Friday, March 25, 2011

Conscious Incompetence

Pileated Woodpecker
At a conference I attended recently, one of the presenters introduced me to the expression "conscious incompetence." It's that psychologically painful stage when you realize just how incompetent you are at a new skill. It comes from the so-called four stages of competence.
Here's the Wikipedia explanation:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.

2. Conscious Incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.

3. Conscious Competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration.

4. Unconscious Competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes "second nature" and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
Looking at these, it occurs to me that not only is conscious incompetence the most uncomfortable stage, it is probably the only stage that doesn't actually make you feel good. Here's my synopsis (much pithier than Wikipedia's):
Unconscious Incompetence => Ignorance is bliss
Conscious Incompetence => OMG, I totally suck!
Conscious Competence => Dayum, I'm good!
Unconscious Competence => Gretzky on skates
I am currently at the "OMG, I totally suck!" stage when it comes to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and it is kind of driving me nuts. I know just enough to do some really cool stuff, but also enough to get into trouble.

For example, I did some subtle (I think) but good things to Brian's picture at the top of this post, using Photoshop. Here's the original picture, at right. It's a good picture: high resolution, good shot of the woodpecker, decent exposure. But the few tweaks I did (not just cropping) make it stronger, I think.

On the other hand, in trying to do those few simple things, there was still a lot of trial and error (and undoing).

And one of the larger projects I had at work this week involved Illustrator. The design itself was relatively simple, so I didn't think we would need to hire a professional designer (famous last words, eh?).

Well, I uploaded the final artwork to the production company yesterday and got a "Please call us first thing in the morning" message from them last night. Turns out that, while the design itself was fine, I hadn't integrated all the files the way the printer needs them. (Just how DOES one convert text to "outlines"?) It was easily solved by uploading a couple of extra files.

I need to be patient and keep on plugging away. I just don't like this in-between stage of "OMG, I totally suck!" I am, however, looking forward to feeling like I rock.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Tourists

We're back from a whirlwind trip to southern Ontario, playing tourists in our home province.

The only disappointing part of the weekend was that our hotel (a) did not have wifi in the rooms (seriously!), (b) even the plug-in Internet crashed on Friday morning, never to revive while we were there (what the heck?), and (c) treated us to an impromptu indoor waterfall. This latter happened when the fix-it guy who came to replace a flickering lightbulb was instead drenched with water as soon as he removed the light shade.

We saw Niagara Falls. Having grown up in southern Ontario, it almost escaped my mind that my own kids hadn't seen the falls. Tsk! Tsk!

We went to the Butterfly Conservatory. (I stayed in the gift shop - the thought of all those insects fluttering around me was a little off-putting. I prefer my insects two-dimensional.)

On Saturday, we visited the Royal Ontario Museum and saw the new "Crystal" addition, designed by architect Michael Lee-Chin. What an artist!

New meets old.

We enjoyed our visit to the museum, but I'll spare you all the pictures we took. (Why do we keep trying to take pictures of objects behind glass? If I'm going to keep trying that, I need to read up on how to do so properly.)

But the highlight of the trip was getting together with (most of) my family. You may see a family ressemblance. That's right: the good-looking ones are all in-laws.

Unfortunately, one of my brothers couldn't make it, and my mother and her husband called in sick. But it was still a good crowd and I really enjoyed catching up with them. A lot can change in a year and a half.

To sum up, we experienced:
- waterfalls and water falling
- butterflies (and a snake, but I didn't post that picture. You're welcome.)
- architecture, history, dinosaurs, and cultural relics
- Toronto traffic, which MapQuest clearly does not understand. 23 minutes, my foot.
- quiet evenings NOT surfing the Internet
- lots of hugs from family

Time well spent, I think.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Risky Business

I've just signed up for a new life-insurance policy. What fun! And I'll bet you were waiting with bated breath* for that tidbit of news.

The reason I mention it is this: I had to fill out a form listing the sundry ways in which my life is at risk. I checked off the boxes that indicated current or past history of:
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes (Type II)
  • mild sleep apnea
  • depression
(Hey, I'm no spring chicken anymore.)

I anticipated that they would be concerned about the first four, especially the diabetes, which I've been told puts me at the same risk for a heart attack as someone who has already had a heart attack. (Eek!) I didn't expect them to grab onto the last one and get all anal about it.

I was wrong.

Yesterday, I received a letter asking for three pages of information about my history of depression. I was surprised for a couple of reasons.
  1. I presume that any life-insurance policy is void if the person covered commits suicide. (NOT that I'm suicidal, far from it! And that is, in large part, because I have sought and received effective treatment.)
  2. I would've thought that the diabetes was the biggest risk factor.
So, basically, I couldn't see what they were so concerned about. Unless ... depression increases the risk of premature death even apart from suicide. So I googled it, as any inquisitive person would.

Here's what I found at the (American) National Committee for Quality Assurance's page, "Focus on Depression."

In addition to the risk for suicide, depression is also associated with an increased risk of premature death from other causes (not self-inflicted), especially when depression occurs in combination with serious medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. A study of poststroke depression demonstrated the effectiveness of treatment (i.e., antidepressants) in reducing the risk of death from stroke within a year from 64% to 32%. [Emphasis mine.] 
So that explains why the insurer wants to know more. Fair enough. 

Interesting, isn't it? Even with the knowledge that the site is funded by Pfizer, maker of the antidepressant Zoloft, the statistics are impressive and support my belief that untreated depression or mood disorders are greater risk factors and have a more detrimental effect on individuals and communities.
But it did make me wonder about how many people would be inclined to "white lie" on the insurance forms or to refrain from seeking help. It frustrates me, as I've mentioned before.

In any case, I'll submit the information and see what the insurer does with it. But wouldn't it be nice if the insurance company had simply asked, "Did you seek treatment? Was it effective?"

* Today's trivia: I originally wrote "baited breath," but then thought better of it. It turns out that, indeed, my original spelling was incorrect. Find the explanation here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh, puh-lease!

UPDATE: I changed the picture.
The previous picture was of an opening single quotation mark,
not an apostrophe.
My apologies.
I just saw a new all-time low for abuse of homonyms in the English language:

[facepalm] It was supposed to be "their," as in "eat their brains," (yes, really) but clearly the writer was unsure about they're and their, so opted for a mashup. Here's your quick lesson (not that any of my readers need it, but some poor soul might google for help):
  • In many cases apostrophes take the place of one or more absent letters. The apostrophe in "they're" is a placeholder for the "a" in "are."
      • They + are =  They 're
      •                   = They're
  • "Their" means "belonging to them." It is not a contraction, so no apostrophes are needed.
Other cases where you'll see the apostrophe used this way:
  • E'er = ever, and ne'er = never
  • Y'all = you all (Note that, for this reason, "ya'll" is incorrect)
  • Can't = can not (the apostrophe replaces the extra "n" as well as the "o")
  • Don't, won't
For those of you eager for an etymology lesson, apostrophe is the Greek word "ἀποστροφή" (there go my Blogger stats!), which is a rhetorical device "when a speaker or writer breaks off and directs speech to an imaginary person or abstract quality or idea." Thus in both cases (the grammatical and the rhetorical) the apostrophe refers to an absence of something. Does that help?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Snap Happy

My fave from last weekend.
I finally picked up the pictures I took last weekend. This whole waiting-a-week thing is really rather annoying!

For the most part, the pictures weren't really all that different on the point-and-shoot digital compared to the adjust-everything-yourself SLR. Which is a good thing, I guess. It means I didn't over-expose or take unfocused pictures.

The colour on the SLR pictures seems a little truer to me (less blue), but I could have adjusted for that if I'd really seen it. The pictures out of the SLR camera required almost no adjustments (I added a "vignette" to the picture above, but that's it.), whereas the digital pix all need adjustments to exposure and sharpness.

But I'll let you see for yourself. Click on the pictures below to enlarge them. they are all straight out of the camera, no adjustments at all.

(I like the composition of the digital picture better,
but I like the colour of the SLR picture better.)
Now, I'll go rig up a poll so you can vote on point-and-shoot vs. manual. (In then end, they are BOTH digital format, so I kind of mis-labeled them. Sorry.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Из России с любовью.

(That translates to, "From Russia with Love," and is pronounced, "Iz Rossii s lyubovʹyu." Yah. Didn't help me either.)

Russia? Really?
Reading web statistics for my blog is like having a video camera outside my front door: I can see how many people visited, how long they stayed, what they looked at. I don't take it very seriously because I'm not interested in increasing my audience; I do this because I enjoy it.

Still, there are occasional surprises.

Like yesterday. My blog experienced its highest volume of traffic ever: 88 pageviews. That's more than double what I get on a really good blog post. And 78 of them were from Russia. Which is odd. Steve thinks it may be an espionage tactic. Should I be worried?

Curiously, these statistics are not replicated in my Google Analytics account. There, I see NO visits from Russia, and no unusually high traffic. Isn't it odd?

One thing that hasn't changed is that the all-time most popular post is "Keep yer pants on!" about my embarrassing panty-hose crisis on the way to work one day. The cynic in me suspects that those hits come from people who google images of "girl panties off" saw the one I used and clicked through expecting something kind of raunchy. Sorry to disappoint. Well, not really. Go elsewhere, Uncle Creepy.

The next-most-popular post is the one I wrote about Katie and her octopus tentacle. That's the one with the Greek title, "Λατρεύω την κόρη μου." I have no idea why that would be popular. Perhaps having a Greek title doubled my audience? We'll see how my Russian traffic fares now that I have a Russian title, too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

'Tis the Season

The other day, I waxed poetic about the signs of spring: crocuses and all that. A friend on Facebook mentioned baseball spring training as another sign of spring, and today, I remembered another one: potholes. Here, for your reading — and singing — pleasure, a song, sung to the tune of "Deck the Halls."

‘Tis the season to dodge potholes
      Fa la la la la , la la la la!
Deeper than the Great War’s foxholes
      Fa la la la la , la la la la
Broad enough to eat a Smart Car
      Fa la la, la la la, la la la!
While we dare not travel too far.
      Fa la la la la, la la la la!

Here is a wider view of the pothole pictured at the top of this post.
It is 200 feet (60m) deep.
I think I drove past it today.
And, finally, because I come across these things while I'm blogging and can't help sharing them with you, the word "troll" in the traditional Christmas carol means, "To sing the parts in succession, as of a round, a catch, and the like; also, to sing loudly, freely or in a carefree way."(Wiktionary)

So go ahead and troll the modern, pothole carol!

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Little Kitten Has Lost Her Mitten

Isn't that a cute little gadget? I suspect most Canadians will know what it is, but none of my American friends did: it's a mitten and hat dryer. Just position it over a heat vent, plunk your hat or mitts on it, and let the furnace do its work (while humidifying your house).
Here's what one looks like in use.
And here's what one look like when your cat decides that her warmth is every bit as important as dry winter wear.

Silly, happy cat.
Now I know why it is always off kilter.
Photo by Brian

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Snowy Day

The snow melted, the rain came, and everything looked dirty and grey. But as the sun rose, we were greeted with a fresh blanket of heavy, white crystals, and I realized that I had not yet captured our forest in wintertime. So I grabbed my coat, boots and camera - and then I grabbed the SLR camera - and ventured into the mild winter day.

The SLR pictures, of course, will have to be developed ... no instant gratification there. In the meantime, I have these. Next week, we can compare what the two cameras achieved. Note: these pictures have all been modified at

Wading Pool:
Waiting for Summer
(I love the vintage feel of this effect.)

Dad looks tired, but the kids look very happy.
We've admired that treehouse ever since we moved here.

Now, for those of you who are interested, here are some "before and after" shots, to show you what I've done to the pictures. 
This is SO fun! What do you think? Better before? Or better after?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

First Signs of Spring

Crocus (I did not take this picture,
but it's just the kind of picture I hope to take with a new digital SLR camera.)

At 07:20 this morning, the temperature outside our house was 19 degrees below zero Celsius. (That's -2 F. Sounds better, er worse, in metric). It was brass-monkey-ball freezing, it was. I can't wait for spring, for milder weather, for a chance to get some garden growing in our back yard, for the first brave blossoms of crocuses, tulips and daffodils.

We do not have any such pastel-hued harbingers of spring, but we do have other signs that things are warming up:

Icky, brown-grey snow.
But wait. What's that dash of blue up in the corner?

 There seem to be quite a few of them ...

Construction flags, marking water and gas lines.
And more ominous signs further down the street.
Spray-painted markings on the road, and mounded dirt showing where they've already started digging.

Yes, road-and-sewer-repair season is upon us, and major construction is scheduled for our street, right in front of our house. We received a letter from the city last week warning that our lives would be disrupted. The work will last all summer, it seems, and will block the only two ways we can get in or out of our neighbourhood.

So that's the first sign of spring in our neck of the woods. I'm willing to bet our friends and family in Georgia, Colorado and British Columbia have some prettier things to gloat enthuse about.

Since we're on the topic of flowers, I'll just drop a hint about my nieces' fundraising effort: Diane and Laura, the "Simpson's Striders," have a Flower Power campaign. 50% of the sales go toward the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Check it out.

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