The Last Jedi - Thoughts & Review

Normally, I don't review movies. It's not because I'm not a fan (I am), but rather, I'm just not qualified to do so. If it's a franchise that I love, I'll do some research after I watch the movie to get more information on the things I had likely missed out on during my initial viewing, but for the most part, I'm definitely what you'd call a casual viewer. I don't mind spoilers, because they don't necessarily influence my opinions, and because I'd like to know what I'm getting myself into. That being said, there is one franchise that I will always avoid any and all spoilers for, and that is Star Wars.

Going into Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, I went into a total media blackout. I implemented filters and blocked keywords from almost all of my feeds because I wanted to experience the film with fresh eyes. Growing up, I never got to experience the original trilogy in the theaters. We only had the prequels. So with these new movies, it's finally my chance to experience a truly great Star Wars story in all of its glory.

That being said, after seeing The Last Jedi, it's all I've been able to think about for the last few days, and so I wanted to write down some of my thoughts and do a pseudo-review of this film. I'm almost positive I've driven my girlfriend mad with my incessant Star Wars talk, so hopefully, this gets at least some of it out of my system.

Oh, and this is your SPOILER WARNING. Past this point, I will be talking freely and openly about The Last Jedi, so if you haven't seen it yet, do not read this. Save this for when you have.


Episode VIII is probably my favourite Star Wars film to date. Yes, there are some very obvious flaws with the movie (which I will get to), but it does so much right that I'm willing to overlook those few shortcomings. I'm not going to go into a scene by scene breakdown of the movie (or any fan theories), but rather, highlight some moments that stood out to me. 

The first thing that really mattered was the overall presentation. Right from the first scene with the Star Destroyers warping above the Resistance Base planet, D'Qar, you get an immediate sense of just how large their world really is. From the bombers trying to take out the Dreadnought, to the Gorilla Walkers (AT-M6) on Crait, to the incredible arc of the First Order chasing the Resistance through space, everything is larger than ever before, yet still manages to have an element of intimacy.

Personally, I think that the Last Jedi can be broken down into four overall themes

  1. Snoke was always a red herring
  2. Failure is the greatest teacher of all
  3. Hope will always be reborn
  4. Letting the past die is what we needed to happen most of all

SNOKE:

Snoke was never meant to be an important figure. Yes, he was certainly mysterious, especially in how JJ Abrams presented him in The Force Awakens, but as a whole, he was only ever meant to serve as the Emporer-like figure. In the original trilogy, we never really knew much about the Emporer. He was always a mysterious figure we knew was powerful in the ways of the dark side of the Force, but we didn't know much about him nor his motivations. It wasn't until the prequels did we get that backstory of his. The same can be said of Snoke, in that, he is largely a figurehead, a red-herring of sorts.

Through The Force Awakens and the first two-thirds of The Last Jedi, we're led to believe that Kylo Ren is just a puppet of Snoke and that he will eventually be redeemed. However, while The Last Jedi certainly borrows from Episodes V and VI (slightly rearranged, however), what differs is that the end result is largely different. Rather than the pupil killing the master to redeem himself, we're left with Kylo killing Snoke in order to become even more powerful and further prove himself as the most powerful Sith in the entire Galaxy.

What eventually did Snoke in was his hubris, an echo of Luke's rant to Rey about how it was the Jedi's hubris that was their eventual downfall, and how they had failed to recognize the threat under their nose. It was this failure that led to Snoke reading Kylo's resolve, but misreading his aims (and led to one of the most kickass tag-team fight scenes in all of Star Wars history).

FAILURE:

Failure is the second large theme in The Last Jedi. Throughout the movie, we learn how Ben Solo ended up becoming Kylo Ren. While Snoke had already begun to creep his way into Ben, his turn to the Dark Side started with Luke's rejection of him as he attempted to kill his nephew in his sleep. Luke's failure is that he tried fighting what he hated rather than trying to protect what he loved. It wasn't out of character either, as Luke did this once before, during his fight with Vader, before he stopped himself.

Rey's failure is two-fold in this movie. The first is her willingness to let the dark side in and the second is her failure to bring Kylo back over to the light side. After Kylo kills Snoke, he begs for Rey to join him, to which she responds, "I have failed you." This entire scene was set up to make you believe that Kylo was redeemable, but ended with such an emotional gut-punch of Kylo slipping even further into the darkness.

Much like what Yoda said, "Failure is the greatest teacher of all." Luke, Rey, Leia, Poe, Rose, and Finn - all of them learned through their repeated failures in this movie, and that only helps to grow them as individual characters.

HOPE:

While it may be divisive, I thought that the whole Rose/Finn storyline was important. Without those two characters, the Resistance would die. The scene on Canto Bight demonstrates that despite all of their losses, the Resistance will always help those in need. Because of this, the light side/Resistance will always be reborn and be the victor, as they spread a new hope throughout the galaxy.

The Kylo and Luke fight at the end demonstrates that Kylo and the First Order are fighting nothing (symbolized by a holographic force projection of Luke), and are so blinded by their hatred, they do not realize that their fight is for nothing. Because their fight is for nothing, the dark side will always ultimately lose in the end.

This overall theme of most explicitly stated by Rose: "Don't fight what you hate, save what you love." This is why even after being wiped out, the remaining Resistance fighters aboard the Millenium Falcon seem happy and joyous. They know that they will eventually come out on top.

Kylo and his need for acceptance follow this as well. After he kills Han, Snoke reprimands Kylo for feeling the pull to the light side and feeling weak. After he kills Snoke, and Rey refuses him, he realized he killed the only person whom he thought understood his internal conflicts for naught. Maybe Roses' quote will apply to Kylo as well, and he will have the chance to save someone/something that he loves.

PAST:

Throughout this movie, Kylo kept repeating that the past needed to die, and he was absolutely right. In order for Star Wars to be taken in new and truly exciting directions, they needed to end their love affair with the original trilogy with this movie. The Force Awakens was largely a rehash of Episode IV, and The Last Jedi was a retooling of V and VI. What's important is the last third of this film, because it's the area that has the most implications going forward.

Kylo revealed to Rey that her parents were, in fact, common, non-force using, junk traders. Up until this point, it was thought that to be a Force user, it had to be hereditary. This dialogue exchange, along with the very last scene of the movie with the orphan boy summoning his broom, changes that entirely.

Now, with this revelation, anyone and everyone can be Force-sensitive. It means that with Rey's training incomplete, Kyo's internal conflict between the light and dark, Snoke's death, and Luke being the last true Jedi, we can finally step away from the long history of Jedi vs. Sith. We can open up the storytelling possibilities, which are now endless.

And that's what excites me the most about Episode VIII. It was an amazing movie, to begin with, but all of the groundwork it laid for the future of the saga is just so tantalizing. I can't wait to see what Abrams does with Episode IX, and what Rian Johnson does with his own standalone trilogy.

Now, the parts that bugged me about Episode VIII

  1. That whole scene with Leia flying through space. I mean, what?!
  2. Holdo not telling Poe what her plan was. It would've saved so much time and effort.
  3. Captain Phasma was once again thoroughly underused.
  4. How did Yoda summon lighting as a Force ghost?
  5. Is Chewbacca a vegetarian/vegan now?
  6. Why was there a map to Luke?
  7. Who and where are the Knights of Ren?

Overall, this was an excellent movie, and while it's definitely not a perfect one at that, it's an absolute joy to watch from start to finish.


And now, my definitive ranking of the Star Wars saga:

  1. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
  2. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Episode IV: A New Hope
  4. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
  5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  6. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
  7. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  8. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  9. Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Top 10 Albums of 2017

With all of the insanity this past year, I think it's safe to say that 2017 was a year that often felt like ten, with the brightest point being when everyone came together to witness the total solar eclipse. 

Much like last year, I spent most of my time trying to catch up to my seemingly endless backlog of podcasts and audiobooks, but somewhere in the midst of all that audio chaos, I found the time to thoroughly enjoy the following ten albums. And like I said last year, here's hoping that the following list of albums I could not stop listening to this year will bring you some solace as we leave 2017 behind and welcome in the New Year.

If you're curious and want to dig a little deeper into these albums, I've made a wonderful little playlist on Spotify that you can listen to here.


HAIM - Something To Tell You

It's been four years since the Haim sisters released their first studio album, Days Are Gone, and the wait was certainly worth it. HAIM has managed to zero in on what they do best, and the result is a beautifully crafted record rooted in bass flicks, sensational synths, and lovelorn lyrics. It's an ode to the classics - Fleetwood Mac, John Cougar Mellencamp, etc - seamlessly combined with the sounds of 2017. This album is an absolutely joy to listen to, start to finish.

 
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Ghost Atlas - All Is In Sync And There’s Nothing Left To Sing About

Ghost Atlas is the solo project of Jesse Cash, best known as the guitarist and clean vocalist of his primary metal outfit, ERRA. With Ghost Atlas, Cash is able to explore a more melodic, alt-rock styling in the vein of Saosin, Circa Survive, and Secret & Whisper. This sits in stark contrast to the full grunt of ERRA. While different in sound and approach, there are still elements of ERRA peppered throughout this album. It's a complete credit to his skill set that Cash is 1. willing to branch out and try new things and 2. produce two wildly different yet totally focused sounds. This album is definitely a step away from his established sound, but it's one well worth taking.

 
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Veil of Maya - False Idol

False Idol is the second album with not-so-new vocalist, Lukas Magyar. Magyar first joined for 2015's Matriarch, an album which I loved. This album showcases a band that is more content with its own sound than ever before, and the past two years have let the quartet refine their sound and tighten any loose screws from their last outing. Any shortcomings present on this album, and there aren't many, are quickly forgotten due to the nature of this album just being pure heavy fun. Guitarist Marc Okubo continues to prove his prowess at creating riffs that are both technically mesmerising and equally crushing, while Magyar's vocals are once again the standout feature, as his range is incredible. This album just shreds.

 
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LCD Soundsystem - American Dream

American Dream is LCD Soundsystem's first new album in over seven years, and is the much awaited follow-up to 2010's, This Is Happening. Sonically, it serves as an honest hommage to the 1980s, but an intelligent and successful one at that. And as gratifying as this album is to long time fans, it also feels exactly like this year needs - a sense of angry, self-aware, urgency. The sheer vulnerability of this album goes deeper than the cheap cashgrab that this reunion could have potentially spawned.

 
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Neck Deep - The Peace and the Panic

Based purely on their sound, you'd never know that this bright, sunny, pop-punk band are from the UK. It honestly sounds like they've taken their musical cues from Southern California and Florida than anything else (think New Found Glory, The Starting Line, and Yellowcard). What's perhaps the most striking thing about this band is that despite their sound, they aren't afraid to get introspective with their lyrics. Over the last two years, both vocalist Ben Barlow and bassist Fil Throrpe-Evans both lost their fathers while away on tour, and a close friend passed away as well. Rather than go full 180 into debbie-downer mode, they used that fuel some of the magnificently meaningful lyrics I've heard in this genre. The hook from the excellent closer, “Where Do We Go When We Go” summarizes the album’s mindset quite well: “I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me.” All in all, this album cements Neck Deep as the true heir to the long forgotten pop-punk throne.

 

August Burns Red - Phantom Anthem

Phantom Anthem is August Burns Red's seventh studio album (eighth, if you count Sleddin' Hill) and is a way for the band to get back to their roots. The overall feel and sound of the album is reminiscent of their 2009 album, Constellations, more than it is the technicality found in Rescue & Restore and the ambitious experimentation seen in Found in Far Away Places. While it definitely follows their signature pattern and sound, it's different enough to not sound stale. Detractors of the band will claim that it's formulaic, but Phantom Anthem offers a refreshing restart while improving on their overall sound. It's yet another solid entry into the band's fourteen year career as one of the most distinguishable metalcore acts out there.

 
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Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.

DAMN is not To Pimp A Butterfly. DAMN is not good kid, m.A.A.d city. DAMN is the album from Kendrick that I've been missing since Section.80. If your first thought upon hearing HUMBLE. was that this was going to be an album of straight bangers, well, you're in for a treat. DAMN is as disjointed in sound and arrangement as his previous two outings were meticulously crafted. It's lean and mean, and in an era in which hip-hop seems to be defined by insanely long durations and scores of fillers, DAMN arrives, says what it has to say, and leaves. It's slipshod, haphazard, and a rocky listen, but it's the Kendrick I've missed these last few years - a Kendrick more willing to experiment and say what he's really feeling. DAMN perfectly represents 2017 as a whole, and is well worth the listen.

 
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Wage War - Deadweight

Deadweight is the sequel to Wage War's 2015 debut, Blueprints. Blueprints laid the groundwork for their newest album, as all of the elements needed for a good metalcore album are present here - breakdowns, high and clean vocals, riffs intended to get you in a circle pit, and atmospheric elements in the choruses. What's so good about this album is that while they're still tuning themselves into drop-G, they've learned from their first album and refined their sounds. Songs like Don't Let Me Fade Away are less heavy and more catchy while still feeling like a Wage War song. And while the band does have some run-of-the-mill breakdowns, listening to the album will eventually lead you to Indestructible. This song definitely sound like the borrowed from bands like Confide, but the breakdown was so good that I had to keep looping back just to experience it over and over again.

 
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Ibeyi - Ash

Ash is the sophomore album for the French-Cuban Diaz sisters, and is art-pop in it's most minimal form yet. Everything is used so sparingly across this album, which really highlights the absolutely stunning (and sometimes auto-tuned) vocals. What makes this minimal sound work so well is that the duo doesn't really feel the need to unnecessarily busy up their songs, so when they do add another layer, i.e a Kamasi Washington sax solo, you really feel the hugeness of it. Aesthetically, this is a gorgeous album, but it does leave me wanting something...more, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Ash is a great follow up to their debut album, and I cannot wait to see what else the Diaz sisters have in store

 
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King Krule - The OOZ

The OOZ is an album that honestly defies all genre labels and expectations. Throughout the album, the music slips between rock, hip-hop, and jazz with a seeming deftness and confidence that can only come from someone with an intimate knowledge of the music he's seeking to make. It's incredibly easy to get lost in the varied sounds and lyrical complexities presented throughout the album. Every listen unearths new layers and depths to what is nothing shy of a total gem of a record.


The honourable mention this year has definitely got to go to the Tokyo based metal outfit, Crystal Lake. While the band didn't release a full LP this year (they released a three-track EP in October), they did release one of the, if not THE best, songs I've heard all year long. Apollo is one of those songs that I can listen to multiple times a day, every day, since it's release and get something new out of upon every listen. This song alone is as good as any of the full length LPs on this list, and I sincerely hope that they announce/release their third LP in 2017. Crystal Lake is absolutely crushing the competition. Listen below to see why this song is probably my favourite from this year

Apple is Bad At Design

Ever since Apple announced the iPhone X and iPhone 8 last month, I've been thinking a lot about how they've begun to approach design as a whole, and frankly, it's not good.

Let's start with the "notch" on the iPhone X. It’s not strange, nor interesting, nor even odd. It’s just bad, and that results in a bad user experience. Apple attempted to justify the notch by saying it houses all of this new technology for Face ID, which lets you unlock the device just by looking at it. This could have easily been accomplished without a visual break in the display, yet here we are, a device with an awkward blind spot cradled by two useless blobs of otherwise useful screen real estate.

Visually speaking, it’s ugly and thoroughly un-Apple like. It completely undermines the core premise of the iPhone X’s design – all screen. It offers a feature as an excuse in search of a solution that was needed – no one asked nor wanted Face ID, and now it raises new concerns about security for users. Apple could have just as easily removed the notch and kept Touch ID, but this time on the back of the device (similar to what many Android OEMs have been doing for years now in an attempt to create a truly immersive front panel i.e. Samsung, LG, Essential, Google to name a few). And from a performance standpoint, nothing differentiates the iPhone X from the iPhone 8 beyond aesthetics and the fact that the former is the flagship out of the two only because Apple wants it to be. 

 Just the bezels.  (Source:   r/android  )

Just the bezels. (Source: r/android)

Honestly, I’d love to say that the awful design compromise – and that is what it is, a compromise – is an anomaly for Apple, but it would be far more accurate to describe it as the norm.

Let’s go back in time a little bit and reminisce when Apple could do little wrong. “Macintosh works the way people work,” read one 1992 ad. Rather than requiring downloads and installations, Apple made it so that you could just plug in a mouse and start up the machine and it would just work. They managed to marry that ease of use with truly innovative and groundbreaking industrial design that so many other companies tried and failed to imitate over the last two decades. It’s easy to see just how Apple became the company for artists – the work was sublime and elegant.

Apple was frequently lauded as the best-in-class when it came to the synchronicity between hardware and software design, but things began to change right around the time of iOS 7 launching back in 2013.

iOS 7 was the first visual refresh to iOS overseen by Jony Ive, the darling designed of Silicon Valley who up to that point was seen as someone who could do no wrong. That wasn’t the case, as iOS 7 was confusing and amateurish, and up until iOS 9, still felt relatively incomplete as a thought. Ive had eschewed the former skeuomorphic design in favour of a more minimal, flat aesthetic – one that the digital world was fast embracing. However, Ive’s approach lacked any consistency. Icons all across the system could vary, and while it may seem like nitpicking, these are the kinds of details that Apple would never have gotten wrong before. Apple’s foundation – the lust worth design, the cohesion, total simplicity without sacrificing utility, was slowly eroding with the release of each new product.

Even John Gruber, the most evangelical and ardent of Apple bloggers, said this of the iPhone X’s notch: "It offends me. It’s ungainly and unnatural. This is Apple’s biggest product of 2017?”

What’s most surprising is that it’s been a long time since Apple blew anyone away with its innovation. Most of what’s been released in the Tim Cook era has been largely iterative of the Steve Jobs era. Larger iPads and smaller iPads. Bigger iPhones and smaller iPhones. Sure, Apple released a stylus for the iPad, but that was Apple merely addressing a market and what third parties had been clumsily producing for years. Sure, the cameras got better and the screens sharper, but so did everyone else's. Samsung for years has showcased larger, higher resolution and more sophisticated displays. The software became more complex but not necessarily more usable. Siri went from being there to, "eh, maybe it’ll work this time who knows?" (and totally blown out of the water by the likes of Google and Amazon). Apple Maps improved but is compared to Google’s offering in the same way that Bing is compared to Google’s search. It’s there, but who really cares?

And then there’s the Watch. Late to the game, as usual, everyone thought that it was just because Apple wanted to release the perfect smartwatch, and well, it was far from that. It was riffing off of other devices that came before it and the software was so poorly conceived that Apple had to rebuild it just two versions later. And the newest release is being torn to shreds for features that should work but just don’t (like LTE that can’t connect and a laughable battery). 

This doesn’t just end at the hardware level, nor the UI. The ecosystem as a whole is an utter mess. It’s impossible to backup your iPhone without needed iTunes, and your Apple ID and iTunes Account are seemingly separate for reasons only Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller know. It’s almost as if the company is starting to go down the path of itself back in the 90s being buried under the weight of its products, before the return of Jobs. Its unable to cut ties with past concepts that don’t fit the ecosystem anymore (iTunes), unable to choose clear paths forward (USB-C or Lightning?) and is choosing a user-hostile route by compromising core, universal elements to make room for splashy “features” all the while executing short-term solutions to long-term problems (AirPods > 3.5mm headphone jack?)

Even the naming scheme of Apple is thoroughly confusing. There’s the:

  • MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, 
  • Mac Mini, Mac Pro
  • iMac, iMac Pro
  • iPad, iPad Pro, iPad Mini, 
  • iPhone, iPhone Plus, iPhone X
  • Watch Series 1, Watch Series 3, Watch Nike+, Watch Hermes, Watch Edition

That’s Mini, Air, Pro, Edition, Plus. No consistency across products names, no consistency across product hardware, and most importantly, no consistency across the user experience as a whole. This isn’t an argument as to what Jobs may or may not have done; this is an argument for a central, cohesive vision that just isn’t there. When Schiller, Ive, and Cook cannot and will not provide that vision, who can and will?

Fans will shout justifications for a stylus that must be charged by sticking it in the bottom of an iPad, a “back” button that crammed into a tiny status bar, a system of expensive dongles used to connect devices that until a year ago didn’t need dongles and adapters, and a visual notch that rudely juts into the display of a $1,000 phone. However, the reality is that no matter how much or how well Apple sells, the company is stuck in an idea vacuum, like Microsoft in the 00s, or Apple in the 90s.

When smartphones first came on the scene, Blackberry and Nokia reigned supreme. But they became complacent and stopped innovating. They didn't see the need for things like a 3.5mm headphone jack. Then came the iPhone in 2007, and Apple turned the entire industry on its head. Everyone was chasing Apple and their design supremacy.  What's funny is that now Apple is the one playing catchup in both hardware and software, as the likes of LG and Samsung (and now Google, Huawei and Xiaomi) are out-Apple'ing Apple.

 The Samsung Note 8, LG V30, and Apple iPhone X ( Source:   Android Authority )

The Samsung Note 8, LG V30, and Apple iPhone X (Source: Android Authority)

The thing is that with victory often comes a sense of complacency, and in Apple’s case, that comes in the form of design for design’s sake. Design without tough. A comfort in resting on your laurels and lauded history. An increasing lack of concern for what’s coming next. And in technology, the next thing is always the one that breaks you, which makes me ask the question:

Does Apple know what’s coming next?

On Instagram's Curated Reality

I was recently talking to one of my coworkers about our staff. We typically regard ourselves - in a somewhat joking manner - as the grumpy old men. We just don't understand the younger people that we work with.

We were discussing the fact that the staff often spend the majority of their time online, connecting on social media. When they walk in, they're Snapchatting. On their breaks, they're browsing Instagram and texting each other. It's this constant need to connect and share for no other reason than to connect and share just for the sake of it. 

He and I joke about this, grumpily calling them millennials, but we know that we're just as guilty of this as well. But the difference is that where we browse passively, they are always online - aggressively.

I shared with him two articles I had read. The first talked about how on Instagram, teens would aggressively curate their profiles. If a particular photo didn't get enough likes, they'd delete it, so that only the top photos would survive. The second, which is a more recent article, also talked about Instagram, and how it can be the most harmful social media platform for your mental health, and I understand and sort of agree with its premise.

Now, I'm not the typical Instagram user. I don't follow any of my friends and I typically try to avoid any of the feeds that focus primarily on people. I want to see the world around me, and the the world around you. I don't need to know what you look like to want to see your perspective. But browsing through the Explore tab is another thing entirely. In there, all I see are impossibly beautiful models and ultra beefy men. 

The thing with that, and what the second article touches upon, is that young people are incredibly impressionable. They often compare themselves and their bodies to unrealistic images that have been manipulated. But more insidious than that is that it also creates this thought process in which young people think that they too can and should have bodies that look like what they're seeing online, and that they too can have these luxurious lifestyles.

Scott McCloud, the famous cartoonist, talked about how comics were able to make people feel like the characters were reflecting themselves; like the comics were speaking to them personally. The way he described is that when you see the face of someone else, you see the other. But when you see a blank, expressionless face (and sometimes, no face at all), it's easier to project and to see yourself.

Scrolling through my Explore tab on Instagram, all I can see are the same impossible beautiful models and ultra beefy men, all with that same expressionless look on their faces. More than that, however, are the millions of photos with these people taken in various exotic locales. These types of photos do two things. First, they make you believe that you too can achieve that level of beauty and fame while being able to travel all over the world with total ease. And second, they create unrealistic standards, because while it may be fun to browse through these photos and live vicariously through them, they help to lower self-esteem and fuel issues such as FOMO-induced anxiety and depression. All of this is because we project ourselves onto these people we don't even know, but still idolize.

Platforms like Instagram and Twitter are still excellent ways to explore the world around you. I still enjoy them but seemingly less and less these days. It's hard not to be drawn in when I log in and see all those beautiful shots of the world around me. It's extremely easy to edit and manipulate things these days, so you never really know what's real and what's not, so I think that as long as you know how to filter out the noise and the excess on any given social platform, they can still be enjoyable.

Cross-Canada Road Trip

When I was 17 years old, my friend convinced me to watch a movie called One Week. The basic plot of the movie is a teacher in Toronto discovers he has cancer, and decided that in order to deal with the treatment, he first has to discover who he really is. That leads to him going on a road trip across Canada, and tackling some pretty intense existential crises along the way.

Watching that movie got me thinking two things. The first is that while I’ve done my fair share of international travelling, I hadn’t actually seen much of my own home country. And the second thought I had was the following: despite being an immigrant myself (I came to Canada when I was three years old), I’ve always considered myself to be a Canadian first and foremost. Still, growing up, I always felt like I was always hovering on the edge of what it meant to truly be Canadian, whatever that means. So, what better way to figure out what that means for myself than by going on a road trip and seeing what this beautiful country has to offer?

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When I was younger, my parents and I had done trips out to the east coast, but it wasn’t until this past summer that I finally made the trip out west with my best friend and my girlfriend. We drove from Toronto all the way to Vancouver and back.

Now, you may be wondering why it's taken me so long to write and post this. Well, I think that one reason as to why I waited was because it still hadn’t sunk in that something I had done something that I had been dreaming about for almost six years. It hadn’t sunk in that I had driven 11,459km (the equivalent of driving from Toronto to Dubai, and then another 459km or so). It hadn’t sunk in that I got to touch the Pacific Ocean, or that I was able to see the breathtaking beauty that are the mountains in Jasper and Banff. Truth be told, it still hasn’t entirely sunk in yet, but it’s getting there.

I think part of why I waited to write is also because I wasn’t entirely sure how to properly express just how wonderful a time I had during those 25 days without too much exposition. Something like this, no matter how much you read or how many pictures you view, you won’t entirely understand unless you do it yourself. Casey Neistat, the YouTuber, said, “experience does for the soul what education does for the mind.” I completely believe in that.

Before I get to the actually writing about the trip, I first need to tell you about the whole preparation process.

 

Preparation

If there’s one thing that my girlfriend, Iryna, will tell you, it’s that nothing makes me happier than a well-formatted spreadsheet. Since this was our first long-distance road trip together, we figured that the best way to approach this was by breaking down the trip day-by-day. This meant figuring out the route and distances between our destinations, our accommodations, and the sights we wanted to see along the way. After doing much research, we figured that the most cost effective way of driving was to get a rental, and make sure that we had full coverage and roadside assistance for anything that might happen along the way. More on this later.

The next part was figuring out accommodations. We quickly realized that hotels, motels, and Airbnbs would be far too expensive to stay in for 25 days straight. That alone would have added up an extra $3,000 to our overall budget, and that wasn’t something we were willing to do. So, when Iryna came up with the idea of Couchsurfing, I was a little hesitant at first. However, after our first night with our first host, I was sold.

The best part with Couchsurfing is a couple of things. First, we didn’t have to spend a dime, and second, we got to see things in each place we otherwise would have missed. By staying with locals in their homes, we a truly immersive experience. And third, we made new friendships along the way, something we also would have missed out on had we gone with the hotel/motel/Airbnb route. When we weren’t Couchsurfing, we spent our nights camping out (mostly in Jasper, Banff, Radium Hot Springs, and Dinosaur Provincial Park.

And now, with both my lengthy introduction to why we wanted to travel and our a brief dive into our preparation process, I bring you my Cross-Canada Road Trip experience, starting with

Ontario

I never truly appreciated just how big Ontario is as a province. Growing up, I’d see all these maps in which they’d overlay Canadian provinces over whole sections of Europe, to give you a sense of just how large Canada is, and subsequently, the entire world.

We started off at my house in Newmarket, a little north of Toronto. We packed up the rental car the night before, and early in the morning, we set out onto the open road. Our plan was the reach Pancake Bay, just north of Sault Ste. Marie, but the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain so hard that we had to cancel our camping plans and find the closest and cheapest motel inside of Sudbury. We found a place for $60, which given the price, wasn’t much. Let’s just say the $60 covered the cost of four walls, and not much else.

The next morning, we drove our way through Ouimet Canyon on our way to Thunder Bay. While we did spend most of our day driving, we did manage to get in some quick pit stops to see just how beautiful northern Ontario really is. Two things I took away are that 1. It’s very rocky, and 2. It’s very prone to rockslides. I can’t count how many times we were stuck in a single line waiting for construction crews to clear the roads ahead.

Our stop in Thunder Bay was brief, but great. Because we were travelling, we wanted to keep our expenses to a minimal. Due to our budget constraints, we decided to try Couchsurfing our way across Canada. I was a little hesitant at first when my girlfriend brought up the idea, but after our first night with Chris in Thunder Bay, I was sold.

Chris is an awesome dude, who lives with his girlfriend, and their Boston Terrier/Pug mix named Jake. We met a lot of really adorable animals along the way, but I think Jake might have been my favourite. We reached his place at around 10pm, and what shocked me was that it was still fairly bright outside.  When we asked Chris about this, he said that it’s because Ontario is such a large province, and that realistically, it should have two separate time zones. Driving from the border of Manitoba to the border of Quebec is close to 35 hours. Because of that, and just how large Ontario is as a province, the sun rises and sets much later in Thunder Bay than it does in Toronto. That was when it really hit me; just how large Ontario is, and in comparison, Canada as a whole. That night I went to sleep thinking about how in the grand scheme of things, I’m fairly insignificant.

We left Thunder Bay and Chris early the next morning. We had a long 10 hour drive ahead of us, and we wanted to see as much of it while we could.

Our next stop was Steinbach, a small place about 40 minutes southeast of Winnipeg. On our way there, we drove through Kenora, which if you ever have the chance you should absolutely visit. We needed a break to stretch our legs, and when the waiter at the restaurant we were at told us about a beach close by, we jumped at the opportunity to cool off. This is where both Dave and Iryna quickly learned that while I may be a bit of a beanpole, I am immovable (at least in the water). Kenora was a beautiful small town that had serious cottage vibes and some of the friendliest people.

After we left Kenora, we drove across the border into

 

Manitoba

When we were leaving for the trip, there was one thing I kept hearing; that if you have a dog, and let it loose, you can still see it running three days later. I genuinely thought that that was simply hyperbole, that Manitoba can’t actually be that flat, but I was wrong. Manitoba really is just that flat.

After seeing the beauty that is Northern Ontario for two days straight, it was a little refreshing to be able to see straight across into the horizon. We drove straight to where we’d be spending our third night, Couchsurfing with an incredible couple - Beck and Anth. They described themselves as “granola,” and had the most adorable rescue bull terrier, Poko. They made us bison burgers for dinner, and we spent the night talking about our respective travels. They told us all about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Machu Picchu in Peru.

The next day, after numerous hugs and an extended goodbye from Poko, we set off on our eight hour drive into Saskatoon.

Saskatchewan

Once we crossed the border into Saskatchewan, we drove straight towards our next destination - Saskatoon. Initially, I had only expected to be mildly impressed by the place. A small town in the middle of the prairies didn’t seem all that exciting, but funnily enough, Saskatoon soon became one of my favourite places along the road trip.

We messaged our next Couchsurfing host, Thomas, and told him that we might be a bit late as we were going to be getting dinner with some people that had messaged Iryna online. When we reached the bar, the three of them waved us over to their table, and introduced themselves - Riley, Jane, and Chris. As we ate, we got to know them fairly well, so much so that Jane invited us out to brunch the next morning.

After dinner, we met up with Thomas at his house. He told us that he wouldn’t be there in the morning when we left, as he had to be at work for 4am (he’s the guy that chases down hot-air balloons). After a long day of driving, we immediately crashed.

The next morning, we met up with Jane and had what I think might be the most delicious brunch I’ve ever had and will ever had. If you’re ever in Saskatoon, you need to visit Poached - it’s absolutely incredible.

After we said goodbye to Jane, Riley messaged us saying that he got off work early, and wanted to show us around. We picked him up at the house he shares with Jane and Chris, and he took us to two incredible places. The first was the Saskatoon River Beach. For a hot summer day, it was the perfect way to unwind. The current was strong enough that we were able to just sit and drift down the river a little bit. The second place he took us to was the Saskatoon Berry Farm, which has the most delicious perogies and cheesecake (it’s a farm run by Ukranians).

We had initially planned on leaving Saskatoon by 2pm to each Edmonton in the early evening, but we were having so much fun that by the time we said our goodbyes and hit the road, it was already 6pm.

Alberta

The drive to Edmonton was one of the more memorable ones. Iryna was wiped out, and was napping in the back, and Dave had already done quite a bit. So it was me driving, and Dave being my DJ to keep me awake and alert at the wheel. Sometime after we crossed the border, the sky turned pitch black. In the mountainous horizon, we saw bolts of lightning arcing across the sky. I still don’t understand how Iryna didn’t wake up, what with Dave and I literally yelling, “did you see that one?! Oh man dude that’s so freaking cool!” every few seconds.

I had hoped that because we were driving into the storm, our extremely dusty car would get a decent cleaning. The funny part is that the front of our car did, but the back half was even dustier. How it remained that way is beyond me, but by the time we reached our destination, we were too tired to care.

We didn’t reach Edmonton until 11:30pm, and by the time we got to our next Couchsurfing host, it was already well past midnight. They were gracious enough and welcomed us into their home. It turned out that our host, Courtney, was actually in Alaska, and her roommates were the ones that we would be staying with for the night. They were all young, in their early 20s, and since housing has become something that is increasingly unaffordable, they eight or nine of them had gone in on a mortgage for that house together. They had a unique system, in which everything was for everyone to use and eat unless otherwise specified. It had a warm, communal feel to it.

Waking up the next morning was a little tough. After a long night of driving, I was beat. Iryna woke up the next morning to a small, fluffy yet extremely grumpy looking white cat walking all over her face. It’s name was Roy, but she referred to him as the furry little asshole that woke her up. There were people studying in university, working on small farm projects, and a girl from Australia who during her travels across the country, found this group and decided to stick with them.

We didn’t stay in Edmonton long. I wish we had gotten more of a chance to see the city, but the three of us were eager to get to the next part of our trip - camping in Jasper and Banff.

On the way to Jasper, we got pulled over, and Iryna got her first ever ticket for speeding. After we calmed her down, I took over driving, to give her and Dave a break. We didn’t actually reach the campsite until much later, because on the drive in, we kept having to stop to get out of the car and just take in the sights.

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There’s not much to talk about when it comes to Jasper and Banff, or least, there’s not much words can do when the best way to experience it is to actually see it. We spent two days in Jasper, one night camping and one night in a hotel (we were desperate for a hot shower and access to a laundromat), one night in Radium Hot Springs, and two nights in Banff. We drove through the Columbia Icefields, saw Lake Louise, the Athabasca Falls, and hiked through the Johnston Canyon. We were cold, soaked, but far from being miserable. There’s something about the sheer beauty of the mountains that removes any sense of worry or misery.

If you ever have the opportunity, this is one place in Canada you absolutely cannot miss out on. And with all National and Provincial Parks in Canada being free to the public in 2017, there’s no excuse not to go and see them.

British Columbia

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Driving into Vancouver was one of the more memorable parts of the trip. We had driven through the Alberta-BC border when we were going from Radium Hot Springs back into Banff, but from Banff to BC, there’s nothing quite like it. Winding our way through the mountains and finally making our way into the city was wonderful. The only thing I would have changed would have been the time spent driving. Going back to the spreadsheet that we had created, it looked like it had taken us close to 11 hours, but it was worth it.

 

Like all the other places we were visiting, we decided to Couchsurf. We stayed with this dude, Alex, and it was absolutely wonderful. Alex is this sort of free-spirited, hakuna matata kind of guy, and not only did he let us stay with him for 5 nights, he actually took some time off to show us around the city. The first day, we wandered through Stanley Park, and then later around Kitsilano. We spent the next two days adventuring around the downtown core, hogtown, and Grandville Island, and by the third day, we decided that we needed a mental and physical break, so we caught an afternoon movie.

 

While we were there, we also did three day trips out to Squamish and Whistler, one to the Lynn Canyon Park, and one to visit Wreck Beach down by UBC. What we had really wanted to do was visit Vancouver Island, and drive up to Tofino, but for that we would have needed at least another week to do it justice. We’re saving that for the next time we’re there.

Not only did we get to meet Alex, but we actually got to meet some of his closest friends, and they were so incredible that we’re still in touch. When Alex moved back to Toronto in October, we met up with him again, and it was so good to see him and hear about his travels and how he managed to get back to the city by hitch-hiking.

We didn’t really want to leave Vancouver, but we knew we had to. I remember Iryna and I sitting on the beach contemplating how we could potentially move to a city like this (Dave, Alex, and Brittany were in the water), and how for the first time we had both felt like this place so far away from where we grew up felt like home to us. Vancouver, for all it’s faults, is a wonderful and beautiful city, and a place I had always wanted to visit.

When we finally left, we said our goodbyes, and began our journey back. Our first stop would be in Radium Hot Springs again for a night, before we drove through to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta

 

Alberta

Dinosaur Provincial Park, which is about 40 minutes south of Drumheller, is absolutely beautiful. However, when we went, we were being attacked by mosquitos 24/7. No amount of bug repellant seemed to work, and I’m getting itchy just thinking about them. We had planned to stay there because the Perseid Meteor Showers would be happening at that time of year, and we figured what better place to view it than among old dinosaur fossils. No amount of natural beauty was worth the torture we had to endure, so we ran back to our tents and slathered after bite to soothe our freshly bitten skin.

We visited the Tyrell Dinosaur Museum, and to be quite honest, it puts the ROMs dinosaur exhibit to shame. It was so cool being able to see into the workshop where scientists were trying to delicately uncover bones and fossils from the dirt.

The last thing we saw in Alberta before we left was a township of 28 people called Wayne. At one point, it was home to over 2,000 residents during the coal mining boom, but now it’s a tourist attraction due the Last Chance Saloon (which surprisingly had a delicious burger). Definitely worth checking out.

Saskatchewan

On our way back, we drove through Regina, and stayed with a German guy named Sebastian. His company had brought him over, and had paid for his apartment, and because he didn’t know too many people in Regina, he was using Couchsurfing as a way to meet new and interesting travellers.

We spent the night talking about our various trips, and he showed us photos of his travels throughout Iceland. We immediately added that to our travel bucket list.

Manitoba

When we first drove through Manitoba, we didn’t actually go through Winnipeg. On our way back, however, we wanted to rectify this, and so we stayed with this absolutely lovely girl, Akech. She was working that night, so we met up with her, and she gave us the key to her place. Because she was so nice and trusting, we decided to do her a small favour, and do some cleaning up for her (taking out the garbage, doing her dishes). It was a small apartment, but it felt really nice to know that there were people out there who still had enough faith and warmth in their hearts to blindly trust people like that.

Ontario

Finally, we were back in our home province, but still incredibly far from being home. We powered through the last two days, flying through Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, and a little bit before 9pm, we pulled into my driveway. I don’t think my parents were expecting us to be back so early, so when we rang the doorbell, they were pleasantly surprised. We spent the next three hours just unpacking the rental car and taking long hot showers. It felt good to be home, but there was still one day left. We still had to return the rental car, and I still drive Dave and Iryna both home.

 

It really didn’t sink in that we had driven over 11,500km over the span of 26 days until the following week. When you’re so caught up in the moment doing things, sometimes you don’t realize what’s actually happening until you’ve had a second to just sit back and reflect.

That trip was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m so glad I was able to do it with the two people that I love most in this world. People asked me, “but didn’t you get into fights?” and that surprised me. They had this expectation that three really close people can’t travel without getting into fights and stop talking for a few days, and that’s never been the case with my friends and I. I figure, if you think that that’s going to happen, then you’re not nearly as close as friends as you think you are. If I had know that would happen, I wouldn’t have done the trip. I mean, what’s the point of travelling and seeing one of the most beautiful countries in the world if you’re not happy?

And I was happy. I think the happiest I’ve ever been. It was the perfect antidote to what we had experienced in India and Brussels only a few months early. It was the perfect way to spend my summer, and the perfect way to get to know my best friend and my girlfriend in ways not possible otherwise. It was the perfect way to get out of my own head, and to begin to think in new ways by meeting new and extremely interesting people. It was the perfect way to experience Canada in an extremely small time frame, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Canada turns 150 this year, and all National Parks are free to enter. If you have any vacation time, don’t use it to go abroad. Use it to discover the natural beauty in your very own backyard. I promise you that you absolutely will not regret it.


Below you will find a slideshow of some of our favourite photos taken during the trip. If they look a little compressed, it's because they totally are. If you want to see the full, high-res versions of them, you can click here. If you want to see more, or follow along, you can find Iryna online here and Dave online here. You can also read this in the August 2017 issue of Desi News over here.

On Amazon Prime and Consumerism

Today is Prime Day 2017, and if you have no idea what those words mean, don't worry. Prime Day is Amazon's big annual summer sale blowout event, in which thousands upon thousands of items have had their prices slashed. Delivery is free, and in some places, same-day. But the real driving force behind Prime Day is to entice the few of us holdouts to sign up for a Prime Membership.

So, naturally, I went online, signed up for Prime, and quickly saw that the deals weren't that great. Most of the stuff was total junk that I didn't need. Movies, a plethora of USB cables, and other miscellaneous stuff. And so, just as quickly as I had signed up, I cancelled, because I realized two things. The first being that if you live outside of the U.S., Prime kind of sucks and isn't worth it, and the second being that all of those deals just suck. Well, actually, almost all deals suck.

The thing is that I work in Retail Management, so as both a customer and a worker, I can see both sides to the argument, are deals and discounts bad for you? So, in an effort to make my point as coherent as possible, I've divided my thoughts into two camps. 1, THE BAD: why Amazon Prime and deals/discounts in general are bad for you and 2. THE GOOD: why Amazon Prime and deals/discounts are absolutely wonderful.

Let's start with

THE BAD

From the consumer perspective, Amazon Prime Day has become another shopping bonanza event in a similar vein to Black Friday or Boxing Day. People go absolutely crazy scooping up everything that they think is an awesome deal, regardless if they actually need it or not. 

Think about it this way: how many times have you been in a line waiting to purchase something and heard someone say, "Well, at this price how could anyone possibly say no?!" Now, how many times have you said that yourself? Me, countless. I'm guilty of this, and as such, have amassed a collection of 20+ USB cables and a never ending supply of short-sleeve patterned shirts. These are things that I absolutely, genuinely don't need, but in the moment, wanted. Why? Because deals and discounts are not only designed to make things seem more affordable but make us want to buy things just to be frugal and collect on the massive "savings".

On the flip side, looking at things from a retail management perspective, things get a little bleaker. In my business, our head office has effectively trained our customer to always expect deals. So now, whenever they come in and something isn't on a promotion, they'll wait. That hurts our business in one very distinct way; we're losing out on potential high-dollar sales all the time now. So with the loss in revenue, our head office now drops heavy promotions across the board, meaning we now have to sell more to make the same amount of money. Yes, this brings in the traffic, but as a business, we're losing out on our gross margins. Customers now expect discounts on everything, and get mad if they have to pay full price, regardless if they can get a price adjustment at a later date or not.

The thing is that as consumers, we should want to pay full price for certain items. Not all the time, but at least some of the time. If you truly value something, you should want to pay and support the cost of it. And that extends outwards to everything, from retail to local businesses to entrepreneurs. We've slowly shifted from a frugal society to a stingy one - rather than resourceful and creative, people are trying to save money for the sake of it by making their purchasing decisions based on whatever is the cheapest.

Discounts are nice, but they aren't a necessity. 

THE GOOD

We live in a golden age, in which you can order whatever you'd like online, drop the shipping fee, and have it arrive on your doorstep in 1-2 days. The convenience factor is only made better by the fact that we can now also do comparison shopping online to source the best prices so that we can save some of our money. In remote places like Iqaluit, Canada, this is necessary, as store shelf prices are far too high for the average consumer to spend.

Deals and discounts are great because not only do they allow you to get more for less, but they let you save money and put some of that back into the bank. But, sometimes, with that extra little cash, it's nice to treat yourself to something that you may want and not just outright need. 

Most of the product that we buy are generally overpriced. So why not send a message with your dollars that you may like something, but you'd only buy it if it were more affordable. They way my friend Dave broke it down for me was this:

"Some products are just overpriced, and I'd rather a signal be sent that it's a good product but at a reduced price. I'm not paying $60 for a Bomberman game for instance, not until it drops to $40."

And that is exactly true. Typically, I tend to budget myself so that I don't go crazy and overspend. I like to see my savings account grow, but I'm also a human with wants and needs. Most of the companies that we shop at and give our dollars to are typically on the larger side. The cost of manufacturing is never as much as the price they sell us the item at, so the margins they make are usually incredibly high. If a company can produce an item at a cheaper price after it reaches economies of scale, why shouldn't they pass that onto us consumers? We see them do it at least twice a year, during the big end of summer and end of winter sales, as they try and push out older product to make room for newer, more expensive items. Those markdown prices are closer to the reality of what it cost to make the item anyway.

It's a tough spot to be in, being able to see both sides of the argument. On one hand, I need to run an effective business, and that's been made harder and harder to do with non-stop discounts and deals. On the other hand, I need to be smart with my money and save where and when I can.

There's no real cut and dry answer to this, and I doubt that there ever will be one. All I can say is this: do you really need another _______?

Working Everywhere

A few weeks ago, I decided to finally start the process of searching for my first home. It's an incredibly daunting task and a little demoralizing, but also just so much fun. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted it to look like on the inside, and obviously, I took a lot of inspiration from my recent love-affair with Pinterest.

I knew that aside from having an immaculate living area, I wanted an office space. A place where I could sit down and get work done. A desk with drawers and everything neatly filed away and properly stored. But that's when I realized two things - I already have that in my room. I have this beautiful desk, this whole section that's dedicated to nothing but work, but I actually rarely ever spend any time sitting there. For instance, right now, I'm in my bed, drinking tea, and writing this as I have an episode of The West Wing playing in the background (I'm trying to watch in tandem with The West Wing Weekly podcast, but it's so hard not to watch ahead).

The second thing that I realized is that as much as I wanted to be someone who only worked at his work desk and only played elsewhere, I've never been able to do that. As nice as it would be to have one of those heavily curated, Pinterest-looking spaces to get things done, I've always been someone who can get things done anywhere. Well, not anywhere. I've never been able to work in a coffee shop or on a plane - they just never felt right to me - but I can just as easily get work done in my bed, in my kitchen, or on my couch. I've never quite needed a dedicated work space.

I think that's because I've situated myself in such a way that everything I need can be accessed from anywhere. All my my notes and important files are stored in Drive and Keep, I find things to read through Flipboard, sync and listen to my podcasts through Pocket Casts, and have all my passwords stored in LastPass - all of these a mere fingerprint scan away. If you were to give me your phone, I could turn it into mine by downloading a few apps and logging into them. Everything is everywhere, and it's kind of incredible how I've managed to make my life service, and to an extent, device agnostic.

There are some weird hangups though. Emailing on my phone feels as weird as messaging my friends on my computer. Things still feel segmented in certain areas, but that's mostly just a me-thing and how I've done things for so long. What's interesting is the little changes I've noticed. I no longer need to get my laptop to watch Netflix or YouTube just because the screen is larger. I do most of that on my phone now because it's there and it's convenient. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while it is nice to have a dedicated space to just sit down and get stuff done, whether it's work or cleaning out your inbox, it's also nice knowing that you can do that just about anywhere these days.

I think that this is the way the world is going now - everything is going be both yours and not yours. You own the information, but it doesn't matter what device is being used to deliver that information to you. Everything we use is becoming increasingly more powerful and connected, which only blurs the line between them even further. We just need to unlearn the old ways of thinking how these things work. That and to make sure we don't forget our master password.

Finding Balance Online

A month ago, I wrote about how I was slowly working to make my phone, and myself, better. I talked about how I was replacing Twitter and Reddit from my home screen with Flipboard and an eBook reader. When I told my girlfriend about how I didn't want to spend so much time on social media, she recommended that I try Pinterest. I've tried getting into it before, but for whatever reason, it never stuck with me. When she told me that the key is to pick one project, make it into a board, and start saving every idea you even remotely like to it, I started to see it's value. Now, after a solid month of relentless pinning (men's fashion, home offices, and pugs), I can open up Pinterest and it's full of stuff that I'm really into. It's the weirdest mix of DIY home design to fashion tips I hadn't thought of to hilarious images of the wrinkliest pugs. It feels like me.

The other big shift was that I started using Flipboard a lot more too. After the death of Google Reader, I spent the last four years searching for the best way to consume news. I tried Feedly and Google Play Newsstand, but those felt a little too cold and didn't always deliver the news I was interested in. I tried setting up my Twitter feed, but I kept seeing the same posts retweeted three or four times a day. Facebook worked for a while (I unfollowed everyone, and replaced them with the sites and blogs I frequent the most), but then I noticed that because Facebook's algorithm kept refreshing the stories in a non-linear way, I kept missing out on important news events and stories. Flipboard for the most part has fixed that. Creating news boards around topics as opposed to strictly the sites I read the most has opened me up to a wider discourse and breadth of knowledge and reduced the amount of noise surrounding them

I did the same with Reddit and Instagram. I decided to stop following the accounts and subreddits I thought I had to or should be following, and instead followed the ones across all my interests instead. These have become the places where I spend the majority of my time online now, and you know what? It's absolutely wonderful.

The more I step away from the screaming mess that are Twitter an Facebook, the more I feel sane and happier. My friends, colleagues, and chosen strangers no longer dictate what I care about. Apps like Nuzzel are meant to help with this. You connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a few times a day it'll send you a notification about the stories your friends, colleagues, and chosen strangers are talking about. It's meant to give you that sense of control, but I found it to be more of a distraction. Sure, to an extent it'll help keep me in the loop, but I've found myself to be more engaged when I actually want to flip through the latest news stories and events, not because people I know are talking about them.

The last month has been a calming reminder that the world isn't always on fire. The political landscape is scary as hell, and burying my head in home decorating tips isn't always the right approach nor the answer. But sometimes you need a break, and sometimes that break comes in form of home decorating tips. We're constantly being bombarded with so much news and content that it's exhausting. It's important to remember that it's okay to rest for a minute, cool off, and take a few deep breaths. It's tempting to segment things and view any and all forms of entertainment as pointless. I mean, who cares what the latest gadget is when the world is potentially ending, right? I do, and I think that it's a good thing to care, even if it really doesn't matter, just to give yourself that break.

For a long time, that's what Facebook and Twitter used to be - fun distractions. They were places where you could post silly pictures and share cool things with like-minded people who share similar interests. I used to check them several times a day, and now that they are the world, and we need new places to escape to, I check them maybe once very ten days. Life is just so much more peaceful without all the noise and distraction that comes from these platforms.

I'm still working on this, trying to carve out my little corner of the internet as it pertains to me - to find things and people that I think matter and interests me separate from the mess of the rest of the internet. It's incredibly tough though, finding that apocalypse-free zone, but the process of it all is already making me happier.

What I'm trying to say is that Pinterest is hella rad, and as long as you can find a proper way to filter all the noise, the internet can be pretty awesome.

Making My Phone (& Myself) Better

There are two things that my girlfriend noticed about me recently; I'm playing with my phone way too much, and that I won't stop playing with my phone. So ever since we went on that road trip across Canada, I've been trying to find ways to unplug. I'll read articles on the proper ways to unplug for the weekend, or how someone has one day a week in which they don't use their phone. It's all well and fine when you read that, but trying to put that into practice is much harder than it looks.

However, once you do it, you understand why so many people are advocating this approach. It work. For instance, this past weekend, I was in Mont-Tremblant. It's absolutely beautiful up there, and even knowing that, I didn't take too many photos. Instead, I actively chose to just experience it with my friends.

One thing that I do keep coming back to is my phone. Every so often, I'll do this whole overhaul of the apps I use and how I use them. Sometimes I'll start with a purge of my social media, and then my news sources, and from there, slowly build it back up. But what I keep coming back to is my homescreen. What you have on your homescreen deeply personal and says a lot about who you are as a person. I'm always looking at mine from the viewpoint of a stranger who might happen to glance at my phone, and what they might think of me.

Lately however, I've started to take a slightly different approach. Instead of my homescreen being a place where I have my most used apps, it's a place where I have the apps I wish I used more. It's more aspirational now - the homescreen of the person I want to be.

I replaced Twitter and Reddit with Flipboard (the newest update is seriously rad), because I want to be more in control of my news-reading. With the insane amount of news surrounding the Trump administration, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed by social media. It's still there, but only when I'm ready for it now. I also removed Pocket, because it's become a black hole of things I want to read but know I never will, and instead replaced it with an eBook reader.

The other big thing that I did was remove any and all games from my phone. I was never big into gaming in the first place, but they always felt like an unnecessary distraction, especially given my backlog of podcasts and audio books that I want to get through. Instead, now I've got a budget app on my phone that sends me daily updates about my finances, reminding me that I really don't need to buy that third coffee to get me through the day.

And the other thing is that I downloaded one of those guided meditation apps. Not because I meditate, but because everyone I knows keeps telling me that it's amazing and that sometimes I could use an extra dosage of chill. And now that it's there, I'm finding that I'm actually using it, instead of aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Reddit feeds without much purpose other than to kill some time.

It's absolutely crazy to me how powerful a homescreen can be. Even now, after relegating some of the apps into the app drawer (which is still only a single swipe-up away from me), I find that I'm still wasting too much time aimlessly browsing through my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Reddit feeds in order to kill some time. At least once a week, I'll send my girlfriend a screenshot of my homescreen, and she'll laugh, because it's the same layout, but I might have moved some of the icons around.

I'm still in the early stages of this experiment of making my phone a device that helps me to be more sane, focused, and productive. And not productive in the "Do More Work" sense of the term, but productive in actually making meaningful progress on the things that I want to achieve for myself. 

Habits are hard to break, but I'm really hoping that the old adage, "out of sight, out of mind," will come to bear some truth for me. But, maybe not. Maybe all I'm doing is moving some icons around.

On Privacy

Back when I was in university, one of my favourite things to do was to sit at the top of the lecture hall and try and figure out what kind of computers people were using. This was happening just as the smartphone wars between iOS and Android were heating up, so aside from the odd iPhone and Blackberry here and there, there wasn't much going on in that space.

I loved figuring out what versions of operating systems people were using, and the applications that went with them. I eventually got to be so good at doing that that it stopped being fun. That's when I shifted my attention to the then and now maturing smartphone market. Nine times out of ten, I can figure out what phone someone is using (because nine times out of ten it's either a Galaxy or iPhone).

With that, combined with my natural curiosity, I began to watch what people were doing on their phones. It's incredibly fascinating, seeing what apps people are using, how they've organized their home screen, and if they're the type of people to obsessively close their apps every five seconds. It's sort of my way of studying how other people work and go about their days, but mostly it's because I'm nosy in the most harmless sense of the word.

Every once in a while, during my over-the-shoulder glances into people's lives, I'll be dropped into something immensely personal and private. I've seen people send silly faces over Snapchat, a guy texting his parole officer, a girl breaking up with her boyfriend, and another person watching videos that can only be described as inappropriate for a public setting. 

And to be clear, none of these individuals are monsters - I am. I am the person who is willingly and knowingly peering into their lives and invading what they believe to be private moments. I mean, consider all the people you've ever run into who have talked loudly in public spaces regarding private and personal matters. If you talk in public, then yes, you deserve to be eavesdropped upon. Typing should feel different from that, but when you have a large, glowing rectangle pointed in my direction, you have to expect that I will see some of what you're typing away. That being said, I am a monster. I think.

What's odd to me is how the once very clear lines have blurred so heavily. We now do work from home, and personal stuff at home. Everything happens everywhere, and it all happens on our phones now. These little devices contain our entire lives, pushing the boundaries of what we consider private and public to the point of nearly destroying them. We post so many things on Facebook and Snap so much more; the question is where do we draw this line between private and public? Who is allowed to watch and who isn't? The problem here is that our phones make everything feel so immediate and of higher importance that we no longer think about where we are or what we're doing.

I've been thinking about privacy a lot over the last few months. For the first time in what seems like essentially ever, people are starting to seriously think about the implications of having these tiny, pocketable super computers that know everything about you. We have cameras that are on, paired with smart speakers in our living rooms, always listening to what we say. They say that their memories are short, but how can we be certain?

That's not to say that this isn't a tough question to mentally grapple with. Am I subject to your rules and surveillance every time I visit you at your house? Am I allowed to cover up any cameras with tape if they make me feel uncomfortable? So much of ourselves is now out there floating around, constantly being captured and stored, waiting to be presented to the whole world. 

Ultimately, each of us is allowed a reasonable expectation of privacy, but that's up to us to determine how much of that is actually in our control. Over the last year, I took the appropriate steps to enable multi-factor authentication on everything, from my Facebook to Twitter to Google accounts, and have only begun convincing my family members to do the same. Email has always had an unofficial mantra - never send anything you wouldn't want anyone to see, so if you're really trying to be private, maybe don't send things over email. It may seem trivial and silly, but we really should hold ourselves and our tech to one standard - that you are in control of your sense of self and privacy. The two go hand in hand. If you don't want people to overhear your business, then maybe don't talk loudly about it in public. Or, at the very least, look around to make sure no one is watching or listening every once in a while.

I don't think that anyone of us has really spent the time to think these things through, including their possible ramifications. Maybe with this new Presidency, in all of its insecure glory, now is the time to do so.

In the mean time, if you find anyone creeping your text messages, it's probably me.

New Year's Resolutions That I Totally Intend On Keeping

I've never been one for writing down resolutions for the new year, nor one to actually keep them. Sure, in theory they seem fine, and if you're the kind of person who can actually do what they say that they're going to do, then kudos to you. For me, I like to set goals in the vaguest sense of the word, because then I can accomplish them at my leisure. Speaking of which, it's already a week into 2017 and I'm slacking already on one of my resolutions (which I'll get to in a minute).

The last year was absolutely bonkers. There was so much fear, and so many deaths that by the time New Year's Eve rolled around, everyone was screaming, "just get on with it already!" It was exhausting and even for the strongest among us, made us lose a little hope. However, it's a new year, and that means a fresh start.

I started 2016 with a few simple goals.

  1. Take more photos
  2. Travel
  3. Say, "I love you," more often to more people

I think it's safe to say that I more or less accomplished those. I traveled through India with my parents and subsequently got stuck in Brussels. Over the summer I did a road trip across Canada with my best friend and my girlfriend, and last year was the first time I ever told someone that I loved them as more than just a friend, and she stuck around! So inspite of the tumultuous year that we all just came out of, I feel pretty good about my 2016.

However, 2017 is a year in which I want to do things slightly differently. 2016 was the year I wanted to do more, so 2017 is the year I want to do less so to speak.

I want to take less photos.

Having a DSLR with a fancy new lens and a ginormous memory card makes it incredibly easy to be the guy who takes a zillion photos and keeps them all. I was recently going through photo albums with my mom, and remembered that there was once a time in which you had a set number of photos to take. You either made sure it was worth it, or lived with a blurry mess of a memory you missed out on capturing forever. There's something about that idea that I really like. I want to spend less time taking photos and trying to find the perfect composition, and spend more time interacting with my surroundings.

That ties in with social media as well. After watching the Black Mirror episode on social media and our obsession for likes, favs, hearts and stars, I had one thought - I want to think more and post less. I want to spend less time live-tweeting a movie marathon and spend more time actually enjoying it. Ever since I started dating my girlfriend last year, I noticed a shift in how and when I use platforms like Twitter. Now I use it once every few days, whereas before, it would be multiple times a day. I'm no longer concerned with cultivating my online persona so much as I just want to experience things and occasionally share what interests me.

I want to travel less.

I've done my fair bit of international travelling. It wasn't until after the events in Brussels this year that I really decided to do more domestic travelling. I want to see more of my home - whether it's my city, province, or country as a whole; I want to experience and understand the place that I live in first. I think that doing that road trip over the summer was really just the first step in doing so, and I can't wait to travel less abroad and spend more time at home.

I want to read less.

Less articles, and more books, that is. Ever since I became a Pocket user, my consumption of news skyrocketed, and my love for books plummeted. Following sites like LongReads has certainly helped to get my attention span back, but I find that it's harder and harder for me to invest myself in a novel these days. In 2016, I read maybe five novels total, and I want to change that, which means less time at night before bed scouring Reddit and Twitter and more time disconnecting and reading something less fleeting than the news.

And lastly, I want to write more. I've had this website for nearly three years now, and I haven't done nearly as much with it as I'd like. It's gone through some aesthetic changes, but beyond that, I'm not doing it nor myself justice. Up until now, I was artificially limiting what I'd write about, because I had this idea in my head of what this site should represent. I've left a lot of great ideas on the cutting room floor, because they didn't seem to fit. 2017 is the year that changes. 2017 is the year I write about what truly interests me, and far more regularly too.

There are a lot of things I want to do, but I think that by starting with less, even vaguely so, is a good thing. It'll be a good exercise for me - the withdrawal from my old routine and breaking of old habits to focus on what's good for me. Hopefully, this is something that will work, especially as we roll forward into the uncertain year that is 2017.

I hope you all have an amazing year, and let's make 2017 the best that it can be.

Cheers.