Monthly Archives: January 2023

Some very good thoughts (especially at the end) and the usual ramblings on a new year (i.e. the January 2023 edition of my not-a-newsletter newsletter)

We finally closed the book on another pandemic year (2022), and have moved through the first month of 2023. Yay for us!  Is 2023 going to be a pandemic year as well? An endemic year perhaps? We don’t know. One thing for sure: compared to last January, this one has been much gentler.

I think in some ways 2023 may be a transition year. We continue to have transitions when it comes to COVID. We still have new variants like the Kraken (XBB.1.5) that has surged to 40.5% of all infections and rises in hospitalizations. But we take that as a matter of course now. Indeed, there is talk of having annual COVID and flu vaccines. COVID may be more serious than the flu in terms of illness and death, but we may end up approaching them in the same way. No one talks much of flu deaths, and perhaps other than places like Nova Scotia, no one will talk about COVID deaths either. For example, in my province of Ontario it is relatively easy to track hospitalizations related to COVID: it’s relatively hard to report on deaths.

I know because I still have been reporting on COVID hospitalizations every week on twitter for months. My last update was this one:

As I tweeted, the numbers have been dropping recently. Even the ICU numbers, which shot up due to the tripledemic, have declined as the tripledemic declined. Thank god: the pediatric ICUs in November were over 100% full for a time.

So we are transitioning in a positive direction. Good. And not just with COVID.  Everywhere you see spike graphs, like this one for unemployment:

To this one for inflation:

My expectation is that the annual inflation rate will continue to transition and decline in 2023, and interest rates will follow them. That is not to diminish the impact that inflation has had so far. Things have reached the point where people are stealing food and law firms are promising to defend them for free. That said, many, including the New York Times, expect inflation to cool this year. Perhaps it will drop back to where it used to be (i.e. below 3%). If you are skeptical, I recommend this piece in VOX.

Unlike COVID or inflation, not everything has the prospect of improving in 2023. Guns in the US  continue to be a major problem. There is no end in sight for the war in the Ukraine NATO is still supportive and continues to send weapons, although it seems like Zelenskyy had to clear the decks before that occurred. As for cryptocurrencies, it may not be a year of recovery for them as the trial of SBF and FTX unfolds. But who knows: maybe this rally will be a difference.

I suspect crypto will stay dormant for many reasons. One big reason is that tech is going to change its focus from Web3 to AI. Sorry Web3. (Sorry metaverse for that matter!) Microsoft alone is spending billions on it. AI will be all anyone will talk about this year. (No one knew what to do with crypto, save techies and rich people flogging NFTs. Everyone I know seems to be using ChatGPT and the like. That’s a key difference). I’ll be writing more about AI in standalone posts in 2023, there will be so much going on.

In 2023 I expect a continuation of the trend of people flooding back into cities after having left them, based on data like this: Annual demographic estimates census metropolitan areas and census. While residences have become scarce (and rents have become high) as a result, people have not been flooding back into offices. So much so that places like NYC are looking to convert office spaces to residential spaces. The problem with the pandemic is that the changes it has forced on society are more rapid than social systems can respond. But respond they will.

Then again, a new surge could reoccur in China. If that occurs, all bets are off. For now my bets are staying on the table.

Finally, thanks for reading this and anything else you read on this blog recently. I appreciate it. I am optimistic for 2023 in many ways. I hope you are too.

Keep wearing your masks when advisable. Get vaxxed to the max.  Try not to pay attention to Elon Musk or the fate of Twitter: that will all play out in due course. Don’t get too hung up about what AI is going to do: that will all play out as well. Continue to read newsletters. Watch streaming. Listen to podcasts. Most importantly: get out and about whenever you can.

There will always be bad people in the world, and bad acts occurring. Do what you can to prevent that from happening, but don’t rob yourself of your capacity for joy as a result. Be a happy warrior on the side of good. Joy is your armour.

Never forget: you have lived and possibly thrived through some of the most dramatically difficult times in history.  You deserve better times ahead.

Enjoy yourself. Live your life robustly. Whenever you feel lethargic, think back to those times of being locked down and unable to even go to a park and sit down.  Let’s go and get it. Here’s to a better year ahead. We are counting on you, 2023.


Having a bad day? Everyone has them. Even the greats, like Darwin

To see what I mean, check out this letter he wrote to To Charles Lyell on October 1st, 1861.. Towards the bottom of it he comments:

But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.

Sounds familiar to anyone having a bad day. If you are having one right now, maybe do what Darwin would do and go for a walk. It can’t hurt!

Not your average bungalow! Here’s the top 10 cabins to get away to


Over at Yanko Design are 10 of the cabins they chose as the best for 2022. Best for 2022, and 2023…really any year you want to get out of town and into some place nice and rustic.

Whatever the season, wherever the location, these places are the kind of places most people would like to spend some time. I’m more of a city person, but I would be happy to hang out in any of those 10 cabins.

what you see in this post is just two of the places they write about. To see more on these top 10, click here.

A very fine travel guide to Montreal

One of my favorite cities is Montreal, and one of my favorite websites is Uncrate. Put them together and you have this very fine travel guide to the home of the Habs, Schwartz’s, and so much more.

I have not been to every place on their list, but I have no doubt they are all worthwhile. I would add to their list and recommend other such places as:

  • L’Express
  • Majestique
  • Beauty’s
  • Cafe Carmen
  • Bouillon Bilk
  • Bonaventure hotel
  • Olive et Gourmande

If you want a similar guide to one of my other favorite cities, Charleston, you can go here.

Why your next dinner party should be un apéro dînatoire

Wait, what, you say? Un apéro dînatoire? Qu’est-ce que c’est?? Well according to Food and Wine, it is a…

 …snack dinner: the weeknight meal that offers free license to pull assorted things from the fridge, loosely arrange them on a platter or cutting board, and call it dinner. The French have perfected the art, dubbing it l’apéro dînatoire, and in the process, created a chic way to shift fluidly from cocktail hour to dinner with nary a place setting in sight.

Sounds good, yes? I agree. If you need some ideas, here’s 43 of them. Still stumped? Here’s 80 more. As for me, I would not sweat it. Get some spreads, some dips, maybe some cheese or cold cuts, some veg and bread — and of course drinks — and you are all set to have a chill and relaxing dinner party all can enjoy. For more on it, see the F&W piece, here: A French Aperitif Party Guide.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a weeknight: a weekend meal would be great too.

Bon appétit. Santé!



On the inscrutable oddness of Matt Yglesias

If you don’t know who Matt Yglesias is, the Washington Post has a good piece on him that includes this summary:

The Washington ur-blogger’s slightly contrarian, mildly annoying, somewhat influential, very lucrative path toward the political center

He is all of those things. He has been all those things since the early days of blogging. Andrew Sullivan, another major blogger from that era, used to give out something called The Matt Yglesias Award to other writers who were annoying and contrarian too.

Why I call him inscrutably odd is that I cannot tell if that annoying contrarianism is for effect or if it is just who he is. I used to think it was for effect, but I thought something different with his recent comments on Uvalde. As the Post describes:

Hours after the May mass killing at a school in Uvalde, Tex., he tweeted: “For all its very real problems, one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the contemporary United States of America is one of the best places to live in all of human history …”

Technically true. But …

“[W]hat the f— man,” New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, who also got his start at The American Prospect, replied in a tweet.

“Real people are experiencing actual anguish right now,” tweeted Yglesias’s former Slate colleague Dana Stevens, “and don’t need your middle-of-the-road ‘Well, actually’ garbage.”

For a smart guy to make such a comment makes me think there is something lacking within him that would say: time to give the contrarianism a rest. Perhaps it was a knee jerk reaction, a result of years of being that way that caused him to automatically blurt out something terrible like that. I don’t know. Like I said, he’s inscrutable.

When he is not being contrarian he can write really thoughtful pieces on topics like housing and the economy that I get a lot from. He is also good at skewering bad ideas from the left and right. To dismiss him like some do is a bad idea.

But then he writes something daft like a defense of the Austria-Hungary empire, a piece where he takes a contrarian position and like a good debater arranges the facts to support his argument, even if it means overlooking the obvious or assuming the opposite. No wonder he can drive people crazy.

To form your own opinion, if you haven’t already, you can catch up with him with this Washington Post profile, here:  Matt Yglesias and his Substack newsletter are thriving in Biden’s Washington. If you want more, this is another piece on him.

(Photo: link to the WAPO piece.)

On the Embrace

There’s been plenty of reaction to the above sculpture, “Embrace”. You can get a sample of the it in places like the Washington Post, NBC, and the artistic website hyperallergic.. Not all of it, but a lot of the reaction has been….not good.

If you are unaware, the city of Boston unveiled “Embrace” just this month. The work is based on a photo of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King and it represents part of that photo. Conceptually that’s a great idea. In reality, it’s not, at least according to many who’ve seen it.

Having read a number of reactions to it, I think the problem can be seen if I ask myself  the question: is it a monument or a sculpture? It has elements of a monument: it is a large realistic work in bronze of a famous and celebrated couple. It also has elements of a work of art: it is symbolic and abstract in a way. As a result, it falls somewhere in the middle between monuments and  sculptures. And in falling in the middle, people get unsure of how to process it, I believe.

Of course, monuments can be abstract and non-representational: take the Washington monument in D.C.  And sculpture can be bronze and representational: think of anything by Rodin. Even monuments that are abstract and non-representational can be controversial, as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial showed when it was first unveiled. There is no formula for what works that will guarantee that a monument or sculpture will win acceptance.

I do believe, though, that if the Embrace was realistic like the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, it would be more liked. Likewise, if it were made of something other than bronze and made more abstract, people might be confused but less vitriolic about it. Alas, it is what it is.

I feel in the long run this work will come to be accepted and even loved. Works like this weave into the lives of people, and as they do, they become parts of the best of them. I also hope we see more sculptures and monuments of great African American leaders such as the Kings. That’s an idea we should all embrace.

How to break bad habits. Now with science.

Do you have bad habits? Of course you do: we all do. And January is likely the month we are most likely to want to break those bad habits. Which may be why you are reading this.

If you’re thinking it’s too hard, I’ve have this good  piece in: Wired on how you can effectively do that. They talk to neuroscientists and psychologists to show how you can get on the right track to better habits. Specifically, there are two areas they think you should focus on:

  • The Power of Data, Environmental Factors, and History
  • Picking Your Habit, Digging Deeper, and Creating a Plan

That’s pretty classic stuff, by the way. Logging and planning are the two fundamental things you need to do if you are going to chance.

Read it for yourself and decide. Good luck with those upcoming changes.

These Four Words greatly influence us to listen to things, agree on things, buy things are..

The four words are Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. It’s why things used to come with the label “New and Improved”. It’s why Spotify creates playlists with songs you know and songs you don’t. It describes what keeps you coming back to old restaurants (today’s specials). As this piece states:

 …to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.

That’s really it: people want novelty within their comfort zone. If want to influence people to do Something, that’s how you need to describe the Something.

I recommend you read the entire piece: The Four-Letter Code to Selling Just About Anything. It’s fascinating.

Rethinking minimalist decor and what it looks like

When I think of minimalist decor, I often think of rooms like this:

It’s beautiful, but it has a show room quality to me. It looks like a room one passes through, instead of lives in.

So I was pleased that in this list of top 10 minimalist projects for 2022 from, there were also rooms like this one:

And an addition like this one:

Indeed there were a number of projects that still had the qualities I associate with minimalism but also felt like places you would want to reside in, instead of look at and admire. It showed me that you can still aspire to a more pared back living space, but still have it livable.

To see the entire list, click here. Minimalism can be good!

Instacart tips, (some) from Food & Wine and (lots from) me

Over at Food & Wine, they have a good set of tips on: How to Be a Better Instacart Customer. Some of them are blatantly obvious (“Don’t Weaponize Your Tips”…yeah, no kidding) and others are good reminders (“If you don’t communicate clearly, shoppers can’t do their job.”)

I’ve been using it for awhile, and I like it. Here’s some tips from me that I find make my shopping experience better:

  • Use the Buy it Again feature. It can save you time.
  • If you are going through the Buy it Again feature, you can always search for something new, then come back to where you were in Buy it Again.
  • Double check your order before you order it. You might find you ordered two or more similar items. You can also take the time to delete those impulse items you threw in your cart.
  • It can be faster to add things to your cart at first and then delete before you buy, rather than looking up things one at a time.
  • Get creative on your searches. Typing the name of a cuisine (e.g. Chinese) might not only show your products you expect, but some you did not that you might be keen to order.
  • Check your order as soon as it arrives. I put mine away once and only hours later did I realize that I was missing a whole bag of food.
  • If you are missing things, let Instagram know. Hey, it doesn’t often happen, but it can happen. They will credit you if you are missing something. And when I have received something I shouldn’t, they let me just keep it. YMMV.
  • Be available for when you will be getting the order. You don’t want your order sitting outside for ages.
  • Book your order for later if you can. You can save a couple of bucks that way. But you should know that  it will often come earlier than you signed up for. The idea seems to be to get you your order ASAP.
  • Be specific where you want your order. I tell people not to put it in front of my door, because it opens out, not in, and I can’t get out to get the food if it blocks the door.
  • Look for things that are in stock. You are less likely to be disappointed.
  • Look for deals. Not everyone has them. Walmart, for instance, used to have them, but not anymore (at least in Toronto).
  • Comparison shop between stores. You may be shocked by the differences. But don’t get fooled by loss leaders: you might save on a few items, only to end up paying out more in the end.
  • Make sure you have Replacements listed for things you really need to have. If you really need eggs or milk, make sure you have a good replacement (e.g. XL eggs instead of large, 1% milk instead of 2%).
  • Don’t assume all shoppers will look for replacements and ask you. Some are great, others seem to just refund many things. Most are really good, in my experience.”

On Dry January

Kudos to all of you succeeding this long into your dry January this year. I hope you are crushing it. If you are not, or if you are curious about this and want tips on how to do it well, then check this out.

Dry January does not mean you can’t be social. No sir. If you want to have a party and keep it dry, there’s plenty of ways to do that. One way is with mocktails. For instance, here’s 6 Mocktail Recipes you can use. You can find a ton of such concoctions on the Web these days.

After some consideration, perhaps you want not so much a dry January and more of a…damp January? Yes, it’s a thing. Read this and see what I mean.

If you need more guidance: How to Drink Less Alcohol: 9 Tips for Drinking Less and Enjoying It More this Also this: How to Be Sober and Work in a Bar . And this recovering rule follower sobriety.

For people wanting to get on this healthy bandwagon, don’t wait until next year. As I have argued, February is the best month to do resolutions. Why not have a dry February? The best month to change is the one you’re in on the day you decide to change.


On the power of gray, women and fabric, and cold weather gear

I’ve long contended that gray is one of the best colours a person can wear. Especially a man. Just like black or navy, gray can fit in anywhere. High quality gray clothing stands out, and low cost gray clothing does not. If you dress in monochrome gray, the many shades of gray can make it interesting. You can pair it easily with any color, from hot pink to coal black.  No other clothing color is as versatile.

For more on the greatness of gray, read this piece in Vogue.

If you need more ideas, Uncreate has you here:

That’s a good reminder that you can dress gray up or you can dress it down.

Now that we are in the bleak midwinter in the Northern hemisphere, it’s time to dress warmly. That doesn’t mean dressing badly. For instance, this selection of clothes has a great palette of dark blues, carmel browns, and even some red for a bit of pop:

And if you need ideas for when it is exceptionally cold, why not go with this:

If you have to shovel, do it well.

Some men know this, but it bears repeating: men have lots of options when it comes to clothing and style. Which is why when I read this: Menswear easiest look, I thought I dunno…I guess? Never mind this: the dad ification of fashion in 2022. Try harder, is all I’m saying.

For something on fashion that is very smart, I recommend this: The Fabric of Women. It’s a fascinating study of the relationship between woman, fabric, and linens. If that makes you want to get some new fabric to put over yourself, check out these options:best white t shirts for women.

(P.S. All images from the Garb section of, except one from Wikipedia)



Being happy is simple, not easy. Or, the unsurprising daily habits of happiness experts

TIME recently surveyed a range of happiness experts to discover their happiness habits. Here’s the list of habits they mostly did daily and weekly:

  • Get seven or more hours of sleep a night
  • Personal hobby (art, writing, music, cooking, reading, gaming)
  • Exercise / play sports
  • Spend time in nature
  • Meditate
  • Spend time with friends outside of office/professional setting
  • Spend time with family outside of household
  • Engage with support groups or therapist
  • Pray

Simple, yes? Not easy, though. The not easy part comes in because one of the common themes for each habit is Spend Time. How you choose to allocate your time makes a key difference in how happy we are. Sometimes you don’t even have a choice. Responsibilities and obligations can rob you of choices. Such theft, leaves you with little time to buy your happiness.

Try and guard your time as best as you can. Then spend it on yourself and your happiness. You deserve it.

P.S. Here is the TIME piece: The Daily Habits of Happiness Experts, It provides more detail.

P.S.S. Will doing all these things guarantee your happiness? No, of course not. Good happiness habits are to happiness what good exercise habits are to fitness: they will work for many people, but not all. Like with any advice on the Internet, if it’s not working for you, see a professional or an expert and get the help you need.

On the stupid gas stove wars, and some other things regarding climate

Last week a small report leaked and set off an explosion of culture war nonsense, with people on the left advocating for getting rid of gas stoves and people on the right insisting they’ll never give them up. That the report had nothing to do with banning gas stoves was besides the point.

Regardless of how you feel about the matter, a gas stove ban could help climate and health problems. But it won’t happen because…well, for many reasons. One is the natural gas industry is fighting back with influencers and many things. I don’t know if this will be enough for them. In time they could end up looking like Big Oil or Big Tobacco. Maybe. As for me, I think the switch will happen if there is enough incentives for it to happen.

In the meantime, here’s a reminder that there’s nothing inherently good about “natural” gas. Indeed, natural gas is a dangerous name for a climate pollutant.

Speaking of incentives, governments everywhere are doing what they can to change. Here in Canada the government has put out a climate action incentive payment. The U.S. has also provided incentives. All good. One problem though: the contractors needed to do it, so says VOX.

When it comes to climate change and global warming, how well are we doing overall? There are a few encouraging signs. For example, US greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2022 but GDP grew faster. But there are also the usual discouraging signs, such as this: The last eight years have been the warmest on record researchers found.

It’s easy to get discouraged, it’s better to take action. For example, Smile Plastics Turns Yogurt Pots Into Terrazzo-Like Surface Panels. Smart. Also smart: companies are turning to alternative construction materials, like wood. Not smart is the fact that we could be using garbage dumps and landfill for solar farms but we aren’t. We need to strive to be smart and do more.

As for the rest of us, let’s pledge to waste less this year. This can help: New Year Less Waste. Remember and act on the three Rs.

Last but not least, here’s a mix of stories on climate change and the environment I thought were worth getting into:

It’s a new year. You need new desktop wallpaper for your computer

If you feel stuck, just a small change in your environment can make a difference in freeing you up mentally. Changing your desktop wallpaper is just such a change.

If you agree, I recommend you go to Design Milk and see what they have to offer in wallpapers. Each month they have a designer publish a new image for you to download and out upon your background. Needless to say, they are very well done.

Maybe new wallpaper won’t inspire you to do great things in 2023. But it can’t hurt! Give it a shot.

On the art at Toronto’s Union Station and the people who don’t like it

According to BlogTO, there’s some chatter over on…

…a recent Reddit thread that has amassed hundreds of comments, one user wrote, “Union Station has the most depressing, unsettling art. No part of it sparks joy. Will they ever change this?”

I understand why would you would think the work is bad if you think it is trying to spark joy or some positive feeling. If you think that, I’d like to give you a different viewpoint.

My view of the work changed when I started thinking about it in comparison to what I typically see in the subway. What I typically see is…advertising. This work is everything ads are not. Ads promise a better life: this work shows life as it is. Ads are often unrealistic: this work is grounded. Ads are often polished and simple images: this work is rough and complex. To me it is refreshing to see this art in comparison to the overwhelming commercial imagery everywhere else in transit.

Art can spark joy, but it can do much more than that. This work, called Zones of Immersion by Stuart Reid,  may seem depressing to some people. For me it causes reflection and it gives me some perspective of my time underground. And because of that, I think it’s great. I look forward to see it when I’m at Union Station. I hope someday more people feel that way.

Some help to get you on the path to fitness in January

Welcome to another piece on getting fit.

If you are looking to get fit and wonder if you need  to take 10000 steps a day then read that. (Answer: nope). 10000 steps a day is good though. But so are exercise snacks, those bite sized workouts spread throughout your day. If you feel like something more sustained, something more than a snack, why not this nine minute workout?

One of the best things to do is take advantage of exercise you can’t avoid. Case in point: pushing a young one around in a stroller. Make the most of whatever opportunities you have to get fit. Remember: exercise is not just good for the body, but also for the mind. To see what a run does for your brain, read this. To see more on the mental health benefits, read this.

Finally, if you find that even with sustained exercise you still aren’t looking like a superhero, fret not. As this piece shows, some of that extreme fitness is the result of steroid use. You don’t want that.

Friday night music: the sultry sounds of Sophisti-pop

Wait, what is sophisti-pop, you ask? Let me let Wikipedia explain:

Sophisti-pop is a subgenre of pop music which developed out of the new wave movement in the UK during the mid 1980s. The term has been applied retrospectively to describe acts who blended elements of jazz, soul, and pop with lavish production. Music so classified often made extensive use of electronic keyboards, synthesizers and polished arrangements. Artists also utilized cutting-edge studio technology and perfectionist recording methods.The genre has been described as mellow, romantic, and atmospheric.

Sounds right. Sophisti-pop was made by artists like ABC, Aztec Camera, Bryan Ferry, Haircut One Hundred, Joe Jackson, Prefab Sprout, Simply Red and Spandau Ballet. Add to that list three of my favorite: The Style Council, Sade and Everything but the Girl (EBTG).

EBTG captured the genre recently when they wrote: “We were a band who listened to Chet Baker but also Buzzcocks, who loved Getz-Gilberto but also The Doors, whose lyrics were intimate but also political”.  The same could be said for many of the bands listed above.

If you want to know what was some of the best of it, check out the 10 of the Best Sophisti-Pop albums. If you’re a Spotify user, they have an entire section devoted to that sound. Also EBTG put together their Complete Discography 1982-2005 on Spotify.  They have a new album coming out soon: meanwhile go back in time and listen to what you may have missed.

Finally, here’s a song I’ve listened to a million billion times since it came out. A great song for walking alone at night in the rain:


On twitter and art and the aesthetics of a Canadian painting by Chris Flodberg

In mid November the Twitter account Canadian Paintings posted the above work by artist Chris Flodberg. At the time I said: “I see some people don’t like this painting but I think it’s fantastic. Just like the Gare St Lazare paintings of Monet are fantastic. They reflect our lives. I even like the palette of this one – it’s a muted palette that goes well with the subject matter. Good composition too.”  That tweet led to a good discussion on the work and to aesthetics in general.

I really do think it is a great painting. For one thing, I love the idea of it. The viewer is on the precipice of entering the painting in their car. If you have ever driven on such a road, you can easily imagine going down the hill and merging with the traffic and then heading over the horizon. Flodberg has positioned the viewer so that the go down and to the left, then up and under (a bridge) and then to the right, giving the painting a dynamic feeling.

There’s almost a danger too, with the concrete walls everywhere. Plus the fact you are about to enter a high speed highway. The dynamic and the danger make the painting exciting to me.

It’s interesting to me what he has put in the painting: the office buildings to the right and a jumble of stores to the left. The objects that make up the painting could be anywhere in a big suburb in Canada (or the US). It has a universality in that regard. I thought it was of a part of the 401 near me: turns out it’s near Calgary. (Fun exercise: compare the painting with the images in that link…how does it make you think differently about the painting.)

Flodberg is not the only Canadian to paint a highway. If you do a search like this on Christopher Pratt or this on Jack Bishop, you can easily see that. Canadian landscapes contain many things, including highways: it makes sense good painters want to paint them.

Speaking of Pratt and Bishop, I get why some people don’t like Flodberg’s painting: his colors are dull and dark in comparison. But I think they perfectly capture many a day I’ve driven along stretches of the 401. Some of those days were mundane, and some were magical. They all get stirred up in my imagination when I take time to look at the work above. A great work, I believe.

I don’t think I would have come across this work if it wasn’t for twitter. Nor would have thought about it deeply if it weren’t for the comments people tweeted. Twitter has many flaws, but there are times when it does things no other site does. I am grateful for that

For more on the work of Flodberg, you can check out his site, here: Chris Flodberg – artist

On Queen West in Toronto, then and now

I walked along Queen West and West Queen West recently. The bones of the neighborhood that I first walked around in the 80s remain. Places like The Queen Mother, Peter Pan, the Rex, and the Horseshoe are still going strong. The Rivoli is there too, if anything fancier than ever. Same for Cameron House. It was comforting to see them all, like old friends at a reunion.

Of course many other places have long gone. The Bamboo Club for instance. It’s location is occupied with some other business, though what occupies it is not as great as it was. Also long gone is Pages. It was a must visit on those trips to Queen West long ago. Now nothing exists in its former spot, just a vacant store.

I don’t want to weep and wail too much about changes to Queen West of my youth. People have been complaining about the its transformation “into the brand-saturated retail corridor it is today” since at least 2010, if not earlier.  I do want to note something ironic though. The same brands that transformed Queen West, brands like “The Gap, GUESS, Le Chateau, RYU, EB Games, NYX, several major fast food joints” have all left in the past five years because of rent. Perhaps in five more years it will just be banks and dentists offices there.

As for me, I prefer West Queen West to Queen West now. I’m happiest taking a streetcar past Bathurst and heading over to Type Books, the Spice Trader, Cocktail Emporium, the Swan and Trinity Bellwoods Park. When you combine that strip with Ossington and parts of Dundas West, you really have some of the best of Toronto, I think, and the places I most frequent lately.

Queen West will always be a destination for many and I will no doubt head there from time to time. But there are so many other great places to head to, even on Queen, and that’s great too.

P.S. The quotes above were from this piece on the closing of H&M on Queen West. The photo of the Queen Mother is from that piece, which is a good review of the place and its history. Also a good review is the Wikipedia entry for Queen West, which includes the entire street, but has a special section on Queen West.

Finally, here’s a great snapshot of Queen West in 1986, as captured in this video of the song “I’m an Adult Now” by The Pursuit of Happiness. Needless to say, it’s a very different street!

On Michael Snow, Toronto’s artist

Michael Snow died last week. It’s hard to think of an artist whose work is as well known and as well photographed as his. Even people who know nothing about art have likely seen his sculpture at the Skydome, not to mention his Canadian Geese sculpture at the Eaton Center. His work is spread throughout the city of Toronto, and the city would lose some of its luster without his creations.

Of course you can read about his life and career in wikipedia, but I also recommend taking some time and read this: Michael Snow, Prolific and Playful Artistic Polymath, Is Dead at 94 in The New York Times. The Times piece has more on his role as a filmmaker and how influential he was there.

R.I.P. Michael Snow.

(Top image is from Wikipedia: bottom image is from the New York Times. Attribution for the Wikipedia image here)

Sorry robots: no one is afraid of YOU any more. Now everyone is freaking out about AI instead

It seems weird to think there are trends when it comes to fearing technology. But thinking about it, there seems to be. For awhile my sources of information kept providing me stories of how fearful robots were. Recently that has shifted, and the focus moved to how fearful AI is. Fearing robots is no longer trendy.

Well, trendy or not, here are some stories about robots that have had people concerned. If you have any energy left from being fearful of AI, I recommend them. 🙂

The fact that a city is even contemplating this is worrying: San Francisco Supervisors Vote To Allow Killer Robots. Relatedly, Boston Dynamics pledges not to weaponize its robots.

Not that robots need weapons to be dangerous, as this showed: chess robot breaks childs finger russia tournament. I mean who worries about a “chess robot”??

Robots can harm in other ways, as this story on training robots to be racist and sexist showed.

Ok, not all the robot stories were frightening. These three are more just of interest:

This was a good story on sewer pipe inspection that uses cable-tethered robots. I approve this use of robots, though there are some limitations.

I am not quite a fan of this development:  Your Next Airport Meal May Be Delivered By Robot. I can just see these getting in the way and making airports that much harder to get around.

Finally, here’s a  327 Square Foot Apartment With 5 Rooms Thanks to Robot Furniture. Robot furniture: what will they think of next?

(Image is of the sewer pipe inspection robot.)


The best movie posters of 2022….

According to…

the best movie posters of the year once again demonstrates a wonderful array of traditional techniques and styles – photography, painting, collage – and a refusal to homogenise into any singular form. One pleasing commonality: as yet, the world of film poster design has resisted any incursion from AI-generated art. Whether their creation was through physical or digital means, by one hand or many, each of them is a product of human creativity.

I thought the AI reference was noteworthy. More noteworthy are the posters themselves. You can find them, here: Movie posters of the year 2022.

He said, she replied. A story of my weird twitter. #hssr

Long ago, twitter was interesting for many reasons. One treason was people trying to be creative within the 140 character limit. Or to link things seemingly unrelated with hashtags. Weird twitter, as some called it, was good twitter.

Between 2013 and 2015 I did this for awhile. I created a series of tweets based on an imaginary dialog between two people that stuck to a certain format and came with the hashtab #hssr (he said, she replied).

You can still find them on twitter, here. I just came across them in a folder I had in Evernote. (I had a service (IFTTT) save them.)

Who knows if they will be still on twitter a year from now? So here are most of them, as a backup. It was good to be on twitter then and I enjoyed contributing to it. I rarely feel that way now, and I hardly act creatively any more when I tweet.

That aside, here are my “he said, she replied” tweets:

  • Who believes in angels? That’s stupid, she said. We are all each other’s angels, he replied. #hssr
  • There is not much here anymore, he said. The opposite of what it was, she replied. #hssr
  • You used to say such interesting things, she said. There used to be more people listening, he replied. #hssr
  • You’ve very quiet, she said. The better to hear others, he replied. #hssr
  • I was shiny and new then, he said. You just need polishing, she replied. #hssr
  • You just might wave hello again, she said. I believe, he replied. #hssr
  • What did you bring, she asked. All the beauty I could gather, he replied. #hssr
  • What shall we do, she asked. More than we feared and less than we hoped, he replied #hssr
  • What are you listening to, she asked. The beat of my own drummer, finally, he replied. #hssr
  • No one understands these tweets of yours, she said. You are not no one, he replied. #hssr
  • In the end, you’ll be left alone, she said. It’s not the end but the beginning, he replied. #hssr
  • It is safer to be quiet, he said. Being quiet takes it’s own toll, she replied. #hssr
  • Freedom is a terrible thing and once you have it you should keep it, she said. Oh, i know i should, he replied. #hssr
  • The world is terrible, he said. The world is beautiful, she replied (and it was). #hssr
  • You thought your life would lead to something, but it’s led to nothing, she said. You’re half right, he replied. #hssr
  • I hear the mermaids singing, he said. Those are sirens, she replied. #hssr
  • Why do you live, she asked. Because i have someones worth living for, he replied. #hssr
  • You’re dancing again…I’m surprised, he said. A good song came on, she replied. #hssr
  • Once you danced so well, she said. In time I lived on dance floors but dance floors are for young men, he replied. #hssr
  • So much to do, he said. Only if time allows, she replied. #hssr
  • My life, he said. A hard road, but you make it harder, she replied. #hssr
  • So much time has passed, he said. For you, she replied. #hssr

Drawing is underrated. Let me and Henry Moore (but not Francis Bacon) convince you to rate it higher

I believe drawing is underrated. One of my favorite painters, Francis Bacon, was one of many who was dismissive of it. If you are one of those people, I have some links for you.

First off, Modern Met has this: 10 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso. While they are known for more than their drawings, their works of pen and pencil are inspiring.

More great drawing (to me) can be found here: Moore drawings of coal miners during wartime. You can see one of them above.

Finally, here’s a fine drawing by Van Gogh to serve as an inspiration and a reminder of how great drawing can be: Landscape in Stormy Weather 1885.

Seeing all these images makes me want to draw again. (This was an especially good link, as I have been enjoying drawing with charcoal: everything You Need to Know About Drawing (a nude/figure drawing) With Charcoal.) I hope you are inspired as well.

If something cost $1 in the 1980s, what does it cost now?

If something cost $1 in the 1980s — or the 1990s, or 2000, etc — what does it cost now?

I used to use a calculate this by using a rough 1:3 ratio in terms of 1980s dollars:today’s dollars, but there is a better way. You can go to the site and enter your information and it will spit out an answer. For example, what cost $1 in 1980 would cost $3.62 today, according to this: $1 in 1980 → 2023 | Inflation Calculator

I used that site because I was reading that in the early 80s Jim Jarmusch had an apartment in Manhattan that cost $170 a month. I wondered: what would that cost now? Well according to the site above, in 2023 that same place should cost $615. Of course the idea that ANYPLACE in Manhattan cost $615/month is hilarious. But you get the idea. 🙂

Don’t buy a new puffer coat this winter. Be great and get this instead

Sure, you could go out and get a new puffer coat. I get it: they’re warm, they’re lightweight, everyone else has one, you like looking like a marshmellow…:)

Seriously, puffer coats are….fine. But if you want to get a warm winter coat, you want to listen to me and Jeremy Scott. If your problem is lacking a winter coat…

The solution, said Jeremy Scott, creative director of Moschino, is “a sleek ankle-length greatcoat” — most notably the sort once favored by the military, looking to keep the cold out during periods of long exposure. The key to trapping in heat, he added, is choosing a double-breasted style.

There you have it. Get a great coat. You’ll be warm and stylish and sleek and timeless. You’ll look — dare I say it? — great.

For more on this, see this piece in the For more on the great coat, see wikipedia. (Image above is also wikipedia: Stalin wears a great coat, while Churchill wears a British warm coat which is shorter than a great coat and not to be confused with a pea coat which is shorter still).

P.S. If you must get a puffer coat, consider this one: the Vollebak Indestructible Puffer. According to Uncrate:

Vollebak has taken the puffer jacket — traditionally one of the weakest and most delicate pieces of clothing you can buy – and rebuilt it from the strongest fibre known today. Dyneema Black is 15x stronger than steel, which is why it’s used in body armour and anti-ballistic vehicle armour.

If you are going to wear a puffer, be cool. And warm.

Do you log or journal? I recommend you do in 2023. Here’s why….

I was reviewing my logs and journals for 2022 just now. I was happily reminded of the good times I had as well as the difficult moments I had to deal with last year. I’m glad I took the time to record all that.

If you can, I recommend you do the same. Reading about your good times can make you feel good about your life. And reading about the difficulties you had to deal with can make you appreciate how well you deal with things.

Writing about good times is fairly easy. Writing about difficult times is not. To log my difficult moments, I phrase them in the way of praise. So instead of writing something like:

Absolute disaster at work this week. I hate my project!

I’ll write:

kudos for dealing well with the difficulties at work this week by persevering and staying calm

I find phrasing it that way helps to read about it later. (This is my approach: you may be fine with going with the first approach.) It also reminds my brain that I can deal with similar difficulties in the future.

Be prolific if you can. Note simple observations. Consider all your senses. Write down many good memories and good feelings you had throughout the year. It’s easy to forget about them, but like snapshots, just reading them will bring back vividly thoughts and emotions you want to recall years from now.

Log them using the media best suited for you. You might covet one of those One Line a Day journals. You might like scribbling in a plain notebook. Some people might default to their smartphone and social media to log things. (I find Instagram is good with that….Twitter…not so much.)

I depend on a little program I wrote called easylog that I use to record things. It stores the information both in a local XLSX spreadsheet and a Google spreadsheet. Of course there are countless ways you can log or journal, but that suits me. It takes me a few minutes every day…no time at all, really.

Good luck. I wish you fond memories of 2023.

P.S. This post was inspired by posts from bloggers I admire:

Austin Kleon in particular is a master at logging things. You might not want to do it to the extent he does (at first), so start with just a line or two. You’ll be glad in 6 months, a year, two years from now when you get to re-read them.

I was almost inspired to write my own wonderful things in 2022 in a blog post, but I am trying to focus my social media content to things that benefit people vs things about myself.   My goal is to have a ratio closer to 80:20 or even 90:10 (posts benefitting people: posts about myself). Let’s see.

It’s 2023…here’s how to keep those New Year’s resolutions (if you want)

It’s a new year. And let’s face it, you have some new year’s resolutions. (Why else are you reading this?)

If you want to try and keep them, then I highly recommend that you read this:  How to make New Year resolutions you can actually keep.

Yes, it is mostly stuff you old people may have read before. In that case, it’s a good refresher course for you. For younger people, that’s a good list to read and consider.

I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. I think it’s good to resolve to change/improve your life, but I don’t think January 1st is the best time to do that. Some argue it’s February, and I tend to agree. Birthdays are also a good time to do that. So is the beginning of a new season.

If you MUST make a resolution in January, make it this one. If you are stuck and don’t know what to do, I have tons of posts here on resolutions. Perhaps one of them can help.

All the best to you.


Antony Beevor on Russia’s New Winter War

Antony Beevor has a fine historical review of Russia’s winter wars in Foreign Affairs magazine. He revisits the wars waged by and against Russia since the beginning of the 18th century with Sweden. Many of them were great victories for Russia: this war against Ukraine may be different.

For instance, in WWII, Beevor writes:

German soldiers referred bitterly to winter conditions as “weather for Russians.” They envied the Red Army’s winter uniforms, with white camouflage suits and padded cotton jackets, which were far more effective than German greatcoats.

Now in the Ukrainian war zone:

While Russian troops curse their shortages and lack of hot food, Ukrainian troops are now benefiting from supplies of insulated camouflage suits, tents with stoves, and sleeping bags provided by Canada and the Nordic nations. Putin seems to be in denial about the state of his army and the way that General Winter will favor his opponents.

It’s easy to assume that Russia comes out ahead in wintry weather wars. Read Beevor’s piece and you’ll get the sense that this may be just the opposite: Russia’s New Winter War: Could Putin Go the Way of Napoleon and Hitler?

P.S. As an aside, it’s great to see a writer like Beevor depend on more than what happened in WWII to help us understand what is happening in our world now. So many writers have a limited historical range. Beevor is not one of those.

I highly recommend Beevor’s books. My favorite is Stalingrad, but all of them are worthwhile.

My notes on falling to build a Mastodon server in AWS (they might help you)

Introduction: I have tried three times to set up a Mastodon server and failed. Despite abandoning this project, I thought I would do a write up since some people might benefit from my failure.

Background: during the recent commotion with Twitter, there was a general movement of people to Mastodon. During this movement, a number of people said they didn’t have a Mastodon server to move to. I didn’t either. When I read that Dan Sinker built his own, I thought I’d try that too. I’ve built many servers on multiple cloud environments and installed complex software in these environments. I figured it was doable.

Documentation: I had two main sources of documentation to help me do this:
Doc 1:
Doc 2

Doc 1 is the official Mastodon documentation on how to build your own server. Doc 2 is a guide to installing a minimal Mastodon server on Amazon EC2.

Attempt #1: I followed Doc 2 since I was building it on an EC2 instance. I did not do the AWS pre-reqs advised other than create the security groups since I was using Mailgun for smtp and my domain was elsewhere at namecheap.

I did launch an minimal Ubuntu 22.x server that was a t2.micro, I think (1 vCPU, 1 GiB of memory). It was in the free tier. I did create a swap disk.

I ran into a number of problems during this install. Some of the problems I ran into had to do with versions of the software that were backlevelled compared to doc 1 (e.g. Ruby). Also I found that I could not even get the server to start, likely because there just is not enough memory, even with the swap space. I should have entered “sudo -I” from the start, rather than putting sudo in from of the commands. Doing that in future attempts made things easier. Finally, I deleted the EC2 instance.

Attempt #2: I decided to do a clean install on a new instance. I launched a new EC2 instance than was not free and had 2 vCPU and 2 GiB of memory. I also used doc 1 and referred to doc 2 as a guide. This time I got further. Part of the Mastodon server came up, but I did not get the entire interface. When I checked the server logs (using: journalctl -xf -u mastodon-*) I could see error messages, but despite searching for them, I couldn’t see anything conclusive. I deleted this EC2 instance also.

Attempt #3: I wanted to see if my problems in the previous attempts were due to capacity limitations. I created a third EC2 instance that had 4 vCPU and 8 GiB of memory. This installation went fast and clean. However despite that, I had the same type of errors as the second attempt. At this point I deleted this third instance and quit.

Possible causes of the problem(s) and ways to determine that and resolve them:
– Attempt the installation process on a VM/instance on another cloud provider (Google Cloud, Azure, IBM Cloud). If the problem resolves, the cause could be something to do with AWS.
– Attempt this on a server running Ubuntu 20.04 or Debian 11, either on the cloud or a physical machine. If this resolves, it could be a problem with the version of Ubuntu I was running (22.x): that was the only image available to me on AWS.
– Attempt it using the Docker image version, either on my desktop or in the cloud.
– Attempt to run it on a much bigger instance. Perhaps even a 4 x 8 machine is not sufficient.
– See if the problem is due to my domain being hosted elsewhere in combination with an elastic IP address by trying to use a domain hosted on AWS.

Summary: There are other things I could do to resolve my problems and get the server to work, but in terms of economics: the Law of Diminishing Returns has set in, there are opportunity costs to consider, the sunk costs are what they are, and the marginal utility remaining for me is 0. I learned a lot from this, but even if I got it working, I don’t want to run a Mastodon server long term, nor do I want to pay AWS for the privilege. Furthermore, I don’t want to spend time learning more about Ruby, which I think is where the problem may originate. It’s time for me to spend my precious time on technologies that are personally and professionally better rewarding.

Lessons Learned: What did I learned from this?

– Mastodon is a complicated beast. Anyone installing it must have an excellent understanding of Linux/Unix. If you want to install it on AWS for free, you really must be knowledgeable. Not only that, it consists of not only its own software, but nginx, Postgres, Redis and Ruby. Plus you need to be comfortable setting up SSL. If everything goes according to the doc, you are golden. If not, you really need an array of deep skills to solve any issues you have.

– Stick with the official documentation when it comes to installing Mastodon. Most of the many other pages I reviewed were out of date or glossed over things of note.

– Have all the information you need at hand. I did not have my Mailgun information available for the first attempt. Having it available for the second attempt helped.

– The certbot process in the official document did not work for me. I did this instead:
1) systemctl stop nginx.service
2) certbot certonly –standalone -d (I used my own domain and my personal email and replied Y to other prompts.)
3)  systemctl restart nginx.service

– Make sure you have port 80 open: you need it for certbot. I did not initially for attempt 3 and that caused me problems. I needed to adjust my security group. (Hey, there are a lot of steps: you too will likely mess up on one or two. :))

– As I mentioned earlier, go from the beginning with: sudo -i

– Make sure the domain you set up points to your EC2 instance. Mine did not initially.

Finally: good luck with your installation. I hope it goes well.

P.S. In the past I would have persevered, because like a lot of technical people, I think: what will people think of me if I can’t get this to work?? Maybe they think I am no good??? 🙂 It seems silly, but plenty of technical people are motivated that way. I am still somewhat motivated that way. But pouring more time in this is like pouring more money into an old car you know you should just give up on vs continuing to try and fix.

P.S.S. Here’s a bunch of Mastodon links that you may find helpful:

It’s 2023. Is sharing on the web (still) worth it?

Is sharing on the web still worth it? I don’t know.

I used to think it was. When I wrote this two years ago, On blogging/writing online in 2020 (how I write now), I believed it was. I used to like sitting down each Saturday and writing my blog. It felt worthwhile. I also had a goal then: I wanted to get to a million views. That goal has been met and then some.

I am not sure if I have any more goals or things to achieve with this blog. Perhaps I can look to blog less but keep my monthly numbers in the current range of 1600-2500/month. Or perhaps I should be happy for a much smaller number like 1000/month. It’s unclear to me what will feel worthwhile anymore.

It’s hard to know what will be worthwhile to my  readers, too.  Last year the posts most read here were:

  1. a link to Suresh Doss based on some work I did at the beginning of the pandemic
  2. a very in-depth post of using curl in a bash script
  3. my all time most popular post I wrote in 2008 on why I buy suits from Zara (something I no longer do)
  4. how to connect a Chromebook to Dalhousie’s wifi network
  5. Six steps to mindfully dealing with difficult emotions

None of them were my favorite things I ever wrote. The Zara post I once dashed off in 15-20 minutes. I’m glad thousands of viewers thought them useful enough to pay a visit, though. Someone must have found something good.

It’s not just blogging either. I like to share useful things on other social media like twitter and Instagram, but even there I wonder what is the point. Does it really matter? Is it the best use of my time? I don’t know.

Perhaps I need to focus on sharing just things I think will really benefit smart people I know. Otherwise I may just give this a rest.

P.S. The above was inspired by this post: Is Blogging Still Worth It in 2022? (7 Questions Answered!) – Master Blogging.