Trickster Trees and Nature Deficit Disorder

pexels-photo-38136 (2)When you buy a cottage this becomes a great opportunity to deposit old things or buy new things. And, if I may generalize for a moment, the first thing that a guy wants includes a gas-powered chain saw to deal with deadfall. Or at least this guy anyway.


Our cottage property and the crown land on the water side contains a couple hundred trees. Some birch, oak, and a lot of ash and poplars. The poplars grow at an amazing rate. We have dozens of poplars leaning haphazardly either towards or away from the cottage. Some of the leaning away ones lean bravely against some of the nasty and sometimes larger leaning towards the cottage ones. The nasty ones generally have a diameter of 18 inches or so, with shallow roots. These trees contain an amazing amount of water and then become exceedingly heavy.


When cutting trees, I use all of the necessary safety gear. Safety glasses, steel toed boots and that ‘nothing can hurt me fool-hearty immortality’ that some of us carry around. I should have lost this in high school, but some remnants stuck.


We can get some very heavy winds off of Lake Winnipeg. One morning I stepped out and saw that one poplar partially broke and hung up on another tree. I am somewhat pleased since this would be, should have been, a no risk situation. At that angle, the tree can only fall in one direction. The tree surrounded by forest at the edge of our property cannot damage anything. Or so it appeared.


The tree broke partially off about three feet off the ground, fell a few feet and a major branch from another tree stopped it. So I started cutting the broken tree four feet off the ground. It’s already at a 45 degree angle, so there is now a top and a bottom part of the trunk. I cut a little bit from the top side of the trunk, but no so much that it binds the saw. Then I cut the rest from the underneath part of the trunk as the wedge starts to open from the weight of the tree.


Then the most amazing thing happened.


You know how a tire on a rope swings from a branch? Sort of like a pendulum effect. If you really shove the tire hard, it gets to the far side of its pendulum and comes swinging back to you. And you have to watch your face depending on hard you pushed.


Here the tree I just finished cutting swung like a pendulum as it was hinged at the top by another branch. The bottom of the tree managed to clear the ground and swing to the far side. Again managing to miss every other tree. But by the time it swung to the far side, the branch acting as the pivot point swung far enough to suddenly let go. Without the pivot at the top to bring the bottom of the tree back to where I was, the entire tree entered what I would call a free fall state. I entered a mesmerized state. The top of the tree was now falling directly on top of me.


All the books, ok book, ok ok operating manual, I read on chainsaws said of course to know which way the tree should fall and to stay out of this line. The manual said nothing about a duplicitous tree that did a complete 180 degree change in the way it was falling. The book did say never turn your back on a falling tree.  Trees are tricky that way.


According to the insurance industry, a 50 foot tree with a 12 inch diameter weighs 2000 pounds. I dropped the saw. It would have to cope on its own.  This still seems stupid even on reflection, but I put both hands up and used the falling tree trunk to push myself out of the way. I would like to think that my karate skills deflected the tree, but no amount of stupid can deflect a 2000 pound tree.


So I did manage to learn something without getting one of those Darwin awards for being naturally selected out of the gene pool. Too late for that anyway. My stupid genes infiltrate the gene pool. But I do have a mild aversion to swing sets. And when I walk through the forest I constantly check for any trickster trees that may be following me.


However, I believe the trees do talk to one another. I encountered one other tree that had it in for me. One monster poplar started leaning even more precariously towards the cottage. This was a good 18 inch thick one, so it had a great deal of height and weight. The overall fall would be more towards the front of the cottage and our newly constructed deck.


But I have fallen a few dangerous poplars by this time. Never something quite this large or quite this heavy. But if you play the stock market during a rising economy, then every trade makes you look brilliant. So it all works out. Till suddenly it doesn’t.


My normal practice became to tie a rope several feet up and attach it to a come-along pulley system. Normally I can get enough tension on the pulley to angle the tree just to where I want it if the tree leans in a direction that I do not want it to fall.


I do like trees. Some of the elms we have on our city property are 100 years old and three feet in diameter. I think of them as sentient type creatures similar to whales. Well, back at the cottage, I lined up my Moby Dick poplar tree and got the tension nice and tight. I am quite good, I thought, of cutting the proper wedges in a tree to create a hinge that directs how the tree might fall. With some of the base cut out, I can then pulley the tree even further in the direction I wanted.


However, Moby had other plans. After cutting out a portion of the base, the pulley system tightened and some of the ropes started springing a few threads from the increased strain. Moby pulled ever so slightly in the opposite direction I wanted. Moby definitely wanted to see what it would be like to have a coffee on the cottage deck.


I tried cranking the pulley even more but nothing was going to straighten this guy out any further. I needed a way of this situation that had a delicate line between the ‘everything went fine honey’ and the ‘I am so fucked’ result. A fat gray line did not exist here.


Fortunately, we have a Rob. Everyone needs a Rob. Rob owns an auto body shop and knows just about everything mechanical, electrical and basic woodworking. I sauntered over to get some ideas. It may have been faster than that. But fortunately, he’s next door and came by to appraise the situation.


He goes back to his place and comes back with even more rope and his all-terrain vehicle. This time he tells to take my ladder and rope the tree as high up as I can reach.


Now Moby hasn’t moved for several minutes, but neither has he relaxed into this position. He looks ready for destruction. Climbing up the side of this would not be my first option, but I had no other options. After a bit, I managed to wrap the rope a good 12 feet off the ground snag a major branch to keep if from slipping down.


Rob ties the rope on the back of his ATV. By experience, he knows to have an extra 20 feet on the rope than what the top of the tree can reach when it falls.


I cut the last bit of the wedge, call to him and he takes off in the ATV. He manages to pull the tree in the exact opposite direction from the cottage. No coffee on the deck for Moby this time round. I thank Rob profusely.


Asking others for help has never come very easy for me. Not sure why. It might be the entire awkward social interaction thing perhaps. I have now gotten myself to the point that if there is a possibility I may destroy the entire cabin, I will call on someone to help avert that.






Photo by veeterzy from Pexels

I miss astral projection

pexels-photo.jpgAstral refers to the stars and the non-physical realm of existence. One can not help but think of Astral Projection over the ages. The concept of out-of-body experiences forms part of many philosophies and religions over thousands of years. An OBE can take years of practice and study before an individual acquires the capability of doing this. Various forms of yoga claim mediation can allow oneself to leave the body and enter the astral plane. Even the Inuit also claim that some can enter this plane in order to ease difficulties with the hunt.

There is no scientific evidence that this has ever occurred. All of the evidence appears to be anecdotal with a heavy dose of confirmation bias. Researchers saying that people claiming to have left their bodies simply left their minds.

But wouldn’t it be awesome if it were possible. To think that there might actually be something beyond ourselves.

Did you ever think that this happened to you one time? Before you became all rational?

For example there is always that sliver of moment between dream and awake where you can find yourself in a remote location, time, or planet. We wake up and find this did not really happen. I remember being disappointed.

I would start going back to Saturday morning yoga if I thought I could achieve this someday.




via Daily Prompt: Astral

Biking Cambodia-Hanoi

Here I am in front of the historical Hanoi Opera House. My friend and I were just walking around the city and we came across this. They were having a show that night so we thought we just had to attend.


I took a photo of the billboard showing that this would be ‘ a unique way to experience the Vietnamese culture’.


The show was amazing series of acrobatics, juggling and balancing. Here is the case after the show.


After the show my Brent and I looked around for a bit to eat. We came across this restaurant with an amazing street view outside of the opera house. Italian tapas. Needless to say the food was amazing. And there was always the wine.



Nature Deficit Disorder and the Cottage Preseason Opener

pexels-photo-42240Nature deficit disorder appears to be a real thing and spending time at the cottage provides a great fix. As part of this, my family and I have been unintentionally creating additional habitat for various invasive species for almost 17 years.

We purchased an A-frame cottage on Lake Winnipeg to get closer to nature.The two-story cottage and the open design allow everyone in the family their own personal space. The metal roof and cedar siding keeps out the elements, but not the rodents, which need their own personal space.

Opening the cottage after a long winter became a joyous occasion for the family. The main reason for this joy includes my travelling to the cottage by myself beforehand and conducting a cottage preseason opener. Like baseball spring training, I do some preliminary cleaning to work out the bugs. And of course by bugs, I do mean insects and other things that would drive away family members till the incident was forgotten.

In the first year, the flat roof over the sunroom leaked. The good news was that the vapor barrier captured all the water. The bad news was that these bags of tarry water hanging from the ceiling pushed out the ceiling tiles and made the room reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Making an incision in the hanging cocoon and draining the water remedied the situation.

We recently installed a small outdoor hot tub that we can plug-in for the summer. When lifting the lid for the first time of the season, I ask please don’t let me find a dead small mammal inside. This is only exceeded by the triple please of don’t let me find a terrified, alive and wanting to escape small mammal inside. So far, we have been good.

When cleaning outside, I use the gas-powered leaf blower to man-dust the decks. I do walk through the cottage, engine off, to clean the upper deck. Only a few times has it passed my mind to quickly man-dust the interior. Who would really know? But there are the gas fumes. So next year I am so going electric leaf blower. The gas blower works very well in the garage, especially if no one is watching.

Inside the cottage, checking all of the furniture, particular the beds, for mouse droppings, comes next. We keep the cottage warm during the winter, so finding a soft fluffy mouse nest in one of the beds is not beyond consideration. A mouse nest would require a cathartic cleansing of the linens. And by cleansing, I mean burning.

Cleaning inside causes a bit less stress. The freezer has to be cleaned out to make room for the coming summer. Sometimes this means tossing everything. Sometimes this means not letting things go to waste. This spring I had to dispose of a half container of crystalized ice cream, and by dispose of I mean eat. It tasted liked solidified sugar. And regret.

The main event involves crawling beneath the cottage. We have this area closed in, insulated and covered in plastic. Dark, dusty, bit mildewy, no one could hear you scream, if you even had the chance.

One late fall, some mid-sized mammals had moved in underneath the cottage. The tunnel they dug underneath the wall enclosing the bottom of the cottage allowed the cold winter air to directly hit the pipe coming up out of the ground from the well pump. This resulted in no well water for the rest of the winter and no working toilets. So during the summer, I closed off their hole and installed more furnace venting to direct heat towards the corner to prevent the pipes from freezing. The following winter, the hole was redug, and the venting was ripped apart. Apparently they didn’t like the air flow. They continued to show their displeasure by scat throughout the level beneath the cottage. Mid-size mammal droppings are a general sign to be careful, but I would swear that the droppings were arranged into an actual sign that said ‘stay away’. It may have been the darkness.

The forested property provides a tremendous view of the lake, which with the waves can look more like the ocean. Lake Winnipeg suffers from some eutrophication. Surface runoff from the extensive watershed and fertilizer use creates algae blooms. These blooms create green waves with the consistency of green paint. Waves glurp when hitting the shore. And waves should never glurp. Not a sound you want to have alongside your morning coffee.

At some point during the summer the sun brings out the flowers and butterflies. When the family comes to the cottage, the BBQ comes out, along with the home-made beer, bicycles and kayaks. This sooths the nature deficit disorder somewhat, and we continue to get inoculated as often as possible. There remains a difference between watching nature, and nature watching you. Nature normally comes at night, with many pairs of eyes that appear to glow in the dark. But, we are intervening into nature’s arena and we should be respectful. And watchful. Always watchful.



Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

Biking Cambodia-Hanoi stopover

Brent and I managed to snag a couple of free coupons for egg coffee. Yes, raw egg dropped into your coffee like cream apparently. Quite tasty.


The restaurant is actually on the second floor and there is only a small alley to access it. Something that no one would head down without someone with you.


In Hanoi, I tried to capture the amazing dance of the scooters. How they manage to mingle about is amazing.


In the evening, people gather around the lake. A central spot for socialization.


A couple were having their photos taken for their upcoming celebrations. So  I couldn’t resist.


Tangled web Suspicion

pexels-photo-105472.jpegToday I idly thought that the prompt would be something along the lines of romance, love, or at least chocolate. Even if it was milk chocolate and not the 85% cocoa which is my favorite decadence.

So I was mildly surprised, and challenged to see that today the discussion would be something that would be anathema to what valentines’ day would be all about. I found myself being suspicious overall at the pick. Did someone do this on purpose so that the prompt would lead me into the feelings of what the prompt described?

Are the words somehow created by some random word generator. Is there some higher intelligence behind the word selection? Are they using their power for good, or is there some greater malfeasance behind all of this?

Again. Suspicious.

Very well played.


Markus Spiske


via Daily Prompt: Suspicious

Nudging your Client

people-office-group-teamImagine you outline to your client the possibilities of two court actions where he is the plaintiff in one case and the defendant in another. Legal fees are no longer a cost consideration. In the first case, you advise that he could settle and receive $70,000 or have a 90% chance of the court awarding him $80,000. In the second case, you advise that he could settle and pay $70,000 or have a 90% chance of the court deciding he should pay $80,000.  If he was like most people, in the first case he would settle for the $70,000. In second case he would likely go to court and risk paying $80,000. People prefer sure things when it comes to gains, and take risks when it comes to avoiding losses. Lawyers explaining the consequences of a certain legal action should be prepared that a client may be prone to more risk taking to avoid a loss.

This simple example captures a substantial portion of Kahneman’s book Thinking: Fast and Slow in addition to Thaler’s book, Nudge. Kahneman and Thaler separately won the Nobel Prize for work in their respective fields. The Obama administration successfully incorporated the concept of ‘nudges’ into their policy work. These theories on behavioral economics can contribute substantially towards the practice of law and the attraction and retention of clients.

Kahneman separates our thought process into a simple dichotomy of System 1 thinking, fast, and System 2 thinking, slow.

System 1 thinking explains why people feel losses twice as much as they feel comparable gains. Fast thinking comes into play when you stand up to object to a line of questioning without knowing why, when you sense a brief misses something, or when you believe that there really is a tiger outlined in the grass just ahead. Regardless of your personal circumstances, fast thinking comes in handy to avoid being eaten. Figuratively or literally.

Fast thinking includes intuition. Although, thinking with your gut can be dismissed as superficial, Kahneman recognizes that experts glancing at a situation can reach a correct conclusion simply based on continuous experience.

Intuitive thinking guides the halo effect. Someone’s reputation, and ego, could proceed them. Or exceed them. This may give this person an aura of invincibility in that they have won so often they will likely win again. If you, or a court, provides that person the benefit of doubt, a halo so to speak, then you should dissuade yourself of this notion. Rest assured, the rest of the day has not yet been written. Anything can and will likely happen.

Information immediately available primes system 1 thinking and feeds into the ‘anchoring’ concept. Kahneman provides the example of a panel of German judges asked to roll a weighted die that came up with three or nine. The judges were then asked to provide a ruling on a certain fact situation. Although it should not have mattered, judges rolling a nine more often gave higher sentences that the judges that rolled a three.

System 2, slow thinking represents the traditional lawyer mind; collecting facts, analyzing those facts, and providing a researched opinion.  Relative to fast thinking, slow thinking generally has to be dragged into the thought process if the mind feels that fast thinking ‘has got this covered’. Slow thinking eats Doritos while watching TV. I prefer the term ‘critical thinking’ as slow thinking suggests something negative.

Understanding how prospective clients think can impact how you market your law firm. Imagine yourself a prospective client landing on your firm’s website. The website asks if you want to allow cookies in order to enhance your website experience. Being like most people, you sort of realize that cookies attach to your browser benignly. But you read something about them somewhere and your overall impression leans towards not allowing cookies. You congratulate yourself on being prudent, but your web experience becomes muted. The law firm suffers an opportunity cost.

Continuing your search, you land on another site that clearly, but not alarmingly, states that a small piece of code, a cookie shall be added to your web browser. Once again, you don’t know anything more about cookies than you did five minutes ago, but you proceed regardless. Your web experience becomes far more customized, and the law firm discovers substantial information on future clients’ interests.

Most clients intuitively refuse to accept cookies given the choice. The critical part of the mind would not examine the situation since there did not appear to be an immediate need. A client merely advised of cookie use would likely proceed, confident in the notion that someone vetted the cookie usage for them. The concept of providing a default cookie option nudges the client into a better result.

One would think that providing a range of options provides greater satisfaction than fewer options. However, Thaler says that having too many options leads to greater stress and reduced satisfaction. Therefore, providing a default option increases the probability that a correct choice is being made.

Thaler euphemistically refers to this as libertarian paternalism. People make better decisions by the correct arrangement of choices. The person in charge of this arrangement becomes the choice architect.

A lawyer becomes a choice architect in numerous ways. In speaking with a client and laying out their options, the phrasing of options definitely impacts the client’s choice. Although two handed lawyers, on one hand this and the on other that, may feel that they want to leave the choice of options strictly to the client, one should determine what level of guidance the client requires. Normally they would want the lawyer’s best recommendation.

Thaler parses apart the various tools that a choice architect has into five main aspects: Incentives, mapping, defaults, feedback, expect errors and structuring complex choices. For example data visualization and mnemonics of legal information can illustrate the difference between complex choices. In retaining clients, understanding the process behind making decision choices increases your value proposition defined as the benefits relative to the costs. By making the correct choice easier, you have channeled your client to the correct choice. You have reduced not so much the monetary cost to the client, but the stress cost of making that decision.

In making an intuitive choice, clients want to know what other people did in similar situations. Thaler found that a need to conform easily influences peoples’ choices. Clients could operate on this basis to decide how to proceed on a case for example. They would rely more on what friends and other people have done in a similar situation. Therein lies the importance of stories. Relating other individual’s stories can add additional comfort to clients and make the decision easier. Adding stories to your advice makes a client’s choice easier.

To demonstrate this, Thaler identifies greater compliance in hotels where people are advised the guests before them selected the economical option of not insisting upon having towels replaced daily. People like to be part of the crowd as this makes their decision making easier. Your law firm stories should reflect how generally others have proceeded.

Explaining these concepts should be incorporated in to continuing professional development for all lawyers. As a final example, do you think it is more likely that the number of lawyers in Canada is between 60,000 to 70,000 or 70,000 to 80,000?

As you can see from the above paragraph, we have provided some anchoring information along with some anchoring information in the very first paragraph. The federation of law societies lists one hundred and seventeen thousand lawyers practicing today. When people rely upon their intuition, they can be swayed by other factors. These innovative concepts require greater examination and incorporation into today’s law practice particularly in cases where they might operate to your client’s detriment. Did you feel the nudge?

Startup Stock Photos



The new immortals: What legal status should be granted to artificially intelligent persons? -Canadian Lawyer

pexels-photo-97077Immortals shall soon walk among us. They may also crawl, roll and perhaps hover. Yes, definitely hover. The immortals refer to artificially intelligent persons, and by “us” I mean natural persons.

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs recently released a report recognizing that humankind stands on the threshold of an era of sophisticated robots and other manifestations of artificial intelligence. The committee saw the need to legislate this area relatively quickly as self-driving cars are making their appearance. The fundamental question is what sort of legal status should be granted to AIPs? Natural persons want to avoid any “Battle of the AIPs” future scenarios.

A reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus dramatically starts off the committee’s report. The committee thought that by addressing people’s real concerns upfront, they could deal with the more substantive issues. The committee recognizes that people have fantasized about the possibility of building intelligent machines and of achieving potential unbounded prosperity. The committee does not mention drones with laser canons, but you just know they were all fantasizing about that.

Other person “types” provide potential guidance. Corporations occupy a separate category of legal persons in an attempt to reach personhood. A corporation is a legal person by legislation. In the 1973 sci-fi film by the same name, Soylent Green may be people, but corporations are not people. “Corporations are people, my friend,” said U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in 2011, and Democrats took him to task for this statement. “I don’t care how many times you try to explain it,” U.S. president Barack Obama said at one point. “Corporations aren’t people. People are people.” A person falls into the legislative definition of a natural person, and the corporate experience shows where the AIP legal status question may end up.

Corporations have first amendment rights and can advocate for certain political parties. Should AIPs be provided similar rights, and if they could vote for a particular party, what sort of governmental structure would they prefer? Anarchy would be a good bet, and not the cloak and molotov cocktail carrying kind. German philosopher Immanuel Kant identified anarchy as “law and freedom without force.” AIPs would not have the billions of years of upbringing requiring force to deal with predators and competitors. They might learn that on their own, and perhaps to our detriment.

Corporations can own property but don’t have personal privacy rights. One can imagine AIPs creating new patentable types of software. If your AIP demanded privacy, what would your reaction be? Once your teenager makes the same request in your house, your first compulsion might be to sack the room and look for drugs or an old-fashioned diary. For an AIP, would you look for secret caches of information, or heaven forbid, mind-expanding cloud-based storage?

Corporations can also divide like an amoeba and create brand new little entities. One can easily imagine AIPs creating more advanced AIPs. Shelley’s creature demanded that Frankenstein “create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.” If AIPs created little AIPs, should we — could we — stop them? The age of consent does not apply here. An AIP could easily become “older” than any builder if an AIP can download the wisdom of the ages overnight and join the ancients. How could one supervise this potential procreation proclivity in AIPs? In Canada, the government has no role in the bedrooms of the nation. The U.S. government appears to be in every intelligent device, so it may be supervising already.

In describing artificial intelligence, the committee outlines how the present legislation does not encompass machines that become autonomous and self-aware. A machine can be built, loaded with software and then go on to learn from its environment. This new environmental learning suggests that the AIP can determine its own actions and learn from its experience and failures. AIPs have an advantage here since the majority of natural persons still struggle with learning from failure.

If an AIP can decide its own actions and causes harm, then legal liability can shift from the builder over to the teacher providing the environment. If an AIP can operate independently with its environment and be held accountable for its own actions, then it could be held strictly liable. Strict liability requires that a plaintiff show that the damage occurred and a causal link. This differs from negligence in that there is no need to establish the same duty of care, standard of care and breach of that duty of care. Strict liability would be allocated between builder and eventual teacher. The teacher and the surrounding environment impacts the liability shift between builder and teacher. This shift would be extremely difficult to establish in that it may take a village to raise a child, but a vast social media network environment raises an AIP.

The committee suggests an ethical framework of beneficence, nonmaleficence and autonomy, and fundamental rights such as human dignity and human rights, equality, justice and equity, non-discrimination and non-stigmatization, autonomy and individual responsibility, informed consent, privacy and social responsibility. Whether these ethics and fundamental rights will be offered to AIPs remains unclear, but sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Natural people tend to anthropomorphize animals and objects, and this tendency may provide greater rights to AIPs. Do you feel bad if your kitchen table ensnares your Roomba? Would you feel even worse if it was trapped and you had earlier placed googly eyes on the Roomba? If so, then you would likely agree that AIPs are entitled to receive ethical and compassionate treatment. But would they need it or are we simply making ourselves feel better?

The committee suggests the need to include a kill switch (opt-out mechanisms). I will shorten this to “OOM.” The OOM euphemism provides somewhat of a guilt release. Humanity can delude itself in the belief it has control over any situation, but as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote in The Sirens of Titan, “The only controls available to those on board were two push-buttons on the center post of the cabin — one labeled on and one labeled off. The on button simply started a flight from Mars. The off button connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of the Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off.” If you have difficulty in OOMing your faithful Roomba, think how hard it might be if it asked you to reconsider.

To alleviate this OOM situation, I would recommend that readers take their favourite mind/body relaxant and consider the following: Consider if, instead of immortality, AIPs live a limited number of years. Science fiction covers both ends of the spectrum of planned obsolescence of the most brutal kind to the inability to self-terminate. If we incorporated a pre-determined lifespan, would we tell our AIPs the exact date? We could leave the date determination to a random number generator entitled Final Actual Time Expiry, or FATE. Perhaps again, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.


Previously on Canadian Lawyer


Negative Space


The Creature

pexels-photo-208139Creature suggests something from depths of the ocean or from the depths of hell. Something not quite seen before or completely understood.

Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein,  or The Modern Prometheus only referred to the creation as the Creature. Instead of being a monster, the Creature appeared eloquent when demanding a mate from Frankenstein;

‘create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.’

Perhaps far more human than what we care to imagine.




via Daily Prompt: Creature