A Eureka Moment-Scrubbing Data

It’s back to school time.  Today there’s a fleet of yellow school buses on the road and the newspapers have been filled with stories of how to pack nutritious lunches and how to encourage conversations with your children and so on.  Under the banner then of the well-known phrase “And what did you learn today” and as a testimony to lifelong learning, here goes my true story.  

I am not a researcher but I have worked with many a talented person who was.  I would hear them speak of ‘scrubbing data’ or ‘cleaning data’.  My understanding of what it means is meagre but I get the concept.  You take a bunch of information that is stored in a database and through some mysterious process you separate the wheat from the chaff as a farmer would put it, or you remove the extraneous bits and keep the solid data that can be used in your research.  

I have discovered a new method for scrubbing data and am putting it out there for researchers to comment upon.  Perhaps this eureka moment will save a lot of time for those who toil in the details of data. 

Step one:  You are the secretary.  Using your laptop and a memory stick, take minutes at the Annual General Meeting of a local organization.  No paper back up is needed.  Good for the environment and efficient too.  Save the minutes, the only record of the meeting, on your memory stick.

Step two: Stick the memory stick in your pocket after the meeting (you don’t want to lose it).

Step three: Do laundry.  Washer and dryer.  Find memory stick in drum of dryer after cycle is complete.  

Step four:  Sweat.  Insert memory stick and find out….ta da!!  It works!

Moral of the story, well actually two morals:

1.  There is more than one way to scrub data.

2. Those high-efficiency (HE) front loading washers really are gentle on your belongings.

A true story.

Caine’s Arcade

There was a heartwarming story in the paper recently about Caine Monroy, a 9 year old who lives in East Los Angeles.  He is the subject of a short film that has become a recent Internet viral sensation.  The film is Caine’s Arcade.  

Over and over again we see the impact of Internet and social media exposure (good and bad).  This one is good (we trust).  Take a look at the sidebar and note how much money has been donated towards Caine’s college education and towards a trust fund to foster creativity and enterpreneurship in young children.  

Among many creative children (I think of a nephew of ours in particular) who have built many things from scratch, it is the luck of the draw in this day and age to have an independent film maker show up and shine a light on one special young boy.  

What do you think of social media and its ability to instantly shine a light on everything from heartwarming human interest stories, to singing babies, to a father shooting his daughter’s laptop for what he saw as her ungratefulness and on and on.  Are we better off for it?


I Am Going to Live…How Long?

Yesterday the Globe and Mail sported an article titled “How long will you live?  Just crunch the numbers”   The calculator was created by Ontario scientists and is based on real data on factors contributing to deaths in Ontario, Canada. You have to think, though, it would have relevance in other places too. The crux of the matter for the data is the degree to which our lifestyle choices affect our health.  

Being the inquisitive sort, I plugged in my numbers into the calculator:  rrasp-phirn.ca/risktools     They ask questions about your diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, etc in the past week.  I have had a pretty “healthy lifestyle”  past week.  It was a good time to take the test.  The number for me…..96 years old!  Are you kidding?  My parents died at 52 and 61 respectively  (I’m older than that now) but 96-that’s a ripe old age.

Some reflections on the whole thing.  First, if I had done the test that reflected my lifestyle choices when we were on vacation recently, my life expectancy would have fallen for sure.  Second, indeed, I may live for some 30+ years yet and yet it could be 3.0 years or .3 years or, or, or.   And third the answer to planning for what’s next is somewhere between scouting out long-term facilities and not buying green bananas.

I’m Left-Handed, Not Sinister

It’s time to speak out on behalf of left-handed or mixed-handed people.  Mixed-handed is the label for people who are not solely left or right-handed. I think there’s a world-wide conspiracy of some sort.  We get a bum rap-those of us who aren’t right-handed.  

Scissors aren’t made for left-handers, nor are powers tools and machinery.  Lecture halls restrict us to sitting at the end of the aisles where they situate the left-handed desks.  What if we wanted to sit in the middle of the aisle?  When writing, our hand is tinged with ink as we drag our left hand through the ink writing left to right on the page.  We apparently have more accidents since the world is made for right-handed people.

An article in the Globe and Mail newspaper today  “The health risks of sinister people” by Shirley S. Wang, a member of the Wall Street Journal Staff wasn’t exactly a fun read if you are left-handed.  She reports some researchers have found that left-handers’ brains are wired differently that may result in difficulty with language as well as ADHD symptoms.  Stress during pregnancy seems to increase the risk of having a left or mixed-handed child which in turn, they say, may be a risk factor for possible psychiatric or developmental conditions.

I’ve about had it with this type of research.  I am left-handed. I don’t think I am sinister. (Actually I am more accurately mixed-handed.)  The definition of sinister spans being left-handed or threatening, bad, evil and disastrous. There is a need for someone to do the research on the advantages of being left-handed. 

  • Sports:  Most people involved in sports are right-handed. By being left-handed, players can pose an advantage because their competitors aren’t as used to playing left-handed players.  There’s plenty of left-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball.
  • Higher IQ: A 2000 study by Dr. Alan Searleman of St. Lawrence University in New York found that more left-handed people had an IQ averaging over 140 than right-handed people.  Albert Einstein was left-handed.  
  • Creativity: Due to what may be different wiring in the brain, left-handers may be better at divergent thinking or starting from existing knowledge to develop new concepts, which is considered and element of creativity.

When we read or hear of research, it’s important to look carefully into the report and the findings.  Who are the researchers?  What are there qualifications?  What is the strength of the evidence?  Who is funding the research?

I’ll bet if we looked into the research on left-handers, the researchers are all right-handed.  And their research is well-funded by the makers of right-handed scissors, right-handed desks and right-handed power tools.  

Competition-nature vs nurture

This is a true story.  

About being competitive.  

Well, it’s about me being competitive-not in everything and not all the time but I do have a streak running through me.  I’ve been thinking about where that comes from…the desire to win or do better. Is it my place in the birth order?  Is it the pep talks my Dad used to give us when we went to play sports or is it just innate.  For me it’s not about being competitive in everything and with everyone but there are some things that trigger a drive in me.  Sports trigger that drive of course-why play if you aren’t trying to do well.  I have openly competed in a number of sports over the years-softball, volleyball, curling, squash, racquetball, and so on.  Elite athlete I am not but I do like the adrenalin rush.

One exception (except for tournaments) is golf (supposedly).  They say golf is a game to play, not a game to win.  You work to do better than you did last time-not to do better than your golf partners.

Informal races

I find myself racing when there is no race.  It happens several times a year when I am cycling.  Particularly if I catch up to and pass a male cyclist (it doesn’t happen routinely)…on occasion the cyclist will note this mature woman just passed him and likely thinks ‘well that won’t do’ and he seems to speed up.  Well, someone might as well have fired a starting pistol for I am off and working as hard as I can to stay ahead.  I passed a man on roller blades once and thought it would be a piece of cake to put distance between him and me.  Not so.  It took everything I had to stay in front of him before we finally went our separate ways. I had to stop then and catch my breath.  I often wonder if the other person is competing too or if it’s just in my head.  On a long walk, I will try to walk faster than people on the opposite sidewalk!  I can live with myself though-what’s wrong with a game in your head that helps you get a workout.  If I didn’t imagine some of these things I’d like saunter along at a tortoise’s pace.  

Competition is at its best when the competitors are relatively evenly matched or appropriate handicaps are applied to level the playing field.  It usually means that people have spent about the same amount of time learning and practicing the game and their skills are fairly similar.

So why does it get my goat

My husband and I play the game of golf together a few times a year.  That’s about all he plays.  He seldom practices, seldom takes lessons.  I golf 20 to 30 times a year and I take lessons, I even practice and when we go out to golf-his score bests mine.  It drives me nuts!!!  I think I’ll ask him to go cycling…he doesn’t cycle much and I’ll let him think he can cycle faster than I can and then……

Four Thousand Views-One Hundred Seventy Five Days

I started blogging some 175 days ago when my friends at my workplace set up a blog site for me as a farewell gift.  I then moved on from the sphere of full-time work and am now 5+ months into what I am calling my Next Chapter.

My ignorance of blogging knew no bounds as I began blogging and some might say there’s been little change in my level of understanding.  If you blog, the literature suggests you are encouraged to pick a theme.  I read a blog that is all about baking and eating and it’s very good-I have baked from her recipes.

I started out thinking the blog would be focused on my experience of eating my way through the dessert counter at Simply Biscotti, a local coffee shop/bistro in Little Italy, Ottawa, Ontario. Well, the best laid plans of mice and man… the blog morphed pretty quickly into more of a life-beyond-full-time-work blog.  It’s not gone viral-like some of the things we hear of that have gone viral…and that may well be a good thing.  But it’s been a chance for me to observe and report of a life’s experience when not in the workplace full-time.  In retrospect, it’s not surprising I don’t have a single theme, like gardening or golfing or cycling or quilting or cooking or Simply Biscotti or hiking or cross-country skiing, or, or because there are so many things to experience when you are writing a new chapter in your life.  In a way my career was a bit like that-when people would ask me about my career I would say my resume looked like I couldn’t keep a job.  I was always looking for something new after a while-a new adventure, a new horizon and only once did I stay long enough to get a 10 year pin.  I’m proud of that (although my manager had to work a bit of magic to convince the powers that it really was 10 years).

But back to the blog and the stats.  In the 175 days there have now been over 4,000 views!!  While not viral, there are people having a look.  I know people are looking because there are things like Site Stats and Akismet Stats that tell me how many views per day and which blogs are most frequently viewed.  I know because people have left comments and a number of sent emails directly to me.  I am thrilled that you and others have looked once..or twice…or maybe routinely. My husband says the views are likely made up of my own 3,900 views and the 6 times he has looked and a few miscellaneous viewers who stumbled on the site by mistake.  Well he didn’t really say that but that was the gist of it. I showed him the bit on Word Press that says they don’t count my views on the site.

Another friend who has more experience in blogging posted detailed stats about his blog recently.  I don’t know how to find those stats yet but I plan to learn over time.  I do know though that the blog titled Scotch and Chocolate keeps getting viewed.  And I see now that Carol Anderson of GrapeScot who led the scotch and chocolate tasting has provided a link to my blog through one of hers….this is the world of blogging. I wonder if I could do a blog about drinking scotch and eating chocolate after cycling to the garden and then finishing the day with a treat from Simply Biscotti.

Any thoughts on what I should write about next?

Bonnie’s Lavender Farm

A Place to Lay My Head

I recently wrote about attending a class at the School of the Arts in Haliburton, ON.  I needed a place to stay during the week-long course.  The school provides a list of  places that offer accommodation.  It is a very long list.  The school has the following proviso included in the list:

Your choice of accommodation should be the result of many questions asked of your host. You are advised to discuss accommodation requirements, cancellation policies and meals with the host in advance to ensure that your visit will be everything you expect it to be. The list and information here is intended for the use of students registered at The School of The Arts. The accommodations listed have not been inspected by the college.

Bonnie’s Lavender Farm

Ultimately I booked a room with Bonnie of Bonnie’s Lavender Farm.  The description from the school’s list of accommodations: 

Room for rent, charming country bungalow. ‘Bonnie’s Lavender Farm’, make yourself at home. Located on private 10 acres, whimsical gardens, candyman (Llama) welcomes artists.

Mental Images-How Far Off Can They Be?

A lavender farm, whimsical, pet llama…I started to form a mental image.  Bonnie would likely have long hair, she’d wear a big floppy straw hat, a long flowing summer dress and on her feet-Birkenstocks.  As I drove towards her home on the first night, little did I know what an interesting person I was about to meet.  The only part I got right was the long hair.  As I turned into the driveway and parked in a pretty, well-tended yard with a powder blue garage. Yes, there was the corral with a llama looking out at me.  Here’s a picture of the garage with a couple of the many bat houses that hang there along with the lilies in front of the veranda.

Bonnie met me on the veranda and when I went inside I was greeted by dogs barking, lots of dogs barking.   Dogs barking upstairs and downstairs.  I recall the information saying the owner has pets.  The upstairs dog was a black standard poodle named Dancer.  The dogs downstairs Bonnie said were German shepherds.  They were trained as personal protection dogs and in my first few moments their barking sounded distinctly like “Don’t you bother Bonnie and don’t you make me come up there and get you!!”.  I kept my distance from those downstairs dogs for the rest of the week.  

So, What Do You Do?

And so, throughout my week’s stay at Bonnie’s Lavender farm, I got to know Bonnie a bit.  The more we talked, the more questions I asked.  The more I saw, the more questions I asked. Bonnie has done many things over the years.  She has trained thoroughbred horses and various animals for television.  She has raised dogs and trained dogs for personal protection and for drug and land mine detection.  She currently trains standard poodles.  That by itself sounds like quite a bit. It continues.  Bonnie has operated farms in a few different places and on those farms she has raised sheep and bison.  There was some commercial photography in there too.  

Artists Welcome 

Bonnie welcomes artists (yes I know,  I was the exception) and you can see why.  She is an artist….and a craftsperson.  She loves to paint-not just the home she largely renovated but almost everything in the home and yard.  

She has painted her fridge pastel green, her coffee maker is pastel green, and much to the surprise of the local mechanic, her International Harvester (IH) normally red tractor got painted green.  Die hard IH enthusiasts would be mortified.  At one point I told Bonnie that I needed to keep moving when in the house, lest she paint me if I sat in one spot too long.

Other art/crafts from Bonnie include outdoor art-things you can display in your garden, the bat houses you saw in the picture above, chain saw sculpture (done with her chain saw, of course), smaller wood figures done with her jigsaw, larger items like her dining room table and cupboards for displaying her products.  She said she’s done using a ripsaw as during a recent project it sent a chunk of wood zinging past her head.  She crochets quilts.  It might have been easier to list what she isn’t capable of doing.  While I went to school to learn about art composition, colour and other theory, Bonnie just seems to innately know those things.  On a piece of plywood she had cut out and painted a bear and it sits in her yard.  When I first saw it I waited to see if it would move.  It didn’t.  And neither did the two bear that she has shot when they were in the yard and after her sheep.  

An Independent Spirit

The week with Bonnie was very interesting.  She talked of her regular monitoring of the shopping channel and then, in the next breath, her interest in the writing of Deepak Chopra.  I have no idea when she has the chance to do any of it after she has maintained her farm and pursued the arts and crafts.  Maybe she reads while operating her wood splitter. 

Ah yes and about the lavender.  She does grow lavender.  She sells lavender plants as well as her handmade soaps and lotions and creams and sachets and greeting cards and other things.  She carefully wraps each product and puts it in a bag she has decorated and finally inserts a little handwritten saying she picks from a jar she has filled with same.

Who knows who you will meet when you are beyond full-time work and you have the opportunity to spend a week taking a course and staying at a farm.

Bonnie’s lavender farm. Lavender-yes.   Shrinking violet-no way.  Thanks Bonnie.

Bonnie and Dancer

Dusting the wheels on the fridge-a true story

Sayings that take on a life of their own

It is my observation that families and/or people who have known each other a long time and shared many experiences end up with some unique words or phrases in their vocabularies.  The phrase might be the result of someone making a mistake in the use of a word…or an idiom gone wrong and then over time the phrase becomes normalized within the group or family.  In fact it becomes so “normal” that it’s used without thought or thinking that you might need to explain the phrase to those who aren’t aware of the history.

In our family a few of those off-kilter phrases are:

  • If you give a man an inch, he’ll take a rope RATHER THAN if you give a man an inch, he’ll take a mile.  A mistake someone made once in the presence of my mother and so 60 years later, the phrase lives on in our vernacular.
  • Pronunciations we know are wrong but we use them either for effect or automatically leaving the listener wondering about knowledge our grammar. One such word is fingernilefail RATHER THAN fingernail file.  
  • </. Our mother used the former and now I have to think hard before using the word at all.

    And so we come to Dusting The Wheels On The Fridge. Years ago when we were invited to our dear friends' home for dinner we arrived to find them in the middle of a marital "discussion". It went something like this-he felt they should be focussing on the dinner party preparations for the evening. She (according to her husband) was spending the limited time cleaning things and doing tasks that were not on the critical path to a successful evening. He coined the phrase and asked her to stop "dusting the wheels on the fridge!"

    It is a phrase we have used since. And one that rings so true for me- particularly when I am going away for a bit. Instead of focussing on the packing or preparing I suddenly have a need to send cards I should have sent weeks ago or finish all the laundry (even if not needed for the trip) or phone someone or or or.
    A true story and recently born out yet again as I readied for a few days away. Is it just me who is compelled to dust the wheels on the fridge at the least appropriate time?

    Do you have sayings and words that are unique?

The Wit of Appliances

I know a man who, upon occasion, uses the phrase “it is a truth”.  Curious phrase but it serves to give credence to whatever will be said next.  And so, it is a truth that household appliances and to some degree farm machinery possess some sort of inanimate sense of humour and a desire to make humans look stupid.  Someone should do a study, a trial to bear this out.   It would show this is a true story.

Farm machinery humour

I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan where, starting well before the legal driving age, you were operating farm machinery.  This included all manner of tractors and machinery that hooked on behind-seeders, cultivators and rodweeders, swathers and combines.  I remember clearly on more than one occasion where something would break down when I was operating it.  A sudden grinding sound or a gauge that showed over-heating and I would stop things in their tracks and wait for my father to show up so we could fix things.  Eventually he would come to check on me (this is pre-cellphone days of course) and when I explained what was wrong he’d do a test drive and there would be no sign of any trouble.  It’s my belief that when the machinery sat out in their little commune on the edge of the field they would speak amongst themselves and say “let’s make Barb look as if she doesn’t know what she’s doing”.  And they were very successful.

Home appliances scheme

In our married lives we have had about three sets of home appliances.  I mean large appliances, as in fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer. When you buy things at the same time, some say they wear out at the same time.  That’s not really the way it happens.  The appliances speak amongst themselves too.

If one appliance has an ailment and a repair person is called then the other appliances think that they might need some pampering and attention too and soon they break down.  We once had a repairman in to fix our stove.  While there he noticed the make and model of our dishwasher and he said he was surprised to see it was still working for the model was a lemon.  That dishwasher heard that and within a month it broke down.  We have learned through that experience you should never speak ill of an appliance while in its presence.  

Over the last year or more our geriatric washing machine seemed to be making louder and louder sounds while it continued to work very well.  About three weeks ago, over morning coffee, my husband said it might be time to think about replacing the washer.  I told him he shouldn’t say things like that-the washer could hear him and think it was time to break down.  My husband said there was no chance the washer heard him-there was too much other noise in the house at the time and the door to the laundry room was closed.   It was less than two weeks later the motor on the washing machine seized up, the breaker blew and it was time for a replacement.  Here we are now, ten days later and today a new washer and dryer were installed.  We’ve done our first loads of laundry.  The machines beep and whir and chime.   At this point we need to stand there with the instruction book in order to operate the washer and dryer.  The book says if you are having trouble with the dryer you can call the repair service and hold the phone up to the dryer and it will transmit information on its malady!  Seems to me with this new generation of appliances we really will not be able to speak about their health in front of them-they might just call the repair service and lodge a complaint of maltreatment!

Barb’s Best-Boston style

We took a road trip to Boston, Mass. last fall.  Nice place, that Boston.  We enjoyed many of the sights and walked around a great deal.  On the first evening we were strolling along a side street, not far from Boston Common.  It was close to dinner time and we were looking for a place to eat.  We came upon a little bistro place with a decal declaring “Boston’s Best Small Bistro 2010”.  Well, let’s give it a shot we thought.  We were lucky to get seats, we thought, since it was Boston’s Best.  The place did get busy and the food was good.  We left thinking we were fortunate to have stumbled upon the place.

Over the next several days we noticed something peculiar as we continued to walk around.  We saw several Boston’s Best decals-it became a bit of a humorous sighting.  We concluded it was perhaps not the special thing we might have originally thought.  It seemed the designation is given out freely (or maybe you buy it from a Boston’s Best decal shop).   We think the bistro was perhaps Boston’s Best Small Bistro between 3rd and 4th Avenue.  And the dry cleaning shop a few blocks away was Boston’s Best on a Tuesday in October and so on.  On that theme, I figure if Boston can do it, so can I.  So I thought I’d put forward Barb’s Best.  There’s no decal, no jury or panel or Deloitte and Touche, just Barb and what seems to be the Best-at least for that minute or hour or day or month. 

Let’s try a couple:

Best Virtual School-Khan Academy

  • Sal Khan, a former investment banker has established on-line virtual school.  What started out as Sal making a few algebra videos for his cousins has grown to over 2,100 videos and 100 self-paced exercises and assessments covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history.

Best Ice Cream Bar-Magnum

  • Magnum Ice Cream Bars.  They are delicious!  There are several types and not a dud among them.  I’ve seen them in the UK and in Singapore (where a colleague and I ate one a day for a week-because it was so hot there of course).
  • And the really great news is that Magnum Bars are now available in Canada.  If you are really creative you could enter their contest and win a prize valued at $250K!  No kidding, it’s a true story-that’s quite the prize. If you win with the best video (that’s what you need to do, make a short video), I’d appreciate you remembering you learned about it here.  A small remembrance-perhaps a year’s supply of ice cream bars.
If those who follow this blog find this sort of thing interesting, let me know.  I can think of many other Barb’s Best’s e.g. bakery/sandwich shop in an odd location, scotch/food tasting favourites (we happen to be attending such an event soon), italian food/wine match (coming up soon too) and so on and so on.