Monday, January 26, 2015

boxed baby

For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers.

It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress.

With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls.

If you'd like to read the rest of the story you can find it here, although I expect at least one person I know is already very familiar with the practice :)
Wouldn't it be nice if all new babies were given such a warm welcome? 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

winter weekend in Halifax

We're in the midst of a typical Halifax winter right now and that means the temperatures bounce back and forth between very cold and just above freezing with the addition of some often powerful winds. Considering there's usually some precipitation in the offing we can expect snow and rain in sometimes equal measure with the result that whatever hits the ground usually freezes. Icy patches and lumpy icy footprints make walking more a trial than an enjoyable outing to one's favorite haunts. Of course we're still going to the park as often as we can (barring storms and below zero windy days) but we've been avoiding the higher paths because whatever you walk up also has to be walked down - the same route the water has taken when the snow melted a bit. Ah well, at least we're almost a month past the shortest day so I won't complain.

Yesterday it was 5° and windy, so instead of the park, we decided to go and see a movie we'd been looking forward to - 'Inherent Vice'. The book written by Thomas Pynchon has become a favorite of ours, at least as far as normal size novels go. ('Against the Day' at 1100 pages is our real favorite and highly recommended if you haven't read Pynchon since 'Gravity's Rainbow'.) 'Inherent Vice' is a comedic hard-boiled novel about a hippie detective in late 60s LA. Numb, who lived there in those years, found the book very true to his memories of the time. I lived elsewhere back then but also remember the period and attitudes similarly - as probably do you. Anyway, the movie was very disappointing for both of us. The director and scriptwriter, Paul Thomas Anderson, born in 1970, seems to have missed the feeling of the book and the time entirely by turning the wild and joyous original into character studies of the detective, his ex-girlfriend (who hardly appears in the novel), and the policeman. He made such a wonderful job of portraying the early 20th century in 'There Will Be Blood' that we thought this would have been easy.  Instead, we didn't even get to see LA since almost everything was filmed inside. Anyway, I see it has a few good reviews but we gave it a one star.

We rarely go to movies these days anyway since it's much more pleasant to rent or stream them. 'Avatar' was great at the theater with our 3D glasses perched on our noses (^^). I have to say what made yesterday's experience bad before the start was having to watch commercials in 'surround sound' and then seeing previews for 'Hot Tub Time Machine 2' and some other silly overly frantic things neither of us can remember. No wonder 'The Interview' got made and released if those movies are typical of what audiences pay money for now.

Speaking of art of one kind or another, I've got myself stuck again in my attempt to illustrate the story a friend's daughter wrote many years ago. The problem is in keeping all the pictures at the same design and color levels. At this point I've just about come to the conclusion it doesn't really matter if they all look different since (for better or worse) my particular style is always going to be there even if the girl's shirt is pink in one picture and peach in another. Geez. What can I say, but I'm just not a comic book artist (a fine and worthy profession though it may be). This is a recent practice picture - still deciding on paper type and how much inking is the right amount.

Stay cozy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

more news at 7

Does anyone remember news in the pre-internet, pre-tech age? Long ago there'd be specific times of day when people would tune into their radios or turn on their televisions to catch up on the latest developments in local and world affairs. Generally speaking, there was a 15 minute morning news program you'd listen to at breakfast if you had time before going to work. Then there was another of those at noon. But the biggest news time of the day happened in the evening between 6 and 7 o'clock. The local news was reported in the first half hour and after that it was time to find out the latest about what was going on in the country and the world at large.

Back then it wasn't the least bit unusual that people everywhere would spend days wondering if little Timmy had been rescued from the well. There was never a question about whether rescuing Timmy from the well was the right thing to do. We may not have had electronic social media but everyone was certain you couldn't leave a little kid at the bottom of a hole in the ground. That was before the 24/7 news cycle.

Now all is confusion. Depending upon the opinions of whoever it is we choose to listen to, or watch, or read, we learn there may be many good reasons for leaving little Timmy in the well. Who is that dog anyway and can she be trusted? Getting Timmy out of the well is sure to be expensive and I'd prefer that money not to come out of my hard earned tax money. The people of Timmy's ethnic group are untrustworthy so why should we help one of them? Timmy's probably dead, so why bother?

So we go on to other things that are more horrific or more entertaining. The news cycle that never stops pushes and pulls our attention from one thing to another - never leaving us time for reflection. We think we're being informed when what's really happening is that we're being manipulated into feeling anxious and unsure about what is right.

I don't mean to oversimplify important events by appearing to wish we could go back to quieter times in the news cycle. Then again, the world has always been a wild and crazy place and I do believe there's a way of learning about events that doesn't force us into hastily made opinions forged by those who may not have our best interests at heart.

I wonder how little Timmy is doing?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

beached and other mysteries

Here at the start of a whole other year my friends have made it safely ashore. It was touch and go for a while what with the oars having been lost in the maelstrom - which you may remember, but if not:

Anyway, we'll have to wait to see what happens next to our intrepid pair and those who pay such close attention to them. What could they all be up to?

Speaking of ongoing mysteries, there's an intriguing case across the street where a small apartment building has appeared to be largely uninhabited for all of the past few years we've lived here. From the end room of our place we can see the long side of the building where there are never any lights on any of its three floors. Rarely, there'll be a window lit in one room or another at the streetfront, although never for long. In winter the sidewalk is cleared and a little smoke sometimes rises from a chimney. We've never seen a 'for rent' sign or evidence of tenants. With no further evidence than this (and our active imaginations) we've come to conclusion the place is inhabited by a wealthy recluse.

At least one mystery that's confounded a number of us in the online community does seem to have a solution as described in this fascinating excerpt from an article called Ai Weiwei is Living in Our Future:

Very recently I found another way in which Google appropriates my pattern recognition abilities to further its own cause. I had to fill in a ‘CAPTCHA’.

CAPTCHA’s are used to battle spambots. By recognizing a pattern that isn’t easy to read for a computer, you are proving that you are a human. Millions of CAPTCHA’s are filled in every hour. Luis von Ahn, a computer scientist, didn’t want to waste this cognitive capacity and invented the ‘reCAPTCHA’.

Through typing in hard to read words you helped to digitize newspaper archives and books. You always had to type in two words: one that the computer would already know and another which the computer would be a bit uncertain about. Google bought reCAPTCHA in 2009.

A short while ago I noticed that you didn’t have to type in book texts anymore when filling in a reCAPTCHA. Nowadays you type in house numbers helping Google, without them asking you, to further digitize the physical world.

Perhaps there is information about that place across the street, but personally, I prefer it remains a mystery. I stopped using Google for general searches in favor of DuckDuckGo several years ago, but Blogger is Google based so there's no getting around that. However, as you'll see if you read the article, our ideas about personal privacy have already been superseded. George Orwell could never have imagined people would eventually line up willingly to pay Big Brother.

Of course, it amused me too when we watched a couple of episodes of 'Walking Dead' and I realized the 'zombies' likely performed for free. Humans are strange creatures as Crow has remarked at every opportunity.