Ever from the sparkles of ideas sprouts… found poetry!

To make sport of bad English translations by non-English speakers is to flirt with, nay dive headfirst into, unbecoming condescension. But sometimes, it’s irresistible.

“Please use it referring to as equipped,” has been an all-purpose mantra in my house ever since those words arrived on the wrapper of a Honda Civic air filter sometime in the 1980s.

Last weekend, my son Silas received a set of Chinese-made Edifier speakers he had ordered on line. Among the packaging, he found this poetic brand testimonial:


I believe this can only be fully appreciated as blank verse:

Big surprise, astonishment, and enjoyment.

Ever from the sparkles of ideas sprouts
out of designer’s sketch.
Every piece of edifier’s works
breathes with a vivid life,
palpitating with the spirit of music.
For music is a spiritual thing,
and youth hood is creed.

In the domain of music,
we promenade hand in hand.
Edifier is not only a product,
but also a harmonious attitude to life.

Silas gave the speakers three stars out of five. Please use it referring to as equipped.

Fuzzy Bacich and Facebook — compare and contrast

Peter Spurway thinks I’m romanticizing Don “Fuzzy” Bacich’s legendary crankiness about patrons who wanted to slather his delicious French fries with ketchup:

“… and another bastion of quality and tradition falters.”

Tradition, yes. Quality? No.

Not providing something that many of your customers would like to have has nothing to do with quality. It has everything to do with the perspective of the owner. While I certainly grant the owner the right to fashion their product to their own liking, they have to accept that a percentage of their current and potential customers are not going to like it and it will be seen by some as a detraction from the offering.

A lazy choice of words on my part. Still, the eccentricity of refusing to supply ketchup at your chip wagon reflects a certain charming integrity.

Some guy named Silas* in Orangedale writes:

There is a funny contrast between the top two stories on contrarian tonight.  One praises the unfortunately named Fuzzy’s Fries for refusing to bow to their customers’ wishes re condiments.  The other criticizes Facebook for doing refusing to bow to it’s customers’ wishes re locations.  Rooting for the little guy is a bias I share with Contrarian, but I’ll be darned if I can come up with a sensible justification.

How about persnicketiness? Will that do?

* [Disclosure: Orangedale resident Silas Barss Donham is my son.]

A Cheezy solution to starting the wood stove

Contrarian reader Silas Barss Donham [Disclosure: Gee, that name seems familiar] can put up with most of the steps required to heat his Orangedale house with wood: the cutting, hauling, splitting (or paying someone to), the stacking outside to dry, tossing into the basement, re-stacking inside, carrying upstairs to the fireplace, and the constant sweeping of ashes, bark, and furch.

But he grows weary of making “the daily, just-so crumple of old newspaper to light the fire.”

Not being a daily newspaper reader, I have to go from store to store to collect enough expired papers (avoiding the new Globe and Mail with its fire-retarding glossy first pages) and then try not to make the crumple too tight, or too loose, or too whatever to catch properly and light the kindling.  When the fire finally does catch I have to wash my greasy black hands clean of newspaper ink.

Lighting a fire once in a while is a charmingly manly job; doing it every day gets to be a chore.

So Silas’s ears perked up when a recent radio piece about Cheezies mentioned that it’s possible to light them with a match.

I did a little experimenting and now I have a new method for lighting fires:  I shake about a cup of Cheezies (or Cheetos, or Cheese Puffs, or even potato chips) into a paper bag…

light the crumpled bag…

and stack my kindling as the flames spread.

No more crumpling, no more greasy black hands, just a slight aroma of roasted cheese powder as the fire lights.

And the thought that if something is greasy enough to light a fire, perhaps one shouldn’t eat it.


The amazing tech required to pack on-line orders

I bought a lot of books on line in the run-up to Christmas, and I was struck by how much quicker Amazon was able to get them to me than Chapters. When I tweeted this observation, a fellow tweep chided me — of all people — for not patronizing local bookstores.

I like a nice bookstore as much as the next fellow. Who doesn’t enjoy wandering through the stacks at J. W. Doull’s, feeling the stairs creak underfoot, talking books with the marvellous staff he employs. But it’s no accident that John Doull can no longer afford the rent in downtown Halifax. Book buyers have voted with their feet, and Amazon is winning by a landslide.

Just as iTunes represents a much better way of buying music than the old customer-contemptuous, $20-album-in-a-record-store model, so Amazon beats the pants off the bookstore model.

That impression came early and easily to me, because I live in a bookstore desert. The nearest bookstore, a bedroom sized Coles, is an hour away, and rarely stocks the books I seek. So my normal bookstore experience is to drive an hour, go to an ill-stocked store where an ill-informed clerk will tell me they don’t have what I want, place an order, drive an hour home, and repeat the round trip a week or two later when the desired volume comes in, or fails to.

Or I can sit in my living room, tap a few keys on my laptop, and have the book delivered to my house a few days later, for less than I would pay in the bookstore. Sure, I’ll miss the creaky stores, and I’ll seriously miss the wonderful people who staffed these institutions. But I’m fine with the new method, and I get more books, quicker and cheaper, as a result.

On the Tuesday before Christmas, I heard an NPR podcast about a new biography of Leonardo of Pisa, aka Fibonacci, who revolutionized modern commerce by introducing Arabic numerals to Western Europe, thereby enhancing the computing power of ordinary citizens more than anyone before Steve Jobs invented the personal computer. This would make a great present for my math-inspired son, but I’d never be able to get it by Christmas,

I checked on line. Both Amazon and Chapters had the book, but only Amazon claimed the ability to delivery it by Friday, the last delivery day before Christmas, and only if I paid an exorbitant amount for special shipping. I bit, and at about 4:30, hit Amazon’s buy button.

The package was delivered in Halifax at 10:30 the next morning, This was a miracle on a par with the Dollar Store. I’ve been puzzling ever since about how Amazon (or LL Bean, or Zappos, or Staples) can manage these feats of order processing. Today, a new TED talk appeared that explains part of the mystery.

The TED talker, Mick Mountz, founded Kiva Systems, a material handling company that is revolutionizing warehouse management by replacing conveyors with little orange robots shown at the top of the page. In action, they look like suitcase-sized Zambonis. Instead of stock pickers wandering around the warehouse, looking for products to assemble into orders, the bots bring the products to the pickers, who pack them into boxes for shipment.

They do this by moving whole shelves around the warehouse, their patterns controlled by algorithms that learn as they go, so the process continually improves. In effect, it turns a warehouse into a massively parallel processing machine, not unlike a computer. Watch the video for the fascinating details.

Shocking research: People with Down syndrome are happy. So are their parents.

When people learn that my son Silas and his wife Jenn Power adopted a pair of identical twins with Down Syndrome, they often say one of two things: “I could never do that,” or “You must be saints.”

I love Silas and Jenn beyond measure, and admire them hugely, but I can attest they are not saints. The explanation for their decision to adopt Josh and Jacob lies elsewhere.

As members of the L’Arche Community in Iron Mines, Orangedale, and Mabou, Cape Breton, Silas and Jenn have lots of experience working and living with developmentally disabled people. It’s what they like doing, and they’re good at it. Like most people who spend time at l’Arche, they describe the experience as one of blessings received more than bestowed.

This week comes scientific evidence they are not alone. Researchers at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and other centers carried out one of the largest surveys every conducted of people with Down Syndrome and their families. Respondents with Down reported overwhelming happiness with their lives, and family members said having a child or sibling with Down had been a positive experience.

The researchers published three studies on their findings in the October issue of American Journal of Medical Genetics. Their study sought to answer the questions most commonly asked by prospective parents of children with Down syndrome:

  • What is life actually like for parents who have sons and daughters with DS?
  • How many of them love their son or daughter with DS?
  • How many of them regret having their child?

The researchers heard from heard from 2,044 parents of children with Down syndrome:

99% reported that they love their son or daughter; 97% were proud of them; 79% felt their outlook on life was more positive because of them; 5% felt embarrassed by them; and 4% regretted having them. The parents report that 95% of their sons or daughters without DS have good relationships with their siblings with DS. The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed report that they are happy with their decision to have their child with DS and indicate that their sons and daughters are great sources of love and pride.

They surveyed 822 siblings of people with Down Syndrome::

More than 96% of brothers/sisters that responded to the survey indicated that they had affection toward their sibling with DS; and 94% of older siblings expressed feelings of pride. Less than 10% felt embarrassed, and less than 5% expressed a desire to trade their sibling in for another brother or sister without DS. Among older siblings, 88% felt that they were better people because of their siblings with DS, and more than 90% plan to remain involved in their sibling’s lives as they become adults. The vast majority of brothers and sisters describe their relationship with their sibling with DS as positive and enhancing.

Perhaps most importantly, they heard from 268 people with Down Syndrome, aged 12 or over:

[N]early 99% of people with DS indicated that they were happy with their lives, 97% liked who they are, and 96% liked how they look. Nearly 99% people with DS expressed love for their families, and 97% liked their brothers and sisters. While 86% of people with DS felt they could make friends easily, those with difficulties mostly had isolating living situations. A small percentage expressed sadness about their life.

Longtime readers of Contrarian have encountered Josh and Jacob before, celebrating Canada Day with their rousing rendition of O Canaduck!, and on a fleeting moment when they were definitely not happy with their lives.

The experience of actual parents with actual Down syndrome is the best answer for those who say, “I could never do that.” They might not choose it, but when responsibility for someone with Down syndrome falls upon them, most people rise briskly to the occasion, and look back at the experience as positive and rewarding.