Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Children and Fairy Tale Monsters

I was sorting through my favorite quotes tonight, and this one floated to the top:

"Fairy tales don't teach children that monsters exist. Children already know that monsters exist. Fairy tales teach children that monsters can be killed" - G K. Chesterton

I am reminded of the hours spent reading stories of the brothers Grimm , Hans Christian Anderson and Aesop . I remember well my budding political awakening as I realized that Aesop's moral tales could reverse themselves depending on circumstance. At twelve, I realized I was reading a court advisor! I'd think we had done our children a disfavor by sanitizing these old tales; with poisoned apples, imprisonments and beheaded trolls, but then I realized we now have video action games that do the same thing.

I think also of what I've seen in my years as a Sunday School teacher, as toddlers mature to school age. The little children are not quite sure about the shadows behind the puppet. Is it real or not? But by about four or five, the children are well in on the joke and readily approach mascots, puppets, santas, clowns, and other imaginary monsters we foist on our children for entertainment.

Don't be fooled, our children are sophisticated social beings. They know a tall tale when they hear one. The longevity of our tall tales through the ages suggests that our children need to hear them, if only to suggest, by proxy, that the scary adult world can be navigated with wit and spunk.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Canada Understanding Itself

I read with dismay our government's plan to cancel the long census this coming year. I was one of the lucky participants of the long census four years ago. Now, Maxime Bernier, Conservative MP, calls it "invasive". Maybe so. But it is invasive and anonymous.

My deep concern is if the government is not interested in the shape and trends of it's own people, how can it govern intelligently? Good, solid, hard-core facts are needed to make solid decisions.

To get a handle on the trends on our society, there needs to be some consistency in the questions asked from year to year. I read with interest StatCanada's report on marriage. Divorce rates are down, a reversal of a long trend and largely held belief that divorces continue to rise. The report suggests that as couples wait later to marry, they have a better chance of success. That's an important bit of information, and policymakers should sit up and take notice. I don't want an inept government chasing fading issues. I want my government to be current, timely, and on the ball.

Another example of our silent nation is a dearth of information on our food supply. Erik Millstone's The Atlas of Food: Who Eats What, Where, and Why has a wealth of information from around the world including the UK and the United States. Canada, by comparison, is bare. Why? I checked the references and bibliography in Erik's book , and Canada either doesn't collect or won't release aggregate information on our food. Again, as a nation, are we deliberately blind?

There are reports that Canada is weathering this world-wide economic storm relatively intact. That's a cosy thought, and it will help me stay warm as I wrap myself in my flag this winter. But if I were a policymaker, I'd like to know why. Is there more than spunk and grit involved in our relative success? Knowing why we are doing so well can help our government know when they can step in to help, and when they should get out of the way.

Getting in to the zone on Whyte

I'm back from two days of painting on Whyte Avenue, as a participant of the Art Walk. I painted, painted, and painted some more. Interested passers-by asked me about my technique. I handed out all my business cards. The last time I was there was thirteen years ago...would you believe it?

For two days I flowed in the zone, so eloquently described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (P.S.) . I immersed myself in the moment, the images, the brush, the behavior of the paint. The result is I have one commission completed, and another more than three quarters done. Oddly I was barely hungry while in the zone, though I did take breaks to eat and drink.

Two days later, I am still mellowed out from the experience. Boy, if I could design my workaday to live in the zone, that would be something. A life of hard, enjoyable work, reminds me of the hard working centenarians of Sardinia.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How long can it take...

How long can it take to get your movie tickets?

I had the opportunity to test out the efficiency of the movie ticket line versus computer carousel last night, and the electronic lost. My daughter and her family entered the (longer) traditional line the same time I joined the (shorter) carousel line. She got her tickets before I did. How could this be? I estimate my line was at least ten times shorter than hers. Could it all be blamed on my compatriots' relative computer illiteracy? I think not. They were as motivated to get through the line as quickly as I was.

This is important stuff, because as businesses incorporate larger electronic solutions, their expectation of course is that efficiency will follow. When I ponder the GARP© principle of "Accessibility", which I rate as the most critical, I am convinced that turnaround times are critical to success. People are sensitive to waiting times, as we can see as a ten-to-one preference for the longer line at the cinema. If the electronic "solution" hinders, people will find their human work-arounds. The possible consequence is failure or abandonment of the e-solution.

What went wrong?

First of all, I think we underestimate the efficiency of the human interaction. We have eye-contact with the ticket-taker. I smile ingratiatingly. I lean in to the hole in the plexiglas, "Twoforsexinthecity". She hears ....sexxxx.... and sees me hold up two fingers. A few practiced pecks on her screen, and the tickets spit out. In seconds we are sending and receiving a hundred signals at once. Sound, expression all play a part. The ticket-taker infers and fills in the gaps in context.

The computer carousel by comparison is a passive receiver. I must learn it's patterns and behaviors and adapt to it. Will it first ask me for my SCENE card, or which movie do I want to see? How and when will I fill in the amount? And is it adaptable enough to accept my bank card? I think with tweaks the computer carousel will become faster - if the cinema is motivated to reduce the human element in ticket sales. And I think it is.

The lesson for business is to pay attention to their turnaround times. What is the turnaround for the average human-orchestrated transaction? Does the electronic solution compete? Does the computer ask the questions in natural order? Check speed in testing, and tweak, tweak until the e-solution can match for speed.

I notice the cinema now offers print-at-home tickets, which I am ashamed to say I haven't tried yet. How much you want to bet they print out in color? My cartridge is gold, and I squander it for no man ... even in the interest of research.