Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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5 Books I’ve Read This Year

So it appears that 2019 is one-third over and, as I expected given that I was teaching all the classes this past semester, I am way behind on my goals for 2019!

One goal that I’m only a little bit behind on, however, is my goal to read 20 books this year. I’ve read 6 – or 30% of my goal. Here’s a rundown of 5 of them – the 6th one deserves its own blog posting, so that will come later.

Here there be spoilers

Read no further if you’ve not yet read these books and don’t want things in them to be spoiled:

Belinda Blinked 2
Belinda blinked 3
american gods
The crazy game
split tooth

As mentioned last year, I’m listening to the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno, in which a man is reading terribly written erotic novels that his father wrote, completely skewering it with a couple of his friends. But since he reads an entire book each season, I think it’s only fair that I get to count them as books I’ve read, much like I would an audiobook. I’ve finished off two more seasons of the podcast, which means I’ve read:

Belinda Blinked; 2: The continuing story of, dripping sex, passion and big business deals. Keep following the sexiest sales girl in business as she earns her huge bonus by removing her silk blouse. Even just that title is ludicrous. Nothing in the book makes sense and the sex is pretty much always the least sexy people having the least erotic experiences possible. And it’s absolutely hilarious.

and

Belinda Blinked; 3: The continuing erotic story of sexual activity, dripping action and even bigger business deals as Belinda relentlessly continues to earn her huge bonus. This book had a bombshell in that, at the very end of the book, an actual plot emerged for the first time in the series! I was flabbergasted! I’m listening to season 4 now and while in some chapters it seems like the author has forgotten about this plot, it does come up a few times and I’m hopeful that there will actually be a resolution because book 4 is the last one in the series.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Cath recommended this one and since I absolutely loved Good Omens, which is also by Neil Gaiman, I figured I’d give it try. There are a bunch of characters who are various types of gods that have been brought to America from other countries over the centuries as people immigrated, bringing their conceptions of gods with them. There are figures from indigenous, Norse, Slavic, Ghanaian, Egyptian, and various other mythologies. But gods need to be worshipped to have strength and since not many people think about these old gods anymore, they are not faring that well. And then there are the new gods – the things people worship today, like the media and technology. I won’t get into the plot, but suffice it to say that I quite enjoyed it and I think I’ll watch the TV series version.

The Crazy Game: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond by Clint Malarchuk

(Trigger warning: this section mentions a suicide attempt and trauma). I remember seeing an interview with Clint Malarchuk when this book came out. He is best known for being the NHL goalie who has his necked sliced by a skate in a game and nearly bled to death live on television. He ended up with PTSD from the experience and he also deals with OCD and alcoholism. In the book he talks about growing up, his hockey career, and dealing with his mental health issues (like how he challenged the obsessiveness that comes with OCD into his training as a goalie and his experiences in rehab). He also talks about his suicide attempt, where he put a gun to his chin and pulled the trigger in front of his wife saying “Look what you made me do!”). On the one hand, I think it’s really good that people are talking more about mental health, especially in an industry like professional hockey where men are expected to be “tough” and talking about mental health is seen as “weak”. On the other hand, parts of this book were difficult to read – Malarchuk was verbally and psychologically abusive to his wives1 and I found reading about the way he would gaslight his wife brought up stuff from my past that was somewhat triggering for me. I also found that in the next hockey game I played after reading about the skate blade incident, I was very aware of my neck2.

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

This book was recommended by Dr. Dan and it was a phenomenal read. It was very different than anything I’ve read before. Parts of it are memoir of growing up in Nunavut, parts are fiction and mythology, and parts are poetry. She moves among these in such a way that I wasn’t always sure what I was reading and then she’d take your breath away with a description of violence she experienced, or a scene of surreal beauty. It’s really hard to describe – you must read it for yourself!


So there are 5 of the 6 books that I’ve read this year. I’ll have to find some time to sit down and write a full blog posting about the 6th book that I’ve read, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. As a teaser, I’ll say that (a) you should read this book for yourself because there is no way I can do it justice, and (b) a major takeaway from this book is that not only do we have to do more than learn how to talk about race, we need to take action to support social justice for all people, if we really care about justice.

Also as a teaser, here are some of the other books that I’m currently reading (which I’ve just realized as I wrote out this list are all textbooks!):

Perhaps I should start a new fiction book too!
  1. In the book, he only refers to his current wife, Joan, by her name – the others are just “my first wife,” “my second wife”, and “my third wife”… at least, I think he had four wives – it was a little while ago now that I read the book, so maybe it was just three. It’s possible that he doesn’t include the names of his other wives out of respect for their privacy, but when reading it I felt like it came across as if they didn’t matter. []
  2. I always wear a neck guard when I play, in large part from having seen videos like the one of Malarchuk with blood spraying from his neck. But also because I’ve taken a few sticks and pucks to the throat and those hurt even with a neck guard on – I can’t imagine how bad they’d be without! []

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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 []

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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!

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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.

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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

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Trademark Edition

Another thing I learned this year is how to register a trademark in Canada.

Did you know that for just $2501? All you need to do is to fill in a simple form (with your name and address, what you want to trademark, what goods and/or services will be associated with your trademark and how you intend to use it), send them $250 ,and then wait.

After you file your application, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), will review your application to make sure that what you want to trademark can be registered (e.g., make sure it’s not in conflict with an existing trademark). If your application is approved, it gets published in the “Trade-marks Journal” for two months, during which others can oppose it). If it doesn’t get opposed (or if the opposition isn’t successful), your application will be “allowed”. Then you pay another $200 to register the trademark.

Once registered, you have 3 years to use the trademark – and it’s a case of if you don’t use it, you lose it! After 15 years (and every 15 years thereafter), you have to pay a renewal fee of $3502.

So it’s actually a pretty simple process – assuming that no one opposes your trademark. If they do, you have to provide evidence and written arguments and it could even end up going to court – which I’m sure would end up being pretty costly!)

Anyway, it’s all summarized here on the Government of Canada’s website, if you are interested: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr04355.html?Open&wt_src=cipo-tm-main 

  1. $300 if you want to file on a paper form instead of online – but why would you, really? []
  2. $400 if you file on paper – but again, why would you? []

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30 days to go for my 2018 goals

There are a mere 30 days left in 2018, so I figured I’d check in on how I’m doing on my 2018 goals. When last we checked in, I had achieved 3 of my 2018 goals. I have now achieved two more of my goals:

And I’m nearly done:

  • read 18 books (I’m on book #18 for the year)
  • make 18 new foods and/or beverages that I’ve never made before (I’ve made 14/18 new things this year, but I haven’t yet done my Christmas baking)
  • learn 12 new things – I’ve only blogged about 7, but I have 4 other things that I’ve learned about but haven’t yet blogged. Which means I only have to learn about one more thing (or remember one other thing that I learned but haven’t yet put on my list) – that’s totally do-able

There’s a few others that are within the realm of possibility:

  • write in my journal at least one time per week, on average – I’ve been writing in it lately, though I’d need to check exactly how many times to see how many more I’d need to do to reach 52
  • sew 5 items – I’ve only done 2, but 3 more isn’t that much if I just make the time to do it!
  • apply for a Nexus card – also something that I can do if I dedicate the time to it
  • publish 118 blog postings – so far I’ve done a meagre 47, which means I’d need to do 2-3 postings a day from now until the end of the year to hit this. So not impossible, but would require a lot of time (and would probably annoy the hell out of everyone who follows me on Twitter).
  • publish at least six long form blog postings(minimum of 3000 words) – I’ve done 2 and I expect when I finally do my big recap of my Scotland trip, that will be more than 3000 words, but I’m not sure what else I’d want to write that’s that long. So possible, but I guess we’ll see whether I get it done or not.

So that makes 8/18 that are highly likely to be completed, and I could possibly be as high as 13/18 if I do all of the possible ones. Wish me luck!

 

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I Did A Chin Up!

The other day, my gym posted on Facebook that one of the trainers, Cindy Lou, had achieved her goal of doing an unassisted chin up. As you may recall, doing an unassisted chin up or pull up1 is also one of my goals and I’ve been working a lot on building up the muscles one needs to do an unassisted chin up2. So the next time I was at the gym, I told Cindy Lou that she was my hero as I was working towards that goal too. And she said, “Give it a try. You’ve been working hard, you might be able to do it now. The trick is not to think. Don’t hang. Just grab on and pull up right away.”

And so I decided to give it a try after the first set of my workout (so that my muscles would have a chance to be activated). I went over to one of the cages, climbed up on a box to reach the bar… and then I thought about it for too long and could barely lift myself two inches. Cindy Lou and I started chatting about it – basically me saying, “I was thinking too much!” and then right in the middle of chatting, I just reached up, grabbed on to the bar, and pulled myself up! The last little bit was a struggle, but I did it! I did a full on chin up, all with my own strength! No assistance3 whatsoever! I have to say, I was pretty chuffed! And there may have been a few high fives in celebration.

The trainer who writes my program, Dee, sent me a congratulatory email when she heard about it the next day. Because that’s the kind of trainers we have at my gym – they are genuinely excited and so proud of you when they’ve seen you work hard and finally achieve that goal you’ve been striving for for so long! She suggested that I now add in a chin up every day that I go to the gym. And when I get used to that, add one before every super set4. And then make it two. And it grows from there!

The next day when I went into the gym, I got lots of high fives from the trainers – like I said, the trainers at my gym are genuinely excited for us when we make progress. And I did another chin up and it felt so much easier than the day before. My first one was a bit shaky, especially at the top, but this one was smooth and I felt so strong! Now I feel like it’s not just that “I did an unassisted chin up”, but “I’m a person who does unassisted chin ups!”

Footnotes:

  1. Chin ups are where you grip the bar with your palms facing you (or you can do a neutral grip with your palms facing together, which requires a chin up bar that has grips facing this way), and a pull up is done with your palms facing away from you. The pull up is harder than the chin up. For the record, the one I did was a neutral grip chin up. []
  2. Chin ups are especially challenging for women, who tend to have less upper body strength compared to men. They have also been increasingly challenging for me as I’ve put on a fair amount of muscle since I started lifting, which means that I have to lift more weight! []
  3. In my training towards getting to this point, I have been doing, among other things, chin ups and pull ups where you tie a resistance band to the bar and you stand in it while you do your chin up or pull up – it takes away a bit of your weight so that you can practice the movement but without having to lift your entire body weight. When I started training, I used several bands and as my training progressed, I used fewer bands, and lighter bands, so that I was lifting more and more of my weight. []
  4. The way our programs are designed, we often have two or three exercises groups together. So say you are doing 3 sets each of exercises A1 and A2 – you’d do A1, A2, A1, A2, A1, A2 – and all that together is called a “super set”). Then you move on to your B exercises, then C, and sometimes also D. []

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Summer Reading

Since I last reviewed the books I’d read this year here on ye ole blog, I’ve been on quite a roll with reading and have read SEVEN books in those TWO months! What follows are my brief reviews of these books – expect spoilers!

Vancouver Is Ashes: The Great Fire of 1886 by Lisa Anne Smith

My friend Linda gave me this book two birthdays ago. I finally got around to reading it and I can’t believe I left it sitting on the shelf for so long because it was soooo good! As the name suggests, it is about the great fire of 1886 when the brand new City of Vancouver burned down. The city was so new that it had only had a grand total of one city council meeting (the city clerk made a big effort to save the minutes of that meeting from the flames!). They didn’t have a fire engine, and thus fire fighting techniques included filling buckets with water to dump on the flames and hitting flames with wet blankets. People jumped on boats, and when there were no more boats, they grabbed onto anything that could float, and went out into the water between Vancouver and Moodyville (part of what is today known as North Vancouver) to escape the flames. The descriptions in the book are really rich – you can picture what the city would have looked like and can almost feel the panic that the citizens felt as the fire got worse and worse. There are some funny stories – like a guy who tried to use a discarded briefcase he found to shield himself from the flames, only to learn that the briefcase was full of bullets (which someone had tried to take with them on their way to escape but ended up discarding along the way) when the bullets started exploding as the heat of the flames approached! The book also talks about how the city worked to recover after the fire – the picture on the front of the book is of a city council meeting, which was held outside a tent that had a hand written “City Hall” sign on it.

If you are at all interested in the history of Vancouver, I’d definitely recommend you check out this book.

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

This is a short book of writings by Christopher Hitchens – best known for his writing and speaking on atheism – about his experience of “living dyingly”, which he wrote after being diagnosed with terminal cancer (So, you know, a nice light summer read). He pointed out that technically everyone is living dyingly, but healthy people are doing it in slow motion compared to him at that point in his life. He also mentions a few times the “materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body”, which struck me as I’d recently had a discussion with a colleague who has taught a course on the “anthropology of the body” and had his students write essays on whether they believed they “had” a body or “were” a body. I’d not heard that phrase before, but it sort of captured my attention, so when I read Hitchens’ talking about it, that captured my attention too. At one point he said that despite believing that “I don’t have a body, I am a body”, he “consciously and regularly acted as if this was not true, or as if any exception would be made in my case.” (Hitchens was known for his heavy drinking and smoking). The other striking thing in this book was that when you get toward the end, there’s a section of “unfinished fragmentary jottings” (as his wife described them in the afterward); some of them were things you’d read fleshed out in an earlier section of the book, but some that were just ideas of his that he didn’t get a chance to flesh out before he died. It really gave you a sense of the finality – and that death waits for no one. I guess all of us will leave many things unfinished when we go.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris.

I read this book after Cath told me she was reading Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, also by Dan Harris. Cath knows that I’m interested in mindfulness and also that I’m a skeptic, and she said that she was finding MfFS really good. So I decided to first read Harris’ earlier book, 10% Happier, which chronicles his experience of being stressed out after being a war correspondent, to the point of having a panic attack while he was reporting on live television, and then his search for some way to deal with this anxiety, but without losing his drive to succeed. I enjoyed this book – it was interesting to read about his journey and it also got me motivated to make more of an effort to do some mindfulness practice.

Now I want to read Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book. I do most of my reading on transit on my way to and from work, but this book won’t really be appropriate for that, as it’s filled with mindfulness activities that you need to do as you read through the book. So it looks like I’ll need to carve out some time to actually do reading – and mindfulness practice – at home.

White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement–and How I Got Out by Christian Picciolini

I heard about this book when I heard the author, Christian Picciolini, being interviewed on a podcast. Picciolini is a former white supremacist who eventually left the movement and now works to try to help other people get out of extremist movements. The book wasn’t particularly well-written (I felt like it jumped from his present day perspective to his perspective at the time a bit erratically, making it a bit hard to follow in places), but it did provide an interesting perspective on how vulnerable young people can end up as extremists. In Picciolini’s case, he was the child of Italian immigrants to the US who spent a lot of time working and, he felt, did not pay attention to him. He didn’t have many friends and he felt picked on. And then the leader of a skinhead group recruited him to the white power movement and he learned that he could get respect by being violent when he fought a school bully and won. When the skinhead leader got sent to jail, Picciolini took over – he was only 14 years old at the time.  He talks about some of the horrible things he did as part of the movement. I kind of expected there would be a poignant moment where he saw the error of his ways, but it really just came down to him opening a record store to try to earn money to support his young family and he got to know some Jewish people and black people and gay people who all came into this store to buy stuff and learned that these were good people, not at all the stereotypes he had believed. He also talks about the fact that those stereotypes he believed in were really just things that he was told by other people in the white power movement, and even realizes that he, he constantly went on unemployment when the construction work he did in the summer time ended, fit the stereotype of “leaching off the system” more than any minority he’d ever met. In the end, this book supports a lot of what I’ve read about lately – people join hate movements when they feel lonely and disconnected, and someone comes along and invites them into a community – and gives them a scapegoat to blame all their perceived problems on.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm is a classic that I somehow never read until now. I think a lot of people read it in high school, but it just never ended up on any of the reading lists in any of my high school English classes. I did read Nineteen Eighty Four, another George Orwell classic, back in high school, but not Animal Farm. It was a pretty quick read – it’s a short book and styled like a fairy tale1 and it was written as a satire of the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist regime. It seems an apt time in history to be reading this book, as part of that satire is about the “cult of personality” of Stalin (as represented by a pig named Napoleon) and about totalitarianism, which really resonates with a certain president who shall remain nameless. One of the things that reminded me of the current state of affairs was how the pigs would change their stories on things and the other animals on the farm would just believe it, assuming their memory must be mistaken. For example, there was a pig named Snowball who was a hero in the “Battle of the Cowshed”, during which the animals fought off some people who tried to take the farm back from the animals (who had taken it over from the original human farmer who owned it), but later Napoleon runs Snowball off the farm so that he can have all the power and then changes the story, first to say that Snowball hid during the battle, and later to say that Snowball fought alongside the humans against the animals. Despite the fact that the animals were there and remembered Snowball being a hero who drove the humans away, they decide “I guess I must have misremembered that.” Similarly, there are a bunch of commandments painted on the side of the barn, but as the pigs decide to make their own lives more comfortable, they break those commandments and when the rest of the animals say “Hey, didn’t we have a commandment that say not to do that thing the pigs are doing?”, they would see that additional words had been added to the commandments (e.g., “No animal shall consume alcohol” was changed to “No animal shall consume alcohol to excess” and “No animal shall sleep in a bed” was changed to say “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”) and say “Oh, I guess I forgot about that last part of the commandment”. It’s really reminiscent of how a certain president who shall remain nameless will completely contradict himself on what feels like a daily basis and, despite videotaped evidence of him having said the opposite thing, his followers will just shrug it off. The lives of the animals (other than pigs) weren’t better off in this new world – they didn’t get much to eat, they worked harder than ever, they didn’t get to retire when they got old, and the pigs would kill animals that displeased them in some way. So, all in all, this was a rather depressing book to read – especially given that the ending is just that the pigs are walking around on hind legs (which was against one of the original commandments) and hanging out with people while the rest of the animals suffer.

The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Cath gave me these two books to read and now I’m totally hooked on this series, which revolves around a woman named Thursday Next, who is a literary detective. It’s set in an alternative world version of Britain where all sorts of crazy things happen, and it’s sort of similar in style to the work of Douglas Adams (which almost seems blasphemous to say!). I don’t want to say too much and spoil these for anyone who wants to read these series, which you totally should if you like that style of British humour, but I will say that they involve time travel, the ability to actually enter books, an over-the-top villain, and some very punny character names. They also require you to have a working knowledge of some of the classic which, like Animal Farm as I mention above, I haven’t necessarily read. I’ve never read Jane Eyre, in fact, so I had to go read the Wikipedia entry on it to be able to understand some of the things that happened in The Eyre Affair. Similarly, I haven’t read Great Expectations and since the character of Miss Havisham features in Lost in a Good Book, I had to read the Wikipedia entry on her too! I’ve already got the rest of the books in the series, but I’m trying to savour them, so I decided to read another book in between finishing Lost in a Good Book and the next one in the series.

So, there you have it. I’ve now completed 78% of my goal of reading 18 books this year, and we are 71% of the way through the year. I’m also almost halfway through the next book that I’m reading (Brain Rules for Aging Well), plus I’ve read the better part of several textbooks for the course I’m teaching this semester, so I’m reasonably confident that I can achieve my reading goal this year!

  1. The original title had “A Fairy Story” as a subtitle, but that was dropped. []

By

Stuff I Learned This Year: Excel Edition

I <3 spreadsheetsI like to think of myself as rather proficient in using Microsoft Excel.1. I use it for everything from keeping simple lists to advanced data analysis. I love pivot tables and conditional formatting and even have a favourite Excel function2 The other day at work I taught a bunch of colleagues, who are all very well versed in the use of Excel3 that you can copy something from one cell down a whole column by double clicking on the bottom right corner of the cell you want to copy. Most of them knew that you can grab that bottom right corner and drag it down as far as you’d like to copy, but they were all suitable stunned with the double clicking trick – which comes in especially handy if you have hundreds or thousands of rows of data – that’s a lot of scrolling if you are using the drag method instead.

Which brings me to the new thing I learned about Excel. It has a limitation that I’ve never run into before, but which is now an issue for me. Specifically, that limit is the number of rows you can have in a single worksheet. That number: 1,048,576 4,5. And I learned this as a particular set of data that I’m working with had more than a million rows of data! Our makeshift solution is to have multiple worksheets in a workbook, though now that we have almost filled our our *second* worksheet, it really slows down the old laptop!

Clearly, the next thing I have on my “things to learn this year” list is database management!

Image Credit: Posted by Crishna Simmons on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

  1. One of the things that I do in the statistics course that I teach over at the Justice League is make sure that everyone who takes my class can use Excel properly – it’s probably one of the most useful thing they use in the course, to be honest []
  2. CONCATENATE. Mostly because the word is awesome. I probably use “Text to columns” more often, but I love to say “concatenate”! []
  3. Including one who I’d say is the best Excel user I know. []
  4. Source: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/excel-specifications-and-limits-1672b34d-7043-467e-8e27-269d656771c3 []
  5. It also has a limit of 16,384 columns, but I haven’t run up against that particular limitation yet. []