Sunday, August 30, 2009

I value personal space

The last full-day of work has come and gone, and school is quickly approaching. Apparently, my veiled shot at Sam reading Facebook over my shoulder the other other day did not go unnoticed. As a playful parting gift, my back was slapped with the following yellow sticky: "I value personal space as a commodity." Fair enough.

My supervisor kindly arranged a little lab pizza party to commemorate the last full working day for the Boy Wonder and me. Lablings from all over the floor flooded to our work area, drawn by the alluring aroma of cheese and tomato sauce. Given the unusual influx of not-too-familiar people, Sam expressed relief that she had not pinned her yoga clothes to the wall as per usual (Describing this event is a good demonstration of why I don't use real names on my blog).

So after a nightmare week with several work days that ran 9 AM to 8:30 PM, my full-time adventures at HUMP are over. Part-time only from here on in, juggling studying with researching. I'll miss you guys... but I'll relish the personal space. /jk

Friday, August 28, 2009

I hear you've come down with a case of writer's block...

Get well soon...

[Ironically, while I was working on this, the blog in question was actually updated...]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Your blog has you whipped when...

Dear Chronicle,

I'm sorry I haven't written much lately. I know that I said I would try to write everyday, and I have so much to tell you! But dammit, work has been really crazy this week. With school (ugh...) starting next week, it's down to the wire to finish things up at HUMP. I've been pulling late nights, and when I get home with bloodshot eyes... Well, franky, I don't have time for you. I know this is heartbreaking, but hang on there. I'll be back soon.

Faithfully,
Andy

Speaking of HUMP... All of the image analysis software that I use runs off a server called Flux. All of the data that I use is stored in a mythical location called "Data4." Virtually everyone in the lab depends on the processing power of Flux and the storage capacity of Data4, so in my head I pictured a big server room with beastly mainframes. However, this could not be farther from the truth. Tucked away in a little corner with our local laser printer are a set of innocuous looking computers. One of these mundane creatures is Flux, the legendary computer whose name we all see flashing on our Linux command prompts. Data4? It's the first removable hard drive with a pink sticky. Sweet.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Canada's Next Top MD

Today, I helped register the bright and eager class of 2013. Our volunteer t-shirts were fluorescent orange and emblazoned with the title "Canada's Next Top MD." Clever... if just a wee bit tacky. There are few pieces of apparel that so flagrantly scream "I'm in Med School" like Orientation Week tees.

J-Rock: Why is that even though half of this class is probably older than me, with Masters and PhD's, I feel older than them?

Andy: Dude, it's the Grade Divide. I blogged about this! Sheesh, I'm going to blog this and link to that blog entry, because clearly you need to read it again.

In other news...

Andy [to Yee]: So, my friend thought it was hilarious I wrote that I used to find girls with braces attractive. She wouldn't stop talking about it.

Boy Wonder [eavesdropping]: Wait, did you just say you used to slap girls in their faces?

Andy: ...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Put a smile on your face

It has been commented, on occasion, that I smile... a lot. In fact, in high school, one Russian kid even took to calling me Smiley, much to my chagrin. And while my high score on the Smile-O-Metre certainly reflects my jovial nature, I'd also like to note that when you've spent thousands of dollars on orthodontics, you really ought to make use of them.

Which brings me to my next point. Straight teeth are awesome. In fact, there are few things more attractive than a perfectly aligned set of pearly whites (except, perhaps, a British accent). The way I've always looked at it, the years of pain you endure are a mere pittance in exchange for the lifetime of straight teeth and mandibular alignment that you will enjoy subsequently. Plus, in high school I actually found brace faces to be rather cute... but that's another issue entirely.

Still, for some the "years of pain" for the lifetime of gain are more significant than others. By some, I of course mean myself. With Mello currently taking her first baby steps through the early I-can't-eat-solid-food-ouch-ouch-ouch stages of her posh Invisalign teeth aligners, I thought this would be as good a time as any to share my encouraging dental horror story.

Chances are, unless you hang out with the most genetically gifted group of friends ever or are surrounded solely by crooked-teeth, someone you know has had braces. If you followed that event all the way through, then you are probably cognizant that this metal-mouthed life stage usually only lasts for a year or two. Mine lasted for four.

Things began innocently enough. Just before entering Grade 9, having shed all my baby teeth and stepped into my teens, my mouth was equipped with a shiny new set of straightening devices. Despite the early pain of wire tightenings, I was actually quite pleased with this scenario. For the first two years, I even used these orthodontic fixtures for festive purposes, swapping in alternating red and green elastics for the holiday season.

However, an illness in the family and the subsequent flurry of activity caused a prolonged hiatus from wire tightenings, unavoidably extending my braces-wearing days by an extra year. By the time the end of Grade 11 rolled around, the novelty of braces had worn off. I was ready to have the accursed metal out of my mouth and take my graduation photo with my pearly whites borne au naturel.

At this point I have to explain that my dental work was, is, and has always been performed by my uncle, who is by all means, a very capable dentist with qualifications to perform some orthodontic procedures (like braces). Having seen three siblings come and go from the dentist chair, I had little reason to anticipate trouble. All that means is that I had no way to see what was coming my way.

In the summer of Grade 11, both my uncle and I fully anticipated that the braces were coming off. My teeth were straight, my jaw was happy, and all was right with the world. In consideration for my anticipation, my uncle had come into the office especially for me so I could lose the metal in my mouth before he jetted off for vacation abroad. As I sat there in that dentist chair, quivering with excitement, my uncle leaned in for one final inspection...

"Hmm... that's odd. It seems like you're still missing some teeth."

[Cue glass shattering]

"Whaaaaaat?!"

As it turns out, my uncle's aging X-Ray machine had seen better days and was a little fuzzy around the edges. Apparently, he had failed to take note that my third molars had not yet impacted (broken the surface of my gums). Not only had one of my third molars not impacted, but it was being pinned down by a wisdom tooth that was growing at a crooked nintety-degree angle. That sucker was never coming out on its own.

I went home that day extremely upset and disappointed and would return weeks later to have the offending wisdom tooth extracted under local anaesthetic. Not only does local anaesthetic suck, but at the end of the operation I was left with a festering open wound. With the wisdom tooth out, my dentist still needed to straighten the molar which was buried within my gums. Said molar was then fitted with a bracket, and an elastic was run from this bracket (on my lower jaw) to the opposite tooth on my upper jaw. Of course, while the tooth was being pulled upward from the loving confines of my gums, the gaping hole through which it was meant to ascend had to be left unsutured. "Try not to get any food in the wound," was all the advice I received... that along with a syringe to rinse it out with. I swelled up on one side like a hemiplegic chipmunk.

This little blunder forced me to wear braces for another year, all the way through Grade 12 and past my graduation photos. Depressing. But after four long years, the braces finally came off. The feeling of being able to run my tongue across the smooth, naked enamel of my teeth was reason enough to smile. It was worth it.

As for the other three wisdom teeth? I had them out under deep anaesthetic. Yes, oh yes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Watch your mouth

Sometimes, things don't come out the way we intended.

Yee: [of British words] ...and eraser is rubber.

Andy: Rubber?

Yee: Yeah.

Andy: Sounds like you're talking about condoms...

Yee: Yeah, one time I asked this girl in my lab, "Could you pass the rubber?" [pause] "I mean eraser."

Our friend Sam likes children. Sometimes, her enthusiasm doesn't come out quite right:

"Don't look at girls, look at kids!"

"I check out girls... little girls."

Awkward.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In honour of awesomeness

This is cheating, but you'll still never beat the school label.

Much to the disappointment of anyone else gunning for label popularity through spurious means, Blogger does not actually allow for the multiple use of a single label on a single post. Bummer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Second class aliens

Today, Brutus and I went to see Peter Jackson's latest blockbuster hit, District 9. Apparently, this movie was so amazing that it not only received universal acclaim but also drew several of my friends to tackle it on opening weekend. I, however, noted with disappointment that this Jackson-Blomkamp collaboration was born out of the ashes of the Halo film, which promised to revolutionize the success of video games in movies.

As an avid movie-goer, I was absolutely horrified by the pre-feature trailers. Seldom am I treated to so many crap horror/thriller previews back-to-back-to-back. Clearly, I was not the target demographic.

The movie itself was actually quite enjoyable, despite the fact that I went in with hugely inflated expectations. The key strengths lay not in the plot, but rather with the excellent tempo and cinematic style. The film was well paced and kept me at the edge of my seat. The rough documentary-style filming provided a well-executed mood seldom seen in this genre.

Warning: Ahead spoilers lie...

Interestingly, it is District 9's plot which often receives the most attention in casual conversation. A group of alien refugees have arrived on Earth with incredible technology, but over twenty years, they become second class citizens confined to an impoverished South African slum. While at first pass this sounds like a singularly unique twist on the science fiction genre, I assure you that it is not. In fact, the film borrows liberally from tried and true plot elements - alien metaphors for racism, the heroic individual who bridges the gap (and shows the two sides that they can get along after all), and action packed fight scenes.

Further inspection reveals a number of logic-defying plot elements:
  • The aliens spend twenty years collecting alien liquid from their own technology. If they had needed it so badly, why didn't they hang onto it in the first place?
  • There is apparently enough of this liquid to travel back to the aliens' home planet. If this is the case, why are they getting trapped on this hellhole known as Earth? Why didn't they just keep moving?
  • The aliens express a great desire to actually go back home. Yet, they're portrayed as refugees. If home is still welcoming, then what was the purpose of the journey to begin with?
  • How did Wikus and Christopher sneak out of the slum and through Johannesburg to the MNU headquarters in broad daylight? How did Wikus sneak back to his wife's doorstep at the end of the movie? Surely, an alien walking around outside District 9 would be rather obvious.
  • The aliens could clearly kick our asses and retained much of their weaponry. Their reasons for putting up with subjugation are not clear. It's certainly not because they like us.

Brutus: "Don't worry, the movie was just about explosions."

Andy: "No, no, clearly it was about racism."

Despite these meaty holes in the story, District 9 delivers some value entertainment. Whether or not it is a four-star performance is up to you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Udon she ate

What happens when a person who typically dislikes udon chooses to eat at the latest and greatest udon restaurant that I've discovered? Something like this...

Andy: So how is it?

Sandlot: ...It's good! I really like the curry! And the beef!

[pause]

Sandlot: The noodles are good too. They're really... interesting.

Andy: Uh huh...

I think in situations like this, "interesting" is usually a euphemism for "I don't like udon." /heh

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bathroom and beyond

So, this weekend Ruru and I went to FMP (for Kushima: First Markham Place) to eat lunch and watch Ponyo, the latest film by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. The movie was characteristically trippy and relatively slow paced (the ending was a little too easy, too pleasant), but it was still quite cool.

We stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant lining the outside of the mall. I made a visit to the men's room to find the oddest of arrangements. As I walked in the door, there was a sink to my left. To my right, there was a urinal. Further right, there was a stall. As I peered inside the stall, there was a full-sized shelf housing cleaning products and and other miscellany. In fact, this shelf was the first and most salient feature of the washroom. Thus, when I walked in, I made a double-take and questioned whether I had walked into the storage closet instead. It was only after this sensation of surprise that I noted the sink, the urinal, the toilet situated about a foot in front of the shelf, and the toilet paper dispenser immediately behind. Seriously, though, the washroom and janitor's closet should be kept separate. Real estate at FMP must be very precious.

The situation reminded me of the last time I had eaten at FMP. Mello and I had followed our noses to a beef noodle restaurant. That time, when I had gone to visit the bathroom, there were two doors. One was marked with the universal symbol for "Men" and the other for "Handicapped." I'm not sure what the implication there is.

In conclusion: Restaurants at FMP don't have enough space for washrooms... ergo, the ones they have are slightly odd.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The end draws near...

Now
Then
Sorry, my friends, but this plump, buoyant symbol of our friendship has hit rock bottom. You know what that means, don't you?


...Just kidding.

Friday, August 14, 2009

He's got balls

For the last couple of weeks, our lab group has been joined by an enthusiastic young high school volunteer student. While he happens to be an adolescent Asian male, he does not play video games of any kind. As if that weren't unusual enough, he is also a competitive gymnast. Interesting...

Lately, this Boy Wonder (BW) has been expressing discomfort about hanging around us old folks (20+). He has, on multiple occasions, inquired as to whether there were any other high school students working nearby. There are not. However, I've been more than willing to help him on his quest to seek younger company.

If you recall, I work in the Research Institute, a satellite building affiliated with the Hospital for Unwell Muppets (HUMP: affectionate nickname). What you may not know is that the Research Institute only represents a couple of floors in an otherwise eclectic professional building. Yesterday, the building held a "tenant appreciation lunch," or in layman's terms, a free barbecue. The barbecue started at 11:30 AM, and by the time my friends and I decided to head down at 11:45, there was a line the size of the CN Tower.

Whilst in line, I took a moment to scan the crowd. Immediately behind us was a particularly young looking girl. High school aged? I turned towards the Boy Wonder only to find him casting an evaluative peek in the same direction. "Hey, that girl looks like she could be in high school. You should go introduce yourself," I commented, half in jest.

BW looked taken aback. "Actually, I was thinking the same thing..."

It was my turn to be surprised. "Oh really? Then you should do it!"

"Well, I can't do it now that you told me to," he replied bashfully.

"It's okay, I won't look," I said, covering my eyes in mock disinterest.

Still, I didn't see it coming when BW abruptly slipped backwards and injected a hasty, "Hey, so do you work here too?" My friend and I quickly formed a wall to block BW's return to our part of the line should he chicken out. He was now past the point of no return.

By the time we arrived at the front of the line, BW had disappeared somewhere behind us. Meanwhile, a number of uncouth middle-aged ladies had maneuvered themselves from behind us to beside us in a not-so-subtle attempt to cut the line. Luckily, we were on the side with the plates. When the ladies finally clued in and slithered in behind us to snag plates of their own, I heard them refer to BW (whom they had just cut), "Don't worry, he wants to stay behind us. So cute!"

I picked up a hot dog then proceeded several feet away to stock up on condiments. Meanwhile, I commented offhand to my friend, "Wow, I'm pretty impressed with BW..." Then out of nowhere, "What about me?" BW was back. Apparently, his lady friend had just graduated Grade 12, putting her 2 years ahead of him. He had disengaged. Still, it was a ballsy manoeuvre, and for that I offer my respect. BW was very touchy about the subject for the rest of the day.

...

Speaking of barbecues, I had this interesting conversation with Kushima later that evening:

K: Didn't go to L's BBQ?

A: L's whatchamacallit?

K: He was holding some eating event today.

A: ...Yes, I know what BBQ stands for.

K: Do you? Actually, I don't.

A: Really? It's barbecue...


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

They call it emotion


Several weeks ago (holy smokes, has it been that long already?), J-Rock and I made Rock (Band®) history with my double-duty (guitarist and vocalist) rendition of Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer. It was met with jealous harsh criticism by my friend Sandlot claimed it lacked emotion. She countered with her own would-be emotive BSB karaoke antics (subsequently removed) to show me how it's done.

Yesterday, Yee (previously referred to as "The Weird One" i.e. TWO) introduced me to the mainland YouTube sensation "Two Chinese Boys" (also known as the Back Dorm Boys). These embarrassingly disinhibited lip-syncing fiends put even Sandlot's emotive antics to shame. Does it make you uncomfortable to watch such a terrifyingly convincing emulation of femininity coming from a male? Yes, that's emotion alright.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'll bring the popcorn, you bring the cheese

When G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra trailers first appeared some months ago, I was fairly excited. With Ray Park (a.k.a. Darth Maul) cast as an authentic looking Snake-Eyes, things were promising. Of course, the appearance of the "Delta 6 Accelerator Suit" ("It accelerates you") all but dashed my hopes that the film would achieve true Joe glory.

Now the movie is out, and I've heard mixed reviews. Critics have all but called foul, Mello was quite pleased, and Sandlot summed up the film in one word: cheesy. "Be prepared for cheesiness," I was warned. Okay, I'm ready.

Brutus and I caught the 9:45 showing at Colossus Toronto. We sat beside this Asian fellow from New Zealand who was on a date with a Caucasian girl who rated a solid 9. It was the most impressive Asian male/non-Asian female coupling I've ever seen. New goal in life: learn to speak New Zealish (not a real word)... New Zealandic? (Yes, I know they speak English in New Zealand)

For those of you who haven't yet seen the film, be forewarned: ahead spoilers be!

Let's begin with Channing Tatum's Duke. From the first line he uttered, I knew this Duke was a fraud. Never before had I ever heard an actor issue military commands with so little conviction. Duke of cartoon lore was a stalwart soldier and natural leader with a commanding presence. Channing Tatum is nothing but the everyman grunt. A young, rough, pretty-boy. I mean, with a series as popular as G.I. Joe, why would you possibly cast a lead actor who doesn't have a clue what the series is about? Not to mention Duke's puke-worthy tortured-soul "love story" with the Baroness. The only scene where I found Tatum's acting to be entertaining was one in which he pulls out a stick of gum, to which Breaker exclaims, "Is that Double Bubble?" Duke frowns, and, like a wounded puppy, pathetically replies, "But it's my last piece." I smiled.

Moving on to Dennis Quaid's barely-present General Hawk. Honestly, an actor of this calibre really ought to be able to do better. His lines were so half-heartedly delivered that I'd have to hate him if his appearance didn't so perfectly match that of the genuine General Hawk. Given the generic future-soldier look of all the other Joes (minus Snake-Eyes, who is awesome), this authenticity was a breath of fresh air. General Hawk, you pass.

Then there were the villains, driven by paper thin motivations. The Baroness, spurned-lover turned evil. Sandlot apparently had a problem with Sienna Miller's evil push-up bra, which "brought her boobs up to her neck." I don't think this is actually true, although Miller's chest was a little bit on the perky side. Certainly, Sandlot didn't have anything bad to say about Storm Shadow, the Japanese-played-by-Korean ninja with an actual speaking role and gratuitous shirtless fight scene. While this Asian casting is certainly a step forward in American cinema, the whole evil Asian boy gets his ass whooped in kung fu by the favoured white-boy ninja plot-line shows that we still have a long way to go.

Other irritants included the romance between Ripcord and Scarlet (forced), Cobra Commander's ridiculous metal mask, and the sheer number of metal masks (Cobra Commander, Destro, the goons... what happened to good 'ol cloth?). Not to mention that the minions looked like they were ripped straight of Army of Two. Furthermore, there was simply way too much of the mind control gimmick! This is G.I. Joe, not Doctor Who...

Lastly, did anyone else stop to consider that the nanite weapons that everyone was all excited about in the beginning of the movie are the exact opposite of what militaries actually desire? Chemical weapons and theoretical neutron bombs are attractive because they inflict massive casualties while keeping infrastructure intact. This means, when it comes time to fix things back up, the job is easy. The aforementioned nanite weapons take out infrastructure almost exclusively (they eat metal!), which to be honest, doesn't sound like a particularly excellent goal.

Okay, enough bashing. Because as awfully cheesy as every single line was, G.I. Joe was actually really entertaining. I couldn't help but smile at the 90's-esque training session, with upbeat music playing in the background à la Mortal Kombat, or the Baroness/Storm Shadow flight scene ("Damn, that ninja's fast!"). While I could have done without that CG-heavy carnage-inducing (who's going to pay for all that?) Paris car chase or the Star-Wars-with-ADHD underwater dogfight, the movie was sufficiently action packed and "cheesy in a good way" to boggle the minds of fourteen-year old boys everywhere. As for me, I was reasonably entertained too.

Boom boom pow. Roll the credits.

Monday, August 10, 2009

This is where science is made

Monday is research day, when all the full-year student researchers get together for afternoon seminars and listen to each other yak about their projects. What lies inside these bright minds?

B: Did you grow out your hair?

D: Yeah, I did. It's just a summer thing I think though.

B: I love guys with long hair.

D: [turns to me] Hey, you have nice and long hair too.

B: Yeah, but his hair isn't curly. Yours is so nice and curly.

Gee, thanks for slighting me to my face, B. Such a model citizen.

J: [setting up his presentation] So the last time I used a computer in public, it was kind of a bad experience. My desktop showed up and I had some... well, what I think are unusually named files. People judged me.

A: [to Mello] That'll teach you to hide your porn on your desktop.

J put up a really entertaining presentation, but spent half of it cracking jokes about neurology and how it sucks... when clearly his project is a neurology project and he is in love with it.

Ting: I don't watch Harry Potter movies. I like the books. Besides, I don't like their accents.

A: You don't like their accents?!

T: Yeah, I don't like British accents. They're so pretentious.

A: Pretentious? No, no, they're refined.

T: Whatever. I grew up in the hoodlum... wait, is that even a word?

A: Uh... I think you mean you grew up in the hood, and you are a hoodlum.

T: Oh, yeah! That's it!

A: And by the way, you fail at being a hoodlum.

Dinner at Manpuku for the fourth time, then Initial D with J-Rock, Mello, and Stewie. Jay Chou speaks Cantonese the same way I do!


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I smell school in the air...

It feels like I'm back in school, with a draft PowerPoint Presentation for my project due tomorrow, and me barely started at 11 PM. I've been avoiding this bit of work like the plague today. Let's review some of the activities I partook of instead:
  • Attended Sunday service

  • Folded my laundry

  • Tidied my room (I became a bit concerned when J-Rock told me the other day that my room finally looked like somewhere he could live)

  • Took a bowl out of the dishwasher to eat congee, felt guilty, and unloaded the dishwasher ("gwai jai!" ...lol)

  • Cleaned up my hard drive

  • Finished season 2 of How I Met Your Mother
On the downside, I now have my entire presentation to draft up. On the upside, I believe my cleanliness complex, MD-in-progress, and ability to kill insects, set me up as model boyfriend material.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An apple a day

So after weeks of wearing myself to the bone with this engagement, that dinner, this gathering, and that chat session, I am finally sick. My work friends have told me I should take things easy and get some sleep because they're starting to worry about my well-being. However, I haven't exactly taken this advice to heart...

After dinner with Kushima at Manpuku (my third time eating there in the last two weeks), I met up with Sydney for tennis followed by Wii Sports Resort. I proceeded to stay up till 4 AM, keeping my extremely jet-lagged friend company on Windows Live despite the protests of my aching throat.

This morning afternoon, I refused to crawl out of bed until 1 PM. Despite my persistent illness, I met up with Mello at FMP. Whilst trying to pick a restaurant, I followed my nose to a Beef Noodle House. Boy, that made me happy. J-Rock joined us at the mall where I picked up a taro milk bubble-tea. My sore throat made me regret ordering a cold drink, but boy was it worth it.

We stepped into Smart Maple to look for a new phone dangle for Mello. While there, I noted these extremely creepy figurines which looked like mannequins with coat hangers sticking out of their arms and heads. We couldn't figure out what the purpose was, since they were obviously much too small to hang actual clothing on. I floated the possibility that people hang Barbie-sized clothing on them, then elaborated on the creepiness by posing the scenario of Barbie doing away with her Ken love-rivals and turning them into coat stands. Yuck!

Quote of the day (courtesy of Mello): "Don't you think that medical terms sound like Harry Potters spells? Levator ani gubernaculum! [*POOF*]"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tweet me up, Scotty!

In the Cheap Man's Guide to Cell Phones (patent pending), Pay as You Go is king. $100 worth of minutes that doesn't expire for a whole year? That's a paltry $8.33 per month. Of course, it's using a mere $8.33 per month that becomes the real trick... and this is where my problem began.

While Pay as You Go kindly throws in all sorts of key features like voicemail and caller ID for free, the per-minute rate is astronomical. I get charged 15 cents per outgoing text, 15 cents per incoming text, and 25 cents for the first minute of every conversation (15 cents per minute after that). Of course, when you're planning a meeting or event, you often end up embroiled in any number of short, frequent conversations. They add up.

Things came to a head last week when I reviewed my billing history and found that I had consumed $12 worth of cell phone time over a single week. One week! I was already aware that my phone cards were being exhausted every few months, long before their annual expiry date. If I was going to use $40 - $50 a month, then I might as well get a proper plan.

However, I thought, plans are expensive. If I use my cell phone wisely, this current arrangement can still work. This is how: I will no longer pick up my cell phone unless you are awesome I really really need to. In lieu of calling, I have installed a $6 text plan which includes 165 outgoing text messages a month, and... wait for it... free incoming text. My goal over the next couple months is to reduce my mobile expenditures to $20/mo, at least $7 cheaper than the cheapest of cell phone plans (to my knowledge) once you factor in network fees and all that jazz.

Here's the breakdown - $6/mo texting plus $5/mo ET phones home (25 cents times 5 days a week times four weeks) equals $11/mo. That still allows me $9 to send and receive phone calls from awesome people in situations where I really need to make verbal contact.

But wait, there's more! Free incoming text? 165 text messages a month? How should I best use these new texting powers? Should I use them for good... or for awesome? In my case, I decided to finally dust off ye olde Twitter account and start tweeting.

Now many of you likely know Twitter as "that useless rip-off of Facebook statuses." Let me explain to you why I think Twitter is, in fact, pretty cool:
  • I get bored at work performing repetitive tasks. This leads me to refresh my e-mail every five seconds minutes hoping for something new and exciting. With free incoming text, I can receive tweets directly to my mobile (if I so care to do so), which can provide a brief and entertaining diversion.

  • I can microblog on the go. I have to admit, I can see the unique appeal of Twitter. There have been a number of occasions where I specifically wished I could tell the world something neat that I just saw - something short and sweet that I could never pull together a full length blog entry about. For example, when I'm sitting on the subway and the woman beside me is a textbook case of essential tremor, which I just learned about in class; or when I'm at the mall with a friend and hear Utada playing in a non-Asian clothing store.

  • No Internet required. Sure, if I'm already online maybe Facebook and MSN statuses make Twitter redundant, but I can update my Twitter from my data-plan-deprived-Blackberry. That, my friends, is a winner.
While we're on the topic of Twitter, I actually already had a handful of people following my dormant Twitter account for the months since I created it (to follow Stephane Dion during the federal election). One of these was my sister, who unbeknownst to me had fired off this tweet during my March break: "is bummed that her bro decided to go out with his friends instead of playing Rockband with her". Aww, isn't that sweet?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

We fail at Toronto

My friend Ruru lives way out in the boonies of Markham, far beyond the entertaining and tasty areas surrounding Commerce Gate and First Markham Place, and all the way where civilization begins to peter out. I kid... sort of.

This week, Ruru is taking an intense life drawing course in downtown Toronto to prepare her for her soon-to-begin arduous journey through graduate studies in medical illustration. As such, she's staying downtown with her older sister. Since I happen to work downtown, we decided to meet up in this southern metropolis and have some fun.

Things began smoothly enough with dinner at a ramen udon restaurant near the Art Gallery of Ontario. This was actually a rare find that my work friends introduced me to - a sparkling gem of cleanliness and flavour buried deep within a ghetto and rundown looking mall. Not to mention that the noodles are abundant in portion and diminutive in price! This bode well for our frugal Asian student sensibilities.

The trouble began once we finished eating and needed to find something else to do. One would think that in fifth most populous city in North America, there would be things aplenty to keep us entertained. Sadly, we were drawing blanks. I suggested to Ruru that she should come back uptown to try Wii Sports Resort, but as enticing as that option was, she was understandably concerned about making the trek back down later that evening.

Now Ruru is slated to live at UofT's Grad House next year, and since she had never visited said residence before, I floated the idea of asking Kushima to show us around. Grad House also has plenty of amenities including foosball, billiards, and video games. However, as it turned out, Kushima was busy shopping and eating with his parents, so we were on our own. Fail #1.

Because we were already in the UofT campus area, my next suggestion was to head over to the medical student lounge. The lounge also has foosball and billiards, and because it's keycard access only, it's almost invariably deserted during the summer months. But as luck would have it, today the lounge was full of my classmates who needed the space to film an orientation video for the incoming class. Fail #2.

"Have you ever seen the UofT bookstore?" I queried. UofT's bookstore is several orders of magnitude larger than that of our alma mater, Queen's. It also sells a much more diverse and interesting range of items. Confirming that Ruru had never been, we set a new course. Unfortunately, it was half past seven, and the bookstore closed at six. Fail #3.

At this point, we began to ponder the prospect of spending more money - on drinks, bubbletea, or dessert. Much to our chagrin, we couldn't think of any half-decent bubbletea joint in our immediate area, so we settled on Starbucks. Lucky for us, we had passed a Starbucks on our way to the campus bookstore, so we headed back that way with visions of smoothies tickling our senses. However, as we approached the aforementioned coffee shop, we realized that the inside had been gutted (bare concrete floors and haphazardly arranged wooden boards everywhere) and that this option too was closed to us. Fail #4.

As we finally settled in at a nearby Second Cup (Ruru, who had rebuffed my offer to buy her a drink, proceeded to order the cheapest beverage on the menu), we considered how thoroughly bad we were at enjoying Toronto - one of the greatest cities this side of the world. This partially, we decided, was attributed to our uncoolness - neither of us enjoying either a) drinking or b) clubbing. When you think about it, that's a lot of what city-folk do. But to be fair, Toronto had refused to cooperate in our quest to enjoy it as well. I think it was trying to tell us that we would have been better off playing Wii Sports Resort.

While we were sipping away at lemonades and iced teas, discussing the finer points of geography and whatnot, Kushima called me back and said that he had completed his family activities and was now ready to Grad House it up. We packed up and headed over to meet him. As it turns out, Kushima is an excellent tour guide and did a really great job of showing us around and selling Grad House as a passable place to live. I highly recommend him.

However, after a brief tour, Kushima ditched us to hang out with his middle school friend, once again leaving us to our own devices. We dropped by Rabba so that Ruru could pick up some bread for lunch today, but other than that, we ended the day there. So yes, we fail at Toronto... and grammar.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Welcome to the Resort

Yesterday I had one of my friends from undergrad over to my place. In order to provide us both with a fresh gaming experience, I picked up Nintendo's much anticipated Wii Sports Resort on the way home.

Wii Sports Resort is the sequel to the Wii's simple yet beloved debut game, Wii Sports. Its purpose is to showcase Nintendo's new Wii Motion Plus technology. I was an early adopter of this technology, realizing that good or bad, it would be necessary for all future Wii titles. However, if you read my scathing Wii Motion Plus review, you already know that my opinion had been tilted significantly towards the "bad" side.

Yet after spending an evening with Wii Sports Resort, I've changed my tune. Clearly, the flaw in the equation was not Wii Motion Plus, but EA and Sega. Count me among the converted - I am a believer. Wii Sports Resort may be the most entertaining party game since Rock Band.

Promises of one-to-one fidelity of motion and control finally come to life with Wii Sports Resort, particularly demonstrated by the game's digital table tennis and sword fighting. With table tennis, I really felt the intimate movement of my paddle with each sleight of hand, reaching the pinnacle of control that Grand Slam Tennis had promised but utterly failed to deliver.

Archery and frisbee also provided incredibly natural-feeling, easy to grasp, and innovative control schemes. Even games with less realistic controls such as basketball, aerial combat, and water sports felt satisfying to play with the new device. Throw in slightly improved versions of Wii Golf and Wii Bowling, and you're left with one jam packed disc.

If I had one complaint, it would be that controllers with the new Wii Motion Plus add-on require calibration more frequently than should be necessary, but given the revolution in gameplay that it provides, it's a minor annoyance.

Wii Sports Resort fulfills all the promises that I originally expected Wii Motion Plus to meet and has restored my faith in Nintendo. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be in the sword-fighting arena...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adventures in Ottawa II

It's difficult to believe that nearly one year and 270+ blog entries have gone by since I first began this chronicle. My very first content entry appeared following my August trip to Ottawa to visit my sister. Now we've come full circle to another August Ottawa excursion, albeit shorter.

After a Sunday night drive over from Montreal to Ottawa, I awoke late on Civic Holiday to the smell of pancakes prepared by my early-riser sister and brother-in-law. Our itinerary for the day consisted of a visit to the Diefenbunker: Canada's Cold War Museum, followed by dinner and the five hour drive back to Toronto.

The Diefenbunker was semi-Top Secret installation constructed during the Cold War to protect the government of Canada as well as civil and military communications personnel (including a number of CBC staffers) in the case of a nuclear attack. Currently decommissioned, it sits about forty minutes from Ottawa proper in Carp, Ontario. Its name derives from the Prime Minister at the time, John Diefenbaker, the same head of government who buckled under US pressure to cancel the Avro Arrow project, thereby responsible for the southward exodus of many talented Canadian engineers.

The building was designed to protect 500+ essential personnel for 30 days from the fallout of a 5 megaton nuclear warhead dropped as close as 2 km away. Communications hardware was scattered in townships away from the bunker and connected via underground cabling so as to make the shelter's actual location more discrete. Only persons vital to the operation of the country were to be afforded a place in the Diefenbunker during wartime, therefore spouses and children were not allowed - evidenced by the single bed in the Prime Minister's office. For this reason, John Diefenbaker himself never stepped foot inside the facility, though plans were drawn up to transfer him there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The only Prime Minister to ever visit the Diefenbunker was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who paid a short stopover for reasons unknown.

It was a pretty neat facility, though it has a distinctly 60's feel both technologically and architecturally, reminiscent of many not-so-nice university buildings built during the aesthetic dark ages. The guided tour was very informative, and there were many additional exhibits detailing Canada's history throughout the Cold War (though these were a bit dry).

After we'd had our fill of the Diefenbunker, we drove over to a "gourmet" burger joint called The Works. Apparently, this is my sister-in-law's favourite place to eat in Ottawa. There are several of these establishments in the Ottawa area, though they have not yet expanded further. While the decor is meant to emulate a "men-at-work" industrial environment, it is visually and aurally more suggestive of a country cookhouse like Montana's.

Still, it was filled with fascinating knickknacks, such as the sign on the wall that read, "Notice: Unattended children will be sold" - no doubt a warning to would-be neglectful parents. There was a plethora of burger topping options, numbering in the dozens. Each style was available with a choice of side, bun, and patty (beef, chicken, turkey,veggie, mushroom... or for a little extra cash, organic beef, elk, or salmon). I opted for the "Man-O-War" which included caramelized onions, horseradish, Dijon haze, and Gouda cheese.

Seriously, this may have been the best damn burger I ever ate in my life. Score one for Ottawa.


This entry was
adopted by Brutus.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Road raging

Last night, we left Montreal behind and headed for Ottawa to spend Civic Holiday at my sister's place (because the Quebec Nation does not get a long weekend)...

Today, I drove for the five hour trip from Ottawa back to Toronto. Including the six hour drive from Toronto to Montreal on Friday, my total highway hours for this weekend come up to eleven. I must bashfully admit that this is at least twenty percent of my total highway experience. Having previously described my city driving pet peeves, I thought this might be an opportune time to describe bad highway behaviour (the kind that makes me want to throw rocks at people).

  1. Trucks in the left lane - Look, I understand that trucks need to use the highway. I respect that they are expected to run at a lower top speed than other vehicles. What I can't deal with is trucks that clog up highway traffic by occupying both the fast lane and the slow lane. Right, so truck #1 is travelling at 100 km/h and truck #2 decides to switch into the fast lane (average speed = 120 - 130 km/h) so he can pass truck #1 at 105 km/h. Not only does this slow down the whole lane, but at that difference in speed, it also takes all friggen day.

  2. Cars that stick too close together - When you're travelling between 100 and 120 km/h, you're supposed to leave at least 2 seconds between cars. Sniffing at the next car's ass not only is begging for five car pile-up but also limits the options for people who might legitimately need to change lanes.

  3. Cars that pass you for no reason - Of course, if there are legitimate reasons to change lanes (e.g. exiting), there are illegitimate reasons too. Apparently, the space I leave between myself and the car in front of me (so that I don't rear-end him when should he decide to slam the brakes) is an open invitation for people to thrust themselves in front of me. I don't really understand why this is - the car in front of me is travelling at the exact same speed as I am. Yet somehow, the scenario always seems to play out like this: I detect Jerk A tailgating me in my rear-view mirror. Jerk A pulls into the slow lane, zooms up, and tries to insert himself between me and the car in front of me (which is travelling at the exact same speed as me). This, of course, slows the entire lane down as every car in the lane slams the brake to re-equilibrate positions. No, seriously. If you think you're getting back in this lane, I will fight you. Now where did I put my rocket launcher?
Honestly though, 90% of traffic jams exist from selfish douchebag lane changing and 10% from vulture-esque curiosity whereby everybody slows down to stare at an accident.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Montreal minimalist

So, this morning I stepped into the bathroom at my brother's condo and looked around for the requisite cleansing amenities. It was surprisingly sparse. In total, the contents consisted of:
  • 1 bottle of 2-in-1 shampoo-plus-conditioner
  • 1 bar soap
The only other notable feature was a strange cleaning device mounted near the shower head. Once activated, it automatically cleans the shower.

Last time we were in Montreal, I mentioned the presence of this device to one of my sisters. She replied, "Oh yeah! Did you see that thing too? I pushed it and it sprayed this cool, refreshing water at my face!" This prompted an, "Uh..." response from my brother and I as we tried to explain to her that she'd been doused with cleaning solution and not "cool, refreshing water."

P.S. We watched Bolt yesterday, and it was surprisingly awesome

P.P.S. The favoured hairstyle of MCAC youth is the faux-hawk...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I would drive 300 miles

...and I would drive 300 more.

Good morning, Montreal. Last night, I drove the 500+ km between Toronto and Montreal through rain and shine, light and dark, Ontario and Quebec - my most extensive driving feat ever.

Traffic was pretty shoddy coming out of Toronto and slowed to a crawl every time there was an accident for the vultures to stop and gawk at. I maintained driving-level alertness by blasting the AC and sinking into Utada's upbeat pop stylings (I started to get a bit drowsy when I switched over to Yi Sung Yol's soothing voice). Because of the the congestion, the Kingston leg of the trip took significantly longer than it usually does. I have to admit, my heart ached a little as I drove by my once-home-away-from-home.

By this point, I had driven more than 3 hours, so we decided to make a pit stop at a nearby service centre. Service centres are a necessary evil of long-distance driving: On the one hand, few people can make it six straight hours of driving without taking a stretch, taking a bite, or taking a leak. On the other hand, service centres are crowded... and nasty.

Overpopulated by long-weekend commuters, the service centre was characterized by messy tables and a mile-long line at Timmy's. The most dreaded aspect of any service centre, however, is the washroom. Seeing dozens of new commuters ever minute, service centre washrooms are characterized by neglect and wetness - wet counter-tops, wet floors, and wet toilets. The smell of ammonia is so strong, you might as well be inhaling aerosolized piss. Disgusting.

After braving the service centre washroom, I turned my attention to my grumbling tummy. The time being 10 PM, we managed to catch the KFC mere seconds before it closed down for the night. They weren't making any new food, so while we ordered the popcorn chicken, we had to settle for the "crispy strips." These were cold and not at all crispy. The worker at the counter also forgot to fork over our French fries. "Sorry... very tired," she muttered as she excused herself. Still, my stomach agreed: Food is good.

This trip marked my first foray into driving outside of Ontario. Usually, I switch with my Dad before we hit the border (of Quebec or New York). Why? Well, because Quebec is crazy. Their roads are different: Highways generally have no merge lanes leaving you little wiggle room to get up to speed - just throw yourself in and hope for the best. Right turns on red lights are prohibited in Montreal. Drivers are nuts. Yes, ever since my brother started living in Montreal, his once modest and rule-abiding driving habits have seen some deterioration... though ricers everywhere (as well as Mello and Stewie) might describe such changes as "more skilled."

For the uninitiated, the transition from the Ontario side of the 401 to the Quebec side is fairly obvious. Yes, the signs are all in French, but even more importantly, the roads become really shoddy. Road quality really emphasizes Ontario's many decades as a "have" versus a "have not" province. When you hit Quebec, the lines on the road become a little bit fainter and the bumps on the road become a lot bigger and more frequent.

That's why I was extra shocked when after driving for a few dozen kilometres, the highway turned into a pristine, perfectly paved, beautifully lit stretch of the Route Canadienne. No seriously, this stretch of highway was so new that it not only made Ontario look cheap, but it was almost on par with New York (a definite "have" state when it comes to road maintenance). I guess they must have been tired of being made fun of.

Don't worry, though, once I got off the highway, all was as it should be. I bumped and banged my way along Montreal's neglected roads all the way to my brother's condo. End story.