Venice in the rain

It's a rainy evening. When its wet for an extensive period of time and I start to carry my umbrella every day, my mind turns to memories of other cities I've seen in the rain: Seattle, London, Milan, Venice...

Have you ever been to Venice? I remember visiting in the 1980s during a rainy period. I was standing in St. Mark's Square. The rain was falling and the tide was rising. Within minutes water started lapping up from the gondola moorings. It rose up the steps and came creeping onto the square. In the middle of the square, water bubbled up from underneath, through holes in the stone and marble and through grates, the water burbling like a pot boiling, and within minutes the entire square was flooded. Crews of workers appeared and laid out platforms, rows of wooden planks, for the public to cross the square. Like walking on long tables, we used those raised footpaths to walk around the centre of the city.

It's a scene that's repeated many times in Venice when the "acqua alta" - high water - comes calling. A huge project is underway to create a barrier that can be raised in the lagoon when high tides or rain surges hit the city. The "Moses" project, (MOSE in Italian, "Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico") should be completed by 2012. As concerns about global warming and rising water levels grow, other cities will be watching this project with interest (New Orleans, for one).

Like the water, memories of Venice come flooding back. A restaurant by the canal. The lamp lights and couples walking down quiet narrow alleys at night. The bridges and worn marble steps. Boatmen and business people at the espresso bars in the morning. A living city, not just a tourist attraction.

Venice, whether water-logged or dry, leaves an impression and is worth preserving.

Like so many visitors, American writer Paul Theroux was smitten:

"I took a water-bus from the Lido to Venice proper, and approaching this city in the sea, glittering in brilliant sunshine, I began to goggle, trembling a little, feeling a physical thrill and unease, in the presence of such beauty, an exultation amounting almost to fear."

"...It is man-made, but a work of genius, sparkling in its own lagoon, floating on its dreamy reflection, with the shapeliest bridges and the last perfect skyline on earth: just domes and spires and tiled roofs. It is one color, the mellowest stone. There is no sign of land, no earth at all, only water traffic and canals. Everyone knows this, and yet no one is prepared for it, and so the enchantment is overwhelming. The fear you feel is the fear of being bewitched and helpless. Its visitors gape at it, speechless with admiration, hardly believing such splendor can shine forth from such slimy stones." (From The Pillars of Hercules, 1995, Putnam.)

(Photo courtesy of Paola da Reggio -- Public domain, Wikimedia Commons.)

Youthful success

I was invited recently to a celebration for Darpan, a South Asian magazine published in Canada. The event in Surrey, B.C., was memorable for a keynote speech by Gurbaksh Singh Chahal.

An immigrant to the United States from the Punjab region of India, Chahal is an extraordinary 21st century entrepreneur. He left high school at the age of 16 to launch an internet advertising company. A mere two years later, he sold the company for $40 million. He then formed another company and a few years later sold this second venture to Yahoo! for over $300 million.

Still under 30 years of age and living in California, he is one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the world and is now working on his third company, which aims to connect brands with social media.

Chahal, who's known in the States by the initial of his first name,"G," offered a few examples of the things he's learned from personal experience during his meteoric career. Some of these tips I'm summarizing here:

  • "Life is actionable." Ideas are just ideas, but success is all about execution. Always focus on performance.
  • "Stand up for what you believe." Be confident and focus on the image you wish to project. Approach issues from a position of strength. Sell a dream and then build it.
  • "Accept rejection." Don't be afraid to ask for help and learn from your mistakes. "Put yourself out there." You've got to develop a thick skin.
  • Relationships are everything in business and in life. Chahal says, "I never, ever burn a bridge."

Chahal has written a book (The Dream) and appeared in the Fox TV series, "Secret Millionaire." He's also been a guest on "Oprah."

It was an interesting talk and an interesting evening with the Punjabi-speaking community in British Columbia.


Gurbaksh Singh Chahal's website is located here.

A review of The Dream is at this site.

The South Asian magazine Darpan can be found here.

Finding a way

Focusing allows us to achieve more than we thought possible. It's interesting to hear the words of those who made a difference and left us some advice:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." -- Aristotle

"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." -- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

"Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose--a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." -- Mary Shelley

"We are still masters of our fate. We are still captains of our souls." -- Winston Churchill

This sampling today is courtesy of

GPS network impacted by time drift

The concept of time continues to amaze and befuddle us.

Here, for example, is one interesting fact: did you know that time travels faster just above the earth than it does on the surface of the planet?

In the 20th century, Albert Einstein had said that time can be understood to flow like a river; in some places it moves faster than others. He also likened it to the fabric of space. Earlier this year, British cosmologist Stephen Hawking provided tantalizing proof of time's fluidity. In a newspaper article, he cited as evidence what happens daily to the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network in orbit around the earth. The system that so many of us now rely on for accurate navigation requires the constant adjustment of its computer clocks.

Hawking writes, "Inside each spacecraft is a very precise clock. But despite being so accurate, they all gain around a third of a billionth of a second every day. The system has to correct for the drift, otherwise that tiny difference would upset the whole system, causing every GPS device on Earth to go out by about six miles a day." (Six miles per day!) Imagine what this drift, left unchecked, would do to aviation safety.

Hawking explained that the reason the clocks need adjustment is that the earth's gravity acts like a drag on the flow of time, and actually slows it down compared to the flow of time in space.

For more on Hawking's thoughts about time, including the possibilities of time travel, see Stephen Hawking's Time Machine, which was a summary posted on

Related material

Link: Research on the frontiers of physics leads to interesting theories about time travel