Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese

By

Seven Years

UntitledThis pin was my dad’s. I believe it was in recognition of 10 years service at Mack Truck, where he worked for 24 years, until the plant closed down – so he had a lot of service recognition pins. My mom, my sister, and I each wore one to his funeral and I wore mine today, in his honour, as he died seven years ago today.

Also in his honour, I made a big fat lump sum payment on my mortgage today. I know he would be proud of me for being good with my money.

Miss you always and forever, Daddy.

By

What Have I Been Doing for the Past Month – a bulleted list

So now that I’m done making excuses for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere, here’s a brain dump of all the things I’ve thought “I should blog about that!” in the last month:

  • I did, in fact, have that belated birthday party I talked about having. I decided that since I celebrate Bethmas Eve, Bethmas, and Bething Day, it only makes sense that if I have a party after my actual birthday, it’s Orthodox Bethmas. The party was fantastic, if I do say so myself. I’m so lucky that I have so many wonderful friends and I love it that even though lots of my friends don’t know each other, everyone enjoys chatting and making new friends with my other friends. There’s also some of my friends that only know some of my other friends from having met at my various birthday parties over the years, so they get to catch up – lol! I also discovered that two of my very close friends, each of whom I have known for well over a decade, have never actually met each other! They seem to have just not had their paths cross before – even when they’ve both been able to make it to one of my parties, for example, one of them had come early and the other hadn’t come until later, after the other one had left. 
  • Rather than doing an elaborate house drink for my birthday party, which I often do because I love mixing cocktails, I decided to go with the simple Moscow Mule. This choice may have also been influenced by the fact that I had a bottle of ginger liqueur that I bought in Portland ages ago with the intention of using it to make Moscow Mules but hadn’t. At any rate, they were very popular.
  • Dr. Dan, and his grad student, Nic, visited for a while. It was great to see them, as always (I only wished I could have spent more time hanging out!). They got to come to my birthday, which was awesome, and Dr. Dan even guest lectured in my class at the JI!
  • I completely blew my weightlifting personal record (PR) that I set on my birthday out of the water. As you may recall, on my birthday, I back squatted 77.5 kg (171 lbs). By the time that particular program ended two weeks later, I back squatted 85 kg (187 lbs)! I also set PRs for trapbar deadlift (100 kg or 220 lbs!) and what I think are PRs for bench press (42.5 kg or 94 lbs) and barbell overhead press (26 kg or 57 lbs), but I’d have to look back at all my old programs to be sure.
  • We had a full day planning meeting for the Canadian Evaluation Society BC chapter executive last weekend and I have to say, I’m really lucky to work with such a dedicated and creative group of people. We’ve got lots of exciting plans for this year!
  • Work is crazy, as always. And that’s probably enough said about that!
  • On Thursday, my friend Alicia took me to see a performance of Much Ado About Nothing by an all female cast at the Cultch. It was hilarious! I’ve never seen or read Much Ado About Nothing before, so it was fun to get to see it without knowing what was going to happen. All of the actors were brilliant and the venue is so intimate – it’s quite a different experience than seeing places up on a tradition stage in a big theatre. It’s running until Feb 16 – if you can, I highly recommend you go see it!

How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!

Leonato, Much Ado About Nothing
  • In nine days, Scott and I head to Palm Springs for week. Given that the forecast for Vancouver for the next two weeks is highs around 0 degrees, I think that the Palm Springs forecast of highs in the teens sound pretty appealing. We are flying Swoop from Abbotsford to Vegas and then driving from there (because cheapness). It will be really nice to get a little bit of break (where by “break” I mean “doing course prep pool side rather than wrapped in blankets in my condo”)

Anyhoo, I guess this has been enough of a break for today – time to get back to my marking!

By

A Very Long-Winded Explanation of Why I Haven’t Blogged in Nearly a Month

Hey, remember that time I agreed to teach all of the courses in the universe this semester, in addition to my day job, while saying “this is a terrible idea and I’m going to be so freaking exhausted for the entire four months of this!”? but then also “but they will pay me money and that mortgage doesn’t pay itself!” Well, it turns out that I was right on both of those counts. Since December (when I started working on all of this stuff in earnest), my calendar has been jam packed with course prep, teaching, and marking for three courses:

One course is an online stats course that I’ve been teaching at the Justice Institute since 2011. After having taught it eight times already, I’m pretty happy with the course and only need to make minor tweaks to the course material. The majority of my work for the course is marking assignments – so I put it into my calendar when those are due to make sure that I get through them as quickly as possible.

My second course is also at the Justice Institute – late last year, they asked me if I’d be willing to teach a class on data and research management (using Excel as a tool for managing data and doing some data analysis). This class is on campus – right in my very own town!1 – and it’s a night course – so I actually can teach it despite having a day job. I’m a huge nerd, so this is actually stuff that I really enjoy. Plus, the JI lets sessionals in on the pension plan (which no other school that I teach at does) and I’m down for some extra free money.

And then the opportunity to teach a Program Planning & Evaluation course at UBC over a couple of weekends in March arose. I’ve taught a Program Planning & Evaluation course a few times and while this one I’m teaching in March is shorter (1.5 credits instead of my usual 3 credits) and it’s a different audience (people in leadership roles rather than those earlier in their career), I have all the content I need for the course – I just need to streamline it, create assignments better aligned to the audience and the duration and structure of the course schedule, and devise some learning activities around that content2 – all of which I have underway. The course is at the downtown campus, which is so much more convenient than having to trek out to Point Grey!

Anyhoo, all this to say that this has been me since mid-December and will continue to be me until the about mid-April:

upset-534103

I’m going to also write a quick posting about all the various things that I haven’t posted about in the last month, but I’ll do that as a separate posting because I imagine most people stopped reading this boring posting several paragraphs ago.

Image source: From Pixabay, shared with a “free for commercial use” license: https://pixabay.com/en/upset-sad-confused-figurine-534103/ 

  1. So much better than trekking up Burnaby mountain to teach. []
  2. Active learning is always great, but when teaching half and full days as I will be in this course, it’s a necessity – no one wants to hear me lecture for 8 hours! []

By

The answer to the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?

Today I turned the-answer-to-the-great-question-of-life-the-universe-and-everything years old. And to be honest, it’s not so bad. Granted, I only feel like I’m 30 and since it’s scientifically proven that feeling 12 years younger than you actually are means you are cognitively superior, I think I’m doing OK.

Also, I’m super freaking strong, as you can see in this video where I back squatted 77.5 kg (or 171 lbs, for those of you prefer the old timey units of measure) – a new personal record for me – today:

Other highlights of the day included, in no particular order:

  • sleeping in1
  • a solid workout at the gym (including the aforementioned back squat PR)
  • going for a walk on the Quay
  • catching two new Pokemon that I didn’t have before
  • perusing a thrift store and finding a skirt with POCKETS! Plus two nice shirts. But mostly POCKETS!
  • playing with the kitties
  • a video chat with my mother, sister, brother-in-common-law, niece, and nephew, who were enjoying a birthday cake and birthday wine (except for my niece and nephew, of course) in my honour! They even sang happy birthday to me and I got to virtually blow out the candle2.

Of course, Bethmas celebrations really started yesterday, on Bethmas Eve, as a friend took me out for lunch, then my team at work took me to dinner at Nuba before we went to the Canucks game, which we’d decided to do as a team building event, since several people on my team had never been to a hockey game before.

Bethmas celebrations continue tonight as Scott and I are going out for a nice steak dinner.

I’m contemplating having a belated birthday party at the end of the month. I was going to skip the birthday party this year, mostly because I’m stupid busy with all the classes I’m teaching this semester (in addition to my day job and my many extracurriculars). But it looks like Dr. Dan will be back for a visit, so I’m thinking maybe a party is in order…

Images sources:

  • 42 is from Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons license.
  • Gym video is mine, with James from my gym as videographer.
  • Clip from Hitchhiker’s Guide is from BBC Studios.
  1. I took the day off work because who wants to work on their birthday? Especially if their birthday is on a Friday! []
  2. Apparenlty when my sister and I were kids and our family went to EPCOT Centre there was an exhibit we saw that had a family that virtually celebrated someone’s birthday and there was a hologram cake. I have zero recollection of this – the only thing I remember from that exhibit is the hydroponic lettuce. []

By

Goals for 2019

Since I did a lot better on my 2018 goals than I had on my previous two years’ goals, I’m going to stick with the format I used in 2018 – stating my SMART goals as if they have already been accomplish

Home Stuff

The last couple of years I’ve had, and failed to complete, “finish KonMaring my condo” on my list of goals. But now that I think about it, it’s too big of a goal. I tend to work better when I chunk out my goals into smaller tasks. So the main things I plant to have accomplished around the condo this year are:

  1. I’ve built a closet organizer in the front hall closet. The front hall closet is a bit of disaster, but I think having a proper organizer in there would help a lot!
  2. I’ve KonMari’ed all the bathroom stuff (including toiletries, make-up, and towels). My linen closet is also a disaster, but it’s more due to having too much stuff than a lack of shelving.
  3. I’ve KonMari’ed all the kitchen stuff. I have a *lot* of kitchen stuff. A lot of it good stuff, but I’m sure I could pare down a bit.
  4. I’ve installed a lazy Susan in each of the two corner cabinets in the kitchen. These cabinets are quite deep and they drive me insane when I have to get something from them because everything is piled on top of everything else and it’s hard to find stuff. In my old apartment, I’d put a lazy Susan in one of the cabinets and it made my life so. much. better. 
  5. I’ve built a closet organizer in the pantry closet. This pantry closet about filled with about 90% Tupperware and travel mugs (as well as various other stuff), plus where the recycling bins are. It definitely could be better organized than it is.
  6. I’ve painted the inside of both the front hall closet and the office closet. I have the leftover paint from when the condo was painted, so it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it!
  7. I’ve cleaned up the pile of bins in the office that are driving Scott crazy. Last year I did KonMari my books and managed to get rid of 2 full bookshelves, but there is a bunch of stuff in some bins that I need to sort through, figure out what to keep and what to get rid of, and then find proper homes for the former.
  8. I’ve compiled a list of all my accounts and other relevant information for my executrix. I wrote a will awhile ago but if I were to die today it would be a real pain in the butt for the executrix of my will to figure out where my money, investments, insurance, etc. is, so I really should get that organized!

Health Stuff

Health-wise, by the end of 2019, I plan to have accomplished:

  1. I’ve done a single unassisted pull up. Pull ups (when your palms are facing forward) are harder than chin ups (with palms facing towards you) and I haven’t done one unassisted… yet.
  2. I’ve done 10 unassisted chin ups in a row. My current record is 4 – though some days even one is a struggle. I’m confident that I can keep at them and get to 10 by the end of the year.
  3. I’ve deadlifted 90 kg (198 lbs). Current record is 75 kg.
  4. I’ve squatted 90 kg (198 lbs). Current record is 75 kg.
  5. I’ve slept an average of 7 hours per night1. I don’t get nearly enough sleep, but I know that is bad for you, both mentally and physically. So I’m going to make a concerted effort to be better at going to bed at a reasonable hour this year. (It also helps that I moved offices, so my commute is shorter now – I can just a little bit later than I used to on work days!)

Fun Stuff

And just for fun, by the end of 2019, I plan to have accomplished:

  1. I’ve made 19 new foods and/or beverages that I’ve never made before – and blogged about each of them.
  2. I’ve read 20 books – and blogged about each of them.
  3. I’ve written in my journal at least one time per week, on average.
  4. I’ve sewn 5 items.
  5. I’ve had people over for dinner 5 times.
  6. I’ve published 78 blog postings (that’s 1.5 per week, which is probably more realistic than the goals I’ve set in previous years).

Image credit:

Wood image created by Freepik; available on this page.

  1. I just got a Fitbit that will track this, so I won’t have to track it manually []

By

How Did I Do On My 2018 Goals?

I set 18 goals for myself for 2018 – let’s see how I did!

Achieved:

  1. deadlifted my own body weight – record is now 75 kg (165 lbs) well above my body weight.
  2. set up and implemented a performance planning and review system for my team at work – done!
  3. painted my condo 
  4. did a chin-up or pull-up without the help of a resistance bandI did it! And then I did two in a row! By the end of December, my record was 4 in a row, which I managed one time. Chin ups are a tricky thing – some days I can barely get one done and other days I’ll get a few. But I’m very proud that my hard work all year paid off that chin ups are now a thing I can do.
  5. wrote in my journal at least one time per week, on average – accomplished! Some of them are brief, but the main thing here is that I feel like I’ve established a habit of journal writing again.
  6. made 18 new foods and/or beverages that I’ve never made before – done! 
  7. buy a freezer
  8. learned 12 new things – I learned about the following 12 things:
    1. home repair (specifically, fixing a cabinet hinge and a toilet seat)
    2. how to surf
    3. how to snorkel
    4. how to sew zippers
    5. how to use a hammerdrill
    6. Excel tricks
    7. mobile mesh networks
    8. drywall
    9. how to register a trademark
    10. Aeropress coffee making
    11. Tableau software
    12. scotch
  9. read 18 books I read 20! Also, my friend Linda used my goal to inspire herself to read 18 books this year and she did it too!

 

Did Not Achieve:

  1. Sew 5 items – I sewed 2 zipper pouches, so this goal was only 2/5 completed
  2. finish Konmaring my condo – not even close
  3. meditating once a week – also not even close
  4. submitted 3 papers for publication – submitted one, but had to withdraw it as by the time the reviews came back, I didn’t have any time to work on suggested revisions. I’m getting some research assistant help this year, so hopefully can get a few papers out.
  5. applying for a Nexus card – just didn’t get around to it. This one is going on the 2019 list!
  6. donating blood twice – didn’t even do it once
  7. published 118 blog postings – I only did 70, or 59% of my goal
  8. publish at least six are long form blog postings – I managed three
  9. bringing my lunch to work at least 75% of the time – didn’t even manage to track this!

So there you have it – I completed 50% of my 2018 goals, which is up from last year’s pathetic showing of 29%. Perhaps my tactic of writing my goals as if they were already achieved work? I think I’ll try it again for my 2019 goals!

By

All the rest of the new foods that I made this year

I’m back dating this posting to yesterday because I had it mostly written but didn’t quite get around to finishing it before I had to leave for a New Year’s Eve party last night.

When I last wrote about the new foods I made this year as part of my goal to make 18 food items or beverages that I have never made before, I’d only made 5 foods. Of course, that was back in February, and I’ve made a lot of things since then. Thirteen things, so be specific.

  1. a saison beer
  2. olive tapenade
  3. beer battered fish tacos
  4. salmon cakes
  5. balsamic vinaigrette
  6. peach-bourbon jam – made this from peaches I got in the Okanagan. And it was a huge hit with those who I shared it with1
  7. mint juleps – made these for my friend Kim and her boyfriend when they came over for dinner with mint from my balcony garden
  8. pickling spice – made this so I could make spicy pickled carrots
  9. spicy pickled carrots
  10. cream of asparagus soup – made this with my sister’s Vitamix for my aunt who came over for lunch when I was at my sister’s place over Christmas
  11. Godfather – a delicious beverages that is made from whiskey & amaretto
  12. sugar pie – made this for Christmas dinner
  13. Irish soda bread – got this recipe from a friend of mine who tweeted their grandmother’s recipe. It is so simple to make and very delicious!

So there you have it – the remaining 13 new things I made this year to complete my goal of making 18 new foods and/or beverages this year. 

And I’m already looking forward to making even more new things in 2019. The list of ideas so far include: sourdough bread, plus sauce, ginger beer, pickled asparagus, and, inspired from our trip to Scotland: Scottish tablet and Cullen skink.

By

All the rest of the books I read this year

I’m back dating this posting to yesterday because I had it mostly written but didn’t quite get around to finishing it before I had to leave for a New Year’s Eve party last night.

When I last wrote about books I’d read this year, I needed to read four more books to achieve my goal of reading 18 books in 2018. I’m happy to report that I have exceeded this goal, as I read 6 more books! Here are (very) brief synopses of the books.

Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp by John Medina

Earlier in the year, I read the book “Brain Rules“, from which I learned a whole bunch of cool stuff about the brain and how we can apply what we know about how the brain works to be more effective at teaching1. So I decided to read one of his subsequent books, where he talks about what we can do to keep our brains in tip-top shape so that when we get older, it will keep working well! 

Some fun facts that I learned from this book:

  • Things that you can do to add years to your life and keep your brain healthy well into your senior years: reading, learning, teaching, speaking many languages, exercising, dancing, being social, being grateful, mindfulness2. These are all things that I love to do ((Well, learning languages is something I’ve always wanted to do, so now I have even more incentive to do it!)!
  • Teaching helps you keep “your brain sharp over a fund of knowledge”. I find this to be so true! It’s one of the things I really love about teaching!
  • Learning to play music improves executive function – including working memory!
  • Reading actually associated with longevity. “Seniors who read at least 3.5 hours per day were 17% less likely to die by a certain age than controls.” “The readings has to be of books, long form”. Reading newspapers articles, for example, has a smaller effect. (I wonder if reading tweets or Facebook posts would do any good at all?)
  • “For every year of education experienced, cognitive decline is delayed by 0.21 years.” (So basically, I’ve staved off cognitive decline for a zillion years).
  • “People who’ve spent a lifetime in mentally and physically demanding environments are much more efficient at using whatever brains they carry into their elder years. They’re also more neuroanatomically “nimble”, more flexibly able to create alternative neural circuitry when they originals become injured.”
  • “Productive engagement” refers to the idea of “experiencing a novel idea and actively, even aggressively, engaging it.” The best way to do this: “find people with whom you do not agree and regular argue with them”. It’s important to “experience environments where you find your assumptions challenged, your perspectives stretched, your prejudices confronted, your curiosity inspired.” I think it’s important to note that this means you need to argue in good faith and be open to different points of view and new ideas. So often people argue from their firmly entrenched opinions and don’t actually engage with the ideas of the other side. That’s not going to help your brain at all!
  •  Another thing that is good for your brain: writing down 3 good things that happened to you today, including
    1. what good thing happened
    2. why it happened
  • Despite the stereotype of old people getting more and more grumpy: “Happiness increases in older populations as long as they stay healthy”. 
  • Another stereotype about old people is that their memory gets bad. But it actually depends on the type of memory.
    • “Semantic memory, a memory for facts, doesn’t erode with age”
    • “your vocabulary actually increases with the passing years”
    • “procedural memory (nonconscious retrieval […]) remains steady as the years go by, although some studies also demonstrate a slight improvement”
    • working memory and executive function does get worse with age 🙁
    • episodic memory also gets worse with age (and it peaks around 20, so I guess I’m already well into decline on that one). In particular, remember the source of something is harder to remember (rather than the facts)
    • processing speed declines with age. “On average, you lose about ten milliseconds of speed for every decade you live past age twenty”
    • it becomes harder to ignore distractions as you get older
    • “tip of tongue” (you feel like you know something but can’t quite articulate it) and “room amnesia” (getting to a room and thinking “what did I come in here for?”) are both real things
  • Wisdom can be thought of has “having a richer model of he world that enables deployment of established behavioural repertoires” – and that increases with age
  • Your brain will compensate for decline – when one part stops working well, it recruits neurons from other parts of the brain to do the needed function. I just think that is really cool! 
  • There’s no such thing as multitasking, as you can’t actually do two things at the same time – you are actually just switching back and forth between the two things. Scientists use a better term “divided attention” and it gets harder for us to do as we age.
  • “If you want to diminish cognitive decline in old age, you must start accruing sleep habits in middle age.” This is definitely my Achilles heel – I sleep very solidly, but I don’t get nearly enough sleep.
  • Sleep allows the brain both to consolidate memories and to remove the waste products that build up during the biochemical processes that happen during the day (and your brain consumes a lot of energy, so there’s a fair bit of work to be done to remove those waste products!)
  • You should get 6-8 hours of sleep per night – getting more or less than that increases the risk for mortality! But, of course, that’s on average – individuals do vary in how much sleep they require.
  • Seligman’s “well-being theory” consists of “five contributing behaviors” that are basically “a to-do list for people of any age interested in authentic happiness” and make up the acronym PERMA:
    • Positive emotion – regularly do things that make you feel true pleasure
    • Engagement – in activities that are meaningful to you – things you can really lose yourself in (e.g, a good book, movie, sports, etc.)
    • Meaning – do things that give your life purpose
    • Accomplishment – set goals at things that require you to “achieve mastery in something over which you currently have no mastery at all”. Train for a marathon or learn a new language, for example.
  • People who feel younger than they are do better on cognitive tests. Apparently doing so by 12 years is the best (e.g., if you are 42 and you feel 30, you will rock those cognitive tests).
  • Apparently lab rats can detect if a researcher is male or female and they get more stressed out if they are male. This is not really something that going to influence my behaviour re: healthy brain aging, but it just blew me away when I read it!
  • Scientists have done experiments where they hook up the circulatory systems of old and young mice (so that the old mice are exposed to young blood) and they find that virtually ever organ, including the brain, sees positive changes! They are now embarking on experiments in humans where they inject plasma from young people into patients with Alzheimer’s – results are not yet available (or at least weren’t at the time this book was written). I’m curious what the results will be!

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

  • I have mixed feelings about Sam Harris. I like some of his work where he talks about stuff like rationalism and mindfulness, but I find myself increasingly getting annoyed by his views on a whole host of other things he talks about on his podcast, as I find him to come across quite arrogant and talking about things he doesn’t seem to know a lot about as if he were an expert. But I knew this particular book was about things like mindfulness, which I am interested in, so I decided to read it.

Here are some quotations that I liked from this book (along with some of my thoughts):

  • On the importance of context:
    • “The burn of lifting weights, for instance, would be excruciating if it were a symptom of terminal illness”. I’ve heard Harris use this example before and I like it – I find it helpful to think about this when I’m experiencing things. It’s probably especially meaningful to me as someone who really enjoys the burn you get from working hard at the gym.
    • “We always face tensions and trade-offs. In some moments we crave excitement and in others rest. We might love the taste of wine and chocolate, but rarely for breakfast.”
  • “Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves.”
  • “It is your mind, rather than the circumstances themselves, that determine the quality of your life.” We can’t control our circumstances, but we can decide how we want to react to them.
  • “We continually seek to prop up and defend an egoic self that doesn’t exist.” It’s much easier not to overreact or be defensive if you don’t take yourself to serious. If there’s no “self”, there’s no need to defend it!
  • “Most of us let our negative emotions persist longer than is necessary. Becoming suddenly angry we tend to stay angry – and this requires that we actively produce the feeling of anger.” Recognizing this can help us to not stay angry for as long as we might otherwise. We’ve all experienced times where we are really angry or sad and then something happens – maybe a phone call that causes us to pay attention to something else, and the anger or sadness disappears. We can do something similar by being mindful to the feelings of anger or sadness.
  • “Thinking is indispensable to us. It is essential for belief formation, planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other capacities that make us human. Thinking is the basis of every social relationship and cultural institution we have.” “But our habitual identification with thought – that is our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as appearances in consciousness – is a primary source of human suffering.” 
  • “Meditation requires total acceptance of what is given in the present moment. If you are injured and in pain, the path to mental peace can be traversed by a single step: simply accept the pain as it arise, what doing whatever you need to do to help your body heal. If you are anxious before giving a speech, become willing to feel the anxiety fully, so that it becomes a meaningless pattern of energy in your mind and body.” 
  • “However, there is a different between accepting unpleasant sensations and emotions as a strategy -while covertly hoping they will go away – and truly accepting them as transitory appearances in consciousness.”

Belinda Blinked; 1 A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels by Rocky Flintstone

So, I need to explain why this insane book is on my list of books I’ve “read” this year. I didn’t actually read the book, but rather I listened to the first season of a podcast called My Dad Wrote A Porno in which a man named Jamie reads an erotic novel (the aforementioned “Belinda Blinked”) that was written and self-published by his dad, to his friends James and Alice. They are all in the entertainment business and are absolutely hilarious as they completely skewer the book for its terrible writing, nonsensical “plot”, very poor understanding of anatomy, and so forth. But since they read the whole book, that means that I heard the whole book, much as I would had a read it as an audiobook (just with a whole lot of  added commentary), so it totally counts as a book I read this year!

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future by Andrew Yang

This is a book that I first heard about when the author, Andrew Yang, was on the aforementioned Sam Harris’ podcast, in an episode that didn’t actually drive me crazy (which is rare these days). I found what Yang was talking about quite interesting, so I decided to read his book. It’s basically a book about how so much jobs are being automated and if society doesn’t do something to separate labour from income, we are going to be totally screwed. The book is American, so it talks most about the US situation, but a lot of it is applicable to Canada too (other than the health care stuff).  There’s lots of facts and figures about the type of work that can be easily replaced by robots and algorithms (did you know that “truck driver” is the most common occupation in 29 states? and that “automation has eliminated 4 million manufacturing jobs in the US since 2000”? And that there are 95 million working-age Americans who don’t work?). If there’s anything routine about work , it came probably be easily automated – and that isn’t just blue collar jobs, a lot of what lawyers, doctors, and accountants due is quite routine. Ultimately, the book is building a case for why there should be a universal basic income (including talking about places where they’ve already been doing some form of UBI).

In the book, he talks about how a lot of jobs these days are quite precarious – temp or contractor jobs with no benefits. This is especially problematic in a place like the US, where your healthcare is tied to your job. The book also notes that tying healthcare to employment actually discourages companies from hiring (since healthcare is a signficant added cost when you hire people, whereas robots don’t need healthcare). Also, tying healthcare to jobs results in “job lock”, i.e., people staying in a job just because they need the health insurance and it makes the labour market less flexible, as people can’t go where better jobs are in case it doesn’t work out and they end up with no health insurance.

He also talks about how “companies are not paid to perform certain tasks, not employ lots of people.” If they can get those tasks done through automation and that’s more efficient than hiring people, they will do that.

A few other interesting things in the book:

  • When you are struggling financially, you lose mental bandwidth. So being financially insecure results in less fluid intelligence. Having a large part of your population financially insecure will mean society can do a lot less intelligence-wise.
  • When we feel we are in a situation of scarcity, people become more tribal and divisive. Decision making gets worse. They don’t do things that relate to “sustained optimism” – like starting a business, getting married, or moving to a new place for a new job. This is a lot of what’s happening in the US right now.
  • Different parts of the country are seeing different levels of abundance vs. scarcity. (Makes me think of the William Gibson quotation: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”)
  • Studies show that working class boys consider schoolwork to be “feminine”.
  • College-education women don’t like to marry non-college education men.
  • “Peter Frase, author of Four Futures, poins out that work encompasses three things:
    • the means by which the economy produces goods and services
    • the means by which people earn income 
    • an activity that lends meaning or purpose to many people’s lives.”
  •  We need to separate these things, as automation will be able to produce many of the goods and services without workers, and yet people still need income and purpose.
  • Universal basic income “almost became law in the United States in 1970 and 1971, passing the House of Representatives twice before stalling in the Senate”.
  • Two arguments against UBI that are “completely oppositional”: “First, work is vital and the core of human existence. Second, no one will want to work if they don’t have to.”
  • People also argue that UBI will increase drug and alcohol use, but the research shows that it does not. Also, “it’s not like a lack of money is presently keeping people from using opioids and alcohol.”
  • “Andy Stern jokes that most of the upper-middle-class children he knows have something called “parental basic income”: their lives are partially subsidized by their parents. Cell phone bills, rent guarantees, family trips and vacation, and so on all come out of the Bank of Mom and Dad.”
  • The market does not reward  what is really important: “There is limited or no market reward at present for keeping families together, upgrading infrastructure, lifelong education, preventive care, or improving democracy.”
  • People thought that MOOCs (massive online open courses) were going to replace universities because people could learn everyone online for free. But they didn’t. Just providing content is not enough for people to learn. A lot of learning occurs between the people – teachers and students. “No one would consider putting a child in an empty classroom with a textbook “eduction””.
  • “We know what works – better teachers, better cultures, teamwork, and individualized attention. We’re just not very good at delivering these things. We fall in love with scale and solutions that promise more for less.”

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Lord of the Flies is a book that many people read in high school, but somehow it never ended up on my reading list. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, as it’s one of those classic books where there are so many pop culture references to it, that I felt like I was missing out for not having read it. It’s on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days, so reading it helped me complete my goal for reading 18 books this year *and* got an item checked off on my 101 list.

I have to say that I basically knew the plot of this book based on the Simpson episode that was based on the book (which I now want to go and re-watch to see which jokes I have missed on previous viewings of that episode).  

 Data Management for Researchers by Kristin Briney

I read this book as part of the preparation for a course I’m going to be teaching on data management. And I have to say that not only was it a great book for that purpose, but it also gave me some ideas of things that I can be doing better in my own work!

I’m not going to go over all the things that I learned from this book, as that would probably bore 99.9% of people. If you want to hear about it, you should enrol in my course! 😉

  1. Incidentally, I’m trying to apply what I learned from that book – and from having seen John Medina speak – to the new course I’ve developing at the moment. []
  2. But in particular, the type of mindfulness that’s been studied and shown to be helpful, as tonnes of people have written books about “mindfulness” since it started to become popular, and not everyone has it right. []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Scotch Edition

I remember the first time I tried scotch like I were yesterday. I was with some of my nerdy science friends, one of whom worked in a lab where the lounge has an amazing view of the False Creek. So a group of us went there to enjoy the view and drink some scotch. And I thought the scotch was terrible! I did not enjoy the smokey peatiness at all. 

And so, for many years, I thought I just didn’t like scotch. It was only fairly recently that I learned that not all scotch is peated and tried some non-peated scotches, which I quite liked.

So on our recent trip to Scotland, we made sure to go to a few scotch distilleries to learn more about it! We went to two distilleries, both of which are very new:

Clydeside Distillery
Clydeside Distillery
Gift when staying Isle of Raasay Distillery guest house

We actually stayed at the Isle of Raasay distillery, which also has guest accommodations attached to the distillery. And when you stay they, they give you this little sample of their Raasay While We Wait single malt scotch whiskey and two scotch glasses (shown in the photo above).

I’ll write more about both of these distilleries whenever I finally get around to properly blogging about that trip. For this posting, I’m going to focus on things that I learned about scotch!

In no particular order:

  • Like Canadian whisky, Scotch whisky has to be aged for at least 3 years in a barrel1. In addition, it must be:
    • distilled in Scotland
    • aged in Scotland
  • “Single malt” scotch whisky, as the name suggests, must be made from only malted barley (and no other cereals). It must also be made at a single distillery (though it can be made in different batches) and in a pot still.
  • “Single grain” scotch whisky must also be made at a single distillery.
  • “Blended malt” scotch whisky is a whiskey made by blending two or more single malt scotch whiskies and “blended scotch whiskey” is a whiskey made by blending one or more single malt whiskies with one (or more) single grain scotch whiskies.
  • Peated whisky is made by blowing smoke from a peat fire to dry the malt you use to make the whisky.
  • At one point in history, the further you were from England, the less tax you paid, os there are more distilleries in the northern part of Scotland than in the southern part.
  • Whiskies that are made or aged on the islands tend to have a bit of salty taste to them from the salt air.
  • After prohibition ended in the US, they made a law that all bourbon had to be aged in virgin oak barrels (the law was meant to create more jobs for coopers (i.e., barrel makers)). A lot of scotch distilleries will use bourbon barrels to age their scotch, because those barrels were cheap to by (since the bourbon makers couldn’t use them a second time).

These are the different regions of Scotland and the types of scotch you get from each:

Clydeside Distillery

I tend to like the Highland scotches.

In addition to the two aforementioned, distilleries, we tried to go to Torabhaig Distillery, which we happened to drive by well, but they were closed on Sundays. Here’s a photo of my sneaking past the “no entry” sign.

Torabhaig Distillery

When we were in Glasgow, we went to a pub called The Pot Still, where they had over 700 whiskies. The bartender there told Scott that you don’t call a scotch whisky “smooth”, you call it “soft”. But then we heard lots of other Scots referring to whisky as “smooth”, and I’ve seen scotches described as “smooth” on packaging for scotch, so I am doubtful that this is true. Regardless, it was a pretty good pub!

The Pot Still

We also checked out a place called the Scotch Whisky Experience when we were in Edinburgh. We didn’t do any of their tours, but we did check out their large whisky shop!

The Scotch Whisky Experience

While there, Scott bought a bottle of Royal Lochnagar 12 year old single malt:

Royal Lochnagar

And I bought my bottle – Glen Deveron 16 year single malt – at the Duty Free at the airport. Did you know that you can do scotch tastings at the Duty Free at the airport? I told them I wanted a smooth Highland whisky and they brought out several for us to try!

Glen Deveron scotch

We were sad that we were only allowed to bring back one bottle of scotch each!

  1. You can read the whole Scotch Whisky Regulations as http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/2890/contents/made if you are so inclined. []

By

Stuff I Learned This year: Tableau edition

One of the things on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days is “Learn a new software program” and this year, I did just that. The program in question is Tableau, which is a fantastic software for data visualization. 

This was something that I did for work, as my team and I had to create a dashboard to present data that needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. We were able to get Tableau licences and a place to store our dashboard on a Tableau server that the organization has, so we had to teach ourselves how to use it quite quickly. It wasn’t very intuitive at first, but once we got the hang of it, we were able to create some very cool dashboards.

As these dashboards are part of my work, I can’t actually share them here – they are limited to within the organization. But they are awfully beautiful and they are interactive too, so you can hover over things on the graphs to get more information or filter them (e.g., to see the data for different hospitals, or different units within the hospitals).

I won’t say that I’m a Tableau expert by any stretch of the imagination – several of the people on my team who work on our dashboard regularly are much more skilled at it than I am. But I learned the basics and I think that counts as a new thing I learned this year!

Image credits: Tableau logo was posted in the Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons license