Stop Calling me a Baby Boomer!



Dear academics, corporate types, hipsters, marketers, media, politicians, sociologists, thought leaders, and other so-called latter day cultural experts:

Stop calling me a ‘Baby Boomer’.

Really, just cut it out. You’re starting to annoy me. What can I say? I’m entitled to be a curmudgeon. It goes with the territory of getting older. That, and being allowed to consider myself a tad eccentric 🙂

You know what I like about being 53 and not 23? Or 33? I actually feel that I’ve gained some wisdom about life, the universe, and everything. I feel comfortable in my own skin. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, or earn other people’s approval. Life is not a competition where you’re supposed to beat others to the finish line. There’s nothing wrong about being a ‘middle-aged’ man. I haven’t lost my love for life, the passion, or the vitality. I still have all my wits intact. I enjoy the simple things like a cold beer, a good meal, a thoughtful conversation, and a good looking hat 🙂

Wow – that’s such the antithesis of the stereotypical Baby Boomer. They’re the over-achieving, overly competitive, self-centred, vain, status-conscious folks, or so we’re supposed to believe. Even though they’re older now, it’s still supposed to be all about them. I know a few older Baby Boomers who seem to fit that stereotype, but I don’t necessarily believe they’re all like that.

You’re not doing me any favours by lumping me into a demographic group that was born approximately between 1946 and 1964. In fact, it’s really kind of ridiculous when you think about it. My parents were born in 1933 and 1936.  They lived through the Second World War in Britain. (Marketing people – you know there was something called World War Two, right?) They were nine and twelve years old on VE Day in 1945. They survived the air raids, the V1 and V2 rocket attacks. Heck, my father managed to accidentally end up in the middle of a D-Day training exercise on the coast of Dorset when he was eight years old in early 1944. A red-faced sergeant-major ‘frog marched’ my father back to my grandmother’s cottage and threatened her with forcible evacuation!

When you think about it, the generation of children born to parents who were children themselves at the time of the Second World War should have their own special marketing label – we should be called ‘Baby Blitzers!‘ Or ‘V-Kids‘.  Or perhaps we should have been called ‘Generation W‘.

You see how plain silly this labelling and segmenting gets? I think it’s entirely artificial with very little real substance. I was born in 1960; I can recall many historical events that happened during my childhood in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. At age two, I remember watching John Glenn’s cancelled launch on a black and white television. I saw the Beatles as TV cartoon characters at age five.  I watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite when I was seven, and how he talked about some place called Vietnam and this mysterious line called the DMZ. I’ll never forget how my father shooed me out of the living room on the day they played the infamous footage of the captured Vietcong spy whose brains were blown out with a gun.  I saw the announcement of Martin Luther King being shot on TV when I was eight. I remember the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968. My family rented a colour TV to watch the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969. I remember being woken up late at night to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I also remember the horror of the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, wondering if the astronauts would make it home alive. I remember the huge protest over the underground five megaton hydrogen bomb test on Amchitka Island in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska in 1972. I watched the Watergate trials in 1973.

I never heard of Woodstock when I was a child in the 1960’s. I knew nothing of the anti-war movement, nuclear disarmament, or the Rolling Stones. All the major events that signified the cultural values of the ‘Baby Boomers’ were beyond me as a child. The closest I came to knowing about hippies were my babysitters who wore wide floppy hats and sang folksong lullabies with their guitars. I knew the music of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. I watched the Ed Sullivan Show, Flip Wilson, and Laugh-In on TV. I was just a small boy in the 1960’s who liked playing with metal Dinky and Matchbox cars, bike riding, building model NASA spaceships, chocolate chip ice cream, reading, and swimming. The ‘Age of Aquarius‘ was something my parents played on a record from some musical called ‘Hair‘. I think my first real cultural awakening was in 1973, when my parents attended Jesus Christ Superstar in Vancouver and brought back a record of the original Broadway recording. That fanned my interest in musicals and caused me to start thinking about the true nature of religion.

I don’t own a home. I don’t own an expensive car. I don’t take expensive trips. I own a few sticks of wood furniture. I don’t have any significant financial assets. I’m more liberal than conservative. I’m sick of North America’s obsession with conspicuous consumption and materialism. I’m an environmentalist. I hate the whole idea of working out in a gym. I swim two kilometres instead.

Stop calling me a Baby Boomer!

The Grumpy Ferret (Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in!)


Income Inequality in Canada is Real and it Bites

'Montana Max' from Tiny Toon Adventures

‘Montana Max’ from Tiny Toon Adventures

The other day, I learned that the average annual salary in Vancouver is approximately somewhere between $41,000 and $43,ooo. When I read this fact, I realized that I have earned less than this amount for the last five consecutive years. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living below this average for such a long time. I have a Masters degree in Education, 25 years of experience in games and entertainment technology, including stints working for several years in Japan and the United States. Like so many other Canadians, the great recession of 2008 ruined me financially. From 2008 to the summer of 2009, I applied for 225 jobs, was interviewed four times, and didn’t get a single offer of employment. I declared personal bankruptcy and spent the next three years barely making ends meet so I could meet the discharge requirements of the trustee.

As a result of this long financial hardship, I’m feeling very resentful towards the wealthier members of Canadian society. By wealthy, I mean those folks who are making six figure salaries and up. As I pointed out in my May 9th post, I was taught to work hard, be honest, and treat others fairly. I’ve done alot of dirty, unpleasant work in my life, but I always believed that one day I’d be able to carve out a good niche for myself here in my home province of BC. But it hasn’t happened for me – and it’s certainly not for a lack of trying very hard. So you can imagine how angry I get when I see what’s happening in Ottawa with the Senate, or the pay raises of provincial MLA’s and federal MP’s, or the extremely well-paid bureaucrats in crown corporations. It just doesn’t make sense to me why they deserve to receive so much money. Government officials claim it’s competitive, but they never openly present their evidence to the public. The compensation process isn’t transparent – and it should be.

Somebody please explain to me why the head of BC Ferries deserves a half million dollar annual salary, compared to the Prime Minister of Canada who earns 320,000?!

Let’s not forget the private sector, either. For all the talk about meritocracy, profit, and productivity, 25 years of working in software and technology has taught me that a few individuals do very well, while a great many others are used up and discarded when costs need to be reduced. I saw cronyism, nepotism, and sheer greed in some companies I worked for.  I still can’t believe how I was exploited (yes – exploited) by the Apple Store. In 3 1/2 years of working there, I sold $3.7 million of hardware, software, and value-added services, while making a wage of $16 an hour. That’s what they paid me. What did I get for being a top selling sales specialist? An e-mail saying ‘congratulations’, and a hamburger. No bonus, no profit sharing, nothing seriously meaningful. Meanwhile, the Apple executives cashed in their shares and made millions. I sold millions for them – and received nothing. I will never forget the day I sold $14,000 of product during a shift and ended up walking home in the evening because I didn’t have enough for bus fare.

Everything feels so bloody skewed and unequal these days. The irony for me is that I know people who make terribly good salaries, own really nice homes, take trips, and have plenty of cash tucked away. They can afford a nice life for themselves and their family. But it’s all out of my reach. Worse yet, for all the effort and work I’ve put in to build a life for myself here in BC, I feel like I’m going nowhere fast.

The Grumpy Ferret (Why do you deserve a bigger piece of the pie?)

People I Really Wish I Could Share a Cup of Coffee

The other day I thought to myself, if you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, who would you want to meet?‘ I’m not big on celebrities or insanely famous people, but there are some folks who have influenced my life and I genuinely wish I could just sit down with them over a cup of coffee for a half hour and just have a chat.

In no particular order:

Douglas Coupland

The man who coined the term Generation X and wrote all those books like Microserfs and JPod about modern day technology that kind of mirror my own life. He’s an author, a designer, and an all around interesting guy I wish I could talk to. I’d probably ask him if he had any useful advice for how to discipline oneself when it comes to writing a book, since that’s something I want to do but I’m not sure I have the will to see it through. Any advice he might be able to share would be very much appreciated.

John Lasseter

This man founded Pixar back in the 1980’s. I remember watching one of his first computer generated films in 1987 at a conference in Vancouver and being blown away at how imaginative it was. John is now chief Creative Officer for Walt Disney Animation and a god to all those who worship at the altar of computer animation. What I particularly admire about him is his commitment to story development. Pixar spends alot of time fleshing out the story for its movies before they begin production. I would love to have coffee with him, if it were in any way possible.

Andrew Weaver

Andrew is a professor of climate science at the University of Victoria and the first elected MLA for the Green Party in British Columbia. He’s also a Nobel Laureate who was part of the United Nations InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I admire what he’s accomplished in his life – I would so very much like to talk with him about where he thinks humanity is heading as global climatic conditions continue accelerating ahead of what was originally estimated. In fact, the IPCC stated in its original 2007 report that its findings might be considered as ‘conservative’. Did anyone remember that?

JK Rowling

If there’s an author I really respect for sheer perseverance and not giving up on an idea for a fantasy novel, it’s JK Rowling. I watched a documentary on CBC News about her long journey on how she came up with the idea for Harry Potter, and what it took for her to create such a brilliantly fanciful series that re-ignited people’s imaginations. There are one or two people who feel I ought to be writing fantasy like JK Rowling. I’d love to just get some pointers from her about how to start the process and go from there, although I suspect she’d tell me that it all boils down to just getting on with it (I know, I know – it’s so blindingly obvious, but so hard to do).

Annie Lennox

I will never forget the first time I saw Annie Lennox. It was in the old Colony Motor Inn Tavern in Victoria, a known biker hangout. Me and my fresh-faced Uvic buddies arrived late on a Saturday night in 1983. I saw her performing in the music video Sweet Dreams are Made of These. I was smitten not only by her looks (oh God, those eyes), but her voice was incredible. I never saw her perform live (damn it!), but I’ve always loved her music, especially when she sang the haunting Into the West for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I saw Annie’s performance at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. She was still fiery and original. I would go anywhere, do anything, just to have a cup of coffee with my favourite diva.

Brian Greene

Brian Greene is a professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University. He produced a PBS special called The Fabric of the Cosmos, a brilliant layman’s introduction to the world of quantum mechanics and quantum physics. The series was absolutely mind-blowing – it changed my perspective about life, the universe, and everything. For example, when you look around, you see what your eyes tell you is empty space. But that space isn’t empty at all – it’s filled with particles that at the smallest levels of existence are popping in and out of what we perceive to be reality. Not wild enough for you? How about the concept of multiple universes existing right now? I really wish I could sit down and have a chat with Brian Greene.

Robin Williams

I wish I could be as funny as Robin Williams. His rapid-fire improvisation and satire have given me so many needed laughs over the years. There are still some times when I think I ought to give stand-up improvisational comedy a try (but I’m afraid I couldn’t be as profane and vulgar as what most audiences seem to prefer). Sure, Robin has had numerous ups and downs in his life with alcohol and drugs, but he’s a comedic force of nature that I really enjoy. I think one of his best stand-out performances was when he did voice-over for the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. Sigh. I would so very much like to have coffee with this man, caffeine be damned 🙂

So there we go. I would truly like to share a cup of coffee with any one of these fine folks. Who knows? Maybe it might happen 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (Hey! A ferret can dream, can’t I?)

God Isn’t Happy About What You’re Doing to the Earth

God was on Youtube the other day. I’m not surprised. The Almighty is a pretty tech-savvy entity, seeing as God gave us the ability to create all this super cool wireless techno-stuff. Why was God on Youtube? Probably because God realized that it’s the best way to get people’s attention these days, since all most folks want to do is glue their eyes to smartphone screens and plug up their auditory canals with earphones. Oh sure, once upon a time, God used the physical environment to communicate with humanity. But that’s just so ‘old school’ in the 21st century. Actually talking to God in person in a physical place just isn’t as convenient or efficient as real-time virtual communications. Much better to engage your audience digitally. At least that’s probably what God’s legion of celestial tech experts said.

So what did God want to talk about?

I’m pretty sure that in God’s eyes, humanity resembles awkward teenagers who have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions. When asked to explain themselves, the answer sounds – ridiculous. No matter how many times you point out the error of their ways, they keep repeating the same negative behaviours and wilfully ignoring the consequences. In real life, you only get so many chances to learn from your mistakes. When it comes to the stewardship of Earth, I think we are unwilling to honestly admit to ourselves that we have run out of chances.

I suspect that God is presently thinking ‘I’ve done everything I could to try and make it clear that actions have consequences, but these kids of mine think they know better. Fine. They made their bed – now they’ll have to lie in it‘ Don’t want to make immediate, hard decisions about seriously acting on climate change? Go ahead. Extract all the coal, oil, and natural gas you want. Frack your brains out. Pump up those carbon emissions and warm up the lower atmosphere. So what if the emissions from TENS OF GIGATONNES of naturally occurring methane contained deep in the oceans and under the permafrost is accelerating? Make all that profit shipping cheap fuel around the world while entire global ecosystems and millions of people you don’t know are severely affected. Keep holding intergovernmental climate conferences to debate what should be discussed at the next intergovernmental climate conference, while the oceans turn acidic, coral reefs die, and fish populations continue plummeting.

Don’t worry about all that global corruption, hatred, ignorance, inequality, injustice, intolerance, and violence. Hey, it’s all part of being human, right? Suffering builds character, doesn’t it? Look, so every major religion riffs on the theme ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you‘ and ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself‘.

It’s all good – isn’t it?

The Grumpy Ferret (Keeping the faith on speaking out)

Songs That Are Stuck Forever in my Brain

It’s the dog days of summer – that time of the year when you know there’s a hundred tasks demanding your attention, but you really don’t feel like doing them. The sun shines down brightly, the skies are brilliant blue. and you’re feeling about as energetic as a sloth. Looking out the window, the nearby pool is tantalizing me with its cool, flat aquamarine surface. Oh heck, how can I get anything done?

That’s when I start suffering from ‘Songs that are stuck forever in my brain‘.

You know what I’m talking about. Those songs you can’t forget – the ones that pop up from deep within your mind and transport you back in time to another place. You try to fight them off, but it’s no use. The internal speakers are cranked up and you can literally hear the music with your ears. At least, that what it feels like for me. I can actually hear the song although I know it’s coming from my mind.

So what’s on my sub-conscious playlist these days? It’s a really interesting assortment of songs. When I was nine years old, the Beatles released their famous psychadelic animated movie The Yellow Submarine. My mother refused to let me see it, fearing the effects on my impressionable young mind (But Mum – it has Blue Meanies in it!) Still, I loved the title song as a child. It always seems to play in my head when I’m working on something creative.

The next song that’s firmly wedged in my cranium is a funky Italian style tune I heard on CFAX Radio in Victoria back in 1981 called ‘ Ah Shaddup You Face‘, by Joe Dolce. It’s such a sweet, silly song. I start hearing it on those days when things just don’t seem to be going my way and I’m feeling overwhelmed. It reminds me that things are not always so bad – I’ll muddle through somehow.

Speaking of cheerful songs that just won’t go away, this one is definitely a strong contender for ‘The Anthem of my Life’:

There are some songs in my mind that are phantoms – they drift into my consciousness like echoes from the past. They’re reminders of thoughts and feelings I had at important crossroads in my life. Of all the phantom tunes that visit, this one haunts me most.  I hear it when I’m walking outside in the moonlight, or when I lie in bed at night, pondering the meaning of things. I know what this particular phantom represents – a feeling that after all these years, I still haven’t found my life’s destination.

Let’s get back to something more cheerful, shall we? 🙂

One of my life’s wishes is to return to the Big Island of Hawaii. I visited the northeast section for three days during a rainstorm back in February, 1994. I always wanted to go back for a longer stay so I could experience the Kona Coast, see the Mauna Kea observatory, and witness the power of Kilauea volcano. I really like native Hawaiian music – this song He Mele No Lilo  from the Disney animated feature Lilo & Stitch often pops up in my head to remind me that I must go back to the Big Island one day – soon.

So there you have it – a small snapshot of the playlist in my mind. And it just keeps on growing.

The Grumpy Ferret (Aka the walking cerebral jukebox!)

Where Were You on Friday, July 19th, 2013?

Where were you on Friday, July, 19th, 2013?

Earth ImageI remember where I was that day. I was working at the head office of Best Buy/Future Shop Canada in Burnaby, pounding away at writing product descriptions about personal computers, so the product content department could make the deadline for publishing on the Future Shop Canada website. Around me, the marketers were marketing, the promotion planners were promoting, the co-ordinators were co-ordinating, the managers were managing, and the executives were executizing. Everyone was hunkered down in their cubicles, slaving away for the good of the enterprise.

On Friday, July 19th, humanity went about its daily business on planet Earth, just like it did for thousands of years. Ordinary people lived ordinary lives. People were born, and people died. Dreams were realized, and dreams were shattered. Hopes were raised, and hopes were crushed. The global economy continued its pursuit of profit and market share. The massive megacities roared as their populations continued running the soul-crushing urban rat race, while countless billions of people living far away in tiny rural villages tried to scrape an existence off the land to live another day. Politicians postured and triangulated their ideological policy positions in the corridors of the world’s legislatures and parliaments.  Totalitarian tyrants spent another day convincing themselves of their personal greatness and seeming invincibility. Religious people invoked God’s mercy to bring about justice for those treated unjustly, peace for those weary of conflict, and solace for those who were hurt and grieving. Meanwhile, righteous fundamentalists invoked God’s wrath to destroy their enemies, vanquish the infidels, and defend the true believers who steadfastly maintained that they knew God’s true mind, devout in the belief that He supported their version of the truth.

Friday, July 19th, was just another day for human beings on Earth, getting on with the business of living and surviving. Meanwhile, the NASA Cassini probe was moving into position under the rings of distant Saturn to record an extraordinary moment  from 900 million miles away that happens very rarely.

Earth as seen from Saturn by the NASA Cassini Satellite July 19, 2013 (Taken from a distance of 900 million miles)

Earth as seen from Saturn by the NASA Cassini Satellite July 19, 2013
(Taken from a distance of 900 million miles)

Saturn was in a position where it blocked the Sun, allowing Cassini to take a clear picture of the Earth – the tiny white speck located between Saturn’s rings and the Sun’s halo on the right side of the image. In the immense blackness of space, there’s our home – a small, shining piece of cosmic dust.

It’s moments like this where I find myself completely at a loss for words to describe my feelings when viewing this image. Our planet – our existence – is totally, utterly ephemeral. We’re perched on a cosmic gossamer strand that shifts with the solar winds. More than ever, I’m struck at how we can even exist in such a cold, vast void. Not only that we exist, but that we’re also AWARE of our existence in this universe. Somehow, some way, we created an object that was sent far across the solar system to take a photograph of Earth – from 900 million miles! At the same time, I feel the urge to run out into the street and shout at the top of my lungs, ‘WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING TO OUR HOME? DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?’

Luckily for us, the late Dr. Carl Sagan created a very timely message to try and help humanity understand how fragile, precious, and rare our world is. Back in 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft took an image of Earth as seen from – get ready – 3.4 BILLION MILES away. Dr. Sagan was part of the team that created Voyager 1. When he produced his amazing PBS series COSMOS, Sagan narrated a segment called Pale Blue Dot, which are his thoughts about this image recorded by Voyager 1.

Earth is our home. There’s nowhere else for us to go. If we don’t seriously start changing our behaviours now about how we treat this planet and the biosphere that keeps us alive, then this beautiful gem – this Earth – will become a pale, lifeless dot. Every human being, every country, has a stake in the future of our planet.

The Grumpy Ferret (Only 5% of the universe is made of matter)

Hey Man! You’re Not in High School Anymore


From South Park ‘World of Warcraft’ Episode

Do you want to know something? There are times when I’m embarrassed to be a man in Vancouver. I really am. This town is positively tribal when it comes to the appearance and behaviours of men. What is it with my fellow adult males dressing down so they look like tenth grade gym class rejects? You know what I’m talking about. The prevalent Vancouver man style consists of variations on hoodies, pullovers, t-shirts, sports t-shirts, the whole sports jock look, the juvenile wearing of baseball caps backwards, and the wearing your shirts over your pants thing. Jeans, torn jeans, faded jeans, faded dirty jeans, dirty torn jeans. The same variations apply to corduroys, or slacks, or even the absurdly expensive brand stuff bought on Robon Street. And the colour choices. God save us. Do you want grey, black, grey, brown, grey, faded black, blue, blue with faded black and grey, blue-grey with black. Underwear sticking out of your pants, butt crack smiling brightly when you bend over.

There is an old phrase attributed to ancient Greece, but most often quoted from William Shakespeare: ‘Clothes maketh the man‘. Frankly, they ‘maketh the men’ here in Vancouver look drab, slovenly, and bland.

Then there’s the whole facial hair thing. Three day old stubble, scraggly beards and moustaches. Unkempt beards. Unkempt hair. Men who haven’t been near a barbershop in months. Shaved heads that look like a throwback to 17th century England and Oliver Cromwell’s roundhead brigades. You know what a man with a shaved head looks like? UGLY! BUTT UGLY! HIDEOUSLY BUTT UGLY. What is it with the aggressive facial expressions that make you look like you’re angry because you haven’t eviscerated a small animal yet? It’s crass, it’s crude, and it makes you look like some form of mutated ape. Then there are the guys who use loud colours and streak their hair. Oh geez. Come on. You’re not impressing anyone. Frankly, I’ve seen better hair colouring from native tribes in the Amazon who perfected the art. They look impressive and noble. City boys like you just look – stupid.

I’m bald because I inherited my great-grandfather’s genes. I started losing my hair at 17.  I saw a picture of him from the early 1920’s. My mother says I’m almost the spitting image of him. Naturally bald guys are a hell of lot more better looking than the guys who butcher their scalps with a razor.

Here we are in the 21st century, with all these amazing cultural, social, and technical advancements, yet North American men of all ages act and look like they’re perpetually trapped in some form of high-school time warp. They don’t want to grow up and be – men. They want to be jocular little fanboys who dress in drab colours. It’s like the proletarian fashions of George Orwell’s 1984 blended with the selfish consumerism and drug taking of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to create  a pleasure seeking society of monochromatic male drones.

Once upon a time, the thought of turning 50 made me turn cold with fear. When it happened, I spent a week ruminating on crossing that numeric threshold. My mother, who is so very wise, told me that the number of years doesn’t mean anything. She’s 80, but she doesn’t feel 80. I think I understand. Sure, I just turned 53, but I don’t feel ’53’ in the slightest. I’m active, engaged, healthy, and interested in what’s going on around me. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that I’ve gained wisdom from my life experiences. I’m comfortable with who I am. I know myself – my strengths and my limitations. Hell, I’ll never be a business executive, a senior manager, or major political figure. I’m not interested in competing against other people – life is not some kind of race where the objective is to keep score. I’m a creative individual – I like the arts, music, theatre, writing. I come from a family of creatives. I like ideas and looking at the big picture. I try to cultivate some sense of style so I don’t look like a stuffy, boring middle-aged man. I try to dress in a way that reflects my own creative sense.

Men need to grow up. Seriously. They need to put away their high-school fashions and mentality. They need to turn off the arrogant attitude. They need to get on with their lives and look forward, not backward. Put away the childish things and accept the responsibility of being an adult. There are quite a few men I know who are successful husbands, fathers, and have made significant contributions to the world. They’re cultured, experienced, sophisticated, and mature. They are busy living their lives, not ‘chillaxing’ and trying to recapture their high school days.

The Grumpy Ferret (Who actually knows his personal measurements!)