Archive for December, 2022

December 31st, 2022

The Obligatory End-of-2022 Post

Last year around this time, I wrote a long post here describing why and how my family and I had moved from San Diego to Canada, and in particular, the challenges our special-needs son created for us. I’ve had a lot of inquiries about how we’re doing now, so an update is in order.

tl;dr: We’re fine. It was definitely a good move, which is not to say everything is perfect.

And once again I must point out that what follows is unreasonably long; caveat lector. Only a glutton for punishment would actually read all of it, though I’m sure most people will find a thing or two to nod vigorously about.


Let me begin by commenting on my mental health, using (of course) a tech analogy.

My web server has a dashboard with gauges that tell me the current CPU, RAM, and disk usage. When the gauges are below 50%, they’re green; between 50% and 85%, yellow; and over 85%, red. Those colors are a quick indication of how much stress the server is under. It’s fine for the values to be in the red zone for a while when the site’s getting a lot of traffic, and even spike to 100% now and then. But if the gauges are red for long stretches of time, and especially if they’re maxed out for more than a minute or so, I have to take some action to reduce the load or the server’s going to crash. Crashing is very, very bad.

When I was living in San Diego, my metaphorical stress gauge was always in the red zone. On a really good day, it might dip briefly into the yellow zone. But days like that were rare. The baseline of stress was just always worryingly high, and when additional stresses came, I had no way to deal with them. This took an enormous toll on me.

Here in Saskatoon, a bad day means I’m in the yellow zone, with maybe brief spikes into the red zone. A bad day is when someone in the family is sick, or the car breaks down, or we have a plumbing problem, something like that. Bad days happen, of course. But because my baseline of stress here is comfortably under 50%, well into the green zone, I usually have plenty of “system resources” left to deal with those spikes. I am never, ever worried about crashing.

That was pretty much the point of moving here. We wanted to have other resources to draw on—primarily, Morgen’s large extended family—to bolster our waning capacity to cope. Having a much lower cost of living, a larger house, and a yard also help tremendously. And living in a country where we’re not constantly worried about the government imploding is a nice bonus.

So, whatever else may be true of this new life (good, bad, and otherwise), feeling as though I can generally manage to keep it together is huge. As far as our primary objective was concerned: mission accomplished.


Life here in Canada is also indisputably better for both of our kids. Soren, our 12-year-old, is doing great in school. He has made several close friends, and they even hang out together at our place from time to time—something we could never accommodate in our tiny San Diego house. He has started playing both clarinet and piano, and is weirdly enthusiastic about both. He can solve a Rubik’s cube in under 28 seconds. He has learned to ski and skate, though he reminds me frequently that he’s not a fan of the cold. He is, however, a big fan of poutine. He’s rarely bored.

Devin, our eight-year-old son, is doing better too. At first he was attending our neighborhood school, which assured us they had the resources and skills to handle him, though as it turned out, not so much. But he transferred to a school for kids with special needs, and he absolutely loves it. He gets the sorts of attention, support, and sensory input he needs there, and he’s actually learning, not just existing. His teacher is hopeful that he’ll soon be able to move on to a program for more advanced kids at another school.

We were also able, after some initial hassles, to get him hooked up with a pediatrician who really knows her stuff and has been able to meet his medical needs much better than our U.S. HMO could. Because doctors here don’t have to work under the restrictions of what health insurance will or won’t cover, they can order any tests or procedures they feel are actually essential for the patient’s health, and as a result, Devin has received treatment that will improve his quality of life but that never would have been suggested under our old health plan.

As for the yelling that I described in some detail last year, well, it still happens, but not constantly. Sometimes there might even be an hour or two of relative quiet. And there have been periods of weeks or months when he’s been generally calmer. It’s still hard to cope with, but not as bad. Think of the difference between being outside on a brutally hot day in direct sunlight versus in the shade.

All the other stuff, like the aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, poor sleep patterns, and being unable to speak, is still there, and still troubling for both him and us. But, I mean, progress is progress. We’re working with his teachers to make 2023 the year of potty training. Wish us luck.


On the topic of health, although we have been scrupulously careful and fully vaccinated, the whole family got COVID in September after Devin picked it up at school. A few weeks after we recovered, we all got sick again with a different, unspecified upper respiratory virus that was even worse. Between those two illnesses, we feel like a month or more of our year was erased. And nearly everyone we know has been through something similar. We’ve had other medical things come up this year, too, but nothing serious, and we are incredibly grateful for a health care system that doesn’t zap both a third of every paycheck and our will to live.


This past year the economy was rough everywhere. Inflation, ongoing supply chain issues, a temporary surge in gas prices, weird and irritating stuff happening with interest rates and mortgages and investments and so on. All that is as true here as anywhere else. And yet, my prediction before we moved here that our overall cost of living would be vastly lower, and our economic stability much better, turned out to be completely accurate.

To be sure, the low real estate prices in Saskatoon compared to most of Canada were a significant contributing factor. If we were living in Vancouver or Toronto or Montréal, say, we’d be telling a different story. But the point of being here, as opposed to anywhere else in Canada, was to reduce our stress, and not having to worry so much about money is a big part of that.

Even though groceries and gasoline are more expensive here than in California, most things are cheaper, including utilities, most professional services, and even things like car maintenance. But what really delighted me was, of all things, taxes. Conventional wisdom says that taxes in Canada are quite high, and of course as U.S. citizens we also have to file U.S. taxes (though a tax treaty means we’re not actually double-taxed; we end up owing just a little extra to the IRS). But raw top-line tax rates don’t tell the whole story. Depending on your income, dependents, and other factors, taxes can be a lot less here.

We had our accountant prepare a rough draft of our 2022 Canadian and U.S. taxes based on the first 11 months or so of the year, just to get an idea of how much we’ll owe. Long story short, we were pleasantly surprised. Our total taxes, taking everything into account, are way lower than they were in California, and also way lower than I was expecting.

More importantly, I feel like we’re getting an amazing value for those taxes, considering everything from health care to services for city residents. For example, one evening our sewer backed up, and having been through multiple rounds of crazy-expensive sewer repairs in San Diego, all our internal warning bells went off and we were braced for considerable pain. But then I called the city’s 24-hour customer service hotline, and the next morning a highly competent crew came out and cleared the blockage (which turned out to be tree roots) and did a video inspection of the sewer out to the city line in the street—all for free. Just like that.

The health care system, too, takes some getting used to. When we go to the doctor’s office or lab, no one asks us for money. It’s all just…covered. We paid zero for health insurance in 2022, as well as zero in copays. That is all so weird I can’t even wrap my brain around it. At least they let us pay a little bit for prescriptions.

But those sorts of things, and I could offer many more examples, are de rigueur here. People expect a lot of their local, provincial, and federal governments, and my experience so far is that we’re getting our money’s worth.


Work (meaning running our business, alt concepts, which publishes Take Control Books) has been a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, our much lower expenses have meant that we don’t need nearly as much monthly income to break even, so on paper, we’re still solidly in the black. On the minus side, our business income took a considerable hit because I had too little time to write, edit, and do various other required business tasks. That means we are WAY far behind on updates and promised improvements to our website. And even though that doesn’t cause immediate cash-flow problems, it does impede our ability to save for college and retirement.

Basically: On a weekday when school is in session, I have a maximum of six quiet, uninterrupted work hours available. Weekends, summers, school holidays, days when I’m sick (or one or both kids are sick), and days when there are appointments or errands that have to be completed during the school day, may have as few as zero available work hours. And that’s just not enough. I can and do squeeze in other work time here and there when conditions permit, but even if I’m not actively on kid duty, I must still be available to intervene in a crisis on a moment’s notice, so actually concentrating on something complex is challenging at best.

I wish I could say there’s a solution to that problem on the horizon, but I don’t foresee one. I’ve tried getting up early and staying up late, but I’m getting too little sleep as it is. Unfortunately, there are no modular tasks that can simply be handed to someone else without a pretty huge investment of time up front to train and explain, and so hiring someone else (or even taking on an unpaid intern) would actually make things worse rather than better. I asked Santa to bring me more time, but there was some miscommunication and all I got was a large jar of herbs.


I mentioned a year ago that our family situation makes it nearly impossible to have friends. I’m sorry to say that I’ve made zero new friends in the past year, though it was sort of inevitable under the circumstances. However, I have gotten to spend lots and lots of time with a bunch of family members who are a real joy to be around, and that has helped. On a couple of occasions I cooked a big dinner for a crowd, and that’s something I was never able to do in our previous life.

From time to time, someone babysits so Morgen and I can go on a date. That’s very nice. Still, I long for even a small amount of time that’s not occupied by work or family demands, during which I could socialize, spend time on hobbies, or even just enjoy a few hours of doing nothing at all.


It’s impossible for me to distinguish life in Canada from life in Saskatoon. That is to say, my immediate environs affect my perceptions much more than the country as a whole does. So let me say a few words about what that’s like, especially as it compares to life in SoCal.

Even though this is not my first (or second) time living in another country, and not even my first time living in Canada, I had the idea that life here would be more different than it turned out to be. I mean, yes, there’s the weather, about which I have more to say in a moment. But nearly all the day-to-day differences strike me as trivial. To wit:

  • Canadian English is sort of a hybrid of American and British English. American(ish) spellings and pronunciations are predominant, but Canadians insert a u between o and r in such words as behaviour, colour, favour, honour, and neighbour. They also swap the e and r in words like centre, fibre, and litre. The word shovelling has two L’s. (Note: foreshadowing.) Also, restrooms are washrooms, parking garages are parkades, knitted ski caps are tuques, powdered sugar is icing sugar, sneakers are runners, and gutters are eavestroughs.

  • Hardware stores have hardly any Phillips head screws; Robertson (square head) screws are the norm here.

  • We use SI (metric) units here, which is fine, except that people always state their height and weight in feet/inches and pounds, respectively, which seems odd. (There are a few other cases in which imperial units show up—for example, the farmland here is measured in “quarters,” meaning a quarter of a mile on each side, where one quarter is equivalent to 160 acres. It’s also 64.75 hectares, but nobody uses that term.)

  • Auto insurance in this province is not just required but also included with your annual car registration fee. (You can buy extra, private insurance on top of what the province provides, and most people do.)

  • Standalone post offices are uncommon in cities; you see them mostly in small towns. More frequently your local post office is inside a supermarket or pharmacy.

  • Not only are contactless payments ubiquitous, but I can go months at a time without having any use whatsoever for cash. Exception: you have to have a loonie (a one-dollar coin) in your pocket to unlock the shopping carts at the supermarket.

  • People send money to each other, and to businesses, via a national e-transfer system that uses the Interac network. It is ridiculously quick and easy to use, and has no fees. It’s how we pay our plumber, electrician, landscaper, and so on. And, when one of our kids had a school fundraiser, relatives who participated sent us money this way, and then we made a joint purchase online.

  • Speaking of joint purchases, every third business is a cannabis shop. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

  • A “double double” here is a Tim Horton’s coffee with two creams and two sugars. In California, it’s an In-N-Out burger with two patties and two slices of cheese.

  • With Amazon Prime, most purchases probably maybe arrive in a week or two, give or take a week or two.

These kinds of differences, and many others like them, are fun to talk about, but they’re so small and unimportant that they barely register unless I stop to think about them. McDonald’s is still McDonald’s (though they serve poutine here, as do all other fast-food restaurants, because come on). Starbucks is still Starbucks, Walmart is still Walmart, and 7-Eleven is still 7-Eleven.

Here’s what does register: people. You’ve heard all the jokes about how unfailingly polite Canadians are, how they apologize to you when you step on their toes and all that. Let us be perfectly clear that Canada has its fair share of miscreants, ne’er-do-wells, and run-of-the-mill jerks. Nevertheless, I find that the proportion of genuinely nice people here is vastly higher than anywhere else I’ve lived. More often than not, people are friendly and helpful to strangers. Saskatoon motorists stop at crosswalks when someone nearby looks like they might be thinking about crossing in the next five minutes. If your car gets stuck in the snow, half a dozen people materialize out of nowhere to liberate it. (I know; I was one of those people.) The woman next door baked us cookies just to thank us for being good neighbours (see what I did there?), and another neighbour uses his snowblower to clear the driveways and sidewalk for everyone on the block. Halloween was nutso; my kids got far more candy (and compliments) than they ever dreamed possible.

Saskatchewan is sort of the Texas of Canada. (Fun fact: Walk in a straight line due south from Saskatoon and you’ll hit El Paso.) It’s almost as large as Texas (though much more sparsely populated), and there are a lot of farms, ranches, and cowboy hats. A good chunk of the economy is built on fossil fuels. Politically, it’s one of the most conservative places in the country, though just as Texas has Austin (a university town that’s a blue pocket in a deep-red state), Saskatchewan has Saskatoon (a university town that’s a pinkish pocket in a deep-blue province, because in this country, the colour blue is associated with conservatives and the colour red is associated with liberals 🤯).

It would be fair to say that I’m not a fan of the current (extremely conservative) provincial government. If and when I become a Canadian citizen, I will vote accordingly. That said, however, the whole political vibe here just isn’t anything like in the United States. People are, of course, passionate in their views, and in particular, Justin Trudeau’s liberal federal government is not well-liked in this province. But even if you find yourself on the other side of the political fence from your neighbour, you’ll still (for the most part) be civil and respectful toward them, as they will be to you. And although Canadians may be very unhappy about some new law or Supreme Court decision, there’s a lot less at stake here, because of the way the constitution is written. We’re not facing existential threats at every turn.


Let’s talk about the weather. We had our first big snowstorm of the year less than a week into November, and several more in rapid succession. By early December, we had some days when the high temperature was –23°C (–9°F), and before long it’ll get down to –40° or colder. We will probably not see our lawn again until April.

This is not what we were accustomed to in coastal southern California. On the other hand, it’s not at all unfamiliar; I grew up in western Pennsylvania and have been driving in snow and ice since I was 16. I have to wear warmer clothing, but it’s really not a big deal.

I like to go for a walk every day, but being outside is not fun when the wind chill is –50°C and you can get frostbite within seconds. So on the coldest and snowiest days, I walk inside on my treadmill. It’s fine. I have also been doing a lot of shovelling, and hey, it’s pretty good cardio.

Everything here is well adapted to cold and snow. The infrastructure was designed to handle it, and everyone is used to it. So, sure, a blizzard might keep most people off the roads for a day or two, but apart from that, pretty much everything functions normally pretty much all the time.

The mention of blizzards, however, reminds me of something that was hard to get used to. The DQ nearest our house, where I have purchased an embarrassing number of Blizzards, is open only seasonally; they closed for the year at the beginning of November. (Other DQ locations in the city are open year-round.) There is no weather condition whatsoever that would make me disinclined to consume frozen dairy products, but now I have to trudge slightly farther to obtain them. Oh yeah, winter life is harsh here.


A year in, what baffles me the most is why I was so resistant to the idea of moving to Saskatoon for so long. It’s fine. It’s better than fine. There’s plenty to do, the people are nice, and the cost of living is excellent. My life is significantly better here in a dozen different ways, and maybe slightly worse in two or three. But on the whole, I feel like immigrating to Canada, and moving to Saskatoon specifically, was one of the best decisions of my life. I’m happy to be here.

Maybe 2023 will be the year in which I get caught up on work projects. Maybe Devin will turn another corner and become a bit easier to handle. Maybe we’ll wrap up some important home improvements and get those college and retirement savings accounts into a better zone. Maybe I’ll make some friends. Maybe I’ll increase the frequency of blog posts to, like, twice a year. Or maybe none of that will happen. Maybe we’ll face challenges we couldn’t even imagine. We’ll see what the future holds. But it will be OK, or at least considerably more OK than it would have been in our old life.

December 23rd, 2022

Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal

New from Take Control: Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal (Version: 3.2.1, December 23, 2022; originally published March 25, 2009)

December 11th, 2022

Mac-in-Awe Apple Users Group

Mac-in-Awe Macintosh Users Group (MIAMUG), Midland, MI; March 11, 2023, 10:00 a.m.—Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac

December 4th, 2022


New MacVoices interview: I joined Brittany Smith, Mike Schmitz, and host Chuck Joiner for the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide (part 1 • part 2; audio and video)