Category: on stuff and sundry


Going, going…

It’s 10:30pm, and in about seven hours I’ll embark on my revenge vacation. Thirty-seven days, seven cities, and hopefully enough memories to put a dent into the sum total of missed experiences over these past 15 months. The trip will start in Vancouver, followed by Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles (well, Huntington Beach, to be precise), Reno, Vegas, and New York. At the very end, I’ll take a ceremonial walk across the border from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. (When I was booking the trip in May, the border situation was very uncertain. It’s still a bit murky.)

Some of my best-laid plans have already gone sideways. Three AirBnB hosts in a row cancelled my reservations as soon as I booked them, followed by a mad scramble to re-book. Amtrak has confessed that they did not in fact know if the border would reopen when they sold me a suspiciously cheap ticket to a crossborder bus. (Guess who’s got two thumbs, paid $300 extra for a last-minute Vancouver/Seattle flight, and will never ride with Amtrak again? This guy!) Air Canada unilaterally changed my Toronto/Vancouver flight to an earlier time, which means I’ll have to head out before 6am instead of sleeping in a little. (I won’t lie, I’m tempted to just head to the airport right now and spend the night there to make sure I don’t accidentally sleep through.)

So, yeah, life. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ On top of that, for the first time in my life I bought international traveler insurance. Judging by their dual classification of “just abroad” and “the US of A,” they probably charged me extra due to all the fun gun shenanigans the US is so infamous for. Oh well. Given the sheer randomness of all the public shootings in that fallen state (still no January 6 commission, almost six months later), I guess I’ll just have to hit the ground every time I hear a bang. Maybe slather some ketchup on myself for good measure – you know, to boost those odds. (If I do, in fact, get shot while I’m in the States… Come on, this was funny, though.)

Ontario tentatively started to reopen 10 days or so ago. It felt like a bizarrely perverse experience, eating a fairly bland (and oversalted) burger with fries and beer while other people did the same all around me, unmasked though distanced. I’ve gone out a few more times (you know, for science) and the sensation is still there, though it’s getting better. Even for someone with my wanderlust, this is one helluva long trip – the longest I’ve ever traveled, actually. I figure this sort of shock therapy is just what I need: people, museums, busy sidewalks, new sights and old friends every day… Every trip and every experience changes us, if only just a little. I know I’ll be a very different person when I return (hopefully without any new scars!) – I’m curious to learn just what those changes will be.

I’m going to hit up almost all of my old haunts, though I never lived in Portland or Los Angeles – and I’m skipping Dallas and Tampa because, you know, the plague. Southern states are the least likely to be vaccinated at this point in time. Nevada, being a very purple sort of state, is as low as Texas, with only 40% being fully vaccinated… Guess I’ll just have to dodge everyone who coughs, eh?

In a way, this will be a trip back in time, visiting all the old places I’ve lived in, all the friends and classmates I haven’t seen in years – and seeing my US family for the first time in over two years. (Or even as long as four years for some.) Just to preserve these memories, I’m taking my DSLR with its obnoxiously large zoom lens – next time I visit the US, the trip will be much less ambitious, so gotta make those memories count.

And meanwhile, I’m stuffing my shiny new 40-liter Osprey backpack with everything I can think of. (Can’t forget my laptop! Heh.) The backpack cost me a pretty penny, but I can see what all the noise is about: I keep finding more and more features and hidden compartments. That right there is as close as one can get to a Bag of Holding in real life.

And so… A few hours of sleep. A quick shower and breakfast. (I’ve tactically set aside a Tim Hortons cinnamon bun to reward myself for getting up before sunrise.) A trip to the airport before the city begins to wake up. A westward and cross-continental flight in defiance of all those pesky time zones. (In a way, it’ll take only an hour and 46 minutes. Heh.) The one revenge vacation to end them all…

Wish me luck, eh?

Pedestrian once more

It’s been 39 days since I left my job, and I’ve finally sold my car. It was an inevitability: at some point, you either get rid of your car or it gets destroyed in a wreck. Or it outlives you, I suppose, but that’s a bit too grim.

After leaving my job, there was no longer any reason to drive. Living in southern Toronto, in the densely populated Annex neighbourhood, everything is within walking distance. I had to actually drive to the grocery store half a mile away just to make sure the battery didn’t die from atrophy. One of peculiar things about Canada is that they’re not very flexible on car insurance: you must purchase the full liability coverage, and as an immigrant, there’s the added surcharge. In the end, my car insurance ended up being $230 CAD a month, and that’s after all the discounts I’ve managed to stack up. Add the monthly parking fee on top of that, and it’s close to $400 a month, which is a lot to pay for a glorified paperweight.

Thinking strategically, there’s only one time I’ll absolutely need a car in the next year or so, and that’ll be for my upcoming move to Quebec. (I have my heart set on Quebec City…) Even then, I’d need to get a Uhaul to move all my stuff, so once again, a car would be a liability. (Not to mention paying extra for the registration in Quebec, etc.)

I’ve had that little Kia Rio since 2013, but it was time to say goodbye. After 61,777 miles, after more roadtrips than I care to recall, we parted ways. Of course, things didn’t quite go smoothly: an overly enthusiastic car wash guy slathered absolutely everything in shampoo, flooded the car’s electronics, disabled the fuel gauge, a couple of small buttons, and half the wiper functions – and ultimately cost me about $450 in repairs and discounts. Ho hum. In the end, the car I’d bought for $24,000 USD in Vegas ended up getting sold for $3,750 CAD in Toronto: that’s an 87.4% drop in value. The purchase price is a bit high because I was an idiot and fell for every single sales trick. Yes, they actually managed to sell me anti-rain windshield treatment in the middle of the desert. (Hey, I never claimed to be wise.) Still, that investment gave me some much-needed peace of mind, since my previous three cars had been lemons that were liable to break down at least every other month. When you’re a warehouse grunt, and when missing a workday not only costs a day’s wages but potentially jeopardizes your job security… In that context, a monthly payment of ~$360 is a whole lot cheaper than spending the same amount of money on repairs. Ahh, youth.

It’s strange, adjusting to the new carless mindset. Earlier today, as I finalized the transaction with an enthusiastic guy (who also happened to be a double immigrant like myself), there was a choice of taking a 40-minute Lyft or a 1-hour-40-minute bus trip home. One of those options was literally 10 times more expensive than the other. I think you know which one I picked. Some panicky part of my brain keeps pointing out all the car-accessible places I can’t easily go to (like the town where they shot Schitt’s Creek) but even then, arranging a ride would be a whole lot easier and cheaper than maintaining a car I don’t really use. My life is simpler now, which is exactly what I’d been working toward. In many ways, I’m drifting back to the pre-Amazon version of myself, right out of college. Replacing cider with coke, reverting from being a driver to being a pedestrian.

There is a symmetry to this: the only reason I ever got a car in the first place (and learned to drive over the course of one weekend) was because of my Amazon job. That warehouse was the only place hiring in Reno during the mean, lean winter of 2009, and it was 35 miles away. There was no transit, and eventually I ran out of carpool buddies. I needed that job, so a $1,200 lemon car was the only way to go. Now that my 11.5-year journey with the company is over, so is my need for a car. It all folds in on itself, eh?

The only objective downside is that I won’t be able to get away at top speed if there’s ever a legitimate but improbably rare emergency, such as a global pandemic or a radioactive leak at the local nuclear power plant – but come on, those things only happen once a century or so. (If the Pickering Nuclear Plant goes kaboom right after I post this… Come on, it was funny, though.) Without my car, xgf and I never would’ve been able to run off on our 72-day-long AirBnB odyssey. Still, even the prospect of a mildly apocalyptic romantic adventure isn’t enough to maintain that dead weight.

This will take some getting used to… Even as my mobility is reduced, my life is so much simpler now. What I gave up in my freedom of movement, I’ve offset by making my bank account happier and my life a bit less stressful. No longer shall I have to be that jerk neighbour who drives to the grocery store a few blocks away – and if that’s not a clear-cut benefit, I don’t know what is. I hope my car leads a long and happy life before heading off to the big Kia parking lot in the sky, eh.

This is the penultimate night of the second decade of the 21st century… It’s been a wild ride. Ten years ago today, I was a warehouse temp, unsure about my future, employment, life goals, or anything much in particular. Things have changed… The temp gig became a permanent job. I’ve lived in six cities (well, eight, if you count the suburbs). Sixteen different addresses. Two countries. A fair number of adventures – and misadventures as well. One pranked billionaire. 🙂

I’m ending this decade free of debt, in perfect health, overall grateful for the life I’m enjoying, and armed with a lot of highly ambitious plans. Some are short-term, some span decades and are have already been initiated. Ten years ago, in the bad neighbourhood of Reno, I never would have imagined I’d end 2019 in Toronto (by way of Vegas, Dallas, Tampa, and Seattle). I can’t even begin to imagine where on earth (and/or other planet) I will be at the end of 2029.

In the spirit of sending my future self a message, and because everyone is equally bad at predicting what’s to come, here are some predictions for the next decade! Let’s all come back in 3,653 days to see just how far off I was.

And so, in no particular order:

  1. There’ll be an ironic resurgence of the 1920s fashion. Old-timey dances, live jazz, flapper dresses, etc.
  2. Artificial intelligence will remain a mirage. Just like communism, it’ll be only a decade away no matter when you ask them.
  3. Groundbreaking new technology we can’t quite imagine yet will come out and become commonplace. (Amazon Echo came out just four years ago, and now it’s taken for granted.) I think it might be the HUD (heads-up display) provided by an integrated (or removable) mini-computer.
  4. The US will elect a one-term president.
  5. The US will get a whole lot closer to the Handmaid’s Tale. (See congresscritter Matt Shea’s revealed plan to install a theocracy and kill all the men who disagree.)
  6. The no-fly zones over Phoenix will become extended. As of right now, they’re just a mildly funny one-day occurrences when the hot air’s density doesn’t allow planes to take off. They will become commonplace.
  7. The hologram technology will become available, then accessible, then commonplace. Watching holo-movies at home will become an amazing experience, though folks will quickly get used to them. (Remember when touchscreen phones were cool? Heh.)
  8. At least one large city (1,000,000 people or higher) will run out of water and will have to be either evacuated or placed on long-term life support with water convoys.
  9. Las Vegas will use up all the water in Lake Mead and will hijack the water from the Nevadan farmers up north. Feelings will be hurt but the big money will prevail.
  10. Age-reversing gene therapy will continue to make progress, though it won’t hit the market quite yet.
  11. CRISPR gene-editing will become more widespread. Most of the people experimenting on themselves will suffer horrific side effects (at least for the early adopters) but the successful ones will be fascinating.
  12. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will die of old age. Berkshire-Hathaway’s stock will tumble by over 10% before eventually recovering.
  13. Space tourism will take off but the prices will be astronomical. (Get it? Get it?)
  14. North Korea will remain a dictatorship.
  15. Russia will remain a de facto dictatorship. It’ll try to gobble up more of the ex-USSR territories like it did with Ukraine.
  16. Things will get very ugly in India with the anti-Muslim tensions and the rise of the militarism. The old “yay, they’re the biggest democracy – see how successful they are?” argument will quietly and awkwardly show itself out.
  17. Ebola will reach an African city and spread.
  18. Antibiotic-resistant infections will get scarier and more commonplace. The last marginally efficient antibiotics (or the brand spanking new ones) will be very, very expensive.
  19. A major city will burn as a result of surrounding wildfires. (California? Australia? Elsewhere?)
  20. Climate protesters (of which Greta Thunberg is only the first) will get tired of asking politely and will take direct action, bypassing the voting booths entirely. Eco-terrorism will become much more widespread. Recycling and abstaining from meat will become much more prevalent, but nothing will be done about the nitrogen runoff.
  21. Rolling food crises in Africa, Central America, South America, and parts of Asia. Starvation will be prevented, but the social unrest will topple at least a couple of governments. (The whole Russian mess in 1905 began due to bread shortages.)
  22. Self-driving cars still won’t be quite good enough to drive on their own. Self-driving trucks will make significant progress, displacing hundreds of thousands of truck drivers.
  23. At least two meteorites missed by NASA will zoom by dangerously close. The one we know about (in 2029) will come close but pass by as well. It’ll get a lot of people very concerned and/or excited – like the Y2K crisis but with a more tangible negative outcome.
  24. No progress between Palestine and Israel. Further deterioration is quite likely.
  25. 3D printers will become good enough to print crappy guns and, if sufficiently advanced, replacement skin and organs.
  26. Three attempted genocides.
  27. Water wars.
  28. Widespread gene-editing will make it easier to custom-order a pet to your exact specifications. There’ll be a lot of controversy about pets with augmented intelligence.
  29. The US Supreme Court will get a permanent conservative majority, resulting in a significant rollback of social reforms and programs. (The precursor to #5.)
  30. The European Union will legalize poly marriages. Mutually consensual BDSM contracts still won’t be honoured and recognized in the eyes of the law, though.
  31. Injectable nanobots will make an appearance. They’ll regulate blood levels, monitor (or alter) hormone levels as desired, identify first signs of potentially deadly diseases. They will not be widespread just yet.
  32. Nano-ink tattoos will move around and wiggle at you.
  33. Universal Basic Income will get several medium-scale trials (between 5,000-100,000 people) and will show promising results, but won’t be adopted by any government due to preexisting notions of propriety.
  34. Bees are out. Mushrooms and seaweed are in.
  35. Salmon will become almost – but not quite – extinct. It’ll become an almost unaffordable delicacy.
  36. Chelsea Clinton will attempt to run for office, likely for the House of Representatives, possibly straight for the Senate. The former will likely succeed; the latter will likely fail.
  37. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will turn 35 in October 2024 and will become eligible to run for president. She’ll do so in either 2024 or, more likely, 2028.
  38. Facebook will go the way of Friendster and MySpace when something bigger and shinier comes along.
  39. I will finish my damn novel.
  40. I will retire. 🙂

Do you like interesting books? Got nothing to read? I’ve got you. 🙂 This week (until the end of Friday, 6/02) I’m giving away 2 of my e-books.

Update: the giveaway is over, folks. Big thanks to all 500+ of you who downloaded the books, and I hope you enjoy them! If you didn’t make it in time, fear not – there are always options. If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow one book for free each month – go over yonder for details. And, as always, feel free to leave Amazon reviews if you liked the books or reach out to me directly if you didn’t. Constructive criticism is always welcome around here.


 

“50 Shades of Yay” has 50 different essays and poems on the nature of happiness, written by different famous folks throughout the ages. They’re great for getting some perspective, as well as food for thought. (We have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, pizza delivery, and worldwide web, yet unhappiness is still here among us. This book may help.)

“Legends & Lore from Around the World” is the biggest collection of mythology (15,000 pages) in the world, with ancient stories from Ireland, Japan, Africa, Native Americans, etc, in addition to the usual stuff from Greece and Rome. Reading these ancient tales for the first time can be quite an experience, both intellectually and emotionally.

You don’t need a Kindle to read them – you can just install the Kindle app on the device of your choice. (Phone, tablet, microwave…) If you like the books, please feel free to leave a nice review on Amazon, share this post and tell your friends! (Not necessarily in that order.)

Thanks in advance – and enjoy!

I really wanted to like Game of Thrones… I’m reluctant to start reading a book series that hasn’t been finished yet, so I avoided the books and the TV show for the longest time, all the while valiantly dodging spoilers and skillfully extricating myself from GoT-related conversations.

But then I saw the free week-long HBO trial that’s available on Amazon. After binge-watching all of Westworl, I decided to finally give GoT a try. It is well known that TV shows shouldn’t be judged on the quality of their first episode. Or the first few episodes. Or, sometimes, even their entire first season. (Case in point: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation.) That said, I can’t quite explain why I binge-watched 80% of the second season as well before finally cancelling my HBO trial once and for all. I plead boredom.

And so, in no particular order – and without any particular spoilers, first impressions by a complete GoT newbie who only watched the show and never touched the books:

  • The whole thing could have been avoided if a certain 10-year-old with ADHD could have been kept in check by his parents.
  • Or if a certain couple didn’t decide to copulate with a window wide open, despite being in a new location. (I assume the GoT world had binoculars, spyglasses or telescopes.)
  • Incest. Sooo much incest. I don’t think there’s a baseline for incest in medieval-themed shows, but if there is, GoT is definitely ~400% or so above it.
  • If the king’s kids don’t look anything like him and the queen’s brother is perpetually single and never dates any men, women or livestock (the sheep option was actually mentioned in one of the episodes), does it really take a dramatic plot development for their royal subjects to put two and two together?
  • What the hell kind of orbit is that planet on? If you keep getting spontaneous miniature ice ages that occur at random intervals and last anywhere between 3-15 years, you probably don’t live in a garden-variety solar system. A solar system with multiple suns would kind of make sense, but it doesn’t look like they have more than one sun in the show. (I know, I know, that’s what I get for bringing sci-fi logic into the fantasy world. I’ll leave my phaser at the door next time.)
  • Considering that all of the main characters are from the top 1% and most of them spend their overabundant free time being insufferably posh/incestuous/suicidal/arrogant, who exactly am I supposed to root for here?.. This is like the Dune, only with 5% more social mobility.
  • Do the messenger ravens have miniature jet packs? Because I’m pretty sure they routinely cross the continent in less than a day. (Whereas, by comparison, it takes the king months to make the same journey on foot.)
  • If a large segment of the population ended up living in the northern wilderness for 8,000 years, with extremely limited contact with the so-called civilization, why do they look the same and speak the same language with the same accent? (Read up on the Ainu people and how they differ from their Japanese neighbors – and that’s without a giant wall between them.)
  • In addition to jet-pack ravens, we apparently have telepathic direwolves? Not sure if the concept got explored in the future seasons, but after the rather cliché scene in the first season, I was expecting to see more.
  • If your entire empire can descend into a bloody civil war because of a single hyperactive 10-year-old kid, maybe it wasn’t such a good form of government in the first place, and maybe whoever gets the throne in the end will only perpetuate more of the same.

As always, I welcome an intelligent and/or snarky discussion in the comments.

I’m a bit of a news junkie. Reality is always stranger than fiction, and recent events have made it stranger yet. (My sincerest condolences to the writers of “House of Cards.”)

Interesting times call for interesting news sources, and at one point last year I found that regular news sites just weren’t providing enough diverse information fast enough to keep up with my ever-growing appetite. To that end, I’ve created my very own news portal by harnessing the power of Twitter: after some trial and error, I’ve identified particularly interesting journalists and started following them in real time.

If you follow enough interesting and active people, your Twitter feed will be full of odd insights, interesting links and instant notifications about fresh news stories posted in their publications – or other news media that they, in turn, follow.

A lot of the people I follow are bloggers and writers, but they don’t produce the news so much as disseminate it. And so, in no particular order, here are the reporters and journalists whom I follow:

@costareports & @DanEggenWPost & @Fahrenthold – Washintgon Post politics
@maggieNYT – NYT White House correspondent
@SopanDeb – NYT culture writer
@DouthatNYT – NYT columnist
@JohnJHarwood – economy reporter on CNBC and NYT
@KatyTurNBC – the world’s top expert on Trump – she shadowed him (and got under his skin) since the day he announced his campain, way back in 2015.
@chrislhayes – MSNBC news host
@cbsMcCormick – CBS foreign affairs
@KatzOnEarth – freelance journo, really big on history
@elongreen – New Yorker
@AoDespair – former Washington Post journo, then a crime chronicler
@paulkrugman – the world’s most interesting economist!
@RalstonReports & @annieflanz & @MikeHigdon & @brianduggan – journos from Nevada
@froomkyn – Washington editor at The Intercept

I’m fully aware that a list of Twitter handles recorded on a personal blog might seem charmingly antiquated in the very near future, when we all get instant OmniSphere updates pumped straight into the frontal lobe via subdermal implants. Until then, however, feel free to follow any and all of the above – and leave a comment if you know any other interesting newsmakers.

(And here is my own humble account – @GrigoryLukin, should you be so inclined.)

I want to be a stand-up comedian if I grow up. Might want to get insurance against pun-induced brain damage, though. Decisions, decisions…

iron punning

Kudos to Felicia Day for inspiring the pun barrage with this tweet.

I’ve recently written that Patrick Rothfuss’s Book-3 probably wouldn’t come out anytime soon. (Along with some other predictions.) Well, I guess I was wrong! In my not-at-all-obsessive quest for more video interviews with Pat, I found this recent (5/11/16) video interview.

Aside from the sheer awesomeness that is Pat’s office (I count at least 15 owl-bears), there’s also a very important update: he said he’s currently editing the book to get it shorter, better and more dynamic. In his own words, he’s going through it and trying to cut out approximately 100,000 words. It’s kind of humbling to think he’s going to cut enough words to write an average, non-Rothfuss-sized novel.

So, assuming the book is already written and currently undergoing the editing process, the release date draws closer yet. It probably won’t come out in time for Christmas, but who knows – maybe we’ll get it at some point within a year. Don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to make sure to have a week’s worth of vacation saved up and ready to use just for this occasion…


Update: it has been 2 years and 3 months since this post was originally written. Book three is not here, nor is it on the horizon. Instead, the country is ruled by an angry orange clown, and all is not well. Sorry if you got excited about reading this blog’s subject line.

Spring in Seattle

A couple, walking hand in hand amidst the kaleidoscopic majesty of blooming flora, passionately discussing mutual funds.

I chased a mustachioed crow through the sun-speckled streets of Seattle.

Two cute little girls appeared from thin air and offered me higher power.

“I have been waiting for you, sir,” said a homeless entrepreneur.

A creepy banker tried to high-five me, but I left him hanging.