Monthly Archives: December 2016

If you like Teju Cole, you can find some of his things here

Two pieces by Teju Cole related to Trump.

This first one he wrote about Trump was a Facebook post, captured here. It struck me at the time, for he seemed to want to pivot from Trump’s bigotry to attack something else. The attack against something else was understandable to me: the downplaying of Trump was not.

Now he has a new piece out, making parallels between Trump and Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”, here.

If you like Cole, you might like them.

I used to follow Cole on twitter, and much of what he wrote was interesting and thought provoking.

I do not care for these pieces. Downplaying Trump was a terrible idea in the first case. In the second case, I do not believe that Trump is going to lead to widespread fascism, though many bad leaders and followers are going to stampede out from the worst places and take center stage for awhile. Unlike Ionesco, I don’t believe everyone will turn into a rhinoceros: a small minority crashing about is enough to make it feel like everyone has transformed. They will be taken down, in due time or well past due time, but never made extinct.

A better symbol than rhinos may be snakes or reptiles. The political climate is such that these cold blooded animals feel they can come out and cause havoc. It seems like others are transforming into them, but there are just more of them and less warm blooded creatures in our midst in this time of transformation. When the climate changes, they will retreat. Until then, we have to wrangle with them as they appear.

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Some loose thoughts on the magic of Christmas

When you are very young, Christmas is a magical time. We all know that. But
it is magical when you have children, too, for .then you are the magician.
I realized that the hard age for Christmas is in your 20s. The magic
bypasses you then. No wonder people of that age cut up Christmas. The magic
they once held is lost.

Christmas is magic not because the day itself is magical, but because we
invest the magic that we have within us on that day. It would be better if
we brought forward that magic every day, but one day is better than no
days. We have such, well, .. Magic!..within us. We need to be reminded to
let it out.

(Originally posted on posterous, December 24 2011, 9:24 PM)

My Lessons Learned from Christmas’ past (including where to buy trees in Toronto)

Christmas for me is many things, including an annual exercise in planning. I keep a Word document that I update every year. It contains the typical list of things to do, by when. It tracks cards sent and received, presents given to whom, key dates, even what I need to buy for Christmas Day meal. One other thing I keep is a list of lessons learned. Here’s mine.

  • Christmas planning should start the day after Remembrance Day.
  • Get gifts at the end of November, if possible. It takes time to get
    them, wrap them, send them off.
  • Indigo has lots of gift ideas, not just books. Music, movies, nic nacs.
    Plus, if you shop there early, you can provide gift ideas for others
  • Winners is also good. Future shop (now Best Buy) is better than Toys R Us for electronics for the kids.
  • Get time consuming activities done asap. You have less time in December than you think.
  • Check Canada Post web site for mailing dates. It helps to keep you on track.
  • Get tree on Saturday. While it is settling, put up the lights. On Sunday bring it in and decorate it. It takes time to set it up and decorate and  it is difficult to get done during the week.
  • Get a poinsettia around the same time you get the tree (or much
    earlier). You can get some small plants at the green grocer for $2.99:
    has the same effect as a big one.
  • I used to say: get your tree at Sheridan: It is close, you don’t need a
    car, and the prices are better. But last year a 6′ tree was $60 and a 7′
    tree was $99! And we need a 7′ tree. I called after the fact and the
    Loblaws trees this year were $40 for 6-8 feet. IKEA trees are $20 and you get a coupon for $20 for a purchase of $75 or more.  After that, you can get your tree from Dominion at Bayview/Eg. It
    was better there than Loblaws. Then IKEA last.
  • Use cut off branches from the bottom of the tree to make something to hang on the door. Just add some red ribbon.
  • Plan Christmas spirit events throughout December. Start planning them in November. Besides putting up the tree and Santa, there could be: get a gift for poorer children, Swiss Chalet Festive Special Run
  • Put up decorations outside earlier than you think. Lots of people have them up in the first week of December before it gets too cold
  • Indigo is good for more than books: calendars, DVDs, music CDs,  nicnacs
  • The week before Christmas is busy. Not just with the Xmas activities, but with cleaning, etc. Don’t assume you have time to do much more
  • Playing shinny / going skating daily is a great idea over the Holidays.

(Originally posted on Posterous, December 5 2011, 7:51 AM)

The quality of darkness and the luminosity of winter nights

I like when artists emphasize darkness in photography and film. To me, it is not negative space, but an essential part of the space. Just like all colours are essential parts of a colour photograph, all tones are essential parts of a black and white image to me. If anything, the darker spaces are exciting because they challenge your eye – outer and inner – to see more, to see what is in the darkness and the shadows. What I love about a photographer such as Roy Decarava is how he uses exactly those ideas in his photographs to tell very powerful stories and convey powerful images.

One thing that I don’t like about most movies is that there is rarely any darkness. There is always some light somewhere lighting the protagonists. It’s as if there is a fear that people will complain if they have to use their ears and their imagination. I’d like to see more films where much of it is shot in near darkness such that the audience is more engaged in the film.

There is a quieting aspect to darkness or near darkness. We sleep in that state, or we watch movies or plays or concerts. We become quiet and still. We contemplate, dream, express our inner selves more than we do in the fast paced brightness of day. This is a quality of darkness too.

Looking out on the backyard tonight, what I realized, as I have before, how
it is that ‘dark’ really isn’t once your eyes get used to the light that is there. This is especially the case in winter, when the sky turns light gray with clouds and the fallen snow has a luminosity all of it’s own even without street lights or house lights. If it is snowing it can actually get quite bright, even at midnight, as the snow falls and sparkles. Some nights can be brights as days.

At this time of year in Canada there is also the luminosity of house lights and Christmas trees that shine on as the end solstice nears and Christmas is celebrated. Despite long nights, there is much light.

And as we pass through the bleak midwinter, I like to warm it up with tea
lights and roaring fires. Though it be dark, the darkness is tinged with that glow of burning logs and burning candles. And when finally when all that is spent, I can go to the window and given some time to adjust, my eyes can eventually see much that is visible, though it is very late, for in the darkness there is more light than we may have suspected, and much to see and enjoy.

These are some of the things that I thought of while I looked on the snowfall arriving tonight at midnight.

Thanks for reading this. Enjoy your night.

(Originally posted on posterous, December 15 2010, 9:53 PM)

Some thoughts on memory and winter

There are bad associations with winter. We talk of the dead of winter. Or the bleak midwinter. Plants and trees are barren. Animals hibernate, deathlike. Cold itself, winter’s prime attribute, we associate with the dead. As is the additional darkness that winter throws over us.

Yet these should not be the only associations we come to know of winter. For it is a time of joy and birth and beauty. And though light and heat are scarce, where they are concentrated, they are a treasure.

If spring is a season of rebirth and hope, summer a time of happiness and luxury, while autumn is a time of transition and abundance, then winter is a season of reflection and memory. Winter is a season of the mind. In winter we can look to the trees bare and the frozen earth and recall and imagine the fullness of leaves and grasses and flowers that will arrive in the months to come. Though they are not there yet, we can imagine them still. And in these acts of imagining, we can imagine further as we pass through the snow falling the times past and the times still to come. We can do this in other seasons too, but winter concentrates the mind.

(Originally posted on Posterous, January 18 2011, 10:25 PM)

Thoughts on automation, from the WSJ (and me, someone who specialized in automation)

Robots
Christopher Mims has a good piece here that touches on many of the recent arguments concerning automation, here: Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs (WSJ). Well worth reading.

For my own perspective, early in my career my job was automating many of the systems operations tasks in my part of IBM. In one year I automated essentially the work of 10 people. No one lost their job as result, because while it was good to have these activities automated, the activities were not valuable enough to justify hiring people to do the work. Essentially the automation improved the quality of our work. Automation using IT to improve the quality of work is a good use of automation, be that automation be a lowly shell script or very expensive robot with A.I. Quality aside, how the automation affects staff depends on the culture and the makeup of an organization.

There is talk of places like McDonald’s replacing workers with kiosks as a result of a drive by some for a higher minimum wage. First off, McDonald’s are rolling out those kiosks in Canada, too, which makes me think they are going to deploy them regardless of what the minimum wage is. Second, I have used the kiosks a number of times, and they are of a limited benefit to a McDonald’s customer. The kiosks are good if there is a long line for a person to take your order: they kiosks are bad if there is a small line or no line. They are bad because it will take you many more minutes to place your order, due to the kiosk’s user interface. (Try one and you will see.) The kiosks some time will fail to print out your receipt: if you don’t remember your order number, then you have to go in line, tell them what you ordered, and then get your number. Overall the kiosks are not bad: they are especially good if you like to special order. But if the lines aren’t long and your order is standard, skip them and go in line.

Besides that, McDonald’s will still have plenty of staff and likely will for the future. Kiosks can’t cook, can’t pack your order, and can’t clean the restaurant. If you think robots can do that and do it cheaply, you need to learn more about robotics. I can see why McDonald’s and other fast food places need automation: they are constantly trying to retain people while trying to keep costs down. But the notion they are automating to spite people looking for a higher wage is ridiculous. McDonald’s is not going to become a glorified vending machine and they should not try to be. People go to restaurants and coffee shops to socialize and to come in contact with other people, and automation will provide less of that, not more.

As well, smart fast food places will learn that human contact makes for better business (see Starbucks). There are many ways to be successful as a fast food business, and a positive experience in dealing with staff is one of those ways.

Automation changes work. However, how it changes work is complex. It is tempting to assume that it will eliminate all work, but that is too simplistic. In addition, we need to think about work, income, and why we do what we do. Automation can help us do that, and that is one clear benefit of automation.

(Image: link to image.freepik.com)

Is it possible to run a sub two hour marathon?

Nike seems to think so, based on this: Nike Wants Athletes to Run a Marathon in Under Two Hours, So It’s Rebuilding the Race. And the Runners | WIRED

While it’s a bad idea to say it can’t happen, Runner’s World has a long list of reasons why it will be a difficult thing to accomplish: What Will It Take to Run A 2-Hour Marathon

Perhaps the two hour marathon will be like the four minute mile: once insurmountable, then broken, then broken often.  If and when that happens, I think it will not be a near term event.

In the meantime, read the articles, especially the one from Runner’s World: it’s a fascinating study into biomechanics and running, as well as some fine infographics.