May 2017 is Mental Health Month

Since 1949 Mental Health America (MHA) and their affiliate network have reached millions, spreading the word and removing the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health issues.

The often quoted statistic we are all familiar with is that 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health issues. However accurate that number may or may not be, it’s a little misleading. We’re not all schizophrenic, which is the inference Joe Public puts on it.

The very broad phrase ‘mental health’, actually covers a huge and varied range of behavioral health issues. Eating disorders, addictions of all types, ADHD and anxiety disorder. All these and many more fall under the catch-all umbrella of ‘mental health’. So, now that we acknowledge that the scope of mental health issues covers a far wider demographic than we perhaps first thought, perhaps that 1 in 5 statistic is a little less frightening. A little easier to digest. And that’s good, because the first step to addressing any problem is to understand it.

This year, the theme for May is Mental Health Month is ‘Risky Business’. I’ll let the MHA speak for themselves in this quote, taken verbatim from their web site:

“We believe it’s important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. These include risk factors such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns. We hope the tools and resources that we’ve put together help individuals and communities to raise awareness of the risks that these types of behaviors present – especially to young people – and help people who may be struggling to detect early warning signs and seek help early, before Stage 4.” – end quote.

As individuals, we may ourselves be struggling with inner demons that, if we are ready to accept it, we could use some help with. Most of us probably know others that could use some of that same help, if they are ready to accept it.

Available through the MHA web site is a toolkit which allows individuals and organizations to learn more about a range of common mental health issues, and to become involved in activities that will provide some of that help.

If this is a cause you feel you would like to contribute toward, we encourage you to review this site and information materials. Whether for yourself or for another, any journey starts with a single step. Step one: Understand the issue.

Star Wars Week: May the fourth, fifth and sixth be with you

Star Wars: May The FifthI had a few minutes to spare during a coffee break earlier this week, so gyst4fun (ahem) to celebrate Star Wars week I took my corporate head shot and turned it into a humorous May the Fourth image of myself with Princess Leia style hair. As one of my friends said, ‘You have great buns, man’.

IStar Wars: May The Fifth also made a quick Revenge of the Sith (Fifth, of course). Both were just 10 minutes of  silliness.

To finish out Star Wars week, I spent an hour this morning to complete the trilogy, and finish with the image below: Return Of The Sith.

Saturdays are great. I can go at my own pace and take some time. One hour, 25 individual layers and many tweaks later, I had taken my corporate head shot and turned myself into a Sith Lord, complete with Imperial Stormtroopers and exploding Tie-fighters. Not bad for an hours work.

OK, you caught me: That’s a bath robe. But in my defence, I wasn’t actually the one wearing it. And that lightsaber I’m wielding so casually is made from three separate layers. Looks good, eh? All the lighting effects are done by hand. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the way this looks.

It’s good, but not perfect. I know that. It’s not meant to be. This was a way to pass an hour on a rainy Saturday morning. If I wanted to spend another hour on it I could have perfected it, but that would have defeated the purpose: To have fun. And it was fun.

If you want a closer look at any of these images, right-click them and Open Image In New Tab (or whatever version your browser offers) to see them in full screen goodness. I hope they are as much fun for you to see as they were for me to make. Enjoy.

May the Force be with you.

Star Wars: Return Of The Sixth

Ransomware Recovery: Know Your Options

Ransomware is a growth industry

A governmental fact sheet from the HHS reports a dramatic 300% increase in ransomware attacks on U.S. governmental systems from 2015 to 2016. There are now an average of 4,000 attacks per day on those government computers alone. This alarming trend extends to attacks (some successful) on mission critical healthcare facility systems, whose requirement for uninterrupted service can quite literally be a matter of life or death. Ransomware, it is clear, is a highly profitable business. Tips for avoiding infection are everywhere.

But what do you do if the worst happens? What do you do if you ARE infected? Continue reading Ransomware Recovery: Know Your Options

Cracked Actor

I call this item Cracked Actor, after the 1974 David Bowie song and film. In the film, a drug addled Bowie plays the superstar to his adoring audiences throughout a live tour. He is clearly suffering on many levels, but you would never know that from his stage performance. He puts on a great show. And that is a pretty good metaphor for life.

All we see is the face a person chooses to present to the world. Not the real person, hiding in plain sight. We may get a rare glimpse through the armour in times of weakness, but normally our smiles stay painted on. Unless and until something shatters inside.

As you go through your day you pass many people, each going through their own struggles. Some big. Some small. Financial worries, addiction, grief, medical problems. It’s a long list. And none of that pain is visible from the outside. Just the smile.

I try to take a breath before hurling anger or bitterness at another person. Though perhaps justified, it may be that the person who just bumped you and spilled your coffee may be coming back from a funeral. The distracted driver that nearly wiped you out could be on the way to a hospital. Take a breath. Take two. You’ll live.

You may one day be that coffee spiller or distracted driver. You could be the addict, the outpatient, the parent. It could be you. Or a loved one. You may never know their stories. And you don’t need to. It’s none of your business. How you react, is.

It costs nothing to bite your tongue for a second. Be a better person. Make the world a better place. Remember this, the next time someone upsets you: We are all cracked actors. Every one.

Cracked Actor, a piece by Carl Green

Training site soft launch a technical success

As part of their ongoing commitment to supporting the Tim Hortons  restaurant group, the Quickservice Technology range of services has quietly been expanded to include a dedicated Tim Hortons training web site where owners and staff members will be able to learn all the equipment and software provided by Quickservice, most notably at this initial launch stage the Point Of Sale (POS) system developed specifically with Tim Hortons in mind, iQtouch.

The site will supplement the 24/7 bilingual technical support help desk which currently supports over 3,500 Tim Hortons restaurant installations. It will be a source of on-demand reference material and assist in the training of new staff members. The site will be expanded over time to include complete courses for Drive Thru Wireless, DVR Security and Timer software, as well as courses for owners on financial, administrative and operational reporting systems.

The site is driven by a complete LMS, (Learning Management System) as used by colleges and universities, and allows for class structures, grading, certification and student histories. Multiple choice questions, quizzes and essays are only three of the full raft of available options around which courses can be created and mutlimedia and video will naturally play a large part in the course structures. Full certification courses may follow, providing owners with the ability to confirm the training levels of their staff, providing peace of mind and measurable educational progression.

Enrollment has already begun, with over 50 students to date and more being added daily. It is envisaged that student numbers will soon be in the thousands and additional course materials and a roll out plan have already been prepared. Filming begins later this week on the very next course, DVR and restaurant security.

Exciting times are ahead.

On a personal note, I am proud to be the developer and administrator (Call me Dean) of this online college.  I look forward to creating the additional courses and materials for the growing student base to explore. It’s all about support, and that’s what I and the rest of the Quickservice team do well.

The site is publicly available, but to access any course materials you will need a login. Those are currently being made available on request to Tim Hortons restaurant owners. If you are an owner and want to enroll, contact the Quickservice team by email to sales@quickservice.com and we will be happy to assist.

So, class is in session. Welcome to college.

http://timhortons.quickservice.com/

A second honeymoon after only three years of married life

On September 21, I and my wife will celebrate three happy years of married life. We’ve actually been together much longer, and yet the honeymoon is not over. In fact, we agreed that our recent road trip vacation to Georgian Bay, Tobermory, Manitoulin Island, Thunder Bay and more was something of a second honeymoon for us.

We snorkelled, diving down on shipwrecks. We swam in crystal clear waters, hiked for miles through forests and across cliffs, even did a little adventure caving. We travelled on glass-bottomed boats and climbed observation towers. We swam in a waterfall, which is where the photo below was taken. And those are just a few of the bullet points. Along the way we stayed in campgrounds, motels and State Parks, staying one step ahead of the heatwave affecting the rest of Ontario all the way. And the wonderful thing about Canada is this: The more you see, the more you want to see.

The trip was around 3,200km, which by our standards is a short hop – our actual honeymoon was 5,800km – but in between 8 hour driving sessions we managed to cram in lots of fun, as well as have time for rest and relaxation. We even managed to visit an Amethyst mine, and picked up some pieces of geological history for the house.

Three years. We’ve done a lot, my love and I. And we plan to do a whole lot more in the next three. Six. Nine… Watch this space.

Happy Anniversary, my love. Here’s to many, many more.

A second honeymoon after only three years of married life.

Life. Funny thing, life.

One year ago today, our good friends Juice and Sweets (Brad and Kim) were married in a beautiful biker ceremony on a fantastic, sunny day. Surrounded by those they love, and by those that love them. It was a beautiful day. Here is the video I made for them.

It was a good day.

On the same day, Nikki and I were waiting to hear whether our offer had been accepted on the house in which we now live. Obviously, it was. During their vows, we got the call. I had muted the phone. Three buzzes while I fumbled the phone from my pocket, and the house was ours! High five and a quiet happy dance, while our friends sealed the deal with a kiss.

Five minutes after that, while we were still happy dancing, I got another call. Literally, five minutes. A lot can happen in five minutes.

That call told me that my 15 year old grandson had died in a tragically avoidable accident. He had been electrocuted while climbing on freight trains. Kyle lost his life while his cousin Cameron performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. While his brother Liam ran for help, Cam kept Kyle going until cousin Kayleigh, Kyle’s sister, came running. Together they kept the CPR going and fought on. Never give in. Never surrender. They didn’t.

But sadly, some fights just cannot be won.

Did I mention, this tragedy struck on Cameron’s 16th birthday?

Today is Cameron’s 17th birthday.

One year on. I’m wishing you a Happy Birthday, Cam, even though I know you don’t want to celebrate it. Rather, Cam has arranged to meet friends and family at a local park to release balloons in remembrance of Kyle.

That says a lot about Cameron. I can’t imagine what he (and the rest of the family, particularly Liam and Kayleigh) went through that day, and during this last long year. Or how they and the rest of the family have coped. One fractured day at a time.

I want to wish Juice and Kim a happy first anniversary. I want to wish Cam a happy birthday, whether he wants me to or not. And I want to mourn Kyle. Honestly, I can’t claim to have known him, and I won’t. I left the UK a long, long time ago when he was only a boy. But I do know this. Kyle left a huge hole. The entire family has been rocked by his untimely death. And no parent should ever have to bury a child. That’s not the way it is supposed to be.

A wedding. A new life. A life lost. All in five minutes. Five. Minutes. On that same day, there were thousands of births and deaths and marriages. Millions of happy and unhappy events. That day, and every day since. And every future day, too. The world keeps turning.

What is the point of all this? I’m getting to that. The point is this. It’s neither all good, nor all bad. In the midst of life we are in death, it’s true.  Enjoy the good, and smile through the tears. There is much pain in this world, balanced, usually, by much joy.

The trick is to never give up. Never surrender. Love while you can. And live. Live and love as though there is no tomorrow. Because one day, there won’t be. And then, the good memories will help get you through. You will need those memories.

So, make some. Go and hug someone. For no reason. Just do it. Put a smile on another person’s face. It feels good. Really. Give yourself, and someone else, a happy memory. Do it. Right now.

Or at least, within the next five minutes.

For Kyle Bradley.
For Kyle

The Weight of Snow Varies

According to the esteemed University of North Dakota (and who am I to argue with such academic giants?) the light and fluffy snow that we like to make snow angels in and make home movies of our dogs plowing through can mass around 7 US pounds per cubic foot. More average, denser snow, can come in at 15 pounds per foot, while drifted snow is denser still, since it is compacted (think snowman) and can come in at 20 pounds per cubic foot or more. I’m going to take 17 pounds per cubic foot as my base for this calculation, since it involves both drifted snow and snow which had been compacted by that most fearsome of the mechanized beasts of Winter, a municipal snow plow. We love them.

From the rear of my car to the road on this particular day was only about 50 feet. My driveway is a ballpark average of 10 feet wide. 500 square feet. The sidewalk, which one must clear by law in case some otherwise intelligent passerby slips and sues you, is 40 feet across the front of the house by 3 feet in width, adding another 120 square feet. The car itself had a foot of snow on the roof and packed under the wheels too, but let’s not quibble over details and just go with what we have: 620 square feet of snow to clear.

At the rear of my car, the snow was a foot deep. Now, we’re talking cubic. Car to road is 50 feet by 10 feet by 1 foot, total 500 cubic feet. Sidewalk, 120 square feet. If we say it was a foot deep at all points that’s another 120 cubic feet of snow. Close enough.

snowclearanceThere’s more. At the roadside, the snow was nearer 2.5 feet deep (probably more, I’m rounding down) due to the plow (blessed be those that driveth them).

The snow sloped evenly between the rear of the car and the road due to drifting, and of course the entire road frontage was one solid block where the plow had passed. This is where that algebra you learned in school kicks in (ha! The joke is on you if you thought you would never need it, kids!) and we calculate the slope. Easy enough. See diagram. 🙂

We take the volume of an imaginary rectangle and divide by two, to get the volume of the slope area separately. (50 x 10 x 1.5) / 2, gives us an extra 375 cubic feet.

Now we add. 375 cubic feet of slope, plus 500 cubic feet on the driveway, and 120 cubic feet on the sidewalk. Ignore the car! That gives a total amount of snow on the sidewalk, and between car and road, of 995 cubic feet of wet white stuff. Are you with me so far?

The last calculation is simple. At a conservatively estimated 17 pounds of snow per soggy wet cubic foot, I shoveled 995 cubic feet of snow. A total of 16,915 US pounds. There are 2,000 pounds in a US ton. The math says that I shoveled over eight tons of water yesterday. That seems impossible, right?

Please, check my math. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I checked it a few times because I didn’t believe it myself. I think you’ll find it accurate. No wonder snow clearance is a leading cause of heart attack and sudden death in Canada. That’s a lot of water to move.

I definitely learned something today. I learned that I will park closer to the road next time.

Getting Clean, With A Little Help From our Friends

January 29 marks the release of a David Bowie tribute issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Following Bowie’s death on January 10, a great many artists spoke of the influence this controversial musician had made on their lives, their musical choices and their careers. That in itself is inspirational.

But it goes much deeper. Beyond the musical influence, beyond the stardom and the Fame (I had to get at least one Bowie song reference in somewhere), Bowie himself has a well-documented history of drug abuse and was well along the path to self-destruction as far back as the Ziggy Stardust days of the seventies.

There are many stories of wild excesses and behaviour that follow the traditional rock star pattern. But unlike many others that were chewed up and spit out by the intensity of living their lives in the media spotlight, Bowie somehow turned it around and came out the other side, stronger than ever.

showtime five years david bowie smA quick Google search for ‘Bowie saved my life’ returns page after page after page of stories of fans attributing their current happiness to this much missed musician and the meaning they perceived from his body of work. But that is fairly common to any number of deceased rock stars.

What is uncommon is that Bowie used what he had learned along his personal journey to help others in his sphere of influence to get clean, mentoring them and helping them get through to the other side, too. Iggy Pop, for one, attributes his continued presence on this earthly plane directly to Bowie. And he’s not alone.

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (NiN) speaks eloquently in the Rolling Stone tribute issue about his own struggle with drugs and says that without the support and belief in him which Bowie showed, he would not be here today. While touring together, Reznor recalls that despite being at the height of their career as NiN, he was at his personal lowest point. He also recalls something Bowie said to him, quietly and without reproach, during this time. “You know, there is a better way here, and it doesn’t have to end in despair or in death, in the bottom.”

Bowie was at that time clean, happily married, and enjoying life to the full as a father and husband, with a future and a family he could now embrace in peace. Having been that Low (sorry, couldn’t resist) himself, Bowie knew exactly how hard it could be to get clean. With simple grace and without judgement or lecture, he was for Reznor and many others simply an example of what life could offer when you walked away from drugs forever. Reznor focussed on that, and he did indeed come out the other side, with a little help from his friend.

Let’s let Reznor say it his way. This is a quote direct from the Rolling Stone article: “A few years later, Bowie came through L.A. I’d been sober for a fair amount of time. I wanted to thank him in the way that he helped me. And I reluctantly went backstage, feeling weird and ashamed, like, “Hey, I’m the guy that puked on the rug.” And again, I was met with warmth, and grace, and love. And I started to say, “Hey listen, I’ve been clean for …” I don’t even think I finished the sentence; I got a big hug. And he said, “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.” I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it. It was another very important moment in my life.

The power of faith in people, and belief in their own inner strength, cannot be underestimated. For those people that can no longer believe in themselves, the faith of others is often the only light they can see in their personal darkness. Be the light.