A Short History of Progress

A Short History of Progress wass written by Ronald Wright in 2004.  The book comprises the 2004 Massey Lectures.  You can listen to the series on-line as well.    While the the book was published over a decade ago, the messages within could have published this morning for they apply, perhaps even more so, today.   The lessons Wright draws from history are very relevant as the Paris climate summit begins this week.  

The book isn’t about climate change per se.  The author is a “historical philosopher” shows how our modern predicaments are as old as civilizations.  He traces our species from our beginnings to the present.   We read about the successes and failures of civilizations throughout our history.  He asks and analyzes why many (most?) civilizations in the past became extinct and he draws a picture of where we are today and the need to pay heed to the past in our actions today and in the future.

One phrase he uses more than once is “every time history repeats itself, the price goes up”.   As you read you wonder why mankind continues to act in certain ways, much of which would make you want to belong to kinder species.  In asking why we continue to do some things, Wright uses computers as an analogy.  He says if man were a computer then we would be hardware running on software that hasn’t had an upgrade in 25,000 years.  Wright notes if you don’t believe that, just listen to the news.  

It’s not possible to make light of Wright’s take on things.  For the ordinary citizen we can urge leaders  to make a difference (as we hope the world leaders in Paris will do this week) and we can take action in ways to make the world a better place.  

To use the analogy that mankind is akin to computer technology.  I would hope that despite mankind’s ancient hardware we can find a workaround that keeps us from repeating history and helps sustain our future.  What are your thoughts?  

Yesterday there were marches all over the globe in support of the Paris climate summit.  Here are some pictures of the 100% Possible march in Ottawa.  And a few more:


Protest sign using recycled Green Party sign. Fitting.
Protest sign using recycled Green Party sign. Seems apt.
Ben & Jerry's ice cream getting involved
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream getting involved






The Dirt On Growing Sweet Potatoes

Community/allotment gardening year five:

I have certainly thought about blogging about gardening during the past season but that’s as far as it got.  Thinking about it.  Don Marquis, an American poet and journalist said “procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday” .   And while it didn’t happen yesterday, here’s the story of our experience with a brand new crop this year.   Sweet potatoes.

Our growing/hardiness zone is 4B in Ottawa, ON.  We had talked about growing sweet potatoes in previous years before but had concluded we weren’t in the right zone.  That changed when we learned that a local organic seed distributor sold sweet potato slips.  They aren’t available until June here. You plant them only after the risk of frost had passed.  

We had intended on buying enough slips to fill an entire 20 foot row but when I learned about the steps you have to take after harvest, I bought enough for a half row as a first try.   Here’s the dirt on growing sweet potatoes this past season: 

  • Tilled and mounded a 10 foot row.  Laid a wide strip of black plastic over the row (sweet potatoes like warm soil) and secured it at the edges .  
  • Make a slit in the plastic every 2 feet and plant a slip.
  • Freshly planted sweet potato slips
    Freshly planted sweet potato slips
  • That’s it till harvest.  How easy is that!  Water and sunshine throughout the growing season and the vines grew and spread until you could no longer see the plastic.  We were all very interested to see what, if any harvest would await us when the time came.
  • The vines begin to spread
    The vines begin to spread
  • Harvesting must occur after the first frost when the vines turn black.  Here’s where we started to wonder if sweet potatoes were all that darling or if they were just plain finicky.
  • Digging sweet potatoes is not that easy.  We learned they grow vertically and try to find their way to the other side of the world.   Down into the clay they went (some of them were 18-20 inches long).  They bruise and break easily when bringing them out of the ground. There was a bit of exasperation when we started and found we had to scratch around a great deal with hand trowels to see if the potatoes had traveled hither and yon. We got better at digging with the garden fork after a hill or two.  If the soil isn’t nice and loose the potatoes break.  There were cheers when we removed potatoes in tact.  
  • Success!
    Look at the size of 'em

      The potato on the right was on its way to China

    We harvested 30-35 pounds of sweet potatoes from 5 slips.  Not bad.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Sweet potatoes need to be cured.    I looked for advice on how to cure then and found there were as many ‘recipes’ as there were advisors.  Basically the potatoes must be kept in a place that is very warm (25-29C) and humid (85-90%) for 3 days or 7 days or maybe 21 days.  What??  One consistent message was curing must occur-conversion of sugars and making it so they will keep longer.  Avoid scaring or bruising the potatoes lest they start to spoil.  I layered the potatoes between sheets of newspaper and put them in 3 containers in our downstairs bathroom. I covered each container with a garbage bag (thinking it would help with humidity) and then a blanket/quilt.  A little heater helped keep the temperature up, as did having the lights on day and night.  Once in a while I would turn on the shower to up the humidity.  Such finicky darlings, sweet potatoes.  I checked them regularly.  The humidity never got as high as recommended (had a little temp/humidity gauge in the room).  After 3 weeks we reclaimed the bathroom, wrapped the tubers individually in newspaper, storing them in a cool dark place and now hoping to have sweet potatoes for the next several months.  

  • We haven’t decided if we will grow them again next year.  By spring the effort of harvest and curing this fall will be mostly forgotten and we will be enthusiastically entertaining thoughts of garden bounty.

I’m Back!!! With A Halloween True Story

Back here at the family dog sitters, that is, me, Squidge the dog.  I have been asking if there’s been any blogging since I last visited and understand there’s been none, really.  It’s obvious that not only I am on this earth to receive belly rubs but I am also an inspiration in writing circles.  If I were a girl I’d be a muse.

I’m just here for a few days but have things pretty much as I like ’em.  All centred around me.  At least there’s no snow and big rigamarole around putting on boots and doggie jackets.   It is Halloween though and I have a costume but my owners forgot to bring it over so I’m not dressed.  I was going to be a lobster.  

I’m on high alert for the doorbell to ring.  There have been about 20 trick or treaters here-a good number for this area they say.  I bark when the bell rings but really am happy to see the people on the other side of the door.  They have treats and I bark because I want them to give me a treat, I like treats but they just take treats and don’t give any.  Sigh.

In the last group of 5 or 6 little people I was there to greet them, as usual.  One little girl said “I like your dog!” (I get that all the time) and another smaller girl said ” I have a dog!!” and her brother said “You don’t have a dog, you have a cat.”.  

I'd like a Halloween treat
I’d like a Halloween treat

My Exit Blog (Author, Squidge the Dog)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my owners.  They say it was 17 days and I have no idea how long that is but while these temporary minders are kind enough, they aren’t my regular peeps.   I have been patient and mostly well behaved and it’s been a learning experience for all parties in this house (you know I am a party too).  I will keep my exit blog brief for I am a dog of few words.  I have three recommendations as a result of this visit (I believe in following project management principles, including looking back when the project is over and making recommendations for the future)


  1. Boots
    1. I recommend some clever thinker should invent affordable, warm, easy to put on, non slip winter boots for dogs.  Believe me, there is a market.   Dogs and owners would thank you.
  2. Evidence based veterinary medicine
    1. If there is a raft of evidence based veterinary medicine available, it’s hidden.  Pet owners who are interested should be able to find that information on-line.  I recommend a grad student or an information specialist put together a list of good places to look for trials and studies on animal care and treatment.  I am sure some owners would pay a fee to access such information.
  3. Pet minder course
    1. It clear to me now that being well intentioned and being good at something are two different things.  There are babysitting courses.  Why aren’t there pet sitting courses?  I recommend (it’s a business opportunity) someone offer a course that would help familiarize people with animal behaviour.  These people here would have benefited from such a course.  I would have given some of my treat allowance to pay for their enrolment.  

It’s good-bye to you all from me now.  I have really enjoyed meeting so many of you on-line.  It’s a whole other world I did not know existed.  You’ve been very kind and supportive during my hour of need when I asked you some difficult questions.  

I was thinking of asking my owners if I could have my own blog site but I hear it can take a lot of time so it’s probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.






Riddle Solution

Thank you to everyone who sent in suggested answers to my riddle.  I was going to post the solution last night but time got away on me.  First there was a round of fetch and other rambunctious activity and then a nap and then the huge rigmarole to put on my boots and have my last walk of the day.  By then I was pooped and just wanted to watch Poirot and then head to my kennel.  I thought I’d need a clear head to explain this routine.  

Thank you to everyone to tried to figure out the riddle. Unfortunately there was no one who was able to solve it but there were many creative responses.  No matter, you are all winners and I will still ask my owners if I can come meet you some time.  I’m sure they will oblige.

I’m not complaining but stating a fact that I had to live through 14 of my 17 days with poor boot putting-on technique. Fourteen days where I was very likely to blow a shoe and have a very cold paw or paws before getting back home.  No wonder I don’t always want to go out.  But now things are better.  It eats into my nap time to get ready but things are better.

We are using the PAWZ booties.  For a small dog it takes two humans to put them on, really and if there’s only one human available then it’s almost impossible.  The boots have no insulation but at least they stay on and protect me from salt, ice and snow. (I bought a smaller size and that’s been helpful).  Here’s what we do if there’s only one person around.

Riddle solution:

  • My minder cuts 4 rings from a cardboard tube and covers them with duct tape. (credit to YouTube videos for most of this idea)  She used duct tape thinking it would give the tube more strength but it’s only been marginally helpful.  They collapse after a number of times of being used.  The next version might be little sections of PVC pipe or something else (got any ideas?).  She stretches each of my four booties over one of these rings.  They hold the boot open.


  • When walk time is nigh, my minder puts two towels in the dryer to warm them and starts telling me a bunch of hokum about how going outside is fun.  She warms the towels because she thinks I like it.  She picks me up and puts me on my back on a towel and covers my tummy with another.  It’s warm and I lay quietly.
  • With less than remarkable dexterity, she puts my leg in and pulls the tube up and the boot is then on my paw.  She slips the tube back down and off.
Here we go again
Here we go again but the warm towel is nice
Ms Rube Goldberg Wannabee Puts On My Boots
Ms Rube Goldberg Wannabee Puts On My Boots

And finally I’m ready to go.  I’m not really excited about it however I seem to forget all the preparation once out in the snow.

Do These Boots Make My Paws Look Big?
Do These Boots Make My Paws Look Big?

Well, it’s almost the end of my time here.  I think I have one final blog in me.  It will contain a few observations and recommendations based on my experience during my pet stay-cation.  Is there anything in particular you think I should include in my exit blog?



A Riddle From Squidge

Dear Readers,

I am nearing my last article as a guest blogger.  I understand variety is important in keeping an audience interested so I thought I’d pose a riddle to you.  Since the whole thing is pretty bizarre and you’d likely not believe it (I have trouble believing it and I’m in it), I’ll give you some clues along with some background.  

If you’ve read my blogs during my stay-cation here you may have gathered these temporary minders are well-intentioned but not always adept.  I hear they have gone to school and so they should have learned many things but you wouldn’t always know it.  Especially if you were a pet staying on a holiday in their home.  One of the things we’ve all struggled with is my winter boots.  They thought they started to get the hang of it only last night when my stay is pretty much over.  But it took two of them to get them on so they would stay and now one of them is gone for the rest of my stay here and I thought ‘Oh boy, we’re hooped!’ but then the remaining minder turned to some of her go-to invention building blocks.  Usually she uses duct tape and a coat hanger and sometimes an empty tin can but this time she only used duct tape from that trio.  It doesn’t always work though.  Has she ever told you about the time she tried to devise a temporary plumbing fix with balloons and duct tape at her cottage.  It didn’t end well.  It was funny though.  

Here is the riddle.  It’s a picture of the components of what has been a successful (so far) method of one person putting my boots on and having them stay on for a whole walk.  There is a prize for anyone who gets the right answer!!  My owners will either drive me or fly me to your house and I will do there what I was put on this earth to do, be very happy to meet you, be petted and be your shadow.  My owners haven’t been consulted yet as to this prize but I am a mixed breed and as the vet said last week  ” Squidge knows how to get what he wants”.

Here’s the picture.  I am very excited to see how many entries there will be!!  The contest closes  at 8 PM EST on January 15th.  Oh, and there’s one thing missing from the picture-the clothes dryer.  Good luck!!


Squidge Statistics

It’s -35 with the wind this morning so what’s a dog to do but reflect on his stay-cation   When I was on my short but efficient walk this morning (you know what I mean), I thought about what I could give the human for blog material.  When we got home, I sat down and stared at her till she agreed to blog for me.

Remember to blog about these points!
Remember to blog about these points!
  • 13/17-that’s how far along I am in this visit.  76% complete.  Only 4 days till I see my owners!  Of course I have no concept of time so here they tell me that I’ll see them really soon and I am satisfied with that.
  • 44-number of walks (give or take a few)
    • 176-number of boots that had to be put on my legs for those walks
    • 40-number of walks where one or more of those stupid boots came off and coincidentally the number of times the humans talked about how they should invent something that works and I secretly thought perhaps it’s the humans who don’t know how to pull on the boots correctly
    • 6-number of times the humans didn’t notice the boot had come off during a night walk and they had to go back out with a flashlight
  • 31-games of fetch inside
  • 1-a very exciting one!-I spotted a rabbit on our block last night!  It was so exhilarating!  I barked and pulled on my leash with all my might and wished for a leash malfunction.  That rabbit was scared out of its wits.  It kept running in circles.  I think that’s because it knows I have the heart of a lion and am an intrepid hunter. Hands down, this is the most excitement I’ve had in all my time here.  
  • 20-number of meals where I was fed in that blasted yellow ball and had to chase it around till the food fell out.  I’ve started to pick the ball up and bounce it on the floor and that usually produces some food.  Rolling the ball over to the stairs and pushing it downstairs sometimes works but then I have to go downstairs and bring it back up.  The past while she’s been hiding food in different places too and I have been hunting for it.  I know the rabbit sensed my killer instinct, sharpened by hunting for food here in the house.  Frankly, I’d rather they just put my food in my bowl. 

This all said.  The stay-cation has been okay so far.  I have discovered I have a literary side (didn’t even know about blogging before I arrived here),  I listen to CBC (I’ve learned there is a Canada Writes contest and think I will enter when I get home.  Dogs are not prohibited from entering.  I read the rules.) and I watch Hercule Poirot on PBS in the evening.  I hear I am going to have a bath shortly.  Given the lack of proficiency these people have displayed in putting on dog boots, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the bath scenario.



Writer in residence