January 2, 2018

What I was reading in 2017

Filed under: Books, Personal — Nicholas @ 03:00

I read a fair number of books, magazines, and other printed publications, but I read far more online these days than “dead tree” stuff. These were the new (or new-to-me) books I got through last year:


December 18, 2017

Repost – Induced aversion to a particular Christmas song

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Gaming, Media, Personal — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.

It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Back in the early 1980’s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameway’s Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. “Tape”.

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50’s stuff (White Christmas and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned Drummer Boy song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from snatching boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It’s been over 20 years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

August 18, 2017

The worst part of being a pet owner

Filed under: Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 20:38

Sadly, this is not a repost of my similarly titled post from less than two weeks ago. Today, we lost the very last of our cat clan. Ash, our eldest cat, is no longer with us.

Harry Paget Flashman on the left, with Cinders and Ash, making sure that nobody can make the bed right now. October 2010.

Ash had been fading for a while, but as long as he was still interested in life, we were not going to make any irrevocable decisions. Over the last couple of days, he’d stopped eating and was barely drinking, which meant we needed to talk to the vet about what to do. The initial diagnosis was liver failure, and at 17 the prognosis was not hopeful. The vet suggested that with liver issues, especially for older cats, it was not likely to be a favourable outcome if we elected for surgery, and we didn’t want to subject him to that kind of stress with such low odds of survival.

August 8, 2017

The worst part of being a pet owner

Filed under: Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

… is when it’s time to say goodbye. RIP Harry Paget Flashman, 2003-2017.

Harry Paget Flashman on the left, with Cinders and Ash, making sure that nobody can make the bed right now. October 2010.

Our cat population has now shrunk down to a single, elderly survivor (that’s Ash in the right foreground … he’s 17 now). Ash is now partially deaf and quite frail and had been looking less and less interested in life lately, and had developed an aversion to using the kitty litter, so we’ve been trying to prepare ourselves to say goodbye to him. Instead, around midnight on Sunday, it was Harry who suddenly needed to be taken to the emergency vet for evaluation. We’d had him in for treatment of a urinary blockage last fall, and it seemed that the problem was back. The vet was unwilling to operate on an elderly cat for this, given that Harry had also developed a heart murmur, so we crossed our fingers that the (expensive) treatment wouldn’t be necessary again. That was not to be, so we had to make the decision for euthanasia rather than put him through more stress and pain with no guarantee that the problem wouldn’t be back in a week’s time.

May 27, 2017

Currently reading

Filed under: Books, History, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

You could say that I don’t follow a particularly chronological pattern to my reading list.

Pax Romana, Adrian Goldsworthy
AD69: Emperors, Armies & Anarchy, Nic Fields
All Propaganda is Lies: 1941-1942, George Orwell
The New Cambridge Modern History: II The Reformation 1520-1559 (no longer a library book despite the spine markings)

May 10, 2017

And another blogiversary rolls past

Filed under: Administrivia, Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Blogs aren’t as relevant today as they were a decade ago, but I’m still recording over 1.7 million hits every year (1,701,503 according to my WordPress stats page, which translates into 1,287,505 unique visitors). Those numbers are down a bit from 2014, which is still my peak year for overall traffic, when 1,766,068 visits were logged (2015 was down to 1,741,859, but it was the first decline in traffic year-over-year since I started blogging in May 2004).

While I’ve (almost) always had a daily quote of the day post, in the last few months, I’ve been adding a video of the day as well — I know a lot of people are more visually oriented than I am, so I’m trying to avoid the “wall of text” look that the blog sometimes gets when there’s a lot of written material unrelieved by graphics, photographs, or videos. Am I striking the right balance for you, the readers? Should I be scraping the Wikimedia archives for more graphics to spice up the postings visually?

Earlier anniversary postings:

February 24, 2017

Well it is the twenty-first century after all…

Filed under: Business, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Hey guys! I just bought marijuana for the very first time!

A thousand shares of a legal marijuana grower called Aphria, Inc. I am so conflicted — I don’t know whether I should feel counter-cultural or conformist…

I sold my last remaining Blackberry shares to cover most of the cost of the purchase, which (given Blackberry’s shrinking technological niche) was a bit of a relief.

Legal notice: Nothing in the above post should be considered in any way to be professional financial investment advice.

December 31, 2016

What I was reading in 2016 (and 2015)

Filed under: Books, Personal — Nicholas @ 03:00

I don’t read as much as I’d like, and time spent blogging or gaming certainly eats into the available time that would otherwise be spent between the covers of yet another book. Here are the books and publications I managed to digest this year (not counting re-reads of old favourites):


September 25, 2016

The Lorne Scots 150th anniversary

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Personal — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Yesterday I drove out to the wilds of Brampton to attend the Trooping of the Colours for the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). Given how hot this summer has been, they had a great day for the event. I’m sporting a bit of a sunburn on the right side of my head, but the temperatures were much more comfortable than they’d have been on pretty much any weekend since June. Elizabeth and I sat in the second row of seats, which meant that a lot of my photos were constrained (or even bookended) by the heads and shoulders of the folks sitting immediately in front of us. It was still a great trip down memory lane.


If you’re on Facebook, you can see a selection of photos from the event here (unless Facebook is making it awkward for non-members to see albums posted as “public”, which is always a consideration). If you can’t see ’em, let me know in the comments and I’ll repost at least a few of them here.

June 13, 2016

Moving really is hell

Filed under: Cancon, Personal, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the New York Post, Naomi Schaefer Riley reports that Americans are apparently moving less frequently than they used to, and at least part of the reason is the hellish experience of moving:

Americans are stuck. Research from the Census Bureau suggests that Americans have stepped in some wet cement and have yet to extract themselves.

In 1948, more than 20 percent of Americans moved to a new home. But that percentage has been steadily declining since the ’80s, to the point where now only 11 percent of Americans say they have moved in the last year.

Experts have offered all sorts of reasons for this immobility. But for some of us, anyway, there’s the unavoidable fact that moving is a pain in the behind. It’s expensive and time-consuming — and it seems to be getting worse. When I tell friends that our family is moving this week, they look at me as if I’ve just told them a family pet has died.

When my parents sold a house three decades ago, they were told to “straighten up.” But now our homes are expected to be immaculate displays. There are people who make their living “staging homes,” as if we should put on some kind of theatrical performance in order to get top dollar.

Real estate agents will give you piles of material to explain what to do to a house to make it “show ready.” (That “show” is apparently “House Hunters.”) “Make your house look like a Pottery Barn catalogue,” one agent explained. “Only three to four books are allowed on any shelf.”

Apparently people in Pottery Barn catalogues don’t read. Also, their children don’t have Legos.

We moved house earlier this year and we’re still digging out from underneath the rubble. It didn’t help that we found the perfect house to buy long before we expected to, and so hadn’t begun any kind of prep work in our existing house in advance of the move. We were trading a larger home in a 15-year-old suburb for a house in a small town that was nearly 200 years old. That translates to not only smaller living space (about 1000 square feet less) but also little to no storage space (closets were extremely rare in the 1830s). We’d been 13 years in the house and our stuff had “settled” around us … we could have used six months to de-clutter, pare down our less-frequently-used possessions, and make regular trips to the dump. Oh, and my sudden health issue and two-week stay in ICU almost exactly in the middle of the packing phase really didn’t help at all.

We moved out in phases, clearing out most of our stuff from the interior of the house, but leaving the garage and basement stuffed with anything we couldn’t get packed in time for the movers to take. We had much of the interior of the house repainted (actually, we had both the houses repainted), plus new carpeting upstairs and lots of “handyman” fixes to try to erase as much of the bumps and dings of having actually lived in the place for more than a decade. Then the real estate agent brought in the staging crew and decorated the place. After that was done, we barely recognized it, but while the furnishings and decorations were visually attractive, it was clearly not the kind of usage any normal family would have for the space.

Fortunately, our house did sell fairly quickly for just a bit less than our original asking price, but remember all the crap we stashed away in the garage and the basement? We only just finished clearing that out the same day we had to hand the keys over to our lawyers prior to the sale closing. Where did it all go? Most of it ended up in what I eventually plan to be my woodworking shop in the garage. Lots of the rest ended up going to the dump. I lost track of the total number of dump runs we made … and I know there’s probably more that will need to go that route as we begin to unpack the remaining boxes.

After all that, I really understand the attraction of minimalism but I know I could never live that way: between my thousands of books and my woodworking tools and materials there’s no way to be truly “minimal”. For example, while the garage is currently filled to the brim with “stuff”, my table saw and other woodworking power tools are in a storage locker because there’s no room for them in the shop (yet).

Of course, on a warm spring afternoon, just looking out over the backyard reminds me that the move was worth it:

Backyard view

May 19, 2016

Hundstalag 1 – the canine Hogan’s Heroes prison camp

Filed under: Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 16:26

We got a lovely new fence installed recently, so we could allow the dogs to roam around the new backyard without needing to worry that they got off the property. In the interim, before the ground warmed up enough to let the fence contractor dig the post holes, we rented some temporary fence panels and had them set up to close off the gap between the house and the garage, creating a small “courtyard” where the dogs were allowed to wander. The new fence was complete at the end of last week, and the rental company picked up the temporary fence on Tuesday.

The temporary fence shortly after installation in March

The temporary fence

This meant that the dogs have been free to roam the full backyard for just about 48 hours.

In that short time, we’ve had three prison breaks.

Now let me emphasize that this is an excellent fence and that we’re overall very happy with the contractor’s work. But as with any defensive fortification, there are weak spots. The gates, for example, are traditional weaknesses, and breakout number two happened when an electrician opened the gate to ask me a question and both dogs bolted past him and out toward the main street.

Breakouts number one and three were tunnelling jobs.

When the fence contractor finished, I had a walk-around the perimeter with one of the workmen specifically looking for spots where an agile and eager dog could manage to squeeze under the bottom of the fence. We found four such locations and additional measures were taken to close them off.

Despite those measures, we discovered that a Corgi-mix dog can be a very energetic digger:

The escape tunnel, cunningly concealed behind a screen of cedar bushes and the trunk of a tree

The escape tunnel, cunningly concealed behind a screen of cedar bushes and the trunk of a tree

Additional measures had to be taken, and given that it’s effectively invisible from most of the backyard, brute concrete was considered the most appropriate fix:

We're hoping this is sufficient discouragement to keep the canines inside the boundary fence...

We’re hoping this is sufficient discouragement to keep the canines inside the boundary fence…

May 10, 2016

Twelfth blogiversary

Filed under: Administrivia, Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

From blogs being “teh new hotness” in the early 2000s they’ve evolved (or devolved, if you prefer) into a much quieter backwater of the internet — still relevant (at least to some), but no longer the big thing online. I’ve been forced to reduce the pace of postings since my health issues right before the new year, and I doubt it’ll return to those heady days of 5-6 new entries every weekday. In spite of that, I still get a fair bit of regular traffic here (yesterday was an unexpectedly busy day with 9,525 recorded visits), but overall traffic to the blog looks to have peaked in 2014, when 1,766,068 visits were logged (last year was down only a bit at 1,741,859, but it was the first decline in traffic year-over-year since I started blogging in 2004).

Earlier anniversary postings:

February 24, 2016

Blogging will continue to light for a few days at least

Filed under: Administrivia, Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:21

As you may have noticed from a post the other day, we’ve just moved into our new-yet-quite-old house and are up to our armpits in packed boxes and not yet properly set-up furniture and “things”. It will take a while for us to clear paths through the debris, so blogging will be something I neglect for most of the day and perhaps post something a bit later. The QotD posts are queued for at least a week in advance, so there’ll be something to see each morning…

February 23, 2016

First the move, then the unpacking 

Filed under: Administrivia, Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 12:22

The boxes of books in my new office


January 18, 2016

And … Closed

Filed under: Personal — Tags: — Nicholas @ 17:46


Our new house, as of 4:00 this afternoon. It was too dark to get a photo, so this is from our initial visit during an open house.

Update: Sorry for the initial oversized picture … I don’t usually use the WordPress mobile app to post new items, and forgot that the fine-tuning isn’t quite there.

Elizabeth has always longed for a century house, but this is rather older than just a century. Based on very incomplete information, it appears that the house was already standing in the early 1830s, and may be a decade or two older than that. Elizabeth is looking forward to digging in the archives to find out more about the house and the property.

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