Superfluous Matter
Flavoured Beer

I was having a pint with some friends from climbing the other day at the Granite Brew Pub and one of them asked me why anyone would want flavoured beer. Like isn't a normal, finely crafted beer enough? Don't random flavours ruin the beer? The context was in regards to one of the beers Granite had on cask that night: "The Chai Wallah Has A Moustache" which is an oatmeal stout flavoured with chai.

I didn't have a good answer for him that night other than to make the distinction between the major types of flavoured beers. Something like Bud Light Lime is really just Bud Light with lime-aid mixed in. Flavoured beers from the craft beer scene tend to use high quality ingredients for the flavours and those ingredients are often mixed into the mash that is the precursor to beer. The brewing process then continues with the extra ingredients so they can become more fully incorporated into the final result.

Flavours have been added to beer for as long as beer has existed, which is a rather long time. I recently had a Scotch ale which was brewed in a style that is over 4000 years old. It involves the addition of flowers from heather bushes after boiling, which are left in the mix for an hour to infuse the beer with flavour (almost like tea).

I think beer can be a great vehicle for exploring interesting flavour combinations. I still prefer to drink beers that are more "pure" in style, but I also do not hesitate to try some of the more random things. The chai beer I mentioned above has a beautiful aroma like chai tea, but the flavour is mostly standard stout (a good stout, but a bit of a tease given the nose). I don't normally like fruit-flavoured beers (I find them too sweet), but spices, chocolate or coffee can all go very well when combined with beer.

At Cask Days this year I had a spiced pumpkin ale which was amazing, and I recently picked up two bottles of Vanilla Bean Imperial Espresso Stout from Great Lakes Brewery. This is one of the best flavoured beers I've ever had. It isn't heavy-handed with the flavours, they simply accentuate the natural taste of a very fine beer. Too bad it was a just a one-off; it's unlikely they'll make more.

So why would people want flavoured beer? If it's something like Bud Light Lime or Coors Light Iced T, I have no idea. But I don't know why you'd drink the unflavoured versions of those beers either. With craft beer though, you can get some fantastic combinations and flavour profiles that are just totally unique, unexpected and occasionally awesome. So although the majority of my beers are "normal" I will still continue to seek out and sample new flavoured beers whenever I can.


I social media-ized my navigation bar. That is all.


I wrote about sugar a bunch in my recent post about health. Today I came across an interesting article by Gary Taubes talking about how the sugar industry has employed a lot of the same tactics as the tobacco industry in trying to prevent the FDA in the United States from suggesting that Americans limit their intake of added sugar to any specific amount. Check out Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lie at Mother Jones. Gary Taubes also did an AMA on reddit to answer questions about the article.

In both the article and the AMA the thing I liked best is that although he believes strongly in his position, he is very clearly open to being proven wrong. The article is mostly just a summary of the history of lobbying by the sugar industry and in the AMA he prefixes most of his answers with phrases like "assuming I'm right." Furthermore he has started a nonprofit organization, called NuSI to "improve the quality of science in nutrition and obesity research" in order to overcome the fact that "current dietary guidelines are not based on rigorous science."

Now perhaps the research from NuSI will be just as biased as the research funded and pushed by the sugar industry. But maybe it will help balance things out?

Many people in the comments to the article claim that the data actually point to the rise in the use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as the real problem. I'm not sure whether HFCS is so much worse than sugar as to single-handedly cause the explosion in obesity in the US. However an interesting side point is that the sugar industry has been able to jump on the recent hysteria about HFCS to position itself as the safe and natural alternative. Industry lobby groups are terrifying.


I've paid my deposit and am now officially signed up to go on a 12-day canoe trip deep in the tundra of the Northwest Territories with Canoe Arctic. I received my receipt for the deposit in the mail today from Alex Hall (the owner and guide) along with a lovely, two page, hand-written letter discussing some of the details. I'm totally impressed by the letter. I can't remember the last time I received something in the mail that felt so personal. For all we gain from computers and the Internet, we're definitely losing something as well.

Anyway I'm super excited about the trip. I'm going on Trip #3 which occurs in mid-July and travels quite a distance along the Thelon River. There are still a few spots available so if you think tundra canoing sounds awesome you should contact Alex and arrange to join me!

Books - The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I've read this book before but it's been a while and so I decided to revisit it. I always enjoy Margaret Atwood's writing and I love dystopian stuff. She's great at portraying horrible potential futures in ways that make them seem disturbingly possible (check out "Oryx and Crake" for another example).

Anyway, great book, definitely up there with Brave New World and 1984. Check it out if you haven't read it before.


I updated my links page tonight using a cool little PHP library I found for interfacing with Google Reader. I was able to use it to access my Google Reader account and dump out all the subscription information into a nice format. Note that I'm not doing this on the fly as that would require storing my Google password somewhere which is not a thing I'm going to do. But I have a nice little utility now so I can update the links page really easily whenever I want.

I also updated my résumé a bit because I felt bad every time some annoying recruiter contacted me after seeing it with all its old, out-dated information and still thought I would be a good fit for whatever position they were flogging. I'd at least like to properly represent myself before telling them to go away.


As far as I know I'm not unhealthy. I don't really have any complaints about how I feel physically day-to-day. However over the past few years I've started to notice that I am aging and that some things are not the same as when I was 20. Simultaneously, many of my friends have been pursuing various alternative approaches to diet and exercise. As a result I became much more mindful of my own choices. I did not make any changes, but for the last couple years I have been making the effort to think about each thing I eat and how much time I spend being active.

The Internet is full of competing theories on how best to eat and exercise. My conclusion is that as a species we haven't figured it out yet. Sure there are recommendations from various government bodies but the more you research the more it seems that "best" is really much more personal than a generic food guide can cover. The key is most likely listening to your own body and adjusting your choices to achieve optimal levels of fitness and well-being.

A few months ago I set myself a goal in the realm of health. I want to live a long life with minimum illness in a body that not only can I rely on to perform well physically, but that I will enjoy using in physical settings. I want to be able to be joyfully active. I also set a corollary to that goal: I do not want to allow the goal to limit my experiences. I shouldn't avoid trying something once or twice just because it conflicts with maximizing long life. The pursuit of good health should be a default setting, but exceptions should be allowed without fuss. Living long is pointless if you don't do anything with that life.

With that in mind I have been making small alterations to my diet and exercise over the last couple months. I want to emphasize that these changes are not meant to be temporary. I'm changing my life style, not going on a diet. If I find some changes don't work or produce negative results I'll adjust as I go but the idea is to zero in on the optimal configuration.

First, I have defined processed/refined sugar to be an exception to my default setting (this includes disgusting artificial sweeteners, but I didn't eat those anyway because of the disgustingness). In an average day I no longer eat any at all. If I need to sweeten something I use maple syrup or honey, but I do that very rarely.

One of the interesting side-effects of this is that I had to eliminate almost all processed food because so much contains sugar. I now make my own salad dressings and sauces and lots of other stuff. The other interesting side-effect is that when I do make an exception and indulge in some tasty baked good I often find I want less of that item or I find it too sweet altogether and want none. I'm also finding fruit to be more delicious than it was before. I am thoroughly convinced that the spread of cheap accessible sugar is the cause of most of society's obesity woes.

My biggest exception sugar-wise is chocolate. I eat dark chocolate quite regularly but if a bar is marked as 75% cocoa, that means the other 25% is mostly sugar. 85% is my default darkness and I rarely eat more than a couple squares at a time so I don't think that is too bad. I've also found a couple 100% bars (no sugar at all) that aren't too bad for straight eating however I still prefer the 85%.

The next change I've made diet-wise is concerning meat and fish. I suspect the only way I'll stop eating meat is if the world runs out of it or if my doctor can convince me that it is hurting me significantly. I'm not a raging carnivore or anything. It's not unusual for me to go for a day or two with no meat at all. So I have decided that when I do eat meat, I want to eat good meat and I'm willing to pay a premium for it.

When I was younger my dad had a little hobby farm and he had a bunch of chickens. He fed them normal feed and they had a pen to sleep in, but for the most part they ran around the yard pecking at grass and bugs and doing whatever came naturally to them. Those chickens produced the best eggs (thick hard shells with violently yellow yolks) I've ever had. Similarly, the ones he butchered produced the best tasting chicken I've ever eaten (super moist and extremely flavourful, even in the white meat).

Factory farming is very different. Chickens sit in cages their entire life and are fed whatever the companies find fattens them up the quickest. They are injected with hormones and antibiotics whether they need them or not. Same with cows and pigs (and even fish that is farmed). These practices have made meat cheaper than ever which makes meat more accessible to all of society. However it's pretty easy to see and taste the difference. Additionally, most research I've seen suggests that the meat from pastured animals that are allowed to act like they would if left to their own devices (grazing, rooting, pecking, walking around, etc.) has a much better nutrient profile than factory farmed meat. For example, grass-fed beef has a much better ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (more omega-3 good, too much omega-6 bad) than beef from cows fed with corn (cows aren't supposed to eat corn).

My take on this is not one of animal welfare. I am all for prosecuting people who are cruel to animals, but it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that it is better to eat a happy pastured cow than an unhappy factory-farmed cow. I'm still eating the cow. My point here is that pastured animals taste better and science suggests they are better for you. So that's what I try to eat when I eat meat (or eggs) now. There are some great farms near Toronto that will deliver frozen, pastured meat to the city and what I've had so far has been delicious.

Next up on diet improvement has been to increase my fresh fruit and vegetable intake (note that despite various food guides, corn and potatoes are not vegetables, they are lumps of starch). This one was a no-brainer, every single diet recommends more fresh produce. I try to buy most of my produce from local markets now. Many people complain that the farmer's markets are expensive but I find if you buy the stuff that is actually in season it can be quite cheap. So right now squashes and apples and a few others are very cheap. Earlier in the summer you could buy bushels of tomatoes and peppers for almost nothing. I have been roasting and freezing the extras for eating over the winter and anything roasted is awesome.

(A quick aside here...I made the best peaches ever this summer. Take a bunch of peaches, quarter them and remove the pits. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet, skin down. Put a small dab of the best real butter you can buy on each quarter. Sprinkle them all with coarse salt and a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Roast in a 400F oven until they look delicious. Eat them hot or cold and freeze the extras. Mix them with things like yogurt. Pure bliss.)

The biggest change to my diet is that I have greatly reduced my intake of wheat. This one is an experiment. Several of my friends have cut out wheat and I wanted to see what it would be like. To start with, I stopped eating cereal or bagels in the morning. I made this change over a year ago. Now I generally eat a bowl of berries mixed with plain greek yogurt and a small handful of almonds and hazelnuts. It's delicious and I found that I don't get hungry again until about 12:30pm. With cereal, I'd sometimes be hungry by 10:00am.

That seemed like a conclusive win and pushed me to try to cut out my daily sandwich at lunch. I haven't had a sandwich for lunch for about a month now. Instead I bring leftovers from supper or I make wraps with veggies, meat and cheese out of big leafy greens like kale or collards or swiss chard. It takes a bit more planning, but now I don't slip into a low-grade coma around 3pm. I still have an apple as a snack around that time, but I don't actually feel like I need it anymore. I'll still keep eating them though because apples are yummy.

For supper I now avoid pasta and if I do really want pasta I'll occasionally grab a bag of rice or lentil noodles. And as for tasty baked goods...well they're loaded with sugar so I was avoiding them anyway.

Again I'll still happily consume wheat as an exception, but it seems like a good default setting to avoid it.

The last big change is that I've stopped thinking about fat at all (other than avoiding highly processed artificial fats like margarine or trans-fatty things). Low-fat versions of foods often have added sugar or random chemicals to keep an acceptable taste. So it's really just trading one questionably bad thing for some other definitely bad things.

The idea that saturated fat is bad for your heart is coming under fire lately, mostly from the paleo/primal lifestyle camp. It was originally based on rather poor research from the fifties by Ancel Keys which found among seven countries that more saturated fat led to more heart disease. But it turns out he ignored data from fifteen other countries that pretty much destroys the fancy graph he drew (some countries had low-saturated fat intake and high heart disease and others had high intake and low disease). Somehow this bad research became the foundation of modern diet recommendations. My understanding is that this happened despite inconclusive follow-up research that tried to do controlled tests on the relationship between heart disease and saturated fat intake. At the same time as Keys was working on this, other researchers found similar and more pronounced connections between dietary sugar and heart disease but for whatever reason society decided that saturated fat was the bigger evil.

Anyway, my conclusion from what I've read is that we don't really know whether saturated fat is as bad as they say. However the human body actually needs some saturated fat. When you diet and lose fat weight, that is your body consuming your own saturated fat as energy. It's good at it. If you eat saturated fat instead your body consumes it the same way. It's a good source of energy. Saturated fat from animals is also a good source of fat soluble vitamins like K2, A and D. The human species has been eating saturated fat forever (and some societies like the Inuit eat a ridiculous amount of it with no ill effects). Heart disease is a recent epidemic that seems to match more closely with the rise in sugar consumption. So I'm going to enjoy my nuts, avocado, butter, cheese, bacon and other meats (from pastured animals when possible) while being sure to have regular blood work from my doctor to monitor my heart health.

To sum up my new approach to food: Eat lots of fresh produce. Avoid sugar and wheat. Don't worry about (unprocessed) fats. Eat meat from pastured animals. Don't eat processed foods. These are default settings that may be overridden for deriving maximum enjoyment of life, particularly in social situations (alcohol is a fantastic exception).

That's enough about diet, now on to exercise. I mentioned recently how I found a month of regular running really changed my fitness level and how I might keep it up. Well that didn't happen because I find running to be terrible. Instead I'm continuing to push myself to climb twice a week and in between I focus on body-weight exercises.

I'm a bit allergic to gym equipment. I find it strange that we should need special objects to be in shape. So instead I use my own body. I do about fifteen minutes of repeated sets of push-ups, deep squats, planks and chin-ups whenever I feel like it. I don't have a regimented schedule but I try to do it a few times a week. I've noticed increases in strength when climbing. Since my goal is to be able to enjoy using my body (and for me climbing is the ultimate expression of that) I'd say this is a successful strategy.

The other thing I do is walk a lot. I've always done that since living in Toronto but now that I'm so close to work I need to do it consciously. So I often take the long way home (thirty minutes instead of three). I hope to combine these walks with a rekindling of my interest in photography but that hasn't happened yet.

Finally, one more thing I'm forcing myself to be conscious of is the amount of time I spend in a sedentary position. In my field of work that is a real danger so I try to break up my day with short walks outside.

So that's it. Those are most of my thoughts on health at the current point in time. There are a couple smaller issues like sleep patterns and sunlight exposure but I think this post is long enough. I've noticed improvements so I'm going to stick with it.

Books - The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

This book was a fun and quick read that I finished over on train ride this weekend (I was in London to visit with Mike and my brother). It's a kind of dark comedy western that follows a pair of hired guns in Oregon and California. The narrator (one of the two brothers) is fantastic and his descriptions of events drive the book right to the end.

Books - Jonathan Franzen

I just finished up two books by Jonathan Franzen ('Freedom' and 'How To Be Alone') and I read a third ('The Corrections') just before I started to blog about my reading. All three were great. Both 'Freedom' and 'The Corrections' follow the lives of the members of a dysfunctional mid-western American family while 'How To Be Alone' is a collection of essays.

Franzen is known to be disdainful of many of the advances in technology that have occurred in the last fifty years and that certainly comes through in his writing. From my point of view it's easy to brand him a luddite, but reading his work does make one try consider the net benefit of all the miraculous stuff we now have. The timing of my reading lined up nicely with my recent experiment in 24 hours of disconnection. Not that I'll be changing anything since my job depends on all this technology, but I think I will at least try to be more mindful of it all.

The two novels were great stories and by the end of each I loved all the characters (some take a while to warm up to). The essays were neat too because a lot of them reflect on the act of reading itself (reading fiction/literature in particular). He struck a lot of familiar chords when discussing growing up as a child who reads and then trying to remain a reader as an adult. Really fun stuff.

Digital Vacation

Yesterday being a rather troubling anniversary, I took the day off work. But I also decided to take the day off from (digital) communication and media consumption. I didn't turn on my phone or computer and I avoided TV, radio, books, magazines, and all people (where possible). Instead I rented a car and drove around south-western Ontario. I visited a few places of special significance and took a few long walks along the way. It was very relaxing and liberating, but I don't think it led to any great advances in or revelations concerning my overall psychological or emotional health. It certainly did no harm though.

The most interesting outcome for me was how insidious information is. My average day is just a steady stream of pure information of varying quality. From the moment I get up and turn on my computer to read the Internets while eating breakfast I am rarely not consuming information of some kind. Each day I read the news online, follow dozens of sites in my RSS reader, keep track of friends on Facebook, read and write many emails, send a random number of text messages, talk on the phone, read articles in Macleans, read some of whatever book I'm reading, watch an episode or two of some random TV show and all that is just the baseline. It does not include what I do at work or any "extra" Internet stuff I do like researching future activities or random bits of useless but interesting information. Also, I often do several of these activities at once and there are several other information-heavy activities I'd like to pursue given more time (albeit they are more creative than consumptive).

My observations did not come so much from the lack of all this information I experienced yesterday, but from the catch-up I did today. I had fallen behind by just a day and it took three or four hours to get back to where I would have been. And again, this does not include the catch-up I'll need to do at work on Monday ( many emails will be waiting).

I'm not sure what the lesson is from this. I love my information and I regularly adjust my sources to try to filter out the crap. I don't see myself changing but maybe it would be good to take more breaks now and then. It didn't hurt to go a day without reading about the latest stupid, embarrassing thing Rob Ford did (can we has new mayor yet?).


I experienced much culture this weekend. Possibly too much as I'm totally exhausted tonight.

Thursday night after work I saw my first two TIFF movies. Room 237 was great. The conspiracy theories and secret meanings behind the movie The Shining are not very credible but the presentation in Room 237 was most amusing. My favourite theory is that The Shining is both an admission of guilt and an apology by Stanley Kubrick for faking the footage from the original moon landing. The theorist was quick to note that he does believe NASA landed on the moon, just that the footage was fake. I'm really glad I re-watched The Shining just last week as it added a lot to this film. Student was a much harder movie. I had forgotten how dark and serious the novel Crime and Punishment is; the movie adequately reminded me. The cinematography was great though and it was amazing the beauty presented in the dilapidated suburbs in which the movie took place.

Friday over lunch I saw Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. This was by far my favourite of the four films I saw this year. It was shot over twelve days using the original script from Shakespeare and the set was just Joss Whedon's house. You could tell the cast and crew had a great time making the film and that it must have been a big fun party. The result was fantastic and enjoyable and everything you'd expect from such talent. Watch this movie. I also made the effort to read the play before seeing the movie and this definitely added to my enjoyment. I really need to go see Shakespeare more (I think I've only seen two of his plays ever). Stratford is so close...I need to exploit that.

Friday night a couple friends came over for a Scotch Tasting Night. As much as I enjoy fine beers I'm trying to find a back up drink for when I don't feel like consuming many pints of liquid. Scotch seems like a good drink to pursue because of the complexity of flavour and the many many years of history behind it. We managed to bring together 7 or 8 different kinds and then spent the evening moving through them while playing board games. We had good variety and I'm definitely interested in trying more in the future. The winner of the night for me was the Cragganmore 12 Year Old Single Speyside Malt.

On Saturday Matt and I went to our first Tafelmusik concert of the season up at Bloor and Church. It was good as usual and it was a great day to walk so we walked there and back from downtown. After the concert we met up with Adrienne and got supper before heading out to Echo Beach at Ontario Place for the Sheepdogs concert (again walking). There were three opening bands: Zeus, The Sadies and Yukon Blonde. I really enjoyed the Sadies and of course the Sheepdogs and it was a pretty good venue (despite being a bit chilly). After the concert I walked home for a total of about 20km of walking on Saturday.

Today I had my final TIFF screening, The Suicide Shop. I was a bit surprised to find that the movie was in 3D and so I had to wear the glasses. I try to avoid 3D movies because it normally doesn't add anything. They didn't do a bad job for this film, but again, it didn't need it. Despite the 3D, the animation had great style and I loved just looking at the film. The story was fantastic for the first three quarters but the ending struck me as trite and simplistic. The movie sets itself up to deal with the very real and serious issues of depression and suicide (through farce and dark comedy) and then doesn't really follow through. Overall though it was worth watching and I'd definitely watch it again.

Books - Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

The pace of my reading has slowed lately, mostly due to my busy August. I did read two books though, which I'm going to unfairly compare based on their only common feature: both are English translations of the original.

Love in the Time of Cholera is by a Nobel Prize winning author and although I cannot read or speak Spanish I feel like the translation (by Edith Grossman) must have captured the feeling and lyrical quality of the original because it was so very enjoyable to read. The words and sentences flowed in a way that made the book feel like it was written in English by an especially gifted author. The story and characters were fantastic too, although I admit to having personal difficulties with sections discussing the progression of married life. I feel very robbed of all that and some of the more moving parts left me a bit bitter.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest has certainly made a lot more money and maybe been read by more people than Love in the Time of Cholera, but obviously it is not in the same league from a literary point of view. Also, when I read the Stieg Larsson books I find the sentence structure and language a bit rough. I don't speak or read Swedish but I feel like the problems are an artifact of the translation. The translator for Love in the Time of Cholera is quoted as saying "...a translation is not made with tracing paper. It is an act of critical interpretation." I feel like Stieg Larsson's translator didn't subscribe to the same school of thought. Perhaps it is actually a problem with the writing (the source material isn't exactly high literature), but it doesn't feel like it. Despite these issues, the book itself was just as gripping as the previous two in the series and I finished the second half in a marathon reading session one night after climbing.

It's fun to intersperse trashy thrillers with Nobel Prize winners; it makes for interesting comparisons.

Weddings and TIFF

August was rather busy for me; I had two weddings plus the bachelor party, rehearsal, and other planning for the second wedding since I was one of the best men. Chris and John's wedding was fabulous and it was a privilege to be John's best man. I think I did OK with my speech and we all had a great time at their joint bachelor party up at Blue Mountain.

September is looking like it will be a bit quieter, although I've just added a bit to my schedule by buying tickets to four films at TIFF.

On the evening of Thursday the 13th, I'm seeing two films: Room 237 at 6pm and Student at 9:45pm. Room 237 is documentary about the secret meanings and conspiracies behind Stanley Kubrick's film, "The Shining" which is based on the book by Stephen King. Student is a rough interpretation of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" set in modern-day Kazakhstan; I'm interested because "Crime and Punishment" was the main book I used for my OAC English ISP.

On Friday the 14th, I'm seeing Much Ado About Nothing at 11am. It uses the original text from Shakespeare and was shot in just twelve days. Most importantly though, it's done by Joss Whedon and it stars many of the typical Joss Whedon actors: Amy Acker (Angel), Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel), Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly), Sean Maher (Firefly), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson in the various Avengers movies).

Finally, on Sunday the 16th I'm seeing an animated film called The Suicide Shop. It's a black comedy about a family run business that sells suicide. They run into difficulties when their son turns out to be inappropriately happy and optimistic. I love animated films and the style of this one looks great.

If anyone is interested in seeing any of these shows please feel free to attempt to buy a ticket (I think there are still tickets for the shows I'm seeing but they sell out fast) and then let me know. We can meet up somewhere and go together!

In between all these films, on Saturday the 14th, I'm seeing The Sheepdogs, along with The Sadies, Yukon Blond and Zeus at Echo Beach with Matt and Adrienne. It should be a good show!


I just got back today from the annual Civic Holiday Algonquin camping trip that I go on with friends and family (see here, here and here for descriptions of previous trips).

I'm not doing a full blog this year like I have in the past and I didn't really take any pictures. The trip was much the same as in previous years with a group of 20 people made up of the usual suspects. It was an excellent time as always, but I just wasn't up to taking photos. I'm having a lot of trouble getting back into photography (disregarding my big trip to Australia/NZ).

Some of the highlights from this trip included celebrating Judy's 50th birthday with cake and champagne and also golfing with a club, tee and golf ball all carved from wood by Anthony (the ball was particularly spectacular). The other interesting thing this time was that the park was under a complete fire ban as it's had almost no rain this year. In fact, we almost had to cancel the trip because the east end of the park was closed due to forest fires up until a week ago. With no campfire we had to alter the menu a bit so that we could cook everything on the Coleman stoves. It wasn't a problem though and we made up for the lack of a campfire by sitting on the beach a lot.

I definitely want to go camping more than once a year. In particular I'm looking at doing a long canoe trip in the Northwest Territories with Matt in summer 2013, possibly with Canoe Arctic. I've seen so little of my home country and it's time to start remedying that!

Books - Reamde by Neal Stephenson

I don't have a lot to say about this one. For anyone who is not familiar with Neal Stephenson, he seems to write books exactly for me. Super geeky and often epic in length. Cryptonomicon included a Perl script and the Baroque Cycle numbered about 3000 pages. I've read all his novels. One of the main plot devices in Reamde is a fictional MMORPG called T'Rain. The book was awesome and I loved it but it certainly wouldn't appeal to everyone.

Warrior Dash

I competed again in Warrior Dash today for some reason and the small amount of training I did really paid off! Last year I finished in 39:35.50 and I was totally exhausted and destroyed. This year I did it in 36:43.15 and I felt pretty ok at the end. I was still tired but not in any way destroyed. It was lots of fun and the accomplishment made me feel like maybe I should keep up the training after all.

Australia/New Zealand

I'm done my trip journal for Australia and New Zealand! It's over 23,000 words, has 565 pictures and 12 videos. Lots of work, but it was great to re-live my experiences from two wonderful countries (and shared with awesome/amazing/epic people/dogs: Patrick, Toni, Kiera, Shannon and Jane).

Books - God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

I was going to skip blogging about this book due to vague and unspecific feelings of social unease. In the end it was precisely those feelings that made me realize it was important to write this post.

I am an atheist. Despite my vaguely Anglican upbringing I have been an atheist for a very long time and I came to this position on my own without any direct influence from others (I did not know any atheists or read any subversive atheist literature). For as long as I can remember I have tried to imagine all the possibilities concerning any issue and I think I was 8 or 9 the first time I pondered the possibility of the non-existence of a god. By the time I finished my high school science classes any remaining shred of belief was gone.

I don't want to discuss my own atheism here but instead my reasons for being uneasy writing this post. It is one of my most strident beliefs that spirituality is the most personal topic. There is no person on earth, not parents, siblings, friends, children or spouses (and certainly not strangers), who should presume to try to influence your own beliefs on matters of spirituality. But at the same time one should not feel ashamed of their beliefs or lack thereof. Yet I do feel shame in certain situations. I avoid lines of discussion that might lead to this topic with all but my closest friends and family. In mainstream society atheists are still viewed with some level of suspicion.

Although I came to atheism on my own, I recently decided to pursue the thoughts of others on the topic. I've been reading some of the more popular books from The Four Horsemen of New Atheism such as "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins as well as the book which is the subject of this post.

I found both books interesting, but it was definitely a case of "preaching to the choir," a particularly apt metaphor in this context. The biggest new idea for me (presented by both books) is the notion that involving children in organized religion is abuse. Intellectual abuse to be specific. Organized religion hinders the development of critical thinking skills. At some point all religions have an element of "because God said so" at which point it is no longer acceptable to question the statement. The mind of a child is a blank and infinite canvas and the nature of children is that they seek to fill that canvas by questioning everything around them. This is a wonderful trait that should be endlessly encouraged. The questions of a child should be answered honestly. Rational, evidence-based justifications should be provided for all instructions and directives. If something is unknown, that fact should also be shared with the child and they should be encouraged to seek out the answer on their own. "Because I (or God) said so," is never acceptable. The trials and realities of life cause our minds to close and our thinking to become rigid as we age; that process should not be hurried along with non-answers and veiled threats of hell-fire.

Religion is such a sacred cow (wow, lots of metaphors have a religious bent, this post practically writes itself) in almost all societies. To suggest that it should only be engaged in by persons who have reached the age of majority would never fly. But if it happened that you could only join an organized religion after you had time to develop your critical thinking skills I suspect that organized religion would become a much more minor part of society. In such a society I would not hesitate in discussing a topic or writing a blog post which tangentially might reveal my own (lack of) beliefs.

Postscript: I would like to add some meta-comments about this post. I've always thought about broaching the topic of atheism on my blog but this was not the way I imagined doing it. I backed myself into a corner by deciding to blog about every book I read and then reading this book. Despite that misstep, this was a really neat writing exercise for me because it was extremely difficult to keep the post concise and focused on a single point (ie. the thing I found most interesting in the book and how it applied to my own situation). There are so many tangents that I wanted to run off and explore and it is so easy to make snide generalizations about religion that would have added nothing to the content of the post and only inflamed emotions. I hope that I have managed to meet my goals. Most importantly it is not my goal to judge or influence the beliefs of others. I have friends and acquaintances from all manner of belief systems and I have many times enjoyed sharing their religious traditions with them at holidays (and would gladly join them again). Those experiences have always been positive and not an attempt to influence my own beliefs. My only beef with religion is the need many of its adherents feel to spread their own personal brand to others. In particular, many feel that religion should influence the policies of our secular democracies which is just so completely and totally horrifying. Keep it personal and keep it the hell out of government.

Recent Stuff

I've been pretty busy lately. Thursday and Friday I was in Montreal for work. It was a fast trip and I spent most of the time at the office, but it was still fun to see co-workers there and also to see a little bit more of Montreal. I've been there twice now for work but never for fun and on both work trips I didn't have much time to see anything. It seems like a really great city so I'll have to visit it properly sometime soon (beer-acquisition road trip anyone?).

On Saturday I went to Matt and Adrienne's house in Burlington for a yummy Canada Day BBQ. All of the food (sausages, potato wedges, baby bok-choy) was done on the BBQ and Adrienne made a delicious blueberry pie (in the oven) for dessert. Michael and Laura were also there and it was fun to catch up with them.

On Sunday Chris and John came and parked at my place and we spent the afternoon at the pride parade and related events. It was fun and afterwards we went to Betty's for supper. We also went to "G for Gelato" which is a new Gelato place that opened really close to my apartment. It was amazing! I'll be returning there for sure.

Today I went climbing in the morning and then spent the rest of the day working on my Australia/New Zealand trip journal. I'm pretty close to being finished and I expect to have it posted by the end of the week. It's a big one!

Finally I've started training for Warrior Dash. I've managed to force myself to run four mornings per week for the last three weeks and I hope to continue this until the event (after which I will never run again).

Books - In the Skin of a Lion and The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

I just read these two books back to back and they were both great. I've only recently started reading Michael Ondaatje and everything I've read by him has been fantastic. Normally I enjoy fiction for the story or the characters, but this is the first author whose books I enjoy for the words: the actual words he chooses and the way he pieces them together into sentences and paragraphs until they become story and emotion. I've so far avoided reading his best known work, The English Patient, but I think I'll pick that up next time I restock on books.


Last night Adrienne and I were going to go see Radiohead at Downsview Park but unfortunately the stage collapsed, killing one of the crew from the show. Bad times. I've never seen Radiohead live before and I really want to, so I may try to do it in another city. I don't expect they'll be back to Toronto any time soon.

As an alternate activity Adrienne and I went to the distillery district to get chocolate from Soma and then we wandered over to Yonge Dundas Square to see The Flaming Lips at a free show as part of NXNE. It was pretty good, but obviously not Radiohead. Still, it's nice living in a city where it's easy to find alternate activities when plans fall apart.

Today I went climbing at True North, which is also in Downsview Park so I was able to see the stage. It's a huge tangle of collapsed metal and is totally surreal. It's amazing how few people were affected; it would have been really bad if it happened during the show with 40,000 people watching. The panic would have been awful not to mention all the extra people who would have been on stage.

Books - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I read a lot. Many times people have looked at my bookshelves and asked, "Have you read all those??" The answer is of course yes, but there's at least that number of books again that I've read and do not own. Anyway, I've always toyed with the idea of keeping track of the books I read in some way but I never get around to it. I'm sure there is some sort of Web 2.0/social media thing for that purpose but I'd rather read than spend that time categorizing and social-mediaing what I've read.

So as a compromise I've decided to do short blog posts about books as I finish them (if the book is worthy). I just finished The Grapes of Wrath which is on most lists of the best English novels of all time and is frequently described as one of the best American novels of all time. I found its depictions of life during the depression fascinating and the story of the Joad family to be gripping. As a stand-alone book it is great. However there was an additional layer that I found extra interesting. A lot of the problems presented in the book echo the problems we're having in the world today (concentration of wealth among few people, falling wages, rising unemployment, destruction of the work base for the middle class, etc).

I'm not trying to oversimplify, but the outbreak of World War II was probably the greatest factor in the resolution of those problems. I don't see another world war in the near future, which is good, but how will we solve the problems this time?

Time to Start Blogging Again

It's been a while since my last update and I've decided it is time to start blogging regularly again. I honestly haven't felt like writing but I've noticed my writing skills have begun to atrophy from lack of use so I need to get back to it.

My first priority in this realm will be the transcription of my journal from my big Australia/New Zealand trip. This will take a while and I won't be posting it incrementally. I'll only publish when it is complete. This afternoon I made a start and it is my goal to do at least a little bit of it every day. It should take two or three weeks (or maybe four if I get busy with other things).

A lot has happened since I returned from the southern hemisphere. Within the first week back I contacted my Realtor and started preparing the house for sale. It was just too big and full of too many bad memories for me to be able to stay there. After getting the house prepped and staged it only took five days to sell it. The Toronto real estate market is kind of insane (but that's a subject for a different blog post). The sale is not technically done yet, it closes on June 21, but so far things look OK. I know I'll be a lot more relaxed when it's finished though.

My Realtor, Sabrina Alevritis, was amazingly helpful and supportive. She was also the person who helped us buy the house in the first place. If you're looking for a Realtor I can't recommend her highly enough.

The apartment I found (again with the help of Sabrina) is downtown near where I work so it's a great place to be while I figure out what to do next. My commute rounded to the nearest five minute mark is zero minutes. I also have a lovely view of the Toronto skyline and the building itself is brand new and has a bunch of nice amenities. My unit is a one bedroom+den and is slightly bigger than the one Kim and I shared in CityPlace (but I'm pretty sure that extra space is just wasted in poor layout choices). Also, while it is a larger building, it is not CityPlace big and there is only one so it's not as crazy and dormitory-style as CityPlace was.

A big part of moving was downsizing my stuff. Kim and I acquired a lot of things in a short time and it was all too much for just me. I spent a lot of time going through all our possessions and whittling them down to things I actually need or things that have sentimental value. Everything else I either donated to charity or gave away to friends and family. It was a difficult process but I feel significantly lighter for having done it. Outside of books (can never have too many books), having too many possessions makes me anxious because you have to worry about them and care for them.

Over Mother's Day weekend my mom got herself two new Siamese kittens. Our family has always had cats (and normally Siamese), but after the last one died my mom held off on getting new ones because of everything that was happening with Kim and with my Grandfather. She didn't want to have to rush back to her house to take care of pets when so many more important things were going on. But now that life has settled down she has cats again and I've already been to visit them twice because they're super adorable (well and maybe because it was Mother's Day and then my mom's birthday).

Day-to-day I've still been climbing whenever I can and I've also been helping Chris and John prepare for their wedding in August. That's going to be lots of fun for sure. I also need to start doing some cardio training as I'm participating in Warrior Dash again for some stupid reason.

View from my balcony near sunset
View from my balcony near sunset

I had a great trip, but I'm home now and it's back to work tomorrow. I'll be posting a trip journal with lots of photos at some point.

In Australia

I'm in Australia and it's an awesome place!

Time Away

I've sorted out most of the practical necessities that I was required to deal with as a result of Kim's passing. Now I'm taking a break. I'm going on a month long trip to Australia and New Zealand where I will spend time visiting my very good friends Patrick and Toni and my cousin Shannon. I'll also spend a bunch of time on my own exploring small sections of both amazing countries.

When I come back I hope to write up a proper trip journal with lots of pictures and stories. I'll also start the process to sell the house and move into a smaller apartment downtown which I'll rent until I figure out what to do next.

2011 | 2013