Favourite Things

I have not done the year-end blog post very often, but it’s cold and snowy outside, I have my toes under a knit blanket, and like Oprah I feel like sharing some of my favourite things.


No, not sweater capes, calypso music, paisley tops, or Chinese checkers but some things that made last year bearable to me that other folks might also enjoy.

Getting Strong

I spent a lot of time in the gym as a young man, and for a while I had the shoulders to prove it, but as is the nature of things over time I invested less time in my physique (and more in family and work) so the muscles mostly melted away.

I always missed the post-gym feeling, but while I accumulated the start of a home gym over the years, I never gave it a lot of use, until Covid came. Working from home, the garage gym is only ever a flight of stairs away, so putting in 3 or 4 hours a week is not too hard.


My overarching goal is to exercise 7 hours a week, so I do 3 or 4 hours of strength training, and fill in the remaining hours with yoga, rowing, walking or (until an injury this spring) running.

In terms of positive returns, this has been one of the best investments I have made in the past 10 years. I sleep better, my formerly sore back is no more, and I have a body that would make my 35-year-old self green with jealousy.

It also turns out I’m in the vanguard of the conventional wisdom! The New York Times seems to publish a new study on the superior health benefits of strength training every day.

There is a huge amount of information online about getting started, and I have only one non-conventional piece of advice for new folks: no matter what your age, look at the “weight training over 50” articles. The routines for older people tend to stress “full chain” movements (squats, pull-ups, push-ups) and slower progressions to avoid injury. The result is a stronger core and back which are a key foundation to build general fitness. (And supplemental, be sure to read Zeynep Tufekci’s amazing article on the lies the exercise industry tells women and how everyone can get strong.)

Finally (this has gotten long) doing yoga regularly has allowed me to strengthen all kinds of tiny muscles I never knew I had, but that turn out to be critical to core strength useful in other strength training moves. Since Covid shut my local yoga studio I have been using the Down Dog app on my phone to guide my sessions, which has been money well spent.

Revolutions Podcast

There’s probably an entry for this in the Stuff White People Like (the Stuff Older White Guys Like?) but c’est la vie: Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast has been a constant companion both in the garage gym and while out walking Victoria’s lovely coastline.


Duncan is currently wrapping up his tenth revolution (the Russian revolutions) and this series has been the work of multiple years so there are hundreds of episodes of content.

I found that for historical periods I knew something about, like the French Revolution, the podcast filled in the 90% that I was missing, and it was enthralling stuff. The Revolutionary wars in Europe, the ebb and flow of the power of the Parisian street, the whole period of the Directory! Turns out that just reading Tale of Two Cities doesn’t give you enough backgrounding in the Revolution.

Revolutions would be worth a listen just for the extra context and detail on things I already knew, but the real eye openers have been the revolutions I knew basically nothing about.

OK, I knew there was a Haitian revolution. A slave uprising, right? That’s the sum total I went in with. Revolutions has 19 episodes on the Haitian revolution, and the whole thing is amazing. Tragic, uplifting, depressing, hair-tearing, absolutely worth knowing about.

Similarly the Mexican revolution. Sure, there had to have been one, right? Pancho Villa, he’s a guy who did some stuff? I’m in the midst of it now (Revolution number 9) and the historical echoes into the present day are eerie.

Anyways, the Revolutions Podcast, give it a try. Middle aged white guys and everyone else.

Ursula Le Guin

Not for the first time, but returning to Le Guin this year has been very comforting. Her prose is so clear and unfussy and easy to read, yet also contains so much beauty and observation. In particular I have enjoyed revisiting:

Art Tatum

I am a half-assed jazz pianist, and my interest in the details of the art form comes and goes, but at some point I heard someone say that, if you want to understand jazz piano you have to listen to Art Tatum. In particular, listen to the embellishments.

Art Tatum

So I did.

The first thing that hits you is the technical perfection of his playing. Every scale, every arpeggio, the incredible regulation of his touch. I mean, listening to professional piano players, of course the technique is amazing, but Tatum is a notch above.

The second thing, particularly in the early work, where he’s just banging out popular tunes of the time, is the ad-libbed fills and transitions, the embellishments. The harmonic structure he uses often feels appropriate to recordings from 10 or 15 years later on. I totally get where the commentator I read was coming from: Tatum is a precursor to later players.

Check out this jaunty stride rendition of Tea for Two. Crazy fills and asides, and getting increasingly harmonically fun as the piece goes on. Three minutes of happiness.

Anyways, make some time in your streaming playlist for Art Tatum.