Goose fight at the OK Corral golf course

Today, the last day of winter, was a weird one for local geese.

I saw a pair of geese–often referred to by their affectionate nickname, poopmonsters–in the pond outside the Langara library this morning. This is perfectly normal, except the pond is empty and I got the impression, somehow, that the geese were expecting and perhaps demanding water. Soon, geese, soon. They have to wait until overnight temperatures stay above freezing for a week or something.

Soon you will have water to poop in. Soon.

Later I went for my usual walk around the golf course at lunch and saw another pair of geese (or maybe the same pair, which would be even better) out on the links. They weren’t golfing, or at least not yet. They were just milling about, pecking at the ground for food, and probably pooping. I heard the splendorous honking of another pair of geese and looked to the sky. Lo, there they were, and they came down to join their feathered friends. Except they were not friends. One of the geese, upon landing, immediately chased another. A goose fracas quickly ensured, with much honking, wing-flapping and snapping of beaks. It was either an alpha male thing (do geese have alpha males) or one of the geese was just plain loco. I’m still not sure which. If I’d had more time I would have shot some video, because it was a dazzling display of waterfowl foolery.

And this ends winter and the season of crazy geese.

The Big Plan (for writing), 2018 Edition

I’ve decided it makes the most sense to take my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel The Ferry, and attempt to self-publish it this year. I’ve chosen it because it’s actually a complete novel, so it only needs another draft or two to be ready, vs. actually finishing one of my other novels. It’s not my best work, but it’s words on a (virtual) page and has action, romance and horrible monsters from some other dimension. And that’s not a sly reference to some political angle.

Steps in my plan:

  • Choose a novel to complete – DONE
  • Prepare the novel in the writing tool of my choice – DONE (I am using Scrivener, the story was originally written in Word)
  • Read up on self-publishing – IN PROGRESS (I’ve read a few books and will go back to review as the story gets closer to being ready)
  • Find an artist and pay them to create a decent book cover – TO DO
  • Find an editor to read over and revise my manuscript – TO DO (when I’m closer to ready)
  • Spiffy up my “serious” website ( – In PROGRESS
  • Decide on pricing strategy, any marketing, etc. – TO DO

We’ll see how it goes, but if I don’t do something this year, I’ve decided I’m going to give up and spend all of my free time playing Diablo 3. ALL MY FREE TIME.

Run 572: Bugs, living and electronic

Run 572
Average pace: 5:38/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CW)
Start: 12:56 pm
Distance: 5:04 km
Time: 29:37
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 11-12ºC
Humidity: 56%
Wind: light
BPM: 163
Weight: 167.8 pounds
Total distance to date: 4445 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

So close to having a total of 4444 km.

Today’s run had me filled with trepidation before heading out. The weather was gorgeous, with mild temperatures and sun, so it wasn’t that. It was those pesky knees.

My trepidation grew when I got to the lake. I could feel where the knees had gotten sore on last Saturday’s run. I put that aside and started up some jogging music…only to find the right AirPod was not playing. I did a few things to no avail. The right AirPod was running in a virtual cone of silence. I finally decided to try unpairing the AirPods. Just as I did this I remembered that pairing requires the charging case, which was sitting at home 4 km away. Oops.

And so began a rare music-free run. I could feel the knees almost immediately. Not good.

The left knee quickly settled down, though. I felt some of the usual stiffness toward the end, but it was fine otherwise. The right knee was definitely sore–not enough to stop or slow me down, but enough to notice. Then it spread down my shin and for a few minutes my whole lower right leg ached. This passed quickly and eventually even the right knee hit a point where it didn’t feel that bad. A bit sore, but no more.

I finished feeling less dread than when I started. I may try a compression sleeve on the right knee on the next run, as I’m fairly certain the soreness will persist unless I take a good long break from running. If it doesn’t get worse than it is now, I may be okay.

For the run itself, it again felt hard, but not as hard as last week. The start and end I pushed and felt the ol’ lung burn, but during the middle section my breathing settled (I kept the AirPods in my ears since that was the logical place for them, but could still hear my own rasping until the breeze picked up). Overall, it was a mix of struggle and Zen. Zuggle.

A sure sign of spring was in the air today, too. Specifically, clouds of bugs as I approached the bridge at Deer Lake Brook. I’d forgotten what fun it is to run into huge swarms of horrible little insects. I’ll be better prepared next time.

My BPM was the same as last week at 163, which was good. My time improved noticeably, going from 5:57/km to 5:38/km. Still on the slow side but under the circumstances pretty good.

I counted six people on bikes, but since I’ve forsaken complaining I will say nothing else about that, except to note there were no bike-related incidents.

In the end I am left a bit nonplussed. The improved performance was nice, the fact that my knees didn’t explode was good, but that fact that they hurt at all when they haven’t in over 4,000 km of running is concerning, because it’s unclear if this is the start of a trend or something temporary. I also wonder if my weight is a factor, since I’m not as svelte as I would normally be (167.8 now but finally starting to trend back down. This is still 14 pounds more than last October, before The Fattening began.)

With Daylight Saving Time underway, I may aim for a post-dinner run on Tuesday. We’ll see if the flatter, friendlier Brunette River trail is more forgiving on the knees.

The new computer chair

After realizing I am not ready to spend $1,000 on a new computer/office chair but am ready to spend $200, Jeff and I went out tonight to grab a MARKUS from IKEA, the budget pick in The Wirecutter’s guide to The Best Office Chair. I went for the Vissle dark gray as I prefer fabric over black leather and as a bonus, it’s $60 cheaper. After discount it was even less, only $129. It was so cheap I was tempted to spend $29 on the optional KOLON floor mat. Actually, I wasn’t, I just wanted to work KOLON into this post. I can’t help it, I still think half of the names at IKEA are sly Swedish in-jokes on the rest of the world.

After assembling the chair with the mandatory Allen wrench, Jeff wheeled it over and I’m sitting in it now. My back is a tiny bit sore because it is unaccustomed to being straight instead of slouching. The chair has lumbar support so I expect things to improve quickly. It is already a treat to have a chair that can be adjusted to the right height without requiring a pillow on the seat.

The arms are not adjustable, but if the chair is at the correct height it shouldn’t matter and hasn’t so far. In fact, when I’m typing my arms aren’t touching the armrests at all. I will likely lean an elbow on them from time to time, using the armrests to help support my chin under my hand as I think deep thoughts about my writing. Was that sentence awkward? Let me lean back and contemplate this.

Anyway, there’s not much else to say yet at this early point in the chair’s new life under my butt. Plus it’s a chair, it just sits there. It doesn’t really do much else.

But so far it’s a nice chair.

Book review: Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Kindle Store

Amazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Kindle StoreAmazon Decoded: A Marketing Guide to the Kindle Store by David Gaughran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This book is free, but is only available if you sign up for author David Gaughran’s newsletter (as he graciously points out, you can unsubscribe from the newsletter immediately after if it gives you the heebie jeebies or something.)

Amazon Decoded is essentially a companion piece to Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital, his guide to self-publishing that focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on Amazon’s Kindle market. This short book obviously does focus exclusively on Amazon and it offers detailed advice and explanations for self-publishing authors, both new and more established.

The tone throughout is very conversational and Gaughran admits to areas where his knowledge is incomplete, such as in how Amazon’s “Also Bought” listings affect sales and rankings. But there is still a lot of good information here, including what not to do. Much of this involves being careful how you promote your book, as the “wrong” audience can muddy the various lists Amazon generates and impact book sales. Gaughran illustrates these points with his own promotional blunders, adopting a good-natured tone as he recounts his marketing goof-ups.

This is a very quick read. As Gaughran points out, it’s more a booklet than a book, and I recommend it be read alongside Let’s Get Digital if you intend to self-publish through Amazon’s kindle store. For others it provides some insights into the virtual machinery of Amazon’s Kindle store, but perhaps not enough to warrant a read just for that alone.

View all my reviews

Quest for a new laptop, Part 2

Based on my previously discussed criteria, here are some candidates I’m considering. It’s deja vu all over again, as I did this back in 2016 before buying the non-touch bar version of the 13″ MacBook Pro (which I’m now replacing because I just plain don’t like the keyboard and also I’m kind of afraid of getting stuck keys now that it’s past warranty).

Unless otherwise noted, these laptops all come with the following:

  • touchscreen
  • quad core Core i5 CPU (8th generation)
  • 256 GB SSD
  • IPS FHD display running at least 1920 x 1080

Microsoft Surface Laptop


  • lightweight at 2.76 pounds
  • among the best Windows laptop trackpads
  • solid keyboard
  • long battery life
  • slightly better than HD resolution at 2256 x 1504 and large 13.5″ display
  • 3:2 display ratio means less vertical scrolling
  • Windows Hello support
  • Alcantara fabric on keyboard (possibly also a Con)
  • four colors!


  • few ports. Really only one USB 3 and mini-DisplayPort
  • no USB-C ports
  • screen wobbles a bit when using touchscreen
  • uses 7th generation CPU
  • doesn’t include a pen

The main selling point of the Surface Laptop is it does everything decently. You might find laptops that offer better individual features but none that offer all of them at the same consistent level as the Surface. Still, the design has always struck me as being very conservative. When you look at it closely it appears to be a Surface Pro with a permanent keyboard attached, down to the same deficiencies that the Pro has, with few ports, no USB-C and so on.

That said, because it gets all the basics right, it’s a strong contender.

Dell XPS 13


  • even lighter with the 2018 redesign at 2.70 pounds
  • sexy slim bezels
  • excellent if slightly glossy display
  • excellent keyboard
  • good touchpad
  • long battery life
  • USB-C ports
  • Windows 10 Pro is an option
  • optional fingerprint reader
  • Windows Hello support


  • still has that nosecam, just moved to the bottom center now
  • FHD (1920 x 1080) models do not include touchscreen
  • no legacy USB 3 ports

The Dell XPS 13 is often cited as the best Windows laptop (The Wirecutter calls it the best Windows Ultrabook) but the current version ditches all legacy ports, meaning you’re probably going to need dongles. It’s also a poor choice for those who need a webcam, though that’s a non-issue for me. Nearly everything about it is appealing or at least livable, but for some reason Dell is not offering the HD model in a touchscreen variant. This gives me serious pause, as I’ve come to really like touchscreens on Windows laptops.

HP Spectre x360


  • light at 2.75 pounds
  • fairly compact design
  • includes both USB-C and USB 3 ports
  • 2-in-1 design, so screen can be folded around to use for drawing, watching video, etc.
  • Windows Hello support
  • includes pen
  • good keyboard
  • good display
  • great value for what it includes


  • some persistent complaints in reviews about coil whine give pause
  • wobbly touchscreen
  • battery life is only average (but still good)
  • screen brightness is only average

The Spectre x360 comes close to hitting all the marks, with battery life, brightness and a wobbly touchscreen primarily holding it back. Plus the snazzy dark ash silver color is hard to find without ordering direct from HP (I prefer darker-colored keyboards to others, especially silver, which is the other color option here).

Lenovo Yoga 920


  • Outstanding battery life
  • Excellent keyboard
  • 2-in-1 design
  • capacious 13.9″ display
  • sexy slim bezels
  • Windows Hello support
  • fingerprint reader
  • includes pen
  • Windows 10 Pro is an option
  • 3 colors!


  • a bit heavy at 3.1 pounds
  • not as compact as other ultrabooks
  • shallow keys “similar to a MacBook Pro keyboard” (The Verge review) – yikes!
  • screen brightness is only average

The main reasons to get the Yoga 920 are its large screen and battery life. Unfortunately the keyboard appears to be reminiscent of the 2016 MacBook Pro–and the MBP’s keyboard is the primary reason I’m looking for a replacement, which may prove to be the 920’s fatal flaw (I’d probably need to test it in person to make a final determination).

Microsoft Surface Book 2


  • detachable screen doubles as a tablet and can be reversed to offer drawing/tent modes
  • among the best Windows laptop trackpads
  • solid keyboard
  • outstanding battery life
  • better than HD resolution at 3000 x 2000
  • Windows Hello support
  • comes with Windows 10 Pro
  • USB-C port


  • USB-C port is limited by not including Thunderbolt 3
  • Core i5 version uses 7th gen CPU and is more expensive than comparable ultrabooks
  • Core i7 version is $600 (!) more (you also get an integrated Nvidia GTX 1050 at that price)
  • on the heavy side at 3.38 pounds
  • that weird fulcrum hinge with the big dust-collecting gap
  • pen is now a separate purchase

The Surface Book 2 is big, expensive and on the heavy side. On the plus side, it’s powerful, has a large, excellent display, and a very nice keyboard. It’s tempting but…expensive.

Beyond these laptops are plenty of others that get most but not all things right, sometimes by design (to keep price down, for example) and sometimes for no apparent reason.

If Apple revealed a MacBook Pro with a completely redesigned keyboard this year I’d probably consider sticking with it, but that seems very unlikely. They’ll just continue to tweak their existing butterfly design (which some people admittedly love) to make it more reliable, without fundamentally changing the feel of the typing experience.

The XPS 13’s baffling lack of a touchscreen in its FHD model almost puts it out of contention, but I’m keeping it in mind for now. My current ranking would probably look like this:

  1. Surface Laptop – best all-around mix of features
  2. HP Spectre x360 – same as above, but dimmer display, less battery life–but 2-in-1 versatility
  3. Lenovo Yoga 920 – keyboard might be an issue, heavier, bulkier
  4. Dell XPS 13 – no touchscreen option but solid otherwise (webcam is a non-factor for me)
  5. Surface Book 2 – powerful and strong in most respects, but big, heavy and expensive

And now I ponder and, where possible, try some hands-on demos. Most of these are available to look at locally (heck, the Microsoft Store carries most of them), though the newer Yoga 920 appears to be not unlike hen’s teeth in the Lower Mainland currently.

Signs of spring, 2018 edition

While heading out for my run yesterday I spotted these flowers coming up through the dead leaves. Spring will soon be…springing. Yay.

Addendum: The sun was out, as you can see, and I didn’t fiddle with the photo so it looks a little blown out. I thought these fancy new smartphone cameras were supposed to magically turn me into a great photographer. Maybe next year.

Run 571: It’s all in the knees

Run 571
Average pace: 5:53/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 12:29 pm
Distance: 5:03 km
Time: 29:37
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 9-11ºC
Humidity: 43%
Wind: light
BPM: 163
Weight: 168.5 pounds
Total distance to date: 4440 km
Devices: Apple Watch, iPhone 8

This is what happens when you take five days off between runs. You get sore knees. Actually, the sore knees is kind of new (both being sore, that is), which is a tad worrisome but we’ll see if they’re just creaky from lack of use or getting ready to fall apart when I resume a more regular running schedule.

Which should start happening soon as we switch to Daylight Saving Time tomorrow. Yay!

The bridge replacement at Still Creek is still being rescheduled so I took advantage and ran counter-clockwise. The mild conditions meant I wore my usual–t-shirt and shorts–and apart from the arms being a bit chilly early on, it was fine.

This run was curiously hard. I mean, I’m not in peak condition, obviously, and five days off between runs is not great, but still, it just seemed like more of an effort. The topper was ending up over two minutes slower than last Sunday’s run. Oy. I opted out of doing a full 10K as it seemed like it might be a special agony, but ended up jogging on and off regularly for the 9 km walk back home. The average pace of that walk was 8:33/km, which is approximately impossible at an actual walking pace.

While I didn’t suffer any issues during the run, I could feel my leg muscles already getting sore on the walk, home, much like the previous run. The knees also seemed achy, though that diminished significantly once I got home.

As good as I felt with the last run, this one has left me with more of a “Hmm” feeling. But I am going to try running more often now and that should help (?).

The floppy disk comes back to haunt me

Somewhere in a box I have a bunch of old floppy disks that date back to the early to mid-90s, in formats for Amiga, PC and the Atari ST. I even have a box of old Commodore 64 floppies that date back to the mid-80s–more than 30 years ago now.

I doubt many or possibly even any of these would work now. For the Amiga and Atari ST disks I have no convenient way to find out, as I last owned the hardware for each…back in the early to mid-90s. And the current PC I have, already about four years old, is like the two I had before–no floppy drive. I suppose I could get a USB floppy drive if I really wanted to test the disks, but I’m not that curious.

Basically what I’m saying is the floppy is long dead and I don’t miss it.

But today it came back to haunt me in a way I could never have predicted.

I was taking an online course for Windows 10 and the labs involve using virtual machines through your web browser. In the final lab of the final day of the course, at Step 39 of 47, I suddenly hit a block. And it was shaped like a floppy disk.

Step 39 required me to copy some files to a floppy disk on VM #1 and then put the floppy in VM #2 and run the files from there. I thought it a bit odd to do this because really, no one uses floppies any more. Why not copy the files to a network share and move them that way? Or simulate a USB flash drive? I’m guessing a floppy disk was easiest with the VM setup. Or maybe someone just wanted to be all old school up in the hizzy. No biggie, it’s not like I needed to write a batch file to make it work or anything.

But after copying the files to the floppy and then “ejecting” it by clicking the appropriate icon, I found after “inserting” it into the second VM that it was not showing the proper files. As it turned out, both VMs refused to “eject” the floppy disk, even after restarts. The instructor dubbed it weird, copied the needed files over the network and kindly dumped them on the desktop of VM #2. I completed the lab a few minutes later. But for about 15 minutes I was suddenly reliving every bad experience I’ve had with floppy disks–and I’ve had a few. Press the eject button and you hear the disk try to eject, but it doesn’t. Instinctively start looking for a paperclip you can straighten out and stick into the little hole to force the eject mechanism. Wonder how much–if anything–would be readable once you got the disk out. Contemplate having to go to the computer store to buy another 10-pack of disks. Forget the whole thing and play an Infocom game instead because they’re on the fancy new hard disk you have in your PC and you never have to worry about ejecting it.

Then contemplate how long it will take to get an Invisiclues hint book mailed to you because you’re stuck. Again.

(This was before the internet. It was a dark and scary time, though perhaps less dark and scary than having the internet, come to think of it.)

Anyway, the instructor summed it up best by calling it weird. It truly was. This is not how I like my computer nostalgia.

On the plus side, I’m pretty sure I won’t need to handle a floppy disk–real or virtual–again any time soon.

“Alexa, stop laughing at me”

This story really tickles me for some reason. Maybe it’s because of the sudden seeming obsession with and elevation of AI as a very important thing, coupled with prominent people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warning about our grim SkyNET future if we don’t keep an eye on it.

You can find this story all over but here’s Ars Technica’s: Unprompted, creepy laughter from Alexa is is freaking out Echo owners

In short, Amazon’s Echo smart speaker is randomly laughing due to a bug. It sounds like the start of a horror movie.

The kitchen is quiet. You’ve just come home from work and set your keys on the counter. You haven’t turned on the lights yet, so it’s dark, the only light filtering in through the closed curtain over the sink. You don’t notice the soft glowing edge of the Amazon Echo over on the far end of the counter. But the moment the keys hit that same counter you hear it. A laugh. You swivel around, startled. It stops and you turn back and notice the lit-up ring on the top of the Echo. Did they keys wake it up? That shouldn’t be possible.

And even if it did, why would it laugh?

You stand for a few seconds to see if anything else happens. It remains quiet, so you flick on the light switch. And hear the laughter again. This time you are looking directly at the Echo and it’s clearly the source of the laughter. You’ve never heard Alexa laugh before. It’s unnerving and illogical. You think it must be a bug. You’ll look it up later on the internet (suddenly the thought of using Alexa for the task is incredibly unappealing). For now you decide to unplug it. You’ve just come home from work. You want to relax, not be harassed by a defective hundred dollar AI. You reach behind the Echo to pull the plug and wonder what you’d do if it kept laughing after…