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Archive for the ‘Ruminations’ Category

Is There a Hidden Inspirational Message In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Have you ever experienced a really profound dream – one in which you’ve stumbled upon the hidden mysteries of the universe, and one so intense that it actually woke you up in the middle of the night? Upon awakening, you think to yourself “This is it – I’ve discovered the secret! Yes, it all makes sense now!” Then you roll over and go back to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, you’ve completely forgotten what your dream was about. I had one of those dreams a few weeks ago, but this time it happened just a few minutes before I was supposed to wake up, so I was able to remember it. It doesn’t seem as profound now as it did when I was dreaming it, but for what it’s worth, here it is…

In my dream, I uncovered a secret inspirational message contained within Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Of course, since Einstein died in 1955, we can’t ask him if it’s true, so this will be nothing more than the whimsical nocturnal speculations of my overactive imagination.

Albert Einstein

I suspect that I was able to connect the dots because I’m a fan of Leonard Bernstein and had recently been watching his Harvard lectures. In 1973, this Harvard alumnus delivered a series of lectures at his alma mater called The Unanswered Question. In the first lecture, Musical Phonology, he told the students that the principal thing that he learned from his masters at Harvard was a sense of interdisciplinary spirit, and that “the best way to know a thing, is in the context of another discipline.

It was in a similar interdisciplinary spirit that I was dreaming about something very analytical, which appeals exclusively to the left hemisphere of our brains – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – from a decidedly right-hemisphere point of view. I was contemplating relativity from a new and unique vantage point: the self-help section of a bookstore.


Even if you don’t understand it, you are undoubtedly familiar with Einstein’s relativity equation: E=MC² It states that energy (E) equals mass (M) times the speed of light (C) squared. It’s also important to know a couple of facts about the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, or about 300,000 kilometres per second. Einstein stated that the speed of light was always constant, and that nothing (or at least nothing with any mass) can travel at or faster than light. I admit that it does seem strange that there could be a maximum speed for anything in the universe, but the concept of light’s maximum velocity can be illustrated in the following graph:

Energy vs Speed Graph

This graph displays speed along the x-axis (horizontally) and energy along the y-axis (vertically). The faster an object travels, the more energy is required to reach that speed. As you can see, there is a vertical asymptote at c (the speed of light). I’m sure that you already know that a vertical asymptote is a vertical line that the graph plot approaches but never actually touches (because its value would have to be infinity in order to reach it). In this graph, it means that it will take an infinite amount of energy to propel anything at the speed of light. That’s why nothing (with mass) can travel that fast – there just isn’t enough energy in the universe to do it.

And now, the essence of the dream… was Einstein an even greater genius than we thought? While E=MC² was certainly a groundbreaking equation for physicists, it could also be interpreted as an important social statement. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity might actually be a parable – much like one of Aesop’s Fables – disguised as an equation. I had finally decoded the secret, inspirational message contained within the equation, because I (much like Leonard Bernstein’s professors) was examining it within the context of another discipline.

The 80/20 Rule and Project Management

If that graph looks familiar to you, then this might be why. If your job is at a manager’s level or higher, then you probably know about the 80/20 Rule, known formally as The Pareto Principle. It’s embraced by many different industries, and each one places their own personalized spin on it:

  • 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your clients
  • 80% of network traffic occurs during 20% of the day
  • 20% of computer code contains 80% of the errors

In project management, there is a popular maxim paraphrased as follows “80% of a project can be completed in 20% of the time… but it’s that final 20% that requires 80% of the project’s timeline (or even more, in many cases)“. This graph illustrates that maxim quite well.

Take a look at the graph from a Project Manager’s point of view, but relabel the x-axis as “Percent Complete” and the y-axis as “Time”. At the 80% mark, the project time requirements start to skyrocket, and soon it becomes clear that delivering every feature (flawlessly) within the initial time frame will not be possible. Compromises are inevitable. Did Einstein leave this message for Project Managers in his Theory of Relativity?

Perfectionist Personalities

We all know people who are perfectionists, and I’m sure you’ll agree that they can often be trying. Some of these folks – those who insist that others should rise to their perfectionist standards – can be annoying or even insufferable. Personally, I think that perfectionists are generally not very happy, since they have set for themselves, a goal that cannot realistically be achieved, and therefore exists in a continual state of disappointment.


In that same graph, let’s relabel the axes once again and assume that the x-axis represents our own perceived level of perfectionism, and that the y-axis represents the time, money and energy required to reach this level of perfection. Since we are all imperfect beings, targeting 100% is a pointless exercise. In fact, I would love to show this graph to a perfectionist and say “Study this graph, and then please abandon your quest for perfectionism. None of us will ever be perfect, so stop trying. As you can see, you can reach and maintain a fairly respectable level without even breaking a sweat, but soon as you set your sights on 100%, the effort (relative to the gains) rises exponentially. The graph is speaking to you!

Could Einstein have coded into his equation, this sage and practical advice for the perfectionists in our lives?

Reinterpreting Relativity

For more than a century, Einstein’s concept of relativity has been viewed only one way. Could it also be examined within a social context? I’m going to propose that Einstein embedded a behavioural allegory in his Theory of Relativity, and that the following is his hidden personal and motivational message for all of us: What relativity really means is that you must measure yourself relative to those around you, and not on an absolute scale of perfection. Since none of us is perfect, then your life is really a lot better than you realize. If you’re a perfectionist, then trying to achieve 100% perfection is merely an exercise in futility. Do the best you can, but as you can see from the graph, anything more than that will take a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money.

Einstein was certainly a genius, but I’m going to propose that he was also a cross-disciplinary visionary who purposely designed his Theory of Relativity to appeal to both hemispheres of our brain. This theory challenged Newtonian physics and also contained an inspirational message for everyone. It simply took the rest of us a century to decode this second component. Who could have guessed that analyzing a graph of the speed of light might make us a little more… enlightened?

And now, I’d like to pose what I call The Grand Unifying Question: should books about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also be placed in the self-help section of your local bookstore?



He Never Reigns In Southern California

OK, perhaps “never” may be overstating things a bit – rarely or seldom might be better choices – but I couldn’t resist making a musical reference.

A few weeks ago, I was in San Diego for a conference. After I retired to my hotel room for the evening, and was getting ready for bed, I thought to myself “In this increasingly secular age, do the Gideons still place Bibles in hotel rooms?” There was only one way to find out… I pulled open the drawer of the bedside table, and there it was!


Not only was there a Bible, it was an actual Gideon’s Bible!

I’m not a particularly religious person, and I’m certainly not someone who is likely to spend an evening reading the Bible. In fact, to paraphrase A.J. Jacobs (the author of The Year Of Living Biblically) “I consider myself a devout Catholic in the same way that The Olive Garden is considered an ‘authentic’ Italian restaurant” :o)

However, I do have an active imagination and an insatiable curiosity for just about everything. As I stared at the good book, I began to wonder… “How many previous hotel guests have read that Bible? Which passages did they choose? Which words contained within these covers offered comfort, solace, hope and inspiration to those who were here before me?” While I don’t possess any extrasensory abilities, I did remember one trick I learned many years ago: if you want to know which pages of a book have been read the most, place the book on a flat surface, balance it carefully on its spine, and then slowly let go. After a couple of seconds, the book pages will separate at the most-read spot(s).

This trick would be my pre-Internet retro cookie – a low-tech way to surreptitiously track the Bible browsing habits of others. That’s not a sin, is it? I hope not…

It was time to conduct a little experiment! I removed the Bible from the drawer, walked over to a table on the other side of the room, balanced it on its spine very gingerly, and then slowly moved my hands away. This is what it looked like:

Bible On Spine

It remained like this for about 8-9 seconds, before listing to the left, and then finally keeling over. I tried it again, making sure that it was perfectly balanced and perpendicular to the table. I waited expectantly, but witnessed the same disappointing result. Finally I opened the Bible slightly, and (being careful not to bend the spine) gently riffled through the pages, to loosen them a bit. Maybe a little coaxing was needed in order to get them to reveal their secrets. After placing the Bible on the table a third time, the same thing happened. After a few seconds, the entire book simply tipped over.

While my experiment was clearly unscientific, the conclusion seemed obvious: apparently I was the first person to actually open this book. My initial, and decidedly sanctimonious thought was “I can’t believe this! California must be overrun with heathens!

However, the next morning, as I pulled back the curtains, and gazed out the window at the blue skies, sunshine, palm trees, joggers and dog-walkers, my attitude changed. I now thought “Actually, this is starting to make sense. I don’t need to read about the paradise described in this book… I’m already in paradise!



The Most Hurtful Interpretation

Human interactions can be challenging. Even though I don’t know you, I’ll bet that you often feel misunderstood, especially by people who know you very well.

You’re not imagining things. You were born with a social disability, and I’m going to explain exactly what it is, and how you can adapt to it. Once you succeed in doing this, it will feel like someone has bestowed upon you, a remarkable sixth sense. You will be able to detect what others around you cannot, and in time, all of your relationships will become more harmonious.

If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. If you’re a fan of the television series The Big Bang Theory, you probably know that Sheldon is not the most socially-adept creature, in part because of his difficulty in interpreting facial expressions, and therefore, the emotions of others. We were all saddled with a similar interpretive disability – one that makes it challenging for us to accurately interpret the true feelings and intentions of other people.

A few years ago, I was perusing a book co-authored by Jack Canfield, one of the authors of the Chicken Soup For The Soul series of books. Unfortunately, the title of this book escapes me right now, but it contained one of the most useful pieces of advice I have ever read. Canfield wrote – merely as an aside – something that I thought was absolutely profound. He said “If people hear something that has multiple interpretations, then they will assume that the most hurtful interpretation is the correct one“.

Teary Eye

At first I thought this was just silly. Perhaps young children (who are continually seeking parental approval) may assume this, but we’re all educated and mature adults with superior reasoning abilities. In any conversation, all interpretations will be considered, and then evaluated properly and sensibly.

Then something unexpected happened. As the weeks and months went by, I realized that Canfield’s pronouncement was true. I heard example after example, with stunning (and frankly, troubling) regularity – more instances than I could count. My otherwise wise and educated family, relatives, friends and colleagues were all affected equally by Canfield’s unsettling statement. My surprise morphed slowly into intrigue. I thought to myself “The divorce rate in this country is about 45%. How could the percentage be this high when there is presumably a year or more of character vetting and compatibility analysis during the courtship and engagement periods? Could this behavioural quirk be a contributor? If we were all keenly aware of The Most Hurtful Interpretation, would our marriages and relationships last longer?“. I realize that this is merely speculation, but like Carrie Bradshaw hunched over her MacBook “I couldn’t help but wonder…“.

Here are just a few examples I encountered:

  • One of my relatives told me that it had been several days since she had read any Facebook posts from a particular member her extended family, and wondered why she had been de-friended. I explained that Facebook doesn’t display every post from each of your friends – otherwise we’d never get through our news feeds. Only selected posts are displayed, and I had no idea what Facebook’s selection algorithm was.
  • A friend and I were e-mailing each other semi-regularly a few years ago. In one message, she asked me something, and I intended to reply the next day, but then forgot all about it. Two weeks later, she e-mailed me again and wanted to apologize if she had said anything to offend me, since I hadn’t contacted her in a while.
  • I was worried sick about you!“. How many times have you, as a teenager, heard these words from your parents after staying out later than you had intended? Statistically, there is a very small chance that anything serious would have happened to you, but that’s not how parents think. They are going to assume the worst.

WebMD Everything Causes Cancer

  • A generation ago, if you weren’t feeling well, you went to see your doctor. Today, the Internet gives us the ability to self-diagnose our symptoms by visiting a number of medical web sites. One of the most popular is WebMD. Just type in your symptoms, and WebMD will display a plethora of diseases and conditions that are associated with them. While poring over this list of possible afflictions, which ones are we drawn to? Which do we think we might have? I think you already know the answer…
  • A few weeks ago, I was watching the Steve Jobs DVD. If you’ve seen this movie, then you’ll remember that Jobs initially denied the paternity of his daughter Lisa. Back in the late 1970s, DNA testing wasn’t nearly as accurate as it is now, and while Jobs did take a paternity test, he said to a TIME magazine reporter that his DNA test results could apply to 28% of the men in the United States. Therefore, he felt no need to admit anything. Lisa’s mother, Chrisann, read the article and thought that Jobs had accused her of sleeping with 28% of the men in the United States. To be fair, this movie is a partially fictionalized account of Jobs’ life, so I have no idea how accurate the recounting of this event is. However, it is a perfect example of The Most Hurtful Interpretation.

Lorne Grabher

  • Finally, there’s Lorne Grabher’s license plate. Mr. Grabher was proud of his fine German surname, and decided to place it on a vanity license plate. For a while, everything was uneventful, but then one person noticed his license plate, and read it as “Grab Her”. This unnamed person felt that Lorne was “misogynistic and promoting violence against women“. So s/he filed a complaint with the Ministry of Transportation and they revoked his vanity plate.

I’m Also Not Immune

After perusing Canfield’s book, I naturally assumed that I would be granted an instant and lifelong immunity to this phenomenon. How could I possibly be affected, since I was now in possession of this incredible insight? Since I was familiar with the underlying behavioural machinations, I could note this behaviour in others from a distance, as a detached observer. Obviously, I was wrong. I was affected as much as everyone else, and this example illustrates that The Most Hurtful Interpretation is not limited to human interaction.

Door Access Card v1a

Last year, as I was returning to the office from my lunch break, I held my access card against the card reader beside the reception area door. The card reader always beeps, and then its light changes from red to green, followed by the audible click of the door unlocking. This time, nothing happened. I tried again – still nothing. It took about 4-5 attempts before the reader recognized my card. I found out later from someone in the IT department that the door reader was a little quirky and had been giving everyone trouble. That should have been my first assumption, since it was not only logical but was also the most likely scenario. However, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at opening the door, my actual thoughts were “Oh no – I’ve been fired! They always deactivate your security cards and computer accounts first. How could this happen? I’m a good worker. What have I done (or not done)?“. Yes, in hindsight this sounds silly, but at the time it was a genuine concern for me.


Now That You Know…

The first thing you’ll want to do is look for evidence. Keep your ears open and listen carefully to the conversations you have with your family, friends and co-workers. Then listen to the conversations around you. Within a few days, you will probably start hearing numerous examples of The Most Hurtful Interpretation. I was astonished by how many examples I heard.

Fast forward several weeks… since you’ve heard a variety of examples, and are adept at identifying this behavioural quirk, you now possess your special sixth sense! As you listen to the interactions around you, you now have the ability to predict how a statement will be interpreted by the recipient, even when the speaker does not.

At this point, you may want to take steps to ensure that your sentiments are not misinterpreted in a hurtful way. Unfortunately, this is not going to be easy. In Toastmasters, I learned that communication consists of two components: the message we deliver, and the message that the audience actually hears (and interprets). Unfortunately, we can control only the first component. Since the listener is always free to interpret your words in any way, what can you do? Before speaking, think about all of the different ways that your message can be misinterpreted (in a hurtful way) and then consider how to modify your message to reduce the chances of this happening. Here are a few ways to limit the breadth of the interpretations.

  • Speak clearly
  • Choose your words carefully
  • Avoid ambiguity
  • Provide plenty of details
  • Surround your message with as much context as possible

Finally, build up a mental case file (or write down the examples you hear). Analyze each conversation, and consider the following:

  • What was the original intent of the speaker’s message?
  • What was the listener’s interpretation of that message?
  • How did the listener arrive at their conclusion?
  • If I were the speaker, how could I rephrase my message to prevent this particular interpretation?

In the arena of human interaction, if it seems that the odds are stacked against you, they’re not – they are stacked against all of us, which levels the playing field. However, you now stand head and shoulders above everyone else. Now that you know about The Most Hurtful Interpretation, you possess a special sixth sense – an acute social awareness that almost no one else on the planet shares with you. It will take a bit of time to develop and hone this ability to predict the reactions of others, but once you do, I predict that you will be heralded by those around you as a talented and empathetic communicator.



The Utility Of Humility

I remember reading a comic strip a number of years ago. Two people were waiting patiently at the gates of heaven, while St. Peter was leafing through his large book. Finally, St. Peter looked up and said “I’m afraid that we have space for only one more person, so to help me decide who gets in, I would like you to answer this question: Which of you two is the most humble?”.

This Catch-22 scenario reminded me of the utter confusion I had often experienced during my Catholic elementary school religion classes. In my blog post The Generosity Coefficient, I lamented that my while my religion teachers used to recite a plethora of Bible verses, they didn’t do a particularly good job of explaining what they meant or how they might apply to us. This comic strip reminded me of another one of their pronouncements – Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” As a child, this one also didn’t make much sense to me. It was actually counter-intuitive because this was the 1970s – a time when schoolyard bullying meant more than mere verbal taunting or name-calling – there were also threats of physical violence. Being meek was not a wise strategy for me or for any of my classmates, and it certainly wouldn’t get one very far in my world.

Another related verse that I heard in church quite regularly was “He who is humbled shall be exalted”. Our priest never elaborated on this one, which frustrated me. In hindsight, I should have approached him afterwards and asked him to clarify what it meant. Everyone else in the congregation seemed quite content, as if they understood all of its nuances.


I decided that it was time to revisit this verse and find out exactly what was being promised to us. After Googling some online Bibles and doing a few text searches, I discovered that this verse appears many times, in slightly different ways. Here are some examples:

Matthew 23:12: And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
James 4:10: Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Peter 5:6: Be you humbled therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in the time of visitation.

To me, these verses all seem to be counter-intuitive. First of all, if you are a genuinely humble person, then why would you want to be exalted? This advice appeals only to those who are narcissistic or otherwise ego-driven in their behaviour. In another one of the many ironies I’ve discovered in the Bible, the above verses seem to be directed toward those who suffer from hubris. Hubris is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and according to Wikipedia, it’s the the original and most serious of them all. In my opinion, genuine humility requires no ulterior motive; people should be humble because it’s simply a good way to conduct oneself.

Secondly, as we age, we become wiser and more mature (well, most of us, anyway). In general, we become less inward-looking and more outward-looking. We focus less on ourselves, our social position, the accumulation of material goods or what other people think of us, and we concentrate more on helping others and giving back to society. I think it’s safe to say that those nearing the end of their lives probably don’t care much about being exalted.

When can we expect to be exalted? The first two quotes don’t give a timeline, but the last one says “in the time of visitation”. What could that mean? I decided to look up Peter 5:6 on the Bible Study Tools web site, which provides dozens of interpretations and translations of this verse, and it was very vague. That phrase was interpreted as “at the right time”, “in due time”, “at the proper time” or “in His own good time”. Not particularly helpful…

Personally, I envision two possibilities: God will either exalt you while you’re here on Earth, or after you get to heaven (I assume that those who are on their way to hell are on their own). As far as I know, no human (other than Jesus) has ever been exalted by God – if so, then the media would have been all over this story. Therefore, it’s unlikely that we will receive our reward while we’re still here on Earth. I also asked a few of my friends what they thought these verses meant to them, and their answers were fairly uniform: “Be humble now, and God will exalt you when you get to heaven”. Given the lack of any exalted people here on Earth, this seems like a reasonable interpretation.

It sounds like someone wants to ensure that we remain humble during our entire lives, by promising us a reward – at an unspecified time, but more than likely after we die – that appeals to our ego. Yet another intangible dangling carrot…

And now, The Bob Angle… these verses do not deliver the right message. Yes, humility is a noble character trait, but one mustn’t say “be humble and you’ll be exalted after you die”. Not all of us are able to embrace the concept of delayed gratification. If you want proof, then just look at the popularity of scratch-off lottery tickets – there is a segment of the population that can’t even wait until Saturday night’s lottery draw for their reward. What Matthew, James and Peter should have said instead was “be humble, and you’ll be rewarded immediately and often”. Not only will more people respond to it, that’s also how society actually works, and I can prove it with these examples:

It’s no secret why Pope Francis is the most popular and beloved popes in recent memory. Despite his ascribed status, he is a genuinely humble man who remains unaffected by his new station in life. Immediately after the papal conclave, he went back to his hotel to pay his bill. Afterwards, Francis declined to live in the papal apartments, and chose to live at a residence for visiting clergy, the decidedly more modest Casa Santa Marta, and eat in the communal dining room.

Pope Washing Feet

One the the things I admire most about Popes is the ceremony in which they wash their parishoners’ feet. They may lead a rarefied existence, but this act of humility brings them back down to earth, and raises their profile immensely for me.

Prince William Cleaning Toilet

Prince William seems to be one of the most popular members of the royal family. While it may be his good looks, I think it’s because he doesn’t exist in a proverbial ivory tower. He seems to be more in touch with ordinary people. In 2009, William spent a night on the streets, living as a homeless person would, in order to experience first-hand, how indigent people live. In 2000 during a charity expedition to Chile, the prince was treated like everyone else in his group, which meant physical labour and even cleaning toilets.

Root Beer MugTom Hanks was a guest on The Tonight Show a few years ago, and told Jay Leno about a particularly enjoyable Friday night – he and his wife stayed in and watched movies. This A-list celebrity explained this very ordinary evening in great detail. He and his wife love to drink root beer while watching movies; they like to drink it out of large glass mugs (like the ones used at A&W) and they always put the mugs in the freezer first so that they are frosted. While many celebrities enjoy showing off their ostentation lifestyle, Tom Hanks brings himself down to the lifestyle of his audience by describing something completely ordinary and easily attainable.

Add Friend ButtonFacebook has two classes of user accounts: Standard and Public Figure. You can follow a public figure and see their posts on your news feed, but you can’t send them a friend request or (in most cases) send them a private message or post anything on their wall. Science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer and former Ontario Premier Bob Rae are two people who impress me with their humility. Both are very well-known in their field, have illustrious careers and are most certainly public figures, yet they each have standard Facebook accounts. If you look at their Facebook home pages, you’ll see a green “Add Friend” button. I like this, because it demonstrates that they don’t feel above anyone else, despite their fame and success. Of course, this might also be because people called Robert (or Bob) are just naturally humble, decent and down-to-earth… :o)

Twitter - Dalai Lama

A few years ago, I decided to follow the Dalai Lama’s Twitter account. A few minutes after I did, the following e-mail appeared in my Inbox “The Dalai Lama is now following you on Twitter!”. This is one of my favourite e-mail messages, and I still can’t bring myself to delete it. Yes, I know that it was probably sent by an automated script, and I doubt that his Holiness is actually reading my tweets, but the sentiment is significant: if I am interested in what the Dalai Lama has to say, then he is willing to return the favour and listen to me. Years later, I still remember this humble gesture.

You’re probably thinking “These examples are fine if you’re a famous person, but I’m just an ordinary guy (or gal). What could I possibly do to demonstrate humility?”

Be respectful toward others. Politeness and common courtesy are really acts of humility. I’m sure that you, while driving, have often encountered kids and teenagers on skateboards who simply roll through intersections without any consideration for the other vehicles. This also applies to cyclists who seem to think that stop signs don’t apply to them; there are even pedestrians who simply walk right across a busy four-way intersection without breaking their stride. As a pedestrian, I watch the other cars carefully and always wait my turn before crossing the road. However, what I’ve often noticed is that drivers will often wave me through, even if I’ve arrived at the intersection a couple of seconds before they did. Even if I’m not waved through, the other drivers often give me “the wave” as they make their turn or drive across the intersection. When I show respect for the driver by waiting to cross, I am often rewarded by that driver who either gives a wave of appreciation, or often allows me to cross first.

In my blog post Keep Looking Up, I suggested that we should all start associating with people who are smarter than we are. We will initially feel a sense of humility or even inadequacy, but we will eventually be rewarded with an abundance of new ideas, points of view, information, knowledge and wisdom that we wouldn’t otherwise have acquired from our current circle of friends.

Chores 1

Chores 2

Men – help out around the house. Offer to do less-than-glamourous chores, such as cleaning the bathroom, washing the dishes, vacuuming, or the laundry. You may think that these are thankless tasks, but on more than one occasion, I’ve read Facebook posts by several women who said that the sexiest thing their husband or boyfriend can do is wash the dishes.

HTML CodeIf you’re a programmer, then embrace your bugs and compiler errors. Yes, they are frustrating, time-consuming and often confounding, but they force us to dig deeper into the code and do additional research. Personally, I learn a great deal when I am faced with an error or some unexpected behaviour in my programs. At first I’m a little disappointed that my programming skills weren’t what I thought, but as I work through the code, I learn much more about the language, and the idiosyncrasies of the operating system and the computer than I did before. My humility makes me a (slightly) better programmer.

There you have it – be modest and unassuming now, and enjoy the adulation immediately. If you don’t expect to be exalted until “the time of visitation”, then it is more likely that you won’t notice or appreciate the way people are treating you right now, in their reactions to your humble behaviour.

Self Referencing In Pop Songs

Viewing music from The Bob Angle often means organizing songs in unconventional or non-intuitive ways. From time to time, I enjoy giving my friends musical and lyrical challenges. I’ll ask questions that force them to categorize music along an axis that they never knew existed; I want to see how agile their minds are and how efficiently they can extract data from their brain’s storehouse of musical knowledge. For example, I’ve asked “Name a song whose lyrics begin with the word and“. The two songs that I can name off the top of my head are Rush – Closer To The Heart (“And the men who hold high places…”) and Frank Sinatra – My Way (“And now, the end is near…”). In that example, I was hoping that my friends could provide me with additional song titles, but so far, no one has been able to add anything to this decidedly diminutive list.

My latest musical challenge is “name a pop or rock song in which the singer mentions his or her own name the song lyrics”. After doing some online searching, I discovered a lot of examples of self-referencing in pop and rock music, but they seem to fall under two general categories: song titles that contain the band’s name, and song lyrics that mention the band’s name.


Band Names in Song Titles

The Backstreet Boys – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
Bad Company – Bad Company
Big Country – In A Big Country
Bo Diddley – Hey, Bo Diddley
Living In A Box – Living In A Box
Queen – Killer Queen
The Rolling Stones – Like A Rolling Stone
The Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut
The Who – Who Are You


Band Names In Lyrics

The Beastie Boys – Fight For Your Right (To Party): Anyone who is over 40 will remember this slightly rebellious song from their 1986 album Licensed To Ill, and the lines, starting at 2:48 in the video: “Your mom busted in and said ‘what’s that noise?’ ‘Aw, Mom you’re just jealous it’s The Beastie Boys’ “.

Boston – Rock & Roll Band: This “pseudo-live” track opens with the lines “We were just another band out of Boston, on the road to try and make ends meet”.

Devo – Jock Homo: The oft-repeated line in this song is “Are We Not Men? We are Devo”.

Escape Club – Wild Wild West: You probably didn’t hear this on the radio, but at 3:07 in the extended version, there is the line “Here comes this Escape Club to rock it tonight”.

The Fifth Dimension – The Age Of Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In: Near the end of the song, at 3:59, listen carefully for the line “I want you to sing along with the Fifth Dimension”.

The Monkees – Monkees Theme: Hey Hey We’re The Monkees – this one is so obvious… 

Moxy Fruvous – King Of Spain: The final lines of this song are “Once I was the king of Spain, and now I’m jamming with Moxy Fruvous”.

Pink Floyd – Have A Cigar: It’s not a complete reference, but at 1:38 there is the line “By The way, which one is Pink?”.

Salt-N-Pepa – Push It: Near the beginning of the song the line “Salt-N-Pepa’s here…” is repeated several times.

Wang Chung – Everybody Have Fun Tonight: Everybody knows the line “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight”, although I have no idea what Wang Chung means when it’s used as a verb.

Wham! – Wham! Rap: In this song from their debut album, Fantastic, there is the line, starting at 2:33 “Now reach up high and touch your soul, the boys from Wham! will help you reach that goal”.


Singers Referring To Themselves by Name

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything online regarding songs in which a singer mentions his (or her) own name in the lyrics. Therefore, I was forced to employ a decidedly low-tech method of extracting this information – thinking about it. After racking my brain for several months, I have compiled my own list, which turned out to be quite an endeavour because my brain is simply not organized like this. However, it was still a gratifying exercise to force myself to analyze popular music in this new way. This is what I’ve compiled so far:

Album - ABCABC – The Look Of Love: In this hit single from their 1982 album The Lexicon of Love, lead singer Martin Fry laments his less-than-satisfying love life in these lines “And all my friends just might ask me, they say ‘Martin maybe one day you’ll find true love’ “.

Album - Billy JoelBilly Joel – Piano Man: In the title track of his 1973 album, Joel is the protagonist – a piano player who is entertaining pub patrons on a Saturday night. John the bartender tells him of his career aspirations in these lines “He said ‘Bill, I believe this is killing me’ as the smile ran away from his face”.

Album - David Lee RothDavid Lee Roth – Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody: In his 1980s solo effort, Crazy From The Heat, Roth personalizes his version of this classic tune by modifying one of the lines to “I’m just a gigolo, and everywhere I go, people know the part Dave’s playin’ “.

Album - FloatersThe Floaters – Float On: In what is certainly the first personal ad disguised as a Top-40 single, each band member introduces himself, seductively whispers his astrological sign, and then describes his perfect woman. A sample line is “Aquarius… and my name is Ralph. Now I like a woman who loves her freedom…”. Don’t laugh – sure, it was the 1970s, but as you can see from the video, these guys can pull this off while wearing powder-blue tuxedos, embroidered lapels and ruffled shirts!

Album - Guess WhoThe Guess Who – Clap For The Wolfman: Wolfman Jack was the guest vocalist in this 1974 single from their album Road Food. Wolfman Jack’s line is “Everyone’s talkin’ about the Wolfman’s pompatus of love”. The term “pompatus of love” is a reference to a 1973 Steve Miller song called The Joker, and has a fascinating and detailed history of its own.

Album - Harry ChapinHarry Chapin – Taxi: This is Chapin’s classic ballad from his 1972 debut album Heads and Tales. In this tale, Chapin is a taxi driver in San Francisco who recognizes one of his passengers as someone from his past. The lines are “She said ‘How are ya, Harry?’, and I said “How are ya, Sue?’ “. 

Album - Janet JacksonJanet Jackson – Nasty: In this popular dance single from her 1986 Control album, Jackson – whose popularity during the mid-1980s rivaled that of her older brother Michael – declares emphatically “No my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet… Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” 

Jimi Hendrix Fire Jimi Hendrix – Fire: According to Wikipedia, after a concert, Jimi was visiting the home of his bass player, Noel Redding. Hendrix asked Redding’s mother if he could stand beside her fireplace to keep warm. She agreed, but her Great Dane was already in font of it. So Hendrix said “Aw, move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over”.

Album - John MellencampJohn Mellencamp – Rain On The Scarecrow: In this passionate 1985 song about the demise of the local American farmer, Mellencamp tells the story (from a farmer’s perspective) of a banker who must foreclose on a farm belonging to his friend. The lines are “Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land, he said, ‘John, it’s just my job, and I hope you understand’ “.

Album - Mamas and the PapasThe Mamas & The Papas – Creeque Alley: In this 1967 song, the band members sing the line “And no one’s getting fat except Mama Cass”, referring to singer Mama Cass Elliot. Elliot sings this line along with the rest of the band members, thus making it self-referential.

Album - Jackson McCartneyMichael Jackson & Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine: While this isn’t strictly self-referencing, both Paul and Michael mention each other in this song, in the following lines Paul: “Now Michael, we’re not going to fight about it”. Michael: “Paul, I think I told you – I’m a lover, not a fighter”.

Album - Rick SpringfieldRick Springfield – Bruce: As Rick Springfield rose to fame during the early 1980s, many people confused him with another popular singer: Bruce Springsteen. Springfield demonstrated that has a robust sense of humour and wrote a song about this confusion, called Bruce. Being autobiographical, Springfield mentions his first name throughout the song. 

Album - Tragically HipThe Tragically Hip – New Orleans Is Sinking: This was the band’s first, and arguably biggest hit, from their 1989 debut album Up To Here. In this song, Gord Downey sings “Sometimes I feel so good I gotta scream, She said ‘Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean’ “.

Album - Wham!Wham! – Young Guns (Go For It): Before Wham! made it big with Make It Big, they released their debut album, Fantastic, which contained Wham! Rap and Young Guns (Go For It). This song was an ode to the single life, and George Michael’s self-referencing lines were “I said ‘Soul boy, let’s hit the town’, I said ‘Hey boy, what’s with the frown?’, But in return, all you could say, was ‘Hi George, meet my fiancé’ “.

Have I missed any? If so, then please leave a comment below.

Is The Bible Still Relevant?

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” – Pete Seeger, The Byrds and Ecclesiastes 3:1


I knew that church attendance had been declining during the past couple of generations, but it really hit home for me when I visited Chester, England, a number of years ago. Our tour guide pointed out the numerous magnificent churches, and told us that some of them were now being re-purposed, since far fewer people are attending church regularly. While declining church attendance could certainly be considered a symptom of an increasingly secular society, I’ve also noticed an additional change: a more polarized view of the Bible.

I’ve heard arguments from both camps, and I must say that neither side impresses me.

Many of my secular or not-particularly-religious friends have no use for the Bible at all. They’ll state that it’s merely a 2000-year-old book that is hopelessly outdated and completely out of touch with modern values. They’ll quote selected passages and ask “who thinks this way anymore? This is clearly an antiquated mindset that has no place in modern society”. However, they then suggest that these few ecclesiastical snippets invalidate the entire book. Some public figures are making similar statements. They may think that they’re being modern, progressive and in touch with today’s values, but I think that their polarized all-or-nothing attitude is regressive and damaging. In my opinion, they have adopted the same mentality as people who want to ban books. If they find something objectionable – especially passages that did not cause an uproar in previous generations – then they will try to have the book banned from high schools. By fixating on the parts that they find offensive, they are rejecting everything that is good about the book – essentially throwing the out metaphorical baby with the bathwater.

At the other end of the spectrum are some of my friends and acquaintances who are particularly devout, and who follow the teachings in the Bible (for lack of a better word) religiously. I even know people who insist that everything written between its covers must be true, and who treat everything in the Bible as (for lack of a better word) gospel. This group conveniently refers to the Bible as “the word of God”, thus imbuing it with a sense of permanence and infallibility – a divine, unchangeable tome that functions as the ultimate behavioural authority for everyone. An authority that, in their estimation, is sorely needed by the entire populace. As we know, the Bible wasn’t written by God; it was written by men, so I personally don’t infer much from this lofty and grandiloquent label. Provenance is not a reason to abandon critical thinking.

Cafeteria Bible

In my opinion, this polarized view has its roots in the Church itself. Religions encourage (or even insist upon) an “all or nothing” commitment. You have to embrace their entire dogma and accept all of their teachings. You can’t adopt a “cafeteria-style” approach to religion by selecting and adopting only the components or values that resonate with you. According to this article “Cafeteria-style religion may be popular among Americans, but the New Testament indicates that we do not decide what is right and wrong, but live according to God’s standard of right and wrong. [John 14:6 passage]. This is an exclusive claim that demands full acceptance or rejection.” How can we be expected to embrace everything in the Bible, when parts of it are no longer aligned with our current societal values? Why would someone insist that you consume everything in a cafeteria when some of food has obviously spoiled? It’s therefore perfectly understandable that, when faced with this “take it or leave it” attitude, some followers will continue to accept everything and others will simply reject or even abandon it entirely.

It would be nice if we could all get along, yet many of us seem to be pushed into opposite corners of an ecclesiastical boxing ring. We view each other as opponents, rather than brothers and sisters. I obviously don’t have the ability to reconcile these two opposing and mutually-exclusive views, but perhaps I can help people find some middle ground. Therefore I’d like to propose a new way to look at the Bible… from The Bob Angle.

The Bible, in addition to telling the story of Jesus, is essentially a behavioural guide for the adherents of Christian religions. In my view, the Bible and Aesop’s Fables are very similar – a collection of allegorical fables, parables and stories that tell us how we should comport ourselves. The major difference is that the Bible purports to contain rules and regulations handed down from the creator of the universe himself – it’s difficult to trump that kind of authority, especially when it’s accompanied by the threat of an eternal punishment if we don’t follow these rules.

I’m sure that the authors of the Bible did they best they could, but there was one thing they didn’t anticipate – something that the devoutly religious people among us haven’t yet noticed: everything has a lifespan, including their best-intentioned advice.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “the only constant in the world is change”. The world has been changing for the past two millennia, often imperceptibly when viewed from the vantage point of a single lifetime: societal values, political boundaries, even the position of the continents. As Robert DeNiro said (metaphorically) in the movie Limitless “Tectonic plates are shifting beneath our feet”. What makes the Bible challenging (and ultimately polarizing) is that there is an abundance of advice in it, and each passage has a different lifespan. Unfortunately, it takes about 2,000 years (or maybe longer) to see this.


Imagine that you are standing in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza on a hot summer day. Immediately in front of you are the following items: an ice cream cone, a glass of cold milk, a loaf of bread, a dog, a person, a tree, and a house (unfortunately, I’m not skilled enough with PhotoShop to place these items convincingly in a single image, so I’ll use two images for now).


Now take out your (Polaroid) camera, take a photograph of the scene in front of you and then compare those objects to the picture in your hand. The two images are identical. This is how I view the Bible – as a snapshot in time. Your surroundings represent your society and the Polaroid picture represents the Bible’s teachings. When it was written, the Bible was an accurate reflection of society, its values and its knowledge. The story of Creation may have been their best attempt to explain the origin of the planet.

As you stand in front of the pyramids, wait for 30 minutes, and then hold your Polaroid photograph up once again. Everything will look the same – except for the ice cream cone, which will have melted in the hot sun. Now wait a little longer and start making regular comparisons: as time passes, the milk will curdle, the bread will become mouldy, the dog, human and the tree will grow, mature, age, and die, and the house will eventually disintegrate. Everything in this world has a different lifespan, including behavioural advice. Over the years, decades and centuries, some of these lessons endured, and others did not. The pyramids probably look just like they did 2,000 years ago, and to me, they represent the timeless behavioural lessons in the Bible.

Stand-up comedians understand the concept of expiry dates intuitively. If you search Amazon.com, you won’t find any DVDs of Jay Leno or David Letterman monologues. That’s because monologues are generally made up of topical (and decidedly disposable) material. While the jokes are funny on the day of the broadcast, they don’t have a long shelf life. When comedians are recording an album or a television special, they are usually careful to avoid talking about current events or local news stories, since that material will become stale very quickly. After several years, the references to people and events will be largely forgotten and the material will no longer be funny. A comedy routine that contains more generalized observations without any local or current references will be funny for years to come, and will sell more records and videos.

I am currently reading a book called The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs. It’s the story of a man who spends a year trying to live his life according to the teachings in the Bible – and to follow these lessons as literally as possible, exactly as they were prescribed two millennia ago. As you can imagine – given the limited lifespans of some of its advice – hilarity and awkward social situations ensue! This book illustrates, as well as anything, the importance of critical thinking, and why one shouldn’t follow everything in the Bible without question.

Everything has a lifespan, and some lifespans are longer than others. However, unless we’re incredibly wise or exceedingly prescient, it’s difficult to determine what that lifespan will be. Who knows what will endure? Newspapers are often called “tomorrow’s fish wrap”, yet the words of Shakespeare remain relevant for centuries. I’m sure that the men who wrote the Bible did their best – no one would deliberately include ephemeral advice – and I’m sure that all of the authors assumed that everything would remain relevant forever. While their efforts did indeed reflect their society at the time, in a world in which the only constant is change, few things will stand out as timeless.

Lifespans of Selected Passages

There are hundreds of passages that I could use as examples, but I’m going to limit myself to three: still-relevant advice, outdated advice, and one that is just now reaching its expiry date.

Outdated: Exodus 21:20-21 (New International Version) states “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property“. This one had a surprisingly long lifespan. If we, for the purposes of this blog post, say that legal slavery ended with the American Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, then its lifespan was anywhere from 2360 years to 3260-3300 years depending on your source. Today, it would not be wise to embrace this bit of religious dogma.

Still Fresh: Ecclesiastes 11:1. This one is just as fresh now as it was the day it was written. This passage is “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again“. In fact, I was so taken with this verse that I wrote a blog article about it called The Generosity Coefficient.

Approaching Its Expiry Date: Proverbs 13:24 (English Standard Version) states “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him“. The term “spare the rod” implies corporal punishment (at least to me), which I also interpret to include spanking. When I was a child, all parents spanked their children when they misbehaved. Today, the tide seems to be turning – more parents are opting for “time outs” instead of spanking. I think we’re approaching a tipping point, and I predict that spanking will be completely unacceptable within the next decade or two.


Random Thoughts

This is a regularly-updated collection of observations that are too short to be full-fledged blog posts.



We all know that young, attractive models are used to sell just about everything these days, but the implication is generally that these models either use (or could conceivably use) the product themselves. Unless this young lady is a boxer or a hockey player, I really don’t think she’s wondering which dentures are right for her…


Cheese Top Burger

Ever get the feeling that the product development people at some fast food chains have simply run out of ideas?


Patty Hearst Dog Show

“A dog she co-owns…”. Sheesh – can’t a member of the incredibly wealthy Hearst family afford to buy an entire dog?


I’m always hesitant when buying a bottle of Liquid Plumr or Drano because it means that I have to go against the oft-repeated advice my parents: don’t pour your money down the drain.


What marketing genius decided to add the words “Squeeze Me” to Wonder Bread packaging? This has long been one of my top supermarket pet peeves. Whenever I’m in the bread section, I’m invariably waiting behind a middle-aged or elderly shopper who – rather than look at the expiry date printed on the tags – insists on squeezing every loaf of bread, in order to find the freshest one. After finishing their lengthy evaluation process, my task now becomes finding the loaf with the fewest or least-noticeable thumb indentations.

Wonder Bread – you’re tormenting me!



I think that doughnuts should be given out in church, since they are holier than Communion wafers.


I always like being down to my last vitamin pill, because I can turn the bottle completely upside down, and only one pill falls into my palm – just like on the TV commercials!


ZZ Top band members (L-R): Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard. Decades later, this irony still makes me chuckle… :o)

ZZ Top


I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “step out of your comfort zone”. Now, take a look at this photograph:

Comfort Zone

Now to be fair, this isn’t *my* comfort zone – I don’t actually own the store – but I hope that you’ll still find this photo profoundly moving and inspirational. Top motivational speakers will charge you hundreds of dollars to tell you step out of your comfort zone – I’m not only giving you all of this inspiration for free, but I’m also demonstrating just how easy it is! Yes, this is indeed a testament to what we can accomplish if we set our minds on something.


There is an old expression “necessity is the mother of invention”. However, as this Hierarchy of Needs diagram illustrates, invention is the mother of necessity.

Maslow's WiFi Hierarchy


Why are they still called toppings when they go inside the panzerotto?

Panzerotto Toppings


Am I the only one who thinks that “live on the scene” reporting is becoming utterly ridiculous? I know the phrase sounds dramatic, but look at this example from the evening news.

A reporter is covering the ongoing Rob Ford fiasco at Toronto’s City Hall, on November 14, 2013. Now look behind him. It’s dark outside, Nathan Phillips Square is completely empty, and there is absolutely nothing going on. Rob and Doug Ford have gone home; the council members have gone home; the hundreds of protestors left hours ago. There’s nothing to see, and no one left to talk to – yet there he is, reporting “live on the scene” at 11:37pm.

Live On The Scene


The worst place to shop on Boxing Day has to be the dollar store. Everything is still a dollar – I felt so ripped off !


Why is no one sitting here? I guess it must be used only… periodically.

Periodic Picnic Table


Registered Dietitian DayOf all the jobs and professions, only one is always portrayed in the media with a built-in qualifier: dietitian. Whenever you see one on television, s/he is always referred to as a “registered dietitian”, as if we wouldn’t follow her advice otherwise. No one else – even those whom we trust with our very lives, such as a pilot or a surgeon – is obligated to include this reassurance in their job title.


Yes, I know my complaint is 30 years too late, but I really think that Billy Idol needs to work on his pronunciation. Whenever I listen to Rebel Yell, this is my mental image.

Rebel Yell


I’m surprised that no one has invented a shampoo that deliberately causes split ends. I’d buy an entire case, since it would make me look like I had twice as much hair!


I took a few steps down the supermarket aisle, stopped, and then inhaled deeply. I thought to myself “That fragrance – it’s so familiar. It reminds me of the Hotel California!”

Supermarket Aisle


Perhaps middle-age is approaching, but I must admit – that Barry Manilow sounds better and better with each passing year!


The new (2013) Canadian $5 bill will be made out of polymer and have a space theme, which means that I’m going to save a few of the current $5 bills to show my American friends, and tell them “You have historic buildings on your currency, but up in Canada we put pictures of hockey players on our money!”.

New Five Dollar Bill


Our moon doesn’t have a name. The moons of the other planets all have incredibly cool, celestial-sounding names, like Io, Europa, Oberon, Callisto and Titan. You’d think that we would reserve the best name for ourselves and give the other planets the names on our reject pile. Really – is “The Moon” the best that our scientists and astronomers can do?


Hey… iron’t you the Prince of Wales? :o)

Notice the jubilant look on Charles’ face – this is probably the first time in his life that he’s ever ironed something, and the novelty most likely amuses him. On the other hand, Kate – who grew up as a commoner – approaches this task with all of the excitement and enthusiasm that it deserves.



Here’s another sign that middle-age is approaching: when grocery shopping, you notice a display of Pepsi in “retro packaging” and think to yourself “This isn’t retro – this is what Pepsi is supposed to look like!”

Pepsi Display


I saw this at the Orangeville RibFest – a chartreuse microbus!

Pop culture quiz: (without Googling) I now have the urge to listen to what 1970s song? Hint: I didn’t look inside the bus, but if I had, I’m sure that I would have seen eleven long-haired friends of Jesus.

Chartreuse Microbus


Sure, this may look cool posted on Facebook or other social media sites, but those who actually get this hairstyle may have some difficulty in job interviews, and after an extended period of unemployment, will probably end up – on the Dole…

Pineapple Hairstyle


This neighbourhood ESSO station is just calling out for a witty caption. How about this: “This gas station, located across the street from this year’s DEFCON conference, is offering a special price for attendees” :o)

ESSO Station


This is not a page from an old 1980s catalogue – this is a new item from a catalogue I received in the mail this year (2013). Let’s face it: streaming audio and MP3s are so passé. These days – as anyone with their finger on the pulse of popular culture knows – people carry their music collection with them on cassette tapes.

It’s not only functional, but incredibly well-designed too. The clear poly/vinyl sides let you peek inside. Unfortunately, cassette labels are printed on the long edges of the cases, and will be obscured completely by the black vinyl cover. The elongated shape, plus the handles that force you to carry it horizontally (rather than vertically and against your body) will get you noticed on public transit (or simply walking down the street) as you intrude on the personal space of everyone around you.

Cassette Case


Whenever I have a doctor’s appointment, my doctor always greets me with “Hi Robert, how are you?”. This is a difficult question. If I say “fine”, as social convention dictates, then he could very well counter with “Then why are you here?”, which would then place me in an awkward situation. I now understand why Sheldon Cooper has such difficulty with smalltalk.


Financial analysts always talk about “the magic of compound interest”. There is nothing magical about it, to those who are reasonably numerate.