My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Recent Posts

  1. Maybe we should start that fire

    Canadian politics is desperately lacking in anyone with as much fire as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that's a problem.

    Confession: I follow a lot of Americans, many of whom have an interest in politics, on Twitter. So I've been hearing a lot about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rookie new Democratic member of the U.S. House of Congress. She has been getting a lot of pushback from the elements of American society who can't handle the fact that a young, opinionated, competent, dedicated, socialist woman of colour has actually been elected to Congress, let alone is now following through on her lofty promises not to immediately succumb to the system of corrupted checks-without-balances that is emblematic of that institution. As a Canadian, it has been interesting to watch this happen against the backdrop of the U.S. federal government shutdown (in a horrified, "what the hell are you doing to your own federal employees" kind of way).

    But I'm not American, and so this got me thinking more about politics back here in Canada, especially because we are actually in a federal election year now. And watching the furor over AOC south of the border, I just can't help but … yearn for something like that here.

    I'm 29 years old, and this will be my fourth time voting in a federal…

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  2. Part of the system

    Being part of a racist system doesn't make you racist. Refusing to acknowledge and stand up against system racism is what makes you racist.

    Last week the OIPRD released its findings of an investigation into the Thunder Bay police. The report, at over 200 pages, is the culmination of two years of investigation. It unequivocally states that systemic racism exists within the Thunder Bay Police Service. Also last week, a second report from a separate investigation, this one done by Senator Murray Sinclair at the behest of the OCPC, came out. It too found racism—this time from the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, which oversees the police. As a result of the report, the OCPC appointed an interim administrator to oversee the board until its members have undergone training and taken other required steps.

    Both reports also made very specific recommendations for how to address the systemic racism.

    None of this is news, really, for those of us in Thunder Bay who haven’t buried our heads in the sand, but now there are hundreds of pages of documentation backing up what is pretty common knowledge here: the police are racist, and it’s killing Indigenous people.

    Reaction though, of course, has ranged largely from lukewarm to ludicrous in the denial and shifting of accountability. Police Chief Sylvie Hauth (who took on the…

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  3. I have a podcast now. Podcasts are cool.

    In what is probably the most millennial move of my life, I have started a podcast with my bestie Becky. The podcast is called We Just LIke to Talk, and it launches today. Subscribe to it however you get your podcasts!

    We Just Like to Talk logo

    You may recall Becky as the friend I visited in Montreal at the end of the summer. We’ve known each other for several years now, but we’ve grown a lot closer over the past year and a half or so. One of the defining features of our friendship is our easy yet intense conversation—by which I mean, we can talk with each other about anything (literally no subject is off limits), and we can have incredibly intense discussions, without it ever feel awkward or acrimonious. Our topics range from inane banter about our lives to deep discussions of feminism, relationships, and heavier topics. We learn a lot from each other when we have these conversations, and I always look forward to them.

    So at some point along the way, Becky said we should be recording our chats—we should, in fact, start a podcast. Although I didn’t doubt her sincerity, I also didn’t, at the time, think anything would…

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  4. Happy Ada Lovelace Day, now dismantle the tech patriarchy

    I just started writing my review for Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, by Claire L. Evans. If I had timed things better, I could have written this review earlier and published it today, on Ada Lovelace Day. As it is, I’ve paused writing my review of this amazing book for a quick blog post about this day and women in STEM in general.

    Ada Lovelace, by the way, is often called the world’s first computer programmer. This is because she designed the first algorithm for Charles Babbage’s never-built Analytical Engine, which was itself the first stab at a mechanical computer. Additionally, Lovelace was a kickass mathematician—although she was reluctant to draw attention to herself by publishing her own work, she ended up translating a bunch of other work and adding annotations of her own that were often longer, in total, than the original work!

    Lovelace, and the many women who follow her (read Evans’ book for more!), demonstrate that women have always been a part of tech. Women don’t just belong in STEM; women are an essential component of STEM and have been from the very beginning.

    Yet we have what…

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  5. 10 years of reviewing every book I read

    I reflect on writing over 1400 detailed reviews, one for every book I’ve read since joining Goodreads 10 years ago.

    Back in May 2008 I joined a little website called Goodreads, then privately-owned and managed, which wanted to be the next big social media platform for readers. At first I just played around with the site, rating some books I'd previously read, and keeping track of what I was reading now. I'd write the odd review. Sometime later that year, probably around August or September, I began to review every book I read.

    And now I’ve been doing that for a whole decade.

    So much has changed over that time. Amazon bought Goodreads, and while it hasn't torpedoed the site the way it did Shelfari, our new corporate overlords have been felt (mainly in how much the site hasn't changed). But this post isn’t about that. It isn’t even about how, in the past 10 years, I’ve learned how to knit, graduated from university, lived and taught in England and then moved back to Thunder Bay, started teaching in adult education, bought a house, made new best friends, etc. All that is to say, 10 years in a long time to do anything, and one of the few things that have remained constant during that time is my book…

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  6. Ben and Becky take Montreal

    I went on vacation to visit my friend Rebecca in her new city of Montreal, and I had an awesome, relaxing time.

    Previously I mentioned how one of my best friends moved to Montreal in June. After working through the summer (yes, some teachers don’t have the summer off!), I had the last week of August for holidays. I chose to spend some of that time visiting Rebecca in Montreal, which was my first time going to that city.

    I should mention before we get into the travel diary portion of this post: ironically, I think Rebecca and I have spent more time together since she moved away. (To her credit, she predicted this, and she was right.) We video chat so frequently, still watch Buffy together even more frequently than when she was in town—often synced up so perfectly I can listen to the audio through her mic and my computer speakers and mute my TV! Lately, she has taken to calling me on the phone (yes, actual voice calls without any audio component) most days … and … I actually kind of like it. I hate chatting on the phone; I find that without being able to see a person, I have more trouble remaining engaged in the conversation.

    But … it’s just really nice to have friends in my…

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  7. New site who dis?

    It has been over five years since the last major redesign of my website! The gap is largely because, as I’ve grown older and become more occupied with adulting and other real-life things, I’ve lost much of my interest in coding. I’m finding it difficult to devote the time required to keep up with advances in technologies like CSS, much less finishing my own designs or tweaking the software needed to keep the lights on.

    Still, I stubbornly refuse to give in and just throw up a WordPress site. Never going to happen.

    That being said, part of me wondered if this update would ever get out the door. It has been a long time coming. The clunkiness of my website has been the major reason I haven’t blogged since January (way more so than available time or even interest), and sometime over the summer, my blog actually broke entirely (no clue why). I reached a point where I realized I finally had the motivation and the need to finish this upgrade. Fortunately, when I opened up Sublime Text and poked around this project, I discovered that the redesign aspect of the project was almost complete. Whew. I hate…

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  8. New phone who dis?

    I have a new phone for the first time in nearly 4 years. Thoughts on upgrading and a cursory review.

    Almost 4 years ago, I upgraded from my first smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S Captivate, to a Nexus 5, then Google’s flagship Android phone with a nice stock Android experience. Now I’ve returned to the Samsung fold with a Galaxy S9.

    I loved my Nexus 5. It was such a great piece of hardware, and while it had its shortcomings (the camera wasn’t great), there was so much to like about it. I miss the soft backing! I wish I could have at least made it to 4 years.

    Alas, it was time. My Nexus 5 hadn’t received a security update in over a year. In Internet time, that’s a lifetime. My phone was slow, apps kept freezing or crashing or not receiving updates. I managed to go 3 years without scratching the phone despite eschewing a case—and then in the past year, I managed to crack the bottom portion of the screen quite badly.

    The last straw came a couple weeks ago. I was preparing to go to Montreal for a vacation. My phone was getting on my nerves; in particular, sending texts was slow and unreliable. And my carrier had the Galaxy S9, which I’d had…

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  9. Life in Cartoon Motion

    Every once in a while, someone remarks or asks of me, “Don’t you ever wish you could have lived in simpler times?” or something along those lines. And every time, my response is some version of, “Hell, no.” Setting aside the obvious benefits of clean drinking water (at least, in this part of Canada) and flush toilets, I am forever grateful to have the privilege of being able to stay in contact with people I’ve befriended no matter where they are in the world. In “simpler times”, if your friend moved overseas … well, that was it for visits. Maybe you would write, sure, and depending on the time and the weather your letter might make it. Maybe you could exchange telegrams. But modern telecommunications means I can literally hang out with a friend no matter the distance—just call them up, turn on the camera, and prop them up next to me on the couch. It isn’t quite the same as them being there in person … but it’s really damn close.

    I’m grateful for this because one of the hardest lessons I’m learning as an adult is that I am very content to stay in this one place, yet…

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  10. You can't outrun every monster

    Mental health issues are not a personal failing

    Trigger warning for detailed descriptions of anxiety-inducing social situations.

    I went to the play alone, and that was probably my mistake. There are reasons I don’t like going to movies or plays by myself. But my friend was in the production, and I really wanted to see her and support her endeavour, so I dragged myself out to the small (but thankfully not crowded) theatre and thoroughly enjoyed the performance. It wasn’t until near the very end that I started feeling … off. The curtain came down on the final bows, the house lights came up--and suddenly, all I wanted to do was get out.

    But first I had to run the gauntlet. The actors lined the exit into the lobby. I wanted to stop, say hello to my friend, tell her how much I had liked the show and her role in it. But I couldn’t. I could only keep my head down, rush through, and escape into the chilly night air. Only when I was back in my car, body moulded to the seat, music playing through the speakers, did I start to feel better, and I wasn’t really myself again until I was safely ensconced at home.…

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