The Old State House in Boston

This is a quick drawing of the Old State House in Boston. I drew it with ink, but turned it into a negative on the computer because this reminds me of some old historical prints.

Yesterday I mentioned the Massachusetts State House near Beacon Hill, which was built after the American Revolution. This building, on the other hand, located at the corner of State and Washington streets downtown, was the centre of Bostonian public life and was the scene of some of the more dramatic moments of the pre-revolutionary period.

While Boston was still a British colony, within the walls of this house, the men who would go on to eventually become the founders of the United States of America, debated the future of the colonies (John Hancock and John Adams, to name but two). Just outside its walls, about where the bus is, five civilians were killed by British soldiers in 1770 in what would become known as the "Boston Massacre." The incident and its aftermath would be one of the sparks that led to the Revolution.

The Declaration of Independence was read aloud a few years later to the citizens of Boston from the balcony where the flag pole stretches out.

1. Click here to see a photograph of the State House from approximately the same position.
2. Read the Bostonian Society's web page about the State House Museum.
3. If you'd like an overview of the Massacre, see this article, with the famous Paul Revere engraving.

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Beacon Hill, Boston

If you're ever in the Boston area, be sure to visit the Beacon Hill district.

Located just north of Boston Common park, Beacon Hill is one of the oldest and most desirable neighbourhoods in the Eastern United States. 

It's narrow streets date back to the early days of New England (1790s) and they are a great place for a quiet stroll, steps away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, but also a world away. My wife Patti and I visited on the weekend and really enjoyed it.

According to Wikipedia, the Beacon Hill district has been home to many famous people, including John Hancock (the boldest signatory of the Declaration of Independence), Senator Edward Kennedy, musicians David Lee Roth and Carly Simon, and actress Uma Thurman. 

The Massachusetts State House is also located a short walk away.  The seat of State government was designed by Charles Bulfinch (another Beacon Hill resident) and was completed in 1798 after the American Revolution.


1. For more information, see Beacon Hill in Wikipedia
2. The neighbourhood has its own website: Beacon Hill Online

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A remarkable senior

On this day in 1998, John Glenn Jr. returned to space.  He was 77 years old and became the oldest human to travel in space. 

He blasted off on a nine-day mission aboard space shuttle Discovery, almost 40 years after he orbited the earth in a Mercury rocket.

What an inspiration for anyone approaching their senior years. Who could have imagined, back in the 1960s, that people of pensionable age would be doing as much as they are these days?

Glenn, of course, had been one of America's first and most famous astronauts, orbiting the earth in Friendship 7 in 1962, at the height of the Cold War.  

He went on to become a long-serving member of the U. S. Senate before returning to space on his second historic flight on October 29th, 1998. On Discovery, he flew as a payload specialist and participated in a study on aging. It's remarkable that he was able to achieve a level of  mental and physical fitness that permitted him to endure the challenges of such a mission.

For more information on vitality in the senior years, see WebMD's Healthy Aging pages.
On Glenn's first flight that earned him a big ticker-tape parade,  see "Heatshield and Fireflies"

Photos of John Glenn are courtesy of NASA through Wikimedia Commons Public Domain archive.
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Getting ready for a round-the-world race

In less than two weeks, I will be updating you on an exciting event. It's a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race known as the Vendée Globe.

Just to qualify is a gruelling matter, and this year 30 skippers are ready to challenge themselves to the limits of endurance. The race begins in France and the sailors will follow the old Clipper Route around the globe. They will sail south in the Atlantic Ocean, round the tip of Africa and then continue East below Australia, out into the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean and then round Cape Horn at the tip of South America before heading north in the Atlantic again to return to France.

Weather and fatigue are going to be treacherous. In previous editions, storms have scrambled the field, damaged boats and killed competitors. Everyone hopes for none of these things and for good, fast sailing instead. The winner of the last race (2004-5), Vincent Riou of France, finished in 87 days, 10 hours and 47 minutes.

I hope to follow one boat in particular: The Algimouss Spirit of Canada. It will be skippered by Derek Hatfield, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The boat was prepared in Port Credit, Ontario, not far from where I live.

Hatfield updates his sponsors by posting regular items on the team's website. Here's his latest update:

"As the countdown to the start of the 6th edition of the Vendee Globe clicks away, the Spirit of Canada team continues to carry out final modifications and preparations to make sure that the boat is ready. As you can imagine, one missed detail will result in a performance issue and in a worse case scenario, create a disastrous situation where I might have to stop, leading to disqualification. So, check… check…. check each small component and then check it again and then have someone else check it. The race village is now open and in full swing. Attendance is staggering with the first Sunday seeing 68,000 people on the pontoon. I haven't heard the numbers but this past weekend was even busier and I wouldn't be surprised if over 100,000 people walked past Spirit of Canada. It's impossible for the skippers to walk down the dock as they are swamped with people wanting autographs. It's absolutely unbelievable to have so much attention."

Hatfield reports the boat has passed its safety inspection and can now be loaded with the 84 food bags he will need for the event. The race begins November 9th.

For more information see the race website: Vendée Globe
The Spirit of Canada home page is here.

Photos on this page show Algimouss Spirit of Canada + Derek Hatfield. They are used with permission, courtesy of www.Vendé
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Still travelling

Hello, dear reader.

I'm currently travelling in New York City and will resume regular posting when I return.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining here and it's a wonderful fall day.  The sun reminds me of this quote about being light of spirit.

"Humour. The sunshine of the mind"  - Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Thanks for coming to Zanepost.
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Opportunity and encouragement

Two quotes that caught my eye today:

The first is from Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor:

"When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

The second is from the great German writer, Johann Wolfgann von Goethe:

"Correction does much, but encouragement does more."

Photo of the opening door is courtesy of Bartolomiej Fulanty.
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From Syracuse

I'm writing from upstate New York, on the way to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.  It's a trip my wife and I have taken for a few years at this time, not specifically to see the colours on the trees, but to see our daughter play hockey with her university team. It all combines nicely.  It's a fun drive, especially when one isn't rushed.

I hope your day is going well.   

The morning paper has an editorial decrying a new reality show intended for the youth-targeted, music channel MTV called Model Maker.  Apparently, the show was seeking young women ages 17-24 who needed to lose weight. After 12 weeks of weight loss and makeovers, one of 15 finalists would become a model and receive a cash prize.  MTV decided to cancel the concept after receiving complaints from health groups. 

The cancellation is a good thing.  USA Today points out that "the Model Maker concept was in a class apart for its potential to do damage to a vulnerable audience."  I couldn't agree more. This type of program ends up reinforcing negative stereotypes about beauty and possibly encourages anorexia nervosa, which is a common illness among teenage girls.  

Are you a workaholic?

It was 7:15 PM tonight and I was still at my desk, fretting about my projects, trying to do two things at once and not thinking very clearly.

As I packed up, turned off the light and went to the car, I asked myself: am I addicted to work, unable to break free, a workaholic?

Here are some signs that could indicate you may have workaholic tendencies.

Is work the only thing you like talking about? Do you neglect your family for work? Have they given up expecting you on time? Are you a perfectionist, never satisfied with the outcome of a task or project? Do you fuss over every little detail? Do you take work with you on vacation?


For more information see: You Might Be a Workaholic If...
Also try Workaholics-Anonymous



Today, a short meditation on keeping things simple:

Many of us live rushed and cluttered lives, with much stress and anxiety.  Do we really need to live like this?

To keep things in perspective, remember that to live all that is required, really, is to breathe in and out, eat and sleep. That's life, in a nutshell.

It helps to simplify things as much as possible and shed what is not needed.

Doing things one at a time, breaking complex tasks or problems into small components, is an important approach that can reduce stress and improve productivity. Taking the time to notice our surroundings, paying attention to the present and being thankful for what we have instead of being resentful, also help improve the quality of life.

Others have thought about simplicity before us:

Charles Mingus, the jazz musician, said, "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."  -- Leonardo da Vinci

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials." Lin Yutang (writer and inventor).

The photo above of a lake in Switzerland is courtesy of Duilio Zane.
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The interesting history of tattoos

When we think of tattoos, it’s easy to think of them as a modern trend that has parents worrying if their sons or daughters will come home one night with a pattern on the lower back or around the ankle.

But actually the art of tattooing goes back many thousands of years.  The “Iceman, “ the bronze-age hunter who was found frozen in a glacier in the Alps in 1991,  had small tattoos behind his knee and in 56 other places.  The corpse is estimated to be 5,000 years old.  Scientists are studying those small tattoos and speculate they may represent examples of early medical procedures to ward off pain.

The Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article on the Iceman and on ancient tattooing practices.  See Tattoos:  The Ancient and Mysterious History

The word “tattoo” has Polynesian roots.  In Samoa and other places, tattoos are thought to represent a person’s spiritual power and are often very intricate face decorations.

Tattoos are also associated with prisoners in penitentiaries.  Some prisoners are so keen on getting tattooed that they will go to extreme methods to make a permanent marking on their skin.  Court TV reported a few years ago that a prisoner in Canada had a fellow inmate push a guitar string through a Bic pen and then attached it to a Sony Walkman motor to make it move in and out of the skin.

For a look at the history of tattoos, with lots of illustrations, see this link.

Education: Finding ways to help young people reach their potential in developing countries.

After health, education is the cornerstone of a young life. Education allows people to achieve their potential as human beings. Societies depend on an educated population for their survival and growth. In some places where the education system is weak or nonexistent, living conditions tend to be poor and societies become fertile ground for despotic rule. Where education is missing, misery usually follows. And it’s such a shame.

In the world today, millions of children do not have access to basic education. A United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study, published about 10 years ago, concluded that about a quarter of the world’s children are currently not attending school. The highest illiteracy rates are found in the developing nations of Africa, Asian and South America.

UNICEF writes in its web site that “if we took a snapshot of the state of education across the globe, the image would shock many of us. Current estimates place the number of out-of-school children at 93 million – more than the entire population of the Philippines. The majority of these children are girls, and almost 80 per cent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Indeed, quality education remains a distant dream for many of the world’s children, even though it is a fundamental human right enshrined in international commitments.”

Fortunately, things are slowly improving. Thanks to global efforts, school attendance rates are rising. But the needs are great.

An American and Canadian organization, Schools for the Children of the World, is committed to building new schools in developing countries. In recent years, they’ve focused on projects in Honduras and have dramatically changed the lives of not only the children in small communities, but also of the volunteers. The Canadian branch of the organization produced a short video that provides a good overview.

See the Schools for the Children of the World video here.

Large corporations like Microsoft, are also committing resources to provide “social and economic opportunity” for young people. Microsoft recently launched an initiative to bring new products and programs to help an estimated 5 billion people who do not have access to today’s information technology.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is working on initiatives to help more girls in developing countries. It is also working on projects to extend education to children with disabilities.

There is much work to do. It’s essential that it continue and that well-developed countries find ways to support it. As the saying goes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The photo of a school in Honduras is courtesy of Ben Kaye-Skinner, who made it available at

The "watcher" inside: journey into the self

We return today to Charles Lindbergh’s insightful exploration of the inner self. He made some interesting observations as he was flying over the Atlantic one night in May, 1927, on his way to becoming the first person to fly solo from New York to Paris.

Like other adventurers before him, Lindbergh seemed to be as much an explorer of inner landscapes as he was of the outside world. As one reads the account, an interesting question comes into focus: does fatigue break down the mind-body distinction and give us new insight into other components of our being?

Here, in his own words, are Lindbergh’s notes from the 18th hour of his flight:

“Shaking my body and stamping my feet no longer has effect. It’s more fatiguing than arousing. I’ll have to try something else. I push the stick forward and dive down into a high ridge of cloud, pulling up sharply after I clip through its summit. That wakes me a little, but tricks don’t help for long. They’re only tiring. It’s better to sit still and conserve strength.

“My mind strays from the cockpit and returns. My eyes close, and open, and close again. But I’m beginning to understand vaguely a new factor which has come to my assistance. It seems I’m made up of three personalities, three elements, each partly dependent and partly independent of the others. There’s my body, which knows definitely that what it wants most in the world is sleep. There’s my mind, constantly making decisions that my body refuses to comply with, but which itself is weakening in resolution. And there’s something else, which seems to become stronger instead of weaker with fatigue, an element of spirit, a directive force that has stepped out from the background and taken control of both mind and body. It seems to guard them as a wise father guards his children; letting them venture to the point of danger, then calling them back, guiding with a firm but tolerant hand.

“When my body cries out that it must sleep, this third element replies that it may get what rest it can from relaxation, but that sleep is not to be had. When my mind demands that my body stay alert and awake, it is informed that alertness is too much to expect under these circumstances. And when it argues excitedly that to sleep would be to fail, and crash, and drown in the ocean, it is calmly reassured, and told it’s right, but that while it must not expect alertness on the body’s part, it can be confident there’ll be no sleep.

“My eyes, under their weighted lids, seem completely disconnect from my body, to have within themselves no substance, to be conscious rather than to see. They become a part of this third element, this separate mind which is mine and yet is not, this mind both far away in eternity and within the confines of my skull, within the cockpit and outside of it at the same moment, connected to me and yet unlimited to any finite space.

“During long ages between dawn and sunrise, I’m thankful we didn’t make The Spirit of St. Louis a stable plane. The very instability which makes it difficult to fly blind or hold an accurate course at night now guards me against excessive errors. It’s again a case of the plane and me compensating for each other…”

1. Photograph of The Spirit of St. Louis in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain), under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
2. Book excerpt: The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles Lindbergh, 1953, Charles Scribner's and Sons, New York, pages 361-362 (1956 edition).

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Urban sketchers

If you enjoy sketching or viewing the drawings of others, you might be interested in a new web site that will soon highlight the work of some creative observers from around the world.

A Spanish illustrator living in Seattle, Gabi Campanario, who has a popular site of his own, Seattle Sketcher, has joined up with like-minded artists in many countries who like to draw local people and places.

A lot of these urban sketchers do their drawings in the streets, often between appointments and with little time to spare. So some of the drawings are quick and loose, but they convey a real sense of place and mood. Participating artists will be from Lisbon, New York, Sao Paulo, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Bologna, Stockholm and Naples, just to name a few of the cities. In short, I think these personalized glimpses will give us a sense of the street level character of some very interesting places.

If you'd like to meet some of the artists, Campanario has set up a site preview. See Urban Sketchers. It will launch November 1st.

The sketches above on this page were drawn by me, while waiting at the airport one day during the summer. This one, at a coffee shop in Toronto; also while waiting.

Mind journeys: Charles Lindbergh's experience

Readers of this blog will know from previous posts about my interest in the relationship between the mind, the body and the world.

Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly alone across the Atlantic from New York to Paris, described some interesting aspects of the mind-body connection. Sleep-deprived and totally dependent on the reliability of his single-engined plane, Lindbergh experienced phenomena on the long flight which suggest we have mental capacities which we barely understand.

I'd like to share an excerpt from his account of that voyage in 1927.

It's night. He's been in the air for 17 hours of the 33 it will eventually take him to arrive in Paris. He's flying a few hundred feet above the ocean and clouds. He writes:

"On a long flight, after periods of crisis and many hours of fatigue, mind and body become disunited until at times they seem completely different elements, as though the body were only a home with which the mind has been associated but by no means bound. Consciousness becomes independent of the ordinary senses. You see without assistance from the eyes, over distances beyond the visual horizon. There are moments when existence appears independent even of the mind. The importance of physical desire and immediate surroundings is submerged in the apprehension of universal values.

"For immeasurable periods, I seem divorced from my body, as though I were an awareness spreading out through space, over the earth and into the heavens, unhampered by time or substance, free from the gravitation that binds men to heavy human problems of the world. My body requires no attention. It's not hungry. It's neither warm nor cold. It's resigned to being left undisturbed. Why have I troubled to bring it here? I might better have left it back at Long Island or St. Louis, while this weightless element that has lived within it flashes through the skies and views the planet. This essential consciousness needs no body for its travels. It needs no plane, no engine, no instruments, only the release from flesh which the circumstances I've gone through make possible.

"Then what am I -- the body substance which I can see with my eyes and feel with my hands? Or am I this realization, this greater understanding which dwells within it, yet expands through the universe outside; a part of all existence, powerless but without need for power; immersed in solitude, yet in contact with all creation? There are moments when the two appear inseparable, and others when they could be cut apart by the merest flash of light.

"While my hand is on the stick, my feet on the rudder, and my eyes on the compass, this consciousness, like a winged messenger, goes out to visit the waves below, testing the warmth of the water, the speed of wind, the thickness of intervening clouds. It goes north to the glacial coasts of Greenland, over the horizon to the edge of dawn, ahead to Ireland, England, and the continent of Europe, away through space to the moon and stars, always returning, unwillingly, to the mortal duty of seeing that limbs and muscles have attended their routine while it was gone."

Was Lindbergh hallucinating, or did he experience a deeper level of existence which opened for him through his state of exhaustion? His words echo those of many other people who have gone through traumatic situations and been able to talk about them.

In the days ahead, I'll post another excerpt. In it, Lindbergh describes his growing awareness of a third, watchful element in his being.

For a related post, see "The astounding power of the brain" from July 1st.

1. Lindbergh photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
2. Book excerpt: The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles Lindbergh, 1953, Charles Scribner's and Sons, New York, pages 352-353 (1956 edition).

Everyone has a sense of style

No matter what anyone tells you, just remember you have an innate sense of style. In my opinion, style is not some elusive quality but is an inherent part of being an individual. It's subjective, and this means that style is what one makes of it. 

When it comes to clothing, combinations are as varied as DNA. If you take a walk down any major city street and observe people, you'll notice everyone wears things just a little bit differently.

People reflect their personalities in their clothing.  And in this, the elderly are not immune.  In fact, years of dressing and a strengthened sense of identity that comes from age often result in some interesting fashion choices.

Three innovative people in New York have started a blog that chronicles the way older people dress.  It's a photo diary that provides proof, as the founders say, that "personal style advances with age." Appropriately, the blog is called "Advanced Style."  

It's a fun site.   Here are some of the photos, as examples:

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Weekend Travel: reasons to experience different destinations

On this Sunday of a long weekend (Thanksgiving Day in Canada Monday), let's explore some of the benefits of travel.

Travel is a change of place, an alternative experience, a break from the daily routine.

The New York Times offers an interesting photo project on experiencing different destinations, which I'll link to in a second; but first, here are some good reasons for moving around:

See things from a different perspective. We humans share one planet. Travel helps us view the world through the eyes of other people. We learn quickly that we're not all that different from one another. Sometimes we find that others have already solved problems we've been pondering with no success for some time.

Going someplace new also stimulates the mind. We suspend our routine thought patterns and freshen up the mind. ( We touched on this in How to foster creativity a couple of weeks ago)

Travel is a great way to recharge energy levels. Everyone has different needs. Some of us need quiet time in solitary pursuits, others feel the need to socialize with new people and maybe even speak a new language.

Now, to the The New York Times initiative: the paper has a wonderful photo essay appropriately called, "Why we travel" that captures personal reflections and images showing people in many corners of the world as they're experiencing life on the road. It offers great insight into our interactions with one another and with the environment, whether the location be urban or rural. The Times currently has 41 perspectives in the slide show. They're all worth reading. Click on Why we travel.

(Photo 14, by the way, is taken in Chicago and echoes the entry here last Sunday).

If you're looking for more reasons to leave your home for a few days, you can look over Larry Bleiberg's Seven Reasons to Travel published in the Dallas Morning News.

CNN has an interesting article explaining why this is the best time of the year for unbelievable travel deals. Some resorts are giving away free nights in accommodation and other favourable incentives. See The staycation effect: 5 reasons to travel now.

And since this is October, another quick reference to Fall: a friend of mine in Vancouver told me recently she missed Autumn in Ontario because in British Columbia many trees are evergreen and you just don't see the variety of colour you do in the central and eastern part of the continent. Thinking about the note the other day about leaf colours, I thought you might like these photographs submitted by readers and viewers to CNN's iReport.

The photos above are by Duilio Zane. Many thanks.

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Levity in the news

The news these days is so depressing that it's hard to avoid all the negativity. Thankfully, comedians step to the forefront and do their thing.  It seems that hard times provide lots of satirical material. As a result, we all benefit.  A chuckle can really make a difference in an otherwise gray day. is a news aggregator web site.  While the content is sometimes bleak, what makes the site interesting are the fun headlines.   

Here are some sample from today's postings:

"How many times have you heard this one and yet it still makes you just shake your head: ' Two arrested in robbery after stopping to ask cops for directions.' "

"BBC radio presenters suspended after referring to the disabled as 'window-lickers', now wish they hadn't gone full retard."

"Why is the city of Chicago backing off its law against using cell phones while driving? If you said, 'Because an alderman was caught doing it,' you win the prize."

"Man barricaded in his home is brought into custody when Atlanta police try an experimental new tactic: Waiting for him to fall asleep."

"Dalai Lama's gall stone successfully removed. Stone will now ascend to its higher purpose."

"Academic finds evidence that Bach's wife wrote some of his music. Mostly the pieces that seem to go on and on forever without ever really getting to the point."

And then there's the Onion, a tongue-in-cheek site that seems to have a lot of money to mimic real newscasts. Check out this parody of a weather alert on television:

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Please don't say "back home" too often...

Call me overly sensitive, but some commonly-used phrases bother me.  One in particular that I seem to be allergic to is the term "back home," when spoken by an immigrant who is now a citizen of Canada.

It sounds like this: "I don't know who to vote for in this election. Back home it was easier, because the newspapers were full of scandals and corruption. It was easy to get involved and get motivated to change politicians."   Another example:  "I'm a Canadian. I live and work here, but I go back home for vacations."

Please don't misunderstand me.  I'm an immigrant myself, and I know how it feels to adjust to a new life in a new land. It's natural to compare Canada with the country of origin or to miss being immersed in that country's culture.  What irritates me is the use of the phrase by people like me who have made a decision, after quite some time, to make this country their home and become Canadian citizens.  I'm not referring to people living here on temporary work permits or on visitor's visas.  And I'm not referring to new immigrants who are still trying to get their bearings in a new place.  I mean Canadians recognized by the government as committed citizens.

Now I realize that many countries recognize dual citizenship. While citizenship implies certain rights, it also implies civic responsibilities like voting, for example.  When one chooses to become a citizen of another country, one makes the effort to meet certain criteria for admission for citizenship. In countries like Canada, candidates also takes a citizenship test that requires a level of understanding about the traditions, history and way of life of this nation. 

The point I'm making is that when I choose to become a citizen, I also choose a new home.

I apologize if I seem microscopic about this. I do understand that this phrase "back home" is also an easy, shorthand, conversational way of saying "where I came from. "  I get that.  But my mind gets stuck. When I hear "back home",  I immediately think:  if that's still "home " in this person's mind, maybe this person would rather be there, not here.

Whenever a former immigrant uses that phrase, he or she exposes himself or herself to criticism from native-born citizens who might question the new citizen's commitment to the country. At a time when Canada's population is rapidly changing, we need all the bonding we can find in order to build a better society. We can't run the risk of being misunderstood.  It may be unintentional, but saying "back home" too loudly and too often can have negative consequences. 

When I speak to someone, I don't want anyone to get the idea that I don't want to be here or that I don't belong. 

I made Canada my home when I became a citizen.  My country of origin (Italy) and its culture occupies a huge place in my soul, but I don't want to give anyone the impression I'm just "sampling" this country.  

I'm not "passing through."  I'm here to build.

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Machiavelli - a man for his times

Does the end justify the means?

This is an old philosophical question that never seems to go out of style. It's such an intriguing question because it applies to the dilemmas of the modern world, just as it did to the dilemmas of the ancient one.

Are there moments in someone's life when doing something unethical is acceptable in the pursuit of a nobler goal? Is a leader better off feared or loved? When should a government declare war on another country? Is it acceptable to torture terrorism suspects to prevent a bombing?

These are not easy questions to answer.

The man who made the case most eloquently (and controversially) for acting boldly to achieve a goal was Niccolo' Machiavelli, pictured above. The writer of the influential book The Prince (c.1513), a kind of political guide for Renaissance rulers, has been much maligned and perhaps misunderstood. In essence, Machiavelli argued that the success of an organization or state is determined largely by the active character or skill of its leaders. These leaders must be prepared to do what is unpleasant to accomplish a desired outcome. Nothing matters more if one hopes to remain a ruler.

His ideas, in one form or another, have permeated our culture every since. A distant echo, perhaps, could be heard in football coach Vince Lombardi's famous quip: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

But to get a real sense of Machiavelli and his ideas, it's important to understand the context of his life and times. When historians assess the impact of a figure, they must remove the cultural mindsets of the present and immerse themselves in the culture of the period in question.

In reviewing Machiavelli's works, the New Yorker's Claudia Roth Pierpont does that very well. It's fascinating to learn, for example, that the man who advocated tough leadership was himself the victim of torture. Despite the experience, Machiavelli went on to advocate the necessity of such methods.

Pierpont picks up the story and explains more in her article. See The Florentine: The man who taught rulers how to to rule.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
Artist: Santi di Tito, 16th Century.
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
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Fall colours: it's all about glucose

For some, autumn is the best time of the year.   When you look at pictures like these, it's clear why people enjoy October walks amidst nature's annual fashion show.

According to Science Made Simple, the reds, oranges and yellows of maple trees come from glucose that's left in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. When the hours of sunlight diminish and the nights turn cool, the chlorophyll that gives the leaves their green colour fades away and the trapped glucose, essentially a sugar, turns the leaves into fall's multi-hued display.

Photos by Duilio Zane. 

Related post, from another October:
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Corporate Social Responsibility

In the world of business, the first decade of this new millennium seems to reflect one sad story of corporate greed and mismanagement after another. We've gone from the Enron and the WorldCom scandals, to the mortgage collapse that hurt so many over-extended homeowners before bringing down giant firms like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and now the wider financial crisis that threatens everyone.

But there's another story that I like about this decade. It's the rise of corporate social responsibility -- the idea that businesses should be involved in making the world a better place and not just focused on maximising profits.

When you look at the business landscape it appears such a contradiction, doesn't it? While some executives have ruined lives through greed and incompetent leadership, others are seeing their role in a new way and steering their companies in refreshing directions. I think society is much better off because of it.

Firms in the near future will be judged much more on the effectiveness of their environmental policies, for example. In many ways corporations are becoming important partners of government and of the social services sector in our communities. Many companies today are involved in charitable activities and in volunteerism.

Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation has given millions to health care and community-improvement projects around the world, recently wrote an article for Time magazine called "Making Capitalism More Creative" (link below) that offers some clear examples of how companies can make the world a much better place.

He cites the (RED) campaign, where companies like Hallmark, Dell and others sell (RED)-branded products. When consumers buy these products, the companies donate a portion of their profits to fight AIDS. Gates argues that firms can and should do much more. He calls on governments to provide greater incentives to firms that launch ideas like these. Simply obtaining more recognition in the public arena is a big plus for companies that are willing to be graded on their social responsibility initiatives.

I like
Starbucks' aggressive three-point strategy in corporate social responsibility: the company says it wants to achieve more "ethical sourcing" for their coffee (not take advantage of farmers in poor coffee-producing areas); contribute to communities and reduce Starbucks' environmental footprint. For me, the best aspects of the company's approach are the key performance indicators Starbucks has employed to measure its success in these areas; as the saying goes, "What gets measured, gets done." For example, Starbucks keeps track of how much coffee it purchases each year over year from Fair Trade Certified farmers, how much water and electricity it consumes per square foot of retail space each month, how many dollars are given in charitable contributions ($18 million last year), and so on.

Next time you're in a Starbucks, pick up their "Of Coffee and Community" pamphlet. One could dismiss it as another public relations exercise, but I found it to be a good read. It shows tangible steps.

Many companies today support charities. Others are nourishing the arts in their communities or providing funding for social service projects, like assisting the homeless. In Canada this is the case with the RBC Foundation and Goldman Sachs Canada Inc. Both give money to the LOFT Community Services organization, among others.

There are many more examples to remind us the world is getting better, despite the dark clouds overhead.

Other link:
Bill Gates in Time: "Making Capitalism More Creative"

Photo courtesy of Sanja Gjenero
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Weekend Travel: Chicago

Autumn is a great time to visit Chicago, the dominant city in the U.S. Midwest and the third-largest in the country, after New York and Los Angeles.

Chicago considers itself second to none, and its pride shows in bold skyscrapers, generous public spaces and big-city style.

To get a real sense of the city and see the sights, you should give yourself at least three days. We spent two days there recently and will return for more. The spring, summer and fall seasons are preferable because the city closes in on itself when the winter chill forces people indoors.

Like the rival cities on the East Coast, Chicago really does have something for everyone, with a healthy dose of Midwestern sensibility thrown in.

Shoppers will thrill at strolling the Magnificent Mile. Located on North Michigan Avenue, between the Chicago River and Lake Shore Drive, the Mile is a wide boulevard with exclusive shops and boutiques selling brand-name goods found in the world's great avenues.

Chicago is also a city of arts and culture. Walking south of the river on Michigan Avenue, you can spend time at the impressive Art Institute or catch a concert at Millennium Park. The Park has something for everyone, including green space, interactive fountains, and the impressive Cloud Gate sculpture (below) that draws people like a magnet to it's mesmerizing reflections. (Some call it the "Bean.")

Chicago is defined by its downtown buildings. Known for its gigantic Sears office tower, the city has many interesting buildings worth seeing. Walking tours offered by the Chicago Architecture
Foundation are highly recommended.

The Wrigley building (left, below) and other classic towers like the Tribune building are contrasted by modern skyscrapers like the nearly completed Trump International Hotel and Tower (right, above).

When visiting the area, consider taking a Chicago river cruise tour. In the city's early years the river was an important transportation artery for goods and services. Many of Chicago's most important landmarks are located along the river. When your legs ache from too much walking, the guided tours on the cruise offer a pleasing and relaxing respite (below, left).

At the end of the day, if you're in a romantic mood, take the elevator ride up to the 96th floor of the John Hancock building and spend some time in the Signature Lounge (no cover charge.) You can enjoy the city at your feet while you sip your favourite drink.

There's so much more to see and do in Chicago.
Here are some additional links:

The City of Chicago's official tourism site.
See also Choose Chicago (nice photos) and
Chicago on Wikipedia

Related in Zanepost:
Frank Lloyd Wright tour

Photos by P and RZ
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Fossett mystery partially unveiled

So now, after a long period of silence and speculation, we can say we have a pretty good idea of what happened to Steve Fossett.

According to investigators who examined the wreckage discovered earlier this week, it appears the adventurer flew horizontally right into a mountainside at high speed. At least we know the "where" and "when." Now the questions are "why?" and "how?"

Searchers also found some bone fragments at the site and have sent them to a laboratory for analysis.

The wreckage was found in the Sierra Nevadas on Wednesday. It was located at an elevation of about 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) near a place called Mammoth Lakes. Investigators have also collected and removed as much of the wreckage as they could before bad weather covered the crash site (snow was expected).

Fossett had been missing since September of last year and was declared dead by a judge earlier this year. According to, he was apparently scouting locations for an attempt to break the land speed record in a jet-propelled car.

Back in February, we noted here in Zanepost that throughout Fossett's many adventures he was known for doing one thing quite well, and that was managing risks. So his disappearance was - and still is - perplexing.

Investigators will now piece together the wreckage to try to understand what happened.

I still find it strange that the man who set so many aviation and sailing records would make a navigational mistake and fly directly into the side of a mountain. Was it a mechanical malfunction that caused the crash? Bad weather? Some other factor? Hopefully, some answers will emerge as the investigation proceeds.

Other links:

Photo courtesy of Mary Frances Howard, Wikimedia Commons public domain
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Practical computer and technology tips

The New York Times' David Pogue, who writes a popular column on technology, has found a sweet spot with his latest column.

He's hit upon an interesting aspect of our use of technology. It's this: many people assume others know the same basic techniques for using various devices. However Pogue rightly points out that many of us don't realize how often these assumptions are wrong. We just don't all use technology the same way.

It seems that when we learn to use computers, for instance, many of us miss out on a lot of really simple tricks, like certain keyboard shortcuts. Or one might assume that by now most of us would recognize those sly e-mail scams. Not necessarily so.

No matter how basic, I'm willing to bet you'll pick up at least one useful tip from his column. Did you know, for example, that you can use a Google search bar as a calculator or a converter for units-of-measurement or for currency?

Very likely I'm a bit of a tech Neanderthal, but I found Pogue's advice really helpful. If you're anything like me, you might want to print his column and keep it handy.

Read Pogue's suggestions in Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User.

Other links:

Need some free, searchable computer advice? See

Thanks to Jeff Hire for his photo of a computer keyboard.
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NASA and the future of space exploration

October 1st marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of full operations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. While the organization accomplished some remarkable achievements in its first half-century, most notably placing men on the moon and building the long-running Space Shuttle program, the next 50 years look rather bleak.

Human desire and the imagination to explore the universe remains; but financing withers. Problems on earth are diverting funding. Back in NASA's glory days, when it was focused on reaching the moon, an estimated 4 per cent of the U.S. federal budget was earmarked for the space program. Now, the agency has multiple large projects (International Space Station, Hubble Telescope, robots in our solar system) but only one cent of every tax dollar is available to fund them all. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States' mounting national debt, an aging population and now the financial crisis are all taking a toll.

Sadly, NASA finds itself scrambling just to return where it once was. It's going "back to the future" with plans to send humans to the moon again by 2020. The promise of space exploration beyond our solar system remains a faint dream.

You can read more in an article entitled What Future for NASA?, the source of most of the facts outlined here.

Meanwhile, renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, in a speech at George Washington University and in written arguments, makes an appeal for further efforts to explore space. He reminds us that in 1492 many people didn't think it was worth the effort to finance Christopher Columbus's voyage West across the Atlantic. But the discovery of North America by Europeans profoundly changed the world. Hawking says we should make interstellar travel a long-term goal. The future of the human race could depend on it.

With China and European countries recently stretching their technological ambitions into space, the answer to NASA's troubles may lie in not going it alone and instead joining other countries to work towards a common goal.

You can read Hawking's remarks in The Final Frontier, published in Cosmos magazine.

Other links:

Photo courtesy: A. Sayed
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