The things you find when you need to pee

One of the consequences of having the world’s tiniest bladder is often needing to pee when there is no convenient place to do so.

This happened yesterday as I walked to Lougheed Town Centre. Fortunately, much of the walk is along trails and I diverged off the main route to find an out-of-the-way spot to relieve the aforementioned tiny bladder. After I finished I noticed this a short distance away, just a few steps from a nearby creek. It’s a collection of painted stones, inscribed with positive words and phrases like “Believe”, “Keep your head up!” and “Let your path take flight.” Colorful, unexpected and entirely unexpected.

I also took a shot of this flower bed a few minutes before finding the stones, and rather like the way the perspective makes the flowers appear to go on endlessly. The lone white lily poking out is cute, too. The flower bed is located at Griffin House, a printing business on Cariboo Road. Kudos to the company for the color it adds to the area.

Run 583: A contiguous 5 km run

Run 583
Average pace: 5:33/km
Location: Brunette River trail
Start: 5:04 pm
Distance: 5:05 km
Time: 28:03
Weather: High cloud, some sun
Temp: 20ºC
Humidity: 53%
Wind: light
BPM: 168
Weight: 164.6 pounds
Total distance to date: 4495 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

There were a few changes for today’s run: I went on the river trail, it was significantly cooler than the last run, and I ran on a Friday, which I normally don’t do. This was my first run during the week, which means I had four days off since the last run, one day more than I’d like. But I was well-rested, at least.

High cloud effectively blotted out the sun, making the run even more comfortable than it would have been otherwise.

I had a few goals:

  • keep my BPM under 170
  • try to come in under 6:00/km for the first time in a hundred years or so
  • not feel the need to shout obscenities at the end

Happily, I accomplished every goal, though my BPM increased over Sunday’s run from 164 to 168. That was likely due to the pace. Where last Sunday I eked out a terrible 6:18/km, today–hoping for something in the 5:50ish range–I came in at a better-than-expected 5:33/km. I don’t think I’ve ever improved my pace from one run to the next by 45 seconds before.

I actually picked up the pace in the second km, going from 5:30 to 5:25 before starting to feel a bit tired during the fourth km. I slowed, but that gave me enough gas to finish the fifth km with a pace of 5:31/km, nearly matching my start.

Best of all, I felt no cramps, discomfort or anything else bothersome, other than the knees feeling a bit sore but not actively shrieking in pain for me to stop. I did watch a bug come at my face and bounce off my cheek, just below my right eye. That was a little weird.

In all, it was a tremendous relief to finally get back under the 6:00/km pace again. The previous six runs were all between 6:00-6:22/km. The last time I managed to be under was when I hit 5:49/km back on April 14, more than two months ago. Ay caramba. The last run on the river was way back on March 24 and I was a little faster then at 5:27/km.

I’m planning on running again on Sunday and will decide on whether I want to try the horror of Burnaby Lake again or stick to the river trail. The river trail is better for the ego, but the lake is more interesting. Hmm.

Kidney and stones

Last Friday, June 15, I finally went in and got my blood work done, including the world famous poop on a stick test (which you have to pay for, because people don’t like handling poop or something).

By Monday the results were in and I got a phone call from the doctor’s office. This was disconcerting because I had previously agreed that they would only call me if there was something up, that a negative report would be treated as “no news is good news” in terms of letting me know. The person told me it was “non urgent” but wanted me to come by in two days to discuss these non-urgent results.

And so I made the many-days excursion to the office in Steveston, but I only arrived just in time, so I couldn’t sight-see, despite the spiffy nice weather.

As it turned out, the doctor was behind schedule by a million years. I sat in the waiting area, plinking away on my phone, using the clinic’s spotty but free Wi-Fi for about half an hour before being let into exam room #6, where I sat for about another half hour. With little else to do, I examined the soles of my shoes and discovered they were embedded with thousands of tiny bits of gravel. I plucked them all out, as shown here:

When boredom strikes in the exam room.

I need better shoes. It’s on my agenda for the week.

When the doctor finally arrived, he confirmed all tests were good–except one. My kidney was apparently not quite up to snuff. When I had the kidney infection the clinic that I went to didn’t seem to update my file, as this was news to him. He admitted the infection could be responsible for the current results, though enough time had elapsed to still raise a flag. I am going to take the kidney test again in mid-July to see if things look normal or wacky. Disturbingly, the affected area has been acting up the last few days, making me wonder if the infection may have simply gone dormant. With a vacation to the north in a week and a half, the timing is awkward, to say the least.

But I’ll have some answers soon enough. Also, my poop is fine.

Here’s to the second half of 2018 being pretty please oh pretty pretty please better health-wise than the first half.

The first day of summer 2018

Today is the first day of summer and it also marked the abrupt end of the current heatwave, with temperatures in the high teens and cloudy skies, with even a few drops of precipitation in the morning. Yesterday it was around 30ºC and the older SkyTrain cars were like communal sweat boxes thanks to the lack of air conditioning.

So I’m not complaining, exactly. Yesterday was hot. Today I wore a jacket to work. I’d like some more sun, just not Africa Hot sun. The forecast through the end of the month is a crazy quilt of mainly sunny, light rain, cloudy, partly sunny and who knows what else. Meanwhile, the FIRE DANGER signs are in no, er, danger, of going up any time soon.

Again, not complaining. And as I type this the sun is trying to poke out from the clouds, so perhaps it’s time to step outside.

UPDATE: Later in the afternoon it became sunny, with a high of 22ºC or so. Not-a-complaint rescinded!

Quest for a new laptop, Part 4b: Quest complete (again/still)!

After chatting with a Lenovo rep, I found out my credit card had triggered an alert and their system automatically canceled the order for the ThinkPad Carbon X1, with no verification or anything else happening after the fact. It might be because the card is new and I think I only used it once before this purchase, which may have made the order look a bit shady. The rep pushed the order through again, so if everything doesn’t get nuked a second time, I should have my first full-blown Windows laptop in anywhere from a few weeks to a month (the shipping is free, not fast).

In the next few weeks I’ll do the follow-up task of logging out all appropriate accounts on my MacBook Pro, wiping its SSD, then selling it (to a buyer or back to Apple for a gift card/credit) as I have no real use for multiple laptops. I will miss typing on the MacBook Pro the same way I might miss bapping my fingers against a hard plastic surface.

Quest for a new laptop, Part 4: Quest complete! (For now)

Today I finally made a decision on a laptop, after Lenovo put a bunch of their models on sale again for Father’s Day.

I went with the ThinkPad Carbon X1, with the following specs:

  • 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U Processor (1.60GHz, up to 3.40GHz with Turbo Boost, 6MB Cache)
  • Windows 10 Home 64
  • 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare multi-touch, 300 nits
  • 8 GB LPDDR3 2133MHz (Onboard)
  • Integrated Intel® UHD Graphics 620
  • Black
  • 720p HD Camera with ThinkShutter and microphone
  • Fingerprint Reader
  • UltraNav (TrackPoint and ClickPad)
  • 256GB Solid State Drive PCIe-NVME OPAL2.0 M.2
  • 3 cell Li-Ion 57Wh
  • 65W AC Adapter (2pin) – USB Type C
  • Intel Dual Band 8265 Wireless AC (2 x 2) & Bluetooth 4.1 with vPro

I’ve highlighted the most relevant specs. The one not shown is the keyboard, which has 1.8 mm of travel, an absurdly luxurious amount compared to many laptops these days (my MacBook Pro has a measly 0.8 mm of travel, which explains why it is so clicky, loud and awful). It was the primary deciding factor.

Well, that and the 25% discount making the price reasonable. Without that discount it would have cost even more than the MacBook Pro I bought in late 2016 and at that premium I would have considered other options.

In terms of what I’m trading into, the MBP comes with a faster processor (2GHz vs. 1.6GHz), but it’s also a generation behind and the 8th gen Intel CPUs have gone quad core, seeing the first significant speed boosts in awhile. And while I could have gotten a 2K display to again match the MBP, I stepped down a bit to a 1920×1080 in order to get a touchscreen. I won’t use it a lot, but it will be handy to have when I do.

The battery life should be even better and the ThinkPad is about a half pound lighter.

It includes Thunderbolt 3 ports, as well as USB 3.0, HDMI and mini-SD, so it works with both current peripherals and is still equipped for when USB-C really hits the mainstream.

It even includes a fingerprint reader for logins, something that Apple only offers on models that cost a whopping $670 more (granted these models also offer faster CPUs and more TB3 ports, but come on).

What I’m looking forward to the most, though, is that keyboard. In the weeks since I’ve semi-retired the MacBook Pro I’ve been using my Surface Pro 3 instead and its keyboard is so much nicer to type on. And I don’t have to worry about footing a $700 out-of-warranty repair if one of its keys stops working.

As for the MacBook Pro, I’ll miss the trackpad, but really that’s all. macOS is nice but it doesn’t make my socks roll up and down anymore than Windows 10 does. It has things I like, things that bug me, just like Windows 10. I’ll be happy to get away from the horrible (for me) typing experience, the need for adapters and the lack of touch. I’ll probably be taking the MBP to the Apple store and trading it in for a gift card that will likely go to a new Watch, iPad or phone. Basically anything except another Mac. :P

And unless Apple abandons its butterfly keyboard design–and I don’t think they will–I will never buy another Mac laptop again. I’m not sure why anyone would these days. There are better options available, no matter what your criteria is–price, port selection, display options, battery life. About the only area where the MacBook Pro is ahead now is in class action lawsuits.

UPDATE: I just received an email informing me that the order for my ThinkPad Carbon X1 has been cancelled, with no explanation as to why. I’ll try using Lenovo’s chat on their site on Monday or call their 1-800 number, but this is a bit puzzling, to say the least. I guess my laptop quest may continue after all.

Run 581 and 582: Down, but not out

Run 581
Average pace: 6:15/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 12:40 pm
Distance: 1.98 km
Time: 12:25
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 28ºC
Humidity: 33%
Wind: light to moderate
BPM: 164
Weight: 164 pounds
Total distance to date: 4487 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

Run 582
Average pace: 6:22/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 1:02 pm
Distance: 3:01 km
Time: 19:14
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 28ºC
Humidity: 32%
Wind: light to moderate
BPM: 164
Weight: 164 pounds
Total distance to date: 4490 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

I got started later than expected, but it didn’t look like it would be too hot, as the temperature was around 24ºC when I headed out. I originally planned on running at the river but the lack of shade convinced me to go ahead and do a counter-clockwise circuit on the lake instead. Was this a miscalculation? Read on to see!

By the time I got to the lake the temperature had gone up to 28ºC. This is Africa Hot territory, it’s significantly warmer than the last run (16ºC) and I’d kind of skipped out on the runs during the week, so I was going in with a full week off. Plus I’d walked the lake loop yesterday, which might have left me feeling tired (though I felt fine heading out).

I started off and thought I’d push just a little for the first km, knowing my pace would surely droop after, so it might lift my average time a bit. I averaged 6:04/km, which is already not great. By the time I neared the 2K mark I had crashed out to 6:28/km, which is very bad for less than 2 km of running. I did not feel good. I mulled my options, then decided to call the run there (had I looked at the watch I would have pushed the wee bit to make it an even 2 km because I’m obsessive like that).

I switched to a walk and after about a km I felt recovered enough to start running again. I set a goal of 5 km but would be satisfied by just picking up the remaining 3km of my original 5K.

I definitely felt better hitting the 2K mark this time, but I was exercising a lot of caution. Even then, as I got into the sun-baked stretch leading up the bridge at Deer Lake Brook, I knew I would stop at 3 km. I looked at my watch a lot. I finally hit 3K shortly before the bridge and happily switched over to walking again.

The walk out actually went fairly well.

The factors playing into this stop-start run would seem to be:

  • lack of regular running leading to generally lower stamina level
  • the knees complicating things in their own way
  • significantly hotter weather
  • strong breeze contributing to dry mouth/thirst

On the plus side, I did get in 5K, just not all in one go. I didn’t give up, I regrouped and tried again–and succeeded. My BPM, despite the high temperature, was actually down from last week. If you combine the two times you get an average pace of 6:18/km, which is nearly identical to last week when the weather wasn’t really hot and gross.

On the negative, I felt like I was running on the proverbial empty tank. I was hot and bothered in the not-sexy way. I know I could have kept pushing on the first run and probably made it to 5K, but it would have been a protracted experience of misery. I’m happy to know my limits and work with them.

With Jeff away on dirt bike vacation next week, I have no real reason to not run after dinner, though it looks to still be hot. I ponder my options. Maybe I can carry a watering can and just keep sprinkling water over my head. Or hook up some VR simulation and go for a very convincing facsimile of a run.

Poopmonsters: 1, Me: 0

Today saw the return of a high pressure ridge and much warmer, summer-like temperatures, just in time for the actual start of summer (in five days).

I had planned on doing some shopping but didn’t want to stay cooped up inside during our first day of truly glorious sunshine in weeks, so I nixed the shopping and went for a walk around Burnaby Lake.

Here are some stats courtesy of the Activity app of my watch:

Total distance: 19.31 km
Total time: 2:57:51
Total calories burned: 909
Average pace: 9:12/km
Average BPM: 124

My knees started out fine, started to get sore partway through, got a bit bothersome some point after that, then came around to feeling not too bad again for the last few km. They don’t feel bad now, but I’m under no illusions. My knees have turned against me after 4400+ km of running.

When I approached the athletic fields I was presented with a dilemma, as illustrated in the photo below.

You shall not pass (without being pecked).

The choice was to plow through and see how the adult geese would react to me indirectly threatening their goslings, or to cut wide onto the field and avoid them altogether.

I chose the latter because having more than a dozen geese chasing and trying to peck me is a little too close to a scene from The Birds for comfort.

After taking the photo (I approached from the opposite side), I passed a woman who was going to face the same predicament. I watched to see if the feathers would fly. She got closer and closer still, then stopped. She took some pictures. She resumed walking and I actually though she was going to try the ol’ “if I just calmly walk through them nothing bad will happen” trick. But instead, she went wide onto the field like I did. Considering this was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I wonder how many other people were diverted by the goose-stepping blockade.

The rest of the walk was pretty straightforward, though I actually began to sweat a bit toward the end. There was the usual mix of walkers, runners and cyclists pretending they totally didn’t realize they aren’t allowed to ride here. No park workers around to warn/lecture/fine them, however. The cyclists, I mean.

One jogger–who obviously read the forecast–was wearing the legal minimum to stay nice and cool. Or cooler. As I passed through Lower Hume Park another pair of runners went by also wearing the vaguely ridiculous short shorts and nothing else at all. Well, running shoes. And one had a heart strap on, which, when going shirtless, looks like you’ve put your belt on about a foot higher than you meant to. They had perfectly sculpted bodies, of course, just to rub it in.

I’m going to run tomorrow, and will attempt to do so in the morning before it becomes Africa hot. Because I did the mega-walk I am thinking of just a quick run on the river instead of tackling the lake again. We shall see.

My steadily improving vision

Today I got my eyes examined [joke about having head examined here] for the first time in six years.

I didn’t realize it had been that long until the receptionist at the optometrist told me my last visit was in 2012. I felt bad. And lazy. Because I was very lazy.

The good news is my eyes are happy and healthy, and I got to see full color 3D images of them, which was both neat and a little creepy.

I also got the drops that keep your pupils dilated and it was sunny out, so things were a little bright for a few hours after. I should have remembered sunglasses. Except I don’t have any. So what I really need is to remember to buy them first.

The weirdest part of the exam was the doctor confirming something I mentioned at the start of the exam. I told him that I could see distant objects better with the glasses off. He confirmed this–my far distance vision has actually gotten better, defying logic and age. I’m okay with this. The old prescription for the progressive lenses was -75 for distance and is nil for the new prescription.

Near distance is another story, a story that is slightly out of focus. The doctor had me look through a lens mirroring my current prescription and letters were a bit fuzzy. He then switched to the new prescription and they were razor sharp. I actually felt a small thrill of excitement at this. I’m not sure if this makes me nerdy, old or both. But yes, I’m excited about getting new glasses and I’m going to start shopping with my new prescription in hand tomorrow.

And I pinky swear I will not wait six years next time to get my eyes checked.

In which I tell Microsoft what to do with its Surface line

Fix the Surface line-up. Here’s how (you can find other posts similar to this around the internet–I don’t claim to be original, but this is my take). It’s mostly about adding Thunderbolt 3 ports and current processors, nothing too demanding. And then a few “I’m feeling a smidgen entitled” requests for good measure.

Surface Pro

  • round the corners a bit. It’s not ugly, exactly, but it’s not handsome, either
  • add a Thunderbolt 3 port
  • 8th generation Intel CPU

Microsoft has actually advertised the Surface Pro as a laptop, the first to apparently not include a keyboard. It’s time they make it standard with every model and eat the cost in doing so.

Surface Laptop

  • add two Thunderbolt 3 ports and keep the USB 3.0 port
  • 8th generation Intel CPU
  • faster SSD
  • offer a version that acts as a 2-in-1, with a 360 degree hinge

Surface Studio

  • lower the price by $1000. It’s stupidly overpriced.
  • give it a proper desktop CPU (Intel 8th generation)
  • Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • offer a smaller 24″ model
  • include the pen and dial

Surface Book

  • find a way to make the hinge gap smaller
  • this is one laptop where making it thinner is not about sacrificing functionality, it’s pretty bulky compared to most
  • better battery for tablet mode
  • Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • include a stronger power supply–it can’t do some tasks while plugged in without the battery being hit due to how weak the included power adapter is

Book review: And Then Begin Again: Six Tales of Hope

And Then Begin Again: Six Tales of Hope (Dark Collections Book 2)And Then Begin Again: Six Tales of Hope by Ann Christy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ann Christy’s second collection of six stories covers an eclectic mix of time travel, super powers, far-future doom and alternate history. Some spoilers ahead, so be warned.

“Sedge” puts together a young man and woman on a newly-settled world, each of them not quite fitting their own culture. There is an abrupt tonal shift due to a rather significant event happening right at the end, and I felt it was glossed over a little too readily, but it’s still charming to watch these two flirt on this new world before that happens.

“The Mirroring” is a weird story about a new counselor investigating some very strange self-worth issues some students at a private college are experiencing. A strong (and agreeable) Twilight Zone vibe here.

“Life/Time in the New World.” Alpha male business guy gets frozen for 300 years, pops out of his capsule and continues being an alpha male business guy in the future, which is part paradise, part sneaky Twilight Zone hell. All the pieces are here, but the story felt a bit perfunctory at times, and the character’s growth as an individual almost seems deliberately undercut by the ending.

“Unnatural” imagines an alternate history where Pope John Paul I doesn’t die after only 33 days and basically announces that births as a result of in vitro fertilization are A-OK, resulting in a future where natural birth is…illegal? Again, all the pieces here are put together well, but the basic premise, while a fun “What if?” exercise, doesn’t seem that plausible. Maybe this is just a reflection of the world we live in now.

“Yankari” tells the story of Olisa, an eight year girl in Africa who has some very potent abilities that she struggles to control and use to protect wildlife from poachers. I felt the ending broadened out the story in a way that was unnecessary, but this is still a tight, enjoyable tale of a little girl learning to harness some amazing abilities to do the right thing.

“Lulu Ad Infinitum” is an SF piece about a colony ship that suffers a catastrophic failure, forcing its lone survivor, the titular Lulu, to survive by cloning, then learning to live with, herself. Despite the grim backdrop, the tone remains surprisingly light as Lulu grapples with a possibly untrustworthy AI, the process of raising her clones and more. Christy does an excellent job here with the setting, fleshing it out in satisfying detail.

Overall, even the lesser stories were eminently readable and I enjoyed all six, just some more than others. An easy recommendation if you’re looking for a blast of SF/fantasy variety with a (mostly) hopeful theme.

View all my reviews

Solo vs. One

This month the second non-trilogy Star Wars film came out, Solo: A Star Wars Story. The first, Rogue One, released in December 2016.

Box Office Mojo posted a comparison of their domestic haul after 17 days. It shows a rather astonishing gap of $248,882,233.

Rotten Tomatoes gives Rogue One an 85% fresh rating, which is pretty good. Solo gets a more middling 71%. Still, the difference in popularity is drastic. Some reasons offered for the reception of Solo:

  • too soon after the previous Star Wars movie. The Last Jedi came out just six months ago.
  • difficulties with production somehow affected perception/demand (the original directors were fired and Ron Howard was brought in, reshooting up to 70% of the scenes while allegedly sticking to the script)
  • everyone knows Solo dies at the hands of his jerk son, Kylo Ren, so watching how he starts out is kind of depressing
  • Harrison Ford is too closely associated with the role
  • enough with the nostalgic trips into the past

There’s probably some validity to all of these reasons, but my hunch is that most people just don’t care much about a Han Solo origin story, even one that’s told well. It would be like a Boba Fett movie. The character came out with this built-in reputation as a cool bounty hunter, but did very little and got eaten by a giant worm. Why would you want to watch a story about him? Would the opening crawl start with “Before he was devoured by the Sarlac, Boba Fett was a renowned bounty hunter…”

Anyway, I was just surprised by the huge disparity between the two movies. While Rogue One was also set in the past, it didn’t center around well-known characters, it was a new story and one that actually helps set up the very first Star Wars film. And was incredibly popular–especially considering that (spoiler!) it kills off all of its major characters by the time the credits roll.