Sean M Puckett

Portrait and fine-art photographer. Radical programmer. Culture activist. Passionate & opinionated, yet kindly. Mind the froth.

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This post is a combination of three updates, one written on the 13th, the other two days later, and one written just now.

May 13

I’ve been hyper because I have no sense of a proper level of service from the Realtor. I feel like she’s been slow. A couple properties I said I was interested in have gone off the market. Our first showings are Tuesday; my first contact with her was last Tuesday. Is this typical? Is it Toronto? Is she just terrible? Well, I told her there’s one place I’m keenly interested in, and it will be accepting offers Tuesday; the day I expect we will see it. If we lose a chance to bid on it because the Realto has been sluggish I will be Very Angry (tm). 

I feel like this is a stupid amount of money to pay for a post box. On the other hand, there is no place on earth quite like Church/Wellesley in Toronto. So maybe it’s worth it. And tbh it does represent Our life savings. I should not be embarrassed about (just barely) being able to afford a downtown condo at 50 years old. We’re blue collar people, though, doing white collar work. The poor don’t rub off so easily. 

Still the voice shouts about a mobile home somewhere semi remote, and a quiet, simple life. I think perhaps I’ve had that, though, and it wasn’t very fulfilling. Time to try living large and social. Doing and being. Plenty of time to be laid back when you’re six feet underground. 

I’d really rather not have to extensively renovate a vintage unit, but if I have to to get into a good building at a price we can afford, I will. I am guessing no one runs up 4x8 sheets of drywall on the elevators though. 

Today was walking with my sweetheart, just a stroll to Parkdale, coffee at Abbott, then home via the waterfront. A little sun touched but it was a lovely day.

May 15

Monday morning my irritation with our "realtor" was at the breaking point, so I sent an email to a local-ish broker named Trish who I found on the site (yes this is a real thing that exists). The message said, "hey, this is the service we are getting, is this what we should expect or is there something we're missing out on?"

Five minutes later, I got a response saying like, "no, that's bullshit, what's your phone number, I'll call you." So I replied and she called straight away, obviously giving breakfast to a small child in the background, and clarified that the Toronto market requires a much higher level of service, and for whatever reason, we weren't getting it, and -- if we'd like, she could shuffle her appointments around to take us to look at properties that very morning.

So I said yes. And she made it happen; within three hours she drove us out, and we went and looked at our two top picks. She was really good, giving her professional opinion about suitability, giving us insider info about the buildings, things we weren't looking at, things we should look for, etc. Like: what's the vibe you get from the security/concierge in a condo? You want someone professional, yet friendly. Not someone rude or icy, not someone just marking time.

You also want a building that's had, or having, major maintenance items (roofs, chillers etc) handled out of the regular budget. You want a board that's willing to undertake significant upgrades to lighting or windows, if the cost/benefit is there. You can't be afraid to pay for things if they're worthwhile. A condo building needs to be managed proactively. You want one with mostly owners, not absentee landlords. She also buttonholed a resident in the elevator, asked him how long he'd lived there: 20+ years. Did he like it? He sure as hell did. Because people who live in a building will either love it and they want to talk about it, or they hate it and they want to talk about it.  

A good broker will also give you solid advice about what you should offer for a place, factoring in other units in the building, what kind of discount you should expect for a unit based on the renovations it's had compared to others, compared to similar units in other buildings, etc. She gave us a very clear idea that the unit was well priced -- that the asking price was reasonable. 

So the only thing remained was to decide if we wanted to put an offer in, and we did, this morning. She made sure to reach out to the listing agent and build up a rapport, to make sure that she could feel out what the sellers wanted: max dollars, quick close, what. We learned that they were not even living in Toronto any more, and likely wanting to just shed the property ASAP. Which, we're fine with -- we don't have anything to sell, we did that last year.

We decided to go in at about 1% over asking -- remembering that the asking price was very reasonable -- if there was a chance of competing offers, but by the deadline of 7pm no one else had registered so we went in right on what they were hoping to get, very happy to pay that amount of money for that amount of condo.

And at about 9pm or so, they accepted and countersigned our offer! So, assuming no fuckups with the close, on June 4th, we'll own a little slice of Toronto near the corner of Jarvis & Wellesley, exactly where we want to be. Basically, ground zero in Toronto's pride neighbourhood.

The 36 hours of the title of this post was how long it took from talking to Trish on Monday to having an accepted offer. Which is only slightly more time than it took our first "realtor" to respond to our initial contact email with an incorrectly gendered reply. We asked Trish if that was her fastest deal and she said, no, 4 hours. 

To be fair -- I've been doing research on real estate in Toronto for well over a year. Learning where we want to live, what good buildings are, how much space we'll need, what we might have to renovate, it's been hundreds of hours of research. From viewing our first units to nailing the deal down in 36 hours is kind of an orgasmic frenzy, but that in no way discounts the tremendous amount of foreplay it took to get to that point.

I don't expect any further drama with the transaction, other than handing over $$$ at some point, and promises to regularly hand over more $, but that's just the usual house buying shit. 

I always kind of viewed the apartment as living only "kind of" in Toronto? It's always been removed from the places where things happen. On a subway line, but not really near anything. And certainly not permanent. Not holding us here, not being roots. Well, now we've got roots. I think we're here to stay. 

And you can bet we've been over that dozens of times before signing papers: do you want to live here? Is this the place for us? We could buy a remote cottage, we could buy something in St John's, we could live quietly, go into semi-retirement. But that's didn't feel like living. We've been living quiet hermity lives for decades. 

I think while we can, with the time we have left on this planet, we should shine brightly in a big city, where we don't have to pretend to be people we are not, just so we don't get glared at by judgy conservatives. It will be so much healthier.

May 22

We've got a lender; we'll be paying an effective 10.5% APR (including all fees, mind) to borrow what remains after our down payment -- for just one year. It's kind of usurious, but on the other hand, we still have no income. One way or another, though in a year we'll be able to secure a real mortage from a real bank. Condo fees and taxes in, it's a little like paying a 50% larger rental payment for the next year to live where we want to live, in space we can control.

We judge the extra 50% worth it in order to get what we want, where we want, before real estate does anything stupid in this area. And if, next year, we have to take money out of the RRSP (a tax-deferred investment like a 401K) in order to have enough equity to qualify for a bank mortgage, we'll do it.


Despite opening all hailing frequencies, still no responses on the job front. Discouraging intensifies. However.

It is possible that we could, if we wanted to play a fairly risky game, get a mortgage on a place to live, despite having no verifiable income, if we put down enough money. Basically enough money to make a bank say they literally give no fucks whether we make any payments at all, because if we default, they'll have the property AND a huge pile of cash. 

We are leaning towards doing this, if the numbers work out. The problem we want to solve is this big pile of liquid cash we have from the sale of the house in Kitchener last year. If it just sits there, it will just decrease in value due to inflation and being eaten up by rent and living expenses. That's dumb. So.

Our lease on the apt is up in three months; which is money we have to pay. If we can get keys for property before then, we can transition to a new domicile at our own pace, renovating as needed, and pay maybe one additional month-to-month rent payment.

The concern is what would the monthly carrying cost look like for the apartment we have vs a condo we buy: condos have taxes, fees, and then there's the mortgage payment. If we can get the monthly carrying cost of a place we OWN down to the vague neighbourhood of what we're paying now to RENT, then not only is it a good investment, it doesn't really change our financial equation that much.

Back of notebook calculations suggest that it might work -- not getting an outrageous place that's more than we need or want -- but one that has good location, community and amenities. I mean for example right now we're paying $2K in rent. If we can arrange it so we're paying $2.5K in mtg/taxes/fees for a place we own, that seems like a good thing. 

It's got our liquid funds working, in the form of a solid base of equity that will only appreciate, it solves the problem we have now of being on the fringe of the city rather than being downtown where we want to be (where we need to be), and it gives us the confidence and comfort of being able to change things to suit our needs, rather than just living in a white box. (Also one of the condos we're looking at has a wood shop, how cool is that.)

The RISK is that now much of our nest egg would be tied up in real estate (albeit appreciating). What if a good job is not forthcoming? As long as we don't touch the retirement savings (RRSP) in order to buy, then we'd still have the RRSP available to help carry for at least a handful of years, if necessary. During which time we both would obviously be looking for alternate work. I expect we could make enough money to make ends meet even if both of us decided the best thing would be to pull shots of expresso. Also in the distant future there's a pension, and another pension, which would more than cover carrying costs if things dragged out that far. So I don't think, worst case, we'd be homeless. If ultimately we came close to running out of cash, we could put the condo on the market and very likely get all the initial investment back, plus appreciation. 

So it seems like it's a good idea.

But it's also a COMMITMENT. It's committing to staying in TO, not bailing out to some small town or city somewhere, buying a small place, and retiring. It's a commitment to trying to stay in the workforce, one way or another, until the condo is paid off. It's intentionally setting down roots, even though there's nothing holding us here. It's saying "you know what, this is the place we want to be, that we have always wanted to be, and even though there's a small chance we're fucking ourselves, it's worth the risk."

I'll be talking to a mortgage broker on Monday, I guess, to see what our buying power is. And I've been haunting the real estate sites. I don't know what employment will be like in 3-6 months, but, banks permitting, it seems like maybe our housing situation will be resolved by then.

At least that's the current thought process. 

I want to share this thread around because I think it will be an interesting journey. Apologies to those who may wind up seeing it twice.
Sean M Puckett 5/7edited
Note: we have learned that banks in Canada and other regulated financial institutions will not provide a mortgage without proof of income. There are private lenders to whom housing lending regulations to not apply. They tend to provide short term loans that are not amortized. So you pay a significant premium (triple the banks' posted mortgage rate is not uncommon) and have the same amount owing at the end of the loan as when you went in.
It's a lucrative return if you have a few million lying around and are not afraid of having to foreclose on a property and turn it around by selling it to someone else.
Treating real estate as a _consistently_ appreciating asset has been known to cause trouble, but if you are fortunate enough to be able to commit to a location, a mortgage sure beats paying rent. Good luck with your continuing searches.
That's the general idea: stop throwing money down a hole.
I'm seconding that is can be challenging to get a mortgage without proof of income. I attempted to get a second mortgage on my house (which is paid off!) through my typically amazingly friendly credit union, and the lack of income made it a non-starter. . . good luck.

We decided to spend our NYE on the TTC, taking a path from home to visit all four train lines.

Started off with Line 2 being shut down at High Park and points west because of an injury at Jane, so we hoofed it to Keele, being routed to the opposite side of the platform and then re-routed back normally. Rode the train all the way to Kennedy, then up two flights of stairs to Line 3, which was leaving just as we came up.

So a brief wait on the unheated platform, then the LRT showed up and we rode it to Scarborough Centre, where we were going to catch the 190 Don Mills rocket (a bus), except it was just leaving as we came down the stairs. This was the worst part of the adventure as the station was completely unheated and we had to wait 15 minutes for the next bus, and it was frigging cold.  AND we almost missed the bus because its stop was out of sight from where we were waiting but we saw some people running down the sidewalk and checked.

The bus went pretty fast, as it was an Express, but was frigging cold inside too, so we barely had a chance to warm up after the wait. Getting to Don Mills station on Line 4 was a relief because the rest of the trip would be thoroughly heated.  Line 4 is pretty nice but does seem kind of orphaned. It's just so awkwardly short. We rode it to the other end to meet up with Line 1 at Sheppard.

We rode Line 1 all the way around the Union loop and transferred to Line 2 unusually at Spadina because we'd never taken the Spadina pedestrian tunnel between the two lines before, and it was delightful as there was a person playing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" on a Chinese Erhu (a two-string bowed instrument with a sound like a violin).  

Then the short bit of retracing our path on Line 2 back to High Park Station, getting home a little more than three hours after we left.

I mostly read a book (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon) and people-watched.

12/31 '17 1 Comment
This sounds like a really good thing.

Advent of code is fun, if you like programming.

In December every day thru Christmas you get a little puzzle that you need to write code to solve. You get some text and some rules; a single value will be the answer.

I wrote a programming language (called SAI) a while ago and I'm using it to solve these puzzles. I may post a few solutions here, so if you want to solve them on your own, don't read further, or any other "Advent" posts.

-- spoiler --

Here's the solution to the first puzzle, December 1.

In the code below, source is the provided input to your puzzle solver and the two debug statements print out the solutions to parts 1 and 2 of the puzzle:

    elements to source.split('') thru it-0 // note!
    previous to elements last
    result to 0

  each elements as elem
    if previous = elem 
      set result + elem 
    set previous to elem
  debug "Part 1: ${result}"

    result to 0
    len to elements.length
  count 0 to len as pos1
    set pos2 to (pos1 + (len/2)) % len
    if elements[pos1] = elements[pos2]
      set result + elements[pos1]
  debug "Part 2: ${result}"

I designed SAI to be easy to read and with a minimum of punctuation and special symbols, so it looks more like pseudo-code than actual code, and in general resembles a typed out version of what you would verbally describe a program to be doing. Also, this program is certainly not as efficient as one could make it. But I believe that readable and maintainable are more important than efficiency, with very narrow exceptions.

Note that SAI compiles to Javascript, so is subject to some of Javascript's bullshit, in particular the strange handling of numeric values vs strings of digits. A simple and fast way of converting a string to a value (if you're sure it is convertible) is to subtract 0 from it; that's what is happening here.

12/8 '17 4 Comments
I wanted to let you know that I deliberately haven't read this because I kept thinking I was going to do the puzzles... you know, in my copious spare time... and I guess I'm still thinking that... it could happen... it's still the holidays!
Thomas Boutell 12/27 '17
I did all 25 puzzles and found a few bugs in my parser, so that was double cool! Also it was a fun way to start the day. I'm going back and poking at 2016's puzzles to do a bit more refinement and tweaking of the language before I get the latest version on github where it can be safely ignored.
Sean M Puckett 12/27 '17
That's awesome! I am blasting through, but I'm doing it in the language I use all day, so duh. I'm forcing myself to use ES6-isms, though.
Thomas Boutell 12/27 '17
I finished these as you gathered on Facebook. Enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for the nudge.

Have you ever had this thing like, when you've just taken a nice handful of something snacky, like potato chips, and tossed them in your face and started chowing down, that your body decides that NOW, right NOW would be the perfect time to have a gigantic coughing fit?

And you're standing there with a mouth full of food and you know exaaaaactl what your diaphragm is going to do in a very short period of time with no conscious control and think, "I don't want to die." 

And you have to judge, can I swallow all of this VERY quickly, or is there somewhere I can spit it out VERY quickly, before there begins this massive wheezing intake that would likely be extremely counterproductive to clearing your lungs, followed by a 100km/h explosive burst of air coming out with god knows what in it?

You ever had that?

Because, you know, that's one of those times when you realize you, your being, your self, is merely riding along in that meat space-ship in an purely *advisory* role. 

Hi, I'm your friend Sean, and sometimes I turn a sink full of partially chewed food into existential commentary.

[ ding ] please drive through.

11/27 '17 10 Comments
Hello, fellow passenger.
Thomas Boutell 11/27 '17
This is all true.
PS: IHNJ, IJLS “meat space-ship.”
"Hey kid, you ever fucked a skeleton? I mean without meat on it?"
Sean M Puckett 11/27 '17
BA HA HA HAHhaha!!!!

Also thank you for making me laugh out loud.
Anne Mollo 11/27 '17edited
Can't say that I have, but I gotta say that surprises me.

And sometimes I think similar thoughts, such as, "We think we have freewill... but the bunghole is really the one that's in charge of *everything.*"
Jill "xtingu" Knapp 11/28 '17edited
My life is good when I follow THE DIET and when I don't... OK SORRY BODY YES I'LL BE GOOD SORRY SORRY SORRY YOU'RE IN CHARGE
Thomas Boutell 11/28 '17

A friend is going apartment hunting and posted a potential floor plan. I thought I'd post ours. 

I'm using the big bedroom as a photo / painting / workshop / studio (though it's still a wreck of Too Much Stuff). The small bedroom is big enough for a queen bed, a cat tree and hopefully soon a bureau or some kind of wardrobe. There are quite a few closets, and though I'm not a fan of the "hallway" it does allow for some separation between the bedrooms and the rest of the unit/building.

The kitchen cabinets and layout are relics of the original construction of the building decades ago and frankly suck, but we're making do, and some wall-mounted shelves to come should deal with the worst of it. 

The balcony is lovely with a smoked glass knee wall instead of a metal railing, and the living room wall is floor to ceiling windows with vertical blinds. 

The walls are very solid, either solid concrete or heavy plaster over lath, with very occasional drywall. There's silent venting in the kitchen and bathroom, through which one can occasionally hear snippets of life from other units. But by and large the only noise comes from the door or the balcony, or the occasional dropped or heavy item rolling across the floor above.

No AC -- but we do have adjustable steam powered radiators around the building perimiter (so heat is "free"). Fixture electricity is also free, as is cold and hot water. Which comes out very hot almost instantly. Such a treat after living in a house! The only metered utility is our usage of electrical outlets.

It was freshly painted (though not competently) and the parquet floor had been completely refinished before we moved in. We also got a new fridge and dishwasher. The stove seems to be older but was either cleaned by magic or never actually used.

We're on the north wall at the western corner (our unit is actually a mirror image to the plan above), so while we don't get much sun, we also don't get much sun. And for painting and photography, the indirect north light is gorgeous. And, it's on the 3rd floor, and we usually treat it as a walk-up, which is great.

We're reasonably happy with it, rent notwithstanding.

8/12 '17 2 Comments
A studio is a beautiful thing to have!
Thomas Boutell 8/13 '17
Seems kinda awesome! I am very jealous of the large studio space. I work almost exclusively digitally now (and for the past few years) but that's making me miss getting my hands dirty. As I look for a place myself, I'm keeping this in mind. Thanks for sharing with us.

. filled a few more garbage bags
. picked up the car share vehicle, a RAV-4
. loaded it with the old display panels and some spare foam core/mat board
. delivered that all to a local non-profit art centre
. loaded it to the roof with more crap
. dropped it all at the dump, 180kg for $14
. loaded it again 
. dropped the hedge trimmer at c's house
. dropped the houseware donations at the thrift store
. dropped the vintage game manuals at the pc museum in brantford
. dropped off construction surplus at the ReStore
. went to IKEA for lunch
. then essentially filled the vehicle with flat packs and cushions
. went to home depot and got a few things
. went to home hardware hoping to get something home depot didn't get
. came home and unloaded the IKEA stuff and returned the vehicle
. then I stretch-wrapped all the books, dvds and cds, making an enormous pile 
. loaded old frames and anime into k's car for further distribution
. introduced our old piano to its new owner
. while d went to a car-share governance meeting

Tomorrow I am most likely going to hurt. But today, today was a good day.

7/12 '17 3 Comments
Happy change!
Thomas Boutell 7/13 '17
Anne Mollo 7/13 '17
Nicely done!

Quite a few places on my body continue to ache from the 7 minute workout challenge thing. We've been doing it for three weeks now, I think? Since the end of the burpees.

So it's 7 minute workout. You do 12 different exercises, specific ones in a designated order, each for 30 seconds, with a 10 second rest. You're supposed to go all-out -- produce maximum effort -- during the 30 seconds. It just requires a floor and a sturdy chair/bench/table/box.

  • Jumping jacks
  • Wall sit
  • Push ups
  • Ab crunch
  • Box step-up
  • Squats
  • Triceps dip
  • Plank
  • High knees running in place
  • Lunges
  • Push-up with rotation
  • Side plank

My problem at this point is breathing during the planks since there are four aerobic exercises before, and two minutes of max aerobic effort leaves me bloody breathless. Since the plank tightens up the abdominals, I can't take full deep breaths.

Anyway, it seems to be a good fit for my attitude, though it would probably be smart to add another 7-10 minute activity during the day. Maybe 50 burpees! Maybe not (gag).

If you're interested, there are a lot of apps that will coach you. A free one for the iPhone is the "7M Workout" which is by consumer products company J&J as a branding effort (It doesn't seem to actually solicit anything, though it might be scraping some personal info. I haven't given it any permissions). I'm sure there are ones for Android too.

Once you know the exercise forms, an app is overkill: all you really need is a 7 minute audio track with timer beeps and prompts.

5/25 '17 2 Comments
This seems like just the sort of thing that I should be (but am not) doing.
Burpees are hell on earth. The other exercises seem reasonable... but burpees can go F themselves.


Introversion and Extroversion might be looked at through the lens of a need to perform. If we have to be "on stage" -- acting in certain ways in order to conform to expectations or needs -- that is probably a social energy sink. Conversely if there are people around whom we do not need to perform in any particular way, that is, be at rest or just "being ourselves", that time would probably be energy recharging.

One can be on-stage and still be alone or with just one or two people reading a book or being quiet. If being alone and quiet isn't your natural state you have to perform it at some level of consciousness.

I know this isn't particularly original. However, I came at this thought by the angle of thinking about how there are people with whom I need to perform "Sean": people I need to pay attention to; and people with whom I don't: I don't have to be conscious of their presense -- with whom I can be comfortable just being present in my own skin.

But then it gets all muddled up with habit and performative ruts and "who the hell am I, and who the hell do I want to be?" and my belief that the sense of self isn't much more than the story we keep retelling to ourself (consciously and subconsciously) about how we react to the things around us.

Deep thoughts for a Tuesday. I really should reserve a car and go buy hardboard panels.

5/23 '17 2 Comments
This has given me stuff to think about.

I only learned the real (better?) meanings of "introverted" and "extroverted" in the last 6-7 years or so. I always considered myself extroverted because I did a lot of theater / band / choir / speaking from middle school through adulthood. But I never considered how, ever since I was a teeeeeny kid, my parents would find me sitting in my room "staring at the wall," which I still do, which was my way of processing/clearing the mental queue and recharging the ol' batt'ries. Hello, introvert. Who knew?

So, thanks for giving me some good stuff to ponder.

(Also, an aside: LOVING your paintings on IG, by the way.)
Thanks you!
Sean M Puckett 5/23 '17

I'm certainly losing fat but also certainly gaining muscle. So the weight is kind of hovering. Have been doing some core, upper body & arm exercises with large elastic bands. I like them but I really need to sink a couple of anchors in the wall or ceiling.

Have been moving some junk around in the house. I get freaked out doing this because I see a huge pile of stuff and panic and have to leave the room. I know the right approach is one thing at a time. But it is nevertheless often just overwhelming. And ridiculous; there are empty cabinets all that stuff could go into. But I just took it out of there to sort it.

I am theoretically trying out for Royal City Musical Productions' _Into the Woods_.  Because it's a musical, I have to sing. No problem. But because it's Sondheim, I have to sing Sondheim. I mean, yeah, duh. But Sondheim is just so depressing. His plays are always a box of chocolates where the flavours are all Yiddish deprecations. (Not unlike real life, but magnified. Depressing!) But the director seems very strong. And it would be Something To Do in the Winter. 

However right now I just want to crawl in a blanket fort and play video games for four months. But that would probably not be great. I guess? Seriously if I replayed the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games over again that would probably get me to March at least. And I still have to finish Bloodborne, and the occasional fucking around with TESO. Could get me to the equinox!

On the other hand D is also trying out for it. And if she gets a part I wouldn't mind so much if I got a part because it would be something we could do together. If she didn't get one but I got one that would probably not be great IMO. Because driving to Guelph 2x a week when we don't have a car just for my benefit would suck.

On the camera app front, I'm trying to get into beta test mode. There's a few small features to add but overall it's solid and ready for other hands than mine. I've been hampered this week by a compiler optimization error that caused the test version to fail for Apple's beta review team, but not me. Not fun to get reports of freezes or crashes on app startup when I haven't seen those in months. But I could reproduce it by debugging in release mode, which allowed me to at least see the Swift library code path triggering it; and it was something I could work around. 

I keep looking at real-estate in tiny little towns. Like, oh, I could buy a run down century home for $70K. But my neighbours would be Conservatives. At least small town Ontario's like that. Probably small town everywhere. I'd probably be bored out of my gourd. And there's not so many great jobs for technical managers in small towns. 

I've put in an application for a three month artist residency next summer in Newfoundland. I hope I get it. It would provide a much needed reboot of my artistic chops. And a nice reboot of my personal interaction dynamic. My habits are too ossified, I feel like I just can't break free of them. A change of scenery would help.

That's it for now!

11/29 '15 1 Comment
blanket fort + video games sounds good. I wholly empathize.

Break a leg with the audition. I am rooting for you. I don't consider myself a huge fan of musical theatre and/or Sondheim, but a stripped-down production I saw last year (set in a library and/or curiosity shop) made me BAWL myself senseless.