Bob Ramsay
4 min readApr 10, 2021


Heinrich Heine said that when fees to attend Harvard in the mid-1800s were $250 and not the $48,000 they are today. He didn’t mean that kind of school, of course, though in America the cost of getting educated is as high as the cost of getting sick. But for everyone who’s experienced the pandemic, the fees range from stiff to deadly.

Except in one area of schooling: the online world we’ve all been forced to work on and often live off. Its vast portals of information are as near to free as anything these days, and much more efficient than Canada’s “free” health-care system.

All you need to do is start exploring, especially on a weekend like this, and see where your eyes and mind take you. So…….

1. Self-Driving Bicycles. Makes sense, right? And it seems Google is latching on to the huge new market created by not actually having to pay attention when we ride our bikes. They draw on their existing work with self-driving cars to come up with this.*

2. Short Stories on the Subway. If you’re tired of looking at your phone on the bus or subway, how about a paper version of a 1-minute, 3-minute or 5-minute short story to make the time go by?

San Francisco launched this service for its BART riders last month. Just hold your finger above a sensor and voila, a recycled paper edition of a very short story by a local writer lands in your hand. It seems Toronto tried it awhile back, but the sole sad dispenser lies lonely in a TTC storage closet somewhere.

3. How else are Canadians different from Americans? We all know about guns and healthcare. But there’s another huge difference. Its name may be one reason we don’t know it: “federal equalization grants”.

In other words, how the ‘have’ provinces fund the ‘have-nots’.

Journalist Mary Janigan has written an intriguing new book, The Art of Sharing, about how it started in 1957 and how it runs today. Here’s how it opens: “With his white shirt tugged open at the collar and an Alberta flag on the wall behind his head, Jason Kenney was preaching the gospel of grievance.”

4. Steer through the Suez Canal? Think you can do any better than that pilot who stuck the Ever-Given on a sandbar on the Suez Canal, halting traffic and costing billions of dollars in delays? You can now steer your own ship through the Canal. I dare you.

5. Can’t get to the Louvre? Then dig deep into the Louvre. Now you can access every single one of the nearly half million works of art on display (and in storage) at the world’s largest art museum.

6. Be nice. Say hello. This is the new protocol when walking in the British countryside. Yes, it’s actually a ‘protocol’, a six-page document updated since its last version a decade ago by Natural England to help people be more civil when they cross paths. The pandemic is bringing out more Brits to their green and pleasant land. But it may not be bringing out the best in them. Which is why Natural England consulted with 4,000 groups and individuals before advising its citizens to be nice and say hello.

7. Cats are liquid. They are not animal, vegetable or mineral. They are liquid, I tell you. Liquid.

8. This is the oxyphenbutazone of Scrabble. It’s an anti-inflammatory medication used to treat arthritis and bursitis. But much more important if you’re a Scrabble fan, it’s worth up to 1,778 points. I learned this (and much more) from this Guardian article about the latest contender for the world championship, who’s 8 years old.

*9. Okay, Number 1 was an April Fools’ Joke. Google does these most every year, and Volkswagen’s last week was a bust. But the best I’ve been pranked by was the CBC’s in 1971, the year Canada went metric, measuring distances in metres and kilometres instead of yards and miles. That April 1, I woke to hear CBC radio announce that from then on, Canada would be using Metric Time, with 10 hours in a day and 100 minutes in an hour. We should all go to the nearest jeweler to get our clocks and watches changed. My first reaction, of course, was “How could I have missed this?!”

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Originally published at https://ramsaywrites.com.



Bob Ramsay

Bob Ramsay is a Toronto writer, communications consultant and speaker series host: www.ramsayinc.com. The Plague-Ground is his daily blog.