Because of its restrained and historically accurate storytelling, Bridge of Spies is one of my favourite films.

Looking for something a bit meatier than podcasts to listen to on my exercise walks, I am trying out an Audible account with James Donovan’s Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel. It’s the perfect kind of book for someone overly preoccupied with an academic project, insofar as it is interesting and detailed enough to be mentally engaging as well as mercifully unrelated to any work I need to do.

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There’s a cliché that you should never ask a PhD student about their dissertation in conversation and, based on my experiences since my project officially began in June 2018, there are several reasons why this is sound advice. In short, the PhD and dissertation process is frustrating to hear described and, when a student is asked to do so, the predictable responses from the person inquiring are a small-scale rebellion about why the more vexing parts of the process are the way they are, followed by frustration from the listener toward the student because they dislike how they didn’t get the uplifting story they wanted about a useful project soon to be completed. Saying that you’re just expressing sympathy and sincere support for the completion of the project doesn’t help, because it still carries the implication that somehow if a student just behaves in the right way their problems will disappear, making them in a roundabout way the student’s own fault for not being able to apply the wisdom of a quick amateur analysis.

People without recent personal experience in a PhD program have little experiential basis for understanding what’s involved, often manifested as a view that special accommodation should be made for you or that the system ought to be promptly changed because of your suffering. That misses the bureaucracy of higher education, as well as suffering as a background condition of most graduate work. The only way out is to suffer through, and adding the second-hand frustrations of observers to your mental landscape will just exacerbate your own feelings of frustration and powerlessness.

Best to talk about something else.

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These days many sources report that in-demand, rare, and marketable skills are the basis of personal financial security. Not great then that Canada’s former top bureaucrat recently remarked: “Anybody with a laptop and a Google account can be a policy analyst.”

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During the course of my pandemic walks, I started looking for anything green in the map of Toronto and undertaking walks to explore those areas. Eventually, I realized that several green areas can be strung together into an urban walking trail that is mostly separated from cars. I think of it as a bit equivalent to Vancouver’s Seawall as a place to get exercise in a natural surrounding without having to worry about too many cars.

The Cyclone route includes the Beltline trail, the Nordheimer and Cedarvale ravines, and a route through Rosedale and the Mount Pleasant cemetery back to the eastern end of the Beltline. The route is easy to get on and off, as it passes near five subway stations:

Map: no road labels, road labels, road and subway labels.

The approximate path of the main route is in blue on those maps, and actual tracks of GPS data are red.

I began calling the trail The Cyclone in December 2020 and have shared it with family and friend. I was surprised yesterday to come across a tweet describing much the same route.

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