Thursday, December 18, 2008


I just went onto Facebook for the first time in a while, and found I have requests to join the following groups:
  • If you support the Coalition, we'll burn your house down!!!
  • I'm in favour of the Liberal/NDP Coalition Government
  • Supporting a Liberal-NDP Coalition Government
  • Canadians For a Liberal-NDP Coalition
  • Canadians for a coalition government.
  • Stop the Liberal-NDP-Bloc Attempt to Gag Democracy
So that's 4 in favour, and 2 against. I wonder how closely that mirrors the opinions of the general populace, or if my Facebook friends list is more liberal than average. Considering I have a lot of people I went to highschool with, I think they may do a good job of balancing out the more liberal opinions of most of my groups of friends.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Born in a bloody barn

I swear this one flatmate of mine was born in a barn. She keeps leaving both the inner and outer doors open. This evening , she's out sweeping the drive, and she's been out there for 5 minutes, with both doors open while it's 3°C outside. My room is now very cold, even though I closed my bedroom door as soon as I noticed it getting cold. Thankfully, she's moving out in a couple days. It seems pointless to even confront her with it, with her leaving so soon, but it's still quite irritating.

Friday, December 12, 2008

High performance

I love my job here. We had a long meeting this morning with a vendor, where we
talked about things like NAK suppression algorithms, JNI latency,
kernel/userspace transition latency, and kernel bypass network drivers. What's
great is that it isn't just "intellectual wanking", it's actually entirely
relevant to the work we're doing here.
One statement someone made, which I thought summed it up really well, was that
"2 milliseconds is forever, in our world." He's absolutely right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I just received a very interesting email:
Hi Derek,

I am writing to let you know that three of your photos with
a Creative Commons license have been short-listed for
inclusion in the sixth edition of our Schmap Paris Guide,
to be published early January 2009.
Wicked! I've approved the photos to be included in their selection process, and I really hope one of them gets through.
The selected photos are: (linked to Flickr page)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ladybug, Ladybird

Some of you who read my blog may listen to the British electronica group, Ladytron. They have a song called "Ladybird". I just found out this weekend that that pretty little red bug with black spots that we North Americans call the ladybug, is called a ladybird here in the UK. I'm going to have to listen to that song again with that in mind.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Temporary Office

Yesterday, Friday, was our last day in the office on Baker Street. As of Monday, we'll be in another managed office, down near Victoria station. We've got a huge new office near Shepherd's bush, in a brand new building, but it's still being finished, so we won't be moving into it until January. It's exciting to be in a company that's growing enough to need a new office. It reminds me a bit of my InTouch days, when we moved into a bigger office in Richmond, and spent the weekend pulling cat-5 cable so we'd have networking on Monday. The company I'm with now is big enough that the network & systems team is handling all that stuff this weekend, instead of needing to just use developers that know a bit about networks.

It's a managed office as well, so a lot of the basic infrastructure is in place already. I certainly hope it's more well managed that the on we're leaving. The bathroom is frequently out of hand towels, or have freakishly hygroscopic kitchen paper towel instead. More often than not, one of the two toilets is out of order, and the urinal smells like they only clean it once a day, even though it desperately needs it more often, as can be seen from the patina of crusted yellow dried urine all over it. The bathroom stinks, partly due to the urinal, partly because the automatic air freshener has been empty for months, plaintively beeping an "fill me" notice every ten seconds.

Come January, we'll all be packing up our laptops and screens again as we move into the "new new" office, as we've been calling it. As nice as it will be to have a shorter commute, it looks like the lunch situation could be pretty dire. The office is in a small new office complex, much of which is still being built. There are no shops around, and the canteen in the building is in the half of the building that only the building owners' employees have access too. They have half the building, and the other have is being rented out to tenants such as ourselves. I can only hope that the eventually, and soon, realize that they could be making more revenue if they open up the canteen to the rest of the building. Across the motorway from us is Westfield mall, an enormous new shopping mall, which I'm sure has plenty of food shops, but it's a 20 minute walk, due to how far away the nearest crossing of the motorway is. I'm not sure yet where I'm going to get my lunches, but I'm sure I'll figure something out.


I've finally got tickets to Monty Python's Spamalot musical. I saw a poster for it in the Shepherd's Bush tube station last week, saying that it ends on January 3rd, so I decided I should really get on it, and go see it before then. I just finished waiting out in the cold for half an hour in the lineup outside the Leicester Square half price ticket booth, but I've got tickets for the 3:00 show, three hours from now, in my pocket, and I'm out of the cold now, waiting in a pub for my tea and breakfast to arrive.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Adobe: Resolved

I just thought I should post an update, so my now-resolved frustration doesn't remain standing as the last word on the subject. I've now received my licence key for Adobe Lightroom, after using my credit card directly, instead of paypal.

As I mentioned previously, I'm a fan of Lightroom, and I love the plugin stuff they've done with the new version. I really love the flickr plugin and metadata viewer preset builder that Jeffery Friedl has built.

With the tagging in Lightroom (and the way it writes the tags in the EXIF metadata of the image itself), the non-destructive processing, and the flickr upload, it makes everything so much easier. I love it.


It's been quite cold the last few days. It's been down below zero overnight a couple times, and there's been frozen rain/snow on the cars outside in the morning. London seems to be at least 2 or 3 degrees lower than Vancouver, at the same time of the year. My flat doesn't hold in the heat very well, and being on the ground floor, it's the coldest room in the house, so I finally broke down and bought an electric blanket on the weekend. I haven't yet figured out what to do with my kitchen/shower room, because it leaks heat like a sieve, so I keep the door to it closed, to keep my room warm, but that means the shower is freezing cold in the morning. If I leave the door open, to keep that room warm, then my bedroom cools down quite a bit.


Update: I've since received my licence key, after purchasing with my credit card directly, instead of using paypal. See my more recent post.

I'm getting so frustrated with Adobe. I've tried out the demo of their Photoshop Lightroom 2 software, and I'm really really happy with it. It makes the process of offloading, organizing, processing, and uploading my photos so much easier. It's the part of photography I've always enjoyed (and thus postponed) the most, because it's so time consuming, and frustrating, because I never had a good way of doing it all. Lightroom just makes it so much faster, and less painful, so I decided to buy it.

Easier said than done. You'd think that when you want to give a company $300 for a piece of software, not even for a box, just to download it, which costs them virtually nothing, you'd think they would be tripping over their feet to take your money and give you the software. Of course not. I've tried purchasing it three times now. I'm still waiting for the third attempt to work or not. The first time, their billing address form had "United States" as the country, and I couldn't change it, so I couldn't enter my billing address to pay for the software. The second time, the next day, the country field was magically correct, so I went all the way through, and paid for it with paypal. It took them two and a half hours to finally email me back, saying "Unfortunately we were unable to approve your order in the Adobe Store." I've tried again now with my credit card, and I hope it works this time, because I have a bunch of photos I want to go through and get uploaded.

In contrast, when I've wanted to spend a mere $20 on some independent developer's game, I've had a "Thank you, here's your license key, and here's where to download the game" email within 5 minutes every time.

For all the complaining they do about software piracy, Adobe needs to get their act together on the sales side. If it's taken me hours of trying, and three tries, for the privilege of giving them money, and a fair chunk of it, for their software, it's no wonder people pirate it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bizarre dream

I had a really bizarre dream last night, which I remember a surprising amount of. I don't know why, but for some reason my right leg had been amputated just above the knee. I was still here in London in the dream, and everything seemed to be going pretty normally, the fact that I needed crutches to get around didn't seem to have affected my life much, in the dream. However, I was upset to the point of bawling my eyes out about losing my ability to drive a manual transmission car. I was, of course, just devastated about not being able to drive Bianca any more.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Random notes

Just a bunch of random stuff from the last two days.

I bowled on Tuesday, and bowled badly. It's my lowest two game total since I got to the UK. Meh.

When I left the bowling alley, it was snowing. Actual snow, that was sticking. When I got to work this morning, all the cars in the neighbourhood had half an inch of frozen snow on them. Bizarre.

I went to salsa lessons tonight. I've never done dance lessons before, but Sonja and I had plans, which were slightly changed by the fact that her flatmate, who is moving out soon, wanted her to come to salsa lessons, so she invited me to come. I can't believe how much fun I had. I think we're all going again next Wednesday.

I'm also going out to a pub for some live music with the same group of people on Saturday, something Sonja and I had planned to do a few weeks ago, but where thwarted at when the airline called her for a flight.

I'm hoping to visit my aunt and uncle the weekend after that.

It's past midnight now, so I'm off to bed. I've got a busy day tomorrow, I expect, thought Friday will be nice and relaxing, as we've all been given the afternoon off. Woot!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stupid Alarm Clock

My alarm clock woke me up an hour early this morning. Stupid thing. It was set correctly when I went to bed, and last night sometime, it jumped ahead by an hour, so it woke me up at 6:30 (when it said 7:30.) I'm not kidding. It picks up the radio time signal broadcast and re-syncs itself every morning at 2am or something. Sunday morning was the daylight savings time change here, so on Sunday, I moved my alarm clock back an hour. Well, the stupid thing doesn't automatically do daylight savings time (even though it does automatically set it's time), so it turns out what I was supposed to do was tell it we're out of DST, instead of adjusting the time myself. I think in the future, I'll just get an alarm clock that isn't so "smart".

I other news, I went for a very nice walk on Saturday, from Oxford Circus to Shepherd's Bush Green. Unfortunately, I put on thin socks, and nearly wore blisters. If it wasn't for that, I think I would have finished the walk all the way home. Along the way, (mostly due to walking through Mayfair) I realized I was seeing more Maserati's than Mazda's. How bizarre is that?

I also went for a drive on Sunday at 7am, just after sunrise, which was perfectly uneventful, despite being absolutely terrified nearly the whole time. Thankfully, traffic was very light, as expected. Hopefully I can do that again in a week or two, and it won't be quite so terrifying.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quiet Weekends

On Thursday evening, I was rather surprised to arrive home from work to find a parcel waiting for me, even though I couldn't remember having ordered anything. In the dim light of the entryway, I was only able to make out a "Canada Post", but then realized with a burst of excitement what it was. Taking it into my room where there was light, I could see it was declared as "Candy", and was from my grandma. Every Halloween she makes these amazing chocolate puffed wheat squares that she hands out, and passes around to the family. In this day and age of paranoia, I don't know how many children would be allowed to actually to eat homemade Halloween candy, but my grandma includes a little slip of paper in each one with her name and address on it. I can only hope that given that, parents let their guard down enough for their children to try these, because they're delicious! I'm so happy my grandma sent me some. She's sent me some every year that I've been away from home, and I'm just tickled that I'm still getting them, despite being 28 years old, and living half the world away.

I've decided that this weekend, I'm going to give driving a try again. I got up early today, Saturday, so that I can get up even earlier tomorrow, and take one of the car club vehicles out for a couple hours early in the morning, when the roads are virtually empty of traffic. I'll just stay around on my neighbourhood, where I know the streets, so I don't have to worry about getting lost. I want to just drive around, and get a feel for where the corners of the car are, so I don't have a repeat of last time.

I was out for drinks with Sonja on Thursday, and we talked about driving, and I mentioned how I enjoy doing road trips, but explained about my fender bender here, and how it's made me nervous about trying to drive here again. It turns out Sonja quite likes road trips too, and also wants to do one to Cornwall, so the thought of having company to go on some road trips has been a bit of an incentive to get used to driving here.

This morning, I've found a French cafe down on the high street, and I'm having a café au lait and contemplating breakfast as I get these words down. I usually come out for brunch sometime after 11am. It's only 9:30 today, and it's been pretty chilly here since last weekend, so sitting on the patio at my usual places it out of the question, so I thought I would try somewhere new.

Work has been really great lately. For the last week, I've been working on something that's totally up my alley (writing Java code to parse a proprietary little endian binary data stream) and have been pairing on it with one of the guys that interviewed me. He's really smart, and a very experienced developer, so I've had to push myself as hard as I've ever done to keep up without worrying that he'll think I'm stupid, so it's been draining, but rewarding. For those who don't know the term, pairing is when two of us are sharing one computer, one person typing, but both of us putting all our brainpower into it, and helping to make sure neither of us makes any easy to spot (easier to spot when you've not typed it yourself) mistakes. It's much more demanding and draining because you can't just flip over and check your email for a moment, so it's the "navigator"'s (the guy who's not typing) job to call for a break from time to time, so we don't wear ourselves out completely before the day or week is over.

My weekends have been pretty quiet since I got back from Paris, I haven't really gone and done anything much. I wandered around with my camera last weekend, or the weekend before last, and took some photos, which are on Flickr now. I had thought about going out late at night this weekend, with my tripod, to do some nice night long exposures, maybe paint some photos a bit with a flashlight, but I decided to get up early to get driving experience instead. If I can get to bed early enough this morning, I may even do that tomorrow morning before the sun rises instead, if the time change tonight (it's fall-back this weekend here in the UK) doesn't mean it's too light at 5am. The time change does mean it'll be dark earlier now, so I can always do it another time, without having to stay up quite as late either. I found a photographer's website last night that does hour-long exposures of alleys and various urban things in the wee hours, and the photos are absolutely stunning. I also looked at another one of a guy that does "industrial landscapes", which are something I'm quite fond of. The photos were nice, but I found that he overdid the HDR a bit, so they ended up looking like something rendered out of the Half-Life 2 game engine, instead of photos. I think they would be beautiful without quite so much HDR.

I've been thinking about going out and buying one of those digital photo frames. Last weekend, I stopped at three different photo shops, to find out how much it would cost to get some 8x10" prints done to hang up around my room. The least expensive I could find them was £8, which is highway robbery! That's $16! Costco does them for $1.39! I just can't bring myself to pay over 10 times the price for a simple print. Hence, I'm thinking about the digital picture frames. I've seen some that are up to 15" (an 8x10 photo is only 12") for around £150, which is the same price as doing about 19 8x10" prints here. If I get a 10" or 12" frame, it's even less. The resolution obviously won't be as good as a print, but I don't really care, I just want to have some of my photos (of here and of Vancouver) on display, even if it's just on display to myself.

My food has just arrived, so I'll finish it up there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Great Bowling

I had a great time bowling last night, after having taken a week off while I was away. I went to the pub next door to the alley for the colcannon I usually have. The previous two weeks that I actually went bowling, there were football games on, so the pub was too busy to go try eating there, so it's been a month since I had it, which made it taste extra good.
My first game of bowling was absolutely horrible. I bowled a 95, which is my worst score in two months. However, when the second game came around, I totally found my groove, and somehow managed to score a 183. I had spent the entire first game throwing a bit to the right, and then being unable to pick up the spares. For the second game, I managed to correct the right curve, and had 3 strikes and something like 8 spares. That score put me into 2nd place in our league. Hopefully I can do something like that again next week.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Paris Trip correction

As I was having my breakfast this morning, I realized I'd gotten something wrong about my Paris trip.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast, the first thing we did was headed down to a flea market on the left bank, near the Porte de Vanves metro station. We spent a couple hours wandering through there, looking at all the antiques, but I didn't find anything that caught my eye. On the way back to the metro after that, we walked past a rack of bikes that were locked onto some electronic mechanism. Apparently in Paris, you can rent bikes from these stations, and when you're done with it, return it to any of the other stations, though I suppose only if they have a free spot.

First trip to Paris, Part 2

I've uploaded photos from the trip.

On Monday, the three of us went to the Eiffel Tower. It opens at 9:30, so we tried to make it there by then so we would avoid the lines. We had a bit of a slow start in the morning though, due to a lack of coffee in the apartment. After having just some sliced apple, grapes, and yogurt for breakfast, we went out and found a Starbucks so we could all get out fix to-go. We then hopped on the metro to get over to the left bank, where the tower is. We got off at a stop just beyond the gardens leading up to the tower, and walked through the gardens, admiring the tower as we approached. Strangely, the Eiffel tower seemed somewhat shorter than I was expecting, though no less impressive. It's an absolutely beautiful building, to my tastes at least. Despite having gotten a late start, the lineups still weren't bad when we got there. The lineup goes into a buildings built along the side of of the concrete bases of the tower's four legs. There's also a security check, like a mini airport security station. They even took my camera bag and checked to see if it fits in one of those little metal cages they use for checking the size of airline carry-on bags. It didn't quite fit, so I probably won't be able to fly with it, but they let me up with it anyway, after having a look inside. We also had to go through a metal detector, just like at the airport, but they didn't go so far as to x-ray our bags.

Once we were through all the security, we bought our tickets to the top, and got in line for the elevator. You can walk up as far as the second (of three) platforms, but it's quite a lot of stairs, and I think you pay the same to get to the very top regardless of whether you walk the first two. The elevator itself was quite interesting. Because of goes up the leg of the tower, it goes up at an angle, not straight up like a normal elevator. It's also two stories, with entry and exit doors for each. I don't know how many people they fit, but it reminded me of the Grouse mountain gondola. It stopped briefly on the first platform, for people who had only paid to go that far, before continuing up to the second, where we all exited. We didn't stop to admire the view, but immediately went and got in the line for the elevator that would take us from the second platform up to the very top. The ride up was a bit nerve wracking, because we were crammed into the elevator like sardines, and Lynne and I were pressed up against the door, which neither of us were terribly comfortable with.

When we reached the top, it was all made worthwhile. The view from there is incredible. There's two floors, the lower one enclosed by windows, and the upper one open to the air, but fenced off quite securely. The lower floor had photos and indications where various buildings throughout Paris are, but we skipped that and went straight to the upper floor, and Lynne and Britt pointed out all the locations that I couldn't find on my own. I quite like my new(ish) camera lens, with the long zoom (35mm equivalent is 320mm) and image stabilization, as it made for great viewing of things way off in the distance. I was able to just barely see the pillar and statue at Bastille, near the apartment, halfway across Paris. The Arc de Triomphe looked so small from the top of the Eiffel tower. After having our fill of the view, we went back down to the second platform, and took a quick look around from there, though the view from the top was much better. Rather than crowding into the elevator for the trip down, we decided to take the stairs, which was nice because it offered some more nice photo opportunities.

After the Eiffel tower, we went for lunch. As we were walking back along a gravel path, away from the tower, a woman stopped and "picked up" a ring from the path, holding it out to us to show us how shiny it was. Lynne told her no thanks, in French, and then told me that it's a common scam. They have a very very cheap metal ring, that they then pretend to pick up, and offer to let you have it. When you accept it, they then ask for payment. There's all sorts of variations, from pretending to be of some religion that doesn't allow you to keep it, to just plain giving it to you, and then asking for money.

Britt and Lynne had a favourite restaurant nearby they were going to take me to for lunch, but unfortunately, we found it closed when we arrived. Apparently most small family run places close Sunday and Monday, so we had to try three more places from their Zagat rating book before we finally found one open, but fourth try was a charm. At Le Florimond, the waiter was extremely friendly, and the food was incredible.

To start with, before we had even ordered, they brought six bite sized little loafs, similar to carrot cake, but with a hint of curry to them. We all ordered an aperitif, and I went with a Gewurztraminer late harvest, which was somewhere between the Kerner late harvest I'm so fond of, and an ice wine.

We then each ordered the three-course set menu, and all started with the same entrée, the terrine de lapin á l'estragon, rabbit terrine with tarragon. Terrine is kind of like pate, but more coarse, with bigger chunks. It came with bread to eat it on, and was absolutely delicious. I was a bit apprehensive about ordering it, as I've never had terrine before, but after my first taste of it, I was in heaven. It's probably one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten.

For the main course, I think we all ordered the same thing again, gite de boeuf á la moutarde, or beef shank with mustard. It was basically beef stew, in a red wine sauce, with carrots and something very similar to scalloped potatoes. Everything was so incredibly tender it was actually a challenge to get it to stay on the fork. Again, it was absolutely delicious, but not so world-shaking as the terrine. With the meal we shared some quite nice red wine, though I didn't happen to catch what kind it was, as I'm not a huge wine drinker.

When the food and wine was all done, we ordered the third course, dessert. It was nice to be able to choose which dessert at that time. When I've ordered from a set menu here in London, they've all made me choose the dessert up front, even when I've asked if I can do it later. I had clafoutis d'ananas, which is baked custard with pineapple in it. I thought that perhaps the pineapple would be too strong to have with something like custard, but somehow, either done specifically, or as a side effect of how it's cooked, the pineapple flavour was much weaker than one would normally expect pineapple to be, so it went very nicely with the custard.

After dessert, not with, as is the proper French way to enjoy one's food, we all had coffee. With the coffee came a tray with lumps of sugar on it, as well as some small biscuits, and chocolates.

Throughout the meal, Lynne and Britt commented on a group of about 10 retirement age French men that were having lunch at a table on the other side of the restaurant, all dressed up in their suits. At a closer table, there was also an old lady, that tried to pay her bill four or five times in the time we were there, with the waiter telling her each time that she'd already paid. She seemed like she might be a bit of a regular there, and the whole scene was rather sweet.

After that epic lunch, we went separate ways, and I walked back under the Eiffel tower on my way to the Palais de Chaillot to see the Cité de l'architecture, the French architecture museum. It was a bit more expensive than I had expected, but it was quite enjoyable. It was very quiet there, with hardly any other tourists around, so it was quite a nice break from all the hustle and bustle around outside. I spent a couple hours quietly sauntering around from cast to cast (it's a museum all full of casts made from various bits of architecture around France) in a somewhat library like environment. The only time there was much noise at all was when a small school group was brought through, and even they were somewhat muted. The clack-clack of my camera was the loudest noise there, aside from them.

When I had had my fill of peace and quiet, I ventured back outside, to walk east along the Seine, as far as Pont Alexander III, Lynne's favourite bridge. It's certainly the most ornate bridge I saw there, with two gilded statues on large pillars at each end, and smaller sculptures as well. On my way there, as I was walking along the river, a friendly looking fellow bent down as he was walking towards me, and "picked up" a shiny ring, which he flashed at me as he grinned hugely, and said something in French which I couldn't understand. I was certainly glad that Lynne had filled me in on the scam earlier in the day, or I might have been taken. After walking across the bridge to see the statues on the other end, and to take some photos of Les Invalides, I headed for the metro at la Madeleine to head back to the apartment.

Tuesday and Wednesday were much less eventful. I had been to see all the things I wanted to see in Paris, and then some, so I took the next two days to just relax. On Tuesday, I spent a few hours at the Musee Carnavalet, which is all about the history of Paris, and has many wonderful paintings of the city. It was really neat to see paintings from decades, or even hundred of years ago, of the same places I had been in the last three days, to see buildings that were there when the painting was created, and to see how much had changed. One thing I noticed was that Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris (despite being French for "new bridge") was by far the most popular subject of the paintings in the museum. I would say that at least half the paintings there were either paintings of Pont Neuf from farther west up the Seine, or were paintings of the view to the west from Pont Neuf. I hadn't been there yet, so we walked over there on Tuesday, after dinner, in the middle of a rainstorm, and were soaked to the bone by the time we did get back to the apartment.

On Wednesday, I really just relaxed, and didn't do much of anything. The day started a bit oddly, with me being locked in the apartment. For some reason, it seems a lot of doors here have locks where you need the key to unlock them from the inside. That was the case with the apartment we stayed in, and when Lynne and Britt left, early in the morning to get to the department store as it opened, to take advantage of the sales, they locked the door behind them. When I woke up and was ready to leave, I discovered I couldn't, because the key I had been using was in a lock box on the other side of the locked door. Thankfully, Britt had given me her cell number, so I was able to reach them, and Lynne came and let me out. I shudder to think what my day would have been like if I hadn't had any way of reaching them. I spent most of the rest of the day just relaxing in the park, or even just in the apartment, until Lynne and Britt finished shopping, and came back. We went for a late lunch at a restaurant that specialized in muscles, and we all had an enormous pot of boiled muscles, in a sauce with bacon and mushrooms, and drank Belgian beer.

After lunch, I finished packing, and was on my way not too long after. The ride back on the Eurostar was more or less uneventful, though my seat didn't have a power outlet at all this time, and I hadn't charged the laptop, so I ran out of juice part way back to London, which was a bit frustrating. On the way to Paris, my seat had an outlet, but it was a European plug and I didn't yet have an adapter to be able to use it. I got a full set of travel adapters for Christmas last year, but what I hadn't realized until I was packing is that while those work for my Canadian gizmos, I bought this laptop in London, so it's a UK plug, and I had no European plug adapter for those. I bought one my first day in Paris.

One random interesting thing I noticed about Paris is that nobody drives interesting cars. Just about anywhere in London I go, if it's a busy time, I'll see Jaguars, Porsche's, M-series BMW's, Aston Martins, high-end Audi's, all in any five minute period. Just as I was typing this, a BMW M-Coupe drove by. In Paris, everyone seems to drive perfectly functional, but utterly boring cars.

Well, that's it for the trip. My first time in Paris, my second time in France, something I've wanted to do again since I was 13 years old. There's one thing accomplished from the bucket list.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

First trip to Paris

After 14 years of saying "I'm going back to France one day", I've finally done it. Here I am in Paris, enjoying French red wine, with baguettes and cheese, just like I remember doing so many years ago on the bank of a small pond somewhere in Normandy.

A month or so ago, my mom ran into her Aunt Lynne at a wedding, and in chatting, they talked about how I'm living in London, and how Lynne visits Paris every year. Lynne invited me to come stay with her in Paris for a few days, since she's renting an apartment, and is there for a couple months. I was thrilled at the opportunity, so I was happy to take her up on the invitation. Her daughter Britt, who happens to be my age, was planning a visit as well, so I arranged to be there at the same time so that we would both have someone our own age to hang out with as well.

On Friday, I left work and caught the tube to St. Pancras station, where the Eurostar leaves London. Unfortunately, due to the fire that happened in the tunnel a few weeks ago, they still weren't running a full schedule, so I ended up on a train leaving an hour later than what I had planned for, arriving in Paris at 11pm instead of 10pm. The journey over wasn't nearly as comfortable as I had expected either, for the price, which is quite a bit more than the discount airline fares. The seats are nothing fancy, and actually seem quite old and worn. They don't even recline at all. Strangely, for much of the journey I had to keep poping my ears, because there was something very weird going on with the air pressure. It wasn't not just when we were going through the channel tunnel either, it started as soon as we left the station. It was quite uncomfortable, and made me wish I had some chewing gum.

When I did eventually arrive in Paris, it was dark, and I was tired, so I just did my best to get to Lynne's apartment as quickly as possible. There was a long line for metro tickets, because the card reader in one of the two ticket machines was broken. I stood in line for that one first, not realizing the problem. When I put my card in a couple times, a woman approached me and said something to me in French, at which point I got to use my first phrase of French: Je ne comprends pas. She then told me in English that that machine wasn't working, so try the next one. Well, that meant braving the line again, but I did what had to be done and was eventually rewarded with ten little tiny metro tickets. The machine spits out ten separate little tickets, not a book of tickets like for transit in Vancouver. In London, everyone uses the Oyster cards, because it's so much cheaper, and much easier.

I called to let Lynn know I had arrived, and found my way through the station to the right train just fine. I was thankful for having had experience with the London tube though, because the style of the maps and overall skills of navigating the tube carried over nicely to finding my way around the Paris metro. After arriving at Lynne's apartment, she made me a wonderful chicken sandwhich on a baguette, and we chatted briefly, and quietly, because Britt was asleep in the other room, before we both called it a night.

Saturday morning, we started the day late with a very light breakfast of yogurt and baguettes with jam, before heading out to get lunch. The Galeries Lafayette, a large department store, has a food court that they said was very good. Food court is hardly the word for it though. The closest thing I've seen in Canada is the food fair at Ikea, though this was certainly a cut above that. I had some very nice Lasagna Bolognais, a green salad with boiled egg, and a dark French beer. Out the window I caught my first sight of the Eiffel tower. After having been to, and up, the Eiffel tower now since (more on that later,) I think that it is probable the most impressive modern structure I've ever seen, and quite possibly the most beautiful. I've always liked things along the lines of "form follows function", and the Eiffel tower fits the bill nicely.

After lunch, we walked down the street a few kilometres to the Arc de Triomphe Etoile. It was very busy, with quite a lineup to to up to the top, so we just walked around the base, where it's free. It's much bigger than I expected, a very imposing structure. We didn't stay long, as it was quite crowded. We then walked down Champs Elysees toward the Louvre, battling the crowds the whole way. Along the way to the Louvre are many things to see, like the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Obelisque in the Place De La Concorde, and the Jardin des Tuileries. At the very end of Champs Elysees, outside the Louvre, is the Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel, from which you can see all the way down the Chanmps Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe Etoile to La Grande Arche at La Défense.

Near the Louvre, we took a break to rest our feet, and the sun cooperated by coming out from behind the clouds for a good 15 minutes while we reclined in some chairs by the garden. When we'd rested enough, we continued the walk back to the apartment, near Bastille. The apartment is just off Place des Vosges, which is a nice square with a park in the middle. All the buildings facing the park have an identical facade, so standing in the park and looking around is rather odd, but the park is very nice, with four fountains and a large monument in the center. Aparently it's one of the few, if not only, park in Paris where you're allowed to sit on the grass. We finished the day with a nice relaxing sit around in the apartment, eating baguettes with sausage and cheese, and drinking some French red wine.

On Sunday I went off on my own for the entire day, braving the capital of France with a pocket map, and a French phrase book, both kindly lent to me by Lynne. She and Britt speak French quite well, but I can barely remember a handfull of phrases in school. Thankfull, phrases like "I don't understand", "I don't speak French very well", and "Do you speak English?" go along way, when paired with a "Bonjour", and simply being polite, so they know you're not an American tourist.

The first place I headed for on Sunday was the Arc de Triomphe. It was drizzling out, and I guessed, and rightly so, that it would be less busy as a result. When I got there, there was virtually no lineup, and the rain wasn't even very bad, to a hardy Vancouverite like myself, or so I thought. After climbing the long, vertigo inducing spiral staircase to the top, I was treated to an incredible view of the city, and my first unobstructed view of the Eiffel tower. I had a great time up there enjoying the view, and taking photos, but eventually the wind and rain drove me to seek shelter, and dry off my poor camera.

My next stop, being the first Sunday of the month, was the Louvre. The museums in Paris are open for free on the first Sunday of the month, which conveniently coincided with my trip, so I got to see the Louvre for free. As a result, I didn't feel the requirement to try to see it all, to get my money's worth, so I had a very nice relaxing time there, saw only the things that were specifically on my list, or that I happened to wander past on my way. I saw the Mona Lisa, though briefly. It was very busy in that room, not at all surprisingly, so I didn't bother getting in line to get close. I just snapped some photos from a distance, over the heads of the crowd. I haven't looked at them yet, but I hope one turns out.

Speaking of photography, I'm very impressed that nowhere I've gone in Paris has had any problem with photography, though some places do have signs saying that flash photography is prohibited, not that that seems to stop most people. I was fully expecting the Louvre to make me check my camera and bag when I went in, but they didn't even bat an eyelash at the camera at any point, and didn't seem to have a problem with the size of the bag I was carrying.

Back to the Louvre though. I also saw the Venus de Milo, which was the only other thing listed on the guide map that I actually recognized. I believe there's a Picaso gallery, but it was closed. I think the most interesting thing I saw at the Louvre, which will not surprise my parents at all, was the excvavation of the royal castle that used to be on the same site. I'll have to google around and do some research, but it seems that at some point, someone found some stones or something, and discovered that there was a burried palace/castle under the Louvre, from many many centuries ago. They've excavated what they can, though much of it is underneath existing buildings, and you can walk through it, which was absolutely fascinating.

When I finished at the Louvre, I decided to take a break for lunch, seeing as it was about 3pm at this point. I found a nice little cafe away from the Louvre, back towards the department store from the previous day, and had a very nice lunch. I ordered something called Croque Madame, which is a Croque Monsieur with a fried egg on top. A Croque Monsieur is a couple slices of break, with ham and cheese in it, and I think cheese on top as well that's toasted. It also came with a small salad with very nice dressing. While I was eating lunch, I saw a fellow come in, and standing at the counter nearest the door, order just an expresso, which he then drank there in a matter of a minute or two, left some change on the counter, said merci, and left. It was straight out of the movies, I had no idea people here actually did that sort of thing.

After lunch, it was still drizzling, so I decided to go see how the line was at Notre Dame. I took the metro most of the way, because all the walking from the day before had tired me out, and I didn't want to exhaust myself too quickly. I got off the metro on the right bank, and walked over one of the many bridges onto the island in the Seine that Notre Dame is on. Along the way I passed some other incredible old buildings, including Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie, but nothing quite so impressive as Notre Dame, which is impressive indeed. The lineup was pretty bad, despite the rain, so I contented myself with walking all the way around the cathedral, and seeing it from the outside. That was really all I had wanted to do anyway, so I went away quite satisfied. The flying butresses along it's back are quite a sight.

On my way to Notre Dame from the metro I had also seen the Tour de St. Jacques and the Centre Pompidou, also known as the inside-out building, which many Pariesiens consider to be an eyesore. When I was done at Notre Dame, I headed in the direction of those two. Unfortunately, the grounds around the Tour were closed off, so I was only able to take some photos from the street. The Center Pompidou was very interesting though. I had a great time walking around outside, taking photos, but again, didn't go in. By that time, it was getting rather late so I walked back to the apartment, which is actually quite close to there.

More on the rest of the trip later.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Eee vs. Ferrari

IMG_0275, originally uploaded by Xenoc.

Ferrari: 6.6 lbs, $3000 in 2004
Eee: 2.5 lbs, $600 in 2008

Less than half the weight, a fifth of the price, and it's nearly as powerful. That's what 4 years does for technology.

Trip to Finland: Part 3

I'm enjoying my new Netbook, and the fact that I can sit in a coffee shop and write my blog posts on a keyboard that's big enough to type properly on, not like on my Treo. I'm also enjoying the 3g wireless broadband. £15 (around $30) for 3GB of data. That's a far cry from the $5 I was paying to Rogers for a ridiculous 5MB or some such.

Anyway, back to Finland.

Sunday again started late, though not as late as the previous day. I think we got moving around 11am or so, but my memory is understandably foggy. Oliver had a few errands to run, getting some cheeses and plastic cups for the wine and cheese, though we met up near his place for a bite to eat, and coffee, first. I had some very odd, but tasty, sandwich. It had a strawberry some slices of melon, and, I think, some cream cheese, along with lettuce and more that I can't remember. It was an explosion of different tastes, that I would never ever have thought of combining, but it was very good. We didn't have time to relax over breakfast as long as we would have liked though because we had to get those errands finished and be on a train by around 3pm, in order to get to Oitti in time for the wine and cheese. The student society (the direct translation of it is student nation, which I thought was kind of cool) owns some property with a summer cabin on a lake, just outside the town of Oitti, which is just over an hour's train ride from Helsinki.

After a bit of running around, we made it to the train station, bought our tickets, and had about 20 minutes to sit down over a cup of coffee. We had been carrying three plastic bags full of bottles of wine, eight bottles in total, with us all day, so it was definitely nice to put those down and sit down for a while. The train journey was quite uneventful, until we arrived in Oitti. Upon leaving the train, and just beginning to walk down the platform, I realized I had left my backpack in the overhead on the train! I carefully put down the bottles of wine I was carrying, and as the train started to beep, indicating that the doors were about to close, I sprinted for the doors, shouting to Oliver that I had forgotten my bag. Oliver ran and held the doors open while I raced across the carriage, snatched up my bag, and quickly limped back to the door. I say limped, because it was a wet day, and when I had leaped onto the train I landed on a wet patch, my legs nearly going entirely out from under my, and my shin banging rather hard against the steps. It left a rather nasty looking bruise. After recovering my bag, we started walking towards the cabin, a few kilometres from the train station. Oliver tried hitching a ride for us a couple times, but the only person that stopped took one look at the bags of wine bottles we were carrying, shook his head, and carried on. In the end, it only took half an hour to walk there, and despite how my shin looked, walking on it wasn't too bad.

Looking back now, I'm disappointed in myself for not taking any photos of this summer cabin. It was quite a fair size, with around 5 bedrooms upstairs, with bunk beds in them, probably able to sleep 12 or so people on beds, not counting floor space, or the couches in the living room. There's also a dining room on the ground floor, with bench seats along the table, and a medium sized bedroom with a single bed for the caretaker. People from the student society take turns being the caretaker, living at the cabin for a month at a time. That sounds positively idyllic, considering the place even has running water and internet access.

While waiting for people to arrive for the wine tasting, Oliver showed me around the property, down to the sauna by the lake and the dock. Just outside the house, I saw a bunch of round wooden pegs with numbers on them, that looked to be part of some kind of game, so I asked about it. Oliver gave me a quick rundown of how the game works, and I thought it sounded quite interesting. Nice and simple rules, but a bit of strategy involved in making the rules work to your advantage. A couple people were out on the porch for a smoke break, and they asked if I'd like to play, so we had a game. I did quite well for a beginner, and Oliver won the game, though it was very close between him, and a fellow named Ville (though I'm sure I've spelled that wrong.)

Eventually everyone expected arrived for the tasting, and we all sat down for some wine and cheese. Thankfully, it was much more casual than their usual tastings. I may not have explained that Oliver is president of the student society's wine club, so their tastings generally involve a lot of discussion, I imagine about legs, bouquet, and plenty of other things about wine that are just beyond me. This was more my idea of a good wine tasting. "That was tasty, pass me that other bottle would you?" I had a wonderful time asking questions about Finland, and hearing all sorts of stories about university life.

One of the drinks I was introduced to while I was at the cabin was some sort of grapefruit and gin mixture, called Gin Long Drink. It's something you can buy from the Alko in bottles, not just some cocktail you mix. Apparently, it was made up for the 1953 Summer Olympics which were held in Helsinki. It was quite nice, though I don't know if it's found outside if Finland, unfortunately.

At some point later in the evening, we went down to the sauna. I had bought a bathing suit earlier in the day, during all our running around doing errands, so that I could enjoy the sauna, and a dip in the lake. This was before I discovered that the usual way of enjoying the sauna in Finland is in the buff. Once again, the differing European attitudes towards nudity. Thankfully, I've done enough skinny dipping on the camping trips that I was comfortable with it, and I quite enjoyed the sauna. The only saunas I've been in at all recently have been dry saunas at the ski trip. They're electrically heated, and have great big warning signs that you are not to put water on it. This was a proper wood-fire heated sauna, with a great mound of coal to pour water over, and a tank for heating water in. After sweating it out for a while, and jumping in the lake once or twice, you mix some cold water from the lake in a bucked with the hot water from the tank, and pour that over yourself to rinse the sweat from your body. It's incredible how clean and refreshed you end up feeling after that.

When we left Helsinki, the plan for evening was to spend some time at the cabin, and then catch the last train back to Helsinki at 10:30pm. However, once we were there, and having some fun, Oliver looked up the train schedules for the next morning, and informed me that, if we wished, we could catch the train back in the morning, around 6am, and still be able to catch the 8am ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, as planned. When 10:00pm rolled around, and neither of us showed any sign of wanting to walk the half hour back to the train station, it was pretty much decided that we would be staying the night. As with my other nights in Finland, it turned into a rather late night, and I didn't turn in until 3:30am. Oliver was still going strong, young guy such that he is, so he was going to wake me at 5am, so that we could get to the train station. In the end, he let me sleep in, which was nice, and woke me at 6am instead. Eventually, we got a ride into town with the brother of the girl that was on her caretaker month at the cabin, and we caught a train into Helsinki at around 8:30am.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fox in my garden

Fox in my garden, originally uploaded by Xenoc.

When I got home this afternoon, I went and opened the window, to let the room air out a bit, as I had laundry hanging to dry. As soon as I opened the window, I realized there was a fox sitting curled up on the grass in my garden. I got my camera out, but as soon as I pointed it toward the fox, it got up and casually trotted away, so I only got this one photo.

New toy

I went downtown today and got myself a new toy. Naughty Derek, but it's been 4 years since I bought a laptop, which I think is showing a lot of restraint, considering my usual computer equipment buying habits. I also decided to buy a very inexpensive laptop, very much not like the crazy Ferrari of a laptop I last bought, and which is still working fine, though battery life has gone down as it's aged.
So I went out and bought myself an Acer Eee 901. It's about the size of a hardcover novel, weighs barely more than one, and has a battery life of 5-7 hours, depending what you're doing. It's small and light enough that I can toss it in my backpack and not really notice the extra weight. The battery life is enough that I can spend an afternoon out and about, at coffee shops, at the park, and not need to find a power outlet. Granted, it doesn't have a lot of oomf, it's a slow processor (but very power efficient), and only 1GB of memory, and only 12GB of disk space (it's a solid state disk, so it's more durable and uses less power than a normal one) so I'm not likely to be doing much (or more likely, any) programming on it, but for web browsing, writing blog posts, or looking up shops and phone numbers while I'm on the go, it'll do just nicely. I got a 3G wireless dongle and basic prepay plan as well, so that I can get online anywhere there's cell signal, without having to hunt down an open wifi access point.
Oh, and the white paint on it looks an aweful lot like my car's first paint job did, the one with a decent amount of pearl in the white paint. :)

While typing this post, I noticed I first went to type "rucksack", and then corrected to "backpack", and was about to type "mains outlet" before reminding myself you'll all know it as a "power outlet". I've definitely started to go native.

Trip to Finland: Part 2

I've finally felt in a writing mood, so here it is, part 2.

Halfway through our second pint at the pub, the lights all came up to full brightness, and the bar staff began to indicate that it was time for us to finish our drinks and be on our way. It was surprisingly early yet, only 1am, I think. After we finished our drinks and made our way outside, Oliver made some phone calls to see if anyone else he knew was having any sort of after party. It seemed there really wasn't much going on, but we made our way down the street to meet up with a group of his friends, most of whom had just been planning to go home. We convinced them otherwise, and proceeded to go for a wander around Helsinki.

At one point, a very drunk man wandered up to us, to Oliver's friend Evan, from San Francisco, and said to him "You look like Whitney Houston", and then proceeded to follow us around. Eventually, one of the guys in the group managed to convince the strange drunk man to talk to a couple people that we passes, sitting along the side of the path, at which point we all took off at a run, to make sure he wouldn't be able to find us. After that, we all sat on or stood around a bench that overlooked a bay, and just laughed and chatted for a good while, as other late night folk wandered by on the path just behind the bench.

Eventually, some people decided to call it a night. Those of us that remained wandered back into the downtown, and some of them had Kebabs from a little late night shop. (Earlier in the night, though I'm not sure if it was before or after the pub, I had been hungry, so Oliver took me to a little stand that served burgers, and translated the Finnish sign for me. I was very pleased to learn that one of the options was a burger with fried egg, so that's what I had. It was quite tasty indeed, and really hit the spot after having had only airline food for dinner.) In the end, by the time I made my way back to the hotel, it was 5:30am.

The following day started rather late, as may be expected. Oliver and I touched base via text messages at around 1pm, and arranged to meet up at a fountain a couple blocks down from my hotel. This gave me an excuse to get out and wander around that corner of Helsinki on my own for a bit, to find the fountain. I found it no problem, having walked past it the day before. There was no doubt at all it was the fountain Oliver mentioned, being described as something along the lines of "A naked woman on a pedestal, with seals around her spraying her with water." That about sums it up. The European attitudes towards nudity are so much different than North America, where any statue must either be neutered or covered. God forbid someone see brass nipples on a statue of a women! Or a poster advertising an art gallery, with a painting of a nude woman on it. There's a big difference between nudity and pornography, and in North America, in public places at least, there seems to be no difference in how the two are treated. Here, I've seen countless posters and statues as just described, and most people don't give them a second thought.

Anyway, after finding the fountain, I wandered around nearby a bit, keeping an eye out for Oliver, and watching some of the things going on in the park. I found an ice cream stand and had some pear ice cream. It was absolutely delicious. Nearby was a van, parked in a sort of square, beside which stood a man dressed a bit like a pirate. Children (and adults) were taking turns throwing a water balloon at him, as he dodged out of the way, and tried to hit each water balloon with a plastic sabre. It was quite entertaining to watch, and standing in the splash zone provided some refreshment on the warm day. Oliver arrived around 2pm, and went for a cup of coffee and a pastry at a restaurant close by, situated in a wide strip of park between two one way streets.

After that, we spent most of the day just walking around Helsinki, enjoying the weather, with Oliver pointing out landmark buildings and such. We went shopping for wine and cheese, for his wine tasking party on Sunday, and dropped them off at his apartment, where I briefly met Laura, his girlfriend. In Finland, alcohol is sold in government run stores, with only beer sold in some other shops. It's similar to how B.C. was run a few years back, before they started allowing cold beer & wine shops to sell other alcohol. The government run chain in Finland is called Alko. I had brought my camera bag with me from the hotel that morning, but was tired of carrying it around and not using it (I had my small camera that I was using instead) so we walked back across town to my hotel, and dropped of my camera bag. At the hotel, we looked up the number for the Ravintola Salve (Salve Restaurant) and made a reservation for dinner in a couple hours. Oliver then took me to one of the tallest buildings in Helsinki, which has a rooftop bar, and I spent a moment enjoying the view across the city. Unfortunately, there was no free seating, so we instead went back down to, of all things, an Irish Pub on the ground floor, and had a beer, and some pickled herring. I'd never had it before, but it came with herring in about 6 different sauces, and most of them were quite tasty.

Eventually we made it to Salve, which turned out to have a pleasant nautical decor. I had a very tasty creamy salmon soup to start, with potatoes and a slight hint of dill in it. The main course was steak stuffed with a sort of cheese and reindeer mix, with mashed potatoes. I had Koff, a Finnish beer, with my meal. Everything was absolutely delicious, though our main course took a good long time arriving, as I think the kitchen actually forgot about it. It suited me fine though, because after the pickled herring, and salmon soup, I actually needed a while to work up an appetite.

After dinner, Oliver phoned Laura to find out which club she and her friends were at, and we went to join them. They were not far away, at a club called Havana, a Spanish club. Oliver and I joined them, but I didn't dance much, as everyone on the dance floor seemed to be doing Salsa or something, and looked to know what they were doing, which was rather intimidating. I just stayed near the bar and drank Strongbow all evening. When we left the club, we were all quite hungry, so we went to a kebab shop just down the street. Inside the shop, with everyone around speaking Finnish, I had my first real "Wow, I'm in a foreign country" moment, because up until that point, the people around me had stuck mostly to English, even when speaking to each other. I can certainly say that I found the Finnish folk to be incredibly polite and accommodating in that respect. It does help that they learn English in school there, and speak it much better than half the Subway employees in Vancouver. We took the kebabs back to Oliver's flat, and sat down to eat. When it came time to go back to my hotel to sleep, Oliver gave me nice simple directions on how to get back, and I made it back to my Hotel fine, and feeling rather proud of myself for having navigated the route across an unfamiliar town after so many ciders. By the time I lay down, it was 4am, Sunday morning.

Part 3 whenever I get in a writing mood again. (or enough people ask for it that I feel guilty about it)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trip to Finland: Part 1

My long-weekend trip to Helsinki, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia, this past weekend was a wonderful adventure. As my first trip out of the UK since I got here, and my first time on continental Europe in over a decade, I was certainly apprehensive. Considering how it went though, I have a hard time imagining how I could possibly have had more fun.

The whole story really started on Thursday night, when I went out for "a pint" with my co-workers. As seems to be the way of things, "a pint" turned into "home at 11, stumbling in the door barely able to stand." Quite a fun evening at the pub. Given that I was in no state to be packing my luggage, I went straight to bed, and did a rush job of packing in the morning. Surprisingly, I didn't actually forget anything. I did have to take all my electronics chargers to work with me though, so I could charge all the things I had meant to charge that night.

Friday turned out alright, despite the excesses of Thursday evening. Around 3:00 I left the office with my suitcase, and caught the tube to Paddington station, where I got on the Heathrow Express, which only takes something like 18 minutes to get all the way out to the airport. The journey there, checkin, security, and all that was pleasantly uneventful, and I found myself in the departures lounge over an hour before boarding.

I saw a book store in the departures lounge, and thought it would be nice to read an actual paperback on the flight, a change from reading on my palm, which can sometimes be a bit hard on the eyes. I looked for Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House Five, but was told that it had been sold out since his death. I wandered disappointedly back towards the seating, but decided after not long that I still wanted a book. Eventually, my eyes strayed upon jPod, a Douglas Coupland book, that I'd heard was good, so I got it. There was a sale on, half price off a 2nd book, so I also got the new William Gibson novel, Spook County. It wasn't until I was a couple chapters into jPod that I realized both books are by Vancouver authors, and jPod actually takes place at a game development company in Vancouver. I wonder if that was some subconscious thing, or just pure coincidence.

Eventually, they called for boarding for my flight, and as I wandered toward the gate, I spotted a familiar face. My co-worker Jari, who's family is Finish, and who is from Toronto, was also on the way to Helsinki for the weekend, though on a slightly later flight. He told me it was a long walk to the gate, so I didn't stick around to chat too long. When I got to the gate however, boarding was delayed due to some sort of small problem, I think with the gangway. My flight got underway about 20 minutes late, and I felt the thrilling rush of acceleration as over 50,000 pound-feet of force launched the 80 tons of Airbus A321 and cargo into the air. I love flying.

The flight was quite uneventful, and not very full. I had a window seat, with nobody in the two seats between myself and the aisle. As we approached the coastline of Holland, I could see the enormous blades of a wind farm in the ocean off the coast. It's hard to imagine exactly how big the must be. I was 10 kilometers up, and the blades looked to each be about 1/4 the length of the cargo ship that was passing by them, which means they must be huge.

Passing through security in Helsinki, I received the first stamp (of hopefully many) in my passport. The UK doesn't stamp it because of my right of abode. When I picked up my bag and went to the arrivals area, I didn't see anyone that looked like the photos of Oliver I had seen. Our emailing before I left had been somewhat disorganized, and I wasn't actually sure if he was going to be meeting me, so I waited around for about 10 minutes, before heading for the lineup at the taxis. While I was waiting, I texted Elizabeth (his mother) to get his mobile number, something we had both forgotten to exchange by email before I left. After only a few minutes of waiting in line, I got in a taxi and headed toward Helsinki. About 5 minutes away from my hotel, Oliver called me, having gotten my number from his mom. It turns out that BA had said my flight was delayed, so he had arrived at the airport in time to meet me coming off the late flight. Unfortunately, they had made up time en route, and my flight arrived in time, so we missed each other at the airport. He came back and met me at the hotel after that.

Once we had finally connected, we wandered out of the hotel, and out into the streets of Helsinki, where festivities were still ongoing. Without intending to, I had arrived during the yearly Helsinki Art Festival, so there were streets closed to traffic all over, and people partying in the streets, parks, and squares. We went and found a pub about 10 minutes walk from the hotel, and I had a pint of Budweiser Budvar, proper Czech beer.

To be continued

Friday, August 15, 2008

London, 10:10am

I'm sitting at my desk, trying to get into the headspace to figure out this problem I'm working on, when I notice this odd "clop clop clop" noise. I've heard it before, but it's just so out of place here, in central London, in the center of one of the largest cities in the world. It's horses. There are a handful or horses trotting down Baker Street, outside my office windows. London sure is weird.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I'm sorry I haven't blogged for nearly a month. I've been reading some really great books, so I've been spending my commute reading, instead of tapping out blog posts on my Treo, as I had been before.
The past month has been quite a lot of fun. After my earlier post about going out bowling, I did finally join a league, and I've been out three times so far, on consecutive Tuesdays at 7:45pm. My bowling has been quite crap compared to how I was doing back in Vancouver, when I was going bowling with Chris once or twice a week. I was bowling 140-160 pretty regularly, but since I've been here in the league, my average for the first two weeks was 110, with my actual scores ranging only from 108 to 113. Last week, I finally got my groove on for one game, and bowled a 156, so I'm hopeful I can pull my average up to something I'm happy with shortly. There's only one 11lb ball, my preferred weight, in the whole bowling alley, and I managed to find it last week. I don't know how much of a difference 1lb really makes, or if it's purely a psychological effect, but it certainly improved my score, one way or another. I was planning on buying a bowling ball, as I happened to find there's a pro shop near Richard and Elizabeth's place. My trip up to visit them was postponed though, due to a family emergency on their part, and I don't feel like treking out there for only the purpose of getting a bowling ball.
I've also been out to a lot of movies this month. Well, three movies, which is a lot for me, in addition to one more watched at home. My friend Alice quite enjoys going to the cinema, so the three movies I've been to were with her. The first one we saw, this month, was Iron Man. I really enjoyed it, the effects were great, and it was just all around a lot of fun. It didn't seem to take itself too seriously, which was nice. Plenty of good chuckles. The second movie was The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the second of the series, even though I hadn't seen the first. I missed a few details due to not knowing the history, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. On the way back to the tube station, I bemoaned the fact that I had been thinking about renting/downloading the first movie for a week or so, before Alice suggested we go see the second one. Alice didn't say much, just kind of "mm hmm"'d me, but then when we were about to go our seperate ways at the tube station, she surprised me by pulling out her Narnia DVD to lend to me. I watched it the following Saturday evening, and loved ever minute of it. As good as the second movie was, I think the first one was far better. I enjoyed it so much that I've since then read all seven of the novels. I think the first movie was truer to the book than the second movie as well. The second movie hardly follows the timeline of the book at all, and there's many large events in it that are completely made up, not in the book at all. I was rather disappointed to see that. The third movie this month was Wanted, something Alice and I had both been saying we wanted to go see, since before it even came out. I had been seeing huge posters for it all over the tube stations, and it stars Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, which was enough to perk my interest. It was bloody, gritty, and jolly good fun. Not quite what I had expected, it reminded me a bit of Kill Bill, with it's gratuitous gore, but it was a good summer action flick.
I've also been spending at least one night each weekend out at a pub somewhere with a group of people I've met through Iris, someone that joined Flirtomatic not long after myself. On my last day at Flirtomatic, we all went out to the pub after work, including Iris, who usually hadn't come out. Throughout the course of the (long) night, I had some good chats with Iris, so I emailed her on the weekend, and she invited me to join herself and some friends out at the pub the following weekend. I did just that, had an absolutely wonderful time out with a really fun, and very friendly group of people, stumbling bleary eyed through my door at home at 4:30am, just as the birds were starting to warm up their voices. That didn't stop me from sleeping. I've been out with them once more since, and hopefully many more times, as I've really enjoyed hanging out with them all. It's nice to have met a group of people like them.
If you don't know already, you may have noticed I mentioned my "last day" at Flirtomatic a moment ago. While the people there were great, I didn't feel like I was going to learn the things I need to learn to further my career, so I made the decision to move on to somewhere that I would learn the right things. July 4th was my last day there, and nearly everyone came out to the pub after work. I took the following Monday and Tuesday off work, to have a nice long weekend to unwind before starting the new job. On Sunday, I finally did something I've been waiting to do since I was here in 1993, going to the Imperial War Museum. I was only there for a couple hours, because the batteries in both my cameras died, as I hadn't though to charge them the night before. I went back the next day, with fully charged batteries, and was there from about 11am through until 6pm, closing time, and still haven't seen everything there. It was absolutely incredible. That Sunday night, I also went bowling at a bowling alley that I had found online as having league bowling. I liked the alley, it's nice and old fashioned, without any of the flash and bling of the cosmic bowling party alleys. That Tuesday, the last day of my weekend, was my first time at the league bowling, and I've been every week since.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Oh for crying out loud

Do the French have nothing better to complain about? Sorry.... the Quebecois.
That does remind me of something though. Anyone who's had proper poutine knows it's made with cheese curd, not anything so plain as grated cheese. At the big Canada day celebration down at Trafalgar square on Tuesday, the DJ there was going on and on at every opportunity about how the cheese that had been flown over here for the poutine was held up in customs at Heathrow. The said someone from the embassy had gone to Tesco and bought some "Canadian cheddar", and that they were furiously grating it for the poutine. For one thing, how hard can it possibly be to get cheese curd here in the UK, that they have to fly the stuff over specially? And for another, grated cheddar cheese is hardly an substitute. He never once mentioned the word "curd", so I have a feeling he doesn't actually know a damn thing about poutine.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Excellent Evenings

I've had a week full of particularly nice evenings.

On Monday, I really didn't feel like doing much, so I just lazed around at home, and watched The Big Lebowski, because I'd been thinking a bit about bowling. I enjoyed the movie, as always, and decided then and there that I was going to go bowling soon.
Tuesday night, Canada day, I went to Trafalgar square for the celebrations after work. Alice was meeting some friends to see a film, My Winnipeg Live, so I joined them. It was definitely interesting, though I know very little about Winnipeg.

Wednesday, I met up with Alice again to go see some classical music at the Wigmore Hall. It was all in French, so I couldn't understand a word, but I enjoyed the music and the singing, so that's all that really matters.

Then tonight, Thursday, I finally went bowling. I went to Tenpin Acton, and was dismayed when I arrived to see that it was cosmic bowling. The darkness, and all the flashing lights all over make it hard to see the markers on the lane, which makes it harder to bowl well. I did my best anyway, and ended up with a 167 first game, which , while not my best, I considered acceptable, considering I haven't bowled in three months. At one point in the night, a DJ came on, and started spinning some pretty good tunes. He also announced that if you end up with a red pin as your head pin, come let them know, and if you get a strike on it, you win a prize. I figured that the chances of getting it to come up as the head pin was slim enough, and getting a strike with someone watching, even slimmer. Sure enough though, it came up as my head pin on my first frame of my last (fifth) game, and when I called someone over to watch, I actually ended up with a strike! I won a bottle of sparkling perry as a result, which I gather is something like cheap Champagne. Only two frames later, I had another red pin at the head, and actually managed to throw another strike! Shortly later I was off to the tube to come home, with a bottle of booze in each hand.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I realized yesterday that this work I've been doing lately is the third time I've been involved in making an English language website support multiple languages, and/or timezones, in one way or another.

The first was at Credit Union Central of British Columbia (now named Central 1, I gather), where we merged the online banking software with the content-managed website software, and made them support French, so the entire site could be translated to support credit unions in eastern Canada, where French is much more prominent. This was the first time I had ever had to deal with character encodings, character sets, and all that fun stuff. Anyone who's done this before will understand the very heavy sarcasm around the word "fun". We also had to make the site handle multiple timezones properly, so that when someone in Toronto wants a page to appear at 9am on some day, that it shows up at 9am Toronto time, not 9am Vancouver time, where the servers were. That was my first taste of how painful dealing with timezones in programming could be.

The second time was at Riptown Media (now known as Fiver Media. Don't ask.), where we made the site (now sigh.) support proper character sets so that we could display the Euro currency symbol, though we didn't actually do any multilingual stuff before I left. Also while I was there, I was put in charge of making sure that our site could handle daylight savings transitions without any hiccups. Later, we had to handle timezones in the application for our European launch. We had a phrase there that holds a lot of truth: Time kicks all our asses.

Now, here I am doing multilingual again, dealing with character sets and encodings, fighting with timezones, getting text translated, and finding out that labels we share between different parts of the code can't be shared for some languages. All so much fun.

In other news, I start my new job on July 9th, after taking two much needed days off, to make a 4 day weekend.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

3 Months

Happy Canada Day everyone. Today also marks 3 months in the UK for me. I'm heading out to Trafalgar after work today to party it up at the big Canada Day London gathering.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lord of the Rings

A couple Saturdays ago, the 14th, I spent the day wandering around Greenwich and Canary Wharf with my friend Alice, taking photos. If you've been following my flickr account, you'll have seen those photos by now.
Later that evening, we went to the Royal Drury Lane Theatre to watch a show, the Lord of the Rings musical! We got front row tickets in the Grand Circle, the first level above the ground floor, so we had an awesome view. When we walked in, we saw that the backdrop of the stage was a giant golden ring, with tree branches thickly growing all around it, and coming around the sides of the theatre to cover most of the boxes.
A bit before the show was scheduled to start, a bunch of Hobbits came out on stage, probably about 10-15 of them, some of them with nets on long poles. In the air high above the stage danced little lights, fireflies, that the Hobbits tried (and succeeded) at catching with their nets. After they had caught and bottled a bunch of these fireflies, they shook up the jar and let them free, whereupon they flew through the ring and danced around behind the backdrop, while the Hobbits broke out in dance on the stage.
When the show actually began, it started with Bilbo's long awaited party, for his eleventyfirst birthday, at which he puts on the ring and disappeared! And he disappeared from on stage, just like that. It was pretty cool.
The stage itself was very very cool. Set into the floor was a giant turntable, which was split into a whole bunch of pieces, each of which could raise and lower independently. They used this to make stairways, or valleys, or rough rocky areas that Sam and Frodo stumbled through and climbed up. It was incredibly well done.

I don't remember what part of the show it was, but Aragorn came down out aisle and was shouting down to the people on stage. It was the only time he did that, and it was right next to us, as we were at the front row of the balcony, on the edge of the aisle.
At one point in the show, the activity on the stage died down, and orcs began roaming the aisles, snorting and grunting in people's faces. Their face makeup was great, horribly disgusting, and we could hear screams and squeals from all over the theatre. This went on for a few minutes, with quiet drum beating background music, and then suddenly BANG! And half the women in the theatre screamed. It was fantastic. :)
Gollum was great, doing lots of jumpy skittery sneaky Gollum moves. The Ents were also really cool, guys on stilts with all sorts of stuff on them so they looked like trees. When Gandalf fell on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, the Balrog was really great. It was huge, and it grew up taller and taller from behind the "bridge" they had transformed the stage into, and as it roared at Gandalf, all sorts of bits of black paper was blown out from it, really adding to the effect.

It was so totally worth it, I had a grand time. I've been wanting to hear that since I first heard about it years ago, when Sara was thinking about auditioning for the one in Toronto. I'm glad I finally got to go see it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bus User Survey

On my way home from work yesterday, on the #70 bus after taking the central line, I was handed a survey form and a pen as I got on the bus. At the exit doors of the bus was another fellow collecting the forms from people as they got off. It had all sorts of questions about how frequently I use various modes of transport in London, though I do seem to recall it didn't have any questions about how long I have to wait for any of them, or any questions about the quality of the service.
In other news, I've discovered that the route to work I originally thought was slower is actually faster. I had a streak of bad luck with buses not showing up on time earlier, which made this route slower, at the time. Now though, the #70 seems to be showing up more regularly, saving me anywhere from 10-15 minutes every morning. Yay!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Paddington Station

(I just found this on my palm, and realised I hadn't posted it. I wrote this while I was on the train on the way from London to Bristol.)
Train stations are pretty cool. They're kind of like airports, but without all the dealing with customs, security, international vs domestic terminals, etc, at least in the train stations I've been in so far.
London Paddington has a smell to it, the scent of fuel and oil. Most of the stations I've been at, the trains are predomonantly electric. There, the opposite seems to hold true, and you can smell it. I love the smell.
This train is pretty posh too. Every seat has a cloth ... thing... over the headrest, so you're resting your head there, instead of on the seat itself. I don't really see much of a point to it myself, but until now, I'de only seen it in the first class carriages. When I bought my ticket online, I didn't select "forward facing" as I should have, when I was given the choice. Even if you don't, the online tickets give you a seat reservation, which I didn't realise, and as it happens, not only did I get a forward facing seat, but I got a table as well!


On the way home from work on the tube yesterday, I saw an ad in a paper here for 104.9 X-FM. Bring back any memories, Vancouverites?

Bristol Clubbing

I'm over a week behind on my blogging now, having not talked at all about my night out in Bristol, or the family gathering the next day.
Saturday last, I caught the train to Bristol, wisely deciding that driving is a bit beyond me for the time being. Stacey, my cousin, directed me which bus to catch from the train station, and which stop to get off at. Unfortunately, without being able to see the name on many of the stops, I got off at the wrong one (slightly similar name) and she and her friend Ben had to hop back in his car to come pick me up. We got to her place, dropped off my bags, and shortly headed into town to do some shopping. We were all starving, so before any shopping, we found a Weatherspoons, a chain of pubs favoured by students for their good cheap food. I don't remember what I had, possibly a meat pie, but it was certainly tasty.
Once we were all fed, we got down to some shopping. The girls had all planned to dress up 70s/80s style to go out to the club, so Ben and I tried to find some sort of 80s looking clothes for the evening. Eventually, I decided to go with a sort of "Top Gun" motif, with aviator shades.
After our shopping, Ben drove us back to Stacey's flat, and we relaxed there for a while, had some naps, and then started on the drinks. We were there quite a while, waiting for everyone to get ready, but we did eventually head to the club.
The club was fun, I had mostly rum & coke, and danced until they closed, which was surprisingly early, 1 or 2am.
After it closed, we wandered along the waterfront, trying to find something still open, that didn't have a ridiculously high cover charge. At one point, while we were standing around, Ben was demonstrating to Luke, Hannah's brother (Hannah is one of Stacey's flatmates) how do do a scrum in rugby. They set up, shoulder to shoulder, and scrumed for a moment, when suddenly 4 police appeared from nowhere and pulled them off of each other. It took a good 5 minutes of explaining to convince them that there was no fight going on, and that everything was friendly between Ben and Luke.
We did eventually find somewhere to go for a bit, but it was pretty quiet, and the drinks quite expensive, so we only stayed a short while before going back to Stacey's flat.
Back at Stacey's, a few of us sat around watching youtube videos of various comedy groups before finally hitting the hay. I felt like I could have gone on a bit longer, but I had a train to catch at 8:50am that morning, and Hannah and Luke had a flight to catch (and packing to do first, I gather) so it was probably good that we didn't party too late.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spine Chilling

I just had an bizarre moment. I can't think of any time I've experienced anything quite like it. I was reading something online, and suddenly, everything around me just seemed to fade into the distance. Everything got quiet, except for the sound of my pulse. Everything around me visually seemed to recede, as I focused on the words on the screen. It's like a scene from a movie. Here's what I was reading:
Gibson said:

Douglas Coupland's descriptions of Vancouver circa City of Glass are closest to my sense of the place. It's hemmed in and separated from the rest of the world by an ocean, a border, mountains. And then there's the unknown and incomprehensible north. Vancouver sits there, insulated to some extent, but picking up influences from across the ocean and across the border. The signals seem to be amplified by those symbolic barriers. Psychogeographically, I identify with greater Vancouver more than I do with the rest of Canada, which I have a fondness for and good feelings for. Vancouver's peculiar culture feels like home.

It's an excerpt from an interview with William Gibson.

I haven't finished reading anything past the paragraph after that yet, but that experience was just so shocking that I had to post this before I carried on.

Update: Fixed the link to the interview.

Friday, June 06, 2008

These Shoes Were Made For Walking

I really must thank Ben for his excellent shoe recommendation. These Ecco shoes have seen countless miles of London's pavement, yet are still as comfortable to wear as when I bought them. They're even fairlywater resistant, which is useful here, considering the huge numbers of puddles everywhere when it rains. They still look quite sharp too.
They certainly weren't cheap, but they've paid off. Thanks Ben.

Oh, and thanks for convincing me to use Vim and Eclipse, also. :)

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I've been putting off blogging about my weekend for a bit because I'm rather embarrassed about something that happened. See, I decided that, on Sunday, I would drive to Bristol to visit one of my cousins. Yes, that's right, drive. I joined that car club I blogged about last week, and decided that Sunday would be my first time driving here in Britain. I was prepared to deal with the traffic. I was prepared to deal with the roundabouts. I was even confident I could deal with driving on the wrong side of the road, and shifting with the wrong hand. What I hadn't bargained on, however, is something else that comes with sitting on the other side of the car. It completely and utterly destroyed my sense of where the corners of the car were with respect to myself.
That's why I hit the parked car. Yeah, you got it, I had my first "my fault" accident in 11 years of driving. I didn't "hit" it, so much as scrape along the side of it. Both cars were perfectly drivable, and nobody was injured (there was no-one in the parked car,) but there's cosmetic repairs to be done on both vehicles, and I have an insurance deductible to pay. Thankfully, when I joined this car club, I opted to pay a small monthly fee in order to have a lower insurance deductible. Boy has that ever paid off now.
I'll be taking some driving lessons before I go driving again, I think. I need to find some way of relearning where the corners of the car are. Learning it the first time is one thing, but now, overcoming the 2nd nature that it's become is going to be even more difficult, I suspect.
In other news, I had an absolutely fabulous time in Bristol with my cousin and her friends. It's a beautiful city, and I'm looking forward to more trips there to explore it properly.
On Friday night, after work, a bunch of us from work went out to a mobile industry drinks night at a pub, where one co-worker was doing a presentation about our company. I had a few drinks there before going out to a club dancing with a couple of them. I danced all night long, and had a great time. At one point, I returned from the toilet to find the music quiet, and the dance floor still, and nearly empty. 4am had rolled around without me even noticing. It's like I'm 21 again or something. I crashed on their couch, and got home at around 2pm.
This coming weekend promises to be quite busy and interesting again. On Saturday, I'm heading to Bristol again, though by train this time. My cousin is going to take me clothes shopping, and then out clubbing with her friends. I've been told Bristol has a good club scene, so I'm looking forward to that.
On Sunday, there is a great big family gathering happening at the home of one of my dad's cousin's son's house (my 2nd cousin? Great cousin?) I'll be doing my best to arrive there without a hangover, but I suspect a little hair of the dog will be in order. I'll be seeing relatives there who I haven't seen for years, and others I've seen already since I got here, so I'm sure it will be a fun day.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bus Deadlock

I just witnessed something hilariously unfortunate on the way home from work today.
Here's my best attempt at diagramming it, because a picture says a thousand words, as they say:

I got off the bus on the far right when it got to the stop there, and laughed the entire way home, heading down the street that goes off the top of the image.
When I got off my bus, the two eastbound buses on the left of the image where trying to work their way between that westbound bus, and the cars parked on the north side of the street. As soon as they'd done that, they realized they had no way to get past the bus on the right, that I had gotten off. When I turned off the street, I could see the bus drivers all standing in the middle of the road, trying to figure out what to do, with a line of about 20 cars behind the two eastbound buses.
I'm still giggling about it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Deja vu

Torontonian Tries to Board Plane at Kelowna Airport while Toting a Gun

More specifically, a 1.7" long solid metal gun-shaped necklace. Sound familiar, mom, dad, Katie?

For those that don't know, back in 1998, my family and I were on our way to Disneyland, and I had a gun-shaped keychain. Mine, however, did have moving parts, and could fire caps. They wouldn't let me board the plane with it, so I had to put it in a little box that they shipped on the same flight with us, so I didn't have to leave it behind, as it had sentimental value to me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Car Club

I've been meaning to do it for some time now, but I finally signed up for a car club today, City Car Club. It's similar to Zipcar, in that you pay a one time membership fee, and then you can rent the car on an hourly or daily basis. It's cheaper than just regular car rentals, plus it's a lot more convenient, as it's all self-serve through the website. You sign up to use a particular car at a specific time, using the website, and when the time comes, you just go to where the website says it's parked, and swipe your RFID membership card across the reader at the corner of the windshield, and the car unlocks for you. They track how far you drive and everything automatically, so you don't have to keep track of mileage, fuel costs, etc.
I'm rather excited about the whole idea of driving again, but also quite nervous. It's been two months since I've driven, the longest I've gone since I got my full license 10 years ago. Even when I had my Miata at the shop in pieces to be painted, I had a rental car for part of that time.
While the cars I'll have access to won't exactly be "zoom zoom", at least they'll be somewhat interesting in that they're European models I've never driven before, and nearly all of them are manual transmission, thankfully. Getting familiar with driving here is just the first step along the way to getting a Miata here, in my mind. Besides, it'll be really nice to be able to pop out into the countryside for a day on the weekends.

On an unrelated note, I was out at the boardgame meetup again tonight. Last week, I decided not to go, because it was on the same night as the UEFA Champion s League final, and I would have been hopping on the tube to come home at the same time as all the drunken football fans, so I just stayed home. I had a blast there this week, and played two new games. The first one was called Robo Rally, and was quite the mayhem with 8 players. It's quite an odd game, where you have robots that you have to race to various flags in order, to win, where you have to "program" you robot a full round in advance. At one point, about halfway through the game, I asked "out of curiosity, how many of you are programmers?" All seven of the other players raised their hands.
The second game was called Titans: The Arena, which was sort of a betting game, which I though I'd be horrible at, expecting (for no real good reason) for it to be something like poker. It wasn't at all like poker, and I actually nearly won, being displaced on the very last round. It's quite an interesting game, and I'd love to play it again sometime, not that I understand it better.