Is it a Bird, is it a Plane …

t-bird front

By Jim Hagarty
I am not sure what year this Thunderbird is, but it is a beauty. Probably a ’57 or ’58, judging by the licence plate that harkens back to Buddy Holly’s hit song Peggy Sue. The early T-Birds were the best ones. As did other car manufacturers at the time, Ford couldn’t resist the urge to take its gem and make it bigger and more sedan-like and uglier with every passing year. The public finally lost interest and the car disappeared. But when they brought it back for a few years a while back, Ford did a remarkable job of ignoring all those hideous versions it made and came close to reproducing the original. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the brutal recession of almost 10 years ago now. I took these photos at a car show in my hometown this week.

t-bird back

Aware of the Week that Was

By Jim Hagarty

If I nod off in the middle of this, just tuck me in, turn off the light and shut the door. l’ll be fine in the morning.

You see, I have been suffering my annual bout of over-awareness in a month that has been asking an awful lot of someone with such a short attention span. Fortunately, May is Mental Health Month, so my chances for recovery are looking better than if this had happened, say, in July.

The first week of this month, of course, was Education Week in Ontario. I just learned about it the other day and while it was nice to see a special week set aside for education, it seems to me I’ve endured about 2,875 Education Weeks in my life so far, as I am not able to remember a week that went by when I didn’t learn something whether I wanted to or not.

May 6 was International No Diet Day. Again, a bit redundant, unless you call a bad diet, a diet. Last week was National Emergency Preparedness Week but I have got to be honest with you: I was not prepared for it. National Road Safety Week started on Tuesday but I am having trouble seeing the point. I have never yet seen a road that wasn’t safe – but I have seen a lot of unsafe drivers hurtling along on top of them.

Monday was International Day of Families, a day actually decreed by the United Nations as a way to recognize the importance of families. And while they are supremely important, it is fitting that a day devoted to families falls within a month devoted to mental health. Take that however you like.

I got some “rotten news” last week (that was the clever headline on top of the press release) when I was notified that May 7-13 is International Compost Awareness Week. I almost broke down when I learned about it. Just about came apart, in fact. (Should be a Bad Puns Day). The reality is, most of the time, it is not too hard to be aware of my composters as they tend to send up a very aromatic signal that they’re there. I know, I know: If they smell, you’re doin’ it wrong, but I’m long past the fun of turning the piles, adding layers of leaves, sprinkling in some soil, tossing in a handful of earthworms. Now if I can just convince the many mice who have built apartments and streets in my composters that I have not purposely accumulated organic material to satisfy their needs for habitation, I will count myself lucky.

Last week was Nursing Week across Canada and l’m glad it was. Some of my favourite people in the world have been nurses including the ones who helped me arrive on the scene. But I admit to a bit of jealousy mixed in with all this gratitude.

When will somebody institute a Journalism Week? A week to mark the importance of reporters? National Editors’ Day. Columnists’ Month in Ontario. C’mon!!!!

This is not a good thing for me to dwell on as it tends to get me going but fortunately, May is Blood Pressure Month. And Saturday was World Hypertension Day, so l hope that’ll calm the nerves.

I might head out in a canoe for a little natural sedation but of course next week is National Safe Boating Awareness Week so l’d have to spend my time making sure l didn’t end up doing handstands on the bottom of the creek.

The Canadian Landmine Foundation will be launching the Peacekeepers Day Yard Sale campaign this weekend, leading up to Peacekeepers Day on Aug. 9. Some of the yard sales I’ve been to could use a peacekeeper or two to separate those thrifty shoppers tussling over that awesome green velvet Elvis.

Maybe what we really need is a Don’t Be Cruel Day.

The Oxygen Tank

By Jim Hagarty

I am a believer in serendipity, even if I am not exactly sure what that is.

Maybe it’s better to say, I look to the Universe now and then for signs and because I am open to them, I guess, I tend to see them more often than you might think a person should or would.

I used to be a heavy smoker. But there finally came a day, after almost 20 years, when I managed to quit. That was a long time ago when I walked away from the addiction.

But addictions are patient things, always kind of waiting around to get you again if they can.

Today, I had an uncontrollable urge to buy a pack of cigarettes. I fought it all day, but I pretty much knew it was going to be a losing battle. So I drove to the local smoke shop. But before I went there, I stalled a little. Instead, I went into a hardware store to buy a few things. In the back of my mind, I thought maybe the urge would somehow go away if I stalled for time.

I pushed the shopping cart out of the store and across the parking lot to my car. Placing my purchases in the car, I turned to wheel the cart back to the store. When I was almost there, a man about my age came walking my way, carrying a black plastic canister in one hand. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I examined it a bit closer, he saw me doing that and he made eye contact with me briefly.

Tubes were coming from the canister to an apparatus the man wore around his neck. He was carrying an oxygen tank, though he didn’t have the nose piece in place at that moment.

I don’t know what happened to this man to cause him to need oxygen. Maybe he never smoked a cigarette in his life.

But it was odd that he would appear just as I was set to head over to the smoke shop. Now, along with the notion of a cigarette, I had the image of an oxygen tank in my brain.

I got in my car and drove home.

A Brilliant Idea

By Jim Hagarty

Sorry to go on and on about this, but I am a little obsessive sometimes.

We are used to famous people in our little city of Stratford, Ontario, Canada. We have four popular live theatres here that draw a million-plus tourists every year and it is not uncommon to find yourself standing in line behind a famous actor at a soft ice-cream window in the summer.

But years ago, when I learned that famous U.S. inventor Thomas Edison actually lived and worked here for about a year when he was 18, my fascination meter hit ten and its is stuck there. This was more than having an eventually famous person drop in. He actually lived here and had a job with a railroad company.

I’ve been blabbing on and on about this for many years, often in the newspapers I worked for, and recently, the city’s heritage society affixed a nice plaque to a downtown building where Edison lived in 1863, one of the two places he is known to have rented when he was here.

It has always been one of those stories that sort of flew under the radar, in spite of my yelling on and on about it. A few years ago, I toured one of Edison’s factories that was moved to the wonderful Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I attended an outdoor lecture about Edison by a nice young man and afterward, approached him with my Stratford story. He had never heard it. I don’t know how interested he was.

The story is this. Edison worked as a night watchman for a railroad company while here. His job entailed warning incoming trains in time for them to slow down when they reached the town. Being an inventor, however, he came up with a small device he installed on the tracks which automatically tripped the warning signals when the train got close enough to town. The reward for his ingenuity was the chance to catch some shuteye on the overnight shift.

However, one night the little gizmo failed to work and a train rushed through town at full speed. When investigators showed up to see what happened, there was no sign of the young Edison who had invented, in his mind, a very good reason to take off.

Now, after all these years of milking the story, someone has finally decided to cash in. They are opening a cafe and inn at the spot where Edison lived while here. It is called, appropriately, Edison’s, and if you visit our city, you can stay overnight in the same lodgings that the inventor of the light bulb stayed in all those years ago.

I think that’s cool.


Crying Over the Low Cost of Computers

By Jim Hagarty

I was in a big, modern computer shop the other day and l didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Well, actually, I did know enough to cry as I could not afford to buy all or any of the goodies displayed all around me.

Especially what I could not afford to buy was a sleek new iMac from Apple. It is a beauty. If it was a car, it would be a Corvette. Small, compact, all white. It has a flat monitor, as do most personal computers these days, but unlike most, it has no tower – the entire guts of the thing are somehow squished into the monitor itself. Even more perfect: it has a remote control. It would take up little room on my desktop and is the only thing standing between me and complete happiness. (That and the fact that my town does not have a caramel popcorn factory and Sandra Bullock doesn’t live at the end of my street.)

However, the store wants $1,300 plus tax for it – about $1,500. Seems a lot for a personal computer when you can buy brand new Dells and Acers for $500. Still…

To me, this little episode, besides illustrating my ongoing addiction to toys, also shows how expectations have changed when it comes to modern electronics and the prices we are willing – or unwilling – to pay for them. Because sitting in my basement is the first computer I ever bought – also an Apple – for which I somehow had no trouble writing a cheque for $4,000. That was 1994 and although Macs were more expensive even then than Windows-based PCs, all computers were much more expensive than today. It was just assumed that to get one, you’d have to be willing to part with a few thousand.

So, $4,000 then and $1,500 now.

But, the difference in price gets even greater if you count in the disparity in computers. My 1994 Mac has eight megabytes of RAM. The one I checked out this week has 512 mgs. It is, by my calculations, 64 times as powerful. Its speed (as far as I can figure out these things) is 667 megahertz. My first rig runs at 66 megahertz. Ten times as fast. But what hurts is the fact that the new iMac has a hard drive which contains a whoppin’ 160 gigabytes whereas my first Mac has 250 megabytes, half of what my son’s MP3 player, the size of a small cigarette lighter, has. A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes. If my math is right, the new hard drive is 640 times larger than the old.

So, just to round out a few figures, it seems to me the new Mac is about 50 times the computer my old one is at just over 25 per cent of the cost. Therefore (Einstein I am not) that would put the real price of the new computer, in relation to the old, at about $100. Now, $100 I can afford. In fact, I’d be willing to double that, on a dare. But I’ve got a feeling the good people at this big computer store, with their identity tags around their necks, would probably not see my reasoning and slip me a new Corvette, er iMac, for $200.

So, I could go the other way, and tell you that in today’s terms, my old computer is worth about $200,000. And I am willing to part with it, for a very good price. Say, $1,500?

Ah, the heady days of 1994. During a few subsequent shopping trips back then, I bought a laser printer (black and white, eight-by-ten-inch copies only) for $2,000. I just looked up a (probably superior) Samsung laser printer on the Internet for about $100. I bought a scanner for $600. Today, you can buy a better one for pocket change.

I guess what has me crying is the fact that I have computer equipment at home for which I paid about $8,000 and for which, assuming I was able to sell it, I could probably now get enough to buy me a couple of Happy Meals.

However, at least I do not have to agonize over having paid too much for a cellphone. My first, about 15 years ago, cost $100.

But a friend, an “early adopter” who bought one of the original “car phones” years before, paid $4,000. Today, they give them away like popsicles.

And they can do everything but scratch your back.