what i learned on my summer vacation

what i learned in the past 7 weeks on my summer vacation.

1. living in the same house for 45 years or so means that you accumulate a lot of stuff. when it comes time to move that stuff, it takes a lot of people a lot of time to sift and sort before you start moving the stuff that floated to the top.

2. if you don’t exercise, helping to move your mom from one house to another over 5 weeks is bad for your back, and your arms, and your legs… in fact, it’s bad for just about everything.

3. a professional massage therapist knows how to fix a bad back, and arms and legs…

4. my french is not as rusty as i thought. at least as much french as is required to make conversation during a massage.

5. orange rum liquor is bad for a macbook pro keyboard.

6. when you spill orange rum liquor in a macbook pro keyboard, it takes more than contact cleaner to repair all of the damage.

7. the cursor keys from an old white 12″ macbook with a russian keyboard fit on a new 15″ macbook pro, albeit upside down.

8. i used to use my cursor keys a lot.

9. it’s harder to replace the keyboard on a new macbook pro than it is on my first powerbook titanium.

10. the sunrise at cape spear is pretty spectacular on a good day.

11. montreal has grown up since i left. there is now a dedicated bike path on de maisonneuve running through the middle of downtown.

12. even after 7 years, canada (and montreal) still feel like “home”. and even after 19 years, so does newfoundland.

13. traveling trans-atlantic with two small kids is not as bad as i thought it would be.

14. life is cheaper in canada than it is in denmark, but pretty-much-everything (from houses to roads) is more poorly made by people who are either lazier or just trying to cut too many corners.

15. my relatively-ecologically-responsible life in denmark is infinitely more ecologically responsible than a life that is possible to lead in canada. this statement may not be strictly true, however, it is certainly infinitely more convenient to lead an ecologically-responsible life in denmark than it is in canada.

16. when push comes to shove, i can throw an amazing amount of stuff in the garbage. however, there are some strange things that i cannot.

17. i come from a long line of pack rats.

18. new houses in montreal are disgustingly ornate. there are silly brick mini-castles stuck next to each other in suburbs all over the west island. they all look like someone ate, and subsequently threw up a legoland set. new house design in denmark is much more new.

19. stuff is still much, much cheaper in canada than it is in denmark. even stuff that is exactly the same (like a lowepro camera bag or a pair of ecco shoes (oddly enough), for example…)

20. 185 gb is not nearly big enough for a laptop hard drive when you have a new camera on vacation and you have a propensity to experiment with hdr photography…

irrelevant fluff

okay, okay… when i started a blog, i promised myself that i wouldn’t do what other people do and fill it up with crap. however, since then, i figure, what’s a blog for, if not to load the interblag with cyberlandfill? so, here i go.
i’ve had a couple of thoughts and revelations while i was on vacation in canada over the past 7 weeks. most of these, maybe all, are completely fluffy (hence the designation of cyberlandfill)…
let’s picture ourselves a couple of thousand years into the future. one of the major world religions comprises a couple of billion followers and they ascribe to the teachings of someone that lived a couple of thousand years before, which is to say, today. what’s curious about this religion is that their primary symbol displayed in their places of worship and in their homes is what we would, today, immediately recognise as an electric chair. the simple reason for this is that the prophet that they follow was a person who was executed in our time as a criminal of one type or another. seems strange, looking from the present time into the distant future, to see a device for executing criminals used as a symbol that inspires religious devotion and spiritual awe for billions.
however, how is this different than the present case where a billion christians kneel in front of a cross? 2100 years ago, a cross was simply a structure used by romans to torture and execute criminals. the reason it’s the primary symbol for christianity today is that one person in particular was executed on one. however, the simple fact is that an ancient execution device, the time’s equivalent to an electric chair, is the symbol that many use as symbol, if not an object, of worship.
nothing new here, just something that i realised lately that made me raise an eyebrow.

why i hate air canada

will somebody please tell my why airplanes work better in europe than they do in north america. does it have something to do with pollution or air density, or maybe some other anomaly that is beyond my comprehension?
my wife and two kids (aged three months and two years) were trying to make a relatively simple flight on air canada from st. john’s, newfoundland to montreal, quebec this summer. i drove them to the airport, helped them check in, even got a gate pass so that i could help get the kids to the gate. when they boarded the plane, i thought that they were on their way, so i left the airport.
turns out that, while they were sitting on the airplane on the tarmac, it was announced that there were some mechanical difficulties with the airplane and that they would be delayed. fast-forward a little, and everyone is being told that the flight has been cancelled and they had to get off the plane where they would be given further instructions. the “further instructions” was a piece of paper that had a 1-800 phone number where passengers could call and book a new flight. however, by the time my wife, the temporarily-single-mom got off the plane, there were no pieces of paper left, and no one to give her any info. so, she’s wandering around the gate, waiting for an announcement that isn’t coming, when finally someone asks if she got the phone number.
now, here’re some things that i have a problem with:
– why couldn’t the air canada staff figure out that not everyone was off the plane yet, and that maybe, since there were people than pieces of paper, they should do something like talk to people.
– if air canada can’t get its plane off the ground, why is it up to the passengers to call god-knows-where to re-book their own tickets? if this was a klm flight, there would be staff with computers there to get you on another plane, not lack-of-staff there to not-pass-out pieces of paper with phone numbers on them.
– why does a person travelling with two small children have to rely on other passengers to corral her children while she tries to talk to an air canada agent on the phone to re-book her flight? couldn’t air canada representatives take some responsibility for the inconvenience and help out just a little?
on top of all this, how about a little compensation for losing two days of a vacation while you’re sitting around waiting for air canada to get another plane off the ground? nope. compare this to klm flying through amsterdam. if your arriving plane is late and you have to stick around the airport waiting for a different connecting flight. you get a human being with a computer to help you sort it out. at the end of talking to them, you not only have a new trave schedule for you and your luggage, you have a little booklet that contains coupons to buy some food at the airport, a voucher for a klm ticket in the future (or some bonus klm air miles) and a coupon to use for a long distance call to tell people that you’ll be late. what does air canada offer? not even a quarter for the pay phone to call someone to come back to the airport to pick you up.
so, i was more than a little irate. and, to put icing on the cake, when we all went back to the airport two days later to get on the alternative flight, exactly the same thing happened again to a different flight leaving for toronto. so, i wonder:
– how many times a week does this happen to air canada?
– why to people still fly with them?

what i learned last week

1. why death valley is so hot.

2. drinking five cups of coffee each day may reverse alzheimer’s disease.

3. when going on vacation, you should always fly with an airplane mechanic.

4. i’m obsolete. (i suspected this before, but it was confirmed this week…)

5. there are a race of beings that live in the centre of the earth who work with electrical and magnetic energy – and the fire element. in december of 2007, one of these beings (a master of transformational fire energies) came to the surface for the first time in history to communicate with a bunch of loonies.

6. one-fifth of the world’s fresh water is in the amazon river.

7. there was a smallpox outbreak in stockholm, sweden, in 1963.

8. setting up yapb on a wordpress blog site is pretty near impossible in six hours.

what i learned last week

1. there are only approximately 2500 tigers left in the wild. this is fewer than there are in captivity.

2. 95% of the world’s tigers have been lost in the past 100 years.

3. 100 years ago, there were approximately 3,000,000 elephants in the world. today there are only about 500,000.

4. bernie eccelstone is an idiot

5. not even louis theroux can maintain his detachment when confronted with extreme nutbars.

6. one fifth of the carbon emissions of the u.k. government are the direct result of i.t.

what i learned last week

1. there is a mountain range in antarctica that is roughly alp-sized. however, these do not impress, since the valleys are filled with 4-km thick ice. see here.

2. according to some legends, eve was not adam’s first wife – she was his second. his first wife was lilith, who, unlike eve, was made from the earth by god, just like adam. she, being adam’s equal, demanded equal treatment. adam would not comply, lilith said the hebrew name of god, thus gaining immense power, and flew off. adam asked for a second wife, but one who would be subservient to him, so god complied, made him a woman out of his rib and thus millennia of discrimination began. interestingly, lilith shows up in various forms in various cultures. in some myths, she is the snake in the garden of eden. in others, she is the demon who kills women during childbirth or who causes miscarriages. in canadian culture, she’s the patron of a pretty good concert series started by sarah mclachlan.

3. glacial ice is full of small pockets of liquid water down at the bottom, near the ground. these keep the ice a little less brittle, thus allowing it to flow over land without snapping. for example, see this, or this.

4. the meaning of the word psephological, used in context in this article.

5. scientists aren’t as honest in their publications as they’d like you to believe… see this article.

6. black holes can be simulated with sound in a bose-einstein condensate. see this article.

7. i learned what a bose-einstein condensate is. see the previous article.

8. the u.s. air force lost a  nuclear bomb in the water off the coast of savannah, georgia, 50 years ago. see this article.

9. when michael jackon died, he slowed down the internet. see this article.

what i learned last week

i’m a little late this week… too many other things on my plate.

1. during the last ice age, the build-up of ice on the ground caused the earth’s crust to sink due to the weight. the heavier the ice, the more the ground sank. since there was more ice in the north (in placed like canada) and it lasted longer, the earth sank more than in other places. the cool thing is that the earth’s crust is still bouncing back, and therefore it’s rising at a rate of a couple of millimeters a year. since the north is bouncing back more than the south, the great lakes are changing shape, pushing water towards the south.

2. hitler probably had parkinson’s disease

3. there are currently three major drug types for treating depression: a) ssri’s (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors) which increase the amount of seratonin in the brain, the theory being that a lack of seratonin makes you depressed; b) ssre’s (selective seartonin reuptake enhancers) which decrease the amount of seratonin in the brain, the theory being that an excess of seratonin makes you depressed; and c) dri’s (dopamine reuptake inhibitors) which affect dopamine levels in the brain and don’t affect the seratonin levels at all, the theory being that seratonin has nothing to do with depression. interestingly, if you look at the studies that test the effectiveness of each of these drugs, you’ll find that each one reduces depression in approximately 60% of patients. this is strange, since this accounts for 180% of the population…

4. if you look at the clinical trials for all of the drugs mentioned above, published and unpublished (the latter category accounting for 40% of the data), you will find that, although these drugs are better than a placebo statistically speaking, they are not better, clinically speaking. listen to the lecture here.

there are no shortcuts to the perfect sound…

some time ago, i was interviewed by a swedish magazine called “king”. the writer asked me to give him some tips on how to improve the sound of your stereo in your room (without spending enormous amounts of money on new toys). the article is online and can be seen here.

it turns out that the writer has a sense of humour… he starts the article with the phrase “fem genvägar till det perfekta ljudet” which means “five shortcuts to the perfect sound”. this isn’t that funny if you’re not from sweden, so i didn’t get the joke until a friend of mine explained it to me.

a while back, there was a tv show in sweden that was, in his words, an attempt to demonstrate the concept of ironic humour to the older people in sweden. it was a very popular show –  something like the swedish equivalent of “seinfeld” or “friends”. the crucial portion of the crucial episode of the show in question can be seen here. the explanation, provided by the swedish friend, is below…

The guy in the red clothes is a high school social worker [ed. who solves people’s problems by selling them stereo equipment…] and the other guy is the radio host. A girl calls in and tells that she is being bullied. The social worker starts selling her a HiFi package with a “Micromega Stage 1” cd player, a “Rotel RA-930 AX” amplifier and a pair of “TDL RTL-2” speakers for only 11000 kroner. The girls starts crying and asks if she has to buy something. He says that “there are no shortcuts to the perfect sound, but this…is.. one…step… in…the…right…direction!!”

apparently the phrase “there are no shortcuts to the perfect sound” is well-known in sweden. well-known enough that it is probably impossible that the reporter that interviewed me would not know it.

so, what i found out in the end, was that, in all likelihood, the reporter was making fun of me in his own article, which makes me very happy… i just wish i could have known about the tv show in advance. i would have included a 6th shortcut to the perfect sound… buying a pair of “tdl trl-2” speakers…

what i learned last week

1. even when the connections have been shut down, there is 5000 volts and 15-20 amps running through the big power lines that connect power stations to cities. this is caused by induction from the current in the wire on the opposite side of the towers.
2. jack nicholson has been nominated for an oscar 12 times. the only person who received more nomiations is meryl streep with 13. also, nicholson has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fine art like picasso’s, van gogh’s, matisse’s and bacon’s in his home.
3. i’m not as fast as i would like when it comes to putting things on this blog. i’m now a week behind on writing a description of what i’m talking about in the “there are no shortcuts…” missing link from last week. sorry r…
(quiet week last week apparently…. only 2 “real” things in my list. must pay more attention to things this week…)

what i learned last week

1. whereas 41% of canadians own a passport, only 20% of americans do. consequently, canada has more to lose as a result of the new american border-crossing rules for people entering the states from canada. since the americans will need a passport to get home, they probably won’t bother leaving in the first place, so canada loses out on the cross-border shopping.

2. there are no shortcuts to the perfect sound

3. it’s not easy to figure out who to vote for in today’s eu elections. (as a canadian, this isn’t my problem, but i also learned that i’m glad that it isn’t…)

4. late-night watching of the history channel while you’re waiting for your 7-week old to fall asleep in your arms is bad for you, since it makes you start to give serious consideration to people who believe in uso’s (unidentified submerged objects which are like the love-child of a ufo and a submarine) and atlantis. maybe this explains why people buy jewellery on the shopping network at 2:00 in the morning as well…

5. in 2004 there was a case of wide-spread sexual abuse brought before the court on pitcairn island. this tiny island, inhabited by the descendants of those who mutinied on the bounty. see this article.

6. i want to read a book called the soloist.