Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The dancing bear run

The wonder of a dancing bear is not how gracefully it dances, but that it dances at all.

That was my thought throughout the run this after noon. The lumber, almost T Rex-ish again for the first time in a while. 22 minutes for 3 K doesn't leave much time for thinking, but that was it.

My legs just felt heavy and slow, but at least I was out on a fairly nice fall afternoon. Stretched a little bit, but a bowl of awesome chili grabbed me and hauled me to the table.

The other thing I was thinking is that just lately seems to be a bit of a downturn in social media activity. At least the activity *I* see, which isn't really all that active because as you all know, I'm so shy and retiring. Still, not so much happening on FaceBook or Twitter, or other blogs. Is that happening for you?

There is another disc of Elementary calling my name. And a wine top up. And a cat to cuddle. Gotta go.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A modest change

No, that doesn't mean I wrapped the towel around my middle when I changed after a swim. Some of the swim kids do, and it's kind of cute. Me, I could shower beside the front desk if that's where the warm water was.

But I did swim after a a semi-long water run with Katie. We chatted about a bunch of stuff, but I didn't look at the clock when I got in. Then I did 250 m to get into the groove, and some intervals on the minute to get used to doing them again, and some cool down.

No, the modest change is changing up my comment policy. For a long time now I've had a no anonymous comments, and moderation after 3 days. Some people have told me that Blogger is getting pissy about comments when it shouldn't be. So I've decided to turn on moderation, and accept anonymous comments.

In the 24 hours or so I've had only 4 spams that Blogger treated correctly, and one comment that awaited moderation for an hour or two. This day job you know. Now, yesterday's blog was a bit heavy, so I can appreciate that not many commented. Still, I'd appreciate if you tried leaving comments various ways to see how it works.

I will moderate out anything I think is spam. Disagreement is not spam. I'll try to check pretty regularly, but I think my day job is going to be getting busier.  As comment bait, here's another shot of Curtis and Celina. Can you see her glaring at me for disturbing her snooze?

We've been working our way through season 2 of Elementary, with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. At first I thought I liked Sherlock (Benedict Cumerbatch and Martin Freeman) more, but I've switched. I like the teaser references to the canon, but love the stories. They rarely end up the way I think they will, and the interaction between Sherlock and Mycroft is great.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More by honey, than by vinegar

First things first, light and easy, then the heavier stuff.

I took a couple days off fitness stuff there, not because I was hurting, just that stuff was happening.

We had our first yoga class of the season. I've been missing it big time. I don't know how Fiona crammed so much stuff into class. We kept flowing and flowing and doing stuff and it was all great and I kept on wondering when it would end. Not in the sense I wanted it to end, but wondering when she would say oops, that we had gone over time. It's all good.

Today I ran up towards the reservoir for the first time in a long time. So many broken trees, so sad. It felt wonderful! I was going nice and easy, trying to run slowly, and this is how it turned out. 45 minutes, 6.5 K.

Here are two of the reasons I didn't get much writing done this weekend.

To say nothing of taking the time to enjoy this.

We all know the saying "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar." There are many variants, and the saying is millennia old. We teach it to our children.

Let's look at recent history and see if some nations have been smart enough to learn from it. After World War I the Allies imposed crippling reparations on Germany. Historians can argue the fine points, but that's one of the major pieces leading to World War II.

Things were a bit different then. The USA created the Marshal Plan. It funneled about $17 Billion (late 1940's American dollars, about $160 Billion 2014 dollars) to Europe to rebuild. The result? Europe went from rubble to surpassing pre-war production levels by 1952.

Japan's ashes and rubble were radioactive in 2 places, so they were starting off even further behind. Still, funds flowed to them and other Asian countries, some of which had been recently bitter enemies. As a child I remember adults joking about the shoddy quality of products made in Japan in the early 60's. That joking didn't last long, and Japan quickly became one of the advanced economies of the world.

That's not to say it's all rainbows and unicorn poop. Economists argue that the money distorted the economies, or was done merely to blunt the influence of the Soviet Union, or subsidized European powers in trying to revive their pre-war empires. I'll let the historians and economists argue about it.

Still, the big picture is that the winners of the war aided the losers, and now nobody could conceive of America going to war against Germany or Japan. The modern period of peace and prosperity in Europe is one of the longest, perhaps the longest in history. No brainer, support works, reparations don't.

The lesson should have been that spending money and helping people is one way to make friends and influence countries. Did America learn? No. Here's a list of countries that the USA has bombed since the end of WW II, copied from here.
Afghanistan 1998, 2001-
Bosnia 1994, 1995
Cambodia 1969-70
China 1945-46
Congo 1964
Cuba 1959-1961
El Salvador 1980s
Korea 1950-53
Guatemala 1954, 1960, 1967-69
Indonesia 1958
Laos 1964-73
Grenada 1983
Iraq 1991-2000s
Iran 1987
Korea 1950-53
Kuwait 1991
Lebanon 1983, 1984
Libya 1986, 2011
Nicaragua 1980s
Pakistan 2003, 2006-
Palestine 2010
Panama 1989
Peru 1965
Somalia 1993, 2007-08, 2010-
Sudan 1998
Syria 2014
Vietnam 1961-73
Yemen 2002, 2009-
Yugoslavia 1999

Or actual interventions, maybe that's a shorter list. Maybe not. That's 70 countries, and not counting past the mid-ninties. Or if you really, really want to be depressed, look here to check out the entire list of US military operations. I'm not sure of the complete definition of 'operations', but there sure have been a lot of them, and this isn't counting CIA operations.

My point is that out of all those countries, how many are friends with the USA right now? It's a much, much shorter list. These military operations cannot be described as a productive use of resources in any way at all. They have wasted an enormous amount of money, and made things worse for the USA and everybody else. These operations have created a near endless supply of militants pissed at the USA.

Picture the world in 1945. Nearly every country in the world is in ruins. Canada, who's military is currently a running joke, was one of the strongest military powers in the world. Our economy was one of the biggest. The marshal plan happens, and the world sees the restoration of those economies. Now Canada is a mid-rate power at best. The USA chose to try to keep their dominant position by force.

We can see how well it's worked out. It's one of the most reviled countries in the world. The USSR was often described as a third world country with an almost first rate military. This is rapidly coming to describe the USA. Canada is taking after the USA, and following the same path, much to my dismay.

Imagine now a crucial difference in foreign policy. Rather than trying to contain the Soviet Union through military force, the USA decides it's going to compete by demonstrating how effectively a free market economy produces goods and services. Like this:

  • Rather than paying farmers to not grow crops, the government buys them and ships them to where there are food shortages.
  • The government pays, one way or another, to produce medical and educational staff for mobile facilities that can be quickly moved to where ever needed.
  • In the same way, they train and provide technical staff for mobile facilities that desalinate sea water to provide clean water.
This would cost money, no doubt. Lots of money, even. But that money is producing useful goods and services, and is much, much cheaper than bombs and other military gear used only to destroy. The evidence of post war Europe says that money is returned my times as that country rebuilds and grows.

And admittedly, there would probably need to be some military presence to protect these workers. No, really, to protect them and not use the facility as a springboard for further adventures. The idea would have been to educate a generation of people who could build and staff their own permanent facilities.

Had they done this post war, supported the growth of democracies by respecting the wishes of the electorate, rather than overthrowing democratically elected governments, provided valuable services for a few decades at most, what would have happened?

Well, I think it's pretty hard to have a bad opinion of a country, of a people, that did that. You might believe they have a sinister motive. You might believe it was done to integrate the local economy with the American one for the good of America and Americans. You might believe it was neocolonialism. And maybe it is. 

But picture someone that believes that, trying to raise an army against the Americans. First you've got to overcome the good will generated by food, water, medical aid, and education. Try convincing someone who's children were fed, and had diseases cured by such people, that they should take up arms against them. That's tough sledding in comparison with trying to get people to fight back against various forms of military adventurism. 

We know from WWII that bombing cities does not break the will of the population. The people getting bombed in England and in Europe and Japan carried on. You will not win friends by bombing them. You will not get them to change their minds. You only raise children determined to avenge their parents, and get some of their own back. Which we've seen happening. It will only get worse.

The entity that calls itself ISIS isn't a state. It isn't a country, or a government, or even a religion. It's barely an organization. Bombing the territory it occupies is futile, a waste of time and money. Trying to kill the fanatic foot soldiers is like trying to bail out a boat with a pasta sieve. No. The only way to deal with this, is to give the people a better idea. One that gives them and their children hope for the future. 

Even though hope is cheap, it can be difficult. So much easier to make, and drop bombs. It's a well understood, tried and true business model. So very sad.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Early morning musings

I have no idea where this is going. None at all. Just so you know. Get something to drink.

It's 3:30 in the morning right now. I was just beat, barely staying awake this evening, so I went to bed at 8:30. Slept till about 2. Then I started thinking about a work conversation with my manager just about last thing before leaving on Friday afternoon.

It's all good, it's not like he ambushed me or anything. But I was initially hired at Penn West to work on a certain project, which is now in the process of being decommissioned. What I'm now working on is related in some ways that are complicated to explain. But several times recently, my comment has been "You know, that's what 'certain project' already did/does". There's a certain element of reinventing the wheel, and 'not invented here syndrome' that I hope doesn't start annoying me. Either that or I can recycle some materials and look like a genius.

When I started drawing out the answer in a mental Visio diagram complete with swim lanes and alternative states, I realized I might as well get up and write it down. I'd feel totally stupid if I went back to sleep and then spent Monday morning thinking, "What was I thinking, it was so clear".

Recently I've been reading The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. It's excellent! Lots of good information about how our brains work, or don't work sometimes. It's tying in to lots of other stuff I've been thinking about. Maybe it's just my time of life, but I've been thinking about what I'm doing with my life, and what I want to be doing, and when. Mostly I'm pretty pleased with how it's going now.

I like what I do, and so far they don't particularly care when I do it, though my card key only works between 6am, and 6pm. Generally I don't bring work home with me, though I can't help but think about process, and he was talking about a process issue.

Part of the thing with staying in shape is being consistent. As you know I've struggled with that. I like to get things done in the morning when I'm fresh. When I wasn't working I'd get a swim done, do some job hunting, then go for a run or bike. Now it's harder to get to a workout once I'm actually at work.

Then there's the whole novel thing. Ideas come unpredictably, and I'm still working out a system for capturing ideas as they happen. The other morning I was on a roll, and looked up to realize it was about a half hour later than I thought it was. That's why I liked writing at the cottage on vacation. The only clock was on my laptop, and I didn't have to worry about traffic. Tides, but not traffic.

The Organized Mind book talks about people multi-tasking, noting our brains don't really multi-task. What we're really doing is task switching, and there's an energy cost to doing that. I've been thinking about that. One of my experiments is to tweak my email settings at work so I don't see notifications of new email. My theory is that I'll check it first thing, and deal with any issues. Typically there aren't. Then I'll start with something related to my current task to get warmed up, perhaps reviewing the process steps, or the work done to date. Then get onto the hardest thing of my day and try to make progress.

When I need a break or reach a logical place to pause, I'll save my work, and set it aside. Then it's time to get something to drink or snack on, look to see if any email has come in, deal with any other little things that might be a distraction, then dive back in again.

Like any habit, it's hard to change. But I don't get that much email, and since I've just moved offices, and now report to a different team leader, I figure this is the best time to make a change. I can see the difference already. I thought one of the things I was working on would be horrible, but once I got into the real meat of it I figured out a way to deal with it, provided I could hold some things in my head and keep track of what the query was really doing, and do several things in exactly the right order.

Oh, since you ask so nice, and speaking of distractions, here's a photo of my nice tidy office, and the view from it.

The desk can be raised so I can work standing up, but it isn't quite tall enough. The cardboard box gives me the extra couple inches needed to put the keyboard at the right height, and the two packets of paper do the same for the mouse. Yes, I want 3 monitors, and yes, I'm happy to have an office to myself at last. Two years of sharing a small office was getting on my nerves.

The novel is sometimes like that. I got lots of good writing done at the cottage because I could focus on it, being only distracted by the beautiful scenery. Sometimes I can get the essence of an idea down in a couple minutes, providing I do it right then. This is where the system comes in, and I'm still working it out. I do not want to drag the laptop around everywhere on the off chance something will come to me. The problem is that I'll haul it out at work, and start doing that instead of billable activities. That's not so good.

Levitin was struck by how often really busy, really important people seem to be so present when talking to others. Part of the reason they can be so focussed is that they have staff that keep track of stuff for them. They know they can pay total attention, till their aide taps them on the shoulder and tells them they need move to the next activity.

Most of us don't have that luxury. While talking to buddy we just met on the street, we need to keep in mind that the plan was to meet with other buddy for coffee at 10, and that while you allowed a couple extra minutes, and they won't mind if you're a minute late, particularly if they also know buddy, you are mentally keeping track of what time it is and how long it will take to get to the coffee shop. All this interfere with the chat with your buddy, and that's before you look at your watch or phone to track the time more closely.

It seems like life itself can be one big distraction. There is always something newer and shinier coming along. My current example is my cellphone, an iPhone 4. Out of all the people who have ever lived, only a few million of them would NOT think it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen in their lives. I'm still amazed at what it can do, and I'm sure I haven't even fully tapped it's capabilities.

Yet it's obsolete, they say. I should get the iPhone 6. Actually paying for it is the least of my problems. Which version, the 6 or 6+? How much memory? Which colour? On contract or unlocked? If contract, which one? What to do with the old one? (I hate throwing functional things away.) How to deal with the various setup issues so it best works with my needs? Like dealing with photos. The process has changed and I don't understand the new one yet. Don't get me started on the fingerprint ID thing, and while I'm excited about paying for things with my phone, I want to make sure I understand what is happening.

So many questions. When I step back and think about it, do I really need to be dealing with that? Do I even need a new phone, or any phone at all? Lots of people appear to get by without one. My accountant and my wife are the two examples I've run into most recently. Linda's phone is from about 2003, and Sanna's is even older.

Perhaps if I was retired I wouldn't need one, but I don't know. There are retired people that seem to have more on the go than they did while working. I'd like to be like that, and think I will be. I hope. In any case, I'm likely to have the time to think about things a bit more before being distracted from what I was doing. Then again, thinking about thinking is a loop that has snared many people much brighter than me. What was that shiny thing that just showed up? Gotta go.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I think it was the pizza and chocolate

You guys have broken the roll Curtis was on. Blogs that feature him usually do quite well in readership, but not yesterday's. And he's repressing an iPad, what more do you want? Hint, scroll down a bit.

I was scheduled into a training course at the last minute today. You don't want to know for what. They served pizza lunch and yummy goodies for dessert. Let's just say I nibbled my share, shall we? I even split the brownie with Patricia rather than gobbling it all myself. The treats were surprisingly good.

It's still a beautiful day out, much the same as earlier this week with the lovely run. Still the same lovely scenery. I headed out with the new Altra zero drop shoes and felt good right from the start. I'm so happy my legs have unlocked and I can bend my knees again. I just wish I'd known what did the trick.

This is a fast pace for me these days, yet I wasn't trying to run fast at all. I was just trying to run at a comfortable pace, somewhat faster or slower depending on how I felt. My feet felt light and happy, and I settled in right away. I don't think I could have done the chat chat chat thing the full time, but certainly for parts of the run I could.

So either I'm just doing better for the run, which seems unlikely at my age, or pizza and chocolate is good fuel for running. What do you think?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Catly iPad repression

Sunday was a brutal day. BRUTAL! Business tax prep. Technically it isn't hard. My accountant needs a bit of info. It's just that finding it is tedious. I know perfectly well that if I organized myself better it would be trivially easy. I even know how to organize myself. But I haven't.

I had a list of the things that needed to be put together. I'd start, and stay focussed on one of them, searching the various mounds of paper, or on line reports for the number I needed. Then the next one. I took breaks fairly often because this is very stressful for me.

In the end I got it all gathered, and sent off. Did I mention this was stressful, and I hate doing this sort of work? Even filing expense account paperwork, or claiming medical expenses makes my blood run cold. I've been known to not claim money I'm entitled to because I can't find a receipt, or the trouble of filing the form is more trouble than it's worth to me.

At the end she gives me a summary, pay these amounts to these places. Holy crap, that is major stress. Each account is a long string of numbers, but the important part is the letter in the middle. There will be a T, or an R, or something else. And the interface on the government form is very bad. I always worry that I'm sending something to the wrong account. Or that I'm late with something, that's happened. It's much easier being an employee.

Then tonight I get a followup request. I nearly panicked right then and there. She wanted several things, all reasonable, all the actual document rather than my summary number. After some deep breathing I worked through that. Then one that I didn't know what it is, or what she wants and I'm sweating worse than a spin session in a sauna, frantically trying to figure out what she wants, and if I have it. In the end, I think I found it and gave it to her. I'll find out tomorrow, I guess. I should probably buy a tranquilizer on the way home.

I really do have to take some time and get the paperwork properly organized, and set up a better system, and actually do it. The real pity was that yesterday was so nice, and there I was indoors for much of it.

I consoled myself after the tax brutality with BBQ rack of lamb. And wine, lots of wine. The fish shaped place mats are another souvenir of Nova Scotia. (Stupid blogger and photo rotating.) And for some reason the meat shows up much pinker than it really was.

Today was a really nice swim. It's coming back together. And squats! Sometimes today or late yesterday I realized I could do squats again! This is wonderful, being able to bend my knees without pain.

To tease you with a bit of foreshadowing, I'm mentally working on a blog about the epic failures of America foreign policy, and the fear the Harper government is falling into the same trap.

And the highlight of today's blog, Curtis showing his opinion of the iPad. He is really grumpy lately if I try to have any devices going while he wants a lap.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Almost as nice as doing it on a beach

I'm sure missing running on a beach. But today is what running is all about for me.

Picture this.
It's a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky.
It's warm enough to sweat, but not hot enough to be cooking or regret not bringing water.
The trees are starting to change colour. In Calgary that means the russet colours, yellows, oranges, golds.
The mountains have snow on them already.

There I am running down the 37st path, looking at all this. Drinking it in. Enjoying a relaxed nice and easy run. Not many other people out and about. My legs are feeling good, I'm feeling relaxed. About the only thing lacking was sand.

I was trying to keep a steady easy pace but it seemed like every time I heard an update from my phone, I was running too fast and eased back. I'm not so good at a steady pace without my run buddy. Who, I might add, was off doing her first 100 K ride, and totally nailed it!

So lets see, since I started with fitness stuff, let's carry on. Water ran about 40 minutes with my buddy Katie on Wednesday. I'd started swimming, but because I can't see very well I was halfway down the lane when I recognized her churning along. So nice to chat! I swam a little after.

Thursday I was out for a short 3 K run in my zero drop shoes. I could have gone further but didn't. Nice pace, felt good.

Friday in the pool again, 500 m swim, some kick, and some intervals. I felt bad for the girl swimming next to me. She was being coached, and he was kicking her ass for not meeting some standard. I was sure happy with my swim though.

I'd promised a photo of the 12.9 pound souvenir from Nova Scotia. Lots of stuff in this photo. It's hard to read, but that's a bottle of coffee flavoured port wine made by Janet's husband Ron. We had some from another bottle while we were there, and it's amazing.

I'm sort of surprised blackberries are still in season, and these are wonderful. I'm sort of surprised there's any left.

This is the 12.9 pound chopping block made from Nova Scotia maple and other more exotic hardwoods around the edge. It's 7 cm thick, and 32x34 cm. Did I mention it was heavy?

It was also a perfect morning to zoom out to the Millarville market, where we picked up a few odds and ends. The fun part was chatting with Nancy, who does the coffee roasting at Crickle Creek coffee. It's wonderful stuff, and I'm looking forward to my first #coffeechat in several weeks tomorrow morning.

I hadn't known there was a winery near Millarville. We had a few samples and enjoyed. This is how much we enjoyed it, we bought a bottle. Imagine that, a guy that makes and likes his own wine, buying a bottle. Take a look at Spirit Hills Winery if you're interested.

We took the scenic route coming and going. Loving it. The Foothills are beyond beautiful this time of year.


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