Wade Belak's death and questions for the NHL

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | | 0 comments

I was shocked tonight to hear that former NHL player, Wade Belak had died. Like Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, current players who also died this off season, Belak’s passing was sudden and unexpected.

All three players made their living as fighters in the game and many will say that the pressure of their roles indirectly killed them. Many will blame a league that says it is trying to reduce or eliminate fighting, but refuses to take drastic steps to make it so. The debate about concussions in hockey, with Sidney Crosby as its lightning rod, will point to the tragedies of Belak, Rypien and Boogaard as further evidence that brain injuries are the largest problem facing the game today.

None of these arguments are necessarily wrong and the NHL should continue its efforts to look into these issues. But it seems the problem may be much bigger than this and I hope the league is prepared to look at more than just the dangers of fighting and brain injuries and answer some questions that perhaps haven’t been asked before.

Boogaard, we now know used and perhaps abused alcohol and prescription drugs. Is enough being done to counsel players on the danger of substance abuse? Are the treatment programs effective for those who ignore the advice?

Rypien battled depression. Hockey is a macho sport-do players feel comfortable revealing feelings of despair that may or may not have anything to do with hockey? Do teams know the signs of depression and are they reaching out to players who are suffering? Are solutions designed to help the player when it’s arguably “too late?”

Are the pressures of professional sports truly understood? Have we made success such a priority that players will do anything to obtain it, including putting their lives at risk?

The Nashville Predators, Belak’s team until his retirement in February, issued a lovely statement today praising Belak for being a great member of their organization. The NHL expressed its sadness in an equally touching statement.

In times of tragedy, this is what team and league spokespeople do.

We’ve lost three players in a few months, young men in the prime of their lives. Every indication is that these three were good human beings and they’re gone.

Words aren’t going to fix this problem.

I'm over my head...with bees

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 | | 0 comments

While they say that self praise is no recommendation, I could tell you about some things that I do quite well. I probably wouldn’t feel the need to share that if last night hadn’t been one giant reminder of a few things I do poorly and even some things that I don’t do at all.

Last night my next-door neighbour knocked on my door to tell me he had something to tell me. He went on that he had noticed whatever it was, but still hadn’t told me about, several times before and had always forgotten to tell me. He said that when he saw it again, just now, that he had to tell me or he would likely forget again. I realized a) that I have the same problem, b) that perhaps all men truly do have lizard brains, c) I have a good neighbour and d) that I still didn’t know what had led him to my doorstep.

He told me that he noticed the bricks on the corner of my house were shifting and that I should really take a look at it. This sounded like a reasonable solution and I know how to look so off I went.

I saw the problem and couldn’t help but wonder how a reasonable home owner hadn’t seen it before. I also wondered how long a colony of bees had been living in these same cracks. As a home inspector I was a failure and I wasn’t overly confident in my abilities as a bee exterminator either.

My neighbour stood and watched me as I looked at the shifted bricks and the buzzing bees. We engaged in a short discussion about whether they were bees, wasps or hornets, but I’m not convinced either of us knows the difference. He suggested that I should deal with the “bees” first, then worry about the bricks. Seemed logical, but how exactly was I going to do that?

He told me that he had some spray for bees and that I’d be welcome to it. He told me he had the same problem years ago with bees getting into the ceiling over his kitchen and he and his friend (who is a bee keeper) wore bee suits to cut out some drywall because honey was starting to bleed through the ceiling. He asked if I had a ladder to get up to where the bees were and offered me one of the dozen ladders he has around his bee free property.

I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but at that moment, I couldn’t help feeling incompetent as a man. I hadn’t even noticed the problems with my house, had no bee spray of my own, know no beekeepers, have never even seen a bee suit close up, have only a 5-foot step ladder and have nooooooo idea what to do about shifted bricks! How had I even been allowed to buy a house in the first place?

My ladder in position, I made my awkward climb up the three steps, looking like a man scaling the outside of the CN Tower, who had just looked down. I sprayed the cracks and anything that moved with the bee spray and wondered if everyone watching me (my neighbour, my wife and my kids) was thinking the same thing?: it’s only a matter of time before he gets stung.

The bees will need further treatments and the bricks will need to be fixed. I really don’t know what to do about the bricks, but won’t be surprised if my neighbour tells me I’m welcome to the scaffolding, mortar and seven different trowels that he keeps in his garage-for occasions just like this.

Just browsing, thanks

Saturday, August 27, 2011 | | 0 comments

The other day, I started to do some research on the best times to post content to different social media sites. My research took a very strange turn and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened and how I feel about it.

The very first website that purported to have helpful information on this topic was “Twitter Marketing Agency.” Within seconds of clicking on their site, a text box popped up in the bottom right hand corner of the page that stopped me dead in my tracks. It said:

Amanda: Hello, thanks for visiting us at Twitter Marketing Agency. How can I help you with your business? Yes, I'm a real person :)


Let me provide a little context-I work in communications and I’m fascinated by the ways organizations are connecting with their customers (or prospective customers). Organizations need to embrace technology to enable quicker and easier communication with their customers or risk being left behind by their competition.

If I was to believe that there really is an “Amanda” at Twitter Marketing Agency and that she engages each and every person who clicks on their site in this fashion (how this would be done I do not know), then I might think Twitter Marketing Agency is on the cutting edge. I might think that this business completely “gets it” by making a live person available even before I’ve had a chance to look over their site.

However, I don’t see it that way at all. No, I think Twitter Marketing Agency has taken things too far and missed a crucial step.

When I walk into a store, I want the option to look around without being bothered by a salesperson and I want to know that someone is ready to help me when or if I need help. I agree to let eager salespeople know when I’m ready to be helped and I don’t mind making this effort in exchange for my uninterrupted time to browse.

The magic of the internet is that I can do my browsing anytime, anywhere and I’ve never had to worry about someone ambushing me at the door to ask, “Can I help you?” As it is with a physical store, I want to take a look around and then let you know if I need any help. Not only do I feel like Amanda has rushed me, she jumped out from between a pile of jeans and startled me!

If I were to go shopping for a car I wouldn’t expect a salesperson to jump into the backseat of my vehicle as I pulled into the lot. If I was at the bookstore, I wouldn’t expect an announcement to be made over the speakers that Jeremy, our associate of the month, would be pleased to read pages one through 14 in the book that I had just opened. I get the feeling that if I respond to Amanda I’ll have to be careful that she doesn’t assume it’s okay to untuck my shirt.

Maybe I’m overreacting? Maybe this is a good thing and I just need to accept it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to post this to Facebook and Twitter...if I only knew the best time to do that.

Fun with Twitter

Thursday, August 25, 2011 | | 0 comments

The internet is full of great articles, written by experts, about how to effectively use the social media site, Twitter. This is not one of them.

Instead, this is my story about how I have fumbled and bumbled on the site since I joined in September 2009, what I’ve learned, and the things I’m trying today to turn it into a valuable tool for me.

When I first heard about Twitter the name sounded funny to me, the act of tweeting funnier still and I decided I would ignore it. But, over the next few months I heard about celebrities, politicians and other influential people tweeting and thought it might be something I should at least try to understand.

Not having any idea what I was doing, I created a profile using the only decent picture of myself in existence and started to follow people. Twitter suggests people you might want to follow, but before you’ve built up any kind of history they can use to “profile” you, the suggestions are mostly celebrities. Accepting their suggestions, I set out to build close, personal relationships with the likes of Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Barack Obama and Shaquille Oneal.

It wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t getting a lot of value from my news feed of tweets. Britney seems to travel a lot and really loves her fans. Demi also loves her fans, but has a really odd picture of herself which I find distracting. Obama seems like a positive chap who likes to give little sound bites. Shaquille says very little, all of it misspelled. I started to wonder if Twitter was for me.

I was disappointed that my witty and informative tweets weren’t gaining me followers by the dozens and requests to be interviewed by CNN. I studied the tweets of others that were “retweeted” hoping I could learn their secret, but discovered that Lindsay Lohan can stub her toe and get retweeted while nothing short of providing the location of the holy grail from me (in 140 characters no less!) would even be considered.

Twitter allows users to create lists of people and soon after I joined someone in India added me to a list of “celebrities.” While I may well be a celebrity in India, I suspect this is a case of mistaken identity that I will make no effort to ever correct. Perhaps this can work in my favour.

I’ve learned that Twitter is rife with spammers, using pictures of some of the most attractive people in their profile pictures that I’ve ever seen. If you happen to actually be that attractive, you will want to take extra steps to make it clear you are not going to provide information on “great deals” 479 times a day.

While not in the spammer category, I have also been put off by those who use automated responses when you follow them, directing you to a Facebook page, offering free gifts, stopping just short of saying “hey buddy, do you want to buy a letter M?” The spirit of Twitter is about building relationships and I’d run the other way from this type of person in real life.

Trending topics are a great way of being alerted to breaking news stories that might be of interest. The list loses its appeal for me though when items like “Phineas and Ferb” appear for days and days for no reason or the inclusion of items like #snakebitmyface that simply defy explanation.

While I’m still a long way from reaching my Twitter goals, I’ve figured out some things that work for me and the experience is improving steadily. I’m adding followers each day (real people!) and creating content I hope they find useful and/or entertaining.

I still haven’t completely figured out hashtags and just yesterday I sent a message to myself when I tried to thank someone for retweeting one of my blog posts.

Clearly, I still have some work to do.

I noticed tonight that two boys from Stratford, myself and Justin Beiber, now have a combined 12, 179, 372 followers.

Obviously, I’m doing something right.

Surviving a Tornado (and my kids)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | | 1 comments

I’ve had a very interesting night.

After work, on my drive to pick up the kids from the sitter’s house, I heard there was a tornado watch for most of Southern Ontario, including my area. I wondered if the kids knew.

They sure did.

The car ride home was an unending stream of questions that covered the following: What’s a tornado? What happens if we get a tornado? Where should we go if there’s a tornado? Are we going to get a tornado?

I told them what a tornado is, does, and where to go in the very unlikely event that we get one, hoping that would put an end to the inquiry. I was very, very wrong.

The sitter had told them that if there was a tornado that they would need to go down to her “cold cellar.” My answer was that we would go into the “basement.” Perhaps if I called my basement a cellar and if this space was cold, there would be no problem, but suddenly our lack of a cold cellar made it seem to the children that we were woefully unprepared for tornados (and storing jars of beets) and this only encouraged more questions.

We were going to singing lessons after we checked in at home. Was there a cold cellar at singing lessons? Did they have a basement? How is it possible that our dad seems to know nothing about the architecture of the music school?

Why was it best to go to the basement to be safe from tornados? Where would the house go if a tornado hit it? What would happen if we were on the main floor? How about upstairs?

As flattering as it is that your kids think you know everything about everything, I couldn’t help thinking they have me confused with a structural engineer. And as much as I thought I owed it to them to be patient with their questions, would answering only lead to other rhetorical questions such as what would happen if we were on the roof, in a tree or having ice cream on the trampoline when a tornado hit?

On the drive home from singing, my son said, “Daddy, I’ve never had a tornado (dramatic pause) in my life.”

“Son, (equally dramatic pause) you are six.”

Before we were home I was asked if a tornado was worse than a hurricane. I had gone from structural engineer to part meteorologist, part scientist and I wondered when it would all end.

Are tornados loud? How loud? Are they louder than the airplanes at the air show?

They’re loud, really loud, not sure how they compare to jet airplanes (where exactly do you think I keep the equipment necessary to measure and compare the two?).

What percentage is it that we’ll get a tornado?

Hmm, seems like another way to ask how certain I am in my earlier assertion that there will be no tornados tonight. Do they have any idea how long I spent in school to become a structural engineer/tornado expert/aeronautical sound technician? And besides, I was told there would be no math.

I think their questions finally drained me of all my strength because when my son asked me if we would have to pay for a new house if ours blew away, I caught myself just as I started to explain how it works to file a claim under your home insurance policy...to a six-year-old.

We did get a fairly significant storm, and I am in the basement, but only to give myself a break from the kids.

No tornado, unless you count the one I’m feeling in my head.

Active Kids, Busy Parents

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 | | 0 comments

My wife and I have always thought it was important to have our kids involved in a variety of activities. From the time they could sit in mommy’s lap and attend some sort of “singing/hand clapping for babies,” (probably not the actual name, but I’ve lost the brochure) we’ve had them doing something.

But now it seems “something” has become “maybe too many somethings?” and we’re trying to figure out how it will all work.

My daughter does cheer sport (competitive version of cheerleading) and she sings. My son has recently started playing hockey and is signed up to play on his first team this year. In addition, we have just signed him up for drum lessons. I like that the kids both have one sport and one music lesson. The thought of having a six-year-old banging on a drum set in my house is horrifying, but these are the sacrifices that parents make.

On top of that we need to sign the kids up for swimming lessons! Everyone seems against me when it comes to the swimming lessons (my wife worries we won’t have time to breathe, kids are kids and who ever enjoyed swimming lessons?), but I just don’t think it’s an option for the kids to be anything but great swimmers - how else is this going to happen?

And in case you didn’t know, cheering has two practices a week (each about two hours) plus at least one “tumbling” session. Hockey is twice a week, swimming, singing and pounding, er, I mean drum lessons are once a week.

Is it feasible? Sure. Is it going to be easy? Um...yeah.

There are going to be a lot of nights where one of us rushes home from work, picks up the kids from the sitter’s, grabbing whatever we can find to eat, barely catching our breath as we sit rinkside/poolside/gymside/musicschoolside while one child plays or performs and the other tortures us by repeating, “This is boring!” until it’s time to go home.

What about homework? Kids in Grade 1 and Grade 4 have a lot more homework than I did when I was their age and it’s not going to be easy to find time around all these activities to get it all done.

We’re going to be busy- wish me luck!

How about you? Do you do too much with your kids or too little? What are your thoughts on getting them involved in things? Interested to hear your stories!

RIP Jack Layton

Monday, August 22, 2011 | | 0 comments

Today, Jack Layton, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), lost his battle with cancer. He was 61.

I’m not an overly political person and have no interest in debating whether or not Layton was a great politician. I am similarly uninterested in (and perhaps incapable of) arguing that the NDP under Layton did or were about to accomplish great things for our country. Others can and will tell the story of Layton’s political history and argue his leadership track record far better than I ever could.

But, whether you loved or hated the man’s politics, it was impossible to ignore his virtues as a man and the legacy he leaves behind. For these he will be missed by all Canadians.

Jack Layton cared. He cared about making the City of Toronto a better place and he cared about creating a better Canada. He cared about providing a different choice for the province of Quebec that he believed would provide them a better future. He gave of himself for a very long time to serve these communities as well as he could.

He worked very hard to do what he thought was right. He didn’t take “no” for an answer and overcame incredible odds to have the success that he enjoyed in the political arena.

He was a fighter in politics and in life. I’m certain that he fought his cancer with tremendous strength and dignity.

I’m well aware that my image of Layton was carefully crafted by his handlers, but I believe he leaves behind a loving relationship with his wife of many years. That he built and nurtured this special relationship with someone he loved is to be admired.

In a touching final letter to Canadians, written when he knew his end was near, he wrote:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Jack Layton left a legacy of love, hope and optimism. He made Canada a better place. I plan to use his words and his memory to inspire me to do the same.

I hope you will too.

RIP Jack Layton

Back-to-school fun

Sunday, August 21, 2011 | | 0 comments

Yesterday, I was given a stretch assignment. My wife was at work and she said it would be really helpful if I would take the kids to Wal-Mart to buy all of their back-to-school supplies. The school had sent home a list of what was needed for both kids, so it seemed like an easy job. The potential to win points with my wife was an added bonus so I headed to the store, list-in-hand, kids-in-tow, with the feeling that I would soon be the back-to-school king.

Arriving at the store I was pleased to realize that the first item on the list for both kids was “1 ruler (30 cm).” My daughter’s ruler was to be metric, but I assumed the metric system is not introduced only in Grade 4 and that this had been an oversight on my son’s list. Rulers (metric or otherwise) were exceptionally hard to find and it was apparent that the school had not ordered their list to correspond with where things could be found at Wal-Mart.

Passing many items I knew to be on the list, I took my cart through each crowded aisle in search of 30 cm rulers, quantity two, and could not find them. Plan B would be put into place immediately. A sequential sweep of each aisle would commence and I would knock things off the list as I saw them.

At first, the plan bore fruit. “20 quality 2 pencils, sharpened” and “pencils” (no mention of quality, quantity or preparedness) were found. Pens (red and blue), crayons and scissors were selected and thrown in the cart. Still no sign of 30 cm rulers, but they had to be somewhere!

The kids had started their own sweep of the aisles and peppered me with requests to have different pens than what was in the cart, special markers they had found, backpacks and notebooks and pencil cases. I reminded them of Plan B and wished I had had them initial the plan saying they had read and understood the methodology.

Other kids were playing the same game with their parents and I was finding it hard to move about the aisles with carts and negotiations blocking my escape routes. Families that brought four generations with them to shop in these aisles (seemingly closing in on me now) were beginning to annoy me.

Merchandise was knocked to the floor and left there. And where were the rulers?

Why do the pencil crayon boxes look exactly like the markers? They didn’t when I was a kid. Why can’t I find pink erasers, only white or multi-coloured? Has the world gone mad?

I found the glue sticks, but only sold individually. Would three of them meet the criteria of “3 large glue sticks (labelled)”? Why do the glue sticks need to be labelled? I don’t see “label maker” on the list anywhere?

Two dry erase markers for my son? Why? In Grade 1 do they learn how to lead a white-board planning session in the board room? And why are dry erase markers only sold in packs of eight? Don’t they know anything about Grade 1 at Wal-Mart?

“Daddy, can I have ‘grips’ for my pens,” asked my daughter. Grips? Don’t you know we’re in a global recession? What has happened that we can no longer grip our pens (red and blue) with nothing but our bare hands? Do you know that I wrote with a feather dipped in ink when I was a boy? (Disclosure: this was once in an Art class, but it’s not a complete fabrication).

Why do they need highlighters in Grade 1 and what pray-tell do they highlight? Why does anyone ever need a protractor?

Completely frazzled, but having found everything on the list, I proceeded to the checkout. The woman asked me if I had found everything and I said “yes” (automatic response when I have no interest in reliving the ordeal). She seemed surprised and asked, “Really?” and I knew exactly what she was thinking.

How on earth did this guy, under obvious duress, ever find the rulers?

So you want to go camping?

Friday, August 19, 2011 | | 0 comments

Two years ago my wife approached me with the idea of having our family take up camping. Like so many other ideas before, this sounded terrible to me, but as often happens she convinced me to give the idea a try. I’m so glad she did because we’ve had some of the best summer moments together on these trips.

This past weekend, we camped at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. This was our third and final camping weekend of 2011 and easily the most memorable.

After checking in, we decided we wanted to go for a swim. There’s no swimming at the campsite itself, but campers are allowed to use the Quarry which is a short car ride away. If you’re not familiar with swimming quarries, they are basically giant holes (former open pit mines) that are filled with water. There are rocks everywhere that scream, “Climb up on me until you are dangerously high and jump into the super deep water!” The rocks are like teenagers who pressure their peers to take up smoking and are not to be listened to. The water at this quarry was cold and slimy. After a short swim, my son and I played with his sand toys on the “beach” until I felt the gravel-like “sand” ripping into my knees.

Back at the campsite we watched as a man and two boys of about 13 checked in to the site beside us. As is often the case, our neighbour happened to be the world’s greatest camper and delighted in sharing his infinite wisdom with his son and his nephew. Over the next few hours we would hear him tell the boys the proper way to start a fire, set up a tent, how to sit in a chair, the nine steps to have a pee in the dark, and claims that he is the original patent holder for the S’mores recipe.

Despite the noise coming from “Uncle Don” and the browbeaten newbies, we enjoyed a nice fire, had our dinner, roasted marshmallows and went to bed to prepare for a big day on Sunday.

The highlight of the weekend was to be tubing down the gorge on Sunday. We were told upon check-in that to have the best chance of getting equipment for the day, we should line up for tubes at 8 am or 8:30 am. The park has about 350 sets of tubes, goofy looking yellow helmets and life jackets, so we and the seven other people who arrived at 8 am were quite confident that we would not miss out when the counter opened for business...an hour later!

We signed the necessary waivers, paid our $25 per person, and took possession of the (somehow still wet) equipment for the day. Barely able to squeeze the four giant tubes into our minivan, we went back to the site for some breakfast, another fire and some second hand advice from Uncle Don about the proper way to button a shirt.

Nearing lunch time we decided we were ready for the adventure of a lifetime and returned to the place we would hop a yellow school bus to be taken to the raging water.

The gorge is beautiful and our excitement grew as we walked down a long path to the water’s edge. Getting in the tubes and pushing off, my wife held onto my daughter’s tube as the water whisked them away, and immediately ejected them from their tubes, submerging them both. My son and I went next and were able to stay together and stay afloat, but when we reached my wife and daughter I saw that my daughter was terribly upset, thinking she had almost drowned. It was going to take her some time to recover.

Unsure of what we’d signed up for, we carried on. Little did we know that tubing was about to become a lot less exciting. The rest of the “ride” (as the kids called it) took about an hour. Fifty-seven minutes of that time was spent barely moving in what I hesitate to call a current. We got stuck on rocks, sometimes had to paddle with our hands to have any chance of moving at all and it wasn’t long before we were quite bored. My son said he didn’t enjoy the trip because “it was too peaceful.” Indeed it was, son, indeed it was.

When we were done, my wife reminded me that we had the tubes until 7 pm and could come back another time or two that day. I informed her that I had very likely had my one and only trip down the gorge on a tube and longed to get back to the campsite to see if Uncle Don was teaching the boys the proper way to breathe.

We were barely finished our lunch when it started to rain and we had to take cover inside the tent trailer. The kids busied themselves playing games and watching videos on my laptop, but the rain showed no signs of stopping. It rained for about four straight hours, coming down so hard it pounded on the roof of the tent trailer, making it hard to hear anything else. I wondered if Uncle Don was at that moment telling the boys that he had invented rain, or that perhaps he was waterproof, but had no way of knowing if this was the case. At one point I actually laughed at the intensity of the rain and what it had done to our day. Looking back, I realize this may have been the onset of madness, but if so, I have made a full recovery.

The rain stopped in the early evening and we were able to poke our heads outside the tent trailer. Our neighbours were gone, likely to a hotel to wait out the storm, and we wouldn’t see them again until the following day.

After packing up and checking out on our final day, we walked the main drag of Elora and did some window shopping. We stopped for an ice cream and talked about what we each liked best about the trip. I can’t remember what everyone else answered to this question, but the best part of camping for me is always the same - spending time with my family and creating memories. Even the rain hadn’t spoiled that.