It’s an early fall day, cool and bright. The sun has been falling on us like clear water all day.

This morning when I looked out the kitchen window at the garden, I saw that my dogwoods and serviceberries were full of little birds, visitors passing through. I haven’t been feeding the birds lately because we’ve had rats in the garden, but since it’s migration time I filled the feeder again — let the rats feast, too, if they haven’t moved on.

After the hopper on the bird feeder was full of peanuts and millet and sunflower seeds, I sat outside with my toast and peanut butter. Two kinds of peanut butter — I bought a jar of the terrible kind with the added fat and sugar for a recipe (and because my kids love it) but couldn’t bring myself to use it on both slices of toast. I spread the other piece of toast with that earnest no-additives peanut butter, the kind I usually buy.

I brought my book outside but I didn’t open it — I was too busy. It was so quiet that the quiet was something you could listen to, and watch. Long weekend Sunday mornings in the city are a unique and precious thing.

Word got around fast about the bird feeder. Nuthatch visited, and a pair of woodpeckers. A little squirrel came to look at the nuts I’d spilled on the deck, but he couldn’t pick them up because his mouth was full of an acorn which he must have carried for quite a while, because the nearest oak is a few houses away. He finally decided to bury the acorn and come back, but by then he had attracted the attention of my old cat, so he teased her instead, playing chase under the chairs. While he was distracted a different squirrel, older and wiser, ate the spilled nuts.

It’s afternoon now, and the light is still golden and clear. Like this morning’s visitors, I was hunting around for a snack, and like them I found peanuts. In my fridge I had a container of a Korean banchan (side dish) made of peanuts and anchovies in a sticky, sweet sauce. Apparently best served with rice (and optional beer), but I nibbled on it for an afternoon snack.

I did not buy the peanut and anchovy banchan myself — I don’t usually shop at any store more international than Longo’s. A family member bought it but didn’t care for the unique combination of fish and legumes and sugar, so offered it around. I will try most things once, so I gave it a home.

The verdict is I probably wouldn’t buy it, but if it were served to me at a restaurant I would eat it. (Like most banchan, actually, which makes sense: they’re not meant to take a starring role, they are the backup singers of Korean cuisine.)

I wondered about peanuts; they are so delicious and so widely popular. “How did they get so popular in Asia,” I asked myself, “when they are originally African?” WRONG. Apparently they’re “endemic to South America” and were spread around the world by Europeans. The world loves them — squirrels and nuthatches and blue jays and humans alike.


Lessons Learned: COVID-19 Edition

In 1998, when I was 23 years old, Eastern Ontario and Quebec were struck by an ice storm which shut down power for days or weeks. Then there was Y2K, and 9/11. My oldest daughter was born in May 2003 in the first SARS pandemic, and a few months later, overloaded transmission lines combined with a software bug to create “the world’s second most widespread blackout in history” — the city of Toronto had no power for two days.

I’ve been through a few emergencies, and along the way with the help of experience and some books, I’ve put together a pretty comprehensive emergency preparedness system.

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Stationery Snacks

A few years ago we inherited a mid-century hors d’oeuvres set from my in-laws. It consists of three smoked glass bowls — two round, one rectangular — and a wood tray with indents for each bowl. I imagine it being used to serve assorted nuts and pickles, or maybe little cubes of cheese, at fabulous parties where all the decor was avocado green and burnt orange and all the party-goers smoked.

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The Value of Divination, or Just Do Something

I’m editing a (fascinating) book about the evolutionary roots of schizophrenia at the moment, and one of the chapters is on the evolution of religion. The author submits that one of the evolutionary benefits of religion is divination: attempting to see the future.

At first I though, what the hell use is some fraud who tries to tell everyone he knows which hunting area is best or where water is going to be found?

This is what the author says: “The power of divination allows an entire tribe to back an arbitrary decision — it is better to roll the dice and do something than not do anything at all.”

You see? Having a shaman cast some stones or burn a shoulder blade, and then point in an (as it turns out) arbitrary direction gives the tribe a decision to get behind, instead of everyone spending days and days arguing (without evidence) in favour of their own pet ideas.  The randomness of the divining techniques might even send the tribe off in a fruitful direction they would never have chosen using reason.

This is a great lesson: sometimes it’s better to just make a decision — any decision — and then pursue it with all your resources than to sit around and waffle about what might happen if you make the wrong choice.

LaTeX to Lulu, the Making of AOSA: Pulling It All Together

The two volumes of The Architecture of Open Source Applications were typeset with LaTeX and printed through Lulu. I couldn’t have finished the AOSA books without the generosity of people all over the world who posted their LaTeX tips to forums and blogs. This series of posts pays some of that back by sharing what I learned.

This is the fourth post in the series.

LaTeX to Lulu

  1. Headers and Footers
  2. Fonts and Captions
  3. Table of Contents and Chapter Title Pages
  4. Custom Commands and Environments
  5. Other Useful Packages and Settings
  6. Pulling It All Together

This post is about the LaTeX that pulls the whole book together. Continue reading