Ontario Covid Update – Jan 12

January 12th, 2021 by Potato

Ontario provided its updated figures and modelling for covid today. The slides are available here if you want to look at the data without squinting at the video.

It’s not all that unexpected — I was sketching vaguely similar curves and worried about what an even more contagious version might do. But hearing it made real was just crushing. Covid’s on track to challenge heart disease and cancer for the top cause of death in Ontario this year (and will make the top 10 easy). And the strain on the hospital system is delaying treatments (esp. surgeries) which will make those other conditions worse.

But the big, not entirely surprising bad news is the hospital system and ICU beds: we’re just about out of empty ones, and the curve is still rapidly going up and to the right. Surgeries are being cancelled (again), and we’re not far off from very painful decisions about what happens if there’s a car accident.

One thing that’s crushing is that we were so close to getting to zero in the summer, and just opened back up a few weeks too early, without the testing and tracing capabilities ready. Still, the cases were low, everyone had stocked up on masks, and I genuinely thought we could get back to normal-ish with masks, handwashing, and social distancing*. I signed up for curling, expecting we would get a season, esp. with the modified rules of play (everyone wears masks, and things like using one sweeper to maintain 2 m between players at all times) — I had my mask rotation all planned out, and even got contact lenses so my glasses wouldn’t fog up. Schools reopened, and we kind of talked about how important that was for parents to be able to go back to work.

Then the cases started rising in the fall, and we did nothing about it until we’re now finding the hospital capacity getting crushed again. More people are going to lose their dads and other loved ones to cancer because surgeries had to get postponed, again.

I’m depressed and angry and just crushed at the whole thing.

I’m also a touch confused. They showed some data about how many people were moving around — people going to work has stayed steady since the summer, even as Toronto, Peel, and York went into lockdown (code red or grey or whatever). How there was a big spike in people visiting other residences at Christmas (to the surprise of no one). But I haven’t heard much on contact tracing and explaining what’s behind all the transmission. Are masks and handwashing and social distancing working, but some people aren’t compliant, and it’s that movement that’s the problem? Is it schools or workplaces or superspreader weddings? A little bit of everything adding up?

For most of those questions there isn’t much I can do on a personal level. I’ve tried to cut out contact with the outside world as much as possible, stretching out the time between grocery trips to two weeks or so, and our social circle is a completely closed bubble of 5 people. Wayfare has been making homemade masks since the beginning, and she did a lot of research on the best patterns and designs. They’re 3 layers, with two layers of regular (cotton?) fabric sandwiched around a layer of non-woven interface material. They have metal strips to conform to the nose (important to minimize glasses fogging and get the air moving through the material for filtering and not around the material), and straps to tie tightly around the head, which keeps it pretty well sealed all the way around the face. Though she made a few models with noses or cone shapes or whatever, I wear the basic pleated rectangle ones, so there’s no tiny holes from stitching a seam right in front of your nose. I’m sure they’re a step up from disposable surgical masks, even after a few washes. And I’m very good about wearing it whenever I’m indoors (or with another person outside — though I don’t wear one on solo walks).

However, are cloth masks enough, especially with the new B117 variant? Should we all (but especially should I) be wearing a N95-equivalent to go grocery shopping?

* – Circling back around to add: I thought the masks, distancing, etc. precautions would be good enough to get r < 1 so life could return to more-or-less normal. It doesn’t look like those were sufficient in practice (whether it’s non-compliance or whatever is a bit of a moot point as we will have non-compliance, esp. as covid fatigue sets in). We are a long, long way from Covid-zero (and we were really close in the summer!), but that may be the only strategy that lets us avoid the hammer and the dance through the fall based on the current vaccine roll-out projections.

The 2020 Dumpster Fire

January 4th, 2021 by Potato

Phew, 2020’s over (or almost over, as Scalzi makes a good point about the calendar not truly representing the essence of 2020).

What a dumpster fire of a year. I had huge plans going into the year: I was taking time off work to take care of my dad, which was going to leave me with so much free time to update the blog (not just post more, but re-brand or whatever), write a book or two or three… and just none of that happened. I didn’t even play any cool video games, as my brain seemed stuck in neutral and was just fine playing the classics again and again.

And speaking of the old brain working at half speed, I already whined about this. I said back in September that I thought I was doing a bit better. And I suppose that’s true, though I didn’t make much progress on the side quests. I started working the day job again in October, and that seems to be about my limit. I’m working from home (global pandemic and a non-essential worker whose usual desk is in a hospital hell yeah I’m working from home), which means I’m saving a good two, two-and-a-half hours every day on my horrific commute, so a small part of myself keeps saying I should have time to edit that podcast episode and actually release it, or write a book chapter, or get something done… but that’s not the proper baseline. I suppose my brain is doing a bit better than the middle part of 2020 if I can manage to not get fired, but that’s about all I’ve got right now.

Anyway, it’s over. I missed all the goals for 2020, time to feel sorry for myself. And most of what I wanted to accomplish was not physically impeded by the pandemic (or dad’s death), so the only excuse that provides is that I was sad and mopey.

But that’s hyperbole. (Fitting as the expression originated with Hyperbole and a Half) I mean, I fell way, way short of what I wanted for 2020: gaining back weight, making no progress on the books, etc., etc. But way short is not nothing.

After procrastinating for an embarrassingly long time (esp. as a personal finance guy), I finally wrote an updated will to include instructions for what should happen with my kid (and she’s only 8 so I procrastinated for less than a decade — victory!). Part of the issue was getting both parents to a lawyer in meatspace — a surely insurmountable problem that neither of us had the motivation or time to deal with at the same time. For 8 years running. Finally I decided to use an online service (I used legalwills.ca but I’m sure Willful works too if you have also been procrastinating). So hey, that’s done.

I updated the CPP calculator for 2021’s numbers (which I didn’t manage to do for 2020’s YMPE).

I think I have my dad’s estate mostly handled (there’s still the Smart car to sell, and one account left to close, plus all the tax filing — but mostly). [PS: anyone looking for a 2016 Smart Fortwo that’s been sitting in a garage for a year and a half?]

And I started learning to play the ukulele. That’s a big step because I’m not the least bit musical. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and often lose time clapping along to a song. Wayfare still stares in amazement when I practice: “It’s like watching a dog talk. It’s not something you ever expected to see.” So I guess that’s progress of some sort? I also put Duolingo on my phone and have been practicing my French (with a 253-day streak as of this posting!)

The big book idea was tentatively titled the Personal Finance Mission Binder and it was all about planning — especially around emergency funds and various disasters. It had a chapter on “Rules for Freaking Out” in the detailed outline (which was all pre-pandemic), which may have been handy to have finished earlier this spring (though who really knows, it may have been terrible). Even though I did absolutely nothing for it this year and missed out on the best possible timing for a book on that topic, I can cross it off my list now! Because after this nobody’s going to need a book on emergency funds or preparedness (and I’ll bet that 10 other authors are going to be inspired to write one).

And one thing I hadn’t actually had on my to-do list but wanted for a long time was to get another pet. My cat was a magical one, who didn’t set off Blueberry or Wayfare’s allergies, and we weren’t sure we’d ever find another like that. They seem to be less allergic to dogs, but dogs are work (one benefit of the pandemic is that all the good boys have found homes, but makes it hard for us to find a pet). Then Wayfare managed to find a cat who was looking for a new home. She was looking hard in the background and keeping it a total secret from me, and got ghosted a few times along the way. So just two days before Potatomas, this little big guy moved in, which is a pretty good way to end the year and start the new one:

Siberian - Neva Masquerade cat in front of a Potatomas tree

I could start listing all the things I wanted to do and didn’t, all the terrible disasters of the year, the mismanagement of the pandemic, the things still on my whiteboard and getting a real good depressive funk going. Instead, I’ll just say that this was a real dumpster fire of a year, and I’ll console myself with knowing that I got just a little bit more than nothing done.

It was also a very weird year for the passage of time. At times it’s felt like March 233rd, with a kind of sameiness to the days that comes from making no progress on any projects and staying inside all the time. But time also seemed to fly by — I’d blink and it would be a week later (usually when thinking I might get X done by Y, only to find Y came and went without any noticeable progress on X). I can’t believe it’s already 2021.

I haven’t set any specific goals or resolutions for 2021 — starting from where we are, I just want to survive the damned year.

Though I suppose I can copy-paste a part of my 2020 list as a start:

  • Write a book: Personal Finance Mission Binder Oh right, off the list because who needs that book now?
  • Write a book: untitled kid’s book based on the bedtime story I told Blueberry that one time in the car
  • Update a book: do a 3rd edition of the Value of Simple now that all-in-one funds are in the market and Tangerine has finally released their new lower-cost funds
  • Create a new stand-alone site for the directory of fee-only planners.
  • Get the band back together (which starts with me actually editing the episodes that are in the can, the can being my harddrive)
  • Try to take over the world
  • Get back in shape

That last one has proven hard. The “quarantine 15” snuck up on me gradually, then suddenly it was the “quarantine 19” which was fine because the rhyming structure was still there, but then it became the “quarantine I’m too afraid to step on the scale whoops now there’s something blocking the scale guess I won’t know until I move that thing in the spring” which doesn’t seem healthy. I know how I lost the weight the first time, but sticking to the plan has been a lot harder — partly because it’s harder to get the exercise in regularly, and partly because sticking to the diet has taken emotional energy I just don’t have most days. I’m still afraid to step on the scale, though I’m fairly certain I have managed to at least arrest the rise. I got Ring Fit Adventure for the Switch, which is providing a way to get some exercise in even if I don’t leave the house.

Anyway, farewell to a terrible year for nearly everyone. Be kind to yourselves looking back on what you may or may not have accomplished with your time — even if it felt like you should have had done more but did less. I know it’s hard for me to look back and not berate myself for wasting so much time, but that was 2020 for you.

State of the Potato

September 12th, 2020 by Potato

I’m not sure if I have any readers any more, with months elapsing between posts.

So before throwing up a few posts, perhaps a personal catch-up on where I’ve been.

As you may remember, my dad’s cancer came back last summer. He passed away at the end of May, and my siblings and I are the executors of the estate (though I’ve been taking the lead).

So it’s basically just the worst year ever. Estate administration sucks — there’s a fair bit of bureaucracy to wade through, and it’s simultaneously incredibly emotionally draining. There always seem to be new surprising challenges and things to deal with, so I can’t even say how close I am to being done with everything. Oh, and there’s covid, and there’s been no school for Blueberry since March.

There were also a lot of whip-saws this year. Dad’s health was really bad around Christmas, and we started to talk about death and get sad and stuff. But then we found out he had a weird, super-severe magnesium deficiency. Whatever was happening in his gut wouldn’t let him absorb enough to fix it even with max supplementation, but we were able to arrange for in-home IV infusions after the first few visits to the hospitals. Once those Mg levels came back up, he was up and feeling great. He visited the cottage again — all on his own! He was going to give me a new car, and pay for Blueberry and I to take a little Disney vacation, ’cause he didn’t need us to hang around the city and take care of him. Then covid hit and the market crashed and he wasn’t feeling good (and there wasn’t travel any way) and all that is off the table. His health and mood spiraled down again, and it was just generally terrible.

We had a year to prepare and get ready and I saw it somewhere else and it’s stuck with me — you can be prepared, but you can never be ready.

I’ve also had a whip-saw on my own health and diet progress. I was back to my target weight in the winter, and doing great at curling. Our team won our division in the centennial bonspiel! Our Mixed Doubles team made it to the A division, and we technically beat the provincial champions! (and by that deliberate “technically” you know that they defaulted but nonetheless we’re literally in the same league as the provincial champions even if we’re at the bottom of that league) I was making plans to keep up the positive momentum through the summer (“plans” in this case consisting of scrawling “sign up for tennis” on my whiteboard, but that counts!). Then covid hit and everything shut down. Spring was super-delayed, and it wasn’t nice weather to go for a walk (not that I had anywhere to go), and of course dad’s progress and death. So emotional eating was back on the table. And I gained the full “quarantine 15”. I’ve been out every day in August for a walk or bike ride (or done an indoor workout) but I’m still just flattening the curve as I’ve had more trouble getting a handle on the input side of the equation.

I had so many plans for this year. I didn’t think taking care of dad would take every moment of the day — most days I left him in time to pick Blueberry up from school (when there was school), and even on days when I stayed later he was often out of energy and in bed before 7. I thought I’d get so much done while I was off work: I had 3 book ideas kicking around, and all my websites are in need of some facelifts and functionality updates. Instead I’m over here barely coping with daily existence. I couldn’t even get my brain in gear to write a blog post or hell, even play a challenging video game. I’ve had a number of FTL runs and played some MOO2 and StarCraft: Brood War, but nothing new (even though I have some unplayed games in my Steam library just waiting for a quarantine). I have 64 un-answered emails in my inbox (if you’re waiting on a response, it’s probably because I couldn’t get into the head space to write one, and then fell into the guilt spiral of responding to a week/month/3-month-old email).

But now I think I’m doing a bit better, I am getting a post up, and I feel like I’m on the upswing from the depths of grief and depression at least.

Curling Headgear Update

January 24th, 2020 by Potato

After almost two full seasons with my protective headgear for curling, I thought I’d provide a quick update.

Firstly, there have been too many falls and close calls at our club, which reinforces the idea that it’s worth putting something on your head. One of my leads fell in practice, got a concussion, and has to sit out for several weeks (he’s still out of the game as I write this). Just last week, another experienced player fell in a game and paramedics were called (though it looked like she might have hit her head on the ice at the time of the fall, thankfully it was “frame damage” with a sore tailbone being the main complaint).

More and more people out there are wearing something on their heads, whether it’s a bike helmet, curling helmet, or hat with protective elements (and I know I’ve managed to convince at least a handful of curlers to buy a Crasche or Ice Halo). I think we’re moving from the “early adopter” phase to the “mass adoption” phase — it’s no longer remotely strange to choose to wear something protective while you play, and I’d estimate that 20% or more of the adult curlers (and essentially all the kids) at our club are now sporting protection. While I don’t have appreciable hair myself, I am told that it’s exciting that Ice Halo now offers a hat with a ponytail hole.

I’m still wearing all my options in various rotations. It didn’t take long to get over myself and wear the headband-style ones without feeling any sense of fashion awkwardness. Indeed, the Ice Halo HD is the one I most commonly wear, particularly when I play mixed doubles (where I feel I have the greatest chance of a slip as I jump up after throwing to sweep). I also exclusively wear it when I volunteer with the Little Rocks, in that case I want my head protection to be obvious and not hidden within a hat so that I can be a good role model for the kids. Blueberry for her part wears a hockey helmet to Little Rocks.

I’ve found that the Ice Halo HD band has really settled in — I can position it nicely so it doesn’t interfere with my glasses, and the elastic has stretched out a touch so it’s more comfortable and sits in the right spot (without being loose — I’m not afraid it will fall off my head when I really need it). After a month or two (~6-8 games with it?) I no longer had to keep adjusting it from getting too tight.

When I skip in 4-person curling, I tend to go with one of my hat options. I like the Crasche Curler touque because it’s a little warmer and I get cold when I’m just holding the broom, and go for it a bit more than half the time. Unfortunately, while I’ve gotten used to it and figured out how to position it a bit better, it does still catch the arms of my glasses a few times per game, and sometimes will creep up out of position. I only tried it once with only the rear set of pads, and didn’t think it helped much, so I’ve still been using it as delivered. The Ice Halo ball cap is quite comfortable now (though I sometimes still get a mark on my forehead from the snugness, I don’t feel any discomfort when wearing it), and great when I think I don’t want to be warm, as it breathes better than the Crasche. I tend to go for the ballcap or Ice Halo HD when I play a position that involves sweeping on 4-person curling.

When I go to spiels (i.e., play multiple games in a day), I take two of my options with me, because if I get a little sweaty it’s good to have the option to rotate out and let one dry between games.

Never Weight — Q3-19 Update

October 1st, 2019 by Potato

Another quarter where I put back on ~3 lbs. The actual experience was even more up-and-down: I spent a lot of time visiting hospitals and stressed so even holding the line was hard. I went on to vacation to PEI, and decided not to worry or track, and managed to pack on almost 4 lbs in 2 weeks on my ice cream diet. Then started getting back on track for a week or two, only to be hit with a big deadline and a week of late nights and a few all-nighters, and put 2 lbs back on again, then started losing again. So crept up a tiny bit slowly, shot up 6 lbs, then lost ~4. So I did the opposite of my goal from last quarter.

I also discovered a really dumb source of the creep part of that phase: I was aiming for balance rather than a deficit. I was sticking to my habit of chewing gum as a replacement for my habit of snacking, but not paying attention to the gum. There was a big sale on Juicy Fruit, so I stocked up. Like, 80 packs over 4 trips to the store stocked up. Aaaand as it turns out, Juicy Fruit is not a sugar-free gum. I was getting ~150-200 calories/day from my gum chewing, which works out to be about the unexplained creep I was finding.

Just a few weeks ago, FitBit decided they didn’t want my business and blew up their app. It started crashing, and taking minutes to log food, if it even would. I had to reset my phone multiple times per day, and they were releasing a new bugfix version every day that just wouldn’t solve the issue — and added a big battery drain and a lost connection to my tracker to boot. Despite many direct bug reports, and many people in various forums complaining about how the latest version was just plain broken, FitBit never seemed to think to just roll the app back until they could fix whatever they were trying to do in the new version. I found instructions online for how to roll back to a previous version (IIRC 5.3 seemed stable if you’re having the same issues), but rather than mess around with that, I ended up switching to Samsung Health.

It has the same core functionality, with a few pros and cons over FitBit. It’s fast and responsive — FitBit was never that fast to search, and often had a bug where it would revert whatever you put in for servings 3 or 4 times before finally taking it. However, Samsung is very inflexible about how you tell it how much you’re eating: servings or bust. FitBit made it really easy to measure your intake: cups or grams, servings or slices or fractions of a whole cake/pizza with a little drop-down. Samsung also puts your calories burned in a separate screen from your calories consumed, making it a bit hard to see how you’re doing on your budget — I really liked how FitBit had them on one screen, with your desired deficit goal included so you could see right away if you on track for the day or not (and with the past week’s data right there too, not another screen away).

My Dad got me an early birthday present in the form of a Samsung smart watch (Active 2 40mm if you’re curious) to replace my FitBit for activity tracking. I like it, though for such a fancy piece of kit it’s kind of ridiculous to me that you can’t customize some things (or they’re too hard for me to figure out). There’s a huge variety of watch faces, and you can choose a variety of data points to display (from heart rate and steps to weather, other time zones, or alerts from apps) in various places in the watch face. You can fine-tune the colours and the background. But I can’t choose 12 or 24-hour clocks, or whether to hide the leading 0 for single-digit hours. The 12/24hr thing might be secretly linked to how the host phone displays time, but the leading 0 definitely isn’t. And I can’t choose to make the font size of the seconds smaller than the hours:minutes unless that happens to be designed into a particular clock face.

Anyway, fall is here, which will bring with it leaf-raking, curling, and only two more weeks of grant season, so I know this next quarter is going to go better!

Of course, fall also brings Thanksgiving. And Birthday. Hamerican Thanskgiving. Potatomas.


November Halloween candy sales.

And I have a house full of Girl Guide cookies that I really hope my little marketing whiz will sell to someone who is not me. But until then, there they are…

Gulp. I should probably up the motivation with some kind of commitment mechanism. Let me sleep on that.