If this blog were a band, this post would be it’s self-titled album.

A good friend of mine, Jeremy Ellis, is the unwitting source of the name for my blog. Back in 2012 when I created this space to host my writing, I was living with Jer and two other buddies on Cole Road in Guelph. We were all in the last year of our degrees, and the house got along pretty well (other than one memorable tirade about dishes, that went something like this (definitely NSFW) piece of work from Washington Capital’s coach Bruce Boudreau, but that was an aberration).

One morning, when I asked Jer what he was getting up to that day as he walked out the door, he responded: “Oh, you know. Different sorts of things.” And he left.

That’s quintessential Jer. Short and to the point, didn’t really care that he hadn’t answered the question at all, and most of all, hilarious.

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Later, when I was looking for a name for my new blog, this phrase crossed my mind. As the FAQ section still says, I didn’t really have a specific reason for starting a blog (a theme that continues to this day). So I thought that I’d better title the blog something broad enough to cover whatever I might end up doing in the space. At the same time, I didn’t want to choose something boring and then have to change it down the road. When “Different Sorts of Things” came to mind, I stopped looking – that was the one. At the time, I just thought that it was kind of funny – it reminded me of Jer, and was whimsical enough to adequately fill the space at the top of my new blog.

As time has passed (whoa, 6+ years now…) I’ve given a bit more to “Different Sorts of Things” as a title. And I’m still really glad that I chose it.

I think it does a good job of conveying a part of my personal philosophy – that it is important to be a well-rounded person. To read about, to engage in, and to do different sorts of things (interesting things!). It’s easy to get caught up in what we do for work, in our one favourite hobby or genre of music/movie/TV show, or in reading only the same few publications over and over. Routines are important, but it’s just as important to build variation into that routine.

I think the name also does a good job of not taking itself too seriously. The Roman philosopher Seneca, in the 1st century AD, wrote on the question of “How to live?”, that one should give up the pursuit of wealth or high office, and instead spend one’s days philosophizing. This perspective was brought to my attention in an article in The Guardian (which I listened to on their Long Reads Podcast), discussing the cult of time management, pervasive today around the world. To me, doing different sorts of things represents that philosophizing.

In a global economic climate where there is so much concern for efficiency, productivity, and getting (and staying) ahead, this philosophizing is vital to keeping one foot firmly planted in the reality that all the hustle and bustle of big city life isn’t all that there is to our existence.

So thanks, Jerry, for the inspiration. You’ll call BS when I say this, but you continue to inspire me every day.

Jerry's Cigar Bar and Ellis Burgers in Bruges, Belgium.

This post is the ninth installment in my month-long project, #500in28. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project.

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Recalibrating.

When I started this daily writing project, I had it in my mind that difficulties would spring up along the way. While I had plenty of topics ready to go, and figured that I could pretty easily carve out a half hour per day to write about them (the 28 minutes of writing, plus 2 minutes to grab a snack before starting), I also knew that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park. My mom put it this way: “It’s a great idea, but… why right now?”

My mom was right. I’m now into the second week of the Bachelor of Education program at UOIT, and as such, I have lots of new tasks and routines to get used to. Returning to school for the first time in a while, with the goal of becoming the best teacher I can be, is a lot of work. So she’s right, it maybe isn’t the best time to take on a daily project like this – and looking back over the past 10 days or so, it’s obvious that I haven’t been able to keep to my desired daily schedule.

So this is a mea culpa, of sorts. An admission of the need to recalibrate.

From the outset, the goal of the project was to provide an avenue for self-improvement in the areas of motivation and self-discipline. I am working to develop the routines of a person who wakes up early in the morning, laser-focused on a ever-evolving and curated priority list, working quickly and efficiently to knock off tasks from the top down. I have always known it to be the case that this goal is one that is never truly attained – that striving for efficiency and constant prioritization in life will always be a work-in-progress. However, falling behind with this specific task has demonstrated that truth to me in bold. And it is a clear indication that I still have pleeeennnnty of room for improvement in my two targeted fields.

My point with this short update is to say (of course, to everyone who has been so kind to read my writing thus far, but most importantly, to myself) that this project will continue. Whether it returns to being daily remains to be seen – with the daily goal, I may have stretched myself a bit too far. But I can say that it will continue to be prioritized near the top of my list. Furthermore, I can also say with certainty that it is my intention that the days where I don’t publish only come about due to a surplus of higher priorities, rather than a deficit of motivation and hard work.

The meaning of “#500in28” still stands. I am still aiming to write 500 words in 28 minutes. The dual meaning of twenty-eight (doing so for 28 consecutive days) has now been blowed up good. But I will continue nonetheless.

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UOIT Faculty of Ed.

This post is the eighth installment in my month-long project, #500in28. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project.

This is the second of a series of a few posts on my experiences visiting the historical sites of The Great War in France and Belgium in the summer of 2017. For the first post, please click here.

One piece of information about Vimy that I learned, and that has stuck with me, is the manner in which Canadians prepared for the battle.

Whether from history class, or from a Canadian Heritage minute, most people know about the creeping barrage tactic, whereby the advancing troops were shielded from the view of the Germans by a rolling curtain of artillery fire. The shells hid the soldiers’ movements, and kept the German infantry sheltering in their bunkers and trenches, so that when the barrage suddenly lifted at the synchronized time, the advancing Allied forces were right on top of the sheltering Germans – an advantageous position for an attacker.

However, the information that I referenced in the beginning has to do with the specific preparations for the attack. This Heritage Minute clip does a good job of touching on most of them:

 

 

It references the tunnels that Canadian troops emerged from. These tunnels were part of an extensive and extended campaign of underground warfare, involving the use of mines against enemy targets both above and below ground, and with horrific fighting taking place in the tunnels on occasions when opposing groups of tunnelers dug into each others’ space under ground.

The main point I would like to make when it comes to the tunnels relates to the men who occupied them on the morning of April 9th, 1917. Overnight, thousands of soldiers sat in the cold, damp, dark silence, waiting for the explosion of the thousands of pounds of explosive mines buried underground that would destroy German positions, create advantageous craters and trenches on the surface, and most importantly signify the commencement of the attack.

Later this summer, after returning to Canada, we went with my mom and my brother to see the Soulpepper production, VIMY. The story is incredible, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in Canadian history. The moment from the show that struck me most intensely was the moment where the soldiers are waiting, about to attack. They’re waiting for the mines to blow, for the artillery to let it rip, and to emerge from the tunnels to traverse no-man’s-land.

Up until this moment, the production had portrayed the soldiers as champing at the bit to get involved in the war. But VIMY so poignantly made clear that in the lull before the attack, some of the men must have begun to wonder whether the impending battle would be as glorious as they’d hoped.

Knowing how their story ends, even knowing that this battle was one of the best outcomes for the Allies in the entire war, is still to know that thousands of men would have their lives altered forever. Even those who escaped with no physical harm done would forever remember their friends and fellow soldiers who hadn’t been so lucky.

In the moment in VIMY where the battle is about to begin, I honestly started to cry and thought to myself – what if we could go back and just call it all off?

 

This post is the seventh installment in my month-long project, #500in28. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project.

This week, I will be writing about Vimy Ridge.

In June of this year, I had the good fortune of being able to visit the fabled French locale. For my girlfriend and I, it was part of a 2-month trip that took us from India and Nepal to Western Europe. The several days that we (along with her mom and her mom’s partner) spent in Belgium and France are what I’d like to talk about, and in doing so I will be using Vimy and the Battle of Vimy Ridge as a focus and jumping off point.

Prior to the planning of this trip, I knew about Vimy through the same means and lens that I suspect most Canadians do. Grade 10 history class, Remembrance Day speeches, Canadian Heritage Minutes, and CBC Documentaries. I’d been taught, like most of us, that Vimy was a foundational moment – perhaps the foundational moment – for Canada. The moment that we graduated from colony to country. In some ways, this is true. However, in doing some research and preparing for this trip, I gained an incredible appreciation for the breadth and depth of this long Canadian moment.

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“The Spirit of Sacrifice”

Off the top, I have to say that it is true that the Canadians were the ones who were able to take the ridge, following a multitude of previous attempts from the French, British, and Allies. As an indication of how instrumental Canadians were to the capture of the ridge, 250 acres of land on top of the ridge was ceded to Canada, and thus the territory is now Canadian land. This is one of two sites that were given such treatment by the French – I will discuss the other later this week.

In this discussion of some other aspects of Vimy, I do not mean to diminish the contributions of Canada to the War effort. Nor do I mean to attack any person or institution that touts the bravery and ingenuity of the Canadians at Vimy as central to their identity. My great-grandfather fought, and was wounded, at Vimy. I am grateful that he returned to Canada (as without that, the three most-recent generations of my family would never have existed), and ever-mindful of the sacrifice of so many. The sacrifice of those who lived a more-difficult life after having experienced the horrors of war, and the ultimate sacrifice of those who never even got the chance to do so. In discussing Vimy, I simply mean to bring up some of the subtleties about which I learned while there.

The main source of this deeper understanding was an excellent episode of Paul Kennedy’s “Ideas” on CBC Radio, entitled “Vimy at 100: Myth vs. Reality”. In the episode, historian Tim Cook discusses the historical evolution of the manner in which Vimy has been presented to Canadians and used to manipulate the passions of citizens. One example of the changing profile of Vimy in the minds of Canadians is the simple fact that the dramatic and stunning memorial monument that stands atop the ridge was originally meant to be built elsewhere. In the immediate years following the War, Vimy was not necessarily thought of as a place of such importance that it begged for a beautiful piece of art.

The other big point that made an impression on me was that once the ridge was won, the Battle of Arras of which it was a part continued on. And on. And on. This story was brand new to me. I had previously thought that this had been a win, full stop. But the Ridge was simply one objective in a long and bitter advance – a trait typical of most battles in The Great War. While this does not diminish the achievement of the objective, it does provide greater context to the overall horrific meaninglessness that soldiers may have felt while endlessly advancing into enemy fire.

That wraps things up for this week. I look forward to delving further into Vimy in the coming days.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

 

This post is the sixth installment in my month-long project, “500 in 28”. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project #500in28.

The following is a passage from an essay that I wrote for a first year history course at the University of Guelph:


The atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 essentially ended World War Two. The total casualties from the two bombings added up to over 200,000 (most of which were civilians).[1] Arguments persist today as to whether or not dropping the bombs was necessary in order to end the war. The truth is, that the use of atomic weapons on the state of Japan brought a direct end to a brutal war that had already claimed approximately 50 million lives.[2] While it is entirely true that the destruction following the bombings was truly horrific, and also that 200,000 people died a truly horrendous death, the outcome of the bombings was far better in the long run than continuing the war would have been.

By no means was the destruction of the two cities considered to be a great military success. It is not regarded today as a proud moment in American history. However at the time that it occurred, dropping the bombs appeared as the lesser of two evils. The choices in 1945 were either to force a Japanese surrender through the use of the nuclear weapons, or to launch an invasion on Japan. Neither choice was desirable, however the estimates indicated that an invasion would not be the correct route to follow:

A study done in August 1944 for the Joint Chiefs of Staff projected that an invasion of Japan would “cost a half-million American lives and many more that number in wounded,” while a memorandum from Herbert Hoover to President Truman in May 1945 estimated that a negotiated peace with Japan would “save 500,000 to one million lives.” There is every reason to believe that such round, frightening numbers lingered in the minds of Truman and Stimson long after they were first received, and that they haunted all future deliberations.”[3]

The numbers given in the study far exceeded even the highest estimate for casualties in the two cities as a result of the bombing. Given these numbers, it is easy to see that many human lives (not only on the American side, but also on the Japanese side) were saved as a result.

[1] Michael S. Sherry “Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Atomic Bombing of” The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Guelph. 16 November 2007 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e0698&gt;
[2] J. Garry Clifford, John W. Jeffries “World War II” The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Guelph. 16 November 2007 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e1688-s0004&gt;
[3] Kagan, Donald. “Why America dropped the bomb.” Commentary 100.n3 (Sept 1995): 17(7). CPI.Q (Canadian Periodicals). Gale. University of Guelph. 15 Nov. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=CPI&gt;.

It is interesting, every once in a while, to go back and look at some of the work you’ve done in your life – from kindergarten finger painting, to grade 6 poems, to university papers. Charting the evolution of your own education is a cool thing to be able to do through reading.

I take a few points away from this passage above:

  1. I seemed to have a relatively realistic view of war and its horrors, even at a time when I hadn’t seriously considered the ravages of war, nor visited anywhere beyond the Plains of Abraham that any significant battle had been fought.
  2. I wasn’t nearly as critical then as I was today – which is something that I definitely learned over the next 4 years of university. Today, I would never argue that the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was good because it saved Japanese lives in the big picture. I would also today give them separate treatment, as they were distinct events that occurred several days apart.
  3. Overall, the passage serves as a stark reminder of what is at stake when the world peace we have largely enjoyed since 1945 seems to teeter on the edge of a knife or on the twitter handle of a world leader – nuclear warfare is not something to play political football with, and those who speak lightly of it show their lack of true understanding. For those looking for another reminder of this very seriousness, I urge you to get out to see Dunkirk – an incredible film on this very topic.

Thanks for reading – I promise that I will return tomorrow with more content that is both a) fully original, and b) a little lighter and more accessible/engaging than parliamentary democracy and nuclear warfare (haha!).

Good night to all!

This post is the fifth installment in my month-long project, “500 in 28”. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project. #500in28

For about two years after I moved back to Toronto after a brief western adventure in British Columbia, I tried my hardest to put my Political Science degree to good use. I got involved with municipal politics by volunteering with my local city councillor, some Toronto-based and Toronto-centric NGOs, as well as both the federal and provincial branches of the Liberal party.

I learned a lot in that time, in many different areas. One of the most important things that I learned for my own purpose, was that at this point in time involvement in policy and politics isn’t for me. And tonight I’d like to elaborate on one of the reasons why.

In the (fantastic) book “Tragedy in the Commons“, by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, one aspect that they discuss when it comes to the deficiencies of our parliamentary political system is that our Members of Parliament do not have specific job descriptions. As such, they are free to create their own. This can result in socially beneficial outcomes, if the MP is both self-motivated to create positive change and empowered by his or her party to do so. However, in cases where one (or, often, both) of those conditions are absent, the MP can meander into conducting their job in ways that might be best suited for other members of the Public Service of Canada.

One thing that MP’s often wind up doing is serving as navigators of the bureaucracy on behalf of their constituents. Working in a politician’s office, whether in Ottawa or back in their home riding, staffers regularly get calls from citizens asking for help with their passport / their aunt’s immigration process / their annoying neighbour with the dog / whatever other issue, big or small, is bothering them that day. And I am not here to criticize those callers – it is their prerogative to call their elected representatives for assistance when they see fit. That being said, my take on the issue (as well as that of Loat and MacMillan – if my memory serves me correctly, considering it’s been a couple years since I gave their book a thorough read) is that our MPs should spend their time passing legislation and reducing regulation to improve the flow of the bureaucracy for everyone – not using their insider knowledge to assist those who should happen to call them for help.

The current situation leads to our highly-compensated representatives spending their time and their office’s budget on solving pesky day to day problems, rather than working on the societal big picture. It also allows for unequal access to government services. If I can skip a line or two by calling my MP to pull some strings, I’m going to do that every time. But if not everyone knows that, then I am at an unequal disadvantage. Which is unfair and counter to the very ideal of our democratic system.

There are tons of reasons that this cycle continues. The main reasons being that: a) most who run for office genuinely want to help people, b) assisting these people creates a positive association with the politician that will then lead them to be more likely to vote to re-elect them at the next election, and c) that so many of these bureaucratic processes are genuinely overtly complex and would be difficult to streamline, even if a competent and motivated team of MP’s took the issue on.

I encourage you to check out the book for a thorough and engaging look at these issues. Alison and Michael offer some compelling suggestions for change as well, and knowing that organizations like Samara (their NGO) are pushing for these types of reforms is reassuring to me as a Canadian.

To sum up, I want to quickly touch on the title of this post, which exemplifies how much this process is amplified, and to be frank, much much worse, at the municipal level.

While volunteering with a Toronto councillor, I spent plenty of hours working the front desk in his office, dealing with reams and reams of emails as well as dozens of daily phone calls. It’s a tough job – taking the call, listening to the complaint/concern (and sure, the occaaaaaasional compliment), and deciding how high of a priority it should be assigned. Some issues were ones that the councillor shouldn’t even be dealing with (other jurisdictions of government, issues for a condo board, or simply something that the person just has to figure out for themselves in their daily life). But some issues were clearly coming from someone who has been infuriate with the bureaucratic run-around that dealing with city entails.

Examples that I can think of off the top of my head include:

  • Someone who’s lawn was torn up to replace a fire hydrant, and was now being told that they had to pay for re-sodding because it wasn’t the city’s fault the grass didn’t re-grow.
  • Somebody who had a nice tree on their boulevard that had been there for years, and all of the sudden they woke up one morning to a work crew cutting it down. They were told that technically the boulevard is city property (despite the fact that they’d been mowing the lawn on it for years, and had cared for the tree all that time as well), and were calling the office to complain that they’d lost such a valuable natural asset to their property.

These are just two, but you get the idea.

The city councillor is the ultimate navigator and tour guide of the city bureaucracy. Now that I know that a councillor can help my with basically any issue from A-Z, I don’t hesitate to call. However, it shouldn’t be this way. A call to 311 or a form on Toronto.ca should be able to engage the power of the thousands and thousands of city employees, spread over dozens of departments, to fix the problem and make our city a better place to live. But so often it doesn’t: complaints get bounced around from department, the proper person is on vacation, it’s technically not our problem in the first place, and all of the sudden you call back and WHOOPS, that case # has been closed with seemingly no real attempt at a true fix. So either the process starts again, or you just give up.

All of this is to say that, of course, building and maintaining a world class city is difficult. I’m not saying that there aren’t thousands of people working hard and trying their best. But when politicians talk about cutting red tape and upping the efficiency of the public sector, I really do get it. And so long as they’re not using that type of talk to disguise their true intention (to reduce environmental standards, funnel more money to the private sector, etc.), then I’m fully on board.

Thanks for bearing with me on this journey of wonk-ish politics-speak – tomorrow I’ll try to come back with something a bit lighter ;).

And thanks, as always, for reading.

This post is the fourth installment in my month-long project, “500 in 28”. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project. #500in28

For part 2 of this story, click here.

Between the time when I was on Metro Morning, July 4th, and the time when (spoiler alert!) I would eventually get to the island, I had a bunch of other things to do. I was working with my girlfriend (Sabina)’s brother Benji at the time, painting houses, and also had a 3-week trip to Nova Scotia planned to visit my family and grandparents shoehorned in as well. So I knew that it was going to be tough.

But there’s a bit of a side-story that really opens up the perspective on how and why I ended up fulfilling my promise to Mr. Galloway. So let’s travel down that avenue!

I’ve been struggling on and off with concussion symptoms for the past few years, after suffering several concussions playing rec sports. It has unfortunately come to the point where I can no longer play hockey, or any other sport where there is a potential for even moderate head contact. After a long process of coming to grips with the fact that I could no longer get the competitive juices flowing out on the ice, thinking about the other athletic pursuits that I’ve previously enjoyed, I came around to triathlons as a new vehicle for achieving a feeling of self-motivation and success. I have to thank Brandon, a great guy from Edmonton that I met on our recent trip to Nepal (which I will certainly be writing about later on this month), for the inspiration here. Brandon is an impressive triathlete in his own right, and talking to him while hiking in the Himalaya about how he got involved in the sport inspired me to explore this new athletic challenge.

So, since returning from Nepal in June, I’d been looking for a triathlon to sign up for. And as it turned out, I had a family connection to a triathlon series that had a race on Toronto island in late August! Tim, my girlfriend Sabina’s mom’s boyfriend (how’s that for a mouthful, eh?) tipped me off to Multisport Canada, an organization that puts on a fantastic triathlon series every year. And he graciously arranged for me to be entered into the Toronto Island Sprint triathlon, a 750m swim / 20km bike / 5km run event on the morning of August 20th (thanks so much John!). My brother was also entered into the race, so it was a bonus to have a built-in training buddy who lived only 15 minutes away (and equidistant to our nearest city pool).

I trained over the month and a half leading up to the race, trying to balance my desire to do my best with the understanding that, as my first race, I should be sure to limit expectations and treat it as an exploratory attempt. As the race weekend approached, I found myself having to continually remind myself that I was doing this for fun, and that I shouldn’t worry about my result.

The race morning arrived, and I biked down to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal for 6:15 am on the Sunday, to meet my brother Jeremy to pick up our race kits, get our race numbers sharpied onto our arms and legs, and get on the ferry over to the island to get set for the 8 am start time.

I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the race (though if you want to scrutineer my results, you can find them here), but I will say that it was an incredible event. I had some moments of panic out in the waves of the open water swim, but once I got over those nerves, it was pretty smooth sailing. I finished strong with the swim, and moved on to the bike and the run, the two disciplines that I knew I would excel in (since they were the two with which I had the most experience). A small hiccup with fueling – taking too much water and energy gel in close proximity to having to run – notwithstanding, it was a perfect day, and I crossed the finish line content with my performance and happy to have experienced the entirety of Toronto Island for the first time in such a dynamic and unorthodox way.

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Photo by the wonderful, lovely, and doting Sabina Staempfli, who sacrificed her Sunday morning to encourage Jeremy and I through the bike and the run.

To conclude (and at this point I feel the need to point out that if it weren’t for my self-imposed 500 word guideline and 28 minute writing limit, I would say plenty more), it was a great day, and a confirmation that triathlon is a sport that I see a future in.

Not to mention a self-admonishment that I was a fool for waiting this long to visit Toronto Island.

This post is the third installment in my project, “500 in 28”. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project.