On being … a work in progress

By Ingrid Sapona

One of the reasons I continue doing this column is because – even after all these years of introspection – rarely a week goes by that I don’t catch myself in a behavior or with a thought that, if left unchecked, can subvert my happiness or contentment. As I’m sure you guessed, the past week was no exception…

The complex my condo is in has two 12-story towers with a central connecting foyer at the bottom. Each floor has a long internal corridor with units along the edges. There is natural light at one end of each floor. The hallways were getting a bit run-down so a couple of years ago we began making plans for re-doing them.

The condo association struck a committee to work on the redecoration. The committee chose a design firm, and at the annual meeting the designer explained his ideas and vision. Then, late last year we were presented two choices and asked to vote for our favourite. I was impressed the way they presented it – it wasn’t just small samples of wallpaper and paint chips – they did an actual mock-up by one suite.

The choices were similar and both were nice and, by majority vote, one scheme was chosen. The work began in March. Initially we were told they’d complete one floor at a time, but at the last minute they told us they would be doing the whole building at once. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but one day a crew arrived and things just started happening. 

One morning as I headed down to the gym, for example, I saw that all the light fixtures down the hall had been taken off, leaving just the lightbulbs.  Another day they tore out the moulding around the door frames. A few days later up went new moulding. One morning when I came back from the gym all the wallpaper was down. I was only gone 65 minutes and it’s a long hallway. They were amazingly fast and efficient.

It’s also been interesting to see the progress made on other floors. Every time the elevator doors open on a floor I look around to see the progress on that floor versus on my floor.

After the reno began, a friend was over and I took her to see the mock-up. Though it had only been up for about four months, both of us noticed the paint around the doorframe had a fair number of minor chips. I knew what caused them because the same thing happened to the pre-reno paint around my door. The chips are caused by keys dangling from a keychain as you insert your door key. The chips are particularly noticeable with the new paint, however, because it’s a very dark (almost black) charcoal gray. I made a note to myself that I’d have to be super careful with my keys from now on.

A few days later, when they painted the stainless steel elevator frames and doors the same dark charcoal, I sent an e-mail to the committee about my concern that chips and dings to the paint will be particularly noticeable. I suggested they ask the designer if there will be any varnish or protective overcoat. They said they’d look into the matter, which is about all they can do, I figure.

Then, one day last week I came home mid-afternoon and the hallway looked rather dark. It was an overcast day, but even the end with the window seemed darker than it should have been. I looked more closely and saw that they had taped up a thin plastic drop-cloth over the window, but it was not opaque by any means, so why was the hall so dark?

Ten seconds or so later I realized why the hall looked so different. My heart started pounding as I noticed that the ceiling, which was white when I left, is now dark charcoal. Yup, the same colour as the doorframes! In case you’re wondering, no – the ceiling by the mock-up was not painted, nor was there any mention of it being painted.

I tell you, I was in shock. My first thought was that the crew must have made a mistake. The very next thought I had was that even if it was a mistake, it’s so dark, there sure as hell is no going back. The dark ceiling made the long hall look like a lane in a bowling alley. The bare lightbulbs dotting the corridor walls didn’t help either!

Actually, it was the glare of bare lightbulbs that helped calm me. It was when I thought about the lights that I realized that the hall (and ceiling) will look completely different when proper light fixtures are up. In other words, I realized the project is still very much a work in progress and, as such, it’s not very useful to be concerned about individual details.

There you have it. What can I say? I’m a work in progress too…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being … better than Barbie

By Ingrid Sapona

Like most girls, growing up I played with dolls. And of course, I had a Barbie. I don’t think they had themed Barbies back then, as they do now (no Lifeguard Barbie, Surgeon Barbie, Surfer Barbie, and so on). I guess I’d call mine the standard issue Barbie. 

Though I’m sure I enjoyed endless hours with Barbie and her friends, they weren’t my all-time favourite toys. That honour goes to a Mattel toy called Tog’ls, which were building blocks that were kind of a variation on Legos. I loved creating things with Tog’ls. Because I liked them so much, over time my parents bought me additional sets, which greatly expanded the scope of things I could build. I remembered feeling that the possibilities were endless…

Flash forward to a recent news report about Hello Barbie – a new doll that’s set to debut later this year. According to the news story, what’s new about this Barbie is she’ll be “interactive”. That description struck me as odd, since I kind of figure all toys interactive. Well, at least those that children actually play with are…  But, turns out, the 21st century definition of an interactive toy is a little more finely honed than the type of interactive toy I played with.

According to the news story in the Toronto Star, Hello Barbie uses WiFi and voice recognition technology, which means she can record conversation and talk back. Because of the technology, she can mimic a conversation between friends. The CEO of the company that created the technology used in the doll describes Hello Barbie as a “highly controlled experience”.

Though Hello Barbie isn’t yet available, the reason she’s been in the news already is because more than 5,000 folks have signed a petition asking the toymaker to “yank the toy”.  Their concern – like the technology that is Hello Barbie’s DNA – is very 21st century. It’s about privacy, basically. These folks (presumably parents) are concerned about the fact that the doll records, stores, and relays things said to the doll.

As the clever opening line of the article implied – this Barbie’s abilities could make her – well, basically – a spy. How might the children’s intimate conversations with the doll be used? And what about things parents and others say around the doll? Might those conversations also be transmitted? And to whom?

To reassure parents, the toymaker has pointed out that the dolls will not have a GPS chip (whew – one less worry – theoretically they won’t be able to find your kid), and the doll won’t ask personal questions or collect personal information. Also, the toymaker promises not to use the info they collect for advertising, marketing, or publicity. How will parents know this? Well, it’ll all be in the consent e-mail that parents will have to send. That’s right – parents will have to consent to kids playing with the Barbie! Jeesh… now the company will have the parents’ e-mail addresses too...

And, if all these “features” don’t make you wonder whether Hello Barbie is a spy – here’s one other feature that I think lends credibility to that notion: like any spy, she can be turned – made into a double agent, if you will. Seems that parents will be able to access (and delete) the comments their children make to Barbie. They’ll need a password do so, but still – an interesting possibility, for those who wonder what their children are telling Barbie.

I’m sure the toymaker realized that Hello Barbie would cause a stir. So, other than the fact that a bunch of tech folks must have thought it would be cool to make such a doll, why would the company bother, I wondered. Well, according to a company, the number one request they get from girls is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie.

In thinking back to playing with my dolls, I probably did want to have conversations with them. But the thing is, I am sure I had conversations with Barbie. How else would I have known what to serve her during tea parties, or what she wanted to wear to the prom? So what that Barbie couldn’t really tell me these things – I didn’t need to actually hear her answers to know! Mind you, growing up I also had an imaginary friend named Rosie. Well, strictly speaking, Rosie wasn’t a friend – she was my (imaginary) maid. And oh did I have some intimate conversations with Rosie! She was both someone I could complain to about the injustices of having to make my bed or clean my room and someone I could blame for getting me in trouble when she didn’t do such chores for me.

So, I guess my issues with Hello Barbie aren’t so much related to what the doll can do – it’s more a concern about whether playing with such clever toys might stifle children’s imaginations.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona