I tell stories

by Sameer Vasta

Snail mail boy living in an email world.

Read this first

Station Eleven

The opening pages of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven introduce you to a couple of mixed race living in Cabbagetown (Toronto) who are about to face an infectious disease epidemic. As someone who currently is in a mixed-race relationship living in Cabbagetown with an infectious disease doctor, the resonance in the novel for me began very, very early.

Very quickly, there is no more Cabbagetown, no more Toronto. The Georgia Flu, a pandemic like none I’ve ever read about before, rapidly wipes out the majority of humanity; those who remain are reduced to looting, rioting, and crime. A select few form settlements and begin life anew, a post-apocalyptic life that, in Station Eleven feels much richer than the lives we normally see in tales after the apocalypse. The man from the mixed-race Cabbagetown couple marries a survivor and trains himself to be a physician in this new world, a...

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A quick podcast inventory.

Here’s the thing about purging: sometimes, you end up adding even more than when you started.

A few months ago, when I said I was getting rid of all of my podcast subscriptions and then re-adding podcasts judiciously I didn’t realize that I’d be sitting here, three months later, with just as many podcasts in my queue. Some of the names are different, but in the end, I still have too many unplayed episodes in my playlist, and it looks like I won’t ever catch up.

This morning, I added Starlee Kline’s new Mystery Show to my podcast rotation. A quick response tweet from the folks at Normative made me look back at Overcast and see what subscriptions I still had, and how that list has changed since February.

  • 99% Invisible (Radiotopia)
  • Ask Me Another (NPR)
  • Burnt Toast (Panoply)
  • B.S. Report (Grantland)
  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin
  • Culture Gabfest (Panoply)
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore...

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Surfaces and Essences

If the goal of reading a book is to learn something about yourself or about life itself, then the most important thing I learned from reading Surfaces and Essences is to never ignore the sticky notes another reader has left in the front of the book.

I picked up Surfaces and Essences from the library, as I do most books, and upon opening it, I discovered someone named Libby had left a note inside to be read before beginning the book. Being slightly obstinate, I ignored her pleas to stop and read her notes before rifling through the book.

Libby's Note

The full text of her note is below. I’ve also included a photo of the note above, as I’m quite impressed with her choice of stationery and her very nice handwriting.

Stop! Before you go any farther — before you dedicate a minute, an hour, a day (or days) on this book, there is something you need to know: it’s not worth your time. There. I said it. It...

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Friday night fights.

My father’s favorite boxer is Sonny Liston. At least, I think it is; I haven’t asked him recently and my memory from childhood is often fickle. I do remember him extolling the virtues of Liston’s fighting technique, however, when we’d boxing matches together, so I have a feeling that I’m remembering correctly. Liston must be my dad’s favorite fighter.

My dad grew up watching Ali and Fraser and Leonard and Liston fight. When I was a kid, he’d regale me with stories all about their epic battles, and how they’d stand up in the ring and take punch after punch, waiting for the right time to strike. He’d tell me about how each fighter had their own style, their own finesse, and how those styles faced off against each other.

Soccer was my dad’s first love—arguably, field hockey and cricket followed behind that—but boxing is what he shared with me when I was young and we had first moved to...

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On the Jane’s Walk blog.

Recently, I had the chance to listen in on a phone conversation between some of the organizers of Jane’s Walks from around the world. Out of that fascinating conversation came two blog posts I authored for the Jane’s Walk blog, both of which you can read below.

Getting from “yeah” to “yes”

With the Jane’s Walk global festival less than a month away, organizers around the world are working hard to get walk leaders to post their walks on the website. There is, as always, a lot of interest in leading walks, but turning that interest into a listed walk can take some effort.

It’s an issue that comes up in all parts of life: How to turn interest into action? How do we remove the barriers, mental or physical, and make it easier for us to act on our ideas?

Luckily, Jane’s Walk organizers around the world have some thoughts on how to get from a “yeah, that’s a great idea,” to a “yes, I’d love...

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Alone in the hotel.

For a few years in my mid-20s, hotel rooms were my bedroom. I bounced around regularly between cities in Europe and North America’s eastern seaboard—sometimes being on the road for 10-12 nights before coming home, only to leave again two days later—so my time was mostly spent in hotels and airports and boardrooms. I grew accustomed to room service and buffet breakfasts, fold-down ironing boards and fresh towels every afternoon. Most of all, I grew accustomed to being alone, to spending evenings reading newspapers and books and watching sports on television at odd hours of the night because of time zones and tape delays.

For the first six or eight months, I was enamoured with the vagaries of the lifestyle; there was a charm to the transience, to the idea that home was wherever my suitcase was stored that particular day. While it was hard to make and see friends, I become friendly with...

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Sidewalk Flowers

The book that I’ve re-read the most often this year—in fact, the most impactful and resonant book I’ve read all year—is one that doesn’t have any words.

Sidewalk Flowers is a picture book, full of vivid black-and-white drawings with splashes of color. It is those splashes of color that attract your eye, that tell you the story of a child who walks through the city finding flowers in the cracks of the sidewalk and who then shares those flowers, that color, with the rest of the world around her. The story is simple yet poignant, a rumination on observation and exploration in a world where we are so preoccupied with where we are going and what we have to do once we get there.

As an advertisement for flânerie, Sidewalk Flowers is impressive: through the eyes of a little girl, we are reminded that there is so much beauty and life for us to explore, to discover, if we just take the time to...

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A systems change approach to energy conservation.

(Originally published on the MaRS Data Catalyst blog, by Caroline Bordeaux and Sameer Vasta.)

Building an ecosystem around energy conservation requires collaboration between a multitude of players and stakeholders, both in Ontario and globally. Like any large-scale systems change, re-imagining data’s role in the energy industry is a collaborative, iterative process that requires rapid trial and error, continuous feedback, and the ability to adapt to changing requirements and context.

The Green Button is an example of how MaRS has been using a systems-change framework to think about energy conservation, and specifically using data as an intervention to create that kind of change.

Inspired by similar work being done in the United States, Ontario’s Green Button was conceived just over two years ago as part of an exercise to identify barriers for innovation in the energy sector. The...

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Essays and Aphorisms

If you are having a bad day, here’s a tip: stay away from Arthur Schopenhauer and anything he has written. To say that his work is a downer is putting it lightly: to read Schopenhauer is morbidly depressing and gloomy, and requires many hours of post-reading uplift in the form of stupid comedy or time spent with cooing children in order to recuperate.

“Children can sometimes seem like innocent delinquents, sentenced not to death but to life, who have not yet discovered what their punishment will consist of. Nonetheless, everyone desires to achieve old age, that is to say a condition in which one can say: ‘Today it is bad, and day by day it will get worse — until at last the worst of all arrives.’”

The reason for his doom is clear once you understand his philosophy: according to Schopenhauer, all human action is futile and pointless, and thus our existence is to not find peace or...

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March, Book Two

It is impossible to open a newspaper these days without some discussion about police shootings and the mistreatment of African Americans by law enforcement — and rightfully so. The spate of highly-publicized, hotly-debated, and heartbreaking cases of police shootings that have dominated the news cycle over the past year have done a lot to highlight what has long been known by most people: law enforcement treats people very differently based on the color of their skin.

This is, perhaps, why John Lewis’ March series, telling the story of the American civil rights movement from the lunch-counter sit-ins to the Selma to Montgomery marches, is so poignant right now.

John Lewis is no stranger to anyone that knows the history of civil rights in America. The only living member of the “Big Six” and a key organizer of many of the acts of nonviolent protest that shaped the civil rights...

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