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Sideswiped by happiness (and other detours) June 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, creativity, energy, explore, journey, learn, life, nature.
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11 comments

boulder born
Janet (aka Lavenderbay) took this photo of me admiring the wonders of nature in New Zealand.

I know, it has been more than a month (wordpress courteously calls it “a while”) since I’ve posted, and a lot of water has galloped under that bridge.

I’ve thought from time to time of ideas that would make interesting posts, but thinking doesn’t always translate into doing. And doing has taken up all of my thinking lately. There was the 10-day trip to Paris, then the 4-day trip to New Brunswick, and all the jet-lag, catching-up, mental hiccups, etc that accompany changes of scenery and daily routine, not to mention time zones. But that’s another blog.

The occasion for writing is a prod from a friend, Goodbear, who awarded me with a “Tree of Happiness” and tapped me for a meme. It’s a simple task, at first glance, just the sort of thing to get me back into writing again: list six things that make me happy; name six blogrollers as recipients of this award; and link to the giver and the givees.

And, hey, I like a challenge, so…. hmm, maybe that could be my First Thing… so here goes, six things that make me happy (but not necessarily in order):

Trail ride in Paradise1. A challenge overcome: Yes, I can be competitive, but I my natural contraryness compels me to compete most fervently against the naysayers and despairers. Most of all I love games or problems that I can apply my Gillian-patented blend of humour, intuition and wiggly lines to come up with a possible solution (or even better, a choice of solutions from several possibilities). This is a highly satisfying pursuit, and I will drop my own boring work at the merest whimper from one of my co-workers in order to spring to the rescue. (But it’s strange how my work never gets finished on time…!)

play again?2. A doggy grin: I will admit it, I am now a total dog convert. Of course, I still love cats, and Cuca has no complaints when I stop to skritch him at that dry spot along his jawbone and behind his ears, but only a dog can make me smile when I’m all pouty inside. All it takes is that happy panting goofy grin to cause my droopy mouth to turn up at the corners, and before I know it, I’m grinning right back.

dapple path3. A forest path: I love the hush of the forest — where the ever-present hum of the city is drowned out by bird song and the sound of the wind in the trees. This is the song of the unwound road, which I have written about here, so I won’t repeat myself, except to say that this is one pleasure that I all too seldom allow myself. In fact, I have been doing way too little physical activity of any kind lately, so I hope we’ll have lots of time during our upcoming camping trip in Bon Echo for trail tramping!

family fun 34. A good meal with good company: I may be good at multi-tasking, but all too often I’m trying to read or work on the computer while I’m eating… or should I say, “wolfing my food”. I seldom take time for breakfast at home, ending up most days with a muffin and coffee at my desk at work, and that’s where my lunch often is as well. Then at home, there’s blogs and e-mails and other computer business to swallow up yet another meal time. How marvelous then when my partner and I actually take the time to sit down and eat and talk and spend a meal together, whether at home or at the pub, with friends or by ourselves. Sometimes it’s only then that I truly relax. (Or maybe that’s just the glass of cheer talking.)

the cat and the piano5. Music: I’m a trained musician, but I’ve stopped playing music myself, at least for the time being. (That’s another blog for another time.) Yet I can’t help being moved by music. I love so many styles, and I don’t always know what’s going to hit me in the heart on a given day, whether it’s the sublime “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (that we were so fortunate to see in Paris), the joyful skip of a medieval dance tune (as played by the Toronto Consort, for example), the full-throated folk-song world fusion composition (such as a song by the Finnish group Värttinä), the aching pain-pleasure balancing act of a Puccini aria, or one of those comfortably familiar ’70s tunes that we can croon along with in wobbly harmony. Music touches me and moves me; it picks up my feet and my heart and my hopes.

green walk, receding6. Photography: I take photographs. If I am seeing something — anything — for the first time, and there isn’t a camera attached to my face, it’s hard for me to fully enjoy the experience. I use a camera to record what I see, urban juxtapositions and natural wonders, friends and family, the world around me. I take photographs to make sense of what I see, and to help me see and appreciate the small delights that lift life away from the mundane. Sometimes when I’m behind a camera, when I’m focusing on a huge vista or tiny flower, time flows by like a dream, and I am completely absorbed by my task. After viewing and enhancing these photos I’ve created, it is a huge reward (and often ego-boost) to choose the best and share them with others. It’s like that with words, too, although they aren’t as immediate — so thanks for taking the time to read these!

Phew. I did manage to find six things, and I haven’t even mentioned chocolate. Wow. I have a lot to be happy about. Thank you, Goodbear, for the invitation!

Now, since I haven’t been active here for a long while, I don’t know whether my blogfriends will notice if I tag them, but I guess it’s worth trying. So, here’s a Tree of Happiness — and an invitation to list six happy things — going out to: haiku-ist extraordinaire Shaw Malcolm, world-explorer Richard, Devon organic farmer Paula, and… oh, Lavenderbay has already tagged the others I would have asked. Oh well. Three Trees of Happiness is a good start, and maybe I’ll find some more recipients later.

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The bear went up the mountain April 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, explore, language, life, world.
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15 comments

After two-and-a-half hours of hiking, the top of Roy\'s Peak looked as far away as ever...

I regret to announce: “Exploratorium” will be no more.

But don’t worry, I’m not giving up my blog. You see, I’ve recently received a letter from the legal owners of the copyrighted name “Exploratorium”, and they don’t want to share. Apparently, people can own words these days. So, I will be changing my blog name shortly to something new.

The trouble is, I’m having difficulty imagining a new name, so I’m hoping you can help me. I’d like it to have something to do with exploring, seeing, and adventuring. I want to see what I can see.

I remember my grandmother singing that song, “The bear went up the mountain”, and to me it expresses something essential about exploring. I think that bear went up the mountain, not because he needed to conquer or own the mountain, but just because he wanted to have a good view.

Yes, I made it to the top of Roy\'s Peak, and here\'s the proof!

And I’ve been lucky enough to not only see some gorgeous mountains, but I’ve actually climbed to the top of a few (small) ones. I’ve stood on the second-highest peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine, and crossed the alpine zone at the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont (and, no, I didn’t take the ski lift from the Stowe resort on the other side).

One of the most difficult climbs — to the top of Roy’s Peak in New Zealand — looked the easiest, but that long winding track took hours of hard slogging! In the first photo I’ve posted, we’re already half-a-day into the hike, and the peak looks no closer than when we started… (You can see a tiny pole, high over our heads? Well, that’s the one I’m standing beside in the photo to the left.)

Roy's Peak path

Anyway, that’s all to say that I’ve got to have a reason to climb the mountain, and not just because it’s there. I knew that the view would be incredible; I wanted to see the snow covered peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park and the deep blue bays of Lake Wanaka from the best vantage point around, and I wanted that view enough to work hard (and almost quit several times) in order to get there. I think it was worth it… although I have to admit that if I knew how hard it would be, I might not have attempted it!

Mount Aspiring view

So, now I’m beginning to see this loss of my initial blog title as a chance to really describe my feeling of “wanting to know, wanting to see, wanting to describe the world”. And how on earth do I express all that in a blog title?

Just browsing: on books & the internet April 10, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in books, communication, consumer, internet, language, learn, life, technology.
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5 comments

booklover's dream

My visit to a bookstore yesterday has me questioning one of my assumptions about myself: that I love books.

Well, I do genuinely love the idea of books, the musty smell of a three-story used bookstore, the crisp riffle of freshly printed pages, the way that soft-shelled penguin paperback opens at random when you drape it over your hand… One of my fantasy rooms is a library with tall windows, a comfy chair, and walls lined with books on every subject (I’m undecided as to whether there should be a butler carrying in a glass of sherry in the mid-afternoon).

I’ve read quite a few books — besides the required school textbooks, I’ve read lots of science fiction, mysteries, biographies, short stories and Canadiana, along with classics such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Homer’s The Odyssey. But, increasingly, I tend to pick up books that look intriguing, but then I don’t get around reading them, or I start and don’t finish (with the exception of mysteries, where sometimes I’ll skip the middle part and rush through to the end so I can get to sleep before 2 a.m.).

So there I was yesterday, leafing through a sale copy of John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World — and thinking, oh, how interesting — when suddenly I stopped and said sternly to myself, “Myself, you are not going to read that book. You are going to leaf through it, dip into a few chapters, then put it aside until you have more time, which will likely be never.”

Alas, another fantasy smashed on the cold tile floor in the kitchen of logic. I felt a sense of loss, then wondered if the internet is to blame.

Because I do read more than ever if you count the internet. I read constantly online, or perhaps I should say I mostly “scan”, because I only stop to read more than a few words when I find something that truly catches my imagination. And, all too often, I even put off that reading to “another time”, bookmarking the page for more leisurely digestion when I can give it my full attention.

Except it appears that I have no, uh… what was I saying? Oh yes, no attention span; it seems to have evaporated. Yet can I legitimately blame the internet for its ability to provide instant information and make me too impatient to bother reading a book?

The surveyors of society are currently claiming that the reading of books is increasing, not decreasing, notwithstanding the naysayers and Steve Jobs’ recent comment (“the fact is that people don’t read anymore”). I would say that about half the people I see riding the subway or in waiting rooms are reading.

So what do you think: are you reading less? Or are you just reading differently?

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Related Links:
Newsweek: “The Future of Reading”
Guardian UK: “Dawn of the Digital Natives”
New York Times: “Book Lust”

When green products go bad March 31, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, communication, consumer, environment, food, nature.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

terrachoice-greenwasher.jpgIn case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a green revolution over the past few decades — at least in the industrialized world — and it’s turned our buying and trashing habits upside-down. Small grassroots initiatives have led to local programs such as recycling, support for products such as organic foods, and increased government regulation. Not surprisingly, now that the corporate world has cottoned on to the financial benefits of “being green”, there’s also an increase in the amount of skepticism from consumers.

Generally speaking, skepticism is a good thing; a responsible consumer should ask questions and do research before making a decision. And the research shows some claims about so-called green goods are insupportable.

According to a recent news report, Canada’s Competition Bureau and the Canadian Standards Association will be soon releasing national guidelines on the use of recycling, chemical-related and other environmental terms. The new guidelines are designed to prevent companies from making vague claims. For example, instead of simply saying a product is recycled, a company will now have to say how much of its content is from recycled materials. Companies will also not be allowed to say products are free of chemicals or substances if the products never contained those items in the first place. Any eco-friendly statements will have to be backed up with data.

The Competition Bureau, an independent law enforcement agency, was spurred to act following a New York Times report that questioned environmental claims made by clothing company Lululemon. In November 2007, the Bureau forced Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica to remove any references to the therapeutic benefits of its VitaSea clothing products because it made claims that could not be verified. The clothing’s advertising said it would release minerals and vitamins in to the wearer’s skin when wet and could improve skin in a variety of ways and reduce stress.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also in the process of updating its guidelines for environmental marketing by holding workshops to get consumer input on terms like recyclable, biodegradable and sustainable along with perceptions of third-party certification of green claims.

At the same time, TerraChoice (which regulates the use of the Ecologo certification) released a study of 1,018 “green” products from big-box stores which found that all but one were marketed with false or misleading eco-claims. Researchers claimed these products were committing what they called the “Six Sins of Greenwashing”:

  1. a hidden tradeoff (e.g. toxin-loaded electronics touting their energy efficiency);
  2. no certifiable verification of green claims;
  3. flat-out lying about certification;
  4. vagueness (e.g. products claiming “all natural” status, which could include hazardous substances that occur naturally);
  5. irrelevance (e.g. products claiming to be CFC-free even though CFCs have long been banned)
  6. or a lesser of two evils (e.g. organic cigarettes).

According to the study, Cascade paper towels were the big — and only — winner, with claims of being chlorine-free, having recycled content, and having legitimate logos checking out as accurate.

greenwashing-sins.jpg

The main problem hampering adoption of green habits and products isn’t skepticism or lack of choice, but misinformation. Take the case of CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, for example. CFLs last up to 15 times longer, use between one fifth and one quarter of the power of an equivalent incandescent, and waste a lot less energy due to heat output. Therefore, they are better for the environment and the household budget. However, their mercury content makes them more hazardous when it comes to disposal than the old incandescents.

Yet, because of a story that broke last spring — and travelled like lightning around the world — about a homeowner in New England who spent $2,000 on clean-up of a broken CFL, enviro-skeptics still say that the CFL campaigns are a scam. What they failed to read were the follow-up stories, the admission of over-reaction by the Hydro company, and the facts about the proper disposal of CFLs. Yes, there is mercury, but new standards have meant the amount has already been reduced, and clean-up is focused on allowing air circulation, then disposing safely of broken glass. And nearly all stores selling CFLs have now said they will take care of disposal as well.

As with any innovation, there are questions that need to be asked, and a watchdog role for consumer groups. But skeptics and early adopters alike have a responsibility to base their decisions — not on fear or blind optimism — but on balanced information.

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Related Links:
Terrachoice: “The Six Sins of Greenwashing”
“Most products’ green claims exaggerated, study claims”
Greenwashing
Ecologo Program
CBC: “‘Green’ Ad claims must be better defined”
Energy Star answers
Slate: “The Case for CFLs”
“How much do flourescent bulbs really cost?”
The CFL clean-up: urban myth