Book open on table with coffee behind it, stack of books to the left

My favourite books of the pandemic era

Obviously, the Covid-19 Pandemic is no where close to being over - not worldwide, at least. Here in Canada, we’re fortunate - through decades of (neo-)colonial rule to have been one of the first in line for vaccine doses. That means, that while the pandemic is still raging in (basically every) other parts of the world, we’re on our way to having a form of protection from vaccines - which notably, doesn’t mean a whole lot if we can’t get everyone around the world vaccinated.

I just received my second dose, which means give me two weeks and I’ll be ready to party. And by party, I mean probably do the exact same thing I’ve done throughout this whole pandemic: hang out at home, with a cup of tea and a book.

As such, I present to you my list of my favourite books I’ve read over the last year or so - or what felt like the last ten years, because what is time anymore?

This list isn’t going to be in any specific order, nor is it going to be exclusively new releases. Just books I enjoyed, learned from, and ones that distracted me (with other world problems) from the ongoing virustimes. Enjoy (all these non-fiction books)!

The Jakarta Method (Vincent Bevins)

This book is a tough read - not because it's not interesting, but because it's truly tough to read about the Global North's role in exterminating (read: murdering) thousands of politically left-thinking people around the world, in numerous countries, in order to help institute policies that would benefit the richest members of our society.

It's worth a read.

Range (David Epstein)

Range was absolutely fantastic, and kind of a sequel to Epstein’s other book, The Sports Gene, which as the title alludes to, is all about sports and what makes athletes great. Range took the lessons from The Sports Gene and applied them to a broader selection of job positions and lives, developing a theory that those people we typically see as being experts or at the top of their field are not necessarily specialists, but instead are generalists - able to bring in a breadth of information across specialities and apply different outlooks/perspectives to different situations.

Humans: A Brief History of How We F***** It All Up (Tom Phillips)

I mean, with a title like this, do I really need to say anything more?

Humans is history written for the average person, but by a comedian. It’s great. It’s funny. It’s the kind of book you read, marveled at human history, laughing out loud at how stupid, ridiculous, and fucked up humans are.

The Gray Rhino (Michelle Wucker)

Part rebuff to The Black Swan, part “how did we miss this?”, The Gray Rhino is an excellent book that asks - and attempts to solve - how we recognize obvious problems and work to solve them before it’s too late (think climate change, pandemics, financial crises, etc.). It’s framed around the idea that many events/occurrences that we deem Black Swans (highly improbable, highly impactful) are truly Gray Rhinos (highly probable, highly impactful) - we just need to learn to come to grips with that, and start working to solve the problem.

In essence, if you see a Gray Rhino running towards you, don’t stop to wonder if it’s truly coming towards you - just recognize that it’s a problem, and start looking for a solution.

Invisible Women (Caroline Criado Perez)

This book was lent to me by a friend - and I'm forever thankful. It opened my eyes as to the way the world, essentially, has a male gender bias in everything - it's well worth a read.

Survival of the Friendliest (Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods)

You've heard of 'Survival of the Fittest', but what if that concept of evolution was... incorrect? What if evolution and history are actually factors of friendliness and working within groups? That's the premise of this book, which expands upon academic work. It's a bit of a deep read, but it's well worth it to re-frame thoughts about how the world works.

The Hacker and the State (Ben Buchanan)

Buchanan has written one of the most fascinating, but also easiest to read books about cybersecurity and cyberwarfare that I've read to date. While I have other books in this 'category' in my queue, I won't hesitate to say that this one is one of the best if you're at all intrigued by the concept of critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, and how states (and non-state actors) are using the internet to conduct modern intelligence and warfare operations. It's thorough, yet laid out in layman's terms, so no one should feel dissuaded from picking this one up (from your local library).

It's also a great compliment to my rundown of how to improve your online security.

Humankind (Rutger Bregman)

Here's the synopsis from bookstores:

If there is one belief that has united the left and the right, psychologists and philosophers, ancient thinkers and modern ones, it is the tacit assumption that humans are bad. It's a notion that drives newspaper headlines and guides the laws that shape our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Pinker, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we're taught, are by nature selfish and governed primarily by self-interest.

But what if it isn't true?

Humankind draws on Bregman's former book, 'Utopia for Realists', but also on other pieces, such as the aforementioned Survival of the Friendliest. It's an optimistic read and will change your understanding of many concepts of human nature.

The Miracle Pill (Peter Walker)

The premise of this book is essentially this: what if there was a pill that one could take that would reduce your chance of basically every serious illness (cancer, heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) by upwards of 40%? Well, we'd probably give whomever came up with that pill a Nobel Prize.

Well, that pill exists. But it's not a medication - it's movement. It's active transportation. It's designing cities to limit the use of cars. It's limiting the time people spend sitting.

It's absolutely unfathomable how my lives could be saved annually if we just... moved more. Like hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. Not only lives saved, but better lives.

This book isn't a manual of how to necessarily live a healthier live - it's more an anthropological history of how we became sedentary, and the large systems that need to change to have an impact on all our lives.

Oh, and changing these systems would be cheaper than waiting for the problem to get worse.

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (Michael Lewis)

I hesitated adding this one, I really did. For one, I just finished it. Second, it's about something that I highly doubt anymore than a few people reading this will want to read about: the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Now, The Premonition doesn't take you through all the bad of the past few years - instead, it mostly deals with the decades leading up to the pandemic, looking at the public health institutions and leaders in the United States. This book is entirely focused on the United States, but seeing as they are the 'world leaders', it's a worthy read. It basically picks apart everything that the U.S. did wrong, who was calling it out, and what can be done better next time (because there will be a next time).

The Premonition is a great, quick read. It's a great social science reflection of the United States' pandemic response, and it's an eye-opener.

Honourable Mentions

  • Sinews of War and Trade (Laleh Khalili)
  • A Good War (Seth Klein)
  • An Economist Walks Into A Brothel (Allison Schrager)
  • Canada In The World (Tyler Shipley)
  • Reimagining Capitalism in a World On Fire (Rebecca Henderson)

Bike Lane cleared of snow

Please, spend money on cycling/bike infrastructure

I keep seeing anti-bike memes on the internet - is it my algorithms? Is there a vast conspiracy at place to convince people that vehicles vs. bikes is the newest dividing point in our society? Or, perhaps, are people too afraid of the change required in our transport systems in order to have some hope of mitigating climate change?

Cyclist sunflower meme

The thing is, I don't really want to debate the above memes. I don't even know who created them. Plus, I'm obviously a bit biased - I bike pretty much everywhere I can. But, that's not going to stop me from writing this post, and trying to take a more systems-approach to the issue that is transportation (in North America), and the crisis that is sedentary lifestyles.

Key points:

Not only is commuting by bike healthier and (very likely) better for your pocketbook but it's a good way of increasing opportunities for physical activity.

In his new book, The Miracle Pill: Why a sedentary world is getting it all wrong, Peter Walker dives into the health impacts of our car-dependent societies. I really want everyone to go read his book, because honestly, it's fantastic. I'd consider myself (and my family) extremely active people, but even I was realizing that we often sit too much, and how the design of our cities has played into our sedentary lifestyles. Seriously, it's worth a read. It's not focused entirely on car-dependent living, but based around the idea that literally any amount of physical activity can be helpful for leading a better life - but it's that same physical activity or movement that we've tried to remove from modern life. We park as close as we can. We get food delivered. We have robotic vacuums. We stream all our entertainment from the couch. So on, and so forth - in other words, modern life is killing us (literally - hundreds of thousands of deaths per year associated with inactivity, something that could be drastically reduced simply by adding 30-60 minutes worth of walking or cycling into your daily life).

Now, as I said at the beginning, I want to take a more systems-level approach to this problem of inactivity. For one, while some may truly believe inactivity to be an individual problem, it really... isn't. Our cities, and our lives in general, have been designed as to limit the physical exertion any one individual needs to make. Seriously though: I could, hypothetically, stay within the same 20 feet at all times, and have everything delivered to me, while I work or do whatever I need to do virtually (I would probably become mentally ill after a while, but it's certainly possible). To that end, we must change the design of cities to encourage active lifestyles.

So what you're saying then, Trey, is that you want bike lanes? But no one will use them! How will we pay for them?

First off, yes, I'd love to see more bike lanes. But not just that: streets need to be re-prioritized to be pedestrian first, cyclist second, and motor vehicles third. This means not only bike lanes, but protected bike lanes, intersections that prioritize cyclists, secure parking, and much more. The best thing about bike infrastructure? It's just like roads: the more you build, the more people use it!

Second... we'll pay for them by reducing our reliance on vehicle traffic, which costs untold millions of dollars (not to mention thousands of lives) each year in Canada to construct and maintain, as well as the health benefits as more people switch over to active transportation. I don't want to sounds like a broken record, but please go read The Miracle Pill. Essentially, sedentary lifestyles cost society so much that the NHS in the UK (government healthcare system, just like we have in Canada) likely will not be able to sustain itself financially because of the number of people living sedentary lives. That alone should scare all Canadians. Subsidized, social healthcare will likely fail if we do not start being more proactive on sedentary lifestyles.

But the weather!

First off, again, let me reiterate my bias: I'm a year-round cyclist in Saskatoon. So are many other people! It's more than possible. In fact, it would be even more possible if we had better bicycle infrastructure and de-prioritized individual motor vehicle usage. Thousands of people in Calgary, which has many days of similar weather to us in Saskatoon, cycle year-round (trust me, I saw the counters while I lived there). Thousands of school-aged children in countries around the world commute to school by bicycle. It's possible. It's not an issue. In fact, it's my favourite time to cycle.

Okay, but driving a car is quicker!

Did you know that upwards of 35% of trips made are 2 miles (3.2 km) or less? If that distance sounds easily bikeable, that's because it is. Sure, many people have commutes upwards of 20km - but then, ask yourself why? Why do we have long commutes? Could it be that decades of zoning laws and legislation made to benefit developers and car companies has led to cities being purposely designed to only work if you have a vehicle?

Look, here's the thing - for many trips, a bicycle works better, is better for your health, and is really all you need. For some trips, you might need to hop on the bus or the metro.

But the best thing about bike commuting is: rides are predictable. I get to my common destinations, almost without fail, within 5% of my average time (I've done the math). Can one say the same for cars? Between gridlock (that's caused by too many vehicles on the roads) and car crashes (because it's a great idea to be distracted while operating a two tonne weapon), there's many situations where drivers might be stuck and can't move ahead. Me? I can fit through any 2-3ft gap and continue on my way, plus, I'm not at the whim of any modern technology - a chain, a few gears, and two wheels is all I need.

Plus like, have you ever thought about how much time you spend looking for parking? I waste almost zero minutes of my life trying to find parking. Sure, I have to take a minute to lock up my bike - but I've been in vehicles with people who will be looking for a car parking spot for upwards of 10 minutes.

Related to parking, I love to think about car parking as a form of survivorship bias; people who drive will complain about parking but those that don't drive, don't see a need to complain, so they will be happier. Business owners and concerned parties quick to feign outrage over the loss of parking due to complaints from patrons, without realizing that it's a vocal minority. This tweet that I saw months ago sums it up succinctly:


I don't know if I'll truly get through to anyone with this post. It's tough to be someone who wants to care for the environment by reducing emissions from my own personal transportation, only to feel like I'm betraying some sacred way of being in society. Bike commuters (or cyclists) are people too - and we're often happier. I've been yelled at, had things thrown at me, and been threatened for... riding my bike on the road (which is perfectly legal). Things need to change. We need to be encouraging people - with proper infrastructure - to get out and utilize active transportation methods. If we don't, we're all screwed.

As a side note, if I die, or am injured while cycling and for any reason can longer communicate, here's my message to policymakers and politicians: my injury (or my death) is your fault. We should be aiming for Vision Zero, not Vision: Not My Problem Another Cyclist Died.

A year of biking

I biked for a year – here’s how it went.

On April 30th, 2018 I received a bike for my 19th birthday. On July 23rd, I sold my truck.

And yes, I biked through the entirety of February, including on the 6th, where The Weather Network says it felt like -43º.

For me, I find the fact that I biked for an entire year fascinating – I recall a conversation I had a few years back in a car with friends, acknowledging a biker on the road in the middle of the winter and how “I could never do that, how cold would you be? That’s so unsafe too, with all the ice!”

At least, I think it was something like that. And now, looking back on that conversation, I’m happy with my decision to give it a try for myself.


In fact, biking at any time is awesome. I enjoyed my time so well, that I decided that with the data from every ride over the year, I would share my opinion of biking for a year, and how it’s had an effect on my life. In an Excel file 430 rows long, and 43 columns wide, I’ve entered a year’s worth of activity tracking data from my Apple Watch – now, keep in mind, as far as I can tell – there is no easy way to transfer this type of data… especially in the way I wanted it. So, each cell of data on my 543 bike rides over the last year was entered manually.

The following post is organized as follows:
I. Quality of Life
II. Fitness
III. Finances
IV. Summary

I. Quality of Life

All I can say is wow. Who would have guessed that moving your body for about 30 minutes a day can greatly improve how you’re feeling? Oh, wait – the American Heart Association did, as did researchers at Columbia University, along with Heart & Stroke Canada recommending at least 10 minutes a day.

I would definitely say that biking has made school, work, and life in general much better over the course of the last year. While I’m not sure if there is a cause-and-effect relationship, my overall GPA was raised by 1.61% this year (it doesn’t seem like much, but it is significant considering I studied less); I attribute that to the fact that classes in the morning (which the majority of mine were) are much more bearable, enjoyable even, after moving some muscles for the 15-25 minute ride to the University of Saskatchewan from my house.

Relationships with family and friends were better, and stressful situations were able to be forgotten for a quarter of an hour while focusing on Saskatoon’s lovely drivers (the majority of you are awesome – some though…). And while I definitely cannot say I’m a perfect driver of a car or a vehicle – I genuinely think I became a happier person, witnessing the hilarious things people do in/with their cars. Yes, I see you dancing and singing along. Yes, I see you picking your nose. But please, put your phone away.

Although I’m not fortunate enough to have really any bike lanes for any of my journeys, I found the overwhelming of drivers to be more than cautious and aware of my presence on the road. Except for the white-lifted-diesel-truck guy.

Anyways, back to my QoL. I found myself to be happier, less reliant on caffeine for energy, and better prepared for what lied ahead. Winter biking, for all its challenges, was my absolute favourite (no bugs or dust). There was absolutely nothing better than having studs on my tires, whipping through the ice, and watching people shake their heads in disbelief when stopped at intersections (not unlike myself a few years back). I was never cold; in fact, I probably dressed with too many layers on most days to the point where I was sweating – not good.

Biking also increased the time I had for other activities – seriously. Most people are surprised to hear that I saved time biking. Consider the following journey from my house to the university:

Biking (summer-winter): 11-22 minutes
Driving (+ finding parking/walking): 15-30 minutes
Bus (if it shows up): 33-40 minutes

On average, based on my knowledge of the journey from the prior year, I definitely believe I saved time biking. At a minimum, I would venture that I saved about 5 minutes a day – which, over the course of a year, is nearly an extra day of time. What would you give to have that time?

II. Fitness

My body was mobile instead of being sedentary… do I need to say more?

Of course. Because guess what – here’s where the quantitative analysis of this piece begins.

Recall that Excel file I mentioned? Not only did I track the number of rides, the length, but I also tracked the calories I burned, along with my average heart rate (it feels great to get that heart rate up by the way).

I present to you: Figure 1, Health Stats. This illustrates the major stats that I tracked, and how they ended up at the end of the year.

Let’s dive more into these numbers: I biked for a total of 6 days, 17 hours, 3 minutes, and 20 seconds. With the days that I biked, approximately 63% of the year, or 229 days, the average distance biked per day was just over 13 km. This makes sense as the distance between my house, and school or work is about 6 km (give or take a bit due to the Apple Watch’s calculations). The most I biked in a single day was about 32.32 km. On average, I biked 19 km/h – definitely not as fast as a car, but when you factor in stops at intersections, stop signs, etc., I kept pace with most cars (going down bridges is awesome – I got up to 54 km/h once).

Based on the Mayo Clinic’s estimate of what a pound of fat is worth in calories, I burned 28.72 pounds of fat. Now, that would make it seem like I got really healthy over the year. Yes, I did – my stamina has improved, and even a 5km run feels easy now. But I also really like food… so I managed to remain around the same weight as before I began, but by no means was that purposeful. Had I made an effort to eat completely clean & healthy, I would most likely be in a lot better shape.

Speaking of calories burned, on average, I burned 440 calories per day that I biked. On my best day, that shot up to 1111 calories.

I’m very happy with the outcome of the year; overall, I feel healthier and happier. Biking was worth it just for those feelings, but if you want to know the actual financial impact of using a bicycle as a daily driver, scroll on down to the next section.

III. Finances

Ah – my favourite thing to talk about: money. As a student of business, any investment needs a clear cost/benefit analysis. At the beginning of the year, that was difficult to do, but many resources were available and I was convinced that biking would be a worthwhile investment.

And wow, was it ever.

As mentioned above, I received my current bike for my 19th birthday back in April 2018. I’m incredibly fortunate for that (thanks mom & dad!) – but I will be sure to include the cost of purchasing the bike in some of my financial breakdowns as to not incorrectly illustrate the savings. Here we go.

At the minimum, including the cost of purchasing my bike, I saved $1107.92 over the course of the last year. That figure includes the $2701.92 (est.) that it would have taken to operate my truck. Here’s the breakdown with all of my math. For those of you on mobile, the tables are large and you will need to move them horizontally (swiping left/right on the table), but the post does display better on desktop.

Cost to Operate Truck

Line Item Amount (units) Source/Extra Info
KM drove/biked 2985.13 (km)  
Depreciation on truck 0.2 ($ CAD) – arbitrarily chose a value that seemed reasonable
Total Depreciation Expense 597.03 ($ CAD)  
Insurance Expense 963 ($ CAD) Based on the last insurance payment when I had my truck, for 9 months (sold at the end of July).
Gas (per litre avg.) 1.15 ($ CAD) Est. using
2005 Ford Ranger L/100km 14.7 (L/100 km)
# of 100 km 29.8513  
Total Litres (est.) 438.81 (L)  
Total Cost of Gas 504.64 ($ CAD) Note: based on previous knowledge of truck, probably would have been around $700
Maintenance/Tires/etc. 149.26 ($ CAD)
Parking Fees (only for work shifts – downtown Sask.) 488 ($ CAD) Note: based on 61 shifts, avg. length of 3.5 hours. Parking is $2/hour. Most definitely a cautious estimate, as also used to pay for parking on an odd day at university.
TOTAL COST TO OPERATE TRUCK 2701.92 ($ CAD) Note: estimate.
Savings per KM biked 0.91 ($ CAD) Note: estimate.

Costs of Biking

Line Item Amount (units) Source/Extra Info
Cost to Purchase Bike 900 ($ CAD) Note: received bike for a birthday, but included for illustration purposes.
Winterization (tires, brakes, etc.) 500 ($ CAD)  
General Maintenance 144 ($ CAD) Note: some costs not included as they were covered by warranty.
Net Savings 1107.92 ($ CAD) Note: Personally saved $2007.92 with the $900 cost of bike added back in.
Net Savings per KM biked 0.37 ($ CAD)  

Truck Sale + Environmental Effects

Line Item Amount (units) Source/Extra Info
Sale Price  7300 ($ CAD) Note: What I received from the sale of my truck
Net Savings + Truck Sale 8407.92 ($ CAD)  
Environmental Savings: CO2 1100 ($ CAD);; While not tangible, I believe it’s imperative to acknowledge the environmental effects (a basic amount at least – I recognize the manufacturing of my bike and accessories negates some of this, nonetheless – it has an effect).
Net Savings + Truck Sale + Environmental Savings 9507.92 ($ CAD) Ten. Thousand. Dollars.

Can you tell I like numbers? In all seriousness, biking was great for my mental & physical health, the environment, and my wallet.

I think it’s also critical to acknowledge that the savings only get greater over time – the longer I use my bike, the more insurance payments, gas purchases, and more expensive maintenance payments I save.

IV. Summary

So yeah, that happened. And I’m a huge numbers nerd. Here are some closing thoughts:

Overall, my love of biking has never been higher. At first, and admittedly still on some days, it can feel like a chore. However, like most physical activity, once you do it, you feel much better. Ready for some more fascinating (by my standards) stats? Of course, and here we are:

Beyond those numbers, many interested people have asked me about the length of time it takes to bike in the winter compared to the summer (rather, when we have snow on the ground vs. when we do not). To figure this out, I simply calculated the average time it took me to bike a single kilometer over three time ranges:

April 30, 2018 – November 5, 2018 (First Day of Major Snow) November 6, 2018 – March 11, 2019 (Warm Temps. began) March 11, 2019 – April 30, 2019
0:02:57 (2 minutes, 57 seconds) 0:03:44 (3 minutes, 44 seconds) 0:03:12 (3 minutes, 12 seconds)

While there was snow/ice on the ground, and colder weather in the air, it took me about 30 seconds longer per KM/biked. Of course, the difference could be due to other factors (wind, incline/decline, etc.) but I would say the difference is relatively accurate.

To conclude: cycling over the last year was my favourite. While I don’t live far away from the locations I need to get to, to put nearly 3000km on my bicycle over the year was significant for me. I had to replace my chain at 2880km (not too long ago) as I had worked it through pretty good. I was more than okay biking on the roads, but I do wish we had better, more usable bike lanes (such as the raised ones on Victoria Ave. – I take them to work downtown each shift and they are great), but the bike lane argument is a touchy subject in Saskatoon. While I’m content biking defensively on the road, I do recognize that bike lanes would encourage more great people to get out and bike. And while winter biking is not for everyone, it should not be something to be afraid of – one simply has to embrace the climate and go all in. I actually enjoyed last winter more than I enjoyed any other winter prior.

If you would like the excel file full of my biking data, you can get it here.

Please feel free to share my experience with biking with whoever you would like. I’m more than happy to talk about it!