Friday, November 19, 2010

Sleepers vs. Non-Sleepers

A couple of weeks after moving into my new apartment, there was a power-outage that lasted from 10:30 at night to about 4:30 in the morning. It was July. I live on the top floor. My room got very warm very quickly.

During the power outage, my apartment was very quiet. Sort of. There are two types of noise: white noise, and non-white noise. I normally sleep with the air conditioner and a fan on. The building's ventilation system makes a certain amount of white noise. That was all silenced. Now, I could hear all the non-white noise, such as people talking in adjacent units, cars driving by on the streets, dogs barking in the distance, etc.

I didn't get to sleep that night until about 4:30 AM. When I told this story to the McQueens Robin laughed and said I was the only person she knew who wouldn't be able to sleep at night during a power-outage. I tried to explain the difference between white noise and non-white noise, and how I can sleep with white noise, but not non-white noise. She didn't buy it. Jack suggested that there seem to be two types of people in the world: sleepers and non-sleepers, and sleepers will never understand non-sleepers.

Sleepers are people that go to bed and sleep. They sleep because they want to sleep. Or because they're comfortable and tired. I was a sleeper when I was a teenager.  Actually, most teenagers are.

A non-sleeper can't just go to sleep. They need certain conditions to be in place. During the day, I am a sleeper. At night, I'm a non-sleeper. In the day, I can sleep while sitting upright on a noisy, hot, crowded bus with my head against the bouncing window. But at night, I need everything to be just so.

So I started contemplating the difference between sleepers and non-sleepers, trying to develop a theory as to what makes one one and not the other. Then I stumbled across Today's Articles. It turns out that science already has answers.

When you're awake, your brain produces high frequency brain waves. As you fall deeper into sleep, your brainwaves lower in frequency.  Every now and again, while sleeping, a spurt of higher frequency waves are produced. Those spurts are called "spindles". The scientists found that people who produce more spindles don't get woken up as easily as those who produce fewer spindles.

Unfortunately, the question of "how do I make my brain create more spindles?" remains unanswered.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Church Hopping - Part 5

Since my last Church Hopping instalment I have visited a few new churches. Since then I have been to:
Treevale Pentecostal
Being a Pentecostal Church, I knew not to expect an orderly service like what I'm used to at Baptist churches. Some of the stereotypes proved to be true. Singing was pretty repetitious. Overall the music was good. The preaching was probably not bad - most of the time. I don't want to start a holy war here, but I happened to visit this church on Pentecost Sunday. So, of course, the sermon was on Tongues. Every time I visit a non-Baptist church I am reminded about how Baptist I am. This time was no exception.
As for Friendliness, I found it somewhat lacking, which is to be expected in a church that large I suppose. But the pastor did make a point of coming and talking to me, which was good.
Village Pentecostal
I keep going to churches on the wrong Sundays. I went to Chedarview Alliance the day they had the longest preacher in history. I went to Treevale Pentecostal on Pentecost Sunday.  I went Village Pentecostal on what turned out to be a very Pentecostal service. The singing started. But it never ended. They never did get to the sermon. They just got swept up in things. They sang for about 2 hours. But, being Pentecostal, they have a penchant for repetition. In those two hours, I think they only sang 3 songs.
Afterword a few people came to talk to me and assured me it wasn't usually like that, and they hoped I'd come back again. Which I did. Last Sunday I went there again. This time there was an actual sermon. Again, I couldn't help thinking about how Baptist I am. The music was very repetitious. When people talk to me at that church, they're always wondering what I thought of the service, and wondering if I'll come again. It's like they're insecure and asking me " did we do? How do you like us so far?"
West-Fence Alliance
This church was so-so on the friendly scale. A couple of people made sure they shook my hand and said "hi" as I walked in, but then they went back to what they were doing before. Afterwords, a few people came up to me to talk to me and told me they hoped I'd come back. The preacher was a guest, so I'll have to go back to hear the regular pastor at some point. The music wasn't bad, but it did make me miss Blackbelt Baptist's music. West-Fence does what most other churches do with their music. They play contemporary music - written to be led by guitar and vocals, and led with the piano. They didn't even have a guitarist there that morning (ministry opportunity for me!), so that could be the reason. But, it made me appreciate Blackbelt Baptist all the more.
I have since been back thrice.  One time they had two announcements that should have each taken five minutes.  They each took about 10 to 15 minutes, leaving the preacher with hardly any time to race through his sermon.
I went a third time where the preacher spoke for 45 minutes.  I'm not sure if I happen to be going on the wrong Sundays, or if those Sundays are the norm.  I'll have to continue to investigate.
As of writing this, I just went there again this morning.  This time the sermon was 55 minutes long.  It didn't feel like it - which is good.  It felt more like 35 minutes.
Chedarview Alliance - Again
The McQueens wanted to check this church out one Sunday, so I said I'd meet them there. I figure they wouldn't have the world's most boring preacher back again. I would give it another chance. This time the preaching was great! They showed a video of Andy Stanley. As for friendliness, no one would shake my hand, not even the people handing out bulletins. Not only would they not shake my hand, they wouldn't even make eye-contact with me! That's it. I'm definitely not going back.
That one in Farhaven
I forget the name of this church, so I can't come up with a pun-based pseudonym for it.  Pastor Jack was preaching here one Sunday morning, so I went. It was a small church in a school gym. The music was decent for what it was. The preaching was great. And the friendliness was also pretty good. However, it is too far for me to go every week. And, for fellowship reasons, I think I want a larger church.
St. Albany
This is part of the Anglican Network. We were told it had a cool young adults group. So we went to check it out. They had an after church social (which seems to be an Anglican thing) in the church basement. It took a few minutes, but people were eventually friendly. They took my email addy for the young adults group. Unfortunately, they meet at a time that's inconvenient for me.
The music was decent. The seats, however, were very uncomfortable. They were old-school pews with very little leg room.
For communion, they gave the option of drinking from a communal cup, or individual tiny glasses. If you know me, you already know I opted for the individual glasses. But when I got to the front, the person in front of me got the last individual glass. I had to go for the communal cup. Eeeeewwwwww!
Again; I am very Baptist.
So, this February will mark two years since we left Yahoo! Baptist, and I still don't have a regular church family. I might have to re-evaluate my church-selection criteria.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Did You Wash Your Hands?

Anyone who knows me knows how I am about washing hands. I become aware of when I touch something that will cause me to have to wash my hands before touching food. When I'm eating at a function where hand-shaking is required, I shake with my right hand, and handle food with my left. When I have breakfast in a restaurant, pick up my toast with my left hand, and use my right hand for things like the Ketchup bottle, or the salt and pepper shakers - which are rarely washed.

In Today's Article, we get another hand-washing hint. If you wash your hands, and put them below an air-dryer, and rub your hands together it actually brings bacteria out from the pores in your hands, increasing the overall bacteria count on your hands from when you just finished washing your hands. The next best thing to do is not rub your hands.

But the best thing to do is to dry your hands with a paper towel. Using a paper towel allows you to turn off the tap without touching the tap that you touched with your dirty hands, and you can open the door without touching the handle.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Whole Couch Situation

I hate red-tag sales. I hate one-day-only sales. I hate pressure sales. When I make purchases under duress, I end up with Buyer's Remorse. The latest instalment in that story is my couch.

One week ago I decided to go couch shopping. I meant to go out and look. Sit. Lie down. Take measurements. Compare prices. My furniture budget had been depleted down to about $360. I didn't intend to buy - at least not that day.

I went with the McQueens. They have an eye for things like colour and design, etc. I don't. They're artists. Actuall artists. I draw on coffee cups. I'm an engineer at heart, and a computer programmer by profession. I value things like function and efficiency. To me function comes way before form. When my brother and I were both learning to program, he'd create beautiful user interfaces. I'd have black and white command line programs.

Before this ouch-shopping day, I had been to Ikea countless times sitting on their couches, trying to decide what I might like. I like Ikea furniture.  I realized the other day why Ikea doesn't have salespeople.  The furniture sells itself.  So far, I have bought a chair, ottoman, stool, a dinning table, 4 dinning chairs, and DVD/CD shelves from Ikea, and I don't regret a single purchase. But, I haven't found an Ikea couch I really like that's comfortable - at least in the Ottawa Ikea. Perhaps cushions become softer with use?

I decided on a few things I wanted, and didn't want in a couch:
Not leather
Leather looks nice, but if it's hot or cold, the couch becomes very uncomfortable.
None of those little buttons in the upright cushions
I always manage to cause them to pop out. If I'm going to spend at least a grand on my couch, I don't want to have to worry about damaging it so easily. It would be one thing if I did it, but if someone else did it, that's frustrating in a different way.
Flat arms
When I was in university I had the ugliest couch and chair set. but the arms were about 5" wide, solid wood, and flat. I would often use it as a TV tray, and would leave my glass, pop can, and/or plate on the arm.
Long enough for me to sleep on
I figure a couch is like a substitute bed. It's going to get slept on. You want that to be a comfortable sleep. My couch in university was like that. I took a lot of naps on that couch. It was the perfect size, even if it was ugly.
Right price
If it was too cheap...well, I believe that you get what you pay for. If it's too expensive, I'd break the bank. I don't want that. I don't want to think about how much flying I could have done with that couch money. I had about $360 in my couch fund, but, given a few more pay-cheques, that could increase. I was planning on spending about a grand on a couch.
The first store the McQueens and I walked into was Dufresne (pronounced Dufrane, rhyiming with Moo-Frame, with the epmhasis on "Frame".). We were greeted by a loud salesman informing us it was their VIP red-tag day. One day only! We were shown a bunch of couches. Most where "meh". Then we sat on one. Oh my goodness! So comfortable! So soft! I just sank in! I wanted it! There was a couch and love seat. There was also a single chair, end tables, and coffee tables too that could come as a package. I wanted the couch. The loveseat was negotiable.

But, I wanted to look around first. After Dufresne, we went to Sears, Lay-Z-Boy, and United Furniture Warehouse. I sat in nothing that compared to that couch at Dufresne. So I went back to Dufresne, got a good deal on the couch and loveseat. I saved $700 from the list price. I set up the delivery for the following Saturday.

On Saturday it showed up. After much struggling to get it into the aprtment, I played with a few different arrangements. I sat in them for a while. I looked at my bank accounts, and finance spreadsheets. Buyer's Remorse started sinking in. Now I'm thinking of returning, either just the loveseat, or both. The return policy is that they'll refund 90% of the money (10% is a re-stocking fee), and I'll have to pay for a pick-up. And, I only have 48 hours to decide. 48 hours, presumably, from delivery, not purchase. That's not a very long period, especially when you're spending, potentially thousands of dollars.  I kinda feel like punishing the company for such poor customer service policies.

I have the following issues with the couch and love seat:
  1. It's big. It takes up a lot of space in my small apartment.
  2. It's heavy. This is a problem if I want to move it around.
  3. It's big and heavy. It had to be disassembled to get into the apartment. You should have seen the delivery guys grunting and sweating trying to get it in. If I have to move without the convenience of professional movers, that's gonna be me - except that I'm not a big, strong, professional furniture delivery man.  I'm a computer programmer.
  4. It's expensive. Even though I got a wicked deal on it, I'm still gonna have rob, not only Peter, but Frank, Chester, Sebastien, and Mary, just to pay Paul. This is actually the least of my concerns. I have the money to pay for it. I just have to pray that I have no unexpected expenses for the next few months while I recoup the losses.
  5. It's expensive. I don't like having expensive things. You always worry if it's gonna break down or get stolen or something. I've seen someone puncture a car seat simply by leaving a pencil in their pants pocket. I don't want to worry about things like that.
  6. It doesn't have removable cushions. Removable cushions are nice if you need to turn them over if someone spills something, or if you need to lay them out on the floor as a make-shift bed.
  7. It's not _quite_ long enough for me to completely lie down on. I know this conflicts with problems 1 and 3, but if it's gonna be too big to get in my apartment without disassembling it, I want a good bed substitute.
  8. It's not _me_. You know how some furniture just has _you_ written all over it? I bought these chairs from Ikea. Solid pine. Light. Assembly was ridiculously easy. $25 a piece. And they go with my table, which is also me because of the way it extends. My problem is that I don't know if a couch exists that is Me.
I should also list some of the positives of the couches (and my answers to them):
The two of them together makes sitting possible for 5 people. That's good for entertaining lots of guests.
I rarely entertain. I don't like entertaining. Having super-comfortable seating is just an invitation for people to want to come over.
It's super-comfortable.
At least at first. After sitting in it for a while, I'm not sure it feels all that good. I bought an office chair from Staples once. Felt great there. When I got it home and sat in it for a couple of hours, as computer programmers are wont to do, my back was killing me! I had to sit in my old, uncomfortable chair for a while before I could sleep at night. It turns out the comfortable chair was actually uncomfortable, and the uncomfortable chair was actually comfortable. This is important, as I will no longer be regularly seeing a chiropractor at the end of this month.
The green couch goes well with my burgundy carpet.
I don't care. I am such a form-before-function guy. I only know that it goes well because the McQueens told me it would. I would have still bought the couch if they said "No.  It will totally clash with your carpet."  I bought it because it was comfortable.  In fact, my decorating mission statement was "I want the apartment to look like a grown non-student lives there. I don't want your used stuff. I want new stuff. But I wanted to leave room for a "woman's touch".  Furthermore, if I move in a year or two - which is entirely possible - it is unlikely I'll be moving into a place with burgundy carpets. I suppose I could get a burgundy rug. Or just spill some red wine on the floor, and not clean it up.
If I return it, they keep 10% of the price as a re-stocking fee. I also have to pay for, and arrange (including reserving the service elevator in my building) a pick-up. Plus, I'd have to do all this shopping all over again. This could turn out to be a $200+ oops.
So I have to decide by tomorrow what I'm going to do.

For reference, here's a picture of my couch from my university days:

And here's the couch I just bought:

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Blinds Side B

Recap: If you missed it last week, I spent a lot of time and gas trying to find affordable blue PVC horozontal blinds for my bedroom and living room of my new apartment. Every store either had an extremely limited selection and/or were going to charge me an arm and a leg. The only good option I could find was to order from Sears online. So I did.

When I got the first blinds, I checked online how to install blinds. I would need wall anchors. I went to Home Depot to ask about them. The first guy I talked to was useless. He told me I'd need to find a stud.  [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here']  If I had wooden studs I wouldn't need anchors. Otherwise, I would.

In fairness to him, he might not have been talking to me.  He wouldn't make eye contact with me and he was speaking loud enough for everyone in a 3 kilometre radius to hear.

So I found someone else who was much more helpful.  In fact people were crowding around him waiting for their chance to glean some home-reno wisdom from him.  He showed me where to get the wall anchors, and a stud finder.  [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here'] He told me what I needed to know. I bought some wall anchors and a stud finder [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here'] and went home.

I wanted to install the blinds in my bedroom first. I put my bed by the window so I could stand on it as I installed the blinds. I drove the anchor into the wall with my screwdriver. It took a bit of effort at first, then there was no resistance.  I took the anchor out.  I looked in the hole and saw that there was a metal plate with holes in it. I managed to put the anchor through one of the holes.

I thought I'd better ask the Super about installing blinds before I go any further. He suggested I install the brackets a little closer to the window. The window sill is pretty deep. So I tried that and it worked. The blind went in without trouble or incident. I didn't install the other blind in the living room because I didn't have a chair, stool, ladder, or bed to stand on to install the brackets.

I ordered the two custom fit blinds. When they arrived I decided to install the blind in the bedroom first. This one took a lot more effort than the other one. In fact, I ended up tearing some skin on my hand holding the screw driver. It hurt. One of the anchors was going in vertically, until it encountered some resistance. Then it went diagonal. Then it stopped before it was all the way in. In my effors I ended messing up the head of the anchor, so I couldn't unscrew it. If anyone knows how to remove one of those, let me know.

At this point you're probably asking two questions: "Why didn't you use a drill?" and "Didn't you use your stud finder?" The answer to the first question is that I did use the drill and that's how the anchor got messed up. After that I didn't want use the drill until I knew things were exactly right. It's a lot harder to undo something that's been done with a power tool than something that's been done by elbow grease. 

The answer to the second question is that I did use the stud finder. [Insert joke about the stud being 'right here'] But, according to my stud finder, my window sill is one giant stud. So, I deemed it to be useless. It works fine on my walls, just not the window sill.

I tried again a little bit closer to the center. This time it worked. When I tried putting the screws in, 3 out of 4 went in easily. The fourth one stopped part way up. My hand really hurt, and I was sweating like that guy landing the airplane at the end of the move Airplane. I was tired. The bracket wasn't going anywhere. The screw wasn't getting in the way. So I left it.

Before installing the blinds in the living room I wanted to 1) let my hand heal, and 2) get a stool, or chair, or ladder to stand on. I figured a chair would be good because I would use it to sit at my table when I got one of those. Off to Ikea!

I must have sat in every chair in the kitchen area. I couldn't decide on a chair or a table. And I wanted them to be coordinated. As I sat there contemplating what to do, I saw a footstool. I walked over to it. It was new to the Ikea lineup. It was $15. It was solid wood. It was almost 2 feet tall. It was perfect! I could use it as a makeshift end-table, or rest my feet on it under my desk. I decided not to decide on a dinning set that day, and just get the stool.

Of course, they didn't have any of those stools in stock. The guy there said they didn't know when they would get any more. I checked their website everyday for two weeks until it was in stock. I bought it. I put it together. Due to a sharp edge in the packaging, I managed to cut my wrist. Now I look like an emo-kid.

This Sunday past, I was sitting in my living room looking at my blindless windows. I had marked out where I would put the anchors. I decided to get a start on it.  The skin on my hand had partially healed.  I had to install 2 blinds, 4 brackets, 8 screws and 8 wall anchors. After six anchors, skin had ripped off the palm of my hand again. I gave it a rest. Until last night, Wednesday night. I decided to takle the last two anchors. I decided I was on a roll, so I kept going. I drove in the screws holding up the anchors. I put the blinds in. Finally, my living room is dark. It might be worth trying to cool down my entire apartment with the air conditioner. My hand hurts. I have several blisters and cuts. I guess thats what you get when you try to do some manual labour after a lfietime of computer programming.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Blinds Side A

I have been in my apartment for a month and a half now, and I finally got my window blinds up last night. What took me so long? Procrastination? Yes. Laziness? Yes. But that's not all. It turns out that getting and installing blinds isn't as easy as it used to be, or should be. It turned out to be a real vortex!

The last time I had an apartment that needed blinds, I measured the windows and went out to Zellers. I found the ones that would fit in the colour I wanted (dark blue). I brought them home. Since I knew nothing about installing blinds I had a friend over to help me. He brought his drill. We got some wall anchors and installed the blinds in one evening. I didn't have a steady job at the time, and still going to school, so I wouldn't have been willing to spend a whole lot.  Four blinds about 3 feet each probably cost me less than $100.

I thought it would be that easy this time too. Boy was I wrong!

I measured my windows. 5 foot, 11 and a three-quarters inches. What an odd measurement! Why don't they make windows a standard size? Why couldn't they have been an even six feet?

I wanted mini, a.k.a. horizontal blinds. I wanted dark blue.

One day I went to Home Depot. As soon as I found the window area I saw three employees hanging around talking. I thought "Great! I can ask one of them for help." Boy was I wrong! As I was approaching I heard one of them say "I'm hungry. You guys want to get some lunch?" They all agreed and scattered like cockroaches when you turn on the lights. I was on my own. So I went looking. There are lots of different kinds of blinds; wood, faux-wood, S-blinds, mini, PVC, etc. etc. The only mini blinds I could find were coloured white and off-white.

So, off to Walmart! They only had white. Someone there told me for better selection to check out Sears.

So I went to sears. The woman there first asked me if I was renting or owning. What an odd question. I told her I was renting. She told me I'd be better off ordering online, or from the catalog. If I ordered in store, it would cost me upwards of $250 for one set of blinds.  I could get the exact same thing for as little as $27 from the catalog.

So I figured I'd order them online. I left the store. As I was driving out, I saw a store called Blinds to Go. Perfect! Blind experts! So I went in. They quoted me $150 for each blind. I needed 2.  Forget that noise!

This was getting frustrating. I tried Bouclaire. They only had white and faux-wood.

I went back to Home Depot. This time I managed to get a salesperson to talk with. If I wanted blue blinds I'd need to get them custom ordered, and that could run well over $100 per blind.

What ever happened to cheap non-white blinds?!

Ikea had limited selection. As did Zellers. As did the Bay. I forget what other stores I checked out, but none had what I wanted.

I went to the Sears website to order. I was nervous about ordering custom blinds. What if they were wrong somehow? Could I return them? Their return policy doesn't allow custom blinds to be returned. So, instead of ordering one blind for the whole window, I decided to order two 3 foot blinds, and two 2 foot, 11 and a half inches. I would order the two 3 foot blinds first because they weren't custom. If they weren't any good, I could return them. Once I was satisfied, I'd order the custom blinds.

This entry is getting long, so I'll stop now, and continue next week.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ontario Driving Laws

I'm from Nova Scotia. I learned to drive in Nova Scotia. Then I moved to Ontario where I have lived in Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto, and Ottawa. I have noticed there are a few different laws in Ontario that you may need to be aware of if you plan on driving in this province. I will outline them here for your convenience.
The eighth-of-a-second rule.
In most places this is known as the Two-Second Rule. Here's the way it works.
Watch the car in front of you.  When that car passes a pole or mark on the road, start counting "one one-thousand, two one-thousand."  If you pass by the mark before you finish counting to two, you're following too close. In Ontario, it's an eighth of a second. Not two seconds. Two seconds is too long. How can you expect everyone to fit on the roads if they all follow the two-second rule?

Also note that in most places the number of seconds increases with the size of the following vehicle. If you're driving a school bus, you should probably be counting to 4 because your brakes will take longer to stop your bus than the Honda Civic you're following. In Ontario, it's the opposite. The bigger and heavier your vehicle, the closer you must follow.
Anyone caught using their signal lights to show intention of changing lanes, or turning onto another street, driveway, etc. shall be sentenced to life in a maximum security prison with no chance of parole. Ever. - Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

They've attached the hefty penalty because they're so serious about this. They do not want people showing intention of turning by use of signal lights. 98% of Ontarian drivers obey this law without fail.

However, signaling you're going to turn, then not turning - even though you're in the turning lane - is quite fine. Leaving your signal light on while driving down the highway while never changing lanes is also fine.
Pullling Out Into Traffic:
It is advisable to look both ways before pulling out into traffic from a perpendicular street or driveway, but please ignore how fast any oncoming vehicles are going.
When two lanes become one, and traffic must merge, all cars must do as much as possible to prevent the merging to look like a giant zipper from the sky. If you're in the lane that's ending, you must drive as fast as you can to force your way into the furthest forward, however inconvenient to other drivers, giving up as many open spaces as possible. You were probably taught in school never to cut in line. That applies to the cafeteria; not roads.
The following rules apply specifically to Ottawa:
Red Lights
In most places red traffic lights mean stop! In Ottawa, they're just suggesting you might want to stop. If you feel like it. Otherwise, just go right through the intersection at any speed you feel is appropriate - as long as it's at least 90 km/h.  Besides, the Yellow Lights are mere flashes in Ottawa.
Lane Choice on the Queensway
Most highways operate in the following manner: The far right lane is the slowest. The far left lane is the fastest. Traffic moves faster as the lane moves farther left. If the posted speed limit is 100 km/h, people in the far right lane might go 100 km/h on an ideal day.  If people want to go faster, they use the left lane(s) to pass.

This is how the Queensway operates: The posted speed limit is - oh never mind. It doesn't matter. Feel free to do anything between 50 and 180 km/h. Don't worry about being in the wrong lane for your speed. There is no wrong lane. However, if you find another vehicle going the same speed as you, it is an offence punishable by death to occupy the same lane. You have to adjust your speed until you're right beside the other vehicle, then resume your original speed. This prevents anyone from passing you.

Also, you are required by law to change your speed by at least 20 km/h at every exit. It doesn't matter if you speed up or slow down - as long as you're within the 50 -180 km/h buffer.

Also, don't let the weather interfere with your driving habits. If you want to go 180 km/h on a bright sunny day in July, then you must also go 180 km/h during an ice storm in January. It's the law. By the same token, if you'd do 50 km/h during an ice storm, then you must also do 50 km/h on a clear and sunny day.
The following pertain to Embrun:
Posted Speed Limits:
The posted speed limits around Embrun are in French. While the numbers look the same as English numbers, their meanings are quite different.

Between the 417 and the town of Embrun, the posted speed limit looks like 80 km/h to an anglophone like myself. But, as I have found out, when you do the conversion to English numbers, it's actually 120 km/h. If you do 80 km/h, you will be passed as though you're standing still.

But once you get into Embrun, it works the other way. The posted speed limit is 50 km/h. Or at least that's what it looks like in English. But once you translate it into the native French, it's actually more like 30 km/h.  You can try to do 50 km/h, but you will be promptly slowed down to 30 km/h by the car in front of you.
Hey. I don't make the rules.  I just break 'em.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm An Artist Too (128)

The Big Guy In The U.S.A. Jacket

This is a character in the Mr. Falcon universe; The Big Guy In The U.S.A. Jacket (TBGITUSAJ).  He's a top goon in the Nordburg Mafia.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mind Your Manners...and English

I find it interesting that some people are anal about English grammar and spelling.   See, English, unlike other languages like French or Korean, doesn't have a governing body defining what is right and what is wrong. Correct English is defined as being whatever is in popular usage. If you want to change an English spelling or rule, just get the masses to do it your way instead of the "right" way.

Some people say Dictionaries define what is correct. This isn't true. Dictionaries are in a constant game of catch-up.

I once blogged about how the meanings of words change.

A few case-in-points:
  1. The Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2007 was "w00t". (That's right. Those are zeros in there.)
  2. Americans spell it "honor", "labor", "favorite". Canadians spell it "honour", "labour", and "favourite". Who's to say what's right? Awww heck, Americans call it "Zee" and Canadians call it "Zed". Again, who says what's right? The only way to say they're both right is to admit that there can be more than one right way to spell something. If that's the case, why kan't I invent mai own ways to spel things? I'm just creating my own version of proper Inglish.
  3. How to you spell it? Shakespear? Shakespere? Shakespeer? Other? In fact, in his day, people took pride in spelling their names in as many different ways as possible.
  4. @#$@&! is considered a swear word today by some (but not all). If you get a really old dictionary, it's in there as an actual word. Who decided it was a swear word? What authority do they have? And who gave that authority to them?
Consider this paradox. If someone uses English that's considered to be improper today, they would be considered to have improper English. They would be wrong. But, if their "mistake" catches on, then they will retroactively become right.  They will be seen as a pioneer.  Shakespere invented many words, and prolly broke some rules too.

This does raise some interesting questions, like:
  1. A lot of people use the word "literally" when they mean "figuratively." For example: "We were so late for our connecting flight, we literally flew through the airport terminal." They would have had to be superman. They mean "...we figuratively flew through the airport terminal" or "...we literally ran as fast as we could....". Nearly everyone makes this mistake. The question is "How long do words have to be confused with each other before they 'officially' take on the meaning of other word?"  In other words, when will "figuratively" literally mean "literally"?
  2. A lot of people don't know when to use "me" and "I" "properly". Here's the "rule": "I" is subjective, and "me" is objective. I think the way most people think of it is that "I" comes at the beginning of the sentence, or the end of a list of people. Otherwise, use "me." The question is: When will using "I" in the objective be considered "proper"?  Consider the phrase "It is I!"  It's considered proper, but how?

There is one other similar arena: manners. The primary reason behind manners is making people around you not feel uncomfortable. Passing smelly gas makes me feel less comfortable. Whether you stick your pinky finger out whilst drinking tea or not does nothing for my comfort level.

I had a landlord that taught me all sorts of manners, like tilting a bowl of soup away from you when you're getting towards the last bit of soup. He wanted to impress on me how my table manners would be the sole factor in how people thought of me. No matter how many orphanages I built and ran, no matter how many homeless people I fed, or illiterates I taught to read, if I picked up my peas with the top side of my fork, I'd always be seen as a little kid in an adult's body.

Like English rules, I find something odd about my attitude towards manners: If I see someone breaking a rule I know about, I think "What an oaf! Don't they know?!" But when I hear a rule that's new to me, I think "What?! You've got to be kidding! That's a rule?! Who came up with that, and on whose authority?  That's arbitrary!"

My favourite case-in-point is proper spaghetti-eating procedure. Do you use use a spoon or not? Here are some resources that say you don't use a spoon:
And here are some that say you do:
  • Yahoo Answers
  • My dad.
  • That old Italian man I saw eating spaghetti in an Italian restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie.
And this Life in Italy forum has references to both.

So, who's right? Or, like the English language, is "right" a moving target?  Who cares?  Mostly the people who know the rules.  I think that most people who don't know the rules, or even that the rules exist, tend not to care very much....until they know the rules.  Then some care.

If you feel compelled to leave a comment to set me straight on something in this post, feel free, but please state on who's or what authority you speak, and where they got their authority.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Decisions Decisions

My upcoming move represents more than a change of address. It's a change in lifestyle. I haven't lived alone since I was working at MNR and going to university whilst in Sault Ste. Marie. My position at work was by no means permanent, so for financial purposes I had to live like a student. Living like a student means living inexpensively. It means taking furniture because it's cheap or free, not because it looks nice or matches.

This time I have a government job which is a little more long-term. This means I can get furniture based on my tastes. When I move into my new apartment I want to set it up the way I want to set it up. What I'm finding out now is that this means a whole bunch of decisions to be made over the next little while.

How To Move
I could rent a truck or van from a regular car rental place, a big truck from a bigger truck rental place (like Penske), I could get a U-Haul truck, get a friend with a truck, use PODS, or use a moving company.
Cable/Satellite/Rabbit Ears
This one is easy. For a while I've wanted to know if I could go for a whole year without TV. This year I'll find out. When I tell people about this, they usually say "Oh of course, you can download everything from the Internet anyway. I guess you don't really need TV." That's not the point. The point is that I 'm convinced there's a life to be lived that doesn't involve TV. I want to experience more of life! I want to get out and do things!  I don't know what things. I'll think of that later. I want to be a better musician. I want to learn French. Maybe work on another Mr. Falcon game.

There are some caveats with this goal. This goal won't prevent me from watching the occasional YouTube clip, DVD, movie (especially at the theatre), TV at other people's homes, etc. The point is to not become addicted to TV.  It's a question of habit.

I may re-neg on this goal under a few circumstances. If I suffer a health issue that forces me to have to lie down for long periods, then I might just order a TV, and digital cable. I also might re-neg if I'm wrong and there is no life to be lived out there. Feel free to ask me how this goal is going throughout the year.
Internet and home-phone
This one is getting me dizzy right now. My first inclination was to go cable. The building has a deal with Rogers for cable, Internet, and home-phone. But, after dealing with them for a short time, I didn't like how they do business, so I explained my reasons and told them I was going with Bell.

Other high-speed ISPs are: National Capital Freenet (NCF), Primus, Teksavvy, and Bell.  Teksavvy claims they don't offer service in my area, which is false.  But I had visions of having to go through a whole hassle every time I called them for something.

Me: "I need help with my bill."
Teksavvy: "I'm sorry. I see your address, and we don't seem to support that area."
Me: "Yes you do.  I've been using your Internet, and paying you for months now."
Teksavvy: "That's impossible.  Please hold while I check with my supervisor."

No thank you.  So I consider the remaining three.  When contemplating these, I go in the following circle: I think I should go with the Freenet because it's cheap. Except, they'll charge me extra for not having a home-phone. They don't have tech support staff sitting around to take my call, should I ever need it. For just a few more dollars I can get home-phone and Internet with Bell. I save with Bell because it's a bundle, and I already have my cell phone with them. But, I hate Bell's system when you call them. I hear good things about Primus' customer service. And they have a good Internet + home-phone deal. By this point in my cycle I'm already at $30/month more than I would be if I had just gone with the Freenet. So I should go back to the Freenet. But if I go Freenet, I should go Bell. If I go Bell, I should go Primus.
No. I should go with the Freenet. But if I go Freenet, I should go Bell. If I go Bell, I should go Primus.
No. I should go with the Freenet. But if I go Freenet, I should go Bell. If I go Bell, I should go Primus.
No. I should go with the Freenet. But if I go Freenet, I should go Bell. If I go Bell, I should go Primus.
No. I should go with the Freenet. But if I go Freenet, I should go Bell. If I go Bell, I should go Primus.
Ad nausium, ad infinitum. I don't know what I should do!
Furniture, dishes, cookware, etc.
I was all excited about getting stuff that suits my tastes until I realized I have no taste. That's not to say I have bad taste. I have no taste. I have no opinion. When I look at furniture right now, I'm not thinking about style and comfort.  I'm thinking about how easy it will be to get to my apartment, then move if I move out in a year or two.

The last time I had to get dishes I got them from Canadian Tire.  I was happy with them.

I also happened to get a 10 piece set of Cuisinart cookware for half price at Canadian Tire at that time.

I'm going to hold off on these decisions until I'm in the apartment.  My philosophy is "never pay full price for cookware."  Cookware is always on a huge sale somewhere.  30% off is a small sale.  50% off is common.
Cell Phone
My cell phone is starting to die. People complain I sound really far away and quiet, that is, if they can hear me at all. I could just go out and get a new phone. If I sign a three year contract, I could probably get the phone for free. But, my plan doesn't include any data plan. So I'm wondering if it's time to get with the times and get a smart phone with a data plan. That decision became a little easier today. I read that Apple was going to release the iPhone unlocked in Canada. I had been leaning towards the iPhone, but was also contemplating an Android based phone. That announcement clinched it. If I get a smart phone it will be an iPhone.

My main question about the iPhone is convenience of carrying it. My current phone is pretty small. It fits nicely into my pocket. The iPhone looks a little big to fit nicely in my pocket. I'd also be paranoid about it being stolen or broken. If I don't get a smart phone then I'll likely get a regular cell phone and an iPod Touch. Since I can get an unlocked iPhone I could get it, and not even use it as a phone. If it turns out I don't mind carrying it around all the time, I can take it to Bell and start using it as a phone.

What does this decision have to do with moving out? My cost of living is about to increase in mostly unpredictable ways. I don't know if I'll be able to afford a data plan. Only time will tell. It's going to take a little whole for the financial dust to settle. So I'm hoping my phone holds out for a while yet.
UPDATE: Here is what I've decided so far:
How To Move
I rented a cargo van from Enterprise. With the help of Pastor Jack, I loaded the van up at home. Then at night, the Jack, Wendy, and Robin, and two other friends helped me move into the apartment. The unloading of the van took 40 minutes.
Cable/Satellite/Rabbit Ears
So far, so good. I don't have cable. I don't have rabbit ears. Before I left the McQueen's house, I recorded some shows on my computer. I have finally watched them.
Internet and home-phone
I ended up going with National Capital Freenet for Internet. I don't have a home phone.
Furniture, dishes, cookware, etc.
I bought some Paderno cookware on sale. So far, so good.

I bought one set of dishes only to open the box to find out the plates were missing. So I returned them, got another set from the same company. These ones came with extra bowls.

The only furniture I bought was a bed. So far so good. I went to Sleep Country Canada. They had me try a few different mattresses too see which one I felt most comfortable on. He said, by the mattress I picked, I was a native back-sleeper. I thought I was a side-sleeper.
Cell Phone
I'm waiting to decide further on this. My current phone still works.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I'm An Artist Too (127)

Today's Coffee Cup Art is a picture of me, after I move out of the McQueen's into my own place with sky high rent, parking, and utilities costs.  I plan on having no money left over to spend wildly on things like food, and bus passes.  I also found out today my insurance is going up.  Twice!  Once for moving into the city, and again because everyone's insurance is going up.

Yes.  Those are moths flying out of my pockets.

Monday, July 05, 2010

My Car, My Hassles (Part 6)

Long time blog readers will remember just over three years ago I bought a new car; a Saturn Ion. The car has served me well over that time. Very low maintenance. Just some brake work. Until this week.

This week, Ottawa saw some record highs. It went up to 34 degrees on Tuesday, and 35 on Wednesday. While I usually take the bus to work, I drive to work for extreme temperatures. If it's supposed to go above 30 degrees, I drive in. I'd rather have 1 hour in an air conditioned car, than 2 hours in a full, stuffy, stinky, sticky bus.

Everything was fine on Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday I drove to work. I didn't need the air conditioning in the morning. In the afternoon, the temperature at Gatineau Airport was 35 degrees Celsius. I was looking forward to my nice, cool car. I got in the car and started it. I turned on the air conditioning. I put my hand up to the vent. Only warm air was blowing through it. I didn't think too much of this. It usually takes a minute or two for the air conditioning to kick in.

After an hour, when I got home, the air blowing through the vent was still warm. I thought that because it was so hot out, the air conditioning system was constantly fighting the warmth outside, and since the car was sitting in a hot parking lot all day, that maybe the whole car was so warm, that by the time the air conditioned air came out of the vents, it had warmed up. I took the car out again in the evening, after it had been sitting in the shade for a while.

Still no cool air.

I opened up the hood to see if there was anything obvious like a big "On/Off" switch stuck in the "Off" position. No such luck. Nothing obvious. So I closed the hood. Except it wouldn't close completely. There are two latches that keep the hood closed. The first one keeps it all the way down. The second one prevents the hood from flying up if the first one fails. The first latch was broken.

This is not good. I was willing to live with out air conditioning for a while, but I need my hood to close. On Thursday I called a local GM dealership to see if I could bring my car in for a servicing. My car is just past the basic warranty plan. I was hoping my extended warranty would cover these repairs too. Air conditioner fixes are not cheap!

When I bought it in, I told the guy I bought the extended warranty. He said the repairs should be covered, minus the deductible. "The deductible will be about $100 or $200. You could have gotten a $0 deductible, but those are usually really expensive, like over $3000."

I said "Yeah, I probably got the $100 deductible. I'm too cheap the pay an extra couple of thousand to save one hundred."

So I left my car there and went to work. He said he'd call me when he knew what was wrong, and what needed to be done to fix it. I got that call in the early afternoon. "Well, the good news is the hood latch just needed to be lubricated, so that was quick and easy. The bad news is we need to replace your air conditioner clutch compressor coil. Now, if you had gotten the extended warranty, it would just cost you the $100 deductible. As it is, it's going to cost you over a grand."

I had a mini heart attack. "I thought I did get the extended warranty."

"Are you sure? Here, let me check the GM system.......Oh yeah! I'm sorry! My mistake! You did get it. You have a $100 deductible."


"Do you need wheels tonight? We're going to need to keep the car over night. We'll get you a rental for the night - covered by your warranty."

"Yes, please. I need the car to get home."

When I got home, I took out my folder with all my car purchase information. I took out the paper detailing my warranty - called Schedule A. It said I had a $0 deductible. What?! That guy said I had a $100 deductible! I'm being scammed!

Then I took out my "GM Warranty Service Plan," which is something GM sent me after the purchase of my car. It said I had a $100 deductible. Okay. What's going on?

I called GM.  I told the customer service representative that Schedule A had different information than the Service Plan.  She told me that Schedule A would be correct because that's what I bought at the dealership, and they probably made a mistake when they entered the info into the computer.  She told me to fax her Schedule A and she would fix it in the computer.  Then I could have the dealership call GM for confirmation if they wanted.  I faxed her my Schedule A and waited.

The local dealership that had my car called me to tell me about the repairs. I told them about the $0 deductible, which I had just told GM about, and that they should could call GM to confirm. She checked the computer and said she still saw that it was still a $100 deductible. She told me to get GM to call them.

So I called GM to ask if the change had been entered into the system, and if they could call the dealership to notify them of the changes. The guy at GM told me "Oh yeah, I don't know if the girl who got your Schedule A put it in the system, and she's on break now so I can't ask her. And if she did, it takes 3 business days for the update to go through."

While I wanted to tell him they have these new things called "computers" and "the Internet" that allows information to be updated and disseminated in seconds instead of days, I decided to ask him to call the dealership.

"We don't call the dealerships. If you could get them to call us, we'll happily confirm."

I'm getting dizzy from going around in circles.

"Or you could try to get them to not submit the warranty claim until Tuesday. Or, better yet, you could just pay the $100 + tax deductible now, and on Tuesday call us, and we'll cut you a cheque."

Fat chance. I don't trust companies to do that. Getting money out of companies, even large prosperous companies like GM, to give you money can be harder than plugging an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. "Look," I explained, "the dealership told me to get you to call them to explain this to them."

"Okay, what dealership did you take it to?" I told him. He put me on hold for a few minutes. He came back and said "Okay, I just spoke to the dealership, and they have the updated information, so you won't charged for anything the warranty covers."

"Thank you very much."

I have to say I thought I was going to have a hassle when I got to the dealership to pay for the car, but I didn't. I got my car back, and drove home with the air conditioning on! Oh it felt so good!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I'm An Artist Too (126)

Coffee Cup Art #126.  Click to enlarge.

The cellmate asks the computer "What are you in for?"

The computer replies "I performed an illegal function call."

I find it humerous when people see that on their computer and think the computer did something in the statutory legal sense and they think the cops are on their way.  For those who don't know, when your computer says that, it generally means that something got messed up and a program tried to write to a memory or disc location that it didn't have permissions for, or execution of bad code, or something.  It could mean a lot of different things; none of which you need to call your lawyer about.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I'm An Artist Too (125)

I can't think of anything to write about today's Coffee Cup Art. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Move It On Over - Part 2

Last year I blogged about my previous moving experiences. It seemed whenever I had to move, I hardly had to look around. There was always an obvious no-brainer choice; a God event. When I went looking last year, there was no obvious no-brainer. There didn't seem to be a God event. Then Jack told me that if I didn't mind uncertainty I could stay with them. It sounded good to me.

Throughout the year, one of the places I looked at kept coming to mind. I would pass it on my drive home from work. I'd be stopped at a light, look up at the building and think "If I had taken that apartment, I'd be home by now."  As it was, I had another thirty minutes to drive.

Last Sunday afternoon it has became clear that I would likely have to move out of the McQueen's house. I began to contemplate my options. Apartment vacancy rates are really low. There are still bidding wars over houses. And there was always a chance I could stay in Embrun. I asked God for His guidance. Like Gideon, I put out a fleece. I asked God for a 1 bedroom apartment in the aforementioned building facing East on either the top or bottom floor coming available in July.

On Monday morning I called to ask about available apartments. I told them I was looking for a 1 bedroom apartment for sometime between June and September. They told me "Yes, we have a one bedroom apartment on the top floor coming available in July."

"Oh really. Here's an odd question for you. What direction does that apartment face?"


"Sweet. I'd like to take a look at it." On Tuesday I was shown the apartment. I filled out an application. On Wednesday I was told my application had been accepted. Then yesterday I signed the lease.

There were three things that really attracted me to this apartment. The first was that it was mostly seniors. I really don't want to live in a building with a lot of students. I like to go to sleep at night. The second thing was that the rent was in the right neighbourhood. If the rent is too low, you're asking for trouble. If the rent is too high, I'd be better off owning. The third thing was the location. It's close to almost everything in my life! Here's a partial list of things it's close to:
  1. Tim Hotons
  2. Country Style Coffee
  3. Blackbelt Baptist Church
  4. At least 2 grocery stores
  5. 2 malls - a major one and a minor one.
  6. My favourite multi-screen theatre complex.
  7. Some of my favourite restaurants including an all-you-do-eat sushi restaurant.
  8. A Farmboy
  9. Zellers
  10. Canadian Tire
  11. My dentist
  12. Giant Tiger
  13. Staples Business Depot
  14. FutureShop
  15. The Highway
  16. The Transitway
  17. Chapters
  18. A low-traffic route to and from work.
  19. My bank
  20. A Public Library
Now, there are a few things in my life it's not close to:
  1. My friends.
  2. A Blockbuster Video.
  3. My doctor's office.
  4. My barber
  5. Other things that I'll figure out as I find I need them!
So, now I get to organize a move. I have to reserve the service elevator. Any volunteers? I don't have a lot of stuff.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Church Hopping - Part 4

It's been a while since Church Hopping - Part 3. Since then, we've mostly been going to Blackbelt Baptist. We did go back to Golgotha Baptist once because they were having a retirement service for the pastor there.  Since my last post on the subject, I have visited the following churches:
Fate Anglican Church
This was one of those small churches in a school gym. The pastor didn't like the liberal direction the Anglican church of Canada was going, so he broke off and joined a more conservative network of Anglican churches. You gotta really respect that. So, given what it was - a small church, it wasn't bad. I liked how the pastor had a Q&A period at the end of his sermon. It was different being in back in a liturgical church. I can see how some of those prayers and creeds could get old. They become just words you say every week, but once in a while, they're really good. The authors obviously put a lot of time and effort into them.
Redemption Alliance
The oddest thing about this church was that all the music was played before the sermon. There was no closing song. The music was very good. I enjoyed it much. The people were somewhat friendly. One distracting thing was this one guy on the worship team was wearing a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt. This was in February. It was out of place! Other than that, it seemed to be a run of the mill church. Nothing special either way.
Oak Orchard Church
Every so often Blackbelt Baptist and Oak Orchard Church have combined services. They also combine for their youth oriented groups. I've been to Oak Orchard twice; once in a combined service, and once in a regular service. The music was always very good. The people were really friendly. I haven't been assaulted with that many "Hello and who are you?"s since Beaver Creek Baptist Church. They do communion every week, which is odd to me. For communion, they just have one loaf of bread that everyone breaks a piece off of. The germophobe in me doesn't like this. Thankfully I brought my hand sanitizer with me that morning. Then the speaker, who wasn't the pastor, started speaking. He was to give a "quick summation" of the life of Joseph. This "quick summation" took a long time. I think it would have been just as fast to read that portion out of Genesis. All in all, it wasn't bad. I'd go back a few times.
Village Baptist
The music was odd. They had a lot of talented musicians, but the layout was different. They had two stages. On the main stage stood the guitarist, two vocalists, and an old-school choir. On the second stage sat the bass guitarist, an electric guitarist, a keyboardist, and the drummer. I find it really odd to have a choir singing contemporary worship music. But, they made it work. The preaching wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. And no one, not even the ushers, said "Hi" to me. I won't be going back.
I enjoyed this service. There was a huge young adults group. I think they took up about 4 or 5 pews. I haven't seen that since my church in Sault Ste. Marie. One guy came over to talk to me and invite me to sit with the young adults. The preaching was decent. The music was good, although they lacked a drummer. (Ohhhhh, if only I lived closer to that church!) I'd go back.
Glebe Baptist
One morning when I was staying in the Glebe I didn't feel like driving very far so I decided to check out Glebe Baptist. It reminded me of my church in Sault Ste. Marie.  The old wooden pews, with red carpet was like my Sault church. The percentage of the pews filled up was about the same was the Sault church when I left. And, they had an old-school choir, just like my Sault church when I moved there. Besides the piano and organ, this choir was accompanied by a bass guitarist. I thought this to be odd. That's usually one of the last instruments to be added to a worship team. There's not a lot of bass guitarists out there. They even did a contemporary worship song. The preaching wasn't too bad, except the preacher kept saying how Christ died for us out of his love for, and devotion to us. I thought Christ died for us because of his love for, and devotion to his father. Perhaps that point is debatable? Anyway, A few people came up to me and introduced themselves to me, so I felt welcomed.
Chedarview Alliance
I'm writing this the day I went to Chedarview. Let me say, it was not a good morning. It all started on Saturday when I had a late lunch.  I skipped supper that night.  I intended on a breakfast at Tim Hortons on Sunday morning on the way to church.   I had picked the Tim Hortons closest to the church so I could stay and enjoy my breakfast sandwich. When I got to Tim Hortons, it was closed for renovations!  I was hungry, grumpy and not happy!   I drove around Farhaven looking for another Tim Hortons, and all I could find were gas station Tim Hortons.  I wanted to sit down and read a book.  I didn't want drive-thru! I decided to go to church hungry and get a big lunch afterwords. When I got to church, no one said "hi" or shook my hand - not even the guy handing out the bulletins. That was disappointing. The music was tight. But the preacher went on and on and on.  And on.  He was the freakin' Energizer Bunny. He just didn't stop. Even the best preachers start getting stale at 40 minutes.  This guy was far from the best. I expected he's preach for about 30 minutes.  After 45 minutes of preaching. I noticed people getting up and leaving. I would have left too except I wanted to know how long he intended to bore us. Was he planning on keeping us there until Jesus came back? It felt like it. After 50 minutes he finally closed in prayer. (My prayer was one of thankfulness.) The worship team cut their last set down to one verse of one song.  I won't be going back.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Stick a Fork in 2009; it's done!

2009 has been a pretty bad year for those of us living in the McQueen household. I am writing this on New Years Day, 2010. Now that the year is over, I'll write about why it was so bad.

The bad stuff started happening in December of 2008, so I'm going to lump that in with 2009.

Some things are worse than others.  As the year started showing a trend of being "one thing after another", I started keeping track with a list.  The first part of the list was the order I remembered things happening.  After that, I added to the list as things happened.

The following order is the order of the list I recorded.

The OC Transpo Bus Strike
This started in December and lasted two months. By the time they put the rural buses back one, it was four months. I take a rural bus. I had to drive in to work every day for four months. I live far away from work. I put 8000 kilometres on my car in that time.
My health
Normally I don't get sick. I might get two colds a year, and that's it. This year I got four colds - twice as many as usual. But the worst of it was I got the stomach flu twice. I got it in December a few days before I went to Halifax for Christmas. I threw up for the first time in 18 years. Not cool. Then I had a relapse when I was home in Halifax.
The Economy
We're in the worst recession in a long time. Some were comparing it to the 30s. I don't think it was quite that bad - at least in Canada, but it was still pretty bad.
While the Swine Flu pandemic turned out to be pretty tame, it still was, by definition, a pandemic. It was a new virus that few people had immunity to that was hitting young people harder than old.  It was the first pandemic in 41 years.
Pastor Jack Left Yahoo! Baptist
The very day I returned from Halifax from my Christmas vacation I found out Pastor Jack would be leaving Yahoo! Baptist. For the McQueens it would mean changes were likely on the horizon. They would probably move before too long. They would be facing unemployment in the worse economic situation in years. This would not be a year of plenty for them. It also had implications for me. If the McQueens moved, so would I . If I moved, I would surely face a huge rent increase. If my rent increased substantially, the possibility of finishing off my pilot's license in the near future would be pretty small. There goes that life goal.
Being on-call at work
Due to the recession, the Government of Canada put forth an Economic Action Plan which included an EI workload increase. So a bunch of us had to do some on-call time. I hate being on-call.  I've done it three times before.  I hated it.
Euphoria drinks rose in price
Euphoria is a store near by that sells smoothies and fruit drinks. They're really good, but a bit expensive. They just got more expensive. It's not a big deal. Just an annoyance.
July was the wettest on record
This summer stunk because it was really wet.  The days were cool and the nights were warm. I want the opposite. I don't care if it goes above 30 in the day, I want to get cool at night. Instead, in the summer of 2009, it would get up to about 22 in the day, and go down to 19 at night. It was very humid. It was very hard to sleep. If I had continued to work on my pilot's license, I wouldn't have gotten very far due to the weather. So, at least the weather wasn't taunting me. :)
Pastor Jack fell off the roof, and broke his ankle
Being out of work is bad enough - this was just terrible.
The McQueen's car made several trips to the garage
They're out of work. The last thing they need is a failing car!
Corner Gas ended
This is a minor one. I really enjoyed that show. Now it's over.
Record Federal Deficit
The last time there was a record federal deficit in Canada was in the 90s. In order to balance the books, the government slashed a lot of programs. In the process they cut about 45 000 - 50 000 federal public servant positions. If they do that again, I don't have enough seniority to survive.  So, this causes me to worry about my job security.
Saturn Dealerships closed
Saturn had such potential. But now it's over. GM says that any GM dealership should be able to fix my Saturn, but Saturn has a few parts that are different from other GM cars. I want to sell my Saturn and replace it with a car from a company that's still in business, but I'd never get for my Saturn what it's worth to me.
That's 13 items.  I can count at least eight more that didn't make it onto this blog because....well somethings just don't belong on the Internet for all to see.

But, it wasn't all bad. Let's look a the bright side of 2009:
I got to fly First Class to Halifax at Christmas time.
'Nuff said
The McQueens didn't have to sell their house.
God really provided for them and allowed them to stay. Since they got to stay, so did I. While, I didn't get to resume working on my pilot's license, I was able to put some money away. If they (and I) can manage to stay there for another year my question won't be "What apartment building should I move to?" But "What condo building should I buy a condo in?"
The McQueen kids got to go all over the world for school.
Bruce returned to Vancouver. Jane went to LA. Robin got to go to England.

So far, 2010 is shaping up to be a better year for me. The federal budget came down in March, and it seems as though my job is safe....for another year anyway. It has been a beautiful winter. As I write this, I'm living in the Glebe for a few weeks. Sweet!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Concentrated Bad Luck

I have some theories on luck. My first theory is something called the "Universal Luck Constant" meaning there's only so much good luck to go around in the universe. If you use up a lot of luck in one area, there's less to go around in another.  For example: one time my friend and I parked out car in the city to play pool for an hour or two. We didn't put any money in the parking meter - thus risking a parking ticket. We both played one of the worst games of pool in our lives. We couldn't sink a ball to save our lives. When we returned to the car, there was no ticket. We used up all our luck by not getting a ticket. We had no luck left over to play pool.

Another theory about luck is that you can have a lot of bad luck in a short amount of time, but then things turn around afterwords. In February of 2008 I had a really bad month. This is what happened (in chronological order):
It snowed a lot
That was the February of an almost record breaking winter. Pastor Jack went to Jamaica on a missions trip. Robin went to Italy on a class trip. The other two kids were away at school. This left Wendy and I at home. So I did as much of the shovelling as I could. It snowed 4 our of every 5 days.  Shovelling was a daily chore.  I was really getting tired of it. Ottawa almost broke a record that winter for amount of snow.
My uncle died
This was, by far, the worst part of that February. He should have lived to 120 years. It was the uncle with whom I lived when I lived in Toronto. He is greatly missed.
I ordered a used CD online, and when I got it, it was damaged.
I blogged about this before. The day I received the CD was the day my uncle died. I decided to deal with the CD when I returned from Toronto. When I returned, I found out the deadline for returns had passed.
My camera stopped working
It was hard to describe what was wrong with the CD, so I decided to take a picture. When I did that, I saw that my camera wasn't working.
My first cavities in years
Since my last trip to the dentist I had taken better care of my teeth than ever before, yet I got a cavity. Two of them, in fact.  For the first time in my life, I was confident that this trip to the dentist would end well. It didn't. I had two cavities! I began to suspect a dental conspiracy. When I got the cavities filled my dentist took liberties and did some other work that I hadn't asked her to do. That extra work wasn't covered by my insurance. This eventually broke down my trust in her, so I had to find another dentist. You have to trust your health care providers.
A button fell off my jacket
I found this nice corduroy jacket at The Bay. I wear it at work. Then a button fell off. Upon examination, I saw a second button was getting close to falling off. No big deal - I'd just sew them back on.
I lost my sewing kit
This is not a big deal. My sewing kit is one of the $2 kits you find in the dollar store. It has some thread, a few needles, scissors, etc. It wasn't a huge deal, just an annoyance. I wasn't able to sew a button that had fallen off my jacket (see above).
My desktop computer stopped working
The day I realized I lost my sewing kit, I decided I wanted to watch a DVD on my desktop computer. When I turned the computer on, it didn't work. The video card was broken. Oh well, I still had my laptop. My laptop only has a 12" monitor, but it's better than nothing. And, it's an Apple so it "just works."
The DVD software in my laptop stopped working.
When I inserted the DVD, and the DVD software started, my computer froze. I rebooted and tried again. It froze again. I tried starting the DVD software without inserting a DVD into the computer. The computer froze. I looked around the Interwebs and found out that on my specific laptop model (12" PowerBook G4) the DVD software with that specific version of Mac OS X didn't work. I had to wait for Apple to fix the problem and release a patch.
As the last thing happened I was really starting to loose it. Everything was going wrong that month. The last four items happened on the same day. The only good thing that happened that month was that I signed my indeterminate contract at work. That means there is no determined end to my employment with the federal government. Other than that, everything was going wrong. When I couldn't watch a DVD that day on either of my computers, I just grabbed my iPod and listened to some soothing music whislt lying in the fetal position on my bed.

See how all that luck was concentrated into that one month?

Then March began. This is what happened in March:
I re-ordered that CD
It was in perfect condition when I received it. In the end I spent as much on the two used CDs as I would have spent on one new CD.
My camera got fixed
On a whim, I took my camera into Blacks to ask if they had seen my problem before. The guy at Blacks looked at it and told me "Yes I have seen this. In fact, that's a known problem with these cameras. Cannon is aware of the problem, and they're fixing this problem for free, regardless of warranty status." He told me how to go about getting it fixed. Yay!! I didn't have buy a new camera!
I learned a lot about oral health
My suspicion of the dental profession led me to do a lot of research. I found out some things like how cavities can heal themselves given the right conditions. I discovered something called xylitol, an all-natural sugar substitute that kills the bacteria that causes things like cavities, gum disease, inner-ear infections, and some throat infections. There's also evidence that it helps the bones absorb calcium. It has 40% of the calaries of sugar. It's digested independently of insulin, so it's safe for diabetics. The only downsides are that it's a wee bit expensive, and hard to find. I did find it in January of 2009, and I've had great dental reports since then.
I found my sewing kit
This happened within the first couple of days of March. I found it in the jacket that had the missing button. When I found it, I knew the month was starting to turn around.  I promptly fixed the buttons on that jacket.
Apple patched their DVD player software
Apple released the patch, which I installed allowing me to watch DVDs on my laptop again!

I thought it was so funny how everything was concentrated into February of that month. By the end of the month I was really feeling defeated by life. Once March arrived, things started turning around immediately. Then life returned to normal.

I also noticed something about bad luck.  Only one of those things was really bad; my uncle passing away.  The rest of them were small.  The thing that made them seem worse was that it felt like every single day something else went wrong.  Even if it was just coming home and having to shovel a foot of snow off the driveway. By February the snowbank at the corner of the driveway was about 8 feet tall, and it was quite the feat of strength throwing snow over that hill. The bad luck incidences were accumulative.  Eventually you just need something to go right.

So that is an example of Concentrated Bad Luck. 2009 was like that too, and I'll get to that later.

Here's a Dilbert comic illustrating the Universal Luck Constant:

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Dental Conspiracy

When I was growing up, I found my oral health didn't seem to be connected to my oral care. The more I brushed and flossed, the more cavities I got. When I brushed and flossed less, I got fewer, or no cavities.  When I was in college I never went to the dentist, and I was pretty slack about brushing and flossing. When I was in university, I went to the dentist. I expected to have 17 cavities, 5 extractions, and 2 root canals. Instead, the dentist said "Well, you have no cavities, but you need to brush and floss more." So I did.  Diligently.

Two years later, once I had my job with dental benefits, I went to the dentist again. For the first time in my life I was confident I would have a good check-up. I had brushed twice every day. I flossed more than I ever had before. When I would drink sugary drinks, I would immediately chase them down with water. Take a sip of Pepsi, then a sip of water.

The dentist took a look, and some X-Rays and said "You have two cavities."

WHAT?! That doesn't make sense! I neglect my teeth, I'm fine. I take care of them and I get two cavities?!  I suspected a dental conspiracy. I looked around the Internet for evidence to support my theory and couldn't find much. But, I did find an awful lot of information, which I will share with you now in the form of myths and facts.
Sugar causes cavities
It doesn't. Acid causes cavities. Acid slowly dissolves the minerals in your enamel. Eventually, your enamel becomes weak and worn away, and a hole appears. That's a cavity. A certain strain of bacteria uses sugar to replicate and create acid. Acid can also come in the form of acidic food (like oranges and lemons), acidic drinks, or your saliva could be acidic.
The only way to fix cavities is to have them filled
This is mostly true.  The truth is that your saliva has minerals in it that strengthens tooth enamel. But, the more acidic your mouth is, the longer that process will take. In fact, if your mouth is acidic enough, or for much of the time, the cavity will grow faster than the minerals will be replenished. If you put your mouth into a non-acidic condition, you can remineralize your teeth with your saliva.  However, with a full-on cavity (a hole, as opposed to weak teeth), I doubt there's any substitute for a filling.
Fluoride in our water prevents cavities
If this were the case then cavities would only be found in areas without water fluoridation.  (Sault Ste. Marie, during my time there, did not fluoridate their water, yet even without much brushing or flossing, I had no cavities.) It's true that fluoride, in very small doses, can help teeth remineralize. In order for fluoride to work on your teeth, it needs to be in contact with your teeth. Fluoride in a mouth wash, or in toothpaste will help, but in drinking water, it won't do much once you've swallowed the water. Fluoride is an industrial byproduct. In the bloodstream it can be extremely harmful to people and animals. It's true that cities keep fluoride levels low enough not to harm most people. But if you drink more water than most, you may consume more fluoride than is harmless to you. The bottom line is this: A dilute fluoride rinse (0.05% Sodium Fluoride) in a mouth wash is good for your teeth. Due to the nature of fluoride, a stronger concentration is not necessarily better than a weaker one. Stick with a 0.05% sodium fluoride mouth wash - so I've read.
Sugar-Free gum is good for your teeth
That depends. It's true only if your sugar-free gum has the right sweetener in it. It probably doesn't. It probably has sorbitol, manitol, aspertame, and/or maltitol in it. None of those are good for you. Most sugar-free gums use sorbitol as the main sweetener. The bad bacteria in your mouth quickly learn how to use sorbitol instead of sugar. These sweeteners can cause gastro-intestinal problems. The sweetener you want to look for is xylitol. Xylitol is an all-natural sweetener that the bad bacteria in your mouth never learn to use, even after years of exposure. Xylitol also makes your mouth alkaline, so your saliva can remineralize your teeth. Look for Xylitol gum at your local health food stores.
Xylitol will give you diarrhea
It's true that in large quantities xylitol will give approximately one third of the population loose stools until their system becomes used to it. But, for dental purposes, you only need about 6.5 grams to 10 grams a day. You don't even need to swallow it. You can chew xylitol gum.
If Xylitol were so great, why don't we hear more about it?
Good question. I've found that some dentists are somewhat aware of the existence of xylitol as a molecule, but are unaware of it's dental benefits. Either that, or they don't want you to know too much. It could really cut down a dentist's business.  :) The only downside to xylitol I can find is that it's expensive compared to other sweeteners. It's also not appropriate for all types of baking.
Sealants will help protect my molars from cavities
They will as long as they were applied correctly, and they stay on perfectly. Once they start wearing down, cavities can form beneath them that can't be seen with the naked eye. Besides, sealants don't fix the problem. They're a band-aid solution, except it's like putting on a band-aid before even getting a cut. Wouldn't it be better to fix the problem (ie: bacteria and acidic saliva)?
It's a good idea to take dental advice from a computer programmer.
It's not. Don't do it. (BTW: I'm a computer programmer, darn it, not a dentist!) It's better to take dental advice from a dentist. This dentist maintains a blog where she answers people's questions. It's really quite informative. She wrote a book called Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye where she explains things more fully. She has come up with an easy system you can use to keep your teeth healthy and shiny. You can buy the products from her site, but you can buy them elsewhere with no profit to her.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Class All It's Own

Late vacation approvals are ruining me. A few years ago, when I was a student on a co-op work term, I didn't think I was going to be able to go home for Christmas for more than a weekend.  So I bought a ticket to go home on Friday, and return Sunday.  Then I was told I could take a few more days off. I would still return to work as originally planned, but I could leave for Halifax a few days earlier.

When I went to change my booking, the only seats available were in First Class.  They weren't too expensive, so I bought them.

If you've never flown First Class, I highly recommend it.  It's not the same as being upgraded to First Class.  Buying a First Class ticket is different.

When you arrive at the airport, you check your bags in a different line. It's a shorter line. Then you go through security like everyone else. Then, with Air Canada, you get to enjoy complementary access to their Maple Leaf Lounge. The lounge has Internet access, a TV, free food, drinks (including wine and beer, and other alcoholic beverages). (Okay, it's not free. It's included in the price of the ticket.)

When it's time to go to your flight, you can board at anytime. You get a bigger seat with more leg room  You always have either a window seat, or an aisle seat. You get a meal with complementary alcoholic beverages. It's a much nicer experience.

Then, when your flight touches down, you're amongst the first off the plane. When you get to the baggage claim, at some airports they have a special carousel for first class bags. From the moment the plane comes to a complete stop, they have a certain amount of time before the first "priority" bag appears on the "priority" carousel. When I worked at Pearson in Toronto, they had a special priority carousel. They don't have one in Halifax. I had to wait for my luggage with everyone else.

That year, when I flew back to Ottawa I flew coach. I left first thing in the morning. I had a three hour stop-over in Montreal. My first class experience made that all the harder.

I haven't flown first class since - until this year. Our vacation approvals came in a little close to the requested dates. When I checked flight prices I could have flown pretty cheaply, but I would have had another three hour stop-over in Montreal, and an arrival in Halifax after midnight, which is like the middle of the night to me. In order to get a flight at a decent time, it was only a few dollars more to get a ticket under Air Canada's new "Lower Executive" class. It has a few more restrictions than their full Executive class. But, for all intents and purposes, it's First Class.

I'm glad I did get those tickets.  My flight to Halifax was delayed by 7 hours.  My flight back to Ottawa was delayed by two and a half hours.  Let me tell you, if you have to spend 7 hours in an airport, you want to be in the Maple Leaf lounge.

Here are a couple of videos to highlight the differences between First Class and Economy: