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New Podcast + New Story Site

Episode 7 of the 27th Street Podcast is now available. In this episode I read 3 of my Lazy Allen Stories. The stories featured are The Bottle & Can, Star Beauty, and My Dog’s Bigger than your Dog. The music on the podcast is me playing a tune called Texas Gals on clawhammer banjo.

I’d also like to introduce a new story site – a home for The Lazy Allen Stories. My goal is to post a new story each month until this story cycle runs its course. There are currently 7 stories up on the site. I’ve featured 5 of those stories already here at 27th Street. I’d like to invite you to check out the new site and read the stories I haven’t previously shared.

I don’t plan to seek out traditional publication of these stories. Instead, I’m going to continue to make them available to everyone for free at the new story site. If you really love these stories and would like to support this project, please visit my Patreon page.

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Long Branch by the lake Garden Tour – 2016

 

PinkPeony2.jpgTuffy P (AKA Sheila Gregory) and her friend Nadia Stelmach are organizing the first Long Branch by the lake Garden Tour for June 18, 2016. Right now Tuffy is working on setting up a blog site for the event.

A number of gardeners in the community have agreed to open up their gardens to the public on tour day, between 10 and 4 PM. Tickets for the tour will be on sale at some local businesses (hey local businesses – who wants to participate?). Tickets will be $10 and 100% of the proceeds will be a donation to LAMP Community Health Centre.

Tuffy P came up with the idea of organizing the tour after attending some awesome garden tours over the past couple years. These include Through the Garden Gate, here in Toronto, the Canadian Cancer Society Spring Garden Tour in Mississauga, and the remarkable Garden Walk Buffalo. Tuffy and her pal Toni also went on a garden adventure road trip through Quebec last summer.

This is a great opportunity to celebrate our beautiful community. I’ll be posting updates here periodically, and will let you all know when the website is up. If you have any questions about the even, you’re welcome to leave a comment here or email me (eugene.knapik@gmail.com), and I’ll ask Tuffy P to respond to your directly.

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A graduation of sorts

Regular visitors know that last March I stepped on a patch of black ice on our front stairs and went for a wee flight, breaking and dislocating my right ankle, and for bonus points damaging a ligament. This left me with 14 screws Humpty-Dumptying my right ankle assembly and fibula back together.

At a certain point after my surgery, I started going to physiotherapy sessions twice each week. This helped me build strength and improve my balance on my right leg. Somewhere along the way, though, I developed some nasty tendonitis in my left heel, compensating for the problem on my right side. At that point my physiotherapist started treating the tendonitis too, and I was doing exercises for both.

After Christmas, I started to experience rapid improvement. I had a physiotherapy session three weeks ago and we agreed I would try three weeks without a session and see how I did.  In fact I continued to improve. The tendonitis in my left heel became negligible. Most days I didn’t notice any discomfort at all. I had no pain at all in my right foot/ankle/leg, and I noticed my balance was improving (my test was one-leg balancing)

Unless I experience a set-back, today was my last physiotherapy session. I’ll continue to do heel raises on stairs, which seems to help out the tendonitis a lot.

I did my physio at Etobicoke physiotherapy (in the weird Sobeys mini-mall at Kipling and Queensway) and I’d like to give a shout out to Natalia, my physiotherapist, who is super-fantastic.

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Go computer beats top player

For years there have been chess programs that have beaten top players, but computers playing the game of Go haven’t fared so well – until now. Check out this article.

This morning, Nature published a paper describing DeepMind’s system, which makes clever use of, among other techniques, an increasingly important AI technology called deep learning. Using a vast collection of Go moves from expert players—about 30 million moves in total—DeepMind researchers trained their system to play Go on its own. But this was merely a first step. In theory, such training only produces a system as good as the best humans. To beat the best, the researchers then matched their system against itself. This allowed them to generate a new collection of moves they could then use to train a new AI player that could top a grandmaster.

Of course it’s much more fun playing against a human, isn’t it? My first choice is to play an opponent over the board. There are lots of people who enjoy playing live games over the internet on various Go servers. I suppose the good thing about that is it exposes you to a lot of players, different styles and various strengths.

For those not familiar with the game of Go, it is played with black and white stones on the intersections of a 19X19 line grid. Players alternately lay down a stone at a time with the objective of surrounding more territory than one’s opponent. The rules are simple, but it is a very complex and challenging game to play, and the learning curve it pretty steep. It takes some commitment to become a Go player.

 

 

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Odds and Ends

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Let’s see, what’s happening around here?

Lady spent the weekend with us on a trial adoption. She’s a very well-adjusted cat, especially considering she’s operating one leg short.  Cats usually take a little time to adjust to a new environment, and we’ve learned a routine for introducing one into the household, bit by bit. Lady has been doing well. She’s hissed at any cats who have ventured too close but she has stood her ground and seems fine hanging out with the gang as long as she has her space. Today I took her in to Long Branch Animal Clinic to get her sutures removed and to finalize the adoption. I can tell you she is not impressed with traveling in a cat carrier, that’s for sure. She let me know in no uncertain terms.

When we first brought Lady home, I thought about the Ramblin’ Jack story-song 912 Greens. If my memory serves me well, during his performance of that epic song on Legends of Folk, in which Jack shares the stage with Spider John Koerner and U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest, he talks about meeting a 3-legged cat named Shaky down in New Orleans, who challenges Jack to a race up a set of stairs at 912 Toulouse. If I get mixed up and call Lady Shaky, you’ll understand.

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In other news, George’s allergies have been acting up. During the summer of 2014 he had seasonal allergies, which passed when it got cold. This year, they appeared again in summer. He’s on some medication for them which had been working fine until about a week or week and a half ago, and since then he’s been itching and scratching some. George is hardly a delicate thing and he can do some damage to himself scratching with those giant Newf paws of his. He’s going to visit the vet next week and we’ll figure out the best strategy to deal with his itching.

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New additions to the 27th Street Book Box – it’s pretty full right now but some kind soul left a bag of good books at our front door. There is Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, The Tiger Claw by Shauna Singh Baldwin, and a book I really enjoyed when I read it, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. I’ll cycle these into the book box as soon as there is a little room. For those of you in Long Branch, I invite you to stop by. The box is in front of 15 Twenty Seventh St. Books are free. Take some – leave some, whatever you like.

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If you do come by to visit the book box, don’t be discouraged by all the construction next door and across the street. Today they were pouring a cement foundation at the property next door, and the side-walk and the road were both a mucky mess. Across the street, somebody has been running some kind of stinky diesel equipment. I’m about done with all the construction around here, but it isn’t nearly over yet. I’m trying my best to be patient.

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4 Toronto shootings overnight

For the most part we don’t have nearly as much gun violence in our city as our neighbours to the south and it’s easy for us to be smug about the bizarre American fetish for firearms. This morning though, I was taking the dogs out to Jack Darling Park and heard on the radio there were 4 shootings in Toronto overnight – 1 dead 4 injured. There have now been 6 homicides in Toronto this year.

Last week there was a shoot-out on the Allen Road – people were shooting at one another from moving vehicles. Crazy.

When I was growing up in Etobicoke – now on the western edge of the amalgamated Toronto, hearing about a shooting was a rare event. I recall when I was in high school there was a gangland-type shooting at a local gas station, which was a huge shock. I’m sure there were a number of other incidents, but few I recall. I was always proud that Toronto was such a safe place to live.

One of the shootings last night occurred around Bathurst and Niagara – just down the street from the old warehouse building where for years I had a live-in studio.

It seems gun incidents are here to stay, and we’re no longer “Toronto the Good.”

 

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Lady first minutes home with us

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Tuffy P posting….this shot caught the tail end first minutes of our welcome party. It started early with tail wagging and kisses from George and Memphis,  and then Miss Phyllis woke up from behind an accordion to come and chill with her new ‘soul sister’, Lady.

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Changes

In spring of 1986 I took a part time job at Canada Post sorting mail. I had an art habit, a bad one, and I needed a day job, or as it turned out, an evening job, to support it. I recall I even wrote on my application that I would only need this work for a couple years while I worked on my art career. OK, I was being very optimistic. They hired me anyway.

After they called me, I had to go for a dexterity test. I was given a one hand keyboard and a list of postal codes. The idea was that I punch each postal code in using the keyboard, except I was only allowed a limited number of errors – oh and there was a time limit. I recall thinking, oh no, I’m not very good at this sort of thing. I’ll never pass. However, I was determined to make no errors so I really took my time carefully pressing each button accurately. I was really nervous. When I finished, I looked around and everybody else was still working. I must have done something terribly wrong. Oh no, I’ve blown the mission. I sat there for several minutes and everybody else just kept working. Finally, I thought I might as well just leave, since I’ve failed the test anyway, so I did just that.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. I didn’t make any errors and I completed the test in about half the allotted time. All that was left for me to do was carry a bag of mail across the room to show I could lift it, and swear allegiance to the Queen (honest), and the gig was mine.

Canada Post has been good to me. I’ve been able to reinvent myself several times over the years, and do a number of different jobs, some of which I never for a moment I imagined I’d be doing. At one point I managed the biggest shift at the biggest parcel plant in the country. More recently I’ve done a variety of communications and media relations work. I think I’ve done some of those jobs pretty well, and I’ve always tried to give a strong effort. Along the way, I’ve had more than a few adventures.

When I started as a part time postal clerk, I looked at the benefit structure and saw that if I stuck it out with the company for 7 years, I would get an additional week of vacation leave. 7 years. That’s a long time, I thought. Who knew it would in fact be a blink of the eye. Fast forward 30 years. I’m still working at the post office. I still have the art habit (it’s still bad – I’ve tried to quit, but always I need just one more hit, and then I’m back to it again).

My various jobs with Canada Post have afforded me a good living, and now I find myself with a new prospect. I can retire from the work-a-day world. The word scares me a little. It makes me feel like a dinosaur. I’ll get over that, though, and I’m going to start that retirement in April. Working at the same place for a really long time is something that doesn’t happen so much these days. I can tell you it is a strange feeling, having picked a date to leave, knowing after all that time being associated with the same organization, I will be leaving it behind me in just over 2 months.

I’m really looking forward to the prospect of spending lots more hours in the studio painting and also making mosaics. I have a painting exhibition coming up at Yumart in September, which will include a suite of new encaustic paintings along with a selection of older paintings, including works from as early as the 80s. As regular visitors to this blog know, I’ve also been writing stories, and I want to invest more time in making up more of those. And then there is the banjo. One thing I’d love to do is find a couple other old time players who are interested in getting together to play music regularly, and work up a bunch of tunes together.

New adventures ahead.