When minimalism starts making sense

Foray into minimalism

My foray into minimalism

I want to make sure that I don’t come through as a fake as I write this post.

Minimalism, as a lifestyle, is not something that I have ever consciously aspired to. If anything, I would be closer to a Maximalist who believes in the “Life is too short, so, have a good time!” philosophy.

A true epicurean!

Though, I may not be ready to take it to the “Live rich and die broke” level.

For that matter, I was not quite sure what minimalism entailed.

Large white sparsely furnished spaces and artwork that show small objects on large canvases come to mind.

My curiosity was piqued when I looked up the profile of Tynan, a blogger that I occasionally read, and it said, “I only have one pair of pants and two shirts.”

It was clear that it was a choice that he had made and not one driven by the lack of money.

So, I decided to explore minimalism a bit more.

To say that interpretations vary, would be an understatement. There were people who sold or gave away their “things” to declutter their lives; people who could fit all their worldly possessions in a backpack; people who quit their jobs and took up nomadic lifestyles…

Mostly stuff that I could not relate to.

It appeared that minimalism did not always translate to “cheap.” On the contrary, some of the practitioners of minimalism left me wondering, if they were independently wealthy. The pursuit of quality vs. quantity appeared to be the underlying sentiment – be it things, jobs, relationships, etc.

Then I stumbled upon a question that I could finally relate to but did not have an answer for:

“When do you know that you have enough?”

Not surprisingly, if you Googled this question, almost all the answers you get are related to money – enough money to retire; enough insurance etc. While the requirement of money is a no-brainer, I decided to explore other aspects of “enough” as it pertains to a minimalist lifestyle to see how I compared.

Do I have enough home?

I would say, yes. Having sold my house and moved to a condominium, I seem to be on the right track here. In case you are wondering, I have no plans to sell my house and hit the road or join a monastery, yet.

Do I have enough car?

“Yes,” to that too. Though I had no minimalistic intentions while replacing our gas guzzlers for hybrid cars, I will take an “X” on that box.

As I went through a mental list of “do I have enough?” that covered food, clothes, furniture, artwork, etc., I stopped at electronic gadgets.

Do I have enough electronic gadgets that make me happy?

Sheepishly, I have to admit that I have more gadgets than I need, or have a use for.

I have an opportunity to take my first step towards minimalism – declutter my tech junk draw.

But then, why would I give these things away? I have been holding on to them “just in case” I needed them in the future. Not to mention the fact that I paid good money for some of it.

So, I read more about the virtues of decluttering – selling or donating stuff that you don’t need.

I got more questions back.

Are the things that you don’t need – in my case, old smartphones and other mobile gadgets – adding value to my life and making me happy?

The answer was a resounding “no,” they are sitting in a draw and certainly not adding any value or happiness to my life.

Could these things potentially add value to someone else’s life, or make them happy?

I had to reluctantly admit that it potentially could bring happiness to someone else.

Then, why not give it to them?

I was stumped. The logic made sense.

There is something liberating about being able to let go, even when they are only old iPhones that you no longer use.

The feeling of enough!

So, I have decided to give away a few gadgets that I have not touched in over a year.

My first foray into minimalism…

So, do you think that there is merit in minimalism? Click here to add your comments.

 

A close encounter of the bike kind

Whether you are a rider or a driver, bike lanes can get you into trouble 

Bike lane rules

By Dylan Passmore – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABike_Lane_Toronto_2011.jpg

The shrill sound of the bicycle bells made me slam on the brake. I was in my car, turning right from Yonge Street onto King Street, in downtown Toronto.

The light had just turned green.

The two cyclists appeared to come out of nowhere. Not slowing down, they zipped straight through the intersection. Bells still clanking, one of them gave me a one-finger salute as he rode on, blending into the traffic.

It was a close encounter of the bike kind!

I was shaken, it could have ended badly.

In my mind, I had the right of way over the cyclists coming up behind. Frankly, I had enough on my plate trying to time the pedestrians crossing the road to worry about bicycles approaching from the rear at 20 km/hour.  Yet, from the bicycle bell feedback I was receiving, it was clear that these roadway interlopers did not agree with my understanding of the auto/bike détente treaty etched into my brain.

I drive a car and ride a bike; so I decided that I owed it to myself to figure out the rules around bike lanes. After all, bike lanes are a means to keep the peace between competing interests of motorists and cyclists. They need to be regulated; the rules should be both well understood and practical to observe.

Personally speaking, my bike riding is an activity of pleasure and exercise. Driving, on the other hand, is to get me somewhere that I need to get to. I accept that some folks use two wheels to get to places that they must be at – such as work, the beer store etc. You can also argue that exercise and pleasure are “must do’s”.

Naturally, I am more invested and protective of things that govern my “must do’s” rather than those things that are “nice to do”.

Before I get into the confusing rules that govern “on-street” bike lanes in Canada, let me lay out some facts.

When it comes to “on-street” bike lanes, Toronto with 128 km is second only to Montreal’s 230 km, followed by Vancouver (60 km), Ottawa (50 km), and Calgary (30 km). The other interesting factoid is that roughly two-thirds of those that use bicycles to get to work are men.

The “on-street” bike lanes, at intersections, are the epicenter of confrontation between automobiles and bicycles. My recent encounter with the two cyclists is a prime example of the confusion and the potential danger that these intersections create.

So, what exactly are the rules for a right-hand turn in Toronto where bicyclists are also in play?

Below are several opinions gleaned from a recent Globe and Mail article which in my view appear to be both contradictory and prone to misjudgment:

“When turning right across a cycle track, drivers need to yield to cyclists who are proceeding straight – there is signage along cycle tracks to inform road users of this yield condition,” said Steve Johnston, City of Toronto spokesman. “Drivers must signal and check their mirrors and the blind spot to their right to make sure they do not cut off a cyclist.”

Not an easy feat when considering the bicycle speeds and the fact that not all cyclists have functioning headlamps or reflective gear to make them visible via a rear-view mirror or by turning one’s head.

“Where a bike lane is marked with a skipped, not solid, white line, drivers may enter or cross the bike lane to turn right,” Johnston said.

The skipped or solid distinction is rather difficult to see when the length of such a distinction may be barely one car length and sitting alongside the right side of your vehicle.

“If a motor vehicle is within the intersection waiting to turn right – blocking the cyclist’s path from the bicycle lane to the other side of the intersection – the cyclist should wait until the way is clear before proceeding through the intersection,” said Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) spokesman Bob Nichols.

Clearly, the two speeding cyclists that I nearly ran over, had not read this rule.

“Getting into that bike lane – when there’s not a barrier or solid painted line – is something drivers should do – as long as it’s clear”.  “Normally, when turning right you should be close to the curb before the intersection,”  “This means that where there is a bike lane, you should move into the bike lane before the turn – obviously as far as is reasonable,” says Angelo DiCicco, Young Drivers of Canada general manager.

If the above does not make sense to you, check out this image titled “Right turn and bike lanes.

“If a vehicle is making a right turn where there is a bike lane, any cyclist coming through is considered to have the right-of-way and the driver must yield. If there is no bike lane, the motorist is always required to ensure that the way is clear before turning, Hayward Gulati said. “Sometimes cyclists will go left around the vehicle to avoid a right-turning vehicle, but she said it is not required.”

What?  Hayward Gulati seems to be contradicting Angelo DiCicco, or maybe he is just erring on the side of caution!

The presence of a dotted bike lane at any intersection appears relevant.  Its presence should indicate that a vehicle can enter the bike lane and ready themselves for a right turn.  I’ve observed mostly the opposite.   Most vehicles do not enter the bike lane, with their drivers relying on their falcon-vision and exceptional timing to make their right turn.

It has been reported that there are roughly 1,200 collisions per year that involve bicycles.

My guess is that 1,199 occur at the intersection of Yonge and King.

So, as you enjoy the summer, drive and ride safely!

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Bike Lanes - Joe TotinoAUTHOR: Joe Totino

Joseph spends his time waiting for summer to arrive. He has interests in cognitive psychology and believes himself to be a decent chess player. He is based in Toronto and is an Engineer and management professional who works in the Telecom industry.

When most of your friends are millionaires…

Chicago condo I sit sipping coffee at my cousin’s 54th-floor condo that overlooks the Chicago Navy Pier.

For a second, I consider making myself a Mimosa from the well-stocked bar but quickly reject the idea. It’s not noon yet. Need to stay disciplined, even though I am on vacation.

As the tour boats go by, the sun bounces off the rippling waters of Lake Michigan, almost blinding. On the other side, I can see the winding road and the towering skyscrapers.

It’s a glorious day. The view is spectacular!

The interior of the apartment is no less impressive. With over 3000 square feet on one level, it is sprawling, and tastefully done. I could get used to this.

It suddenly occurs to me, most of my friends are millionaires!

No, the rarified air on the 54th floor has not impaired my judgement. It’s true! Most of my friends are millionaires, accidental millionaires.

The skyrocketing real-estate market in Toronto has propelled a lot of ordinary people into the millionaire’s club. If you live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), have a detached home in a nice neighbourhood, and are not a millionaire, you are likely in the minority.

Obviously, if we start talking about liabilities, net worth and such, not all make the cut. But, from an assets perspective, you cannot dispute the fact that a lot of them are worth seven figures.

Good for them!

However, when a modest house in Mississauga, a middle-class suburb of Toronto, sells at a price higher than a large waterfront condo in a prestigious building in downtown Chicago, something is amiss.

And, what’s with the 33% year over year price growth? How long would it be before we make it to the “Five most expensive cities in the world?”

People must be making way more money that I think they are, or, they are braver than me. I go back to the time when I fretted about a mortgage which was nearly 2.5 times our gross family income, which wasn’t a whole lot, to begin with.

But then again, why not just make hay while the sun shines? They do say that unless you speculate, you don’t accumulate!

As the financial pundits and the government debate the demerits of a runaway real estate market, there appears to be at least one group of people who are clearly disadvantaged by this phenomenon, the young home buyer – our children.

I remember a friend’s daughter, a millennial, mentioning that she felt that she would never be able to afford a condo or a house in Toronto. A few years into a Marketing job, the size of the mortgage required to own a home was downright scary and unaffordable for someone like her.

Millennials have it tough, especially if you live in Canada.

New rules require them to have more money upfront, while the amount they can borrow goes down – which is probably a good thing. Unlike their parents, they are less likely to be able to count on government guarantees as they get older. And, as the aging population of Canada outnumbers the young, the prospect of becoming part of the sandwich generation is real.

Not a lot of good news here.

Perhaps the parents who rode the real estate wave to millions can help out with their children’s first down payment. But before you do that, you may want to read this article by Rob Carrick titled “Are we pushing millennials into a financial abyss of home ownership?

I have a sense of déjà vu.

I have lived in Mumbai where tiny apartments cost a tonne of money and the middle-class families had to move far away into the suburbs to find an affordable apartment.

Toronto is not Mumbai, but it could become a Hong Kong or Tokyo.

I better hang on to my condo…

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The Fifty Fifty Club

There’s a ski slope inside a mall in Dubai while there’s a beach inside a mall in Edmonton!

Fifty Fifty Club - Reboot Social

The Fifty Fifty Club was formed during the winter of 2006, in Edmonton, Alberta. I am the founder of the club.

It’s an elite club, though not elitist. It has only four members in it. Two of the members are Japanese, one of them my sensei aka, guru-dev. And, the fourth is an Indian. The club’s charter is very simple. Everyone is welcome, but membership is restricted to those who have worked in Plus 50 Celsius and Minus 50 Celsius environments for a minimum of five years each.

As for my credentials, the minus 50 I worked in was in Fort McMurray, Alberta where I worked at the oil sands projects. My plus 50 was a few years ago, within the oilfields of the Middle East countries.

Surprisingly the changeover was not too difficult, neither in terms of the physical aspects of the job nor in its cultural dimensions. I guess, I need to explain this in a little more detail since the overall experiences of moving countries is not always successful — immediately, or in the long term.

Firstly, I worked for the Japanese. That ensured I uncomplainingly worked 16-hour days in all kinds of (hot, hotter and hottest) weather.

Secondly, my conservative estimate is that I personally cut and inspected close to 7,000 truck tires with my own hands, in 20 years. I may have forgotten to mention that I specialize in Off-The-Road (OTR) tires, the giant kind you see in mines and excavation sites. At approximately 100 kg a tire, that is an awful amount to lift, cut open and roll away by a single person.

On the positive side, it did bring about an almost magical skill in being able to stand away at a distance and identify the exact reason for a tire’s failure; a skill I employed and raised to another level while working in Fort McMurray.

The similarities of living and working in extreme conditions are striking when you give it some thought. There’s the safety aspect of working and travelling in hostile environments. Driving in deserts — icy or sandy — engender a certain amount of self-discipline, advance planning, and technical knowledge.

In addition to these work factors, the cultural aspects have some similarities too. People generally tend to congregate indoors in malls during the bad months. To give you a sense of indoor activities, there’s a ski slope inside a mall in Dubai while there’s a beach inside a mall in Edmonton!

The dynamics of the oil industry is generally the same all over the world. The industry is driven by coin-flipping corporate heads.

All over the world, the oil industry is populated with westerners. Many Canadians work in it outside of Canada. This allowed me to learn the cultural skills required to communicate and understand people across a wide swathe of backgrounds.

But, the strangest part of the story is now apparent to me. Working in the regions of the “first 50” is what I really should be most grateful for, because it helped me make a success of the “second 50”.

I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but…

As people in that part of the world would say, “Mashallah!

The wonders of God…

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Keshav Das - Fifity Fifty Club

 

Keshav DasKeshav is a tire industry veteran who lives in Edmonton, Alberta. He specializes in Off-The-Road tires which take him to the less travelled parts of the world. He is a true outdoor enthusiast, music lover, and always up for a hearty debate over a good glass of wine…

Peru – Beyond Machu Picchu

 

Peru beyond Machu Pichu

The fashion show broke out as I was working on my blog post.

I was on a Vistadome train heading back to Cusco from Machu Picchu, Peru.

One minute the cabin crew were serving us food and drinks, the next, they were striding down the aisle wearing SOL Alpaca garments and accessories, striking poses akin to professional models on a catwalk. It was Peru Rail’s creative version of “Duty-Free” that you typically find in international flights.

I bought a scarf.

The five-day trip with my wife and daughter to Peru was an impromptu decision. Not a lot of research went into it. There were the travel advisories – don’t trust strangers; don’t walk alone in the night; don’t show affluence, don’t underestimate altitude sickness.

I ignored the last one.

I was sure I would be able to handle the rarified air of Cusco, a city that stood 11,150’ above the sea level. After all, I am used to playing squash without a lot of air in my lungs.

Big mistake!

Much has been written about the tourist attractions of Peru. Machu Picchu and Inca ruins of Moray have a sense of mystery around them. They are precise, intricate, and detailed. There are many interpretations of their purpose and how they ended up as ruins.

But, nobody really knows for sure.

Then there is the Salineras de Maras, a five-hundred-year-old salt making system of ponds and channels carved into a canyon that utilizes natural salt water to produce copious amounts of salt, even today. If our server Javier at the JW Marriot, a convent converted into a hotel, were to be believed, we were being served salt from the Sacred Valley itself.

Besides the tourist attractions, there are a few things that I found distinctive to Peru.

Peru has a big food scene. Classic Ceviche

I did not know that three of the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants are in Lima, the capital of Peru. Everyone eats ceviche and drinks pisco, the Peruvian equivalent of tequila. If you like raw-fish dishes like sushi, ceviche would appeal to you. I preferred the classic ceviche over a couple of other variations. I was told that the “tiger’s milk” in ceviches – the citrus-infused marinade – is a perfect cure for hangovers.

I didn’t get to test that theory.

I was feeling hungover without consuming alcohol. I even passed up on complimentary pisco sour cocktails offered at our hotel.

The altitude and the lack of oxygen in Cusco will do that to you.

Suffice to say that we had to bail out on our reservations to one of the restaurants featured in the world’s top fifty list. I had been really looking forward to it.

I should have invested $10 in some altitude sickness prevention pills.

Peruvian cities are clean.

There was hardly any litter on the streets and the restrooms in the tourist destinations that we visited were clean. People seemed to take pride in their country and communities. In a city like Cusco where almost 80% of the population depend on the tourism industry, there is clear recognition that killing the golden goose would not be a good idea.

For example, in stark contrast to my recent experience with Air Canada, when our flight from Lima to Cusco got cancelled, Avianca put us up at the Sheraton and covered the cost of our transportation and meals.

Towards the end of my trip, I figured out why the song “El Condor Pasa,” the song made famous by Simon & Garfunkel, was stuck in my head.

Everywhere you go, you hear strains of it. It was originally created by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles and is easily the most known Peruvian song in the English-speaking world.

When it comes to Peru, a line from the song says it all: “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail…”

You can see it in the people of Peru.