Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Month: April 2021

The Pandemic Comes to the Pontiac

Having spared us during the first wave—during which we were behind police checkpoints that turned back non-essential traffic—and being under relatively good control during the second, COVID-19 has just erupted in the Pontiac MRC during the third wave. In the space of one month the number of people who have tested positive has more than quadrupled, from 39 on March 25 to 173 today.1 This is mainly due to a major outbreak in the Fort-Coulonge area: Fort-Coulonge went from fewer than 5 cases2 to 34; Mansfield-et-Pontefract from 7 to 64. Together they make up more than half the cases in the Pontiac MRC while comprising only a quarter of the population.

These numbers may not seem like a lot—a total of 1.2 percent of the Pontiac MRC’s population has tested positive for COVID as of today, compared to Gatineau’s 3.2 percent or Quebec’s 4 percent, and with our small population (14,251 according to the 2016 census) the raw numbers are pretty small in comparison. But to reiterate: more than three-quarters of the our total COVID cases have come just in the past month. Cases are increasing by 30 percent a week—and 30 percent of this week’s numbers is a lot more than 30 percent of a month ago. This is how exponential growth works.

Meanwhile, last Friday the Pontiac Hospital—the front door of which is less than 300 metres from my home—reported an outbreak in its acute care ward: nine patients and three staff members tested positive initially; that number has since risen to 17 patients and 13 staff. For context, the ward has 34 beds. Fortunately some have been vaccinated, and some have tested positive without showing symptoms, so this may turn out to be the best possible version of the worst possible scenario. But still: the whole point of last year’s checkpoints was not only to keep COVID out of our community (which tends older and in poorer health than the Canadian average); it was to keep it out of our hospital.

So yeah. We could be doing better out here.

Winnipeg’s Worldcon Bid

Yesterday a bid was launched for Winnipeg to host the 2023 Worldcon. (The website is bare bones; bid filing documents can be found in this zip file.) As a Winnipeg native I have feelings about this—particularly since I had to miss the 1994 Winnipeg Worldcon on account of moving for graduate school. If they land the bid I will, of course, be there, pandemic permitting. (It should be over by then, right?) They’re up against already-announced bids for Chengdu and Memphis, Tennessee; I suspect that Winnipeg—which I can tell you is very nice in late August—will offer an out for fans uncomfortable with travelling to either of those locations.

Why He Photographs Snakes

At Photography Life, wildlife photographer Nicholas Hess explains why he photographs snakes, and explains a few of his techniques. He’s very good at it. He’s been at it for a decade. And he’s 19 years old, which means he started, wow, really young. Here’s his Flickr account.

What Is a Grail Pen?

Interesting discussion over at r/fountainpens about the definition of a term bandied about a lot in the fountain pen community: the “grail” pen. For most pen collectors it refers to a singular pen they aspire to but can’t easily buy; the OP argues that “grail” isn’t the right metaphor if it refers to a pen that is slightly outside the buyer’s budget but is readily available. There are some interesting takes in this thread (which is not something you can always say): one points out the absurdity of someone having a “next grail pen,” another that a lot of this depends on how much money you have. It’s possible to spend four figures on a pen, but for most people a $50 pen is the most expensive writing instrument they will ever own—or need to own.

Surprise! FeedBurner Is Not Being Shut Down

Those of us who use FeedBurner—Google’s RSS feed management service—have been expecting Google to close it down at any moment for about a decade now: in 2012 they shut down the APIs and terminated in-feed advertising; since then it’s lain fallow with next to no news and zero changes. Today FeedBurner announced that rather than being closed down, it’s being moved to new infrastructure, where fewer features will be available. “Core feed management functionality will continue to be supported, such as the ability to change the URL, source feed, title, and podcast metadata of your feed. Basic analytics on feed requests and the ability to create enclosure tags for MP3 files will also continue to be supported.” But email subscriptions in particular are being discontinued. Which is a bummer: FeedBurner was one of the few ways to auto-generate a daily email digest of blog posts, and possibly the only free one. (The Map Room uses it; I’ll have to switch to another service.)

Cab Ride Train Videos

The Washington Post looks at the genre of cab ride train videos: long, uninterrupted videos of complete train journeys as seen from the locomotive’s cab. (See Jalopnik’s post if you can’t get past the Post’s registration wall.) There are more than 8,000 such videos listed at Rail Cab Rides, and they’re all over YouTube: they range from scenic mountain railways to the fastest of high-speed trains. (For example, this channel, which I follow, focuses on French trains; it’s hard to call this subgenre “slow TV” when you’re watching TGVs at full speed.) I find them oddly addictive: some people use them as background, but I can’t stop paying attention.

The Backlash Against The Empire Strikes Back

I suspected as much: “The initial reaction [to] The Empire Strikes Back is eerily similar to that of 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi,” writes Zachary Sosland in Looper. “Both middle chapters of their respective trilogies tried to take the Star Wars franchise in exciting new directions, and both receiving mixed receptions from fans who were initially displeased with being knocked so far out of their comfort zones. Of course, the backlash against The Last Jedi was much louder, but the point still stands.”

The Show That Wouldn’t Die

Having been axed by Netflix after their second season on the platform, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is attempting yet another comeback via a Kickstarter to setup a new online platform not subject to the vagaries of networks and streaming platforms. As of this writing they’re above 87 percent of the way to their first goal; goals beyond that will increase the number of new MST3k episodes made.

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