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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Ignite TV

MobileSyrup ran an article recently called Are you experiencing platform subscription fatigue?. It focused on the mounting cost of the different services: Netflix, Crave, YouTube Premium, Amazon Prime, and so on. “I just wish there was one subscription service for everything”, the writer noted. Which I found a bit funny. Doesn’t that sound like a plea for the big, fat single cable TV bundle that streaming was supposed to save us from?

Nevertheless, I do sympathize. There are so many services now, with more on the way, and they keep raising their prices. The glory days of cutting the cord and getting by with $8 a month for Netflix are long gone.

Apart from the cost of all this, there is just the challenge of remembering what you’re watching (or want to watch) where, then maybe switching from the cable PVR to grabbing the phone to cast from Netflix, the logging in to your Amazon account to see something on Prime. It’s all rather inconvenient!

What I want, I’ve lamented for some time, is a Sonos for TV shows. Sonos is a wireless speaker system that, apart from allowing you control speakers in various rooms in the house, consolidates most anything you want to listen to in one place. Your own digital music library. Spotify. Google Music. YouTube Music. Podcast apps. Audible audiobooks. Apple music. Radio stations. Where applicable, the subscriptions are up to you to set up, but once have, you can search through it all, you create playlists that mix and match among them—you can have all your “sound” stuff organized in one place. (At least when you’re home.)

Sonos menu of sound options

Rogers Ignite is kind of like that for TV. By “Rogers”, I do mean, yes, the big cable company. Ignite TV is their IPTV (TV over the Internet) offering. Initially available only with expensive, premium packages, they now have cheaper tiers on offer, and we switched to it this summer.

Of course you get the cable channels you subscribe to, which in our case isn’t a lot (just the $25 “starter package”). But we were also offered Crave + HBO free for six months, which we of course accepted. At regular price, Crave + HBO from Rogers cost the same as if you subscribed to them directly, but then you can access them from TV same as any other channel, including on-demand. (You should also have access to them through the Crave app with your Rogers login, but there is some bug there preventing that from working—Crave can’t seem to recognize that you really do have a Rogers cable subscription.)

If you have a Netflix subscription, you can access that through your Ignite box as well. Also, YouTube. And apparently coming soon: Amazon Prime.

The Ignite box itself is this tiny little thing, compared with the large, power-hungry PVRs of the past. You get a ton of cloud storage with it, so you can record shows to your heart’s content. And it’s much smarter about recording those: if the same show plays three times in a week, it’s only going to record it once for you.

The Ignite TV box is smaller than a Blu-ray case

The basic Ignite package comes with only one box; you can add others for $5/month each. We have two. All the same information (recordings, viewing history) is available on both. If wanting to move one to a different TV in the house, temporarily or permanently, that’s quite easy to do.

There’s also a lovely, seamless integration with anything available on demand. Previously I almost never looked at Rogers On Demand stuff; it was off in its own universe, on those special, hard-to-navigate channels. I often forgot it was even there. Now you can find and watch that on-demand content as easily as anything you’ve recorded.

To find things, as their ads point out, you can just talk to the remote. Wherever it is—on demand, available to record, online—it will show you and give you watch options. It remembers what you’ve already watched and makes logical assumptions based on that. It’s all pretty slick.

Oh, and you can also watch on your phone, tablet, or PC, through the Ignite TV app—live TV, recordings, and on demand content. In many cases, you can download your recordings for off-line viewing. One thing not available? Chromecast, as I guess that would kind be competition. But since your Chromecast is typically on your TV, and you can already watch all the stuff on your TV, I don’t see that as a huge issue. (Just if wanting to watch on someone else’s Chromecast while away, I guess.)

Ignite TV app

So that does bring much TV content together, saving mental energy, though not money. I have no idea what we do about the ballooning cost. For now, I’ll just try to resist the pending Disney service and YouTube Premium.


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Ticketmonster

I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.

As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?

But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!

Stunned, I started the checkout process…

Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.

Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)

Wifi returned, I tried again, and… So did my luck! I was still able to get front center floor seats at the normal price! And this time managed to complete the purchase. (The show was great.)

View from the floor was pretty good!

I have no idea how or why that happened or how I could possibly replicate it. I don’t recall who I got  this presale offer for, except that it wasn’t the fan club and it wasn’t American Express (I’ve never had an American Express). Was it just that the sale took place so far ahead? Did The Who just decide not to hold back that many seats as “VIP”?

We know the deal with Ticketmaster, that it’s exceedingly difficult for any human to beat out the resell bots—that, it turns out, Ticketmaster is in cahoots with). And that presales (and even the general sale) only have a subset of seats on offer, giving a constant impression that they are going fast.

I have had great, even front row, seats at other rock concerts, but that involved either not dealing with Ticketmaster (Bob Geldof in Ottawa, Roger Daltrey at Casinorama), or paying for VIP (Adam Lambert, who, as a solo artist, at least has moderate prices. If you don’t count the expense of getting to Berlin.).

Views from the front row

But for big shows in arenas, I think that Who concert was my once-in-a-lifetime good ticket-buying experience that won’t come around again. Especially since Ticketmaster keeps finding ways to make things worse.

Their latest ploy is to not tell you what the ticket prices are ahead of time. I don’t buy tickets often enough to know when this changed, but I’m certain that in the past you could look up ahead of time what ticket prices would be at different levels, so you could plan. They seem to not do that now.

I thought their main motivation must be that, in the frenzy, people might spend more than they otherwise would had they been able to plan ahead. But according to the CBC report on Ticketmaster, it’s also because they sometimes raise the prices a few hours after they initially go on sale.

They’re taking their queue from the airline industry.

Then there’s the new “Waiting room”. Admittedly, it wasn’t ideal before, sitting on the ticket buying web page waiting for the on-sale time, then refreshing and hoping nothing crashed before you could get in there to roll your dice.

So now, about an hour before the on-sale time, you can click to go into a “waiting room”. At on-sale time, it refreshes and you are “randomly” assigned a place in line.

I had over 2000 people in line ahead of me. The only other person I know who’s tried this also started with over 2000 people in line ahead of her. Make of that what you will.

There’s a little animation of your place in line that moves along as the number of people in front of you drop. You daren’t go anywhere else, but it’s not the most compelling viewing. (I can’t find a screen cap of it. Everybody must be too stressed while waiting to take one.)

Finally, your turn comes up, you copy in your presale code, you see what seats come up! And how much they are!

My target this time was yet another Queen + Adam Lambert tour. It was awful. I switched between seeing what was available for general sale and what the “cheaper” VIP offered. You couldn’t seem to look at both options at once, and of course, every time I went back to one or the other, the available seating was less. (Also, the Best Available sorting? Really wasn’t in that order!)

I finally picked something. I winced at the total, but smiled at the seating chart.

I don’t have a solution to this. If you want to see a big rock concert at an arena, Ticketmaster and resellers are your only option. Queen + Adam Lambert are encouraging use of Twickets, where people aren’t allowed to sell the tickets at higher than the price they paid. So that’s nice, but they currently have 0 tickets on offer. (Admittedly, there’s a lot of time for people’s plans to change.)

In Europe, they seem to have many more places where you can still buy general floor seats, then end up with a good spot if you’re willing to wait in line for them. Not all that helpful for North Americans.

So, I’m just glad there aren’t that many artists for whom I’m willing to go through this.

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One of the few


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Garbage election day

Monday, October 22 was the municipal election day in Ontario. Much as I rely on electronic calendars like anyone else, I still like to rock it old-school with the paper calendar,  on which I note items such when garbage day (that is, the biweekly date on which the region picks up trash along with the recycling and compost they pick up weekly) and municipal elections occur. Those fell on the same day this year, so the calendar read: Garbage Election day.

Only it wasn’t.

Nor was the historic US midterm election that took place on November 6. It wasn’t immediately apparent how historic it was, because the counting and recounting, it turns out, goes on long past that date—it just finished last week or so. And the Democrats got the largest margin of victory in history, thanks in large part to that election having had the largest turnout for a non-Presidential election in a century.

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Way to go, Americans.

Our municipal elections, of course, were far less consequential, and featured the usual poor voter turnout: 34% for the City of Waterloo (though 48% in the uptown Waterloo ward, so kudos to them). I don’t see this ever changing much unless we bring political parties into municipal politics, allowing people to forget about the individuals running and just focus on party platforms. Which I don’t want, as the partisanship would be a terrible side effect that we get enough of at every other level of government.

Municipalities try to increase voter turnout. This year, several cities and townships in Waterloo Region—not including the City of Waterloo—offered electronic voting from home. Though this greatly increased the days on which you could vote, a lot of people left it til election day. And then the system crashed under the load. Forcing extensions to the voting time, in some cases by an extra day.

Hence we didn’t get all the results—including who the new Regional Chair would be—until a full day later. Whereas cities who used the old paper ballots had results counted in a few hours.

Also, it didn’t really increase voter turnout.

Apart from the potential computer snafus, the most compelling argument against electronic voting is that some dominant person in the household could do the voting for everyone else. I’m sure that would be a very small problem, but there’s no way to eliminate it. Whereas when you have to go vote in person, everybody gets a chance to mark their own x’s in private.

Obviously, compared to the US wait, one day longer wasn’t a big deal, but it was odd and I was curious about the results. If you are going to vote in these local elections semi-responsibly, you do have to do a fair amount of reading and research. And at least in these parts, there’s no polling to give you any idea who might win!

There were some pleasing and somewhat surprising results.

In the absence of parties, incumbents always have a big advantage, with many getting re-elected for years. But in Cambridge, long-time mayor Doug Craig lost out to Kathryn McGarry (who had her own name recognition due to having recently been the city’s MPP). To me, Doug Craig’s political philosophy could be summed up as Cambridge First, characterized as an unwillingness to compromise and a large propensity to complain. I was happy that the people of Cambridge were also getting tired of that approach. (And now Craig is planning to run for the federal Conservatives.)

And Michael Harris, who had been unfairly (in my opinion) cast out of provincial politics by Doug Ford shenanigans, won a seat on regional council. He always seemed one of the brighter lights in the Progressive Conservative party, so I was glad to see him get another chance to serve (in a less partisan environment).

In general (and as in the US), a lot more women got elected. The new regional chair is Karen Redman; Kitchener City Council and two of the townships achieved gender parity. On both Waterloo and Kitchener City Councils, women candidates managed to defeat incumbents.

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She defeated these three guys

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She defeated this guy (the incumbent)

On the other hand, the two women I voted for (there are two seats) as Waterloo regional councilors both lost to men. But, at least the two men in question weren’t unqualified, boorish, populists, so one can take some comfort in that.

In my city ward, the incumbent chose not to run again. One candidate captured the support of most of my immediate neighbours by expressing dismay about the planned residential high-rise building nearby. I considered joining that bandwagon, but ultimately voted for Royce Bodaly, who seemed to have a really good grasp of the local issues and a real online presence, and who made an effort to visit every household in the ward during the campaign. I must have talked to him for 20 minutes myself! He ended up winning the seat… By a margin of 11 votes. (And yet, there was no recount.)

By the way, I am not critiquing how long the US results take—or that they have recounts. Those are elections on a much bigger scale, of course, and conducted very differently (in ways I won’t pretend to understand). Giving people various ways to vote and taking the time to count all the votes is good, even though that means you can’t trust the narrative on voting day. It’s not a blue wave! Unless, wait for it, wait for it, yes it is…

One of the challenges raised in the US midterms (in Maine) was over the use of ranked ballots, as the leader after the first round of ranked ballot voting lost his lead in the second. (The results were upheld.) Ranked ballots were also tried in one Ontario city this year: London. They had to do something like 14 rounds of counting, but in the end, the same person who was in the lead after the first round became mayor. People said that demonstrated that ranked ballots are pointless, but I’m not so sure. There were a lot of people running (hence the number of rounds of counting), and at least the winner now knows he’s not a polarizing figure, and that the majority who voted are basically OK with him being their mayor.

I think it might be worth trying elsewhere. (Cambridge and Kingston voted to do so in the next election, though the results aren’t binding in Cambridge.) When you do this local election research, you do generally end up with not only your #1 choice, but an idea of the other people you think would also be OK, and those you really don’t want elected under any circumstances. So marking your ballot accordingly wouldn’t really be so much more work.

Finally, municipally there was a period after the election where the previous council continued to sit and govern, til the new crew were oriented and took over about a month. There was no drama or scandal surrounding this that I know of—except perhaps Cambridge council voting themselves a raise without accepting the offsetting reduction in benefits. But they did that for selfish reasons that they wanted their cake and eat it too (many were re-elected), and not to hamstrung the newbies.

The US has a longer “lame duck” period during which some states, like Wisconsin, well:

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Details: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/in-stunning-power-grab-wisconsin-republicans-pass-bill-weakening-new-governor_us_5c06e268e4b0680a7ec9a289

Democracy, man. It’s fragile. But worth fighting for.


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My relationship with the Globe and Mail is dysfunctional

I do think that, in these times, it’s important to support the newspaper industry financially, if you can afford to. This might seem crazy, when so much news is available for free online—and there’s certainly an argument that news companies haven’t been that smart in making so much of it available free online. But, we need to support real journalists. Those who hold politicians to account. Who spend months on investigative stories. Who fact check. Who provide the background details on that “click-bait” headline. Someone needs to help pay for all that—or we’ll lose it.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

However, there is really no need to subscribe to as many newspapers as I do. Most of these subscriptions, I acquired at some great deal, but these deals gradually expire, I have to start rethinking some of these relationships.

Long-time companion: My local paper

If you’re looking to subscribe to one newspaper, your local paper is a good one to consider. For one thing, if you even have one, you’re lucky—just ask Guelph. And there have been studies that closures of local newspaper increase the cost of local government: no more watchdogs.

But you don’t have to think of your subscription as a charity donation; it is actually a source of useful information—who’s running for office in your town; local perspectives and comments on national and international stories (example: Greg Mercer’s great investigative work on Doug Ford’s shoddy treatment of former Kitchener MPP Michael Harris, later picked up by The Toronto Star); upcoming and ongoing constructions projects; festivals and other events; stores and restaurants opening, closing, moving, and expanding; and updates on when the heck those Ion trains are going to get here. The New York Times is great, but it ain’t going to cover any of that stuff.

Conestogo River at sunset!

Wondering where this lovely neighbourhood trail is? Your local paper might tell you.

Plus, an e-subscription to my local paper, the Waterloo Region Record, is pretty cheap. For just under $8 a month, you get unlimited access to the website and a full replica of the print edition in a handy Android or IOs app. It’s also a nice, I think, that The Record is not a Postmedia publication, meaning it doesn’t run obligatory corporate editorials (that just happen to have a right-wing slant). The Record is owned by the TorStar, who allow the local staff to set their own editorial direction.

Cheap date: The Washington Post

So, this is how they lured me in: They said subscribe to our newsletter, and we’ll give you full website and Washington Post app access for six month. And I said, OK. And it turned out their newsletter was kind of interesting, and I was reading a bunch of their articles (Trump era! You can’t look away!), and when the six months was up they said, how about you give us $20 (US) and then you can keep getting the newsletter and having full website / app access for a year. And I said, OK.

postThen the year was up, and I was like, oh my God, what is my price going to jump to now? But it didn’t jump at all (except to the extent that the Canadian dollar fell); it was still just $20 US for another year. Or about $2 Cnd. a month. Which, I can totally afford, so I’m keeping it, because—you can’t look away!

Weekly gentleman caller: The Toronto Star

Though this is soon to change, the Toronto Star doesn’t currently have a online paywall, so my subscription is an old-timey one, to the paper version, but on Sundays only. And at this point, I’m still getting it at half price.

It is kind of nice to get a paper copy (in limited quantities), and I do usually get it read (though not necessarily all on Sunday). I’m also wondering if this small subscription will provide some access once the paywall does go up. So I’ll hang on to this for now to see what happens.

Toronto Star special project: Daniel Dale keeps track of every false claim Donald Trump makes. (Maybe they should do Doug Ford also?)

Glamour boy: The New York Times

Yes, this is the prestige paper, but the thing that stands out to me about The New York Times is that its online experience is just head and shoulders above everybody else’s. Their long-form stories are interactive and gorgeous. For example, though it broke my heart:  Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

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“Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario…”

You can seamlessly link to the responsive and attractive New York Times app from browsers and social media. As a subscriber, you can “set aside” any story for safe-keeping or later reading, something I’m now constantly expecting from all other papers! But alas, no one else has it. (Thanks goodness for Pocket.)

And if you like cooking? A vast collection of recipes is available, auto-organized, to which you can add external sources. And even get it all printed up (for a small extra fee). If you want the “full paper replica” experiences, that’s available, too. And though it’s not my thing, the crossword experience is apparently incredible as well.

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The lovely (and far less depressing) cooking section of the New York Times

I had this subscription for a year at 60% off, and the full monthly price ($22; they let you pay in Canadian) is now a bit of a shock. Cheaper subscription are available—and even freeloaders aren’t completely cut off. So I’ll have to do some research on how much glamour I really need in my life.

Dysfunctional relationship: The Globe and Mail

If you think The New York Times is a bit pricey… Meet the Globe and Mail. I have the cheapest possible subscription, but now that this 60% off discount has expired, we’re talking $27 a month. That’s just to read stuff on the website—no amazing app, no replica of the full paper, no home delivery, nothing much extra other than… Report on Business magazine.

So I keep breaking up with The Globe and Mail. Which is always painful—because it requires a phone call, of course, no handy Cancel button. And the cancellation request is never immediately accepted. No, they first try to lure or guilt you into staying, but if you succumb, you know you’re just putting off the pain to a later date.

But even when I succeed in ending the relationship, I often find myself lured back. Because for all the frustrations with this publication:

They do have some very good columnists, and they do invest in long-form investigative pieces more so than any other Canadian newspaper. A prime examples is the Unfounded series that Robin Doolittle worked on for 20 months, revealing that an incredible percentage of reported sexual assaults were being dismissed as “unfounded”, or without merit. It’s a rare case of a newspaper story leading to nation-wide changes in policing.

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There’s also the simple fact that a lot of Globe and Mail stories are “subscriber-only”, period. While there are ways around this (you can get the Globe digital replica free from the library, for example), they are not  as convenient as just clicking and reading the story. But what price convenience? That’s what I have to decide.


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Twitter break

We’d boarded, so I set my phone and tablet to airplane mode, and kept myself entertained with a novel. On the drive home from the airport, I decided: No more Twitter.

twitter-cigarettes-thefix

Going cold turkey

I made no announcements (who would care?), did not delete my account, didn’t even uninstall the app or turn off the notifications. I just… stopped going to Twitter.

What struck me at first was that… I felt like I had so much time. To read other stuff. To get chores done. To talk to people (in person). To arrive places on time. Woah.

What surprised me next was that, I didn’t miss reading Twitter at all. But I did miss tweeting out links to interesting stuff.

A few times, I just broke down and did that, the tweeting. (Alysha Brilla liked one of them. That was cool.) But I stayed away from the reading of the timeline.

The reason was nothing so dramatic as online harassment, thank God. It was just the stress of it, the anxiety.

Twitter was just Freaking Me Out.


Ontario was about to elect an incompetent populist as Premier. Canada was getting into a trade war with the US. Immigrant children were being separated from their parents. And reading about this (and more!) on Twitter, I worried about all of it.

Yet, it’s not like a took a news break here. While not on Twitter, I was still reading and hearing about all of this (and other bad stuff going on). It just seemed so much easier to manage the information in the form of news articles, editorials, and TV reports than in the hot takes, inflammatory opinions, alarming speculation, and emotional responses on Twitter.

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Twitter never warns you. (Source: Pearls Before Swine)

Twitter is a social media, and there can be some comfort in knowing that others are worried about the same things you are. But only to a point. The point where you start out seeking validation about one issue only to find yourself, an hour later, in a tizzy about ten other issues, three of which might just be inventions or misunderstandings.

So, I stopped. The generalized anxiety didn’t immediately disappear. Initially, it transferred onto other targets (Inner monologue: “Is the cats’ ear infection back?” “How do you get a skunk out from under the deck?” “Wait, is this just a mosquito bite, or…?”), like the angst needed somewhere else to go now that it didn’t have Twitter to feed it. But with time that diminished also.

On election day, I was able to view the bad (but expected) results without getting overly emotional, and I managed have a decent night’s sleep afterward. Sure, it was mostly an infuriating result, but my candidate won (easily), and she’s a qualified, experienced women. And Ontario did elect its first Green MPP, a just reward for the party that had the best platform on offer.


Today, after about a week off, I dipped a toe back into the Twitter. For all its flaws, it is a good way for me to find out about things that I care about, that simply don’t make the headline news. (Queen and Adam Lambert have done a live version of “Lucy”! Rainbow Rowell is writing a sequel to Carry On!)

And all that G7 crazy-ness was pretty interesting. Until… I found myself getting kind of anxious about it.

And then… I closed the app.


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Finding time to listen

I have found a new (to me) podcasting app Pocket Casts and it’s very good. It has solved all my podcasting problems: It gathers all podcasts in one app, whereas before I was bouncing between iTunes, Google, SoundCloud, and a browser. It keeps my spot in each podcast I’ve started, even when switching devices or playing through Sonos or Chromecasting. It can even cut silences out of each episode, making it each one slightly shorter.

Wait, did I say it solved all my podcasting problems? There’s one it’s likely only exacerbated, even with the seconds or minutes saved by cutting out silences: finding time to listen to all the ones I’d like to.

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Some people do this by listening on what they call chipmunk speed, playing it at a faster speed than recorded. I tried that, but I just don’t like the weird sound that results, even at only 1.5x faster.

I can’t attend to a podcast while reading, or having a conversation, or working (because fortunately my job’s not that boring), or writing, or anything else in which I have to attend to my thoughts. My commute is extremely short, which is wonderful in most ways, but means that it’s really not enough time to make much of a dent in a podcast episode.

And I just don’t want to give up my daily habit of listening to music while making dinner. I also don’t think they would be as good as soundtrack to my Monday night cleaning routine as my “high-energy songs” playlists.

“Know what would make my life better? Listening to music less often.”

— No one, ever.

So I found myself seeking out extra chores I can do, for which a podcast would be a useful adequate. Now, anything that can motivate me to do some tidying up is beneficial. But I still prefer cooking to tidying, so I also find that I’m now trying out more dessert recipes. The value of that is debatable.

(On the other hand, you can definitely overdo this podcast thing, as revealed in this article: I Listen to 35 Hours of Podcasts Every Week. Is That … Bad? Answer: yeah, kind of… And towhich I say… 35 hours a week! Jesus. When do you do… anything else?)

There seems to be podcasts about every topic under the sun, and I’m not always sure how I stumbled upon the ones I try to listen to semi-regularly. But here’s a sampling of them and what I like about them.

Psychology

These are nice because, being less attuned to current events, you can more cherry-pick through them and feel less pressure to listen to them soon after their posting date.

Under the Influence

Good old CBC Radio—the original podcaster! This particular series is by Terry O’Reilly and is on the subject of advertising, or “the art of persuasion”. Recent episodes have covered jingles (with a WKRP reference), use of celebrities (early Ellen Degeneres!), brand myths (no, little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial didn’t die of pop rocks + coke. In fact, he’s alive and works in advertising). I’ve always loved this show, but rarely catch it on the radio. Podcasts to the rescue.

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain is by NPR: the CBC of the US! This is how it describes itself:

Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.

One three-part series that actually changed my own behavior a little was on the subject of sleep: The “Swiss Army Knife” Of Health. It makes a pretty compelling case that while sleep feels like a waste of time, it’s really important. And that while those who routinely get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night might think they’re managing just fine, they actually aren’t. They just no longer notice how tired they are all the time. But they are chronically under-performing, both mentally and physically. To be at your best, you need an “uncompromising 8 hours of sleep.” Every day.

Pop culture

Pop culture stuff is timely, but not that timely, especially since I almost never see movies on opening weekends, read books when they first come out, or watch TV live (love my PVR). So I can go back a few weeks on the pop culture ones without them feeling irrelevant.

Backtalk by Bitch Media

This one, hosted by two young women, looks at all aspects of pop culture—music, TV, movies, podcasts, books, magazines—from a feminist perspective. I’ve gotten some really good recommendations from it, along with some great insights; for example, their episode about the movie Get Out pointed out a whole lot of racial metaphors and symbols that I had missed, and made me admire the movie even more.

The only issue? And I don’t know how to say this without coming across as a disapproving granny, but wow, they sure swear a lot. I know, there’s a lot for American women to be angry about right now, and you gotta speak your truth. I just feel the arguments might be a bit more effective if the colorful language was applied more judiciously.

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The Americans Podcast

Where Backtalk is very broad; The Americans Podcast is super-specific. It’s not about all the people living in the country to the South, but about the FX TV series by that title that tells the story of Russian spies in 1980s who pose as an all-American couple, complete with all-American children. As previously reported, Jean and I love it.

It’s currently in its sixth and final season, and I have just discovered this podcast, which contains interviews with the cast, crew, and creators of the show, and thus is strictly a post-episode listen, as it’s rife with spoilers. This season is setting up to be epic.

Politics

Political stuff, especially American, is just moving with break-neck speed these days. These are the ones I don’t like to wait too long after post date before listening.

Lovett or Leave It

Crooked Media was a response to the election of Trump. Most of its members used to work for President Obama in some capacity. So they’re not unbiased, but the aim is to have “better conversations about politics.” They have a ton of podcasts, and I’ve sampled various ones. But my favorite is Lovett or Leave It.

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Some sincerely cool Crooked Media merch

Lovett or Leave It is taped live Friday nights in front of an audience, who participates in some segments. It’s a humorous, improvised look at the week’s stories in US politics. To add to the many other sources of humorous looks at US politics. What’s different here, I guess, is that it’s a lot of super well-informed people cathartically doing things like playing a clip from Fox news, saying “OK, stop”, and responding to the stupidity. Or turning the ridiculousness into a game. Or spinning a wheel to decide which topic to rant about.

It’s partly informative, it’s partly therapy.

Oppo – Canadaland

This is a relatively new one, and it’s about Canadian politics! I was drawn to it because they seem to be especially covering wonky issues I get somewhat obsessed with, like carbon pricing, why doesn’t the NDP seem more viable in Ontario, and what’s up with Sikh politics.

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It features journalists Justin Ling and Jen Gerson, who are supposed to in “opposition” from left and right positions, but it took me two episodes to realize that was the idea, because neither of them is really that extreme or partisan. Which I think is good (and also kind of Canadian).


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Dinner in an instant (pot)

An Instant Pot is a Canadian-manufactured pressure cooker whose claim to fame is that it can also be used as a slow cooker, steamer, saute pan,  and yogurt maker (!). It’s been a hot seller, and already available in baffling variety of models, with a great number of supporting cookbooks and web resources.

I at first wasn’t interested in the device, as it was described as a handy one-pot option for people who don’t like to cook. I got more intrigued with the reports of the speed which you could cook certain things—baked beans, brown rice, whole squash. Maybe it would allow me to cook those types of dishes and foods more often.


I used some birthday money to take the plunge. This required first doing some research into the varieties of models available to figure out what I wanted. I thought that maybe I would want to make yogurt some day (?), so I’d go to at least the Duo model, instead of Lux. But I didn’t really see the need to be able to control the thing with a phone app (!), so I wouldn’t spring for the “Smart”.

I then tasked Jean with figuring out where to buy the Duo from. We ended up getting it at Best Buy: The 6-quart Duo Plus.

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There’s a bit of a learning curve to this thing. I did read the manual, and some web resources, but Jean and I were still fumbling our way through the first recipe we tried, honey-garlic chicken. Like, first we had to sauté, and we missed that we were supposed to wait until the indicator said Warm before adding the food. Then it was on to pressure cooking, and it took a few tries to get how to set the cooking time, and how to tell when it was actually cooking. And then we had to decide on a technique for “releasing” the pressure cooker five minutes after it was done.

So all in all, this supposed 30-minute recipe took over an hour. It was, however, absolutely delicious.

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And did kind of look like this. Photo courtesy the Diethood blog.

Since then I’ve also tried:

  • Adapting my Mom’s baked bean recipe to the Instant Pot
  • Making roast potatoes with rosemary
  • Steaming basmati rice
  • A momo meatballs with cilantro chutney recipe
  • Cooking whole beets
  • Making pina colada rice pudding

And so far I’ve learned:

Mentally add in a 10 to 20 minutes preheat time to each recipe

Long-grain rice in 4 minutes? Baked beans in 40? Well, not quite. Because recipes will tell you how long to saute or pressure cook something, and how long to let it sit before releasing, but will never estimate the preheating time—perhaps because it can vary with the model or how hot it got in the previous phase. So in addition to prep and cook time, you have to consider that preheat time.

It’s not always faster

Baked beans, chicken with bones, brown rice, beets—even with the preheating, all of these were definitely faster in the Instant Pot than they would have been in the oven or stove top. But for long-grain white rice…? About the same. And, you have to make a lot of rice at once, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to limit carbs.

It doesn’t do crispy

It’s been terrific at producing tender meat, creamy rice pudding, and flavorful and tender baked beans. But in roast potatoes, I prefer more crispness than you get cooking them this way (though I still might do it again if I were low on time).


What I’m most eager to try next is a macaroni and cheese recipe (from a book) and a chicken adobo. I’m looking forward to trying risotto (which I’m too lazy to make the traditional way) and seeing how it does with whole squash.

Oh, and I guess one of these times I’ll have to try making my own yogurt (!).

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Case where the Instant Pot definitely beats the alternative (from https://www.motherearthnews.com/)