Friday, August 30, 2013

Seen in August

Cate Blanchett as the haughty Jasmine, a contemporary Blanche Dubois

Hell on Wheels, Season 2
I've been workin' on the railroad, oh and killin' and thievin' and stuff. This series set in a travelling work camp that is building an intercontinental railway has made a habit of killing off characters that are inconvenient but the evolving protagonist Cullen Bohannon is the grease on the wheels.

Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen's latest drama is one of his best in years. Many have commented that "Jasmine" and her story is an update of Blanche Dubois and A Streetcar Named Desire which is easy to see. Jasmine's life of affluence collapsed when her financier husband is found out to be a cheat in love and business. She moves to San Francisco to stay with her more pedestrian sister to make something of herself. What she makes is yet another affectation to find another suitable husband. But it is her affectations and reinventions that again land her trouble. Jasmine, it turns out is as untrue to herself as she to others. It seems as though all the outward layers of manners and clothes are to hide a person of whom she is deeply ashamed. To thine own self be true is some fatherly advice Jasmine could have used along the way. There is more to her than meets the eye, but that's the only part she ever wants anyone to know.

Bling Ring
The problem with making a film about spoiled, affluent, vapid and superficial teens is that vapid and superficial people learn nothing from life's lessons. This Sofia Coppola film is the retelling of actual events of a ring of L.A. high school kids who successfully rob people even wealthier and more vapid and superficial than themselves. Coppola's lens neither condemns nor celebrates (well, it does a bit) the crimes of these kids. It is obvious to rational people that these teenagers live only to consume, critique, and fetishize celebrity and fashion. They find it fulfilling. It is not fulfilling. They do not care. And that's where the film fails a bit - these adolescent criminals weren't clever for walking into unlocked homes and raiding closets, they were lazy but they succeeded anyway and their comeuppance was brief and unsatisfying. In fact, their arrests gave them the media attention they coveted and all with barely a wrinkle in the cosmic karmic universe.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I'm not sure why I avoided this funny and often uncomfortable comedy of four friends who (sort of) run their own bar in Philadelphia. This is not "Friends" and their exploits are not the family friendly, harmless pap of most sitcoms. This Gang of Four make poor decisions and avoid the consequences at all costs with little success.

The story of the death of the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia and notably one of the few influential women of antiquity. It is also the story of the role of early Christians in the fall of Alexandria and its famous library. In fact, early Christians look pretty much like arseholes. I guess that was the only thing that left a bad taste in my mouth. Not that I care about the P.R. of early Christians, but they are depicted as fanatical and all of these fanatic Christians were played by Middle Eastern looking actors while the pro-science Pagans were played by Europeans. It just seemed like they were casting early Christians as Arabs and the logical Pagans as the "West" as if to sort of knock it over our heads about the difference of religious fanatics and the rational West.

Ripper Street
Take a contemporary police procedural and set it in 1880s post-Jack the Ripper London. A lot of surprising gore, very stylish, great acting with three great and engaging lead characters, each with their own fascinating back story.

This Means War
Two CIA agents who are friends fall for the same woman and in a gentlemen's agreement vie for her affection. You know that part of a movie where they make a montage set to music to quickly show a passage of time and compress events like two people falling in love or an athlete training or an army preparing for battle. Well, this whole movie felt kinda like that.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Know Your Joe

Mr. White likes his joe the way he likes his storyline: Black

Now that the Atlantic has posted How to Make Perfect Coffee, I have to say I feel vindicated. I have to say that because saying, "I told you so" is impolite and inappropriate. The article uses some jargony jargon and names golden ratios and some neat sciencey sounding tools but the short take away is you can make great coffee by following some common sense rules:
  • Use good, recently roasted whole bean coffee
  • Store properly
  • Grind just before brewing, preferably in a burr grinder
  • Choose the correct grind to suit your method of choice
  • Use the right coffee to water ratio
  • Use the right temperature of water
Probably the only thing I don't really do on that list is know the temperature of the water - I boil it, I pour it (I use a French press so I pour enough to cover the coffee first, then wait, top up, stir, wait, plunge). Sometimes I wait too long to pour it and I guess I'm usually pouring it too soon. Another thing I've been saying for years is that I prefer light-roast to dark-roast and as such I won't drink a Starbucks coffee because it essentially tastes burnt (also known as "terrible). A couple of years ago I saw a documentary wherein a panel of coffee experts chose Ethopian Yirgacheffe as the best coffee in the world. I gasped the gasp of pride. That's been my staple for years (and oddly the only light-roast my local coffee shop sold). In the words of the fictional Tracy Jordan, I hate to say, "I told you so", so… "Welcome to Miami!"

I say all this on the eve of heading to St. John's where no one troubles too much about coffee so I'll have to make do somehow without packing my grinder, beans and press.


Monday, August 26, 2013

My Morning Jacket

My new Showers Pass Transit Jacket

This morning it was raining a bit so even though my "ride" to work is two minutes or less, I threw on my light-weight rain jacket (it's still very hot in Toronto). I didn't bother throwing the rain cover on my knapsack.

Two minutes later, my laptop bag was soaked, my arms were drenched and my shoes soaked through. Two minutes. For two minutes it was like riding through a car wash. When I sat at my desk, I double checked three of my four weather apps, all which were reporting light rain. The amount of rain was small, the intensity would've power washed graffiti from brick walls.
“…an increasing trend in extreme events”
Light rain is not actually a concern. My beloved Castelli Leggero jacket is perfect on hot days with light rain, but that was not what I just rode in. My typical approach to wet weather has been to wear light weight, quick dry clothing; you're going to get wet but at least you can dry out quickly. But as I've grown tired of wearing trail clothing and eventually just started wearing street clothes (because let's face it, trail gear might look normal in Seattle or Ottawa but not anywhere else). That meant riding a bike with fenders and chain guard to minimize street spray and just some typical rain jacket. As I started extending my riding season, fenders and rain jacket just didn't cut it. This spring, as wet and cold as it was, I thought I had cracked this problem. Comfortable merino wool base layers,  light weight rain gear, plus a bike with fenders. But today, that "light weight rain gear" let me down. Don't get me wrong, the Leggero jacket is still the tiny perfect jacket to throw in a bag or take on a ride for just-in-case scenarios, just not for it-is-raining-like-an-Indian-monsoon type scenario.

Which is in fact, the real problem. You can read all about it in this report:
Historical Trends In Short Duration Rainfall In The Greater Toronto Area
Read more »

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Life is Not Like a Box of Chocolates 

"Tuesday, August 20, 2013, 9:45 p.m. EDT. The Full Moon of August is usually called the Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Red Moon, Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon." Image via

Despite all our planning and intentions, sometimes the worst case scenario happens. Out of everything that could happen, that's the one that does. This, anecdotally of course, means that Forrest Gump was wrong and Life is not "like a box of chocolates" wherein you're not sure what you're going to get. Life, as John Lennon put it, is what happens to you when you're busy making plans. You plan, you map, you reconnoiter, you strategize, you guess at what the eventualities might be, and know your options for what Life may present you.

At least you hope. You hope for the best and expect the worst. So you think. Then, just when you were collecting the dice for your turn, Life happens to you. You knew it was a possibility but like a rope breaking from a pulley, it still shocks. Like a knee to your gut that winds you, you know what it is, and what caused it, and what's coming but that doesn't make it any less painful.

There you have it. Life is not a chocolate box, nor a board game, nor a party, nor a thing less-lived. It is exactly what you thought it would be – just not in the order or speed you thought it would happen.

The last few days, I've felt time expand. Like when you see a full glass at the edge of the table, and you know, you instinctively know, somehow, it will tip and spill, and when it happens and you see it start to go, you still reach for it; too late. Your hand can't move any faster than the falling glass and you watch the inevitability of gravity take its course.

The inevitability of gravity. That's a funny phrase. I met a man today who had been in an serious accident and was badly bruised and battered. He said he wished he was on the low-gravity surface of the moon to alleviate his pain. Coincidentally, tonight's new moon is a so called supermoon, when the moon is at its closest approach to the Earth. As it rose this evening it sat on the trees like a big golden peach. Now it's smack dab in the centre of the sky and no matter where you walk, it's hanging just above your Southern shoulder. A quiet celestial neighbour, keeping you company, outshining the stars and Klieg lights of the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. I wish we were on the moon tonight, too. That lower gravity might take some weight off our shoulders.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Just Did It 

link to New York Times Topics on Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami, author and spiritual leader of runners around the world. Image via New York Times
“As we're finding out, there are a lot worse things in life that we "just have to do"…”
As Nike implores us to "just do it", I just did it. Don't know why I did it? Not sure how I did it? I did it with a nagging headache. I did it without much preparation or training. I did to forget I was wasting my vacation. I did it to not think about other things. I did it to ignore my parents' health. I did it to ignore strife in the world. I did it to avoid my grossly messy apartment. I did it to avoid taxes. I did it to avoid other people. I did it to avoid the fact there were no other people to avoid anyway. I did it to make up for wasted time, as if it wasn't just wasting time in a different way.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Out There Somewhere 

I don't even know where this is, but I was there. Aberswyg? Abergwesyn? Is that a place?

The odd thing about this trip to Wales is it is so easy to get lost — I mean, I haven't properly pronounced a single place name since I've been here. That makes it very hard to really know where I've been or where I'm going. Additionally, at least a couple of the rides I've done have been loops, so you might go West, North, East and South just to end up where you began. Today, I partially followed the Irfon River, riding through the hilly Irfon Forest, and along what used to be a Roman road and later a drover's route where they drove cattle from Western Wales to the East.

Another funny thing about cycling is you become a bit of strangely quiet animal in the landscape. I've cruised past cattle and horses who give you the most quizzical looks as you drift by. Sheep are so skittish that they bolt if you come too close and you almost always surprise them because, of course they can't hear you coming. I've made it a habit to call out to them so they bolt away from me and not in front of me. One day I was passing a two horse carriage when the passenger told me to "talk" to the horses when I pass the horses so as not to spook them. I couldn't think of anything to say other than "Hello there" which seemed to suffice.
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Friday, August 09, 2013

Expect the Unexpected 

The Red Kite is a striking symbol of Welsh conservation efforts and has occasionally scared the shit out of me.

In this small Welsh town just Northwest of Brecon Beacons, the quietness is a little freaky. As in "Overlook Hotel" freaky. I'm beginning to wonder if, like Billy Bob Thornton, I'm not starting to develop an aversion — if not a bonafide phobia — of antiques. The more "quaint" a place is, the less I think I like it. Not just in a "don't care for it sort of way" either, but a real and genuine discomfort. Perhaps I was traumatized as a youth in a musty B&B and I don't remember it. Still, I know I am more comfortable in a hotel that is more like a set from "2001: A Space Odyssey" than I am in one that is more like a room in Norman Bates' house in "Pyscho". Unfortunately, I fear the "quaint taint" is around every corner in Wales.

This is where I find myself now. In a charming and eerily isolated guesthouse that is more Fawlty Towers than La Germaine. The setting is tranquil and the doilies are dusty and tea is offered if you stand still for too long. After a fine ride through more Constable painting scenery I arrived earlier than I expected and decided to reject the tea, have a nap, a shower and a good stretch to try and unknot my back which has suddenly decided to take a vacation of its own.
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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Holiday Paradox

The view of The Wye Valley from a pasture in Llowes, Wales

Recently I had an epiphany concerning the finiteness of the human experience. I began to weary of the rolling verdant views wherever I looked and I thought how could that be? How could you tire of magnificent beauty after only a few days, especially after lamenting the greyness of a modern concrete and asphalt city with more pickpockets than kindness?

Then it occurred to me. The beauty of Wales, and of the world in general seems infinite but my capacity to appreciate it was finite. In fact, much of our capacity of experience is finite. We are limited by what we can taste, but that doesn't mean there are limits to flavours. Put another way, there are more frequencies of sound than we can hear and there are more colours in the light spectrum than we can see. The Universe may seem infinite, yet really it is finite to us as so much of it is imperceivable to our limited senses. In other words, I shouldn't worry when part of my brain looks over a beautiful landscape and says, "oh — another sheep…"

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Welsh Skies
Somewhere between Hundred House and Pains Castle where sheep mingle along the road.

There is a London Transport poster that simply says "Look after your jam tart and jump on your Dick Van Dyke". Assuming it's a play on words using Cockney rhyming slang you can guess the meaning. Today I did my jam tart a right world of good after riding my Dick Van Dyke a mere 65 km.

I say 65 km but that does not do the route justice. I discovered a route that was described quite literally as a bit "lumpy" was probably the most difficult single day of riding I've ever experienced. The "lumps" would put both rides to Cape Spear and Lake Placid to shame. Tim at The Old Vicarage said there's no shame in walking. In my head I thought, "of course there is; it would be shameful". I now think differently. Let me say I have never got off a bike on a hill and walked it, until today when I probably did it 4 or 5 times. On two of those occasions I could barely push the bike up. I have no idea of the grade but at times it looked greater than 45 degrees. It would be akin to putting planks on some stairs and pushing your bike up that — for a kilometre or two.
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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

How lumpy is "lumpy"? 

Today was the first day I've done a real ride since I've been in the UK. Sure there has been a couple of bike "hires" of Boris Bikes through Hyde Park and Regents Park and even a rental of a single-speed in Cambridge, but today brought the possibility of real hills. Oddly those hills didn't materialize until the last few kilometres on the climb back up the hill towards the Old Vicarage B&B in Dolfor. I'm loathe to admit it as the ride was only about 40 KM but I'm feeling it right now. Which is ridiculous but there it is. I have a much longer ride tomorrow to Hay-in-Wye and according to Tim, who is one of the proprietors here, tomorrow's ride is a bit "lumpy" so yes, if you're wondering, I am a little worried about just how lumpy, "lumpy" is. This morning I was fuelled by an amazing breakfast of smoked salmon and eggs and by a great packed lunch. That has been one of the many differences between Wales and London. In London, on my own, I was happy enough to find a Pret a Manger or a decent curry or maybe something comfortably familiar as a Wagamama. Here I get what they offer — but what they offer is pretty amazing. It's as though I accidentally happened upon a foodie oasis in the distant and foreign land. Fresh herbs are fragrant everywhere and the local fare cooked up by a talented chef has been fantastic. Tonight was perfect. After a surprisingly tiring ride we had a super-light soufflė followed by great local rib-eye and roasted vegetables. For dessert, just some homemade ice cream with flavours like chocolate chilli and banana rum or basil. Take that Flavour of India (which was actually okay).

So far I've lucked out on the weather, the food, the hosts and the other guests, a couple from London (and Anchorage, and Scotland and San Francisco). All of the things that can go terribly wrong at a B&B have gone terrifically right. With that kind of luck on my side I have a good feeling that the "lumpiness" of tomorrow's ride will tucker me out perfectly for another great sleep.

The only thing I haven't indulged in since London has been alcohol. Obviously I'm no teetotaller, and I made up a bit of a story as to why I'm avoiding it (even though Adam and Marketa's wine and later Adam's scotch looked so good) — I said it wrecks my sleep patterns; which is true to an extent but my real reason is I simply think I broke my bladder. I keep having to go constantly and alcohol just makes it that much worse. Once I'm back in Toronto I'll have to make an appointment to get the "oil and lube" checked. Maybe it's something and maybe it's nothing but whatever it is, it's causing a whole lot of flushing.

Oh and speaking of a distant and foreign land, I'm getting the distinct feeling Wales and Welsh place names inspired much of Middle Earth. There are certainly Shire-like moments and again, some of the more readable place names sound like they came directly from Lord of the Rings. I've been trying to read The Similarion but it feels a little like an essay on the Old Testament. Long and difficult — much like what I expect my ride to be like tomorrow — with a few lumps thrown in for good measure.


Monday, August 05, 2013

A Brilliant Mistake

When Wales looks good, it looks really good

When I told a member of the London Scottish Regiment who had seen a tour of duty in Afghanistan that I was going to spend a week cycling and hiking in Wales he asked, "Is this some sort of court appointed punishment for some crime you've committed because I see no other reason to go there." This was only days after an SAS trainee had died after suffering heat exhaustion while on exercises in the Welsh park Brecon Beacons, near my destination. I admit I didn't expect heat exhaustion but worried more about drowning.

Now here, after an almost four hour train ride, I was sitting in a very quiet parlour drinking tea, as rain poured through the mist and an antique clock ticked loudly I was starting to wonder if this was a mistake.

"Probably" intoned a depressed inner voice.

Wouldn't I enjoy the flea markets and galleries of Paris more?


Wouldn't I enjoy camping and cycling in Prince Edward County more?


There was an intriguing scientific exhibition at the Maritime Museum in London, not to mention some of the best theatre in the world; wouldn't I enjoy that more?


I don't even like B&B's and small inns, never mind lungs full of rain or soggy and boggy trails. What made me think this would be anything other than a mistake?

Just then the sun tore a great big hole through the turbulent clouds and heaven opened on the doorstep and I wondered, if this trip was a mistake, maybe it will be a brilliant one.


Seen in July

view of a glacier in Chasing Ice

Side Effects
Warning: side effects include intense psychological thrills. An excellent mystery thriller from Stephen Soderbergh with a "crazy" good performance from the enticing and talented Rooney Mara. A women commits a murder while taking an anti-depressant and while she is sent to serve a brief stay in an institution her psychiatrist sees his practice and life unravel due to what is perceived as his poor judgement. There are many minor themes at play here — the delicate relationship between a doctor and patient - especially when that patient is an attractive woman; the ethical mess of psychiatric drug trials to name but a few. The only thing I find unbelievable in this sort of film is that anybody planning such a long and complicated con could carry it off or would even bother. The effort and planning required seem to far outweigh the benefits. These types of crimes are certainly not for the lazy.
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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Queue, the Pastime

The morning after Catherine and Andrew's wedding was full of people lolling around in one state or another trying to decide what to do. It took considerable time to get a taxi back to Cambridge which was clogged with people and traffic. The train ride to London gave me a chance to catch up on some sleep. Yet - where did the day go? Into the ether no doubt. The ether that I had apparently inhaled so deeply as to take well into the day before I felt awake. 

My first task was so pedestrian it hardly seems worth mentioning. My phone's SIM was empty and needed a top-up which I duly discovered I had to do in a Vodafone shop in person. A pedestrian task that took plenty of walking and most of the day. Now I could use the phone's maps and call Aunt Stephanie unsuccessfully (several failed attempts). I'll seek some assistance from a local in the morning. 

The rest of the day was walking and queuing. It was an attempt to see some free public art - the Dalton House, a quirky and humorous optical illusion on an empty lot in Islington. I walked for about 30 minutes only to find there would be a 2-1/2 hour wait. Then I discovered it was a 30-minute wait at the nearby pub where I thought I could spend an hour or so. I gave up and walked dejectedly for another 30 minutes back to the Tube stop whereupon some 50,000 Arsenal fans had made an immense queue to get on the subway. It took almost an hour just to get to the platform. I hope I never experience anything like it again. 

By the time I got back to the hotel, I was well done. So far the London parts of the trip have been a bit of a bust. The most infuriating thing however is having paid for a massive phone plan, and the crap Android thing I'm using is terrible. It can't stay connected to any network for more than a few minutes (Wi-Fi or 3G) and it is miserably slow to load even simple pages and it is horrible at connecting to e-mail servers (seems an Android thing whereby it doesn't maintain the login credentials thus won't send anything even though it can receive it?!!)

Mostly this means buggered up Web connections that are hampering me at every turn. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.