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This past weekend, we went to the Scadding Court community centre in downtown Toronto, to visit their swimming pool, to do some fishing! Yes, fishing in a swimming pool!

It’s a bit weird, and I suppose targeted for kids (although there were a bunch of people like us – people who were to lazy to buy our own rods and get out of the city). The supplied the rods and worms, and you had a whole swimming pool of fish to catch (well that was the theory at least, but by the time we went in the middle of the day, many of the fish had already made a mistake and were caught).

We didn’t have much luck for a long time, which is pretty sad because this is unlike fishing in that you can actually SEE the fish before you catch it, and can cast your bait close to it. I had a bite from a very small fish, but couldn’t figure out which way to reel in my line at the spur of the moment. Pauline had a bite too, but the crafty rainbow trout was able to eat the bait and not the hook!

As we were just about the leave though, I had a moment of inspiration luck and caught one!

In Toronto, we have moose (meese?); in Berlin, they have Bears!

Last year, we actually looked at flights to Geneva before deciding to visit some other places instead. As part of looking at Geneva, I realized there’s not much to do there and looked to see what else there was nearby. One place I found was Chamonix.

Chamonix is a small town (think: Whistler) well known for skiing, being the location of the first Olympic games, and as a starting point for people to ascend (or die on) Mont Blanc. I think it’s a bit glamorous and historical because of its association with people dying on Mont Blanc, but now that I was actually there, it looks more like Blue Mountain (since I haven’t been to Whistler). Part of it might be because the mountaineers don’t come until summer.

In any case, we weren’t going skiing/snowboarding, hiking and we weren’t climbing Mont Blanc, so the reason we paid the cost to go there was to take the cable car up to the summit of Aiguille Du Midi. The cable car is also famous as being the longest cable car in the world, used to be the highest cable car in the world and has a stretch of over 2500m (that’s 2.5km!) without any support pillars. If that sounds a bit dangerous, then I take solace in the fact that it was built in 1955 and is still in operation so it haven’t broken or what not (plus we got back in one piece).

The ride is a thrill. It’s actually in two stretches with a station in the middle (Plan de l’Aiguille). The first stretch starts a bit ho-hum. It goes up a mountain and you can see trees underneath. I was thinking “Wow this is pretty lame, it’s just like Grouse Mountain“. Then we got past the trees and started on the snow and it started to take off at a steeper pace. At that point, you feel like you’re on a mountain. You have to swallow every once in awhile because of the ascent from 1000m to 2317m, and they give you a Ricola candy to help with the process. At the Plan de l’Aiguille, you shuffle off the first cable car and into a second (with a bit of pause so people can take pictures). This is where the fun starts.

The second stretch goes up from 2317m to 3777m and it’s very steep. The car is at a (less steep) angle until it looks like it’s going to smash you into the mountain face, and then it feels like you’re being pulled straight up! By our back-of-the-hand observations, it looks like a 70° incline.

Once you’re at the top, you have a couple of different terraces to look out from. We first headed for the summit which is a short elevator that takes you up to the top of the Aiguille Du Midi. From here, you have an almost 360° view of the mountain range and below (we were very lucky to have a clear and sunny day). We were able to find our hotel!

You are very high up. This is the highest up I’ve been short of being in an airplane. At Mt Rainier, I was at about 1600m and CN Tower was only about 550m. We were just slightly higher than the clouds. At this height, it gets pretty cold. The temperature in Chamonix was about 12°C, but they had a sign at the top that said it was -17°C! We knew this would happen so we were prepared; fortunately there was hardly any wind(chill).

They say at this altitude, it takes about a half hour to adjust. We were actually fine and went about our business (i.e., picture taking) with no problems. Then we decided to go to a couple of other lookouts, this time without elevators, and climbing 2 or 3 stories of stairs really winded us!

From up here, Mont Blanc itself didn’t look as grand or as beautiful as it does in commercials etc. But the combination of rocks and snow and being really up high in the air, and human construction was pretty neat.

Although we came to Chamonix specifically for this, it was worth it. Actually I think the ascent and the experience at the summit is well worth it considering it is only about €43 for the return cable car (you can also choose to ski+hike back down).

Here’s a panorama I took at the summit.

When we went to Japan, I wanted to eat sushi yes, but really I’m tired of the usual stuff that you can get a sushi restaurants here in Canada. So my aim was to order and try weird things that you can’t get here (and that my stomach could handle). Here are some:

This was the first sushi that we had on the trip, which was bought from a train station in Mitaka I think (on the way to Ghibli museum). The inner two are scallop and I forget what the outer ones are.

This one is roasted duck. I don’t know if it actually was rare but it wasn’t too memorable.

Squid is fairly common, but this one is special in that they put some mayonnaise on top and the lightly seared it. I don’t like mayonnaise so either it is because it is Japanese mayonnaise, or how they prepared it, but I didn’t mind this!

This is lightly roasted beef I believe. I guess this is like your steak.

I’ve never seen or knew this before until I saw it on the menu. It’s herring roe and was pretty good! Doesn’t it look like a pear slice??

Finally the weirdest sushi I had was horse. I didn’t order this, but some Japanese people who were taking us around ordered it. The light colored one is horse neck and I forget what part of the horse that dark color one is from (actually I might not have had tried that one). The neck was chewy!

One day in Tokyo, we headed down to Akihabara with the intent to go to a maid café. Although we did some research beforehand, we never wrote down the addresses of the “cool” ones to go to. So we just walked around and were hassled by maids on the street suggesting that we go to this one or that one (although some turned out to be massage parlours).

Instead of listening to their suggestions, we decided to go into a random one which didn’t have anyone advertising on the street. It turned out to be this one. There was nothing too special about this one, having gone to other maid cafés in the past. The one unique thing that this place had was that you could watch meals prepared by “your favorite rabbit”, or if like us, you didn’t have a favorite rabbit, you could just see it being prepared. That actually was a scary experience.

The food wasn’t that great, and although I tried to order the unique items on the menu, they didn’t come out to decorate your dishes. We ended up ordering a spaghetti whose sauce is supposed to be a rabbit

and a dessert

As you can see, they are pretty generic.

Although researching for this post, the café we went to seems to be pretty well known. At least there is a TV segment on it.

For kicks, I’ve been playing around with the 8-bit pixelate effect; you know, to make your pictures look like they came out of an original Nintendo system. Here’s an example:

With a little experimentation, I’ve found a procedure that seems to work well:

  1. Crop your picture to whatever you want to 8-bit
  2. Resize by a multiple of 2, using best quality. For normal pictures I do 1/8 (12%) or 1/16 (6%) size.
  3. Increase the contrast (I increase by at least 30/100)
  4. Convert the picture to use 32 – 64 colours. This depends a bit on your content, but you don’t want to make it look completely black & white.
  5. Resize up to the original size (i.e., 800% or 1600%) using nearest neighbor algorithm.

And now you’ll be in 8-bit glory!

I just published my first Android app onto the Android market! There is no web interface for the market (I know, how can this be when the XBOX Marketplace and iTunes both have web presences), but you can see it on third-party sites like Appbrain.

I’ve also made a webpage for VIVA Next Bus so you can see it in all its glory! Well currently, it’s a “beta” but once I thoroughly use it in real-life conditions and add some finishing touches to it, I release an upgrade. But it’s certainly usable and fully-functional as it is now.

I’m kind of bummed that I actually had to pay $25USD in order to create a publisher account (and thus publish my app). I’m already contributing my unpaid work to the greater ecosystem and they want me to pay for this privilege? Well in that case, I better create some more apps to make my $25 worthwhile!

Randomly I catch Battle of the Blades on TV. It’s CBC’s take on Dancing with the Stars with a distinctly Canadian touch – dancing on ice with hockey players! It’s strangely entertaining to see brute hockey players like Georges Laraque do ice acrobatics and lifts. It’s not all hilarity, some of the performances are really good!

Start watching at 1:50, and watch their expressions. He also does jumps!

I have some good ideas for the show though, they should have a special season where the don’t just match hockey players, but goalies! Or do a role reversal and have the male figure skaters skate with women hockey players.

If you’re not Chinese (and I suppose Indian), it might be difficult to comprehend the strategy that goes behind certain things in life. For example, eating at buffets. Here is a look at how to strategically approach a buffet. Although it’s Indian, a typical Chinese person would do the same preparations and use the same strategy at an Asian buffet.

Now, once you’re at the restaurant and have been seated here, follow a game-plan. Stick to the water; don’t order any beverages off the menu. Scan the buffet area and commit all the dishes to memory. Then go back to your table, look at the menu and identify which entrées are the most expensive to order à la carte. It is inconsequential whether you like these entrées or not. The purpose of eating at a buffet is to get the most value for money by selectively feeding the face with the most expensive dishes. As a general rule, avoid the rice, samosas (and other fried food), raita, and dal. Gulab jamuns are usually microwaved straight out of cans, so don’t go near them. Paneer dishes never have any paneer, so you can avoid those too. At a quality buffet, there will at the least be a lamb, goat, or shrimp entrée. You should be good at fishing out only the high-value bits from the curry with an elegant, clean Azharuddin-worthy flick of the wrist.

It may seem satirical to the onlooker, but it is real and it is followed.

What’s better than watching reality TV? Watching the train wreck that is reality! Today’s episode is about the country of Greece. Here is the teaser:

In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

That’s from the very beginning of the article and it gets better and better (i.e., more train wrecked)!

Interesting thought of the day, why do nerds play video games? Is it because, as the article states, there are well defined societal rules?

Another explanation is that while nerds like to socialize, they are terrified of making social mistakes. This explains why they tend to avoid eye-contact – it is too easy to make the wrong eye contacts. Games let nerds interact socially, yet avoid mistakes via well-defined rules, and a social norm that all legal moves are “fair game.”

I think that’s a good explanation. By extension, maybe that is why nerds are more comfortable chatting online. There are less social cues to pick up when all you see are words.

I’ve been playing with Picasa this weekend. There’s a new version that just came out and the new feature is something called Face Movie. Here’s a quick example that I put together in about 5 minutes:

What it does is to use the face detection functionality that was added previously, and to put together a movie where the selected person’s face doesn’t move (but the movie scrolls through all the pictures that the face is in). It’s very impressive (and fun) to use!

Sunday was Nelson and Kitty’s wedding. We were challenged by the bridesmaids to put together a dance, but didn’t have any bright ideas on how 5 Chinese guys could bust a move. That was until, we had to decide on entrance music and Victor and I realized it would be funny and surprising if we came in with chairs in our arms and started dancing.

The classical chair dance for me is Britney Spears’ Stronger video, of course we weren’t girls and didn’t have the luxury of CG chairs, so we opted to dance to the Backstreet Boys’ As Long As You Love Me.

We procrastinated, until the week before the wedding and started practicing. Fortunately, we had inspirational material to work with. Here’s the embarassing result posted online for the world to see:

On Friday, we enjoyed fine dining at Splendido. We decided to go to Splendido because it is highly thought of by the foodies on Chowhound, and was mentioned much more than the stereotypical high-end Toronto fare (i.e., Canoe, North44).

After scouring the boards for awhile, there were a few things we wanted to try, the first was the 88 Harbord:

The 88 Harbord, is also the address of Splendido and has the unique distinction for me of being even more bitter than alcohol itself! However, even though it mixes 3 different liquors, it doesn’t taste like alcohol and manages to go down smoothly (due to I assume the peach nectar).

For starters, we tried Victor’s Foie Gras Parfait which is one of their signature dishes. I think the head chef, Victor brings it out for you and describes the dish, but I forgot to study beforehand and remember what he looks like.

Since I’m not a connaisseur of foie gras, I can’t really comment on quality, but Pauline said it was pretty great. I actually thought the rhubarb purée that accompanied it was more interesting and tangy. I guess that is like how babies like to play with the box instead of the toy that came inside it.

The other signature dish we wanted to try was the Pappardelle with pulled rabbit. This is apparently the second time I tried rabbit, and I focused more on trying to remember the taste this time. There isn’t a lot of it actually, it doesn’t taste like chicken per se, but it is kind of tasteless. I guess you could say it’s like chicken breast. The texture was also like pulled pork, which makes sense doesn’t it?

Ironically, the first time I had rabbit (I think) was at Noté Bene whose chef (David Lee) was the former chef of Splendido.

Next was the Tagliatelle with Tunisian octopus. I found this dish more interesting since there was a combination of different flavours. The octopus were big and cylindrical while soft and chewy, unlike squid/calamari at all. I tried to think back to when else I had octopus; there were the octopus balls in Japan, but I can’t really differentiate octopus and squid in my memory.

The octopus was are second choice because we actually wanted to order the Orecchiette instead, but since Splendido hand rolls its own pasta daily, they had run out of it for the night (we had a late sitting – 8:45PM)!

The last dish we had was the Halibut. We weren’t a big fan of this, although it was prepared very well (juicy but seared on the outside), it didn’t have the wow factor in ingredients or taste of our previous selections.

I took these pictures with our new P+S camera, the Canon SD1200IS. I think it did OK in the low light; it took pictures at 0.8″ and 0.6″ which turned out alright (as long as you have a steady hand). However I found out later that Auto ISO only goes to ISO400. I could have had a couple of clearer pictures if I manually set it to ISO800 or ISO1600.

I signed up and was accepted into the beta program for Facebook Questions. It’s a lot like Yahoo! Answers, except of course it is integrated with your social network (well Yahoo! has a social network thing too, I forget what is called now that Yahoo! 360° is dead). I don’t think the concept is revolutionary or even evolutionary, it’s just that Facebook has the critical mass to make it popular and successful.

To get into the program, you need to answer 3 questions in a non-spastic/crazy manner. Oh and you get to pick your own questions too! Here are the 3 that I answered:

Why is it necessary for the web to have multiple search engines?

The existence of multiple search engines provide competition which in turns spurs growth and innovation.

When there are multiple search engines on the market, each search engine is in a competition to gain and maintain users. In order to achieve this goal, a search engine has to provide additional value to end users beyond what their competitors can provide. This can be through a variety of means such as by being able to search more sources, or having a better understanding of the goals of the user. One example is when Microsoft Bing launched, they integrated a travel tab to provide searchers with quick travel information in order to accelerate the process of booking travel (source). This innovation targeted travelers using search engines and improved the user experience for those users.

If there was only a single search engine, there is no need for the search engine to continually improve its offering. The feature set and functionality may become stagnant for the end user. By having multiple search engines, a competitive environment can be fostered resulting in a larger feature set for the web searcher.

How is Foursquare different than other web/mobile applications?

Foursquare ( is a mobile application where users can ‘check-in’ into real world locations and share this data with a user-defined set of friends. I consider Foursquare different due to the combination of the following reasons:
1) It is quite popular, having over a million users worldwide (source).
2) It is one of the first mobile applications that programatically extracts a user’s physical location.
3) Incorporated a social aspect and friends list
4) Incorporated a game aspect (e.g., badges and points)

Currently and in the past, there have been web/mobile applications that are either popular (e.g., Twitter or Facebook), or used a user’s physical location and had a social aspect (e.g., Gowalla, Dodgeball) but none of have combined all of these aspects. I consider Foursquare different because it has become successful while combining all of these elements.

If you had a choice of sleeping in in the morning, or getting to work on time, which should you choose?

I think it’s more important to get to work on time, but I do like to sleep in as well. How I get around this difficult choice is by getting as many things prepared for work as I can the night before. That means packing my lunch, figuring out what I’m going to wear, preparing breakfast and packing my work bag before going to sleep. Then, the next morning I can enjoy another 10 minutes of sleep before I have to wake up and go to work!

Rilo Kiley’s Portions For Foxes is one of more recent favorite songs. As my musical tastes have grown (i.e., I moved into liking singer-songwriter), I’ve started listening to the lyrics of songs much more. And it’s the lyrics that make this song a 5 star song in my iPod.

My current interpretation of the song is that it is mostly sung from the perspective of a girl who has a crush on some guy. She knows that she has a crush, but she also knows that she shouldn’t pursue a relationship with him for whatever reason. Then later, when she sees the guy, she becomes a (food) portion for the fox who can take advantage of her crush. But what does she say she’s bad news?

But as with the best of songs, there is a certain vagueness to the lyrics so one can never be certain that their interpretation is correct. Every time I hear it, I re-evaluate and evolve my interpretation of the song. That ability to engage me, plus the fact that the music is catchy and balances well with the lyrics makes this a fantastic song!

My Fave Songs is a recurring feature on my blog about the songs in my iTunes playlist which I rate as 5 stars.

It may seem funny, but our roadtrip to Chicago revolved around McDonalds. Now you may know that I put a heavy reliance on McDonalds when I travel abroad, but the food should be pretty safe/familiar in Chicago right (and there are no local specialties)? Yet I still went to McDonalds a lot!

One reason was because they was a heck of a lot of them. Every time there was food at the side of the interstate, there was a McDonalds! I suppose one reason is because Ray Kroc, the man who brought McDonalds its success (or infamy) was situated in Chicago. Indeed, one of the tourist attractions we specifically sought out was the re-creation of Kroc’s first McDonalds location in Des Plaines.

Aside from the several other times we went into McDonalds for a quick snack or meal, the other tourist destination we specifically sought out was the Rock ‘N’ Roll McDonalds. This location has its own Wikipedia page AND it’s longer than Ray Kroc’s page. Why is this location called the Rock ‘N’ Roll McDonalds? I think it’s because they have a little rock ‘n’ roll museum in a separate building (including the Beatles walking on Abbey Road).

This location is special because of a few things, it has a two-lane drive-thru (we didn’t try it though), it has escalators to the second floor, they sold McDonalds gelato, and there was a museum inside. The museum had displays of various memorabilia from McDonalds through the decades, as well as popular items in pop culture during those times. It was nice to see some TMNT but I think what would have been cooler is if they had displays of all their Happy Meal toys through the decades!

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone on a road trip, but we’re going on one now! We’re headed on a winding route through Michigan to Chicago (ok so we just wanted to do some outlet shopping). I haven’t been to Chicago since high school, which is basically like not having gone before so it should be new and refreshing.

I also bought an AT&T sim card on Ebay so that I can take advantage of AT&T’s prepaid data. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to activate my phone in Canada (GoPhone has no roaming in Canada), so hopefully I will find wifi to get things rolling. If so, I’ll be moblogging our trip!

It is pretty obvious that retail eyeglass stores is a false economy. I’m not even talking about the Western stores, but the Asian ones that you found at Pacific Mall et al. You go in, get a pair of glasses, and they charge you enough to use up your insurance allotment for the year (and maybe pad the bill a bit so you don’t have to pay anything). They are $300 happier, you are 1 pair of glasses (and no less money) happier, so everyone wins.

But it is obvious that there is a lot of funny accounting going on. First, you can look at the frames and they are exorbitant in price. A designer frame can set you back $400 or more. But if you can get past the sticker shock and ask the attendant, you will find that your total package including “extremely thin” lenses will be about $250 or $300 taxes in. They always give you a 50% discount on the frames!

Lately, I’ve been buying my glasses online, and I think this has become more and more accepted now. Clearly Contacts is quite popular, and you can get the same pair of glasses you would get from a B&M store for about $100. Other more shady places on the web can net you a pair under $30. The general excuse is that the retail stores don’t have the luxury of outsourcing to India or Pakistan to cut their lenses, and have to pay the cost of a storefront and staff.

Well that is a load of BS. I recently heard about a real store that is selling glasses for $38 a pair*. Maybe these are the same frame designs as I would get from China (i.e., shady places online) but if they can stand to at least break even, then your typical insurance fraud eyeglasses store is making over $200 profit per sale!

* Yes, I know you need a coupon to get it down to $38, but 38 is in their name so I don’t think they would ever stray from that price point.

After I finished up my Facebook Application that displays Foursquare badges, I didn’t really advertise it. Actually I wasn’t sure what the load would be like on my server (and there is a rate limit on the Foursquare API which I wasn’t sure whether I would hit), so all I did in terms of advertising was to create a link and put up a new discussion topic on the Foursquare Facebook App profile. I checked a bit before going to sleep and I still only had two users (Pauline and myself).

When I woke up, I checked the stats again and was very surprised that I had over 160 users! I figured that very few people (but hopefully at least one or two) would read my discussion topic (and then only a %age would actually try the app). 160 was pretty crazy! After a bit of searching, I found out that Facebook Badges was tweeted by a popular 4sq blogger. This was then RT about 15 times during the day.

The whole embarrassing thing about this was that the tweet had linked to my blog (I guess because I put a screenshot up) post that I hastily wrote up. Oops, awkward intersection of personal and public life. It wasn’t even obvious that there was a link between the app and my blog, but I guess if you go through a couple of links you would be able to find it. Plus, my blog entry ended up showing up in the Google search for “Facebook Badges”.

That ended up being the most popular day ever on my blog I guess, although it was nowhere close to a /. effect. Here’s how my analytics puts it:

An interesting thing that I discovered was I actually got a lot of referrals from That was very curious because I didn’t submit my application to the application directory yet. So were people finding about it through their friends’ Likes and status? I later found out that the same 4sq blogger posted it on their page’s wall. 25 Likes and a few comments later, that explains most of my initial users!

As I am obsessed with Foursquare lately, I’ve been looking at how to do more stuff with it beyond just checking in (when I’m fortunate enough to have a data connection). I looked at the feeds available and was a bit underwhelmed because the data was quite limiting. The best part about Foursquares were the badges, and you had to work with the API in order to get that data. And that was intimidating.

On this lazy Sunday, I decided to finally take a crack at it. I had an idea, and a quick search on Facebook showed that no one had done this before. I wanted to take the badges that I’ve received on Foursquare and display them on my Facebook profile. This little project used a lot of new technologies that I haven’t really played with before: the Facebook API, the Foursquare API, OAuth, and JSON (or XML parsing but I decided I might as well try something new here too). Surprisingly, it was quite easy.

Using a Foursquare API library and some sample code, I was able to setup the authentication using OAuth in an hour. It was quite simple, and just works! Setting up the Facebook App was a bit more confusing but they weren’t really technical challenges but just understanding the terminology. In fact that, and coding the various possible user scenarios took the largest amount of time.

I finished my Foursquare Badges Facebook application in one day (and even had time to write this blog). I was surprised that the APIs and interfaces worked so smoothly together, I guess the maturity of web applications and mashups is quite far along. Maybe I should spend more time playing in this space again.

I’m not really a fan of the iPhone for a variety of reasons, although I have a small interest in getting one because of the App Store. Well I still have very small interest but it has increased a bit more after hearing about the 4th generation iPhone.

It’s not out yet, or announced, but an Apple engineer lost his prototype in a bar and eventually made its way to Gizmodo after some ca$h changed hands. I’m not so interested about its features but I like the way that they’ve rectangularized the body. It reminds me of my Sony Clié and I find it sleeker than the current design.

Now if it only had a tactile keyboard I’d get it as my next phone.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with foursquare. People are saying that 4sq will be the next Twitter and it’s catching on pretty quickly. The premise is that you check-in where ever you are at, and you can see whether any of your friends are there or what cool things there are to do there. There’s also a game aspect, which is the most appealing to me, where you can earn badges based on your check-ins.

Now invariably when I mention 4sq, someone will mention Please Rob Me and how sharing your location online gives thieves an easy opportunity to identify when you’re not at home and rob you. Frankly I think this is bull.

If you get robbed, it’s either because a thief randomly picked your home to rob or someone you know knew you were out and robbed you. If it’s the former, then sharing your information online doesn’t hurt you. If it’s someone you know, then only in a small percentage of the case will sharing your location help them. I think it’s a small percent because usually your home is empty when you’re at work so if someone wanted to rob you, they should just wait until you’re at work! And that’s assuming that whoever is stalking you knows where you live IRL.

Sure sharing your location information is a risk, but I’m tired of people saying that it gives an opportunity for someone to rob you. If someone wants to rob you, this would only help them marginally. Actually I think a bigger problem is having people you don’t like show up where you are.

Whilst reading the wikitravel entry on Brussels, they advised us to try a couple of things in Belgium: mussels, fries, waffles and of course chocolate. Well being tourists, we tried all of them!

Chocolate was the easiest. There were chocolatiers EVERYWHERE. They were like the cell phone stores in Canada, and every single one of them had some cute Easter display in their storefront.

I’m not a connoisseur of chocolate but high quality chocolate is much more accessible in Belgium. And the best part is if you browse around the stores, you will get lots of free samples!!

Waffles were also quite easy (and cheaper) to acquire. They were like the crepes in France, and good if you needed something to fill your stomach (or a Nutella infusion). But surprisingly, we had quite a difficulty with the fries. In the Netherlands, we saw many stores selling fries on the street, but Holland wasn’t known for the fries so we waited until Belgium. Except when we got to Brussels we couldn’t find any place selling frites! We walked around for an hour or so around the Grote Markt before finding a store. In Belgium (and Holland) you had to pay extra for the condiments. Even ketchup. We paid for mayonnaise even though I am not a fan of it but because that’s how people in Belgium traditionally eat them. The mayonnaise wasn’t that bad, but I don’t think the fries were that special.

The last specialty were the Belgian Mussels. I think a lot of places expect that tourists would come and try it and so the prices that we saw were exorbitant (€20 for mussels with a side of fries at your generic restaurant). In the end, we found a small fish bar beside a market in Brugge which were a bit cheaper.

I think they were good, but now I don’t really remember how they tasted. We did get a lot though so it was worth the money, although like most seafood nowadays I don’t know if it can be a local specialty anymore. I believe the mussels we had came in from Normandy, but it sounds like a lot of them come all the way from New Zealand!

This trip to London, I had a desire to watch a west-end London theatrical production. Last year when we went to NYC, we had similar intent and went up to the TKTS booth at the South Street Seaport to look for some discount tickets. Unfortunately we weren’t successful because the tickets weren’t that cheap and there weren’t any shows that we were keen on seeing either.

For London, we were a little more prepared. First we looked up what shows were playing and there were several that we were interested in seeing. Plus, with the Sterling being weak against the CDN dollar, the tickets weren’t that expensive (at half off, of course they are almost never 50% off). Then when we in London we planned to be in Leicester Square by 10AM to get the best discount seats for the day.

On the actual day, we ended up being there about an hour early so we walked around Leicester Square for a bit first. There is a block that is almost entirely filled with discount theatre ticket stores, and because we were so early, they were still setting up and we saw the same people/owners running around the different stores. In the end they weren’t that cheap so we lined up for TKTS, and of course they weren’t cheap either (they were selling seats in the £40 range which is still $60 after currency exchange).

What we ended up doing was going to the actual theatres themselves and buying tickets directly from the box office. The seats weren’t as good as the “discount” ones but they were cheaper! Our first pick was Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre. Neither of us had seen it in Toronto and Pauline really wanted to watch it. I was a bit worried about our seats since we were in Upper Circle, but the theatre was not that big and we had a reasonable view that wasn’t three stories up like we would be in Toronto.

The west end production of Les Mis is impressive because it is the first English production and has been running non-stop in the London west end for the last 25 years. It is the longest running show in the west end with over 10,000 performances. And it was still sold out (or close to) when we went!

I was impressed by the performance for a couple of reasons. First I was able to understand what the performers were signing! I remember watching Phantom and not really understanding what was going on. I don’t know if it’s because the cast had better enunciation or if it was because the English accent is more distinct, but I was able to pick up and understand the details of the story and song.

Secondly, they used a very simple mechanism of rotating the stage to great effect. They would use it to show travelling/movement or do setup of the stage while the play was still going on. It’s such a simple device but I’m sure it saves a lot of money for stage costs.

Lastly, the story itself was touching. I suppose this is mostly to the credit of Victor Hugo who wrote the novel which the musical is based upon. But other musicals I’ve been to such as Phantom and Lion King also have a story as source material and were not able to create the same sort of emotional connection. In the end I think it was a very worthwhile experience to see Les Misérables in London!