Friday, October 27, 2006

An Aztec with an iPOD?

My sister sent me this fascinating link.

Take a look for yourself.

Could Erich von Däniken have been right after all?

On CBC's As It Happens last night they talked about a fascinating, natural feature in southern Alberta (that may rival Mount Rushmore ??) that can be seen with Google Earth. One description of this rock face is titled AZTEC with an IPOD. If you want to see this image (and perhaps submit a name for the feature) just click on the image of the rock face at the following link and it will take you directly to the Google Earth view.

Spoilers-- The IPOD earpiece is a well-site and access road. Also what
appear as the raised areas are actual the shadows in the depression.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

An amazing Proud Papa

My daughter Jaime pointed me to this story from Sports Illustrated. It's over a year old now, but it's still an amazing read. I love to hear about stories like this...they inspire me. And I'm really just a big marshmallow, as most of you already know.

At the end of the story, there's a link to a video about the story from YouTube. It's best to read the story first.

Strongest Dad in the World
[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]
June 15, 2005

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots. But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son,Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life.

This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. ``He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. ``Put him in an institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. ``No way,'' Dick says he was told. ``There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain.

Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? ``Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, ``Dad, I want to do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ``porker'' who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. ``Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. ``I was sore for two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. ``Dad,'' he typed, ``when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

``No way,'' Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, ``Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?''

How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii. It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? ``No way,'' he says. Dick does it purely for ``the awesome feeling'' he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992--only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

``No question about it,'' Rick types. ``My dad is the Father of the Century.''

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. ``If you hadn't been in such great shape,'' one doctor told him, ``you probably would've died 15 years ago.''

So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

``The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, ``is that my dad would sit in the chair and I would push him once.''

Hand me a hankie, would you?

Here's the link to the video.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Proud Papa - Boston results

Great news for my daughters, Jaime and Kelly, from the Head of the Charles regatta held this past weekend in Boston.

On Sunday, Jaime's Lightweight Womens' Four boat from the University of Victoria (UVIC) just missed defending their crown from last year, coming in second in the Lightweight Womens' Fours to their perennial rival, the Undine Barge Club.

Saturday, Kelly, (on the right in the photo) rowing for the University of Louisville, in the Women's Club Fours, also earned a second place, but was still the fastest collegiate boat, as the winnng crew from Conneticut had all graduated.

When I talked to Kelly after her race on Saturday, she was ecstatic. "It was awesome," she gushed. The thrill for her came part-way through, when the University of Ottawa boat right behind them made up a 10 second deficit to pull nearly even with them.

But rather than give up, the Louisville girls dug down and pulled away from their rival, finally ending up five seconds ahead of them at the finish. It was a convincing display and left Kelly giddy with delight.

Unfortunately for Jaime, they didn't have any other boats pushing them in their race.

UVIC's coach, Ray Lonsdale, (in a news release on the UVIC website) said that the Undine boat (which should have started right behind UVIC) missed the start of the race and had to start at the back of the pack.

That turned out to be an advantage, because UVIC, at the front of the 16-boat race, pulled away from everyone and didn't have any other boats to push them and no one ahead to try and catch.

Jaime's boat ended up eight seconds behind Undine in the final results. The race was not without a bit of controversy, as Undine was briefly penalized 20 seconds for getting outside the course. That would have cost them the victory, but the penalty was apparently dropped after a protest, and the original result was restored.

The Head of the Charles regatta is a head race, a class of regattas that are usually about 5 km long, with the boats starting in 15-second intervals. Because UVIC and the Louisville boat were the champions from last year, they started first, and had to pace themselves without any visual cues from the other boats.

You can read a report about the Louisville boats on the Cardinal's womens' rowing homepage.

The fall rowing season is drawing to a close for both Jaime and Kelly.

In two weeks, Jaime and the rest of the UVIC team will be in St. Catherines, looking to defend their Canadian University Rowing Championship crown.

And Kelly wraps up her fall season next weekend with the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia, Pa.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Proud Papa - Head of the Charles edition

This is a big weekend for me on the rowing front, although I'll only be participating from afar.

My two daughters, Jaime and Kelly are both rowing in Boston, at the Head of the Charles regatta, the largest 2-day regatta in the world.

Jaime is in the Lightweight Women's Championship 4 race, the same race she won last year (that's UVIC (in white) in last year's race in the photo above) as a member of the University of Victoria team. Last year's performance will be a tough one to match, but she's very confident and looking forward to this year's race.

Kelly will be rowing in the Womens' Collegiate 4, with the University of Louisville. She spent the fall working really hard to earn a place in the boat, and all the hard work paid off last week, when the final seat placements were announced. She's had a great freshman year and earning the right to go to Boston (especially with her sister being there) has been a real thrill.

And of course, I couldn't be more proud of these two. Last year, Heather and I were in Boston to watch the girls compete. (See the highlights here, here and here.) Jaime was in the Champ 4 race, while Kelly rowed her single. It was one of the highlights of my regatta-watching career, and I do wish I could be there this weekend.

Oh well. I'll have to be content with phone calls back from the girls, and perhaps watching some of the results come in live on the website. They're putting up a live feed on Saturday and Sunday. At least I can imagine what's going on, since I've been there before.

I'll have an update early next week to let you know how things went. I might even have a picture or two, if either of them remembers to send one along.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When keeping up starts to seem like too much

I've been falling behind lately when it comes to keeping up.

Whether it's keeping up with mainstream news, tech news, communication news, blog posts, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, researching web design, thinking, walking the dogs -- the list just keeps growing.

This past week, the blogosphere was abuzz over news that PR firm Edelman was behind a fake blog for WalMart. It seems that everyone has a take on this and they've all been posting about it. I couldn't imagine what else I could add to the debate. So I haven't posted until now.

The furor seems to be fading, now that Richard Edelman has blogged about it and admitted what they did was wrong. But as so often happens, the fact they took a few days to say anything has added to the problem. For more on this, see Shel Holtz's insightful comments.

All I will add is that this story reinforces my already negative opinion of WalMart, which has a deserved reputation for aggressive tactics in almost every area of business. Why should taking advantage of this new social media area be any different?

What does seem surprising is that Edelman (which is touted as a PR firm that "gets" social media and has been working hard to prove it) should be involved in this. The lack of transparency in not acknowledging that their client was sponsoring the tour was a mistake and one they are paying for now. They should have known better.

Is this a case of a firm letting a valuable client sway their judgement? Or did they overlook the negative impacts this thing would have if the truth got out (as it has and as it always does)?

An interesting note to this story. While it has caused a firestorm in the blogosphere, I can't find any stories in the traditional, mainstream media. I'm not sure what that signifies, beyond the obvious concern that bloggers might be guilty of a bit of navel gazing. In an age of paid product placement in movies, at grocery stores, billboard, etc., perhaps the larger public isn't that concerned about paid placement in blog posts either.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

In praise of tradition

Thanksgiving in Canada has always been one of my favourite holidays. The weather is nearly always wonderful. The bright fall skies, the fabulous colours in Ontario, the crisp, near-winter air in Saskatchewan, and now the sunny warmth of Vancouver Island. I love them all.

What they all have in common is a lot of tradition, the lack of pressure to buy the right gifts and everyones' desire to sit down, enjoy a great dinner and warm conversation. In our case, there's usually some mix of friends and family around and plenty of time to relive past dinners and toast the departed.

It's usually at holidays that we pay attention to traditions. But maybe we'd all be a bit better off if we started paying more attention in between holidays.

This weekend in the Globe and Mail, there was an article about how families that eat dinner together regularly are more likely to have well-adjusted teenagers with fewer eating and behavioural issues. It seems that sitting down and talking to each other every day is a good thing. Who knew?

For the past decade, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University looked for a common denominator for kids who didn't use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco; teens who did not become pregnant.

The researchers were surprised to find that, more significant than good grades at school or church attendance, the one thing that differentiated kids who "engaged in risky behaviours" from those who did not was eating family dinners.

(And kids who ate with their families five nights a week did better than kids who shared dinner on only two nights.)

Seriously though, a report like that points to a larger issue in our modern society - the cult of "doing more and more all the time." All too often, we seem willing to sacrifice things that used to be taken for granted only a generation ago.

For example, few of us expect to walk to work anymore. Nor do we expect to be able to come home for lunch. Children no longer come home at lunch either. Heck, they only have 30 or 40 minutes to eat and get back to the classroom.

And when they're done for the day, they're not on their own. A lot of kids have an adult waiting for them at the end of the school day. I don't think my Mom or Dad ever picked me up from school in all the 12 years I was there, except for a doctor's appointment or something like that.

And with people working longer hours and still trying to pack in all kinds of activities, a lot of families have given up on the idea of sitting down to a meal at the end of the day.

But maybe we should reconsider. If we are really getting our priorities right, we'd make time for some of those things. Again, to quote from the Globe article:

Researchers point to specific health benefits too. A recent study at Syracuse University found that, among kids who have asthma, those who eat dinner with their families miss fewer days of school and have fewer emergency-room visits. Other benefits include: better nutrition, more thoughtful manners, lower incidence of eating disorders of all sorts -- from anorexia to obesity.

So traditions are good for our kids. But we can push this idea a little further.

I also believe it's time that businesses starting paying attention to some of these trends. Too many companies expect employees to work long hours, be available during off-work hours (via email, cellphones or Blackberries) and skip lunch on a regular basis to cram in a few more minutes of work.

But just as families might discover that cramming more and more activities into their day at the expense of long-held traditions (like a reasonable lunch hour and a sit-down dinner) could end up hurting their child's development, so too companies should consider the long-term impacts of a modern workload on their employees' health.

In Nova Scotia, the government has mandated that all provincial employees must take a 60 minute lunch break, preferably outside of the office. It's been ordered and managers are expected to enforce the edict. And it's already having a positive impact on people's performance in the afternoon, when they report feeling energized and ready to work, instead of crashing.

It's a simple thing, but a lot of little things added together turn into big things.

We're coming out of a long cycle of business metrics that have rewarded short-term financial results at the expense of long-term stability, especially among employees. But as with all trends, the pendumlum eventually swings back.

I predict that soon progressive companies will realize that by ensuring their employees do "less" each day, they'll actually gain in productivity, as well as bulding a more effective work force and reducing their churn rate.

The days of "re-engineering" jobs out of existence while burdening remaining employees with even more work are going to disappear. Also disappearing will be the idea that it's cool to be over-worked, stressed out and a stranger to your kids. And I say good riddance.

Then we'll have something to really celebrate at Thanksgiving.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

A brand's worst (and next worst) enemies

What a wierd (and wonderful) coincidence.

While I was still in Ontario, I had planned to write a post about Marineland's jingle. Those of you in Ontario will know instantly what I'm talking about. The rest of you that aren't clued in can go here and listen for yourself.

In the tradition of the best jingles, it's a simple tune, but once you hear it, you don't forget it. And that's why it works. I had a few ideas for what I was going to say about the branding issues, but I hadn't gotten around to writing them up yet.

Today, I opened my mail and what do you know? I discovered that Ted Matthews (The Brand Coach) had stolen my ideas. At least, that what it seemed like when I read his most recent newsletter.

I worked with Ted when we were creating the brand awareness campaign for Advocis (formerly the Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers) and I've been receiving his monthly Insight newsletter ever since.

His comments on branding are usually right on the money and never more so than this month, when he seems to have used my comments, although I hadn't actually told anyone yet. I guess that just shows how insightful we both are.

So rather than my having to write a blog post outlining my own words of wisdom, I can just send you over to Ted's place, and let him do the talking for me. Thanks, Ted.

At any rate, his advice about protecting your brand by keeping an eye on those who claim to be working in your best interests is good. Don't be seduced by "new" when what you're doing is already working just fine.

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