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! ]]