Blog Archives

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On my odd fascination with minimalism

I am oddly fascinated by minimalism. It appeals to me, though I could never adopt it. Visually I like the look of minimalist places (like the one pictured above, from this piece, Goodbye things, hello minimalism: can living with less make you happier? | Books | The Guardian). But then I know I am terrible and I would be hanging pictures and adding furniture in no time.

I suspect the simplicity of it appeals to me too. So much less to manage. But then I would get bored of wearing the same clothes, like this:

Likewise, a kitchen with this many things in a drawer seems great. No clutter, no struggling to find things, or manage things

But then I think that a kitchen is a workshop and like any good workshop, you need supplies and tools to be effective.

So when I read pieces like this, about Japanese hardcore minimalist, it lures me in to thinking about it for awhile. Then that dream fades.

I am not as anti-minimalist as the author of this piece. But I think they raise some excellent points. Then again I have read the book Goodbye Things and thought it worthwhile.

I suspect that my odd fascinating with minimalism will live on for some time.

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COVID comes for the French Wine Industry


And the result, if you are a fan of French wines, is tragic: Of Wine, Hand Sanitizer and Heartbreak – The New York Times.

You can read it straight up, but it’s worth pondering what it tells us about our values right now, and what they were before. Times are tough in the pandemic era, for winemakers in particular as well as all of us in general.

(Image thanks to Sven Wilhelm).

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On the Apple Cube, a wonderful failure

It’s hard to believe that this computer (see above), that is in the MoMA no less, was a failure. But as this piece shows, it was one of Apple’s least successful computers for a number of reasons: 20 Years Ago, Steve Jobs Built Apple’s G4 Cube. It Bombed | WIRED.

Beautiful design, but not a great product. Every company has those from time to time. Apple was no exception.

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One of the best things about Toronto, the Beltline Trail, is going to get even better


According to this: This Toronto trail is getting new platforms where old train stations used to be.

The Beltline Trail is one of the things I treasure about Toronto. As a pathway alone it is wonder, full of runners and cyclists and many folks just out for a walk under the tree canopy. It likely wouldn’t exist if not for the short lived train line that cut through this part of the city. Now the pathway will be tied to the very thing that brought it to life. That’s great.

If you live in Toronto, you owe it to yourself to visit it sometime.

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Change your rug, change your room

You might reply, sure Bernie, that’s fine and I agree, but rugs are expensive. I can’t argue that: rugs can be expensive. But there’s also good cheap rugs  and if you don’t believe me, read this: Cheap Thrills: Vintage-Style Rugs Under $100 | Apartment Therapy

Now, that’s an older piece. Some of those rugs may not be there. But it’s worth reading just to get the names of websites that have low cost rugs. Check them out; you’re sure to find one you like.

If you want to change your room, you can change your furniture and you can paint your walls. But that’s can end up being a lot  time and money. A cheap rug could just be the thing to freshen up your room.

P.S. Not all the rugs are colorful, but I like colorful rugs so I chose that image. Also that rug has pink and pink in a rug tends to go with many room colours.

P.S.S. IKEA is also a source of inexpensive rugs. And their black and white Stockholm rugs is famous for a good reason while being low cost.

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On the passing of filmmaker Alan Parker

Alan Parker just died. If you grew up in the last quarter of the 20th century, odds are very good you’ve seen one of his films, if not several. You may not even realized you did. He wasn’t a fan of the auteur idea of being a director, and that likely resulted in him not making films in a consistent way. Which is fine, since he made many a good film. The New York Times has done a wonderful thing and put together a list of some of his most well known films and where you can watch them online: Where to Stream Alan Parker’s Best Movies – The New York Times.

If you haven’t seen any of his films, now is your chance. Grab that list and go stream. I may rewatch “The Commitments”, one of the more enjoyable films from that time.

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On Microsoft Teams, or how the old problems of Microsoft are new again


There were two problems with the company that Bill Gates built up until he left (after the famous antitrust case). One old problem was the approach they sometime took to dominate a market. Based on this quote and this article, Slack files competition complaint against Microsoft in the EU – The Verge, it seems they are using this approach again. According to Slack…

Microsoft is reverting to past behavior,” claims David Schellhase, general counsel at Slack. “They created a weak, copycat product and tied it to their dominant Office product, force installing it and blocking its removal, a carbon copy of their illegal behavior during the ‘browser wars.’ Slack is asking the European Commission to take swift action to ensure Microsoft cannot continue to illegally leverage its power from one market to another by bundling or tying products.”

That’s too bad. It’s bad for Slack, of course, but it’s bad for anyone who works in a modern office and wants to work effectively. You end up using not the best product or the one best suited to your needs, but the product from the vendor that is able to crush the competition.  That’s how you end up with places having lots of Microsoft products, rather than the best products.

Which brings me to the second problem with Microsoft’s products. It’s a problem Steve Jobs talks about here:

My personal feeling is Microsoft’s products still have no taste, whether it is Sharepoint or Xbox or Azure or Teams. When I compare them to Playstation or IBM Cloud or Slack or a variety of other products from different vendor, I am always disappointed. I realize that taste is subjective and that could be just me, but I always find them a bit blah. They do the job, and at an enterprise level they may make good business sense, but in a perfect world, they would not be the ones I would use. I believe Microsoft knows this: that’s why the first problem occurs.

P.S. A reminder, when it comes to IT opinions expressed here, these are meant to be my opinions only, and not those held by my current employer.

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On supply chains, using one tiny widget’s journey through North America


You may have a view of trade as being straightforward: one country either buys or sells a product to another country. However as this older piece shows, it’s never quite that simple: One Tiny Widget’s Dizzying Journey Through the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

That’s not to say all products are like that. As we learned during the pandemic, all it takes is for a shutdown of one country and suddenly we can’t get a product. But for many products, the journey isn’t from A to B. It’s from A to B to …Z? It’s complex. And if there is a disruption along the way, disaster can occur.

One thing for sure, given how the pandemic disrupted supply chains, I expect many companies are countries are going to be revisiting how they get products and how they can better protect themselves against not being able to get it in times of emergency.

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Brush up on philosophical ideas at The Stone

Keeping up with contemporary philosophy can be difficult for people who are not dedicated to it. Which is why I am happy to share news about The Stone over at the New York Times. As they describe it:

(The Stone is) A forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley, who teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

I read a number of good essays there. The ideas can be challenging, but the language used is not. Well worth checking out.

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The Vocal Ranges of the Greatest Singers*

Ok, this is fun: The Vocal Ranges of the Greatest Singers*.

You really want to check out the site using your desktop: you don’t get to appreciate the site as well on your phone.

I found some of it surprising, though not all of it. Barry White is obviously well represented in the low end, and Mariah Carey is well represented in the high end. And while some singers don’t perform in a wide range, that’s no reflection on their singing ability (ahem, Aretha).

I also added an asterisk because people familiar with singers from the opera world would argue that all these pop singers are not truly the greatest.

But like I said, it’s just fun. Enjoy.

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On the difficulty of meaningless work

I thought this piece was  insightful and worth reading:  Too Many Jobs Feel Meaningless Because They Are.

One of the examples from the piece was especially insightful:

Consider the case of Eric, a history graduate hired to oversee a software project ostensibly intended to improve the coordination of different groups in a large firm. Eric only discovered after several years on the job that one of the firm’s partners had initiated the project, but that several others were against it and were acting to sabotage its success. His job — and that of a large staff hired beneath him — was a meaningless effort to put into place a change that most of the company didn’t want.

This is not to imply that all companies are like this. Companies can be efficient and well aligned and the vast majority of the people in it can feel like the work they are doing make a difference most of the time. However there are also companies which are not well aligned and there are conflicts within the organization. When that happens, the work being done may be meaningless, despite the fact that someone wants it done.

Work can be hard for a number of reasons: too much of it,  difficult people to work with, etc. But it can also be hard if it is meaningless, even if everything else is good.

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The Uighurs and China

I suspect there will be many more stories about the Uighurs and their relation with China in the months to come. If you want to know more about them and the reason for the conflict, I found this was a useful piece: The Uighurs and the Chinese state: A long history of discord – BBC News.

 

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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

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Two interesting IT trends and one novel thing: iPhone 11s in India, Siemens doubles down on WFH, and you can run Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft and play Doom with it.

The good folks at itbusiness.ca have a podcast called Hashtag Trending and today they talked about two interesting IT trends and one novel thing: iPhone 11s in India; Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft; Siemens doubles down on WFH. Here’s an excerpt:

Apple is building iPhone 11s in southern India. The move comes as Apple has been looking to shift some of its manufacturing away from China amid US-China trade war and disruptions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple already assembles two other models in India — the iPhone XR and iPhone 7. ….

… A new modification has been created for the game Minecraft allowing players to order computer parts from a satellite orbiting around a Minecraft world and build a computer that actually runs Windows 95 and other operating systems. According to the Verge the mod uses VirtualBox, which is free and open-source virtual machine software, to run operating systems like Windows 95. All you have to do within Minecraft is place a PC case block and then use it to create virtual hard drives to install operating systems from ISO files.

And lastly, Reuters is reporting that German conglomerate Siemens says it’s going to allow employees to “work from anywhere” for two or three days a week, and focus on “outcomes” rather than time spent in the office. Days after the recent announcement, the company says it was giving its over 100,000 employees access to a new app that provides local data on the COVID-19 situation, shows office occupancy levels and acts as a contact tracing tool. This of course is just the latest enterprise announcing its intentions for the post-COVID-world, following in the footsteps of Twitter, Facebook, OpenText and others, which have made their own announcements around remote work for employees moving forward.

It’s really remarkable how much thought provoking stuff is jammed in here. I find itbusiness.ca a good way to keep up with IT business news, regardless of what country you live in. Worth subscribing too for sure.

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Microsoft tries again in the phone business with the Surface Duo

And Verge has the story on this device…


…here: Microsoft’s Surface Duo looks like it’s ready to launch – The Verge.

Who knows if the world is ready for a Microsoft Phone or a Dual Screen Phone. I predict that dual screen phones like this will become more common in the next few years. Unlike some of the foldable screen phones, this one looks more durable, which will help. As well, phone makers need new designs to entice people to upgrade. And people will want the next new thing (though maybe not from Microsoft). All this adds up to more of these in the hands of cell phone users in the next few years.

That said, I am terrible at making predictions!  But I predict this will see some form of success. 🙂

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On how Christopher Nolan borrows from Michael Mann and “Heat” for The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan borrows heavily from Michael Mann, in particular from Mann’s best film, Heat, for his own film, The Dark Knight. To see what I mean, watch this video: The Dark Knight: Visual Echoes.

Visually, he borrows a great deal. But I think he goes much further than that. The bank scene in The Dark Knight takes a lot from the bank scene in Heat. Not just visually, but sounds and action too.

To see what I mean, here’s the scene from Heat:

And here’s the scene from The Dark Knight:

This is not to take away from Nolan, who is a great director. But it is fascinating to me to see how much he uses of Mann, another great director. It’s almost a homage to him.

Fans of The Dark Knight might like to watch it and then watch Heat. You won’t be disappointed.

P.S. The scene from Heat is not just the bank robbery but the getaway. It’s a classic.

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On the importance of pride as a feeling to cultivate


Being proud is like many feelings: you have to proportion it. But many people believe that only lacking pride is the way to go. If you are one of those people, I recommend this: What Are You Proud Of? | A Cup of Jo

Being proud is a feeling that can keep you being good and drive you towards being better. Mix in some humility and some love for and your fellow human beings and you have a formula for growth as a person.

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The story of how John Lewis ended up making a graphic memoir

Is told here: How John Lewis’s masterful illustrated memoir is a shining torch for the next generation – The Washington Post

It’s a great story about the life of a great man captured in illustrated form.

Once you read about it, you can buy it here and other places that sell graphic novels and other illustrated books.

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Simple impressive: 15 Of The Most Beautiful Subway Stations In The World

This really deserves a look: 15 Of The Most Beautiful Metro Stations In The World

A surprising number of them are in Moscow. Only one that isn’t in Europe.

Subways should be beautiful: they get used by so many people. We deserve beauty.

(Image above a link to the original post)

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You should fill your house with eucalyptus

Why? Because it makes any room look better! This piece shows how, be it your bathroom, your bedroom or really any other room:  Eucalyptus: The Affordable Plant You Should Be Buying | Apartment Therapy

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Someday we will have dinner parties again. When we do, I recommend you study this piece


Someday we will have dinner parties, post pandemic. When we do, we will be very rusty having them. Plus, we will be so happy to have people over that the food, while important, should be secondary to being able to host people. So, what to do?

Easy, Through a very easy dinner party, like they did over at the blog, A Cup of Jo. It looks like a wonderful time with the least amount of effort. Which is fine! More than fine, in fact.

We will have dinner parties again. Read this and be ready.

P.S. Of course you can do just the opposite and throw an elaborate party to celebrate. That’s fine too! 🙂

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How to make your rooms pop by using bright complementary colours

Last week I wrote about white paint. Now for something completely different: bright colours! This piece is a great guide for how to use colour in your home, which is especially good for people shy about using bolder colours: Complementary Colors & How to Decorate With Them | Apartment Therapy

In a nutshell: “Complementary colors, when used together in color schemes, are especially dynamic and pleasing to the eye.” So find your favorite colour, find its complement on the colour wheel, and use that as your guide.

My small tip: if you love a certain colour (e.g. orange), then look to use the complementary colour in the background (e.g. blue sofa, blue wall colour). Then you can fill the foreground with objects in your favourite colour.

Another tip: use artworks containing both colours. Obviously you should love the art first, but if you have many pieces you can hang or display, aim to use those that fit in with the overall colour scheme of the room. (See the image above for examples of this. It’s a good example of how blue and orange go together.)

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Friday Night Music: Larkin Poe cover the classic ZZ Top song, “Sharp Dressed Man”

via Larkin Poe | ZZ Top Cover (“Sharp Dressed Man”) – YouTube

Via Paul Krugman’s newsletter. Not surprising, really.

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Friday Night Music: Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Great footage of a very young Stevie Wonder performing this classic:  Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (1965) HD 0815007 – YouTube

One thing for sure, Stevie Wonder is much more than an average guy. Enjoy.

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17 books to get you through the pandemic, or the summer, or even the weekend


I saved this at the start of the pandemic for a time when I could freely buy books again. Now is that time, in Canada. I think this is a fine list, full of old and new books: 17 books to get you through the pandemic – Free Candie

Summer is a great time to read. Try and do that. If you get stuck, I find sticking to short/funny/light books can help.

And ready the Free Candie blog. It’s great.

(Image from a link to the blog post)

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How to eat healthy on a budget.

An oldy but a goody from Vox: I asked the experts how to eat healthy on a budget. Here’s what they told me. – Vox

It’s common sense, but like much in the pandemic times, I suspect a lot of common sense has fallen by the side. If you want to get back to eating healthier, consider reading that.

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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.

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5 Hard Things You Need to Start Doing for Yourself on Hard Days: an emergency guide


Think of this list as the big red button you need to push when you find things getting too hard to deal with: 5 Hard Things You Need to Start Doing for Yourself on Hard Days

So much advice is trite. I found this a more fundamental and thoughtful list of things to pursue when you are struggling.

Good luck.

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The Art of Emily Bickell (and where you can get it)

One of my favorite artists is Emily Bickell, largely for her paintings of water, which I think are sublime. You can get affordable print versions of them here:  Traces Art Print by emilybickell | Society6.

Better still, you can get affordable original versions of them here: Art Interiors.

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Do you have a collection of flat objects? Then frame them and hang them!

It can be anything: book covers, old CD covers, stamps, old money, wallpaper, old kid drawings (of course), letters from loved ones…you name it, if it is flat and interesting to you and you have a spare wall, go for it.

For more on this, plus other ideas, see this: Cheap Art Picture Frame Ideas | Apartment Therapy

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How to decide which white paint to go with in your home?

Well, one way is to pick one of the versions listed here: The 15 Shades of White Paint Top Designers Swear By

I’m a big fan of Benjamin Moore paints, and one of the 15 shades highlighted is Super White (shows above). I think that is great, but I was and remain a fan of Cloud White, which has almost a beige undertone and is warm, though arguably not as warm as Simply White.

For more on the Benjamin Moore paints (and the location of the image above), go here.

 

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Friday night (non-alcoholic) cocktails, courtesy of Food52


Food52 has a number of great looking non-alcoholic drink options, here: Drinks & Cocktails on Food52 – Shop Spirits, Shrubs, Mixers & Bitters.

This is for a rose, but there is a gin and some sparking beverages. They have some other good products too, if you want to make something with your favorite alcoholic beverage.

Cheers!

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How to make basic flowers into something beautiful

Flowers from grocery stores and other such places are often uninspiring. Sure, you could take them home and stick them in a vase and be done. Or you can go over to this post and get some better ideas on how to make even a few stems of anything look beautiful: How to make basic flowers into something beautifulHow to Arrange Grocery Store Flowers | A Cup of Jo

The photo above is just one example. Go to A Cup of Jo to see some other smart examples.

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Are you floundering? Then do this

One way to deal with floundering is to create structure. Zen Habits explains: Create Structure When You’re Floundering : zen habits

The other technique I do is to eliminate everything I am struggling with and do one small thing in a short period of time. Write it down. Repeat. Go as long as you can. Take a break. Repeat. Don’t examine everything you could be doing. Just put your head down and get one thing done. It may not be your best, but it is better than floundering.

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The key to resilience is recovery

As argued here: Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure

If all you are doing is endlessly enduring a difficult situation, you will eventually break. That is not resiliency. To be resilient, you need a period to recharge and repair. By doing so, you can endure more and endure things better.

No one gets stronger without a period of repair. The same is true for resilience.

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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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No area should get cocky when it comes to their dealing with the coronavirus

Because as this shows, How California went from a coronavirus success story to a new hot spot – Vox,  all you need to do is let your guard down and the disease comes back. I am reading stories of many places having surges and many places are having to go back into lockdown. I understand why people want to read stories of places like New Zealand where life has returned to normal. Life hasn’t returned to normal: all places have done is managed through strong measures to stop it from spreading in their area. Meanwhile it is spreading to other areas of the globe, like India. All it will take is enough relaxing of controls and it could come back stronger.

We know very little about this disease. Social distancing and masks seem to be helping to control it. That’s what we have for now: some level of control. No medicine is coming to help us yet. No mutation is coming to blunt it yet. We may have a long way to go.

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A nice gift idea for the fish food lover in your life …


…could be this: Sustainably Harvested Canned Seafood, by Scout Canning; set of 3, 3 flavors – Lobster, Mussels, Trout on Food52

Pricer than the canned fish you are used to getting in stores, but it could be a wonderful gift for someone.  Great packaging too. Happy to see it is from Canada, too. There is different versions of this too; you could just get the lobster, for example.

Food52 has lots of wonderful products. Even if you don’t care for this one, I recommend checking them out.

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Are meal kits the future of restaurants?

I don’t know, but I do know this is a good piece to read for anyone interested in establishments having some degree of success with them: Meal kits were dying. Covid-19 brought them back to life. | The Counter.

I am not sure what the future of restaurants will be. Or any places that depend on having many people close together for periods of time.  If COVID-19 sticks around for months and years, we are going to be forced to find out. Whatever that future is, it will be substantially different to the time before the arrival of this disease.

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On the Facebook Boycott, and social media platforms generally

Like Fox News, I suspect Facebook will make tweaks to its service to make boycotts go away: As Facebook Boycott Grows, Advertisers Grapple With Race – The New York Times. But either through intent or due to systematic issues, I don’t think Facebook will ever change from being a malignant platform. Certainly not a long as Mark Zuckerberg reigns as CEO with a growth over everything strategy.

It’s easy to blame Zuckerberg. But even if he did moderate Facebook, I think we’d be not much better off. Facebook and to some degree Twitter and Reddit are all social media platforms intent on growing as much as possible. They have some other guiding principles for their companies, but growth is top of the list. In some ways they are like invasive species: they move in and grow incessantly until they dominate an environment, often at the great expense of whatever was there before (e.g. newspapers).

I believe the next thing societies need to do is understand this invasiveness and what it does to the existing social contracts and come up with approaches to manage these platforms. I am not sure how successful we will be. The Chinese government seems to have managed it, but at the expense of the people they govern. There needs to be a better way. I wish I could see better examples of what it is.