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Tag Archives: usa

  • Peter Thiel, Trump’s Tech Pal, Explains Himself
    Much of the tech industry is confused why Peter Thiel would back Trump. Here, he gives some concise (although not entirely descriptive) answers to some common questions. His responses are almost the antithesis of Trump in terms of being dramatic.

    He recalls that he went through a lot of “meta” debates about Mr. Trump in Silicon Valley. “One of my good friends said, ‘Peter, do you realize how crazy this is, how everybody thinks this is crazy?’ I was like: ‘Well, why am I wrong? What’s substantively wrong with this?’ And it all got referred back to ‘Everybody thinks Trump’s really crazy.’ So it’s like there’s a shortcut, which is: ‘I don’t need to explain it. It’s good enough that everybody thinks something. If everybody thinks this is crazy, I don’t even have to explain to you why it’s crazy. You should just change your mind.’”

  • India’s ‘Phone Romeos’ Look for Ms. Right via Wrong Numbers
    Interesting story about how India doesn’t use Tindr and that sort, but just dial (or hold on to) wrong numbers to try and meet potential mates.

    Umakanti Padhan, a moon-faced 16-year-old garment factory worker, tried to call her sister-in-law. She misdialed and found herself accidentally conversing with Bulu, a railway worker eight years her senior.

    She hung up, alarmed. At home, beginning at puberty, she had been prohibited from speaking with any adult man, including her brothers and cousins.

    Ten minutes later, Bulu called back and told her that he liked the sound of her voice. “When I hear your voice, it feels like someone of my own,” he said. “I feel like talking to you all the time.”

    So she agreed. Every night, she slipped out to the roof of her Bangalore workers’ hostel, where she shares a room with 11 other young women, and spoke to Bulu about mundane things: how their shifts went and what they had eaten that day.

    “He’s told me everything that ever happened to him from the time he was a kid,” she said. “I don’t know whether it is good or bad, but I trust him. I know he will not betray me.”

  • Would the Cavs Be Better off With Andrew Wiggins Over Kevin Love?
    This is my occasional dive into the world of basketball, with this particular article being of interest because the Raptors may play the Cavs in the playoffs, and Wiggins being a Canadian. Nothing startling in this – Cavs made a trade for Right Now vs Potential, but provides some background on the Cavs.

    Love was the guy in Minnesota, a post machine who could score and facilitate. Over the past three years, his primary role has been to space the floor, though he is occasionally force-fed post chances. He’s like a more talented Ryan Anderson — a better rebounder, interior scorer, and passer. Except, for the role Love plays and the money he gets paid (tied for 22nd most in the NBA), Cleveland could be getting more bang for its buck.

  • Why Bargain Travel Sites May No Longer Be Bargains
    The travel industry is cyclic and it looks like the advantage is back in the courts of brands instead of the aggregators. My own travel planning has started at hotel brands now too, although my flight planning hasn’t shifted yet.

    He’s right: The price control pendulum is swinging back toward the hoteliers. “It was really easy for the aggregators to gobble up all this business in the past because the hotels weren’t really paying any attention,” that West Coast CEO told me. But eventually, the aggregators cornered so much of the market that they jacked up their commissions high enough that everyone had to take notice. The CEO revealed that his hotels typically paid aggregators 20 percent commission—and in many cases even 30 percent.
    In past two or three years the hotel industry has been fighting the aggregators by offering deals that wiggle around the contracts they originally set with them. Let’s say, for example, your hotel chain has a set rate for a room. You enter in an agreement with an aggregator that says you won’t further discount the rate that is the “lowest price” a customer can find on the internet. But you can get around it by offering a potential guest an instant membership in your “loyalty” program. You can throw in additional “amenities” (parking, spa, and so on) that would normally cost extra and you would not be violating your agreements by undercutting the base price of the room. Tricky? You bet.

  • No, Trump isn’t the worst president ever
    While there is a lot of doom and gloom. Trump has a ways to go before becomeing the “worst president ever” (or even of the last century). Mostly the presidents in the 1800s and how they dealt with the pro-slave states made them horrible.

    In December 1860 — after the Electoral College affirmed Lincoln’s election — southern states started seceding. Belatedly, Buchanan briefly considered sending some reinforcements south, but he let his Secretary of War — John Floyd of Virginia — talk him out of it. A few days later, Floyd resigned to join his home state in secession and treason.

    Until he left office on March 4, 1861, Buchanan continued to appease the Rebels. In the end, he gave the Confederacy a four-month head start in the Civil War. He let the South seize federal forts, arsenals and naval vessels, which they soon used to wage war upon the very country he had solemnly sworn to protect.

For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs is one of those books that have been on my to-read list forever, and I just got around to reading it over my trip to Asia. It is by Robert Heinlein whose sci-fi stories I had read when I was younger. He is probably most well-known in mainstream for having written Starship Troopers.

For Us, The Living piqued my interest because it was his first novel and not published until after his death. It was written in 1938 and tells the story of a gentlemen who “died” in 1939, only to re-appear in 2086. This premise is really a vehicle for Heinlein to describe his idea of what could be the future of the Unites States. It’s not a description of an utopia, but rather an attainable future, although there would be lots to study within an English class.

He goes into quite a lot of detail describing a new economic system, how its different than the one used in 1939 (which I guess is still similar to what we use now) and how its better. He also discusses a new moral system (which are the customs) which seems like it could work (but I can’t see how we would convince an entire society to suddenly switch to this approach).

There’s also bits of traditional sci-fi elements (i.e., new tech) but what was interesting to me was they discussed going to the moon. This was a far-fetched dream in 1938, but it happened less than 30 years later!

  • Airline baggage tags: How their brilliant design gets bags from Point A to Point B
    The history of the airline tag

    In the interconnected, automated, all-weather world of modern aviation, tags must be resistant to cold, heat, sunlight, ice, oil, and especially moisture. Tags also can’t tear—and crucially, if they’re nicked, they must not tear further—as the bag lurches through mechanized airport baggage systems. And the tag must be flexible, inexpensive, and disposable. Plain old paper can’t begin to meet all these requirements. The winning combination is what IATA’s spokesperson described as a “complex composite” of silicon and plastic; the only paper in it is in the adhesive backing.

  • How Companies Learn Your Secrets
    There truly is a reason to not use your credit cards (or coupons) at umbrella retailers if you care about your privacy.

    Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August. What’s more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny’s habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store. And they know that if they reward her with a printed receipt that entitles her to a free cup of Starbucks coffee, she’ll use it when she comes back again.

  • Making The World’s Largest Airline Fly
    You might be surprised that the merger of United and Continental is taking a long, long time. That’s because even the simplest thing to merge ends up being complicated and time-consuming.

    By mid-2011 there was a front-runner: a lighter roast Fresh Brew blend called Journeys. It was cheaper than the old United’s Starbucks, and it did better in the taste tests. When colleagues outside the beverage committee were asked to weigh in, they concurred. The new United’s chief executive officer, Jeff Smisek, dropped by the food services floor for a cup and signed off on it. Journeys was served at a meeting of the company officers to general approval. Just to be sure, food services took the new blend on the road, to Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, asking flight attendants to try it. Out of the 1,100 who did, all but eight approved. “We thought this was a home run,” says Pineau-Boddison.

    On July 1 the new United introduced its new coffee. Fliers on the “legacy United” fleet, accustomed to Starbucks, let out a collective yowl of protest. Pineau-Boddison had expected some resistance—Starbucks, after all, is a popular brand—but this was something else. Flight attendants reported a barrage of complaints. Pineau-Boddison received angry e-mails from customers, as did Smisek. The coffee, fliers complained, was watery.

  • Do We Really Want To Live With the Post Office?
    Like the US government, the US Postal Service is having a lot of financial problems. Here’s a look at why and what the interested parties are trying to do to keep the USPS alive and functioning.

    In the early days of Amazon, the postal service held top-level meetings with Jeff Bezos to see if they could corner Amazon’s shipping business. But according to Robert Reisner, former vice-president for strategic planning, they soon realized they couldn’t compete. UPS could break ground on a shipping center across from an Amazon warehouse in days, which the bureaucratic postal service could never do. And because the postal service is supposed to serve all without prejudice, even if it offered Amazon a better rate arrangement than UPS, it would then have to offer similar rates to Amazon’s competitors. Those special rates would then go before the Postal Regulatory Commission for public approval, which would offer UPS or FedEx the opportunity to undercut them.

  • Lionel Messi, Here & Gone
    A profile of Messi through an outsider’s visit to his hometown and discussions with local folk.

  • Last Call
    Here is an article whose headline predicts that American society will become drunkards like the British one, but in disguise is actually a description of how the beer industry came to be ruled by two brands.

    And so, for eighty years, the kind of vertical integration seen in pre-Prohibition America has not existed in the U.S. But now, that’s beginning to change. The careful balance that has governed liquor laws in the U.S. since the repeal of Prohibition is under assault in ways few Americans are remotely aware of. Over the last few years, two giant companies—Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, which together control 80 percent of beer sales in the United States—have been working, along with giant retailers, led by Costco, to undermine the existing system in the name of efficiency and low prices. If they succeed, America’s alcohol market will begin to look a lot more like England’s: a vertically integrated pipeline for cheap drink, flooding the gutters of our own Gin Lane.

    Although, I don’t really see this horizontal integration as as big of a problem as they say; the soda industry only has two players too.

  • Monopoly Is Theft
    After looking at Scrabble recently, here’s an article about Monopoly players and the making of Monopoly.

    The widows of Eugene and Jesse Raiford testified, as did seven other witnesses who claimed to have played monopoly as many as twenty years before Darrow marketed his game. Anspach even put Robert Barton, the former president of Parker Brothers, on the stand. Barton, who was pivotal in helping Darrow secure a patent for his “invention,” admitted under oath that he was fully aware of the game’s history and that he knew Darrow had not in fact invented it. The judge was unmoved. He dismissed Anspach’s complaint, ordering all unsold copies of Anti-Monopoly to be “deliver[ed] up for destruction.”

  • Making Gangnam
    A look at Harmonix’ new cash cow and how the process to bring Gangnam Style to Dance Central 3 for Xbox Kinect worked.

    Dixon will dance the routines herself. Near her standing desk is a dance pad and a Kinect. The entire Harmonix office is full of these dance stations, in fact. Easy to overlook amidst the general sprawl of equipment and mess, but they are there. Like the state-of-the-art motion-capture studio hidden in the basement and the various other pieces of NASA-grade tech left lying around.

  • The Myth of American Meritocracy
    A very good and very long article about how Asians are under-represented in the Ivy League, how Jews are way over-represented and how Harvard admission policies could be improved.

    The statistical trend for the Science Talent Search finalists, numbering many thousands of top science students, has been the clearest: Asians constituted 22 percent of the total in the 1980s, 29 percent in the 1990s, 36 percent in the 2000s, and 64 percent in the 2010s. In particular science subjects, the Physics Olympiad winners follow a similar trajectory, with Asians accounting for 23 percent of the winners during the 1980s, 25 percent during the 1990s, 46 percent during the 2000s, and a remarkable 81 percent since 2010. The 2003–2012 Biology Olympiad winners were 68 percent Asian and Asians took an astonishing 90 percent of the top spots in the recent Chemistry Olympiads. Some 61 percent of the Siemens AP Awards from 2002–2011 went to Asians, including thirteen of the fourteen top national prizes.

    Yet even while all these specific Asian-American academic achievement trends were rising at such an impressive pace, the relative enrollment of Asians at Harvard was plummeting, dropping by over half during the last twenty years, with a range of similar declines also occurring at Yale, Cornell, and most other Ivy League universities. Columbia, in the heart of heavily Asian New York City, showed the steepest decline of all.

  • Operation Delirium
    A look inside the chemical warfare testing that the US military performed on its own soldiers in the last century.

    To demonstrate the effects of VX, he was known to dip his finger in a beaker containing the lethal agent, then rub it on the back of a shaved rabbit; as the animal convulsed and died, he would casually walk across the room and bathe his finger in a Martini to wash off the VX. “I thought they were crazy,” a doctor who served under him told me. “I was going to New York, and Colonel Lindsey tells me, ‘How about taking a vial of nerve gas to New York to make a demonstration.’ And I am looking at the guy and thinking, If I have an accident on the Thruway, I could kill thousands of people—thousands of people. I said, ‘No. It’s that simple.’ ”

What is better to spend $400 on, a pack of hockey cards or a house that’s not in Detroit?

All I know is that I should have kept my hockey card collection if I knew inflation in the hockey card market was going to be so high!

Dubai on Empty
A short but entertaining article packed with colorful descriptions of Dubai.

No one dreamed of this. Twenty years ago, none of this was here. No Narnia. No seven-star hotels. No tallest prick buildings. Just a home of pastoralist tented families herding goats, racing camels, shooting one another. And a handful of greasy, armed empire mechanics in khaki shorts, drilling for oil. In just one life span, Dubai has gone from sitting on a rug to swiveling on a fake Eames chair 100 stories up. And not a single local has had to lift a finger to make it happen. That’s not quite fair—of course they’ve lifted a finger; to call the waiter, berate the busboy. The money seeped out of the ground and they spent it. Pretty much all of it. You look at this place and you realize not a single thing is indigenous, not one of this culture’s goods and chattels originated here. Even the goats have gone. This was a civilization that was bought wholesale. The Gulf is the proof of Carnegie’s warning about wealth: “There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.” Emiratis are born retired. They waft through this city in their white dishdashas and headscarves and their obsessively tapered humorless faces. They’re out of place in their own country. They have imported and built a city, a fortress of extravagance, that excludes themselves. They have become duplicitous, schizophrenic. They don’t allow their own national dress in the clubs and bars that serve alcohol, the restaurants with the hungry girls sipping champagne. So they slip into Western clothes to go out.

Lot 800: The Bainbridge Vase
The story of the most expensive antique Chinese piece (for now) that sold for 43 million…pounds! That’s like $80 million then. Of course, with a piece that expensive, it’s never simple.

That is because the future of the vase is nothing like resolved. Within days of the sale, there was speculation on the internet that the bidding had been rigged by Chinese agents, seeking to bump up prices ahead of the big sales in Beijing two weeks later. Then, in December, a respected American dealer expressed doubts about the vase’s authenticity. Since February, there has been a drip-drip of stories in the British press, mostly unsourced, questioning whether the anonymous buyer—a mysterious “businessman in Beijing”—is going to pay, or pondering the possibility of a conspiracy involving the Chinese state.

President Trump? ‘I’m Very Serious’
A look at Trump’s potential entry into the 2012 election. Sounds like he is ready:

In the deposition given by Trump in the suit he filed against O’Brien, Trump was asked whether he has ever “not been truthful” in his public representations of his properties: “My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try,” he responded. When lawyers asked him whether he had ever exaggerated when describing what he owned and was worth to the press, Trump said: “I think everybody does. Who wouldn’t?” When a lawyer asked, “Have you ever lied in public statements about your properties?” Trump replied: “When you’re making a public statement, you want to put the most positive—you want to say it the most positive way possible. I’m no different from a politician running for office.”

The numbers in the US budget are way to big to comprehend, so one way to relate to them is by dividing everything by 100 million:

We have a family that is spending $38,200 per year. The family’s income is $21,700 per year. The family adds $16,500 in credit card debt every year in order to pay its bills. After a long and difficult debate among family members, keeping in mind that it was not going to be possible to borrow $16,500 every year forever, the parents and children agreed that a $380/year premium cable subscription could be terminated. So now the family will have to borrow only $16,120 per year.

Seems like a dumb situation right? And the situation is obvious – give up more things right? I think this is an oversimplification and dangerous. By the same logic, can you reduce the 300 million people in America to 3 people’s needs preferences?

Here are some readings from around the time of our March Break trip:

The shocking truth about the electric Volt
This reporter is not from the automobile industry, and desperately wanted to hate the new Chevy Volt, but in the end he can’t. I’m not sure whether I want to believe this is unbiased.

How Rovio made Angry Birds a winner
A short bio on Rovio – tl;dr: they failed a lot first, and then brought back one of the founders.

Schemes of my Father
This story seems to ramble around a bit but I think it is trying to draw a parallel from the author’s flamboyant father and how the state of California may end up in a few decades. It’s a little bit rough though, and not clear. Maybe I need to think about it more.

When Irish Eyes Are Crying
Michael Lewis takes on why the Irish economy is in such dire straits. They were getting rich selling outlandish houses to each other! Over and over again! It sounds dumb in hindsight…

I loaded up my Instapaper reading list on my phone, and then burned through all of it within a day or two on vacation. Oops, maybe I should load more next time.

  • The Diseases of Affluence
    I liked this article about how the Western world’s efficiency, mostly in terms of food, has changed culture around the world.
  • The Danger of Cosmic Genius
    I read this on my phone, then later I realized I had the same article in print with me. Oops. Anyways, it is a story about how a smart guy like Freeman Dyson could be so wrong about global warming. Or is he? Who knows.
  • The Myth of Charter Schools
    There has been focus on charter schools being the saviour of American public education, but this reporter does a little bit of digging and finds how statistics and perception have been skewed by reports and documentaries to support this “fact”.
  • How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ Flunked Out
    Yep, reality TV is not reality. While Jamie Oliver put on a series showing how he could fix American school’s food program, it turns out that his approach is unsustainable and doesn’t work! The existing system was doing better with the meager resources that it had.
  • Modern Parenting
    A lament on over protecting children in this day and age.
  • Alberto Salazar and the New York City Marathon
    The story of how former world-class runner Alberto Salazar is applying technology to train marathon runners.
  • Why Making Dinner is a Good Idea
    This article puts forth the hypothesis that making dinner will actually help solve obesity because you will value what you are eating more; just as how you value IKEA furniture more.
  • What Makes A Great Teacher
    The answer is not in the millions of dollars that school systems have spent in trying to find the result, but it could be in new data from Teach for America.

Milk is a film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to hold a major public office in California. The movie follows Milk from his 40th birthday until he was assassinated at age 48, and his effects on the gay rights movement in San Francisco. Until I had seen this film, Harvey Milk was unknown to me; but it sounded like he should be an influential figure in (recent) history that I should know, similar to Martin Luther King.

I thought this was supposed to be an engaging story, but I was disappointed in the beginning. I think the problem was my lack of background with Milk. I didn’t know who he was so didn’t understand him as a person; was he an orator and how did he come to have such influence? I felt there was too little time spent on his personal background and his participation in the grassroots movements before suddenly holding public office. Although clocking in over 2 hours, this would have had to be a documentary to do the subject material justice.

The story comes together nicely in the end though, covering Milk’s fight against California Proposition 6 which aimed to prevent gays and lesbians from working in the public school system. That and Sean Penn’s acting (he won an Oscar for Best Actor in this role) made Milk a three out of five star movie in my book. The epilogue was also great as it showed real life pictures of who the characters were based on; the casting and costumes made them look really similar!

Coke is trying to pull a fast one over you and I and America. They’re introducing a new Coke mini which is in a smaller can and I guess hopes to stem the tide of obese teenagers from toppling over the – ok never mind I guess it will already be broken by then.

This new Coke mini is going to be 7.5oz and provide only 90 calories. Perhaps the most noticeable thing is that the can no longer bulges out a few millimeters below the rim. Hey wait a minute, that looks familiar.

<does a quick conversion and a lot of searching>

Back in the olden days, pop cans were only 280ml or 9.5oz in size and I remember seeing some cans in this size in my travelling the last few years. That’s a touch bigger than the new 220ml/7.5oz ones but I don’t think it’s a revolution; we’re just moving from fat back to normal sized cans. Besides, serious pop drinks drink from bottles. Or 32oz fountain drinks.

Someone has probably thought about this before, but now that there is a black president, how will Hollywood portray a futuristic society? What minority group will get to have a president?

In continuing this year’s trend of dying celebrities, Walter Cronkite died this weekend of causes related to dementia.

I was never alive or old enough to watch his newcast, so all I know about him before this event was that he was a very well respected anchorman (kind of like CTV’s Lloyd Robertson. Today, I watched a tribute to his legacy on CBS (he was the anchor on CBS Evening News) and learned about his history. He presided over many important events in the preceding decades, like the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the death of JFK and LBJ, Watergate and through this became the trusted voice of news. They even asked him to run for president after he retired!

Walter Cronkite, like Christopher Columbus is one of those people who I don’t we will ever see again. Back in the 60s and 70s, it was a simpler and more straightforward time where people were able to believe in someone else telling them what the truth should be. The nature of society has become more cognitively complex and I can’t imagine a de-evolution to provide the conditions necessary for another Walter Cronkite to emerge. This weekend then, we did see a legend pass.

February started off with the groundhog seeing his shadow and predicting six more weeks of winter. Did you know that the groundhog is only correct 39% of the time? Well he certainly seemed to live up to the trend because immediately afterwards, we had a week of above 0°C temperatures. The groundhog’s prediction was vindicated near the end of the month however, as we’re mired in -15°C weather again.

The Oscars and Grammys were also cold, at least to me. I still have no idea who won what at the Grammys and I didn’t watch any of the movies that won Oscars. The most entertaining news out of the Grammys was Chris Brown’s assault of Rihanna though. Other black people having a bad month was Obama, as he had to visit Canada during winter and actually try and get things done with his new government. The various stimulus bills have ended his honeymoon period and now we can actually see if he can bring change® to the USA.

I started listening to the radio again this month, but it’s not really a pleasant experience. In terms of gaming, I spent this month playing Burnout Paradise, and Rez; with a smattering of Rock Band here and there. I caught up a bit more on my Japan blogging, and moved my blog onto WordPress.

The big change this month is really in terms of my blogging. I’m trying to play nice with the blog ecosystem and evolving my blogging so the content is better.

November was rocking, because we finally got Rock Band after a month long wait, and thus continues our adventures on the Xbox. This month, the NXE also came out. I like the new, updated look of the dashboard, and the avatars.

The world has been changing, even as we went to a conference about Changing The World. The first African-American president was elected in the US. People around the world celebrated. That’s an historic and momentous event. It’s also filled a lot of people with hope and optimism, which is surprising considering that there is a real, visible downturn in the economy now.

This downturn has dropped the Canadian doller back to sub-80¢ levels compared to the US dollar. One of the reasons is because the demand for gas has gone down, resulting in gas prices below 8¢! That’s even lower than last month.

For the last little while, I’ve been following the events in the financial markets with much fascination. A lot of people are sweating and swearing, but I’ve been able to distance myself from this because I am not immediately affected by the fiasco due to 1) being in Canada, and 2) not heavily invested in stocks. You could say I’m a stowaway on the no debt, no savings boat.

Of course I am casually aware of the long term effects of a broken US economy on Canada and the world, but there’s not much a person like me can do being poor and not a voting American. So all I can do is watch the great show unfold.

This really seems like a once in a century event, maybe the Great Depression to our Pearl Harbor 9/11. Without being educated in the field, it seems to me that everyone is holding their collective breath until the economy collapses or the U.S. government bails them out economy collapses. I really do want to see what would happen if the U.S. has hyperinflation in a skip-to-the-end-of-the-book type way. Too bad I can’t warp to 2050 and read the Wikipedia article.

Dear MBNA,

When I read about plans to purchase Bear Sterns for $2/share, losing 95+% of the worth, I immediately thought of you. No, I’m not aware of any extra-curricular activities of yours in the mortgage-backing business, but I suspect that you may have been suckered into the same black hole of greed that has siphoned away many financial companies’ cash. Of course, it would be to a lesser extent because I can only sign my name so many times before the remainder on the big credit limit number becomes a doughnut.

I don’t live in fear though, because I live for tomorrow! I know you, my big greedy friend, will decide to make that number even bigger. It’s people with friends like you that can buy a fifth plasma TV for the upstairs bathroom, and a second snowblower to clear the lawn for an ice rink. But I feel bad for you my friend, it’s easy to be blinded by greed and oblivious to the unstable footing beneath you. Because of that, I solemnly pledge to rip each and ever check you send me (including the three I just received in the mail — thanks!) and not use your money for gratuitous means.

Capping my pens,


I’ve been following the Democratic primaries on the net this month. I’m not sure how or why, but politics is a much more popular issue on the web than IRL Maybe it’s because you can yap your opinion without having your face busted in. I’ve also noticed that the coverage is much more available on the net this time around; I don’t even remember the 2003 primaries happening. Anyways, I suppose it’s a good thing because it causes the younger demographic to vote.

I don’t have a particular favorite in the race between Edwards, Clinton and Obama. I think either Clinton or Obama will make for an interesting presidential race (and term if successful) because neither of them are a white man. Part of me is hoping that whoever wins would make the other the VP, but I don’t think that will happen. I also fear that if Obama is selected, he will be assassinated.

Reading about the race online is like reading Slashdot, there are fanboys ranting about their hobby horse ALL THE TIME. However, in this case it’s usually about Ron Paul. Ron Paul supporters have their pitch down to an art, they’ll come by and leave a comment saying how the only true candidate is Ron Paul and then list their supporting reasons. Even if it’s a discussion of Democratic candidates. But I suppose they are hoping that come the real thing, people will switch and vote Republican (provided that Paul even wins the nomination).

While it’s annoying, I kind of wonder why the American population is so enthusiastic and political issues. Maybe it’s just a 10x population thing, but I can’t imagine people in Canada exhibiting the same behaviour.

The Writers Guild of America strike has been going on since October, which is an incredibly long time for one of America’s favorite past times, but aside from the the recent news of the Golden Globes’ cancellation (due to the Screen Actor Guild’s support of the writers — not the actual strike), there hasn’t been a lot of movement. And even that was just duly reported.

I am shocked at the ambivalent attitude to this strike. I’m not significantly affected because the sci-fi shows that I follow started and finished their seasons early, while the only mainstream shows I watch are Smallville and Pushing Daisies. I’m thankful that there is a writers strike so I don’t have to watch any more Smallville stupidity. I am intrigued, however, as to why the American public haven’t caused a ruckus about losing one of their national past times. The closest comparison would be when Baseball went on strike, but even then you could watch other sports.

I wonder what people are doing instead? Is the DVD industry sky rocketing? Or are people reading books now? Maybe people are going outside and socializing!

The daylight savings time change that was made this year to lengthen the period when we follow Eastern Daylight Time is depressing. Had we followed the original schedule, then our clocks would have fallen back an hour already. Instead, I now wake up when it’s still dark (well actually I see the sun rising reflected on nearby shiny office buildings) and it gets dark before I leave work — which is rather depressing as I would only see the sun on weekends. Hello SAD. I don’t even wake up early enough for this be a regular experience; the sun should really be up before 8 in the morning.

For Canada Day long weekend, we took a road trip down to Pittsburgh. It might sound like a weird destination, but it’s a reasonable distance, there’s a factory outlet along the way, and it’s not Niagara Falls/Buffalo. We left around noon on Saturday for the ~5.5 hour trip. That time estimate wasn’t realistic because we quickly got stuck in traffic along the QEW. Of course, this was expected because it happens every long weekend on the way to Niagara. We made it to the Peace Bridge crossing in something like 2.5 hours and fortunately for us, there was no lineup — we were through in 10 minutes. I had checked the border wait times before heading out, and there were some incredulous delays like 3.5 hours in QC?! The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful and we made it to Grove City by 6:30PM.

Grove City is the location of a Prime Outlet town, it exists because of the factory outlet. Why drive 6 hours to a factory outlet in Pennsylvania? Because there’s no tax on clothes!
We shopped until the place closed down at 9PM and then drove the remaining hour down to Pittsburgh. It wasn’t a very scenic drive as there were no lights or much sign of civilization — that is until you went around a bend and suddenly Pittsburgh downtown was visible. That was pretty cool.

We stayed at the Renaissance Pittsburgh, one of the top 2 hotels in Pittsburgh. It shared its building with the Byham theatre and a Bally’s, so the lobby and facilities weren’t large but the rooms were surprisingly spacious! Because we arrived on Saturday night, after a Pirates game; we saw a lot of people wearing Pirates jerseys and checking out on Sunday. It seemed weird that one would check into a fancy hotel to go see a baseball game (would you check into the Royal York to watch a Jays game?). After putting down our stuff, we headed out for a walk. The Roberto Clemente bridge was right there so we walked across that and around PNC Park to take some pictures (you can see the Renaissance in the picture on Wikipedia as it’s just at the foot of the bridge).

The next morning, we wandered and drove around the city. Pittsburgh isn’t a huge tourist attraction so there wasn’t a lot of things worth seeing. We eventually made it to the University of Pittsburgh, whose claim to fame is the 42-story Cathedral of Learning. Think university campus, but instead of spreading it out over a couple of blocks, they built it Hong Kong style. It’s a good idea but the execution is poor because their elevators are horrible! This place was pretty neat in a couple of ways, first their Commons Room, where students can study is built like a cathedral with tall arched ceilings. Secondly, there are Nationality Rooms spread out over the first few floors which are classrooms in the style of various countries of the world. Afterwards we also drove around Carnegie Mellon University. It didn’t have as grand a presence (or maybe we didn’t drive in the right places).

After lunch, we went up to the top of Mt Washington at the Duquesne Incline. This is rated as the second most beautiful place in the USA as you can see the merging of two rivers into the Ohio river as well as Pittsburgh downtown. It was pretty neat, but the night view is the money shot, so we went to Station Square (kind of like Queen’s Quay) to kill some time and then back to the hotel for a bit.

We drove back to the base of the Duquesne Incline around dinner time and took the trolley up to Mt Washington. We had dinner during sunset at the Georgetowne Inn because it had a nice view. I think that was overrated because the view wasn’t that great and there’s too much reflection in the windows anyways. Pittsburgh used to be a huge steel town, which you can tell by all the steel bridges scattered everywhere. I was also reminded of this at dinner because all the plates, bowls and utensils were made of steel (as were the elevator doors in the Cathedral of Learning). Very weird. After dinner, we went back to the top of the incline and took some night pictures. This was tough because I didn’t have a tripod, but I was able to brace myself against the railing and took some decent shots at ISO400. I also played around with rear (or was it front?) curtain flash to get some people shots, but those didn’t turn out that great.

We went back to the hotel, woke up early the next day to head back to Grove City to finish up shopping and then headed back home. Even with all that shopping, we still weren’t able to reach the $400 exemption that we had due to our 48-hour stay. The drive back was pretty smooth, without traffic until we were around the construction at St Catherines on the QEW. The border crossing was again pretty quick, the guard didn’t even look at our passports.

Hello Mr.*,

I see from my server logs that you found my site through Google Blog Search by searching for “VT Shootings“. I hope you enjoy your stay and read all about my boring life.


*Department of Homeland Security.

Most of the necessary opinions and reactions have already been covered online and in the press about the Virginia Tech shootings. Rather than express my agreement with them, here are some salient ideas:

  1. Were you as surprised as I was that the ethnicity of the shooter was a Korean? I’m sure most people would rank that possibly pretty low and would have expected a person of another race or culture. I’m not sure how Korea bred terrorists such as Cho Seung-hui from playing Starcraft instead of GTA.
  2. The thing that interested me most about this story was to find out the killer’s motivation. Possibly due to point #1.
  3. How Social Networking has effected our lives 101:

I had to file US taxes this year even though I didn’t work in the States last year. It was fallout from when I was in Seattle because I still have an open bank account there. I originally intended to just ignore it (no income == no taxes!) but I received a form that outlined how much (little) I made on interest. So I planned to go through and file, but after closer inspection of what the actual codes on the form meant, it turns out the income was tax exempt. Anyways, I had already begun filling in my 1040NR-EZ form for non-resident aliens, so I finished it off. My postage of $1.78 cost more than the tax I had to pay, which came out to a big fat $0 on $0 of income. What a waste of a tax return.

i’m don’t generally follow politics, but one would be hard pressed to avoid hearing about the election that just passed. everytime you turn on a tv, read a newspaper, browse to a web site, or glance at a magazine cover, you would see something about the election; invariably to vote for kerry. even when i’m walking around seattle or going to events, i would be harrassed to register to vote. it was insane, and much more in your face than those people who come to your door asking you to register in canada.

in the end, i’m am disappointed at the results of the election. it’s very surprising, because from my exposure to the media both mainstream and (but mostly) on the net, it seemed that kerry voters out-numbered bush voters 9-1. so how come bush won? well i guess the web sites that i read tend to have people who are rich enough to afford a computer+internet, or work in an office that does; basically people who are living in 2004 and not 1900s. it’s interesting to see that the areas that voted for kerry, the east coast, west coast and areas near the great lakes are more progressive as they are metropolitan areas (you know, more exposure to unmoral values like gay marriage and abortion), whereas bush basically won the rest. the results are even more striking when you look at this map which details who voted for who broken down by county. if the election were to be decided by land area, dubya would have won very easily.

so the question is how do similar minded people who are not happy living under the bush dynasty deal with the future? well one take on this is to immigrate to canada. well, rather than bringing to fifty or so million people to canada, why not change the borders. i think this is a good idea:

canada 2.0
(shamelessly stolen from somewhere)