Progress update on assorted things

Let’s have a look now that we are eight months into this year of 2019:

  • World peace: Could be better, could be worse. Trump is still president, so likely to get worse.
  • Measles: on the rise, thanks to anti-vax paranoids. Thank you, Luddites and irrational fearmongers!
  • Global warming: We are doomed, pretty much.
  • Politics: Authoritarianism and despots on the rise, democracy ailing, even in places where it should be strong. This could change–but it could also change for the worse. See the first bullet point.
  • BC politics: The minority NDP government has proven adept and sane, boding well for the next election, though the general insanity of voters is always a worrying factor. It’s helped that the BC Liberals elected an out-of-touch rich white guy as their leader.

And my own list:

  • Meditation: Thought about it, but have yet to meditate. Before I can even begin, Pocket has already offered an article on the sinister side of meditation, where you apparently think tranquil thoughts about murdering people or something.
  • Stretching: Not really. A little here and there, but no concerted effort. This needs to be a higher priority unless I actually reverse the aging process.
  • Writing: The less said, the better. Which is how I’ve approached writing this year.
  • Drawing: I think about doodling. Then I never do it. But the doodles in my mind are great.
  • Reading: My pace is picking up again. If I stay at it, I may end up matching last year, which will be good.
  • Blogging: Generally running to catch up, as is the case this month where I’m tapping last minute inspiration to get to 31 posts before midnight.
  • Running: Doing more, and the runs are going well. I have yet to tackle a 10K this year, but will try to before we get fully into the fall weather.
  • Losing weight: It’s actually going down now. Yay.
  • Losing hair: Yes. Shaved head mutes the impact.
  • Legs: Still sexy.

Haiku for August 2019

Some sun and some cloud
Warm and sometimes also wet
August you snooze me

August was a strange month in how mild it was. We had some hot days, but only a few. We had some rain, but only a little. We had days of cloud, days of sun and most of the time it felt like summer, but it never felt like summer summer, almost as if the real summer weather was always waiting just around the corner.

On the plus side, the occasional soggy weather meant no big forest fires and the pall of smoke that would blanket the skies here for weeks on end never materialized. This was a bonus for air quality, general pleasantness and my running.

So August was kind of boring, weather-wise, but a good kind of boring, especially compared to the heat-blasted hellscape that was so much the rest of the world during summer 2019.

App of the Day: No app

I can’t remember the last time I got an app for my phone that actually excited me. As phone technology has improved, I’ve found the way I use the phone has, in some ways, regressed.

I’ve commented on this before, but my phone habits have probably shrunken even more since then.

My typical usage now is:

  • text messages, either with my partner using the default Messages app, with friends using Facebook Messenger (ugh) or at work using Slack.
  • taking photos of things, sometimes work-related (these are typically deleted after, as they are only useful in the moment, but mostly just flowers and scenery I find interesting
  • occasionally checking email
  • occasionally checking something in a browser (usually Firefox)
  • occasionally adding something in the Reminders app
  • using the PayRange app to buy something from a vending machine (I do this at work to avoid long lines in the cafeteria when all I want is a beverage).
  • occasionally taking or (even less occasionally) making a phone call

Everything else, like playing games, checking news, other apps, the weather, maps–are all edge cases I only do once in awhile.

AR (Augmented Reality) is something Apple is pushing but it excites me about as much as putting on socks in the morning. VR is even worse, and doesn’t work for me, anyway.

I am more likely to delete an app than install it. In fact, iOS 13 (coming next month) will offer a new feature that will make this easier, by presenting an uninstall option when an app offers an update. This is kind of clever, really. “Hey, here’s an update for an app I installed a year ago and never use. But look, there’s a handy uninstall option right here, too!” This might make some companies like Facebook rethink their strategy of constantly pushing updates to keep the app in the user’s mind.

Anyway, it could be that I’ve just become a boring old sod and the app world is actually exciting and innovative, but when I look at the upcoming iPhone launch, I wonder why on earth I would spend so much money to do so little, especially when the phone I have now seems to be good enough.

Weight loss report, August 2019: Down 2.1 pounds

Something strange happened in August.

As I continued to run and walk and curb my snacking, I also…began to lose weight! So maybe not so weird.

Some last minute indulgences (due to extenuating circumstances and not part of a new, disturbing “Must eat all the donuts!” meltdown) pushed my weight up a bit, but it was not enough to reverse the month-long trend downward.

This means I dipped as low as 163.1 pounds, tantalizingly close to finally slipping back under 160. I don’t know if I can do this in September, but it’s definitely in the realm of possibility. I had been avoiding wearing my size 30 shorts because they were a bit snug (I have another that are size 31) but now they actually fit fine, so my shorts selection has now expanded, just in time for fall. Yay! Hopefully fall will be nice.

Runs have generally gone well, with improved times as my stamina strengthens. Snacking has been under control, though could always be better. I think I’m going to return to the “No snacks after x time” thing and make the cut-off either 7 or 8 p.m. before eventually moving to “nothing after dinner unless it’s a special occasion.” And then be careful to not define special occasions as things like “any day ending in ‘day’.”

Weight for the month was down a solid 2.1 pounds, and body fat also dropped a full pound after barely bulging (!) last month. I’m down 3.6 pounds for the year, which shows just how much improvement August saw. I’ll take it.

The stats:

August 1: 166 pounds
August 31: 163.9 pounds (down 2.1 pounds)

Year to date: From 167.5 to 163.9 pounds (down 3.6 pounds)

And the body fat:

August 1: 18.6% (30.8 pounds of fat)
August 31:
18.2% (29.8 pounds of fat) (down 1.0 pound)

The lack of fire danger

It was cloudy this morning and now a light misty rain is drizzling. Given that we only have a few weeks of potentially hot weather left in the summer, and the forecast has dotted more potential rain on some of these days, it looks like the chance of seeing those FIRE DANGER signs go up is pretty much nil. This is the first time I can recall it never drying out enough to have a fire ban go in effect.

This is good news for trees and stuff. And we’ve still had plenty of sun, so I can’t really complain. It feels weird, though, especially with so many other places broiling all summer under record high temperatures.

Come to think of it, we broke some more records, too, so we haven’t entirely escaped the steady march of global warming, it’s just being sneaky around here this summer.

As we gird for a slippery, wet fall, I wonder what winter will be like. Then I remember it’s still August and to stop being silly.

Book review: The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy

The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy

The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy by Brian Klaas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oof.

For historical reference, this review was posted in August 2019. The book in question came out in late 2017, a little less than a year into Trump’s term as president of the United States. That means there’s been more than a year and a half of further events and actions to either bolster the case Klaas makes on how Trump is undermining democracy in America, or to provide evidence that Trump has “become” presidential and changed course.

Anyone who knows anything about Trump will know, of course, that the latter was never and is not a realistic scenario. Trump has no experience in government and in the time he has been president has shown little inclination to learn or improve, unless you count improvements on being a terrible person and a terrible leader.

This book is exhausting. Reading it is like getting punched lightly but continuously. It hurts but you go on, because the punching is bound to stop. But it never does.

In the short time span covered, Klaas documents all the horrible things Trump has said and done, underlining how just a few things have essentially kept America’s democracy intact for now–mainly by the grace of Trump’s incompetence and inexperience, and the still relatively strong (but weakening) bedrock that forms the democratic government the U.S. has had since 1776.

The problem, as Klaas points out, is that much of what holds U.S. democracy together, takes the form of political norms and traditions. Presidential candidates always release their tax returns. Presidents don’t profit from their presidency. Presidents don’t mollify dictators while attacking allies. But Trump doesn’t care about norms–he bulldozes through them, showing how fragile democracy is when it relies on people being innately good, or at least respectful of what government should be.

Klaas makes it clear that Trump is not the first president to engage in lies and work at tearing down important government structures, citing Nixon as the obvious modern go-to equivalent, but in comprehensive detail, he lays out how Trump is so much worse–and therefore, more dangerous.

All of this is compounded by America’s troubled history, something Trump has taken advantage of, choosing to divide and turn Americans against each other and the rest of the world. Klaas repeatedly shows how Trump is emulating despots both old and current, by assaulting the free press, by perpetuating damaging lies, by undermining trust in government institutions. The list–and examples–go on and on. As I said, it’s an exhausting read.

The book ends with four possible scenarios (remembering that this came out before the 2018 midterms in which a glimmer of hope was raised when the Democrats won back the House of Representatives), three of which result in things getting worse. The first suggests a slow decay of democracy, as people grow numb and then indifferent to Trump’s actions. The second offers the chilling scenario of a Trump 2.0 coming along and picking up from where Trump left off–but imagines the successor being much more intelligent, savvy, and able to appeal to a broad audience in a way Trump simply can’t, making this person far more dangerous. The third scenario offers Trump the opportunity to use some kind of large scale disaster or terrorist attack to provide cover for further draconian actions under the pretext of national security. George W. Bush’s popularity soared into the 90s following the 9/11 attacks. Trump’s popularity could hit the lofty heights of fifty percent! More seriously, a country under attack or ailing is more vulnerable, and a person like Trump could easily take advantage of that to peel away rights and freedoms.

The fourth scenario offers Trump as a virus, with people banding together to make a vaccine to fight back. This did come to pass in the 2018 midterms, and there is some evidence that it is still a process that is advancing and not retreating. Trump, through it all, has not changed.

In the end this book didn’t really offer me any new insights, but it did lay bare and in explicit detail just how thoroughly, through malice and incompetence, Donald Trump has carried on the work of chipping away democracy in America. Even if he does not get re-elected in 2020, the U.S. is looking at years or even decades to undo the damage already done.

It’s hard to recommend a book like this, but Klaas makes his points clearly. The only fault I can offer is the idea he has of working alongside your political adversaries to keep government functioning and healthy. Klaas states what seems obvious–the Democrats and Republicans can disagree on specific policies, but must work together to keep the institutions of government strong and healthy. In an ideal world this could happen, but the current incarnation of the Republican party has been taken over by extremists who are of much the same mind as Trump. Those who oppose Trump’s actions ineffectively offer criticism from the sidelines or say (and do) nothing at all, making them complicit and helping to enable Trump’s behavior.

If you still hanker for a primer on how Trump’s first year in power emulates the worst sort of authoritarian leader, The Despot’s Apprentice will provide everything you might need. You might want to start by choosing a palette cleanser to read after, though.

View all my reviews

Sleep is weird

Think about it. Every night you lay down on a bed and through no other action render yourself unconscious. In this unconscious state your brain manufactures elaborate scenarios that are at turns amusing, baffling or terrifying. When you wake up you usually remember little to nothing of what these scenarios–dreams or nightmares–were.

And if you don’t make yourself fall unconscious every night your body will malfunction in ways that are subtle to start and end with you putting pants on your head and thinking that’s completely okay (not counting places where it is completely okay).

This pattern of falling unconscious/your mind inventing little dramas repeats for your entire life.

Sleep is weird.

Also, I probably don’t get enough sleep.

Run 629: Moving muggy

Run 629
Average pace: 5:30/km
Location: Brunette River trail
Start: 6:11 am
Distance: 5.02 km
Time: 27:38
Weather: Sunny, clear
Temp: 26ºC
Humidity: 44%
Wind: light
BPM: 153
Weight: 164.5 pounds
Total distance to date: 4725 km
Devices: Apple Watch Series 2, iPhone 8
Shoes: Saucony Switchback ISO (80 km)

I was not expecting much more than a standard sort of run tonight, as it was quite a bit warmer than the last few runs, but lo and behold, despite the mugginess, I was somehow still moving along and finished with a pace of 5:30/km and a surprisingly low BPM of 153.

My left foot was a tiny bit sore at the start, but it smoothed out quickly, and a stitch in my gut threatened, but never materialized, so other than it feeling kind of sticky, the run was fine.

In fact, I can’t really think of anything to add. Thursday looks to be about the same weather-wise, so we’ll see if the run follows. My prediction is I will be slower as the week wears on, but maybe not.

Also, that raccoon was not at the river today, which makes me happy, both for myself and the raccoon, because raccoons kind of scare me, really.

Book review: Perihelion Summer

Perihelion Summer

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Greg Egan’s Perihelion Summer does a mostly good job of taking a high concept science fiction premise–a black hole comes through our galaxy, possibly imperiling Earth–and marrying it to how it affects a relatively small group of people.

In this case, the people are a team on a custom-built ocean-going aquaculture vessel called the Mandjet. Early on, marine biologist Matt tries to convince his family to come aboard the Mandjet, as initial predictions expect the black hole to cause mega-tsunamis across the globe, wiping out populated coastal areas planet-wide. His family, in Australia, refuses, with his sister insisting they will move inland if the need arises.

Eventually, the trajectory of the black hole is worked out more precisely and in a way, it is even worse, as the black hole will come close enough to pull Earth out of its orbit enough to drastically alter seasons, making them far more extreme, with parts of the planet becoming uninhabitable depending on the time of year.

When this happens, the story shifts gears, becoming more a tale of survival, as the crew of the Mandjet plots a course to Antarctica, now newly habitable compared to the burning hellscape that Australia has become. There is some drama involving Matt trying to rescue his family, and pirates of a sort threatening to disrupt the Mandjet’s journey, along with the flotilla of other ships it is leading south.

Egan does a good job of evoking the horror of a dramatically changed climate, and how people adapt–some better than others. In a way, the short novel is affirming, because most of the people are depicted as willing to help others, to barter and trade for mutual benefit, to take risks for the safety of others, facing adversary with (some) humor and courage.

There are a few aspects that don’t hold up as well, though. I never felt I had a good handle on what type of person Matt is, who comes across as decent and caring, but also nondescript and weirdly flippant. The story also ends on an abrupt, odd note between Matt and his mother. I’m not sure what (if anything) Egan was going for with this, but it left me shrugging.

The overall story, though, is well-constructed, offering a fascinating “What if?” scenario that Roland Emmerich would probably love to turn into a terrible disaster movie. Recommended for anyone into hard science fiction featuring big concepts with some old-fashioned human drama mixed in.

View all my reviews