Tag Archives: newsletter

July, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy Autumn to you. It’s the end of September, one of my favorite months. It’s been a good month for me, despite the pandemic. I’ve travelled to Nova Scotia and Montreal. In many ways, travel felt “normal”, save the masks and vaccine passports. If those things mean we get to get around and see the people and places we love, I am all for it.

Pandemic: It seems like a weird time in this seemingly never ending pandemic.  In many places there has been great progress. But there have been terrible exceptions. Generally wherever there are right wing governments with ideological commitments to “freedom”, people have lost out. For example, Florida. Here’s a story on how Florida’s massive Covid-19 spike got so bad .In other places like Kentucky,  schools overwhelmingly keep mask mandates even after Republicans scrapped state requirement. Not that Canada’s provinces are necessarily better: even the New York Times is writing about the failure that is Alberta. To make it worse, covidiots are still being a menace to society. Fortunately,the public is forcing timid governments to get tough with vaccine resisters. I am sure there are a small number of them are genuinely afraid of the vaccine. Mostly though you have fools who will take Ivermectin even though it doesn’t work and is meant for animals.

Governments aside, businesses continue to try and get back to normal, but many companies like Apple are throwing in the towel until January 2022, citing the COVID-19 surges. The fact that remote work may last for two years worries some bosses. On the other hand, who wants covid-19 outbreaks occurring when workers get together? That’s right: no one.

Not only are businesses having trouble getting back to “normal”, but many of them cannot find enough workers to do the job. In the restaurant industry, many former worker are tired of the job and are more than happy to say so. But it’s not just restaurants: lots of industries including the gig industry are losing out. Here’s a good analysis by Noah Smith on why that is. As for Canadian workers, most picked up side hustles during lockdown and plan to keep them.

Finally, it’s no surprise that people are a lot less happy during the pandemic. There’s plenty of data to back that up. And we may stay that way for awhile, if you take into account people are still burnt out from this terrible time. Some argue a 4-day work week might fix that. I’m not so optimistic. Sure, a 4 day work week would be good , but more is needed.

Non pandemic stuff: Here in Canada we just had a federal election and…not much changed. Just check out these charts and you’ll see.

Toronto continues to develop new buildings everywhere. There are so many signs for new developments that someone decided to have fun and came up with a  fake development sign trolling an area with giant tower in middle of Toronto park. Many were not amused.

Homelessness continues to be a problem being struggled with everywhere, especially in Toronto. During the pandemic there were encampments forming everywhere.  Eventually they were  driven underground with a wave of summer crackdowns  that supposed cost Toronto nearly $2 million. Sad, to say the least.

People continue to do crazy stupid things with NFTs because there is crazy stupid money involved. For example, this boy 12 made 290 000 pounds in non-fungible tokens with digital whale art. People are now working on NFT blockchain video games. Meanwhile, an Insider Trading Scandal Hits NFT Industry. Things are just insane, but whenever easy money is to be had, it’s not surprising.

Two of the most underestimated and successful politicians continue to make news. Angela Merkel is exiting the stage, while Joe Biden is suffering politically. I think Merkel will be one of those politicians that rises in stature historically, while Biden will recover from his current doldrums.

That’s it for this newsletter. Enjoy your Autumn all. It’s a time of harvests, and get togethers, but it is also a time of colour and beauty. Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

August, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

I hope you are enjoying your summer and staying safe and well. Summer is the best time of the pandemic — it’s sad I can say that, but this is our second pandemic summer —  so enjoy it as best as you can. If you need something to read as you soak up the sun and sip a cold one, here’s my latest blog newsletter for you.

Pandemic: it’s a weird time in the pandemic: on one hand, most people in places like Canada are getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the Delta variant is causing death and devastation.  I once thought the pandemic would be receding, now I am not so sure. We have signs of normality like Via Rail bringing back Montreal-Halifax service. But there is also talk about the fourth wave. People are patronizing restaurants and  people are trying to avoid going to gyms. Places like Israel are struggling after early success. And while restaurants are open, restaurants are having a hard time staying staffed. (I can see that personally: my son works at Stock TC and he tells me they are struggling to hire and keep people.)

As for me, I am finally looking forward to doing some travelling to Halifax and Montreal in the upcoming months. I am going to be going to the east coast to accompany my son as he goes to university there. Then I am going to take advantage of my empty nest status to go to Montreal and partake in that great city and their wonderful views and food. Can’t wait!

It’s weird trying to arrange the trips. So much I used to do with certainty I do with great uncertainty now.

In non-travelling news, I’ve been going to some restaurants in Toronto and eating on their patios. Some patios are really great, others not so much. I love certain restaurants, but sitting on a busy street while cars and bikes whiz by is less than relaxing. Happy to patronize these restaurants, and looking forward to when we can all dine safely inside again.

Besides restaurants, other businesses are struggling to return to normal. My own employer is backing off having people return to the office, at least in NYC. The pandemic is going to have a big impact on companies in a number of ways. For example, there is much talk about preparing for the Great Resignation: 4 ways to be a better boss during the Great Resignation.

Olympics: During the recent Olympics, I expected that this sporting event could be cause of outbreaks. However, this piece argued that  Tokyo has shown the pandemic can be beaten Games health adviser says. That’s good.

Health: One thing that came out of the Olympics was a discussion of taking into account not just physical health but mental health. This lead to articles like this: Why We Need To Normalize Taking Sick Days For Our Mental Health. Speaking of physical health, I agree with this, that  COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to look at weight and what it means to be healthy. Our views of health change from generation to generation, but they should change dramatics because of the pandemic.

Denial: As with climate change, there are people who want to deny it is happening or that it is significant. That never ends well. For example: Oops. Canadian Province That Acted Like COVID Was Over Just Realized It Isn’t. (Yes, that’s Alberta). Some of those same people are using HIPAA as an excuse to not disclose their vaccination status. Those people need to read this: What Is HIPAA? Read This Before You Use HIPAA as an Excuse to Complain About Vaccine Requirements.

My last pandemic comment is this. You might be working from home for awhile, still. If some, here’s some good WFH furniture ideas from Simons. I may be checking it out soon. Regardless of buying new things, you may want to improve the look of your place. If so, check this out: How to curate (just about) anything.

Non pandemic stuff

Climate Change: there is so much news about climate change that I could easily fill the newsletter with references to that. Perhaps I will one day. One thing that stood out for me recently is this news: Hotter than the human body can handle: Pakistan city broils in world’s highest temperatures. The thought of parts of the world being unlivable is terrifying. My belief is that the way to turn it around is massive change on all fronts. So when I read things like this, I get concerned, to say the least: A Bill Gates Venture Aims To Spray Dust Into The Atmosphere To Block The Sun. What Could Go Wrong?. There is no silver bullet for climate change, and anyone who thinks so is wrong.  Climate change is overwhelming, and only overwhelming action on all fronts is going to stabilize and improve things.

Canada: It’s Federal election time in Canada. If you need info on that, go here.  If you need to see the latest polls, go here. I can’t predict what will happen: I expected the Liberals would win in Nova Scotia but the Conservatives ended up on top with a majority.

The US: for a time the President was on a roll in terms of success . His enemies and opponents like Lindsey Graham were struggling to stay relevant. But then he announced that the US was withdrawing from Afghanistan. Since then things have not been going well from him. I suspect over time it will work out for him and the American people. The occupation itself was never going to end well and it was best he declared this early in his presidency.

For some good insight on this, read this piece by Noah Smith: The Afghanistan occupation and the Japan occupation .

Still a thing: NFTs (Russell Simmons launches NFT collection to help pioneers of hip-hop), ransomware (Top 5 ransomware operators by income), and space exploration  (NASA looking for people to spend a year pretending they live on Mars so it can prepare to send astronauts to red planet). Newsletters also still a thing.

Fun: this was a fun thing to read: An Oral History of Adam Sandler Pickup Basketball Legend.

Finally, this is a great time to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only are they enjoyable, it is also a great way to live healthier. So eat as many as you can while you can.

Stay safe. Stay well. Hang in there.

(Photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash)

July, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Happy midsummer to you. We are halfway through the summer of 2021 which also means it’s time for my latest blog newsletter.

Pandemic: For some time now, as vaccination was on the rise, the underlying story of the pandemic was “this will soon be over”. Masks were coming off. Indoor dining was on coming back. Travel restrictions were easing.

Now the Delta variant has taken over the story and masks are going back on and cases are on the rise. More on that here. I suspect that for at least the time being, we are still going to be struggling with COVID-19 in its many forms/variants.

Some places are trying to just act like it isn’t happening. For example, Tennessee abandoned vaccine outreach to minors and not just for COVID-19. That bout of madness lasted only a bit of time before the wise folks of that state reversed things. But like the pandemic, that madness is going around. For example,  Alberta is going to try a similar route, ending COVID rules.

Here’s the problem with this, in my opinion: unlike poverty, politicians can’t ignore COVID. If you try and do so, cases rise, hospitals fill up, more people die. People get upset and promise to vote you out. There’s no getting around it. The only way politicians win in that case is when people ignore them and do the right thing. Even then, their poor judgment is going to hurt them come election time.

As for other provinces,  Ontario  is trying to open as fast as it can, but it has a good plan and it seems to be sticking to it. However, daily cases were in the 150/day range and have creeped up to over 200. The plan may not hold.

I’m still hoping Canada is on the way to post-pandemic status. Based on our vaccine rates, it’s possible. But who knows. The pandemic humbles us all.

In other pandemic stories, it’s important to acknowledge that all tragedy did not occur directly because of the disease. In Ontario, more young people died from effects of lockdown than of COVID itself. That story is a good reminder that making choices in a pandemic are never straightforward. The choice of lockdown, while benefiting many, harmed others.

The New York Times has had many a good piece on how the pandemic has affected us. Here’s another: The Year of Purchasing and Purging

Finally, many of you have been forced to work at home during the pandemic. Here’s a silver lining: Introducing a simplified process for claiming the home office expenses for Canadians working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Non-pandemic things :

 Olympics: It is crazy that the Olympics are going on during the pandemic. There is talk that COVID cases count spike as a result. We will see. As for the Olympics themselves, people are tuning them out. I am not surprised. I know why they weren’t cancelled altogher — a lot of money is at stake — but they should have been.

NFTs: Not much to say here. The fact that Coke is getting into the NFT game tells me that either they are becoming more mainstream or they are petering out.

US: In the US we have a tale of two presidents. The former president continues to be in hot water. First off, it looks like he will be forced to turn over tax records. As well, his actions during the attempted coup of January 6th are getting more scrutiny. Good.

Meanwhile this is what amounts to a Biden controversy: people are upset about his choices of ambassadors. That aside, Biden has a good chance that Congress is going to pass his bipartisan Infrastructure bill. That will be a big win for him.

Another big plus for his presidency is that poverty dropped considerably as a result of poverty aid programs. It’s a reminder that poverty and homelessness are a choice we make.

Finally there was the billionaire space race. I wrote about it here.

Ransomware: Continues to be a problem everywhere including Canada. It looks like Biden has expressed his unhappiness with things to Putin. I am not sure if this is a result of that conversation, but some of the people responsible for ransomware suddenly disappeared.

Lastly thanks for reading this! I appreciate it. Go out and enjoy the summer days while you can.

(Photo by Chris Galbraith on Unsplash)

June, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Wow. It’s the end of June and summer has started. Here’s my latest blog newsletter for you. Short and sweet.

Pandemic:  Canadians continue to ramp up on getting vaccinated. 30% of the population has been fully vaxxed, including yours truly. Well done! I have been impressed by the Federal government procuring the vaccines, as well as the distribution in Toronto. They even had a big event where over 26,000 people were vaccinated in one day at the Skydome/Rogers Center.

Not everything has been awesome. Take the response from the government of Ontario. The Globe has said it has been the worst of all the provincial governments. Hard to disagree with that assessment. Ford has tried to distract others from his performance by trying to shift some of the blame on to Trudeau. That didn’t go far…Trudeau shifted it back onto Ford big time.

While Canadians have generally been good in getting vaccinated, some pockets have been resistant. So governments like that in Manitoba have been offering incentives. Here’s to everyone getting it done this summer!

There has been some positive things to note regarding the pandemic. Crime has plummettedQuarantine rules are changing for the better in Canada. So that’s good.

Businesses are trying to return to normal, but even the best of them, like Starbucks, are having a hard time getting supplies. There is still a labour shortage too. We are not out of the woods in terms of business.

Overall, this has been a tough time. As VOX argues, it has not been a sabbatical.

If you need more on the pandemic, the New York Times has a whole section, here.

Non-pandemic things I noted: NFRs are getting smarter, though there are still lots of nonsense. However at least  this time people like Sotheby’s are tying their value to the artist themselves. That’s a good thing. Another thing I keep an eye on is ransomware. Sadly, it’s getting worse.

In the US, the GOP are still focused on limiting who can vote in the US. They don’t want to change their platforms, they just want to stay in power.
That is obvious as shown here. Meanwhile, Biden seems to have their number, based on this.As for Canada, there has been a lot of focus on indigenous issues and in particular the residential schools. Here’s a good editorial
on it.

Try and go out and enjoy the nice weather while you can. Everything you can do to make the pandemic better is worth doing.

(Photo by Sofia Mejia on Unsplash )

May, 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)


It’s May, and it’s lovely in Ontario in terms of weather. Alas, the pandemic is still going on, as is my not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings for this month. Hope you like it.

Pandemic: Here in Canada we are rushing to get vaccinated. Over 50% of the population has at least 1 dose, and some Canadians have two (I got my second shot of AZ/AstraZeneca today). I am happy to see that the governments all seem to be working better again. The Federal government has been procuring them, the Provincial government has been distributing them, and the City has been setting up spots for people to get them. And get them they have. Kudos to everyone making efforts to get out there and end this.

It’s not to say there are no bumps in the road. Some provinces, like mine, ended up in a panic about whether or not to allow people to get additional AZ vaccines. Eventually Ontario relented and people like me signed up and got their jabs. Still, the experience has left people bitter, as this Doug Coupland piece illustrated.

Canadians don’t need much prompting to get vaccinated. This seems to be true down south for the most part, thought some states like West Virginia are offering savings bonds to encourage vaccination while Detroit was giving out $50 debit cards to ‘Good Neighbors’ to help boost lagging COVID-19 vaccination rate.  I encourage governments using any means at their disposal to get vaccinated. It’s too bad that people just don’t go and get it done. Get it done, people! I am hopeful by this summer most of Canada and the US will be fully open or close to fully open. Indeed the mayor of New York City says his city will be open this July 1. Let’s hope every place is.

Now whether we all go back to work right away is another thing. Outlets like the BBC are arguing the future of work will be hybrid. We shall see.

Since the pandemic is still ongoing,  you need ways to cope. One way people are coping is managing their time on Zoom and WebEx calls. Techies have even been inventing devices to hang them up. Another way people have managed is by developing routines. That’s been healthy. Or getting back to exercising. A less healthy way has been drinking too much. If that is you, you might benefit on reading this piece on ways to cut back. But back to healthy, a good way to help yourself is to get out from time to time. I hope to take advantage of Toronto’s outdoor cafes once they are open.

Finally, in case you haven’t read the best restaurant review of the pandemic…now you can.

US : it’s been weird to watch what is happening in the United States. On one hand, you have the Democrats working to deal with the pandemic and the effect it has had on the American people. On the other hand, you have Republicans working hard in places like Texas and many other places to restrict the vote of people for the next election. Not only that, but Republicans are also working to prevent any examination into the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

Here’s hoping for the United States to become a better democracy, not a worse one.

Meanwhile in Canada, we need to do better in many ways, starting with one that is fundamental to me: making sure everyone has access to clean water. I can’t believe I even have to say this.

Non-pandemic things: No new news on newsletters. They are still a Thing…just not as newsworthy. Good.

NFTs are still newsworthy.  For example, this piece is a good way to just see how weird and wild they are:

I still don’t think they make any sense, but I have been proven wrong on such things before.

A year ago: Last May we saw the “cancellation” of Alison Roman. Since then she pivoted to making her own newsletter and a YouTube video channel with over 100K viewers. She seems to have landed ok. Speaking of food, I wrote last May that people were already tired of making their own food. Ha! Still at it a year later.  For more on how the pandemic looked last year, here’s the newsletter I wrote then.

Finally:

Over a year ago we were all struggling to get masks and learn how to wear them properly. Now they are as common as shoes. Here’s a throw back to mask wearing tips from the City of Toronto.

Thanks for reading this! I appreciate it. Here’s hoping for a pandemic ending everywhere and soon.

 

April 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

The pandemic is still going on and so is this! Here’s my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings and thingamabobs for this April.

Pandemic:The pandemic is a story of extremes this month. Some countries, like the US and the UK and Israel, are seemingly coming to the end of it. Meanwhile countries like India are burning up with cases and death. It’s terrible to see. For countries like the US and UK, being able to produce their own vaccines made a big difference. But it wasn’t the only difference (Ahem, going from Trump to Biden). For a deeper dive on just one country, here’s a good piece on how Israel was so successful

In Canada we model the world in some ways. For parts of Canada life is relatively normal and aims to stay that way. (I’m look at you up North and out East.) Then there is Ontario, where I am, which seems to have suffered a collapse in provincial leadership. The provincial government recently issued edicts to the province, only to have everyone from the police to the public health units to the people either ignore it or rally against it. Some newspapers are saying that’s the end for the premier.

I have some sympathy for the government’s plight. On one hand you have  hospitals halting non-emergency surgeries as COVID-19 patients fill ICUs, which is terrifying. On the other hand, you have businesses everywhere saying that they’re at risk of losing everything and need help. What you need is strong leadership at this point, but as the Globe and many other argued, we aren’t getting it. We have a panicked leadership seemingly refusing to do anything other than hope for the vaccines to rescue them for their inability to do more.

I’m too discouraged to say more. I’ll let the Toronto Star have the last word:  A 278-word timeline of Ontario’s COVID-19 response | The Star

Individually, the New York Times says we have all hit the wall and we are languishing. I agree. Some of us are getting vaccines, but the unequal distribution can make us feel guilty. Lots of difficult feeling to deal with. We just have to take breaks when we can and forge on.

Meanwhile for something completely different, pandemic-wise, check out this: Honeywell and rapper Will.i.am just debuted a futuristic face-mask with built-in wireless earphones at Yanko Design.

 Newsletters:last month I said newsletters are “still a thing”. What an understatement. If anything, they are now a Big Thing. So big that the New York Times is getting ready to go toe to toe with Substack.

It makes sense. There are likely some writers at the Times looking at Matt Yglesias and others generating close to a million in annual revenue and thinking: I want some of that. Money changes everything, and the amount of money newsletters are generating tells me that we are going to be talking about them for some time.

US : I am glad of two things in the United States. One, we no longer have to hear about the last president any more. (Although some writers still can’t give him up: he’s like an addiction they can’t quit). Two, they have a president who seems to be in a hurry. Awhile ago Vox argued Joe Biden should do everything at once. It looks like he has decided to do that. Besides Vox, two good pieces on Biden that helped me understand him better were this, Bidenomics, explained – Noahpinion,  and this, the radicalism of Joe Biden.

Other interesting things: I am looking to purge my basement and other rooms of things, so I found this piece on how to let go of any possession good. Post-pandemic, we are all likely going to want to live with less.

IKEA came out with this fascinating cookbook: IKEA ScrapsBook – Zero-Waste Recipes & Ideas – IKEA CA. Worth a look.

In the next few decades, I predict many brutalist buildings will be destroyed. Once I may have cheered this, but I have come around to appreciating them more. Articles like this helped.

Poor Orlando Bloom. He gave an interview on what his day in Los Angeles looked like and was widely mocked and ridiculed for it. I had to laugh as well. Then I came across this piece: California dreamin’ with Orlando Bloom, and other tales of only-in-L.A. obliviousness. It helps explain Mr. Bloom and L.A. in general. Worth reading!

Libertarians have been taking a beating during this pandemic. Understandably. Still, they make a good case for why libertarian principles are still useful during this time here.

Finally: I came across this site which I love: All the Restaurants in New York. It reminded me of the work of the late great Jason Polan, and his attempt to draw every person in New York. This gives me a chance to share some links I have of the beloved artist, including this piece in the New Yorker about his Taco Bell Drawing Club. The New York Times also has a piece on it. Finally here are two other sites showing their appreciation for him: ghostly.com and 20×200.com

 

May we all get through this pandemic soon and gather in large crowds again and be with everyone in New York and every place else as well. RIP, Jason. (Image via the NYT’s piece).

March 2021 pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Yikes! It’s April 1st so I am a day late (and a dollar short?) on sending out my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings since the one a month ago.Here’s a few things I’ve found noteworthy in March to share with you:

Pandemic:Right now the pandemic has been about the next wave (sadly) and vaccines (happily). It’s been a real roller coaster when it has come to vaccines. But with all the ups and downs, more and more vaccines have been distributed, thank heavens. The latest medical miracle is from Johnson & Johnson. This piece talks about how they work which I thought helpful. Also helpful is this piece from the site Our World in Data, which has some great stats on how vaccinations worldwide are doing. It gives me hope.

Locally, here’s how Ontario is doing: Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Not bad, but not great. Somewhere through the pandemic the Ontario provincial government reverted to the idea that somehow being frugal during a catastrophe is a good idea. So we got things like this: Ontario rejected proposals to protect LTC residents, deeming them ‘too expensive’: documents, according to CBC News. Being conservative with water is a good idea, except when your house is on fire, but that looks to be the approach of the current Ford government. His team is not the only group coming up short. Toronto is struggling with a homelessness problem, and has lead to bad situations like this crackdown on tiny shelters. Meanwhile vaccine portals everywhere are failing. We all hoped for better. Meanwhile we all slog along. It’s tough.

A year into the pandemic, the effect on people is significant. Even people who have the luxury of working from home are struggling.  Artists in particular are having a hard time getting by, based on this really good piece in the New York Times on how 75 Artists On How They Spent a Year in Coronavirus . Even those who have been productive in the pandemic, like the famed art duo Gilbert and George, acknowledge that “this is an enormously sad time’ . So if you feel down on yourself, it’s understandable. But not hopeless, as this writer/runner shows. You may have given up on things, but you can start again.

Looking back, we were so cautiously optimistic at the beginning of the pandemic, making food and doing crafts. I was  using sites like this and also this to make zines. Others made chapbooks. And of course we all cooked a ton. Here’s an almost nostalgic run down of all the pandemic food trends, from Dalgona coffee to banana bread.

Post-pandemic: While the pandemic still rages on, with the rollout of vaccines, we are already looking forward to what the world is going to be like afterwards. For example, will vaccine passports be a thing? Will services discriminate based on that, as this piece discusses: Should Only Vaccinated People Be Allowed to Use the Gym?. Will our work places change? Will they feature things like this?

One thing I am afraid will happen is people will start arguing that all the sacrifices made and all the money spent wasn’t worth it. That we were duped. You can see the gaslighting already starting here: The Lockdowns Weren’t Worth It – WSJ. The thing to note in that piece is the total disregard for those who died and those who became sick. There is no accounting in it for deaths and illnesses that could have been avoided. Be on the lookout for that.

Meanwhile, if you are preparing to travel post pandemic, this is a good guide on how to visit New York City on a budget . And here’s a fun guide on how to go to concerts when you’re middle-aged because let’s face it you are going to want to do it all.

 Newsletters: still a thing. We’ve gotten to the point where they are so successful that there are debates about who is making money and what should be done about it. To see what I mean, read this: Why Substack writers are mad about money Substack is paying out – Vox.

US : I came across this article years ago concerning the Obama Administration:
Barack Obama is officially one of the most consequential presidents in American history – Vox. Funny enough, I think the Biden Administration took it as a challenge! They seem to be trying to outpace not even Obama but LBJ or FDR. It’s early days, but there is a sense Biden’s team will make great changes to the social contract in the US. Perhaps more and more people in America will be able to agree with Wallace Shawn in this essay he wrote: Why I Call Myself a Socialist.

Finally: if you can barely manage to make anything food wise these days, I recommend you read this: THE MINIMALIST; Three-Way Pasta – The New York Times. It’s a classic from Mark Bittman. I usually try to have a pasta dinner once a week. With that in hand, I have ¾ of the month covered in terms of what to make.

If you find working from home stressful, this might be helpful. How lo-fi artists make music perfect for work. (Or studying. Or chilling.) 

Perhaps in 2022 more of us will be working in fancy schmantzy sheds like the one below:

I for one would not mind. 🙂

(Image via that piece on how our workplaces will change in Yanko Design)

February pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Hi there! Thanks for taking the time to read my latest  not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings since the one in January. (Well, it was off January, but it was out in February because of a slow start).

Pandemic: It’s been a year now since I last started writing these newsletters at beginning of the pandemic. Last February I was still going to restaurants, still going to gym, still socializing with people and working in an office. No doubt you were doing that too.

I was going over links from earlier in the pandemic, and it was interesting to see how things evolved. When the pandemic first hit, people were recommending we read The Plague, by Albert Camus to get a sense of reference. That’s something we no longer need after a year. (Still a great book, though read it for other reasons). Back at the end of last March, some were asking if the measures taken were worst than the disease. I doubt anyone is asking that now. A big thing back then was making sure you washed your hands thoroughly.Some hackers even proposed a DIY Hand Washing Timer. Now we wear double masks. In the fall, someone wrote that it was fine the virus was mutating. That’s no longer true.

We in Canada and other rich countries are now at the beginning of the end (I hope). I am keeping an eye on Ontario’s latest vaccine update and will go when the time is right. Meanwhile we have to get through it somehow, even if this winter is going to seem hard. I wish I had the gumption to
walk 20,000 Steps a Day like this person: some days I barely do 1000. I watch the case counts go up and down. I don’t think anyone knows why. I’ve lost faith in many Canadian leaders, especially when they do things like this or this. Mostly the premiers are trying to get to the finish line somehow, so they keep doing this because the alternative is too expensive, I feel. Even cooking has been affected by the pandemic, with butter no longer being as good as it used to be. Ah well, I need to lose The the ‘Quarantine 15’ anyway.

One silver lining is that the flu seems to have been all but wiped out this year, according to this. I hope that becomes an annual thing after the pandemic is over.

Things I used to write about: I used to ramble often on the U.S., newsletters and restaurants. I no longer feel the need to so. The Biden administration is more than competent, and it’s almost like Trump no longer was president. The sooner he fades away, the better. Restaurants have not faded away, but they have definitely faded. Happily most are hanging in. I remain cautiously optimistic. Newsletters have done anything but fade: they are bigger than ever.

New things: Clubhouse seems to be the next new social media thing. If you haven’t received an invite, chances soon you will. Like podcasts, Tiktok and other new social media, there will be a rush to it at first, and there will be some people who suddenly become famous as a result. It looks promising, and it likely will be a big new platform. At least as long as the pandemic is underway. One thing to point out, though, is there are concerns with how secure and private it is. Keep that in mind.

Another new thing I like that isn’t new at all: Jacques Pepin. I love watching his videos on Instagram. He’s on YouTube too. Here he is making an egg. I have more to write on him in the days ahead.

Fun things: for a hot minute after the Inauguration there were all these memes of Bernie Sanders dressed up with mittens and placed in all these unlikely settings. Someone even wrote a bit of software to let you do it yourself! You can find it here.

Instagram and Facebook: I deleted my Facebook account years ago, after my Dad died. I didn’t like Facebook the company: they have been an abuser of people privacy since the early days, and they continue to be morally shoddy. Once both my parents were gone, I no longer felt the need to be on that platform in any way.

Meanwhile I’ve been trying to pretend Instagram is different, even though Facebook owns them. Based on how the service is changing and becoming more and more like its owner, I am having a hard time keeping up the illusion.

I am still hesitant to delete my Instagram account. I like the people who post on there, and I’d miss them if I left. I am still there, but I archived my posts from almost a decade. It took a long time, to be honest; that may be a design feature of Instagram. It may be easier to delete your account.

If you do want to delete your account, here’s a piece on how you can backup your photos first.

Good things: finally here’s some good things I’ve read about recently, including this story about a guy who goes on walks and picks up garbage. Here’s some coffee scented candles to pick up your day. If you are feeling like you need to have a good moment right now, read this.

Until the next newsletter, let’s keep each other safe by doing what this illustration says.

pandemic advice

January pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form, a month late)

Hey! How has your new year been? Mine has not started great: January was both tough and busy. I kept trying to get to this, but somehow never had the energy or the focus to write it. Now I have found both. Thanks for dropping by and reading this, my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings since the last one in December.

Pandemic: we are now in the phase of the pandemic where we are being told in Canada to hurry up and wait concerning the vaccines. It’s been slow to get them, and slow to deliver them. The rate of progress has been discouraging. To make it worse, more variants of the COVID-19 virus have appeared, variants that spread more rapidly. I feel like someone on the Titanic waiting for my turn on a lifeboat while the ship takes on more water. And I am lucky to be able to stay at home and stay healthy. Meanwhile doctors are hospitals are overwhelmed and hanging on. Barely.

Vox took time to try and figure out why Covid-19 beat social distancing, lockdowns, and “flatten the curve”. Reading that could give you some consolation.

Of course, everyone had their monocausal explanations for why we are still struggling with the pandemic. The premier of Ontario brought in another lockdown because he said people are traveling too much. That’s one explanation, but not the only one.

In the early part of the pandemic I felt governments were strong on taking actions. They were like sprinters at the start of a marathon. Then things petered out. For example, the Federal government funded a Toronto COVID-19 isolation hotel. They pumped big money into the economy. Provinces like Ontario provided pandemic pay for frontline workers fighting COVID-19. But I never felt like they tried as hard recently as they did initially.

That’s not to say it is easy and they aren’t trying. This piece explains why
it’s so hard to ramp up Ontario’s COVID-19 testing. Yet it still seems like things are half hearted these days.

It’s not all grim, though much is. We have adopted. Sweatpants for instance :). And we are trying to maintain some form of work-life balance, but as my head boss says,  achieving healthy work-life balance in a hybrid work environment ‘remains to be seen’. Some of us are making unique friends (Riding Out Quarantine With a Chatbot Friend: ‘I Feel Very Connected’).  Some people tried to get out of their old pandemic habits and live better by taking on a Dry January. Others have taken up unusual self help books, such as this: A working from home manual in disguise.

I believe by the end of 2021 we will have put this pandemic behind us. Perhaps we will see a Roaring Twenties to match those of a century ago. Let’s hope, and for those who pray, let’s pray. Most importantly, let’s get vaccinated. If you want to know more about vaccines  in Canada, go here. More on that here.

Last word on this subject. If you want to know how others are getting through the pandemic, this is good: The Pandemic Logs in The New York Times.

The US: finally, after much nonsense, the worst president the United States ever had left the White House. What a long terrible four years it has been for America and the world with him nominally in charge. Whatever else the new president does, the fact that he is at least competent and not corrupt will be good for that country. I am hopeful for America, and my American friends, and I am looking forward to things getting better for them in the years to come.

Restaurants: I was drawn to this piece that Bon Appetit did some time ago on the best restaurants in Toronto . I wonder how many will still be around when all this is over. Some of them have taken to becoming takeout places, like this Michelin-starred restaurant, but many have not. Even for those that did, it might not be enough to get through to the other side of the pandemic.

Gamestop: It has a bizarre time in the world of finance as several forces came together to drive stocks like Gamestock into the stratosphere, only to crash down again. In some ways, it was a bit of a mystery to me. Just when I thought I understood the story, so me new fact would come along. There was a number of good pieces on it. This one, for example: The GameStop Reckoning Was a Long Time Coming

Jeff Bezos and Amazon:  Jeff Bezos has left Amazon. No doubt he was not looking forward to more grilling from the government into his monopolistic practices. I don’t have much to say about him, other than he did  not seem to be a person you want to work for. Here’s hoping Amazon becomes a better place with the new CEO. Meanwhile here’s some markers on the man who ran that company. Like Larry Ellison and unlike Steve Jobs, I doubt he will be missed:

Quantity over quality : there is a great book called Art and Fear which gives lessons on making art. One of my favorite parts of it has to do with how a ceramics class was split into two: one group were given the task of making many vases (quantity) and another group of making one vase (quality). The first group would pit their best vase against the second group. In the story, the first group wins. The lesson: quantity beats quality. I love that story.

Sadly, the story isn’t entirely true. The details on that are here: The Credibility Is in the Details.

Recent blog highlights: here are some things I blogged about in January that I thought were worth reading:

Finally: here is an interactive web site where you can be a cat playing the bongos. Worthwhile! 🙂

And don’t forget…

Good news is coming. Meanwhile, thanks as always for taking the time to read this newsletter, and other things on this blog. I appreciate it.

 

December pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Well well well, it’s the last month of 2020, and my last not-really-a-newsletter newsletter! I appreciate you taking a moment to read my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings since the one in November.

I’m not sure if I will continue these here and in this format in the new year. Let’s see. Something for me to consider as the year closes. But for now, here’s things I’ve been thinking on since the last one:

Pandemic: It’s hard not to think about the pandemic. Since November, the pandemic has only gotten worse in many places. My town and province is no exception. Cases are up, deaths are up, efforts to flatten the curve seem to be going nowhere. My son’s school was shut down then the rest of the schools were shut down. As for leadership, it seems very reactive these days. A good analysis of that is here: With the pandemic surging, we need more leadership and less urging – The Globe and Mail. Also this piece: Why Doug Ford is stumbling during COVID-19’s second wave? Too often governments thought they could somehow manage the disease and open the economy. They couldn’t.

One of the reason deal with COVID has been so frustrating is well captured in this image:

Governments everywhere keep fiddling with the dial as if to find the right setting, and then find there is none. (Image from xkcd: Covid Precaution Level)

Some places have managed better than others, but even there it has not been perfect. Not long after this came out,  Living in Nova Scotia’s Covid-Free World – The New York Times, they had an outbreak in cases. Nova Scotia is still doing very well, but it is hard to stay perfect. (I’m looking at you New Zealand.)

Besides the health costs, there are the economic costs of the pandemic too. Articles like this come out every month in Toronto: Toronto rent prices are down 15% since last year at this time. Since that one, the rents have dropped to 20%. Meanwhile, places like The Gap are calling it quits in parts of the city: The Gap is closing its flagship store in Toronto

It may be a sad reality that many of storefronts will be boarded up  when the pandemic is over. Indeed, many are boarded up now.

And it will be over, this awful time. Vaccines are rolling out now. Here are places you can use to track it:

In the meantime, stay safe and try to stay healthy this winter. If you are in Toronto, consider this:  A New Way to Play: Recreation During COVID-19 – City of Toronto

Non-pandemic items:

The US: This newsletter is not just about the pandemic. It’s also time to send out a big Bronx cheer to the current president of the United States. I often argued that he was not the worst president in American history. I am wavering in that belief. Just the number of unnecessary deaths resulting from his inaction make him truly terrible. As we lift up the rock and uncover more about him, I think he will only seem worse. Meanwhile, here’s a good piece on his ending: Trump’s Final Days of Rage and Denial – The New York Times.

I would settle for Biden just being not-Trump. But he has a chance to do more. I hope he will. Here’s one way he could do it: Biden transition: How he could act fast and outrun Republican opposition to his presidency – Vox

The economy: One thing we are doing to hear a lot about is the deficits and debts now. This is not the time to do that. There is still much needs to be done for the world to recover. Not only that, but interest rates for some nations are essentially negative. See this for details: China Borrows at Negative Rates for the First Time – WSJ

One group in Canada you might hear banging on about the debt is the Fraser Institute. So here’s a reminder from PressProgress: pay no attention to anything the Fraser Institute says. Even if you are a right winger, at least find some source that doesn’t manipulate the facts.

Newsletters: they have become old hat now. So much so I think I will not comment on them any more. I would like to highlight one last one, though.  David Lebovitz has moved to Substack. Here is his.. He also has a great blog. He’s been an excellent user of social media for some time (not to mention a fine cook and author). Go check him out. Meanwhile, for anyone tired of turning bananas into banana bread, check out this: Banana and Chocolate Chip Upside Down Cake (Lowfat) – David Lebovitz

My blog: ICYMI, I wrote earlier on this blog about friluftsliv (a concept you should know), Ikea,  cardigans and why they are great, Betty Godwin and why she is great, various cocktails (and why you should drink them), as well as being moderately gifted,  being good  and being Paul McCartney.

Thanks for reading this, as well as anything else on my blog. I always appreciate it.

And for those celebrating it:

November pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Hi there! It’s time for my monthly newsletter-but-not of highlights and ramblings. As always, thanks for stopping by and reading this.

It’s been an intense period of time since October. Starting with the pandemic…

Pandemic – bad: we have terrible new statistics coming out of many places, including Canada. Months ago people were talking about the second wave, and now it seems to be crashing over us in so many places. I am fearful it is going to take a dreadful toll on us this winter. I think so much has collapsed and as I feared in the last newsletter, people are just dropping the ball. Here in Canada I see a number of provincial leaders just floundering and since healthcare is their jurisdiction, I am not hopeful things will get better soon.  And it’s not just Canada: many other countries seem to be either flailing or bringing in stricter measures. I think sooner than later many places will head back to lockdown.

And it’s not just Canadian politicians. I think people have become more social and the natural outcome of this is more spreading of the virus, more people getting sick, and more people dying.

Pandemic – good: the silver lining is the news of the vaccines coming out. It can’t happen soon enough, though obviously it is going to be well into 2021 before we get them.  Let’s hope there is enough will and discipline to crack down on socialization and other contributors to the spread of COVID-19 until they are widely delivered.

Pandemic – otherwise: I thought this was an interesting approach to the pandemic: Self-care in 2020: I’m handling the election and the pandemic by throwing a series of tantrums

There’s been much good said about how the Atlantic Provinces have been handling the pandemic. But it has come at a cost. For example my home of Cape Breton has no air travel in or out of Sydney airport: Air Canada flights cancelled between Sydney, Halifax | CBC News. There is no rail either: that was cancelled long ago. Sad.

Personally,  I have not done much differently since March. I went to two indoor restaurants with plenty of social distancing in the summer, and I have had two indoor gatherings with two other people outside my tiny bubble of four, but that’s it. What I have found is I am just am accepting things as normal now. I don’t have any special projects or activities on the go the way I was earlier in the pandemic. But I am not putting things on hold either: I find I am looking forward to things that I can afford to look forward to.

The USA : the other big news of the last month is the defeat of Donald Trump by Joe Biden. Whatever shortcomings President Biden will have, they will be nothing in comparison to the shortcomings of President Trump. I argued some time ago that Trump was not the worst US President ever. I think Buchanan still might be. But I think Trump might be the second worse now, given the number of preventable deaths due to COVID if he had acted sooner. Like I said, I think Buchanan is still the worst, but with the deaths, corruption, lying, nepotism, and so many other faults, Trump is the second worst. At least he is no longer President, come January. All the world will benefit from this.

Speaking of Trump, this was quite a story: Donald Trump Has At Least $1 Billion In Debt, More Than Twice The Amount He Suggested. . I suspect he will be having more than his fair share of difficulties starting with his time out of office.

Restaurants: restaurants still continue to have a tough time of it, and come winter in Canada, I don’t know how many we will lose. Likely a lot. So I am always on the lookout for any sliver of hope out there. One I found was this innovative way to provide food.

Related to that is this article: Has the pandemic changed how we eat forever? – The Globe and Mail. Not sure if it has changed it “forever”, but it will have changed it substantially and for a long time to come.

Newsletters: Not sure if I am going to keep highlighting them. But for now I will mention that if you want a really good newsletter on the law, and I think you do, I highly recommend The Popehat Report. The author, Ken White, goes by the name of Popehat on twitter. I learn something new an in depth every time I read it.

Speaking of newsletters, the Substack service seems to be on a roll when it comes to signing up big names to provide newsletter services. I suspect this will build for awhile as a gold rush of sorts occurs. Lots of people will think they will be able to cash in. But as always the Long Tail effect will occur, and just a small number of people will really benefit from the monetization of newsletter.

Climate Change: Between the pandemic and the US election, it has been easy to forget there is still a climate crisis occurring. There are so many examples of it, but this struck me: Phoenix to break record for most 100-degree days in calendar year – The Washington Post. Eventually many parts of the world will be uninhabitable as time passes and Climate Change worsens.

Cool science: gravitational waves were first discovered in 2015. Since then, scientists have captured 50 events pertaining to gravitational waves. Here’s what that means: What 50 Gravitational-wave Events Reveal about the Universe – Scientific AmericanI love that this new tool is already letting us learn so much more about our universe.

Cool tech: I have been a fan of Raspberry Pis for a long time. They continue to come out with new and improved versions of the technology. Case in point, this: Raspberry Pi 400 – Complete Kit – BuyaPi.ca. It could be a great way to get someone interested in computers.

Plants: I’ve written number of pieces on plants; you can find themhere. I used to be terrible with them. But one good thing about the pandemic is that I am home all the time. This helps me keep a better eye on my green friends. Partially as a result of that, they are thriving. If you have problems with plants, I recommend that you read this: How to stop killing your houseplants – Vox

Finally: I realize the pandemic is getting you down. Your not alone. But there are vaccines coming, so find ways to deal with it until then.

Remember:

 

October pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Welcome to Autumn: a season so nice they named it twice (Autumn/Fall). Thanks again for reading one of my kinda/sorta/not really newsletters containing things on my mind since the last one in September. Let’s jump in:

The Pandemic – bad: well the pandemic seems to be going pear shaped all over the world. Places that have kept their numbers down have suddenly dropped the ball and have seen their numbers increase. There are a few exceptions, like New Zealand and the Atlantic provinces in Canada. But they are few and far between and likely in isolated places, I believe. As for Canada overall, I think this is a very good analysis of where we currently are with the pandemic: Opinion: With winter coming and the virus spreading, a feeling of dread is setting in – The Globe and Mail. I am afraid it will get worse.

The Pandemic – good: Not everything is gloom and doom, though. Some fun and joyous things have happened. For instance, the night of a thousand wines. One of the fun things that happened in the pandemic is the night Susan Orlean got drunk and then took to twitter. The results were
unintentionally hilarious. You can read about them, here. (She feels no shame, so I do not feel bad sharing this. Hey, it happens.)

One of the nicest things to happen recently is the viral video of the guy skateboarding while drinking cranberry juice and listening to Fleetwood Mac. Here’s more on that: Millions of Views Later, Nathan Apodaca Keeps the Vibe Going – The New York Times

Another one of the more positive things to come out of the pandemic: Gay couples take over the hashtag #ProudBoys to drown out the hate group – The Washington Post.

Dealing with discomfort: I wrote this three years ago, on how to think about living with discomfort. I think it holds up and is worth reading if you are suffering.

New Newsletters: Last time I hadn’t thought of any newsletters worth mentioning. Not this time. First up is this one from Laura Calder. It’s monthly and is packed with lots of good things to read. Highly recommended. For people who like a thoughtful political newsletter, there is this one, from Siri Agrell: Loss Leader.

The U.S.: well, not long now before the U.S. election.  Thank god. Here’s hoping for a change in the leadership. Both America and the world needs it. But remember, whatever bad things you think about Trump, he is STILL not the worst president ever. This guy is.

Restaurants: up until now restaurants have been getting by with patio service and by coming up with new ways to serve their customers. To see what I mean, here’s an innovative way to provide food by a place in Toronto. Elsewhere, here’s a good story of how restaurants are changing to meet the demands put on them from the pandemic: Tom Sietsema: To weather the pandemic, restaurants reinvent themselves, again and again – The Washington Post. I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. It’s been a brutal time for restaurants.

Personal News:  Here’s the recent obituary for my uncle: Obituary of Pat Hall, Glace Bay. RIP, Pat. You were a good man.

It is an odd feeling to see your life reflected in a web page, but this one does.

My mom is referenced in that obit. When she died, I thought about this artwork often.

 You can find more about it here.

IBM: Big shake up coming for my employer: IBM, Seeing Its Future in the Cloud, Breaks Off I.T. Unit – The New York Times. I don’t have any great insights into this. It seems like a wise move. Then again, it seemed that way when John Akers did it. Time will tell.

Meanwhile I celebrated by 37th year at IBM this October 3rd. For someone who was surprised to not have to go on the “pogey” after a year, it’s been a long and rewarding trip. I wrote a long piece about it 10 years ago. (One thing I like about my blog is going back in time.)

Google Assistant: I have become a fan of Google Assistants over the last while. I now have three devices for this: a Google mini, my Sonos speaker, and this Lenovo Smart Clock (which I wrote about). I have found it has made my life better. I use it to play music, get the time, get the weather. The one in the kitchen is especially great because I can do so much just by talking to the mini. I highly recommend them.

Cooking: I wrote this a while ago about how to make French fries. If you love french fries, you should read it. It will change your life (or at least have you making fries more :)). And it is also the season for sheet pan cooking. Here’s some good advice I found on that, here.

Exercise tips: if you are like me, you need to exercise. Here’s some tips!

Pandemic – funny: this is almost funny, if you like dark humour. Here are some pandemic predictions I found recently from March, 2020. Needless to say, much of this is wrong: Coronavirus going to hit its peak and fall sooner than you think.

Not that I am one to gloat. Here is me from October 2015 predicting the next American president!

Finally, it is thanksgiving here in Canada. I am thankful and grateful for many things, despite this trying time. I hope you are too.

(Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash)

If you have gotten to here, thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time to read this.

September pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Hey! Thanks again for reading this, my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings since the one in August. I had a long list of things to post here, but I cannot seem to find them. Augh. Oh well.

Newsletters: a few newsletters ago they were all shiny and new. Now they have these become old hat. Almost. It seems like more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon. I’ve realized reading them now that they are a harder thing to write than most people think. The people most successful seem to have a voice and a formula/structure. If you have a formula or structure, your newsletter will hold up even on week publishing days. If you do not, it’s likely harder to maintain a base level of consistency. From what I have witnessed.

Favorite newsletters: No new ones since my last newsletter.

Pandemic update: in Canada we seem to be heading back down to the bad times, after making such good progress. I am not surprised. I think people are breaking down and thinking “oh what’s a little socializing going to do?” and the next thing you know we are back where we were months ago.

As well, schools are back: this will have an effect somehow. We will know in a few weeks.

Meanwhile I am trying to be as normal as I can and trying to get out when I can, knowing that I might not be able to in a few weeks if things spiral out of control.

Restaurants: I am not sure what will happen with restaurants if there is another form of lockdown. Many have closed, and I have to believe that the ones that haven’t are barely getting by. If this goes on for an extended period of time, I can’t imagine there being that many restaurants as we know them being around.

Other venues: other than restaurants, I wonder about other venues where people gather in large numbers. Most theatres are not doing well, and Hollywood’s hope of bringing in people with films like TENET do not seemed to have worked. As well, more studios are putting off films that should have been out awhile ago. I think they are delaying in hopes of something that will not happen.

I almost went to see TENET. I am a big fan of Nolan’s film and how he plays with time. But I can wait and see this at home.

Cooking: While I am trying to get out more to restaurants, I am still doing a lot of cooking at home. To be honest, it is often tiring. To reduce the workload, I am trying to cook more one pot meals. One pot meals result in less clean up afterwards.  Plus they tend to be less labour. If you find you are cleaning up too much, try one pot meals. I found this book really good for one pot meals. I also go to Budget Bytes and type in “one pot” in the search menu and get quite a few that way.

I’ve also found I eat more repetitively. I will go days eating the same breakfast and lunch. It just save time thinking about it.

Autumn/the New Year: As far as I am concerned, the day after Labour Day is the start of the New Year and the start of Autumn. I know fans of Summer hate that idea. Fans of Summer want you to know that Summer ends the 21st of September, not Labour Day. It’s true, it does. And it’s true, there are some very warm days in September. But I love Autumn and I am glad to pack Summer away and get on with it.

I love Autumn because I associate it with the new and transition. The start of school. The start of harvest and wonderful colour. Of mild weather. I love Autumn because I associate it with good change. Autumn is dynamic. Autumn is where we start again, move ahead, make progress. It’s the best season. A season so good we gave it two names.

Finally..

John Turner passed away this weekend. RIP. I still think this is one of the best photos of Canadian politicians ever. I sometimes wonder if Quentin Tarantino ever saw it.

Well, thanks for reading. Take care of yourself. Give yourself some slack. We are living in historic times, and that is usually difficult.

August pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Hi there! Thanks again for reading my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights and ramblings since the last one in July. I didn’t think I would stick with writing these pieces, but I’ve been doing this monthly since the start of the pandemic! I still can’t see me starting a newsletter, but I am less certain now than I was months ago.

This newsletter has some bad things (references to the pandemic and Trump…sorry..) but I added some good things too (Jacques Pepin, vaccine progress, and more). I hope you find it worth reading.

Newsletters: they seem to have really taken off now. The latest one I saw is Andrew Sullivan’s. It’s only been out awhile and he already has over 70,000 subscribers and 10,000 paying subscribers. Pretty big numbers, though not surprising given his fame/notoriety (depending on how you view him). His format is very blog like and more like the Sullivan I used to read. Though a newsletter, it seems like a series of blog posts emailed to you.

You can see Sullivan’s newsletter shaping up as each one comes out. The same is true of Alison Roman’s. She fills in a bit more each time, and she seems to be learning or evolving as she goes along. She now has a free and a paid one, and the paid one gets an extra recipe. Jamelle Bouie used to do something similar before he moved over to the New York Times.

Bouie and others like Austin Kleon have been doing newsletters for years. But things seem to have really taken off since the advent of Substack. The newer ones, like Sullivan and Roman, use Substack. I’m not sure what is driving it, save that Substack makes it easier to monetize subscriptions and provide tools to make it simpler to run a newsletter. It could be that newsletters are seen as the New Thing, the way Podcasts were the New Thing only recently, and people want to get in on the New Thing. For whatever reason, newsletters seem to be taking off.

I still feel like they are emailed blogs, and because of that, I will keep blogging. Blogging, tweeting, newsletters: all just ways of expressing ourselves in the era of the Web.

Favorite newsletters: As for my favorites, Austin Kleon is near the top of the list. His is tight. He has a good structure, he is consistent in putting it out, it is diverse in what it highlights. I like Alison Roman’s too: it’s like getting a small part of what will be her next cookbook weekly. Speaking of cooking newsletters, I really like Jamelle Bouie’s for that. Unlike Roman, he doesn’t develop new recipes, but he does highlight some really good recipes from others, as well.

Bouie’s has some smart political commentary. Another person with a newsletter filled with insights is Felix Salmon. Paul Krugman’s is ok, but I don’t feel it some times.

Pandemic update: it has been dreadful to watch the pandemic play out in the United States. My optimist’s eye is I seeing some evidence that more states are getting serious about putting in restrictions to get things under control. I hope so. While Trump seems incapable of doing anything remotely useful, others seem to be doing more to keep it in check at least. I feel for Americans.

In Canada things are improving. Not as good as some other countries, but improving. The next big test  will be school’s reopening in September. After that, we may see fresh outbreaks. We will see soon enough.

Overall, we seem to be in the beginning of the middle of the pandemic. If the end is when vaccines roll out and social restrictions ease, and if the beginning was our initial confusion over what to do and eventually doing radical new things, I think we are now in the middle phase where we have to buckle down and try to get by. This part is going to be the grind. When even Michelle Obama is talking about experiencing low grade depression,  it is not surprising that people with less means than her and are worried about their jobs or their health or their loved ones are also having a hard time.

And other bad things: the pandemic is not the only thing weighing on the mind of Michelle Obama and others. The killing of black Americans, as well as the other injustices they suffer, plays a part. Here in Canada we are seeing the inequalities in our society highlighted in the way that certain groups end up bearing more of the brunt of the pandemic than other groups. I was hopeful that one silver lining of the pandemic would be more political and social effort to address those inequalities. I am less hopeful now. After a burst of coming togetherness in the early part of the pandemic, I suspect now people strongly want it just to be over.

But some good things: if you search for “covid vaccine”, you will be swamped with results showing that much progress is being made there. Plus already there are better forms of treatment for people who do suffer as a result of COVID-19. That’s really good.

With better treatment and a wide spread vaccine and possibly a change in government in the US, there is also the potential for a huge economic recovery worldwide. This is not to overlook the suffering now, but to look forward to a new and healthy and better off world.

The other good thing about the pandemic is the strong fiscal stimulus governments have put into fending off the worst from an economic perspective. I hope more progressive political parties and organizations use this to push on in the future for greater government involvement in improving the lives of more and more people.  Let’s see.

Other good things….

Jacques Pepin: I found Jacques Pepin on Instagram. He’s great! Of course he’s great, Bernie, you sigh. I mean, what I love about him is his style of cooking and sharing. Very old school in some ways, very French, but not flashy. He cooks in a little kitchen and tells stories and chops up food and even uses a microwave. I love that! Who’s going to tell him he shouldn’t use a microwave? Only a fool would do that. Jacques Pepin can cook any way he wants. He’s Jacques Pepin, that’s why. 🙂

Le Bernardin and World Central Kitchen:  Eric Ripert is making the most of his downtime by turning his world famous restaurant into a place to make meals for those less fortunate. Every week he turns out hundreds of meals that are then distributed to others. It’s a good act, and you can read about it here.

Finally…

2020 and the pandemic era: there’s a meme started by Reese Witherspoon showing a headshot for each month. Many other celebrities have adopted it. As you might suspect, each headshot shows more and more distress as the months pass. If you feel that way yourself, consider yourself part of a larger community!

We are in the pandemic era. Like other periods of great stress (e.g. the Great Depression),  time is measured more by a specific set of events and less by calendars and scheduled events. We cannot schedule this, only live through it.

It will end. Just like all era do. Try and make the most of it, and try to permanently record your thoughts and feelings and anything else that embodies the era. You will fondly look back on it, the way humans tend to do. Plus, people of later generations will want to hear about it and see evidence of it. Give them something of yourself from the time. Even if it pictures of the bread you made that one time, or a snapshot of the Zoom calls you were on, or something you bought online when all the retail stores were closed. You are living through history: you are special just by living in this time.

At the beginning of the pandemic I made this zine to remind people to make a list of things they want to do when the pandemic is over. There is still time to make that list, even though some of those things are already happening. Traveling is one of the things on mind. But even something simple like causally wandering into one of my favorite noodle bars and slurping some good brothy noodles is something I am looking forward too. And with that said, thanks again for reading this.

 

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July pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, in blog form)

Hey! Good evening (to people in my time zone, GMT -5. :))

Thanks for stopping by.

This is my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights (not so many) and ramblings (many) since the last one at the end of June.

We are still in the era of the pandemic, but we seem to have spin offs of it: in some places, it is getting much worse (e.g. the US, Brazil), in other places it is dying down (e.g. Canada) and then there places it seems to have died down but then flared up again (e.g. Australia). I think the only safe thing to say about this disease in any place is that we are in it for the long haul. Countries and governments that get that will be the ones that do best.

Pandemic: speaking of the pandemic, here are two pieces I found worth highlighting.
First up: As people mostly have to dress up only for work videoconferences, they have adopted some innovative ways of doing this: The Video Call Is Starting. Time to Put on Your Zoom Shirt. – The New York Times Secondly, a reminder: if you are going on a road trip, be prepared for failure and don’t expect things to work the way they did in the past: Canada Reopens, but Little Returns to the Old Ways – The New York Times
Free speech: there’s been lots of chatter about free speech in the US recently. Two things I noticed were the changes at Reddit, followed by the so called Open Letter defending free speech published by Harpers.

My thought on Reddit cancelling the subreddit ‘The Donald’ was: Good. That subreddit had ample opportunity to follow the most basic of rules and they didn’t, as this piece explains: Reddit, Acting Against Hate Speech, Bans ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit – The New York Times

As for the other item, I don’t have much to say about the somewhat controversial Open Letter in Harper’s. I thought it was something of a nothingburger. Others did not: it got plenty of people riled up. For those who think it was somewhat significant, I recommend this piece: Don’t Fall For The ‘Cancel Culture’ Scam | HuffPost Australia.

Also, stop writing Open Letters, people. Get a blog or something. 🙂

Bad thought: There is so much bad thought/writing in the world today, some of which I write myself! Most of it is ignored. But then some of it hits bigger sites, like The Big Think. I like the Big Think. There’s some good stuff there. There’s also some dubious stuff, such as this: End of the world: MIT prediction from 1973 is proving true – Big Think. I was surprised that they would just reference Club of Rome so generally. If you do some research into the predictions of the Club of Rome, there’s many articles debunking them. As always, take anything you read on the Internet with a grain of salt, even if it comes from reputable sources.

Speaking of bad thought,  a twitter cliche is to say “Everything is terrible, but here is something good”. For example:

Not sure why people just can’t say “here’s something to good”. Everything isn’t terrible, obviously. It’s a distorted world view. If you say, “everything is wonderful”, people would rightly give you the side-eye or worse. But say “everything is terrible” and many just nod in agreement. Bah!

More on the US: I found this accidentally while going through the New York Times site recently. It says something about the US that this barely registers as news anymore: 2 Dead in Shooting at Walmart Distribution Center in California, Including Gunman – The New York Times

Remember that couple who came out brandishing guns when Black Lives Matter protesters crashed their gates? Here’s a good follow up story on them. These people are almost Dickensian in their terribleness: Portland Place couple who confronted protesters have a long history of not backing down | Metro | stltoday.com.

I am not a fan of Kayne’s clothing — I find the designs heavy handed, bulky, and colourless – but I found this interesting: Kanye West and Gap Strike 10-Year Deal for ‘Yeezy Gap’ Apparel Line – The New York Times. I could actually see him doing something interesting with the Gap. He could help lift them up for a bit, and maybe he could find his stride with the line. Fans of West could argue that he has been successful with Adidas, and I’ll grant him that. If he and the Gap paired and succeeded, I would be first in line to applaud them both.

I’m just going to ignore the whole “Kanye running for President” non-event.

Canadians: on Twitter, people often flare up and tweet about how smug Canadians are. I thought this was solely a habit of left wing Canadians, but a search through Google showed me it cuts across the spectrum of politics: smug canadian – Google Search.

I find the idea of smug Canadians quaint, to be honest. Canadians have much to be proud of, but I am not sure they should be excessively proud (i.e. smug). And from my limited perspective, I don’t think I have ever met a smug Canadian. After all, we have many faults. And we are secondary at best when it comes to many other places in the world. So,  lots of  reasons to temper our pride. As for our accusers, I wonder if the people wagging a finger at “smug Canadians”  just don’t care for Canadians or a particular set of Canadians? I find it an odd phenomenon.

The rest of the world: I struggle with how blind we are to what is happening in the world because we focus so much on the US and its problems. We miss tragedies like this one. There is unprecedented violence in Mexico now and it barely registers north of their border: Mexico Police Chief Shot in Possible Assassination Attempt – The New York Times.

Finally, something out of this world: I think, based on this, that our understanding of our Solar System is going to change in a big way soon: Beyond Pluto: the hunt for our solar system’s new ninth planet | Science | The Guardian

Thanks for reading this. I hope you found it interesting and somewhat useful.

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June pandemic highlights and ramblings (a newsletter, if you’ll have it)


This is my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights (not so many) and ramblings (many) since the last one at the end of May.
It’s a weird time in the pandemic: in parts of the world, the worst is behind them (e.g. parts of Europe). Where I am, the numbers are coming down, but we still have a way to go. Meanwhile in parts of the US, Brazil, and some other places, things just keep getting worse. Hard to know what to think, other than to recognize we are all in this for the long haul. What I do think is 2020 is going to be a milestone year. Perhaps a turning point will occur in 2021. American election can cause such turning points.

I miss some of the earlier aspects of the pandemic. People checking in on you. Artists  sharing their music and creativity. Patrick Stewart reading sonnets every day. The chefs of Le Bernardin sharing cooking tips from home. Sadly much of that has fallen off in this transition period.  Sad, but not surprising. We are all reverting to the norm, even if it is askew of pre-pandemic normality.

In the meantime, you can still go on Twitter and look up Patrick Stewart’s tweets to get him reading sonnets. It’s free culture. And free in this case is good!

Cooking: One thing I did feel good about was my own home cooking compared to the chefs of Le Bernardin. Obviously they are much better cooks than I will ever be. But at home they used dried herbs such as oregano, as well as adding ingredients like garlic powder to their dishes. I have always felt that those ingredients are fine and everything doesn’t have to be fresh. Watching them cook that way was validating. If you have a chance, go and look at Le Bernardin on Instagram and you will see what I mean.

In other food notes, I am a fan of cucina povera, peasant food, what have you. These are  good examples of it:  Victoria Granof’s Pasta con Ceci Recipe on Food52quick pasta and chickpeas – smitten kitchen

The Media: Newspapers, which were in trouble before the pandemic, seem to be one of the industries that are suffering more than most during this time of severe economic downturn. I expect a lot fewer of them to be in around in the time to come. Meanwhile I am subscribing to as many as I can.

Economics: Speaking of economic changes, this is something I would not have expected before the pandemic:  Toronto rent prices drop for third month in a row. Toronto is still expensive, but supply and demand is what it is.

Mental states: Simply put, people are suffering more during the pandemic. I’ve seen a number of articles like this: Am I Depressed? The Coronavirus Mental-Health Crisis – The Atlantic

The United States: I’m a strong advocate of avoid monocausal explanations for anything historic or sociological. This is not quite a monocausal argument, but it got me thinking about them: Opinion | Why Juneteenth Matters – The New York Times

Jamelle Bouie argues that Black Americans did the work to free themselves in the United States. On the flip side you had people arguing with Bouie, saying that he was wrong and that Lincoln and the Union Army freed the slaves and guaranteed freedom. But these aren’t opposing views. I understand that articles have to have a focus, but complex social changes don’t. There are lots of forces involved in social changes, and while highlighting them makes sense, trying to eliminate other forces does not. Many things led to the abolishing of slavery in the US, and while it is interesting to examine which one mattered most, it is wrong to argue solely for one of them, in my humble opinion. Bouie doesn’t come right out and say that, but it is all but implied. But don’t believe me: read him for yourself.

And not just that piece. I highly recommend that you read Bouie whenever you can. To do that, sign up and get his newsletter. If you do, you will gain a better understanding of things in the US. Also he is a great photographer and cook, and that comes out in his newsletter too.

Speaking of the US, the current president wants a second term at being president because he likes being top dog. That’s not the only reason, but it is definitely one of them. He wants to sit in that role because it is the best role, not because he wants to do anything with it: So what does Trump want to do with a second term, anyway? – The Washington Post. The man is vacant.

Not unrelatedly,  Black Lives Matter seems to me to be undergoing a transformation as a movement, but I think that will be a good thing. If BLM gets to go deeper in our societies, it can have a transformative aspect that is truly needed. That’s not to say that transformation is not already occurring, for it has. I’d like to see it get to the point where our culture and our economies are transformed by it. For that to happen, there will need to be a lot of work done over a fair amount of time. I’m looking forward to that happening, and hopeful.

Alison Roman:  I think Alison Roman is going to be an interesting example of someone in America having a second act. People like to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald (“there are no second acts in American lives”) but I disagree with that. People comeback all the time in the US, and no one loves redemption better than Americans. Let’s see if Roman has a second act in her career.  She certainly has pivoted in some interesting ways with her social media.

Summer: summer is my least favorite season of the year. (1. Fall 2. Spring 3. Winter 4. Summer) but it is summer now, and over the years I’ve slowly learned to like it a bit more. It seems like the shortest of seasons, although I’d argue that Spring gets squeezed between Winter and Summer. If I had my choice, I’d have a long Fall, a medium Spring, a short Summer and a shorter but intense Winter. Regardless of your feelings — and I know for many people, Summer is their favorite season — try and enjoy it while it is here.

Finally: one of the reason I don’t call this a newsletter is because it isn’t really newsy or personal. More just random bits and bobs.  If you got to this point, thanks for taking the time to read it.

More pandemic Highlights and Ramblings (a newsletter, as such)

 

This is my latest not-a-newsletter of highlights (not so many) and ramblings (many) since the last one at the end of March. Like many of you, I’ve felt the time blur since then. I’ve joked that the difference between the weekdays and the weekend is I am not on video calls during the weekend. Otherwise the days have a sameness. Here’s what has changed, though.

  1. Spring: despite the sameness of day to day life, Spring continues to develop. It’s been a pleasure walking my neighborhood and seeing the buds and the flowers. It’s an implicit sign of hope. Try to get out while you can.
  2. Fitness: I’ve lost a lot of interest in fitness since I lost access to a gym. That’s been bad for me. I’ve been struggling to get in more exercise, which led me to at least do daily stretching and trying to get out more. I’ve started weighing myself and wearing my Fitbit too. I’ve wanted to just ignore it, but my body and my pants have told me otherwise. My go to these days for help on this is darebee.com. And I’ve been trying to log my eating and my weight to see where adjustments can be made.
  3. Food/cooking: earlier in the pandemic, I had a passion for cooking. As the weeks have gone on, I’m still cooking, just not with the gusto I had earlier. I think that is the way it is for others. Earlier on, I saw many people posting fantastic meals and fresh bread. Now people are showing dishes with simple ingredients and simple preparations.
  4. Restaurants: it’s a tough time for them, but some are adopting new ways of doing business. I’ve been trying to patronize some of them as I can. I wish I could say it will be enough. I’ve had great meals from Bar Volo and Cote de Boeuf and Brando’s Fried Chicken, not to mention great pizza from Classico and Terroni’s, and last but not least, Brothers.
  5. Reading: my eating has been good, my reading has not been. I just can’t seem to settle my brain enough to read much of anything. The other thing is I used to read heavily during commuting and now I never commute, unless it’s from my desk to my couch. Sometimes I bring a book for when I line up for groceries, but even that doesn’t last long.
  6. Zoom get togethers and other forms of checking in: during my last rambling, there was a lot of that. I don’t see so much of it now. Perhaps the sameness of it all makes people less likely to want to do it.
  7. Leadership: I am surprised but I still steady leadership, with the occasional slips here and there. At least in Canada. In the US, I see the President continue to decline. I wish it weren’t so.
  8. Negativity on social media: I made the mistake of tweeting that Twitter had gone from being positive to nasty. That was true. How I went about it was wrong, though. That was poor judgment on my part. To fix that, I am reverting to trying to be generally positive only on social media. I should know better.
  9. Entertainment: Some people still continue to lift us with their performances on social media. Two of my favorite performers are Patrick Stewart and Angela Hewitt. But many others have dropped off and have done less. I don’t fault anyone for doing that.
  10. Scarcity: the scarcity I’ve seen early has all subsided. That is good. Perhaps I am missing some of it, but the beans and the toilet paper and the rice have all returned to the shelves.
  11. Mood: my perception is that people seem to have gone from fearful and anxious to resigned.
  12. Making things: I am still making things, but not as much. It’s enough to do what I can some days just to get through the day.

Thanks for reading this. Here’s to better days.

 

Highlights and Ramblings (a newsletter, as such)


Here’s a list of  random items I’ve been stashing away while working from home in this time of social distancing and the pandemic. Initially my goal was to create a newsletter, and perhaps I still will create one. Most of the newsletters I get, though, read like blog posts. That’s fine. But then why do I need to create a newsletter, when I can just post here. Plus, it will save you another thing to deal with in your inbox. Read when you have nothing else to read.

  1. Privacy: It’s worrying to me that as people try to adapt to social distancing, tech companies continue to do things poorly. I am thinking of Yelp signing up restaurants for GoFundMe, Zoom selling people’s data, and other tech companies ostensibly tracking sick people using cellphone data. It’s hard to think about things such as privacy abuse with all the fear of the pandemic, but it’s something to not lose track of.
  2. Food suppliers: Before the pandemic, it was a given that pickers would migrate to wherever crops were ripe and pick them, Perhaps not anymore. After this crisis, I think the world is going to need to reconsider so many people they took for granted before, be it food pickers, grocery store clerks, or delivery people. I hope this would mean they would be taken better care of. Maybe they will be. Or maybe the push for automation will come on even stronger. We will see soon enough.
  3. Leadership: Impressed to see that the grocer HEB in the US reached out to Chinese grocers to help them deal with the pandemic. Smart. A case study in good business leadership.
  4. Leadership, pt 2: Trump continues to be Trump: a crisis has not altered who he is or how he acts. All I can say is from my vantage point in Toronto that all three levels of government are being effective. It surprised me by how governments can spring to life during a crisis. I haven’t recalled such strong action since the start of the Great Recession. Not something to take for granted.
  5. Entertainment: As entertainers lost venues, it was heartening to see them take to Instagram and other platforms to perform for us. From singers playing new records to actors like Patrick Stewart reading sonnets was a balm.
  6. Scarcity: it was and is a shock to see sections of the grocery store still empty. Eventually it will return, and toilet paper will go back to being a loss leader versus a scarce product.
  7. Fear: lots of people seem anxious and down, understandably. The efforts of people to deal with that has been a comfort.
  8. Making things: Also, since I seem to have more time, I made a zine, did some painting, wrote some python code to process KML.  Blogged, of course.
  9. Food: Like many  people, I am baking and cooking. I mean, what else can you do? I miss restaurants and cafes and bookstores, though. They feed me with more than food.
  10. Other things: I thought this was a good piece on parenthood: https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/the-task-of-parenthood/.  Nicholson Baker followed me on Twitter. Whenever I have interactions with prominent people, I think: oh, I should get serious now and not look the fool. But it doesn’t last for long.