Friday, May 31, 2013

Camping

I think in many ways I am a walking contradiction. Perhaps everyone thinks that about themselves, and I know we all have our illogical and random quirks. For me, one of the biggest is my love of camping. I love urban life (and urban eating) and I am openly and desperately addicted to the internet. And yet, despite that, I love camping.

I love wilderness in general really; I'm happy doing day trips to go hiking, swimming, or cycling, but camping gives you the opportunity to really experience a place on another level. I love everything about it, even the parts other people find less appealing, like the long drives, sleeping on the ground, and the general high level of work associated with the experience. I am rarely more content and at peace than when staring into the embers of a dying fire, as the night winds down.

A couple of years ago, when I went out west with my family, we drove through the Rockies. I stayed in hotels and lodges that time, but I would give just about anything to go back and camp there; it was probably the most spectacular place I've been in my life. That said, there are a ton of great places in Ontario to go, including Algonquin park, which is probably my favourite place in Ontario not just for camping, but in general.

Every year around this time I really start to get the itch to go camping again. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen this year. My friends are not campers. They don't want to drive that far, they don't want to sleep on the ground, and they don't want to do all the work. They don't get it. When I try and convince them to go, they insist they'd rather rent a cottage or stay in a hotel somewhere. We've done that before, and it was a lot of fun, but it wasn't the same as camping. Not even close.

It's times like this that I really, really hate being single. I used to go a few times each year with my family, but they haven't been camping in about a decade, since my parents decided that they were too old to sleep on the ground anymore. The only times I've been since are when I've had a girlfriend who has been willing to tolerate it. I don't have a lot of set requirements for relationships, but in order to be my girlfriend, you definitely need to be willing to go camping (and not be miserable).

Oh well, there's always next year, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

This World is Grey All Over

HALIFAX — Halifax police say they’ve taken the rare step of laying child pornography charges against a 14-year-old boy after he allegedly videotaped himself having sex with a 15-year-old girl and posted it online.
The video was posted on a social media site on April 5 following a party at a Halifax residence and investigators became aware of it three days later, Const. Pierre Bourdages said.
“This is very unusual,” Bourdages said Wednesday. “It’s not something we’ve seen lately. It’s very troubling.”
Bourdages said the sex was consensual but the accused posted a video of the act without the girl’s consent. Investigators believe he acted alone and while the two youths knew each other, Bourdages wouldn’t comment on the status of their relationship.
Source: National Post

The above is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

People do terrible things to each other every day in this world. Children are people too, obviously, and they do awful things to each other as well. We deal with that by punishing them in various ways. Our society is structured around ensuring that punishments best fit the crimes they are punishing. So, a child who assaults a classmate is likely to receive a harsher punishment than a child who is simply disruptive in class.

That system has all kinds of flaws. I think we still struggle with assigning appropriate punishments for certain offences because we differ so dramatically on the severity of that offence. Verbal bullying, I think, still ranks below physical bullying on the general punishment scale, and I'm not sure at all that it should. Still, we try our best to muddle through, and we adjust our punishments as our perceptions change on the nature of various offences.

Where it all breaks down for me, is in situations like the above. That poor fifteen year old girl may have had her life ruined by this incident. She may be traumatize forever, and she may never be the same. My heart goes out to her. Throughout any consideration of this incident, we must keep in mind that she, and she alone, is the victim here. She deserves everyone's unconditional support and sympathy, and ignoring or minimizing what has happened to her is completely unfair.

There is nothing that can make this better for that poor girl, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. This kind of thing is absolutely unacceptable, and cannot be tolerated in any form. We saw what happened in the Rehtaeh Parsons case earlier this year, when a similar situation was handled the opposite way, and ended in terrible tragedy. We cannot allow that kind of mistake to be repeated.

All that said, while the incident itself is absolutely unacceptable, and it would be unforgivable in an adult, when placed in the context of a fourteen year old boy, I'm not sure if it is unforgivable. I've spent years now working with teenage boys, and I know that by their very nature, they are foolish, impulsive, rash, and negligent creatures. They do stupid things all the time, and they make a ton of mistakes. This was a monumentally stupid mistake, far exceeding any mistake that I have ever made in my life, during my teenage years or otherwise, but it is also a fourteen year old's mistake.

So, how do we deal with this kind of a mistake. Obviously, we need to make absolutely certain that this boy, and every other person, understands that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. We need to set a punishment that would make anyone else think twice before committing the same crime. We need to do our absolute best to make sure that nothing like this ever happens. And of course we need to make sure that justice is served for the poor girl involved. But, in the process, do we want to ruin the life of a fourteen year old boy? While he may have ruined the life of this poor girl, is it fair to ruin his in response? I'm not sure.

I don't disagree with the charges laid by the Halifax police, but I don't know from the article what kind of a sentence the boy is facing. Even if I did, I don't know whether it would change my opinion. I really don't know what to think about this kind of case. It's about as grey of a zone as it can get. I'm completely conflicted.

Of course, I think the best way to fix this kind of thing is to instill respect for women at a young age in boys. Unfortunately, while that would certainly help, I don't know that any level of education or indoctrination can fully combat the stupidity of teenage boys, and it doesn't help us today either way.

The world is a strange and wonderful place, most of the time, but not always.

Finding a Balance

It's been nearly four months since the end of my vegan experiment, which is actually hard for me to believe; time has just absolutely flown by. I've actually been really pleased with the way things have stuck. I still eat a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables than I did last year, and I do it by choice. I still don't drink milk, and I'm using soy milk for my cereal each morning. And while I'm eating cheese again, I'm not relying on it to anywhere near the same degree as I did in the past.

The tradeoff, unfortunately, is that I feel like I'm relying far too much on soy these days. Even discounting the soy milk I have each morning, at least one of my meals each day seems to have a soy product in it. With increased scrutiny on my diet, as well as my continued drive to raise my fitness level to new heights, I've become a lot more conscious of making sure I get plenty of protein. As a vegetarian, my sources of protein are limited from the get go, and I double down on that problem by limiting my cheese intake. Peanut butter is great but not the most versatile ingredient and high in fat. So I find myself turning to the wide array of soy-based simulated meat products to fit some extra protein into my meals more than I ever did before.

I have no evidence that this is necessarily a bad thing, though I haven't really looked. I just don't like having so much of my diet so dependent on a single product, particularly a heavily processed one. I'm trying to start working in some Greek yogurt, which is high in protein, as another option, but like peanut butter, Greek yogurt isn't the most versatile. I don't really have an answer to the problem, and I'm not sure if there is one. For now, it's just a tightrope which I continue to walk.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tedium

I'm taking Creation and Organization of Bibliographic Records this summer. It's as bad as you'd imagine, probably worse. I don't think I've ever had a more tedious and dull class. I'm only taking it because it was the only class to remotely fit my schedule.

I have a group project, in which I have to give a 45 minute presentation on cataloguing of graphic materials. I'm not sure if I'll stay awake through my own presentation, so I can't imagine how the people listening to us will manage. I also find that I have to keep rechecking my emails to my group before I send them, in order to make sure that I remove any snark. I have a real hard time talking about this seriously, as if it matters or anyone cares, but I have to keep in mind that some of my group members might be interested in this subject. Though for their sakes, I hope they have better things going on in their lives.

Disheartening

I've been posting like mad lately, is it obvious that I'm avoiding the schoolwork piling up on my desk?

This Jays season has been about as disheartening as I could possibly imagine. After years of mediocrity, I really thought they had a chance this year. A good one. For the first time ever, I didn't laugh at the notion that my flex pack gives me first crack at playoff tickets.

Instead, it has been a constant struggle. Every time they look like they might be turning a corner, they fall back again, and they're running out of time. They may have already run out of time. Injuries have taken a toll, but it seems like one day they pitch and the next they hit, and they rarely do both on the same day. They give just enough to lose. I'm sure that's not really true, but it feels that way.

I'll still watch, because I'll always watch. I watched when they lost 90+ games, and I'll watch this year no matter how bad it might get. But it's disheartening.

Update: Of course, if I'd actually been watching today's game, instead of turning it off in favour of school work when they gave up two runs in the top of the ninth to go down by three, I'd know they stormed back to win the game, making this about the least appropriate time to post this all year. Still, it all remains true.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Black Coffee Magic

I work every Saturday from 9-4. It really sucks; it's probably the worst part of my job. Over the last few months, I've fallen into a routine, in which I spend my lunch hour walking to Tim Hortons. It's about a 20 minute walk each way, and it has kind of become a key to me making it through every Saturday.

I normally run in the morning, about an hour after I wake up. Saturdays are the one day that I can't do that; I don't have enough time to do all that and still be ready to go by 8:45. I'd have to be up at 6 am, which would prevent me from ever going anywhere or doing anything on Friday nights. So instead, I typically run first thing after work, shortly after 4. However, my body is so used to burning all that energy first thing in the day, that by noon I'm typically so restless that I'm pacing from my office to the program room. I need to get outside, stretch, and burn some energy.

I've also come to really value the fresh air and change of scenery. I've always been a big believer that it is important to get out of the branch on my lunch. For years, I would buy all my lunches just for the excuse to go for a walk. However, that ended when I effectively cut junk food from my diet and started more heavily controlling what I eat. Since I've never been much of an aimless walker, I needed a new excuse to leave.

I actually kind of despise Tim Hortons. That hasn't always been true; at one time I loved them. When I was in high school, there was a Tim Hortons on the walk from the bus station to my school, and I would often stop in before school or on my way home. I started drinking coffee around tenth grade, and I would frequently pick up double-doubles. By twelfth grade, I had moved on to strictly black coffee, but I had a weakness for Iced Caps.

My feelings toward the chain started to change when I realized how consistently awful the service was. They would screw up my orders regularly, even the basic ones (they sometimes managed to mess up black coffee). I discovered that this was not limited to my local Tim Hortons either. The majority of Toronto Tim Hortons locations have had borderline incompetent staff. I don't actually blame the staff members for this. The problem, as far as I see it, is that Tim Hortons pays their staff the bare minimum and seems to work them hard and treat them badly. Nobody capable of working elsewhere would work there, so they're left with new Canadians with little to no English and limited education. They're also under intense pressure to move fast, which results in them forgoing getting it right.

I've also felt like the quality of the Tim Hortons products has taken a bit of a nose dive. I'm sure some of that is my tastes changing. Their coffee, which I once enjoyed greatly, I now practically need to hold my nose to drink, but I suspect most of that is as a result of frequenting many of Toronto's more premium coffee outlets, as well as the Keurig brewer I bought and installed next to my bed (yeah, I may be an addict). Unquestionably, though, their sandwiches and baked goods have all dropped in quality. I'm sure they're now cheaper to make and/or easier to transport, but the result is that everything ranges from barely passable to outright disgusting.

I still use Tim Hortons as the destination for my walks, mostly because there isn't really anywhere else to go. That's the only reason I ever go to Tim Hortons: they're so damn ubiquitous. I occasionally get their coffee, if I really need a fix, but mostly I get tea, since it's not awful. What fascinates me, however, is that every time I go into a Tim Hortons, all the baked products (donuts, muffins, cookies, etc) behind the glass counter look delicious. I have no idea what kind of black magic they use to accomplish this, because I know that I will enjoy none of them. Their muffins and cookies are either dry or disgustingly buttery, and I never liked donuts much even before I disliked Tim Hortons. I don't understand it. Something tells me they're not going to put a Starbucks in Malvern any time soon, so I guess I'll probably have plenty more time to try and figure it out. Unfortunately.

The Bar is Set Low

It appears I've finally been deemed worthy of a new web browser on the PC in my office. Until now, I had Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.4. Firefox was so old that many things (including Gmail) flat out refused to load on it, while IE was slow, had formatting issues with a lot of pages, and was beginning to be refused by some websites as well. I now have Firefox 19, which is only two versions behind the actual current release. Two versions may sound like a lot, but around here, to be that close to current seems like a minor miracle. I can now properly read Twitter on my lunch again, without having to dig out my personal laptop. Of course, apparently I still am not worthy of an upgrade from Windows XP, an operating system that was released in 2001. And there's not much I wouldn't give for them to turn on ActiveSync, so that I could actually get my damn email sent to my phone.

It's funny, I know people who work for successful tech and digital publishing companies who are annoyed when their IT department takes a few hours to address their issues. Me? I'm happy when they replace my obsolete browser with an only slightly outdated one.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ugly

I actually took a look today at this blog, from the perspective of visitors. Turns out, it's really ugly looking. Unfortunately, I have no design skills, so that's probably not changing anytime soon. Between the layout/template and the extremely bad blog and post titles, it's clear that presentation is not one of my strong suits.

Thankfully, I don't really care. That's not what this place is for.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dipping Into My Past: Paths to the Future

I don't remember when I decided that I was going to be a computer scientist, but I must have been pretty young. I definitely had decided it by eighth grade, because in eighth grade I made the decision to go to an out-of-area high school, committing myself to over an hour of commute each way, every day, for four years, because the school specialized in computers and technology.

I took computer engineering throughout high school, and while I was successful at it, I loved programming and my computer science class far more. I was also obsessed with computers and technology in general. I built my own computers, and built absurdly over-complicated technological systems to handle simple problems. I had no doubt in my mind that this was my future.

The first hint of a problem came in 12th grade. For the first time in my life, I struggled with an academic class (I always had trouble with art, being colour blind), and it was a critical class for computer scientists: math. I'd spent years coasting along on natural ability in math, never needing to study and never really breaking a sweat. That all started to fall apart, and I didn't know how to respond, so I kept on as I always had, and I finished with a low B. That was bad, but it wasn't bad enough to knock my average below an A, and it wasn't bad enough to affect my university offer of admission. I was still going to UofT for computer science. Everything was still on track.

That didn't last long. In my very first semester, I became acquainted with failure for the first time in my life. I had calculus, Mondays and Wednesdays at 8 am, and I think I fell asleep in every class. I'm not sure how anyone else didn't; at 8 am the campus Tim Hortons wasn't even open yet. Worse than failing though, was the feeling that maybe I actually couldn't do this. It wasn't just me making silly mistakes and mental errors, by the end of the year I still really didn't know what I was doing. I could have retaken the exam a dozen times and failed every time.

However, I didn't really know what else to do with my life, so I plugged away. One failure wasn't so bad. I retook the class in the second semester, and managed a B. Unfortunately, I also took linear algebra that semester, and while I didn't fail, I scraped by with a D. Given that I was looking at a minimum of two more linear algebra classes (not to mention several more calculus classes), which built upon the one I had almost failed, a D was not good enough. Worse than that even, I found myself enjoying my computer science classes less and less. I was still doing alright in terms of grades, mostly B level work, but it wasn't fun. In high school, I used to look forward to my computer science classes. Now, I began to dread them almost as much as the math.

It didn't help that my personal life was a bit of a mess. In my first year, I made friends with a group of guys who became a major distraction for me. That first year became a blur of afternoon ping pong and evening drinking games. It wasn't that I fell in with the wrong crowd or anything like that; they were a good group of guys. However, they were probably about as frat boy as a group of computer science students can be, and academics were low on their priority list, and that caused it to slip on my own. Of the four of them, after three semesters, two had transferred to college, one had decided to take a year off to work and refocus, and one had changed majors.

That probably would have helped my academic performance a great deal, except that right around the same time, I had a nearly three year relationship implode. It was about as messy of an end as could be, and I basically lost another semester as I fell about as low as I've been in my life. That was the end of my career in computer science. My GPA wasn't high enough to stay in the program, and I hated it anyway. Plus, I needed to make broad changes in my life.

Thus began my brief tenure as a French major, a path which was somehow more disastrous than computer science. I had continued French all throughout high school, even after it had become optional, and I had been taking general French classes throughout my first two years of undergraduate. I didn't love it, but I thought it would be useful, and I was good at it. At that time, I needed to find something I was good at.

Except it turns out that while I was good at language practice, I wasn't so hot at doing other things in French. I tried to take a French cinema class, in which we watched and analyzed movies entirely in French (no subtitles). I failed it miserably. I was able to pass a French folklore class, but not particularly well. It became pretty clear that my future was not in French.

I had needed to fill a spot in my schedule, so on a whim I had registered for 20th century European history, figuring that it was one of the few disciplines I could manage without having much of a background in it. I surprised myself by loving the class, and discovered at the end that I was good at it too. Apparently, I had a talent for essay writing. I switched my major to history, mostly because I had very little choice at that point, and I never looked back. It was the best decision I made in my academic career.

At the end of my six year undergraduate adventure, I applied to library school and was accepted (I'll save that choice for another post). It was about as far from my eighth grade vision of myself as I could possibly be. However, as messy as the journey was, I don't regret it at all. Experiencing failure, and learning how to deal with it, was something I needed to do. I also (hopefully) got the wildness out of my system. I have some great stories and memories, but I can't see myself ever wanting to go to another frat party kegger again.

I also learned not to count on anything, when it comes to my future. My vision of myself and my future has been completely overturned time and time again, and so while I have a general idea of where I'm going, I won't count any chickens. I take everything one day at a time.

Today, as it happens, was a very good day. More on that later, maybe.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Today in Fuck I'm Getting Old

My dad forwarded me a tersely worded email from his work's HR folks, letting him know that I'm no longer eligible for coverage under his health plan. I knew this was coming; even as a student I can only be covered until I turn 25, and it's of little consequence, as I have another full year of coverage under my mom's plan, but it still came as yet another stark reminder of how old I am. At the end of the year, I'm going to have to buy an extra year of coverage from the UofT grad health plan, and after that I'll have to opt into OMERS at work, and start paying through the nose for that.

I was talking to one of my friends last week about this stuff. I'm now only five years away from being thirty, which seems insane. Thirty seems like it is thoroughly adult territory. There are no exceptions for being foolish and young when you're thirty. While I'm actually not the type to make foolish and young kind of mistakes, not having that safety net of a built in excuse is kind of terrifying.

I'm also now approaching a decade a TPL, and it seems all but certain that before my career here is done, I'll have amassed fifty years of service. Fifty! I don't even want to imagine how much of my hair I'll be pulling out by then.

It feels like just yesterday that I was just turning eighteen, and feeling like I was finally old enough to explore the world on my own terms. While I don't feel like I've wasted much of the last seven years, I'm beginning to feel like the window to live on entirely my own terms is closing. It's nothing to panic over, but it's hard to shake that feeling.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Journalism on Crack

I don't comment on municipal politics here. I think I've explained before in the past, but essentially I'm (indirectly) a municipal employee, and as a result I am biased, have access to confidential information that affects my opinion, and I don't want to put anything on the record that would potentially haunt me down the road. Of course, my political leanings are extremely easy to uncover, as I don't hide them at all, and armed with that information it should not be hard at all to piece together an approximation of my opinion of the current mayor.

Still, this post isn't about the mayor, it's about the Toronto Star. Thursday night, Gawker, a notorious gossip site, published a story that they had seen a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. A few hours later, the Toronto Star went live with an obviously rushed story indicating that two of their journalists had also seen the video, confirmed and expanded upon many of the details, and claimed they had been sitting on the story for two weeks.

The story has exploded, for obvious reasons. Ford has effectively refused comment, and Gawker is trying to crowdsource $200,000 to purchase and publish the video. Even the right-leaning National Post and their firmly right-wing columnist Christie Blatchford (a woman for whom I have no love whatsoever) has fled the Ford camp (to the surprise of nobody, the Sun remains firmly entrenched).

What has also exploded, interestingly enough, is the debate over the Star's decision to run the story. The whole thing is tainted by the long-running feud between the paper and the mayor, but mostly people were left wondering why the Star waited two weeks to run the story, and why, when Gawker went with it, they rushed it out.

Personally, I don't understand the confusion. I have no insight into the thought process of the Star's editorial board, but I can suggest numerous reasons beyond not wanting to be scooped by Gawker. Perhaps the Star was still negotiating to buy the video, but once the story broke they concluded that it wasn't in the cards. Perhaps they were just waiting for another organization to break the story first, believing themselves to be too exposed to lawsuits if they were the only organization with the story. Perhaps they were still doing legwork on other elements, like looking deeper into Ford's past for a history of drug use, or deeper into the pasts of their sources, but once the story broke they felt they had to run what they had.

As for why the Star chose to leave their sources anonymous? Well, if you were dealing with Somali crack dealers for a videotape they were trying to sell which would incriminate an extremely powerful man, would you choose to expose them? It would put them, and the Star's reporters, at risk.

I have some issues with the story in general (mostly, how do we know what he was smoking was crack?), and I really, really want to see this video come out. Of course, I'm also conflicted by the idea of giving $200,000 to crack dealers. It's a crazy story in almost every way.


Uninterested in the One

Everyone is asking me today what I think of the new Xbox One announcement. Once upon a time, I would have been all over it. I probably would have stayed home to watch the big reveal, and I would have been combing the web for more details after the fact. Today? I ignored the press conference, dismissed the details that popped up in my Twitter and Google Reader feeds without reading them, and well after the fact I read a brief summary of the new console.

I've written in the past about how little I play games anymore. I actually use my Xbox a ton, but I use it almost exclusively for Netflix and MLB.tv. It's amazing how quickly my interest in games has waned. When Halo 3 was released, in 2007, I lined up for the midnight launch, went straight home, and played the entire campaign through with one of my friends, finishing around 7 am. I also logged hours and hours on the online multiplayer. When Halo 4 came out last year, I waited weeks to pick it up, played halfway through the campaign before effectively losing interest, and never touched the multiplayer.

There are plenty more examples. I played Borderlands compulsively in 2009, and I never even bought the sequel. Duke Nukem Forever, once among my most highly anticipated games of all time, I completely ignored when it came out. Far Cry 3, the indirect sequel to Far Cry 2 which I destroyed a few years ago, I bought and played for maybe ten minutes before losing interest. I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night to play a game, which I used to do regularly. It's probably been years.

I was actually never really into single player games. In fact, as far back as the N64, I only had a handful of games I ever logged much time on in single player. I was always a social gamer. In high school, I used to host LAN parties in which my friends would bring their Xboxes and we would play system link games. That was near the top of the list of geekiest things I've ever done, but fuck it, it was a lot of fun back then.

In my undergrad years, Xbox Live was the primary mechanism by which my friends and I would "hang out" on weeknights. We all had similar schedules with work/class during the day, and we were mostly too broke to go out much, so we would convene on Xbox Live at night. In some ways, that may have been the pinnacle of my gaming time. I would log hours on online multiplayer games, because I was always playing with my friends.

But that perfect storm couldn't last forever. Our schedules don't align as consistently, so we're not all online at the same time. We also have more money, so when we do have time to hang out, we're more inclined to do so in person. This is absolutely a good thing; I'd rather spend my evening sitting on a patio with my friends than playing Call of Duty with them. I feel like the memories I'll treasure most will not come though my TV.

Having read the description of the Xbox One, I'm sure I'll probably buy it, depending on when it launches and how much it costs. I like gadgets, and the Xbox 360 loads pretty slowly these days, which can be frustrating. But I don't see anything about it that would re-excite me about gaming in general. I don't know if there's anything that would ever truly recapture my interest. That part of my life may well be done.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you want an opinion on the Xbox One, I'm the wrong person to ask.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dipping Into My Past: Sick Days

I'm going to try something new here. Instead of writing about something that's relevant to me right now, I'm going to try to reach back and recount something significant from my past. This may be something I do regularly, or it may be the only time I ever do this, I haven't decided yet.

I bounced around a lot of schools as a child. My parents moved pretty regularly; they have a habit of getting bored with a home and deciding to look for a new one. I don't think they've ever spent more than seven years in a single home before deciding to move. As a result, my high school was the sixth school I had attended. I even chose to go out of area, so once again I knew nobody, but that's a story for another time.

One thing was always consistent about my different schools: I was always one of, if not the, smartest kid in my class. Perhaps that's a little self-centred to say, but it's a fact. I always got the highest grades, I went to various special advanced classes, and I was acknowledged as the smartest by my classmates. Throughout grade school my teachers always loved me because I was quiet, I was always willing to help the other kids, and I compulsively followed all the rules. In high school I developed a rather deep seated cynicism and a penchant for caustic sarcasm, but I mostly maintained my compulsion for following the rules and my spot near the top of my class.

Being that smart actually hindered me in the end, as crazy as that sounds. I was able to cruise through school without working at all, until I finished high school. I never struggled with anything, and I never needed to study. I just breezed by on natural skill. Unfortunately, natural skill only took me so far. In university I hit a wall, and I hit it hard. I needed to work to do well, except that, as ridiculous as this sounds, I didn't know how. I spent two years barely keeping my head above water before I finally put it together, got back on track, and worked my way into B's and eventually A's.

Way before that though, in sixth grade, I was neck and neck with another boy, Blair, for the title of smartest. I remember in gym one day, the gym teacher asked the class who the smartest kid was (I don't remember why) and the class vote was basically split. At the end of sixth grade we had awards. Blair got the academic award, and I got the citizenship award, but everyone knew that I only really got the citizenship award because they couldn't give us both the academic award, and I had been a volunteer crossing guard (which fed nicely into my compulsion for the rules, I'm sure I was the strictest crossing guard in school history).

In middle school, I was no longer the consensus 'smartest'. The volume of children was just too high, and too spread out among classes. I was still near the top though. In eigth grade, my principal held a special advanced math class once a week, led by herself. Teachers could nominate students to attend, and my math teacher sent me. Near the end of the year, the class participated in the University of Waterloo Gauss math contest, a national (international?) contest for middle school students. I completed it and never really thought about it again.

A few weeks later, as I came back into the school from lunch, one of the other kids from the advanced math class spotted me and yelled out congratulations. A couple of the other kids started clapping. I had no idea what they were talking about.

It turned out that a couple of days earlier, during the morning announcements, they announced that I had topped the school in the Gauss contest. I think I placed in the top 30 in some sort of bounded region (Scarborough or Toronto or something) but I don't really recall. Anyway, the day they made the announcement I had been out sick.

I was sick a fair bit as a kid. It started because I was legitimately sick a lot; when I was in early grade school I would get colds almost constantly. They became less frequent over the years, but when I got hit, I got hit hard. Combined with a frequent difficulty finding friends (a by-product of constantly changing schools, being inherently shy, and probably just being smarter than most other kids) and secure in the knowledge that I would never have to worry about falling behind in class, I would beg my mom to let me stay home every time I had a runny nose. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. This time, it had worked.

I was never really good at anything athletic as a kid. I was born with a congenital cataract in my left eye. It's not visible, but it means my vision in my left eye can never be perfect, even with glasses. I'm convinced that the weakness in that eye was (and is) a contributing factor in my complete lack of coordination. I was also never particularly fast. I wasn't hopeless, but I was never better than average in anything athletic, and when I realized that I was never going to be particularly great, I think I stopped trying, which only made things worse.

Later in life I learned how to compensate for my lack of inherent talent at athletics. I discovered that in most sports I could be better than most others simply by being more determined, more fearless, and more willing to sacrifice my body. I'm not the biggest guy in the world, but I'm not undersized at all, and I can frequently use my size and strength as an advantage as well. I'm also head and shoulders above the (admittedly dismal) average fitness level among my peers, so most of the time I can win out simply by outlasting my opponents.

When you're a kid though, most of that doesn't matter. Natural skill seems to dominate, and I didn't have any. To me, it seemed as though the kids who were the best at gym were the coolest and the most respected and admired. In reality, I probably severely underestimated the level of respect (and probably jealousy) I commanded among my peers at that time. Still, I probably would have traded all my brains for brawn, if I could have.

This, however, was one of the few times where I was clearly and definitively being recognized and lauded for my academic achievements. This would have been one of my all time proudest moments, when all eyes were on me, and everyone took a moment to acknowledge something I had accomplished. And I missed it. I probably wasn't even really all that sick (I don't really remember).

Ever since that day, I've avoided taking sick days at all costs. I average less than one sick day per year from work. A few years ago I worked through what turned out to be respiratory influenza. I actually collapsed and blacked out briefly in the morning, but I was home alone and too sick/stupid to recognize that I was in no shape to go to work, and so I went in anyway. I wouldn't do that again; it's dangerous for both myself and my coworkers, but such was my dedication to my job. Colds don't keep me away from work or school, no matter how severe. I only take vacation when I'm actually going somewhere, and only the minimum amount.

I missed what I've always assumed would have been one of the greatest moments of my life, because I stayed home sick. I'm determined not to make that mistake again.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ooh, Shiny

My parents finally got the new car a couple of days ago. Apparently manual transmissions are even less popular than I thought, as there were none available in Southern Ontario in the right trim, so we had to wait for them to manufacture it. It seems that manual drivers are really in heavy decline in North America. I can still spot them on the road (once you drive manual, you can see the tell-tale signs in other drivers), but I see far fewer of them than ever before. It's sad really; I actually have had a lot of my friends mention that they'd love to learn how, but in all honesty they probably never will.

There are a number of benefits to driving manual. The most obvious is that manual cars are cheaper, and you can save $1-2000 if you can drive stick. It's also just a useful skill to have. Manual drivers can always drive automatic cars (we just usually don't like it), but automatic drivers can't drive manual. If you go to many parts of the world, particularly Europe, you might have a hard time renting an automatic transmission, so knowing how to drive manual can be an incredibly useful skill when travelling. I also find that manual drivers tend to be better drivers, since the need to change gears manually forces them to be more aware of their speed and the things happening around them. Of course it's also a little bit of a point of pride among guys. There's still, I think, a lot of particularly testosterone fueled competition between guys over who is the best driver, and being able to drive manual, which so few people can do, is a big notch in your belt.

Unfortunately, the system in North America is stacked against manual drivers. Driving schools all teach in automatic, exclusively so in Toronto. Finding someone to teach you manual is really hard, and if you don't already know how, you can't buy a manual car, because you won't be able to drive it off the lot. For a lot of people, that means they will never have the chance to learn. For most of my friends, if I don't teach them, they literally don't know anybody else who could. I was lucky enough that my dad grew up in England, where he learned manual, and imported that skill to Canada where he taught my mom, and eventually myself. Without that, I'd probably be driving manual like everyone else.

Anyway, that was a surprisingly long and unnecessary tangent which has served to thoroughly bury the lede. Really, this post was meant to be about the new car. Which, for the record, is fantastic. It's like I took my old car, which I really liked, and fixed almost every nagging flaw. The clutch is like silk, and changing gears is buttery smooth. The biggest differences are in the on-board computer. My last car effective didn't have one, but this one definitely does. A little display next to my (still digital) spedometer shows all kinds of useful info, including the car's mileage and remaining range, the audio source, and info from my phone. Bluetooth lets me link my phone in and make and receive calls, as well as play music and podcasts from my phone, the lack of which was probably my biggest annoyance with the last car. Possibly my favourite new feature, however, is the automatic climate control. You set the temperature you want, and the car takes care of maintaining it, just like a home thermostat.

It's not perfect. Since my phone uses an old AVRCP protocol (Google's fault, not Honda's) it won't show incoming texts, track info, or incoming text messages, which is disappointing. While the black interior looks beautiful, I suspect it will get painfully hot in the summer. And all the expanded technology and features leave far less room for compartments to keep things in, meaning I can fit less random stuff in there. If that's the worst of my complaints, however, then I think I'm doing pretty well. The biggest drawback, to be honest, is that I'll need to live in constant terror of being the first to scratch or dent the thing.

Taking in the old car was strange. I drove it there after work, and handing over my key and watching them drive it off into the back was disconcerting. That said, it was over with pretty quickly, and I made my peace with it, I think. It served me well for a very long time, and hopefully the new one will too.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Busy Summer

A few weeks ago, I was anxiously awaiting the release of the iSchool's summer timetable. I really, really wanted to get into four summer classes, and I needed to know if they would offer classes that are compatible with my work schedule. Part of the reason I was so determined to get into classes was because with four summer classes I can graduate at the end of December, and hopefully start working as a librarian early next year. However, I was also looking at the possible layoff until the fall, and wondering if I'd be able to maintain my sanity with that much free time.

I finished classes for the winter semester at the beginning of April, and with fall classes not beginning until September, I was looking at potentially five full months off of school. Five! There is no way I could sit at home for five months; I'm fairly confident that I would lose my damn mind. While I may not like some of the iSchool classes, they give me an excuse to leave the house and spend the day downtown, and the assigned work and the accompanying deadlines makes time seem to pass much faster.

Not to mention the social factor. I love my friends, but I don't have enough of them to spend five months with just them. The nature of my job means that I deal primarily with kids in high school, kids in grade school, and a little bit with parents (most of whom maintain a tenuous grasp on English); as a group they're not the greatest conversationalists. I don't interact with my coworkers much, so while I spend most of my days talking to people, it's not the same. School offers me a chance to chat with different people about different things (an opportunity I don't exploit nearly as much as I should, largely due to my crippling shyness, but it's better than nothing).

Thankfully, it looks like the summer schedule worked out for me; I got into four summer classes. It's far from ideal: I have class four days a week, and thanks to my work schedule I'll need to miss a lot of classes, which leaves me feeling a little like I'll be dancing through raindrops just to pass these classes, but it beats the hell out of staying home all day.

It also looks like I'll be picking up some extra hours at work, which I never anticipated, as I've been asked to take on an extra branch for the summer. With my counterpart at one of my other branches leaving, as I mentioned previously, I'll be picking up more administrative work there too, leaving me running nearly double the number of program hours, with only a few more hours of actual work time per week. I'm not complaining, as they're accommodating me in a number of other ways, but I anticipate that I'll be logging a bit of unpaid overtime this summer. At least I'll be busy, I guess.

It sure is a different reality that I'm facing than I had feared a few weeks ago.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

It's My Birthday (ugh)

Today is my birthday, and I'm really not happy about it. I'm only 25, but it seems like I'm already at the point where birthdays become more depressing than exciting, which is really sad. I'm now halfway through my twenties, and my life is nowhere near where I was expecting it to be by now.

When I was in eighth grade, the school had a financial planner come to talk to the class. We did an exercise in which we had to plan about a decade of our lives and see how we would manage the associated costs. My plan had me finishing university by twenty-two, getting a full-time job and moving out by twenty-three, and by twenty-five I would have been well-established, living on my own, and possibly married. I may even have been planning on going to Waterloo for school, in which case I'd have moved out at 18.

The reality would probably have depressed eighth grade me. I'm twenty-five, and still in school, still living at home, and about as far from being married as I could be. Now that first bit is a little disingenuous, I suppose; I'm working on my Masters, which my initial plan didn't consider. It's also a little overly gloomy, since I'll be done my degree hopefully by the end of this year, and I'll be able to move out hopefully some time next year. It's also a far more common position than eighth grade me would have guessed; most of my friends still live at home and many are still in school for something, or are finding their degrees not particularly useful. Life just isn't as simple as you think it will be in eighth grade. Paths don't always go where you think they will, and they're rarely straight lines.

I'm also not happy about being single. As I've said before, I don't hate being single, but I'd rather not be. I'm not one of those people who has a meltdown every time they're single on their birthday because they're another year older, and they'll probably be alone forever (those people drive me nuts), but birthdays are one of the days of the year that I most appreciate being in a relationship (right up there with Christmas). This is actually only my third birthday single since I turned 18, which is pretty good, but the previous ones also feel pretty meaningless when I'm single now.

Hopefully by the time I turn 26 things will be a little brighter.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Goodbye, Old Friend

While I was in Cuba, my parents went out and bought a new car. We had a 2006 Honda Civic, which we got when it was new, but it had been giving us some trouble recently (it was burning oil at an unhealthy rate) and the fix would probably cost more than the car was worth. My dad had been eyeing new cars for about a year now, so I knew this was imminent, but it still came as a bit of a shock to discover that while I was gone, they had ordered a new 2013 Civic. The dealership is having some trouble getting the new car (we drive standard transmission, which is unusal here in Canada) so we don't actually have it yet, but it should be soon.

Unfortunately, that means saying goodbye to my current car. I always thought that guys forming emotional attachments to cars was both stupid, and largely an unfounded stereotype, but I'm actually finding myself surprisingly sad to be saying goodbye.While this technically isn't my car, I drive it more than anyone in my family, and it has been a constant in my life for seven years now. I learned to drive stick in that car (and fell in love with driving standard) and got my full G license in it. I've been on countless roadtrips and late-night coffee runs. I've been on first dates and job interviews, and I've fallen in love and had my heart broken in that car. I've grown up, and built countless memories in that car.

I'm sure the bells and whistles of the new car will soften the blow, and I'll make new memories in the new car, but I'll definitely miss this one. I've had it longer than my current house. Saying goodbye sucks.