I was born in Quebec, and grew up in the Montreal area. All of my early years, through high school, and a couple of years of college were spent there before moving out west 35 years ago. I had always intended to go back to visit, but somehow just never got around to it. As is often the case, life happens.

I’ve spent my entire adult life here in BC, almost twice as many years as I spent there, and so many key moments in my life have been here. And yet there was always a little part of me that still felt like Quebec, and the Montreal area in particular, was still sort of “home”.

When planning our main trip this year, we settled on Quebec. A significant chunk was to be spent in and around Montreal, experiencing the city (once again for me, her for the first time) and visiting many of my old haunts, riding the Métro, seeing the sights, and eating familiar foods. Once we arrived, despite many changes the years seemed to fall away. My French, terribly rusty after three decades of disuse, came creaking and stumbling back into some semblance of fluency. Like riding a bike, the rhythms of the subway found their way back into my feet.

It was all wonderful, but also more emotional – and in different ways – than I had expected, seeing these places that had been such a part of my life, some barely recognizable, many others almost eerily unchanged after all this time.

Comfortingly familiar places and things, memories of old joys, of past friendships, more poignant memories of time spent with people now gone — friends, neighbours, my dad. All seen through the lens of enough time and maturity to peer beneath the rosy veneer of nostalgia.

I’m extraordinarily grateful that I finally had the chance to go back… but by the time we left, I wasn’t unhappy to go. I wouldn’t have minded a few more days to explore, but I was content.

And now after a week back I’m doubly glad we made the trip, because I feel like I can once and for all mark that part of my life as done. Never forgotten, of course, and I’ll always look back on it with fondness, but done. There’s a good chance I may never go back again, but that’s ok: I no longer feel any need to — no unfinished emotional business, as it were.

Here is where my life is now and — most importantly — this is where all the people I care most about are.

I’m home.

Role change for my 12 mini

I love my iPhone 12 mini, it’s been one of my favourite pieces of tech I’ve ever owned. I’ve talked before about just how delightful it is. The form factor is perfect in my hand and pocket, and it’s served me extremely well for almost 3 ½ years — the longest I’ve kept an iPhone.

And in other circumstances I could have happily kept using it for at least another year, especially if I got a battery replacement.

But as I — and more specifically, my eyes — age, the size of the screen is proving more of a challenge. Pretty much our only travel for the past several years has been road trips so the battery life has not been a problem, since it’s constantly charging while in the car — but an upcoming trip will change that. Even with a fresh battery, battery management would be something I’d have to be aware of.

I’m also more acutely feeling the lack of the camera array on the Pro phones, particularly in the context of that upcoming travel and other events this year. Things like the macro mode, and night portraits, would be much appreciated for those times when I don’t have my mirrorless camera with me.

And so, when some very significant rebates came up from my carrier, I finally pulled the trigger and upgraded my phone. This is the first time I’ve upgraded off cycle, and it feels weird to buy a phone that will be moving down the lineup in only a few months, but I’ve long since come to the realization that I don’t need to stay on top of the bleeding edge — and that paying full price for newly introduced phones doesn’t make sense for me.

My 12 mini will still be sticking around — it’ll move to being a full time development/testing device (and emergency backup phone), that I can freely install iOS betas on. I may also use it for music and podcasts while working around the yard and such.

In any case, it will retain a place of honour. You’ve served me well, old friend.

The delightful iPhone 12 mini

This started off as a quick reply on Mastodon to Nick Heer’s The iPhone 12 Pro: A Three-Year Review, but it became immediately clear that there was too much to conveniently say there.

I’ll start with the cameras first: Overall my feelings on the photos it produces are – taking into account the lack of the 2x lens – broadly similar to his. Portrait Mode, while a dramatic improvement over the iPhone X (which was also my previous phone), still misses more than I’d like, likely in part due to the lack of that 2x lens.

Speaking of which: Have I missed having the 2x lens for the past (almost) 3 years? That’s a complicated question to answer, because I don’t have any way of knowing what proportion of my photos I would have taken with it had it been available. “Don’t know what I’m missing”, “ignorance is bliss”, and all that. I suspect quite a few, and there have definitely been times when it would have been appreciated. That said, most of the times when I would have felt the lack most acutely I also had my Sony APS-C mirrorless camera – and a 55-200mm lens (82-300mm equivalent) – with me. Halide’s macro mode would be much better with the pro cameras, but the Sony with the addition of inexpensive macro extensions allows for some truly wonderful photos.

A better question is: do I regret the choice to get the mini for it’s size over the Pro with the extra camera? No.

The battery life is less than ideal. As he said, the 12 generation all had a slight regression in battery life, and the mini in particular felt that even when new – and it’s at 83% now. That being said, between chargers at home and in the car it’s rarely been a problem, though a long afternoon at Royal Tyrrell Museum pushed it to the edge.

I didn’t use MagSafe at all until last year, when I purchased a MagSafe-compatible charging mount for the car. That was worth every penny during our road trip last fall – the convenience of slapping it on there every time we got in the car while still being convenient to grab for a quick photo, or to look something up when we pulled over, was amazing and the main reason I never worried about battery life on that trip. I’ve since been given a genuine MagSafe puck, which will soon find a home as part of a custom bedside stand for use with iOS 17’s Standby mode, but the majority of my charging is still done via a cable.

5G support rolled out fairly early for us, but early on it was spotty enough that – in the interest of conserving battery – I left it off, but for the past couple of years I’ve left it on auto. In most places I go locally it’s not night and day faster but it’s usually noticeably so, and I’ve had spots where it pushes up well over 500 Mbps.

Worth noting: my plan already included 5G support at the time I got the mini, so I never needed to make the decision of whether it was worth a more expensive plan. Our LTE speeds are quite good, so I probably wouldn’t have paid extra.

As for appearance and feel in hand: I loved my black iPhone 5, and it’s still a sentimental favourite, but this black 12 mini is not only the best phone I’ve ever owned, but it’s my favourite. I love the form factor, the matte black sides, and the feel of it in hand and how light it is for what it does are still delightful every time I pick it up.

While I often use a case when travelling (particularly if I’m expecting to be hiking or some such), usually I leave it caseless other than a thin leather skin on the back. It’s picked up a few nicks and dings, but suprisingly few all things considered, and it still looks great.

The future

I agonized over the decision to get the mini vs a 12 Pro at the time. Not so much the cost – at the time I would have happily paid the difference – but the tradeoffs: form factor vs cameras and battery life. I don’t regret the choice at all.

But would I make the same choice again, if a mini size was available? If a mini-sized phone with the Pro camera system was available, it would be an easy decision, but that seems unlikely even if the mini form factor were to return. My eyes are 3 years older, and I’m getting to the point in life where I would appreciate a larger screen… but I’d probably still go with the mini for one more cycle if I could.

It’s moot of course, since it appears even the once-speculated return of the mini as the next SE is highly unlikely. So my choices are a large phone, or a very large phone, with or without the Pro cameras. It would be hard to give up the mini’s form factor without gaining the Pro cameras, but the 14 Pro is 52% heavier than the 12 mini – it feels ridiculously heavy after 3 years with the mini.

A titanium frame would help with that, of course, though I wonder how much of a price bump that will carry with it. We’ll see what gets announced next week, but I believe I will hold off until next spring, see where my needs and priorities for features are, and decide to what – or even whether – I’m going to upgrade at that point.

I’ll still be quite happy with my 12 mini until then.

2022/2023: Reflection, Rediscovery, Relationships

Here I was a few days ago, ready to open up BBEdit and do some final clean up on this so it was ready to post this morning, and what should roll across my timeline but Becky Hansmeyer’s wonderful post about Rediscovery, which in a single word perfectly sums up many of my feelings. (I bought Snapthread Premium as a small token of appreciation. I don’t knit* but if you do, please check out YarnBuddy. Thanks!)

* Not strictly true, in that I have knit in the past, but not since the early 80’s after a very progressive 5th grade teacher (still one of my favourites) insisted that everyone in the class, including us boys, learn to both knit and crochet. Sadly, 4 decades of other miscellany filling my brain have pushed out whatever meagre skills I had acquired at the time.

One year ago today, on a beautiful sunny January day, my Dad passed away. The details are unimportant, other than it was unexpected and very sudden. Some of that day I may share eventually, but here, now, a year later it’s all still just a little too raw, except for this: We’re extraordinarily grateful that his last morning was so beautiful – in the Vancouver area in January, it could have much more easily been a dreary, rainy day.

For some time before I had been feeling unsettled, and like I needed to make some changes, but this really kickstarted the need to reflect on things – and so that’s what I did all through 2022, as we worked through the initial shock, through dealing with paperwork and loose ends, and then the simple business of going on living our lives, changed as they were. For each thing, was this something I enjoyed? Did I want to spend more or less time doing it? What things have I been missing doing, or that I want to but never got around to?

And so, much like Becky, my theme for 2023 (and beyond) will be about rediscovering myself and my interests, both past and present, but also my relationships.

On a professional level, I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of flexibility. I’m going to be very selective about new things I take on, particularly those with large time commitments. I’m at a point in my life where I want to steadily shift my work/life balance away from work. Ideas that I’m just not passionate enough about, at least for now, are being shelved. Even things like new (to me, at least) languages and frameworks: while there are still some that I want to learn, there’s very little that I feel like I have to learn at this point.

Tangible things

One common thread that has emerged out of that all that reflection is my desire for tangibility, for tactility. I’ll never entirely lose my love of computers, and of writing code, but after spending so long immersed in code and digital things, I’ve been rediscovering a love of tangible things and processes, and working with my hands.

A couple of years ago I started doing the odd carpentry/woodworking project, and as I’ve gone on and done more, I’m finding I’m really enjoying each project, no matter how mundane. There’s something immensely satisfying in creating something physical that you (and others) can hold and touch and say to yourself “I made this”.

I’ve started building a few electronic circuits for different things again, something I had long ago left behind for code, because it didn’t need all kinds of gear with you, or bins of parts. All of that is of course now a good part of why I find it appealing.

My seven-year-old self, who had resistor colour codes memorized, would be disappointed with how often I have to look at references, but remember those decades of stuff filling the brain? It’s not always displaced so easily with new/relearned bits and bobs…

In 2020 I bought myself a mirrorless camera to get back into (non-phone) photography again, and last summer I bought a compact prime lens to expand my options. Honestly, most of the time I could probably get a better photo (at least at a glance or for casual sharing) with my iPhone, but it’s the process as much as anything that I’m finding enjoyable: the physical controls, and the limitations and effects of your choices of lens and settings. It feels like a much more deliberate, more intentional way to take photos. And every once in a while the results are amazing.

After years of procrastination I finally bought an eReader (A Kobo Clara 2E monty.xyz/2023/01/0…), and I’m already reading more than I have in a long while. I’ll probably read more books this year than I have in the past ten.

I still love – and am still buying – physical books, but I need to be selective: I still keep all of my books, and there’s only so much space…

I plan on building more Lego. Two of the particular special highlights of the year were spending Father’s Day building with my son and his partner (who would also, a few months later, become his fiancee), and again with my own partner on a hotel balcony during our fall road trip.

Which brings me to:


With myself: making a point of taking the time to take care of myself both physically and mentally, to reexamine what I’m doing, how I’m feeling, what I want to be doing.

With my loved ones: It’s always easy to say, but it’s important to actually make the effort to spend time with those you care about. To be more present. To really pay attention, engage with them, with their lives, with how they’re feeling.

I’m even finding some new depths to my understanding of my Dad, and my relationship with him. There were a great many things we did not see eye to eye on, but there is much I owe to him, including bringing me into work at Control Data oh so many years ago to show me the mainframes and thus introducing me to computers, inspiring a lifelong hobby and career. And even mundane things: we used to watch him circling the property seemingly endlessly on the ride-on mower and wonder why he spent so long at it. It was of course partly because he was a perfectionist, but now that I’ve taken over that responsibility, I get it. There’s something wonderful about a task that’s not overly complicated and has visible, tangible results, but where you can just kind of tune out and forget the rest of the world for a while (the ear protection helps). Plus there’s a certain go-kart-esque fun to it if you enjoy that sort of thing, which I do.

With my surroundings: It’s long been a goal, but I’m going to make even more of a point to be more aware, more present, for what I’m doing. On a walk, taking in the rustle of the breeze through the trees, or the crunch of gravel under your feet. Watching how the dog scampers through long grass, or snuffles at a molehill. Soaking in the pattern of dappled sunlight on a forest floor, the tiny flower on a mossy log, the lap of waves or crash of surf, the texture of a sweater, the flow of people at a park.

There is an entire world of many small delights and wonders to be found if we just pay attention.


So, after all this, do I have a detailed roadmap for the future, or even for this year? Not at all, but the outlines are there.

Rediscovering lost joys, and discovering new ones. Rediscovering and building on existing relationships, and making new connections.

Most of all, to make an effort to find – and to let myself see – moments of joy and delight in life, whether large or small. I hope you can find your own moments as well.

Thank you Dad, for that one final reminder that we shouldn’t need, but often do: time is precious, and you should always be ready to take stock of how you’re spending it and change accordingly.

Favourite products of 2022

Now that 2023 is well under way, here is a short list of some of my favourite products I used in 2022 that were new to me.

First some shoutouts for things that weren’t new, but that I loved anyway: my iPhone 12 mini, and Lego. The battery life on the mini could be better (especially after a couple years of heavy use), and I’m looking longingly at the cameras on the 14 Pros, but it’s the perfect form factor for me, and it still delights me every time I pick it up. Getting back into Lego, as many have done, has also been great. I find it remarkably therapeutic, and building with my son and his fiancee-to-be on Father’s Day was a particular highlight of the year.

Now the new products, in no particular order:

Samyang SYIO35AF-E 35mm f/2.8 E mount lens

In 2020 I picked up a used Sony NEX-6 to get back into non-phone photography, but didn’t have a prime lens for it. The Samyang fills the bill nicely at a 52mm equivalent length with a good aperture while being nice and compact so the combination is convenient to carry. Although it tends to hunt for focus if the camera is set to continous AF, overall it’s hard to beat for the price. (C$230 for an open-box unit)

Kobo Clara 2E eReader

I held off getting an eReader for a long time, but I’m loving the Kobo. The screen is very nice, it’s plenty fast enough, has oodles of storage, and the Pocket and OverDrive integration are very useful. I haven’t used the bluetooth for audiobooks yet but appreciate the option being there, and while I hope I never need it the waterproofing is great for peace of mind. If you don’t need (or don’t want) to be in the Kindle ecosystem, it’s a great option.

Drop CTRL keyboard (high profile)

A gift for Christmas 2021, I love this keyboard - the weight of it, the programmability, and (with tactile keyswitches) it’s quiet enough to be useable near other people sleeping. I particularly love being able to set different backlight colours for specific keys. There are plenty of trendier, higher end, or more customizable options, but it’s perfect for me right now. I have plans for some customization, both appearance and keyswitches, but for now I’m enjoying it as is.

Side note: links to good shine-through keycap sets with Apple-specific legends appreciated. In a perfect world, they’d also be retro-styled and double-shot PBT, but one takes what one can get.


After getting two more traditionally-styled kilts (one mid-weight, one heavier) in 2021 I was looking for something lighter for summer and ordered a SportKilt last spring. It’s lightweight enough to be very comfortable - especially in warm weather - while still having a decent hang/swing, and the velcro attachment is especially convenient while travelling. I ordered it with the sewn-down pleats option, which improves the look and hang, and the nylon side buckles: they’re not needed to hold it up, but they do provide some added security and a convenient place to clip your keys or a phone holster.

It’s good enough that I’m considering ordering at least one more from them, possibly their higher end Ultimate.

One final honourable mention for my iMac Pro: it’s not new, and it may be getting left behind by the transition to Apple Silicon, but it’s still the best computer I’ve ever owned.

Big Sur and big screens

I’ve also been living with Big Sur on my primary Mac for several weeks and that experience has been a little less delightful, and in some ways more of an adjustment than the smaller phone.

Just to get this out of the way: Bugs aside, overall I actually really like the look, and while I have some minor quibbles I expect that most of those will get tweaked over time, just as iOS did post-iOS 7. But…

The slippery notifications have serious usability problems that I really hope will get rethought sooner rather than later. The toolbars have completely broken my muscle memory, especially for Mail. As someone who often uses search in Mail sometimes dozens of times a day, the narrower available space causing the search field to be hidden/collapsed except when the window is much wider than I would normally keep it is irritating. The centred text in narrow dialog boxes is terrible.

I get why you might want that orientation as the default for an unoptimized Catalyst app, but it should not be the system default. I’d be satisfied if it’s possible to override that behaviour so that developers who care can adjust accordingly - some (many) won’t but that’s nothing new, Mac users are no stranger to apps with varying degrees of Mac-ness - but I hope the default appearance changes.

All of this together has given me the feeling that the OS - and the layout of many apps in particular - is increasingly designed for smaller screens, as in smaller than the iMac. I don’t blame Catalyst for this, as this is not actually new to Big Sur nor even particularly surprising - for a long time the vast majority of Macs sold have been laptops, and it makes sense for layouts to be most optimized for those screen sizes.

But more of my apps feel just a little out of place on my 27” screen now, and that there are some missed opportunities to take advantage of that space even if only the dialogs have changed in a particular app. One of the great things about the Mac is the ability - laptop or desktop - to connect screens of any size. Maybe there is usage data beyond the dominance of portables to support that direction, and I know designing layouts flexible enough to take good advantage of a wide range of screen sizes can be challenging. Whatever the reasons, I hope that a little more attention is paid to actually using all this screen real estate other than to just give elements on screen a little more breathing room and more generous spacing. After all, it would also benefit any larger iPadOS devices (or better external display support) in the future, should they ever materialize.

Or maybe it’s just me, and I just need to suck it up and get used to it*.

*except for those dialog boxes - I don’t think I’ll ever really get used to them.

Two delightful weeks

After two weeks of use, the iPhone 12 mini is, as I had hoped, delightful.

The size is perfect in the hand, and feels wonderful. It won’t quite unseat my iPhone 5 as my favorite - though that is partly out of sentiment - but it’s very, very close. While I’m tempted by the idea of a MagSafe case, it feels a shame to cover it any more than absolutely necessary, so for now I’m using an inexpensive super-thin case. I may, for the first time in a long time, end up using it caseless.

Typing is even better than I had expected - given my less-than-petite fingers I had been trying to make a point of getting used to swiping on the keyboard in anticipation of the smaller screen, and it turns out that one-handed swiping is amazing on the mini, far better than on my iPhone X (the occasional and often hilarious error aside). The keyboard is just enough smaller that my thumb can comfortably reach everything without stretching or adjusting my grip. It actually feels slightly awkward typing on my X now.

The cameras are, as expected, a significant improvement over the X (missing telephoto camera aside). The low light performance is leaps and bounds better (even without night mode) and the ultrawide - in addition to opening up some great creative opportunites for landscapes and interior shots - is particularly nice for video.

Night mode is more hit or miss than I would have expected. As often as not I prefer the shots taken without it so far, but it has also caught a couple of shots that would have been a dark, blurry, grainy mess otherwise so it’s great to have, and on all of the cameras no less.

Although the ProRAW coverage does make me wish I had it as an option, for myself and the photography I do I’m glad that I didn’t let it push me into getting one of the larger phones. Hopefully it will make it down to the mini size by my next upgrade, and in the meantime I can still get great photos using the non-Pro RAW and and apps like Halide (Do read Understanding ProRAW - on top of being a great dive into ProRAW and how Halide handles it, there’s a great overview of digital photography and RAW files in general).

I also found Nick Heer’s A Brief Look at ProRAW illuminating, since it has examples that corresponded to many pictures I’ve taken - or tried to - in the past. Austin Mann’s overview does highlight one pain point - the improvements for the occasional astrophotography I might try will be sorely missed.

While testing I’ve also been reminded of one of the great advantages of my mirrorless camera: although it is far bulkier than the mini, it has the virtue of every control and setting being accessible with whatever gloves I happen to be wearing while walking on a frosty morning.

5G is a mixed bag - tests at home indoors gave me speeds significantly higher than LTE, but not as fast as WiFi. A quick test outside at a local mall was significantly slower than LTE, but that’s not entirely surprising: LTE speeds locally usually range from very good to excellent. 5G is great for future proofing, especially when we can actually go places and travel again, but for now I’ve left it turned completely off.

It is definitely not the best choice for everyone…

But I love mine.

Finding Delight

My black iPhone 5 has always been my favorite iPhone as a physical object: I love how it looks, and the size and weight are pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned… for a phone. As a portable computing device to get work done on, the typing experience and small screen left a lot to be desired. I still love it regardless, six years after it retired from daily use. Slow as it is by today’s standards, even using it for development is delightful.

In the weeks since the event, I’ve been struggling to decide which phone to replace my aging iPhone X with - the mini, which is the roughly 5-sized and 5-shaped all-screen phone I’ve been hoping for? The Pro Max, which gets me plenty of real estate for getting work done and the best possible cameras?

The logical choice of course would be to get the 6.1” 12 Pro (in graphite, because for some reason I love the look of it in person far more than I thought I would) which would seem to strike a balance on physical size and camera features. But it would be a not entirely satisfying compromise, and the reachability of the screen is just enough worse than the X to make one-handed use awkward.

The practical choice would probably be the Pro Max - more screen area for work, top notch cameras, and the awkward size isn’t a problem because I’m not going anywhere for the foreseable future anyway.

And I did have some concerns about the mini beyond missing out on camera features:

  • Is taking the screen layout of the X/Xs/11 Pro and shrinking it down to fit going to be a problem for my not-as-young-as-they used-to-be eyes?
  • How is the typing experience?

I was still undecided after having had a chance to hold* all three sizes, though it did alleviate my concerns about the mini.

✻ Sort of. I went to the local Best Buy to avoid going to a mall and the phones were strapped down tight enough to hardly move, apparently to avoid people trying to cut the security cables. Perhaps if the staff were more attentive, or the mobile department were not right next to the entrance, they could have a more customer-friendly experience.

Oddly enough, it was all the excitement about the M1-based Macs that gave me clarity: I was having a hard time because unlike every other time, what I wanted and was excited about was neither the most practical option nor the top of the line model.

So I’m going with my emotional choice and getting an iPhone 12 mini. It is not the most sensible choice. I will find the size awkward when the time comes to log in to a server and make some urgently needed change. There will be times where I regret not having the 2x lens, or Night Mode portraits.

But this time around I’m trading some practicality for that little bit of delight that will happen every time I pick it up, turn it over in my hand, or slip it into my pocket. I feel like I deserve that right now.

It’s worth noting that the decision was made easier by having a decent camera I can make a point of having with me when I expect a longer lens might be useful.

I do have to wait for that delight - since I’m doing it as a carrier upgrade this time and they’re backordered, it’s not 100% clear when exactly it will show up.