Friday, 17 March 2017

The Dimming of the Day

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד

Va-yikra Elohim La-or yom v'la-chodesh kara laila, Va-y'hi erev va-y'hi boker yom echad.

And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen 1:5)

I have recently become rather enamoured with sunsets.

I can't really explain this new-found infatuation other than to say that residency here in the Southern Home does afford the opportunity for me to gaze upon some of the most vivid and spectacular twilights. It would be easy to become complacent about the majesty, but so far I have not.

And these are just from my balcony using little to no filter. (The iPhone 7 has an amazing camera.)

Watching the sun do its daily disappearing act to the other side of the world has raised a myriad of existential questions for me, but rather than bore you all with my mid-life panic attacks and angst, I thought I might focus on just one.

Why is watching a sunset so captivating?

So, as is my habit, I turned first to my religious roots.

The highlighted verse above from Genesis is commonly used to explain why we Jews view our days as beginning at sunset rather than at sunrise.

There was evening and there was morning...

Evening comes first.

Some rabbinic scholars have used this text as a metaphor for life itself. We begin our days within the darkness of the womb and burst forward into the light. (A bit too cheesy and grade school for my liking, but what's a good religion without a few heavy-handed metaphors?)

But what if rather than secularly thinking of sunrise as the beginning of our day, we paused to consider that dusk could actually be that point in time when things renew. Perhaps my infatuation with the sunset is less about reflections on the day that has passed and rather it is a rumination on what lies ahead in the coming of the light

As I began to post some of my photos on social media, a friend shared her thoughts with me.

"I finally figured out in part what my fascination is. It has to do with seeing the beauty in transition. We are often fearful of transition in our lives but the shots remind me of just how beautiful it can be."

And then she sent me this....
Photo: Elaine P
I know...right???

I think that there is merit in her idea. We all seem to struggle with change, but the setting sun seems to reassure us that there is beauty in the struggle and excitement in the coming darkness. The new day is always filled with the possibilities.

I would also like to think that there is a modicum of hope splashing around in there somewhere. These are trying times. Each day lately seems to bring new fears, new anguish, new-found anger, new divisions, new misery. The glow of the sky in the early evening seems to suggest to me that things can get better. Even at my most pessimistic (and believe me when I say that the last few months have seen me at the depths of my cynicism) the renewal of the sunset hints at a confidence and an optimism.

I can't end this rambling without a nod to my own name. Dawn literally means beginning and it is synonymous with the first light of day. I'm am not discounting the optimism that could very surely lay in the rising of the sun nor am I dismissing the beauty of a sunrise, but I do think that both I and the time of day my name is borne from are slightly less mesmerizing than dusk. 

I will leave you all with several photos from my travels. These are all originals and were taken by either The Husband or myself. I ask that if you share them, please give due credit.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, oseh ma-aseh v'reisheet.

We praise you Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the work of creation.

Key West

Sydney Australia
Ketchikan Alaska
Vancouver British Columbia
Key West

Send me your best sunset photos. I would love to see them. 

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Holy Work on Shabbat

I am spending Shabbat morning watching this scene from my balcony.

Why you may ask?

Well before I answer that question, a bit of backstory is in order.

This is the pool in our building in the Southern Home. Several months ago, the city found several problems with the now almost thirty-year-old structure and insisted on repairs. The condo association tried to put off the fixes for as long as possible (read: until the snowbird season was concluded) but the city would have none of it. If the repairs weren't done in a timely manner, fines would be imposed. So last week, the pool was drained and work began on the removal of tile, the reparation of cracks, lighting replacement, and various other smaller issues. We were told that the project could take several weeks and as such, those who used the pool on a regular basis would need to make alternate arrangements. Yes, there was plenty of bitching and moaning from people in the building, but sometimes there just isn't a choice. 

Given the location of the pool with respect to our condo, the Husband and I have had a front-row seat to the action. And it has been surprisingly and hypnotically entertaining. 

At times it felt as though the job would never get started let alone completed. We saw a lot of standing around by workers. While there were at least four guys here on any given day, it was rare to see more than one work at a time. Granted, we are not pool repair people and are ignorant to the craft, but it did seem that more than a few dramatic domestic issues were being played out on phone calls than actual pool repair. (Yes...we can hear conversations clearly and I really hope that whoever was on the other end of one particularly vile string of expletives was smart enough to leave the SOB.) 

That said, while the work did seem to progress at the pace of a snail racing a sponge, it did progress.  I noticed that I was starting to recognize the various craftspeople and to understand what each particular contribution was to the project as a whole. There were the tile master and the concrete pourer. There were the electrician and the apprentice. There was the one guy who was here for one day and fired the next. (We know he was fired because they talked about it...loudly.) I noticed the particular dynamics of their work environment, how it actually functioned like a well-choreographed dance. I observed how some of the guys had an obvious report and how they might ignore or playfully haze the newcomers. But mostly, I was enthralled by their music.

In the early days, we were treated to the dulcet tones of Luther Vandross and Anita Baker. R&B wafted up to our apartment and it soothed. And the men....they sang along. They sang with passion and they sang with warmth. They sang without even knowing they were singing. It came from their souls. One gentleman, in particular, has a voice that any cantor would kill for and the echoing of his deep baritone off of the empty pool walls cascaded upward like a gift from the gods.

A few days ago, their music choices inexplicably changed to gospel. There were affirmations and holy exclamations. We were witness to a revival and a collective baptism in a pool without water. They were renewed. They were cleansed. Those craftsmen brought God to this place.

This morning, on Shabbat morning, sixteen men came to work. (They are trying to speed up the project and hopefully will finish early next week.) And they came to sing. And, oh how they sing.  These men are most definitely experiencing the presence of the Divine Spirit as they inch towards the completion of their task. These men have found a measure of holiness in their labour, a sense of Kadosh, and they are sharing it with me. I can't imagine a more precious gift.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man.” God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” 

Thank you to these generous souls who gave me a glimpse of The Divine Spirit on this Shabbat.

Friday, 10 February 2017

My Genius Teacher

For those reading who only know The Husband as a kick-ass business-person/artisan distiller, he was, in a former life, one of the best and most sought after workflow developers anywhere. He was doing geek when being geeky was as far removed from Big Bang Theory-cool as one could get and Mark Zuckerberg was still a wandering thought in his parent's minds. His off-the-charts, brilliant geekiness was always one of the things that most attracted me to him but for years when people asked me what he did for a living, I'd simply smile and say "He's in computers." I was ignorantly incapable of accurately describing it any other way.

This morning, in a fit of heightened frustration during what can only charitably be described as our most recent coding lesson, I asked The Husband to describe how his own thought process works when he is in development mode. As he again attempted to educate this intellectual potato on the inner workings of JavaScript and its interfacing capabilities with HTML, (I actually sound like I know what I'm talking about, don't I?) he explained to me that he tends to see things more unconventionally than do most programmers. 

Why am I not surprised? Geniuses in any field tend to work differently and in manners that can only be understood by themselves. If we all could comprehend the creative process utilized by the gifted, we'd all be able to compose symphonies like Beethoven, paint like Picasso, or understand mathematics like Einstein. 

The Husband told me that rather than sketch out his ideas with pen and paper first, he tends to view his computer screen the way that my potter friend sees a lump of clay. She might have the notion that she is making a bowl, but only until that bowl starts to take shape on her wheel does she really see the edges, details, and movement of the piece. His programs develop in much the same ways. He has the basic kernel of an idea and moves outward from there, using trial and error in his coding until he gets what he wants on his screen. But (there's always a but isn't there) there does exist a logical progression to his lines of code that can only be seen in his mind's eye.

This methodology could also explain why he is such a poor teacher. How is he supposed to explain something so radical and new to others when it is only obvious to him? The only logical way forward is to show them the tangible results, the finished product. Did Beethoven ever teach beginners the piano or did Pablo ever mix colours for an introductory painting course?

And....therein lies my basic problem with this entire exercise. I actually do understand the creative process and how trial and error factors into it, much like my self-editing of these pieces as I write them. My major issues come from the thinking logically part of it. It is what used to trip me up in math classes. I could memorize formulae like they were badass irregular verb conjugations, but I could never apply them to the word problems when they were presented to me. I couldn't figure out which numbers to plug into which sides of the equations. That genetic material that seems to be so necessary for seeing numbers and symbols and translating them into language, is not only dormant in me, it is non-existent. Just like those who might be colour-blind or tone-deaf, I have a disability. I am numerically challenged.

In a conversation yesterday with my mathematically-inclined mother she actually said this:

"You know, honey. Not everybody is able to do this. Maybe you just don't have it in you." 

Gee thanks, Mom. I guess that maternal nurturing button disappears from your repertoire after your offspring turns 50?

In some fairness to her, this is the same brilliant woman who persevered through dyslexia to become a nurse at a time when special education simply did not exist. There is no doubt in my mind that had she been at school during a different generation, she would have been an outstanding doctor. (She is going to kill me for writing that, but it is high-time she knows what all who love her know.)  This is also the same woman who spent the entire summer before I entered grade four drilling me on multiplication tables. She does speak from hard experience and prior knowledge of her subject. Let's just say she has scars.

No, Mom. I'm not yet ready to quit but I will admit that I am close. I do think that I have come to the conclusion that the only reason for these lessons is to accumulate blog material and maybe that's not such a terrible reason to continue. I keep hearing Nora Ephron's oft-repeated line of her mother's that "everything is copy" constantly riffing in my head. So, here's today's copy.

The Husband decided that it was necessary to teach me some basic JavaScript programming before we ventured any further into the morass that is my new web page. To that end, we worked today on creating loops. I'm still not certain of the entirety of why loops are necessary for a blog that is basically about nothing. Who the hell wants to read the same thing over and over? But there we were creating JavaScript loops. 

I was inundated with new jargon like statements and variables and learned that there are three different types of variables...numeric, string, and boolean.

A gold star to anybody outside the computer world who knows what boolean means. Honestly, when I first heard the word I thought we would be making soup. It actually means something that is either true or false. Who knew?

Following the lesson, The Husband went back to work and I attempted to re-create and modify some of the loops. I actually had some success doing it but it all seems so very futile. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I work at this shit, and even if I do manage to someday move up the coding food chain from unqualified idiot to moronic dumbass, why bother? Beethoven's brother Kasper was a financier and Picasso's sisters didn't delve too deeply into art. They stuck to what they knew rather than treading upon the sanctity of brilliance. Maybe I should just let my resident genius do what he does best....and get him to design my new website. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Computer Coding is a Foreign Language and I am Hopelessly Unilingual.

Welcome to today's installment of "Self-Flagellation" or "How Computer Coding has Turned Me Into a Sado/Masochist Who Could Grind Christian Grey Into Chalk Dust". 

It has been a stress-free ten days since my learned tutor and I sat down for a lesson. Various other pursuits have kept us from our appointed task and I must admit that there is a certain measure of satisfaction that comes with procrastination, especially when the task one is delaying has the ability to send one shaking and screaming from night terrors and awakening at 3:00 am in a pool of one's own sweat and drool. The only problem with such an ardent pursuit of postponement and deferment is that my middle-aged, swiss-cheesed gray matter can't retain any amount of information longer than the time it takes to watch the average beer commercial. So when I innocently asked about moving some elements around the page on my dummy (yes... I am well aware of the irony of that term) page,  The Husband looked me square in the eye this morning and said in astounding seriousness that "You already know how to do that". I gazed back at him with an expression that I am certain imitated the face of a gorilla on Prozac. Square we come.

This morning, this article was on page one of the Miami Herald, right beneath the article of the Super Bowl defeat from hell. Seriously. Is there anybody outside of New England who doesn't believe that Tom Brady has sold his soul to the devil and will be languishing in the bowels of Hades alongside Donald Trump for eternity? But once again, I procrastinate and digress.

So...this article...on page one.

I will not debate the merits or inherent stupidity of this proposal, (other than saying that it is incredibly Floridian and that both skills are necessary for students in the 21st century) but I will say that after enduring a mere four lessons in coding, it is fundamentally apparent to this moronic student that coding is most definitely a foreign language and the ability to master it lies in continual and constant practice. You simply cannot become fluent in any language if all you manage to utter are hello, goodbye, and peace. Great thanks to the Divine Spirit for making Hebrew simple enough to use a single word for all three. Coding is very different, very comprehensive, very complicated, and very very very confusing.

I asked The Husband for his opinion on how he thought my web page should look. I very much value his opinion on design and I was kind of silently hoping that he might just take pity on me and simply redesign the whole fucking thing himself without the stress of imparting this coding bullshit to me. I asked him at one point, how he managed to learn all of these different computer languages that he so effortlessly uses, and he replied without a hint of glibness that  "I just woke up one morning and they were all there." The really crazy part of that statement is that I believe both of us think it is actually possible. 

I decided that I would like for the front page of the site to be the most recent blog posts so that when you all open up the URL for Dawn Ponders, the posts are the first things you see. After determining that we actually couldn't accomplish such a thing using HTML alone, The Husband very gently explained to me that we would now be diverting our attention to "real" programming as if what we had been doing before was a kind of an ersatz mess. He had this look in his eye that said "Don't worry, honey. You won't feel a thing as I push you out of the plane. It's the landing that's the real bitch."

(By the way....there is a nauseated churning that occurs within the pit of your stomach when your teacher takes your computer, spends ten minutes surfing Javascript sites to figure out why he can't solve a basic problem that he wants to convey to you, swears vociferously that it doesn't work and he doesn't know why, and then says...let's try this instead. That feeling of security is EVERYTHING!)

And so we are now in the world of JavaScript working in less than perfect synchronization with HTML. It's kind of like asking "Where's the bathroom" in Spanish and being directed to the bank in Italian. 

Here's what we managed to do.

And here are the results of over an hour's worth of laborious coding. 

See the little "Hello Dawn" under the Home tab? 


That's it. Aren't you all so very proud of me?

At this rate, I might have a new site online in time for the celebration of Canada 175...if we both manage to live that long. 

One last note. Take an expanded look at the coding photograph.

Go on.

Blow it up.

I'll wait.

Are you there? 

Now, look at the very bottom of the screen in the extreme right-hand corner. Do you see that tiny blue icon?


They have invaded every part of my life and are determined to haunt me until the end of days.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Something Frivolous Because We Need It

I went for a walk this morning along the boardwalk at Miami Beach. It is really one of my absolute favourite ways to celebrate Shabbat. There is an ease about the place that makes me feel a bit closer to The Almighty. The smell of the ocean, the gentle breeze, the palm trees swaying...the homeless people sleeping on the sand. I am so often struck by the dichotomy of a place that is obviously dripping with beauty and wealth and yet is the landing spot for so many in need.  But...I digress.

There is also a strange intersection that occurs on the beach on Shabbat. The eruv (an urban area enclosed by a wire boundary that symbolically extends the private domain of Jewish households into public areas, permitting activities within it that are normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath.) which is visible from the boardwalk serves to protect the more observant and fully clothed Shomeir-Shabbas Jews from the partially naked sunbathers and tanned exercisers who run, walk, cycle, or generally just shpatzir (saunter) their way to and from South Beach. I usually chuckle at the absurdity of the situation and this morning was no exception. About the exact same time that I was considering the goofiness of naked women on the beach abutted right up against Orthodox women practicing tzniut, (modesty) it struck me that something interesting occurs as one briefly passes by others. Only a small segment of conversations are audible and they happen so quickly in that momentary interaction, that trying to glean the true meaning of any dialogue is an impossibility. I decided to record some of those fragments I overheard this morning and put them together into one continuous chat. I have separated out the individual fragments into lines. Each line is a different conversation.

They were at a bonfire.

In California, you've got to do this crazy outdoor stuff.

One of these things I got for Christmas you had to spit in it.

Porque no?

Porque los necesito para las niñas.

I tell you this straight from the heart, not the head, the heart.

But it's amortized over five years.

I can't stand to be around him.

But we be jammin, yes?

Down boy! 

I only had a light lunch. I need more.

Oh la la. 

Do you really want to see THIS fucking flop around on the beach?

You look hot.

I'm heaving it's so humid.

Water, water.

We're gonna do it. Keep going.

 Can I go lower?

I swear that I didn't expect it to come out so 50-Shades/porn-like. I really thought that this would be an exercise in observing humanity rather than the verbal construction of a sex act. While my faith in humanity is somewhat restored (notice that not one of these snippets uses the words Trump, president, or fucking lunatic) and my Spanish is definitely improving, I am either really really bad at this eavesdropping thing or my mind is truly in the gutter. In any case, I'm pretty sure that this is how all those Harlequin romance authors got their starts.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Teaching a Monkey Mozart

It has been more than a week since I gave you all an update on my ever-increasing computer prowess. Perhaps prowess is too ambitious a word. Let's call it computer incapability or maybe numerical ineptitude? However we term it, I'm still here and I'm still plugging away, a stranger in a strange land, but I did require a short sabbatical this week from the infernal machine in order to regain my ballast.

But before we made our way out of town, The Husband once again sat me down to inundate me with technobabble involving hrefs, hyperlinks, attributes, command/shifts, and divs. I am like the only Earthling amongst a gaggle of Martians. I yearn for easy language and reasonings for why items are defined the way they are, but so far all I seem to get in response is "that's just the way it is." Years of evolving as an advanced society has brought us to "that's just the way it is." An entire world dependant on the functionality of machines has led us to the remarkable conclusion of "that's just the way it is." I am feeling so less safe knowing that my entire history and financial future is being housed and handled by people who live by the motto "that's just the way it is." 

We (meaning me) decided that we would continue the probably futile work of constructing a new website for Dawn Ponders. I say futile because I am starting to realize that by the time this project reaches fruition, all independent thought locations on the web will probably be shut down in the new world order, and fancy pull down tabs, pretty charts, and new hyperlink addresses will be seen as ridiculous endeavours. But, in the name of education and science, I persevered.

I decided that I really didn't like the spacing of the title, so I asked The Husband to show me how to move it to the left of the page. He eyeballed me with a side glance and sat as mute and stoic as a teetotaller at a frat party. After I ascertained that he wasn't suffering from some form of aphasia brought on by a stroke, I asked him again. He said, "How do you expect to learn if I tell you everything?"

Seriously!! He said this.

Years ago, I had a swimming teacher who would throw kids into the deep end of the pool and expect them to start paddling furiously without the benefit of a single lesson. Most of his students sank and required rescuing. What did they learn? More often than not, they learned to fear the water. I refused to be one of those living in fear, so I paddled furiously instead. Here was my very loud and very vigorous paddled-response to The Husband.

"How the f*** do you expect me to learn anything if you sit there like f***ing Marcel Marceau?"

While I may not have been entirely genteel in my language, my goal was achieved. There seems to be a need to continually remind The Husband that this little project was his brainchild and, for better or worse, (mostly worse) he has committed himself to being my tutor. I vociferously explained to him it is impossible to learn something new without a thorough lesson. I also ranted that some children (me) require endless reiteration of previously taught facts they find difficult to absorb. Not everybody is a fucking computer genius who was building his own machines at the dawn of the fucking ice age. I tried  to give him a lesson in teaching and I explained to him in my patient, B'nai Mitzvah-tutor inside voice that all students aren't as smart as their teachers.

Not surprisingly, my little tirade brought him back to my reality and we were able to create the following. It only took us 2 hours, but hey...progress is progress.

Once again, don't get too excited. The entire code page is only 51 lines long. This creation all happened last week, and I can't for the life of me remember how we did it. (I actually had to ask him to remind me of what some of the commands were called in order to write this post.) Kids take note. That is what happens without constant repetition and refusal to do one's homework. 

I do realize that The Husband is doing his level best. I know it's like trying to get a monkey to play Mozart on a washing machine, but teaching is often more difficult than learning. I guess this process has something for both of us.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Kevin O'Leary is a Squirrel

For those of you tuning in to read the latest chapter from my computer lessons, I apologize. There was a gap in my education yesterday. I won't explicitly blame The Husband for his procrastination but...

No. In all seriousness, I do have a life away from this miserable machine and yesterday it blissfully interfered. I haven't given stayed glued to this space for updates on the continuing saga.

In the interim, I thought that I might share a quickie story. This tale is definitely for a Canadian audience, but I hope that my American readers can find something worthy.

Yesterday in a bit of a political non-story, only because he has been teasing it for so very long, Kevin O'Leary entered the race to be the next Conservative Party leader. For those unfamiliar with the man himself, he is the brash, boorish entrepreneur and Trump wannabe who helped make Dragon's Den on CBC and later Shark Tank on ABC reality show rating juggernauts. I confess that I can't stand either incarnation of the program. I don't enjoy any reality programming, but I am especially averse to the kind where some pseudo-successful "panelist" sets himself up to judge or worse yet bait, insult, and cast aspersions on people either seeking validation or advice. If that's your cuppa then have at it. I prefer other sources of entertainment.

Mr. O'Leary, according to his credentials, is a successful businessman and venture capitalist. I will not impugn his reputation in this regard except to suggest that forays into politics have a nasty habit of exculpating the dirt, so I hope he has buried the bodies well. He has many weaknesses entering the race, not the least of which is he doesn't speak French and that alone should be disqualifying in our bilingual country, but here he is and as such it is our duty as citizens to vet him carefully. That said, before this circus flies too far off its tent posts, I want to share my fleeting personal encounter with Kevin O'Leary.

Last year down here in the winter home, my parents and I decided to head down to Costco for a brief half day of self-flagellation and self-loathing. As we flashed our membership cards at the entrance, we spied a large display hocking some new wine which was directly in front of us. It was almost impossible to enter the warehouse without passing by this table. Standing behind the table, decked out in his finest suit and silk tie (the temperature was probably in the mid-80s) and proudly wearing a sommelier's necklace and key, was Kevin O'Leary. The pretentiousness of the necklace and key was inescapable at a big box store where the majority of shoppers were clothed in stretch pants, tank tops, and flip-flops while trying to maximize their grocery budgets by purchasing peanut butter and mayonnaise by the gross. The ridiculousness of this self-proclaimed but very well-known multi-billionaire standing behind a fold-up table pushing discount wine at Costco was the stuff about which memes are created.

After acknowledging that we did indeed recognize Mr. O'Leary, we quietly attempted to slink past the display unnoticed. He called us out and tried desperately to get us to come over and taste his wine. We politely (we are Canadians after all) declined and as we did he screamed (really...he screamed!) after us "Just like Canadians. They never want to drink and they never know what's good."

How he knew we were Canadian I will never know. I wasn't wearing my sign and my maple leaf tattoo had been removed that morning. His rudeness was beyond what I would ever consider acceptable behaviour from a child let alone a man trying to woo me with wine. In true Canadian fashion, we chose to ignore this boor rather than engage him and instead we went about our regularly scheduled miserable Costco day. the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Conservative and I cannot imagine ever voting for the party in any election, but I will say that there were others around me who do vacillate between parties and were totally turned off by Mr. O'Leary on that particular day. There are fourteen other candidates in the running for the leadership of the party. Some of them, not named Kellie Leitch, are decent, intelligent, qualified people who have some interesting ideas that should attract decent, intelligent, qualified Canadians to their party. I am hoping beyond hope that both Conservative voters and the Canadian media don't get too distracted by the squirrels that are Kevin O'Leary and Kellie Leitch. Canada can do better.

It was American playwright and entrepreneur Wilson Mizner who said, "Be nice to people on your way up because you'll meet them on your way down." Without even caring or knowing much about Kevin O'Leary before, he messed with a group of Canadians in an incredibly brief moment that will certainly have repercussions for him down the road, and I am certain that we were only the tip of the iceberg of those he has insulted, bullied, or denigrated on his climb to fame and fortune. Karma can really be a bitch, sir.

This interview of one O'Leary's  former Dragon's Den costars Arlene Dickinson came from CBC News yesterday. It is a bit long but very telling. 

***UPDATE*** Arlene Dickinson has just published this op-ed on CBC. So worth reading.