Monthly Archives: April 2022

It’s Spring (somewhat). Here’s my highlights and ramblings for month year (a newsletter, in blog form)


It’s spring, somewhat, here in Ontario. That means one day you can be out walking in the sunshine, admired all the blossoms, only to have a snowfall dump on you the next day. It’s a rollercoaster of a month. You could almost say that April rambles. Much like this newsletter. Here it is, once again! May you associate it more with sunshine than snowfall.

Pandemic: is the pandemic over? Well, the behavior of many seems to be, yes. I dunno. I still see enough hospitalization and deaths to say it is not. It seems we are in a state where most people can avoid the worst, but still get sick. Sometimes repeatedly, as this shows. And what happens as you try to move on? Well, as airlines have shown, the ones that dropped mask requirements are now suffering staff shortages.  Meanwhile, we are seeing soaring covid infections among health care workers. And places that did well during most of the pandemic, like Nova Scotia, are now getting walloped.

What should you do? Remember, you are more or less on your own now in the pandemic. I’d recommend sticking with masks and social distancing still. If you do still get COVID then here are two pieces on managing it yourself at home: this and this.

That’s for the short term. What does the long term look like? Well there’s this: Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible, and this: Canada’s hospital capacity crisis will remain long after the pandemic is over. And then there is long COVID to consider. Not promising.

And let us not forget these things. A study in Nature says that COVID’s true death toll is much higher than official records. And when people say we should have handled things like Sweden did, here’s a reminder how badly Sweden did during the pandemic.

One last thing. I go downtown sometimes and see many places closed up. Like the many deaths that have occurred, there is a blindness to it, it seems. I find it throws me off, that we have gone through this terrible event and we are still dealing with it and yet there is a rush to act like it never happened and move on. It’s weird.

Ontario: In Ontario where I live, the province is gearing up for an election. The government is doing what it can to prepare to win the election, including releasing this budget and hoping it can win enough people over by things like eliminating some highway tolls. Let’s see. Meanwhile for those of you concerned about COVID in this province, here is the Ontario COVID dashboard to keep track of.

Ukraine: I don’t have to tell people that life in Ukraine continues to be grim. There are constant stories about it everywhere. Here is a snapshot that shows what life under the occupation by Russia is like.

Meanwhile Ukrainians fight. I support them and want them to be free and independent from Russia. There is nothing good about the situation, just degrees of bad. That’s why I find it is sad and remarkable with how many people in the West are war happy and get excited about shipping more and more weapons to Ukrainians. It may be a necessary evil, but it is an evil in the light of a greater evil.

As an aside, here’s what is happening to one of the few allies Russia has left: Belarus. It’s a place I am keeping an eye on. I suspect the last thing Putin wants is for stuff to go poorly there: he has enough trouble his hands (trouble he is solely responsible for).

USA: There is a weird thing happening on the right wing in the US with regards to moral panic. My belief is that it is a strong reaction on the right to the push on the left against transphobia and other such initiatives. Even Disney got swept up in all this talk about “grooming” and generally abusing kids. You can see part of it here and here . I have a theory that this is partly a blending of moral panic/bigotry and the rise of the Internet. In the days of early trolling there was this bizarre character that was used to accuse people and groups of being pedophiles. (Pedophile being the worst thing you could accuse someone of.) I suspect that right wing push, combined with Internet culture, has led to those accusations being used widely. Gotta love when the sewers of the Internet overflow into the general culture. (Not!)

The right in the US is also in some cases trying to restrict the use of abortion pills. These are all skirmishes on the broader culture war occurring down south, in places like Florida with its battle against “indoctrination” with things like this and this. All events to set up the governor of Florida as being the next Trump. That’s what culture wars stoked by politicians are about.

Speaking of Trump, the first family of corruption continue to make news with stories like this and this .

I had some other ramblings about the world, but frankly it is all too grim. Let’s change gears.

Elon Musk: yeah, no. The man is festering in attention as it is. You can get nonsense elsewhere.

Fun: I loved this: the museum of endangered tech sounds. We all know them! Speaking of sound, this is a very cool device.

Not fun but useful: do you have trouble finding a notary? It can be hard. If you need one, consider this. I also thought this piece on starling murmurations was great.

Finally, I think I need to switch this newsletter up soon. It has become too worldly, too worldweary. I appreciate you reading it: thanks for that. But you deserve better ramblings. I’ll try to do that. Meanwhile, enjoy Spring!

 

On buying cheap wine at the LCBO, 2022

 

 

Annually various publications in Toronto will publish articles on how to buy cheap wine at the LCBO. BlogTo takes a stab at it here: The top 10 cheap wines at the LCBO.

 

 

 

 

If you want to buy cheap wine at the LCBO, here’s some things to consider:

  • the wines that appear on these lists often tend to be the same year after year. The price changes, but the wines listed more or less are the same. The wines themselves are consistent too. Hey, these are not handcrafted wine! So a cheap wine list published in 2015 will likely have a list of wines you can still buy now, just with a different price and a different date.
  • Once these wine lists used to be “best wines under $10”, but that price ceiling is outdated now. Most cheap wines are over $10. There are still a few good ones, as the Toronto Star argues, but not many.
  • Once you get up into the $14-15 price point, head over to the Vintages section instead. Wines there will generally are good at any price point, and you’ll get something better than the general section, imho.
  • These wine lists will hype up these cheap wines. Note: most of them are limited in quality. Not too much wine in the LCBO is Bad anymore. None of these will be Great either. Most cheap wine is pleasant and drinkable. Something to have at dinner or on an outing. They are not sophisticated. If you can’t taste all the notes of “peaches, nectarines, pears” mentioned in the lists, there’s a reason for that.
  • The “cheap” wines I’ve been drinking lately (under $15) have been Ontario Riesling. They go great with so many foods and are good value, I believe. If you want red, consider a Baco Noir. Many of them are fine and under $15.
  • If you have to go closer to $10, the best bets tend to still be Portugal, Italian and South African.

(Image linked to LCBO.com of a Californian Chard that just slips under $10)

It’s Friday. Don’t you wish you were out on the road on a cool bike?

I know I feel that way after looking at some of these babies. For example, this could be uncomfortable, but just look at how great this modular ebike looks! 

For something a bit more practical, there’s this  cool café racer bike:

Very nice!

If you want something bigger, there’s this 2022 Harley:

Too big? How about this little number via Justin Bieber no less:

But wait, maybe you agree with this piece on bike road safety that laments how dangerous riding a bike is in the city? In that case, maybe you just want something like this exercise bike:

The weather is getting nicer. Get yourself a bike and get out there.

(Images courtesy of Uncrate and Yanko Design)

On the working class, manual labour, and how it is still perceived

There is a famous story about Philip Glass installing a dishwasher for Robert Hughes who was then Time magazine’s art critic, among other things. Upon realizing who was his installer, Hughes exclaimed: “But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?” Glass replied that he was installing his dishwasher and he would soon be finished.

I have been thinking of that story and more after recently reading these two pieces:

In all three cases there is an implicit bias against being working class.  All three men are doing jobs of physical labour. In each case, the implication is that they could be doing something else, something better. The conclusion is that they have a talent and that their time could be better spent elsewhere applying it.

I agree that if you have a talent, it is good to use it. But you may be tired of using your talent. Or your talent doesn’t pay the bills. Or you don’t value your talent. In any case, it’s up to you what you do with it. Like money, talent is yours to use as you will.

Perhaps though you get more satisfaction out of performing manual labour than performing your other ability. If so, then that can be the best use of your time. You help people and you help yourself with your physical efforts. There is nothing wrong with that, whatever society thinks.

Glass and Richardson make a defense for what they do. To me, no defense is needed. Glass did installations and applied his artistic talent. Richardson is done with his talent and now gets satisfaction out of working in Whole Foods. They were living their lives in the best way they knew how. We all should be so fortunate.

 

Essays on aging, from Oliver Sacks, on my birthday

 

 

It’s my birthday. I’m into my seventh decade. Born in ’61, now 61.

 

My first decade was one of being shy and smart and tall and skinny and bullied. My second decade was one of growth: growing out of everything, from my clothes to my hometown. Cruising into my twenties I became independent and anxious and happy. By my thirties, I became responsible. In my forties, I became lost. In my fifties, I was crushed.

I expected worst things still to fall on me in my sixth decade, and I was surprised instead by things that uplifted me. Where I will land in my seventh decade, I don’t know. On good days I look to remain open, on bad days I hope for a close.

In all that time, with rare exception, I have taken off every day since I started working in the early 80s. Often those free days were filled with simple pleasures. Mixed in with that was some contemplation.

I think two good things to contemplate on this day are these two essays by Oliver Sacks. One was written when he was still vibrant and turning 80: Opinion | The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) in The New York Times. The second one when he was dying of cancer not much more than a year later: Opinion | Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer, also The New York Times.

What impression they will leave on will depend on your current perspective. I encourage you to move around, literally and figuratively, to have to best perspective on life that you can have. The days will be what they are, regardless. How you perceive them depends on where you stand and how you look out.

AJP Taylor, on Winston Churchill

So there’s a new article/book critical of Churchill, and like most anti-Churchill work, it fails by emphasizing his faults and diminishing his accomplishments.

Of the many things I’ve read on Churchill, the one thing that convinced me of his greatness despite everything else is this 1974 essay by AJP Taylor: Daddy, what was Winston Churchill? – The New York Times. Taylor’s essay succeeds because he clearly sees Churchill for what he is. He sees a man who goes from an outcast to an unrivaled leader, his people fully behind him. He sees a leader making many mistakes but succeeding on the one essential thing he had to do. He understands how much worse the world would have been if he, and those he led, had failed. And after you read that essay, you should see and understand that too.

The criticisms of Churchill’s many failures are valid. But the one thing, the most important thing he did, leading the defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany, should never be diminished.

Indeed, as Taylor starts his essay:

On Jan. 24, 1965, there died Winston Spencer Churchill, Knight of the Garter and, if he had not refused the title, Duke of London. Six days later he was given a state funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral, an honor previously reserved for two great men of war — Admiral Lord Nelson, victor at Trafalgar, and the Duke of Wellington, victor at Waterloo. What brought Churchill into this select company? The men of the time had no doubt as to the answer. He was the savior of his country, the first Englishman to be so hailed since King Alfred the Great.

Perhaps Churchill’s stature will crumble under a constant eroding criticism. It has happened to other leading historical figures of England and it could happen to him. What should not be forgotten or diminished is what he accomplished in a way only he could have accomplished it. It’s an inconvenient truth for some. But it is a truth that will remain.

P.S. That essay also appears in a fine collection of Taylor’s works, Essays in English History. I highly recommend it. Among other things, it has a great cover. Like Cromwell, Churchill will remain relevant for centuries to come. Warts and all.

(Top image from Wikipedia. Bottom image from Goodreads.)

It’s Monday. You’re struggling. Maybe you need some help adjusting

If it’s Monday and you feel already like you’re struggling, it may be time to hit the reset button and ask why.

One reason may be you have too high expectations of what you can accomplish. If so, I recommend you read this: It’s Okay to Be Good and Not Great

Another reason may be that you just don’t have any energy/vigor/gas in the tank/what have you to get things done. If so, then start with this:
Building Healthy Habits When You’re Truly Exhausted

Finally, if you’re not sure what the problem is, but you think you suck for some strange reason, then go through this fine collection of articles to see if any of them can help: You’re Not So Bad: The Case Against Self Improvement

We don’t have to be at our best all of the time. Sometimes we are at our worst or close to it. These things come and go like clouds. Be good to yourself. Take a moment for yourself. Then do what you can.

On the Zanclean Flood and other extinction threats


The world is full of extreme events that can wipe us out. Case in point, this: When the Mediterranean Sea Dried Up. If you are not familiar with the story….

About 5.9 million years ago, due to a combination of tectonic movements and changes in climate, the Mediterranean Sea mostly dried up for over 600,000 years. The Messinian salinity crisis may have raised global sea levels by as much as 33 feet and decreased the salinity of the world’s oceans, raising the freezing point. And then, much more suddenly, it was refilled in less than two years in the Zanclean Flood.

The Zanclean Flood, like the Chicxulub meteor that killed off the dinosaurs, are two reminders that the planet we live on can be subjected to extreme events that can kill off many of us without really harming the planet itself. have no doubt that this is going to be true of global warming as well. Perhaps even a nuclear war. We can be removed and the planet will continue to operate without us.

The world is more hostile to us than we let in. We are only making it worse with dangers such as nuclear weaponry and climate change. We need to be striving to increase our chances of survival, not decrease them. There are enough forces in the universe that can destroy us.

(Image By Paubahi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20096173)

Your next piece of luggage could be your next piece of furniture too

If you are in the market for luggage, I recommend you consider this sturdy luggage that morphs into an attractive trolley for dual functionality when not traveling.

It’s great for several reasons besides the obvious:

  • when you aren’t travelling, you don’t have to store/hide it anywhere. Great for places with little or no storage space
  • when you are travelling, it is an additional piece of furniture for your room. Again, you don’t have to store it: just set it up near a desk and use it to hold stationery, snacks, and other temporary items.

Lots of reasons to make this your next piece of luggage.

Friday night cocktail: the negroni. A classic

I’ve become enamored with negronis these days! The 5 pound negronis at Brutto sealed the deal. The crimson cocktail has pushed aside a martini as my go to cocktail (though I still love a good martini, and a sazerac, and a G&T on hot days, and French 75s let’s not forget them).

The recipe for a negroni couldn’t be simpler:

  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • Garnish: orange peel

For me, the garnish really makes a difference. That hint of orange. As does having it ice cold on the rocks. Delicious.

Over at uncrate they have more to say on it, based on this book:

It’s an easy drink to start a love affair with. Thanks to Brutto and the Art Counsel for that!

(Top image is mine: I took it at Brutto. Second image from a link to uncreate. Recipe from liquor.com)

What I find interesting in tech in general, Apr 2022


Well, I didn’t expect this week to be “what I find interesting in IT Week” , but here we are! I hope you have found it all useful. While the other posts were specific, these are of a general nature. From weird cool stuff to mainframes to iphones to architecture. Dig in!

IT Architecture: Here’s some tools you IT architects can use:

Cloud: some cloud related stuff:

Programming: here’s some things software and hardware folks might find interesting:

Finally: here’s some links that need to be seen without falling into a particular category:

What I find interesting in tech: DevOps and CI/CD (April 2022)

Yesterday I wrote about DevOps. One of the things I emphasized there was that DevOps was more than Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD). And while I still think that, I also know that for many people, CI/CD is a very important part of DevOps. It’s important for me too. Here’s a list of things I’ve found interesting in that area that I thought were worth sharing:

Generally:

Toolchains:

Tekton:

Helm

GitOps

On DevOps, or the important of a good reference architecture when doing IT Architecture

If you are designing an IT system, you can greatly benefit from a good reference architecture. A good reference architecture can be:

  • a superset of whatever architecture you design
  • a guide to what is possible in your design
  • a reminder of what is essential and what you may have left out
  • an explainer of all the potentially relevant parts to your design
  • a supporter of whatever architecture you do decide on
  • like a mentor providing you thought leadership and guidance on what works and why you need it

IBM has long put together such good reference architectures. Of all I have seen, this is one of the better ones I have seen: DevOps architecture: Reference diagram – IBM Cloud Architecture Center.


It covers all the stages of DevOps, from Planning to  Deployment to Learning. It shows the logical parts of the DevOps Architecture and what tools support that. It reveals the relationships between the parts, both static and dynamic. It reminds you of the things you need that you might not be aware of. I think it’s fantastic.

I think it is great for another reason. Implicit in the architecture is the definition —  at least for IBM and I — of what DevOps should be. It’s not just CI and CD. It’s not just a toolchain/pipeline from Dev to Ops. DevOps is really this entire cycle:

Each stage is important. Too often the focus is on Development and Deployment. But stages like Planning and Learning are an essential part of the DevOps cycle  that are essential not just for code quality but testing quality and ops quality.  It all ends up with better results for all the stakeholders of an IT system, from the business sponsors to the users.

Anyone involved with IT architecture, system design, IT testing, system operations or DevOps in general would benefit from studying that reference architecture.

(Images are links to IBM pages)

What are NFRs (non-functional requirements) and why should you care?


If you have any role in the design of an IT system, you should care about NFRs.  As this piece (Nonfunctional requirements: A checklist – IBM Cloud Architecture Center), states:

Defining and addressing the nonfunctional requirements (NFRs) for a system are among the most important of a software architect’s responsibilities. NFRs are the system quality attributes for a system, as distinct from the functional requirements, which detail a system’s business features and capabilities.

Examples of NFRs include key concepts such as reliability, performance, scalability, and security. NFRs are cross-cutting in nature and affect multiple aspects of a system’s architecture. It’s important to articulate and address the NFRs early in the project lifecycle and to keep them under review as the system is produced. To help with that task, you can use the following checklist of key NFRs. The checklist designed to be consulted when you define and evolve a system’s architecture.

The bold text is key. NFRs describe the qualities your system should have. You have functional requirements and you have quality requirements (i.e. , NFRs). Any system design needs to address both.

The number of specified NFRs your system can have are endless. Three of the key ones found at the top of that list are:

Those three are typically covered in any system design I work on. The piece goes on with a great rundown on the various NFRs you’d expect to address in most system architectures.

Three NFRs missing from that list that I think are important and that I would ask you to consider are:

  • Accuracy
  • Maintainability (related to complexity)
  • Cost

There is often a tradeoff with accuracy and other NFRs, such as performance. To gain better performance, data will often be cached and served up even when it is out of date (i.e., inaccurate). That may be fine. But accuracy should always be taken into account and not just assumed.

Maintainability is often ignored, but it is key for the long term success of a system. Two examples of this. One, developers will sometimes not externalize values in their code; changes to the code require a fix and an outage. That is less maintainable than code with external values in a simple text file that can be changed on the fly. Two, code that is not well documented and not peer reviewed will be harder to maintain. Externalization, code reviews and documentation are examples of maintainability requirements you may have and should have for your IT system.

Cost is an important NFR because it causes tradeoffs with most other NFRs. For example, without cost considerations, stakeholders might have availability requirements that are for 99.99999….. It’s only when cost (and complexity and maintainability) become factors do we see often see availability (and other NFRs) scale back.

Finally, NFRs are not just for software architects: they are for everyone. In fact, I wish the term “non-functional requirement” was replaced with “quality requirement”. However I suspect software architects — for whom functional requirements are key — came up with that term, so we all have to live with it. When you think of NFRs, think Quality Requirements. Everyone involved in the design of an IT system wants it to have good quality. Understanding the NFRs/QRs are key to this.

 

On the Amazon Astro robot, or servants old and new

Amazon has a new robot coming out, and there’s been a number of reviews. Here’s a list of just a few of them:

If those reviews have convinced you to get one, you can apply to get into the queue for them over here (they aren’t generally available): Amazon.com: Introducing Amazon Astro, Household Robot for Home Monitoring, with Alexa, Includes 6-month Free Trial of Ring Protect Pro : Everything Else

My thoughts:

  • It’s smart Amazon is rolling them out this way. (No pun intended.) There are going to be many missteps* : a gradual rollout will minimize problems and bad press. (* Also not a pun. :))
  • A robot is the next iteration in home devices. People may have a number of Amazon home devices around. Robots are like Alexa on wheels. And if anyone can mass produce them, Amazon can.
  • I can see Google and others getting into the game. I have a number of Google Home devices around my house. Having a Google Robot (Gizmo?) would be a benefit to me. For one thing, I might consolidate my Home devices and just have one robot / floor.
  • I wonder if Apple will get into the game? I’d love to see an Apple Home robot. Maybe it will look like Eve from Wall-E? 🙂
  • Perhaps at some point this thing can do many things. Or maybe there will be just a series of robots: one to vacuum, one to move small things around and watch the house and provide information, maybe even one to tend to plants or keep the cat busy. Robot technology has a way to go before it is humanlike and can do everything.

Anyway, a home robot for under a grand is an exciting development.

P.S. While I was reading that I was reminded of this piece: Finding the servant call buttons in New York City’s Gilded Age mansions | Ephemeral New York. In some ways saying “Hey Siri/Alexa/Google” is the equivalent of pressing servant buttons.  One day we will have a household of robot servants working for us at the press of a button.

(Image linked to from the Ephemeral New York article. Those buttons are in the Frick museum in New York: check them out if you go there.)

This week in forbidden tweets

Generally I think it is a good idea to keep it positive and light on twitter. I especially try and avoid political tweets. However, I found that hard to do this week. To stop myself, I kept a log of all the things I was going to tweet about but didn’t. The following is the log.

(The good thing about sharing them in a blog is you can moderate who comments on such things. I don’t mind saying such things: I do mind having to fight with randos.  I also don’t like to make people read things that they don’t want to read. Twitter does that to you: blog posts don’t. Here’s the things I was going to tweet but didn’t.)

  1. saying things are a war crime doesn’t amount to much. If it did, Kissinger would be locked away. (Lots of people talking about war crimes, as if somehow this will result in some action. It might, but it’s very unlikely).
  2. just because you feel justifiable sympathy for Ukraine doesn’t mean they aren’t lying to you (I mean, maybe 120,000 Ukrainian kids were taken to Russia, but given how the war is going, do you really think Russia is organized to do this?)
  3. accuracy in a war zone is a rare commodity. (Always remember that.)
  4. there’s no way Marine Le Pen is going to win, but it’s fun and dramatic for journalist to make like she will (I mean what is this, her third or fourth try? Every time people get all excited about her chances, and then she fades away. I don’t know why this time is different and I haven’t seen an explanation)
  5. Tucker Carlson’s whole schtick is to get people riled up by hosting vile people.
  6. Elon Musk has nothing more important to do than troll people. (Seriously. I think SpaceX and Tesla now are run by adults who know what they are doing. Musk is just farting around trying to get people to pay attention to him.)
  7. It is a losing game to take people like Musk or Carlson at their word. (The two of them are terrible humans, although Carlson deserves a lower level of hell then Musk.)
  8. The problem with following right wingers or the side opposite of you is that they tweet a lot of thoughtless garbage to show they are on Team Right (or Team Left) (I tried to follow right wingers to get some perspective, but the perspective I got is most of them aren’t critical thinkers. )
  9. People who are good writers can have some amazingly bad opinions and ideas (ahem, David Mamet. Pathetic.)
  10. People thinking highly of something Pierre Poilievre said about housing while forgetting he is PP (I have no idea what Gerald Butts and Chantal Hebert were pumping him up this week. He’s PP! Skippy! A French version of Stockwell Day! All hat no cattle! Sure, he can win the job for head Conservative, but so what? So he can fight Bernier to see who is more like Trump? If support for the Liberals collapse, and that’s a big if, I can’t see him coming out on top. Maybe he will….Doug Ford did. )
  11. Kieran Moore doesn’t care what you think he should do. Some doctors are bad at their jobs. Likely more than you can imagine (I mean this guy is Doug Ford’s man. What else can I say?)
  12. Writing about cancel culture on university is boring. (And yet so many people on twitter love to write about it)
  13. People complaining about consultants. Oy. (They have no clue what consultants do or why. But consultants make a great straw man).

No, I will not be commenting on this post on Twitter. 🙂

Coffee tourism: why coffee lovers should visit Toronto (and Torontonians should go to College St.)


For many years I’ve actually visited places partially because of my love of coffee. Really! I went to Vienna where the coffee was amazing and Costa Rica where it was less so*. I am sure there are many people like me who make good coffee a reason to visit a place.

If you are one of those coffee lovers, I recommend you visit Toronto. Just one street alone, College Street, has a wealth of diverse coffee shops to make you happy.

To see what I mean, read this: Toronto’s College Street is a destination for global coffee | The Star. Not only are there many great coffee shops, but they serve a wide range of coffees, from Italian to Vietnamese.

I live here, but I might act like a visitor and do a College Coffee Run soon. Meanwhile I will satisfy my need for great coffee at De Mello near me. (Coffee lovers, go there too.)

* Costa Rica fans, take note. Costa Rica exports amazingly good coffee in my opinion. I just couldn’t seem to find it there. Fortunately there was so much beauty everywhere, I didn’t mind too much.

Here’s how to know when to quit, using math.


Knowing when to quit is difficult. Fortunately, there is science and math to help us, as this article in plus.maths.org explains:

Knowing when to quit is one of life’s great dilemmas, whether to persist in the face of diminishing rewards, or to quit now in the hope of finding richer rewards further afield. For every gold mine, eventually there comes a point when the amount of gold extracted can no longer justify the cost of keeping the mine open; once that point has been reached, it is time to quit, and start looking for a new mine.

Similarly, for a bird feeding on caterpillars in a bush, there comes a point when the calories gained can no longer justify the energy expended in searching for more caterpillars; once that point has been reached, it is time to quit, and move to another bush. And, for a honeybee, there comes a time when the weight of pollen collected can no longer justify the energy required to carry that pollen; at that point it is time to quit collecting, and fly back to the hive.

Fortunately, there is a mathematical recipe, embodied in the marginal value theorem (developed by the American ecologist Eric Charnov in 1976), which specifies when to quit in order to maximise rewards. More importantly, the marginal value theorem has an enormously wide range of applications, from its origins in optimal foraging theory to how brains process information. In essence, the marginal value theorem provides a general strategy for maximising the bang per buck, irrespective of the nature of the bang and the buck under consideration.

Wait you say: it’s Friday afternoon! You know when to quit (at least for this week). Ok, that works too. But if you need more general guidance, read the article.

It’s Thursday. Here’s how to motivate your unmotivated self


I’ll confess, if you skimmed this article, How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It, and you saw these subheaders:

  • Design Goals, Not Chores
  • Find Effective Rewards
  • Sustain Progress
  • Harness the Influence of Others

You might think there is not much of value in there. But give it a read. I guarantee you can get at least one idea that can keep you going if you feel you Just Can’t Right Now.

On Emmy Noether

Recently the Perimeter Institute held a contest called “Physics Frenzy – Battle of the Equations Championship”. I was sure James Maxwell and his equations were going to win. It turns out he lost (in the final, mind you) to Emmy Noether and her theorem!

Afterwards I wondered if people knew much about her. Besides being arguably the greatest woman mathematician, she was a significant contributor to math and physics in the 20th century. You can read a bio of her here.

Fun aside, the good people at the Perimeter Institute have a series of initiatives centered around Emmy Noether. They also have material where you could learn more about her.  Read about them, here.

 

My grandfather’s pansies

When I was a child I would often visit my grandfather’s house and admire the pansies he grew near the backdoor of his house. This area would get no sunshine. Worse it was where he would dump hot ash from his coal stove. In this dark fiery place grew white and yellow and purple pansies.

In our culture we associate pansies with softness and weakness. I learned instead that they were hardy and beautiful and defiant. We all should be like my grandfather’s pansies. We should all be so wondrous.


I wrote the above earlier this week and I realized it comes across like so many things I write. I don’t even know why I write this way anymore. Why I write like someone needs advice and I am the one to give it to them. There are few if any that need such things.

Perhaps I should write like most people. Write about what happened recently, what happened in the past, and what if anything I thought about it.

My grandfather did have those pansies. They were beautiful to look at. Even as a kid I was impressed that they could grow there. I liked seeing them as I came through the backdoor of the house he made with his own hands.

I also treasure that memory because I only have a few times I recall interacting with my grandfather. Typically they were about his yard and what was growing there. He grew so much, from the carrots and the cucumbers at ground level to the flowers and the dill that waved high in the breeze. Of all that I appreciated the pansies the most.

Three things to add to your first aid kit for minor mental health issues


Do you think: there are two types of people, those with mental health problems and those with no mental health problems? I used to think that way too. Like an on-off switch. Now I think of mental health as being on a slider switch.

Physical health can be like that. We can have cuts and pains that aren’t life threatening but require some form of physical first aid kit full of bandages and ASA to help us. Similarly, we can have minor bouts of anxiety and depression that also need dealing with. We should have a mental first aid kit to help us with that too.

Here’s three things to consider putting in your mental first aid kit. First, if you are feeling down more than usual, I recommend adding the HALT method. As they explain here,  How To Use the HALT Method When You’re Grumpy | Well+Good:

What Is the HALT Method? HALT stands for: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired The HALT method is based around the premise that you’re more likely to make poor, highly emotional decisions when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. “The purpose is to help us identify these experiences when we are tempted to engage in a negative behavior and to instead address the underlying issue,” says Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a social worker and addiction specialist at Diamond Rehab.

I’d add hungry or thirsty. I don’t know how many times I felt down in a minor way, drank some water, then suddenly felt better. Your down moods may be more serious than this, but like any first aid, try that first and see if it helps.

A second thing to put in your first aid kit is movement. Getting out and using your body has well been shown to help with anxiety and depression. Take a look at how much activity (or not) you’ve been doing when you are feeling slightly mental ill. You may need to get out more and move around. Even a brisk walk. For more on how to go about this and why, read: Can Moving the Body Heal the Mind? – The New York Times

The third thing I’d add is logging. Keep track of your moods and feelings and combine that with self care you’ve been applying to yourself. Log your sleep, your eating, your socializing and your movement and combine that with tracking your mood. Then try to apply the things discussed here and see if it changes.

Finally, if you had a headache or some other pain and you treated it and it persisted, you’d go see a doctor (I hope). Likewise with mental pains and sores. If these things don’t help you, go see your doctor. Take care of yourself the best way you can. For physical and mental illness.

Your next TV should be dumb. Here’s how to go about getting a dumbTV and why


I’ve complained here before about Smart TVs and the problem they bring Thinking of getting a SmartTV? | Smart People I Know. After reading this, Samsung details how its TVs will become NFT gateways – The Verge, I am more determined than ever to try and make my next TV as dumb as heck.

If you are leaning the same same way, I recommend you read this: Why You Should Buy the Dumbest TV You Can Find. I’m certain after you do, you’ll want a dumb TV too.

The next trick is how to find one. They offer some advice, but you may not be sure how to apply it. I recommend you do this.

First, take the TV they recommend. Here it is on Amazon:

Samsung Business QB75R 75 inch 4K UHD 3840×2160 LED Commercial Signage Display for Business with HDMI, Wi-Fi, 350 nit (LH75QBREBGCXZA), Black : Amazon.ca: Electronics

You might look at that and shout: whoa, that’s too big and expensive. The way to find a smaller one is like this. See the model ID in the URL? It’s QB75R. The 75 is the size of the TV. What happens if I search for QB55R on Amazon? Well, I find this:

Amazon.com: Samsung Business QB55R 55 inch 4K UHD LED Commercial Signage Display for Business with HDMI, Wi-Fi, 350 nit (LH55QBREBGCXZA) : Everything Else.

Much smaller, much cheaper. Good! But I also get something else, this string: 4K UHD LED Commercial Signage Display.

If I search for that on Amazon, I get a long list of Commercial TVs from Samsung. Awesome! Now if I search for just: Commercial Signage Display, I get other models, like displays from Viewsonic.

Thanks to Amazon, I have a list of options to choose from. If you want to buy them from Amazon, you’re all set. But you can also list the models and prices and shop around.

Good luck. Stay dumb! 🙂

It’s Monday. How much “fun” have you scheduled in your calendar?


That might seem like a dumb idea, but chances are your calendar is full of events you have scheduled for this week: meetings, appointments, get togethers with friends, workouts. Is fun anywhere there?

It may be. Perhaps going for your regular workout is fun for you. Or that murder mystery you watch each week is fun. If so, that’s great.

If you can’t find fun in your calendar, I recommend you read this piece: Why We All Need to Have More Fun in The New York Times. It can help you figure out how to get more fun into your life. Have you forgotten what fun is? It can help you there, too.

Let me add: keep track of the fun you are having. Some of it — maybe most of it — will actually come up accidentally in your week. Note the circumstances which lead to having fun. Try to include them intentionally in your next week.

Likewise, note the events you planned that turned out to be not so much fun. Perhaps you need a break from them.

Life can be hard and painful. It can also be fun. Make sure you get as much of the latter in as you can. Scheduling your fun can help there.

It’s Sunday afternoon. A good time to read Mary Oliver. Here’s her 10 best poems

There is never a bad time to read the poetry of Mary Oliver, but Sunday afternoon seems like an especially good time. You may have some of her work already. If so, why not pull it down and savour it?

If you don’t have anything by hers, I recommend you look at this list put together by the good people at the Penn Book Center: 10 Best Mary Oliver Poems – PBC

You may have a favourite outside of these. As for me, it has two of my favorites, Wild Geese and The Summer Day. Go and enjoy. Happy Sunday to you.

P.S. I wrote this on her as well. Some good links in that post.

Great photos from NASA/ESA’s Hubble telescope and the ESA mission to the sun

While people are getting excited about the James Webb Space Telescope now it is in position to take photos, there is still some great work being done with other missions that NASA and ESA have on the go. Case in point, the Hubble telescope. If you click on that link, you can see photos that it recently took of the star Earendel. As they explain:

With this observation, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has established an extraordinary new benchmark: detecting the light of a star that existed within the first billion years after the Universe’s birth in the Big Bang (at a redshift of 6.2) — the most distant individual star ever seen. This sets up a major target for the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope in its first year.

Fantastic!

Meanwhile, closer to home, we have the ESA mission zooming into the Sun with Solar Orbiter and sending back wonderful photos and data along the way. Click the link to get some amazing images of the sun.

It’s all thrilling!

Friday night cocktail: the white negroni (with thoughts on Brutto’s £5 negronis)

I’ve been enjoying negronis lately. If you have a chance to dine at Brutto’s in London like I did this month, you can even enjoy one of their £5 negronis at the start of your meal.

A classic negroni is a fine drink. If you want something unique, why not make this version? Like the classic, this one is also simple but delicious. See uncrate for the recipe.

P.S. New restaurants, if you want to get people into your place, be like Brutto and offer a small and low cost cocktail as a starter. You’ll get people talking about your place. “Did you hear X has a cheap Y cocktail?!” And you’ll get people who may never order a cocktail getting one because it is small. And small cocktails are good because people finish them fast and don’t feel rushed when the food comes out. Win win.

On Jim Jarmusch, the king (to me) of indie films

Last week I had to chance to watch a number of indie filmmakers back to back. Besides Jarmusch,  I saw Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” and The Coen Brothers “Hail, Caesar”.  (Not too long ago I also watched “The Squid and the Whale” by Noah Baumbach.)

He has a fair number of things in common with them  besides being an independent filmmaker. He can get big name actors to work with him and he often hires some of the same actors (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver).  He’s older and has a number of films under their belt. His films have  a certain deadpan style to them.

While they are all fine filmmakers, Jarmusch is my favorite. I especially enjoy his characters more than those of the other filmmakers. There’s something deeper in them. Anderson’s characters are often flat, while those of Birnbach are often unlikable to me. Characters in the films of the Coen Brothers are there to be tossed and smashed about like toys.

Artistry asid, one striking thing about his films is that they make way less than the other directors.  Their films can gross nine figures worldwide. For his latest film, he grossed 45 million. Not bad, but that is an exception.  More typical is a film like Mystery Train from the 1980s. It made under $400,000. Even adjusted for inflation, that ain’t much.  (More details, here: Jim Jarmusch – Box Office – The Numbers).

All of this is a long way of saying you should watch more of his films. His latest from 2019 is now on Netflix. If you need details, here’s A.O. Scott’s review: ‘The Dead Don’t Die’ Review: Zombies Gobbling Up Scraps of Pop Culture – The New York Times. I enjoyed it and I think you would too. See it if you have an evening free soon and check it out.  Besides Netflix, you can find his films streaming elsewhere on sites like the Criterion Collection.

I’ll close by leaving this quote from Adam Driver, who has been in a number of his films. In interviews with the cast about How Jim Jarmusch Made an All-Star Indie Zombie Movie, he said:

But at the same time, he’s one of the most unpretentious people. He always used to say on [the 2016 film] “Paterson,” “We have to get it right, because dozens of people watch my movies.”

I like that. Jim Jarmusch is a cool guy. He hires cool people and he makes great films with them. Join the dozens of us who love them and go watch some of them soon.

In praise of non-fancy French restaurants

When I used to think of French restaurants, I used to think “fancy”. Restaurants  with nice table cloths, great lighting, complex dishes, and high prices. Places like  Le Bernardin, Bouillon Bilk, Place Carmen, Maison (S.C.) and more. All fancy, all great and I love them.

While fancy French restaurants are good, I am here to praise non-fancy French restaurants. Restaurants  with basic settings, everyday lighting, simple dishes (often bistro style), and relatively low prices. Sure, the cooking might not be as fancy, but it is still good and it satisfies the need I have for steak frites, moules, pate, croque monsieur, duck confit and inexpensive French wines.

I’ve been fortunate to go to many such places and have loved them. In London last week, I had charcuterie (shown above) at Le Beaujolais. A few weeks earlier I devoured a fine lunch at Fast and French in Charleston. Whenever I am in  Montreal I try and dine at the justifiably famous L’Express. Closer to home, I’m a decade long diner of  Le Paradis and for good reason. Finally, one of my all time favorite places to dine in Toronto is Cote du Boeuf. I was delighted this weekend to savour their oysters, pate, steak frites and duck confit. Fantastic.

There are lots of inexpensive restaurants that serve great Italian and Indian and Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. I love them. I wish there were as many places as those serving everyday French cooking. That would be heaven for me.

Let me know your favorite non-fancy French restaurants. I will add them to my list.

P.S. If you go to Le Beaujolais, get that charcuterie. You will need at least 3 hungry diners. At Fast and French, get the soup and sandwich and wine combo: it’s incredible value. L’express has too many good dishes to mention, but I love the ravioli, though many are big fans of the bone marrow. Le Paradis has great shellfish. Also cheap cocktails: I love their sazerac. The meat at Cote du Boeuf is incredibly good. I try to order many things there, but the steak frites is irresistable.

 

 

What I learned writing web scrapers last week


I started writing web scrapers last week. If you don’t know, web scraper code can read web pages on the Internet and pull information from them.

I have to thank the Ontario Minister of Health for prompting me to do this. The Minister used to share COVID-19 information on twitter, but then chose recently to no longer do that. You can come to your own conclusions as to why she stopped. As for me, I was irritated by the move. Enough so that I decided to get the information and publish it myself.

Fortunately I had two things to start with. One, this great book: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. There is a chapter in there on how to scrape web pages using Python and something called Beautiful Soup. Two, I had the minister’s own web site: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/. It had the data I wanted right there! I wrote a little program called covid.py to scrape the data from the page and put it all on one line of output which I share on twitter every day.

Emboldened by my success, I decided to write more code like this. The challenge is finding a web page where the data is clearly marked by some standard HTML. For example, the COVID data I wanted is associated with paragraph HTML tag and it has a class label of  covid-data-block__title and covid-data-block__data. Easy.

My next bit of code was obit.py: this program scrapes the SaltWire web site (Cape Breton Post) for obituaries listed there, and writes it out into HTML. Hey, it’s weird, but again the web pages are easy to scrape. And  it’s an easy way to read my hometown’s obits to see if any of my family or friends have died. Like the Covid data, the obit’s were associated with some html, this time it was a div statement of class sw-obit-list__item. Bingo, I had my ID to get the data.

My last bit of code was somewhat different. The web page I was scraping was on the web but instead of HTML it was a CSV file. In this case I wrote a program called icu.sh to get the latest ICU information on the province of Ontario. (I am concerned Covid is going to come roaring back and the ICUs will fill up again.) ICU.sh runs a curl command and in conjunction with the tail command gets the latest ICU data from an online CSV file. ICU.sh then calls a python program to parse that CSV data and get the ICU information I want.

I learned several lessons from writing this code. First, when it comes to scraping HTML, it’s necessary that the page is well formed and consistent. In the past I tried scraping complex web pages that were not and I failed. With the COVID data and the obituary data,  those pages were that way and I succeeded. Second, not all scraping is going to be from HTML pages: sometimes there will be CSV or other files. Be prepared to deal with the format you are given. Third, once you have the data, decide how you want to publish / present it. For the COVID and ICU data, I present them in a simple manner on twitter. Just the facts, but facts I want to share. For the obit data, that is just fun and for myself. For that, I spit it into a temporary HTML file and open it in a browser to review.

If you want to see the code I wrote, you can go to my repo in Github. Feel free to fork the code and make something of your own. If you want to see some data you might want to play with, Toronto has an open data site, here. Good luck!

 

On the complex process of electing the Doge in 14th century Venice

Last week on twitter I came across something that fascinated me: how the Venetians elected the Doge in the 14th century. It was a supremely complex process. At first I couldn’t believe it was real, but then I came across this: Electing the Doge (The Ballot Boy). Not only that, but I came across this academic article explaining why it made sense! And I thought runoff elections of modern states could be complicated.

For more on the city of Venice at that time, I recommend this site: The Ballot Boy – Venice in the 14th century. It provides a superb view of Venice at that time.

(Image link to The Ballot Boy, Diagram of Ducal Election)

A critique of the weird counterfactual history of Matt Yglesias and his case for the Austro-Hungarian Empire


Recently, Matt Yglesias wrote one of his contrarian essays arguing the case for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There’s so much wrongness about it that it’s hard to know where to start.

Perhaps the best place to start is some basic history of the empire over the 19th century. As the Holy Roman Empire was dying off, the Austrian Empire was formed from it and lasted from 1804 to 1867. From there it transformed into the Austria-Hungary Empire.  During the 19th century the Empire, led by the Hapsburgs, had stability issues. It was battered from the outside by leaders such as Napoleon of France and Bismarck of Prussia/Germany. It was torn internally, with revolutions like those in 1848. Even under less dramatic situations, it struggled to manage large parts of it due to things like the divisive actions of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Given all that, the idea that Yglesias puts forward that:

In today’s light, the idea of the Habsburg realms evolving into a multi-lingual democratic entity doesn’t seem particularly absurd.

Well, it is pretty absurd. The Emperor took all forms of actions to prevent the forces externally and internally from defeating the Empire, but those forces only grew stronger over that time. To imagine it evolving into a singular democratic entity is based on nothing and counter to the history of the Empire during that century.

Yglesias goes on to propose:

The empire wasn’t doomed by its diversity of linguistic groups — it started and then lost a major war.

Actually, it was doomed by its diversity in war and peace. In peacetime it was doomed by too many political groups it could not reconcile. In wartime it was doomed too. (This is covered in depth in the book,  A Mad Catastrophe.) The army of the Emperor was terrible for many reasons, and a key one in particular that led to their downfall was the inability of its soldiers to communicate with each other.

Yglesias drives forward:

And this, I think, is the thin point: had the continent not plunged into war following Ferdinand’s assassination, I think the empire could have survived.

This overlooks why there was a war in the first place. The Empire was looking to flex their muscle in the Balkans since they made aims to move into that area that was once part of the Ottoman Empire. After the assassination, an ultimatum of demands was put to Serbia. The demands were difficult and still Serbia made an effort to agree with them. Despite being agreeable to all but one, Austria-Hungary would not accept this and this ultimately lead up to the Great War. The continent was plugged into that war because of the Empire.

Assuming no war – a tremendous assumption – he goes on to imagine an optimistic future for the Empire:

My optimistic view is twofold:

Absent the pretext of war, the Viennese authorities would recognize the need to return to parliamentary government, even if that meant dealing with socialists as a counterweight to the grab-bag of nationalists.

Franz Ferdinand wanted to cut Hungary down to size (literally) and the Hungarian nationalists might have realized that this was actually in their interests and would have let them be masters of their own domain.

Again no. Hungary had been fighting against the leaders in Vienna for decade. There’s nothing in their history that indicates they would have changed their minds. If you are going to be a contrarian historian, at least have some facts to support your counter history.

He also has a fantastical view of how the Empire might have operated:

I think a more workable version of federalism would have been to leverage the Empire’s small administrative divisions and create a state where a lot of power was devolved to local government with the national government handling national defense and foreign policy, plus the kinds of things that are run out of Brussels and Frankfurt in contemporary Europe.

This is also counter to the facts. Facts such as how Hungary would subvert any kind of spending that was not in their interest, including defense, to name just one.

More fantasy in the form of how schools would run:

The expectation would be that schooling would be available in one or two local languages of instruction in every locality, that every non-German student would be taught German as a foreign language, and that every German student would choose from one of the other languages of the empire. I think that absent the outbreak of war, this would have proved to be a sustainable model

Again, no. Not based on history.

Finally:

And by midcentury, the script has sort of flipped on the Habsburg domains. Far from a feudal relic, the empire starts to seem progressive and modern.

That certainly wasn’t going to happen when Franz Joseph was emperor. He truly was a feudal relic, and the only purpose of the empire was for him to be Emperor. Preferably an empire that was based on those of centuries past. He and the land he ruled was notoriously conservative and antiquated. Nothing in their history would indicate this would become anything other than that, short of dissolution.

In summary, Matt Yglesias imagines an Austria-Hungary that never existed and never could exist, but if it did, it would form a model of some ideal federation within Mittel Europa. The only place that might fill that bill is Switzerland.

If you want to read what the empire was really like at the end, read A Mad Catastrophe. As well, AJP Taylor has written several essays and books on the subject, including this. I’ve found all those worthwhile The Guardian has 10 more books on the topic, here. Finally, consider reading Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.

It’s Monday. Two ways to work better this week: more stretching and less control freaking

Here’s two piece of advice for you on a Monday morning: one is easy, one is hard.

First, the easy piece. You need to work more stretching into your day. Here’s some advice on how to do that. If it has been so long you don’t even remember how to stretch, I give you:

I don’t think you need a dozen stretches (but go for it if that makes you happy). I do four to six for about 20 seconds each and I find that very helpful. I try and focus on the parts of me that tend to get stiff or sore.

Now the hard piece. Does the following apply to you?

  • You’re a perfectionist with high standards (and you don’t trust anyone else to meet them).
  • You want to know every detail of an activity or event: Who, what, when, where, and why.
  • You over-plan and get upset when things don’t go the way you envisioned them.
  • There’s only one right way to do something—which happens to be yours.
  • You get angry when other people mess up your plan, or do things differently than you would.
  • You prefer to be in charge. That way, there will be fewer mistakes.
  • You have trouble giving others free rein to do things as they see fit. Instead, you micromanage.
  • You’re overly-critical of yourself and others.

That list comes from this piece: How to Stop Being Such a Control Freak. If one or more of them apply to you, you could be a control freak. It’s not a good way to be. If you would like to change that, I recommend you read that piece and work towards being less of one. The people around you would appreciate it.

(Image: link from Cup of Jo piece.)

On moving off Google for Search

Have you ever thought of giving up on Google as a search tool? I have, and so did Clive Thompson. He wrote about switching here. As for me, I have changed my default search engine to DuckDuckGo and I am preferring the experience.

I still use technology from Google. It’s pretty hard not to. But you have choices when it comes to Search, try using something else..

New robots just dropped (in your pool and your…toilet?)

Pool cleaning robot
Whenever new robots are released, I like to feature them. Robots are still pretty limited in the home, but there has been some attempts to get past the Roomba and have them in other parts of the house. Cases in point, this Toilet cleaning robot and this Pool cleaning robot .

Check them out. The robots are coming.eventually.

(Image via Yanko).

Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather is 50

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, The Godfather, was released fifty years ago. While now everyone raves about it and the sequel (though not the third film), this was not always the case. Some insightful critics like Roger Ebert wrote positively on it,  here. Others did not. For example, read this review of  The Godfather from 1972 in The New York Times.

Since then, the Times has comes around. 🙂 Here’s two recent pieces, one long and one short, that reflect on the film:

I was glad to come across Ebert’s piece. It mirrors what I wrote about it some time ago: For fans of The Godfather, with a few minor thoughts | Smart People I Know.

If you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in awhile, I recommend you do. I can watch the film or even clips from the film any day, even the deleted scenes, such as this one, when Michael and the Don reunite. You can find many such clips on Youtube. But watch the whole film too. You won’t regret it. How can you refuse with an offer like that?