Friday, October 31, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt --- Blue


When I looked back at the photos on my computer Blue seemed to jump out at me from everywhere. So I just randomly chose a few.

The intense blue of Irises in the early Spring

An artist reproduces the blue of the ocean on the side of a building

This quilt artist obviously is very fond of blue

Yes Vancouver, where I live. How blue is this? Taken on a beautiful Fall
day in October last year


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween from JMB and Moggs

Miss Moggs, the blonde witch on the left and JMB, the redhead witch on the right, met up in Second Life for a Halloween photo opportunity. Actually it was a bit like two stooges as we tried, rather unsuccessfully to have the broom in the right place and the lighting right , plus the correct pose. After the fact I noticed that I had two different witch hats on at the same time. Yes you can do this in SL I'm afraid. Any possible mistake that can be made is usually made by me. Sigh! Now, no laughing else I will zap with you with my Wicked Witch Dark Power Staff which emits some flashing things but no spells, or so it says. Click any photo to enlarge should you so desire.

Looks fairly ordinary in the daytime from a distance

But let me show you a few more photos from the seriously decorated for Halloween house near me. For the past five years the Halloween decor has been been better and better. It's not suitable for very young children but to give you a idea, besides what I wrote about it last year, here are some photos I took recently of the current display. I also showed some photos of this year's display for the Photo Hunt Scary post last week.

When I googled this last year I could find nothing but this year there were all kinds of links from an article in the local paper to a mention in the Vancity Buzz blog, and it even has its own Facebook entry and website.

This year's theme is the History of Terror and begins in the "building" on the left, erected especially for the display and in the darkness, with the odd faint glow, it houses the Ancient Egypt display.

Taken with flash to show the detail. Several rooms filled with these artifacts, in eerie darkness

Medieval is the theme for the next section with figures such as these lining the side garden.

The inferno follows with this horrific representation but a small part.

A witches' coven nestles against the garage as spells are cast and magic potions brewed in the steaming cauldron. I think that fellow is beyond help.

The era of the Plague is represented in the rear garden with bodies on a cart
in the lower right hand corner.

Some pretty ghastly looking pirates with treasure chests full of loot
represent the Age of Exploration.

The Revolutionary Wars section has these life size soldiers complete with canon

The 19th Century Asylum, complete with caged figures and nasty looking things in jars, including a head, was a bit over the top for me. Here is the padded cell with bloodstained walls and syringes stuck into the ceiling and a hideous fellow waiting at the end.

Twentieth Century Mutations are represented by some ghastly pumpkins and
huge ugly insects and trees personified, but not in a nice way.

These homeowners actually have a very nice garden but seem to have no worries about scattering all these figures around for this display. As I completed the tour a woman emerged through the front door and we got to chatting. I discovered that the decoration was done by the two men who lived in the house and this lady who was the girlfriend of one of them. They are definitely not in the "business" as I heard rumoured last year. One of the fellows lectures at the Vancouver Film School and he gets his students to dress up for the show at night which is somewhat scarier as you can imagine. She told me that the sum of the donations they had received towards the three charities they support was over $20,000 last year.

A rather ugly Queen of Hearts, along with other figures, graces the front porch.

This pair in the front garden put you in mind of anyone?

Well, if you have stayed with me to the end of this rather long post, you probably understand that I really love this haunted house. I tell everyone that they should go see it but warn them to go first in the daytime. I have not been game to visit it at night myself.

As a final wrap-up here is a short video taken by the Province newspaper crew. It is worth the time to watch it I assure you.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sharia Law in the UK

No Hair do’s here, serious stuff this time…

I have not done politics here so far, and to be honest I am not too sure what political pigeonhole I should be in anyway. I don’t think I fit any of them neatly, but this I feel needs a comment.

Maybe it will turn out to be a mistake. Maybe I will need a Hard hat this time…

It turns out the UK government has recently officially, but quietly, sanctioned Sharia courts in the UK.

I guess this has been even easier to keep quiet than usual, what with all the problems with the stock market and recession. It certainly seems to have mostly slipped by the public consciousness.

Well if you didn’t notice it I can tell you there are now Sharia Courts in the UK that can give rulings which are enforceable with the full power of the British legal system, through County, and High Court.

Now, right now you can’t just be summonsed to appear before one. You have to agree to submit a dispute to one, but once anyone does…

I find this whole idea quite disturbing. I expect you may be thinking. Well why not? Isn't it a cultural thing?

Ok I must say now, I am not an expert on Sharia Law, I do know somethings about it though. If there is one thing I am pretty sure about, women sure tend to come off second best under it. A Woman’s word counts for less under it.

Imagine trying to get custody in a divorce under Sharia Law. I think maybe ‘Fathers for Justice’ might get a bit of a raw deal, but this would be turning the tables way too far back the other way.

I figure Sharia law is biased against females and the uk Government should not be tacit in allowing, or promoting something that is biased against females. To use a modern term you can argue Sharia Courts/Law are/is institutionally sexist.

The way society looks at things these days I figure you could even go so far as to say it might be viewed as racist to allow it, given that overwhelming majority of any females to “voluntarily” submit themselves to this institution in the UK will probably see themselves as Asian. It is these women who will be overwhelmingly subject to it.

The government insists it is sexist to have clubs that treat the sexes differently. It is illegal to discriminate against females at work.

I am pretty sure you could bet that there is no way the government would have given such an institution a second's thought if it were not tying to placate what amount to volatile reactionary religious feelings.

I am sure there are some out there who would say women can’t manage for themselves, for whatever reasons. That they need the guidance of wiser male heads. There are probably people who would try to say I am racist, or islamophobic, or something, for even making the points I have. I honestly don’t think I am. To me this looks like letting a religious group get away with treating women unfairly.

We have a legal system that may not be perfect, but one we are constantly trying to make sure is unbiased, fair and honest and good for everyone. We have fought for equal rights for women for a long time, some might say we are not quite there yet.

Surely officially authorising these courts is a step backwards?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mozart and Tchaikovsky -- Food for the Soul

Pinchas Zukerman with the NAC orchestra

JMB: I'm getting tickets to go to the symphony with M. Do you want to come?

Old Scientist: Nope.

JMB: Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Are you sure?

Old Scientist: OK. That's different.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is on tour at the moment so last Saturday night, filling in, the National Arts Centre Orchestra performed in the Orpheum theatre under Maestro Pinchas Zukerman. Yes, that same Pinchas Zukerman, one of the world's great violinists as well as long time Music Director of the NACO.

The opening short piece was a contemporary one, Infinite Sky with Birds by Alexina Louie, very fast with the brass being the focus, with support from the strings and woodwinds. I quite enjoyed it however the Old Scientist muttered later if that were on a CD he would skip it. Sigh!

But next followed the Mozart Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.3, with Zukerman playing the violin and conducting the orchestra. One of a series of five violin concertos it was written by Mozart at the tender age of nineteen years. While not my favourite violin concerto, that would have to be the Mendelssohn, a much more dramatic piece to my mind, it is indeed a very beautiful work and to hear it played by Pinchas Zukerman was a very special treat.

If it please you, here is the Adagio, the second movement played by the great Isaac Stern. This is considered one of the most beautiful sections of any violin concerto ever written. A very old slightly flawed rendition due to age but beautiful none the less.

Sometimes it is a pleasure to just go and enjoy pieces that are very familiar to you, to just relax and let the music envelop you. While the Mozart soothes you with its beauty the Symphony No. 5 of Tchaikovsky fires you up with its passion and its energy. One of several symphonies in which Tchaikovsky explores the theme of Fate, his Fifth Symphony is more evocative of the distant rumble of a funeral march, as the clarinets intone a low and somber theme. As the symphony progresses, the theme returns in various guises, sometimes wistful, at other times imposing, but the general motion is toward an increasing mood of optimism, until, in the finale, Tchaikovsky transforms his Fate theme into a triumphal march.*

Here is the very famous French Horn solo from the second movement with that oh so familiar theme towards the end.

As we were walking back towards the car, the old scientist said, "The first time I heard that symphony live was at the Sydney Town Hall with Kiril Kondrashin with the Stalingrad State Orchestra. The brass were just wonderful and the woodwinds too." What? How long ago this was, since he left Australia in 1957, but he still remembers the experience. I have no idea when I first heard this. Do you? He certainly was impressed.

A lovely musical evening it was, somewhat dimmed by the fact that there was a hockey game plus a football game on that evening. All three events seemed to conclude at the same time with the result that it took me 65 minutes to travel from my parking space on the sixth floor of the parkade to the ground floor booth to pay the parking fee. My poor passengers had to listen to me complain bitterly about people returning to cars on the lower levels long after we did but managing to exit before us because kind people let them into the line of cars. To add insult to injury, when there are hockey or football games on they double the usual parking fee. Next time I think I will take the bus!

*Elizabeth Schwarm Glesner

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sometimes Good Follows Bad.

Some sweets for sale in the bakeshop of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

When my Thursday Walking group does the Granville Island walk, like nine times out of ten since we love it so much, we usually have lunch at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Bakeshop/Cafe. We stopped lunching at the Market itself some time ago as it had become very crowded and noisy in the food fair part, for the market is a very popular place both with tourists and locals.

The little cafe is very reasonable, for example a combination of soup and any of their sandwiches is a special, costing $5.95, with all the food excellent quality because it is a very well respected school for training chefs. Since it is small it is quiet in comparison to the market and if we want to visit there afterwards it is very close by.

Several weeks ago there were six of us at lunch at the tables in the rear of the Cafe. We were surrounded on three sides by a wrought iron railing, one side being adjacent to the passageway from the bakeshop to the school's office, through a door at the end of the passage. It had been raining so we had a jumble of raincoats and wet umbrellas scattered about, some of which were on the floor.

As we got up to leave and gathered our belongings my Turkish friend, T, said where is my bag? We looked at each other. Yes, my bag, it was on the floor under my chair, it's not there. Now she always carried on our walks a very distinctive small ladies backpack, black velvet with embroidered red roses. She doesn't drive and often travels on the bus so this suits her very well.

Of course she had paid for her lunch so it was in her possession then. She checked in the washroom in case by chance she had left it there but it was nowhere. She reported it to the manager and more frantic searching followed. Finally I said, the first thing to do is cancel your credit cards and now the people at the PICA showed us how helpful they could be. The young woman in the office managed to get contact numbers for each of T's three cards with the computer in her office and gave her private a phoneline to use. In the meantime others in the office began to look at the security tapes and others offered my friend, who you can imagine was quite distraught, and myself cups of tea. However first things first. T discovered that one of her credit cards had already been used in the short time since the backpack had been taken. When she tried to notify her cell phone provider she could not remember her own cell phone number which is totally understandable since you usually don't call yourself and she was very upset. It came to her eventually and she reported the theft. Finally we had done all that we could and she phoned her husband who said he would return home and one of the group drove her home.

Later that evening she phoned to say they had changed all the locks and had begun to deal with the unfortunate loss and made arrangements to replace her identity and health care cards etc.

During the week, T kept me up-to-date as the people at the PICA discovered the thief on the tapes, a young man who had entered the bakeshop, remaining for a few moments, then leaving. A little later he returned and worked his way along towards the cafe part and hooked my friend's backpack with his foot, dragging it away with no one noticing and finally he picked it up and departed. A copy of the tape was given to the police but it is very unlikely that he will ever be discovered. My friend took a large box of chocolates along to the office to thank all those who had been so amazingly helpful to her and she gave the young woman in the office a beautiful Turkish shawl. Those people could not have been more wonderful and we really appreciated it.

The following week, after our walk at Granville Island six of us trooped in there again to have lunch. I had asked T, is it OK if we go there? Will it bother you at all? But she said, not at all. In we went to find four people ahead of us and only one young lady instead of the usual two behind the counter. So we waited patiently while she served the others and then she ran into the school kitchen to get someone to come to operate the espresso coffee machine. Then she asked us to tell her what we wanted, all one after another and she started to put it on the one tray. But we want to pay separately we told her. She insisted and we thought, oh she is so busy she thinks this is more efficient, we'll go along with it. Finally, we all had ordered, everything was assembled on several trays and we tried to pay. No, she announced, it is complimentary, for what happened last week.

We thanked her and went to eat our lunch. These people took this situation very seriously since I am sure they don't want to have this occur again but I can only commend them on their swift action and their overall helpfulness and the lovely surprise of a free lunch next time we came in. Although our experiences there before this incident were alway fine, now we are greeted warmly by the staff and we have learned their names. Sometimes something good does come out of something bad.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Scary


Last year, in my post for Halloween, I wrote about a house not far from me which is decorated in the most amazing manner for the season. It is the epitome of SCARY. This week I went to the current display and while not as scary on the whole as last year's model, it is still quite scary. In fact three children who were visiting on their own asked my friend and I if we would walk through with them. So we did and they were very apprehensive the whole way. What do you think? Scary enough for you? Click to get an even larger scarier view.

Another very scary fellow

Scenes like this are in the front, back and side yards of this amazing house

Now who would have thought that pumpkins could be scary? Well this lot certainly are!

More photos from this display will appear here during the week closer to Halloween. Incidentally the hosts of the display ask you to consider making a donation to three charities they support and last year they raised $20,000.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Search for the Perfect Hair

Now that Miss Moggs has brought up the topic of hair in a post, well Second Life hair, I thought I might share my search for the perfect hair in that virtual world. But first a few words in general about hair in Second Life.

Your initial avatar comes with hair, which you can alter within certain restrictions but it is pretty ugly and one of the first things you do in Second Life is to acquire some "prim hair"which is basically a wig. The choices are endless, stores abound bursting with different styles and endless varieties of colour. But just like in Real Life, say in the case of a movie star, the avatar's hair has first to be covered by a bald cap to hide the original hair and then the "wigs" are put on and off in the blink of an eye. Most take it all for granted and change hair constantly while others tend to stay with one so others will recognize them, as I do on the whole.

But may I digress a little here before continuing, with a rather poignant story. One of the groups I belong to in Second Life is quite chatty. The members who come and go during the day send messages to each other and share technical tips and lots of useful information and I tend to leave that window open on my desktop when I am in Second Life, sometimes adding to the talk, but mostly just observing.

Little personal things are shared sometimes and in a discussion about hair the other day, one member shared that she is a three time survivor of chemotherapy treatments for leukemia and wished that dealing with hair in such circumstances was as easy as it is in Second Life. She's only 39 and can't work at the moment but lives a very active vibrant life in the SL virtual world. Another piped up that she was currently undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for cancer, a young woman of 26. Neither they nor the other "listeners" knew this about them but only knew them as "friends" in Second Life. They said they would send private messages to each other and I am sure that, as I did, others monitoring the chat thought how great that they had found another who understood. For me it was another example of how Second Life is helping people make the best of a terrible situation in their Real Life.

Back to the search for the perfect hair for my avatar. For quite a while in the early days I wore the Lucile Ball red coloured hair above. It wasn't quite right but frankly I was still intimidated by shopping for hair as the choice was staggering. Then I found this one. Not bad at all. Not quite perfect but much better and very distinctive.

This one? It's OK with some things and goes well with a hat.

Nope, not there yet. This one is very nice and goes well with a certain look. Messy but quite flirty in a way and quite mod.

Not done yet. I have been exploring the Victorian look in Second Life and I needed hair which went with those lush Victorian hats. This one is perfect. All gathered together in a bun with little curls around the face. Not quite so nice without a hat however.

But what about the Damselfly hair that Moggs talked about? Her Farah Fawcett do? The very same style that JMB bought in red a while ago? I do love it but it is not quite me, however I do trot it out on occasion. What do you think?

Sometimes I think that the perfect hair does not exist, not even in Second Life. So maybe one has to compromise or wear the hair that suits your outfit of the day. After all it's easy enough. Only a second to change it. But red, it must always be red. That is a given.

Well except for here. September 7th 2008. Bandana Day. Replace your hair and show you care. That day many in Second Life showed our support for charity and for those in RL who may have lost their hair due to illness. We all paid L$50 to purchase a bandana, with the proceeds going to Locks of Love which I wrote about before. I seem to have lost my glasses that day as well as my hair. Blue, to match my dress, sort of.

No, this is not turning into a Second Life blog. But every now and again, if I think you might be interested in something to do with Second Life, I'll write about it here and if you are not, skip along. There will no doubt be something different here next time you come by, from the butterfly mind of JMB.

I'm afraid these are not very professional looking photos as so many are from Second Life. I am truly amazed at some I see. Just candid snapshots, taken on the front deck of my rented log cabin at Nestor.

Monday, October 20, 2008

False Alarm? It seems so. No shingles. Thank Goodness!

All week I have waited somewhat anxiously for my episode of shingles to progress in the standard way. Each morning I awoke, expecting to be in pain but was not. I inspected the area of the rash and the lesions but they didn't seem to be getting worse. In fact after a few days they seemed to be getting a bit better. By Saturday I was convinced that this was not shingles but wanted medical confirmation.

My doctor's office provides a walk in clinic on Saturday morning, staffed on rotation by one of the seven physicians in the practice. People are seen in order of arrival instead of by appointment, so off I went with my book. After reading 100 pages, I finally got to see the doctor who allowed that she did not think it was shingles either. However she said she was too chicken to say stop the antiviral and since it would not hurt, apart from the $135 I had spent on the drugs, I should complete the course, but stop taking the prednisone. Actually I had decided that for myself but it's nice to have your decision confirmed. She said she thought it looked like bites and since it is indeed prime season, spider bites. In fact it does look like bites now that the more generalized inflammation has subsided leaving the lesions more distinct, but since it is on my torso and normally clothed it does seem a rather odd place to be bitten. Still I am delighted that I do not have shingles and I will be getting the vaccine as soon as it is available in Canada next year.

In a way, the whole thing is quite amusing as recently my walking group pals were discussing spiders at lunch. Some of the group were quite afraid of spiders but I said I never worried about them here as I had grown up with some of the most poisonous spiders in the world in Australia. These little charmers, redback spiders were the bane of my existence growing up, as they were everywhere. One of the group at the table was a doctor on sabbatical from Australia who walks with us every Thursday. She talked about how one has to be really careful where you put you hands in Australia, since although their bites are rarely fatal they do cause a very nasty reaction and require medical attention.

Well I don't know if it was a spider who caused my shingle scare and I am still not really worried about spiders. However I am very grateful that it was a false alarm and whatever it was, it was only really uncomfortable for a few days, although the rash and the lesions still linger on.

Of course any conversation about Australian wild life always turns to snakes, again with Australia having some of the most venomous snakes in the world. I thought I'd share this amusing snake story with you which came from my doctor friend that day.

At one point she was working as an emergency room physician and a young couple brought in their 18 month old child along with a dead snake they had found in the child's crib. This is the correct procedure when going for treatment for snakebite, bring in the snake if you can so that correct treatment can be provided.

First things first. The young child was checked very thoroughly but nothing untoward was found. Finally they turned to look at the snake. What did they discover but tiny teeth marks along the length of the snake. Yep, the child had bitten the snake. Whether after its death or had it died from fright at this "savage" treatment, who can say? But besides being ultimately a happy story the ER staff were amazed as well as highly amused and probably have dined out on that story for years.

To those of you who use google reader, I apologize for this post appearing briefly then being taken down. Miss Moggs published a few moments before I put it up so I wanted her post to be on top for at least a day.

Update: Well I don't have the shingles for sure but now I have a pulled groin muscle. Sigh! If it's not one thing, it's another!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A trip to the hair salon

In SL, just like in RL, it’s nice to go get your hair done once in a while.

It’s not quite the same process as in RL. No sitting around for hours and no drinking coffee, unless you make yourself one first ^_^.

No basically you go shopping for a new hair do. The actual styling takes seconds once you pay for it, and you can try out as many different styles as you like for free, to see exactly what you look like.

Now one of my best friends in SL is ‘D’, We often go shopping together, or just hang out. ‘D’ is also very good at competitions and contests. She keeps an eagle eye out and goes in for them, you may remember the witches outfits we bought for just such a contest I mentioned in a previous post?

Her wins often total well over a thousand of Linden$ a month. Clever girl ‘D’! She also has a SL job. I am thinking of getting one there too, but am a bit short of time.

Anyway ‘D’ came across a new hair place the DamselFly Salon, She called me and well, we had to go look, didn’t we?

She had just had a portfolio of pics put together for a modelling contest. Before we set out we checked the shots out.

As it turned out we found some very nice hair dos at Damselfly, one we both particularly liked, and being branded as the terrible twins by at least one of our mutual friends, decided why not get matching hair dos?

I figured “why not?” it was time for a new hair do, I had a platinum loose pony tail for a while.

So we did. I am amazed how just changing hair do can make such a difference to how you look. We both thought we looked pretty hot. I have on exactly the same makeup as in my usual pic at the top.

I called ‘P’ and she popped by while we were there and she allowed as I looked a knockout/bombshell. *Grins* Compliments seldom fail to please.

Anyway it struck us that we ought to get ‘D’s portfolio re-done sharpish to take advantage of her, now additionally gorgeousified, appearance.

So the three of us set out to take care of that, ‘P’ taking the actual shots at a DIY studio.

Before I blow my own trumpet too much I should say another friend took me down a peg (I think) by saying I looked a bit like Farrah Fawcett, well maybe an updated version for the naughties, but did allow as the look worked fine. I can't see it as a 'Farah-Do' myself ^_^

I like the look, I think I’ll keep it for now. I got some ‘model’ type shots of me, Judge for yourselves, what do you think?

While I was drafting this post I discussed it with JMB and guess what? It turned out she had also found Damselfly. Not only that, it turned out she had got the same hair do there! We will have to get a pic.

Next 'D' and I are going hunting for matching outfits… SL beware…

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Family


Last summer we had a family of raccoons who passed through our garden every day, on their way from wherever to wherever. One day, as I sat at my kitchen table, with my camera at hand, I captured this photo.

Mum and the five kits relaxing, probably after digging up my lawn for grubs

Another occasion, Mum, close up: Back off!

Who are you? Do we run and hide?

OK, enough with the raccoons, JMB's real family, taken twelve years ago, before
my daughter's wedding: father, mother, daughter, son
and the most important member, Cleo the Westie, sadly no longer
with us but memorialized in my avatar


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shingles -- A rare medical post but sadly personal

Feel free to bypass the information in Italics below if you find it a little boring or too much information and move on to the main. I did think of your sensibilities and not include any photos but be prepared if you click the links. Clicking on the schematic diagram to the left give a little more information about the progression of a course of shingles.

Shingles or Herpes Zoster Virus (HZV) is the same virus that causes chicken pox. In fact, in people who have had chickenpox, the virus is never fully cleared from the body; instead, it remains dormant in the nerve tissues. When physical or emotional stresses to the body weaken the immune system, the virus re-activates and spreads along the nerve fibers to the particular area of skin supplied by the involved nerve.

Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for the development of shingles, although it occurs most commonly in people over the age of 60. It has been estimated that up to 500,000 cases of shingles occur each year in the U.S.

Is it contagious? Only to those who have not had chicken pox and it will be manifested as chicken pox and not shingles for the first infection.

Shingles start as small blisters on a red base, with new blisters continuing to form for three to five days. The blisters follow the path of individual nerves that comes out of the spinal cord. The entire path of the nerve may be involved or there may be areas with blisters and areas without blisters. Generally, only one nerve level is involved.

As with the blisters of chickenpox, the blisters in shingles eventually burst and begin to crust over and heal. The entire outbreak can last for three to four weeks.

Drugs that fight viruses (antivirals), such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir), can reduce the severity and duration of the rash if started early (within 72 hours of the appearance of the rash). The addition of steroid drugs may have limited benefit in some cases, but studies have not conclusively confirmed the benefit of steroids in combination with all antiviral drugs. In addition to antiviral medication, pain medications may be needed for symptom control.*

Yes, I have shingles. What a bummer. You know some years ago while I was still working one of my coworkers came down with chicken pox. The whole Pharmacy Department, around thirty people had a blood sample taken to obtain a titre for antibodies to chicken pox. If it showed none, then the plan was that you could not come to work until the incubation period for the disease had passed. My blood showed zero antibodies. I insisted that I had had chicken pox, you don't forget that let me tell you, and they permitted me to work.

So here is the conclusive proof my friends, I definitely had chicken pox as a child. The long dormant virus has made a reappearance in the form of shingles. At first I thought I had a case of hives when the rash appeared two days ago, although I am not usually allergic to anything. A friend suggested shingles which had not occurred to me but a little online research soon convinced me that was probably the cause and today my physician confirmed it.

A week long course of the oral antiviral valacyclovir along with a daily high dose of prednisone should hopefully ameliorate the severity of this disease, at least I'm hoping so. Too much knowledge is not always a good thing.

One of the complications of Shingles is Postherpetic Neuralgia, a painful condition affecting the nerves and skin which can last for months, even years. I am hoping to be one of the lucky ones who escapes it, as it affects under 20% of those who develop shingles.

Trust me, I know only too well there are many worse diseases that I could have and I am very grateful that I have enjoyed good health so far. Those of us who toiled in the Pharmacy Department in my hospital workplace were always happy to be down there rather than patients in the beds upstairs, with their diverse health problems. Mind you, that's not to say you won't hear muttering and complaining from this neck of the woods. It's only early days as yet.

* This information is taken from here. It is not exhaustive nor does it constitute medical advice. If you think you might have shingles consult your doctor immediately since treatment needs to be started within 72 hours after the appearance of the rash to have an effect. If you live in the USA you might ask your physician about the vaccine Zostavax which significantly reduces the incidence of shingles in adults over 60. Recently it has been approved for use in Canada and will be available sometime in 2009.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Random Thoughts from JMB on the Topic of Accents

You may wish to watch this video before you read further. If not, do watch it afterwards. It's brilliant. Just over two minutes.

21 accents from around the world by Amy Walker

Growing up in Sydney, Australia as I did, the word accent didn't mean much to me. We all sounded the same, well maybe not my Scottish grandparents, although my father came as a child so he spoke like us too. Perhaps when those people from the country came into town for the Royal Agricultural Show, we noticed they spoke more slowly, but they still sounded like us.

After the Second World War many immigrants came to Australia from Europe but then naturally they had an accent. They were speaking a new language and of course they sounded different. So too did the many Brits who came to Australia but I think we lumped them all in together accentwise. We knew they were British by their accent but had no concept of the fact that they had regional accents other than the broader ones of English, Scottish or Irish. Well I certainly didn't.

All that changed when I went to live in London in 1960. To me, everyone sounded different and my accent was different from everyone else's. Besides the myriad of British accents I found other Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans with their very distinctive accents. The other Colonials as the British liked to call us. You Colonials, ____ , fill in the blank. Always in a slightly derogatory tone.

All those different English accents now began to mean something to me as I learned this one was from Manchester or this one from Plymouth and I actually could put into context where these people came from. How far away they were from each other or rather how close together they really were in fact but how different their accents. Even within London people born there have different accents from each other.

One of my most embarrassing experiences is centred around accents. While living in London I worked as a locum pharmacist, replacing those on vacation, moving from one pharmacy to another and staying for just a few weeks.

One of the stints I did was at a pharmacy in Holborn, right near the Law Courts. Remember these were the days before self service and if I was not busy in the dispensary I would help out at the counter at the front. On this occasion I was the only one upfront so I asked the gentleman who had entered if I could help him. Roisa bloides. Last syllable swallowed. Yes you all know what he wanted but at the time I did not. After the third time he asked, with me no wiser, I retreated in embarrassment and sent out someone else to help him. I was mortified when I was told what he had wanted. Razor blades. Yes we speak the same language but.....

Then of course there is the dreaded connotation of class that goes with accent, at least in English and I suppose it could be the same in other languages. Needless to say that is not a topic I'm going to touch in this post but I was certainly made aware of it for the first time when I went to England.

But just one word about the so called BBC accent. We subscribe to a TV channel called BBC World Service, a twenty four news and commentary channel. I'm glad to say that there is no longer a BBC accent being portrayed on that channel and the presenters are of both genders, of varied ethnic origin and definitely have many different British accents. In fact it seems that BBC English is another name for something called Received Pronunciation (RP), since RP was used on the BBC for a period of years. Fascinating stuff, check the link.

Occasionally in North America, when you see something on TV where the person is speaking English but has a "broad" accent you will see subtitles. I find that rather amusing until I see some movie with very heavy regional accents which I can't understand and I long for subtitles.

So finally we come to where I live now, Vancouver, Canada. A very young city. Founded in the 1870s, incorporated in 1886. Most everyone comes from somewhere else, even the Canadians. And trust me even they have different regional accents. They, along with all the others who are immigrants from all over the world, make this a city of so many varied accents.

In my circle of close friends, many of whom speak English as a second language, there are some delightful accents. My Spanish friend from Barcelona whose native tongue is Catalan has the most wonderful accent. It's quite delectable. My two German friends, one almost accentless in English while the other has a very heavy accent, both here for fifty years. My French friend from Paris but who was married to a German and I never knew she was French for quite sometime after I met her. My Chinese twin, even married to an English speaker for forty years has a very difficult accent to understand and the same is true of my Turkish friend who speaks so quickly in her heavily accented English that I am often lost.

But I must not forget my Italian son-in-law who had the most delightful accent of them all. He speaks almost perfect English but with the musical sounds of one whose native language is the most beautiful of them all.

For the first four years or so of their lives my children spoke with Australian accents. Why wouldn't they? They had two Australian parents. Gradually going to school changed all that. Now they speak with Canadian accents although my daughter has lived in the USA for 18 years so her accent has probably changed somewhat although I can't say I notice it.

What of my own accent? I have no idea how to describe it. I lived in Australia for 24 years, for almost two years in England and here in Vancouver for 47 years. I know I still have Australian vowel sounds and although I use many North American expressions I can't believe anyone would ever think I was Canadian. Often I am asked if I am British, even by British people, can you imagine? That always amazes me. If someone asks me, as sometimes they do, what is your accent I always reply Australian. For although I now call myself a CanAussie or AussieCan my accent leans more towards the Aussie than the Can.

Do accents matter? Of course they don't. Ellee made a comment on Miss Moggs post: I love different accents as long as good grammar is used. That is true for me too, if we are all speaking our native language. But since for so many of those I come in contact with English is a second language I am very forgiving of incorrect use of grammar.

For me the most important thing is to understand each other well enough to communicate our needs, our wishes, our ideas and our feelings. Can we have a meaningful exchange, with no misunderstanding? For me, that's the bottom line.

Accent? I don't have an accent! It's you who have the accent!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I was talking to a friend ‘S’ in SL the other day. Well IM’ing.. and the conversation turned to accents. He has spent time in the US. It turned up some points I figured might make a post, so here goes…

Something that often surprises me when in the US is that, in short interactions, people don’t necessarily seem to spot my accent. In longer conversation people are often curious about my accent, but can have difficulty identifying where I come from.

Now I have what I think of as a basic (and I like to imagine reasonably educated) SE England accent, maybe overlaid by a hint of ‘transatlantic’ that I think I noticed heading west we I passed the Azores coming back. It tends to do this when exposed to US accents for more than a few days.

The thing is Americans don’t generally get that I am from the UK from hearing me speak, and it is not just with me, it clearly happens with other Brits too.

If pushed to guess Americans often tag me as Bostonian, now I have not been to Boston yet so can’t say if I do sound vaguely Bostonian or not.

If they guess at a non US origin they almost always go for Australian, with a fall back position of New Zealand. Again, this is not just with me. In any case it’s ages since I watched and Neighbours so you can’t blame too much exposure to Oz soaps ^_^

Polling my friends and acquaintances this seems to be the general rule, I wonder if it is more widely true.

I wondered if it might be something to do with the movies. It’s like the average US citizen hears cut glass accents in old films and from bad guys, oh and awful ‘cockney’ ones, like Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’ and figure these are it.

Or is it that we just sound more American these days?

Mind you I think many Brits are often just as bad trying to tell a Canadian accent from a US one…

Friday, October 10, 2008

Saturday Photo Hunt --- Lazy


In this modern day and age we don't get the opportunity to be lazy very often. Even in retirement I still seem to lead a very busy life.

But if there is one place where laziness exists in spades it's a zoo as the well cared for animals are fed and housed with no effort on their part whatsoever and they can spend lazy days soaking up the sunshine as this giant panda bear does at the San Diego Zoo.

ZZZZZ. Is it lunch yet? ZZZZZ. Is it dinner yet? ZZZZZ!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bad Behaviour?

Miss Moggs reporting here

I have been in the US recently. I was there for a few weeks this time. I have quite a broad experience of the place.

This trip reminded me of something I have noticed before and I thought I would post on it. A contrast that when back in the UK I tend to get re-acclimatised and forget about it, like a fish not noticing the water it swims in.

I guess the post may prompt some disagreement, so I have my safety hat on ^_^.

Despite all the hype and looking down UK noses about US murder rates and the ready availability of guns in the US. I find I feel safer in the US than I do in the UK. Now you might argue that I am simply not familiar with, and able to spot the dangers, but I figure I do have a good enough experience to do so.

I think much of the difference is in the societies in the two places. It is easiest to give illustrations.

In the US a poor family came into a fast food restaurant for breakfast. The children behaved well the parents corrected their children’s behaviour. They were civilised a pleasure to share the place with.

A direct equivalent in the UK might, from experience, probably allow their children to behave as they pleased unchecked (except possibly by shouted swearing and threats) and irritate anyone else present. If anyone asked them to control their children that person would be likely to get abuse or worse.

Or maybe a large gathering with many different sorts from different backgrounds. You can pick out groups and individuals in a US crowd that are perfectly well behaved, even when drinking, that in an equivalent UK crowd you just know would be trouble.

Or the difference in the crowd at an American football game, family oriented and happy. Passing money, bottles of beer and hot dogs back and forth down the rows as compared to an English football crowd and the atmosphere it creates, how some of its members behave.

I don’t know if it is related to the availability of firearms in the US, or nothing to do with it at all. They do say ‘An armed society is a polite society’.

I do feel that people are generally more open, polite and helpful to each other in the US. That they behave better and with more restraint. Less truculence and aggression, more self control, more civilised.

Is there something that has gone wrong with British society? Did it get broken somehow? I think it probably might not have been this way 50 years ago.

Moggs ducks and runs for cover…

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wilde Cunningham --- A heartwarming story

I know that many of you do not understand my interest, nor any one else's for that matter, in Second Life. But I would like to tell you something that might make you change your mind about its value for some in the overall scheme of things. It's truly a heartwarming story that I would like to share with you.

The learning curve for mastering Second Life is rather steep as I will be the first to admit. So, as always, my solution is to read a book on the subject. I bought one at the bigbox bookstore, the only one they had at the time, although I now own four of them. Then I looked into what they had at the Vancouver Public Library. Not that many, however all of them were situated in the main downtown branch, so sight unseen I asked for them to be brought to my local branch, one at a time.

I browsed each of them and learned a little more about Second Life, technically speaking, but then I read a couple which were more about the social/anthropological side of Second Life which I found totally fascinating. One gave the history of the online MUD or multiple-player computer games which eventually evolved into the exceedingly popular World of Warcraft (WOW) and into the virtual world of Second Life, not a game but a very social, creative, educational variation where everything is built and created by the residents. This I found very interesting for while SL is a new experience for me these games have been around and extremely popular for quite a while.

The second of these social books was Second Lives: A Journey through Virtual Worlds by Tim Guest. In this book Tim wrote mostly about the people, the companies and educational institutions of Second Life and whom he met both in Second Life itself, called in-world, and in real life.

Wilde Cunningham*

One of the SL characters/avatars he heard about was Wilde Cunningham, played by a group of nine people, four men and five women, aged 30 to 70, with cerebral palsy. They are aided in this endeavour by one of their caregivers in real life, June-Marie Mahay, and Tim met up with her online character "at her place" in SL.

June-Marie explained that she helped out in a Boston, Massachusetts, day-care centre for the physically disabled, called Evergreen. One afternoon, she mentioned her online hobby, Second Life, to her group and they all were very eager to try it out. Together the group created a character by consensus, voting on each element of appearance: spiky red hair because they had always wanted to show off and orange skin as a form of racial compromise. They named the character Wilde, after the rambunctious group's nickname. Wilde loved their new online life. They met people, made friends, built an online gift shop which brought them real world income.

With June-Marie's help they began to spend as much time in Second Life as the bureaucracy of the day-care centre and their ailing computer network allowed. They were nine real souls inhabiting one virtual body: multiple personality disorder in reverse.

June-Marie told Tim how amazed she was at the change of the group after 6 months of Second Life. "They're so much more confident now, even in the real world."

She showed Tim the tropical island in Second Life that was owned and maintained by Wilde, a gift from a man called John Lester, founder of Braintalk, an online community to support people with neurological conditions and their carers. While they were both in SL she introduced Tim to Wilde although he was a bit taken aback to find Wilde was a woman that day. June-Marie explained that they alternate playing two months as a man and two months as a woman, which the men find a bit tough, flouncing around as females, while the women have absolutely no problem with being portrayed as a man.

Through June-Marie they had a conversation with Tim, asking him questions about his life as a writer while he inquired about their feelings regarding Second Life. One replied that it was like opening a whole new world. He said it allowed him to have a voice and to say things important to him. Interactions for these people in real life are difficult because of their lack of language and the possibility that they can be dismissed because of their appearance.

Tim's conversation with Wilde ended with a question about did they enjoy sharing the same virtual self. The reply was, "Everyone enjoys playing together. We feel the most like the rest of the world that we have ever felt."

He wrote:

As Wilde, they were liberated from their daily plight. As Wilde they could walk. As Wilde they could dress themselves. As Wilde, they were eloquent, funny and mobile.

So Tim decided to meet them in real life, to visit Evergreen. There he found June-Marie, a freckly, frizzy haired redhead of about forty who introduced him to the group and then they went to the computer room to bring up SL and suddenly, there was Wilde projected onto a screen connected to the computer. As Wilde appeared, Mary, one of the group, said, "Look at me! I'm so beautiful!"

The director of Evergreen, Kathleen Flaherty, while initially unenthusiastic, later realized that she had underestimated the individuals in the group. "They've solved more problems than I thought they would...... They are just more alive. Second Life defines them."

Of course without June-Marie Wilde's help virtual life would be impossible for them She spends hours online herself making changes to their virtual world on the group's instructions. One of the members has a collection of virtual dolls in her house on the island which June-Marie has lovingly constructed.

On Tim's last day he had a private meeting with one of the women, with June-Marie interpreting as needed, where she explained what Second Life had meant to her. She said that people don't take you seriously in real life because of your handicap but that people should listen to the disabled. In Second Life you have the right to be who you are, she told him.

You can find a short 2008 update on Wilde Cunningham, for things have changed somewhat since the book was published. You will also find some of their writings at the link. Like this one.

trapped, by mary

i'm trapped inside my body
trapped inside this shell
while the outside doesn't look so good
the insides doing well

its hard to speak the words dont come
as easy as for you
how can i show you what i feel
or all that i've been through

i yearn to give and share and laugh
i ache to know a friend
i crave to tell you how i feel
that the lonliness would end

i'm trapped i'm trapped but so are you
tho perhaps you see it not
your trapped inside frailities too
your worries make you rot

take my hand oh feeble friend
for i am feeble too
together we can make the world
better for me, better for you

I know that this is a pretty extreme example of where Second Life can make a difference to someone's real life but it is not as uncommon as you might think.

The woman who started the UK Guild of Writers of which I am a member (they do have to have readers to appreciate the writers you know) has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and finds in SL an incredible outlet for her creativity and interests which her health problems make more challenging for her to pursue in real life. She has built a beautiful area, modeled on some Scottish islands, called Milk Wood, without the cold and rain, but filled with flowers that never fade, deer in the woods, swans on the lakes, fireflies and birds, lots of chirping birds. Here she hosts poetry readings, authors reading their works, trivia contests, many different literary activities in the various venues she has built for everyone's enjoyment. She even has cottages for rent and a lovely market where people display their wares.

I have heard of people who are paraplegics spending time in SL and it seems to me that no matter how physically you are challenged if you have some means of using a computer Second Life can enrich your real life in ways that for the rest of us it might seem hard to imagine. Perhaps I'll be an old lady in a wheel chair one day, still visiting and enjoying my Second Life as JMB, seen above ready for Fall.

* Image from here, the first part of a series of four articles written by Wagner James Au.