Tag Archives: essays

On TV, the 90s and me


I stopped watching TV in the 90s.  The last three TV series I watched were Northern Exposure (1990-1995), Seinfeld (1989-1998) and Friends (1994-2004).

I thought of that when I recently started rewatching Friends clips weirdly via Instagram. It is full of them. This Vanity Fair piece hits on something that Seinfeld and Friends and to some degree Northern Exposure had in common:

It was the ’90s; oh, was it ever the ’90s. The show’s anxieties are inextricably tied to the that decade—answering machines, VCRs, the discomfort its straight characters feel upon encountering queer people.

Yep, all that. The discomfort (or whatever you want to call it) in Friends is particularly painful to watch.

You notice other things too. No smart phones (obviously). No internet. Also suits and ties. Chandler and Ross in the early episodes are often in business attire of the time and it seems as dated as tuxedos and top hats now.

In the end, I gave up on each of those shows for different reasons. Northern Exposure lost its bearing and became some sort of Alaskan fantasy land. Friends seemed to become a landing place for cameos of famous actors. As for Seinfeld, I have to agree with the Vanity Fair piece, who said:

… for more than a few episodes at a time, these people and their concerns—so self-absorbed, so entitled, so stupid—are a little deadening to watch.

Seinfeld’s leads are a tiresome quartet; in the show, everyone who meets them ends up deeply regretting it.

I skipped the golden age of TV with the Wire and the Sopranos and all that. None of it appealed to me. I’m trying to get back into watching things via streaming, but even that is a struggle. I don’t think I am superior for not watching it. I just find it is something I can’t watch on my own.

For now I’ll watch clips via Instagram and maybe that is enough TV for me. 🙂

On the things parents tell their kids and the things kids remember

Vihos Sweets

This is a picture of a street in downtown Glace Bay. Next to the Dominion is a small place called Vihos Sweets. It didn’t exist when I was growing up, but it did when my mom was a teen. She worked there for a time, and she occasionally talked about it.

Though she didn’t talk about it a lot, it stuck in my mind and I often thought about it. I don’t know why. Maybe I liked the sound of it. Maybe the way she described it made it seem special. Perhaps I was trying to imagine having my own job someday. I am not sure.

I wonder of the many things I’ve told my kids what they remember. You hope that the big lessons you try and impart to your kids are the things that stick. But often times it is the little things. Things like the name of a place you worked at for a short time when you were younger.

Try and be comfortable with the notion that  you have less control than you think.  You can only live and speak as best as you can, and hope that is enough to send them in the right direction. They may recall the important things you passed on. They may recall something you said in passing. They are their own person, and they will absorb and recall what they need.

(Image via http://capermemories.blogspot.com/)

 

How I track my goals and my year using spreadsheets: my 2021 review. (Maybe you can steal this approach)

I’ve used a number of ways to track my goals and my year, and I have found spreadsheets the best way to do it.

Below are snapshots of the two worksheets I used in my spreadsheet. The first image is the worksheet I use for the goals I have regarding my responsibility for people and other things. The second image is the worksheet I use for the goals I have regarding myself. Each row is a week in the year. If I did nothing to advance the goal that week, I colour the cell red. If I did something but fell short, I use yellow. If I had a good week, the cell is green, and if I had a great week the cell is purple.

What’s nice about using colour like this is that I can zoom out and see how I am progressing over the year.

In the first two columns above I track how much I do for my son and daughter. Pretty good there. The next column is what I do for my brother and sister: I started weak but picked up throughout the year. It was good, and better than last year, but it can be better still. Next column is for keeping in touch with friends. It’s tough in a pandemic but I could email and use social media. The last three columns are my home, my finances, and my involvement in politics.  I was much better with political engagement last year: this year the pandemic wore me down. Likewise I did ok managing my home and finances this year but it could be better. All in all too much red and yellow in those last 2 columns. (Part of the problem is I find them thankless tasks that provide little or no good feedback.)

After my responsibility to others,  my goals are managing myself. I found I did poorly on the hard parts of this but better on the soft parts. lol! The first two columns above are fitness (do more exercising) and reading (do more reading). I get a D to an F grade for much of the year there. The third column tracks how much I draw and do other art. Again, D or maybe a C-. I did well writing (column 4): I wrote every week in my main blog, and sometimes elsewhere.  After that comes column 5 and IT skills development: I got maybe a B- there. Often that takes a backseat to other things. In terms of cooking (column 6) that was easy in a pandemic! I did a lot of cooking and cooked hundreds of different recipes. (I track all the meals separately because I am a nut.)

For a long time I felt homebound and never did things for myself, so I tried to improve that and make them goals. So the last three columns are Treats, Restaurants I’ve tried, and new and good things I have done. Mostly I’ve done well there, compared to reading and fitness. Sigh. Ah well. (Those are easy to do, since the feedback you get once you do them is really good.)

The colour coding is subjective, of course, and in a pandemic the bar to green and purple is lower. But as a consultant, I quite like this way of tracking my goals.

Now I have a lot of goals, I admit. One thing nice about that is that I usually feel like I am accomplishing something. So if I am not getting in shape, at least I am keeping in touch with people and taking care of other things.

I also don’t track everything in a spreadsheet: I have some goals I track elsewhere, for example for some relationships and responsibilities. Likewise I sometimes have goals that are in a limited time window of weeks instead of months: they don’t go here.

It may seem like a lot to track, but I find I spent a few minutes each day then I can get it done. Plus I can course correct this way too and shift my priorities around.

If you struggle with goals and tracking them and moving forward, I recommend this approach. It’s fast and painless.

Here’s to achieving your goals, small and big, in 2022.

On de Klerk and Hume (and Cromwell too)

Cromwell
FW de Klerk died last week. While there were many reactions to his death, I thought this one was best. His legacy is complicated. But he has a legacy that is complicated and not one that is simply horrible because of the bold actions he took. I had thoughts on de Klerk, but that piece is better than anything I could have written.

I’d argue that almost everyone’s legacy is complicated. I especially thought that after reading about how David Hume’s tower was renamed last year. I suspect that eventually the only things that will be named after people will be for people whose lives we no longer care about. But who knows? As I wrote earlier, the naming of things (and the removal of names) is about power and eventually those newly in power want to name their things so they become their own.

Perhaps we should not erect memorials at all. Perhaps we all need to be iconoclastic. If we do cast new ones, then the memorials we erect of people need to include the “warts and all” aspects of them. Make the memorials a lesson instead of an icon to worship.

One thing I want to add on de Klerk is that when I was younger, I never thought that the Soviet Union, Apartheid, or the Troubles in Ireland would end in my lifetime. For every de Klerk there was a Paisley in Northern Ireland who would fight tooth and nail to prevent change from happening. But it did happen, because of people like Gorbachev, de Klerk and Mandela, Trimble and Hume. They should be acknowledged for the good they did.

(Image from a story on the painter who painted Cromwell, warts and all: Samuel Cooper)

 

On capitalism, environmentalism and architecture, and the need to vacate, retreat and celebrate holidays

Last week there was much discussion about a dorm being sponsored by Charlie Munger for UCSB, which resulted in resignations among other things. Here is an example of the floor plan:

The big point of contention was the lack of windows for the bedrooms. Munger, who has been dictating the design, said it was more important that students have their own room than windows. I agree that having your own room is very important. My son is attending my alma mater and unlike me he has his own room in his first year and I applaud this. But he also has a window. It doesn’t have to be an either / or situation. We need both.

I’ve been thinking about this situation and I think in some ways many people who talk about urban housing have all become like Charlie Munger. In discussions they have, the living space of people living in cities gets smaller and smaller. Sure there are windows, but they are little windows looking out on little else. They are nothing like this:

And why is that? It’s because we assume we cannot afford it. Capitalism says people cannot live this way. Environmentalists often support that, saying dense cities with dense buildings are greener than suburbs or single dwellings.

Most of us, me included,  assume that has to be the way it is. We don’t ask ourselves is that a good way for us to live constantly I think that is key. I love living in cities for the most part, but I think we all need to get away from them and have a good place to get away to.

Vacation and holiday have had their meaning diluted  over time. Many would consider a retreat something we do because of a breakdown in our lives. I think we need to reconsider this. From time to time we need to vacate our current environment. We need to have holidays where we celebrate our spirituality and our connection to a greater purpose. We need to retreat from the day to day and restore ourselves.

I love where I live, but I would love to be able to go to this place from time to time. To vacate my current life and retreat to this place and celebrate a holiday.

Is it affordable? Well, there is a cost each of us bears for living in small spaces right up against each other all the time. The pandemic is just one of many costs that have resulted in this. But we suffer the cost in other ways in terms of mental health and much more. We need to revisit these costs and determine a better way to understand what we can afford. We need to live better. We need our space and our windows.

For more on the cabin shown here, see this: This prefabricated cabin is a holiday retreat that balances a rustic personality with modern details! – Yanko Design

On places loved and lost: the Canada Square Cinema


I’m sad to see that the pandemic has claimed another victim: the Canada Square Cinema at Yonge and Eglinton. I’ve been going there since it opened in the 80s, and especially so since I moved into the neighborhood in this century.

It’s always been a lovely theatre. One thing I loved about it was how little it changed over the years. Those gray panels on the wall, that red carpet, the cup holders from eye weekly: it was like going into a time machine every time I went there. While it was frozen in time, it was well kept up. It showed good movies. (The last film I saw there was “Parasite”.) It had decent crowds. It was great to see films that had been out for awhile but missed. (It was almost like a rep theatre in that way).

Still, with so many theatres closing over the years, I was expecting it to close too. Instead it was recently upgraded. I thought: great! I will have the luxury of having two big theatre complexes in my area. Then the pandemic hit.

I’m sad to see it go, but happy for all the good movies and good times I had going to it. Go see some movies in theatres as soon as you can. We still need that experience, and we need those theatres. May the theatres that you love last for a long time.

P.S. For more on the theatre, go see BlogTO’s write up, here.

 

On growing up with Dr. Suess

As a kid in the 60s I grew up reading Dr. Seuss. You could still get “Dick and Jane” books at the time, and let me tell you, the difference between them was stark. Reading Dick and Jane was drudgery. Reading Dr. Seuss was fun,and I associated reading with fun because of him.

Last year there was a big controversy about him that lead to six of his books being pulled from print. Dr. Seuss Enterprises said they did because these books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Fair enough. Some of the images like those above from  “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” are terrible in my opinion.  I don’t think there is much lost in that book being pulled from print. I would pause for one of those books though. The imagery from “Scrambled Eggs Super” seems vaguely offensive in my mind but it echoes more offensive imagery from other books depicting Arabs and Eskimos, so I am not surprised it went. I am disappointed: I loved that book. But that’s just me. It’s not hard to see the imagery as stereotypical, if not as negative as some of the others.

Thinking about Dr. Seuss and his imagery is difficult. At times blatantly racist (especially early in his career) and other times strongly progressive (later). Because of the former I can see why many educators and others would like to see him gone. I suspect his influence will wane over time and educators and parents will shift to newer books with representations that better reflect their values. Maybe someday we won’t even see the Grinch any more at Christmas.

That said, I am happy I grew up with Dr. Seuss books and read the ones I did. I am glad I read the ones I did to my kids too. (None of which were among the six.)  His books were very helpful in teaching me and others the joy of reading. I hope the books that come to replace his do the same.

For more on this topic, it’s easy to find links to the controversy on the Internet. Here are some of the pieces I’ve collected:

On not forgetting George W Bush

I was reading this analysis of a recent speech by George W. Bush (‘The Nation I Know,’ by George W. Bush – by James Fallows – Breaking the News) and it got me thinking about him again.

It’s easy to forget about Bush. Most Republicans act like they have. Many Democrats too. While reviled towards the end of his presidency — so much so that he was shunned by his party at their conventions — there are people who still think positively of him (For example, Michelle Obama Explains Her and George W. Bush’s Candy Exchange and Friendship).

But no one should forget about Bush and all  the terrible things done during his presidency, from torture to war. To see what I mean, read this: The Legacy of America’s Post-9/11 Turn to Torture – The New York Times. While some in America would like to forget all that and think better of him, much of the world likely thinks like this: George W Bush should shut up and go away | US & Canada | Al Jazeera. Even there, the idea is to dismiss him and forget about him.

Perhaps Bush is a genial and charming man. But he will also be the man that brought the United States and the World to a worse place. That should not be forgotten.

(Image above: Official White House photo by Pete Souza – https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/4291602492/ (direct link))

On restaurants loved and lost: Cafe Cancan


I can’t remember how I came across Cafe Cancan on Harbord Street, Toronto, but once I did, I couldn’t wait to go back. I love French food, and their menu was full on French. They had classic dishes, but there were also innovative ways of cooking that felt both new and traditional at the same time. I wanted it all.

One of the things great about Cancan was their prix fixe. It was reasonably priced and extensive. You’d order and sit back while the servers brought out dish after dish of delicious food. Even better were all the extras. You might believe you would get five dishes with the prix fixe and you would end up with 7 or 8. Plus you would get an amuse bouche when you sat down and once while settled in at the bar they brought me a little additional sweet at the end of the meal. I felt pampered everytime.

The restaurant itself was a gem. The tables were fine, but it was equally fun to sit at the bar. What was especially great was sitting on the back patio during the warmer months. Whenever I was sitting there I wanted to stay all night.

The wine was always good, and they had Tawse rose on tap for cheap. Oysters were plentiful too, but even here they would come up with innovative mignonettes to make them extra special.

Sadly the pandemic hit it hard, as it hit other restaurants. In the first summer they opened but the menu was very different. Now they are gone.

It seems like a new place that is going to open that is related to Piano Piano. I am sure it is going to be good. But I am going to really miss that lovely pastel French restaurant on Harbord. I had so many lovely meals with lovely people on one of my favorite streets of this city of mine.

(Images from the articles in BlogTo linked to here).

On restaurants loved and lost: Florent (and Odeon)

Here are a number of pieces on two great downtown Manhattan restaurants: Florent and Odeon. Florent has been closed for a number of years. But Odeon lives on, happily. What I love about both restaurants is how the embodied that era and how they both set a stage. You can see that in the pieces below about them. Florent in particular was a radical place that was like no other, right down to their menus and promotional material (like the one above).

When they both opened the lower part of Manhattan had nothing like them. There was no gentrification down there like there is now. They were an oasis of good food, good design, and good times.

To really get a sense of that, read Restaurant Florent Takes Its Final Bows – The New York Times.

For more on the design ideas around Florent, see: Restaurant Florent | Restaurant Design in New York, NY — Memo Productions

A short history of the space Florent occupied is written about here: What remains of a Gansevoort Street restaurant | Ephemeral New York

Lastly, here is it’s Wikipedia write-up: Florent (restaurant). It’s a good source of other links on the place.

Before I forget, this is a fun piece on The Odeon: A Retro Haven That Defined New York 1980s Nightlife | Vanity Fair.

Also worth reading. Now go and eat at The Odeon.

 

On prisons and prisoners and how things can be improved

Here are three pieces on prison and incarceration that I thought were worth reading:

  1. Here’s some technology to help identify discrepancies in prison sentencing based on race.
  2. Here’s how California jails take a kinder and better approach.
  3. Here’s how artists teamed with prisoners to transform their prison.

(Image linked to in the third piece)

On progress: may you live in average times that are getting better in many ways


Matthew Yglesias wrote this piece here and it did not go over too well: The case against crisis-mongering. I mainly agree with him, that our world problems, dire as they are, aren’t as exceptional as we may think. Or as Dan G put it on twitter:

What Dan states is my worldview as well. There are still many bad things in the world, but there is progress and things are getting better.  We have overcome problems in the past and we have the ability to fix things in the future. Plus the past was terrible in many ways and so much worse than now (and our times will look terrible to people in the future).

If you disagree with this, I strongly recommend two books:

  1. Factfulness
  2. Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future

They make the case stronger than I can for how the world is getting better and how we should be optimistic despite our difficulties.

People will say: what about global warming? The pandemic? Nuclear weapons? All I can say is read Matt’s piece and then read those books. I think that will help alot.

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash )

 

 

 

Is math political? Does it need to be? A few thoughts

You would think so, if you read this: Sneering at Ontario’s anti-racist math curriculum reveals a straight line to what people value in The Star

What has the columnist angry was the removal of several passages of progressive political text that went with the update to the recent changes of the math curriculum. I can see why that removal would anger some people with progressive political values.

I can also imagine how many conservatives would have been angry if there was text like this removed from a new curriculum: “recognize the ways in which mathematics can be used as a tool to uncover, explore, analyse, and promote actions to address greater productivity and growth within our economy and to lead Canada to a strong future of wealth and opportunity”, or if the government removed anything to do with teachers creating “pro-capitalist and pro-business teaching and learning opportunities.” Any group that tries to explicitly frame a curriculum and then have that framing removed will be upset.

Mathematics itself is not political, but it is always taught within a political and historical context. For example, I have math texts that make it seem that the only worthwhile math came from European men, while I have others that show mathematics has roots all over the world. I have math textbooks that mention 0 women, while other texts show the role women have played in mathematics and delve into why women had a hard time making more of a contribution.

Whatever context you want to frame a curriculum, I think that emphasizing politics and history with regards to teaching mathematics will not achieve some of the goals that progressive thinkers hope it will achieve. I think the new changes in the curriculum with regards to things such as streaming will help achieve those goals, as I wrote here.

Additionally, I think there are other things that can be done outside the curriculum that could help students that are disadvantaged when it comes to education in math. I am thinking of the work done by organizations like BlackGirlsCode. We could use more organizations like that who can provide specialized programs not just to help kids who are struggling with math, but to uplift kids that excel in math. Organizations that can support the next Maryam Mirzakhani, wherever she is. The kids who are struggling with math need more help than what the schools can provide: the same is true for kids that excel in math.

(Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash)

Two good pieces for those of us getting older (with some additional thoughts from me).

People runningHere’s two worthwhile pieces on growing old:

This, Fighting against ageism and this, Aging is inevitable, so why not do it joyfully? Here’s how.

How we see growing old is a cultural thing. When I first went to pick out a photo, I decided on the first one of the man running. Because I am a product of my culture, as they say. I see being fit and young and productive as valuable.  Especially in our culture, being able to produce is highly valued. That’s why ageism occurs. If you show signs of age, people assume you will produce less. So your value decreases to them.

Then I saw the picture below. In other cultures, being able to sit and converse with your friends is valuable. These people are not being productive. They are not trying to look young. They are being social. They are being human.

Old people talking

I think we have problems in our society because for many the chief purpose of humans is to produce, to be productive. As long as that is true, we will have problems with ageism. True, we need times of our life to be productive, but we also need times for growth, times for rest and reflection. To combine all those times effectively is to live a good life. A life where all humans at all times of their lives are valued.

(First Photo by Lisa Wall on Unsplash. Second Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash )

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: a case study as to why results are never monocausal

Dominoes

People like to think outcomes, especially political or social outcomes, are monocausal. They’ll say: Y happened because X occurred.

I think that is rarely true. At best, X could be the main contributor as to why Y occurred. But it is never the only contributor. Often it is not even possible to determine which cause made the most difference. Most outcomes are not monocausal.

A good case study for this can be found in this essay on Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic – by Noah Smith.People will often say the main contributor to Haiti’s poverty was French colonialism or American intervention. Smith makes the case there are many factors that contributed to the significant differences between the two nations and it is not easy or even possible to single out one cause.

The next time someone tries to argue for single causes, look deeper. You’ll like find at least a half different other factors that contributed. People who can highlight multiple causes for an event understand the event better.

(Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash )

On my study of history in school and out of school

In the United States and Canada recently, there have been terrible events that have driven people to ask: why didn’t we learn about XYZ in school? Tom Hanks devotes an article to this line of thinking in the New York Times, here.

I just have a few things to say about that, based on my own education in history, the education of my kids, and the education I gave to myself post high school.

In Canada there was a big discussion about the Residential School System and why did we not learn about it. I didn’t, and my kids didn’t, I don’t think. What I did learn when I was younger was different aspects of history for each year I was in grade school. In the earlier grades, we studied Nova Scotian history, British history, and Canadian history. We studied ancient world history and then history of the second millenium. We did study indigenous people at the time when the focus was on North America. (As well, we studied Mi’kmaq religion in grade 7, which was interesting). Indigenous people were not invisible in the lessons, and their role was significant at times. That said, the lessons were mainly Eurocentric and mainly focused on major events like wars and politics, though.

I noticed a shift in this when my kids were studying history in grades 7 and 8. There were lessons on injustices in Canada, especially when it came to racist events such as the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II. I thought that was a good improvement in the study of Canadian history.

Of course what facts are taught in history, and what are not, changes all the time. This will depend on many factors, from school administrators, teachers, parents, and others. Even what books are available matters. I hope and expect that Canadian history will be taught in a less Eurocentric way, and that Indigenous and people of non-European origin will get more focus. Also important would be more focus given to the role of women in history. That would be a change for the better.

I think it is important to acknowledge, though, that the point of history classes in school is not just to teach facts. For example my kids were learning not just about Canadian history, they were learning how to think about history. That makes a great deal of sense (though learning the facts is good too).

I can say this because I actually stopped studying  history as soon as I could in high school, and I think that is a shame. I found grade 10 history boring, and there were alternative classes that were more interesting in the next two years, classes I took instead. I made up for that later by reading history copiously starting in my late 20s, thanks to encouragement from my brother. By reading people like AJP Taylor, not only did I learn about history, I learned how historical writing could be criticized. I also learned from Taylor how history could be presented in a way different than more mainstream historical writing. I was studying history again. Thinking about it. Thinking about the arguments historians made. Agreeing and disagreeing with historians. Getting to recognize good history from not so good history, at least in a limited way.

I think knowing how to think about history is as important as ever. We are being confronted with our past and the past of others all the time. By being able to think critically of those times, we can better understand our past, our current era, and even ourselves.

P.S. If you want to understand more about how to history is taught, at least in Ontario, see this.

(Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash)

On how you are in terrible times

I’ve been thinking about the terrible times we live in a how it affects us. When life is easy /not difficult, it is relative easy to be good. That’s normal, and by normal I mean like the vast majority of people. However as life gets more and more difficult, some people don’t change their behaviour and manage to stay the same. Those people are saints (1a). What about the rest of us: does that mean we are monsters? I’d argue that as life becomes much harder (1b) our behaviour tends to become terrible too. That doesn’t make us monsters: that makes us….normal still. Most of use are fairly elastic and as things become easier we slide back (2b) to being good. A few though end up staying terrible (2a). The hard times affect them in a way that doesn’t allow them to behave the way most people do when times are good and easy. We end up as seeing them more like monsters. We may avoid them but we should also have pity.

It’s hard to tell the saints in good times: they seem normal too. It’s only when difficult times occur do they stand out. Likewise it’s hard to know if people are monsters in difficult times because everyone seems to be not their best. It’s also hard to know if monstrous people have always been that way or if the times shaped them so.

Have some pity and understanding on all during difficult times: saints, monsters and the rest. We are all struggling to deal with what life throws at us.

On restaurants loved and lost: Harvey’s on Bloor Street in Toronto

Can you be abandoned by a restaurant? If it is me, it’s the Harvey’s that was on Bloor in the 1980s.  I used to go there and get my favourite, a charbroiled chicken sandwich with mayo and pickle on the side. (Still my favourite thing to get at Harvey’s). I loved sitting in the front window and look over U of T’s Varsity Field.  When I was in my 20s I used to joke with my gf that when I was in my 60s I would still be coming here and eating the same sandwich and sitting in the same spot.

Times change and streets change, especially in Toronto. That area is now filled with condos. It’s nice and I still like the area, but I miss that Harvey’s. I’m much closer to my 60s than my 20s and I would love to be able to fulfill the need. Guess I will have to go to Okonomi House instead. 🙂

(Image via a link to this good piece on the History of Toronto’s Swiss Chalet (also in the image above, from the blog Historic Toronto)

P.S. Okonomi House is the same as it was in the 1980s. I hope it never closes. Click on the link and order from it if you can.

On restaurants loved and lost: Brothers

Brothers Restaurant Toronto

It’s Valentine’s Day, a good day to write a love letter to one of my favorite restaurants of all time, Brothers.

Brothers is a restaurant that should not have worked. Crowded between the entrance of the Bay Street subway and a downtown mall, there was barely room for anyone. One table in the window, a midsized bar, and a few tables in the back. Amongst all that a kitchen the size of a big closet nestled in a corner. It should not have worked, but in the short time it was around, it worked wonderfully.

You realized it was special when you first walked in, and I walked in often. I worked nearby, and whenever I needed a treat, I would wander over and sit at the bar and have lunch. I went so often that Chris who ran the front of place would warmly greet me after a time. (Later, as the place became extremely popular, Chris would sadly greet me after a time to tell me there was no room. It got so bad — for me, not them —  that I ended up scheduling lunch at 2ish just in the hopes of  getting a spot.)

While the service, atmosphere, and location were all great, what had me come back again and again was the food. The food was superb. I would take the hearty bread they offered and wipe down the plate to get every bit of it. The cooking was precise, simple and stellar. I loved to get something like sausage served with beans or vegetables and accompanied by a well chosen sauce. I’d take my time to slowly eat it, trying to appreciate and understand why it was so good. It was as much a cerebral as it was a sensory experience.

I would ask Chris about their tomato sauce or their green sauce, and he would tell me how they experimented with the amount of dairy or herb or whatever ingredient was in it to make the dish just right. And just right it was.

Most of the time I would get their sausage dish. The meat would change in the sausage, but it was always expertly balanced with seasoning. At first they may have been traditionally shaped, but later they were puck shaped. I loved that, and I loved them.

Sausage was not the only thing they excelled at. Pastas were always handmade, cooked to just the right texture, then served with a sauce better than any pasta sauce I ever had. Carpaccio was thin slices of whatever was appropriate for the season and accompanied with a light, lively dressing. The beef carpaccio was one of my favorite. They once said they could teach anyone to make it, but I doubt that. Fish, salad, dessert: whatever they made, they made well, listed it on their minimal menus, and I was happy and lucky to have it.

Brothers wasn’t around long, and in the time it was around, it lived three lives. The first was before the New York Times wrote about it, the second was after that article, and the third was the pandemic. Before the Times article, it was not too hard to get a seat there. They didn’t even take reservations. After the Times article, it was very hard to get in. There were weeks when I could not get a spot at the bar.  It got so busy they went with a reservation system. It slowed down a bit, but it was always popular.

Until the pandemic occurred. That was their last life. They tried to pivot to take out, and I did a curbside pickup of a wonderful meal from them. In the end they decided they didn’t want to be that kind of place and closed it down.

Lots of places have gone due to the pandemic. Some of them would have gone regardless. Not Brothers. If there was no pandemic, I am sure it would still be running, still sliding plates of that chewy soft bread and warm mixed olives and perfectly cooked food for me and you to delight in. I am going to miss many places because of the pandemic, but I think I will miss Brothers most of all.

(From more on it, see the New York Times article, or this blogTO piece. Images from the blogTO piece.

Check out their old web site. It’s simple but smart, just the way it used to be.

Finally this Google link will show you a wealth of photos for the place.)

 

On restaurants loved and lost: the Boulevard Cafe

On Harbord Street in the 1980s I fell in love with the Boulevard Cafe. My life was just starting, and my girlfriend and I were living just up the street from it, on Brunswick Avenue. We would stroll down and line up with the other people in the area for the wonderful Peruvian style food they had there.

It was the first time I learned to love fish. I come from Nova Scotia, but the fish was prepared terribly when I was growing up. Plus fish was associated with poor people food, unlike all the packaged food I wanted. I hated it.

Or I did until I had the Boulevard’s sea bass. (Sea bass was big in the 80s.) They would gently cook it and serve it with a perfect combo of delicious salad and fragrant rice.  I was instantly transformed into a fish lover after that first meal. Many a fish meal I had after that, and all were great.

And their soups. Their soups were incredible. I once had a garlic soup there that was so good that I still recall it decades later. It was simple, and yet I have often had garlic soup elsewhere and it never compared. They had many great dishes there, but the soup and the fish kept me coming back.

When we first started going, it was popular but not too busy. There was seating on both floors, and half of the upstairs was just a seating area where you could sip your drink and enjoy their  fireplace. I remember one night we were sitting there next to the fire, looking out over Harbord Street as a nice snowfall floated down covering everything. I could have stayed all night.

Later on the word got out and it got busier. The lovely seating area was replaced with more tables. The patio area in the summer was jammed with everyone enjoying the wonderful flavours that came out of the small kitchen in the back.

I was shocked to be riding my bicycle across Harbord Street a few summers ago and seeing it all closed up. It was then I took those photos. It was so good, I thought it would last forever. I stood there for quite awhile and remembered all the wonderful times of my youth sitting outside under the awning and living the good life with great friends and great food. I am lucky to have had such a time.

(In the top photo you can see the chimney where the fireplace was. In the bottom photo you can see the main doors that led to the dining room on the lower floor. The bulletin board would list all the specials. There would be tables put in front of the benches, and you either sat on the benches or chairs opposite. In the evening the lights would come on and it would seem magical.)

P.S. Over at Zomato there is still a copy of the menu and some other photos.

 

On the paths you get to choose in life


There are two sets of paths you take in life: those you choose, and those chosen for you. We comfort ourselves by thinking we have many opportunities to choose the right path, but often the right path is taken away from us, either directly by others, or indirectly through our circumstances. We also comfort ourselves by thinking we can influence others to take the right path by pointing out what is obviously the right way to go. Then we are surprised and saddened when they chose the wrong path.

All of that is a way of introducing these two articles on Terry Naugle. The first one is about him being sentenced to 15 years in jail at the age of 62. The next one is about him dying in prison a year later.

I don’t have anything more to add to this man’s life and death. It seems from a The paths available to him from a very early ages were the wrong ones. Later on he could have chose better paths, but it seems he could not make it over to them. His story made me think about how a good life can move away from us given the paths before us.

(Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash)

How to improve and get better by using taboos and your dark side


How to improve and get better by using taboos and your dark side seems like a contradiction. But sometimes using your dark side can be just the thing you need to improve.

Now this can be harder to do than you might suppose. Our culture (from Faust to Star Wars) says appealing to the dark side leads to your ruin. This can cause you to not want to do this. But anger (against injustice), pride (in becoming the best), gluttony (for hard work) and lust/vanity (to self improve) can sometimes motive you and drive you much better than love and happiness can.  Sure, excessive vices can destroy you, I agree. But vices well harnessed and in moderation might get you through the difficult days of changing and help get you to the other side.

To see a good example of what I mean, read this: A Spiteful Guide to Self-Improvement.

You may not have an enemies or rivals or arch enemies. Fine. Invent some. Then go out and take them on and in the process become a better person. Then be magnanimous and graceful in your victory. There: now you are a better person and a good one too.

(Image by Gustave DoréJacob Wrestling with the Angel (1855) from wikipedia)

On blogging/writing online in 2020 (how I write now)


In 2020, blogging is back. At least blogging as newsletters. Think Substack and all the people flocking to there. Blogging on WordPress (or Blogger or Tumblr or other blogging platforms) is not as hot but still going strong.

That’s good. I am a fan of more writing and better writing, whether it comes in blog form or newsletter form. Bring it on.

I continue to write here as I have been for some time.  I’ve written a number of pieces on blogging over the last decade; this piece will join that.

I’ll likely to continue writing here until I get 1,000,000 hits (currently at 976,745 hits) but given the limited readership, that may never happen. I’ll keep writing, regardless. We all need goals, and the million hits is one of mine.

Currently I sit down every Saturday morning and review interesting things I’ve found on the Internet and saved in Pocket. I have over 1000 things still in Pocket, not to mention a spreadsheet of old links that were noteworthy. There’s always something of interest to write about. Plus the Internet never stops being interesting.

I usually take 3-4 hours to write about these things. Then I schedule them to be posted throughout the week. My thinking is that this is more likely to bring a wider readership to them. My SEO skills are limited, but this is my thinking.

I enjoy this writing time. I grab some breakfast and a coffee and craft the posts. I grab images from Unsplash.com to illustrate the posts. It’s a hobby and something I enjoy doing. I love doing it. I’m an amateur writer and thinker.

I try and mix up the posts for readers. Something on Monday to help you get your week started. Something fun on Friday. Something to make your weekend better on Saturday. Perhaps a more thoughtful post on Sunday.

As always I think: would someone reading this get any benefit? Much of my posts are advice, but in areas I am interested in. I want to share things of interest to me but that will also interest others.

Once a month I go back over posts from other years. Today I will go back over the December posts. It’s fascinating to see what was interesting to me in other years.

Whenever I am lost for what my audience is, I think: would someone in my family want to read this? Or one or more of my friends? Once I have that one reader, I can write to them. Many of my posts are letters to people that may not realize it.

Since the pandemic, I have started a newsletter within the blog. I haven’t broken it out into its separate media. Just like I never moved to Tumblr or Medium or took up podcasts. This blog is sufficient for what I want to communicate and record.

I have a few other blogs on WordPress: one on cooking that I enjoy writing from time to time. A few others that are experimental. I use Instagram still because it is easy, but photography is a very separate and different media.

I’ll continue to write here, writing for smart people I know. I’ve been doing it since before the World Wide Web.  Why stop now?

As always, for those who have read this far:

An appropriate thank you card for this era.

(Coffee Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash. The other image is also from Unsplash but I could not find who to attribute it to)

On being moderately gifted, and the pain and pleasure that brings


This piece by Austin Kleon on being moderately gifted got me re-thinking this idea he discusses.

I say re-thinking because it is something I have thought about since I was a young man. Back then I was getting into  jazz (as one does) and someone told me: the problem with being a jazz musician is your new album is always competing with the albums of Armstrong and Fitzgerald and Davis and Coltrane and Simone. People putting out pop music don’t have to worry about that. It’s tough to be moderately gifted in jazz, I thought, for you are always competing with the best. But in pop music, you are usually competing with the now. There’s more room to get by being moderately gifted. (Especially in the era I grew up when three chords was all you needed.)

If you have a creative spirit but moderate talents, it is easy to get dispirited and put your tools away. You will never be great you say, why bother? But I think the answer comes from looking at pop music. You may never be great, but you can enjoy putting in play whatever talent you do have. Maybe you can only paint flowers, or knit scarfs, or bake brownies. Do it with gusto! Do it like a punk rocker pounding away on his guitar with the 3 chords he knows! You might never be great, but in the moment, you are living large and the audience at the time is loving it. That’s enough. And enough is as good as a feast.

Perhaps you will go on to greatness. Whether you do or not, shine on as brightly as you can. Not all of us can be the sun, but sometimes being a campfire is fine.

On something being ugly but something you’ll miss when it is gone

For me, it’s this bridge which according to BlogTO is going to be demolished:

When I first moved to Toronto in the 80s I lived near this area and used to pass under this bridge all the time. There’s nothing attractive about it, save the murals, which weren’t there when I lived there.

Still, I will miss it when it is gone, ugly or not.

Programming is on a spectrum, or how programming is like running

Programming is on a spectrum.  I have felt for some time. That said, I liked this article by Paul Ford, one of the best writers on IT that I know: ‘Real’ Programming Is an Elitist Myth | WIRED.  His and my thoughts overlap. First, yes you can do real programming/coding with simple tools. Anyone who writes their own HTML, Javascript, simple bash scripts or basic Python scripts is really programming. Heck, I argue that what people do in Microsoft Excel is a form of programming.

If you wanted to step up from small pieces of code, you could get a book like this and write all sorts of useful code. 

 

(That’s a great book, by the way.)

However there is a very wide spectrum for programming, and some people are very advanced in the form of programming they do. That should also be acknowledged. The work I do automating tasks by writing Python scripts is very different than the work done by people writing operating systems or other difficult tasks.

I like to think of it like running. If you run, you are a runner. End of story. If you work at running, you can enter a big race like the New York City Marathon and you will be with a range of runners from the very best in the world to people who will finish many hours later. The first and the last are all marathon runners, and the last are as real a runner as the first.

Same with programming. If you program, you are a programmer. You are as real a programmer as the person writing new code for the Linux operating system. Just like you can always get better as a runner, you can always get better as a programmer. It just depends on what you want to put into it and what you want to get out of it.

If you are feeling bad about reading fewer books, then read this

I’ve been reading less since the pandemic hit. For many reasons. It started to bother me, since the last few years I have been reading dozens of books each year. I felt I was failing. Then I read this: How to Read Fewer Books, from The School of Life.

I whole piece is good, but this part nailed it for me:

In order to ease and simplify our lives, we might dare to ask a very old-fashioned question: what am I reading for? And this time, rather than answering ‘in order to know everything,’ we might parcel off a much more limited, focused and useful goal. We might – for example – decide that while society as a whole may be on a search for total knowledge, all that we really need and want to do is gather knowledge that is going to be useful to us as we lead our own lives. We might decide on a new mantra to guide our reading henceforth: we want to read in order to learn to be content. Nothing less – and nothing more. With this new, far more targeted ambition in mind, much of the pressure to read constantly, copiously and randomly starts to fade. We suddenly have the same option that was once open to St Jerome; we might have only a dozen books on our shelves – and yet feel in no way intellectually undernourished or deprived.

What am I reading for: it’s a great question. I think there are many answers to that. To be content, as that suggests. Or to become an expert in an area. Or to pass the time. All are good answers, depending on your need for reading. If you are feeling bad about reading fewer books, step back and decide what you are reading for. It may help you read in a new and improved way.

(Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash)

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On policing and lack thereof


With the situation in the US concerning police and the use of deadly force, there is much discussion of defunding the police. One argument is that the police can be replaced with other social service workers, as this town did here. Then there is the story of Camden and how they fired all their police, though they did replace them. Some believe that police are unaccountable, and when you try to hold them accountable, they do thinks like this (What Can We Learn From the Chicago Police Department’s API Shutdown?). Or they do pullbacks like this How to Stop a Police Pullback – The Atlantic.

My thoughts, which don’t amount to much, is there is not one answer to deal with problems in police forces. They clearly need to be accountable. They may need to shift some of their responsibilities to other services. This has been done in the past (e.g. the officers who give out parking tickets are different than the ones that make arrests). They also should be paid well: nothing encourage corruption like poorly paid police officers.

Societies need public police forces. I don’t believe the lack of police means things automatically get better. There needs to be some form of organized force that keeps the peace and enforces laws. Otherwise, you will get individuals taking advantage, gangs of organized crime, and private police forces. An unaccountable police force is bad, but no police force is worse.

Finally, here are two good links. This one, which eviscerates the idea that looting is acceptable: There Is No Defense of Looting – The Atlantic. And this one, which highlights the failure in parts of the world to control the criminal organizations forming: El Salvador’s president Bukele cut deals with MS-13 gang in bid to reduce killings, report says – The Washington Post. Mexico has similar problems. Any member of a society that thinks they are immune to this need to ask why they think that.

(Photo by Esri Esri on Unsplash)

On making a mediocre dinner and appreciating mediocrity

I just made a mediocre dinner. You can see it above. It’s not styled in any way. The lighting isn’t great. The ingredients are cheap and basic. The side of mustard looks awful. it’s a pile of food on a plate to feed a hunger.

While it is mediocre, it isn’t bad. The food is fresh. It’s filling. It may not be the most nutritious meal ever but it’s nutritious enough. It killed my hunger and I enjoyed eating it.

While I was making it, and even before, I thought: how should I prepare this so that it will look good enough to share on social media? Should I make a sauce? Chop up some herbs to make it more photogenic? Plate it attractively?

Then I thought: I just want to eat some food that I like that is ok. It’s like a hot dog or a bowl of cereal: it can satisfy a need without being of interest to anyone but the person eating it.

And maybe I need to think more of food that way. I am not a chef or food professional, but the way I share my food photos and think about my meals, you would think I am aspiring to be. I think that aspiration is a problem at times, just as it can be for anyone with aspirations on social media. Maybe it’s time to revisit my relationship with food and my relationship with social media.

Social media can be a force of good. It can let us discover people with talent that we might not otherwise notice. It can help us celebrate the finer things in life. But it can also distort things and get us seeking attention when we don’t really need it. Perhaps a simpler and more basic approach to things outside of social media is better.

Enjoy things for what they are. Understand there is a place and a time for the most basic to the more advanced. Know when it is right to share things and when it is right to just live and be in the moment and then let it go. Those are all imperative sentences that can apply to me. Perhaps they can apply to you as well.

To many people, grey is a dull and boring colour. But for people like me, there is so much to appreciate in the colour grey. Likewise for things mediocre. My meal was mediocre tonight, but it was filling and tasty and nutritious and economical: all things I appreciate. May you appreciate all the grey and mediocre things in your life too.

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Swedish death blogging: on my favorite parts of my blog and more


I have blogged for over 13 years. I have almost 3900 posts, over 964,000s view and over 221,000 visitors. I’ve also made over 200 dollars from ads. 🙂
At one time I had hoped to get over a million views, but at 50 views a day, that is unlikely to happen. When I first started, I wrote blog posts because blogs were new and big in social media. Then I was added as a noteworthy blog on the New York Times Fashion blog list (for bizarre reasons) and I had 10 times the current traffic and I blogged to keep it going. Then that changed and I kept going to practice writing, to share ideas and advice with people, and to journal things that were happening at the time.

But in the back of my mind I had a thought that some day my kids would want to know more about their dad and they might go through my blog the way kids go through our diaries and letters after their parents pass on. To find out what made him tick. What he thought about when he was sitting on the porch those many years.

I realized though that they were never going to go through thousands of posts to find the ones I thought the most of. As a way of ensuring they would at least read some of them, I’ve tagged my favorite ones and put them here: favorites | Smart People I Know

.They are a range in different ways. I can’t say all or even most of them are any good. But of the thousands of posts here, these are among the better ones, I thought. They span the years. Some of them are about me. Others are about things I loved at the time. A few of them are historically interesting.

In a way this is like Swedish Death Cleaning: throwing away most things that you own to simplify things for people who come later.  I don’t plan on going anywhere yet, but I thought I would get started on the process now.

As well, it’s been a way to go through it and say, has any of this been worthwhile? I think I can say, some of it has. If you go through my favorites, you can see so for yourself.

Some ways to tackle inequality if you are an introvert

If you are an introvert and shy away from using your voice or your presence to address inequality, there are still a number of things you can do to improve things. Here’s a starter list for you to consider.

1. Contribute money. Money is power, and giving money to groups that work to combat inequality is a straightforward way to shift power to those having less of it.

2. Vote for candidates working to reduce inequality.

3. Decline positions that reinforce inequality. Do you belong to some organization that fosters inequality? Consider resigning or asking the leaders of the organization to better balance the group so it is more equal.

4. Educate yourself. Find good sources that deal with the inequalities you see and will give you better insight into the problems and how they can be solved.

5. Amplify voices dealing with inequality. If you can, help share the voices of people trying to address inequality so others can hear them.

6. Address your elected officials. Besides voting, you can prod your elected officials to do more to address inequality. Most elected officials are interested to hear what you say and even for an introvert it is not that hard to speak up to them.

7. Educate others. This may be harder for you, but consider ways you can share what you have learned and try and find ways to communicate to others existing inequalities and how they might be addressed.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will start you on your way to help push back against the inequality you see in the world.

On recipes


After the controversy regarding Alison Roman written about here and elsewhere, I started thinking about recipes, where they come from, how I use them, and how I think about them.

A recipe is usually instructions for how to do something. Typically we associated it with food preparation. Recipes list ingredients and steps to prepare the ingredients. They tell you how many people the recipe typically feeds. Sometimes they tell you other things, like nutritional information.

Some recipes are like open source software. You can take a recipe and modify it to make it your own, just like open source software. Other recipes are not open and kept secret, like the formula for certain soft drinks, or the recipe for a certain fried chicken. Some are even patentable (although good luck with that).

Some recipes are associated with regions or cultures. If you think of bouillabaisse,  you think of France. Risotto: Italy. Sushi: Japan. Some recipes and dishes transcend regions and become universal. Dumplings are like that. Noodles too. The same goes for ingredients: you can find basil and oregano in many recipes all over the world, and garlic is about as universal ingredient as any.

Some are associated with certain people, such as Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce. You can claim making tomato sauce with butter and onion and tomatoes is a recipe of yours, but by now it is associated with Marcella Hazan. Likewise with Martha Stewart’s One-Pot Pasta. It’s not like no one has ever made such a dish before, but now we associate them with one particular person.

Alison Roman is a person who has had success with  recipes that became associated with her, namely her chocolate chunk shortbread cookies (” the cookies”) and her chickpea stew (“the Stew”). The Stew in particular got me thinking about recipes and ingredients and how people go about making recipes. For example, if a recipe is based on another recipe, should the author mention that? It likely depends on the publication and other factors. For example, with someone like Deb Perleman, you get a lot of detail about the recipe before she goes into it. Or with Hugh Acheson where he talks about the origin of his catfish stew recipe before proceeding to list the steps and ingredients.

Some people (like me)  prefer recipes with those details; other people just want the recipe. Anyone creating and publishing recipes needs to decide how much detail to include, depending on their audience. In publications like Bon Appetit, there is often space allocated only for the recipe itself. I don’t know what the text was wrapped around this recipe for a  Zingy Red Sauce when it was published, but I assuming it matched the minimum detail found on the web site. Now is this recipe a derivation of a Romesco Sauce (also in Bon Appetit)? Possibly. Likewise this Seafood Stew for Two Recipe  in Bon Appetit.  This stew shares a lot of ingredients with this classic Cioppino Recipe also in  Bon Appetit, but it is also varied enough to consider it to be it’s own recipe.

I think Roman does variations of recipes not infrequently, which aligns with her belief that she won’t ask you to do any more than you have to, while still making it a good dish. So this recipe for Summer Greens with Mustardy Potatoes and Six-Minute Egg Recipe in Bon Appetit is not unlike a stripped down Nicoise salad, but it is not a Nicoise salad despite some commonality. That I think explains the success of her recipes: she takes ingredients and recipes and strips them down somewhat while still making them look good, taste good, and accessible for home cooks to make.

She has not been called out for making recipes with strong European origins. But where she ran into trouble with The Stew is that she seemed to take some ingredients that resembled a curry and had it identified with her. If The Stew associated with her was the seafood stew above or this Fish Stew with Fennel and Baby Potatoes, then she still would have had a problem for the insulting things she said, but it is less likely she would have been criticized with terms like “Columbus Cuisine” and accused of ripping off other cultures and enriching herself at their expense. I don’t believe she does that, but that has been a lively topic of debate with smarter food writers than me.

I don’t think her approach to writing recipes is wrong. I can’t say that recipes  going viral is bad. What I will say is ultimately  it is better if we read from  a diverse range of food writers who can bring not just interesting recipes to publication, but the interesting stories that go with them. I also think it is good when people from different backgrounds can explore the recipes and ingredients of other cultures and make something new with them while acknowledging what the inspiration is. This is much better than remixing an older recipe without attribution. I’d add that acknowledging the origins of an ingredient can’t hurt either. After awhile some of those ingredients may seem universal. Perhaps kimchi will become as common as dill pickles in North American kitchens, and turmeric becomes as frequently used as cumin.

I think publications can do a better job of not just publishing recipes but educating their readers. Likewise, I think sharing, innovating and educating others on food is a great thing, and I hope recipe writers from all background can borrow and improvise and create new dishes. They won’t be quite as eclectic as these recipes that resulted from a collaboration with IBM’s Watson computer and Bon Appetit, but they will inspire us and help us prepare better meals and make our lives better.

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On specific Agile (software development) traps

There’s much positive to be said about the benefits of Agile software development, and the shift of software development teams is one sign that many feel this way.

However, I think there are some limits to Agile, and this leads teams to fall into certain traps over and over. Indeed, the Wikipedia page highlights a common criticism of Agile, namely:

Lack of overall product design
A goal of agile software development is to focus more on producing working software and less on documentation. This is in contrast to waterfall models where the process is often highly controlled and minor changes to the system require significant revision of supporting documentation. However, this does not justify completely doing without any analysis or design at all. Failure to pay attention to design can cause a team to proceed rapidly at first but then to have significant rework required as they attempt to scale up the system. One of the key features of agile software development is that it is iterative. When done correctly design emerges as the system is developed and commonalities and opportunities for re-use are discovered.

Now, it’s not the case that teams either do design or not. But I have seen that there are a number of specific traps bigger that Agile teams fall into that arise from lack of design. These traps arise from making tactical or limited decisions outside of a larger framework or structure, which isn’t surprising since Agile followers are guided by the principles that the “best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams” and “working software is the primary measure of progress”. Unfortunately what I’ve seen that lead to is:

  • Poor middleware/database system decisions: with this trap, you get teams making a decision on deploying a specific middleware package or database system that will support the software development they are doing. However, while that may be great for the Dev, it may not be great for the Ops. If you have enough teams making tactical decisions, you may end up with a more complex system than is necessary and greater technical debt that you want. Once you get enough data into your database systems, trying to reverse the decision may result not result not only in new development and testing, but a small (or not so small) migration project as well.
  • Poor infrastructure decisions: likewise, with this Agile trap I have seen teams using IaaS pick different images to deploy their software onto. Like the database problem, developers may choose one operating system (e.g. Windows) over another (e.g. Debian) because they are comfortable with the former, even if the production environment is more of the latter. The result can be your organization ending up with multiple VMs with many different operating systems to support and thereby increasing the operational costs of the system.
  • Poor application framework decisions: I see less of this one, although it can happen where teams pick an assortment of application frameworks to use in creating their software, and as with middleware and infrastructure, this will drive up the support effort down the road.

Given these traps, I think the way to avoid them is to inject some specific design phases into the overall software development lifecycle. One way to do that is to revisit a software development lifecycle (see diagram below) used by practitioners at IBM and documented in places like this IBM redbook. It has a waterfall quality about it, but it doesn’t have to be limited to waterfall type projects. It can be highly iterative.

The lifecycle process is shown here (taken from the redbook):

 

GSMethod

The part of the lifecycle in the large box is iterative and not all that different from an agile sprint.  But here you take time to explicitly make design / architecture decisions before building  software. You continue to iterate while making important design decisions before building.

Now, before you start your iterative software development lifecycle, you should need to  make specific architectural decisions. You should make these specific decisions in the solution outline and macro design phase. For smaller teams, these two phases may blend into one. But it is here in solution outline and macro design where you make decisions that are fundamental to the overall solution.

For example, in solution outline you could make overall architectural decisions about the application architecture, the choice of infrastructure technology, what application frameworks are the target for the team. These overall architectural decisions guide the dev, test and ops teams in the future. You may also decide to park some of these decisions in order to do further discovery.  Macro design could be next, where each of the dev teams make certain design decisions about their technology choices before they proceed with their iterations. As they are building and deploying code, they can run into issues where they need to make further design decisions, either due to problems that arise or technology choices that have to finally be made: and this is where the micro design phase is useful.  Micro design decisions could be quickly made, or they may require spikes and proof of concepts before proceeding. Or there could be no decisions to be made at all.  The main thing is more design checkpoints are built into the development lifecycle, which can result in less complexity, less maintainability costs, and less technical debt down the road. What you lose in velocity you can make up in overall lower TCO (total cost of ownership).

There is a risks to this type of approach as well. For example, if the project gets hung up with trying to make design decisions instead of gather requirements and making working software. The key stakeholders need to be aware of this and push on the design teams to prevent that from happening. If anything, it can help the key stakeholders better understand the risks before getting too far down the road in terms of developing software. Overall I think the risks are worth it if it helps you avoid these common agile traps.

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Why I post mostly random nonsense on Twitter (as opposed to trying to influence the world with my tweets)

Many years ago I gave up on the notion of having any form of influence using Twitter, either as an individual or as part of a bigger force united by some such thing as a tag. Indeed, I gave up on the idea of using Twitter for anything other than sharing things with the few people who engage with me at all on this site.

I don’t think I can accomplish much of anything positive on this site. Anything I do share has a life span of 18 minutes on average (see below). For the few people who follow me and engage with me, that life span is likely longer. I know there are people who read tweets posted hours or even a day earlier. But those people are exceptions. Exceptions I appreciate!

Occasionally I share something and it gets shared by someone with more followers, but that rarely gets me more followers or other forms of engagement. It’s something odd to note and move on.

I treat this site as a coffee shop I wander into from time to time. I overhear some distorted form of the news, I get some weird opinions. From time to time I hear something brilliant. Often I’ll laugh at something odd or funny. Then I log out. This site is no longer the Cafe Central in Vienna, with Trotsky in the corner plotting revolution. If it ever was.

Besides, I am aware that there are people here who do try to use the site to foment small bursts of unrest and unhappiness. Why encourage that in any way?

If you still believe or witness positive change happening because of your engagement here, then that’s great. I suspect for the vast number of people updating statuses and reading them, that does not occur.

As far as mediums go, I still like it. I have given up on most other social media, save this and Instagram and my blog. I still get some social engagement from this and Instagram, which keeps me coming back. And Instagram and my blog are good ways to leave a record (something twitter is pretty poor at doing).

So if you wonder why I post mostly random nonsense on Twitter (as opposed to trying to influence the world), now you know.

P.S. Regarding the lifespan of a tweet:

Tweets have the shortest lifespan of any social media post, about 18 minutes. And there’s not much you can do about it. Twitter is fast-paced, and messages get buried more quickly. The newest algorithm  means that posts are no longer displayed chronologically, so yours might live a little longer, but your tweet will still get pushed down the page quickly.

via What Is The Lifespan Of Social Media Posts? – Epipheo

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The thing I think about when I think about the Clintons

Is this piece by Josh Marshall: The Joy and the Drama | Talking Points Memo

It perfectly captures the essence of Bill and Hillary Clinton as political figures. And it rightly contrasts them to the essence of Barack Obama.

 

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Strategic Voting in Canada – some thoughts

First off, there are sites like this one that claim to help you if you want to decrease the chances of a more right wing politician winng election in a specific riding: Strategic Voting 2019 Canadian Federal Election | don’t make a statement, make a difference.

You can use the site that way. But I’d argue you can use it another way. If you want to vote non-strategically, you can look at the site to see who is likely to win and then use that to vote for the party you prefer (assuming you are considering more than one). If you are unsure whether or not to vote NDP or Green, you might choose to vote Green and boost their vote count if you are pretty certain the NDP is going to win. Likewise, if you are a right of centre voter and you think there is either a strong chance or no chance the Conservatives will win, then you may feel more strongly to vote for the Conservatives.

Of course you don’t have to do any of those things. You can vote for your preferred party. You can vote for your preferred candidate. You can cast a protest vote for a more extreme party knowing it is unlikely they won’t win but as a way to indicate your displeasure.  Vote how you think best. It is your vote, and you can use your vote to participate in the electoral process the best way you know how.

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Thinking about how topics of interest change


I was thinking about how topics of interest change when I came across this link I had saved since 2016: Should we have intervened in Syria? I don’t know – and neither do most armchair generals.

Back when Obama was president, whether or not the US should intervene in Syria was a hot topic. Articles like this struggled with whether or not something should be done about it. It was hard not to think about, both because it was terrible and because there was alot of media devoted to it.

Then Trump became President. Suddenly everything shifted. Terrible things went on in Syria, but it was no longer a topic of interest in much of North America.  I confess I barely know what is going on there now.

It’s a good reminder to me how much of what I think about is driven by who ever can get information in front of you. And it’s also a reminder of why disinformation campaigns will get stronger and stronger.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know I have to constantly remind myself that just because it appears something is important or unimportant, my ability to assess that is shaped very much by others. There may be topics I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching. But most of the time, and for most people, that is not possible.

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In praise of long recipes


Two pieces recently make the case for long recipes. This one, directly: The Case for Very Long Recipes | TASTE. 

And this one, indirectly:  Jerk Chicken So Good I’ve Been Making It Every Summer for 25 Years – The New York Times

The first one makes the direct case that long detail makes for a better recipe, and I agree with that. If you just need a list of ingredients and short steps, go to allrecipes.com and you can find it. If you want to know why things are done a certain way and why certain ingredients are used and how they should be cooked, then a long recipe is preferable.

The second one, by Gabrielle Hamilton, makes the case indirectly. The recipe comes at the end of a long essay that explains the origin of it. You could just read the recipe, but you’d be missing out on so much if you just did that.

I get why people hate long recipes. Not everyone who writes a long preamble before a recipe can writes as well as Hamilton. But it would be a shame if cooks stopped trying.

One site that does this really well is BudgetBytes.com. She has a button at the top that let’s you jump to the recipe, which is in the middle of the piece. At the top of the piece is her thoughts on the recipe. Then the recipe. Then detailed instructions on how to prepare the dish. Smittenkitchen.com also does long recipes, and they are also really worth reading through.

Image from here.

On having no heat in the middle of winter

In the last five years I’ve lost heat in my house twice in the middle of winter.

The last time it happened was this week. My furnace started intermittently failing. It wasn’t a big deal, despite the cold. I bought a heater and my landlord had the repair people come in a few days and fixed the furnace.

The first time it happened was the ice storm of Christmas 2013. Then it lasted over three days as lack of power prevented my furnace from starting. My house got as low as 42 Degrees, and I could see my breath in the house. And then at 12:30 am on Christmas Day the power was restored and over many hours my furnace warmed up the house.

In both cases I remember the satisfaction of hearing the forced air furnace blowing warm air through the house. It’s such a basic thing, and yet so satisfying.

There are many great pleasures in the world, but few compare with the restoration of heat your home in the middle of bitter winter.

On having fallen from the grace of god

Having walked for seven plus years, having lost so much, so much dead, so much broken, he accepted he had fallen from the grace of god. He walked through the years, and recalled them, picking over broken things, things he had built now gone, things he had saved now lost. He had walked for seven plus years and lost so much from the lack of grace from god. And he despaired, and fed the fires of despair. And when his despair had burned away, he looked around once more and saw what still remained, what was good, what could be built up. And this was the true gift, not this thing or that, not the vain hope of never losing. This vision was the gift. With this vision, he could see that he had regained the grace of god, though it had never left him.