Tag Archives: pandemic

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)

Are you eating oddly during the pandemic? Of course you are!

baby in a cake

I have been eating oddly during the pandemic compared to how I used to eat in the Before Times. Some days I will skip breakfast: other days I’ll have two! Or I’ll have dinner at 4 and then a snack at 10. I bet something similar  happening to you.

Well good news! As this article shows, everyone is going through the same thing: Your Weird Pandemic Meals Are Probably Fine – The Atlantic.

If you have maintained a consistent way of eating the whole time, that’s fine too. But if you are a bit weirded out by how you eat these days, read that article and you should feel better.

(Photo by Henley Design Studio on Unsplash)

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

On preparing for a post-pandemic world

Theatre sign saying the world is temporarily closed

If you are in business, you need to start thinking today about how everything will change after the pandemic. If you need help, review this piece in HBR: Preparing Your Business for a Post-Pandemic World

If you are not responsible for a business, it could still benefit you to read it. I see plenty of people fantasizing about what they might do after the pandemic. Why not go further and start planning to do it? If you are thinking of moving after the pandemic, what will that take? If you are planning on travelling, what do you need to have in place to make that happen?

The pandemic will end. Not soon enough, but sooner than you are prepared for. Get started on that today. The world is only temporarily closed.

(Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash)

End of university watch

classroom

It’s tempting to think that colleges and universities will start to see a major decline as a result of the pandemic. I think they will take a hit as a result of it, but I don’t think their demise is anywhere near. As this piece argues, people will take great lengths to take part in post-secondary educational experiences, pandemic or not: Why Did Colleges Reopen During the Pandemic? – The Atlantic

More than ever, the pandemic has made clear that major changes are required for post secondary education. Even before the pandemic, too many people waste their time and money going to university just so they can get a job. That’s wrong, but many employers demanded it. Fortunately, that is changing, as this piece shows:  14 companies that no longer require employees to have a college degree

Going to university is a good experience. Ideally I think university programs should split bachelor programs into 2. After two years, students could get some form of completion certificate. From there, they could go on to two more years of university study and complete their bachelor program, or they could switch to a vocational school and get something applied. (Or skip university all together.)

University isn’t for everyone. It should definitely not be something you need to start a job. A vocational school is fine for that. Indeed, most workplaces train people on the job once they hire them. Why wait for people to study something irrelevant to your profession?

P.S. Employers need radical rethinking of how they hire people. To see what I mean by radical, read this: This Company Hired Anyone Who Applied. Now It’s Starting a Movement.

(Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash)

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.

 

If you need help in designing a simple(r) life….

…you can find it  here at this site:  No Sidebar – Design a Simple Life

The clutter in my house has seemed more oppressive since the pandemic. Maybe you have the same experience. If so, sites like that can help.

(Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash)

 

The pandemic isn’t over and neither is working from home. Why are you working like before times?


Until recently, I was working like I always did: get up, get coffee, start work around 9 and finish work around 5 while sitting in the same place for the whole time. Then I read this:Working From Bed Is Actually Great – The New York Times.

After reading it, I thought: why am I working like I used to? Why not take advantage of being at home to work better? For example, last week I was working on a hard problem and I was sitting at my desk and getting nowhere. I decided to go out for a walk. After about 20 minutes of walking the solution came to me. I went home and wrote it up!

Likewise I have weights next to my desk now. When I get stuck I get up an do a microworkout. Other times I will take a break and do a drawing. Or stretch. Anything to get my brain going.

Consider shaking up your own work routine. I know for some people, that’s impossible. End of story. But if it is not impossible, try doing what I did. Or work from a different part of the house. Even the bed.

We are going to be working from home for some time. Let’s make the most of it.

(Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash)

 

If you are tired of cooking, you need quarantine cooking help


At the beginning of the pandemic there was lots of advice on  cooking and baking being published. Then summer came, and it seemed to have stopped. Restrictions loosened, people went out to restaurants, and in the meantime much of that advice got shelved.

It’s winter now.  In the middle of the second wave with more lockdowns and restrictions, we need that advice again. Bad news: I don’t see as much new material on it. Good news: the old material from before the summer is still good. Case in point, this, from the New York Times: Our Best Recipes and Tips for Coronavirus Quarantine Cooking – The New York Times.

There’s lots and lots of good advice and good recipes there. More than enough to keep you going for the next few months.

My favorite of the lot are the recipes from Melissa Clark. If you don’t know where to start, start there. But really any of the pieces in that long list of recipes and tips are good.

As Jacques Pepin likes to say: happy cooking!

(Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash)

 

Illness mindset, pandemic mindset

This is a stark and great piece on how one woman found that her cancer from a previous time is helping her now:  I spent eight months in the hospital as a teenager. Here’s how it prepared me for the pandemic – The Globe and Mail.

It’s really worth reading. This part struck me in particular:

People have a tendency to believe that “everything happens for a reason”; that bad things happen to transform us into individuals who are more grateful, or open, or happy, or strong. So many well-wishers said this, or some version of it, while I was sick, and I hear it so often now, during the pandemic. But I think the real chance for something you could call transformation comes from accepting that there is no reason, and learning how to live with that.

I agree with this. As I argued earlier, many people will not be affected by the pandemic and will go back to their old ways. Those affected may become better people. Or not.

Something to consider as we slog through the days, waiting and hoping the vaccines take this all away.

(Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash)

It’s the second week of January. You’ve broken your resolutions. Here’s some better ones for a pandemic


You’ve made resolutions to improve and already you’ve broken some of them. I get it: it’s hard to keep resolutions at the best of times, never mind during a pandemic.  It’s worse if you were hoping those resolutions were what you were going to get you through the rest of the pandemic. You may feel adrift.

Fortunately help is at hand. Here is a good article that will provide you with some gentle resolutions and how you can keep them: I teach a course on happiness at Yale: this is how to make the most of your resolutions | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian.

In a nutshell, be more compassionate with yourself. By doing that, over time you may find you build up enough inner resources to go back and tackle those failed resolutions. Did I say failed? I meant, paused resolutions. 🙂

(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

 

How to shake those bad pandemic habits


It’s a new year, and you may not only be fed up with the pandemic but with the bad habits you picked up during the pandemic. You – ok, and me! – need new habits. While there a billion trillion guides on how to build healthy habits, here’s a nice article from the New York Times to help get you going: How to Build Healthy Habits.

In a nutshell:

  1. Start small and stack/tie your new habit
  2. Do it daily
  3. Make it easy
  4. Reward yourself

Stacking or tying your new habit involves tying your new habit to your daily habits and routines. For example, if you drink several cups of coffee each day and you want a habit of eating more fruits and vegetables, then have a piece of fruit every time you go have a coffee.  To make it easy, put the bowl of fruit next to the coffee machine. To reward yourself, have a small — small, not big! — piece of chocolate after completing the new habit. To do it daily, tie it to a routine or current habit you do daily or more.

Remember it takes time to build a new habit. According to the article, building a new habit can take “from 18 to 254 days. The median time was 66 days”. So give yourself some time. And start small and pace yourself.

A few more thoughts:

  • If it starts getting boring, challenge yourself. Or vary your habit.
  • If it starts getting hard, cut back, perhaps to the minimum amount (but not zero).
  • Get a coach or cheerleader, even if it your spouse, your best friend, or even your kids. (Kids love to cheerlead if they get to make noise. :))
  • Track that new habit. I like the journal below. Other people like putting Xs through a calendar. Whatever makes you proud of your accomplishments.
  • At first, focus on the fact you are started. Don’t think about how far you are going. Think about that you are going at all.

(Top Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash. Bottom Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash)

If you are spending Christmas alone this year….

If you are spending Christmas alone this year and  you find the thought of it difficult (and why not?) then you might find this helpful: The Best Ways to Spend the Holidays Alone, From Someone Who Does It Every Year.

Some good tips there, pandemic or no pandemic.

Happy Christmas, wherever you are, and with whomever you are spending it with.

 

It’s Christmas. Expectations can be high. This can help.

It’s Christmastime: expectations can be high, and sometimes unachievable.  This is especially true during this pandemic. If you are struggling to feel good during this time, here are two articles that can help:

Learn How to Appreciate What You Already Have 

How to Be Happy.

 

 

 

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:

How to go skating in Toronto in the pandemic

Liisa Ladouceur (shown above) has written a thorough guide for anyone who wants to go skating in Toronto during the pandemic. No, you cannot just show up with your blades and start skating. You need to do more. And you should do more, because skating is a great way to enjoy winter in the pandemic era. So read this: Where to go skating in Toronto in 2020 by Liisa Wanders. Then get out there! Maybe I will see you at a socially safe distance with a fun mask on too.

On the COVID fee and the airlinerization of your bill


If you are concerned about the cost of things, then you should know about this: The COVID fee, or why many services could cost you more as Toronto reopens for business | CBC News.

I get the COVID fee. It makes sense for businesses dealing with the cost of the pandemic. But it got me thinking about how we might start seeing the airlinerization of bills.

I thought of that concept when I started to get food from Uber Eats. On top of the cost of the meals is 3 or 4 fees, not including tips. Now with the COVID fee we may start seeing other service companies stacking additional costs onto the initial cost.

This reminds me of the airline industry. To compete, the fares for flights are stripped of costs. Then after you are about to pay, you find out the true cost of things. Again, I get it. It makes sense. It makes me wary of using a service that does this.

It may seem good for businesses to charge several additional fees. The listed cost seems low and attracts customers. It’s only when you get the bill do you see what you are truly paying. In my case yesterday I didn’t even see the COVID fee until I got home. The tip is added as a percentage on top of all the fees as well. My expected costs and my actual costs were wildly out of sync. This did not leave me with a good feeling for the place I just visited. I feel they need to be more transparent with this. (It is not listed on their website or on the Square terminal when I paid).

If the cost is not a concern for you, then feel free to ignore it. But for many people buying goods and services in the pandemic, caveat emptor.

(Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash)

I hope Americans still on the fence about travelling for Thanksgiving read this


I understand the importance of Thanksgiving in the US. It’s a big deal, and a big part of that is coming together. But coming together might mean spreading COVID-19, not just with the people you visit, but others after the visit.

Because of that, I hope you will stay in your respective dwellings and take advantage of this offer from Zoom: Thanksgiving on Zoom: Your family get-together can surpass 40 minutes.

Normally if you have a free Zoom account, you are limited to how long your online session can last. Happily, Zoom is waiving that for this year. It’s a great offer: you should jump on it.

I hope people will meet up virtually in the US this Thanksgiving. It will make a world of difference.

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:

 

On how care leads to love and how it relates to having more by having less

I have been thinking of this post by Austin Kleon, how caring for something leads us to love it, which leads us to care for it more. I think this is true. It’s a virtuous circle.

I have found this myself during the pandemic, when I purchased house plants with the expectation that they wouldn’t live long. I was wrong: because I was around them more, it was easier to care for them, and because I cared for them, they have thrived, and I loved them more and have cared for them more. Now I have more plants than I ever did before.

It’s tempting to try to stretch this virtuous circle, and you can, to a point. The limiting factor is your ability to pay attention and the needs of the things you are caring for. If you have something or someone that requires much attention and care, you can’t have multiples of those things without exhausting yourself. You need to strike a balance.

To strike that balance, you need the right level of things to care for. Chances are, you have too many things that requires your care. I think you and I need to find the right level and pare down the rest.  Give those things to people who need things to care for. By doing so, you end up caring for and loving yourself. You are the root of all this love and care you are providing. Take care of the root, and the love and care you have for other things and beings can branch out and spread.

P.S. If you are having a hard time paring down, take the advice of either Marie Kondo (keep only things that spark joy) or William Morris (see below)

(Imagine via mylightbag.wordpress.com)

On turning an old Windows laptop into a Chromebook for my son’s virtual school

For my son’s virtual classroom, most of his work is being done using Google’s cloud services. I’ve decided to take an old T420 laptop that was in the basement and turn it into a Chromebook for him to use. So far it’s going ok.

If you are interested in doing something similar, I found this article on PC World very detailed and good for all skill levels. (I’ve read a half dozen pieces and the ones I reviewed all pretty much said the same things.) All you will need is an old PC (or maybe an old Mac), a 16 GB USB stick, and some patience. 🙂

I haven’t wiped the Windows OS yet: I booted up the 420 and told it to load the OS from the USB stick. (This part will differ from machine to machine.) With the 420 it’s easy: just hold down the blue button on top of the keyboard and let it go into setup mode and then follow the prompts.

I can’t say that the user experience is fast. It’s….not terrible. Still slow. But once things come up, it should be good.

More from me as new results come in.

Oct 19: so far so good with the Chromebooks. I ended up wiping the old OS and installing the ChromeOS on the disk drive. One odd thing: there is no notification that the installation is complete. So I recommend you start it, leave it for 30 minutes or so, then reboot the laptop. It should come up with the new OS.

One nice thing about it is that my son has Chrome settings (e.g. bookmarks) specific to his Gmail account. So when he logs into the Chromebook, I can set up the bookmarks specifically for his e-learning (e.g., I have links to all his courses on the bookmark).

The other thing I like about converting old laptops into Chromebooks is that the screen and keyboard is often better than most Chromebooks. For example, I turned a T450 into a Chromebook and I love typing on it.

Finally, old laptops are relatively cheap. You can get T420 for under $300, and T450s for around $350, which is cheaper than many (though not all Chromebooks). Better still, I bet many people have an old PC lying around doing nothing. Make it into a Chromebook and give it to someone who could use it.

Dec 28: It looks like Google bought the company that made the software I used. I am not sure what this means, but one thing it could means is that Google shuts it down. If you were thinking of doing this, best do it sooner than later.

 

 

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.

The pandemic ain’t going away soon. Maybe you need a hobby. This can help.

I am sorry to (not) break this to you (since you know it already) but the pandemic is not going away soon. That’s bad. What’s good is it may be the right time to start a hobby. Here’s two links that can help:

  1. CrossFit, ceramics: 10 people on how much they spend on their hobbies – Vox
  2. How to Find a Hobby – Smarter Living Guides – The New York Times

The New York Times piece can help you find a hobby. And the Vox piece can give you an idea of what it might cost.

A hobby is a good thing to have and no one argues this better than Austin Kleon. To see what I mean, check out his writings on hobbies.

(Photo by Margarida Afonso on Unsplash)

Do you need to generate a QR code? Here’s a tool to do that

This web site will generate a range of QR codes for you, and has some nice bells and whistles, too. For example, here’s mine:

With the pandemic, QR codes are becoming essential for any contactless transactions. Get yours there.

 

PPE for the .01%: the Louis Vuitton Monogram Face Shield

If you have more money than you know what to do with, by all means, get your own Louis Vuitton Monogram Face Shield. Details here.

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.

Is the weekend dead?

You might think so if you read this piece in the New York Times.

It has definitely changed, just like so much has changed during the pandemic. I predict the weekend will come back in time. Meanwhile, consider ways to make you day / days different enough so that it doesn’t just feel like one big endless day. It will take some creativity, but it’s worth it.

Your weekend is coming up: find ways to make those days stand out from the others.

What will happen if students at Ontario schools get infected with COVID-19?

I am sure many parent in Ontario are wondering what will happen if students at Ontario schools get infected with COVID-19. I know I am wondering. Worried too. The best thing to help deal with worry is to get some practical information.

You can get some of that, here. That  link to a BlogTO post has a good summary of what will happen, as well as links out to other sites with more detailed information.

No one knows for sure what will happen. But reading that will give you a better sense of what may happen.

 

 

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How the hotel industry is changing in light of the pandemic

The hotel business is changing in order to survive the pandemic. If you haven’t been to a hotel recently but plan to be, you should read this: What to expect from a hotel stay this summer – The Globe and Mail.

It says “summer” but really I expect this to be going on for some time to come.

(Image by Marten Bjork)

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How has New Zealand managed to go 100 days with no coronavirus community spread?

By having very strict controls.

This piece, New Zealand goes 100 days with no coronavirus community spread – Axios), shows just how strict they are:

By the numbers: New Zealand has 23 active coronavirus cases, all NZ residents newly returned from abroad in managed isolation facilities.

Of note: The border remains closed to non-residents and all newly returned Kiwis must undergo a two-week isolation program managed by the country’s defense force, which sees all travelers tested three times before they leave.

Police are stationed outside hotels where travelers are in quarantine. Officers have taken prosecutorial action against several returned travelers who’ve breached these rules by fleeing the facilities under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act.

So good for New Zealand for doing this. But I wish people wouldn’t say New Zealand has beaten the coronavirus. What they have done is control it better than anyone.

Image by Adam Nieścioruk

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.

 

Image of a bar

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If your house is in shambles, you’re not alone


If your house is a bit of a mess right now, don’t beat yourself up. As this article showed me, it’s a pretty common problem: My House Has Not Kept Up With the Pandemic in The New York Times.

Now what you do about it is up to you. If you are fine with the mess, then fine. But if you are like me and the mess is getting to you after awhile, I recommend you start setting up a schedule to tackle it. Even bits at a time, starting with an area you can manage. You may find (like I did) that after you clean and tidy a bit, you feel better. Sure, no one may be visiting, but you’ll feel better, and that’s important too

Pandemic Perspective: here’s some reasons to be optimistic


Sure, the pandemic isn’t over. In some places, it’s far from over. But that’s no reason to be totally pessimistic. If you feel that way, I recommend you read this: Six reasons to be optimistic about Covid-19.

It’s not the end of the pandemic. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is at least the end of the beginning. Things are going to get better.

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What if the Government Gave Everyone a Paycheck? Well it just did. What did we learn?

Before the pandemic (i.e. 2018), people were asking this: What if the Government Gave Everyone a Paycheck? – The New York Times.

It seemed impossible at the time. Then the pandemic came, and governments in the US and Canada essentially did just that.

What I fear is going to happen is economic conservatives are going to rush in and start yelling “Deficits are Bad!!!” and all the Establishment will nod and a new wave of austerity will come in. What I hope is that better economists will come to the fore and push and see how close we can get to UBI, given what we learned so far.

Much depends on what happens in the next six to twelve months.

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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Sweden: how not to deal with a pandemic

It’s not good to be too confident with making pandemic assessment, but the evidence is that Sweden has failed in their approach to dealing with it. According to this, via Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale – The New York Times:

This is what has happened: Not only have thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden’s economy has fared little better.

“They literally gained nothing,” said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “It’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”

The experiment was Lose-Lose: they suffered more deaths and their economy is worse off.

There is much to be learned from what happened in the Nordic countries. We are learning at the expense of the Swedish people. Read the article for more details.

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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.

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If you are struggling with your iPhone because of the pandemic…

Then you need to upgrade your phone. Why? This:  Apple rolls out iOS 13.5 with COVID-19 features | Engadget

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Tired of cooking during the pandemic? Here’s some ideas to keep you going

Me too. I go through waves of wanting to cook things fancy, and other days when a sandwich is all I got in me to make. If this is you too, but you want more than a sandwich, consider this:  The No-Brainer Meals Chefs Make When They’re Too Tired to Cook

That piece has tried and true meals that can fill you up and satisfy you without having to put a lot of thought in them. One of my favorites on the list is fried rice. A great way to use up ingredients at hand, and it always tastes great for something requiring minimal effort.

Sure there is take out, and that’s fine. And perhaps one day soon we can sit in restaurants again. But if you are stuck with having to making something, consider the somethings in that list of meals.

(Photo by Ali Cayne.)

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.