Fox and friends

The decks behind the units in my condo complex have, over the years, been home to many unpleasant burrowing creatures like groundhogs and skunks. Except for under my deck, where I have built an impermeable stone wall where the deck adjoins the cement slab of the back porch that the critters like to dig under. That was a long battle, but I finally defeated their digging projects.

I don’t like groundhogs. I even shot them as a kid. I like skunks even less because the stink just gets everywhere. If they spray nearby you have it in your house for days. So I was happy a couple of years ago when a family of foxes moved in and took over these ready-made dens. No more rabbits. Only a few groundhog sightings. But you can see the fox family out playing every morning and again at twilight. They are bold and very cute. Here’s one of the adults (not sure if it’s male or female) while you can make out a few of the kits hanging out under the edge of a deck close to me. I’ll try and get some better pics, as they are quite photogenic.

See here for an earlier wildlife sighting in my neighbourhood.

Feel the burn

Last week we had a bit of a pre-heat wave in these parts, giving us an early taste of summer. Winter jackets came off and people were walking around in tank tops and shorts. Or less. This leads me to offer the following public service announcement.

People: the sun is not your friend. First off, it leads to skin cancer. Tan a luscious dark brown every summer and you’ll be spending your senior years suffering the death by a thousand cuts of having bits and pieces of yourself sliced off by a skin specialist. And some of those pieces won’t be small!

Even if you avoid cancer, the effect of the sun is to age your skin considerably, causing greater wrinkling and sagging and the growth of thick (non-cancerous) warts and lesions on the skin.

And even if you don’t notice those effects right away, you will feel the burn of having fried your and having it peel for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, what is the upside? You think you look a little better? I think even here the tide is finally starting to turn against tanning. I anticipate a return to the beauty standards of the 18th century (or earlier), where women cultivated a “moon look” of ivory skin. A tan was the mark of a peasant, someone who spent a lot of time working outdoors. I don’t approve of the class distinctions, but I’m on board for the aesthetic.

Nor is there any need today for outdoor laborers to burn all summer. Wear a shirt! You won’t die! Every summer I see roofers working shirtless all day. When I was having my own roof done five or six years ago I was talking to one of the crew and mentioned my concern, telling him he’d be better off with a shirt on. He said he was aware of the danger but put on sunscreen. I had to shake my head. What is a safe sunscreen these days? SPF 50? 70? And it doesn’t last all day. If you’re doing a job like working on a road crew or roofing you’d have to be slathering it on every couple of hours. Something I very much doubt many workers are doing. So just wear a shirt.

Personally, I always wear a shirt with a collar whenever I go out in the summer now. The collar to keep the rays off my neck. That sun is just too strong. And yet last week I passed yard workers working outside in tank tops with arms so red you could practically hear their flesh sizzling. I winced seeing them. I also passed by a house being rented by a bunch of university kids who were sunbathing on the roof in shorts and bikinis. And as hard as it is for me to say this, I was wishing the girls in bikinis would have covered up.

In the future, and this is something I’ve admittedly been saying since the early ’90s, tanning is going to be looked on as the equivalent of smoking today. Meaning not just stupid and unhealthy but downright dirty. Now I know there are plenty of people out there who will object because they love tanning, or they own a tanning salon, or whatever. But leaving matters like that aside, it seems to me that the health considerations are irrefutable. Exposing your skin to a lot of sun is just plain bad for you. Don’t do it!

NSFW: Archeology edition

Sex doll. The early days.

When I was in first year of university I took a course that I don’t remember very much from except something about “cultural universals.” This refers to things that people do in every human society, at all stages in their development. Apparently there aren’t many of these. I think one was the avoidance of human waste (feces).

Pulling a train in old Pompeii.

I’ve always thought pornography might be another. Porn gets a lot of attention in the media because it’s a (politically) sexy topic that people can’t seem to get enough of reading about. Does it corrupt youth? Does it program men and women with unrealistic fantasies about what people should look like and behave? Is it addictive? Does it lead to sexual violence, or does it sedate a population of incels who might otherwise act out violent fantasies? Is it inherently misogynist, or empowering for women? Should we even call it porn or, if we feel it’s distinguished enough, do we have to refer to it as “erotic art”?

Laying pipe.

These points have all been argued endlessly, and the debate will likely continue. What strikes me though is the point that porn in some form has always been with us. The Venus of Willendorf, for example, may be a fertility idol, but it’s also porn. What’s more, while it hasn’t always indulged the variety of today’s smorgasbord of fetish, even in ancient times porn was plenty explicit and stepped well outside the boundaries of sexual activity solely directed toward procreation. Our distant ancestors might not have had alien tentacle sex, but they did have Pan copulating with a goat. What’s more, this historical ubiquity held true from the suburbs of Pompeii (buried in 79 CE) to the valleys of the Moche (a South American civilization the flourished ca. 100-800 CE). It’s even popped into religious sites, from the mithuna figures in ancient Hindu temples to the sheela na gigs in twelfth-century Britain. Porn is a cultural universal.

The gang’s all here.

You’re welcome.

More than a cuppa.

I’m not saying this makes porn, or any particular variety of porn, good or bad. I’m just saying it’s always been, and something like it will always be, with us.

Dirty old goat.

Crazy chess

This was the endgame!

Had one of my crazier chess games recently. 32 moves total, and I got to checkmate without losing a piece and only taking a couple of black’s pawns. So things were still really crowded at the end!

But just to make it clear: I really am a terrible chess player. Not just against Mittens either. Most of the time I play against the 1000 ELO avatar, and here’s a snap of a breakdown from one of my recent efforts. Note that basically a blunder is worse than a mistake. If you make a blunder you should lose the game. I actually won this game, but only because I used all three of my “friendly” take-backs.

Mauled by a kitten


The online chess community is having a meltdown over the new chessbot that has as its avatar a cute, saucer-eyed kitten named Mittens. Mittens is rated with an ELO of 1 but that’s a joke because apparently it’s one of the strongest bots ever and chess masters have been posting videos where the frisky feline wipes the floor with them while giggling “hehehehehe” (which I’m pretty sure is a sound that cats don’t make).

I usually don’t even bother playing bots with a higher ranking than 1200, but just because everyone else was doing it I decided to take Mittens on. And I actually survived until move 26 (with two mistakes and one blunder), which I considered a moral victory.

Tempting fate, I tried a second game where I played even worse (three blunders!) but lasted 41 moves. Mittens even gave me a pat on the head: “You have triumphed in existing for longer than many before you. Hehehe. Meow.”

Somehow, this felt even worse.

Another new year

On a personal note, 2022 was a hard year. 2023 is going to be worse.

What this means, for readers of this or any of my other sites, is that things will be slower going forward. I expect I’ll only be updating Alex on Film once or twice a week from now on. I wrapped up with my 200th quiz and I’ve found I haven’t been watching as many movies lately. Those I have been watching I’ve been having less and less to say about. I think any reviewer feels after a while that they’ve said most of what they have to say and that they’re starting to repeat themselves after being at it for ten or twenty years. I’m feeling that way now.

I hope to keep adding a new capsule review at Alex on SF every week, and doing more at Goodreports. But I’ve said that before. I have been reading more in the past year than I think I ever have, but not as much new stuff. Maybe that will change.

This site will continue to be a sort of catch-all for anything else that interests me. Like reading the Maigret novels, a project I should be wrapping up soon. The fact is though that I really don’t spend much time online, aside from posting my own stuff, and I think I want to spend even less going forward.

Sticking with reading, I also have plans for adding a couple of new book-related ventures, at least one of which will probably launch in 2023. I’ve been doing some prep work and having a bit of fun with it, so we’ll see how it goes.

In any event, I’ve been writing like this as a hobby now for nearly 25 years — I started Goodreports in 1998 — and since I still find it rewarding I imagine I’ll keep at it for a while yet. Let us not repine!

My chess is improving

My long, slow climb to becoming a chess Grandmaster continues. A couple of years ago I posted a screenshot of one of my games that showed just how bad I am (and how unserious I am about chess). But today I played what I think may be my best game yet, delivering checkmate in only 9 moves and without losing a piece. According to the computer analysis I did make a mistake, but pfft.

No escape for my opponent!

If the glove fits

I went to the Dollarama yesterday to pick up a pair of oven mitts for my mother’s kitchen. Nothing complicated about that. Or so I thought.

There were, I discovered, no “pairs” of oven mitts. What they had for sale instead were two-packs of oven mitts. That’s not two pairs, but two mitts sold together. Which sounded odd to me, since that’s how you usually buy gloves. You want two of them because you have two hands. But these weren’t pairs of oven mitts, but two mitts for the same hand.

Now, for a lot of oven mitts there is no righty and lefty because both sides are the same. But these mitts were cloth on one side and a silicone surface on the other (the side you grip with). So I couldn’t buy a “pair” of gloves — that is, a right and a left-handed glove — but only a two-pack of right-handed gloves.

Am I missing something? What sense does this make? If you’re going to make oven mitts that like this and package them together, shouldn’t there be a right and left-handed glove in each package? And what if you’re left-handed? Some things I just can’t figure out.

Many books in tiny rooms

As I’ve mentioned before (see my write-ups for 2016 and 2019) I’m a big fan of the annual book sale — formerly known as the Giant Used Book Sale — put on by the Friends of the Guelph Public Library. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown this event was cancelled the last two years, but this past week it was back on, and I was waiting in line to enter on opening night.

I knew going in that I was going to be disappointed, which helped. In the past the sale took over a small warehouse, but this year they were in the same building but had been shunted aside into some office space adjoining the warehouse proper. The result being that the floor space was reduced from 30 000 to 8 000 square feet. That was too tight, and there simply wasn’t enough space for all the books, or all the people. They had a limit of 375 people they could let in at one time, and there were that many waiting in line when the doors opened on the first night (which was also the only day there was an admission fee). Then there were so many people packed together when I got inside that I had to give up on the fiction room entirely as I literally couldn’t move through it.

As an aside, I came away from the experience figuring that, having escaped getting COVID thus far, if I missed getting it this week I could feel confident I had achieved some kind of immunity. So far, all clear! I remain a NOVID, or COVID virgin.

Not having enough room for all the books wasn’t quite as bad as the restricted mobility, since it meant the tables had to keep getting replenished with books from the storage area as the sale went on. So it made sense to keep going back. I attended on three separate days and found a big difference in the selection each day.

All-in-all it was a pleasant enough experience, though when I filled out the feedback form online I told them they needed to find a bigger venue (something I’m sure they already knew). The volunteers were great, and all the people were friendly despite the crowding, semi-competitive atmosphere, and lingering COVID anxieties. I figure around 20% of the people attending were wearing masks. But nobody was yelling at anyone, which was nice.

I was lucky in not wanting to shop for fiction. As it is, I’m always impressed at the kinds of books that people seem to flock to the most. The people who buy bales of books were mainly buying genre fiction: thrillers, mysteries, romance, SF/Fantasy, and YA. You can say what you want about those kinds of books, but the people who read them read a lot. Meanwhile, the rooms I was interested in — history, biography, criticism — were only lightly attended, and the books weren’t moving quickly. Which was nice for me, anyway.

All politics is . . .

Municipal elections are coming up in Ontario. These are not well attended by the voting public. According to the stats I found online, in my current hometown’s last municipal election in 2018 the voter turnout was around 33-36%, which I think is about average for the province.

Commentators in the U.S. have been remarking on how, in recent years, the old adage that “all politics is local” has been turned on its head, and that all politics is now national. I find something similar happening in Canada, where people tend to get excited about the big issues and personalities that play out in parliament, while not caring much about how their cities are run. The fact that Toronto tends to get a higher voter turnout than the rest of the province is part of the same dynamic. Add to this the disappearance of local media (my hometown newspaper shut down a few years ago after a run of over a century) and municipal politics outside of Toronto has become a kind of vacuum. Who’s covering City Hall? In many municipalities, no one.

I think this is dangerous, as a lot of the things that will affect people the most directly are precisely the local issues that people don’t seem interested in. Where I live, I suspect the current mayor will be re-elected. Before I sat down to write this post, I didn’t know the name of anyone running against the incumbent. I certainly haven’t seen signs for anyone else (though one mayoral candidate has made the principled decision not to have any, and even argues that the “environmentally destructive eye-sores” should be banned).

That said, when I checked I was surprised to find that there are actually six people running for mayor! And a couple of them had really slick web-pages, so maybe that counts for something.

I confess I don’t know what the driving issues are. Affordable housing seems to be the hottest button, but that’s a provincial and national issue as well that’s getting a lot of attention. Otherwise, the candidates seem to want to boil everything down to a few key words. One mayoral candidate’s web-page lists “Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion.” Sounds good. Among the signs for candidates running for Council I saw one in my neighbourhood that said “Innovation and Diversity.” Another said “People Planet Prosperity.” This may mean something more than “Elect Jane Doe,” but I’m not sure. In any event, I can’t say they’re words that excite me, or that make me want to get out and vote.