s a bench that’s in the sun that’s conveniently close to the portal) and enjoy a restorative (that means caffeinated) and calorically-appropriate (in this context that means cold) potable from a pink container. (Because pink is so much more than a colour.)

One day last spring, though, I succumbed to AAADD and forgot the pink container (or was it the green one?) at home. Oh no! What’s a tired houseplant to do? “But wait,” I told myself, “there’s a fast food restaurant establishment that’s not totally socially irresponsible just six hundred metres away and they sell root beer that’s not completely horrible. I’ll just go there. There are no seats in the sun and there’s no portal, but it’ll be Good Enough.”

So off I went. I told the bored-looking lady at the counter the full range of my hopes, dreams and desires. Or at least what I wanted to drink.

“I’d like a large root beer, please.”

“We don’t have large.”

Say what? Every fast food restaurant establishment in existence has had since time immemorial (if not longer) three sizes of beverage, invariably named something like ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large.’ Ah, perhaps they had adopted a pretentious (not to mention stupid) naming scheme designed to distract The Customer from the fact he was paying way too much for this consumable. That must be it. I just needed to figure out what particular pomposity they had chosen to replace the word ‘large.’ I looked at the menu.

There were two — not three — sizes of drink listed, but no ridiculous names for them. So I was confused. I have no doubt that I looked confused. I shifted my attention back to the bored-looking lady behind the counter. She patiently explained, with the aura of someone who had already done this a thousand times that day

“We have small and medium but not large” she said.

That made me even more confused. It was on the menu so it wasn’t just that they had run out of cups. Apparently they had changed the menu so that the largest possible beverage you could order was named ‘medium.’  Well, at least it wasn’t pretentious. But…

“Doesn’t a size named ‘medium’ sort of imply the existence of something bigger? Unless it’s supposed to suggest some sort of heretofore-unsuspected relationship to a spiritual grifter, of course.”

She looked at me like I was insane, so apparently not. Well, I bowed to the inevitable. (A bit. I still thought it was ridiculous.)

“A root beer please. The largest size you’re allowed to sell me. Whatever that might be called.”

I imagined a guy in a suit in a corner office and tried to understand what he had been thinking when he decided to fly totally against company (and industry) history and tradition and not even put up a sign but make nice ladies who weren’t told the reasons explain them (“Listen, bub — I don’t understand it either. I just work here.”) to overheated, overtired and overcranky nitwits. I concluded — not for the first time — that I really, really didn’t understand the retail (or suit) (or corner office) mind.

But even though there was no bench in the sun next to a hazardous dimensional rift  it was good and soon I was  feeling considerably more human.

Still confused, though.



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It’s a dangerous world out there.

It’s always been dangerous, of course, but we (the collective ‘we’, not ‘you and me’) keep finding new and different ways to jeopardise our very existence. The meal I’m planning for this evening? Apparently it’s potentially lethal — and not just because I’m not that good a cook. Write a blog post while sitting next to the router?  That might just be a bad idea. Order a cup of coffee in a restaurant (and I use that term loosely)? That might require hospitalization.

Like I said, it’s a dangerous world.

Of course, if your coffee throws you into the clutches of the medical community or if your bachelor party gives you whiplash or if your cell phone tells you to walk onto a freeway, you can always sue. You might win. Or you might not.

Of course, ubiquitous lawsuits frivolous or not — come with a price. There are no more see-saws, for example. You can’t get your oil checked. My local arena has banned cell phones (while at the same time putting Wi-Fi in the change rooms). And everything has a warning label. (Talk about first world problems.)

Recently I was removing the (excessive) packaging from a gift I had received. Unsurprisingly, the packaging came with a warning. In all-caps so I knew they were serious(or at least loud).

I contemplated the warning; it didn’t apply to me but I still worried a little.  What did it say? It said


Oh. What was this incredibly dangerous product that was unsafe for use by prepubescent human beings? Was it a poorly engineered piece of machinery? Umm, no. Was it poisonous? Not so far, no. Would it lead to criminal or anti-social behavior? Not as far as I can tell although with me ‘anti-social’ is a matter of degree.

It was a shirt.


Designing. Shoeing. (Is that even a word?)

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(Apparently it is and it even has multiple meanings and definitions. I like this one best, though. But I digress.)

Form follows function.

That’s a principle usually attributed to a dead architect; I don’t claim to understand all of its nuances, subtleties and implications but it seems to me that it means that at least some of the features of a thing should be inspired by what that thing is going to be used for. (The dead architect was presumably mainly thinking of buildings, but as far as I can tell the principle has been applied to lots of things that aren’t.) That seems entirely reasonable to me — at least as a starting point — although I recognize (based on nothing more than the number of results to a google search) that the issue is one that attracts many opinions and has no clear consensus. Heck, at least one prominent publication has called the principle a ‘misused cliché.’

Whatever. For my part it sounds sensible but I’m more than willing to believe that in design, as in programming, There’s More Than One Way To Do It. Even if some of the ways might sometimes be a little, um, obscure non-obvious. Or even disturbing.

Consider the chair that I’m sitting in for a moment. (I’d include a link to the manufacturer’s catalogue page but since the catalogue only works in some browsers — one out of two in my sample — I’d be risking a rant about sloppy programmers and wasting time searching the web for pithy quotes by an incredibly gifted one. So I’ll just skip it.)

When I was a student I used a desk chair that was probably older than I was; it looked like the kind of chair that you’d see a sketchy — or at least down on his luck — newspaper reporter from the 1930s sitting in. It had four legs. That’s fine — four is a usually a good number of legs for a chair. Four legs is stable.

But not if you add wheels.

If you lean back in a four-legged chair with wheels there’s a certain grim inevitability that you’ll soon not be sitting in the chair. You’ll be sitting on the floor, various parts of your anatomy will hurt and one or more of your roommates will be asking if you’re okay and are you going to keep doing that because it’s, like, TOTALLY ANNOYING, DUDE. (I can draw a free body diagram if you’d like.)

(Not that I have extensive experience with this, of course.)

Anyway, the Green Chair of Thinkitude (not Nappitude — that’s just mean and not entirely accurate) has five legs. So even though it has wheels, I fall out of it much less than I did with the Brown Chair of Aggravating Roomies. Form followed function and eventually chair designers added an extra leg. Good going, chair designers. Took a little longer than I would have hoped, but you eventually got the idea.

Consider dressing rooms. Designing a dressing room (especially one at an arena) is easy — or at least it should be.

First of all, putting on hockey gear while standing is difficult and annoying so the room should have places to sit. You can’t be sure how many players will show up for a game or how friendly they’ll be so benches are better than chairs. Hockey players are violent so make the benches extra-sturdy. (They’re also larcenous and can’t be trusted so better bolt the benches to the walls while you’re at it.) They put on skates so cover the floor with some sort of tough, cut resistant material, preferably something that won’t dull a blade. (Rubber is nice. Removable rubber tile is even nicer because in principle you can wash the floor underneath it even though everyone knows you never will. Because dressing rooms, like new cars, are supposed to smell a certain way.) They need places to put their coats (because winter) and clothes (because hockey players almost never arrive at the arena naked), so put lots of hooks on the walls. And so on. Easy.

Of course, I made some assumptions there. I didn’t assume anything was spherical (I’m a physicist — to a first approximation, everything is spherical) but I did assume that hockey players can remember where they sat before the game, which stuff belongs to them and that peer pressure should be enough to keep them from walking off with other people’s belongings. Experience has shown me that all of these assumptions are generally pretty good.

Just not perfect.

Hockey players can usually remember where they sat. I mean, it’s not really all that complicated but so they don’t have to remember, many of them always sit in the same place. It’s not OCD, it’s just being practical and efficient.

Yeah, right.

On a recent Thursday I arrived at dressing room 4 (the door is also inscribed with the numbers 132 and 223 but the font used for the 4 is larger so I’ve always assumed that’s the ‘correct’ number) and there was someone in my spot. Well, okay. He was a guest star so didn’t know any better and while I’m obsessive-compulsive, I’m not obsessive compulsive enough (or forgetful enough) to care so I took the next spot over.

Bad idea. Because that was the spot of someone else, someone who — as it turns out — is obsessive-compulsive enough to care. Someone who also held the ‘biggest goon’ trophy for several years running and is surprisingly proud of that fact. Someone who…

Aw, hell. Let’s just say that I should just have moved, okay?

As for remembering which stuff is theirs, well…

I’ve played hockey with a lot of different kinds of people over the years. I’ve played with doctors. I’ve played with lawyers. I’ve played with professors. People from all groups have, on occasion, forgotten where they sat and which clothes were theirs. (To be fair, when you’re tired one pair of pants looks much like another. Not that I’d know anything about that.)

One day I came out of the shower and went back to my spot and it was definitely my spot — that was my bag, those were my pants, that was my shirt, those weren’t my shoes.

Wait, what?

My shoes were white. Those ones were blue. Ergo, they weren’t mine. (Oo! Someone open-ended his Notice roll.) I then concisely and effectively communicated this anomaly to the remaining occupants of the room.

“Uhh, guys? Are these anyone’s? Because they’re sure not mine.”

No one admitted ownership but someone was clever enough (this was a group of university professors, after all) to focus on the crux of the matter and ask the pertinent question:

“Who was sitting next to you?”

Of course, I couldn’t remember. (Fumble!) To be fair, I have a bad memory for faces and names at the best of times and when entering a change room the first thing I do is take off my glasses. (After all, there are some things it’s just better not seeing — like Professor X’s back hair. I really, really don’t need to see that again.) Eventually, though, we managed to establish (“Was it A?” “No, he always sits over there. It must have been B. Unless it wasn’t.”) who had been sitting next to me (not his regular spot. Just saying.) so we knew whose shoes they must be and, by extension, who must have left wearing mine. I would have to phone him later. But first, I had to get dressed. My clothes were all there but I’d have to wear the Blue Shoes That Weren’t Mine home. Oh well, at least they were probably more or less the right size.

But they weren’t. They were at least two sizes too large. This meant that I could wear them and wallow in Schadenfreude while contemplating how much his feet must have hurt wearing mine. I thought to myself that he’d probably be in his office with aching feet and waiting for my call.

I was half right — he was in his office. But…

“Oh, hi. It’s Rose. I think you left the change room this morning wearing my shoes.”

“I don’t think so.”

Uh oh — my finely crafted theory appeared to be in danger. But wait a minute — ‘I don’t think so?’ What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“Oh. I have a pair of blue size 12 shoes and I’m looking for the owner.”

“My shoes are blue and I wear a size 12.”

Hmm. Maybe there was still some life left in my theory.

“Um, okay. Are you wearing a pair of white size 10 shoes?”

Long pause.


To make a long story short, I walked to his office, we traded shoes and both lived happily ever after. (Well, maybe not so much that last bit.)

So. He had worn shoes two sizes too small for at least an hour and hadn’t noticed — even when I brought the possibility to his attention. Because of this I learned two things:

The design process is more complicated than I thought.

And the ‘absent-minded professor‘ trope exists for a reason.



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The garden.

It’s a war out there.

“So, Hellpop — it had to be. The two of us side by side against the implacable foe.”

The quote to the right is taken wildly out of context, but Judah/Fred (Fred is, after all, an excellent name) could be talking about dandelions. Or buttercups — nothing says ‘implacable’ quite like buttercups. He could be talking about lots of things.

Of course, gardening isn’t really a war. I get that. That’s just a metaphor. (One that has nothing whatsoever to do with ectoplasmic sailing ships.) I get metaphors (something that would shock Mr. S, Mrs. W and the other Mr. S to their collective cores).  It’s not just me, though — people use gardens in lots and lots of metaphors: Gardening is a metaphor for life. Gardening is a metaphor for religion. As far as I can tell, gardening is a metaphor for, well, everything. (Some are more than a little, um, bizarre. But maybe that’s just me.)

But back to war. As metaphors go, a comparison of gardening with war isn’t the silliest thing out there. Because it’s certainly a struggle — not man vs man, state vs state or ideology vs ideology, of course, but man vs nature. And there have been lots of good stories written around the theme of ‘man vs nature’. (I was going to make a list but there are simply too many to pick from. Sorry. I did trip over lots of phrases like ‘man’s archetypal battle with nature’ while I was looking, though. ‘Archetypal.’ I like that.)

The ‘gardening as war’ metaphor creaks a little when you look at it closely: gardening usually isn’t violent (although you should see Canadians in nurseries after a long winter), deaths are extremely unlikely and even injury isn’t particularly common.

That’s where I come in.

You might have concluded by the name I write under and some of the pictures I’ve posted that I’m fond of roses and, by extension, other things that grow in gardens.

And you’d be right.

Most of the roses are out front where there’s more sun, better soil and less toxicity but there are a few out back — they struggle a bit but roses, all things considered, are pretty tough. In particular, behind the garage is a very nice purple one that shares a bed with some irises, poppies, lots of clay, part of the furnace and vast quantities of weeds. So once in a while (not when it’s covered in snow, but I note that with the recent warm spell it’s starting to appear) I assemble an array of implements of destruction and spend a morning fighting vainly against entropy. Like a sunny morning last July.

I had just filled a bag (a bag that once held forty pounds of birdseed so not a small one by any stretch of the imagination) with weeds and I was pausing to contemplate a rest, a beverage and maybe a rerun of Star Trek when there was a noise. From the downspout. (Did I mention that a downspout runs through this garden? I didn’t? Well, a downspout runs through this garden. Makes weeding it just that little bit extra tedious and annoying.)

“That’s odd” I said to myself. “Why is there a noise coming from the downspout? Should I worry about it? Nah. It’s probably nothing.” Well.

It wasn’t nothing: a giant slavering monster burst out of the downspout and leapt at me, hatred in its eyes and murder (or at least an affinity for violent dismemberment) in its heart. I did what any rational being would do — I panicked. I recoiled. I fell over backwards. I may even have screamed like a little girl.


A different garden in a different yard with different
species of plants and a much smaller monster that
wasn’t slavering much at all. In fact, it seemed to
have priorities other than inflicting grievous bodily
harm on barely competent gardeners.
Nice flower, though.

Now, in my younger days I studied judo for a number of years so I know how to fall. Unfortunately, that day I forgot my training and broke my fall with my right thumb. Ow. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Sensei Paul would not have approved.

(There was a silver lining — my sore thumb gave me ample excuse not to weed the garden for over a month.)

(Well, I thought it was ample.)

When I felt up to it (by which I mean ‘when the weather was nice, when there wasn’t anything good on TV, when my thumb didn’t hurt too much and when I wasn’t completely pathetic and lazy’) I turned my attention to the next bed over. That one has hemerocallis, monarda, aster (although I don’t know if they’re contentious or not — why does everything have to be so complicated?), more clay, the expected weeds, no furnace and, most importantly, no downspout — hence no slavering monsters and no potential for unexpected injury.

Laugh laugh, joke joke.

My collection of implements of destruction includes weeders, trowels, cultivators, spades (not shovels — I do know the difference) and forks. The bigger ones (the spades and forks especially) are made of steel and are quite heavy.

Anyway. I dug. I weeded. I edged a little. I filled bags with debris. Sometime in there I heard a noise from the nearby downspout.

“That’s fine” I thought. “After last time I’m ready for slavering monsters with giant snaggle teeth and bad attitudes. Bring it on.”

As if on cue, the giant slavering monster burst out of the downspout. This time, though, he didn’t surprise me. I didn’t scream. I didn’t fall over. I was, if anything, a little smug.

That’s when the slavering monster ran, full-tilt, into the fork I had stuck into the ground. (The all-steel extremely heavy fork? Yeah, that one.) The force of the impact was enough to dislodge the fork from the ground. It toppled over and…

hit me on the head.

Ow. Again. (But well played, Mr. Slavering Monster.)

Like I said, it’s a war out there.



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Fifteen months ago I wasn’t a birder. I’m still not. (The obligatory rant about obsessive behavior and about how change is difficult goes here. Take it as read if I can’t be bothered forget to come back and put it in.)

Despite this, I occasionally do vaguely birder-like things: I sit in the back yard and watch the antics of the local winged fauna. I bribe juveniles into inappropriate (if not downright aberrant) behavior. If it’s not too snowy or rainy (I’m kind of a wuss) I fill the feeders. (Heck, I have feeders in the first place. Five of them, even.)

But I’m not a birder. (I don’t think I’m in denial about that. I mean, I don’t have a life list or diary or anything. Or even the right hat.)

But fifteen weeks ago I found out that that statement, like most absolute and definitive statements, isn’t actually, you know, absolute and definitive. Not really. But I had to go to California to learn that.

And California is a weird place.

(Not just for this, of course. While I wouldn’t go quite as far as a moderately well-known comic book artist, I will say that during a visit there some years ago (to annoy friends, risk death and gawk at the pretty flowers) it was abundantly clear to me that California is in another dimension at the very least.)

Anyway, despite being in

They don't have anything like this<br>back home.

We don’t have anything like this back home.

another dimension (or perhaps because of it) there are lots

of things in California. There’s condiments I’ve never seen. There’s snow which of course I have (Canadian, remember). There’s bizarre public art which is… just bizarre.


You know you’re Canadian when you fly to California and look for snow.

And (you knew this one was coming)

there are birds.

And because of them, on a Monday morning in November with the sun barely peeking over the horizon, we (myself, Ms. Rose, TV and LM) found ourselves at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in the Coachella Valley just in time for the guided bird walk. (And not a single lagomorph of unusual size to be seen anywhere.)


On the other hand, lots of this back home. (The bird, not the bush.)


Won’t see this in the back yard. Note the famous poop pile. Well, sort of famous.

We milled aimlessly around the parking lot for a while and at 7:30 (shudder) our little group assembled. At the front was Our Guide — a retired guy with binoculars, a hat that said “I’m a birder” and a notebook that said “What? Didn’t you see the hat?” At the back was the other guide whose job it was to watch the guided (that would be us) to make sure that idiot Canadians didn’t wander off into the desert and take the car keys with him. (Them. Whatever.) In the middle was (were?) the four of us (only one with the correct trappings and attitude of course) and two more folks, larval birders as far as I could tell.


Non-evil non-tree.

Except for the (patently ridiculous — birders are clearly insane) hour, it was an exceptionally nice walk. There was interesting geography. There were evil trees. There were good trees. There were birds, although I can’t even begin to speculate as to their alignment(s). There were extensive discussions of the evolutionary development of the avian digestive system and the related ecological implications of bird poo. There was bird poo. (Rather a lot, actually.)

Like I said, it was a good walk.

Forty thousand steps later we returned to the bird (and poo) theme when we drove to a place called Pinyon Flats to look for Pinyon Jays. Unfortunately, that day all we saw was poo (kind of a theme, I guess). (It was even the wrong kind.) Forty thousand steps after that (not that I was counting) we went on another bird walk. That one was different from the first one in several ways.

First of all, it was at a significantly more civilized hour of the day. AND since it was less than six kilometers away I got to sleep in  more than an hour after sunrise. And it was at a mansion so the gardens were nice and the parking lot was impeccably landscaped. And there were more walkers.

There was the four of us (duh), a collection of mostly larval birders and a significant number of people who had arrived early for their house tour and clearly thought that a nice walk through the gardens would be preferable to sitting on comfy chairs in the vestibule. (Silly people — napping in a comfy chair is one of life’s little pleasures. Innocent pleasures should be embraced whenever possible.)

As the scheduled start time approached, so did our guide.

He had binoculars.

And a hat. (Wait, haven’t I seen that hat before?)

And a notebook. (And the notebook too…)

And a facial expression that said “Oh no, not you again.” (I keep telling myself that he wasn’t looking at me. Eventually I may even believe it.)

The walk started. The dynamics of a group of twenty with one guide is significantly different than a group of six with two but we successfully wandered through the gardens and saw flora, fauna, architecture, technology and groundskeepers. Of course, before we started we were given Instructions: Behave. Follow any orders given by a figure of authority. Stay on the paths. Don’t touch. (You know, the usual stuff you’re told in a public — or in this case publicly accessible but private — space.) To this list one more was added: if you saw a bird, sing out so that everyone could see it and so the Real Birders could identify it. Sometimes birders are sensible.

So we wandered around. And from time to time people sang out. “That’s an Abert’s Towhee.” “That’s a Verdin.” (Which of course I misheard as ‘vermin’ so I was totally unprepared for what I actually saw.) “That’s a road runner, although what it’s doing sitting on a fence I have no idea.” (Apropos to nothing, a google search for ‘birdius high-ballius’ returns — along with the expected — pictures of women in their underwear. Rule 34 I guess.) And eventually one of the ‘we’re really here for the house tour’ folks sang out:

“Oo! Oo! A bird!”

Longish pause.

“That’s a butterfly.”

Apparently, even though I’m not a birder I’m closer than some people.