Monthly Archives: April 2023

It’s Summer! It’s Winter! It’s April in Canada! Here’s my highlights and ramblings for April 2023 year (a newsletter, in blog form)

Is April the cruelest month? It can be in Canada. This month we’ve had summer like temperatures followed by light snow and freezing weather. It’s kinda what we expect here.

Here’s 90+ things I thought interesting that I really believe you might as well. Something for you to read on a rainy/windy/sunny/who knows April Sunday.

Pandemic: Yes, I am still going on about the pandemic. Hey, whatever public health activity is going on where you live, COVID is still making the rounds. People are still getting sick and dying. There’s a new variant going around: it’s called arcturus and so far it’s just in India. But who knows what could happen with it.

Despite all that, President Biden signed a bill ending the US COVID national emergency. Doesn’t mean no COVID, just how the US is acting upon it. Thankfully the US is rolling out new covid boosters for seniors. We all still need to fight this disease.

In Canada, there is an expectation of a small COVID bump soon. Let’s see. In Nova Scotia, someone has forecasted Nova Scotia getting it badly. Sadly this may be due to how well they handled it initially.

If you still want good data on covid cases, the New York Times has it. Here is a grim reminder of just how badly New York was hit by COVID. No wonder they still track it carefully.

In my last newsletter, I talked about feeling a weird nostalgia for the early parts of the pandemic. I felt that again watching this old clip of the Roots and the cast of Hamilton on Jimmy Fallon performing “Helpless”. I wonder what people will think years from now when they see it?

Inflation: Live COVID, inflation is still a problem, and people are still suffering from it. For instance, due to the high cost of food,  people are shopping in salvage grocery stores now. Likely dollar stores, too. Though some towns are getting fed up with them popping up everywhere. I can appreciate that.

Will inflation come down? I think so. It is coming down,  but it has a way to go. VOX has more on why  inflation is so difficult to drop. The head economist who recently left the White House conceded the economy is not yet ‘Normal’. Or maybe this is the New Normal.

Banks seemed to have settled down since the flame out last month. Here’s more on the bank failures here and here: welcome to the superprime banking crisis.

Speaking of money, here’s how the wealthy use “Wash Sales” to reap tax savings. Also why points cards are bad.

Politics: I tend not to write about politics too much on this blog. I found these pieces interesting, though.

Ron DeSantis is in a weird culture war battle with Disney for many stupid reasons. Here’s a funny story on how  Disney has used a royal clause loophole to one up him. Speaking of culture wars, here’s all about the bud light boycott due to trans issues. Here’s a left wing  framing of the culture wars in cartoon format. The framing itself could be part of the problem.

Elsewhere in the US, guns continue to be a major problem. Here’s the story of one of the worst guns in particular: the A-15. That’s a good piece on a horrible device.

One good thing: in the US, there has been an emphasis on healthcare spending in the last budget. Happy to see that.

The UK continues to suffer from Brexit. The latest minor incident was  the  Orient Express cutting is London leg due to it. At least it hasn’t damaged the Good Friday Peace accord. I thought this piece on how parts of Northern Ireland has turned out due to it rather good.

China continues to be China. Here’s a story on these menancing police outposts they have in New York and other Western cities. As well, here’s  China harassing a bookseller in  Florida. On a happier note is this story, on a Chinese Village’s breezy new library. It’s really worth a look.

Not really political, but I liked this piece on how Japan has changed a lot in recent years.

Healthcare: there were a number of pieces on healthcare in Canada at the beginning of 2023. It could be because the provinces were in negotiation with the Federal government for more money. In the end, at least some provinces signed a health deal. I expect all will come around and sign.

In my province, the Ontario government announced a plan to hire more nurses. They also had this plan to make tuition for studies in health care free. All good initiatives.

However, people were anxious about some of their plans, like this plan to use for-profit care to reduce surgical backlogs. It’s not the only instance of their plans that have people anxious. To reassure people, they did talk about protecting access to Public Health Care. But then we heard about how a private company, Maple, was charging for visits above and beyond OHIP.

So it’s been a muddle, which is par for the course with this government. Some people, like the  prime minister, thought the province was being innovative. Others thought they were not spending enough on health care. Some complained Ontario is going down the path the province of B.C. went down, only to reverse course. Others complained they had Ontario’s Health System Into a state of crisis, while some were  not so certain. Whew. It’s a muddle, to put it midly.

Ideas: A good source of ideas is Ursula Franklin’s lectures on the Real world of technology. Austin Kleon was reading it and he reminded me of how good it was.

Not so good: How much is a Pulitzer Prize worth? For non-fiction writers, not a lot. Also not good but fascinating: how did two major innovations end up being so destructive, and what can we learn from that?

Are you a doomer? Some young people are, it seems. This piece, don’t be a doomer!, exhorts you not to be.

In the future,  Gartner has identified five emerging technology trends that will blur the lines between human and machine. I dunno. I dunno about the use of these gps trackers capable of being shot at a moving car, either.

I found this, on the great philosopher Peter Singer being challenged by a disabled person, very moving.

Likewise, I was moved by this story on a California prison artist who makes his own paints. This story on DC prisons and how Jan. 6 prisoners got relief is very instructive, and not in a good way. This was a better story:  South Carolina Reduced Theft Penalties While Safely Cutting Prison. Good for South Carolina. The US has had a  mass incarceration for some time. A reckoning is coming.

Cool: Nick Cave is cool, and the advice he gives, especially so. Recycling is cool. Here’s advice on  how to recycle everything.

This is a cool story of  how a narcissist fell out of love with himself and fell in love with something greater. Another such story is this, by Adam Shoemaker, a forty-old Episcopal priest, husband, and father of three.

More cool things: this ikea guitar built almost exclusively using products and materials from ikea; this desktop wallpaper; and these esquire covers.

Incredibly cool is the ending of the John Huston film, The Dead.

Not cool: not cool is Ricky Vaughn, who is finally going to jail. Also going to jail: Real Housewife Jen Shah has been sentenced to 6.5 years in prison. Add this guy to the mix: Mafia boss Matteo Denaro, who’s been on run for 30 years 
Perhaps going to prison: Andrew Tate. Not likely prison oriented, but here’s the scoop on Rod Dreher, a very weird American conservative.

Ok, that’s enough uncool and bad people.

Famous People: Some major axe grinding in this piece on Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Aniston. I think they will all be fine, in their own weird way, whatever skeletons are in their closet.

As for closeted skeletons, there will be a documentary on John Lennon’s “lost weekend” in the 70s. More 70s skeletons: this is a story of three big Asian communist leaders of the 70s that I found fascinating.

Speaking of famous, here a story of how the liberal party has fared under Justin Trudeau. Relatedly, this is a story of his inheritance.

IBM used to be famous for annually breaking patent records. But it lost its Top US Patent Spot After Decades as Leader this year. Here’s why IBM is no longer interested in breaking patent records.

Fun: I found this device, The Mui Board, fun. (See it below.)

These ladders are fun. So is digits, a new game from the New York Times. If you are a fan of harry potter and le creuset, you might enjoy that. Fans of joe beef should read that piece. And fans of Campus FM radio will love that link. I thought the was especially fun.

And on that fun note, I’ll close off this newsletter and the month of April. As always, thanks for reading this and rambling along with me. I hope you found it worthwhile. Happy Spring. Now the good weather comes.


I thought these three designs were very cool

I am not sure how practical they are, but these pieces designed to look like blind contour drawings are cool. Also cool is this simple but smart furniture, shown below:

Finally, how cool is this: people are using these lego construction blocks to build homes…

I recommend you click on all the link and see a lot more.

A good reminder for the start of the weekend

I found this image on Instagram some time ago and I kept a digital clipping of it to remind me to make stuff even if the only person that cares about it is me. I would advise you to do the same. Sometimes I imagine an audience that does like whatever I make, but I am fine to make it just for me. Kids are like that, and they’re happier as a result. We should be more like kids, like the kid we once were. Make things and be happy with the making of it. Even if you immediately toss it aside. For making stuff can do wonders for us.

Happy Friday. Make something this weekend: a poem, a salad, a chalk drawing, a record of some sort. You’ll be better because of it.

It’s a short life, and the older you get, the shorter it gets. However…(some birthday thoughts)

I am fascinated by this clock above. Called Shortlife, it is developed and sold by Dries Depoorter, who explains that…

‘Shortlife’ is a small device showing how much percent of your life is completed based on your personal life expectancy.

You give him your birthday and your gender and he programs the clock based on this information and “the average number in your country provided by the World Health Organization (WHO)”.

It’s a good momento mori.

If you want a more accurate estimate of your life expectancy, you can go here. That online calculator’s estimate “is based on a detailed statistical analysis of NIH-AARP data and conducted by Wharton professor Dean Foster” and takes into account not just your age and gender, but also other factors like how fit you are and how much you drink and smoke.

Based on that calculator, it estimates I have twenty more years to live, if I am lucky. It also states that there is a 25% chance I won’t have more than a dozen. Of course it is just an estimate, a probability. I could die today, or I could live for another 40 years. But the likelihood of 12 (and no more) I think is good. When we were in school, 12 years felt like an eternity. I suspect these will not.

One problem with such a clock is it meant for people who see the glass increasingly empty. We need a clock that shows things increasing full. There is such a thing, of course. But it’s not a clock. It’s a tree. If you plant a tree and you are lucky, the tree will grow along with you. Growth: that’s what trees represent. A tree you plant can represent you as a growing living thing, not as a dying thing.

I think the clock is smart, of course, but I think a tree is wise. Get both, and be wiser, still.

P.S. I wrote about the joy of planting and owning a tree, here. That tree is no longer on my property, and perhaps that makes it better.

A plethora of good links on AI

There’s still an overwhelming amount of material being written on AI. Here’s a few lists of some of the ones I found most interesting:

ChatGPT: ChatGPT (3 and 4) still dominate much of the discussion I see around AI. For instance:

Using AI: people are trying to use AI for practical purposes, as those last few links showed. Here’s some more examples:

AI and imagery: not all AI is about text. There’s quite a lot going on in the visual space too. Here’s a taste:

AI and the problems it causes: there’s lots of risks with any new technology, and AI is no exception. Cases in point:

Last but not least: 

How I am playing Wordle these days using Wordlebot as a guide and an opponent :)

If you like playing Wordle, then you should make a guide and an opponent of Wordlebot. I check it every time I finish Wordle.

Using Wordlebot as a guide, I noted which words it used first and second. Based on my notes it seems to always use SLATE as the first word. Of the second word I noticed it uses, CRONY is a common choice. That makes sense: those two words give you AEO and Y as well as CNRST. I find I can get a lot of matches this way. And if I don’t, I know the third word has an O or a U, and the remaining letters are easier to choose from.

Often I will play SLATE and then play CRONY even if I have matches with SLATE. My goal these days is to get it in three. I will only go for it in 2 if there is a good chance I can. (Like one day this month when the word was PLATE.) Currently the majority of my scores are 4: my goal is get the majority to 3. I am not sure that is possible, but it is what I’m aiming for.

While Wordlebot is a good guide, I also use it as an opponent. My hope here is to win by getting the word in less tries than Wordlebot. It does not happen too often. My next best hope is to tie Wordlebot but get a lower luck score. If we tie in tries but it has a high luck score, I also consider that a win.

One reason it is hard to beat Wordlebot is due to the eliminate process it uses. While the first word it uses tends to be SLATE, if it gets matches, it may play a word that comes from out of the blue but it is not. Wordlebot seems to calculate what possible words could solve the puzzle and then play a word to help eliminate them. If I had the ability to do the same, I would! Most of the time I do something less mentally taxing.

Wordle is a fun game, still. I especially love that people still post their scores on twitter. I consider it watercooler material. (“How’dya do on Wordle last night, Bob?” “Got it in 3” “Whoa, nice. Ok, have a good day” :)) Like Wordle, I don’t take Twitter too seriously either. The two go good together, like chocolate and peanut butter.

For more thoughts on the game, take a peek at this: Wordle is fun again. Here’s why that is for me…. | Smart People I Know


How to get better sleep using your Apple Watch and the Health app

I wear my Apple Watch every night while I sleep, and I have found it’s been helping me sleep better.

My watch sends a ton of information to my phone during the day, including information about how I am sleeping. When I wake in the morning, I head over to the Sleep summary in the Health app on my iPhone and check how I did that night. Here’s an example:

You can see this was a pretty good night for me. I slept for 7 hours, and I managed to get in a fairly decent amount (for me) of deep sleep. I don’t know if this is typical for most people, but it is for me. I have a number of deep sleep periods, about 4 periods of REM sleep, and the rest is core sleep. You can see I woke up twice, but barely for any time at all. I also found I was refreshed and alert the next morning. 

That wasn’t typical though. If you look below, you see my sleep for the week:

There’s quite a number of days where I was awake for large periods of time. Every day I would wake up and see that and think: what can I do to fix that? Some days it would be something simple, like the room was too warm. Or I ate too late. Other days it is due to more difficult things like too much stress. (Stressful days tend to cause other issues, like eating badly, which compounds the problem.) 

Before I had this data, I would let myself sleep badly for a long stretch of time. Now when I start seeing I am not getting enough sleep, I work hard to get the right conditions to get a better sleep the next night.

There are plenty of things you can do to maintain good health: eat well, exercise, and sleep well. The Apple Watch can help with all of those things. If you can get one with these features, I highly recommend it.

P.S. Why is deep sleep important? It could be the time your brain gets cleaned. To see what I mean, go here.

On pleasure, happiness, and optimism

On the importance of simple pleasure, and how we need to do more than optimize for maximum health:  We Need Pleasure to Survive – The New York Times.

A reminder, if you needed one, that happiness is a complex thing:  Finland ranks high on the national happiness scale ..#1 in fact. But the Finns would be first to admit they don’t go around in a state of bliss.

Hey, are you still optimistic? If you are filled with optimism (or if you are not), it is all about the stories you tell yourself over and and over again. Read that, but more importantly, learn to tell yourself better stories.

On the snowdrops in the yards of others

Someone on my street was kind enough to plant snowdrops in their front yard. Last week they were bursting from the ground and giving me the hope I always feel when I see them. Seeing snowdrops, I know winter is over: seeing snowdrops I know spring is starting. I love the significance of this small white flower. They’re a beautiful reminder.

If you are ever wondering about planting flowers in your front yard, I encourage you to do so. I am sure I am not the only one who walks by such beauties and feels joy. You will be giving a gift to the world with whatever you plant. How great is that?

Friday fitness links (April 2023 edition)

Here’s some more useful links on staying fit, physically and mentally. Plus some things on sleep, because sleep is an important part of fitness. And more!



Mental fitness:



How to travel in style and do it lightly

If you want to travel in style, then you owe it to yourself to read this: Dining in Style, at 90 Miles an Hour: Train travel is thriving in Central Europe, and so are dining cars. We rode the rails from Prague to Zurich and beyond, sampling regional dishes and savoring the views. It will have you looking up seats for the next trip.

If you want to travel lightly, read this: I Lived Out Of A Carry-On For 6 Weeks & Found My Personal Style Along The Way. You may not want to live out of a carry-on for 2 weeks, never mind 6, but the writer did and did well.


On Bourgeois, Wiley, Grosz, and more. (Art news, April 2023)

Here’s some recent art pieces I thought worthy of sharing:

Sydney is set for a summer of blockbuster art in 2023. Bourgeois spiders and Kandinsky masterpieces will be there. I’m a big fan of Bourgeois: I’d love to see that.

Another person who’s work I’m a fan of is Kehinde Wiley. You likely know him for his famous portrait of Barack Obama. The Guardian has a good profile of him there.

There’s no living artist who I am a bigger fan of than Richter. He’s getting very old, though (85), and he is thinking about giving up painting in the future. But for now, here’s a story of how Gerhard Richter Rides Again, in The New York Times.

Other good pieces: Here’s a good essay on the significance of  George Grosz. This piece is on artists and their day jobs (hint: not as artists). Here’s the obit for British sculpture Phyllida Barlow. RIP. Still kicking: here’s what  Ai Weiwei is up to.

Finally, a piece on Chuck Close:  look a little (Chuck) Closer: Aesthetic Attention and the Contact Phenomenon. And take some time to check out this powerful interactive display of the works of  Michael Ray Charles.

Some thoughts on learning to appreciate Instagram as a recording media

Yesterday I wrote about using Instagram as a recording device to track special events, such as life during the pandemic. As I was writing about it, I started thinking about Instagram as a service.

A weird thing happened to that service in the summer of 2022. The folks at Meta (who own it) hamfistedly tried to change the app, only to face a backlash from famous and not so famous. Unlike Twitter, Meta actually backed off from some of the changes (though they are still trying to make Reels happen). I’m glad they did.

In some ways Instagram has become my default way of sharing my life, mainly through Stories. The same 50 or so people see all my posts and can keep up with what I find interesting, and that amount is fine with me. On Twitter you can imagine lots of people are paying attention to what you post: on Instagram, you know who is. I no longer use Facebook, and who knows who reads these blog posts. 🙂 So Instagram it is.

Like many people, Instagram photos are not my life, but rather a version of it. I realized that especially when I put together my collection of images from Year 1 of the pandemic. There were plenty of things that I took photos of but never posted there. Anyone not close to me might think that’s everything happening in my life, but it’s only a sliver of the pie.

It’s good that Instagram allows you to collect Stories in Highlighted sections. It helps with the ephemeral nature of them. In most cases, the fact that photos in Stories are fleeting is good. But not always. It’s good to shape some of them into a virtual scrapbook to display.

Of course I could use Instagram Posts, but like many people, I post to Post less and less. Now I mostly use it to mark  a moment in time.

Instagram may not be the best place to publish photos, but it’s pretty good. Of course everything could change tomorrow, and all of it could be gone. I keep that in mind and keep my photos backed up separately. You should too.

Instagram has plenty of problems. Anyone reading their Wikipedia page can see that. But it has its benefits and does better than most social media these days. At least for me. Find me there, at least for now, at bernie_michalik.


My first year of the pandemic as told in Instagram stories

Instagram stories are an odd thing, at least mine are. I post almost random images of things in my life, not thinking they add up to anything. But if you are living through a dramatic period of time like the first year of the pandemic, and if you collect those images together, as I did here in “Covid: Year 1”, they take on a narrative that was not there when you snapped them and saved them.

The narrative began even before the pandemic was declared. I have photos of me going to Chinatown and eating in many places, because word had gone out that a new illness had broken out in Wuhan, China and people were avoiding that part of the city because people were afraid of coming across someone who had it and then get sick. I was down there to do a small part in keeping some of those places in business by eating as much as I could. (Brave, I know 😊.)

Soon, general precautions started. Hand sanitizer was everywhere, like this one at my work:

Then the pandemic was officially declared in March 2020 and things started to break down. I have photos of the grocery stores being cleared out of flour and potatoes. Toilet paper was scarce. People were queueing up to get into grocers and the liquor store, which both had limited occupancy. Plastic barriers went up, and everything else was shutdown: work, restaurants, stores, gyms. It was a time of lockdown.

To occupy ourselves, we adopted hobbies. People made bread. I drew and made zines. I even wrote some half decent poems.  I continued to blog, and traffic shot up.

We worked at home. Every damn day. Our hair grew long. We finally got masks to go shop for food.

We ordered take out. Lots and lots of take out.  Restaurants pivoted to this to stay alive. Some, like my favorite restaurant Brothers, didn’t make it. Many did, due to hard work and help from the government. We drank pet nat and cremant to celebrate.

In summer we finally ate outside, albeit like this:

Eventually we got to eat indoors for a bit in the fall. Otherwise, if we wanted to celebrate birthdays or Easter, we did it with people in our circle. Collecting with others outside our circle was frowned upon.

We purged our homes to make space. I had a garage sale, and was surprised by the people who showed up and bought things. We were awkwardly happy to see each other, and dealt with money for the first time in ages.

We made the best of it. We watched the blossoms in High Park in Toronto via a TV channel. We watched our talented friends put on shows on Instagram and Youtube and Twitch. We walked on streets closed off to traffic. We banged pots and pans for health care workers. We did not go to the movies, even though the movies tried to open in the summer of that first year.

We downloaded apps to keep track of COVID and to know what to do. We downloaded apps to finally travel in the fall. We wore our masks everywhere. We wore sweat pants almost as much, if not more.

We dealt with bad people. The anti-maskers. The anti-science people. We celebrated when Trump lost.

If we were parents, we tried our best to help our kids. We took them out on Hallowe’en and let them get treats delivered by chutes. We made them get up for virtual classes via Zoom and other technologies. We ordered them Christmas presents online because the stores remained closed in many places like Toronto.

Most of all, we awaited the coming of vaccines and yearned for a normal time. For many, it was the worst of times, losing their livelihoods and their loved ones. Getting ill. For some, it could also be the best of times, as it often was with me.

It was quite the year. Historic. Memorable.

P.S. I wrote at the beginning of 2021 the following post: On recording (why you should think about it differently, why you should resolve to do it), and closed by saying:

Your life has value and meaning. Recordings help show that. So get making them.

I hope you do that, in some form or another. Even if it is a collection of stories on Instagram. It all counts, just as you do.

New York stories and snippets (April 2023)

Here’s some bits and snippets on the New York I’ve been collecting over time. I hope you like them.

A great source of such snippets of life in New York can be found here, in the New York Times section called Metropolitan diary. Just little bits of life in the Big Apple, with wonderful grease pencil drawings to go with them. (See one such drawing below).

Speaking of the Times, noted conservative David French is joining them as an Opinion Columnist. I have to say, these conservatives often start out there with great praise but then become awful. Let’s see how French does.  I’m not optimistic.

Yesterday I wrote of a landmark of the city closing down: the Pennsylvania Hotel. Here’s a story on a smaller landmark also leaving: Alleva Dairy in NYC Will Close. I am sure that place contains many stories itself.

Manhattan is a region of extremes when it comes to rich and poor. On the rich side, here’s a Look Inside the NYC Apartment of MALIN GOETZ Founders. Pretty posh. Also, what’s it like surviving as a staff member of the high end store, Bergdorf Goodman? Well not as tough as being Flaco the owl, but tough nonetheless. To see what I mean, see this: Surviving 10 Hours and 32 Minutes at Bergdorf Goodman. If nothing else, you can see what providing exemplary service is all about.

If you want more stories on the rich and famous of New York: here’s something on the gatekeepers of New York’s most coveted tables.

For stories on the flip side, here’s a story on how Hell’s Kitchen got its rough and ready name. Also downtown based is this piece on someone coming of age in LES before it was gentrified: Watching a Girl’s Life Change on the Lower East Side. And here’s a tough piece on NYC’s jails.

People often hate the mayor of New York, and the current one is no exception. Here’s what he is working on: Mayor Adams Focuses Agenda on the ‘Working People’ of New York. You be the judge. Speaking of people more and more people hate, here’s something on Robert Moses: Robert Moses Is A Racist Whatever.

Finally, here’s a worthy piece on the Central Central Park Conservancy. Here’s a piece on another Robert of NYC who is praiseworthy: Robert Caro Wonders What New York Is Going To Become. Don’t we all wonder?

(Top image: Christopher O’Keeffe, the director of loss prevention, locks the door at the end of the shopping day of Bergdorf. Credit…Landon Nordeman for The New York Times)

Should we grow a victory garden for the war on COVID?

It’s an intriguing idea.

If you are not familiar with the idea, let me explain with this quote pinched from one of the links below: “Victory gardens are gardens grown by civilians during times of widespread food insecurity. The gardens were encouraged by the Canadian government during the world wars, as a way to feed both civilians and troops.”

In time of high inflation brought on to some degree by the pandemic, such a garden might help in several ways. But heck, if you want to stick with growing flowers to lift your spirits, that’s ok by me too.

For more on this, see these two pieces over at How you can start your own ‘victory garden’. Also: It’s not too late to grow vegetables for your victory garden.

If you need more help on growing your own seedlings, check out that piece at Lifehacker.

Onward to victory over the pandemic, and inflation, and more!

A love letter for the Pennsylvania hotel in NYC and the two-letter phone exchange (PE 6-5000)

I had been thinking about the Pennsylvania hotel recently. I first started thinking about it when I read this: Discovering another vintage two-letter phone exchange on a West Side sign. See the bottom? Things like MU 2-2655 were how phone numbers looked in the Big Apple (and other places too). Forget about area codes like 212.

One of the most famous of these old two letter phone exchanges was PEnnsylvania_6-5000 (PE 6-5000) for two reasons. One, it was the number assigned to one place and one place only: the Pennsylvania hotel. Two, Glenn Miller wrote a famous song about it, called…PEnnsylvania_6-5000. (My Dad loved this song, and whenever I hear the title, I can hear him shouting out with the band: PEnnsylvania 6-5000!).

Sadly, having a storied presence as well as being famous is not enough to survive. The Times has a piece on how its going to be demolished soon. That’s a shame. I hope the don’t regret it like they do the demolition of Penn Station.

As you can see from the photo being held, it was a massive hotel, and one deserving of its own exchange.

I highly recommend you read that piece on it in the Times. It had quite the run.

Now let’s join in with the the Muppets as they do their version of the famous song:

Happy Friday! Have a lovely weekend

It looks like it is going to be cloudy but warm here in Toronto this weekend. That’s fine. I am happy for the warm weather and the lack of snow. It’s tulip time and I love tulips, so one thing I might be doing is either getting some more or just window shopping for them.

Lately I’ve been trying to read more, despite my limited attention span. Because of that, this list of 30 of the best short films and novels you can do in less than an hour and a half got my attention. I might be able to get through something before Sunday evening.

Of course weekends are also good for sleep. If you are trying to catch up on yours this weekend, here’s some guidance on  how to fix broken sleep schedule.

Fun stuff: check out these pictures kids took of their parents. Priceless and true. Something that was fun but no more is Looney Tunes: HBO is removing Looney Tunes online. Sad to see that happen.

Do you know someone moving into their first apartment? If so, they might appreciate this checklist . They might appreciate more than that, but it’s a start. 🙂 If they need a new sound system for their place, maybe they’d like this new Sonos speaker.

Fans of minecraft and Chromebooks: it seems that Microsoft is going to release a version of Minecraft for Chromebooks. Nice!

Something moving: these final words of Darren Barefoot are as splendid as the things he writes about in the end:  they were all splendid.

If you want to get away from it all,  this all white minimalist cabin is the flexible and functional tiny home on wheels you need.

Enjoy Spring…and your weekend, as you head out into it.

Thursday is a good day to be productive. A playlist can help

Thursday is a great day to be productive: you just got over hump day (i.e., Wednesday) and if you can get a lot done today, you can feel more relaxed as you head into Friday and then the weekend.

If you have your own playlists, I recommend you put them on. If you do not, that head over to and read this: A Good WFH Playlist Is the Difference Between a Slow Day and a Productive One. They have a number of lists from various people: one of them is bound to help put you in a mood to GTD (get things done) as you WFH (work from home).

Happy Thursday!

The profiles (beat-sweeteners?) of Sam Altman

Oddly (not oddly at all?) both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal had profiles of  Sam Altman at the end of March:

  1. Sam Altman, the ChatGPT King, Is Pretty Sure It’s All Going to Be OK – The New York Times
  2. The Contradictions of Sam Altman, the AI Crusader Behind ChatGPT – WSJ

Given the contentious nature of AI and ChatGPT, you might think think that those pieces would have asked tough questions of Altman concerning AI. Especially since Leslie Stahl did something similar to execs of Microsoft, a few weeks earlier. Perhaps the work of Stahl is why Microsoft / OpenAI wanted Altman to get out there with his story. If that was the intent, then it seemed to work. Nothing too tough in either of these profiles.

Then again, perhaps they were written as beat-sweeteners. After all, getting access is just as important for tech journalists as it is for political journalists. If you want to write more about AI in the future, being able to ring up Altman and his gang and get through to them for a comment seems like something you might want for your job. No doubt profiles like that can help with that access.

For more on the topic of beat-sweeteners, I give you this: Slate’s Beat-Sweetener Reader in Columbia Journalism Review.




So you want to stop shopping at Loblaw and you need an alternative but you are stuck. Here’s what you can do

Maybe you’ve read articles like this, Loblaw gave ‘underpaid’ CEO Galen Weston a $1.2 million raise last year, and thought: I ought to switch from buying my groceries from Loblaw and go somewhere else.  But what to do?

If that’s you, consider this. If there is a Walmart near you that sells groceries, go to the Walmart. And if there is not a Walmart near you but there is one on Instacart, then sign up for Instacart and buy your groceries that way.

I have been shopping at Walmart via Instacart for well over a year now and during this time I have been very satisfied with the goods I’ve received from them. The produce is excellent, the meat is excellent, the commodity goods are fine, and both high end and low cost items (“Great Value” vs “No Name”) are good. Most importantly for me, the savings are substantial. It never ceases to amaze me how the exact same product can be $0.50-$5.00 less at Walmart than Loblaw or Metro. Other than price, there is no difference in terms of what you get. You are essentially paying a Loblaw tax (or Metro tax) for buying from them.

I understand why people like shopping at Loblaw: the stores are pleasant, they have great selection, and their President’s Choice brand is still a treat. But you are paying a high premium for that.

Should you switch to Metro or Farm Boy or some other place? Not if you want to save money. What about No Name from Loblaw? Well, I checked it out, and many of the No Name products are still more expensive than every day Walmart products.

For more on this, see this article I wrote earlier this year. It has details on how the savings from Walmart add up.

If you want to keep shopping at Loblaw, it’s up to you. But if you do want to switch, you can.



The Gartner Hype Cycle: one good way to think about technological hype

Below is the Gartner hype cycle curve with it’s famous five phases:

For those not familiar with it, the chart below breaks it down further and helps you see it in action. Let’s examine that.

Chances are if you are not working with emerging IT and you start hearing about a hyped technology (e.g., categories like blockchain, AI), it is in the phase: Peak of Inflated Expectations. At that stage the technology starts going from discussions in places like Silicon Valley to write ups in the New York Times.  It’s also in that phase two other things happen: “Activity beyond early adopters” and “Negative press begins”.

That’s where AI — specifically generative AI — is: lots of write ups have occurred, people are playing around with it, and now the negative press occurs.

After that phase technologies like AI start to slide down into my favorite phase of the curve: the Trough of Disillusionment. It’s the place where technology goes to die. It’s the place where technology tries to cross the chasm and fails.

See that gap on Technology Adoption Lifecycle curve? If technology can get past  that gap (“The Chasm”) and get adopted by more and more people, then it will move on through the Gartner hype curve, up the Slope of Enlightenment and onto the Plateau of Productivity. As that happens, there is less talking and more doing when it comes to the tech.

That said, my belief is that most technology dies in the Trough. Most technology does not and cannot cross the chasm. Case in point, blockchain. Look at the hype curve for blockchain in 2019:

At the time people were imagining blockchain everywhere: in gaming, in government, in supply chain…you name it. Now some of that has moved on to the end of the hype cycle, but most of it is going to die in the Trough.

The Gartner Hype Curve is a useful way to assess technology that is being talked about, as is the Technology Adoption Curve. Another good way of thinking about hype can be found in this piece I wrote here. In that piece I show there are five levels of hype: Marketing Claims, Exaggerated Returns, Utopian Futures, Magical Thinking, and Othering. For companies like Microsoft talking about AI, the hype levels are at the level of Exaggerated Returns. For people writing think pieces on AI, the hype levels go from Utopian Futures to Othering.

In the end, however you assess it, its all just Hype. When a technology comes out, assess it for yourself as best as you can. Take anything being said and assign it a level of hype from 1-5. If you are trying to figure out if something will eventually be adopted, use the curves above.

Good luck!

A good collaboration: Ikea and Marimekko

I love this: Ikea and Marimekko have teamed up to create a collection of home goods at affordable prices that are also beautiful. They range in prices from this low cost bag at $2:

To this lovely side table with a tray for $79:

They even have clothing, like this robe for $40:

Amazing. Over at Chatelaine they have their 15 favorite from The Ikea Marimekko Bastua Collection. The three seen here were plucked from their list. Go to Chatelaine for more. Go check it out.

Soups and salads and sandwiches too. (Some of my cooking interests since May, 2022)

I have been remiss. I have been hoarding so many good recipes since May of 2022, and yet I have not shared any of them. Terrible. Well, let’s put an end to that here and now by bringing you a feast of slurpable soups, super salads, and scrumptious sandwiches, for starters.

Soup: Let’s begin with some soups. Italian soups ot be specific. Here’s Italian Bean and Vegetable Soup Recipe (Zuppa alla Frantoiana), Marcella Hazan’s White Bean Soup with Garlic and Parsley, and this kinda Minestrone with Sweet Potato which I really like, but purists may not. Relatedly, Corsican Bean Soup with Greens and Pork Recipe.

Speaking of garlic soup, this  garlic soup looks good, as does this Garlic Soup with Mayo. Not garlicky, but Nigella’s chicken barley soup would be tasty.

If you prefer something more French, there’s this french country soup, and this Pea Veloute with Herbs. There’s also advice on how to make Veggie Soup With Tomato Pistou. Speaking of french, here’s some links regarding Jacques Pepin’s Fridge Soup Recipe, Also Jacques Pepin Fridge Soup Recipe For Leftovers Recipe.

More good economical soups are this Clean Out The Fridge’ Soup Recipe and all those listed here: filling inexpensive soup recipes.

Here’s some easy soup recipes. One for  Chicken Pho, another with Dumplings and then one with vegetables and beef. Also easy: jarred noodle soup.

If you liked the pho idea, then you might want to try:  21 Ramen Recipes to Build a Perfect Bowl at Home.

More help with your soup making: Best Spices and Seasonings for Soup and  What Is the Difference Between Stock and Broth?

Salad: what goes good with soup? Salad, of course. When I make a salad, this is my go to vinaigrette: Silver Palate’s “Our Favorite Vinaigrette”. Superb over greens. Want more dressings? Here could be the Only Five Salad Dressings You Need from Cup of Jo. Need a bargain dressing? Try this good cheap vinaigrette.

If you like bargains: How to make amazing summer salads on a budget from BBC Food.

Speaking of BBC food and salad, take a look at this, Easy salad recipes BBC Food and this, Winter salads – BBC Food. Winter salads. Summer salads. The BBC has you covered.

Famous salads: here are some salads from famous people. There’s Olivia Wilde’s salad, Mark Bittman and his salads  and Alison Roman with her leafy herb salad. Then there’s Jennifer Aniston’s salad, though this argues: You Can Do Better Than the Jennifer Aniston Salad. I guess. Also, it  Turns Out Jennifer Aniston Does Not Eat That Viral TikTok Salad. Oh my! Scandal!

Non-green salads: pasta salad is still salad. So try some Pasta Salad Recipes from Food & Wine. Or this macaroni salad. Or that macaroni salad. Why not a falafel salad?

Amazing salads: a simple green salad is delicious. But if you want something more kapow, try this Yellow wax beans in bacon vinaigrette or this roasted cauliflower salad with lemon tahini dressing. This Antipasto Salad with Green Olive Tapenade Recipe could be a flavor bomb. As could: This Sour Cream Dressing Would Make a Cardboard Box Taste Good. Or so says Bon Appetit. Speaking of BA hyperbole, here are 20 Rules For Making the Best Salads of Your Life.

Sandwiches: of course the other good thing that goes with soup is a sandwich. First off, two of my favorites: a reuben sandwich and a club sandwich. Another favorite of mind is a Cuban. Here’s how to make a  Slow-Cooker Cuban Pork Sandwiches. If you love them like me, you might like this book on them: A new book explores the Cuban sandwich history and its evolution. Being from Cape Breton, another favorite of mine is a Fried Bologna Sandwich. Truly an underrated sandwich.

As for some newer sandwiches I like that are also great, there’s this  kimchi grilled cheese and also  Andrea Nguyen’s Perfect Banh Mi. Fabulous. Also fabulous: these French Sandwiches.

You may argue that a mortadella sandwich tart and an  easy burrito are not sandwiches, but I think they are close enough to include them here.

OK. You have all kinds of ideas to make an amazing lunch. Enjoy!





On the empathy of rats

I am fascinated by empathy, so I was interested to read about these experiments done some time ago concerning empathy and rats:

  1.  helping your fellow rat rodents show empathy driven behavior
  2. social experience leads empathetic pro social behavior rats

I highly recommend them if you are interested in the topic. Thoughts I had after reading them:

  • The experiments do well to show that empathy is not a quality limited to humans. But of course it makes sense it is a quality that many species should have. After all, empathy is a very good way to help everything survive. It’s not surprising, therefore, that other mammals have it.
  • There is more to survival than eating. Rats in these experiments chose to be helpful over eating chocolate. Many humans I know of could learn something from these rats.
  • Empathy does not seem to be something distributed willy nilly. There is some selectivity when it comes to empathy in the rats, just like there is between humans. That also makes sense.
  • We know so little of the world, never mind ourselves.

Good experiments. Good reads.

All social media companies are bad, but some are successful. (Social media roundup, April 2023)

All social media companies are bad, but some are successful. The older ones like Meta and Twitter have fallen on difficult times for many reasons. They are bad companies doing badly. And the new kid on the block, TikTok, has gotten all the wrong attention recently. It’s a bad company doing well, at least in some aspects. Let’s talk a look.

Meta/Facebook: Meta continues to do poorly, and I for one am glad about this. Remember, no matter how stupid Twitter is or how creepy tiktok is, Meta/Facebook is all that and worse. For how they are creepy, read this on the slow death of surveillance capitalism in WiReD. Or this bit of outrageousness on how GoodRx leaked user Health data to Facebook and Google (Google is also bad.) And it is not just GoodRx: Cerebral did it too. Sure health web sites like GoodRx and Cerebral are horrible, but the social media companies facilitated it.

As for stupid, just think of the metaverse. Or don’t. Disney is giving up. More will too. And that will lead to more Facebook/Meta  layoffs.

Tiktok: Tiktok continues to be under fire politically. And Mark Z would love to see it get shut down and replace it with Instagram Reels.

Despite all that, it continues to thrive, and things that take off there really take off. For example, here’s a piece on how Sofia Coppola’s daughter went viral with her one cooking tiktok. TikTok gets our attention.

For some companies, it gets too much attention. So they panic when they see people are using tiktok to definfluence others, for example.

Other Tiktok pieces that got my attention: this piece on Olivia Dunne, college gymnast has 6.7 million TikTok followers. I don’t, but Some people like Cory Doctorow. If you are one of them, you will like his piece on Tiktok’s enshittification. Speaking of crappy, this is on borg drinking and tiktok. Young people being dumb is not news: the innovative ways they are dumb is.

Twitter: Let’s not forget good ole twitter: Elmo Musk continues to drive the company into the ground. Twitter ad sales plunged 46% while TikTok Pinterest gained. What a genius he is. He’s saving the company money by falling behind on rent. And  laying off staff.  Firing top engineers. And employing his  “extremely hardcore” approach. Then he follows up with more layoffs, including Esther Crawford, who made a big deal about being hardcore and sleeping on the office floor in a sleeping bag. That worked well.

All those layoffs were good for system stability. NOT. Some stuff on the twitter outages can be found here and here (on how a single engineer brought twitter down).

No wonder people headed for the exits. Initially  more than a million people switched to Mastodon. That lead to things like this: Movetodon: Find your Twitter Friends on Mastodon this. Even Medium got into the act and  opened mastodon subscription memberships.

Additionally here’s two pieces on their tech. One on their API and one on their rss feed. Enjoy while you can. David Crosby did. He  was great on using twitter.

Finally: here’s a piece on how a community came to a Toronto restaurant’s defence after one-star review. Good for them. Online reviews mostly suck.

And hey, let’s not leave off Substack. In January they said: Don’t start a year. Start a Substack. I guess.

On Kazuo Ishiguro’s Top 10 film picks

Over at Criterion they have a list of ten films selected by Kazuo Ishiguro. They have a large collection of these lists, but I especially loved his for two reasons. One, I gained a better appreciation for these particular films. But more than that, I got a better way to think about film itself.

I highly recommend his piece. There is so much good stuff at that web site, including many great films, of course. But take the time and read that.



Running light without overbyte: lightweight web sites are a good way of getting caught up quickly without the bloat of video, javascript and more (less is more)

Once upon a time, web sites were simple. Now they are complicated and sometimes bloated. Just go to the web site of news organizations like CNN or the New York Times and you will know what I mean.

But there is a way to avoid that. Just go to the light/lite versions of their web sites. This is lite CNN. This is a lighter New York Times (TimesWire) And here is an aggregator site that does something similar for a number of topics, like tech: The Brutalist Report – tech.

If you want to find more sites like that, check out: A List Of Text-Only & Minimalist News Sites at GreyCoder.

Kudos to companies that build lightweight versions of their web sites. Not everyone has high speed Internet connectivity. And not everyone needs lots and lots of information. Keeping it simple is cool.

(The title is an extract of the original title for the computer magazine, Dr. Dobbs Journal. It’s original title was: dr. dobb’s journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics & Orthodontia (with the subtitle Running Light Without Overbyte))

A handy guide to spotting AI generated images

Well, two handy guides. One from the Verge and one from the Washington Post. The Verge talks about the phenomenon in general, while the Post is more specific.

It’s possible that the AI software that generates imagery will get better. But for now, those guides are helpful in spotting fakes.

(Image from the Verge. It is highlighting things to look for: weird hands, illegibility, odd shadows.)

I started tracking a group of users to see if Twitter usage was declining and twitter was dying… I was surprised by what I found

Like many people, I thought twitter usage was going to decline in 2023 due to all of the shenanigans of Elon Musk. While it seemed like usage was dropping off, I wanted to take some measurements to be certain.

To measure usage, I started by creating a list called good_twitter. It contained 98 accounts. I figured if the users on this list stopped tweeting, I would stop too. Then I wrote some python code to call twitter’s API and count the number of times each person on the list tweeted. I started counting at the beginning of January.

My first thought was that people would tweet less and less each day. However, as you can see from this chart below, on average the people on my list tweet around 250 times / day. Some days it’s over 350, some days it drops to around 150. (And one day my program died and I only counted 50. :)) So people are not tweeting less as time goes by.

My second thought was that some people were dropping off, but other people on the list were tweeting more, and hence the total amount of tweets was not dropping. To measure this, I counted how many people on my list tweeted once or more per day.  The chart below shows approximately 50% of the 98 people on the list tweet at least once a day.

Given these two results, my final thought is that people are not giving up on twitter, even with all the problems we all have with it. I found that surprising. I expected a big decline initially. Then I expected a gradual decline. I don’t see either.

I don’t know why only 50% of users in the good_twitter list tweet while the other 50% does not. I am sure some people have quit twitter. But the hard core — like me — seem to be sticking around.

P.S. A fascinating byproduct of this study is how individuals tweet. I would have thought everyone uses twitter the same way. Wrong! Look at this chart below:

It turns out most people on my good_twitter list (and me) tweet/retweet 0-10 times a day. We are all part of the Long Tail to the right.

However there are two other types of people on the short end of the tail to the left. There are power users who tweet/retweet between 20-50 times a day every day. And there are a number of super users who tweet/retweet 50-100 times a day. (Power and super users are my nicknames.)

Some of the power users are obvious: they are mainly news and government accounts. Less obvious ones tend to be activists. They use twitter as a soapbox, pulpit, what have you. I have a few super users I follow: Shawn Micallef, Anthony DeRosa,  Deray and a couple more. For power and super  users,  retweets make up most of that content.

All that said, it’s been an interesting experiment, but I am not sure if I will continue to track usage. It may not be up to me: I expect Musk and company will turn off my free access to the API, and that will be that. And I am satisfied with my final thought that usage is staying constant for now.

Like any study, YMMV. But besides my good_twitter list, I also measured a few of my shorter lists and I found roughly the same result: at least half of the people on the shorter lists tweeted once a day.

Who knows how to clean an oven? Southerners do

Let me back that up: the Southerners of Southern Living do. They have oven cleaning tips here and here and specific tips on how to clean your oven door, here and how to clean oven racks, here.

Cleaning ovens may be a regular activity for some of you. Bless your heart. For the rest of us, it’s a good thing to do during spring cleaning. If you are like me and haven’t a clue how to start, check those articles out.

P.S. Southern Living has lots of advice on cleaning and more. Recommended.

(Image via a link to Southern Living.)

Remember the billionaire space race?

Remember the billionaire space race? In case you forgot:

The billionaire space race is the rivalry among entrepreneurs who have entered the space industry from other industries – particularly computing. This private industry space race of the 21st century involves sending rockets to the ionosphere (mesosphere and thermosphere), orbital launch rockets, and suborbital tourist spaceflights. Today, the billionaire space race is primarily between three billionaires and their respective firms: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which is seeking to establish an industrial base in space.Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (through Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit), which seeks to dominate space tourism, low-cost small orbital launch vehicles, and intercontinental sub-orbital spaceflight. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which seeks to colonize Mars as well as provide satellite-based internet through its Starlink project.

Well it seems one of the billionaires is bowing out. Branson’s is slashing 85% of his workforce at Virgin Orbit and it seems it is ceasing operation for the foreseeable future. Virgin Orbit has exploded in space…crashed to earth…pick your metaphor.

In some ways the billionaire space race was peak billionaire. I suspect Jeff Bezos was looking for something to do and saw Musk as a challenge, Musk was still somewhat respected and the leader, and Branson was….well, just being Branson.

Now it’s down to two. I was always happy for Musk’s SpaceX forcing NASA to change for the better. In my mind, the more missions to space, the better. But the folly of Branson was due to end. And now it has.