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Just how many?

Just how many craft brewing companies are there in the Toronto area these days? I’m overwhelmed by the choice…

IMG_7316.jpgThis one promises (on the can) to be bright, crisp and thirst quenching, and I quite enjoy it.

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AlphaGo plays online

The AlphaGo whiz-bang Go-playing computer, which decisively beat Lee Sedol (one of the best players of our time) in a challenge match, has very recently played 60 online games against top players. I’ve read online that the human opponents were aware their opponent was AlphaGo, but I have no actual confirmation of that.  I understand these were blitz games, with each player having just 30 seconds per move. I think the time limitation is an advantage for the computer, but I only base that on how difficult I find it to play without ample thinking time. The score for these games was AlphaGo: 60 – Humans: 0. Ouch. Maybe the humans would have done better with more time, but then again maybe not.

Top professional Go players are an elite bunch who play the game so much better than the rest of us mere mortals. However, it looks like the computer is going to dominate the game in the future. This doesn’t much matter to amateurs who play the game for fun, like me. In my lifetime, I don’t expect to ever be able to beat even the weakest of pro players. I just want to improve my game over time and find ways to improve my strength. The situation does shake up the pro Go community though, if even the strongest of the elite group of players cannot beat the machine.

Here is a 20 minute review of one of the 60 games presented by Haijin Lee, a retired pro player. In this game, AlphaGo is playing Ke Jie. AlphaGo plays the black stones.

Filed under: Go
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Hugh’s Room closing doors

I was saddened to hear on the radio this morning that Hugh’s Room is closing its doors. Over the years, Tuffy P and I have attended so many great performances at this venue, including: the late Tommy Makem, The McGarrigles, Tom Russell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Ian Tyson, Paul Brady, the annual Banjo Special, The Kruger Brothers, April Verch, Bruce Molsky, Iris Dement, Valdy, Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart and so many more.

I understand Hugh’s Room has suffered financial troubles for years. I don’t know anything about running a club, but it must be really difficult operating a place that features folk music. They’ve had a dinner and show kind of format as long as I can remember. I often thought they would do better with a pub-style approach to food, but what do I know? I’ve never been involved with the restaurant, pub or club industry except as a patron.

Hugh’s Room has been THE place in Toronto for a lot of the live music we enjoy.  It’s been a fantastic room to listen to music. I don’t know where all those wonderful performers will play now, when they come through Toronto.

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A door that works

We finally had our patio door replaced today. The old one was in bad shape and to open or close it, we had to really lean into it and drag it along the track. I tried and failed to find a compatible set of new wheels, or alternatively someone to fix to old door.  My concern was that one day one IMG_7302.jpgof us would yank the thing right off its tracks. Shopping for a patio door is a pain in the neck. It’s really hard to compare quality and price and some of the companies out there doing this work are difficult to deal with. Regular readers may recall a post here from late summer about our experience trying to buy a door from another company. They wanted us to sign a 9 page contract and give them half down, but refused to commit to an installation deadline in the contract.

We finally settled on a company called George Kent. They were really easy to deal with and their product seemed to be pretty good and the price was fair. I was concerned about having it installed today since it is so cold outside, but I needn’t have been. Three experienced installers showed up. These guys knew what they were doing and they were fast. It only took about 3 hours to take out the old unit, install the new one, add the hardware and new exterior flashing and sweep up after themselves.

The previous door – which was old when we moved into this house – was a real pain in the neck. I’m happy to have a safe, secure and functioning sliding door in its place.

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No gluten in that cider

The other day I was at my local purveyors of alcoholic beverages, stocking up – which for me meant a whopping 4 cans of craft beer and one can of hard cider. I don’t drink a lot of cider, but once in a while, I enjoy it.

This particular can of cider bragged on the front of the can that it was gluten-free. Now, I’ve got nothing against gluten. I don’t have celiac disease and my body seems to be able to digest foods containing gluten just fine. I was only curious because I thought cider was made of apples and had no idea there might be wheat, barley or rye in it. I asked the cashier. “Are there ciders that do contain gluten, and if so, how does it get there?” Admittedly it’s an obscure question, and I’m not surprised that she didn’t know. I made a mental note to do some searches online to see if I could find out.

It turns out that most cider can be considered gluten-free. Some brands may contain trace amounts because the makers use a gluten-based yeast in fermentation. One website I consulted suggested that even in these ciders the gluten content is less than 20 parts per million, which is very little indeed.

The other thing I learned though, is that the cider business has been booming, coinciding with all the attention given gluten in foods. I imagine this maker put gluten-free on the can to remind folks that their product is a popular alternative to beer for those who want to avoid gluten.

It occurred to me that I make gluten-free paintings. I should start marketing that.

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No-show politicians?

I noted an article in the Toronto Star this morning which listed the percentage of votes our City politicians missed at Council last year. Our own Ward 6 Councillor Mark Grimes, is listed in the bottom 10, having missed 24.1% of votes, according to the article. At the bottom of the list is Ron Moeser, who, as the article points out, is ill with cancer, and the colourful Giorgio Mammoliti, who missed a whopping 38.8% of votes. At the top end of the spectrum, Gord Perks and Frances Nunziata didn’t miss a single vote. Not one. Several others missed only a negligible percentage of votes.

I know that City Council sessions can be long and tedious but that’s the nature of the job, isn’t it? All these politicians knew that going in. No doubt attendance is not the only measure of the effectiveness of our municipal leaders. It’s just a basic requirement. I think it is reasonable to expect our representatives to show up and engage and vote on our behalf – AND take care of all the other requirements of the job along the way.




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Wildwood Flower

Wildwood Flower was popularized by the Carter Family, but its close cousin I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets was written by Joseph Philbrick Webster and published way back in 1860. It could be that both are based on another earlier tune, but if so I don’t know it. Webster also composed the music for the gospel tune, In the Sweet By and By. The lyrics to that one were written by Sandford Bennett.

Check out this fantastic bit of video featuring The Carter Family…

I hadn’t listened to Wildwood Flower in some time, and on hearing it again, a different set of lyrics popped into my head. This melody was used by Woody Guthrie for a song with much different lyrics – I’ve known that song for ages, but it didn’t occur to me until now it shared a melody with Wildwood Flower.

Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James?

Mr. Guthrie seems to have been quite comfortable recycling melodies to suit his needs. I don’t know how many times he did it, but I can think of another off the top of my head. Listen to Wabash Cannonball followed by Grand Coulee Dam, for instance. That’s the thing about folk music. It’s a community resource-we own it together.


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Kilby Snow plays Troubles

You don’t see many autoharp players around these days. I don’t know very much about the instrument. Kilby Snow was known for a unique “drag note” approach to autoharp that appears to have something to do with the fact that he was left-handed playing an instrument designed for right-handed players. There isn’t much video of Mr. Snow performing on the YouTube machine, but there is this gem, Troubles.

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A 2016 musical highlight

I don’t do lists, but this year I’m proclaiming a song of the year. It’s by a duo from Kentucky who call themselves The Local Honeys. The song is about strip mining and it’s called Cigarette Trees. I posted a different performance of it a while back.