Monday, June 30, 2008

Happy Canada Day...

I wish any and all who read these words, a Happy Canada Day. Myself, I plan on getting out of the city and actually doing a little road trip. To see some of this country. Whatever you do to celebrate the day, do it safely. Spend the day with those you care for and remember those who are overseas, giving their all for our ideals, our beliefs, so that others may someday have a better life.

Murphy's lesser known dictums...

Murphy's Lesser Known Dictums...

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something
right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who
got there first.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will
sit in a boat all day drinking beer.

The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

When you go into court, you are putting yourself In the hands of 12 people
who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

Have a great pre-Canada Day!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

About "The Road"...

Mention the words "the road" to people who are not into the world of motorcycling, and you'll probably get some puzzled looks in return. Mention 'The Road' to any man or woman in the two-wheeled fraternity and you'll see a smile light up their face, as they sit you down and begin their own particular dissertation on what 'The Road' means and/or represents to them.

The Road. For those who ride, the very word can send shivers of anticipation down your spine. It can conjure up memories of past travels and inspire dreams of new ones. It is a word heavy, pregnant with promise and mystery. It is the very sound, the very name of adventure. The road is always far more than the simple hard surface you're riding on... The road is everything. It is that one other element which forms the perfect triangle, when combined with yourself and your ride. It is the alpha and omega. The beginning, the end and everything in between.

The road and the endless adventures that stem from it, are the very reason why people embark on their riding journey. It is the reason a 'normal' person will go out one fine day and purchase a murder-sickle. Buying a motorcycle is the logical response for those of us who are fortunate enough to have heard the siren call of The Road.

The Road is not a destination. It's an experience. At times, it can be a test, a challenge. A man and his ride pitted against the vagueries of fate, against the elements, against distance, fatigue... The Road is filled with the unknown. It offers no guarantees, no promises of safety, no warnings of harm. It does however offer excitement, risk perhaps, adventure always.

Lee Roy Parnell said it best...

On The Road. (Bob McDill).

There's a sad, young wife
Never had a life,
Her mother said she'd married young
And her husband's a fool
Never listened to,
All the things she's never done.

So she packs up that ol' Ford Fairlane
She's had about all she can bear,
A suitcase, a hope, and a hard rain
She's gonna find it all somewhere.

On the road
Where the night is black.
On the road
Where you don't look back.
There's a white line in the distance
Where it's goin' nobody knows,
If it's anywhere, you'll find it...
On the road.

There's a teenage kid
No matter what he did,
Nobody ever understands.
And he don't measure up
And he's had enough,
Can't be his Daddy's little man.

So he pulls out that hot rod Chevy
Puts in his favorite cassette,
He ain't goin' to no college.
The world is waitin' up ahead.

On the road
Where the night is black.
On the road
Where you don't look back.
There's a white line in the distance
Where it's goin' nobody knows,
If it's anywhere, you'll find it...
On the road.

Eddie and Jill got time to kill
The kids, they never come around.
And a gold-plated watch was all he got
When the company shut his life down.
So he takes down that old Airstream
They don't know where they're bound,
Sixty five years and still searching
For somethin' that they never found.

On the road
Where the night is black.
On the road
Where you don't look back.
There's a white line in the distance
Where it's goin' nobody knows,
If it's anywhere, you'll find it...
On the road.
On the road.
On the road.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A sad day indeed...

I can't begin to say how sad I am today. Somehow I missed the news over the weekend, I suppose... yet this morning I find out that George Carlin passed away on Sunday. He was 71, God love him. Now I don't get all teary and nostalgic, simply because someone who was a 'celebrity' has died. I could care less for the vast majority of those who wear that label. But George Carlin was truly an entertainer. There may be some performances of his which I have not yet heard or seen, through one medium or another, but they would be few and far between. It is only fitting, that the loss of someone who provided us with so much laughter, is always greeted with an added measure of sorrow. So many in our society are lionized and provide us with nothing in return. George Carlin was the exact opposite.

I always enjoyed his humour and wit. He was a very intelligent man, a skilled craftsman when it came to the use of the English language. I know many people liked him because of his abrasive style, the fact that he simply liked to tear down individuals or institutions which had become too big and self-important for their own good (or anyone else's...). Not being either an American or political myself, I found that he had become overly-political in his rants in later years. Then again, as Plato once pointed out: "The punishment which the wise suffer, who refuse to take part in government, is to live under the government of worse men".

I will remember him more for his uncanny sense of observational humour and his one-of-a-kind delivery. For the way he delighted in taking 'taboo' or uncomfortable social topics and dragging them out in the spotlight to analyze, dissect and poke fun at them. I loved him for his total refusal to even consider political correctness. For his masterful use of exageration ("I don't have pet peeves...I have major psychotic fucking hatreds!!!). For his complete and utter disdain of those who would embrace mediocrity, stupidity or hypocrisy. He did more than make me laugh over the years. He made me think as well. I will miss his humour and wisdom very much. Goodbye, George. And thanks for everything!

And so... just as you have taught us, a final cheer for you:

"Rat shit, bat shit, dirty old twat...
69 assholes tie it in a knot.
Hurray... lizard shit!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Flight Deck ballet....

In my humble estimation, each branch of the military: Land, Sea and Air, regardless of the country represented, are manned by people of skill, grit and dedication. Yet amongst these dedicated professionals, there are those who stand out from their fellow brothers/sisters-in-arms, simply by the nature of their trade and by what they are called upon to do.

I hold a special respect for those who choose to serve in the special units of their countries military. Our own JTF2 and paratroop battalions (which have garnered well-deserved acclaim and admiration from our allies), those who serve with the British SAS/SBS, the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment, the US Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, SSF, USMC... The German GSG-9... and the list goes on.

Yet there is a group of individuals who have my most profound respect, my unwavering admiration, simply because of what they do, where they do it and how well they carry it off. I am speaking of the men and women across the globe, who serve onboard the carriers. Those who perform on a daily basis, with outstanding skill this flirtatious dance with danger... those who perform the 'Flight Deck Ballet'.

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is a dangerous place to be. It is noisy, slippery and hectic. Combine this with jet engines that can suck you in, jet blast that can either fry you or blow you into the sea and it becomes a health and safety nightmare. Throw in some helicopter rotors, E2C Hawkeye props, elevators going up and down, folding wings, mules driving about, jet fuel, live weapons, arrester cables that could cut you in two.... and then there is the unseen danger - fatigue. Its amazing that carrier personnel aren't nervous wrecks!

Each person on the flight deck must wear a colour coded jacket and helmet to identify them and the role that they perform. Here is a breakdown of what the colours stand for:

Yellow: Aircraft Handling Officers, Catapult and Arresting Gear Officers, Plane Directors.

Green: Catapult and Arresting Gear crews, Air Wing Maintenance personnel, Air Wing Quality Control personnel, Cargo-Handling personnel, Ground Support Equipment (GSE) troubleshooters, Hook Runners, Photographer's Mates, Helicopter Landing Signal Enlisted personnel (LSE).

White: Squadron Plane Inspectors, Landing Signal Officer (LSO), Air Transfer Officers (ATO), Liquid Oxygen (LOX) crews, Safety Observers, Medical personnel, Visitors and VIPs.

Red: Ordnancemen, Crash and Salvage Crews, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)

Blue: Plane Handlers, Aircraft Elevator Operators, Tractor Drivers, Messengers and Phone Talkers

Purple: Aviation Fuel Handlers (also known as Grapes)

Brown: Air Wing Plane Captains, Air Wing Line Leading Petty Officers.

To watch these consummate professionals in the performance of their duties, in such a fast-paced and dangerous environment, is to witness the embodiment of teamwork and skill. It is absolutely fascinating.

On Confidence...

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence, than does knowledge". - Charles Darwin.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When is sunset...?

Another interesting call today. This lad phones from Ontario and apparently he's been involved in some sort of marine fender-bender. He's looking for information on a) whether or not he is required to have navigation lights aboard his pleasure craft?; and b) do these have to be turned on precisely at sunset?

The vessel in question is a 14-foot, 25 hp boat. True, not an ocean-going freighter but that doesn't matter one bit. The same rules apply to him as do to a larger commercial vessel. These same rules apply in waters around the globe, because they are based on international conventions. So the old statement of: "But surely...we're just on a small lake here... the rules can't possibly be the same!?!!??", does not hold any water. Rest assured... they are. Boating is so easy, isn't it? It's a real no-brainer...

Anyway, seems our man was putting along when the boat astern of him rams into his ass-end. It was after sunset by all accounts and this lad did not have his nav lights on.

The Collision Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act (remember that bothersome little document, that all boaters are obliged by law to know and abide by???), were drawn up to provide direction on situations like these.

Section III of the Collision Regulations deals with the Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility. (Fog, rain, snow or darkness).

Rule 19 provides specific regulations for the conduct of vessels in restricted visibility.

Rule 20 provides the regulations on Lights and Shapes, dictating that these SHALL be complied with from sunset to sunrise. (Shall is what is called a 'directive'. It's not a suggestion or a friendly hint... It's an ORDER!)

Rule 21 provides the International Definitions for Lights. It will describe what is considerd a: Masthead light, sidelights, sternlight, towing light, all-round light and a flashing light (various colours, various meanings).

Rule 22 Describes the Visibility of Lights - International. This section details the distance from which any given light on a vessel MUST be visible.

Rule 23 provides the specific regulations for Power-driven Vessels Underway - International.

As for when sunset and sunrise occur officially, this data is published daily by Environment Canada and is also widely published on TV channels and in newspapers across the entire nation. There is simply no reason NOT to know.

Sunset by the way, occurs one minute sooner every day after the summer solstice (21st of June...the 'longest' day of the year). Conversely, sunrise occurs one minute earlier every day after the 21st of December, the 'shortest' day of the year. So basically, sunset and sunrise occur at a different time of day, every day of the year.

It's unfortunate that we know very little about this other boater. For as much as this caller was clearly afoul of the Collision Regulations, this does not abrogate the other boater of his responsibilities vis-à-vis these same regulations.

Rule 13 clearly describes the regulations dealing with Overtaking another vessel.

Rule 7 details the regulations for addressing the Risk of Collision. Did the other boater do everything in his/her power to avoid the risk of a collision?

This is one story I would like to be able to follow up on, but unfortunately I don't have that option.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stories of the Gatineau...

Now when I talk of the Gatineau, I don't mean, the river or the region in Québec of the same name. I mean of course the HMCS Gatineau, DDE 236. Gatineau was my first ship as Senior Radar Plotter/RPI (or Naval Combat Information Operators, as MORPS had dictated we should now be called). Our Skipper and XO were the best you could wish for (Guy Jeffries and Lenny Edmunds), as were the CBTO and most of the other officer cadré.

We had quite a cast of characters onboard to keep things entertaining. She was a happy ship and those were heady times. I have to honestly admit that I never laughed so much or so well, anywhere before or since. We had some of the funniest and most good-natured people I had ever sailed with. Our Chief ERA was named "Relic" and his second IC was CPO2 'Gigolo' Jack Watson, whose slurred war-cry of: "I'll kick yer tits off!!" I can still hear to this day. Our Doc, the good Warrant Rick Burchill, PO1 'Stormy' Ross was our head 'Ping Bosun' and his psychotic sidekick PO2 J.P. Faffard. One of our PO2 Bosuns was Johnny LeFort and he remains, to this very day, the funniest and most calamity-prone individual I have ever met.

Many were the nights when we would leave the Chiefs & Petty Officers' Mess, aching with laughter. All it would take was a couple of wets and someone to get Johnny started up on one of his reminiscings... He would literally have us crying, unable to breathe, we were laughing so hard... What times we had. It was nothing short of a gift, to have been surrounded by so fine a crew, as we spent so many gruelling months away from our loved ones at home.

How good it is to have these memories to look back on. The people, the travels, the sights, the experiences... To be able to recall, as though it were yesterday, the good fortunes I have had in my life.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Dolphin Code...

The Dolphin Code was a method of encrypted communications designed to enable submarines, submariners, ship captains, helicopter pilots, and anti-submarine aircraft to speak to each other in areas of submarine operations or in many cases, social and domestic activities surrounding people of the "Trade". It came as a follow-on from the popular, but not precise enough, surface ship simile known as the: "Falcon Code", which originated sometime in the 1960's.

The Dolphin Code was authored and published by Captain(N) K.G. Nesbit, CD (Ret'd) while serving as the Commanding Officer of the Canadian submarine, HMCS/m Okanagan, as a Lieutenant Commander in 1975-6. During his tenure as CO Okanagan, Lcdr Nesbit played many gimmicks in order to "kill" the foe. Aboard, he had among the crew many who spoke French and two others who spoke in Spanish and Icelandic respectively. Together with a plethora of language and noise making devices such as an electric razor resonating in a pipe tobacco tin, 'Nezzie continued to baffle his surface, sub-surface, and aerial aggressors over the underwater telephone from any depth below the layers.

It was at this time when Okanagan adopted the spanish moniker: "Pandera Rosetta", whose animated figure of the "Pink Panther" was illustrated on the front of Okanagan's fin until she was decommissioned in 1998. It was also at this time when the submarine's main engines were dubbed "BERT" and "ERNIE" in commemoration of the stokers' love of the TV program, Sesame Street.

This then, is:

The Dolphin Code.

1. Your last surfacing procedure was:
A. First class.
B. Surprisingly good.
C. Understandably awful.
D. Indescribable.

2. I presume you got your ticket in a raffle.

3. For the last serial you could have used any fishing vessel.

4. My battery is:
A. 100%, I will simulate a Nuclear Submarine if you wish.
B. 75%, I will simulate a Nuclear Submarine for a short time if you wish.
C. 50%, I will not simulate a Nuclear Submarine, regardless of your wish.
D. 25%, I wish to simulate a Conventional Submarine, and will hot-pipe if you wish.
E. DEAD, I hot-pipe now, regardless of your wish.

5. I was unaware that medical standards had been revised. You must be blind as a bat.

6. During the last action you displayed noticeably suicidal tendencies.

7. Once again you have demonstrated a commendable ability to practise basics.

8. The last serial was so bad that we watched a double feature.

9. Your exercise instructions are simple. Simply awful.

10. I am unable to act as evasively as I wish.

11. I am unable to act as unevasively as you wish.

12. I am surfaced (surfacing) because:
A. I must make repairs.
B. I wish to bale out water.
C. Your chances of locating me are negligible otherwise.
D. I wish to barbecue the next meal.

13. I must temporarily withdraw from the exercise because of difficulties with:
A. Technical systems which are to difficult to explain.
B. Battery/motors/generators, I no go right.
C. Sonar, I no hear right.
D. Ingress of water, I no float right.
E. Fire/smoke, I no breathe right.
F. Personnel, I no lead right.

14. Please accept my apologies for failing to make the assigned rendezvous. My reason is as follows:
A. The navigator is a Newfoundlander.
B. I was doing something else at the time and didn't think you'd miss me.
C. I erroneously assumed that you would be where you said you would be.
D. My navigational equipment has not been updated since the Boer War.

15. If you don't ask me to raise more masts I won't ask you to fly with your wheels in the water.

16. Your last attack is assessed as follows:
A. Excellent, within 500 yards.
B. Good, within 1000 yards.
C. Marginal, 1000 to 2000 yards.
D. Poor, over 2000 yards.
E. Awful, over 3000 yards.
F. Unmeasurably distant.

17. It is difficult to believe that you and I are operating in the same ocean.

18. Your message (Date/Time/Group ________):
A. Appears to have been drafted hastily.
B. Does little to foster good relations.
C. Is a shining example of illiteracy.
D. Is not held by this unit.
E. Is held by this unit, but we wish it wasn't.
F. Requires the sort of reply I am not used to making.
G. Was a crippler.
H. B.O.H.I.C.A. (bend over here it comes again).

19. When we were surface sailors we also used to do silly things.

20. If you decide to graduate to advanced exercises, please hire a different submarine.

21. If you ask me to fire another smoke, I'll scream.

22. Submarines never cheat and rarely lie.

23. It's a pity that in wartime we'd be on the same side.

24. Your approach to the problem was impossible but tactically sound.

25. A. Your helicopter frightened me.

B. Your helicopter didn't frighten me.
C. I frightened your helicopter.
D. I wasn't aware you had a helicopter airborne.

26. A. Thank you for your valuable assistance.

B. Had assistance been rendered, I would have been thankful.
C. No, thank you, I do not require assistance.
D. Please do not render assistance, I need your help like a hole in the head.

27. You have been on task for several hours. You must be suffering terribly from crew fatigue.

28. We have been on task for several weeks. Next week we will probably begin to suffer from crew fatigue.

29. Tracking without attacking is the commonest form of military masochism.

30. I suppose the worsening weather will mean you'll have to stop the war.

31. The adverse weather is affecting us greatly: The movie projector has tipped over twice.

32. If you're so good why aren't you in submarines?

33. Submariners do it deeper.

34. Submariners think deeper.

35. Deep down you know it makes sense.

36. Submariners are super.

37. Submariners have bigger balls.

38. Diesel boats forever.

39. Black is beautiful.

40. Breaker one nine, this is rubber duck, I think we got us a convoy.

41. Ten Four.

42. Please be gentle, this is my first time.

43. We think the water has been sufficiently ensonified. Maybe you should try something else.

44. You have the uncanny ability to complicate a very simple exercise.

45. Intelligence is a God-given gift. Doorknobs are man-made. Mental midgets only have God's love. Is my point clear?

46. After working with you I now realize why some animals eat their young.

47. My CO and XO can outdrink your CO and XO.

48. When someone is as good as me it's hard to be modest.

49. Happiness is 500 ft in force 12.

50. With friends like you, who needs enemies?

51. Don't knock a stern shot until you've fired one.

52. If you provide the fresh water, I'll provide:

A. Soap.
B. Towels.
C. 60 dirty bodies.
D. Whiskey.
E. All of the above.

53. G.O.Y.A. (Get Off Your Ass)

54. D.B.S.F.W. (Don't Be So Fucking Whiney)

55. B.U.F.F.S. (Buck Up For Fuck's Sake)

56. P.P.P.P.P.P. (Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance)

57. S.M.F. (Smart Mother Fucker)

58. With sub-killers like you around, I look forward to a long life.

59. Missed me again.

60. Can I go home now?

61. We may be small but we're slow.

62. My bite is worse than my bark.

63. I was delayed in returning to periscope depth because:

A. A large whale was holding me down.
B. I forgot to vent my depth gauge.
C. I was waiting for the last reel to finish.
D. I had to resolve my plot.
E. I wasn't sure if I knew that you knew where I was.
F. I wanted to annoy you.

64. Many thanks for:

A. Your kind hospitality.
B. The newspapers.
C. The skin books.
D. Nothing.

65. Excuse me sir, but I think you have confused me with someone who gives a damn.

66. My reports/reply/message/letter was (will be) late for the following reason(s):

A. Writer's cramp.
B. Typewriter unserviceability due to overheating.
C. My priority list didn't coincide with yours.
D. We didn't think you'd notice.
E. I plain forgot.
F. The XO plain forgot.

67. R.P.C. for: (Request the Pleasure of your Company...)

A. Noon cocktails.
B. Informal operational discussion.
C. Post-exercise punchup.
D. Light meal and refreshments.
E. Sarnies and sludge.

68. M.R.U. because: (Must Return to Unit...)

A. I am otherwise operationally committed.
B. I am otherwise socially committed.
C. Your last such event was disastrous.
D. I am unable to maintain your pace.
E. I don't want to come.

69. W.M.P.: (With Much Pleasure...)

A. You offer so few invitations I can't afford to pass up this one.
B. Let's do it again.
C. for a short time.
D. For as long as you'll have me.
E. With bells on.

70. Your social event was:

A. First class. Thank you.
B. Disastrous, as expected.
C. One which should never be repeated.
D. Most detrimental to health.
E. A crashing bore. Better luck next time.

71. Unbelievable. Will advise Mr. Ripley.

72. A. Very well done.

B. Well done.
C. Well done. Sort of.
D. Not well done.
E. Badly done.
F. Very badly done.
G. Don't do it again.

73. Have lost the bubble. Will retrieve.

74. Bubble found.

75. What can I say?

76. Reason(s) is (are) as follows:

A. I goofed.
B. XO goofed.
C. Somebody goofed.
D. Inattention, for which some son-of-a-bitch will pay.
E. Temporary decline in usual high standards.
F. Another example of usual low standards.
G. I thought I could get away with it.
H. Misdirected malapropism.
I. Lapsus lingae.

77. This port is:

A. Fantastic. Better not send surface ships here.
B. Outstanding. Can we come again?
C. Reasonable.
D. Not the sort of place Submariners should visit.
E. Hostile.
F. Only good for storm avoidance.

78. Wish you were here.

79. Bet you wish you were here.

80. Glad you're not here


It would not be fair to publish the infamous Dolphin Code, without also posting the original Falcon Codes, which started this whole trend of official "unofficial" military communications codes... The problem is that nowadays, it is hard to find an original, authentic copy of the Falcon Codes themselves. The ones which are touted as being the "Falcon Codes" that one might find listed online nowadays, are nowhere near what the true ones were. They have been "Americanized", bastardized and corrupted to the point of having lost all semblance of their former character. They have become crude and crass, where once they were merely irreverent and humorous. There have been 'codes' added to them and the originals have been changed to curry favour amongst those who perform carrier ops. They are pale, pale imitations of the originals... In the end I don't suppose it should be surprising. These type of things are living entities, that morph and change with the times, it seems. I don't think the Dolphin Code has, however. I suppose those submariners who serve in the Canadian Navy (and other navies of the Commonwealth...) are more apt to know and follow tradition. The Navy itself, is based on a long and wealthy bedrock of tradition.

Should I manage to find a true copy, I will most certainly post them as a future entry. Should there be any 'hairybags' or 'aerdales' who read these musings, if any of you lads or ladies know where a real copy of the Falcon Codes rests (circa 1960-1986), please advise accordingly.

Ready Aye Ready!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On those who serve...

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. " - George Orwell.

Take that...

"I'd slap you, but shit splatters!" - Unknown.

How big is big...?

A French male caller from Québec wanted to know if there were any "length regulations", with regards to someone taking their boat out onto the Ocean. When asked as to what they meant specifically, they reiterated that they were looking for information on whether their boat had to be a certain minimum length, for them to be allowed to take their boat to sea.

I'm betting that what prompted this call was a conversation this chap had with a friend of his and in all likelihood, it probably went something like this:

"Yeah...I'm thinking about taking my boat out to sea...".

"What? That little 16-footer you got out there?"

" Don't look at me like that...".

"Are you serious? Have you looked at it? You've got a friggin' 9.9hp motor on it... You couldn't outrun the smell of your own farts, let alone a wave...".

"Ben non... I got all the gear. I know what I'm doing, 'ostie!"

"No, seriously Dude... You can't do that. You'll just end up feeding the fish."

"You're saying I can't do that? Who says I can't do that? The government?"

"I dunno, man... Maybe. There must be some kind of law that would prevent people from doing something so stupid...".

" wait there. I'm gonna find the number and phone the Coast Guard. I'll ask if there is a law that says my boat has to be a certain size to go on the océan!"

The rest as they say, is history. I'm here to tell you that the ocean is huge. How huge? Your mind would have a hard time registering it's immensity. It should also go without saying that something that large, is bound to be incredibly powerful. And it sure the Hell is!! I have sailed on ships that were over 300 feet long and there were times when I felt my ship was far too small to be out there. There were times when caught in some sizable storms, I actually feared for my life. Subs (God love them...) are different... you just dive and it's like you're in your living room at home, by comparison. "Happiness is being at 500 feet , in a Force 12 storm."

I have also seen aircraft carriers that were 1,000 ft long, wallowing like they were corks. No, there is no law here in Canada, or anywhere else to my knowledge, which would prohibit a person from taking their boat, regardless of it's size, out to sea. I'm going to have to go on the assumption that nobody, regardless of nationality, culture, race or intellect, would have thought that such a law would actually be necessary... That means that you're just gonna have to go out there and find out on your own, sonny.

On 'higher education'...

It seems nowadays that you can scarcely engage any younger person in conversation, without hearing these tales of woe with regards to student loans and the crushing debt they create. We're all aware of how expensive college and university tuitions have become over the years. But when you talk to these young people a little longer, you discover that none of them are employed in a field which is even remotely related to the subjects they have bankrupted themselves to learn. D-Uhh...

I realize that I myself am from a now-defunct era, where practicality, thought and reasoning prevailed for the most part. Or at least one would like to think so. Where does this mindless and overwhelming push to attend university come from? Who ever started this train of thought where it is somehow mandatory for young people to bolt for university, right after they have finished high school?

Universities are a wonderful place for someone who knows what they want to do with the rest of their life. Or at least what their career path will be, for the next 10 to 15 years. If your career choices demand that you have a certain degree in a specific discipline and if you are willing and able to take on the financial burden of your final education years, go for it.

Universities are a horrifyingly expensive place to hide out "simply because you're not ready to face the real world". Suck in your pride and do that at home, with your parents blessings. Campus life has regularly been portrayed by Hollywood and the rest of the media world, as one long period of drunken debauchery, briefly interspersed with unsuccessful attempts at forced education. This particular slant on the hallowed halls of academia, has now been generally accepted as fact, by those who venture out in search of their degrees.

College and university has become an entitled vacation, after surviving the "harrowing and socially awkward years of high school". Seriously? Just what kind of young people are we releasing into the world? Get over yourselves... school is no harder, nor more 'socially awkward' today than it was back in my day. We just have young folks that are more screwed up who are attending it, that's all. Why? 'Cause largely they've been allowed to raise themselves, without noxious 'parental interference'. We can all see how well that worked out...

Yet time spent (wasted) in an educational institution, should not be equated with knowledge. The two are certainly not mutually inclusive, by any means. The employee rosters of fast food joints across this nation, are fairly teeming with those who are over-educated and under-smart.

Here's your diploma... one, possibly two minor unusable degrees, upon which you've blown some $58,000.00 plus, and four years of what should have been some of the most productive years of your life. Now repeat after me: "Do you want fries with that...?"

There is certainly a sustainable argument for higher education, providing those seeking it actually have some sort of clue as to what they want to do with the rest of their life. Universities and colleges are for those who have a direction in their life. Those who waste time and money attaining degrees which are inconsequential in the real world, simply to delude themselves that they have attained a higher caste in our society and are somehow 'better' than others... well that's just sad. To say nothing of being ridiculously pompous, misguided and an indication of other dysfunctional traits that will require some serious therapy to resolve. And you thought university was expensive...

Higher education indeed...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On federal employees...

I have to admit something to you. I often carry on about what criteria should be expected of those wanting to work within the federal government. As in they should be intelligent, motivated, hard-working, honorable, self-reliant but capable of working well within a team atmosphere.

I may be projecting a bit there, for those are qualities that one looks for in a good military prospect. One who is willing to serve one's country, not one's own interests.

What government entities such as the Canada Revenue Agency, or Human Resources and Social Development Canada, or Citizenship and Immigration Canada, or Fisheries and Oceans Canada / Canadian Coast Guard look for in their prospective employees, I haven't a clue. What I can tell you is that in the main, I have seen proven as fact, every single negative, derogatory stereotype ever attributed to civil servants. Far too many are soulless, uninspired, dreary automatons, simply marking time in an effort to claim that final pension, doing the absolute minimum required by their terms of reference, if that. They are masters of apathy and ineptitude, led by an equally unskilled pool of 'superiors'.

Many federal employees exist in what is called a 'poisoned work environment'. These workplaces are rife with croneyism, prejudice, mistrust and harrassment of every type. There are of course rigid rules of conduct which exist to prevent such occurences in the federal workplace... but woe betide anyone who seeks to have these rules and regulations enforced, in an effort to protect their rights. They will quickly find themselves persecuted, ostracized and eventually hounded out of their job.

This particular malaise reaches right up to the very top echelons of every federal department. I say this only because without their approval, tacit or otherwise, this situation could not continue as it has for all these years. Oh sure, there are legions of 'directors' and 'managers' who are all too pleased to accept the nomination for the post and the title that accompanies it. Most of these people are not fit or qualified to hold such a title, though. They are patently unschooled in any field of leadership. These individuals lack the will, the skill and the fortitude to 'rock the boat', by challenging the status quo. And so nothing changes.

For those of you who wish to catapult yourselves into this brand of federal employment, be my guest. Although the perks (time off, salary, health benefits and pension) are really quite good, I personally have yet to find a position which would make the trade-off worthwhile. Me? I still look forward to coming into work every day and bring home nothing negative at the end of it. I'll pass for now...

In closing, most military members do not consider themselves as 'federal employees'. They are military. The military does not have any political allegiances. True, the same cannot always be said about those who haunt the higher echelons of 'Disney on the Rideau' (NDHQ), but in the main the military is apolitical. They serve, regardless of what Party is in power. And many times, in spite of the Party in power.

A Primer on Government info lines...

This is going to be my effort to de-mystify the world of government information phone lines. I will attempt to lay out as best I can, what they can and cannot do for you, as well as why they have the limitations that they do.

What they provide:

- Government info lines provide information on the programs and services delivered by their particular federal department or agency. This would include information on the service itself, applications, eligibility and contacts for a regional office such as address, phone, fax and e-mail. They do not provide information on the programs or services of other federal government departments, whether you think they should be related or not. Remember that just because you happen to think a specific federal department should be able to provide information on a certain topic, does not make it so.

What they do not provide:

- Federal government information lines do not provide information on programs and services which are provided by provincial or municipal governments. Many callers have no comprehension of the division of responsibilities between the various levels of government (federal, provincial and municipal). The office of the Prime Minister is not responsible for the garbage pick up on your street, contrary to what some woman in BC believed. The federal government is not responsible for Social Assistance (Welfare) in any of Canada's provinces or territories. The provinces and territories are. No part of the Canadian federal government, is responsible for shark finning which might be taking place in oceans three continents away. As unbelievable as this might sound, there are those who believe that Fisheries and Oceans Canada can arbitrarily shut down a fishery in a foreign country. I'm thinking: "Put the crack pipe down and back away slowly...". We regularly encounter such wonderful examples of howling ignorance. The federal government is not responsible for issuing freshwater, recreational fishing licenses in your area. Again, that's your provincial or territorial government. Just to give you an example of how thick some people are, we have just finished responding by e-mail for the 6th time, to a woman from Ontario. She is looking for information on commercial fishing license buy-outs in the Great Lakes region. Commercial AND recreational fisheries within the Province of Ontario, fall under the jurisdiction abd management of the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources... NOT the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (obviously part of the federal government).

- Government information lines do not provide information that stems from either common knowledge or common sense. Don't laugh here. As a conservative estimate, I would rate a good 40% of all the calls we receive, as being from people looking for information that most folks get from their parents before they reach the age of 8. Seriously... I can't tell you why you shouldn't walk in front of a moving bus, or tell you why you should actually wear a life jacket when onboard a boat. I can't convert Kilowatt-Hours into Horsepower for you. Nor can we convert litres to gallons for you. Call your Mom... Call centre personnel are not permitted to offer information from personal experience, from printed material, from websites or from a phone book either. These clear divisions over what we can or cannot provide as information, are all governed by what is called the mandate of the line.

What is a 'mandate'?

Simply put, the mandate of any particular government information line is the operating parameters the Information Officer must operate within. The mandate is what dictates not only what information we provide, it also lays out how that information should be delivered, the greeting, allowable hold periods and how to end the call. It governs every step of a call from the moment the line beeps in our headset, to the moment the call is terminated.
It is also the mandate which provides us the means of giving an ignorant caller the heave-ho. We're here to provide information, not to take shit from any of our callers, be they irate or not. To operate outside the mandate of the line can cost an Information Officer their job, so don't ask them to...

Another preconception held by many callers, is the makeup of the government itself. It is largely assumed when the caller learns that you are located in Ottawa, that you frequently have lunch with the Prime Minister and are a regular guest at the Governor General's residence as well. That we are privy to every decision-making process affecting the lives of Canadians everywhere. They also believe in their mind's eye, that the federal government is a small, closely-knit group of people, who occupy the same small building and are all fully aware of the goings-on in each other's departments. I can't begin to tell you how much this is NOT HOW IT IS!!!

The federal government is made up of literally hundreds of different departments and agencies. Each one is in turn made up of dozens of sub-departments, each one having it's own prograns, services and information. They each have representatives in every province and territory, from sea to shining sea. And Canada is a very, very big country. A fact I find myself having to inform callers of, on a regular basis.

Automated Lines.

When you reach many automated lines within the federal government (we're not automated, live service only...), you will be greeted initially by a telemessage. This is a recorded menu that will give you information on services/information available from the service you have reached. It will be followed or accompanied by a list of options and directions for contacting these options. (Press 1 for... Press 2 for...). A word of advice here: Listen to the telemessage! By listening to the telemessage, you will be given the means to communicate with one of their agents, depending on the information (option) you require. It's really that simple. You just have to be smarter than your phone... We know how the system works. Now, so do you.

We are how many people...?

Remember that the one toll-free number that you have for that specific government department, serves the entire country. There are over 30 million of us Canadians here, so don't be amazed if it takes a little while to get through to someone. You can't possibly be the only one in the country who has decided to phone that line at that particular moment.

Are you crippled...?

Every now and then, we encounter callers who are just about apoplectic because they can't reach someone on the phone at one of their local government offices. In despair, they will frequently ask us what to do. It's unfortunate that all we can do is verify the number that they have. I will however point out that their offices are open from this hour to this hour, "FOR IN PERSON SERVICE!!!" Basically, I'm trying to hint that if they really wanted to talk to someone and the phone wasn't working for them, they could get off their ass and make their way down to the office itself. That way, they can talk to someone face to face. How effective is that!?!??!!? Wow!!!

So when you do call up a federal information line, do some research on what you are looking for first. Find out if it's a service or a program that actually comes from the feds and not your provincial or municipal government. Be aware of what department you're calling and what services/information they provide. Remember that we are not all sitting around casually in large overstuffed chairs, eagerly awaiting to while away the day chatting about whatever strikes your fancy. Accept that there are limitations to the information that we can provide and do not come across with this: "Yeah...but you guys are just a call centre..." mentality. We are all intimately familiar with the information we provide and even on our worst day, are infinitely more clued in than you are.

If you have absolutely no idea as to who might provide the information you need (don't feel too bad, most Canadians are woefully uneducated when it comes to 'the gubmint'), phone the 1 800 O Canada line (1-800-622-6232, 8a.m. - 8p.m., Mon.-Fri.) They are the information and referral service for the entire federal government of Canada and also have some limited provincial and territorial contacts as well. For most Canadians, they should be the very first place to call. They will be able to re-direct you appropriately.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Where the Hell is Ontario...????

I have no idea what it is, but there is something which prompts some of our callers to identify their province of Ontario, as being in Canada. "And from which city and province are you calling us today?"... "Ontario, Canada!".
"Oh...I see... as opposed to Ontario in Nairobi... or the one in Turkey, gotcha! And the name of your town or city was what again...?"

I mean okay, there is a City of Ontario in the County of San Bernardino, State of California. There is a City of Ontario in the State of Oregon as well. There is also a County in the State of New York by the same name. However, I doubt more than six people in Canada actually know this and none of them reside in Ontario, in all likelyhood. Maybe it's us...? Maybe they think we're actually a call centre that's been outsourced to Mumbai or Lahore. Hmmm....never thought of it that way before... Maybe I should start practising my East Indian dialects on them? The fun and merriment could be endless...

"You've failed the very first test..."

So I receive a call from this french lad from Québec City. Nice chap. Courteous, fairly well-spoken and to the point. Says he: "I'm looking for information on employment opportunities with your organization". Not a problem. I offer him the address, phone, fax and e-mail address for that specific head regional office in Québec and the young fella takes down the address and the phone number.

I then offer to transfer his call directly to the office in Québec and ask if we hook up with this gentleman's voice mail, does he want to leave a message? "Certainly, I'll leave a message", he replies. So I transfer the call and sure enough, we meet up with the head HR person's voice mail. I transfer and hang up.

Not 2 minutes later, I get another call. It's this same lad. "Yes, you just transfered me to the office in Québec City. Do you have another number I can call there, to obtain the information I am looking for?" I advise him that for the information he is looking for, that is the only phone number we have for the offices in Québec City.

Now he begins this little dance of: "you can't fool me, you must be holding something back...". "But surely", he says, "in such a large and important building, there must be more than one person who can provide me with such"

I reply without missing a beat: "Oh, most assuredly there are, monsieur. For those who take the trouble to show up in person to enquire about hiring opportunities...". I swear I could hear Brian from TV's Family Guy in the background: "Baaaa-zzzzzzingg!!"

Congratulations! If I had anything to do with it, you would have just failed the very first test for becoming a federal employee. Anyone who thinks that they can get hired anywhere over the phone, is not only dreaming but probably too lazy to be considered for employment in any pseudo-responsible capacity. Let's face it... if you can't be bothered to take the trouble to show up, you're just not that interested, are you?

A final note... I have a hard time understanding how some callers develop the idea that we have information in front of us, which we don't want to share with them. The sole reason for being of most if not all government lines, is to provide callers with the most information possible. Why? It's just good customer service. That and it cuts down on the number of needless repeat callers. Believe me, if I have information that might be of use to you and it's within the mandate of my line to provide it to you, I absolutely will. Remember, my line and the limited amount of people who man it, provide information to the entire country, as well as entertaining queries from around the World. By phone and by e-mail. The very last thing we're going to do is to give someone a reason to call us back if they don't have to.

But maybe that's a subject best tackled in another post... sorta like a primer on government information lines...

Friday, June 6, 2008

On pet peeves...

To quote the venerable George Carlin:

"I don't have pet peeves - I have major psychotic fucking hatreds!!!"

On overtaking...

Amongst the most basic skills involved in operating a motor vehicle, is overtaking. Or passing as some might refer to it. For as simple as the procedure is in theory, the proper means of execution seems to stymie some drivers for their entire lives. True, there are several considerations and mental computations to make prior to overtaking another vehicle, but the pass itself should take only a matter of seconds to accomplish.

Some of the considerations which should enter the equation are: the other vehicle's speed, road conditions, amount and distance of oncoming traffic, your vehicle's present speed and above all, a realistic appreciation of what your vehicle can and cannot do. If you're cruising along in an aging little shitbox 4-banger, sucking on the tailpipe of a larger vehicle doing 120kmh... forget it! You're never going to be able to pass him. The only reason you're doing 120kmh at the moment is because undoubtedly you're caught in his draft and he's actually pulling you along. Either that or you're presently going downhill. Give up...

Clearly however, the major decision most drivers are faced with making, is whether they should attempt to pass at all. Many drivers veer out into the left lane, only to discover that their mouth has written a check that their vehicle is not capable of cashing. They can only at best match the other vehicle's speed, which results in what is called a "rolling roadblock". Both vehicles end up blocking both lanes, so nobody else can pass either. This is illegal in every civilized country in the World. In the US, the State Troopers will appropriately haul your ignorant ass over and fine you on the spot, for "creating a traffic hazard and obstructing the orderly flow of traffic". I'm not really sure about the various Provinces and Territories here in Canada, but do take it as gospel that you will earn the ire and ill-will of every driver around you, should you indulge in this particular practise. I personally will drive around or through any such offending drivers. I have on occasion roared through the space between the 2 vehicles, when such an occasion warranted it (and when there was sufficient space available to do so). No... don't tell me this is 'illegal'... So is blocking traffic for no other reason than bone-headed stupidity. I simply won't abide it... That and the fact that on a bike, I have far more manoeuvrability than any car and subsequently, many more options than simply sitting there and suffering through it. It's called power-to-weight ratio, Baby... No, it doesn't make anyone bulletproof... I've ridden far too long to believe that.

It goes without saying that I never undertake such manoevres lightly or if there is a passenger onboard. The bike handles totally differently with the extra weight onboard and I would never jeopardize another person's safety. With me alone on the bike, I am intimately familiar with the operating envelope of the machine. I know what she is capable of and what I cannot reasonably expect her to do. I know her rate of acceleration in any given gear, her manoeuvrability, her braking performance and how much space she takes up, including the width of the saddlebags. I've had almost 3 years and 46,000 kms to learn all this, on this particular bike. Most people in cars have no idea where their car begins and where it ends. Witness them as they swerve into oncoming traffic, simply to pass a cyclist who is well inside the bicycle lane on their right. You'd think they were passing a tractor trailer. They haven't a clue...

Then there are those people who are capable of turning a pass into a life's work. They can literally make a new career out of it. They swing out into the overtaking lane and develop a blistering passing rate of perhaps 1/2 kmh. If you've been trying to pass that same car on your right for the last 20 miles, it's not going to happen. Let off the gas and pull in behind him where you belong. Clearly, these folks should have decided against the manoeuvre. Or they will begin to pass and freeze, afraid of the vehicle they are trying to overtake (you less-than-confident drivers overtaking 18-wheelers pay attention here...). So they stay there, in the vehicle's blind spot, the most dangerous place they could possibly choose to be. Now they are not only blocking traffic behind them, but they stand a good chance of being crushed or sent off the road, should the other vehicle have to switch lanes for any reason (deer, moose, vehicle breakdown, etc...).

Then finally, there are those who will pass a slower vehicle, only to then go slower than the vehicle they have just passed. I have yet to figure the purpose of such a move, other than to piss off the person you have just passed (and everyone else behind him...).

In either case, it serves my purpose well as a motorcycle has no place among cars. I use such witless drivers to effect my escape, leaving all of them far, far behind. When riding, there is no safety in numbers.

He rides best, who rides alone...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On double lines and slow cars...

In all fairness, I consider myself to be pretty much a law-abiding citizen. Seriously... I don't steal, I don't mess with other people or their stuff and I have a largely "live-and-let-live" philosophy with regards to my fellow creatures on this earth. Well... unless you're a radical, a threat to the security of my country / neighborhood or one of those BCICs (*).

So this morning I'm motoring along the beginning of the Rockcliffe Parkway. It was a little cool but just fine for riding. Baby was purring along at about 70 kmh and we had only five or six cars ahead of us as we swept along the overpass which crosses the 147. I eased off the wick slightly as a Mountie cruiser passed us heading for St.Joseph, as we engaged the sweeping right-hander coming off the overpass. We entered 'Deer Alley' at a rate of about 80 klicks.

Predictably, the lead car was a 'toodler' and it didn't take long for the rest of us to bunch up on his ass end. We had yet to go through the serpentine which leads to the first (and only...) passing area, so we resigned ourselves to waiting it out. Besides, the first parking area off to the left is a favored haunt for the Mounties when they're setting up a speed trap. Having reached and passed that point, I ramped Baby up a bit and she reached the triple digit mark as usual, with alarming quickness. We sailed past the short line of cars and resumed cruising in our lane at a sedate 85/90 kmh. The Parkway is such that this particular rate of speed is not excessive in the least. Even taking into account the presence of critters. The visibility is excellent on either side of the road.

We were fast approaching the end of the passing section when I saw them... Two vehicles dead ahead. Both of them 'toodlers'. I was out of room. Now ordinarily, if the vehicles ahead of me are maintaining a reasonably constant speed of advance, I have no qualms about simply following along. I'm not an unreasonable fellow. But as anyone who rides will tell you, you develop a flow when you ride. Or at least it's one of your goals to do so. When you reach 'the zone', where man and machine are one, swooping and bending with the road, matching it's every contour in an effortless ballet... Piling on the binders to avoid putting a whoring big dent in the ass end of a car in front of you, is not consistent with the whole 'flow theory' thingie. And today, I wanted to flow, goddammit!!

Besides, there seemed to be emmanating from these cars, this negative vibe. Almost as though they were intentionally slowing to a crawl, because we were now in a no-passing zone. They couldn't stand seeing me have so much fun (kind of like why women close their eyes during sex...), so they were going to slow me down to a crawl. Kind of a: "Take that, mister biker-man-out-having-so-much-fun-on-a-workday!!!" Who knows... Maybe these people get some sort of ephemeral sense of power by being able to hold up traffic. But I refused to be held up by these soulless louts who could care less if they ever reached their destination that day.

I checked as far ahead as I could see... We were well clear. Without so much as downshifting a gear, I swung Baby out to the left and twisted the wick. She lunged ahead as we thundered past them, double yellow line and all. The pass was decisive, surgical in it's quickness and cleanliness. It always feel so liberating to bend the confines of some of our more rigidly carved taboos. I didn't even bother to watch them fade into nothingness in my mirrors. I don't begrudge anyone wanting to drive at a slow rate of speed. God knows I do it all the time when touring. Just so long as they do it BEHIND me...

* BCIC: Blind C***suckers In Cars.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What was I thinking...?

In yet another testament to human shortsightedness, a caller from Ottawa advised us that he had recently bought a pleasure craft. Fortuitously (one would think...) it came equipped with a marine VHF radio! Well guess what? Our caller didn't want to have to take the course to learn how to operate the radio, his only means of communication with other boaters and any hope of rescue, should things go bad on the water...

So what does he want to know? "Is it okay if I just remove it?". "Is there any law or rule against that?" Against it?? Oh, no... Only the Law of Natural Selection. As we say, the federal government is not here to legislate common sense. So, sure thing my friend. Feel free to rip it out of there and dispose of it. Sell it on e-Bay, to someone a little more attuned to the natural rhythm of things than you are. It's not like you'll ever need it anyway, right...? I mean... c'mon... what can possibly happen out on the water?

Somehow I have this mental image of this lad in his boat, the side of which is stove in following a collision on the water. He looks on helplessly as his boat sinks from underneath him, his significant other beating him with whatever implement she can find, screaming: "What in the f--k were you thinking!!! Getting rid of our only means of communicating with other people!!!".

But no... such picture perfect endings only happen in the movies, right?