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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.

Elections: An Inside Story

The 2007 provincial election was a lot of fun for me. As we are rapidly approaching another election I thought an insight behind the scenes could be interesting. After being duly sworn in in August 2007, I and my IT Coordinator colleagues went through some intensive residential training before being released back into our respective communities. Shuffling back home with our 600 page manuals, we were tasked with managing the electoral database, computer systems, security, and the data entry teams for our respective Returning Offices. In my case, that meant the Welland Riding, at the Returning Office on Hagar Street.

Here are some bullet points.

Ontario is broken down into 107 Ridings, Welland being one. Multiply everything from here on by 107 and you begin to get some idea of the sheer scale of a provincial election. And Ontario is only one Province. Think Federal…

In Ontario alone the Electoral database contains over 8.3 million names, addresses and dates of birth. 82,537 of them lived at that time in the Welland Riding. Since the last election people have moved, died, married, divorced, and come of age. New streets and subdivisions have been built, demolished, renamed or merged. Boundaries have moved. All this needs adding, updating, verifying, and cross-checking. Electors then need to be allocated to polling stations and voting cards must be issued. 12 hours per day, 7 days per week, I and my team worked diligently for two months to get as much done as we could in that time and fix some of the problems we encountered. Data entry was a moving target, the forms change several times at each stage of an Election. They did extremely well and I was very proud of them. Thanks, guys.

I trained the management team and data entry staff on the computer systems, made sure everything was hooked up and kept working, monitored security and oversaw data entry, as well as verifying and reporting back to Elections Ontario, liaising with candidates and printing out the actual ballots. Beyond my scope, all field revision staff and more than 1000 polling day officials plus emergency standbys were trained in shifts, including weekends and evenings.

2007 Election Ballots ready to rollOver 70 venues played host to 283 polling stations. Leases must be signed for each. All need insurance. Furniture. Staff. Training manuals, ballot boxes, maps, direction signs, braille guides, magnifying lenses, sealing envelopes and stationery, toiletries…The simple truth is the logistics involved are phenomenal. From the first delivery truck to the last that collects everything for return to Toronto, this is one hell of a roller coaster ride.

Advance Polls were open at 7 locations for 13 days. Over 100,000 Ballots were secured in my locked office, one per Elector (you are not a Voter until you have actually voted). Every sequentially numbered piece of paper had to be signed and accounted for both in, out and on return to the building on Election Day. Times two: We had a referendum, so double the ballots. And don’t get me started on the amount of printing we did. Daily reports, internal memos, bulletins, candidate materials, Lists of Electors…not including what was farmed out locally. Two printers went through 7 cartridges between them and a small forest of paper.

If you wondered why you didn’t vote where you used to vote, here’s your reason. Elections Ontario Geography Division works year round to keep their maps up to date, right down to house and lot numbers for every street and road. Polling boundaries are allocated by population density. As population density changes, so do the boundaries. We aim for an optimal 350 electors at each polling station. That’s a manageable number for officials and venues, and you don’t have to queue around the block as you would if there were 3,500 instead. If a new condo or subdivision was built, that may get you bumped into the next polling station over, to balance the numbers as best we can. Balancing the numbers and allocating electors to polling stations was another job for my team and I. Blame me, I verified the data. I crunched the numbers. I allocated. I sent out the voting cards.

On Election Day everyone is at battle readiness. From 6:30 a.m. the polling stations are preparing. All are coordinated through the Returning Office and checked off on a screen as they announce they are ready to open the doors. We have teams of trained standbys on call to cover any last minute staffing problems: If we don’t have a full staff we cannot legally open the doors. Tension mounts as drivers are despatched to ferry replacement staff around the region as needed. Eventually, we have green lights across the board. We’re ready. And the doors open.

Calls come in throughout the day as issues arise. People go to the wrong polling station. Some are not on the voters list. Some live in Windsor but want to vote here. Some didn’t bring their voters card and have to be looked up in the huge Provincial electoral list printout which each polling station was issued with. Some didn’t even bring their ID and are turned away. Why? Because every year some people try to vote at multiple locations, and we’re ready for that, too. Everything has been prepared for, as much as humanly possible. The day winds on and we weather the storm, running on pure adrenaline. By the end, we’re all dead on our feet. But when the polls close, that is when it gets really interesting.

The ballot boxes are locked, tagged, and thrown into vehicles before everyone heads back to base at top speed. In case you ever wondered why it is called the Returning Office, now you know. All ballot boxes return here. The polling station staff can go home now, their work is done. Most, however, stay for the main event. The count.

Ballot box seals are confirmed untampered, then passed to waiting teams of ballot counters. Each ballot in each box is counted and results tallied and totalled. That box is passed to another team, and they recount it. If the numbers match, it is considered a good count and they go to the next box. If not, they do it again. And again, if necessary.

Once verified, the counts are passed to the Results Entry team that I hand-picked. Five individuals, their job is to enter these numbers to a database and cross-check until all polling stations and their counts are accounted for. We have our own dual-entry verification process, and I check the numbers myself for triple-redundancy. If the numbers add up, we move on. If not, we do it again. And again.

While we were collating the early counts I had to physically throw an over-inquisitive journalist out of my office. He was lucky I was in a good mood, I could have had him arrested. Literally. I considered it. The candidates representatives and every media outlet in the region were on the phones every few seconds. Everyone wanted an early indication of how things were going. The runners were dashing backwards and forwards with slips of paper. Ballot boxes and ballots were flying around like an explosion in a paper factory. The place was generally in quietly frantic uproar. Organized chaos.

Instead, I locked the office door and only let in the runners bringing me the results, after having given strict instructions not to speak to or even glance at any of the massed journalists. As fast as counts came in they were entered, checked and rechecked until all polling stations but one were accounted for: The ballot counters couldn’t agree and were on their fourth recount. And that’s fine. We want it to be right. And, eventually, it was. We were there until 1:30 a.m. before I could confirm the final results and pass them to the Returning Officer, who announced the initial results to the waiting media and assembled election workers.

The next day, per election rules, we did another recount to confirm the preliminary results. I am pleased to say they matched exactly, well done my team. The official results were announced at 1:00 p.m. that day and were co-signed into the history books by the Returning Officer and I. Peter Kormos had won by a clear margin.

Post-election clean up takes another couple of weeks, give or take. It involves taking all the issues encountered on Election Day (people who had died, immigrated, emigrated, married, moved or come of age during the election, for example) and updating the electoral database one final time before uploading it to Elections Ontario on Rolark Drive, a task which is done in every Riding across Ontario as the closing act of an election.

And then the trucks arrive. The furniture is returned first. Most of it was on loan or hired locally. The tables and chairs, the desks and kitchen equipment. The computer equipment goes into a specially built trunk, roughly ten feet by four by three. All the data entry workstations, the laptops, the printers, the cabling, the manuals, the network equipment. The equipment fills the trunk neatly: It was custom-built to fit neatly. The trunk is locked one last time by me, and the driver signs for trunk and key before all three go up the loading ramp together. All that equipment still contains software and confidential information which needs to be securely wiped when it gets back home.

But that is a job for someone else. My job is done. Time for me, too, to go home.

Another Busy Week

Our medical software division in New York are building a mobile interface for the electronic health record application we sell to hospitals and facilities across America.
I’m working with the development team on the user interface, designing for the app all the icons and other chrome that will be used.
It’s fun.
They need a library of unique and identifiable icons which can be used across various colour schemes, size ranges, and devices. That look modern and attractive without getting in the way, and which can be identified at a glance by first time users, while remaining attractive to long term users.
Of course, I nailed it first time. The draft icons I presented were approved at the first meeting and I started work on the rest of the icon libraries. I handed them off on Friday to the development team, who came back with only two words: Wow! Awesome!
I think I’m going to enjoy this project.

Holiday weekend! Canada Day 2014! Hang on…I’m working.

OK! It’s Friday June 27, and the working week is over! Right? Wrong. It just started.

After a quick cuppa, I’m going to start editing photos from the Lakeshore Catholic High School Graduation shoot last night. I want to get those shots in the bag and into the computer, so I can wipe my media cards and charge my spare batteries, load the car with flashes, reflectors, light stands and other camera gear because tomorrow…I am out of the house by 7:30 am to drive to London Ontario. I’m shooting a wedding.

Heading back around midnight so I can shoot more photos on Sunday at a different event, I should have another full media card (or two) and several hundred photos of the bride and groom, the wedding party, families, formal photos and candid cameos (my speciality)  of (I think) a total of around 120 guests. Me and a camera. No pressure, then.

Up early Sunday and starting to edit THOSE photos and wipe the media cards again… and off we go. Back to the day job on Monday…so much for a holiday weekend. ‘

Still, I get to spend Tuesday with Nikki, as it’s Canada Day, which makes it a national holiday here. I am going to unplug the phone, pack up an assortment of food and drinks and, if my weary self can handle it, take Nikki off somewhere for a picnic. Actually, we haven’t hit the beach for a while. Maybe we’ll go there. Actually, that’s walking distance from here. We can do that. If I can stay awake.

Note to self: Leave laptop at home.

Friday 13 at Port Dover

After a hard week doing…well, lots…it’s time to recharge the batteries. The edible Nikki and I are enjoying a long weekend away. As this weekend is the only Friday 13th this year, it’s going to be the mother of all parties.
Every Friday 13, upwards of a couple of hundred thousand bikers from across Ontario and northern US swarm the sleepy little Lake Erie waterfront town of Port Dover for a 48 hour music fest, with barbecues, camping, bars, booze and bikes. The best airbrush artwork is to be found here, and I love photographing it. Imagination and creativity run rampant. It is beautiful.
We shop, eat, make new friends and enjoy the many bar bands. The whole town is transformed. And we always keep an eye out for one of the true icons of this event: Thong Guy. Representing the ‘this is me, deal with it’ mentality and individuality of the weekend, all I can say is that I have never before seen a guy in his seventies make open toe sandals look good with a gold sequinned thong. I don’t think he ever buys a drink, which is good, because I don’t want to think where he would keep his money. A regular for many years, like the Lone Ranger, he rides in to town alone. Nobody knows where he comes from or where he goes afterward. I think they’re scared to ask.
We enjoy the atmosphere. Rarely a fight, the bikers respect the community and pretty much police themselves. The bikers are accepted into the community, and they take that responsibility very seriously. Police involvement is usually a quick chirp of the horn and a flash of the lights, before unruly revellers are brought to the ground under the weight of a dozen friends. It’s quite fun to watch, actually. Horseplay, usually.
Anyway, this is how two car-bound innocents like ourselves can drive without fear into a camp ground full of motorbikes, set up a tent surrounded by some of the most ethical and trustworthy strangers we never met, and sleep like babies. Well, apart from the constant ‘pipe wars’ which break out every thirty minutes of the night, accompanied by the good-natured chorus of  ‘shut those beepers off, you bopping beep holes’! Or something pretty close to that. Note: if you can sleep through a four- bike chorus of full throttle battle only fifty feet from your tent, this may be the party for you. Otherwise, stay home.
Well, I write this while charging equipment before heading in to town for some atmosphere. All charged now, it’s time to go and see what new excitement lies in store for us this year. Burger and a T-shirt, perhaps. That’s a good place to start. Here we go…
P.S. The cell network was swamped all weekend. No service, no signal, no call, no Internet. That’s why I’m posting this on Sunday instead of on the day I wrote it. Hey, I’m not wasting a good article just because it’s a day or so late… Photos to follow later. Ciao!

A sad and a strange day

Today the city of Port Colborne said goodbye to a fine young man. Mikey McIntyre, beloved son, grandson, brother, uncle and friend to many more, died. At the ripe old age of twenty two.
Death is known as a constant companion. We’re all going there some day. I am more than twice his age, yet I highly doubt that so many people will turn out for me when the time comes. Standing room only. This man was loved.
He was quietly spoken, to the point of invisibility, as one speaker noted. That is a neat trick when you stand six foot six and are built like an outhouse, like Mikey.
I can’t claim to have known him very well. I can say that the loss is mine. That today I stood with and watched and listened to those he left behind. And I was left feeling, frankly, a little envious of the Gentle Giant. To be loved so much by so many is something that most spend whole lifetimes trying to achieve. Mikey did it without even trying. In only twenty two short years.