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They warned that this winter would be snowy and they weren’t lying. The last few years we haven’t had a White Christmas, but there was a lot of snow dumped on us this December. We had a couple of snowstorms that promised 5-10cm and 15-20cm, but we saw about 5cm each time. Still, they happened during morning rush hour so it was messy. There was a couple of warm days between them so all the snow melted, but I think we’re going to have snow on the ground for the rest of the winter now. The temperatures are also quite low, reaching -10°C in the day time on several days. All in all, it feels like the middle of February instead of December.

We did our Christmas shopping in December this year, but we didn’t go into the malls at all. A lot of Amazon and other online shopping, as well as Toys R Us for the kids. It wasn’t too hectic in fact, which is great. The kids still ended up with a lot of gifts from various family and friends so I need to shift around the toys (donate some old ones). I didn’t do any Boxing Day shopping. There’s nothing I need to buy and even the clothes stores that I usually buy (online) from (e.g., BR/Gap/Old Navy, A&F, etc) I had scoped out during the Christmas shopping time frame and there wasn’t anything I wanted.

I haven’t travelled in awhile (for work). The last time was in the beginning of November, so it was pretty calm this month. The usual Christmas dinners happened as well as the end of year recaps and clean ups. Here’s to another 12 months of recap blogs in 2018!

  • An American Christmas Story
    You an tell that I’m quite behind in my reading because this article is (pre-)Christmas! It describes a company called American Christmas whose business is to decorate some of the most well-known places in Manhattan. No insider stories about designing a Christmas display for a high profile client, but some general insight into what it’s like to setup decorations for the festive season.

    The two weeks before Christmas are actually the slowest at American Christmas, and that’s when they take all the decorations left in the warehouse and make a boffo display for their annual holiday party. The commercial installations start in August, when teams begin the labor-intensive process of putting lights on live Christmas trees around the city (most clients just don’t turn the lights on until Thanksgiving approaches).

  • Access Denied
    This article starts by talking about Instagram, tabloids and celebrities but it’s actually discussing a very real and interesting issue about the diminishing access media gets with the subject that they are reporting on. The argument is that with the rise of social media, it’s easier and more prudent for the subject to release their own news via their social media accounts instead of asking for it to be presented in a particular way by media.

    With Instagram, the power shifts dramatically. A genuine Celeb Couple will have more combined followers on Instagram than virtually any publication, most of whom are actual fans. (There isn’t a single celebrity publication in the top 100 Instagram accounts. People, as an example, the 10th largest magazine in the country with a 3.5 million issue circulation, has 1.1 million followers; Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram pregnancy announcement went out to 4.1 million, and her partner John Legend’s simultaneous post went to another 2.7 million.) If Celeb Couple posts a baby photo themselves, Young Employee suggested, publications would have to embed or print it anyway. Celeb Couple wouldn’t have to fight about how to frame their story, or grant any more access to a reporter or photographer than they want.

  • The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up
    I am a bit skeptical about this article which proposes that parents have gone lenient in giving kids autonomy and choice and need to swing back the other way. I think that part is true, but what’s missing is a discussion in knowing how far to regress. The answer is moderation, but where is moderation on the spectrum?

    Parents in North America have become prone to asking their children rather than telling them. “It’s natural,” says Gordon Neufeld, a prominent Vancouver psychologist cited in Sax’s book. “Intuitively, we know that if we’re coercive, we’re going to get resistance.” For trivial choices such as which colour of pants to wear, this approach is fine, he says. But “when we consult our children about issues that symbolize nurturance like food, we put them in the lead.” That triggers an innate psychological response, and their survival instincts activate: “They don’t feel taken care of and they start taking the alpha role.”

  • What It’s Like to Go Clubbing When You Have Asperger’s
    This article purportedly is about someone awkward going clubbing but I have difficulty seeing that. Two reasons: 1) The article is really well written and the story telling is convincing, and 2) The author seems to have a lot of insights about how the social interaction works. Maybe her Asperger’s is quite mild, but I guess I expected more awkward situations & anecdotes.

    The guy reaches across her and holds his phone in front of my face. It says, “everything this girl is saying smells like bullshit.”

    I don’t know why he’s so angry about it though. That’s the thing about neurotypicals: They’re so proud. For all their pompously wielded social skills they don’t seem to understand the nature of flaws.

    Underneath that he’s typed, “I like your dress.”

    I do have a boyfriend. He’s from my support group.

    I type my number into the hot guy’s phone.

  • Another late article related to Christmas – this one is about re-commerce; not the selling of items online but the returning of things online.

    More to the point, people most often return things because they are defective. Retailers simply don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the suppliers. “It would be very expensive for a company like Amazon to handle returns,” Ringelsten says. “They would have to sort it out—and there are a million manufacturers out there.” What’s more, he says, manufacturers usually supply items to retailers like Amazon through a contract where it’s understood that items that may be returned will simply be liquidated.

We spent the first two weeks of December finishing up our Christmas shopping, wrapping and preparations that we didn’t get to do in November. It wasn’t that bad this year and surprisingly I don’t think we bought any gifts online! That meant the next two weeks were rather light until the actual Christmas festivities started. We didn’t book any trips over the break so I ended up working most of the days. There wasn’t a lot happening at work anyways, so that too was light.

The weather definitely started getting colder. We had our first snowfall the week before Winter officially arrived (although there was no accumulation). The random warm day(s) trend continued as Christmas Eve was in the double digits (a White Christmas was nowhere to be seen) and then there was a snowstorm (with accumulation) before the new year. Of course, it rained immediately after that so there was slush everywhere. I had a cough for basically the entire month as the kids caught something at school/class and they shared it with us.

Christmas break was not too crazy, we had dinners with the usual family and suspects and didn’t really partake in Boxing Day shopping (did some shopping online though). The kids didn’t get as many gifts this year as last (on purpose) but there was still a lot to open. Even with the reduced supply, I think there are too many gifts – Apollo still hasn’t really played with his presents from his birthday three months ago!

  • How Facebook and Candy Crush Got You Hooked
    A short article about a theory on why we get hooked on things like games and using apps. A good surface look but some associated reading is needed to really dig into the topic.
  • What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs
    After 2 years on the job as Yahoo!’s CEO, Marissa Mayer hasn’t really turned the ship around as she was meant to. This article takes a look at her changes – where she’s succeeded, and where she seems to be struggling.

    Mayer also had a habit of operating on her own time. Every Monday at 3 p.m. Pacific, she asked her direct reports to gather for a three-hour meeting. Mayer demanded all of her staff across the world join the call, so executives from New York, where it was 6 p.m., and Europe, where it was 11 p.m. or later, would dial in, too. Invariably, Mayer herself would be at least 45 minutes late; some calls were so delayed that Yahoo executives in Europe couldn’t hang up till after 3 a.m.

  • Whitewood under Siege
    A fascinating inside the world of…shipping pallets – you know, those things that you see in warehouse where goods are stacked on. There’s apparently a long battle between a couple of different business models/companies and possibly some technological revolutions in the future

    For more than half a century, pallet futurists have announced the next big thing, only to see the basic wooden variety remain the workhorse of global logistics. “Lots of people have tried to invent a better pallet,” Robert Bush, a professor at Virginia Tech affiliated with the school’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, told me. “We see them almost every day at our testing lab. But it’s harder than people think. It’s surprisingly hard. It’s one of those things that people got pretty close to right the first time.”

  • Christmas Tree, Inc
    A somewhat bland, but informative article on how Christmas trees are “farmed” and how they end up in your millions of home across America.

    “We’ve seen [a bust] four times in the last 40 years. That’s how stupid we are,” Ken says. “Just as sure as we’re sitting here, we will overplant again, and there will be an over-harvest of Christmas trees in 2022.”

    But, as Ken noted optimistically, trees will be really expensive in 2016 — a six-foot Noble fir that cost $16.75 wholesale in 2013 might be as high as $22.

    And people will pay. The recession did not impact the demand for Christmas trees, for instance. Christmas trees are remarkably recession-proof. People will find that $40, even if it’s been a tough year.

  • Sneaking Into The Super Bowl — And Everything Else
    A story about sneaking into a bunch of sporting events like college football and the World Series. There’s also a teaser about sneaking into the Super Bowl, but you’ll need to buy his book (which doesn’t have a publisher yet) to read that… actually after reading the article, it’s not really that interesting.

    Cooper passed through the turnstile and turned left. Confidently, I strode through the same turnstile, my right hand reaching deep into my pocket, the ticket taker on my right. She paused ever so briefly, as if to convey that her elderly mind wasn’t processing why things were taking place out of order — that her monotonous task had been inexplicably altered in some way. I looked straight ahead and said nothing.

The first half of this December was a bit weird. We had finished all our Christmas shopping (but actually had a lot of stuff to wrap because now Apollo has a lot of friends to buy for) and was able to avoid the malls, but we also ended up being really busy because I was away for work for a week and then when I got back everyone was sick.

My trip to the Bay area was rather boring. Travelling there is not like going to NYC at all because all the offices/hotels are in office parks and there’s absolutely nothing to do after work (i.e., can’t walk around). I had a rental car but was a bit constrained because there was nothing I wanted to tour, and I was there with a lot of coworkers so there’s some responsibility to hang out with them. On the plus side, I saw a couple of movies while flying to/from the west coast (plus the travel wasn’t too crazy as I had reasonable flight times and direct flights).

As the holidays came, we did our usual family dinners and social outings. We didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year because we didn’t have space (lots of toys everywhere) and even if we did, I think we would have another problem as there are too many presents to fit under the tree! I guess having kids causes that problem.

Opening presents took A LONG time. It was mostly Apollo’s effort to open his and Jovian’s presents and he would get distracted after opening each one. It basically took the entire day to open, clean up and put away all their new toys. Then more presents showed up after that day as we went to more Christmas events.

We didn’t go out for Boxing Day because it didn’t make sense with kids. We did some Boxing Day shopping online though. I had the week between Christmas and New Years off so we went to a couple of malls later in the week, and it wasn’t that bad in terms of people. But I didn’t end up buying anything due to Black Friday and buying online.

Usually in December, we would be well on our way to be finished Christmas shopping, but this year we were a bit slower. We didn’t have a lot of time to cruise the malls & think about gifts until this month because we were busy with Apollo and it was also kind of difficult to go to the malls and shop amongst the throngs of people with a stroller. Nevertheless we didn’t resort completely to online shopping, and did venture out and complete our Christmas shopping with the last weekend to spare.

I had a Christmas party (& a potluck) for the first time since I’ve been a FTE at work (although it wasn’t that great) and we had the normal set of Christmas meals. We had a lot of gifts (didn’t fit under our tree, but I guess our tree is kind of small) although unsurprisingly, most of them were for Apollo! Afterwards, we didn’t head out on Boxing Day because there wasn’t anything we needed to buy. I looked around for online Boxing day deals and didn’t see much, so I guess I wasn’t missing out at all.

We didn’t have snow on the ground for Christmas, but had our first snowstorm of the year on the 27th, dumping 10+cm on the city. Fortunately a lot of people (including me) were still on holidays so there wasn’t a lot of driving going on. The temperature stayed below freezing and some light dustings were added on top so now we look like a winter city.

In December we shifted gears from fixing up our house to preparing from Christmas. We did our Xmas shopping and prepared to host two family dinners. Once that was done, we flew off for vacation over the holidays.

This year’s vacation was to Japan with Ida, Richard and Izzet; meeting Victor and Hannah while there. We went to Nagoya, Takayama and Tokyo, with the focus on eating and culture, rather than sightseeing (since we were just there a little over two years ago!). Maybe I will get around to blogging about it later.

In news, there was further fallout from the Wikileaks saga, which actually originated in late November. Although instead of focusing on the leak content, the news media have mostly centered on arresting Julian Assange. NASA also announced the possibility of arsenic life although I’m not sure what that means to my daily life.

When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:

After a November with no snowfall (first time in Toronto’s recorded history that i didn’t snow in November) we were rewarded with a lot of snow come December. Thankfully, the snow died down (and decided to hit the Eastern seaboard instead). We just ended up with unseasonally cold temperatures (~-10°C more accustomed to in February).

We did our requisite Christmas shopping this month. It wasn’t too bad, once you know what to get. And really, that last qualifier is the key – it’s tough to accept a decision sometimes. Also if you get things on weekdays, the process is a lot smooth. Weekends at the mall suck, there are way too many people.

Work wasn’t really busy. We shipped our release for the year at the end of November so there were only a few minor things to do in December and most of the time we prepared for releases next year. Like usual, there was no Christmas holiday celebration at work. For a second year in a row, they asked us to pay for the privilege of taking the morning off to watch a movie.

A (B? C?)-list celebrity, Brittney Murphy, died and wait, where was the press? It looks like they were still recovering from the Tiger scandel that started innoculuously over American Thanksgiving and then took over the headlines until Christmas.

Oh yeah, we also went to Italy. I’ll blog more about that later.

With this blog, I’ve completed one of my New Year Resolutions for 2008 (#4 to be exact), by blogging about the events in each month for the entire year. Although, I think it works better in theory than in practice, since I find that there’s not much to write about at the end of each month.

For example in December, the focus was on Christmas. We spent a week picking up all the gifts we needed to get for everyone, and had a week to spare (so to beat the rush; although we did end up going to the mall around the crunch days and it was b-u-s-y). We spent Christmas with the usual family dinners and then went to California for a week with Joe and Ida to escape the snow. The snow seemed especially bad in December, with several snow storms, even on the morning that we were going to the airport.

Polar Express is an animated movie based on the children book of the same name. It’s a perfect movie for Christmas-time (even if I am a scrooge), so we watched it last night. The story revolves around a hero boy (as the credits put it) who has grown to an age where he has started doubting Christmas and Santa Claus. While falling asleep on Christmas Eve, he hears the Polar Express pull up which leads to him having some adventures at the North Pole and reaffirming his faith in the Christmas spirit.

The movie is entirely animated, although not to the quality of Pixar but more like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The animation enabled the story to do some crazy things that probably fit with a child’s imagination of the story. And a children’s movie it was; sure the message applies to adults too but the plot and characters had the simplicity of a kid’s story.

Near the end, there is a part where elves celebrate at the North Pole. There’s one elf in particular who is the singer of the band, and I noticed that he strikes an awful close resemblance to Steven Tyler (it’s the hair), and in fact it was him! But his cameo does not save this animated film from a 2 out of 5 rating from me.

We got my mom a (portable) photo printer this year since she always asks me how to develop photos stored on her computer. It’s not an easy process to explain, especially since there are so many, and the mechanics of copying on to flash memory is not straightforward. So the easy solution is to buy a system that will do this for her, as straightforward as possible. A photo printer that can only print 4×6 sounds like the way to go.

These things are a rip off. Not just the price (I only paid $30 for a normal “photo” printer that prints to 8.5×11 too) but for the ink and paper. The normal strategy is to refill the ink and buy paper in bulk (maybe dollar store too) right? Well they’ve out smarted you this time. Not only can you not refill, your ink can only print out a specific number of photos, let’s say 15. Once you’ve printed out 15 photos, you will have to replace the cartridge even if there is still ink. But fear not, they will sell you paper and ink packages that will let you print another roll of photos.

Here’s my obligatory Scrooge post. Christmas shopping is supposed to be a boon for retailers since people are forced to buy things for others, under the auspices that you are giving gifts. But really you are just taking a stab at what you think other people want or need, and paying whatever price the retailer sets. It’s very lucky that there is competition because otherwise you would pay any outlandish request the retailer decides since the overriding priority is for perceived need.

It is in fact a very inefficient system, and results in unnecessary spending. If only it was clear what the true needs are (of which nothing is non-negligble), and there was sufficient time to find things on sale, then I would not be so disillusioned at “Christmas”. But can you imagine what color the retailers would be without these wastes?

It seems the leading trend this Christmas season is to use LED Christmas lights instead of the old, tiny, incandescent ones. It’s not something new for this year; I remember Ikea using LEDs for their star-type lights last or a few years back, but no doubt stirred by Al Gore et al, LEDs have been a huge hit for the environmentally-conscious bandwagon jumpers.

I’m all for conservation, but I’ve noticed that LED lights don’t look as beautiful or classy as the lights of old. The multi-colored lights that I’ve seen look like displays setup for kids, instead of having the warm, happy tone of the Christmas lights that I grew up with. And I don’t think it’s a case of nostalgia, but more a case of the light being given off from LEDs being unrectified.