Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Optional Octagon




Please, is there someone out there willing and able to enforce stop signs?


It appears I am the only person on the face of the Earth who obeys these red octagons by coming to a complete stop.


Even most police cars I see, tend to roll through.

While walking our dogs, I am compelled to yell at drivers who don’t even slow down; they just drive right through stop signs as though the posted octagon is purely optional.


Behind the wheel is another story entirely.


The way I learned it, when two vehicles arrive at an intersection at the same time, the vehicle that makes a complete stop first, has the right of way and can leave first. That’s what I expect to happen and it $%#@&* never does.


Thoroughly infuriating.


As a result, when behind the wheel, I am compelled to honk my horn at drivers who don’t do a full stop. 


That has led to road rage behavior by drivers I honk at, which is messed up.


I am convinced that if some diligent police jurisdiction enforced stop signs and collected fines from drivers, we would be able to rid ourselves of municipal taxes and, just a few short weeks later, income tax.


Should I simply wallow in my learned helplessness and, as a rule, start doing American stops?


If you can’t beat them, join them?


Hey, you jerks out there…the red octagon is not optional.


Apparently, enforcing it is.



Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Valueless Quebec Anglo

A few months ago, the city where we live informed us in our bilingual municipal newsletter that it was no longer permitted to communicate with its citizens bilingually.

Our municipal tax bill, which I just received, is no longer bilingual. Even a bilingual explanation and breakdown of our municipal tax bill is no longer permitted.

Regarding our banned official language, no federal political party gives a crap, no provincial political party gives a crap. We are valueless, inconsequential Quebec anglophones, whose causes and rights are of no interest to any political party, or politician.


That Camille Laurin said in 1995, “The English minority belongs to Quebec as much as francophones belong to Quebec”, matters not. 


That then-Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau said in 1990 Quebec anglophones are as Quebecois as anyone, matters not.


The dollars and cents earned by proud Quebec anglos in their Quebec jobs helped make Quebec what it is today – and yet no one cares.


Mission accomplished?



Thursday, January 11, 2024

Remotely Tyrannical

I seek no complex, unattainable goal; merely homeostasis. I strive solely to keep all bodily systems stable and humming.

The goal is harmlessly modest, is it not?


One of the more effective tools for achieving this, it turns out, is the everyday television remote.


Allow me to elaborate with the help of these abbreviations…


PVR – personal video recorder

CC – channel change

FF – fast forward

RW – rewind

MU – mute

DEL – delete


I’m not entirely certain of the reason but, as it happens, I find myself trending in the direction of television intolerance. 


Is it that I, myself, have become more intolerant over time, or is it that television has significantly lowered its standards, choosing to allow for interminable propaganda and unambitious programming?


Both, perhaps.


Regardless of which it may be, the PVR and its remote, almost effortlessly permit me to maintain a stable body and mind.


I am no longer forced to endure an onslaught of propaganda, or bombardment by programming mediocrity.


Thanks to the PVR and the programs it records for me, there is no longer no option. Happily, the TV remote always provides a better option. 


Now when I encounter an irrelevant ad, or some other form of annoying programming, I have plenty of options. My favourite, by far, is FF.

What a welcome relief to be able to fast forward through commercials while watching a show that’s been taped on our digital recorder. 


Things I don’t need or want to know - things I don’t need or want to see? Zoom. I whisk through, and peacefully return to the program I’ve selected.


If FF is not an option, then MU is the next best thing. Enduring propaganda with the sound off is nothing short of wondrous.


The television audio and images together compel us to engage – they lock us to the screen. Not I.


Watching live television these days, I obsessively clutch the television remote, digits poised over the mute button. I poke it when the commercials start and poke it again when the commercials end. It makes life so much rosier.


Some viewers within our household appreciate the muting of ads, others less so.


I can save you having to listen to them. The appeals to pity, humor, responsibility, shock, good health, or charity, are all fairly predictable. Whether it’s banks, booze, betting, fast food, insurance, detergent, or pick-up trucks, their message is the same - we want your money; ASAP.


I tend to find most television programming and propaganda irrelevant, insulting, or boring. I am easily insulted, indignant, or stupefied by on-screen content. Who knew?


Dollar-starved networks may have discovered they are as likely to attract viewers with stupidity as they are to attract viewers with intelligence. I don’t doubt that there are millions of so-called viewers rooted in front of their televisions who do not demand terribly high consumption standards and, more likely, have no interest in imagining what such a standard might entail.


I, on the other hand, couldn’t possibly listen to one more long-winded and genuinely frightening pharmaceutical disclaimer. 


While I’m at it, I couldn’t possibly listen to any more of those interminable Dr. Ho ads, or claims about magic pillows and sheets, and if I can help it, I won’t have to endure another peep about that snot sucking machine.


News anchors with idiotic questions, or moronic facial expressions? Not a problem. CC. 


All types of ginormous humans tugging on underwear for various products? Thank-you, no. FF. 


You didn’t catch what he said to the police officer? Gotcha. RW.


Utterly vapid sports analysts? They never happened. FF.


Popping pimples? Not a chance. CC.


Did you see the guy hanging by his teeth? Check it out! RW.


Contrived co-host banter? We’re outa here! FF.


The intense drama of dysfunctional families? Not today. CC.


A reminder that the tip of a balloon resembles the human anus? All good. FF.


This is nowhere near the quality of program I expected? Hear hear. DEL.


A series of surgical scars, needles in veins, and other scenes that make me squeamish? Not to worry. FF.


Regardless of the infernal distraction, or destruction, it may cause to viewers, there is no limit to the amount of propaganda to which television networks insist on subjecting us. Sports leagues are among the champions.


The NHL cannot just let us watch a hockey game anymore. They cram virtual ads onto the boards and ice surface. Virtual ads appear on football fields and basketball courts. I resent these virtual ads and I’m reminded of my resentment each time these ads change, or move, during games, or make athletes legs and torsos disappear.


It can happen that I lay down my remote while watching television, but those instances are frightfully rare and tend to only occur during commercial-free movies and shows.


There are occasionally commercials worthy of my attention for their creativity or humor, but they are as rare as a one-shot COVID vaccine.


Unquestionably, I am nearing tyrant status with the remote in my hand. That truth I will own. 


I am selflessly looking out for the quality of life of viewers in the room, but mostly my own quality of life, and that thing I mentioned about homeostasis.


If you have the fortitude to attentively absorb the relentless propaganda tickling your tympanic membrane and optic nerves, more power to you.


I have all the power I need seething through my opposable thumb.





Friday, July 28, 2023

Too Far Too Fast

 Warning: This content has been generated by a human


Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!


Is anybody else as royally creeped out by the exploding prevalence of artificial intelligence as I am?


AI is already busy churning out social media posts, classical music compositions, opinion essays and literature. It’s busy creating paintings, and it powers machine-generated trolls that are persuading people how they should vote.


It is posting videos and engaging in conversations with unsuspecting internet users.


AI is busy learning about you.


AI is busy learning about itself.


Some AI systems are teaching themselves skills. They have what’s referred to as emergent properties. Robots are learning on their own. That is worrisome and scary.


Yoshua Bengio, who some consider the godfather of AI, is calling for a pause on developments until artificial intelligence can be carefully regulated. Experts freely admit deep learning has come too far, too fast, and as this dubious technology blisters along, government regulation hasn’t even got out of the gate.


Bengio just spoke before a US Senate subcommittee this week, urging legislators to regulate AI immediately and to make sure regulation is coordinated internationally. He even urged the Senate to set up laboratories to research countermeasures and penalties for criminals who will certainly violate eventual AI regulations.


Governments and criminal organizations will, and probably are already, using AI for nefarious causes.


When experts themselves are urging caution, it’s time to slam on the brakes until everyone is certain we’ve got it right.


I get the feeling Yoshua Bengio is freaked out by the monster he helped create.


I had the opportunity to interview Yoshua Bengio in 2017 on a show I hosted. The founder of MILA, Quebec’s institute of deep learning, and professor at l’Universite de Montreal, was part of a panel discussing Montreal’s reputation as a hi-tech hub.

                                                  Yoshua Bengio appears on City Life with Eric Noel & Alain Tapp


Today, Bengio concedes machines could have human level intelligence within five years. Can you imagine a machine that thinks the way you do?


Using AI, machines are already threatening democracy, swaying people in their political beliefs, spreading falsehoods.


People ought to be told that the content they’re digesting is machine-generated.


Granted, industrialized AI can have unfathomably huge benefits as much as it can have shockingly devastating consequences. It can help with health care, engineering and environmental projects, to name just a few, but it can just as effortlessly and efficiently spread poisonous disinformation and misinformation.


Even experts warn we don’t really know how bad it can get.

We humans must protect ourselves from this transformative technology.


As I was learning about AI and its increasing prevalence, I vowed not to be among AI enablers, the ones who cheer unreservedly for more artificial intelligence in their, and our, lives. There are those who encourage AI to write blogs, social media posts, share conversations, drive cars, and enhance dreams.


Not me. 


I want to drive my own car! Sue me.


I want privacy. I want safety. I want me.


I want to be in control of me. I want to be in control of what I say, do, and think. I do not want a machine thinking for me, or acting as me.


As I say that, I realize, naively, that it’s already too late for me. I wholeheartedly use translation apps and even as I text, my smart phone offers me a choice of words with which to finish my thought.

My smart phone has learned the names of people, organizations and acronyms I routinely refer to in my texts. My smart phone is already learning. About me.


Our machines are getting to know us. They’re learning our tendencies.


I was aghast, realizing that I am already using and even appreciating artificial intelligence. 


Do we care enough, do we think enough, about the ethics of our advancements? 


I’m really not sure. The atomic bomb. Penicillin. The internet. 


We’re not cloning human beings. Or, are we? 


There are always scientists who want to push the limits of possibility to see how far they can go, morality and ethics be damned.


I’m not even sure whether stem cell research has been sufficiently and ethically regulated. Has it?


You may be reading machine generated content, you may be involved in a machine generated conversation. 


Humans have never been able to leave well enough alone; it’s terrifying to think robots may develop the same flaw.


What’s to become of us?


Yet again, before it’s too late, we must save ourselves from ourselves.


Hasta la vista baby.


Wednesday, June 28, 2023

A Wavy Year

It was June 29, 2022, one year ago on this date, when I underwent bilateral hip replacement surgery.

It has been a year highlighted by relentless waves of gratitude, appreciation and disbelief. 


Did my joint pain really happen? Was I really unable to do all those things I can do now and had always done before osteoarthritis? Did surgery really happen?


It wasn’t necessarily a blip when I was going through the process of surgery and recovery, but a year later, it is barely a blip.


The surgery brought a colossal improvement to my quality of life and I shall always be so grateful to Dr. Zukor and his team at the Jewish General Hospital.

Three months after surgery, I was playing ball hockey. I played once a week all winter long and into spring, with our last game on May 1st, when I had this photo snapped. 


There was a time when I was certain I would not play ball hockey, ice hockey, or even ride a bicycle again. When I sat at my drums, I was not able to open my legs wide enough to put one foot on the bass drum pedal and the other foot on the hi-hat pedal at the same time.


My mind had reluctantly sunk into a cloud of bleak resignation.


Now, incredibly and so thankfully, I am playing ball hockey, enjoying long bike rides and playing drums, not to mention going up and down stairs, picking things up off the floor, walking the dogs, and sitting and standing the way I used to, as though I had gone back in time.


Words can never express my gratitude, but I hope that by resuming all the activities I love to do and the things I have always loved doing, I am somehow showing Dr. Zukor and his team how much their dedicated efforts mean to me.


I saw Dr. Zukor last week for my one-year follow-up and, after briefly studying the new x-rays, he expressed his satisfaction at the condition of my hips. I did learn during the visit that there is more physiotherapy I can, and should, do.


It certainly has been a year highlighted by waves of appreciation, gratitude and disbelief and, for as long as I am healthy, I am certain those same magnificent waves will continue crashing on the shores of my life.


Friday, April 14, 2023

I Stand Corrected

When free agent Claude Giroux was signed by Ottawa, I was indifferent at best.

I was no Giroux fan and didn’t see why I should be. I didn’t see why the Senators would want him in their lineup. Ottawa Citizen sports reporter Bruce Garrioch insisted at the time the trade would “reinvigorate the Senators brand”, an opinion at which I roundly scoffed. From my perspective, there was no way the signing was all that.


I admit now, Bruce nailed it.


Giroux has been fun to watch because I get the feeling he’s been having fun. His competitive fire and effort are in plain view every game and he seems to be a good complement to the young stars on the team who I have enjoyed watching for the last three or four seasons.

Through the pandemic and into now, it has been fun to watch the young guys fly around the ice.


Stutzle (39 goals 51 assists), Batherson (22 goals 40 assists), Norris, Pinto (20 goals 15 assists) are talented and play with zeal.

Captain Tchachuk (35 goals 48 assists) is a glowing credit to the team on and off the ice.

Jake Sanderson (4 goals 28 assists) is smart and cool with the puck, and just so effective without it.

Even Kelly never took a shift off.


Chabot, to me, doesn’t always play like he cares. Maybe I’m wrong. 


It’s thoroughly disappointing that the Senators didn’t make the playoffs, but how are you supposed to make the playoffs when your goalies give up…


Two goals on seven shots.

Four goals on eleven shots.

Two goals on two shots.

Seven goals on nineteen shots.


Does any of this ring a bell? Is it a gigantic alarm bell? It should be.


Now and then, goalies for the Senators have played some absolutely stellar games but, overall, the goaltending this season was shoddy; sorrily inconsistent.


I’m looking forward to next year and I’m hoping the same names will be in the lineup. Go Sens Go!


BTW - in case you’re wondering how a Montrealer became a Sens fan, you’re welcome to read my September 25, 2010 blog, titled “You Can Keep Kovalazy”. 


I was happy for Claude Giroux and the team when he tallied his 1000th point at the end of the season, becoming the 96th NHL player to reach that milestone.


As far as his signing by the Senators is concerned, I stand corrected.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Ice Storm Twenty-Five Years Later

We don’t seem to bounce back from ice storms any quicker than we did before, although, true, I did not hear of any hydro towers crumpling this time.

You would like to think that each time these storms happen, Hydro Quebec is diligently taking steps to make certain the extent of future outages will be significantly reduced.

I get the feeling Hydro much prefers to let it happen, counting on powerless clients to muddle through as best they can, whether the temperature is -2, -25, or +35. It’s a thermal crapshoot. This time we lucked out, with a temperature mild enough that heat wasn’t the desperately vital issue it could have been in the dead of winter.


Our ice storms typically happen in early January. I really thought we had made it through this winter without a major ice storm. Yes, there were several instances of mild wet weather during the day followed by freezing conditions overnight that made the following mornings, tricky. I spread pet-friendly salt on our back deck and stairs a few times this past winter to make sure our doodles didn’t risk their limbs when we let them out the morning after wet surfaces had frozen overnight.


I was just flipping through the book published by The Gazette after the terrible January 1998 ice storm, when power was out for 33 days in some areas of Quebec. That things were not that bad this time is more a tribute to Mother Nature than Hydro-Quebec. Twenty-five years later, I have zero confidence that Hydro customers are any more likely to have power, or lose it, in our next ice storm.


This time, we lost power for 40 hours and, as frustrating as we found that, I cannot imagine being one of the households that lost electricity for six days! 

It was strange during the outage to go off to the grocery store where there was power and a slew of employees packing shelves with food. Everything seemed normal while you were filling your cart and then you’d leave and pull into your driveway and remember, oh yeah.


It was the same when we ate at Harvey’s restaurant in Laval at the height of the outage. It was certainly busier than usual, but everything seemed normal until we rolled back into our driveway and remembered, oh yeah.


Thank-you to whomever invented the toilet, James Jonathan Toilet perhaps, for not making them electric.


Hydro should be making a far greater effort to reduce the extent of future ice storm outages while improving grid resilience, a term that, as far as I know, I just made up. In that area, it would be nice to see a surge.