A kayak trip up Grindstone Creek

I often bring my kayak with me when we go to different places, because there’s almost always a lake or river or creek worth paddling around, and it’s a great way to see different aspects of the places we visit. Last year when we came in the spring, I paddled around a huge wetland called Cootes’ Paradise and saw a ton of turtles and hawks and other wildlife. So this past weekend, when we went to our daughter and son-in-law’s place in Ancaster, Ontario — which is just outside Hamilton — I looked for a different place nearby where I could take the kayak and see some wildlife and natural scenery.

Hamilton has historically been a pretty industrial city, with a number of giant steel mills that belch smoke as you drive by. But they have tried to make things a little nicer in different ways, and one of those ways is Bayfront Park, which is a lovely park right by the bay (obviously). So I checked out a few sites and one talked about paddling from Bayfront across the bay to a creek called Grindstone Creek, which winds its way past the Botanical Gardens and through a wetland area.

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Pay attention at that garage sale

A Roman bust, determined to be from the late 1st century B.C. or early 1st century A.D., still had a price sticker on its right cheek — $34.99 — as its new owner drove it home from a Goodwill store in Austin,

Laura Young was browsing through a Goodwill store in Austin, Texas, in 2018 when she found a bust for sale. It was resting on the floor, under a table, and had a yellow price tag slapped on its cheek: $34.99. She bought it.Turns out, it wasn’t just another heavy stone curio suitable for plunking in the garden. It was an actual Roman bust from the late 1st century B.C. or early 1st century A.D., which had been part of a Bavarian king’s art collection from the 19th century until it was looted during World War II.

Turns out, it wasn’t just another heavy stone curio suitable for plunking in the garden. It was an actual Roman bust from the late 1st century B.C. or early 1st century A.D., which had been part of a Bavarian king’s art collection from the 19th century until it was looted during World War II.

How it got to Texas remains a mystery. But the most likely path suggests it was taken by an American soldier after the Bavarian king’s villa in Germany was bombed by Allied forces.

via the New York Times

How to write a PhD thesis in mathematics

An amusing story about how Stefan Banach, a Polish mathematician and the founder of functional analysis got his PhD:

“He was being forced to write a Ph.D. paper and take the examinations, as he very quickly obtained many important results, but he kept saying that he was not ready and perhaps he would invent something more interesting. At last the university authorities became nervous. Somebody wrote down Banach’s remarks on some problems, and this was accepted as an excellent Ph.D. dissertation.

But an exam was also required. One day Banach was accosted in the corridor and asked to go to a Dean’s room, as “some people have come and they want to know some mathematical details, and you will certainly be able to answer their questions”. Banach willingly answered the questions, not realising that he was just being examined by a special commission that had come to Lvov for this purpose.”

via Math Overflow

The bachelor tax and unintended consequences

“A bachelor tax existed in Argentina around 1900. Men who could prove that they had asked a woman to marry them and had been rebuffed were exempt from the tax. In 1900, this gave rise to the phenomenon of “professional lady rejectors”, women who for a fee would swear to the authorities that a man had proposed to them and they had refused.”

This reminds me of a recent conversation with an Italian friend when we were traveling around Puglia, in southern Italy. She said it used to be commonplace for landowners to burn down forests or olive groves so they could build or expand their existing property. So the government passed a law saying landowners couldn’t build anything for 10 years anywhere there had been a fire. Then people started to set fires on their neighbour’s land, to prevent them from building or expanding their real estate. The law of unintended consequences at work 😀

Return to Byzantium

The History of Byzantium | A podcast telling the story of the Roman Empire  from 476 AD to 1453

“Wondering why so many Russian and Ukrainian cities have Greek names (eg Sebastopol)? Catherine the Great had a secret plan to resurrect Byzantium and install her appropriately-named grandson Constantine as New Roman Emperor. Step 1 was to found a lot of new cities with Greek names. Step 2 was to ally with the Austrian Empire. Then the Austrians got distracted with other things and they never reached Step 3.”

via Astral Codex Ten

When you look that dumb, you have to go quickly

“I felt a little stupid, to be honest, and when you look that dumb you have to go quickly,” said skier Jack Kuenzle, who set a new record for ascending and then descending Mount Hood, wearing nothing but a tiny pair of shorts that looked like underwear. Why? “My body just puts out an enormous amount of heat during these climbs—so that’s why I do it,” he said. “But yeah, when I went past people, it was hard to tell whether they were cheering or laughing at me.”

Some kind of magic

I really liked this poem, “Some Kind of Magic,” by Ken Giesbrecht

I dreamt of you last night
as I have so often this past year.
It is the same dream
It always is.
In it we are witches
living secluded on some coast,
Although where I could not tell you.

What I can tell you is that we are content.
That we spend our days with the windows open
Our hearts fluttering,
curtains caught in a gentle breeze.
Our heads bow together in the garden.
You favour the flowers, and I the herbs.

I see you among blossoms
my mind cannot separate your petals from their stem.
You are both soft and strong,
and very beautiful.

Even on the days the mist gathers in
rolling in like deep waves off the sea,
and we must close the shutters
for fear of damaging the stores,
I am not sad.

We sit together,
Yarrow hanging to dry above our heads,
there is comfort in this companionship,
we are Circe and Penelope,
or something like them anyway.

I do not hesitate to reach for your hand.
I know it like my own.
I know it is foolish
dreaming of what will not be,
you are not a witch,
and I am not a gardener,
I know this.

No matter how I try,
I cannot make things grow.
Still, you must have some kind of magic in you,
if even the thought of you,
makes something in me bloom.
Lush and green,
in places where the earth was scorched.

The BeTriton is a bike, camper and boat all in one

So, you probably like riding a bicycle, and you like camping, and you like paddling around in a tiny boat — so why not a product that puts all of those things into one amazing gizmo? Now you can do this! It’s called the BeTriton, and it just launched, and it is the craziest thing I have seen in a long time. Trying to imagine the bong sessions that not only led to this design, but actually resulted in the creation of a prototype, marketing plan, etc. Absolutely bonkers.

Chuck Fipke, the man who struck diamonds

Now and then, I like to remember some of the people and stories I have come across during my 35-year career in journalism, and one of the strangest — and most amazing — of them all was a guy named Chuck Fipke. When I came across him in Edmonton around 1989 or so, Chuck was an oddball loner with an almost impossible story: he claimed that there were diamonds in the Northwest Territories. And not just a few diamonds, but enough for a diamond mine. At this point, Chuck was mostly known for sleeping in his car while prospecting in the far north, and for baking soil samples in his oven at home.

The idea that there might be diamonds in the Northwest Territories might seem pretty straightforward today, since there are not one but three massive diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, which at their peak produced close to $3 billion worth of high-quality diamonds every year. But in 1989, this seemed like a crackpot idea that almost no one in their right mind — other than Chuck — believed was possible. It was like someone saying they’ve invented a time machine or a faster-than-light warp drive. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say Chuck was probably laughed at more than he was listened to.

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