Words for feelings

Danish lessons continue here, where I’m learning about Mette’s new boyfriend, and how difficult men are to buy presents for.

“Mænd bliver aldrig glade for sko,” imparts her friend, after she suggests that she might get him some new shoes. This means, “Men are never happy for new shoes.”

“I just don’t understand him”, says Mette, or “Jeg forstår ham bare ikke.”

“How can one walk in the same shoes for years without getting tired of them?” which is “Hvordan kan man gå rundt i de samme sko i årevis uden at blive træt af dem?”

Yes indeed, Mette, I feel your pain. Men are difficult to get presents for. While I was learning these new words, I started thinking about how languages evolve and how vague concepts become concrete, known phenomena when we invent words for them. Like, you know that feeling when you’re in a cheap motel? Like maybe you were on your way someplace more interesting, on your way to an adventure or to meet with friends or just go home, but you got caught by the rain. Or the ferry was full. Or you had been driving for 14 hours straight and your head started to nod, then you came awake with an snap, still in your lane and driving straight, but with your panicky heart beating twice as fast, and your eyelids starting to close again anyway…

Okay, so you’re in that shitty motel. The room is cheap, yet still twice as much as it looks like it’s worth. There might be other people there, but you won’t see them. You take a long shower, just for something to do, and watch TV for the first time in several years. You turn it off after about seven minutes, because the commercial that was playing when you turned it on hasn’t ended yet.

You listen to the silence and it starts to close in.

What’s the word for that?

Maybe Danish has a word for it. I need to get back to learning.



How to learn a language when your attention span is shorter than a puppy’s

I don’t know if there’s a standard best way of learning a new language, other than immersion. I’ve tried French and Spanish so far, and although I can read both languages well enough to navigate French and Spanish countries, I’m nowhere close to fluent. So I can’t tell you what the most effective learning method is, but I’m guessing it doesn’t matter that much as long as you practice a lot.

Therefore, the best method is one that you can do every day without dying of impatience or boredom.

For learning Danish, I’ve looked at some podcasts like this one – Copenhagencast. I didn’t like that one much. The lady speaks so slowly that I get bored waiting for her to get to the next word. I’m doing this in the morning over coffee on my way to work, so my attention span is good for about 20 minutes tops. When I went looking for a lesson that would get moving a little quicker, I found this, One Minute Danish Lessons. The title is a lie – the lessons are three or four minutes long, and they waste the first thirty seconds of each episode with some stupid music and an explanation of the one-minute-lesson concept. It’s the same explanation every time. I really didn’t need to hear it more than once. I haven’t gotten to the end of one of those lessons yet, even though they are only three or four minutes.

I’ve got some comic books and kids stories to read as well, but I’m not even at that level yet. Looking up every word is difficult when you’ve got a coffee cup in one hand.

These aren’t complaints. Learning Danish is hard work, there’s no way around that. But I only want to do the language learning work, not get distracted by things like coffee cups and stupid music. So this is just looking for the path forward.

This might be a start: SpeakDanish. You can play each short phrase of a conversation over and over again, fast and slow, with the Danish text and English text right next to each other. This won’t be enough on it’s own, I don’t think. I’ll probably have to write the phrases down as well to stick them in my mind. But I can play the phrases while I’m eating breakfast. Now to find out if I can get my job to pay for the license fee.

Also – here’s the section about swearing. It’s free, enjoy!



I’m learning Danish. When I learned French, they started us on colors and seasons, then moved on to verb conjugations. It was pretty dull. The first Danish I’ve learned is “morgenkys”. It means morning kiss. That is what happens in the morning during traffic when cars are too close together and they bump into each other.

I’ve also learned “skjold” which is shield, “sværd” which is sword, and “svært” which is hard, from a story about Thor that I read in Danish refugee school. One other word “ikke”, I haven’t figured out what it means yet except it seems to be a negation.

“Burkabilist” means burka driver, and refers to the people who wear burkas while they’re driving, even though they are not supposed to because it restricts their visibility. I suspect that this is a racist word.

“Motorvejen” means motorway, and the pronunciation is the same as English, despite the odd choices they’ve made about spelling.

There aren’t any tow trucks in Port Renfrew

We came upon a motorcycle accident on the way out to Port Renfrew today. I was leading a group of five motorcycles, and ahead of us was a different group of three – two big Harleys and a BMW Dakar. Ahead of them there were a few cars, going slower than motorcycles like to go, so we were all bunched up. Two of the cars split off at China Beach and the third one saw that he was holding us up, so politely pulled over to let us pass.

The group ahead of us took off and were out of sight in moments. In my group, we had a couple bikes riding two-up, one inexperienced rider going slow, and another who rolled her new bike out of the dealership yesterday. So I didn’t feel any need to keep up with them. My group continued at our relaxed pace until we found the BMW on the side of the road and two riders standing near it looking shell-shocked. The second rider’s bike was nowhere in sight.

I pulled my group over at the next open spot and ran back to see what was up. A Harley rider had target-fixated in the middle of a curve and gone right off the road. Not just in the ditch, but 15 feet up the gravel embankment on the other side of the ditch. By the time I got there on foot a camper had pulled over and given him a chair and some water. He had a cut on his face, a deep gouge on his right arm, and a horrible purple scrape bruise on his leg, but he was able to stand and walk at least.

I’ve seen plenty of people having bad days, but this was the first time I’ve been first on the scene, or close to it. Normally there’s already ambulances present or on the way, but this happened between Jordan River and Port Renfrew. There is no cell service and no human habitation of any kind for 20km in either direction. Everyone was just standing around, wondering what to do.

I checked the rider for broken bones and serious bleeding, then recruited a couple of my friends to help move the Harley back down into the road. I checked my odometer so I could report the location – there were no landmarks of any kind. Then we continued our weekend jaunt to Tomi’s Cafe and got on with lunch. In PR, I was worried, so I asked at the cafe if there was a tow service I could call and send back. There’s no such thing in Port Renfrew. So I had my friend call the RCMP in Sooke and tell them what happened and where, and ask them to make sure the guys were safe.

The whole time I was thinking about what I could have done. One of the stopped camper vans had a big first aid kit in it. I could have asked if any of them had actual training to go with the kit, and if not, administered first aid myself (I do have training). I could have asked my friends to go ahead without me and stayed with the injured rider and his friend and helped them flag down a truck. I could have gotten the BMW’s name and phone number, at least, so I could get in touch with him and ask if they made it out okay, or pass it along to the police.

None of these things are my responsibility, exactly, but it’s what I would want someone to do if I was in that situation. If I was the injured rider, I would be too shocky to do anything useful for the rest of the day. If I was the friend, I’d be standing there thinking “I can’t handle this. I need an adult.” Which is pretty much what the guy was doing. He was a new rider out on his first big ride ever, with his two friends who were supposed to be more experienced than him. But one of them just ate it, and the other one was far ahead before he noticed his crew was gone, and took a long time to come back.

So I wish I had taken responsibility for the situation and seen it through to the conclusion. Of course that would have derailed my plans for the day, but come on. It’s just a Sunday ride. I guess what stopped me was the feeling that everyone else was older than me, more experienced, and knew what to do better than I did. But based on what I could see, that was not true. Everyone else was looking for someone to take charge as well. I could have done it, but I ran away instead.

The guy was not dying or anything, but the worst case scenario I can think of is that he ended up riding his dented motorcycle, shocky and bleeding, back to Sooke (50km of twisty roads) before getting proper care. I would never want to do that. I would never want any of my friends to do that either.

It made me wonder, what is the procedure for dealing with an emergency out there? My friends and I, and hundreds of other motorcyclists, whip out to Port Renfrew every chance we get, enjoying the windy roads, the glimpses of ocean, and the total absence of speed traps. My group doesn’t have any hooligans, but accidents aren’t that rare.

There is no cell phone service. There is no data connection. There are no police in Port Renfrew or Jordan River – the nearest RCMP outpost is Sooke, and it’s probably staffed by like two constables. There’s no tow service in PR or JR, as I was appalled to learn. And there’s not really any “adults” to call – no one today had any more of a clue what to do than I did.

Luckily, there is one thing you can count on, on a sunny August weekend – tons and tons of traffic. And almost everyone is prepared to help, with Canadian enthusiasm, as long as you give them clear instructions and only ask them to do things that they can do. I’d like to have a plan in place in case something like this ever happens again. I’m unlikely to start carrying a first aid kit or satellite phone, so my plan relies on helpful strangers.

First, check for injuries and make sure no one is bleeding to death. Flag down one of the millions of RVs that drive through every weekend if one hasn’t stopped already. Tap them for blankets, lawn chairs, and water. Move any injured people off the road, sit them down, give them water and blankets, and have someone keep an eye on them watching for shock. Move all vehicles off the road as well. Ask the involved parties whether they want to try flagging down a ride to the next town or send someone else there to phone for help. If they’re incoherent, make a decision for them. Don’t be in a hurry to run off or send anyone else running off for help, because frequently help arrives on it’s own. But if not, send someone to the next town and phone Totem Towing or ambulance/police for help, depending how bad it is. Wait until everyone is on their way home. Get names and phone numbers sooner and not later, so you can check up on them. Give yours as well. And from the very outset, understand that your leisurely Sunday ride is cancelled, and that God has provided you with a Learning Opportunity instead. Be grateful for it.

I hope writing this out helps me get it right (to my own standards) next time, though, of course, next time is likely to be a completely different emergency and need a totally different response. So it goes.

On the way home to Victoria, we stopped to stretch our legs in Jordan River and a constable pulled up. He asked us if we were the ones who called in the accident. He had looked for the downed rider at the spot and along the road but hadn’t seen him or his friends. Neither had we, so I guess they all made it back to safety somehow.

“‘What is the EU?’: Hours after voting for Brexit, the British are frantically Googling the European Union”

This hilarious headline has been all over the news since the Brexit vote and will no doubt get pulled out at every dinner party conversation about Britain or Europe from now until the end of time. About 4 people have shown it to me now, each of them shaking their heads and saying “lol look how dumb they are“, or something like that.

Please don’t be one of the people who repeats it, because it is a bullshit story based on nothing.

The story came from Google Trends. You can play with it here if you want. https://www.google.ca/trends/. If you have taken even one semester of statistics you should be aware of how easy it is to use simple graphs like these to spin any story you want, by carefully revealing some numbers and concealing others. The charts are updated in real time; if you look at it right now, you’ll see a much bigger spike than the one that was originally reported, caused by all the people who read the article.

Some other possible reasons for the spike:

  • Kids (too young to vote) asking their teachers about it, to which the logical response is “let’s look it up.”
  • The peak of that trend was actually the day before the vote; ie, people getting informed about it before making a choice. It’s super easy to distort that fact by changing the search filter. Searches the following day were still triple the normal numbers, but lower than the day before, and “triple the normal numbers” means something like 1000 people. To me that’s a non-story. 1000 people in a nation of 64 million may be a spike on a graph, but only if the chart had pretty low numbers in the first place.
  • All it means is someone decided to Google “what is the eu” – it does NOT mean that the searcher didn’t know what the EU was in the first place. To Google the two letters “eu” on their own is nonsensical. It’s a common word in French that has nothing to do with European Unions. It’s a misspelling of “et”, the blockbuster film about a lost alien. It’s a misspelling of “ei”, or emplyment insurance, which you get when you’re out of a job. If I wanted more information about the EU I would also google “what is the eu” and not “eu”. I would do so around the time of a major referendum about it. It’s normal behaviour. It doesn’t mean that you don’t know what the EU is – it means you’re intelligent enough to realize you probably need to know more.

All this doesn’t really fit into the narrative of a horde of thoughtless sheep voting for “leave” because ignorance made them think all Britain’s problems came from an amorphous overseas blob called the “EU”. I’ve heard a lot about anti-intellectualism – the complaint that normals and muggles think they don’t need no experts or college learnin’ to know what’s best for them.

I’m starting to sympathize with the normals and muggles though, because the so-called intellectuals have a habit of acting like condescending jackasses. Please don’t be one of them; when you do that, you are making the world worse by increasing the divide between “us” and “them” and that’s how we got into this fix in the first place.

I’m saying “we” and including myself in the group that is affected by Brexit. “us” and “them”, “Canadian” or “British” or “European”, “remain” or “leave”, “conservative” or “liberal”, all these words are tools that are used to distract us into fighting amongst ourselves while we’re being robbed.

Stop condescending. Stop patronizing. Stop it.

Alarm Clock

I stopped using my alarm clock recently.

When I was a kid, my dad was my alarm clock. He’d wake me up every morning for school. Sometimes he woke me up really early, like 4 am. My mom was a bus driver and we only had one family car, so dad drove her. They couldn’t leave my 6 year old brother and I alone, so we went too. She had to go to a farm a half-hour drive south of town every morning at 5 am to get the bus, warm it up, (call for a tow and a substitute if it wouldn’t start; sometimes it didn’t), and begin her route. She’d work her way from Black Creek to the south of Campbell River, to the ferry dock, to Sayward, north of town, and back to the Christian School to drop kids off.

My brother and I wandered around the farm while we waited for the bus to warm up. There were calves, tractors and corn to look at. Dad would either pace or do the crossword. Once they were sure the bus was going to work, dad and Tim and I went to a truck stop called the Purple Cow and had breakfast. It was not every morning, but pretty often, when I was four years old. Early mornings were cold and blue-grey, and I could see my breath no matter what time of year it was. I was not awake at 4 am and the whole thing passed in a chilly cloud of cow manure, diesel exhaust, bacon and cigarette smoke. I think that was so long ago that people still smoked indoors.   

My dad kept waking me up for school until I was 12. He is chronically punctual for everything, sometimes to the point of absurdity, and he enforced this on me as well. If the bus was coming at 8:00, I had better be standing on the road at 7:45. If it took me an hour to get ready in the morning (it did, and still does – I move slow), then I had to be awake at 6:30. So every morning at 6:30, he’d come in and gently tap my shoulder. I’d growl, pull the blankets tight over my head, and roll away.

He’d shake my shoulder harder, finally wrestling the covers off altogether and dragging me out of bed. This went on for years. On Saturday I’d sleep in till noon or later, in protest. To his credit, he never bothered me then. On Sunday I was forced to get up for church, and every Sunday I’d swear, without fail, that when I was a grownup I’d wake up whenever I damn well wanted, probably at noon.

Eventually we got tired of this routine. I think my reaction must have gotten violent enough that it was making my dad hate mornings as much as I did. He bought me an alarm clock. For some reason, this solved the problem. The alarm clock is impersonal – I can’t be mad at it. I set it for 6:45 instead of 6:30, and got up with no problems for the rest of my school career.

However, I’m mostly deaf. I don’t wear hearing aids at night. I never could hear the beep that the alarm clock made, so I set it to wake me up with the radio. After a couple years I started sleeping through the morning lite hits, so I changed it to play static from a dead channel, and cranked the volume up. Over the next 14 years, the alarm clock got louder and louder and I slept through it more and more often. For a good long time I never hit the snooze button, but the first time I tried it the spell was broken. I started hitting snooze 3 or 4 times. The last hour before I got up was jangly, broken, stressful sleep.  So this year, I gave up on the stupid thing altogether and stopped setting it.

Now I wake up at exactly 6:30 every single morning. Weekends included. Thanks dad.

Mom’s Spaghetti

I woke up at the usual time and decided to stay in bed. I used my feet to pull my phone off the charger where it sleeps at night and emailed work. “I’ve got vertigo. I won’t be in.” Then I texted my two best friends, one after another, and said, “I can’t walk. Halp.”

Then I lay in bed for another hour til the roommates were gone, so they couldn’t see me crawl to the bathroom on my hands and knees. The world wouldn’t stop spinning so I closed my eyes. Coming back from the bathroom I had to stop a couple of times in the yoga pose known as “the Child”, clinging to the floor so I wouldn’t fall off. I stopped at the refrigerator also for about two swallows of almond milk, but they came right back up again. Last night mom made beef stroganoff for dinner. It was delicious and I ate a lot of it, but that all came out the wrong end as well.

I made it back to bed and stayed there, not moving at all, til 11:30, when Shane and his girlfriend Jenna showed up with ginger beer to rehydrate me.

Shane attempted the Epley Maneuver, in which an assistant rotates your head around in a prescribed pattern in an attempt to let the loose crystals in your ear canals tumble out. These crystals, apparently, are what cause the dizziness. They’re not supposed to be in your inner ear fluid – when they find their way in, they cause ripples in the fluid that make your brain think you’re still moving even though you’ve stopped. It’s the same sensation as when you get off the merry-go-round at the park and everything keeps spinning for a while. Except it’s super annoying and it won’t go away.

Anyway, the Epley Maneuver works, eventually, but you have to do it just right, and it usually takes a bunch of tries. We didn’t know that and thought it was supposed to work after the first couple of tries, like it did last time I had vertigo in 2012. We also figured it doesn’t have that great success rate, because it didn’t work when Shane had vertigo in 2015.

Jenna thought I probably had an ear infection, and voted for emergency room. Off we went. ER at noon on a Monday is not too bad. I got in and inspected by a Dr. Tristan Jones within about 10 minutes. He checked that I didn’t have a fever or any kind of neurological problems, made sure I wasn’t high, and told me about a regular expressions problem that he’s been having with his side project. I politely refrained from telling him the joke about regular expressions. (You tried to solve your problem with regular expressions; now you’ve got two problems.) (This is a programmer joke. If you don’t get it, that just means you’re normal.)

He told me it was BPPV (benign positional paroxysmal vertigo) like I originally thought, and that the cure is either Epley or just suffer it out.

He went off to get a printout of official instructions for the Epley Maneuver, and I quickly texted Shane for help again, knowing that his pickup lines are more effective than mine. He replied with “Do you make house calls? and when he says no, say “What if I promise to be getting out of the shower every time you call?”” Sadly, he was too late and I ended up using my own line – “Do you need my email address in case you need someone to commiserate with about code?” He wasn’t having it. What, it’s noon and I’ve got vomit on my sweater already. It’s literally mom’s spaghetti. He’s not into that? Oh well.

I hung out on Shane’s couch for the rest of the afternoon. I’m still dizzy and not sure if I’m going to work tomorrow. Comedy makes me feel better, but if this doesn’t go away after three days I’m going to take up hard drugs as a lifestyle.

Rock and roll

A few years ago I went through a phase of putting on shows. I might still be in that phase, actually, we’ll see what happens this year. But anyway, I did some events. One was a bike polo tournament with a party after. Two were alleycat races, both with a show after. The last was a small polo tournament, on a weeknight and no party.

Understand that when I say “I” put these events on, all I mean is that I took part the financial risk and the blame, and did a little organizing. In every case, stuff like this happens with an army of volunteers, many of whom have very small jobs (bring the coffee urn, unlock the doors for us, something like that), but without whom the event could not occur. Every time I run an event and it works, it’s because a few people decided they wanted it to happen, and I got volunteered to coordinate. I love it, but I can take very little credit.

By far my favorite job is handling the bands. I get to choose an act, book them, negotiate a fee, transport their equipment and possibly their bodies, make a speech about how awesome they are, pass the hat, give them drinks. For a few moments there, I let my imagination run away with me.

I know everyone daydreams, it’s a part of being human. I think I’m the only one, though, who writes down my juvenile fantasies and publishes them where everyone I know can see and feel awkward about my oversharing, and tries to get more people to read it.

In this fantasy I’m a rock and roll promoter. I never got good enough at music to be the star of a band, but I get to have a little bit of reflected glory this way. I put on events every week, I have an entourage that I roll with. When I’m looking for a band, I get put on the list at clubs, get sent to the VIP room to watch the show, and listen to the band kiss my ass after they play. “Sure, you’ll do,” I say, and turn them over to my assistant to work out schedules and details, after offering them a fee that makes them stop talking for several moments.

This is a job I could do. It’s one that really appeals, because it doesn’t rely on asking some boss if I can make a living, please. One guy with the power to grant or revoke an entire salary with a single decision. My boss in real life is rad, but even so, I don’t like it. Instead I put on a dope party and everyone who shows up gets one seven-dollar vote as to whether the band and I get to eat this week. Democracy.

But reality is very different from my daydream. Not so much with the VIP room, more like texting a drummer 4 times to ask whether they can do Saturday night, and calling 5 different bands before I find one that can play. Never mind if they’re good or not. If they show up on time and sober, they’re hired. This operation can’t afford “good” yet.

Instead of hundreds of party animals lined up out the door, it’s more likely to be like alleycat #2 – the venue didn’t bother to promote it, we picked the wrong time of day, and only seven racers showed up. The band nearly outnumbered the audience, and although their professionalism was outstanding, they didn’t get paid well at all.

Sometimes you don’t win. Oh well. The lesson I got was that any time you have a little power, it’s not because you wrest it from the ground and compel legions with the force of your personality. Rather, it’s because the community has seen that you’re competent and willing, so they give you some resources which you’re expected to use in their service.

I’m still trying to figure out how I can live that life of service, and get the little bit of power I crave. Working at a job is not too bad, but 8 hours in the office slip away unnoticed, and then I have the whole evening and weekend to do real living. I am not interested in Game of Thrones. I don’t care for video games. I want to build stuff. Still looking. I’ll let you know how it goes, especially the flaming disasters.


What cars are hot in Victoria?

I just got back from a month abroad, and I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to code. I ask around the office, how has it been? Did anything break while I was away?

Not only did nothing break, my boss was so bored that he’s been bothering the office manager and taking extra days off. I should probably investigate and find out what his deal is, but first I have a burning question.

What cars sell quickly on the used car market in Victoria, and what do they sell for?

This info is available through UsedVictoria – kind of. They have an RSS feed. So you can enter some search terms and they’ll show you the last 25 items posted with those criteria. You can’t page through the results, so that doesn’t give me any historical data. Any info I gather will start from today. But I can scrape the feed and save it in my own database, and graph it later once I have a body of data. Ok, here we go.

What’s going on: we ask UsedVic’s server for all the car ads they have with the following criteria: private sales only, priced between $400 and $6000. This returns a few hundred results, but the RSS feed will only give us 25. Oh well. I save each item in my database – the title, description, search criteria, date it was posted, and price.

The price, mind you, is in no way accurate. When I buy a car on UsedVic, I haggle. People who buy from me usually try to haggle as well. So the actual selling price is likely a couple hundred lower than what’s listed, in most cases. However, it does give you a little information. The listed price is the starting point of negotiation, so people generally won’t go see a car unless the listed price is at least in the realm of reality and their budget. If someone has set the price of a vehicle unrealistically high, the car will sit on the market for a long time.

This happened in the case of a rather spectacular Suzuki DRZ400SM that was posted last winter. It had several fancy racing upgrades, combined with an expensive but utterly tasteless metallic pink paint job. If I could have had that bike for $2000, I would have done so in a second even it was covered in swastikas and cocks. Paint is cheap. But the guy wanted $6500 for it, and the ad stayed up for something like 3-4 months. (Ask me how I know. Yes, I was checking every week. I have a problem. Don’t worry about me, mow your own lawn.)

So how to deal with the fact that we only get 25 items returned? Easy – check back every 2 hours. Usually 2-6 items are posted per hour. So I add a check to see if each item is already in my database, and if it isn’t, add it. This code is kind of inefficient. If any of the real programming nerds get hold of it, I will be embarrassed. But it’s good enough for my purposes, for now, probably.

So I wrote a cronjob to run this every 2 hours and report back to me when it’s done. Okay, cool.

Now how do we track items that are sold? It’s tough to count something that isn’t there. Not too tough though. More code:

You can also search for an ad using the exact title, and you’ll generally get back only that one exact result. Since I have the titles saved, I can do that. In my database, I have a column labelled “sold”. When the item is entered, that column is set to false.

This script gets a list of all items in my database that have “sold” set as false, and searches for them. If an item is not found, “sold” gets set to true, and the current date is recorded as well.

Listings expire after thirty days, which should help keep this script from getting out of control as it hits the UsedVictoria servers over and over again. After a few weeks, I’ll have hundreds of unsold listings in my database, and once a day, the script will request every single one of them. I may end up blocked by UsedVic pretty soon if the numbers get too high. But no worries for now.

Finally, I want the data in a manageable, bite-sized format. You can see the results at rocketships.ca/srs/scraper.

The table lists all cars that were posted and sold within the last thirty days, the number of days each was on the market, and the price requested. It’s still not as fine grained as I would like, but I think this will give me at least a vague answer to my question – which cars are hot in Victoria?

My theory: Miatas. I await hard data.

Next step is to decide what to do with the data. I had an idea about buying cars from the mainland, where they’re a bit cheaper, and flipping them locally. I feel like I could make a small profit doing this. However, to make it worth my time, I need a profit of at least $300 – that’s what I pay myself for working on the weekends.

So let’s say I bought a 1990 Miata for $1800 on the mainland and sold it for $2300 here. Those numbers are realistic, based on my experience to date.

I have to go the mainland ($18 there, $74 back), get my pedestrian ass to the seller’s house somehow (unless they’re kind enough to meet me at the ferry), check the car to make sure it isn’t shit (Honestly, what do I know? Not much, man. I’m a writer, not a mechanic.), and then the really fun part – figuring out insurance.

If I transfer my own car insurance to the new car, I will have to pay GST on the car. 12% of 1800 is $216. Big chunk of my profit gone right there. I can maybe get a temp permit, which is only $30 or so, but then I really have to get home smartly on the next boat, I don’t get to joyride the car while I’m waiting for a seller, and I can’t allow buyers to take a test drive. The insurance costs some money, so does registration, so does the plate if I haven’t organized that properly, and you have to pay a fee if you insure for less than a full year or if you want to pay monthly. Costs maybe $1200 for the full year? depending on the car and whether my points have expired yet.

There are ways around these issues, namely, lyin’ and breakin’ the law. I’ve bought and sold something like 20 vehicles over the years, and I will not claim perfect observance of the rules. But any business plan that relies on illegal behaviour is a bad idea, and out of the question according to my principles.

So out of $500 profit, I might get to keep $300, legally. But that’s not the main issue. You can only get away with buying and selling a certain number of cars per year before the government starts to get suspicious. I think it might be around 6. After that you have to get a dealer’s license, which is ex$pen$$ive. I’m not really prepared to go down that road – messing around with cars is alright for a hobby, but used car salesmen are considered the scum of the earth by most humans, and for good reasons. So I would have to find a way to respect myself for doing it, first. My friend Dylan does it by specializing in high end racecars. My friend Ben doesn’t do used cars – he’s an honest to god legit new car salesman who provides warranties. But there are others who are pretty slimy.

With that problem unsolved, I have made the data and the code publicly available. Enjoy.

Why You Should Always Use Clear and Relevant Headlines

Sometimes your subconscious brings up some dumb thing you did years ago, and then you get to stay up all night thinking about how awful it was.


In school I only enjoyed English class. English and Language Arts teachers were always my favourites. They paid me as much attention as I thought I deserved. My essays were used as teaching examples and read in front of the class. Lots of A’s and nice comments in red ink.

I had one teacher who was exceptional at maintaining control of the class, and told great stories. He had recurring laryngitis, and we would all lean forward to catch his unbelievable punch lines, told in a raspy whisper.

There was an accident where someone was swept downstream through icy whitewater, rescued with seconds to spare before tumbling into a butterchurn waterfall. There were adventures that ended with him sneaking into the house at 3am, only to find Dad in his room, sitting on the bed with a sarcastic expression. There were horse penises.

Great stuff. Anyway, I got A’s in that class as well. I avoided group projects by writing long essays. I was left alone to read doorstop-sized novels while everyone else struggled through slim paperbacks. It was the only provincial exam I did well on.

By the end of high school, I hadn’t made a good impression on any adults in my life, and had accomplished little aside from those long essays.

The band teacher, I fought with continuously, and did not practice my instrument. 

In chemistry, I got nosebleeds and frequently left class to deal with them. 

In social studies I wrote poetry instead of working on assignments and goaded the teacher into telling stories about India. 

In math I made an effort sufficient to keep passing only because the math teacher wouldn’t let me go to track meets if I failed. 

In track I ran slowly and didn’t throw the discus very far.

In Bible class I wrote angry rants and violent song lyrics on the back of test papers, as well as doodling “disturbing imagery”. On the front of those papers I wrote what I thought were scathing criticisms of Dr. James Dobson. (Please let those papers stay missing forever).

This book is just straight up mental. It tells you at exactly which base you cross from being cool with God into putting your soul in danger of hellfire. Spoilers: it comes before "touching each other's hair."
This book is just straight up mental. It tells you at exactly which base you cross from being cool with God into putting your soul in danger of hellfire. Spoilers: it comes before “touching each other’s hair.”

I was sent repeatedly to the principal’s office. I avoided delivering my senior chapel presentation, the source of at least 50% of my stress and nosebleeds that year, by procrastinating my way out of it.

At a summer camp where I worked as a counsellor, I was reprimanded for bringing “inappropriate books” to camp and leaving them within reach of campers. I can’t imagine what they found in that book that was inappropriate – it was so boring that I never finished it. Oh well.

At the library where I worked part time, I was scolded for reading in the stacks instead of shelving books. 

And I was thrown out of the spring musical for missing practice due to audiologist appointments.

So English was the only class where I did anything noteworthy.


At that after-school job in the library, I found amazing books. The job itself was dull, but I never lacked great reading material.

One was How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater, which was every bit as good as the title. Another was The Warrior’s Apprentice, first of series that turned out to be my favourite of all time. It beats Harry Potter and Discworld by a wide margin. Another was Sin and Syntax, a style guide for those who would break the rules of the English language for maximum impact. This is the one that got me in trouble.


The thing to do after you finish high school, is either go to college or get a job. I attempted college. It didn’t go well. I enjoyed arguing with my philosophy classmates and writing poems for my English elective, but Micro- and Macroeconomics gave me more nosebleeds. The education seemed too expensive and too much work for the job it qualified me for – part-time barista, perhaps. I stopped, and set my sights on Katimavik.

Nevermind what Katimavik is or why I was thrown out of it. The point is that I needed letters of reference,  and two years out of high school I had still failed to do anything interesting with my life. The only person I could think to ask was my old English teacher. And I wanted to be sure that he read the email and responded to it, even if in the negative. So I pulled out old Sin and Syntax, and opened it to the section about writing compelling subject lines to emails.

This is the first google image result for “airsex”. I don’t know what to tell you.

airsex“, the book suggested. No, that wasn’t right. “Prepare to be overwhelmed“. Not strictly accurate – there was nothing overwhelming about 20-year-old me. “writer threatening suicide” was another example the book cited, as an attention-grabbing subject line. It would get attention, but not, I thought, the right kind. I settled on “I love you“, as the book guaranteed that this was a title unlikely to be ignored.

I don’t know why I did that. Please don’t ask. However, the only email address I had handy for that teacher was the one that he shared with his wife. So if they did indeed receive the message, it cannot have been very welcome. Never got a reply. Haven’t spoken to either of them since. Hope I never do.

The moral of the story is that if you are writing to ask for a reference, or indeed for any other thing, you should make your subject line clear and relevant. In this case “Request for reference” would have made a perfectly adequate subject.

The second moral is, don’t just do stuff that books tell you to do. Get a second opinion first.