Category Archives for Writing

How I Use GIMP to crop and scale photos

Today I posted my first Loom how-to video on YouTube. This one shows how I use GIMP to crop and scale photographs.

Watch the video here

Hope you find it useful.

By the way, all three of these software programs allow limited use for free! Thank you to everyone who helped produce them and continues to upgrade them so they work so well. Thanks to you, creators like me get to produce and publish our work while learning new skills. We live in such an awesome world.

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Omnivore’s Dilemma

The Omnivore’s Dilemma changed how I think about food.

Until reading the now classic 2006 tome by Michael Pollan, I never noticed the extreme lack of diversity in the modern North American diet due to its evolution since World War II. Events have since conspired to show me the extent that corn, dairy and wheat join salt and sugar to form a significant part of a Canadian diet too. Often we think we are eating one thing and it turns out that we are actually eating something else.

Food Industrialization

The industrialization of our food system has separated us from natural systems while hurting our health, our planet and our soil. Despite that understanding, reversing the habit has been an ongoing struggle. As Pollan points out in his conclusion, everything in our culture encourages us to rely on the convenient, unemotional and often unrecognizable food-like products offered in bulk by giant industrial companies.

For countless generations eating was something that took place in the steadying context of a family and a culture, where the full consciousness of what was involved did not need to be rehearsed at every meal because it was stored away, like the good silver, in a set of rituals and habits, manners and recipes. I wonder if it isn’t because so much of that context has been lost that I felt the need, this one time, to start again from scratch.” (p 411)

Travel Across America

For Pollan, starting again from scratch meant travelling across America to discover the basic ingredients within four meals: a McDonald’ meal eaten in a fast car, a Whole Foods organic dinner, a Polyface Farm meal, and a foraged meal. Pollan takes readers along with him, detailing every element in each meal from start to finish. He brings us with him into industrial food operations, to small and large farms, and into the forest in search of mushrooms and big game to hunt.

In between the descriptions of places and people, Pollan carefully outlines every element within every meal. Often, many of these elements turn out to have the same source.

Corn Prevalent Everywhere

In his description of his McDonald’s meal, for instance, he described how three people chose 45 different products almost totally made of corn.

It would not be impossible to calculate exactly how much corn Judith, Isaac, and I consumed in our McDonald’s meal. I figure my 4-ounce burger, for instance, represents nearly 2 pounds of corn (based on a cow’s feed conversion rate of 7 pounds for every 1 pound of gain, half of which is edible meat). The nuggets are a little harder to translate into corn, since there’s no telling how much actual chicken goes into a nugget; but if 6 nuggets contain a quarter pound of meat, that would have taken a chicken half a pound of feed corn to grow. A 32-ounce soda contains 86 grams of high-fructose corn syrup (as does a double-thick shake), which can be refined from a third of a pound of corn; so our 3 drinks used another pound. Subtotal: 6 pounds of corn.” (p115)

Food Science No Longer Occurs

The Omnivore’s Dilemma also contains a great deal of information about how many societal norms and regulations have radically transformed when it comes to food. Often these changes were due to marketing by various members of the agricultural industry.

Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida,” wrote Pollan, on page 178. “Naturally this information discomfited the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research. Nowadays U.S. agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there’s good reason to believe this isn’t really true.”

Food Link to Health

In other places, Pollan speculates about the extent that changes to our food system might be creating problems with our health.

One of the most important yet unnoticed changes to the human diet in modern times has been in the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6, the other essential fatty acid in our food. Omega-6 is produced in the seeds of plants; omega-3 in the leaves. As the name indicates, both kinds of fat are essential, but problems arise when they fall out of balance. (In fact, there’s research to suggest that the ratio of these fats in our diet may be more important than the amounts.) Too high a radio of omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to heart disease, probably because omega-6 helps blood clot, while omega-3 helps it flow. (Omega-6 is an inflammatory; omega-3 an anti-inflammatory.) As our diet—and the diet of the animals we eat—shifted from one based on green plants to one based on grain (from grass to corn), the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has gone from roughly one to one (in the diet of hunter-gatherers) to more than ten to one.” (p268)

Despite multiple examples of dense information, the overall impression a reader has of Omnivore’s Dilemma is an exploration of America through its food and communities. Pollan aptly outlines his deep concern about deep problems in the food system while demonstrating how caring individuals can change how things are done.

Pollan has nicely captured the hurtful and healing attributes of America’s food system. Omnivore’s Dilemma remains a treasure and a great source of hope.

Reading it may force you to change the way you eat, the way you shop and the way you see your local community as it did for me.

 

Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By Michael Pollan

2006

ISBN 978-0-14-303858-0

The Omnivore's Dilemma Book Cover The Omnivore's Dilemma
Michael Pollan
Cooking
Penguin Press
2006
450

An ecological and anthropological study of eating offers insight into food consumption in the twenty-first century, explaining how an abundance of unlimited food varieties reveals the responsibilities of everyday consumers to protect their health and the environment. By the author of The Botany of Desire. 125,000 first printing.

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Can the Lachine East Consultation Restore Trust?

Hundreds of people spent Sunday afternoon on February 24 talking about the 50- hectare plus Lachine East Development at the Maison du Brasseur.

“Finally we have the developers, government and citizens all in the same room,” said Lachine Mayor Maja Vodanovic. “Now we can create the neighbourhood of our dreams together.”

Montreal’s public consultation office (OCPM) organized the open house and information session as the first part in a process that will continue through April 7. This is the first time that a borough and the city have asked for a public consultation prior to a private development plan submission.

Three Commissioners

Three commissioners will be in charge of a report due out next summer. Marie Leahey, a coordinator from the Régime de retraite des groupes communautaires et de femmes, leads the commission. She is joined by cultural manager Danielle Sauvage and Les Tourelles Milton Park cofounder Joshua Wolfe.

Hopes remain high for what might be built on the former industrial land over the next twenty years. Several of the organizations that want to be involved in the project staffed tables during the open house.

Imagine Lachine East

One of them contained people from a new non-profit association called Imagine Lachine-Est, which wants to ensure that the new Lachine East development becomes an eco-district. More than a hundred citizens have joined so far. UQAM urbanism professor Jean-Francois Lefebvre serves as their president.

“I started working with the group as part of an internship, but I’ve been volunteering with them ever since because I really believe in this project,” said Imagine Lachine-Est coordinator Charles Grenier. “Eco-districts are the hope for the future.”

Grenier handed out pamphlets inviting visitors to the group’s Lachine-East summit. Organizers have added a series of talks in English to make sure that everyone who wants to learn about eco-districts can do so. The summit takes place on Saturday March 9, from 9:15 until 5 at the Guy-Descary culturel complexe, 2901 boul. Saint-Joseph. For more information, visit their website.

 

Revitalisation Saint-Pierre

At another table were Inass El Adnany and Vincent Eggen from Revitalisation Saint-Pierre. They asked visitors to complete a survey about their vision for a bicycle path to link Lachine and Saint-Pierre through the former industrial area.

Villa Nova

Yves Comeau from Villa Nova stood in front of his table to talk to everyone passing by. He said that the company looks forward to continuing to develop its land, despite the clean-up costs, which turned out to be much higher than they once anticipated.

We carted truckloads of contaminated soil from the property,” said Comeau. “There’s going to be a lot of clean-up necessary on the rest of the land as well.”

Tensions between the government and Villa Nova have eased since tests discovered that the land had not been properly decontaminated despite receiving certification from the Quebec Environment Ministry. The borough itself tested the land after Vodanovic raised concerns. City, borough and company discussions got so heated that the company went into bankruptcy protection while the clean-up took place.

During that same period, co-owner Paulo Catania faced fraud charges. They were dropped last May. A month later, Catania made more positive headlines with his announcement that half of the Villa Nova units on the Jenkins property sold within six hours of coming onto the market.

Comeau said the company remains confident they’ll be able to duplicate that success on the rest of their property.

Questions to OCPM

During the information session that followed the open house, residents expressed concern and hope. One resident asked how the borough could protect local heritage if they couldn’t stop the recent Dominion Bridge demolition. How does the city justify building 4,000 units in a sector that has few transportation options? How much community and social housing will be built? What about schools, day cares and grocery stores?

The next sessions during the OCPM consultation may answer some of those questions. Anyone interested can sign up for small group design workshops at two different libraries.

You can also present a written or verbal submission to the commission. Written submissions are due in March. Hearings will take place during the first week of April. To register, go to the website.

Note: This article appeared on pages 1 and 11 of the February 27 issue of the West Island Edition of the Suburban.

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How Can Women Generate More Confidence?

To watch this in video form, click here

There are three senses of confidence, and all three of them define feelings about something.

They are:

  • trust, as in “I have complete confidence in my employee”
  • truth, as in “I am confident that the earth spins” and
  • self-esteem and a belief in the ability to succeed, as in “I am a confident person.”

This essay deals mostly with the last sense of the word. I want to talk about confidence because it’s an important business skill. Actually, it’s a necessary life skill too.

Women less confident than men

Also, studies show that women tend to have less confidence than men. One of the most impressive of these was conducted by University of California researcher Dr. Wiebke Bleidorn and six co-researchers. After interviewing 985,937 people from 48 different countries over a period of eight years, they showed that men express higher self-esteem than women and both men and women become more self-assured as they age. The results appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2015.

The eight-year study by Bleidorn her co-researchers analyzed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, from Norway to New Zealand, Kuwait to South Korea, asking them to rate the phrase: “I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem study found that across the board – regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.”

So: where does confidence come from; what influences it; and how can people become more confident?

Where does confidence come from?

Thanks to human behavioural tendencies towards imposters’ syndrome, self-doubt and procrastination, confidence is something that has to be continually regenerated.

All of these tendencies stem from a natural human behaviour of narrow framing.

Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman says narrow framing is natural since people face problems one at a time, under circumstances in which the immediate consequences of the choice is so clear that other possibilities might be hidden. That means we make decisions from a more narrow perspective than might be rational. An impending deadline only feels urgent when it is only a week or even a day away. Then we realize that we can’t succeed as we hope to, and our confidence wanes.

What influences confidence?

The opinion of others can influence confidence, but so can other factors.

In 2018, a group of European scientists reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology how stress affects our degree of confidence. Here are their conclusions:

  • Stress generates competitive and economic inequality.
  • Competitive confidence is unaffected by trait anxiety under control conditions.
  • Stress makes low-anxiety individuals over-confident and high-anxious people under-confident.
  • Stress affects self-confidence under high-uncertainty conditions.

How can people become more confident?

Taking action, changing your body posture and setting and accomplishing goals all lead to confidence.

Frances Bridges summarizes ten ways to generate confidence in an article for Forbes:

  • get things done
  • monitor your progress
  • do the right thing
  • exercise
  • be fearless
  • stand up for yourself
  • follow through
  • think long term
  • care little about what others think
  • do more of what makes you happy

Peter Economy focusses more on mindset hacks in his Inc story:

  • make lists of goals and things you are grateful for
  • prepare
  • generate positive enthusiasm
  • change negative thoughts to positive ones
  • improve your posture

Economy also says: “You might have to fake it at first and merely appear to be self-confident, but eventually you will begin to feel the foundation of self-confidence grow within you.”

How I generate self-confidence

My own way of generating self-confidence can be summed up by five elements:

  • write down three things that I’m grateful for every day
  • keep enthusiastically making plans and following them
  • generate courage, which often looks like confidence
  • aim to fail until I succeed, so that trying again becomes routine
  • frequently adopt the Wonder Woman post (shoulders straight, head back, hands on hips)

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Freedom to Read Week in Canada begins today

It’s awesome to be able to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, which begins today.

See this in video here

Do we still need this kind of celebration? Isn’t censorship dead in Canada?

Not all. Did you know that politician Victor Doerksen and 810 others tried to get John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” banned from all Alberta schools in 1994?

Of Mice and Men sits among 30 works that have been challenged in Canada over the last 35 year of this event. You can read the entire list on the Books and Periodical Council Freedom to Read Week website.

Reading about such things surprises me, but it shouldn’t. People are always trying to impose their taste on others.

Canadian creators, librarians and schools set up Freedom to Read Week events to celebrate and encourage the right to freedom of expression. It has taken place in Canada for the last 35 years.

This year, it begins on February 24 and ends March 2.

Initiated by Creator Association Representatives

Freedom to Read Week operates as a project by a committee set up by the Books and Periodical Council. The Council represents creator associations across Canada, including one I’m in, the Professional Writers Association of Canada.

Freedom of Expression matters a great deal to all of us.

At the same time, we do not condone hate literature, something that is illegal in Canada.

Defining Freedom of Expression can be difficult. The Books and Periodical Council uses a joint statement written in 1997 and reaffirmed in 2017 to do so. Here it is:

What is Freedom of Expression?

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of all Canadians, and freedom to read is part of that precious heritage. Our Committee, representing member organizations and associations of the Book and Periodical Council, reaffirms its support of this vital principle and opposes all efforts to suppress writing and silence writers. Words and images in their myriad configurations are the substance of free expression.

The freedom to choose what we read does not, however, include the freedom to choose for others. We accept that courts alone have the authority to restrict reading material, a prerogative that cannot be delegated or appropriated. Prior restraint demeans individual responsibility; it is anathema to freedom and democracy.

As writers, editors, publishers, book manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and librarians, we abhor arbitrary interpretations of the law and other attempts to limit freedom of expression. We recognize court judgments; otherwise, we oppose the detention, seizure, destruction, or banning of books and periodicals – indeed, any effort to deny, repress, or sanitize. Censorship does not protect society; it smothers creativity and precludes open debate of controversial issues.

Challenged Works

The list of challenged works that someone in Canada deemed offensive includes many works. A diversity of cultural expression works about gender identity, multiculturalism and panoply of other politically-sensitive issues appear.

The nonfiction books among them include:

  • 100 Questions about Islam,
  • Bad Medicine: A Judge’s Struggle for Justice in a First Nations Community,
  • Banksters and Prairie Boys,
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,
  • La première fois,
  • Lethal Marriage,
  • Noir Canada: Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique,
  • The Importance of Muhammad,
  • The Star Weekly At War,
  • The Valour and the Horror,
  • The Wars,
  • Three Wishes,
  • Under the Gun: Inside the Mohawk Civil War,
  • Waging War from Canada,
  • Within His Keeping: God’s Embrace of Your Life, and
  • Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Sexual Fantasies.

Demeaning and Profanity

Of Mice and Men fits right in.

The 811 people who signed a petition presented to the Albertan legislature in 1994 claimed that Steinbeck’s classic book “demeans or profanes the name of God and Jesus Christ.”

I can’t argue about the profanity. Consider the following quote from paragraph 62 on Saturday Night.

“I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it.”

Not sure how a quote from a fictional character demeans God though. Nor do I agree that that would be a reason to ban a book anyway.

Steinbeck’s work expresses an intense period in American history. It’s also extraordinarily well-written.

Think I’m going to make a point of reading it to celebrate Freedom to Read.

Or maybe I’ll just read Travels With Charlie again. That’s my favourite non-fiction work of all time. Steinbeck wrote it too.

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