Saturday, May 30, 2015

I can dream, OK?

If you had asked me 5 years ago which Hollywood celebrity I'd choose to hangout with for a weekend, I might have said John Travolta. But in the last couple of years he's really weirded me out, so I have to now change my answer.

It would have to be someone who you know in your heart is most definitely down to earth. If they are a licensed pilot, that would be cool. Maybe we'd go flying a little. It would have to be someone who has appeared in one or more of my top 10 favourite movies. Check, check and check. The celebrity I'd enjoy hanging out with for a weekend would be Harrison Ford. Star of my all-time favourite movie - Blade Runner. And he's Hans freaking Solo for crying out loud! And Indy! I wouldn't have far to go, as he apparently has a ranch in Wyoming.

"Hey Harrison! Should I just park my car over here by the helicopter?"

"Hi Calista. Sorry dear, but Harrison and I are going to hang out for a bit. You'll get him back when the weekend is over. Maybe at dinner too."

So long Garmin

Up until this year, I had always brought my Garmin GPS navigation device with me to San Diego (and everywhere else for that matter) to help me get around.

Now that I have a more than decent US package through Roam Mobility, that gives me 400MB of 4G data, per day, all up front (2GB total over the 5 day plan), I don't need it anymore.

With that much data available, there's no reason not to use Google Maps. Especially on an iPhone 6 Plus. In San Diego, it was amazing. Not only did it do a great job helping us find our way around, I had up-to-the-minute traffic data and the directions even made it clear what lanes to use to get from one highway to another.

In case you're wondering, $4 per day. That also gets you unlimited texting, unlimited long distance in the US and Canada. Canadian carriers just can't compete. Which is weird, because Roam Mobility is a Canadian company.

Uber lame

So, I figured I'd give Uber a shot on our latest trip to San Diego. Normally, I book a ride with Terramoto, but I just wanted to see how easy and pleasant Uber was for once. I signed up and linked my credit card. I registered. Good to go.

So we land in San Diego. I take my Canadian sim card out of my phone (because our roaming rates are insulting) and I replace it with my Roam Mobility sim card with an American phone number. Then I hail an Uber car.

Then I get a message that my car is 7 minutes away. Then I get a message that my trip has been cancelled. Why? Because the phone number I registered with isn't the same number as I have now.

So, what can I do about it? Well, at the moment, nothing. Could I fix it in the app? No. Could I contact Uber via the app and get them to fix it? No. I'd need to get online, log into Uber and change my account profile. I don't have time for that. I need a car. I need it now. Fail.

Thus ended my experience with Uber. I booked Terramoto for my ride back to the airport. He was early and he didn't care what my phone number was.

On fire

Things I learned lately - 30 May

  • Jennifer Lopez's infamous 2000 Grammys dress inspired Google image search. Before 2000, you couldn't search for images. Her dress became the most popular search following the Grammys.
  • Not only does 12 + 1 = 11 + 2, but the letters "twelve plus one" rearrange to give you "eleven plus two".
  • Water deeper than 1 kilometre covers more than 60% of our planet.
  • The latest password recovery tool goes through 8 million guesses per second. It tries phrases from the Bible, common literature and online discussions.
  • There are approximately 10,000 therapy animals in the United States. Of those, 14 are llamas.
  • When UPS expanded into West Germany, they had to change the brown uniform to green, due to the “brown shirts” worn by the Nazi SA.
  • UPS developed software that routes trucks such that they minimize left turns in their deliveries. By doing so, they reduced their annual fuel consumption by nearly 51,000 gallons in Washington DC alone.  The reduction in fuel comes from drivers not having to sit idling at red lights waiting to make left hand turns.
  • Railroad cars are brown so as not to show their dirtiness.
  • Bananas are one of the healthier natural food sources in the world, ounce for ounce.  They contain almost no fat; are very low in calories; and are high in vitamin B6, fiber, and potassium.  They also contain decent amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, copper, zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Niacin, Folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and Pantothenic Acid.  Bananas are also known to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as decrease your risk of getting cancer, according to the FDA.
  • The inner part of the bread encased by the crust is called the “crumb”.
  • Interestingly, throughout history, highly refined white bread was a luxury only available to the wealthy and thus was seen as a status symbol.  Breads from whole grains were only for the poor.
  • Canadian flour has much higher protein levels than flour from most other regions.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How to fill up in Cali without a Zip Code

In the US, they don't (yet) have chip and PIN on their credit cards, or if they do, stores aren't set up for it yet. As a result, credit card fraud is rampant. As a result of that, when you use your credit card to fill up at the pump, they want your Zip Code (in some states). Apparently, the system queries your billing info, and if the Zip Code you enter matches the code found on your billing address on file, you're good to go.

But what if you don't have a Zip Code because you don't live in the US? I always found myself staring at the "Enter Zip Code" screen on the pump and realizing that once again, I'd have to hand over my credit card and my first born to the attendant and try to guess how much worth of gas I need this time.

It turns out that there's a trick Canadians can use to enter a "valid" Zip Code. When the system queries a Canadian billing address, it's only looking for numbers. But because our postal code is a combination of letters and numbers, we think ours won't work. But it does. You just have to strip out the letters and pad the remaining digits with zeroes. So if your billing address postal code is T2T5K6, then the zip code you enter is 25600. It works. At least it does at Shell. In California.

"Maybe I come on too strong...."

This 'guy' who does bad things can't catch a break. Until he gets the perfect job.

Best video I've seen in a long time.

English history

How English got started. After the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, three Germanic peoples — the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes — moved in and established kingdoms. They brought with them the Anglo-Saxon language, which combined with some Celtic and Latin words to create Old English. Old English was first spoken in the 5th century, and it looks incomprehensible to today's English-speakers. To give you an idea of just how different it was, the language the Angles brought with them had three genders (masculine, feminine, and neutral). Still, though the gender of nouns has fallen away in English, 4,500 Anglo-Saxon words survive today. They make up only about 1 percent of the comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary, but nearly all of the most commonly used words that are the backbone of English. They include nouns like "day" and "year," body parts such as "chest," arm," and "heart," and some of the most basic verbs: "eat," "kiss," "love," "think," "become." FDR's sentence "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" uses only words of Anglo-Saxon origin.

The next source of English was Old Norse. Vikings from present-day Denmark, some led by the wonderfully named Ivar the Boneless, raided the eastern coastline of the British Isles in the 9th century. They eventually gained control of about half of the island. Their language was probably understandable by speakers of English. But Old Norse words were absorbed into English: legal terms such as "law" and "murder" and the pronouns "they," "them," and "their" are of Norse origin. "Arm" is Anglo-Saxon, but "leg" is Old Norse; "wife" is Anglo-Saxon," but "husband" is Old Norse.

The real transformation of English — which started the process of turning it into the language we speak today — came with the arrival of William the Conqueror from Normandy, in today's France. The French that William and his nobles spoke eventually developed into a separate dialect, Anglo-Norman. Anglo-Norman became the language of the medieval elite. It contributed around 10,000 words, many still used today. In some cases, Norman words ousted the Old English words. But in others, they lived side by side as synonyms. Norman words can often sound more refined: "sweat" is Anglo-Saxon, but "perspire" is Norman. Military terms (battle, navy, march, enemy), governmental terms (parliament, noble), legal terms (judge, justice, plaintiff, jury), and church terms (miracle, sermon, virgin, saint) were almost all Norman in origin. The combination of Anglo-Norman and Old English led to Middle English, the language of Chaucer.

If you think English spelling is confusing — why "head" sounds nothing like "heat," or why "steak" doesn't rhyme with "streak," and "some" doesn't rhyme with "home" — you can blame the Great Vowel Shift. Between roughly 1400 and 1700, the pronunciation of long vowels changed. "Mice" stopped being pronounced "meese." "House" stopped being pronounced like "hoose." Some words, particularly words with "ea," kept their old pronunciation. (And Northern English dialects were less affected, one reason they still have a distinctive accent.) This shift is how Middle English became modern English. No one is sure why this dramatic shift occurred. But it's a lot less dramatic when you consider it took 300 years. Shakespeare was as distant from Chaucer as we are from Thomas Jefferson.

So... bad AND good news

Things I learned lately - 24 May

  • The official Quebecois word for 'foodie' is 'cuisinomane'. Certified 100% Quebecois by the Office quebecois de la langue francaise (OQLF).
  • Doubling the TFSA contribution limit in reality only benefits about 7% of the population, based on current saving habits.
  • Since I was born, I've travelled 51 billion kilometres around the sun and 426 billion kilometres through the Milky Way.
  • The planet Neptune was mathematically predicted by Urbain Le Verrier before it was directly observed by astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle. It was a sensational moment of 19th century science, and dramatic confirmation of Newtonian gravitational theory. Le Verrier had discovered a planet "with the point of his pen".
  • You can make bread in your crock pot.
  • It's not your blood that mosquitoes are attracted to. It's the microbes on your skin. People with a diverse collection of microbes are less attractive to the pests.
  • The most edited Wikipedia page ever belongs to George W. Bush.
  • In the UAE, there are no real physical addresses. So with no address, there’s not really any mail. Some people get a PO Box but essentially the place operates without it. Speed cameras are everywhere but no one tells you when you've been caught. When you go to get your licence renewed, they give you the accumulated bill and you can't renew your licence until you pay. So, people will call the license bureau every couple of months just to make sure they stay on top of their tickets.
  • In the UAE, your (local) cell phone number acts as your ID and address. You can't get a bank account without a local cell number. Every time there's a financial transaction, it gets sent to your phone immediately.
  • In 1970, GM alone made 50% of the vehicles sold in the US. In 2012, that number dropped to 17.9%.
  • People have eaten gluten for thousands of years without any problems. The reason people have become more sensitive to it now is because wheat has been bred to contain more and more gluten. Why? Because that's what people like. We've also taken the ancient einkorn wheat, which has only 14 chromosomes, and bred it to become a more versatile 42-chromosome emmer wheat. This is one reason why many people are becoming sensitive to wheat - our immune systems don't recognize it as food.
  • There are no Lone Star Steakhouse restaurants in Texas.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

She said

Somebody in Sweden did something so terrible, that the Saudi Arabian ambassador withdrew from the country and Swedish businessmen stopped getting visas to visit Saudi Arabia. The UAE joined in on the action. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, said that Sweden failed to respect the world's rich and varied ethical standards. The Gulf Co-operation Council condemned the unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

What triggered this response? Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. Why? Among other things, because Saudi Arabia prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without permission. Girls can be forced into child marriages with old men. She wasn't disrespecting Islam. She wasn't poking fun at their religious icons. She was stating facts. She also criticized Saudi courts for sentencing Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website promoting secularism and free speech.

Have you heard about this? Probably not. Where is the outcry? Where's the news? Sanctions, accusations of Islamophobia and intolerance, for speaking truth, and the world is silent.

Every airport I've ever been to


You gonna eat that whole thing?

I recently had a flashback to a time when I was young, maybe 12 or so, when my parents took me to McDonald's for the first time and asked me what I wanted. I asked for a Big Mac and fries. They looked at me like I was some kind of alien meat monster. "Don't you think a Big Mac is a little too big for you?" I said that I didn't. I had the Big Mac and I seem to recall a look of sheer amazement on my mother's face.

Good thing she never saw the volume of food I'd consume in one sitting as a young soldier in his prime. Medium pizza? That's a meal.

The economy made simple

This video could be the most informative thing I've ever seen about how the world works. In particular - the economy.

What I took away from this more than anything is that the safest way to stimulate the economy is to stimulate non-debt spending and that is done by increasing income, which is a function of increased productivity.

The only sure-fire thing I know to pull that off is better and more available education. Something we're not doing too well.

Water cat

Things I learned lately - 16 May

  • Canada is currently the only major country located along the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire not producing geothermal energy.
  • ALL beef cattle are grass-fed. At least until the last year of their life. In the last year or so, a cow is fed grain to put more meat on the bones (finishing), which gets more money for the cow.
  • Canadian cable TV companies Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw and Videotron all saw their subscriber numbers drop since 2012.
  • A New Zealand woman sleep-drove for almost 300 km over 5 hours, even sending texts along the way. She was on sleep medication.
  • In 2006, US physicians agreed that the majority of over-the-counter cough medicines don't work. These syrups typically contain doses of codeine and dextromethorphan that are too small to be effective. Only cough suppressants that contain older antihistamines like brompheniramine, seem to relieve coughs.
  • Whitening toothpastes don't actually 'whiten' your teeth. The peroxides and other strong abrasives just remove stains.
  • It's estimated that 32 million Toyota Corollas were sold between 1966 and now.
  • Back when the first European settlers reached North America, it is said that lobsters were so plentiful, two foot high piles would wash ashore. Lobsters were so plentiful yet undesirable that they were commonly used as fertilizer and fish bait. Their abundance also meant people had easy access to protein during bad seasons or harvests, so lobster garnered a reputation as the poor man's meal. Lobster was also fed to prisoners and slaves to save money.
  • Large chain bookstores throw out perfectly good books. Paperbacks are cheap to manufacture and get shipped in huge volumes. For some publishers, when the bookstore wants more shelf space, it's not worth the cost of taking books back and finding someone to sell it. But they don't want anyone getting the books for free, so bookstore employees rip the front and back covers off the books, then tear the book at least in half so that no one can read it. The covers get sent back to the publishers and books that could have been donated to a library or school get put in a locked recycling container out back. 
  • Word with no English equivalent: 'kummerspeck' (German). Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally translates to 'grief bacon'.
  • There are more than 17,000 music performances in London every year.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Riding light

Someone made a movie of what it would look like to travel through space, as if hitched to a photon (a particle of light), but looking back toward the sun. The movie is totally unrealistic of course, since we couldn't ever accomplish this ourselves and you couldn't possibly pass every planet travelling in a straight line.

But consider that it takes light 1.3 seconds to travel from Earth to our own moon, then watch this movie to get a real sense of the massive distances between the bodies in our inner solar system and the massive size of our sun.

Tell the whole story

I wonder how different our culture would be if corporations that produce consumer goods were legally obliged to document with video how the stuff we consume is made. I'm not just talking about the final manufacturing process either, but also the way the raw resources are obtained, including what ecosystems are destroyed or disturbed in the process.

Blast from the past

I know it's not Thursday, but I only blog on the weekend now.

That's me, 3rd from left in the back row. 1980. Attending my basic trades training to become a Teletype and Cypher Technician (223), at C Squadron, Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics (CFSCE).

Looking for a US surf pad

This is one of those things you post on a blog just for the hell of it. So bear with me, because I already know it's a ridiculous request.

If anyone out there owns a home on the Pacific Ocean in the US, who doesn't typically rent out their place but wants to give it a try with a safe couple, we want to hear from you.

We have a few requirements:

You have to have good quality memory foam mattresses. My partner has a form of neuropathy that makes it a necessity.
We need to be right on the ocean. The point is to be able to hear the surf in all of its glory. So being one house away is fine as long as we can see and hear the surf just fine.
The place should be clean and well functioning. We're not looking for museum grade, but things need to be in working order.
We need a spot to park one car.
My partner needs a nice soaker tub.
If the bedroom can be made very dark for sleep, that is a huge bonus. (Partner likes to sleep in on vacation)
We don't have to be near a big city, but we'd like to be 30 minutes or less driving distance from most amenities and restaurants.
We'd like to pay less than $US300 per night.
We'd prefer a property that is not normally rented out (in other words - owner's wear and tear only).

We also pledge some promises of our own:

We don't smoke.
We rarely drink and when we do, we're responsible.
We have no pets.
We have no kids.
We're both over 50, so....... you know. Mature and all that.
We're very trustworthy. We don't have any rental references but can provide a ton of personal references as needed.
We'll likely stay no more than a week. Especially if we get to come back again.
We'll leave the place just like we found it.
We'll appreciate the place as much or more than you do.
The neighbours will love us.

So? Can we come stay at your place when you're not there? Put your invitations in the comments.

What a McDonald's burger looks like in Australia

Things I learned lately - 9 May

  • Two thirds of earth's population have never seen snow.
  • It's a myth that elephants like peanuts.
  • The Hollywood sign was built as an advertisement. It was only supposed to be up for a year.
  • Israel offered Albert Einstein the presidency in 1952. He declined, of course.
  • China actively blocks access to Facebook. There are still 95 million Facebook users in China.
  • In Poland, there is a blind dog with a seeing eye goose.
  • Grooveshark finally succumbed to copyright lawsuit pressure and is no more. Less than a day later it was back as 
  • Regina SK used to be named Pile-of-Bones.
  • When you visit Sin City, at least the parts south of and including the Encore and Trump International, you're not actually in Las Vegas. You're in the officially unincorporated place known as Paradise, Nevada. The Welcome to Las Vegas sign? In Paradise.
  • So many patent troll lawsuits are filed in Marshall Texas, and juries there are so sympathetic to plaintiffs, that Samsung (who is sued often by patent trolls) built an outdoor skating rink across the street from the courthouse.
  • Amazon's Jeff Bezos also runs a company named Blue Origin, which is also developing a commercial reusable rocket.
  • The new Russian Su-35 fighter jet may be one of, if not the best all around fighter in the skies today.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Songs that are 40 years old this year (2015)

Aerosmith - Sweet emotion / Walk this way
Bruce Springsteen - Born to run
10CC - I'm not in love
David Bowie - Fame / Young Americans
Led Zeppelin - Kashmir
Pink Floyd - Wish you were here
Queen - Bohemian rhapsody / You're my best friend
Rush - Fly by night
The Eagles - One of these nights / Lyin' eyes
ELO - Evil woman / Strange magic / Can't get it out of my head
Fleetwood Mac - Rhiannon / Over my head
Sweet - Fox on the run
Average White Band - Pick up the pieces
Labelle - Lady marmalade
Elton John - Philadelphia freedom / Someone saved my life tonight
Captain & Tenille - Love will keep us together
Van McCoy - The hustle
Bee Gees - Jive talkin'
KC & The Sunshine Band - Get down tonight / That's the way I like it
Eric Carmen - All by myself
Styx - Lady
Wings - Listen to what the man said
Nazareth - Love hurts
Donna Summer - Love to love you baby
War - Low rider
Jefferson Starship - Miracles
Bee Gees - Nights on Broadway
Chicago - Old days
Alice Cooper - Only women bleed
Bay City Rollers - Saturday night
Foghat - Slow ride
Joe Cocker - You are so beautiful
Roxy Music - Love is the drug


Listen to this girl absolutely shred Van Halen's Eruption.

I think she does it faster than Eddie could.

This just became very popular

For my non-Alberta friends, Rachel Notley is the leader of the NDP party. They are trending very high in the opinion polls just days before an election here.

Nice cover by Eva and Nathan Leach

I could watch stuff like this for hours.

I can't eat that

Things I learned lately - 2 May

  • New York City intends to be 'zero waste' by 2030.
  • Ontario's coal power phase-out helped reduce particulate air pollution by 30% in 10 years. 53 smog advisory days in Toronto in 2005. 0 in 2014.
  • Canada just quietly caved to US pressure to extend copyright terms to 70 years from the world standard of 50 years. No discussion, no public input, and it was slipped in with the 2015 federal budget. This is, IMHO, step one of Canada's commitment in the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which drags us into stricter trade rules we won't even be able to opt out of later.
  • A large boat was built for the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver to host a McDonald's restaurant. It was called the Friendship 500, but was lovingly referred to as the McBarge. It now sits rusting in Burrard Inlet.
  • Google is getting into the cell phone business. $20/mo gets you talk, text, international coverage in 120+ countries. That's right, no roaming. Then add $10 per GB of no roaming data that you want.
  • The f-word is used 265 times in the movie Pulp Fiction.
  • Norwegians pay half-tax in November so that everyone has more money for Christmas.
  • Lightning strikes the earth somewhere around 100 times per second.
  • McDonald's sold hot dogs in the Toronto Zoo and Rogers Centre (Skydome) locations until 1999. That was a first for McDonald's.
  • The structure of the clitoris extends much farther into a woman's body than previously thought. What amazes me about this the most is that we only found out about this in 2013.
  • The US has more people in prison per 100,000 population than any other country in the world. 716 per 100,000. Canada by contrast has 114 per 100,000. Much of the high prison population is due to mandatory minimum sentencing of drug offences. Which Canada's government wants to adopt.
  • A zoo in China tried to pass off a Tibetan mastiff (dog) as an African lion.