Two Months of Sheltering in Place

The weeks have gone by a lot faster these past 30 days than the first 30 days. Toronto is slowly loosening it’s restrictions, allowing curbside pickup from retail stores, though all restaurants are still open only for delivery or pickup. So far none of the restaurants I get food from have closed permanently, though I don’t have a lot of hope for the diner across the street from me. I take a walk each day, weather permitting, go grocery shopping for snacks once a week, and as of today, I finally have masks that fit me. A family friend, Ruby, made them for not just our whole family, but my sister’s in-laws as well. We call them our Ruby Masks. It was a heartwarming gesture, one I've seen friends on social media gush about as well when their friends make them masks. I don't know if we're all in this together, but a lot of people are stepping up.

My task list is just as long as it was before the pandemic. If I've said "I'm too busy to do [xyz]," well, that wasn't the reason. I watch more movies than usual, with Saturday having become movie night with co-workers. We stream it over one of the video chat services, and we make up for the low quality with camaraderie during the film. There’s a demand for a service like this, even in a post-pandemic world, or a world in which movie theatres still exist, because of the distributed nature of teams and friends. A browser plugin won’t cut it.

The weather is warming up, and even in a cold May, I’m out on the balcony in the sunlight. I went on my first bike ride of the pandemic to Trinity Bellwoods Park on a warm Saturday, which was followed by a week of cold weather. That all changed this week. I can finally drop my parka off at the dry cleaner.

I've taken two streetcar trips, both of which were back from a computer repair place, having walked to get there. I took note of the time and ID number of the streetcars, but that has been at least 2 weeks ago. The next streetcar I board, I'll be wearing a mask. I still keep track of every place I go using Foursquare's Swarm. While before the pandemic it was a game, the winner getting more points based on how many places they visit, now it has taken on the sombre task of logging where I was in case I need to retrace my steps up to 14 days later.

All concerts I had tickets for to this point have been either cancelled or postponed. I expect the same of June concerts, and any concert happening this year. I know why sports leagues have not cancelled their seasons (they traffic in optimism), though it's all but certain no games will be shown in front of live crowds in North America in 2020.

It's easy to rationalize away the things I miss. "Restaurants weren't such a great experience anyway." "Concerts always had annoyances that I don't miss." "Museums are boring." But I'll go to them when they re-open, taking any precautions that's asked of me. I'm still optimistic that we will get to enjoy what we enjoyed before the pandemic, just in a different way.

A Month of Sheltering In Place

Even though I'm Canadian, I've long preferred the American expressions for things. A "furlough" is the temporary leave of absence that employees don't choose, and in recent times has referred to employees during government shutdowns in the United States. I think "donut" is a funnier way to spell doughnut, which is the Canadian spelling. And "shelter in place" is a term I learned during the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, and is my preferred term for "stay at home" or "lockdown" during the COVID-19 pandemic.1

My first day of working from home full time was March 13th, a month ago today. My manager knew which way the wind was blowing, and beat the wider company's order to work from home by a week. Our organization, Customer Service, has a lot of experience working from home, as many of us working from home once a week before the pandemic to begin with, plus others on my team not located in Toronto or Boston had their home office setup already.

I find myself well-placed for this. I've tried to avoid the words "privileged" or "lucky" because, while undeniable, they don't fully account for decisions I made in the four years of living in Toronto. One of them was to establish a space in my apartment for working. Another was to start the habit of buying in bulk for necessities and get them delivered on a regular basis. A third decision was to learn how to cook for myself. In a previous life, I ate out tremendously, and knew how to cook maybe one meal that wasn't macaroni & cheese. Now, my fridge is half full of ingredients to cook (with deliveries each week) and half full with leftovers. (The third half is taken up by beer.) Twentysomething Richard would marvel at the full fridge and the fact that I have a full set kitchen utensils that I use regularly.

The other aspect that puts me well-placed is introversion. I've overheard people on the street say it has been hard for them as an extrovert to have to stay home all day and not have an office to go to and the ability to visit friends. On the flip side, however, as the crisis started, I saw the jokes by introverts who mockingly asserted this should be easy for them, since they were used to being alone and now get to do it all the time. I had a hard time with those jokes.

Introversion (being comfortable with being alone) is not the same thing as shyness (anxiety about establishing new relationships and maintaining existing ones). In the first couple of weeks, my social anxiety took a back seat to anxiety about the pandemic. I found that frustrating because, due to an overly anxious Valentines Day, I resolved to restart the work I had done about the social anxiety. I'm less anxious about the pandemic after considering what I have control over, such as washing my hands, staying away from crowds, "s o c i a l  d i s t a n c i n g" (which sounds funnier when said ominously), and muting keywords related to The Virus on Twitter. I've also accepted I don't have control over when we will sufficiently flattened the curve, or when therapies or a vaccine become available. I've done and will continue to do everything health authorities have asked of me, all the while keeping an eye on the impact to civil liberties.2 The improving weather will be a test for Canada's resolve to stay away from crowds or travel unnecessarily. It will test my resolve. Now that pandemic anxiety has subsided, it won't be easy to work on my social anxiety, as there the number of social situations in which I meet new people are going to be few and far between. I can still work on the feelings associated with it, though.

Other aspects of my current life that have me well-placed:

  • Two bookshelves full of books and DVDs, at least a quarter of them unread and unwatched, and a long-enough watchlist.
  • Friends and family who not only check on me but care about me
  • A job which keeps me busy during the day, and that I can effortlessly do remotely, with a reduced cost of living (which I haven't fully understood) and savings that make it possible for me to donate to food banks.

I'm grieving for a lot of things as a result of this: the quiet that now surrounds my apartment, making downtown Toronto feel like a small town; having to work from home when I moved here so I could work in an office; no in-person gatherings of any kind; the oxygen that the crisis sucked out of the news and conversations; travel plans I've had to cancel and visits by family that are a lot less certain now. The opportunity is in time gained. I don't plan on starting any new hobbies, but rather jump-starting old ones, like synthesizers and running.

Walking and exercising outside hasn't been cancelled. Cooking isn't cancelled. The economy collapsed but Canada's social safety net kicked into overdrive. Medical science around the world has been put on hold to work almost exclusively on one problem. People in Toronto, as they so often do, are more or less coming together. My balcony hasn't been cancelled. So I'm still optimistic in the ethic sense of the word. We'll get through this because we, at least in Canada, are embracing the challenge, and when we embrace the challenge, our track record is very good.

  1. I also liked "shutdown" for a while, seeing as how we weren't locked in our homes, but rather anything that involved lingering, such as restaurants or concert venues or libraries or art galleries, were shut down. "Shelter in place" quickly replaced that in my mind, though. ↩︎

  2. I'm signing up for decentralized privacy-preserving proximity tracing the day it becomes available. ↩︎

Just a Gwai Lo Supports Dark Mode

I have to say, I was skeptical about dark mode in our current operating systems, but since wiring it up to switch to it automatically after sunset, I’m a believer. I know some people always operate their in dark mode, and that's not for me. I prefer the light on my screen to match the light of the day. It's especially nice to have my iPhone in dark mode at concerts, so I can avoid being "that guy" who blinds the person behind me,

Websites now respect the system setting of dark mode, and ever since Jeff Geerling updated his site's theme to support dark mode, I had on my list to do the same.

It turns out that the Responsive Blog Drupal theme, a very nice theme that does what it says on the tin, has a switch for turning on the dark mode version of it. I'm glad I realized that most of the work had been done for me, and I've submitted a patch to the project for review.

The last frontier of dark mode based on system setting is third-party JavaScript widgets. None of the 3 widgets on my blog, to my knowledge, have the ability to switch automatically.

Watching Movies

Joseph Planta, a podcaster who interviews notable people in public life, once posted the list of films he had watched over the course of the year.

Recalling this at the end of 2017, I had made added to my yearly list of New Year's Intentions the idea to carve out time to watch more movies. I decided that Friday would be movie night, and that as part of my Sunday routine, I would pick a film to watch the following week. As 2018 progressed, it was obvious that I couldn't rely on Friday night to be the specific night for watching a movie, but my conscious effort paid off in making good on a promise to watch a movie almost every week.

It certainly helps that I live two blocks from a commercial cinema and the TIFF Bell Lightbox, not to mention subscribing to Netflix and Amazon Prime. I'm a Bronze member of The Revue Cinema in Roncesvalles, and have had a fun time at their Drunken Cinema series, where hooting and hollering is encouraged. It is not often that I rent a DVD, the closest store being an hour round trip, but the Toronto Public Library has a good selection, so I include them on my list. Only as a very last resort do I secretly and illegally download a film. I tend to turn on captions for movies, especially if people with British accents are speaking, but also because almost always captions capture what is said at low volume in the background, adding colour to the scenes. I'm not sure I'm willing to use the captioning display unit that Cineplex theatres offer, but that's without having tried it.

I'm particularly interested in movies in which a character’s understanding and effective internalization of the content of a systematic moral theory is a major driver of the story, films that showcase Los Angeles, and movies directed by women.

I post my movie-watching activity to my profile on Letterboxd, and have even been known to add a movie or two to the database it pulls from. For 2019, I switched from Friday being movie night to having at least one movie night sometime during the week. My watchlist on Letterboxd is plenty long, so I shouldn't lack for films to watch over the coming months.

One thing that has been lacking has been my ability to talk about film. It is common across all media, that is, my inability to tell people why I think something is good. When I come across the course for film appreciation that I lost track of, I'll sign up for it.

I Came Second Place In Helping People Out for the 504 Streetcar

You might remember such blog posts as my thoughts on the King St. Pilot and my long thread on Twitter on the subject. Since the pilot has started, I have used the Transit app more and more to give me transit directions. It does things like notify me when I'm two stops away and when my stop is approaching, useful only when GPS is available (i.e. not underground in the TTC subway). In August, it introduced Go, a crowdsourced real-time vehicle location feature. Many transit agencies, the TTC included, give the public access to real-time location of buses and streetcars, but the Transit app developers claim it can be 30 seconds out of date. With this new feature, riders are the source of information, and it feeds back to Transit's servers.

As a way to entice people to turn tracking on, the developers gamified it by counting how many people you've "helped" along the way. Presumably these are people who are sending their location to the app in the background, or looking at the app currently. They are not necessarily people thinking of using the route I'm on, but just people nearby. Over the course of a month, the number of people "helped" is aggregated and I'm ranked among other people who are doing the same thing. For November 2018, I came in second place:

I imagine the person who came in first tracked their trips for every rush hour during weekdays, whereas I worked from an undisclosed location couple of days in November and forgot to press "GO" a few times I did commute to the office along King St.

Some interesting problems came up: I sometimes take the 503, but it's not always listed as an option in the Transit app. It's truly the Secret Streetcar! I counted it as 504 for the purpose of the game. It did sometimes ask me if I was on the 503 or the 504, and I told the truth each time. Midway through using Transit Go, the 504 changed how it was split. Long story short, instead of two routes, 504 and 514, it changed where they turned off and kept 504A and 504B as the route numbers. The Transit app doesn't seem to differentiate between the two. That works out fine for me, since I'm aware of the difference, and even once a 504B caught up with a 504A (which I wanted to be on eventually), so I hopped off the streetcar that would turn left at Dufferin and got on the streetcar that would take me to Roncesvalles.

I don't know what happens if I end up 1st since I haven't ended up as 1st on any of the routes I take over the course of a month. There doesn't appear to be an API that I can tap into (to get where I went, how many people I helped, which place I'm currently in for a route). There are real-time updates to the directions (e.g. when I might miss a connection), but I haven't tested updated instructions for times when I stop at a transfer point to do something, like go to a coffee shop. It's still neat to try to get to the top and to wonder who it is that's more eager to give their location data away for free than I am, though.

Three Years In My Downtown Toronto Apartment

I have reflected recently on my three years at Acquia and my three years living in Toronto, and today marks three years living in my downtown Toronto apartment. I got the keys to the place on December 1st, 2015, and spent the next two weeks slowly moving in, making multiple subway and streetcar trips from a friend's basement to Queen & Spadina to bring over the stuff I had bought over the course of a month, and waiting for my Ikea furniture to be delivered and then put together. I would go several months without a couch, its purchase being a story of its own. I still rent, having failed to convince the landlord to buy the place off him, and have done two rounds of looking for a similarly new (my building was built in 2013 or so) and similarly tiny apartment to buy, without any luck.

The location of my current place couldn't be more ideal. It's a 17-minute streetcar ride to work, and I'm located on one of Toronto's best shopping avenues (Queen St.) and its entertainment district (King St.), at the intersection of two streets with dedicated streetcar paths (both King and Spadina). Every music venue I end up attending seems to be half an hour away by transit for some reason, but at least it's only ever that.

My proudest moment, aside from the couch purchase, has been the addition of a Muskoka chair. The dream of owning a cottage in Ontario is the dream of owning a car, and I'd just rather not. So instead of bringing me to the cottage, I brought the cottage to me. Would you believe I'm the only one in my building with one? You wouldn't, and that's because I own two now.

In order for it to have a name in Foursquare's Swarm app, I gave my apartment the moniker Hvalhús, which translates into "Whale House" (because I love whales). The English translation of if gets a "The" and there's an infrequently updated Twitter account and Instagram account for it every time something significant gets added to it.

"Space is at a premium" every time someone suggests I buy something for it, so I always order the smallest version of that thing. Three years of stuff has accumulated, and hopefully the winter months of January and February will be boring enough for me to want to part with some things. Overall, though, I'm very happy with it, and do things (like cook and hang art on the walls) that I would never have considered doing when I lived alone in my twenties. Now that I'm in my forties and living alone again, my apartment feels like a place to live in.

Thoughts on on the King St. Pilot after One Year

I've lived in the same apartment in Toronto, near Queen & Spadina, for almost 3 years. Initially my commute to an office at Church and The Esplanade was taking the 510 streetcar from either Queen or King St. depending on where the winds took me. That seemed like the fastest way to go until it donned on me that I was essentially taking a detour south past Front to Queens Quay and then back north to Union Station, and then walking through the morning wave of people coming in from all directions via the GO trains. At some point I changed my commute to take the King St. streetcar, with the new Flexity cars just coming into service on the 504 route. (That might have been when I learned of the Secret Streetcar, the 503, with its semi-permanent short turn at Spadina Ave. and threading through Charlotte to head back east on King. It's the only time I can get a seat in the morning, and I'll let multiple packed streetcars pass knowing that soon, soon I will be the only one boarding an empty streetcar on my way to work.)

The year or so I spent on the King St., no matter which route, was a contract with congestion. Luckily then my pager duty shifts would start in the afternoons, because at least then I did not have to be in the office by a certain time in the mornings. It was not so much that travel times were long but how unpredictable they were. It wasn't even a joke that people could walk faster than the streetcar, it was a reality. If the choice was spending 45 minutes standing in a streetcar and a 45-minute walk to work, I would choose the latter.

As soon as I got wind that the City of Toronto, in conjunction with the TTC, would change the traffic pattern so that cars were required to exit King St. at each intersection (with exceptions), and not only be required to turn right but mandated to do so, meant that the streetcar would be the only vehicle on the road. The right lane on both sides is closed to traffic, and open only for art installations or loading zones or taxi bays. I called the pilot project a success at the outset, because it felt like a daring exercise the TTC is not exactly known for, and it prioritized transit riders which not only benefited me directly (I have never owned a car and don't want to), but it would benefit the tens of thousands of transit riders along the King St. corridor. After a year of the pilot, I was surprised how low the increase was in ridership at 11%, though it does seem to me and other riders of the streetcar that people are more packed in, and that Presto undercounts due to 'free rides' simply because people can't reach to tap in. (If I had any doubt that the TTC counts Bluetooth devices to determine the number of riders, the open data catalogue has put them to rest.) I remain of the opinion that no matter how many streetcars are on the route, they will fill up, because of how predictable the commute times are. That's a good thing! I'm just a little dismayed that overcrowding is presented as a problem, which it is, but unless they keep up with densification along the corridor, which they won't anytime soon, "overcrowding" will be present for a long while.

(Don't get me wrong: I'm in favour of more streetcars along King St., since it will mean even people on streetcars, which means fewer people driving cars. I just don't think getting a seat is something anybody should realistically count on.)

This evening I attended a roundtable discussion hosted by Attendees were split up into groups of 7 or 8 and led by a facilitator to discuss the pilot. To my pleasant surprise, a candidate for council in my ward, April Engleberg, led the discussion at my table. We had a sheet with 5 questions in front of us, and for each of the 5 questions, we had time to answer them on our own and then discuss them among the group. I represented the early-40s white male perspective as best I could, and found the complaints and concerns everybody brought to be eye-opening. Since my commute time is very predictable now (always under 17 minutes while in a streetcar, and traffic is only ever stuck behind one), I call the line a subway on the ground. My vision for the King St. has it extended to Roncesvalles Ave., if only to make it easier for me to move to Etobicoke, but that's another story.

Did some people think it was a session to complain to city staff despite being explicitly told it wasn't. Yes. Was it a shame that the groups stayed the same throughout the night? Possibly. Did I reframe some of my thoughts about the pilot based on other people's experiences of it? Absolutely.

At work, we had to stop calling a new service that we tried out with a select group of customer as a pilot because they associated that word with a temporary thing. The customers saw themselves as early adopters of something, so I worry too that the King St. Transit Pilot is seen by implementors and stakeholders and consumers as impermanent. I see everybody in the area as being not so much as early adopters, but as participants in a new way of thinking of city streets that was (and still is) disruptive, with some problems to iron out (and possibly people to compensate). I hope King St. becomes a transit-only part of town, and that we listen to people in the roundtables, who suggested that maybe public art in street lanes didn't work as well as it could, but can still reclaim that lane for people by making it a wider sidewalk (with public art!).

I’ve seen the Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal trilogy

I’ve now seen, in quick succession, all three films by Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal. This one follows Manufactured Landscapes (which I’d seen a couple of times previously to last month’s screening) and Watermark. Anthropocene makes the case that we’ve entered a geological epoch that follows the Holocene, which we are ostensibly currently in. The idea is that humans have so transformed the Earth, including inside, on top, and the atmosphere that we now have the most effect on the planet.

It was awe-inspiring to see the wide, colourful shots of the three films on the big screen. Anthropocene doesn’t show any of Burtynsky’s photographs like the previous two films do. It does linger on drone shots and sweeping views of people (including the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria, which, wow), however, and it’s a worthy successor to the documentaries it follows. I plan on owning all three on Blu-ray to watch on my TV which will do none of them justice.

Remembrance Day at Fort York

Spurred by a tweet from the best-shod man in Toronto, Shawn Micallef, instead of taking in Remembrance Day at Old City Hall like I have in past years here in Toronto, I took in the ceremony at Fort York. Little did I know that the historical military fortification would be open to the public before and afterwards.

I caught the parade of World War I recreationists as they made their way to the ceremony on the other side of the parking lot from the fort itself:

Fort York Remembrance Day 2018

There were few people on the site main site before, so I got some snapshots of how it looked devoid of humanity:

Fort York Remembrance Day 2018

The back door of the fort was open, so I wandered out to see what it looked like:

Fort York door

A WWI recreationist and his gas mask (in the pack on his chest):

WWI soldier

The CN Tower was the backdrop for the ceremony held on the other side of the Fort York grounds:

Remembrance Day ceremony at Fort York

A canon is pointed towards the Gardiner Expressway:

Fort York Remembrance Day 2018

Three Years in Toronto

I remember knocking on a former co-worker's door, on Hallowe’en of 2015, wondering if he'd ask me to greet trick-or-treaters as part of my responsibilities as a short-term renter of his basement suite. I would be spared those duties, and thankfully so, since I had just moved over 3000 km, away from my family and my then-girlfriend, to start at a new life in Toronto. I don't remember much else about that night, except that it was a Saturday, which would give me another day in Toronto to figure out how to get to the office. On the Sunday I did a test run of taking two subways, less to see what the crowding would be like and more to be familiar with which station to switch at the next day.

The previous month I had travelled to Europe, a whirlwind tour of 3 countries (Iceland, Germany and Italy) for a wedding. On the last day, I was passenger in a one-car accident, and the day after that took 4 flights and finally, 48 hours after the event, finally sought medical attention. I didn't suffer anything more serious than muscle strain, but my final destination after Europe wasn't Vancouver, where I had lived for 16 years, but Toronto, to get my bearings a little bit and, hopefully, find a place to live. Through the miracle of stumbling around on Craigslist, I would end up with a real estate agent, and though the brief days in September didn't lead to my finding a place, she would help me find my current apartment, the one I've been living in since December of 2015.

The months and years that followed would lead to the disintegration of my relationship with Karen, though we have remained friendly to this day. I would end up in Gravenhurst due to a hilarious mixup, host my mother on her many visits to Canada's biggest and therefore best city, and now the baseball trip that my dad, brother and nephew go on is one that comes here to watch the Blue Jays at the SkyDome, which is a 20-minute walk from my place. I've become a board member of a small club celebrating Nordic culture in Toronto, something I wouldn't have considered doing in Vancouver, and I stay connected to my local area through my neighbourhood association. In January, I celebrate my 3rd year of cooking for myself, another thing that wouldn't have occurred to me at all while in B.C. Vancouver has nothing on the amount of events and seemingly endless streets and number of festivals and weather intensity that Toronto has.

Reflecting on these past three years, I realized that if someone were to say "Get a life!" I'd be able to respond with all of the above! 2015 marked the first time I've lived alone since 2008, though writing that out now makes me understand that those years were the anomaly, and not the other way around. A month from now would mark the 3-year point of my residency in my tiny apartment, and despite efforts to make it feel like a home, it still doesn't feel like home.

A friend noted that it took him 5 years to really get settled into Toronto, and maybe it'll take another couple of years for the social network here to really develop. I know my way around the city, at least, and despite not feeling like an Ontarian, I feel closer to being a Torontonian. My phone number is still a Vancouver number, and the time zone of my blog is still set to Pacific time, and the mountains are a sight for sore eyes every time I visit the West Coast. With the job I still love being here and my gradually increasing local involvement, my immediate future plans involve me right where I am, since, to mix a metaphor, while still a transplant, I'm putting down a few roots.

I'm an Opening Day Member of Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Art

Toronto, Canada's largest and therefore best city, deserves something like the Museum of Vancouver, somewhere to gather and reflect on the rich history of the local region without having to pay an arm and a leg, and which schoolchildren will be required to visit. The GTA has hard-to-pronounce Myseum of Toronto, with interesting events, for free or cheap, but no permanent location. The closest Toronto has to an inexpensive museum that can claim to be a fresh breath of air, has a general audience, though with a subject area not tied to the surrounding area is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like the MOV it's situated in an awkward area, though at least it's walking distance from two subway stations (Lansdowne and Dundas West).

On the opening weekend, I went for a visit and signed up for the $50/yearly membership right away. They encouraged museum-goers to contribute to some of the exhibits, opened up some of the small artist spaces to the public (they should do this yearly, at a minimum, to help demystify the making of art and for people to get to meet the artists with studios on the premises). As Murray Whyte's review of the opening exhibitions attest, the museum offers much food for thought on its 4 floors (all above the bottom floor) of the Tower Automotive Building.

My membership card for MOCA arrived recently. I'll visit once a quarter, since it is a little out of my way to get to. It will do until Toronto gets its downtown museum dedicated to the city, which I also hope to be a member of on its opening day.

Listening to Albums

It has been easy to forget about albums, the collection of songs that would encompass an entire CD, and vinyl and cassettes before that, with the fractured attention in the online era. It has also been easy to forget about record stores, since they have largely disappeared outside of the occasional vinyl record shop these days. Every now and then, an artist will promote their album, asking us to buy it on such and such a date, when I have, for a few years now, been a subscriber to Apple Music, giving me unlimited access to whatever they happen to have on file. Up until about early 2017, I hadn't made much use of it, though it had come in handy when someone had discussed something they thought I'd be interested in. Discovery of new music has become somewhat more difficult after music blogs stopped really being a thing, and it's impossible to rely on Facebook and Twitter for anything involving focus.

I've been a longtime reader of Pitchfork, and I still take their reviews seriously. The end of year is my favourite time, since anything I would have missed over the course of 11 months had a chance to come back on my radar. I have often committed to listening to the top 100 tracks of the year, with the top albums being a bit daunting. Their album list trends towards the mainstream, and I was craving something a little more daring. In late 2016 or early 2017, a friend pointed out The Quietus's top 100 list, and it satisfied the criteria of being just a little outside of what I would find on Pitchfork. Not content to listen to the albums in order, though, once the top 100 list comes out, I shuffle the list and make an effort to listen to each of them.

About 90% of the albums can be found on Apple Music, with the rest being streamable from Bandcamp. It has been the rare album that I can listen straight through in one go, since it's rare that I have an hour or so at a time to focus on any one thing. That said, since early 2017, I've listened to over 150 unique albums, ranging in genre from rap to electronic to experimental to bluegrass to metal. While metal is the music I have most difficulty with, a commitment is a commitment. I've been able t hook up my profile with my iPhone, which has required installing a separate app called QuietScrob and ensuring that albums are in "my library" before playing. For any new-to-me artist that I like, I check Songkick to see if they're playing in whatever city I happen to be in, and I declare my plains both on Songkick and on Facebook if either is possible. Songkick has been good for getting notified of old faves rolling through town, too.

I've Read From A Book for 6 Months Straight

Apparently one way to form a habit is to do that thing once a day and make a streak. Apps like Snapchat encourage streaks of sending someone in particular a message or photo, and Timehop keeps track of how many days in a row you check in on your past social media activities. It had recently occurred to me that I had stopped doing something I used to love, which is to read books.

I have recently come to regret not so much the polarized nature of Twitter but rather its effect of fracturing my attention. A tweet about one topic is followed by another, with links out to articles that I would feel hurried to read because there was another tweet waiting for me to react to. To stretch out my attention span, I wanted to get back into reading books though it had felt like there wasn't a satisfying reward mechanism to get me hooked again. That was until the Bookly iPhone app crossed my radar. I had used a few apps in the past to track the amount of time spent reading, which would give me an idea of how long it took me to read an entire book, and at what pace I read. The Bookly app added to that the concept of a reading streak, and that was exactly what I needed.

A new job in a new city made it difficult to find time to read books in the last couple of years. Recently, I set out to read a book (dead trees editions) for about 15 minutes a day for 30 days straight. On May 19th of this year, I hit that goal. I have since read from a book, either dead trees or electronic edition (mostly the latter) for 180 days in a row. I still post my progress to Goodreads, and by the end of the year I hope to have read a modest 20 books. I'm in awe of those who read 100 or more books, which is doable with planning and persistence. Reading before work and not before bed is definitely a great tip, though for me, my commute is fairly short, and time seems to go by a lot faster in the morning than it does in the evening. I've so far been able to carve out time every day, and hope to be able to do it every day for the, weeks, months and years to come.

Fantasy Pools

Have I told you that I’m part of a baseball fantasy pool? While growing up, I played and watched baseball, and being one of the taller players, naturally I was assigned first base. I distinctly remember the time I sat on the family home’s deck and told my parents I wanted to focus on basketball instead, which was the right decision. I would cheer for the Blue Jays, and now that I think about it, the 1994 strike coupled with graduating high school and focusing on my floundering at university (which I would recover from), I lost interest. Fast-forward to 2007, with only 3 channels on my TV, the CBC started showing Blue Jays games again. I bought an HD over-the-air receiver, and fell in love with a young utility player named José Bautista.

Years of fandom since then did not lead to an interest in joining a fantasy baseball team, though. I didn’t the appeal of following a list of players, or being an armchair GM for ballplayers across several teams.

At least not until saying yes last year. I got my chance to be creative with my team name (Batter’s Eye, after the background to what the hitter sees behind the pitcher so that he can see the ball betterf), and happily overpaid for Josh Donaldson following his MVP season. I haven’t made the playoffs yet, but it has been enjoyable to look at who’s trending for picking up on waivers and making trades that will hopefully benefit all parties.

I’ve since joined a basketball fantasy pool in order to feel better connected to the game, especially the NBA players. Being a big guy myself, I have mixed feelings about the trend towards three pointers. On the one hand, I get that you have to go with what works, but on the other hand, the big men are so athletic and fun to watch when they post up.

I named my team Paper Towels after the time that Trump “shot” paper towels to people waiting for provisions in Puerto Rico, with my icon being the paper towels as they leave the President’s hands. It symbolized a moment where he thought he was helping, was enjoying the moment, but seems to have misread the seriousness of the situation. Or maybe he didn’t care. It’s an iconic moment in my mind, so I wanted to memorialize it.

I don’t intend to win at all costs, but I also don’t intend to be a doormat. I dress active players as often as I can, and make trades when they seem good. I reject my fair of trades if it doesn’t work for me, though I don’t propose any, not really knowing what I need. It has been a fun way to keep track of individual players without cheering for a single team, that being an emotionally draining enterprise. At least with a fantasy pool, I have some measure of impact on the outcome.

Three Plants

The other life form in my apartment (until I started bringing in flowers) was a aloe vera plant. I had no strong desire to extract the aloe vera itself, and living alone, I wanted something to care for that wasn't just me. I have on my Sunday routine to water the plant, and so far so good. Except for the first year or so, I had watered it too much. After giving it to a friend in Toronto to care for it for 3 weeks while I was out of town, she and her partner gave it a name (Lady Jane, after Lady Jane Grey but mainly because they like the sound of it), and, noticing it was unhealthy, even drew up plans for its rehabilitation:

On its arrival back at my apartment, I propped it up with some chopsticks and twist ties:

It's doing well, now, though still with its supports. Today, that same friend has given me 2 more plants to take care of:

They don't yet have names, so I will take suggestions. I'm also looking forward to potentially taking in a 4th plant once I get my second bookshelf, one that will drape down the side of it, potentially.

(I regret to inform you that after I took the photo of all 3 plants, Lady Jane lost an arm.)