Sunday, August 31, 2008

Harper majority? An election heart attack

Let's talk politics. The prospect of a fall election is looming just over the horizon, with the Conservative party having felt out both the NDP and Bloc. On Saturday, I read an article expressing that polls indicate that Stephen Harper may be closer to a majority vote than he is willing to admit. People still seem to view Stephen Harper as a strong, reliable guy and (for admittedly understandable reasons) see Dion as an absent and weak leader. Harper majority? I almost wet myself. So it's time to do my civic duty and bust out my Conservative-beating stick. Even if Especially if you are tentatively leaning towards the Harper side, please, read on!


Conservative foible # 1 : Lying

Okay, I have to fess up... I voted Conservative in the last election. Yes, that big guy in the fancy suit is there (partially) because of me. Let's face it though, plenty of people felt the same way. People were sick of the Liberals, who had become a little too comfortable in the big chair. They were tired of Paul Martin's sneaky outster of Jean Chretien. They were sick of the Sponsorship Scandal. They were sick of the state of Canadian politics. In came Harper, with strong words promising strong action, and the prospect of standing up for what he believed in. He promised to make government more accountable, more functional, and more transparent.

In he came to power, and now we have a government that has clamped down so hard on the message that Conservatives can't make a peep without passing it by Harper, fifty aides, and a hundred or so monkeys with type writers (exaggerated for dramatic effect). But in all seriousness, Harper controls everything in the government message. Furthermore, access to information has been severely curtailed. So much so, that last year the Toronto Star ran an entire series on Harper's "Secret Capital" and the complete lack of transparency of the current government.

And accountability? How about firing an independent safety commissioner for doing her job simply because her view is politically inconvenient, and removing her from the picture just as she is about to testify about her side of things? If nuclear safety is regulated in this manner, then maybe nuclear power should not be the answer to Canada's energy woes.


Conservative foible # 2 : Inverting our national image

A lot of people appreciate Harper because of the strong persona he projects. We feel that with such a strong, adamant guy we will get the credit we deserve as a developed nation, a world power, a big dog. And yet, Harper is often viewed as towing the line of our neighbours to the south - and that administration is certainly not going to be there for long.

One of Harper's major disappointments has been with Kyoto. Not long after taking office, Harper declared Kyoto dead - an accord that Canada and many other nations had already signed onto. Taking back our word (after not trying at all), he released a "made-in-Canada" solution that was completely panned by environmental critics as having no substance. At a recent international summit of developed nations Canada received stark criticism from many others as having held back environmental initiative, pushing for a weaker statement of intent. It was certainly an embarrassing moment to be Canadian.

Harper furthermore continually shuns nations with which his administration disagrees. One of the more recent examples is his decision not to attend the Beijing Olympic games, another insult to one of the world's largest powers. Even President Bush attended the games, and certainly they proved to be ceremonies to behold. Casting off Jean Chretien's (and many others') approach of constructive engagement, Harper continually alienates a major world power, demonstrating his limited appreciation for the need for mutual and international respect.


Conservative foible # 3 : Negativity

Prior to the Harper administration, Canadian politics at least presented itself with the facade of having more substance and less flash than that of our neighbours to the south. However, the Conservative government has consistently shown itself to be always on the prowl for an opportunity to attack. In many cases, the Conservatives make a lot of noise for the people to hear, toting criticisms of other (read: Liberal) parties that involve distortions of the truth. These inevitably take hold in the public mind... their spurious truthiness does not matter.

For instance, when Dion released his intent to put forward a Green Shift plan (a reasonable plan, at least in principle, that will be discussed further on), Harper's government immediately ran a series of attack ads at gas station advertisement screens. They criticized Dion's "tax on everything" - misrepresenting the concept, being unashamedly negative, and spending tons on advertising despite the lack of anything resembling an election.

On Sunday, an independent MP joined the Green Party providing them with a member sitting in Parliament. This, combined with their increasing national presence provided them with a compelling case to be included in the televised debate that will accompany (the likely imminent) election. Harper spokesperson Kory Teneycke responded that because "Ms. May and Mr. Dion have an agreement for electoral co-operation... you can't have two candidates from essentially the same party in the debate." That's ludicrous. I don't really know how the Conservatives come up with this stuff. So when two parties have similar views on an issue and agree on cooperation for a time, they become the same party? Well I guess it worked for PC and Alliance...


Conservative foible # 4 : Playing every side

As it may be clear by now, many of Harper's more questionable features (e.g. negativity) revolve around foible # 1 - Harper's antagonistic relationship with the truth. Indeed, we have often seen Harper court every side, making a decision, and then pulling it back after realizing what a public relations disaster it is. He frequently makes what often prove to be poor decisions in the desire to win votes. Ironically, one of Harper's claims during the election (that feels so so long ago now) was that he was someone with firm moral conviction, that could chart a course and then stick to his guns.

Harper has in particular gone to great lengths to court the province of Quebec, with their nationalistic (that is, the Quebec nation) tendencies. He has offered them great latitude in terms of their independence. Now, switching to personal opinion, I do believe that Quebec is an important part of Canada. I respect their people, and the role they play in our history, our present, and our future. However, I also believe we need a Prime Minister that can step up and be firm with Quebec. A Prime Minister that does not let Quebec run all over the place, but instead challenges the wide-spread (with Quebec) and false convictions that Canada is the source of all Quebec's woes. Oh yeah, two words: Maxime Bernier.


Conservative foible # 5 : Bullying

Nobody likes that big kid in the playground, always shoving other kids into the ground. The Conservatives are that bully. They push public opinion around with their barking (see: lying) and they ram a lot of legislation down the throats of other parties. Most of the time this legislation is ridiculously unpalatable, but knowing that the Liberal party is still in the midst of gathering itself together, declare such legislation matters of "confidence", taunting others to pass the bill or call an election.


Stephen Harper Score Card

Harper's government likes to make a lot of noise. They twist and distort the truth to shift public opinion, and when public opinion is against them they change their tone or make some poorly conceived concessions to win them back. They don't treat our neighbours (except maybe the big one to the south) with respect, and while they like to bark, all barking is censor approved. The party sticks to the official message with a designated fall guy in case foul play comes to light. In other words, they keep their mouths shut until they're told what to scream about. Oh yes, and they lie. A lot.

In conclusion, Harper is slimy. He's a big, good-looking guy who knows how to twist the truth and talk real smooth, but certainly not the one I want to be running my country anymore. He's also about as close to a dictator as a leader of a democratic nation can get.


The Green Shift: Why Dion?


Stephane who? I remember months ago watching the Liberal leadership race with anticipation. I had my reservations about front runners Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. The former had spent much of his life in the US of A and had an uncomfortably American flavour for the leader of one of Canada's two major political parties. The latter, though highly intelligent, was largely dismissed in Ontario after a very unsuccessful term as premier for the NDP. Out came the dark horse of the race, Stephane Dion (a favourite of my brother and sister), pushed to the front of the pack by Gerrard Kennedy. Dion was a smart, intelligent, honest guy and I was excited! Lots of people were excited.

Months later, Dion has made very little movement and very little noise. He (hopefully) has been working on putting his fractured party back together as well as forming some serious policy. Is all of this part of his strategy? It's true that most Canadians don't pay attention to politicians until there is an election, and even then many don't. So perhaps Dion is saving his strength for that key time. I sure hope so. But I wish he would fight back a little.

The Green Shift, at its core is this: increase taxes on consumables (the things we don't want to be using), like pollution producing energy resources, and decrease taxes on the things we do want (like income). I talked to my cousin (who is American) about this, and he said this is a very clever plan. It addresses the environment, but does so in a very sensible manner. In fact, this way, you should actually be able to save money - and it's all under your control. Under the new plan, if you want to save money, you simply consume less. Under the current system, if you want to save money, you... make less money? Work less hours? The Green Shift makes a lot of sense in principle.

Let's talk about Dion's character. I've watched his videos and interviews, and I've read about his history. He's an intellectual. A professor hand picked by Jean Chretien, a quiet thinker. He's an underdog. And he's honest (as far as anyone can tell). He did a solid job as cabinet minister in the Liberal government (even the Green party agrees), and he has a very earnest straightforward approach. He's also white as a bedsheet when it comes to government scandal. So Dion is a smart, honest guy. If he could speak up a bit more, he could be Harper kryptonite.

I've heard some people say that Dion was stupid to release his Green Shift plan, since people are going to be opposed to taxes, whatever their purpose. However, this is a demonstration of Dion's character. He believes in Canadians, and has formulated a plan to enact what he thinks Canada needs. He is willing to engage in debate, saying, "This is what I plan to do, will you agree with me?" If Harper wanted to enact the same plan, he'd get elected on lies, and then after he was in office, he would enact his plan. Dion is giving us a choice.


Demolishing the polls: Why Canadians are wrong

I just wanted to touch on some of the statistics mentioned in the article (http://www.thestar.com/article/488050) that prompted me to blog about this:

45% of Canadians view Harper as a strong and decisive leader, 10% for Dion

It remains to be seen whether Dion has the guns to be strong and decisive. Harper certainly can be decisive, but obviously not in the direction I am interested in.

36% of Canadians think Harper understands complex issues, 27% for Dion 33% think Harper understands the problems facing Canadians, 23% for Dion

If there is one thing I'm sure about Dion, it's that he's a smart guy - an intellectual. He understands the problems, and poses viable solutions. Harper short-sightedly stumbles from one issue to the next, using rhetoric to get what he wants.

30% of Canadians think Harper inspires confidence, 11% for Dion
31% of Canadians think Harper is honest and trustworthy, 30% for Dion


Dion actually has a stellar record for being an honest, earnest guy. Harper has a history of bullying, lying, and attack politics. That fact that 30% of Canadians see him as honest and trustworthy makes me cringe a little.

At least Canadians believe Dion will be better for the environment...


What do you want from a leader?


The question falls to you now. What do you want for a leader? Do you want a loud and seemingly assertive leader who talks well, but lies, twists the truth, and dictates everything without consultation? That clamps down on the message as he leads our country down a distinctly undemocratic and un-Canadian path? Or will you choose the quiet intellectual, who is distinctly poor in public relations but who seems trustworthy, cerebral and has already presented an intelligent plan?

Canada won't be the same after another term of Conservative rule. I can already feel the atmosphere changing from the country I grew up in, knew, and love. If you agree, please share these points with your friends, family, and others. Communicate Harper's character, and change public opinion one person at a time.

Blog cheating

I decided to clean up my blog a bit. I have to admit that when I started this thing, I didn't exactly know what kind of stuff I wanted to write about. I still don't, but I do have an idea of what kind of stuff I don't want to write about. As a result, I have deleted a total of three blog entries. If this type of digital revision seems a bit like cheating... well it kind of is. But don't worry, I left all the really good stuff behind.

Thanks to everyone who has left comments! I was really surprised when I logged in today.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fan Expo Adventures and Misadventures

This weekend was the Fan Expo, an all-in-one science fiction, comic, anime, horror, and gaming convention held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and one of the highlights of my summer experience. I went with a single similarly geek-minded friend, who in the interests of anonymity to the public will be referred to in this post as Sydney (a referrence to Jennifer Garner's character Sydney Bristow in the popular television show Alias, which amusingly I have never watched but my friend has).

Day 1 - Friday, August 22, 2008

Sydney and I arrived at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre at about 5:00 PM. Fan Expo had only been open for about an hour (3 hours to those with a VIP pass). My weekend highlight guest, Brent Spiner, was already there. For the uninitiated and geek-less among you, Brent Spiner played the android Data in the immensely popular science fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Every North American, male or female, has watched at least some of this show in their lifetime, and if they say they have not they are either a liar or spent several years of their lives living in a box. Friday is considered to be a good day to get autographs because the majority of attendees will not show up until Saturday (since most celebrity Q&A sessions and other events of interest don't occur until at least then). This is true unless your celebrity of interest also does not show up until Saturday (e.g. last year's Tricia Helfer). Luckily Brent "Data" Spiner was already there... and sadly, already had a huge line.

After waiting two hours in a line that was so long that it snaked (bent) around itself at least twice, I finally got to meet Brent Spiner. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to say that much to him since I was at first busy trying to figure out if the photos that he was signing costed money. He is really nice (and funny), and unlike Tricia Helfer last year actually took the time to exchange a few words with me (and each of his fans) instead of just signing my item and shoving me off. At first he took a bit of time explaining about an audio drama that he had put together with a singer named Maude Maggart and Mark "Luke Skywalker" Hammill. I didn't buy the CD though (although he was right, I regret it now). I instead got him to autograph an awesome picture of Lt. Commander Data from the movie Star Trek: First Contact. He was even kind enough to personalize it (To Andrew), although after seeing Sydney's Renee O'Connor autograph (see Saturday), I was a bit jealous that he didn't write any extra banter between his name and mine. As our time together was winding down, Brent cleverly said, "Well Andrew, it has been worth my time waiting all day to meet you." Then he turned to my friend and added, "Good luck with your life." Finally, I shook his hand (though I wish Sydney had managed to catch that on camera). I shook Brent Spiner's hand! That was awesome. And yes, of course I still washed my hand later that day. I'm a fanboy, not a crazy.


One more event of interest occured on Friday. While I was in line to see Brent Spiner, Sydney had actually snuck off to see Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle from Xena)'s Q&A session. Turns out the session was cancelled, but Syd took the opportunity to duck out to the loo. On her way there she was stopped by a completely unknown Asian guy. He said hey, and she said hi. Then he continued, "You are just so cute, I had to say hi." Gutsy. He furthermore asked her for her number, which, for some reason she gave (romance potential?... well she kind of spent much of the next few days avoiding him). Then he asked her to go out with him on Monday, but obviously, she has to work on Monday. His area code is 519, so he's obviously not from around here, and is very probably still a student. In any case, she didn't really know whether to be flattered or creeped out. I told her, probably a little bit of both was appropriate.

In addition to Mr. Spiner's autograph, I also picked up two comic books: Civil War: Captain America and Civil War: Peter Parker, Spider-Man. I got them both at the outrageously good price of 30% off the US face value (and no tax).

We stayed until the Fan Expo closed at 9 PM.

Day 2 - Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday, we arrived again at the MTCC at about 10:30 AM (30 minutes past opening). There was this horrific snaking line just to get into the exhibition area. After we got in, we lined up for Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle from Xena), who was not actually scheduled to arrive until 12 noon. The line by the time she arrived was huge! After waiting around two hours, my friend finally got to talk to Renee O'Connor. Sydney actually had quite an animated conversation with Renee, and Renee gave her a nice personalized autograph with a little bit of encouragement thrown into it. All the while, I was snapping pictured with Sydney's camera. In the end Renee was nice enough to lean out a bit and face the camera so that we could get a picture with both her and my friend's faces in it.

After that, we shopped around for a bit, and then lined up for the Q&A session with Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek: Voyager's Kathrine Janeway). Kate was actually very funny! There was one point where a strange little fan actually got up to the mic and asked her to say to him, "Good job, ensign." It was very awkward. But she was funny and lively through the whole thing. She was a very nice person, and even remembered some of her fans' names (who she had met during the autograph session). She was quite different from what I expected though. While we were waiting in line to see her, Sydney and I tried out some fun photos. We had picked up these Sylar (from Heroes) masks earlier in the day...


Our second and final Q&A session for Saturday was with Laura Vandervoort and Michael Rosenbaum from the hit TV series Smallville (the story of Superman's youth). They played Supergirl and Lex Luthor, respectively. This was also a very animated Q&A, dominated by the witty Rosenbaum. While it was quite funny, we did find it a bit chaotic and Rosenbaum was a bit overbearing. The Q&A session was cut short for an auction of official Smallville paraphernaelia as a fundraiser for North York General Hospital where Laura Vandervoort was born (and apparently had her life saved from a childhood infection). One guy, dressed only in pointy ears, a speedo, and winged boots (as Namor, the Submariner) bought Clark Kent's actual jacket, signed by both Vandervoort and Rosembaum (as well as Tom Welling) for $2000.


After these two Q&A sessions, we were tired. We hadn't eaten lunch, so we ran out to Harvey's in Union Station and picked up some burgers. It was just what we needed, despite the disappointments of there being no onion rings, poutine, or ice in the cola machine. We returned to the Expo and shopped around a bit before closing time at 6 PM.

Then we lined up for an hour for the Masquerade, a costume slash drama competition for fanboys (mostly of anime). I was lucky enough to catch a photo with this amazing version of G.I. Joe's Baroness before she changed out. I was not lucky enough to catch a photo with the absolutely jaw dropping fan-made costume of Yuna from Final Fantasy X I had seen earlier in the day, however. Nor with Lara Croft who was there promoting the upcoming Tomb Raider: Underworld.


The Masquerade started out with a WoW costume competition. After that was done and over with, judging occured. While the judges were deliberating, they pulled out a Princess Leia professional belly dancer (golden bikini and all). It was quite a show.


Then came the rest of the costume competition. It was overall well done, and I was very impressed with the acts (although I didn't understand all of them). There was a little bit too much geek banter (even for me), particularly coming out of the crowd from the high proportion of obsese, sweaty nerd boys, but I will admit it was actually quite a bit more tolerable than last year. A highlight was definitely the Pokemon costumes featuring two pairs of Team Rocket, Meowth, and police officer Jenny. Well done!


We managed to leave around 10 PM and get home at around 11 PM.

Day 3 - Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another early start had us arriving at the opening time of 11 AM. There was already a line forming for Brent Spiner's 1 PM Q&A session. We waited for two hours and got front row seats! Brent Spiner did not disappoint, both in answering questions and being very amusing.

Before we knew what was what, the session was over. I rushed to the back of the line to catch Edward James Olmos' 2 PM Q&A session in the same room, while Sydney split up to line up for Sean Astin's 3 PM Q&A session. I did make it in for Edward James Olmos' (Admiral Bill Adama from Battlestar Galactica) session but I was very far back. He was a very sincere and nice guy, but his session was actually quite boring (he was far too serious). The highlight, however, was the unexpected guest of Aaron Douglas (Chief Galen Tyrol). Two celebrities for the price of one!

The funniest story came at the end when Douglas talked about his first time on the show. There was a particlar conversation between him and Olmos in the show that required the two to be inches away from each other's faces. They shot the scene from Olmos' side and then broke for lunch. Coming back, they had to shoot the scene again from Douglas' side. Edward James Olmos had eaten the most disgusting sardine, sewage, tar... something burger that smelled of murder most foul. Douglas struggled to make it through the shot. When the scene was over and he turned away, Olmos grinned and said in a devilish manner, "Welcome to the show."


I got out of the Q&A session and rejoined Syd in the line for Sean Astin (Sam, the hobbit from Lord of the Rings). We again scored front row seats. Sean Astin was an amusing fellow, but again he took the Q&A session too seriously. Furthermore, he went on and on (I mean, this guy loves to talk). He also attempted a preemptive strike to head off potential questions at the beginning and told us all about his life, his kids, the movies he worked on, the movies he is working on, etc. etc. etc. He was a tad boring. Brent Spiner was definitely the highlight of the day.

By the time we got out of Sean Astin's session, Brent Spiner was gone from the Expo. That was kind of sad because I was hoping to talk to him at greater length and buy his CD (Dreamland). Instead we shopped around for some last minute deals. I picked up another two comic books (Civil War: Amazing Spider-Man and What If?: Civil War) at 15% less than US face price. I also bought some posters from my friend and professional artist Peter Chan (http://www.peterchanart.com/) and met Shilin, an artist whose deviantArt I watch, in person (http://ashen-ray.com/). The Shilin meeting was a bit awkward (since I'm a complete stranger), but I am happy I got to shake the hand of someone whose art I admire so often (I bought a bookmark of L from Death Note from her).

As a final act before Fan Expo's 6 PM closing, we took advantage of a display that was set up in the foyer. Star Wars action figures have a very characteristic box. In the foyer was a giant board set up to look like a Star Wars action figure box. Inside, you could pose and pretend you are an action figure! We saw it on Friday, and for the last day (Sunday) I brought some props. We make an awesome action figure set!


And with this final, desperate act of geek-ness, Fan Expo was over. The coming out party of Canada's geeks, freaks, and (a shocking number of the) obese was laid to rest for another year. We ate a quick supper at Baton Rouge and packed it up for home.

Final Tally - Fan Expo Hits and Misses

Hits
  • Got Brent Spiner's autograph
  • Shook Brent Spiner's hand
  • Took a photo with the Baroness
  • Pretended to be a Star Wars Action Figure
  • Bought discount comic books
  • Met web-artist Shilin in person
Misses
  • Didn't say anything of consequence to Brent Spiner (brain freeze)
  • Didn't get a picture shaking Brent's hand (or with both of our faces)
  • Missed photo op with Yuna
  • Missed photo op with Lara Croft
The whole weekend was a complete blur... jumping from shopping, to Q&A session, to autograph session... constantly in lines. Then rushing home, sleeping, and waking up early in the morning to do it again. It's hard to believe my summer is really over, and that in five hours I will have to wake up for orientation week at my new school. School is starting, summer is over. How did this happen? But if summer really had to end, I can't think of any greater party than Fan Expo 2008.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Adventures in Ottawa

So this weekend I went to Ottawa to visit my sister and brother-in-law and see Wicked, the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West. The plan was to take the 12:20 train up from Toronto to Ottawa and arrive at about 4:30 PM. Things got off to a rocky start though, because the day before I had started feeling sick with a pretty serious and persistent headache and stomach ache.

A slow start

On Friday, I was feeling travel-worthy, but certainly not in top form. Arriving in Ottawa, I decided it was best if I lay low for the day and hope to feel better for Saturday's show. My mom had sent an entire lamb roast for my sister and brother-in-law, so we ate it with some rice and vegetables in a nice and safe meal. We also rented and watched The Illusionist starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, which was a pretty entertaining movie. In some ways the twistiness of the plot seemed gratuitous, and aimed almost exclusively at throwing the viewer off what the actual twist was going to be... but all in all it was not at all bad.

Feeling Wicked

Saturday started off with a nice culinary surprise (as I have discovered is the norm when crashing at my sister's place), as she and my brother-and-law had cooked up some gigantic pancakes by the time I yanked myself off the sofabed. I also felt pretty well, and up for some musical theatre.

Wicked was not quite I expected. I guess I hadn't really done any research into it, though it sounded amusing and popular, generally two favourable indicators. I had kind of expected to have the Wizard of Oz story thrown at me from the Wicked Witch's perspective, but in kind of a more ambiguous and charming way such as for the viewer to come to the conclusion that perhaps she was not quite so wicked.

In fact, Wicked only overlapped with the original Wizard of Oz story near the end, and not always in ways that allowed the two to sync up quite right. But that's okay - after all, Wicked is not exactly a story that falls into Wizard of Oz canon anyways.

Instead of casting light on the charming side of an slightly trouble-making character, however, Wicked casts Elphaba a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the West as an almost thoroughly "good" character who, as my sister describes "tries to do good but bad things happen to." It follows her from high school and explains her departure from the good graces of the people of Oz. It has it's fair share of twists but is overall quite a believable dose of revisionist history (except maybe in the case of Dorthy's companions - the tin man, cowardly lion, and scarecrow who do appear in the production, but could hardly be seen actually travelling her in the state they appear here).

The weakness in the musical, ironically, was the music which was not all that remarkable and quite poppish to boot. But the performances themselves were excellent, with the vocal talent of the actors and actresses making it still a very enjoyable experience.

In the end, Wicked proved to be a fun and entertaining production, though not one to be ranked among the greats such as Phantom of the Opera or Les Misèrables. Definitely very watchable.

The Cave

Sunday (today), I was raised bright and early. My sister had made plans for us to go up to Lusk Caverns in Gatineau Park with a friend of her's and his significant other, and the friend had agreed to drive. The idea of exploring a pitch black cave with only a headlamp to guide the way was really exciting, and brought to mind such famous cave moments as Luke Skywalker's confrontation at the cave in Dagobah under Yoda's tutelage... which is an appropriately geeky thing to bring up becaaaaause... my sister's friend had this amazing little TomTom branded GPS which could use celebrity voice packs to spice up your directions. Showing off his Yoda voice pack, we were treated to the diminutive little Jedi master giving us directions such as, "In 500 m right you must bear, then with the transitway you must merge!"

After parking the car, we took a 5 km hike up to the caverns themselves. The cave was a real treat... I really felt like an adventurer. I mean, you can experience lots of neat things through movies and video games that really get your blood pumping, but at the end of the day, you're still staring at a screen. This was real. You have your real hand on a real rock. The real sound of rushing water filling the air - the same water that is washing rapidly past your cold feet. Your eyes are seeing real pitch black around you. I mean, it's quite exhilarating... a real adventure. Of course, the actual danger of the cave was quite manageable... a lot of people there had even brought their kids (which might have been a bit dangerous, actually... perhaps?).

Basically the cave is takes about 15 minutes to walk through. It starts off dry, and moderately lit. It's narrow, and as you get a couple minutes in, your feet get submerged in water. The trickiest part is finding solid footing with each step, as the floor is uneven, and if you trip and crack your leg (or worse, your head)... it could be pretty bad. As we kept going, it got darker and darker until it was black except for the light coming from our lamps. But then we emerged, into the bright of day again. That was halfway.

Following the little stream of water through a little break in the cave, we launched ourselves back into the rocky darkness. This time, things were a bit more interesting. Two noticeably steep (and possibly dangerous) drops in the rocks underfoot were noticeably, marked in particular with two miniature waterfalls. Finding our way down proved more difficult for some of our group than others (though obviously not my sister and my brother-in-law who are hardcore outdoorsy types who had been to this cave before, and other, more genuinely dangerous ones). Then forward still, the ceiling came down, forcing us to duck, and the water level rose to waist high. With darkness all around, it really felt like the cave was starting to close in around you, and then... it was over. The cave opened up to the exit, and we were done.

My only cave exploring adventure ever was a success!

Building castles in the sand

We make the 5 km hike back to the car, and got our lunch out of the trunk. There was oodles of edible goodness prepared mostly by my sister. We sat ourselves at a nearby beach (which was quite popular) and ate our food, then ventured down to the water.

After several minutes, my brother-in-law and I abandoned the water due to the chilling temperatures. However, as we waited for the sun to dry us off, he started building a sand castle. He asked if I wanted to help, so I jumped into the process as well. I have to admit, I felt a bit childish sitting there digging at the sand with a stick, but it was pretty fun. We built a pretty elaborate castle ("for the least amount of work") with several towers, a keep, and impressively tall, smooth, crenellated walls on four sides. My brother-in-law explained to me that the purpose was to make the kids around sufficiently jealous as to want to destroy our castle once we walked away, and get punished by a nearby parent... a devious plan, though with some undeniable appeal. Sure enough the minute we called a halt to our construction, some kid walked up with a sand pail in the hopes of throwing water into the middle of our castle (apparently thinking that with four walls it should be a swimming pool rather than a castle), only to be restrained by his Mommy... mission accomplished.

One last adventure...

Well, after we got back to my sister and brother-in-law's apartment and thanked her friend for driving, there wasn't much time left before I had to catch my train back to Toronto. I packed up my belongings, and we high-tailed it to a Japanese restaurant nearby. Apparently, it was a challenge to pick a restaurant because in Ottawa, as populous a city as it is, most of the restaurants are closed on Sunday. In principle, I certainly respected this... but I found it most peculiar!

We got to the restaurant around 5:10 PM-ish. My train is at 6:15 PM. We all order the same dish - Tempura Udon. We figure noodles are fast and if we all order the same thing, it should come even faster. There is nobody else in the restaurant. Clock is ticking... 5:30 PM, food arrives. We call a cab for 5:45 PM outside our restaurant. We start eating. 5:35 PM, waitress comes to ask if everything is going okay. Scarfing udon, we ask for the bill. 5:45 PM, my sister goes out to look for the cab. 5:50 PM, I finish all I can eat in a hurry and we join my sister outside. No cab. We call the cab company: "It'll be there momentarily." 5:55 PM, we start thinking about going to the cab stop at a nearby hotel, call the cab company again. The cab company has no idea where our cab is, and has to locate our driver. He arrives at 6:03 PM. My train is at 6:15...

Sister: "What happened to the other guy?"

Heavily-accented driver: "Other guy? No I am the guy they called first."

He gets mad at us because he said he came and we weren't there, he waited, honked his horn, and left. My sister asked him if he came where we were standing, because she was there the whole time. "Yes, I came, I waited, I honked... didn't you hear me honk?"

Sister: "That's impossible, I was standing there the whole time."

Driver: "No I was there."

Sister: "Well... were you invisible?" (That part almost made me laugh)

Apparently, the guy came four minutes after we called (5:34 PM), except we had asked for the cab at 5:45 PM. Of course now, we didn't get into the cab until 6:03 PM. Train is in 10 minutes. The guy races me to the train station and we get there at 6:10 PM! I run to my train just as they are making the last call. 60 seconds later my train is moving... He shoots, he scores!

Damn, that was intense...

The thing I find about cabs in Canada (other than their really high prices) is that they have a really bad attidude about picking people up. Usually they are fine once you start driving... but maaaan... picking people up is ridiculous.

Tie-in: Kingston Cabs

I spent four years living in Kingston, which is a total cab city (because transit sucks). Every student uses the cab system. I once had a cab driver tell me that Kingston is the best city in Canada to be a cab driver in terms of how much you make (better than Toronto). When I told drivers to come at a certain time, if I was 30 seconds late... they were gone. I wait for 5-10 minutes and call the dispatch.

Andy: "Hello, I asked for a cab at 2:15; it's 2:25 now and it's not here."

Dispatch: "Let me check... it came and left already. You were late."

Andy: "That's impossible, I was down here no later than 2:16."

Dispatch: "Look, your cab was there at 2:00. He waited until 2:15."

Andy: "But I didn't ask for a cab at 2:00, I asked for it at 2:15."

Dispatch: "Look, it was there, you were late. I can send you another."

Andy: ...

It's almost like because they know everyone has to use the cab, they think they can rule the world. I mean the whole point of asking for a cab at a certain time is because you have already budgeted the time. Should the cab wait? Damn right it should wait. Should it get there at the right time? Absolutely. Should it be there even if you show up 2 minutes late? Of course! 2 minutes is nothing... I doubt our watches are even set with that close of a standard deviation.

But what pissed me off in Kingston even more is that sometimes cabs arrive late too. It's like... if you come late can I just not pay you? No? Then how come when you come early, you can just drive off early... This makes no sense.

So in conclusion... cabs are stupid. Buses are better, but in the end most people will just drive their own stupid car until we all explode from pollution. The end.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Comments open to anyone

At least one person told me they couldn't comment because they didn't have a Google account. I've subsequently changed the settings so that anyone can post a comment.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Leave a comment

I forgot to mention: If you're nice enough to come by and check out my website, I'd love it if you would leave some comments. You can leave them right here on the Chronicle section, by commenting on this post!

Holy rusted metal, Batman!

I just uploaded the website, so it is now live! I slaved on that darn thing for hours on end for close to four days... and then when I finally thought I was done, I remembered to check how it looks on Internet Explorer, and more than half the pages had jarring errors!

I spent the next half an hour tweaking the code to try figure out what was wrong, and it turns out that the problem was threefold: I had computed two column widths incorrectly and forgotten a quotation mark all over the place. Apparently, Firefox was gentle enough to overlook these problems and do what I meant, not what I typed. After fixing just about every page, I was finally done.

Just to note though, there are still some differences between Firefox and Internet Explorer. Since I fixed most of the bugs, the site looks almost identical in both... but IE leaves out some blank space where Firefox puts it in. And since I use Firefox (as do many of the people I know), I always opted to leave the HTML so that it looks better in Firefox. If you use only IE, don't worry about it... you won't really notice anything wrong. But if you use both, I would recommend using Firefox when you visit my site. Just a thought!