Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Singaporean Pasttimes

We're off to Bali for the next nine days, where I will finally be deprived of even my Internet access :'( . Hopefully in exchange for wild times at the beaches and rivers of Indonesia, assuming the rainy season does not take its toll on us.

Here in Singapore, I've partaken of the two Singaporean pasttimes: eating, and shopping. Pictures should come soon of me enjoying my banana leaf food (update: pic), chicken bryani, among others. Even a pleasant eight-course meal at the Singapore Swimming Club*. We've done the club circuit, visiting the Singapore Cricket Club, the Raffles Sailing Club (now THAT is a yacht club... it's like a self-contained resort!), and the Tanglin Club. Needless to say, we had several refreshing pints of Tiger Beer at each location.

[* It may seem wierd to some of you that a swimming club would be a key place to find upmarket meals. However, in this part of the world, club memberships are a prestegious commodity, that are bought, sold and traded among the financial elite. As such, many of these clubs become important social venues, often exceeding even their original function.]

Not much else to tell. Back in a couple of weeks! Postcards will go out soon I hope.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Flying American Style

Here I am in Singapore, sitting in front of my Mother's laptop, surfing the net. But it's not entirely the same as Seattle... here I have cable ;)

Just kidding, I'll relate what tales of have from Singapore soon enough.

Flight over was my first run with Northwest Airlines, taking an A330-200 first on a 11 hour leg to Narita, Japan, then changing over for a 7 hour leg to Singapore. And, as much as I dreaded the experience of an "American airline" for the inevitable marathon journey, it wasn't bad at all. Plane was modern, had on-demand video, music and games in every seat (yes, even in economy), and I didn't have to deal with overly annoying children at any point during my travels. Most of the movies sucked, but at least they had "Miami Vice" which I did actually want to see.

The one thing I must say for Northwest, they know nothing about customer service. My first hint was that I arrived at the counter, to find ZERO counters dedicated to paper tickets. So it was "E-ticket checkin", or "Go to hell". Of course, with only one attendant on duty, it took awhile to even ask, and of course get berated for being in the e-ticket line (there was another line???)... wait awhile 'over there', and eventually a few of us are helped.

If you like in-flight service that doesn't bother you, NWA is for you. They get you in the air, then disappear for hours at a time. At one point, I waited 15 minutes on an attendant call, just for some water (being sick, I'm dehydrated to the point of being in pain), at which point I'm told to wait for the next drink service in 15 minutes and "Is that it?". But at least I wasn't the poor girl in the bathroom as we were landing, as the stewardesses yelled across the aisles mocking the poor clueless passenger. HELLO? WE CAN ALL HEAR YOU!

One regret was Narita - we were a little late arriving, and the security checkpoints were backed up. So in the end, all I got to see was the blur of my peripheral vision as I went running for the last call on my connecting flight. I was hoping to at least have a chance to pick up some random tacky Japanese airport merchandise to bring home.

On the plus side, I always love Singapore customs. They don't talk to you. At all. A depressed stare, read over your entry card, scan your passport, and send you on your way. Every time. This of course beats Seattle, where I received the dreaded "SSSS" on my boarding pass (ie. TSA secondary screening). At least the man assigned for the inspection of my personal spaces had a sense of humour; possibly the first in the history of all US Government officials!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Going Away

Hey folks, in a few days I am leaving to Singapore to meet up with my parents. I'll be there for a few days, and then, off to Bali with me (in the tropical South-East-Asian country of Indonesia). I'll be there until pretty much the end of December.

I expect to have minimal Internet connectivity. But then again, even if I have a great connection... lets face it, am I going to be using the Internet? Or am I going to be sitting on the beach sipping drinks

[editor's note: last year, the answer was strongly 'The Internet' (WoW is addictive, quiet you!). This year I'm not bringing my laptop for specifically that reason.]

So, to everyone, have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


Using the reward of free movie passes I received from work (I did my part for Big Bill's Windows release), I decided to go check out Borat, see if the hype was justified.

I can see why they are getting sued by so many people. Some parts are simply silly, offensive, or repetitive - there's only so many times a badly-pronounced body part reference is funny. The mix of unscripted mocking of Americans can be funny sometimes, but in a movie which is an obvious parody anyways, it almost doesn't fit.

On the other hand, it has some good laughs. In fact, it feels almost like Mr. Bean - a very direct form of humor dervied from bizarre situations.

Still, I think people may have been stretching in their interpretation of the film of a parody of American views on foreigners. Lets face it, Rick Mercer already beat them to that one.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Oooo new gaming

Why would I, having a full-time job and a sliding thesis want more gaming? Well... I do. I'm compulsive, and it makes me happy, so yay for games.

First off, my poor compy is WORKING AGAIN! Hooray! It was locking up under 3D stress (but not a thermal issue), and was really pissing me off. It was either the video card or the chipset. Thankfully, I now know.
It was a gamble - basically I staked a $250 card replacement on a 50/50 prognosis. Thankfully, I was right, and the computer seems stable. Plus, I really like the card. Not only does it run extra cool, barely spiking past 60 (my EVGA Geforce 6800 GT would regularly hit the 135C thermal shutdown point), but it's also faster. My score on 3DMark 2006 went from 2000 to over 3700. Also, my Vista "Gaming Graphics" performance index went from 5.0 to 5.8.

Also, my Xbox 360, one hard drive replacement later, is finally working. I really love this console. Despite being more than content with the wide selection of Xbox 360 Live Arcade games, I've also picked up Saint's Row. It's a shameless GTA3 ripoff. But I like GTA3, so it really was a perfect choice.

So, what's the moral of this story?

A weekend trip to Fry's can be very expensive and very gameilicous.

Friday, November 24, 2006 Xbox Deal

It sounded too good to be true. has a deal where you get to vote on one of four items to go on sale the next week. And, the first week, Xbox 360 for $100! Needless to say, the other three items (a bike, some barbie, and some membership thingy) were all lame, and Xbox got over 80% of the votes.

I had literally just bought a 360, mostly as a hedge in case I did not get this deal. If I got it... I'd probably give my promo code to Kyna if she didn't get hers, or add it to my ebay pile. I slept restlessly all night, constantly checking the clock. Finally got up, put on a robe, and started hitting refresh.

Everything went well until about 10:58am where the servers simply would not give me any kind of connection. This lasted for several minutes, until finally I thought "why not try https"... which I did. And it was instant. But to no avail, by then it was too late and they were sold out.

Lots of people are complaining that it was handled badly - the inability to handle the compulsive refreshers, the limited quantities, the awkward captcha involved. Even talk of BBB complaints. But seriously, I'm not sure what people expected. Even if the servers worked perfectly (and you can't expect they would for a spike this huge), the odds would still be stacked well against you.

So, I go back to my Xbox which I paid far too much for, and play more Geometry Wars. Next week there's a portable DVD player for sale. I doubt they'll be quite as popular....

The lesson: when you're looking for a deal, https can be your friend :D

Xbox Arrives

It's been a personal point of shame for our company - we beat the competition to market by a whole year for the next generation gaming console, but we wouldn't even sell them to our own employees. Now, with the recent (and very sold out) release of the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3, I suppose that those in power finally decided that they couldn't live with the Nintendo and Sony employees talking wise about us poor Microsofties as they picked up their respective consoles on or before the release day (yes Kyna, I know you're thinking it... :p).

At our company meeting, they made a promise to us. "By Thanksgiving, you will be able to buy Xbox 360, and the new Zune music player at the company store."
[ed. note: for you Canadians in the audience, down South, Thanksgiving is in November - see this editorial for an analysis of the American significance of the holiday]

True to their word, the very last day before the Thanksgiving holiday, the store was filled with thousands of both. And I don't mean like 100, like your average Toys 'R Us getting a new Wii shipment - I'm talking shelves full, entire pallets stacked with them - where no matter how long the line, there's more for employees to buy.

Sadly, the Zune has little appeal to it in its current version, and the Xbox 360 came bundled with crap, but I couldn't help my selfish impulsiveness, so I picked the Xbox 360 up. And thus the Lords of Metal were displeased, for this purchase was no tribute to them. So, of course, the hard drive didn't work. And being Thanksgiving, I don't get to take it back until Monday.

Let me tell you something about the Xbox 360. It's very friendly - everything is designed around a Gamer Profile of sorts. This, of course, must be stored, normally on a hard drive or memory card. Without a profile, most things just don't work.

So, sadly, I have a box that pretty much does nothing but play Geometry Wars.

Ironically, and more than a little sadly, that's more or less what I bought the console for. A $435 bundle for a stupid and ridiculously addictive arcade game.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Microsoft Windows Vista RTMs!

Yes, that's right folks, as of November, the new big beast out of Redmond, Microsoft Windows Vista, was "released to master"... "went gold"... or for you non-software folks.... IT'SA DONE!

We had a party to celebrate. Sadly, with our head Windows exec leaving, it was one hell of a lame party. But, on the plus side, as a reward we get this whole next week off. ... of course, I have three weeks of work both at home and at work to accomplish, so not much of a holiday for me... but whatever...

Today, I'm going to address the one big question I've been getting a lot: do you want Windows Vista?

Well, for you folks buying new computers, it's a moot issue - they'll be installing Vista on them, and you might as well partake. For you folks who aren't upgrading for awhile, it'll be on the retail shelves in January for around the same price as XP, or very cheap if you're a friend of mine and ask for a copy.

First off, does your machine have the power to take advantage of Vista? Odds are, surprizingly, almost all of you do have more than enough computing power to run it at the same speed as XP. While a lot was added, they did put in a lot of effort into performance. While a few things may seem slow, overall, things will be plenty responsive. If you don't have a good video card, the "glass" eyecandy can be turned off easily enough, processor requirements are not unusually high, and hard drives are huge anyways. You will need a DVD reader to install - Vista comes on a DVD. One thing I don't suggest you skimp on is RAM - Vista is very sensitive to low memory conditions, and it just eats up the memory like no tomorrow. At home I use 1GB, and I'd suggest 2GB in any corporate environment that requires you to run a lot of management software, and/or you're running a 64-bit machine.

Now, what does Vista give you that you're going to want?

Well, first off, a lot of the Windows add-ons for XP are now included - the final version of Windows Defender (hey, I work on Windows Defender, it has to be first on the list) for awesome lightweight spyware protection, and an enhanced version of Internet Explorer 7 that has additional security protection. For you less-than-safety-conscious people, the thing you'll enjoy most is that they finally have support for tabs, a search bar, and RSS feed support..

For those of you with media center PCs (or wanted one), you're probably well aware that you can't buy Windows XP Media Center edition from stores - it's only sold with new Media Center computers. Well no more, Windows Media Center is included with Vista, allowing you to record and watch live TV, store movies, etc. It's hella slick, and will make you want to get a TV tuner and remote control.

Those of you lucky enough to own tablets, they also bundle all the tablet goodies into the OS too.

Have a 64-bit processor? You're likely aware that the 64-bit functionality is useless without a supporting OS. If you're one of the rare few who ran Windows XP 64, you know how painful it can be to get drivers and deal with app compatability. Well on Vista, they REALLY want you to have proper 64-bit support, and most of the OS has 64-bit versions binaries. 64-bit drivers are widely available. Support for 32-bit apps is rock solid on the 64-bit machine too.

There's an integrated search, similar to Google's Desktop Search, that very quickly finds files on your hard drive. The cool part is things like Outlook automatically tie into that, so your emails will even show up in your search, right from the start menu.

There's the Windows Sidebar - a little side panel with gadgets including a weather display, calendar, stock ticker, sticky notes, and a bunch of other neat things.

... and finally, a bunch of UI updates, some of which are confusing, others of which are very cool. They genuinely want things to be easy for you.

Downside? The big one people talk about is that they don't like User Account Control. Basically, when you want to run something that needs admin rights, it greys out the screen and asks permission to do so. This includes things like installing programs or new Internet Explorer plugins, using parts of the control panel, etc. Many people whine a lot that this is annoying, and in fact represent it as the key failing of Vista. But I look at it this way: IT SHOULD BE ANNOYING! Each time you get the prompt, you're doing something to significantly change your machine, and you should be aware of it. I'll get no more "I didn't do anything, the computer just stopped working right", because YOU'LL KNOW you did something because it grays out the screen and gives you a warning. I almost never get prompts after I installed everything. I'm very happy.

So, I didn't really answer the question of whether or not you want Vista. Not directly anyways. But if the things I said above seem to appeal to you, let me know and I'll pick up a copy.

... and yes, you can upgrade from XP. We all tested that... a lot... a lot a lot.

PS. Get Office 12. It kicks ass. The new ribbon UI takes a lot of getting used to, but it's a serious improvement on the old Office. Especially Outlook 12 - I'm a huge fan of the new Outlook, and I think you will be too.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Retraction: The Two-Hour Vancouver Run

I've said to many people over the past year that the fabled two hour run to Vancouver is impossible. 2:30 maybe? Three hours easily, even in realistic traffic conditions. But two? No way, not without risking serious injury and death.

Lownewulf, on behalf of would like to issue a retraction.

1:40 to the border.
< 20m to the edge of Burnaby.

This is a Saturday morning run - it's not even comparable to the Friday afternoon runs. Less than HALF the time of my four hour marathon the previous weekend. And daylight no less, which is actually kinda nice.

Now, the observant will call me out, saying Burnaby is a poor man's Vancouver run! But, one must admit, if *I* can do 2hrs to Burnaby, someone with some guts could easily do Vancouver. But, just to prove my worth: TOTAL TIME - North Vancouver to Kirkland, door to door. 2:15. Yes, including the border. A mere 1:25 on the US side! That's at least as much a trek as Vancouver downtown core. So I conclude, that with a bit more confidence in speeding, one could easily approach the two hour mark.

Sadly, I doubt I'll do better, at least not without high-grade radar detection and laser jamming. And, realistically, traffic will still limit me.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lawsuit against UPS over Brokerage fees

HOOOORAY! What a wonderful day!

A (hopefully) class action lawsuit against UPS in B.C. (and potentially Ontario too), because of the brokerage fees they like to charge receivers in Canada. Having been dinged by this crap many times, I look forward to seeing how this goes. I wouldn't horribly mind being included in the class too if they make it that far and I'm eligible.
(I'll update the post if I find they're actually ready to form a class)

Basically, UPS provides a brokerage service which handles all the quirks of getting your package through customs. Of course, with free trade to the US, this is nothing more than 7% GST and maybe $5.00 in admin fees. Which I'm cool with. However, unlike other couriers who may just ask you to pay the actual cost plus some small admin fee, UPS charges an all-encompassing brokerage fee (and often the acutal GST on top of their all-encompassing fee), which can at the worst case, reach 50% of the item's value! They even have the gall to charge you for the convenience of charging you (the COD charge)!

Of course, the same problem doesn't exist for US receivers. Probably because Americans would just shoot a delivery person who tried to feed them crap like that.

My worst story was when I rejected a package (an ebay retailer had sent me something by mistake). UPS then MAILED me a bill telling them I owed them the brokerage charge anyways. Needless to say, I told them where they could shove that bill. Just goes to show how ridiculous their process is.

I hope they burn.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Life and Some Links

300 Miles of driving: $425 (*)
All-you-can-drink beer: Free.
Trip to Scrape Records: $120
Weekend in Vancouver with the Irishman and Popple: Priceless

(*) It's a lengthy calculation. Take my word for it.

Oh yea, and don't forget: Valid H-1B status through August 2009: Priceless!!1!

That's right, travel lockdown is officially over. USCIS gave me one of those RFID I-94 cards, so now I just wave my passport at the sensor, and enter the US with minimal hassle. I may have a couple of questions coming back from Singapore, but for trips to Canada, I'm golden.

I intend to make full use of this privilege - I'll be in Vancouver at least twice between now and Christmas. Perhaps again for New Years too!

As for post content:

An interesting 'rebuttal' (well not really, it more just presents the positive side of the same points) by another officer of the guild featured in my previous post; this highlights how it is indeed possible to achieve balance between the game and life, and the benefits being involved in an MMO can bring.

And finally, try this - it's quite amusing:

check out YouTube after you've played a bit, and see what talented people actually did with it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Warcraft Destroys Lives... or do YOU?

hey all! Post #50! (well... 49.... one post never quite saw the light of day)

And yes, I'm alive, though you'd not know it from this blog. For those following along, my travel lockdown is nearly done! I've obtained the keys from the lawyers of Microsoft, and I'm ready to fight the final instance boss - the Archduke USCIS. If all goes well, I'll be in Vancouver by Friday, and by Monday I'll be back in the US on a newly-activated H-1B visa.

But I digress. On to my point.

An interesting article today on another blog, about the destructive soul-sucking nature of World of Warcraft. And why we still play.... often.... for hours.... DAYS... at a time.

... and already a follow-on (Slashdot makes you popular enough that you get to do followons).

This article interests me for a few reasons reasons. First, it highlights the destructively addictive nature of WoW, while highlighting the escape of one soul. It acknowledges the role of the player in the sad consequences. Finally, it brings up some interesting design questions in gameplay in general - one must ask about the things he describes in WoW, and wonder if those are the right ways to do things.

I won't rant, you can draw your own conclusions. Give it a read.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

Yes. I went.

Imagine every concept of every B movie you've ever seen rolled into one. Marginal plot. Completely flat and undeveloped characters. Every single action and reaction easily predictable from the first scene onwards. An utterly standard ending. Ridiculous dialogue delivered in complete seriousness.

Now, imagine that movie, with the protagonist as Samuel Jackson, and the antagonist being a few hundred enraged snakes going on a killing rampage on a plane.

They don't deliver a single punchline, but you'll come out of there doubled over with laughter.

Best. Movie. Ever. It's so bad it's good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Software Amusement

For you software types, a new site has been added to my daily reading.

Once a day, they post a real-life story from an employee of some software firm or another, describing incompetence and embarassing mistakes witnessed by that employee. It's truly horrifying some of the stories they tell. After reading a few of these, you may find yourself less surprized the next time your app crashed.

Now if only they weren't anonymous - I'd love to see some of these companies publically shamed.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mike the Environmentalist!

This week, I've been trying something new. Novel. Dangerous even. A new paradigm in the history of mankind.

I took the bus to work.

"What's this madness?" you say? "Don't you have a sexy coupe that you got specifically so that you'd never have to rely on a bus again?"

Well yeah. But I thought I'd try it anyways. Consider
  • Incremental cost to drive to work: $1.60 in gas. While others (namely my family) would assert, "OH plus insurance, maintenance, etc. etc.", lets face it, I need a car anyways, so the ADDITIONAL cost to work is mostly in gas.
  • Incremental cost to take the bus: $0.00. Microsoft provides every one of it's full-time employees a free transit pass, good for a year.
  • Time lost on bus: from -5 to +15 minutes over driving each way. Worst case: $20 worth of time a day (far less if there's even a hint of traffic). But on the other hand, that is time that can be used reading tech magazines and other productive pasttimes, as opposed to driving where the vast majority of time is committed to the driving act itself.
  • The bus departs from my doorstep, and drops me off mere moments from work, taking a more or less direct route between the two. The bus runs every half-hour.
  • No worries about driving on the rather common days where some group or another is providing free beer.
So yeah. I'm going to take the bus more often. At least a couple of times a week. I'll still have plenty of opportunity to burn fossil fuels like a good American, don't you worry.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I'm published!

It's official. Despite some 'attendance issues', with some of the conferences, I was included in the proceedings of all three conferences to which I was accepted. That means I now have a publication history (as first author on all three), and am now part of the social elite of the academic research world.

Well not really - nobody in their right mind would cite my work. But hey, a group of academics accepted them, so they must have been worth something.

I'm not putting these papers online, in deference to IEEE's right to sell the conference proceedings. I have no idea if I have the legal right to put them online or not, but why cut IEEE out of potential business? If you want to read these, but do not have access to IEEE's Digital Library through your local institution, I can get you a copy to read.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Portable Aircon

"What? But why would you want an aircon in Seattle? Isn't it cool and rainy all the time?"

Well no. Sometimes cool and rainy, often sunny, and for a short time in summer, very warm. Whether or not AC is worth buying for that short period is something one could argue... but only when it's cool. When it's 97'F and you want to sleep, I shall be snug in my chilled bedroom, and you will suffer, and I will laugh, and you will cry.

As a compromise, I bought a "portable AC". Unlike the wall-mount or in-window units these just roll around on wheels, much like R2D2. You hook a vent hose to your nearest window, and tada, instant cooling. The downside is, of course, that it takes floorspace, and tend to be less efficient (the guy at sears said 50%, but I have trouble believing it's that much).

Back around the time of our last heat wave (after it cooled down), I bought a 9000BTU Royal Soverign portable for a cool $500. from Sears. And sure enough, plug it in, run the hose, and tada, cold air comes out. But there's a catch: it's loud like a freakin' jet engine! This thing is NOT pleasant to have running while you sleep. Plus, they are not exaggerating at all when they tell you the size of room they can chill - if you plan to chill a full apartment with this single room AC, think again. I can get my bedroom cool over time, but the thing won't make so much as a dent on my living room.

But on the plus side, it has a remote, and, my primary concern, it makes things cold. The main concerns.

A friend waited until now before buying one. They're nearly impossible to find now, but my friend lucked out and grabbed an Everstar 10,000BTU portable at Home Depot. It's a bit larger in size, but it cools amazingly - far more than you'd guess from a 1000BTU difference. Plus, it has a removable condenser tray and a few more modes. But on the other hand, the remote is rather finicky. The biggest bonus though: it's QUIET! Far quieter than mine. I'm now officially jealous.

... but at least I'm still cool.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rikki Rikki

I love good food. Sadly, I find myself able to eat less and less of it, but that just means I must work extra hard to find those top bites.

But, even more than I appreciate fine meals, I appreciate service. Where I do business may not be the best quality place, or even the cheapest place. I will do business at the place that treats me respectfully. This applies to everything from my financial institutions to my web provider*, and more than anything, to food.

(* BTW, 1 and 1, if you were wondering, and yes, they get the seal of approval)

So, today, I'd like to recommend you all have one meal at Rikki Rikki, on Central Way in Kirkland, a sushi place I frequent due to it being literally on my doorstep. I really appreciated the fact tonight that the matron of the establishment greeted me warmly and recognized me right away. That, despite the fact that I was entering as the sushi chefs were cleaning up, that they were eager to serve me whatever I wanted, for however long I wanted to eat. That they brightened a long day by feeding me excellent sushi and a chilled glass of top quality Mu sake (nice brand, quite sweet to my inexperienced palate). That they made pleasant smalltalk and were friendly instead of rushing me out the door.

... and a waitress that could have been a stunt double for Lucy Liu. Wow, if all my food was served by waitresses as cute as that, I'd probably be a very fat man by now.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A real visa, all for me!

Just a quick note - I've been accepted for this year's H1B quota! As of October 1st, I'll have three years in the US, or until Microsoft realizes I'm lazy and inept and tosses me out*. Should I decide that the USA is just a place to visit, I can renew it once (giving me six years total). However, the whole point of this visa is that, should I desire it, I'll be allowed to begin the process of obtaining a green card here in the United States.

Of course the green card is a long, complicated, drawn-out, painful process, with many of its own pains. And potentially more periods of travel lockdown. Great. And it's not even all that good - it's one of those "use it or lose it" things.

... and don't even get me started on citizenship. I already have plenty of rants on that.

What this means:
1. I will definitely be off travel lockdown on October 1st.
2. Since it's a port-of-entry application, I will HAVE to travel sometime between October and December.

So start planning the party, folks! Mikey's coming to town!

(* I'm not actually inept. I actually do many good things for Microsoft. Both in my own work and my almost constant scathing criticism of the work of others. But I mean well.

... please don't fire me. )

Sunday, May 21, 2006

In Flames!

In a distinct change of style, I shall present myself today in a random scattered assortment of facts. Nobody seems to like my factual tech-heavy style, so I present you with storytime goodness.

Yes, last Thursday, myself and my best friend said a hearty "Screw it all!" to any sense and reason, and after a commute down from Vancouver to Seattle, myself and him motored all the way to Spokane for the Washington date for the In Flames concert, opened by American metal act Nevermore, and Sweedish sensation Evergrey..

Now Spokane isn't just a quick hop out of Seattle, like Renton is to Kirkland, or even Squamish is to Vancouver. It's 280 miles of pure high-speed motoring. Streets and Trips predicts 4h10m. Of course, what Streets and Trips doesn't tell you, is how unpleasant the interior of the state can be in 34 degree C weather can be.

Interesting factoid: my Scion tC can reach speeds of 200kph in a straight line on a highway. With standard unleaded gasoline. Not that I tried of course, that would be illegal. Of course. Moving right along.

It's wierd - we expect Spokane has some sort of noise laws. By the time we were in the bar (maybe 7:20pm), we had already MISSED Evergrey. I can't believe this! FOUR HOURS IN THE CAR, AND EVERGREY ONLY PLAYS FIVE SONGS, ALL BEFORE I ARRIVED! Such a horrific turn of events won't be soon forgotten. Nevermore (a passable act if one enjoys the American style metal) plays a similarly short set. Following up is some unknown, a band called Throwdown out of California. Nothing to get excited about. In Flames make it in around 9:30pm, about the time most doors are opening for real concerts. Except for some mixing issues, an amazing show, covering many tunes I like. Some off the new Come Clarity. Some old ones. Cloud Connected, one of my favourites. But, by 10:30pm, zero encores later, it's all over.

WTF? Four hours driving, and we're done by 10:30pm? What sort of crap is this? So, debating whether it's worth heading home or not, we wander Spokane. We find a bar called "Jamie'z" or something like that. Amazing. Wood everything, with a massive bar, and an impressive array of beers on tap (not just local, which is strange for an American bar, I find). Many pints, and some whiskey later, we're pleasantly pleased at our situation. If anyone is passing through Spokane, stop for a pint.

A greet out to the young lady we met, a "world travelling" "lawyer" we ran into at the bar, who pilfered our chicken wings, and served as great amusement for a short while as she discussed her exploits of "manhandling random French people" who gave her flak for being American. (note, the quotes should indicate how much I believe each element of her story). Way to justify a stereotype. Doubly amusing was her "friends" who literally bolted when she turned her back for a second. A true *LOL* moment, costing us only some wings (incidentally, some of the best damned chicken wings I've ever had! Another vote for Jamie'z!)

Random drunken quote: The white men said "Whoh", and the natives said "whoh"... and then Monahan said "whoh.... I'm dead!"

We made it home the next day, despite traffic, and a short excursion to Arby's (mmmm beef) in under 4 hours, including Seattle traffic.

Spokane is a cool place - despite expectations, it is indeed a bona fide city, skyscrapers, panhandlers, and traffic. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Denver. It's worth a visit if you're ever feel the need to head towards Idaho.

Likewise, In Flames is worth seeing. They, as expected, are loud, crunchy, and heavy beyond imagination.

The new Evergrey CD, Monday Morning Apocalypse, very very good. True to the best elements of their style, while not going off on too many religious folktale sidetracks like the Inner Circle. One day, I'll hear them play live.

The point of this post: Metal and booze with good friends makes for good times. That's pretty much it.

Carry on.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Want to Hack?

This is, without a doubt, the coolest thing I've seen in a long time.

Here, you get to try your "hacking" skills. It's not traditional network intrusion, so you have no issue with overloading networks or doing anything illegal. The objective is to complete levels - starting at level 1, each page asks you for a password to get to the next page. Your objective? Discover the password, or skip the password and just discover the URL of the next page directly.

The first level is easy. It gets harder after that, requiring you to have knowledge, an eye for details, and the ability to use tools. Of course, don't think the same tricks will save you every time, or you'll find yourself good and duped.

Give it a try! I cleared the first four levels pretty quick - L5 will take some time, so it can wait for the weekend.

Quiet you, I have plenty of life!

Citizenship Redux

Okay, I've been actually getting a few messages/emails/comments about this lately, so perhaps it's time for a new topic.

One of my earlier posts commented on the difficulty of a Canadian like myself obtaining dual US-Canadian citizenship. Since then, many have tried to tell me "No Mike, you absolutely can obtain dual citizenship." And thus refer me to some website or another, or relate tales of some friend or another.

There is the rare reference that at least implies that US naturalization into dual citizenship is perfectly valid. For example, straight from a .gov, "A U.S. citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth". Encouraging. Another link, with some interesting references and details.

The law itself say practically nothing on the subject, leaving it to case law, USCIS rules and memos, and in the end, the whim of those who may oppose you. The primary factor that makes these things different are "renunciation oaths", requiring you to pledge to give up your previous citizenships. Canada used to have such an oath, but it was made illegal in 1973 by the courts and removed. The US renunciation oath remains. However, an mportant point - most countries in modern times, including the US and Canada, simply ignore foreign oaths of this sort. Basically, this means, from a country's perspective, they don't lose you as a citizen, regardless of what you said, until you march into an embasy office and tell the government directly (and probably fill in a million forms).

However, I found this link to be the most telling resource, citing cases and giving many many FAQs, including one or two with details on this specific case. Here is what I found to be the most telling quote:
"Finally, some people who become US citizens hope to take advantage of the fact that the US didn't make them actually go to their old country's consulate and get their citizenship revoked (all they were required to do was make a renunciatory statement as part of the US naturalization oath) -- and so they continue to exercise rights of citizenship in the old country as though nothing had happened. The US State Department used to take a dim view of such behavior if they found out about it, and people acting in this way were known to lose their US citizenship on the grounds that their pledge to renounce their prior status had evidently not been made in good faith. Now, though, the State Department almost never pursues such cases."

So, in the end, we're right back where I said we were when I wrote my first post on the subject (see? I'm not TOTALLY stupid) - it's against the oath, but not any explicit law. However, wee now know that such oaths carry little weight in practice, and that after 1990, the US has done very little to enforce them.

Of course, this still does not answer the question: if I could have it, would I really want it?


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Looking for a new toy...

Sorry, I know I've not posted anything here for absolute ages. And the stuff I am posting is hella boring. But that's okay. I'll try to get something a little more relevant on here at some point. I promise something worth reading soon.

In the meantime, I'm looking to replace the Grey Blob of Dropped Calls and the Brick of Frequent Data Loss with a combined PDA/cellphone. The one that's currently on the shortlist is the HP iPaq 6315, which pretty much every review seems to indicate is an ideal device, and with the perfect set of features. However, anyone who knows how many ipaqs I've gone through probably understands full well why I don't have great trust in them anymore.

In any case, any opinions welcome. Here are my requirements (any device under consideration must have them all):
  • Must be a GSM/GPRS cellphone (for you silly North Americans who think the cell phone networks are the only ones who can sell phones, this means Rogers or Fido in Canada, or Cingular or T-Mobile in the US). You can see my rants about carriers and cell technologies here.
  • Must have bluetooth and support audio profiles so I can get a headset.
  • Must be a touchscreen with a stylus (no "Smartphones" without this, thx).
  • SD slot for music/maps storage.
  • Pocket PC compatible - should be able to run Pocket Streets and Trips.
  • Very good reliability, both as a PDA and as a cellphone

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Aprtment Pics Up

Finally, after much delay, here are the apartment pictures I've promised everybody. They've been a long-time coming.

As you can see, my apartment is pretty sweet for a one-bedroom.

The disappointment of the day is my Canon PowerShot A610. This is the best of many many shots - it was bloody hard to get halfway decent shots of anything indoors. Eventually I found "indoor" scene automatic mode, which helped a bit. A few shots with manual mode were fun for novelty, but will take practice to do well. The above album is a mix of several types of shot.

Still, I'm getting better with this camera pretty quick, so I look forward to experimenting more when I get time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Welcome to Kirkland

Almost as if by fate, the day after I got my camera was, much like the first day I went picture taking, absolutely gorgeous. Blue sky, and actually passably warm! So, not to be discouraged by the last trip, my new camera in hand, I went out to do a tour of Kirkland. Here are the results.

Just as a quick note, this is my first day with my camera, and also with the software that comes with it, so the quality may not be great. They are all auto-landscape, except a few where I did manual white-balance (the camera forgets your white balance setting when you power off, which is annoying when doing a series like this one). I've also done a lot of cropping, downsizing, compressing and downsampling on these pictures. I will post my best full-quality pictures later on.

Kirkland is an awesome town. It's a stone's throw from I-405, and maybe 10 minutes from SR-520, which will lead to the floating bridge to Seattle downtown. 10 minutes to downtown Redmond. 20 to work. Everything is a close walk - groceries, dozens of restaurants of all flavours of cuisine, a tranquil waterfront, a few bars, and even a wine bar! It seems like a friendly town too - a wide variety from well-off family men to kids fresh out of school sharing an apartment, and all happy to make your acquaintance. And I'm told it'll be very lively during the summer.

Coming up, apartment pics. Once I actually clean up a bit.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Camera Decision: Canon PowerShot A610

After a great deal of thought, I have decided on the Canon PowerShot A610. An interesting camera to be certain. Received a favourable review at Imaging resource and a highly recommended rating from Digital Photography's review of the 610's 7mpix cousin the A620. Of course it didn't hurt that Circuit City was having a sale on the beast for an amazing price of $220.

Here are the core stats/features.
  • 5mpix
  • 4x optical zoom
  • SD card slot
  • 4xAA powered
  • Hinged 2" LCD
  • 640x480x30fps unlimited length movie mode w/audio
  • Zillions of manual modes - shutter speed as low as 15s.
  • 1cm macro
  • Can attach lenses (with optional adapter), external flash
  • Fast - 1.4s power-on, 1.09s shot-to-shot (5s flash cycle time, which is apparently decent!)
  • Great image quality from all reviews I've read.

"But Mike, it's so BIG!"

Ladies, I really do wish I heard that from you more! But in my defence, it is at least a bit smaller than my previous camera. Barely. But more to the point, the alternative was the SD450, and I'm sorry, those get almost TOO small to comfortably shoot photos with.

But yeah, the combination of great features and a cheap deal really sold me.

Did I look at other cameras? Why yes, I did! Not in huge detail though. The Canon PowerShot SD450 is of course widely acclaimed for being a great camera at a tiny size, but has somewhat weaker image quality (including a nasty issue with purple fringing), and is generally higher priced. The Sony CyberShot DSC-W5 (and 7mpix cousin W7) were fast, a bit cheaper (minus the CC sale), and a bit smaller, but didn't stack up for image quality - and Memory Stick for teh l0se! A camera shop recommended the Nikon CoolPix P2, which they had on a clearout sale for $200. Apparently an okay camera, just slightly bigger than the Canon SD's (almost the perfect size)... but no optical viewfinder! No go!

Once I get hold of this bad boy, I'll finally get apartment pictures, as well as Kirkland pictures, and give you guys a tour of my new home.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

House/town pictur.... AUUUUUUUGH!

So yeah, I got another dump of Ikea furniture today. Spent the morning assembling. Looked outside, beautiful day. Blue sky, thin wisps of clouds, and just barely warm enough for a t-shirt. So I though - what a good day to go give you blog readers a walking tour of my awesome town, all while seeking lunch food. I could then go back, clean up, and show you the apartment.

I head out, take a half-dozen pictures. Crunch-crunch-crunch-beep. Hummmm? Lets try turning it off, see if that helps. Crunch-crunch-crunch-beep-BEEP! Lens still out. Camera off. Cautious shake: rattle rattle.


Lens actuator is teh fuxxored - no zoom, no focus. Basically, unless I can repair it myself, the camera is dead weight.

So, I need a new camera. Here is my official CFP (call for proposals) specs. This is a wishlist obviously, but the more points you can satisfy, the better.

  • Under $500 US. Preferably far under.
  • At least 2.4 MPixel. Preferably 3. Even 4 if it's cheap. 6 may be overkill, but of course more is always better.
  • At least 3x optical zoom.
  • Modes: timed ("bulb") exposure, timer shots, basic white-balance and light-type filtering. Flash control. Night shots.
  • Medium size (but smaller is better). Does not need to fit in my pocket, but it should be small enough to ride comfortably on my hip.
  • Should fit standard tripods.
  • Uses SD for storage, and includes a USB interface to the camera to access it.
  • Stores images as JPEGs. No bullshit internal formats I'll have to use their proprietary crappy software to convert.
  • Removable rechargable battery with good capacity, and something that'll hold it's charge over a decent length of time (NiMH or Li+??)
  • Focusing should be perfect - if I see anything even a little blurry at my focal length, it's not good enough. A macro mode (special close-up focusing) is always nice, but not critical.
  • Marginal speckling in low-light. I should be able to take an indoor shot with a flash and not have to worry about despeckling my image.

So, if you have some good ideas, post a comment. MS people - if you know of an internal EPP for your suggested camera, mention it exists, but please don't post details about the EPP offer in the comment.

Back to furniture assembly.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Rogers Wireless is great!

I figured today, having officially given my 30 days notice of cancellation, would be a good day to review my time with Rogers Wireless.

I love them. Adore them. If Rogers was a donkey... ummm... lets leave that one.

I love them doubly, because they're not Bell Mobility. I hate Bell Mobility. They made things difficult at every turn. Every phone I ever got from them had serious design defects that made them so bad as to be unusuable. They kept locking me into contracts. Even when I *wasn't* locked into a contract, they tried to penalize me as if I was, and made me jump through hoops to revert the charges. Their billing system was entirely broken for six full months - bills being delayed up to 3 months from issue date (and wasn't all that great even when it did work). When I tried to quit, I got hassled. When I called for questions, I always had to wait ages on hold. My refund took months. Finally, their coverage and prices.... you'd think they'd be cheaper for sucking, but no, they're pricey and have only average coverage.

Conclusion 1: Bell Mobility BAD.

Now Rogers Wireless, totally different. From the get-go, the experience was totally different. Got a phone which was decent for a good price, and they gave plenty of contract length options vs. phone price. Phone isn't perfect, but it works pretty well (and wow has it survived a lot of abuse!). I called up about my first bill, rather confused that I had paid less than my friend Jae. "Oh, there was a special promotion on, so we gave you a discount. Didn't your friend get it? Oh, put him on!" Bing! Jae's got the same deal. Marginal time on hold. Changing address, equally painless. I never had a billing problem with them. When I most recently quit, they helped me find the cheapest option, and they have a $20/mo contract breaking option, which while not as cheap as a Bell suspension option, was very convenient and fair. The lady understood and did not give me any attitude. And, after all this, their plans were cheaper and better than Bell's. I've never had a serious coverage issue with my phone, but as a quad-mode phone, I wouldn't expect to.

Conclusion 2: Rogers Wireless GOOD!

Now, those who know Rogers would expect different. After all, anyone who's ever dealt with Rogers Cable or Rogers High Speed knows just how terribly Rogers can treat their customers. But hey, I guess that's what happens when your corporate branches are sufficiently isolated. And to be fair, all branches of Bell equally shaft their customers. What a crappy corporation Bell is.

Of course, there's another key difference: Bell is CDMA, and Rogers is moving to exclusively GSM. This makes a difference - CDMA WILL DIE in the long run, and only survives since major US companies have a stake in CDMA technology. GSM works worldwide. Plus, GSM SIM cards are great -pop in a new one, and you're on a new network! This had me up and running with Cingular in theUS in about 5 minutes, and I can make my phone a Rogers phone again simply by switching the old SIM card back in. Note, you'll have to bypass the SIM lock on your phone, see my previous post on this subject.

If you're in Canada, Get Rogers. Or at least don't get Bell. That is all.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Review: 2006 Scion tC

It's been a long time coming, but I think it's finally time I talked about my new car.

First off, it's a 2006 Scion tC in Natuical Blue - a 2DR hatchback. Base model, except for the small lip spoiler on the back.
See pictures of my car!

Cost: $18070, including the lip spoiler and handling fees. Add to that a ton of extended warranty and service contracts. Finance through Toyota Finance over five years, using their speciality "New Grad" deal: 6.5%. Long story short, $417.47 a month for five years. Which may sound like a lot, but believe me, for a new car (and NO credit in the US), it's quite a reasonable number considering that every conceivable expense on the car except gas is covered.

I've given the car a good work in, I think (about 700 miles - I bought it at 16). So, lets talk.

One of the key upsides of this car: getting it is painless. Their "mono-spec" concept means that there's no wierd acronyms referring to 100 different option sets - there is just ONE tC - and things like power windows/locks, keyless, cruise, moonroof, etc. are all base. Scion also has a solid list of additional options that are normally aftermarket - larger rims, ground effects, interior lightkits, lip or wing spoilers, and tons of others - and you can choose them piecemeal. With the exception of the side airbags, all of these options can be dealer-installed. This holds in the future too - if you come back a year later and say "I wish I'd gotten the ricer wing spoiler and skirts", then you just go back to the dealer, and they'll do it at the exact same price as it would have cost if you'd bought it that way.

The "pure-price" concept prevents negotiation, both on the price, and on the options. While this means the dealer could artifically set their prices high, most dealers interpret this as meaning they must stick with MSRP, which in this fairly well-off region, isn't a bad thing. They literally printed off my final sales price off the car builder.

I, personally, bought mine at Michael's Toyota, from "JJ" John Jorgenson. I was pleased with the experience, so if you're looking for a Scion, give them a try.

Now, the good points about the car.
  • Price can't be beat. At under $17k USD, you have a value proposition over all the other comparable cars in its class ($20k+). Furthermore, the base specs are like a fully-loaded version of the other cars.
  • Looks awesome, especially in the blue. Sure, you may not quite get looks as if you were in an MR2, but at the same time, you're not going to look like every other Corolla (okay, more like every SUV around here) on the road. The rims are sweet, and they're not even the upgrades.
  • Peppy. 160HP at just under 3000lb. (note: not a word, Irishman!). This is roughly comparable to the other cars in its class that I drove, and it feels like it accelerates far better than any of them. It's the perfect balance for someone for whom a Civic won't be anywhere near enough, but isn't quite ready to go for the more powerful acceleration of a V6. It'll handily handle any non-racing situation you find yourself in, including the hillcliming standard all over North Vancouver.
  • Amazingly roomy. The front is spacious, and the back is very spacious for this class of car. I'll have no problem taking passengers. While the trunk is a little small, both back seats fold down (2/3 - 1/3), to give you extra room.
  • MP3 player stock, with a line in (and power) under the driver armrest for connecting MP3 players. With an optional upgrade, it'll actually connect to an ipod or other player such that you can actually use the wheel controls to control it. The digital sound processing abilities allow you to choose three modes: neutral (ie. flat), hear (boost lows, highs), feel (enhanced bass) to tweak how you want to listen to your music.
  • Climate control is great. Windows (including blowers for the side windows) defog almost instantly when you tell them to.
  • It's a Toyota. So Toyota service, Toyota warranty, and the legendary ability for Toyotas to hold their value over time.

I must mention, this car isn't perfect. These are mostly minor points, but they subtract from it being a perfect car.
  • Fuel economy is average for its class, but by no means impressive. It's meant to be 22/29 MPG. My last tank (commuting, and a bit of highway driving) was 21.5. Meh - if I wanted economy, I'd get a Civic hybrid - but the engine on them is just too weak even for me.
  • It's a stiff ride. While that can be fun, combined with the thin tires, you feel everything on the road. Driving to Vancouver was genuinely unpleasant in some places as you bounce and shake. An interesting observation by Matt though: it's not just the car - lots of the highways around here really suck! I'd have to agree - once across the border to Canada, it was smooth sailing.
  • It doesn't maneuver as well as I thought it would at parking speeds. While I can take an on-ramp loop at ridiculous speed without so much as blinking, I can't park the damned thing for the life of me. Again, partially Seattle's fault - most of their parking is designed for midgets on bicycles. Don't expect it to slip into tiny spots like an Echo.
  • The car is a bit TOO helpful, to the point of nagging. For example, if you don't wear your seatbelt and accelerate, it starts beeping. If you still don't put it on, it beeps faster. For those 30-second "I need to move the car across the street" kinda use, it's annoying as hell. The lights aren't automatic (doesn't even seem to be daytime running lights). They'll also turn themselves off if the engine is off and door is open. This is good, since you can never leave your lights on, but I don't trust any system I can't override.
  • No rear wiper. With the angle of the hatch, it'd be nice to have. Especially in Seattle.
  • Keyless entry doesn't honk - makes it harder to find your car.
And finally, the general observations. Not good, not bad. Just comments.
  • The worst issue most people complain about is rattle. While I've gotten some rattle for a bit after I shut the hatch a bit too aggressively, I've yet to hit any persistent rattle issues.
  • People also complain about blind spots. It's true, the driver's side spot is a bit obscured, but really, it teaches you to use your mirrors properly! If you've checked your left wing mirror, there's only a small area it could hide in, and if it's there, no post is going to hide the fact that there's a car right beside you.
  • The stereo has great specs, but when starting it up, it sounded... well... muffled. Downright disappointing in fact. I'd call this a bug. One of the service coordinators at Scion showed me a trick to fix it. The sound processing is tuned for each model of car, presumably to direct certain frequencies and power towards speakers that can best make use of them. However, since it'd be expensive to make three models of stereo, it's an option you can change! Hold down the SSP button until it beeps, use the volume knob to change the mode to xA (the Scion version of the Matrix) for a far clearer sound, or xB (the ugly-ass "box") for a richer sound. I've been using xB's feel mode - while I wonder if I'm getting the most out of my system by tuning to a sound mode for a car so different from mine, the tC mode is just too sucky to use.

Well, there you have it. Overall, I give the car a 9 on the Mike's money well spent scale. It's not quite perfect, but out of everything I've considered, it certainly was the best choice for me by a fair margin.

Oh yeah, and you can get, from the DEALER (at least in theory), a supercharger that will boost the HP by 40 for about $3500. That would be just nutsy cool, but it's only available in stick. Having said that, if I start talking about a stick shift in that performance range, there's other options worth considering more.
I did briefly consider the Civic Si even for this purchase, but it's hard to find a dealer that actually has one, and a car doesn't even hit my radar until I've been behind the wheel of it. Plus I'm fairly anti-Civic - it comes from the mental association with my high school full of HKers with rice rockets, rather than any real objection to the brand.

Right, enough rambling. Still up, an MS blog and a house blog. The latter will have to wait until I clean up enough for pictures.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Poor Harper

You know, I may not like Harper, his party, his politics, or his views on many subjects.

But damn, I just gotta feel bad for the guy, when he has complete buffoons like this one trying to associate themselves with his politics.

That article was an important reality check for me: Harper isn't that bad. In the end, no matter how much I may gripe, even the worst Canadian conservative is far better than what we'd have if a US conservative ever got their way.

So, Stephen, thanks for not sucking as bad as American conservatives.

Follow-up: Hum, he's also apparently an avid hockey fan. +1 point. Ding!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Election post-mortem

A fitting title. We have a conservative minority. A weak one, but conservative nonetheless.

Sadly, this is the best we could have hoped for, but it still sucks pretty badly, and I'll explain why in a second. Here are the numbers, out of 308 seats.


This is pretty good. The Bloc lose seats, which is a feat in of itself that few would have guessed - the prevalent theory is that Duceppe was busy fighting the Liberals, and was late in realizing and reacting to the fact that the Conservatives actually were getting Quebec support for the first time. Also the +10 NDP seats is HUGE! With 19 seats in 2004, they were a major player in parliament, so more seats can't be anything but good.

But the downside: while the Liberal minority could survive with NDP and Independent support (if only to maintain government), now the NDP can't successfully defend either the Liberals or the Conservatives. In fact, the only way to be successful on any motion is with Bloc support. Basically, we've now got what should be physically impossible any other way: a SEPARATIST GOVERNMENT! Of course the Liberals and Conservatives could co-operate, but anyone who's even passingly observed the Conservatives knows they'll cooperate about as well as Americans cooperate in the international scene (ironically, America won't have problem finding a Yes man from now on).

So basically, you have a government that'll be financially provincialist, and socially as religious right as a George W. Bush wet dream. Joy.
[[ ed. note: is Bush even allowed to have wet dreams? or is that immoral? ]]

A couple of interesting battles. Landslide Anne has lost her riding of Edmonton Centre to the Conservative contender, fittingly, by a margin of 3500 votes (okay, more funny than significant). Parkdale-High-Park (PHP) was lost by Liberal Sam Bulte to the NDP contender. This is significant considering that Sam Bulte was essentially a bought and paid for lackey of the Canadian Recording Industry Association (== EVIL). She was a rather whiney loser too, good riddance! Two of three Kitchener-Waterloo ridings went Liberal. In particular, Waterloo voted for Liberal incumbant Andrew Telegdi by a huge margin, likely since he's a major veteran with a strong record, while the Conservative candidate was new, and the NDP candidate wasn't that strong. The one Kitchener riding that went blue was by a fairly slim margin.

And for all of you voters who think that voting for the Conservatives punished the Liberals: thanks! Congrats, you punished Martin, so badly that he's giving up leadership. I'll get to think about my punishment while serving my drafted tour of duty in <american-unfriendly-arab-nation-x>.

Okay, I'll lay off the hyperbole. Enjoy your GST rebate!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

May these gates never be closed

Sorry for the lack of interesting posts lately. I've been quite busy setting up for work, and none of my upcoming posts are quite ready yet. In the near future, I'll have posts on the Scion tC, my new Kirkland apartment, and starting at Microsoft.

But until then, you'll have to make do with the answer to a frequently asked question:
How long does it take to get to Vancouver?

Short answer: 3 hours.

I made my first trip to Canada since arriving here, driving up to Vancouver to go catch a Nickelback concert with Dan at GM Place. Of course, getting distracted by work, I left at 4:45pm from Microsoft.

This should already raise flags with some people.

Traffic bubbles. Around the Seattle area at any major residental exit. Around Everett. Around a few places I don't even know what they are. Even around Vancouver, there's the crowd heading in for Friday night recreation in Richmond and Vancouver. At each location, the traffic can slow to a fraction of the speed limit.

Regardless, I made it from my office to the downtown core in about three hours. This includes a measely 10 minute wait at the Peace Arch border crossing. The Canadians are fairly nice about these things. The traffic slowed things down a bit, but as for how much difference it would make, I'm unsure.

Coming back was bad. While traffic was moving at a good clip all the way back, I had an hour's wait at the Peace Arch. Possibly because the American border guards are not that bright. Okay, I'm just bitter that they referred me to immigration. To their credit, the guy in immigration admitted that the guy at the booth was an idiot and apologised for the inconvenience. I was returning from Dan's house in Pitt Meadows, which is actually quite a fair bit of additional travel (plus stupid drunks all along that stretch of Hwy 1). Total miles: 163.1, time > 4hrs.

Those who have been estimating two hours are definitely considering an optimized time/location scenario, and even then, it would require a rather dismissive attitude towards local traffic laws. That being said, with a little forethought and flexibility on departure time, 2.5hrs would not be unreasonable at all. In Canada, the speed limits are largely ignored. In the US, pretty much everyone drives consistently between -5 and +10mph.

The drive's a bit rough. My tires are not meant for smooth riding over less-maintained sections of the I-5. Still, highway all the way is nice. And the Canadian sections are very well-maintained indeed.

And of course Canadian gas.
Gas Price (Pitt Meadows): $0.926/L
Gas Price (Blane, overpriced): USD2.499/ * 1G/3.785L * $1.153/USD = $0.76/L
(btw: I can get gas at about USD2.10/ around here)

Addendum: Mike to work (parking spot to parking spot): 6.2 miles, 15 minutes, no traffic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

English Leader Debate 2

As promised, my completely biased uninformed coverage of the second English leader's debate, held in Montreal, to follow up my posting on the first leader debate. Now some of you may wonder "How on Earth did Mike watch the debate from the US?" Well by miracle of modern technology, I watched it on the Internet. Sadly, with Realplayer (*shudders at evil bloatware technology*), but for those that are interested, here's the debate link from

The format changed this time: while last time the format was very rigid with recorded questions, this time it was much more freeform with the moderator posing questions. They also gave them a few more opportunities for followups and responses, which made things interesting. There was lots of duelling between the candidates, making for some revelations.

Of course, scandal was still heavy on everyone's minds, with regular references to the sponsorship and more recent scandals. Martin was of course harassed over the sponsorship scandal, and for not asking Gooddale to resign pending the income trust investigation. Martin shot back quoting his action with the Gomery commission, and basically said that Gooddale didn't have to resign because in the end the RCMP wouldn't investigate him due to lack of evidence of any wrongdoing! Mentions of limiting campaign contributions came up, which quickly backfired because Harper said he'd made public all of his contributors, but the other three leaders immediately agreed that if he had, they hadn't seen it yet. [ed. note: according to a CBC article, he has released this information in the past, though no mention of recent details]

There was lots of talk about budgeting, in particular, everyone wanted to claim to support low-income people with their tax break. Harper supports corporate tax cuts to keep jobs in the country (so does Martin but he didn't admit as much), but thinks the GST cut is the only way to benefit everybody. Plus he intends to give benefits to transit riders, students, and a few other special groups. Martin's sticking by his own income tax cut package story, which I think is really meant to appeal to the middle class votes despite his arguments. Martin in particular emphasized his desire for a childcare system, though the others criticized him for not doing it yet, after years of promises. Harper's childcare plan (ie. cash to parents) was pretty thoroughly mocked. Duceppe reminded people that Quebec has the best childcare, which everyone seemed to agree with. Duceppe brought up points about money taken out of EI by the Liberals, and generally supported better EI stuff.

Almost a topic of its own right was the fiscal imbalance - getting the money back to the provinces and the municipalities. This is of course Duceppe's favourite topic, becuase it gives more money for the provinces, and he wants the Quebec to maintain a strong hold on the cornerstone money programs of education and health. Others supported various committees and renegotiations already in progress, but generally didn't SAY much.

Of course healthcare was an issue, and Layton was heavily against any for-profit healthcare at all. Harper wanted waittime guarantees that would allow people to go outside Canada on Canadian dollars if the wait was too long. And Martin was all about supporting the current Canada Health Act and preventing any Canadian tax dollars reaching private for-profit institutions. Duceppe turned this into his standard fiscal imbalance complaint - why is there 10,000 federal healthcare workers if healthcare is a provincial matter? Martin thinks there are certain things that benefit from co-operation in healthcare, and that the provinces shouldn't go it all on their own.

While not all that relevant, the national unity section was funny. First question: exactly my observation in my first post - how can Duceppe say we don't need to rediscuss same-sex marriage, while working towards a third referendum? He made the distinction between collective rights and individual rights to justify this. Also, he said if we should all join up, why not all join the US as well? The response: because we have different values than the US, but we (and Martin got pretty snippy about this) share values with Quebec, and Quebec helped build Canada. And a good followup: if we can split Canada, can we split Quebec too? Of course not, says Duceppe, Quebec came in as a nation, and leave as a nation. Heh, separatists make funny arguments. Martin argued very passionately here as he always does.

There were other topics, that I really didn't touch on. Agriculture I ignored. I don't care about farmers. Well.... I CARE, but I'll leave the farmers to consider those options.

Some interesting quickies: Harper's view of the constitution came into play a few times, particularly around the notwithstanding clause. Harper supports the current balance between a US constitutional system, and a British parliamentary supremacy; here rights become a dialgoue between the courts and parliament. (An interesting side note, he'd amend the constitution to enshrine property rights). Martin made a rather bold statement: he would remove the federal notwithstanding clause from the constitution! This is huge - basically, this would be a move towards a more US-like system, where nothing short of amending the constitution (which is hard) could get around the rights guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But then again, removing the notwithstanding clause is of itself the same hard problem. Layton was particularly disappointing here, entirely avoiding these sequences of questions.

Electoral reform came up once too. All three leaders said "Hum commission... yeah... um... studies... soon yeah...." except Layton who of course has proportional representation as part of his platform.

Crime was a biggie at the start. Most of the parties are big on increasing minimum sentencing, even though one leader (forget whom) observed that police officers don't think it'll help. Harper is big on the harsh sentencing, Layton is big on addressing the underlying (poverty?) issues, though surprizingly also supports increased minimums too. Martin wants to BAN all handguns, which is a rather controversial plan. There was brief mention of the lack of armed border guards and preventing the increased smuggling of guns from the US.

When asked about who the parties would ally with in a minority, nobody gave a straight answer, but of course, Harper insisted to do anything, you had to be in power. However Layton made fun of that pretty good, quoting his own track record the past session with far fewer MPs than the Conservatives, who have done nothing but bitch for years.

Sorry for the rather random hammering of topics. I found in this debate that the little points were the bigger news.

Well, now you're ready. Vote, or shut up and don't whine to me afterwards.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Testdriving Part 2

So, the testdriving continues.

I took a Scion tC out for testdrive. For those that don't know, Scion is essentially a Toyota brand, and sold quasi-independently out of the Toyota dealerships. The Scion brand has a no-haggle policy - the price on the website IS the price you pay - we'll see if that is true in practice though. The tC looks like most of the other sports coupes, almost like an elongated 350Z, or an Eclipse (though nothing quite beats the Eclipse on sporty body style!). I took one out for a testdrive. The first thing I noticed: it's quite peppy for a 4-banger. It drives like a small car, which makes it feel like you're getting a lot out of it. Handles beautifully, but there's only so much you can get out of the busy Bellevue streets. The biggest thing you notice: there's lots of space in the back! Apparently this is at the cost of trunk space - admittedly, I didn't look at that, so I'll have to check that out. Apparently for $6000 extra, you can throw a supercharger on. That'd hella go!

The next day, the long trek down to Renton to drive a Mitsubishi Eclipse GS. A friendly dealer was very eager to sell me - huge MS discounts, which would hopefully counteract some of the $4000 dealer markup over MSRP. The Eclipse is dead sexy. Nothing else I've driven comes close in a body style that'll turn heads faster than Pamela Anderson on a slip-and-slide. However, the drive was disappointing. While perfectly understandable, the back seat was a joke - I would never subject anyone to such cramped conditions. Even the front was quite low, but again, this is what you expect from this sort of car. What I didn't expect - visibility was shite, from all angles. Couldn't see a damned thing outta that car! I was also expecting a car that would really perform. Sure, it drove well for a 4-cylinder, but it was nothing as impressive as I was expecting from a Mitsubishi. The only advantage to driving - it was the only car with techtronic (sp) 4-gear auto. The sound system (an optional upgrade I think, an MP3 deck) was pretty impressive. They unleashed three salesmen on me to try and force an impulse buy. Sorry guys, nice try!

Last on the list, I went to the Renton Honda. Took a Honda Accord EX (4-cylinder) Sedan out, just to get a feel for the non-V6 (no, I don't want a sedan). The Accord is the antithesis of the Eclipse. It's big, very roomy, visible, and drives very smoothly. The power was decent, but of course not the manly thrust of the V6. The Coupe is still kinda sexy, but it's hard to get the ones I want. If I was looking more in the luxary car direction, I'd go with the Honda - it's comforable to ride in, very comfortable to drive. I scared the shit outta the dealer, who had me pegged as a conservative family man, by blaring Godsmack on the hellas sweet 6CD changer. Not sure if it rivalled the Eclipse's deck, but it was close for sure.

Discounting the Eclipse for now, lets get some heads-up play going here. I'm going to custom-build cars for comparison.

2006 Scion tC2006 Accord LX Coupe
Body Style2-door HatchbackCoupe
ColourNautical BlueSapphire Blue Pearl
Transmission4-speed auto5-speed auto
Engine160hp@5700RPM 163lb.ft@4000RPM166HP@5800RPM 160lb.ft@4000RPM
Economy23/30 MPG24/34 MPG
Tires18" alloy wheels w/ wheel locks15" chrome w/ wheel locks
AudioPioneer 6-speaker 160W w/MP3/ipod/aux6-speaker 120W w/MP3(?aux)
Safetyblah: todo: me!sama sama
Warranty36/36000 basic 60/60000 powertrain 60 rust?? 60/60000 most things
Other:Many available. Pure price. I could drop this price way down by dropping some of the silly toy features. Reviews consistently complain about blind spots and rear rattle.Hard to get automatic transmission coupes

The Scion looks like it will win out. I will take one last visit to the dealership, and if I still like it, it becomes mine. Hooray!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Car Shopping

I am here! As of now, I even have Internet. I was never really disconnected; I was borrowing some wireless, but I guess I'm just too honest to rely on that for an entire month.

But now, let's talk cars.

The rental they gave me is called a "Chevy Classic". From what I'm told, this is the equivalent of a Chevy Malibu. What a shitbox. It has a turning radius of approximately Prince Edward Island, accelerates like shite, crappy brakes, bad interior design, etc. etc. Horrible car.

Today I went testdriving. Only really had a chance to testdrive at the Kirkland Honda dealership; Bellevue Acura was a bunch of jerks and wouldn't let me drive w/o my own insurance. I went to the Toyota dealership, and they were much nicer, but I ran out of time before I could testdrive.

In any rate, the first car I tried was the 2006 Civic coupe. With 2006, they have completely revamped the Civic. Very slopey, to look more like a sporty car I presume, or maybe for aerodynamics. The Civic's fuel economy is an insane 30/40 MPG. Inside, it sports a fancy digital dash, and a drool-worthy sound system, even an ipod dock! The downside? It's a light car. And a weak car (apparently Si's are next to impossible to get). So it's very delicate to drive, and damned if it can accelerate to highway speeds in a reasonable time.

Next up, the 2006 Civic Hybrid. Basically, the same Civic, with regenerative braking and acceleration assist for a massive 49/51 MPG. Very stiff (kinda touchy) brakes and it occasionally made some odd noises, but otherwise not that much different than the base Civic. Yeah, the engine turned off at a few stop signs, but meh. The novelty wears off fast. Despite what you'd think tho, there's no lag for the engine to kick in, and the 2006 even electrically-powers the AC and steering so both work as normal if the engine turns off.

Finally, the 2005 Accord V6. Wildly more expensive, but worth every penny. It's a fair bit bigger, but not particularly more roomy inside. Still, a brilliant car. Drives like a big boy's car, with an engine that'll give acceleration you can really feel (the salesman said "You don't want to get a ticket" over a dozen times during my testdrive). I have no complaints of any kind, except the price and the difficulty of getting the lower-end car.

The only Acura that I'd consider is the Acura RSX. More sporty and respectable than the Civic, but I was put off by the jerk of a salesman. And WAY cheaper.

Finally, there was newcomer to the car shortlist, the Scion tC. Basically, take a 350Z and stretch it a bit, you'd know what this car looked like. Very cute, a bit more muscle than the Civics with a tuned variant of the Camry engine. I didn't have time to testdrive it, but it's quite a car compared to its price.

Next on my drivetest list: the Mitsubishi Eclipse. I'm hopeful, but we'll see. A little money for a solid Accord could be indeed worthwhile!

Sunday, January 01, 2006


In approximately 14 hours, an era of my life will end. One started six years ago when I arrived, an eager young student to the University of Waterloo, curious as to the adventures that awaited me. Then, I was travelling far from all that I had known - friends, family, places, memories - to a new land with new opportunities. Now, I find myself doing much the same again, though ironically, after all my many travels, I find myself a mere stone's throw from where I started.

There were a great many memories here. Beers at the watering hole of the week, foosball with friends, learning exciting new things (and more than a few things I could have done without), travel to faraway lands, the comfort of a stable home for a few years, some women so amazing that no words of mine could adequately describe them (and one I smile at the thought of leaving behind), candy berries, nerf weapons, and late-night civ. In the process, I have discovered that true friendship knows nothing of distance, and in fact, being away has shown me who my friends really are. I truly hope that the trend will continue on the next leg of my journey.

Most of the people that matter have since moved on from these towns, or will soon. So I leave behind only memories, a dying engineering school, and a bunch of trashy locals; and the only one of those three I'd miss, I can bring with me. If I am lucky, others will follow me, or at least end up wherever their life leads them, and be happy for it.

So now, I prepare to power down my lappy, and when next you see a post here, it'll be from a new and different place and life. I hope to hear from you all once I'm there. No excuses! Everyone that matters knows how to find me, any time, and place in the world.

[[ Sorry for the sappy post! The next you hear from me, it'll be back to business as usual. Probably a rant; either about Air Canada or the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, depending on which of the two pisses me off more tomorrow. Cheers, and Happy New Year! ]]