Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Textbooks Are Not Going Away

College students make use of different kinds of learning materials during the years they spend in school. While computers and the internet have added a new wrinkle to that dependable system, the good old-fashioned textbook is still widely in evidence on most campuses.

However, textbooks for college can be quite expensive as some courses rely extensively upon thick, hardcover tomes that you can hardly carry from one side of the building to the other. As with anything, not all textbooks are created equal and one drawback is that most courses have ones that are required. While you are welcome (and even encouraged) to seek out additional books to supplement your knowledge, you will still have to buy the book(s) your professor has made mandatory.

The best textbooks are authored by subject matter experts, also known as SMEs. These men and women are almost always veterans in their field and may even have been responsible for a discovery that changed things dramatically. The writing in these books usually reflects a great deal of care in the areas of accuracy and class exercises.

Some subject areas have many different textbooks, and almost as many SMEs, while others are more specialized. For example, it is not too hard to find qualified persons to write a grammar textbook, while supply chain textbook writers are scarce by comparison.

Did you have many textbooks when you went to college or university? As an English student, I had many novels to get through every semester and while they don’t weigh as much as most textbooks, lugging them all around was certainly a drag. If anything, that is the one area where textbooks lose out to computers. A tablet or laptop will never give me a hernia; I’m not so sure about some of the anatomy and biology textbooks out there!

How to Become a Better Writer

Whether you write for a living or simply for fun, it never hurts to think about ways in which to improve your technique. Here are some ideas that can help:


Practice Practice Practice

Writing is like any discipline: the more you practice, the better you get at it. Don’t worry about producing high quality work every time; even just scribbling for fun every once in a while can be instructive because you discover what works and what type of writing you enjoy the most. As with anything, if you like something, you will be more inclined to do it.


Accept Criticism

Be open to having your writing critiqued by someone with writing experience. Don’t worry if your early efforts do not receive a good notice. If the person doing the evaluating is not specific, ask questions about which aspects of your writing need work and do they have any advice on how you can improve.


Be Succinct

Good writing isn’t about who types out the most words. How many times have you seen a lengthy piece and thought it would take too much time to read? Some things absolutely require length in order to provide all of the necessary detail, but in many cases, shorter is better.


Look at your finished work with a critical eye and the thought, “What is in here that is not really necessary?” Whether it be whole paragraphs, entire sentences, or just a few words, you can almost certainly find things to cut. The more experienced you are, the easier editing becomes.


Set a Time Limit

While this might seem restrictive, and even anxiety inducing, a time limit for writing can actually help to focus your concentration. No matter what your topic, it is possible to overthink things; spending too much time adjusting your writing can sometimes be just as bad as doing no editing at all.


Rain Rain Go Away, Come Again Some Other Day

You may have noticed that things have been a tad damp this summer in Eastern Canada. After two sweltering, bone dry summers, nature has gone in the other direction, providing week after week of rain. Lawns and forests look greener than ever, but those of us who consider summer to be a time to lounge in the backyard or on the beach are seeing red. It would also help if some of these downpours would pack up and head out to British Columbia, where they continue to be desperately needed.

While we are not experiencing major floods throughout Ontario, the sheer amount of precipitation has caused some issues, including the recent closure of the Don Valley Parkway. It also helped to put a serious damper on the festivities at Bluesfest 2017.

While it seems like we have had an inordinate amount of rain, this part of the country is still short of making the record books. The constantly dripping citizens of Ottawa may find this hard to believe, but the soggy excesses of June were only about half as much wet as the city experienced in 2002.

Of course, every one has their own idea of what constitutes extremes in weather. I prefer the mild changes we experience in late spring and early fall to the harsh excesses of summer and, especially, winter. Can’t say I enjoy rain much at all. It can be fun to sit on your porch or balcony once in a while and watch a storm, particularly if there is lightning, but I hate getting wet. If you tell me you like walking in the rain, I will shake my wet umbrella in your direction.

It’s not clear yet what August will be like, but I’m guessing it will be more of the same. I’m not asking for a return to the baked lawns and scorching sun of last summer, but a little something in between would be great.

Best Before Dates and Expiration Dates are Not the Same Thing

Many of the products we buy have “best before” or expiration dates and I have often wondered just how closely we need to adhere to them. Another question: what is the difference between best before and expiration? Aren’t they just different ways of saying the same thing?


Turns out they are indeed different. Expiration dates are only required for five types of products in this country:


  • Nutritional supplements
  • Foods for very low-energy diets available from pharmacies
  • Formulated liquid diets
  • Baby formula and other human milk substitutes
  • Meal replacements


By contrast, best before dates are for foods that have a maximum freshness period of 90 days. That said, it is still possible to safely consumer some of these after the 90 days have passed.


The thing to remember is that the best before date is not a warning about the product’s safety. Instead, it tells you for how long the food will retain the flavour you would expect from it. For example, it you didn’t get around to eating the item until 100 days, it may seem awfully bland, but will not hurt you.


That said, it is still important to properly store the items to begin with. If the product has been intentionally opened, tampered with, or damaged in a manner that causes the seal to be compromised, then the best before date no longer applies. Bottom line: if something has been opened and you don’t know how long it has been that way, you should probably play it safe and throw the item out. Meat is the main concern in this category, but personal choice is also a factor. If it just doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.


Want more information? Consult the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education’s Food Storage Chart, which lists the particulars for familiar items like beef, poultry, fish, ham, and leftovers.


Will You Be Spending Quality Time With Your Kids This Summer?

Summertime is here and the kids are out of school. That is heaven for them, but most parents find having children around the house all of the time to be an inconvenience. If the kids are young and both parents are working, then child care, or an alternative, needs to be arranged. Also, some kids just like to plant themselves down in front of the TV or computer instead of using their time off to pursue more rewarding activities.


Instead of letting things proceed the usual way, take this chance to spend quality time with your children this summer! Set aside some time to consider the following activities that you can all do together:


  • Technology Break. No phones, no computers, no TV, no nothing. That includes everybody. If you want the kids to appreciate what you are saying about the benefits of such a break, then you have to take it, too.
  • Nature. So many parents worry that their kids are missing out by staring at screens all day. Leave the phones and iPads at home and go for a hike. Better yet, go camping.
  • Game night. Chances are your kids play video games, but do they know the joys of good, old-fashioned board games? Dust off your Monopoly or Sorry set.
  • Volunteering. Teens already have to do a certain amount of volunteering, but encourage your kids to do more…and do it alongside them.
  • Enjoy some culture. Visit a museum, see a play, watch a classic old movie. Indulge in a form of learning and entertainment that differs from everybody’s usual routine.
  • Have a picnic. Don’t want to go into the wilderness? You can still go to your local park and enjoy a picnic. Bring along the usual picnic essentials, but also introduce the children to some new and healthy foods as well.

Vancouver Bans Retail Pet Sales

Animal rights advocates have long argued that retail pet stores contribute to the ongoing life of puppy and kitten mills. Also, when there are so many pets waiting for adoption at humane societies throughout the country, having people pay for pets that may come from questionable sources makes no sense.

Governments across Canada are finally starting to listen. Last month, the Vancouver city council passed a law banning pet stores in the city from selling cats, dogs, and rabbits with selected exceptions. The news was received with great enthusiasm from activists and I support this position.

As there is no way to know for certain where the animals in pet stores are coming from, purchasing your feline or canine friend there can mean you are inadvertently contributing to the animal cruelty that is the hallmark of disreputable breeders. You could also be setting yourself up for substantial vet bills as the health of these animals may be compromised from the get-go.

While not perfect, the animal rescue operations in most cities and towns perform a valuable function. The animals they take in for adoption are rigorously checked before being offered. That means health issues, both major and minor, are cleared up in advance. These animals are also spayed, which helps to cut down on the surplus population roaming the streets.

Thus, when you head to your local humane society and choose that incredibly cute kitty, you can rest assured that there is a very good chance she is healthy and will remain so. Also, the money shelters make from these sales go towards paying for their operations and restoring/maintaining the health of other animals in their care.

So next time you are in a city without such laws, think about writing their city council. Let your voice be heard on behalf of these beings who bring us so much joy and happiness, but cannot speak for themselves.


Amazon’s Drone Fleet Getting Closer to Reality

You have probably heard about Amazon’s ambitious new plan to use drones for product delivery. The world’s leading internet retailer is already very fast when it comes to getting consumers their goods. However, a drone fleet will make the process even speedier.

The company took the next step recently by patenting multi-level fulfillment centers that will supply the flying delivery fleet. These “beehives,” which will apparently look like towers or UFOs in design, can also allow access for trucks or consumers wishing to pick up their goods in person.

This will be a significant change from the usual approach to fulfillment centers. As these buildings tend to be quite huge, they are almost always located well outside of big cities. However, the drone centers will be much smaller, allowing them to function in municipal areas. This will further reduce the time it takes for a drone to make delivery.

The convenience factor is certainly there. However, questions remain as to just how these drones will operate. Governments of all levels are still figuring out laws on how to both accommodate and regulate drone traffic. If Amazon’s delivery service takes off (no pun intended), then the skies will be filled with even more of these potential hazards. Also, it remains to be seen just how accurate and effective the drones will be when it comes to getting packages to the correct party.

Will people have to sign for the box? Will drone service delivery times still be guaranteed if the weather is bad? Are there really enough people out there so desperate to get their latest box of consumer flotsam that they absolutely must have it in their hands the very same day?

Amazon’s drones are a great concept, but one that still needs some discussion. Perhaps the top subject for that list is, “Do we really even need them?”

Do Movie Studios’ Back Catalog Titles Still Have the Same Value?

In the late 1950s, Paramount Pictures was in search of some extra cash. They found a receptive ear in MCA, the parent company of Universal Pictures, which was looking for movies it could syndicate to television. In the early days of that medium, major studios felt that TV was the enemy and refused to allow their movies to run on it.

However, as it became clear that cinemas and TV could co-exist, that changed and major titles started to appear on both the big networks and local stations. However, some studios were slower to embrace this development than others. Paramount saw little value in their older movies; some could be re-released every few years, but the majority were played out and had already been sold overseas. Outside of a few second run bookings each year, they were commercially dead.

However, MCA saw a future in television and while the Universal library was sizeable, the company sought to add to it. To that end, they convinced Paramount to sell them a huge portion of their pre-1948 library, 764 films (not counting silents and a handful of movies Paramount felt still had good commercial potential for reissues), in February of 1958. The cash-strapped company got an infusion of revenue, but inadvertently cost themselves millions in the process. MCA acquired all rights to the films, so they not only cashed in via decades of TV syndication, but also the release of many on future home video formats that had not even been considered in 1958.

Companies like MGM, which produces few movies nowadays, pride themselves on their large libraries, but with the DVD and Blu-ray markets sagging, they have now lost out on a significant revenue stream. Sure, there are still streaming services, but companies like Netflix are showing less and less interest in licensing.

Given a multitude of entertainment options, today’s young people have little interest in vintage entertainment. Outside of outlets like Turner Classic Movies and Warner Archive streaming, it’s conceivable that older movies and television could become quite hard to see in years to come.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Facebook Joins Google in the Fight Against Online Terrorist Propaganda

Earlier this week, Google announced plans to limit the number of videos on their site used to spread terrorist propaganda and recruit new followers. Facebook has now followed suit with a Online Civil Courage Initiative launched in England, France, and Germany.

While Facebook already takes down content that violates its standards, and will step up those efforts, this plan differs in that it is informational in nature. The goal is to educate organizations on how to spot and respond to material that is extremist.

It is felt that the proliferation of online terrorist videos has been a factor in both encouraging people to join groups like ISIS and carry out attacks for them. While the company’s stance is certainly welcome, it is apparently at least partially the result of prodding. Facebook and other social media sites have been unsuccessfully sued in the past by individuals who feel that they are providing a platform for terrorist groups. Germany now has plans to sue these same companies for not removing such content, though concern has been expressed that this approach strays too far into censorship.

The Online Civil Courage Initiative will use a collaborative approach with users encouraged to head over to the OCCI pages to share ideas. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg issued the following statement on the plan:

“The recent terror attacks in London and Manchester — like violence anywhere — are absolutely heartbreaking. No-one should have to live in fear of terrorism — and we all have a part to play in stopping violent extremism from spreading. We know we have more to do — but through our platform, our partners and our community we will continue to learn to keep violence and extremism off Facebook.”

It seems like a worthy undertaking and a nice extension to their efforts at curtailing the number of online propaganda videos. There is always a fine line between this sort of initiative and the preservation of free speech; hopefully, Facebook will navigate that effectively.

The Pirate Bay Still Proving Tough to Kill

Torrent sites are the bane of the major studios, but law enforcement has managed to shut a number of them down in recent years. Not so with the Pirate Bay, which has become the face of torrent piracy.

Originally based in Sweden, the Pirate Bay has been the subject of several concentrated take down efforts by law enforcement in different countries. While the site has disappeared periodically for a short period, it always manages to bob back up.

Those running the Pirate Bay have not been reticent when it comes to wagging their finger at authorities for those ineffectual efforts. However, according to a recent article on Telegiz, that insolence likely just caused the copyright police to double down. This led to the demise of several large torrent providers, including KickAss Torrents and

What is the answer? Would compromise work? Compromise is not a route that many Hollywood providers find acceptable. Their stance is that theft is theft; that cannot be sugarcoated, nor should it be. Meanwhile, torrent providers and users argue that entertainment conglomerates should not hold all of the cards by charging what they want and deciding when (and if) content should be made available to the public.

It can be argued that studios have responded with the creation of numerous streaming options. These do not make content free, but do offer it at a reasonable price in most cases. This has likely made a dent in the number of torrent site users, but such data is not available.

What is your opinion? Do you illegally download the occasional movie or TV show? Do you feel that torrent users have a point? Click the comment button and let us know!

Meanwhile, the ongoing war against the Pirate Bay continues. Time will tell, but I suspect this will not be the end for them.