Sunday, November 01, 2020

A Book Cannot Be Murdered

Hi! I haven't blogged here much lately, but I have been writing over on a shared blog with some other writers. Check out Across the Board for some of my new stuff, mostly focused on writing. I'll also start gradually re-posting that stuff here whenever I get a chance, like this post.

This tweet made the rounds on Twitter earlier this year:

Many readers and writers were angry with the book murderer:

I have opinions on this debacle, as both a reader and as a writer.

First, as a reader, I can relate. I've never cut a book in half, but many of my longer books are worn to hell, mostly because I bought them used in the first place, then they spent a long time bouncing around in backpacks before I was done with them. Here are just a few of the books off my shelf from one of the masters of very long books:

Well-worn is well-loved. It marks the passage of time spent with the books, sometimes over multiple decades, if read more than once. I can still remember finding a private corner of my high school to avoid people and wear out that particular copy of It.

I like signs of book assault from other people, too. I'm reading a used biology book right now, and there are seemingly random words underlined throughout. Like someone before me thought "ah, yes, zygote, good word, gotta get out my pencil and underline that one so I can bring it up at a party later." It's a nice little connection with a stranger, because someone else didn't consider book mutilation a crime.

Tearing books in half is on a whole other level, but I can relate with that too. Especially as an adult, I have limited time for reading, and it can be daunting to see a thick wad of pages past my bookmark. If dividing it into two parts can make it easier to get through, then fine, be a book murderer. Lately, I just gravitate toward shorter books, but maybe next time a long book seems worth it, I'll consider introducing it to my scissors.

What about as a writer? How would I feel if somebody took a blade to my hard-won collection of ideas, which I so carefully printed onto pages and wrapped in a lovingly designed cover?

Honestly … fine. As long as you're reading my books, I don't care how you're transferring those ideas from my brain to yours.

Treat them like precious artifacts if you want. But also cut them up, highlight your favourite passages, dog-ear your favourite pages, stick them on an e-reader, listen to them as an audiobook, borrow them from a library, lend them, steal them, slice them in half.

Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew.

A book is not the physical pages it's printed on—it's the ideas the pages only echo, and the cool thing about ideas is that they can never be murdered.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Why I’m Cutting Down on Artificial Sweeteners

I may have been wrong about artificial sweeteners. I’ve always been a big fan of them, because I love stuffing sweet things in my mouth, but also try to keep my daily calorie count somewhat reasonable.
Sweeteners also have an ideological draw—I love artificial things. I’m typing this on an artificial iPad, powered by artificial electricity, basking in artificial heat, under an artificial roof. So when I see people react with hostility to anything that isn’t “natural” (whatever that even means), I push back. You think artificial sweeteners are poison because Splenda packets aren’t plucked from the ground like potatoes? Well, then I’m gonna put Splenda on everything! I’ll sprinkle it on beef I don’t even care. Take that, hippy!
And in theory, my pettiness should be supported by science. If controlling weight is the goal, then all that matters is calories in and calories out, right? Sweeteners lead to fewer calories in, so they help control weight in a world where calories are frickin’ everywhere. That’s the theory.
The thing is, the best theory in the world is worthless without data. More and more data are coming out about artificial sweeteners, and the results often differ from what theory would predict.

Most data aren't conclusive. When you look at the whole population, people who use artificial sweeteners tend to be overweight. That’s just a correlation—maybe bigger people are trying to lose weight with sweeteners. It’s not evidence that sweeteners don’t work, but it’s a lack of evidence that sweeteners do work.
True experiments, in which people changed their intake of artificial sweeteners, would be more definitive if they showed an effect. Here’s a recent meta-analysis reviewing studies on artificial sweeteners, including randomized controlled trials. The researchers concluded:
Evidence from [randomized controlled trials] does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management.
So again, not evidence that they cause weight increases, or poison you, or have any negative effects. But also not evidence that they do have their intended effect: weight loss.
I’ve seen speculation and emerging research on why the theory doesn’t match up with the data. Some people think it’s a psychological thing—the classic “I had a Diet Coke, so I can order two Baconators instead of one” phenomenon. Some think it’s more biological, with sweeteners mixing up the critters in our guts so they suck at dealing with the calories we do consume.
Whatever the case, there’s simply a lack of evidence that artificial sweeteners help with weight loss, or have any other positive effects. When it comes to translating research into actual behavior, here’s where I’ve come down, personally, for now:
  • Artificial sweeteners won’t kill me, so I won’t avoid them. I’ll use up the packets and syrups that we have around the house.
  • But there’s no evidence that they’ll help me, either. That puts them on the same scientific level as any other bullshit health intervention, like eating organic food, fad diets, or acupuncture. I wouldn’t do those things, so why continue slurping down Splenda?
  • Therefore, I’ll reduce my intake of artificial sweeteners. I’ll use sugar when I need it, or better yet, just have fewer sweeter things overall. If I have the will power for that, it’ll almost certainly lead to fewer calories in, with no mysterious counteracting force.
That’s where I currently stand, but I’m a scientist, so I’ll keep updating my opinions and behaviour as new evidence comes out.
For now, I’m cutting down on artificial sweeteners.

This was originally posted on, where I sometimes post serious stuff.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2019 In Review

Another year, another complete failure to blog.

That's not entirely true. I occasionally write over on Medium, and have good intentions to copy the posts over here to my main blog sometime, but then forget. My micro-press Forest City Pulp also gets occasional updates. Oh and I've started writing at the group blog Across the Board, where a bunch of other writers write.

But this is my personal blog, so let's get personal. This year was fine for me. The political and environmental turmoil in the world only highlights how incredibly lucky I am to have had a year to hold stead and stay comfortable.

Not that I accomplished nothing. Early in the year, I released Three Incidents at Foster Manor, which has been my most successful novel yet. I'm hoping to put something out in early 2020, but, you know, having a day job takes up a lot of time. That's been going well too though, and the company I've been doing brain science for is almost growing beyond the "startup" label. Cool. Cool cool.

My personal highlight of the year was our trip to Calgary and the Pacific Northwest, visiting real friends and also Bigfoot.

Oh, and I got a nice bike! I've become one of those bike guys, semi-obsessed with getting around on two wheels and giving cars the stink-eye. It does feel so much better to go places on a bike though, both because it makes me healthier and because it's just fun. More bike lanes in London please thanks bye.

Anyway, this is the time of year when I review all the stuff I liked in 2019. Here's what I spent my time and money on; maybe you'll find some stuff you missed, but probably not (I'm pretty much a normie).


As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the top 20 albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

20. Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
19. Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds
18. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell
17. Bring Me the Horizon - amo
16. Orville Peck - Pony

15. Hozier - Wasteland, Baby!
14. Cage the Elephant - Social Cues
13. Backstreet Boys - DNA
12. Taylor Swift - Lover
11. half•alive - Now, Not Yet

10. Tool - Fear Inoculum - I first listened to this on headphones riding the Amtrak between Seattle and Portland, and it was a transcendent experience.
9. The Black Keys - "Let's Rock" - I cannot resist a David Lynch reference.
8. Mitski - Be the Cowboy - Ok I'll be the cowboy sounds good.
7. Billie Eilish - WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? - William Eyelash.
6. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride - Did you know there was a character with a named pronounced like Phronk in the movie Father of the Bride? That's not where I got it though.

5. Alice Merton - MINT - As you may have noticed, albums by solo women were sort of my thing this year.
4. Ed Sheeran - No. 6 Collaborations Project - I listened to and tracked a lot of pop playlists on Spotify this year, and I suspect this album is only high on this list because each individual song was played endlessly on pop stations.
3. Flying Lotus - Flamagra - I don't actually remember much of this, but I guess I liked it? I think there is a track with David Lynch on this so maybe that's why it's here.
2. Puppy - The Goat - Sort of a metal Weezer, which I dig.
1. (Tie) Jade Bird - Jade Bird - omg I love her.
1. (Tie) Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated - If she comes out with an album, it's a safe bet it'll be high on this list.


I liked these shows:
  • The Boys
  • Broad City
  • Chernobyl
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
  • Doom Patrol
  • Explained
  • Game of Thrones
  • I Think You Should Leave
  • The Mandalorian
  • Our Planet
  • Perfume
  • Russian Doll
  • Schitt's Creek
  • Silicon Valley
  • Servant
  • Stranger Things
  • Succession
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Unnatural Selection
  • The Walking Dead
  • Watchmen


These are the best movies I saw in 2019. They may not have come out in 2019, big whoop. I'm just listing the movies I rated 4+ stars on Letterboxd, so go there for full reviews.
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • El Camino
  • Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
  • Free Solo
  • Holidays
  • Horror Noire
  • The Irishman
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Lords of Chaos
  • Love, Death and Robots
  • Marriage Story
  • Midsommar
  • Mom and Dad
  • Paddleton
  • The Perfection
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • Starfish
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Under the Silver Lake
  • Us
  • Venom
  • Wildling


These are the games I played and liked. Add me on Xbox Live or Nintendo to play with me. I couldn't get too into many new games this year. I think Xbox Game Pass has kinda ruined me—I usually try out a game for an hour or two, then, because I didn't pay extra for it, I don't feel the need to stick with it if I don't enjoy it enough to want to play it more than yet another game of Overwatch.

  • Baba Is You
  • Dead Cells
  • Fallout 76
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Overwatch
  • Ring Fit Adventure
  • Void Bastards

That's it! That's the year! 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Review

Looks like time has chewed away another year from my life.

I had the typical "there were plenty of highs and lows" type of year. I find that at this age (late thirties), both the highs and lows are more profound. For example, people in my age cohort not only have children, but have children that are growing up into actual people. On the flip side, people around me are worn down by time or outright erased from existence with increasing vigour. I suppose those lows can make me appreciate the highs even more, in a way that could only be abstractly understood in earlier years.

More specific to 2018, I've continued to be lucky and privileged enough that the world's political turmoil has continued to avoid devastating my life directly. I do what I can to fight the creeping spread of anti-human powers, but aside from a plummeting retirement fund, I'm fine. For now.

Anyway. For anyone still paying attention, here's my yearly wrap-up of the stuff I enjoyed this year.


As usual, this is just an uncurated list of the albums I listened to most, courtesy of Last.FM.

20. Slaves - Beautiful Death
19. Dear Rouge - Phases
18. Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending
17. Sofi Tukker - Treehouse
16. Lucero - Among the Ghosts
15. Bebe Rexha - Expectations
14. The Glitch Mob - See Without Eyes
13. The Wombats - Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
12. Teenage Wrist - Chrome Neon Jesus
11. Moby - Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt
10. Let's Eat Grandma - I'm All Ears
9. Rhye - Blood
8. CHVRCHES - Love is Dead
7. Bahamas - Earthtones
6. A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant
5. K.Flay - Every Where is Some Where (this came out in 2017, but I only discovered it in 2018, when it seemed to really take off)
4. Thirty Seconds to Mars - America
3. Years & Years - Palo Santo
2. Ghost - Prequelle
1. Janelle MonĂ¡e - Dirty Computer


These are the shows I liked the most.

  • Black Mirror
  • Channel Zero
  • Daredevil
  • Dark
  • Disenchantment
  • The End of the Fucking World
  • Explained
  • Evil Genius
  • The Good Place
  • The Haunting of Hill House
  • Iron Fist
  • Kim's Convenience
  • The Last Man on Earth
  • Maniac
  • Ozark
  • Riverdale
  • Trailer Park Boys


I spent most of my limited entertainment time on TV this year, so I missed a lot of the big movies. But here are the ones I did see and like. Connect with me on Letterboxd for more.
  • Annihilation
  • Apostle
  • Bird Box
  • Black Panther
  • Cam
  • Deadpool 2
  • The Endless
  • Hereditary
  • Hold the Dark
  • Infinity War
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Mandy
  • A Quiet Place
  • Rampage
  • The Ritual
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Super Dark Times
  • Terrifier


A new category! I don't get to play video games as much as I'd like, but here's what I played this year. Connect with me on Xbox Live for more.

  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Mad Max (an older game, but I just got to it this year, and it's totally underrated)
  • No Man's Sky
  • Overwatch
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 (I'm totally blown away by the amount of stuff in this game. I've played for a few dozen hours and still haven't even finished the main story)
  • Sea of Thieves
  • State of Decay 2
  • Subnautica
  • Super Mario Odyssey 
  • Biggest disappointment award: Fallout 76. What an awful launch and an awful game. Hopefully it gets better with updates, but I'd rather be holding my breath to protect against actual radioactive clouds.
  • WTF award: Fortnite. I get why people play it—it's a fun little tech demo of a game. But I don't get why people keep playing it. It's aggressively shallow, and if kids are growing up thinking this is what a game should be, I'm worried they'll miss out on all the deep, satisfying, artistic games that we've been working toward for the past few decades.


I read really slow, so it's rare for me to read a book in the same year it came out. Here are my favourites that I read in 2018, but didn't necessarily come out in 2018. Connect with me on Goodreads for more.

  • Algorithms to Live By - Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
  • The Atrocities - Jeremy Shipp
  • Bird Box - Josh Malerman
  • Dead Dog on Morningside - cal chayce
  • The Drive-In - Joe Lansdale
  • Every Time We Meet at the Dairy Queen, Your Whole Fucking Face Explodes - Carlton Mellick III
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

It's over! See you next year, hopefully.

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 in Review

2017 is generally regarded as a bad year, but for me, it was fine. Time moved on from last year's celebrity death apocalypse to threats of actual apocalypse, but personally, I managed to avoid any direct effects. I can't pretend that Canada is immune from the growing evil in the United States, yet it hasn't manifested in ruining my life in any significant ways. My first full year as a science writer has been good fun, and I somehow managed to get a novel out too. None of my close family or friends died. I'm healthy.

It's easy to focus on the negative things, especially when you're searching the whole world for them, but the fundamental things that make my life unique have all been good in 2017.

Here's a recap of stuff I liked this year. I'm not sure anyone cares, but I have an obsession with keeping track of things, because it's nice to think that everything I do matters. Something's gotta matter, right? Anyway, this list enables that craziness. Thanks for being an enabler. Thanks a lot. Maybe you'll find something new here that you end up liking.

Music I Liked in 2017

I get these stats from, which keeps track of everything I listen to. One negative thing in 2017 is that I started using Apple Music, but it's difficult to integrate it with, especially on mobile devices. Spotify integrates, but I ran into a ridiculous 10,000 song limit (even with a paid account), so it's unusable. Anyway, I managed to find workarounds, so this captures most of what I listened to.

20. Halsey - hopeless fountain kingdom

19. Queens of the Stone Age - Villains

18. Whitehorse - Panther in the Dollhouse

17. Gorillaz - Humanz

16. Beck - Colors

15. Ed Sheeran - ÷. His appearance on Game of Thrones could qualify for worst thing of the year, but this album is actually pretty good.

14. Ke$ha - Rainbow

13. Serena Ryder - Utopia

12. Spoon - Hot Thoughts

11. deadmau5 - stuff I used to do

10. Lana Del Rey - Lust for Life

9. Lights - Skin & Earth

8. Portugal. The Man - Woodstock

7. The Killers - Wonderful Wonderful. I used to love The Killers, then I got bored with them for a few albums, but this one caught my attention again.

6. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - Modern Ruin

5. Nothing More - The Stories We Tell Ourselves.

4. Thundercat - Drunk. Nothing else sounds like this.

3. Nothing But Thieves - Broken Machines. They were #1 last year, and while this album took longer to grow on me, grow it did.

2. Lorde - Melodrama. Pop music was mostly a disappointment in 2017, but not this. Not Lorde. Lorde Lorde Lorde, I am Lorde.

1. In This Moment - Ritual. I still can't get enough of these guys, for whatever reason.

Pretty good list this year! If I'd consciously chosen a top 20, I'm not sure I would have done better.

Shows I Liked in 2017

Off the top of my head, in no order, here are the shows I've enjoyed recently:
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • Halt & Catch Fire
  • Stranger Things
  • The Punisher
  • Master of None
  • Game of Thrones
  • Black Mirror
  • Trailer Park Boys
  • Ozark
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Expanse

Movies I Liked in 2017

TV is so good that I don't watch many movies any more. But, again with zero thought, here are the movies I did see that come to mind:
  • Get Out
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Logan
  • It
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  • The Devil's Candy
  • Better Watch Out
  • I Don't Feel at Home in This World Any More
  • The Void

Books I Liked in 2017

These didn't necessarily come out in 2017, but I read them this year, so just ... just shut up and enjoy them. God.
  • Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell - The Disaster Artist. Nothing is more inspiring to me than books about unusual people finding success in their own unusual ways.
  • Cory Doctorow - Walkaway. I was lucky enough to be invited to an early look at this book, and wrote this blog post on about it: Cory Doctorow's Walkaway and the Power of Small Ideas.
  • Elizabeth Hand - Wylding Hall
  • Stephen Graham Jones - Mongrels
  •  - The Hematophages
  • Jeff VanderMeer - Acceptance

Video Games I Liked in 2017

That's it. I haven't blogged much lately, since pretty much everything else I do in life involves writing that people pay for, but I'll at least see you at the end of 2018—as long as Nazis don't make blogging illegal, and/or blow up the world.