blarg?

Fresh Rain

Oh, blarg, why do I abandon you so. I have been neglecting this space in favor of the twitters, whose twits are legion, and who is so, so uncomplicated. Also I’m trying to start a business here and it’s kind of busy. Excuses, excuses, I know, but I feel like I should tell you about it.

Have I mentioned this? It’s not news to most of the world, I’m sure, but our recent culinary discovery has been this: brining stuff in strong tea. That’s turned out to be a pretty powerful move, particularly when we’ve gone with the really smoky-tasting Lapsang Souchong
over chicken or (particularly awesome) fish; trout that’s been brined and pan-fried thusly has this great lox flavour to it, but is still a big, tender piece of meat. That costs about a tenth what a comparable pile of actual smoked salmon would cost, I might add, which is also nice.

On another culinary front, modulo a bit of fiddling around it turns out that these two links provide excellent, excellent advice about making pizzas at home, and even my amateurish fumbling has produced better pizza than we’ve been able to order in.

You’ll need cast iron pans for that, but it turns out that nobody knows they’re resurfaceable, so once they’ve messed them up they throw them away and buy cheap nonstick pans, which if you’re paying attention means advantage: you.

I’ve had a lot of luck picking up the semi-wrecked cast-iron cookware I see at garage sales and reseasoning them as per this excellent advice, though I preface that with the scorched-earth approach of hosing them down with oven cleaner and letting them stew in an heavy garbage bag for two or three days. Stripping them right to the bare metal has proven to be the right approach, though I should tell you that the people who claim that cast iron gets smoky are Doing It Wrong, and seasoning their cookware with oils that have a relatively low smoke point. I did that wrong myself at first, but now that I’m doing this the right way around it turns out that 50-year-old cast iron actually works better than my two-year-old teflon, and I’m always happy to chalk up a victory for the old school.

Hello again?

A few days ago Maya was talking with her grandparents via Skype. Anyone remember when videoconferencing was all expensive and futuristickey, and not approximately free and marginally annoying when it’s not immediately available? Yeah, me neither.

So while they’re watching Maya fool around, she picks up my iPhone and shows it to them. And they say oh, that’s so cute. Do you know how to use that?

And then Maya, who let me remind you is sixteen months old:

  1. Pushes the button to turn on the screen,
  2. Unlocks it and picks the phone app,
  3. Picks their names off the Favorites list, and
  4. Calls them.

And when they pick up, she holds the phone up to her ear and says “Hi.”

No joke; that is how that happened.

Most of me was thinking, that can’t have really been entirely on purpose, can it? This is clearly my girl, cute and awesome, but really? But there’s also a tiny, terrified little voice in the back of my head yelling “WHAT… WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT“.

I don’t remember it all that clearly, but I’m pretty sure that when I was sixteen months old I’d barely figured how to put tinkertoys in my nose. Yesterday as I was coming inside, I handed her the car keys and said “Ok, Maya, lock the car”, and she took the keyfob and pushed the button to lock the car. The only thing stopping her from driving it away is that she’s not tall enough to reach door handles yet. She’s already standing on her toes with the keys to reach the locks, and she’s not quite there yet.

But almost. Lately she’s been having me read to her all the time, but I’m pretty sure she’s just humoring me.

This Singularity that’s apparently coming? I predict that it will actually get here, but it won’t be driven by artificial intelligence. Not even a little.

To Trains, Still

My bike has been my primary method of transportation lately and gets me where I’m going often faster and invariably with less hassle than a car or even the subway. This summer has been mostly good days for that and, even though somebody periodically somebody tries to kill me, it’s just so much better an experience that it seems like a fair trade. And as a bonus my bike isn’t a cold-war relic that breaks down all the damn time. But when I tell people that I bike in the city they seem astonished that any sane human would do that. Biking downtown, they say? Madness! And then the complaints about cab drivers start.

And that’s how I can tell those people don’t bike and, in all likelihood, aren’t very good drivers. It’s possible that I’m holding a minority opinion on this but I love taxi drivers. I love them to bits.

Cabbies are just about my favorite people on the road for one reason only: they are completely, utterly predictable. Look five meters ahead of a cab and you know what they’re going to do every time. That space they can turn into to win them an extra car length? They’re going there. That pedestrian with their hand up? Here comes a cab, right up snug to the curb. Braking with nobody in front of them? They’re going to stop and then that door’s going to open.

By and large they even signal. And they’re going to make that move every time; just assume it’s coming and roll with it. Compared to cabbies the alternative is so much worse.

Q: As a cyclist in Toronto, what is my threat model?

A:

  • Custom rims
  • Subwoofer
  • Baseball cap (any)
  • Spoiler
  • Custom paint job
  • Support ribbons (any)
  • Tiny woman, land-yacht SUV
  • Fat, moustachioed man, minivan
  • Aviator-style or larger sunglasses
  • One hand holding coffee
  • One hand holding cellphone

Perform a quick visual assessment of the cars around you; vehicles that meet any two of these criteria should be treated with due caution. Three or more and you should assume they’re actively trying to kill you.

Q: So, bike lanes?

A: There are none. Many wildly disjoint roads in Toronto have lines painted three feet from the curb and what appears to be a bicycle painted on the asphalt, but by convention these are reserved parking for service and delivery vehicles, police and parking enforcement officers. The city will also issue private contractors a permit to park in them at their convenience and you should expect any courier or cube-van you see to swerve directly into them and immediately stop. This is less inconvenient that you might think as these “paths” don’t actually go from anywhere to anywhere else.

Q: But bike paths, right?

A: Yeah, whatever. If you work somewhere on Lakeshore and maybe live under a bridge in the Don Valley then sure. Nobody who is not already a bicycle commuter gives even a fraction of a damn about cycling downtown.

Q: So can I get around on a bike, for real?

A: Ultimately the answer is yes, if you’re willing to act like a car. Take up a whole lane; you notice how police on bikes always ride side by side? Establish that you own the space around you. Don’t hug the curb or when you get cut off you’ll have nowhere to go. Signal when you need to change lanes, but don’t otherwise act predictably; a set precedent of scary randomness will earn you the wide berth you want. But be aware of your environment, 360 degrees of it, at all times. Travel light and agile and be able to make decisions fast. If you’ve got panniers or baskets or whatever behind your seat, then forget it; hug the curb, festoon yourself with lights and reflectors and pray that you live through the ride. If you’ve got any weight at all over your front wheel, panniers or grocery bags hanging off your handlebars then I hope your soul is prepared because you’re already a dead man.

You might get honked at now and then, but that doesn’t matter – in Toronto, car horns don’t mean “look out, I’m coming” or “pay attention, there is a car here”, they mean “Fuck you, I hate you and want you to die” – but my thinking in this is simple: let them hate, so long as they fear.