Category: Life

The Office Fish Tank

The Office Fish Tank

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The promo picture. We’ll see.

I’ve been talking about doing it for months, but, in the last few days, I’ve spent about $200 in getting all the stuff together for a fish tank for my office.

And this is in the nature of experiment. I want it to be a truly awesome fish tank.

I’ve done a lot more reading and information gathering than ever before in terms of aquariums, and I’m going to document the process a little bit. Some pictures and video, not that I promise to post anything, but I want to keep records to see if I’ve actually learned anything. There are no fish yet. It’s actually not even set up yet.

I picked up the tank on Friday last week, a very cool one, the Fluval Flex 9 gallon which has some funky lighting, a lot of integrated filtration, and curved front face. I unpacked it to the top of my filing cabinet yesterday. Today, I’m taking rocks, and driftwood, and sand to work. In between running two training seminars and regular stuff, I am going to do the Aqua-scaping of the tank, deciding how I want things arranged. After that, and probably tomorrow, the plants. The process involves:

  1. Disinfecting the rocks I’ve chosen with boiling water and rinse any debris off. Taken care of already.
  2. Soaking the driftwood to reach out some of the tannins, which will be in progress within a few minutes of my arrival of work. I’ll change the water several times while I’m there, and maybe let them soak overnight.
  3. At that point, I get to arrange the rock and maybe the wood in the tank. Having something vague in mind already, I don’t expect to do an awful lot of rearranging once I’m there. I picked things to fit my approximate mental vision of how things look.
  4. Four, a quick rinse of one bag of two bags of substrate that I bought, a black sandy aquatic soil designed to help plants do well, then will add that to the tank.
  5. Add the introductory fertilizer to said soil
  6. Six, unpack and plant the plants. It’s a relatively small tank, the interior dimensions, length by width by height, running in the sort of 30 to 35 cm range. It’s not far from a small cube, and it is only 9 gallons, so when I made the decision to do a heavily plant tank, there was a lot of reading about foreground, midground, and background plants. For the size the tank I’m doing, I don’t think there’s an awful lot of midground so I’ve selected some easy to care for specimens, I’ll put details in later, for foreground background, with the idea that both will spread over time. I have a combination of three different plants to grow to some significant height along the back. At least one of the background plants, a beautiful little red one, will shoot out roots from the sides to glom onto whatever surfice it can, so the Dragon rock and driftwood will be helpful here, as well as to help anchor some of the creeping stuff in the front of the tank.
  7. Gently fill up the tank from the rear to avoid disturbing the substrate too much.
  8. Let that sit for several days for the plants to adjust.
  9. Turn on the filter and let the plants grow for a week or two or three.
  10. Only then do we think about adding fish or invertebrates to the tank.

And I say fish or invertebrates, because I actually plan to have both. The I’m thinking half a dozen brightly colored shrimp, or maybe transparent Ghost Shrimp, because they’re kind of cool and very easy to take care of. These, paired with an single large snail, and considering the plants, will keep things very clean and minimize the amount of actual vacuuming I’ll have to do. The idea is that this is a relatively low maintenance tank. There might be a small school of Corys in the mix as well.

The main fish will probably be a single species school of something that actually likes confined areas, because it is only a 9 gallon tank, but I haven’t decided on them yet, either.

In approximate order, and probably spread a week or so apart each: the shrimp, the Corys, the snail, the school.

At this point, I hope the vision in my head is what reality comes to look like. While I’ve learned a lot more in the reading and research I’ve done in the last few weeks than I ever knew about keeping fish before, there’s still a lot I don’t know. Honestly, considering the low level of crappy equipment we used to use on a regular basis, I’m not certain how any of our fish lived longer than a week, and we had some live for several years, most notably my giant pleco, who was one of the first additions to our first tank before my wife and I were married. We brought Frank with us when we moved from Toronto and my son still remembers him. My oldest daughter might, too. He was 10 or 11 years old when we lost him.

I’ll put some pictures of the process up in the next few days, but I’m going at this slowly, so it’s probably going to be after Christmas by the time everything is in place and swimming.

And I haven’t even mentioned things like water testing yet.

There’s a lot more to keeping fish then just throwing some water in a bowl, you know.

Be well, everyone.

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Time for a Mid-Life Crisis

Time for a Mid-Life Crisis

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It’s the first of November, 2018 and I’ve decided that it’s time for my midlife crisis.

Nice bombshell, eh?

Now, I say midlife crisis, but mine is not going involve a sports car or plastic surgery or a 20-year-old girlfriend, or anything stupid like that. Mine is coming a reorganization of priorities and some significant goal setting. Some of those goals I’ve already started to work in earnest towards, while some are just getting started and some which a brand-new.

The high points, and there isn’t going to be a lot of detail on some of these as there are things to consider and build in the background:

  1. By my 50th birthday, I want to have completely revamped my career. My current career, my writing career, and maybe my own business on the side.
  2. Also by my 50th birthday, although I’d like this happen sooner, I want to be living in the house we’re going to retire in.
  3. To go along with the living in a house I want to retire in, there will be a second property. Not an investment property, exactly, but a property in Ottawa, where one, possibly two, and who knows, maybe even three of my children will go pursue post-secondary education. This is not so much an investment or us as it is for them. We will file the paperwork, jump through the troops, and charge the rent. Landlords, in effect, for a child of our own and several of their friends. The objective here is not money for our pockets, because we’re doing okay, all things considered, but to use the equity built up into the eventual sale of that property to cover as much of their accumulated student debts as possible. Our situation, financially, as never been what either set of our parents enjoyed. It’s never really had the possibility of it, economically, generationally, situationally. So we don’t have the extra income and haven’t managed the save enough along the way to get them completely through college or university debt free. But, if we sell our house for the right amount, and buy our retirement property for the right amount, we can, essentially, transfer our debt to another property and have the rent the kids are paying into it cover the mortgage and other fees, so that three or five or however many years later, when our last child is out, we sell the house, even if the market is crappy, get equity back out of it to pay down previously mentioned debt. I’m liking this plan more and more the longer I think about it. But it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.
  4. I’ll mention the writing goals, but I’m not going into a lot of detail. Currently, there is a one, three, five, and 10 year plan. The details get fuzzier the longer the time frame so that I can re-forecast easily, and I’m making adjustments due to other goals.
  5. I’ll also mention martial arts goals so they’re here, but I’m unlikely to share most of those out loud.
  6. I want to travel. I mean more than just go and hang out someplace for a week or so. My wife and I have talked several times about the idea of getting a teaching English as a foreign language certification and spending a year in Japan, a year in South America, a year in Africa.
  7. I want to get involved in some significant conservation programs, during the years when not traveling, working to stabilize local endangered species. At the moment, I have in my head to study, and incubate eggs for eventual release, Blanding’s Turtle and the Grey Ratsnake, which are both listed as endangered and both exist, in theory, locally. There are plenty of species that need assistance, mainly due to human encroachment on habitat and our essentially destructive ways as a species, and maybe I should help a little.
  8. I will become politically active. Keeping those plans in the background for now.

So, my midlife crisis looks mostly like I just want to find enough focus to achieve things I’ve already been thinking about. I’ve said it before, but with 48 only a couple of months from now, and 50 close enough on the horizon that I can see it from where I’m standing, I may be half done. Well, I suppose it’s possible that I’m far more than half done and just don’t know it yet, but assuming good health and remaining accident free, and gentle improvements in medical technology, I may be half done.

There’s stuff to do, important stuff, and as the children grow and spread out, the second half of my life needs to be meaningful in expanded and different ways than the first half.

Some of these need some serious planning, some need some new perspective, some need a lot of work, and some need a lot of thought. Mind, body, spirit. Everything needs to be built and satisfied. Family, career, writing, karate, experience.

Be well, everyone.

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Time of the Season of Ignoring

Time of the Season of Ignoring

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It’s a little strange, but as I get older, I seem to be ignoring the turning of the seasons more and more. Oh, I still notice them. I know when it’s summer and I know when it’s winter, and I know when one it’s either of my two preferred seasons in between those, but the fact that the seasons are happening doesn’t necessarily change anything I have to do. Granting that most of what I have to do is indoors in one way or another, either at work or at home. But even the outside stuff. I just do.

I do recognize the weather, even if I don’t always enjoy it. In my slightly younger days, as a runner, for example, so long as the temperature was above about -15C, regardless of wind chill or precipitation, I’d go for a run. Now, not that I run much anymore, I don’t like to run when it’s just raining a little bit. But the cycle of seasons is just a cycle of seasons, and sometimes I feel quite detached from it. For so much of human history, those seasons, whatever they were and wherever you were, were important, part of the rhythm of life and existence. Now, I mostly don’t care.

There are things to love and enjoy and watch whatever the season and so the season doesn’t seem to matter much to me.

And I wonder if maybe there’s more to it. Have we, mostly meaning me, become too attached to technology? I mean, I love technology, and a lot of it makes my life better in so many ways, although I think there are smarter, more environmentally friendly ways to do a lot of things. Does technology divorce me from that earliest of all clocks?

I’ve been thinking about that, trying to find fresh meaning in the calendar. It may be just a mental exercise, but maybe I’ll find something deeper there, something to enjoy, something to experience. Maybe there’s some genetic memory to uncover, and maybe I’m only thinking about it more because I’m more introspective, more all the time.

Be well, everyone.

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My Son Is Coming Home

My Son Is Coming Home

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So my son is coming home to visit for a week, in theory. We’re thinking about today, driving to the city to pick him up, stopping to visit my parents, his grandparents, on the way back, and then bringing him home for the fall break.

Fall break is different to me, because Queen’s never had one. Reading week in the spring, but there was no fall break. The fall break for Eric isn’t really a reading week either, because it happens actually the week after midterms and, while the vacation after all that hard work is appreciated likely appreciated by the students, it still seems weird to me. I think their spring break is treated the same way. It’s not actually week to study and get ready for midterms but a week to recover from those midterms.

Still, all beside the point. My son is coming home for a week. For seven days, or six probably, because he wants to go back on the Saturday for a party, my family will all be under one roof. A small piece of my world will be right, as normal as possible, because I don’t have a week off, because I still have all of the regular commitments, particularly my still-feeling-new job.

But, unless a whole bunch of his friends are coming home, and reading week/fall break are not the same everywhere even to the schools that have it, and he’s told me that he doesn’t actually see or talk to a lot of people from highschool more except the ones he lives with, but that may change, he’ll mostly be around when I am, which means all three of my kids, even if there ignoring me, will mostly be around when I am. That actually will probably lower my stress level. And I could certainly use a lower stress level right now.

For a week, I’ll be as close as possible to being able to say that everything is right in my world. I think even his sisters are looking forward to the visit since he hasn’t actually been home a lot since he moved to Ottawa in the spring last year.

The shoe is on the other foot now, as the old cliché goes. I remember being his age and being near enough to being completely out of the house, on my own, living my own life. I recognize now at least some of the emotion my parents must have gone through at the time. I want him to explore and discover and live his own life, but I miss him terribly every single day.

For a week, my family will be whole again, not that it isn’t, but it will feel that way for me in a different way. Or maybe I’ll just feel different. Either way, it’s going to be a good week.

Be well, everyone.

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Overthinking. Yeah, that’s me.

Overthinking. Yeah, that’s me.

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I’m frequently accused of overthinking things, and if I’m not, I should be. I don’t see it as a bad thing most of the time, although there are times when it does hold me back from making a decision or confronting something for maybe a little too long. But I think it’s important to continually question your own beliefs and motivations. If you don’t, if you assume that you’ve already arrived at the right conclusion without doing any work to get there, so how will you learn and grow?

And growth is important to me. I want to live the most honest and truthful life that I can, the best life that I can. All of the decisions I’ve ever made have brought me to the point I’m at now. Every time I’ve taken the easy path, it’s led to something that’s more difficult later on, so I need to consider things more deeply.

I didn’t come out of the box this way, however it might seem now. I’m closing in on 48 years old, and I’m still learning about myself, who I am, what I want, what I can and should or should not do.

I am openly, if not necessarily vocally, an atheist. Certain groups of folks will sneer at that, saying it means your life has no purpose because that’s what you believe, right? You may not be surprised to learn I think that’s the wrong way to look at things. Knowing that I have “no meaning, no purpose” forced on me by an external, supernatural force, I have to eventually come to the realization that any meaning or purpose there is to be in my life is something I have to discover and create on my own. If I coast through life, always taking the easy path, what meaning will life have? What purpose will I have created? I’m not interested in reaching the end of my life and looking back on a meaningless existence. Evolution has gifted me with consciousness, with self-awareness, and with an intellect. If I don’t use that, all of it, am I even fully sapient?

So yes, I question my beliefs, I question my motivations, I question my actions. I overthink things. And I look at things after-the-fact to see what I can learn from how they turned out. Am I having an impact on the people around me? On the pieces of society I touch? On the world?

What am I doing to make the world a better place? Will my actions, the story of my life, add up to having been a positive impact on the world, however small, considering I am one of billions? What can I do to make that tiny amount of good larger?

Am I setting a good example?

I want to, but I don’t know that I always am.

Something to work on. Something to think about.

Be well, everyone.

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Out of Habit?

Out of Habit?

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To me, my X-men.

There are a number of things that I wonder if I just do out of habit.

The thing that I’m thinking of this morning is reading X-Men comics. Online subscriptions are a thing, not that I couldn’t get other ways I want to, but I’m getting closer and closer to being caught up to the present. I think, right now, what I’m reading is near the middle of 2017, so I’m not even a year and a half in the past now. It’s taken me a number of years to get from the beginning to here, with easy, essentially unlimited access, and there have been a lot of great stories along the way. That hasn’t always been the case. It isn’t currently the case.

Keep in mind that I’m talking about the X-Men piece of the Marvel universe, specifically.

The 1960s X-Men were, frankly, immature, though fun. After all, it was the early days of superhero comics, so you got a lot of straightforward stories without much twisting us and very rarely dealing with anything beyond surface appearances.

In the 70s, and 80s, the storytelling was bigger, sometimes epic, broader, and mostly better. In small ways, at first, it began to deal with societal issues in ways that viewers of 1960s television would recognize: not very subtly and not very deeply.

In the 90s, things branched out even more. More titles, more frequent, just more. The universe became staggeringly huge, too big for any one person to take care of, to keep up with, to remember everything in. Continuity issues became constant, and those go on into today. Characters disappear only to reappear with a complete overhaul after years of absence and no explanation of what happened to them in between, no justification for why they’ve completely changed or why they hadn’t. Even if they’d been dead.

In the 2000s, the storytelling went downhill, and that continues into the present, too. You get multi-issue story arcs that resolve nothing and don’t even do anything to grow the characters because any character growth that happens disappears again as soon as the next story arc starts.

Honestly, reading the X-Men titles from say the past 10-12 years has been looking for the one good story mixed in with 10 mediocre and 14 crappy ones. I might be misrepresenting the ratios a little bit since mediocre versus crappy tends to matter of taste, but the good story arcs are definitely few and far between.

It really doesn’t seem to me like most the writers actually care about the characters. “I need the character to act this way for the story I want to tell, and I don’t care if it makes no logical sense, or if they would never do that. That’s what the going to do.” Consistency is actually important, folks.

And time compression is worse than soap operas. I’m honestly supposed to believe that the primary characters have gone through the comic events of the last thirty years while aging only a few months.

So if I’m really that unhappy with the state of the X-verse, why am I still reading?

I think it might be out of habit. Reading X-Men comics is something I do, so I read X-Men comics. And I seem to keep reading them no matter how frequently I’m disappointed in the result.

I wonder if that may be part of what keeps me coming back to other things as well. Habit.

Am I allowing myself to become stuck in various ruts?

Is it time to let go of some of them?

Are there things that would be a better use of my time?

That last one, at least, has an easy answer. Yes, there absolutely are. So that leads me into another question: why aren’t I spending my time on those things?

Be well, everyone.

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Perception Is Not Reality

Perception Is Not Reality

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It’s actually a stupid statement, whether you mean it literally or figuratively, but it’s been so often repeated over the last several decades and in so many places that it bears making the point again.

Perception is not reality.

But people do react to their perception, and the picture they built in their heads of you is a reflection of how they perceive you. It’s entirely reasonable to remember that every person you have ever met has a different perception of who you are. That perception can never be based on complete data and always comes coloured with whatever life experience and mental baggage they are bringing to it as well. That’s a piece that most people miss. Who you think I am is in part based on your experience of the world and how that experience has shaped you. And you probably no more know the real me than I know the real you.

And most the time, that doesn’t occur to most of us.

Perception is not reality but people react based on their perception of reality.

I do think it’s reasonable, however, that once you learn of some person or group’s perception of you that you examine that perception. Not so much to find out if you agree with it not, but to examine your actions and motivations to see if that perception might be reasonable in their eyes.

Let’s say your perception of me is that I’m a giant jerk. What if the way I see things is that I’m constantly in a position of having to make quick and concise decisions without the ability to be able to explain those to everyone every time. If I examine that through your eyes, can I see how you might see it that way? Can I then soften my approach?

If your perception is that I’m slow to act and wishy-washy, but my reality is that I’ve strong preference for information gathering and making as informed decision on something as possible, and then, perhaps, changing course when new information becomes available, can I see how you might view me that way? Can I see that you’ll be surprised if I pull you up short and cut you off on something when a decision changes because I’ve got new information?

In either case, I’m not responsible for your perception of me, but in both cases I am responsible for my presentation me.

And let’s muddy the water a little more. Can both of those perceptions result from the same set of actions? If you only see the quick, decisive action, then maybe I come across as a giant jerk. If you only see the slow gathering of information, slow decision, and flip-flop, then maybe I seem slow to act and wishy-washy. If you see some piece of the slow gathering of information and after perception that I’m soft and weak but the decision, when it comes, is quick, decisive, and doesn’t fit with your view, am I both wishy-washy and a giant jerk?

Are both perceptions true at the same time? Is neither? I don’t know. I can’t see inside your head.

Only I know the reality of who I really am. But I can also fool myself, and many people do.

Perception is not reality, but it does matter.

Be well, everyone.

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My Little Car

My Little Car

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So I keep saying that I would like to get at least two more years out of my car. I still feel like that should be possible, but there are days when I wonder.

Fuel efficiency is not quite as good as it was when I got it in the summer of 2017, surprise, but I’ve had a very little in terms of repair work that wasn’t as result something stupid I did. Sure, it has a few little issues here and there—the driver’s side door doesn’t unlock from the outside, and I can’t open the trunk because the cable inside that releases it has snapped—but my little Honda has more than 382,000 km on it. I’m hoping to get to half a million.

But sometimes, like today, it makes noises that concern me. Not a safety perspective but from a perspective of advancing automotive age. It might only be 11 a half years old, but it does have more than 382,000 km on. I think 300,000 is usually considered good for a well-made car. These days, I only put about 400 a week on. And not even always that much. Once in a while, and more often the winter, I take my wife’s much newer car to work, but most of the time it’s mine, and I do drive it on weekends too, so maybe 400 km a week is still a good average. For my previous job, it was more like 750.

But I can see the time coming where it’s no longer a reliable car and that makes me little sad. My little Honda has done really well, and I would like it to continue doing well, for a couple of years yet. At the current mileage usage, it will take me until early 2024 to tick 500,000. That would be kind of cool. My last car was an Acura and only made 408k.

Be well everyone.

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It is time to turn some of my creative energy to satire. I’ve dabbled in it here and there, but never for long and never seriously. There’s nothing wrong with the bit of slacktivism I’ve been doing, sharing memes sizes trying to stir people up here and there and starting or participating in online conversations as I see the need. But I need more, and I feel like, at this point, I have developed a bit of a talent for writing. If the satire only amuses me, that’s fine. If it only preaches to a small choir, that’s fine too. In either of those cases, it’s probably not worth a tremendous amount of time. But if just one person, or more than one person, or whole bunch of people gets irritated at something I satirize, maybe we can actually get some new discussion started about the things that are wrong with our society. At the moment, by our society, I primarily mean Ontario and the bigoted premier we seem to have elected and who seems to want to run the province if it were his own sandbox and with 19th century policies.

Not acceptable.

So, satire.

I feel like I want to start by taking my cue from Piet Hein, one of my favorite poets, famous for short, stabby verses in at least two languages, and starting during World War II. I’m not suggesting Ontario is currently like Nazi occupied Denmark in the early 1940s, but, to my eyes, much as south of the border, there are flavors of it in the wind.

Not in my Ontario.

However, I also have to recognize that live in the Internet age, and probably there are no underground newspapers are going to be willing to publish said satirical poetry. At least nothing with significant distribution. There is, however, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. And I can certainly find unflattering pictures of my targets in the huge public archives and attach my short, stabbing versus to them.

And so I will.

Be well, everyone.

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October 1st

October 1st

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It’s the first of October in the year 2018.

First of a new month. Writing month, business month, calendar month.

It’s breast cancer month. Pink belts at the dojo.

The tenth month of the year, the tenth month of my 48th year, although that really started a couple of days ago. My birthday doesn’t exactly match up with the calendar, but with a birthday on the third last day of the year it gets close.

I am more and more reflective lately.

I’m also more and more exhausted lately.

And I’m more and more angry lately.

The reflective is probably due to being comfortably ensconced in middle-age, and I have to think about all of my choices, all of their effects, and the best path forward to leave things better for my children and grandchildren.

The exhausted is almost entirely due to my job, and I still want to say new job. I’m trying hard to be all things everyone, but there’s so much to catch up on, so much to do, so much that’s been ignored in the past. My wife is being very understanding, and we have had worse working situations during our marriage, but there are limits. If we’re not approaching one, we should be. I need to have a life too and this job is interfering with it too much so far. I think that will change eventually. I just need a few more months to catch up and get even.

And the angry? The angry has a lot of sources, and some of those will tie back into the reflection. What can I do? What can I recently hope to accomplish? How can I make a difference?

There are too many problems, there is too much wrong, and there are too many people with their heads in the sand.

I’m angry because I believe in a Star Trek future, positive, growing, maturing, inclusive. I’m angry because not enough other people seem to believe in that future at the moment. Our society seems to breed selfishness and self-centeredness and a complete lack of respect for other people, other creatures, and the world around us. Fuck them all, only I matter.

How do you fight that? How do you fight the selfishness, self-centeredness, the refusal to see the real world, the bread and circuses?

The problem is, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if I will ever have an answer. But we really, really need one.

Actually, we really, really need a whole lot of answers.

I have a lot of things I think will help, but there’s so much momentum to work against. It’s frustrating that the most I seem to be able to do is set a positive example, because I don’t think it’s nearly enough.

Be well, everyone.

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