Toddlers babble, but that doesn’t let their caretakers off the hook. When the kid tries to talk or learn, play along!

And I don’t mean “play” along – this is serious business for the little brats. Every additional match between a written word, a sound, an image, a real object helps construct the base on which they can bootstrap the rest of their knowledge.

So, when a little guy in your care comes over, points at something and says something unintelligible, please don’t patronize them with something like “that’s very nice, let’s go somewhere else”. Make your best guess as to what they may have been referring to, and start talking about it. If you are dealing with a smart kid and can cue in to his kinds of underdeveloped feedback, it need not be a frustrating process. Your efforts will make a difference.

Posted Thu Jul 6 16:35:00 2006 Tags:

I just witnessed an amusing scam perpetrated by a tow truck operator.

The place: Gerrard eastbound near Broadview
The time: 16:30 EDT
The players: One green minivan, one “Diamond” tow truck, one police car; their respective drivers; many chinese onlookers; your correspondent

Scene 0.

Green minivan parks illegally on south side on street. Traffic is somewhat obstructed by this sole loser.

Scene 1.

Police car pulls up. Cop issues parking ticket. Cop waits.

Scene 2. ten minutes later.

Tow truck pulls up. Cop instructs tow truck to remove offending vehicle. Tow truck operator (father & son) hooks up van slowly. Chinese onlookers look perturbed. They drive away. Cop drives away.

Scene 3. two minutes later.

Tow truck is back, driving the other way on the street, green minivan still on hook.

Scene 4. one minute later.

Tow truck, still carrying its prey, returns to the exact spot where green minivan was originally found. It stops and waits. Traffic is obstructed anew.

Scene 5. ten minutes later.

Owner of minivan appears, and is willing to pay the tow truck operator’s fees. The green minivan is slowly released. Your correspondent exchanges a few merry words with the tow truck people. The minivan’s owner drives it away. Well, not really away, just to the other side of the street where parking is legal. Tow truck drives away.

The End.

The scam is divine. The cop called the tow truck in order to have the minivan removed, so traffic was no longer obstructed. Instead, the tow truck itself obstructs the traffic in the same spot, its operator speculating that the owner is likely to come back soon. Specifically, sooner than it would take them to take the minivan to a depot, drop it off, and find another “client”.

So, who was scammed? Not the owner – he got his minivan back quickly. Not the police – they got their contribution to the parking ticket quota. Just the public – the road users.

Posted Tue Jul 11 18:48:00 2006 Tags:

It’s time for another brief flight-related story.

Or rather, two stories.

The first one takes place a few days ago. There was a time when a week without going flying used to give me the withdrawal twitch (literal dreams, overkeen listening for overhead engine noises). Now that phase takes a month or two to set in, something only encountered when the plane is undergoing serious maintenance. Even two-week break doesn’t feel long any more – I can get back in the left seat, and meld with the machine right away.

So it was in this comfortable mode that I took a few hours off from house hunting and family befriending, to go pleasure flying. This time, there was no mission, no sick person in need of help, no externally suggested reason to go anywhere, but just because. This meant that there was nowhere specific to go, so I picked an area I haven’t been to lately (Peterborough), and whoosh, I was there. It was a plain visual-rules flight, so I didn’t have to talk to anyone on the radio en route, and could just goof off. I thought of one little practice maneuver (an at-altitude version of an NDB instrument approach, navigating without assistance of GPS and other on-board toys, just using the old school ADF), which I finished in a few minutes. Not too bad. On the way home, I got to dance with a few clouds, circling back again and again to look at the same little cloud change shape over a few minutes. Life was good.

On to the next story. This afternoon, I flew to Ottawa for a techie conference thing where I will be giving a talk. An attractive aspect of this event though is its relative proximity to Toronto. Since the organizers saw it fit to plop my talk at one of the last few spots on the final day, I may be able to sneak back home during the week. It’s only a wee over an hour each way.

Today’s flight was unusual in some respects. I flew alone, at an altitude which took me through some tallish summer cumulus clouds. With passengers, I’d have gotten the heck out of there due to the turbulence, but I haven’t worked at bumpy instrument flying for a while, so I took the chance. It was OK – interesting, but not that enjoyable: just plain work. After 45 minutes of that, it was time to descend into Ottawa. Two controllers made it rather entertaining: the first one told me to go as fast as I can; the second told me to go as slow as I can. The first (approach) had traffic behind me (which, since I went right into the “yellow” 200 mph+ range, I probably left behind), the second (tower) had traffic ahead of me (a big jet taking off). Slowing down the airplane from faster-than-cruise to slower-than-final-approach speed was surprisingly manageable on the big draggy bird. In about a minute, with the engine throttles closed, and with every drag-inducing opportunity taken (lowering flaps, gears, slips, S-turns), the transition was complete. 75% of our kinetic energy was dissipated. It’s neat to go so far out of one’s normal routine in order to fit in snugly at a big airport.

Posted Tue Jul 18 22:13:00 2006 Tags:

The “big city phenomenon” is an explanation of weird things one may see if one is out and about in off-peak areas.

The phenomenon first got its name during a very late night drive in Toronto some years back. I don’t remember now why we were outside at 3AM, but there we were. And so were thousands of others. Traffic on the highways was just as heavy as it tends to be at times like 11AM or 2PM, that is outside the morning and lunch-time rush. There were still people walking on the streets, and suicide bikers on the roads. What were they doing there, when all normal people should be pillows? One could only guess. The sheer constancy of activity resulted in the christening of the subject term:

Big City Phenomenon. n. The tendency for a city to have so many people in it that every tiny subpopulation of weirdos is large enough to make the place look crowded.

This goes double for a place like New York City. I and some cow-orkers spent an hour or two mingling with the natives in downtown Manhattan yesterday. The place demonstrates that it is possible to be totally crazy and normal at the same time. Traffic lights? Merely hints – or entrapment for the optimist. Traffic lanes/regulations? Catechism from a despised religion. Courtesy? Not to be found on the street, though there is plenty in the restaurant where the acting-career-bound waiting staff tries to impress with suave persona rehearsals.

I have not seen so many people in one place before. Plus it’s a big place. Manhattan alone is perhaps the size of old Toronto, but it’s entirely built-up-and-up like that smaller big city’s downtown core. There is no room for anything. Dog walking parks are paved fenced enclosures 8m by 20m. Grass comes in multiples of city blocks on one of the several parks, which teem with people. It would be suffocating, if it weren’t also hilarious: the miracular adaptibility of the human race is on display here. Except to see the opposite end of the economic spectrum (the sand/cowdung trading economies of dark Africa), there is no need to go elsewhere to see people operating at peak environmental stress. Dirt, noise, poverty, insecurity, ostentatious wealth, private oases of silence, it’s all here.

The city that never sleeps. Of course – how can anyone sleep at all?

Posted Tue Jul 25 07:00:00 2006 Tags:
Posted Mon Jul 31 18:17:00 2006 Tags: