Friday, March 30, 2012

Goodbye my little brown friend, and thanks!

"...even at my age today, the smell of a collection of these coins, flashes me back to games of Rummoli" 

It has come to be, the retirement of the Canadian One Cent Piece. Our Penny - off to retire after years of service. I won’t editorialize on the inevitability or business cause and effect of this departure from circulation, other than to say, I am sure that the penny has run its course, and no doubt a prudent decision to move on to nickels as our lowest currency denomination.

But, our penny’s impending demise, does cause me to reflect, joyfully, on the part that this little brown disk has played in our lives.

It existed as a small part of our social fabric as children, not solely on the value of $0.01, but it was more than that, pennies provided us much more value than the minimal currency it represented. As a child, pennies were our first true experience with money. Parents freely offered us these coins which we gathered in bunches. I expect that there is not an adult out there who did not have a piggy bank, a jam jar, a bottle that was not filled to overflowing with pennies. Occasionally these pennies would be dumped on a floor and counted, small piles of ten, or twenty five to simplify counting without losing track. Bunched later into hundreds to tally how many dollars the stash totaled. For me anyway, I can thank pennies for the ability to roll coins. A neatly stacked pile of fifty pennies that were destined to be rolled, at first with great difficulty, but after time, an easy task. Maybe there are many like me that recall that very distinctive metallic smell left on our hands after hours of calculating, sorting and rolling our gold mine of cash.

Well before the internet, we sat analysing every penny, looking at the dates, finding an unusually well preserved 1952 penny allowed us to imagine anything that old must be worth a fortune to a collector, and personally I sat those aside in hopes that I would be rich some day. But thankfully without the internet existing, we remained blissfully unaware that a 1952 penny that has been well circulated is worth exactly one cent.  

Family night Rummoli night was a special occasion, it was time to bring out your pickle jar full of pennies and put them to good use. I found juvenile pride of being asked by my parents to get something that was mine in order to have games night. Always an odd sense of importance emptying hundreds of copper colored disks onto the playing surface of the game board (more of a plastic printed sheet). The pre-rolled pennies were never permitted to be opened, only the loose ones. Funny actually, as a child, a rolled stack of 50cents, was a permanent state, our own version of retiring this currency of further circulation. Again, even at my age today, the smell of a collection of these coins, flashes me back to games of Rummoli.

Pennies also introduced a whole generation of children into gambling. Sometimes just used as chips, that were shared, and then returned to the rightful owner, but occasionally, playing for keeps. It was an utterly disturbing reality of seeing your jar slightly less populated after losing what at the time felt like millions of dollars in an evening of poker playing. As an aside, maybe it was only my group of childhood friends who never really knew if a straight beat three of a kind, or a flush beats a full house. Often we would simply agree what beat what – regardless of what the real rules were.

For the near future, our children may not have this joy of jar of currency, displayed prominently in their bedroom, to admire daily as go about their business. A Jar of nickels has true financial value, and young children may not as freely be given a handful of nickels as their parents clean out their change purse, or empty their dress pants pockets in the evening. 

Maybe it was the fact that pennies have been for so long virtually valueless that enabled young children to find value in the in so many other ways.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Stage, Under the Lights

"...As we played, it was almost natural to carry on conversations, exchange laughs, as the music magically happened seemingly on its own." 

 It took me several swings at learning how to play guitar, once at a young age, and that was a less than successful attempt, and again as a teenager.. Closer to success.. still a minimal success rate. In my early twenties I began torturing my friends and family by a concerted effort and hours of noise making practice.

I joined the throngs of basement musicians, trudging through learning songs my rewind, play, rewind on a cassette player. I had no visions of ever playing in front to the cat, let alone any form of audience. However, as my comfort and repertoire grew, I had occasion to nervously play in camp fire settings, and small house parties.

After a good number of basement years, and small groups of victims that were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were subjected to my clumsy guitar efforts, something changed.

I was asked to play and sing for a larger group of people, even strangers, probably 40-50 people that were expecting entertainment. I was very comfortable with my set list, but was knee shaking nervous, as I finished tuning, and looked up at a seeming sea of eyeballs all focused at me. Working though my first song was horrific, focused on my fingers on the neck of my guitar, hearing my own voice as I sang. I was terrified as I wrapped up my first song. This is when something changed completely and permanently. They cheered, and applauded, and started calling out requests.

I know now that the group were probably more motivated by the steady stream of shooters that had been passed around for the previous hours, and they may have reacted the same to a recording of William Shatner singing on a portable 8 track player with a 2 inch speaker. But I didn’t care, my biggest fear was silence. The group was enthusiastic and wanted more – the motivators (tequila and zambuka shots) were unimportant to me.

As I played, I forgot completely about what my fingers were doing, no longer was focused on the sound of my voice. I got lost (in a good way) in performing. It was an unconscious transition, but an amazing one. The music was just happening, much more rhythmic, much more energized, and much more accurate. The music just flowed from my guitar, and rather than an outsider looking in, I became part of the party. With the music almost just happening on its own, I became part of the crowd, observing them, observing me.

Over the years, I had the good fortune to fall into an incredible group of musicians, a drummer, a bass player, and lead guitar player. The three of them were much more skilled than I with their respective instruments, but my clumsy timing and disregard to the laws of music, faded with their influence and knowledge of music.

The phenomenon of music freely flowing unconsciously remained, and was even exemplified with the additional sounds from my band mates. As we played, it was almost natural to carry on conversations, exchange laughs, as the music magically happened seemingly on its own.

As we performed in various bars, and private events, I would stand behind the microphone truly enjoying the sounds of the music, but I expect a surprise to the patrons of these events. I was more enthralled with watching the goings on within the crowd, than any effort to play the music. I could scan the room to see who is tapping their toes, mouthing the words, who we were connecting with, and who we had lost. It was an enjoyable challenge to find those that we had not gained a connection with, and adjust the set list, tempo, and volume to pull them into the music with us. I watched couples arguinmg, I watched men and women get picked up, I watched disputes, laughter and tears. I could see well in advance disputes over girlfriends devolve into physical altercations.

For the many years that I have played with the band and the years after when I played solo on stage, my biggest reward will never be where my fingers of my left land on my fret board, or the strumming rhythm or my right hand. My reward is the opportunity to be a participant in so many events, and the adrenalin invoking sensation of music without any thought or effort can flow from me.

I suggest that the next occasion(s) you have to enjoy live music, look at the performers.. there will be those focused on their instruments, or those lucky enough to be free of the effort and joining you in enjoying the music.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Digital-Evolution.. we may not grow webbed feet, but we are changing.

".. as I personally have coined this new phrase, in an effort to give something so significant, a name; "

Almost an impossible task I suspect, to provide in a few paragraphs the complexities of a presently occurring phenomenon that has been virtually overlooked, yet at the most basic levels is altering our species irreversibly. 

You may note that I have not hyper linked term “Digital-Evolution” to Wikipedia, or any other web address to assist in understanding or even providing a definition... as I personally have coined this new phrase, in an effort to give something so significant, a name; 

dig·i·tal ev·o·lu·tion
1. Relating to the foundational changes to the human species, resulting from technological social collaboration.
2. Slow gradual genetic change during successive generations, as a result of natural selection from the effects global electronic communication, resulting in the development of new altered species. 

Admittedly a very dramatic statement that without awareness, there is for the first time in our history, a non-natural even that is changing who we are who we are as a species. Through the development of man, we have created and utilized TOOLS that have changed our lives (wheels,electricity, transportation, printing press etc.) – all tools that have made our lives easier, more enjoyable, more productive. I concur that it is debatable if medical advances, education, increased longevity, have altered our evolution – and if indeed these do affect how we change as a species, I think we can agree that these are naturally occurring evolutionary steps. 

What is this non-natural event? It seems to minimize this effect by simplifying it down to one word, but in essence, the Internet is changing man. A large portion of how we use the internet, is much like all of Mans other inventions, a tool. Increasing work productivity, and making life easier and more enjoyable.

However, our immediate access to information, from our laptop computers, to handheld digital devices change who we are, not just how we do things. The populous is overwhelmed with methods to collaborate and communicate whenever and wherever we are. We are now well beyond tools to communicate with one another, we have tools that permit sharing of every aspect of our lives. It is unnecessary to list examples of these new innovations, it is only necessary to observe the younger generation, heads down as they punch away at keypads as they go about their everyday activities.

Digging to the appropriate levels to explain this concept, would easily result in a several hundred page thesis, full of analysis, statistics, and testing. Not something at this point I have the resourses to complete, so instead, I offer the opportunity for you to consider a few questions/observations (below) to draw some of your own beliefs. I ask, in this exercise, to look beyond the individual statements, and look beyond the simple accepted facts, and explore the much larger cause and effect;

1. Does the fact that at minimum and growing that 30% of couples meet on line have any effect on our evolution? Consider nature’s way of improving the species buy instinctively matching men and women to produce viable, improved offspring.

2. Can the anonymity of social interaction, potentially cause a devolution on our morals, stepping us back centuries, back to the basic instincts of man. Consider marital breakups resulting from Internet Social Activities, Illegal activities, deviant pornography, cyber bullying.

3. Is the omnipresence of being connected change what is considered the strongest, in the theory of survival of the strongest? Does it change the definition of what is the strongest? How, again, does this affect procreation.

4. Does the effective erasing of borders, geography, and providing worldwide awareness between cultures change the regionalization of religion, culture, and economics have an impact of how we evolve?

5. The younger generation has, within a span of a decade, completely altered how they communicate with each other. Having a whole entire generation fundamentally change their behaviour within a ten year span, have any species changing effect?

Only five questions to consider, I surmise there are hundreds that can be included on this list, and I welcome you to add if you wish.

Virtually every news story of the day, has a component of the new digital world to it, everything from natural disasters (tracking survivors, forecasting the event etc), to labour disputes (economic change due to the new methods we do business), to entertainment, to politics, to healthcare, to.. on and on. We need only hear the news, and consider the root cause and effect. The world has changed. We are changing as a result.

To understand the species changing, Digital-Evolution, we must step back from each individual event that we experience or are informed of daily, and we can see, that at the macro scale.. I propose, is changing or even reverting us back to a changed species. It is something that no tool that man has ever developed has done. Is this for the good or for the bad? I say neither; it is just the way it is.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Lure of Political Promises

"This is just a single example of a political proposal that finds company with hundreds of others that are bait for those tasked with placing an “X” on a ballot."

As from my Blog description, I trust it is clear that I am not a unconditional follower of any political party, rather I enjoy the whole display of political entertainment that can range from comedy, horror, suspense, thriller, fiction, non-fiction or more frequently head in hands disbelief.

Equally as indifferent, do I have passionate about particular party platforms, or who is standing on the platform at the present time. What I am fascinated with is the political process, and the mechanics that go into a party’s election or maintaining their power.

A recent article on a local politicians attempt to “fine” the government in power for breaking campaign promises is a shining example of how political parties prey on the naivety of the voting populous. By no means is this an insult to voters that are excited about the concept of forcing the elected government to stand by election promises, as at a glance, this seems like an excellent idea.

This is what our local politician, Kelly Lamrock is proposing:

"The Fredericton lawyer said political parties should be forced to register their promises during an election. And when that party forms power, an independent office would hold them to account to make sure they follow through on their campaign commitments.

“If an independent office finds for instance they have not delivered, that they have lied their way into office, they should see a reduction in the funding they get from the Political Process Financing Act,” he said".

This is just a single example of a political proposal that finds company with hundreds of others that are bait for those tasked with placing an “X” on a ballot.

Upon a bit more examination of this example, and taking a few additional steps in understanding the ramifications of this particular suggestion. This simple and attractive sounding idea could derail the democratic system. Running something that is as complex, fluid and ever changing as a provincial government requires adapting to current economic, social and political situations. A party being handcuffed (by potential financial penalties) on promises made at election time, but facing significantly changed landscape of the current time, would be at best dangerous, and at worst, financially devastating to the province. Taxation promises made in a time of a booming healthy economy, may not be fiscally responsible to maintain in the case of a sudden significant downturn in the economy. Promises for employment, healthcare, education etc, may not be responsibly met in the case of a unforeseen trade embargo on our natural resources export (for example).

Having a government that has been elected under the conditions of meeting promises or risk penalties would result in a government that is managing the province, not with the best interest in the population in mind, but their own political party’s financial health. A scary thought to imagine, that regardless of the state that the province dwindles to.. The governing party hold steadfast to outdated, inappropriate mandates, for fear of financial punishment.

This example would result in what would look like a ruling minority government, one unable to make the difficult and occasionally painful decisions in order to maintain a strong province. In a minority government, they are handcuffed on difficult and distasteful, but necessary policies in fear of losing their ruling position, and in a financial penalty model, they would be equally as powerless in fear of fines.

To step back to 30,000 feet, it is an interesting exercise to hold ALL political promises up to the light as this one, and to take a moment to look past the attraction to the simple policies, and see what the long term effect on our province might be.

I often get chastised in comparing public sector to private sector, but at the risk of more ranting email in this regard, I am confident that the CEO’s of large organizations, in order to remain in business, and profitable, look daily at adjusting their organization to current environment. Taking away their ability to change business plans, adjust their workforce, manage costs would result in a slow painful death for their organization. Suggesting they get fined personally for changing company direction is laughable. So how could we expect our government to be any different.