18 April 2010


The Fish House, 45 years later

On Saturday, April 17, 1965, my parents were married in St. Andrews Wesley Church on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver. They held their reception that evening, in a building constructed as the Stanley Park Sports Pavilion in 1930. Today it's the home of the Fish House restaurant.

Last night, 45 years later, also on a Saturday, they returned to the Fish House for an anniversary dinner:

Dad and Mom

My wife Air, our daughter Marina, and I were happy to join them. (Our younger daughter was at a friend's birthday sleepover.)

45th anniversary dinner

I haven't been to the Fish House in at least 15 years, but I won't wait that long again. The food was great—with the added benefit of legacy dishes imported from Vancouver's legendary and recently-closed seaside restaurant, the Cannery. The salmon, prawns, and scallops I ate were excellent, but the rare tuna steak that Air ordered (and which she let me try) was extraordinary.

In August, Air and I will mark 15 years since our wedding in 1995. I hope we can make it to 45, however unlikely my health makes that seem right now. In the meantime, happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. Thanks for inviting us along.

P.S. Here were my parents later in 1965, in Berlin, on their honeymoon:

Honeymoon in Berlin 1965

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07 April 2010


My first microwave experience

The first time I ever used a microwave oven was at my friend Brent Spencer's house, sometime in the mid-1970s. I'm pretty sure it was an Amana Radarange. Brent's father Ken, who would later go on to found the digital printing company Creo, is an engineer, and often had interesting gadgets well before the rest of us got them.

(Some examples: Ken borrowed a projection television for a few weeks, which I got to watch in their basement; was the first person I knew to have a phone in his car; and loaned us their family's TRS-80 microcomputer while they went on a long vacation in 1980.)

Anyway, the first thing Brent showed me how to make in the exotic Radarange was Triscuits with Kraft process cheese slices melted on top. I stared in wonder through the oven window as the cheese rose into what seemed like an impossibly big bubble, then popped into a goopy mess. Delicious.

Recently I did the same thing: 30 seconds on high power, with Triscuits and Kraft slices. You know what? They still tasted great.

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27 March 2010


A weird way to hit a weight target

Titanium glassesA few years ago, before I got cancer, my doctor told me that an ideal weight for someone of my height and build was around 185 or 190 pounds (84 to 86 kg). Since I'd been hovering around 200 pounds for some time, I didn't worry too much about it. I was relatively healthy (despite my long-time Type 1 diabetes), eating reasonably well, cycling to and from work, and so on.

Then, of course, came the diagnosis. Over the next three and a bit years, among a hell of a lot of more alarming things, my weight fluctuated wildly—as low as 145 pounds (in mid-2007) and as high as 215 pounds (a couple of years later).

When I started on my latest chemotherapy regimen in December, at first I seemed to be losing about 5 pounds each treatment, which wasn't a good trend. I adjusted what I ate (i.e. more, when I could eat), and things stabilized. Guess where?

Yup, between 185 and 190 pounds, pretty much.

I would not advise this method to reach a weight your doctor recommends for you, however.

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15 February 2010


Discovering Vancouver's Winter Olympics vibe

Today, while the kids were at school, and after I had another one of my chemotherapy-induced random barfs at home, I took the SkyTrain into downtown Vancouver to check out the Winter Olympics vibe. And what a vibe it was.

Vancouver Art Gallery HDR

I walked from Science World (currently the Russian Pavilion) past the various provincial pavilions, up the downtown escarpment, along Georgia Street, to Robson Square, then down to Canada Place and the Olympic Cauldron on Coal Harbour. On the way I ate at the world famous Japadog hot dog cart for the first time (yes, even for a native Vancouverite!), and before I came home I had a coffee at the very civilized Cascades Lounge in the Pan Pacific Hotel.

I've lived my whole 40 years in Vancouver, and I have never seen it like it is this week. Even during Expo 86 (check this throwback I spotted), the crowds and events were largely confined to the Expo site on False Creek, while the Olympics—aside from being more intensely focused by being two weeks instead of five months long—permeate the downtown core, as well as extending elsewhere in Greater Vancouver and up to Whistler. But we are a more global, better-known city than we were 24 years ago too.

Hockey House

There are seas of people young and old downtown, night and day. Many are dressed in Canadian red, but others are sporting colours and languages from many other nations. Way out from downtown, at Metrotown near my house, the mall is full of Russians. There are flat-screen TVs all over the place showing live and repeat Olympic competitions.

I returned home, exhausted, to walk the dog, meet the kids on their way home from school, and then soak my feet. I didn't go inside any pavilions or Olympic attractions, and I hardly spoke to anyone. A number of my friends had been in the downtown area, but were busy at press conferences and other official events, and I was happy to go it alone, to get a sense of how downtown is transformed.

Olympic cauldron HDR

It is an odd thing, for a sporting event to energize my still-young, laid-back hometown. I expect something similar will happen when the next Winter Olympics come to Sochi, Russia in 2014. While almost the same age as Vancouver, Sochi is smaller and certainly less familiar to the rest of the world. It also has many palm trees—perhaps a first for a Winter Games host city? It may be unusually warm here for February, but it's not that warm.

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04 January 2010


First post of 2010, four days in

Okay, I'm back. I slept almost solidly for three days after chemotherapy, and right now I'd say I'm feeling about 60%. Maybe less. It depends on how well the Gravol is working at any particular moment.

My mom made some soup, and I think I will eat it now. End of report.

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24 October 2009


What would you do for a Klondike bear?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Air pointed out to me that the sidewalks in front of convenience stores throughout Greater Vancouver have recently sprouted large, inflatable polar bears promoting Klondike ice cream bars:

What Would You Do For a Klondike Bear?

The Klondike promotions rep was obviously very busy around Vancouver in October. Both Air and I like the inflatable bears—they're cute, and large, and strange. Most effectively, they point out how many independent mom-and-pop style corner stores there still are in this city. I'm often tempted to assume that most have been put out of business by 7-Eleven and gas station shops, but that appears not to be the case.

My set of nine photos above resulted from my simply keeping an eye out for the bears during a couple of car trips on a single day this past week. Most of the pictures are from just one street, the main inter-city artery Kingsway. There must be dozens or hundreds of the beasts throughout the region.

One I didn't manage to snap is probably breaking the rules. On Canada Way, there's an independent Buffalo gas station that has covered the Klondike logo with a sign reading "HAND CAR WASH." That promo rep might be angry if he or she spots it.

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26 September 2009


Links of interest (2009-09-26):

  • Photo sharing site Flickr has these new Gallery things.
  • Homemade stratosphere camera rig goes sub-orbital to 93,000 feet (18 miles). Total cost? $150.
  • Suw Charman's life is "infested with yetis."
  • AIS is the way that commercial ships and boats report their near-coastal positions for navigation. The Live Ships Map uses AIS data to show almost-real-time positions for vessels all around the world. Zoom in and be amazed.
  • Strong Bad Email #204 had be laughing uncontrollably. Make sure to click around on the end screen for the easter eggs.
  • Julia Child boils up some primordial soup. Really.
  • Funky bracelets made from old camera lens housings. Nerdy, yet cool.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 8: most of the cool features, about 85% cheaper than regular Photoshop.
  • Vancouver's awesome and inexpensive Argo Cafe finally gets coverage in the New York Times.
  • When people ask me to spell a word out loud, I notice that I scrunch up my face while I visualize the letters behind my eyelids.
  • Via Jeff Jarvis: in the future, if politicians have nothing embarrassing on the Net, we'll all wonder what it is they're hiding and why they've spent so much effort expunging it.

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19 August 2009


Proud to be her man

Happy Anniversary dessertAs of today, August 19, 2009, my wife Air and I have been married 14 years. As on our wedding day, the weather was Amazing Vancouver Summer last evening, our Anniversary Eve: mid-20s Celsius, sun glinting off the water. The kind of weather which impels people to spend thousands of dollars to visit. We went to C Restaurant on False Creek, where we'd last dined exactly three years ago, just before our 11th anniversary.

You know that "in sickness and in health" thing? Don't take it lightly—we've had more than our share of that seesaw over the past decade and a half. Even yesterday, it was touch-and-go whether we'd have to cancel our reservation.

You see, I was tuckered out after moving some of the kids' furniture all afternoon, and feared the onset of the dreaded chemo-induced Jurassic Gut. But with the help of some medicine, the prospect of an excellent and relaxing meal, the sheer fabulousness of looking at my wife, and a lot of willpower and positive thinking, I not only made it downtown, but was symptom-free throughout dinner and the whole trip home. (And then everything got rolling once we returned, but I won't give you details...)

The restaurant provided some little extras for us: custom chocolate script on our dessert plate, plus post-dinner ice wine on the house. We spent a leisurely two and a half hours eating wonderful, creative seafood, and we held hands to look out across the water, making occasional snarky comments about passersby on both land and sea. When we told the waiter we were celebrating 14 years, he asked, "Did get married when you were teenagers?" That's a nice compliment, since we were both 26 back then.

Air and I have been happy and sad, content and afraid together. I'm not as strong or healthy as I used to be, and I'm greyer and far more scarred and broken. But I am proud to be her man, and I'll do my damnedest to be here for as many more anniversaries as I can.

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18 August 2009


The quick gourmet

IMG00968.jpg at Flickr.comIn her quest to follow Julia Child, my eleven-year-old daughter has already progressed from making poached eggs to preparing a full meal of steamed mussels in white wine sauce for the family.

I helped a little, but only with some of the heavy pot-lifting and slicing of bread for dipping. She did all the difficult stuff, like chopping and measuring and timing and setting the table.

I think I'm liking this trend. The mussels were damn good too.

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14 August 2009


Cooking with pearls

Julia child pearls at Flickr.comMy wife and daughters went with my mom to see Julie and Julia the other day, and my older daughter M was inspired. Seeing the efforts of an inexperienced blogger cooking up the famous recipes of Julia Child, M has decided to put her mind to cooking, which she hasn't done much of yet. (She's eleven.)

You can follow her progress on her blog. Her first step was simple, a poached egg, and she's since moved on to chopping onions and more. When my wife, a teacher, returns to work in a few weeks, M and I plan to work on dinner together each night. Since I'm not much of a cook either, I'm sure we'll both learn something. Will we ever get to beef bourguignon? I doubt it, but you never know.

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05 July 2009


Links of interest 2006-06-28 to 2006-07-04

Once again, while I'm on my blog break, my edited Twitter posts from the past week, newest first:

  • Photo of Obama picking up his infamous housefly victim.
  • Guess that U2 iPod is never coming back.
  • And now: "Ant and Buttercup," my debut HD macro closeup movie from our summer garden:

  • My first experiments with off-camera flash during close-up photography:
    Veins 1 Veins 2 Veins 3 Veins 4 Veins 5
    Veins 6 Veins 7 Veins 8 Veins 10 Veins 9

  • If I'm passed at high speed by someone with a Washington plate BOKEH, I now know who it is. He says he'll wave.
  • Mammals will play, even between species, even when you'd never expect it—wild polar bear and huskies (slide show via Dave Winer).
  • A couple of crows are nesting nearby; they keep landing in our birdbath and on the house and lamp stands, looking ominous. Too smart, crows.
  • Sitting in a B.C. garden
    No waiting for the sun
  • CompuServe finally shuts down.
  • Just in case you're looking for a $2.1 million convertible.
  • Congratulations to Buzz Bishop, Jen, and Zacharie.
  • I presume this tiny USB-driven monitor screen is Windows-only, because of drivers? Looks pretty swell. (Via Neal Campbell.)
  • Definitive proof I'm not afraid of heights: I love this idea.
  • Via John Biehler, I found that as well as MythBuster Adam Savage, his co-workers Grant Imahara and narrator Robert Lee are also on Twitter.
  • When I had my first Nikon 25 years ago, I wouldn't have believed I'd ever own one (a D90) with 66 pages of the manual (out of a couple hundred total, in a 16 MB PDF file) just for menu options. Then again, 25 years ago, a friend showed me a shoulder-mounted Betamax camera from Hong Kong, and it was the latest in high tech video too.
  • That's the funkiest beat I've ever heard a marching band play (via Jared Spool). Maybe some James Brown next?
  • Has anyone pinpointed the exact day that Victoria Beckham stopped being able to smile? Angus Wilson speculates, "whatever day she began to look less like a hot English babe and more like a velociraptor."
  • Meg Fowler: "Sarah Palin's quitting politics like Ann Coulter's quitting evil."
  • As the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches, some fabulous photos from the missions, via Bad Astronomy.
  • From Ben Englert: "Thank you, gdgt, for institutionalizing the arduous task of dick-measuring by figuring out who has more toys."
  • Ten best uses of classical music in classic cartoons.
  • Our fridge magnet: "I love not camping."
    Our favourite fridge magnet

  • How did I manage to bite the inside of my upper lip while eating a peach? If this were high school, the guys would say, "Each much?"
  • Back to short hair for summer. And now I realize that it's Colbert hair.
  • I think my guts have calmed down now. Time for bed. In the meantime, enjoy a naked Air New Zealand flight crew.
  • In case you'd like to watch Jeff Goldblum reporting on his own "death," on Colbert Monday: links for Canada and the U.S.A. (sorry if you're elsewhere!).
  • Didn't attend various Canada Day parties because of tired family and my usual intestinal side effects. Hope you had fun in my stead. Managed to avoid intestinal chemo side effects for a few days, but they're back with a vengeance. Could be a looooong night. (And it was. At 2 a.m., my chemo side effects were "over" and I went to bed. Bzzt! Wrong! Finally got to sleep at 9 a.m., woke up at 1 the next afternoon. As Alfred E. Neuman says, Yecch.)
  • Whatever you think of the 2010 Olympics here in Vancouver, VANOC is doing a good job with graphic design.
  • I, too, welcome our new ant overlords.
  • I had no alcohol on my birthday yesterday, but still had a Canada Day headache on July 1. Here's my new free instrumental.
  • Inside Home Recording #72 is out: Winners, Studio Move, Synth 101, Suckage! AAC enhanced and MP3 audio-only versions.
  • Normally I really like our car dealer's service dept, but today the steering wheel came back oh-so-slightly to the left. They had to re-fix it.
  • World's geekiest pillows (via Chris Pirillo). My guess: they didn't license the Apple icons. Get the pillows while you can.
  • Officially made it to 40. Thanks everybody for the birthday wishes. Most people are bit melancholy to reach 40, but I am extremely glad to have made it.
  • Just returned from a Deluxe Chuck Wagon burger (with cheese) at the resurrected Wally's Burgers in Cates Park, North Vancouver:
    Derek Wally's burger 2

  • From Rob Cottingham: "The hell with putting a ring on it. If you liked it, you shoulda made a secure offsite backup."
  • Info about recording old vinyl records into a computer: You need a proper grounded phono preamp, with good hot signals into an audio interface or other analog-to-digital converter. A new needle might be wise if yours is old, but the real phono preamp (w/RIAA curve) is the most necessary bit after that. Route it thru an old stereo tuner if needed! See my old post from 2006 at Inside Home Recording.
  • Myth confirmed: Baby girl evidence (named Stella) shows MythBusters' Kari Byron actually was pregnant.
  • My new Twitter background image is the view we saw at sunset during my birthday party on Saturday. (I've since replaced it again.)
  • Back from another fun sunny summer BBQ at Paul Garay's new house—it's been a burgers-n-beer weekend.
  • Photos from my 40th birthday party now posted (please use tag "penmachinebirthday" if you post some).

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10 June 2009


Camera Works: pictures that tell a story

Here are three photos I recently uploaded to my Flickr account, each with an accompanying story but otherwise unrelated. The first one shows the practical applications of knowing how your camera works, while the others are just for fun. Click each photo to zoom it:

Two waterfalls:

Two waterfalls

Actually, it's two photos of the same waterfall, taken a few seconds apart using my Nikon D50 digital SLR and a 50 mm lens, showing how you can change an image by controlling the aperture and shutter speed.

  • For blurry water: I snapped the left photo at f/22 (a small aperture) for 1/8 of a second, blurring the water with a long shutter speed. I didn't have a tripod, so I rested the camera against the edge of the fountain for stability.

  • For frozen splashes: The right photo was at f/3.5 (a wider aperture) for 1/800 of a second, freezing the motion of the water with a short shutter speed. The camera was in the same place, but because of the fast shutter I didn't need to be so careful about not moving it.

Depth of field differences: It's not that easy to see, but the right photo with the fast shutter speed also has shallower depth of focus because of the larger aperture. That's particularly noticeable when you compare the concrete edge at the lower left corners of the two frames.

Where is this? The fountain is on Birch Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Vancouver, if you want to visit it yourself. It's pretty cool: two streams flow down on either side of a set of steps. This is the north side.

Drama at the birdhouse:

Drama at the birdhouse

This isn't quite as dramatic as it looks at first glance. While the photos are in the correct order, the chickadee didn't eat the wasp—it just scared the insect away, with food already in its mouth.

We have chickadees raise babies in this birdhouse on our back porch every year. But this year this one bird (the mom?) looks especially beat-up and scraggly, and has looked that way for weeks. Is is just old, or did something nasty happen to it? Seems to be feeding the kids just fine, though.

I used a long focal length, higher ISO (sensitivity), and fast shutter speed (plus some patience) to get this series.

Exploded Coke Zero:

Exploded Coke Zero 2

I guess our downstairs fridge was set a bit too cold. Good thing sugar acts as an antifreeze, so that it was the sugar-free (and non-sticky) Coke Zero that froze and exploded first. Still a bit of mess to clean up inside the fridge, though.

This photo required a flash, both because the room was a bit dim and because I wanted to highlight the glittery goodness of the unintentional Coke Zero slush.

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11 March 2009


Calling BS on new "high fibre" foods

Noticed how many more prepared food products (yogurt, cookies, ice cream, etc.) are advertising fibre content in the past year or so? Have food makers smartened up and started putting whole grains in a whole bunch of foods? As you would expect, no. The companies are simply able to put artificial fibre additives into a wider variety of foods than they used to. However:

The problem with this is that nobody knows if these fiber additives possess the same health benefits as natural fiber found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

So that new high-fibre yogurt that doesn't taste high-fibre—well, it may not be any better for you than the old stuff, and is very likely not as good for you as real whole-grain food. No shock: these new fibre-enriched foods are more marketing than nutrition.

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07 March 2009


Links of interest (2009-03-07):

  • The first animals that people domesticated were wolves—we call them dogs now. Coincidentally, within an hour last night I read a Slate article and saw an episode of "Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs" on that very topic.
  • From Salon: "To this day when I walk into a grocery store and see a mom with her teenage daughters, I have to leave. Every time I just get tearful, I just can't be in the same room, even after all these years. It just kills me that I don't get that time back."
  • The Economist makes a compelling argument that all recreational drugs—yes, even hard drugs like heroin and cocaine—should be legalized (via Dan Savage). That's a pretty radical position, but the magazine posits it as the "least bad" option, after "the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless."
  • Don't forget to put your clocks forward by an hour tonight for Daylight Saving Time, if you're in a part of the world that invokes it early Sunday morning.
  • Scanwiches are sandwiches, cut in half and imaged on a flatbed scanner—which I presume needs very frequent and thorough cleaning (via J-Walk).
  • New Homestar Runner meta-cartoon: 4 Gregs.

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18 January 2009


One coffee at a time

Bosch Tassimo coffee maker at Flickr.comSeveral years ago, pioneering podcaster Adam Curry had an ad campaign going for Senseo, a Dutch coffee maker that uses individual single-cup pods. At the time, I thought it was kind of a silly idea, though he genuinely seemed to enjoy using it.

For Christmas 2008, my wife bought me a similar machine, a Tassimo by Bosch. I had been wasting quite a bit of coffee, because I'm usually the only one to drink it in the house, but I do have some almost every day. The Tassimo, with its plastic pods, at first seems a bit wasteful too, but rather than our making half a pot and throwing most of it away, this system lets us brew a single cup of coffee, tea, latte, hot chocolate, or whatever in less than a minute. If I want another, it's easy to make a second one.

The system is clever because the "T-Disc" pods each have a barcode that the machine reads in order to know how much water to brew, how hot it needs to be, and how long to brew it for each beverage. Of course, that means that you can only use Tassimo-branded discs (from makers including Nabob, Maxwell House, Gevalia, Starbucks, etc.) and can't refill them with your own coffee, which is very corporate and controlling of them—in principle.

In practice, I pretty much always brew pre-ground brand-name coffee anyway, so the only difference for me over the past few weeks is that the Tassimo is more convenient. I'm sure the roast-your-own-beans crowd would be horrified, but I have bigger things to worry about.

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16 January 2009


Links of interest (2009-01-16):

  • Some photographers buy old lenses (even manual focus, manual aperture lenses) for their brand new cameras. Here's why.
  • This no-knead bread is apparently ridiculously easy, all the rage, and quite time-consuming to make.
  • Darrell Fandrich lives near Seattle. He takes cheap Chinese pianos, puts a lot of work and experience into them, and creates a great piano, like "upgrad[ing] a Hyundai to run like a Bentley, for the price of a Honda."
  • How to use Photoshop Elements 6 (which I don't own) to merge several mediocre group photos into a single good one.
  • Since I have cancer, several people have told me (and told me, and told me) about DCA and essiac tea—among dozens of other potential cures and treatments. As I said about DCA a couple of years ago, I'm still going with the evidence, and it's not yet there for those particular treatments.
  • Darren is a little frustrated with iTunes on his PC. And he draws a very cute sea kitten (actually, I guess it's probably a freshwater variety, so it would be, what, a pond kitten?).
  • My latest camera collage is up to 8700 views, 43 comments, and 67 favourites on Flickr. Its predecessor from June has passed 41,000 views, 82 comments, and 217 favourites. And my original version from December 2007 has reached 11,500 views, 109 comments, and 39 favourites. Yep, we nerds love our camera porn.
  • We've posted the first episode of the Inside Home Recording podcast for 2009: there are enhanced (pictures and links) and MP3 (audio only) versions, plus a separate full unedited half-hour interview with Peabody Award–winning producer Paolo Pietropaolo from CBC Radio.

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29 December 2008


A mixed bag

The pensive mammoth at Flickr.comIt's hard to say how our post-Christmas family vacation in British Columbia's capital, Victoria, is going. On the one hand, we had a gorgeous trip over on the ferry yesterday, and a fun time at the Royal B.C. Museum today. The girls have loved going swimming. Our hotel, the Harbour Towers, is a great place to stay as usual, and we ate delicious room service breakfast this morning.

On the other hand, last night we had uncharacteristically poor and spectacularly slow service at Milestones restaurant on the waterfront, which is usually one of our favourites. (In their favour, the manager gave us a $25 gift card to compensate.) My wife and I have both not been feeling too well, particularly today—me from intestinal side effects of my latest cancer drug. The weather today was miserable, extremely windy and sleeting.

Worst of all, this afternoon at the hotel pool, my eight-year-old daughter somehow gashed her chin open just before we were planning to dry off. She didn't even notice at first—her sister and I, surprised, asked her why she was dripping blood. So we have no idea how she did it, but after we returned to my wife in our room and got a bandage, we all piled in the car to a nearby medical clinic. The little one turned out to need stitches, which she was not happy about.

I hope things improve tomorrow, or at least that things don't get any worse once again in the evening. We really do like this city, usually.

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03 November 2008


Links of interest (2008-11-03):

Fabulous Weather, Eh?
  • “[Obama] said he likes to go out trick-or-treating, but he can’t anymore. [...] He said he guessed he could have worn a Barack Obama mask.”

  • America contains a strange dichotomy about teenage sex: "Social liberals in the country's 'blue states' tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter's pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in 'red states' generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion."

  • From the same post at The Slog, back in 1970 Aretha Franklin sang and played piano in a lesson in soul that today's diva singers could still learn a thing or two (or twenty) from. In particular, her melisma (one syllable, many notes) is hardly noticeable, because she uses it sparingly and for (perhaps instinctive) emotional emphasis, rather than as a special effect. Maya Rudolph nailed it in this SNL satire in 2006 (sorry for the lousy audio, but you'll get it).

  • Darren, who never adds salt or pepper to a prepared meal, wonders why so many of us do, even before we taste it. Shouldn't food, he asks, be properly seasoned before it arrives?

  • Lisa has some good tips for photography on rainy days (also at TWIP)—especially useful right now in Vancouver.

  • It's inevitable that an article (via Pharyngula) about an estranged son of the despicable Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church provokes a nasty flame war in the comments, but to have Phelps's equally vitriolic daughter Shirley (who obviously keeps up regular ego-surfing) be the first to comment brings it to a new level. Nice work by The Ubyssey, by the way—their journalism and copy editing seem to have improved since my days at UBC a couple of decades ago.

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21 September 2008


Last day of summer

Today, my wife and I slept in (me more than her), took our kids to IHOP for brunch, had the car washed at Oasis, bought a few things at the insanely busy new Costco in Burnaby, then had a steak barbecue in our backyard with a couple of our friends and their son. My wife Air and our friend KA recorded their podcast while the rest of us took their dog Dizzy for a walk, before the rain really set in.

It was rampantly consumerist, yes, but it was a fun Sunday, and fun last day of summer for 2008.

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20 August 2008


The Fair

Music Express - PNE and Playland Aug 19, 2008 at Flickr.comIt always turns out expensive, the food is bad for you, it ain't much but vast swaths of asphalt and carnival booths and rides and lights and noise, and this year once the sun set it started to rain. Then it started to rain really, really hard. So hard the fireworks were cancelled.

Still, my wife and daughters and I had fun joining Jodi and her husband and stepdaughter for a day at the PNE. Corn dogs, mini-donuts, wiggle chips, scones, burritos, teriyaki chicken, and bottomless refillable Diet Coke all stayed down, despite rides rides rides. (Myself, I didn't ride: was designated bag, newly-won stuffed animal, and umbrella holder.)

Now my legs are sore from standing around all afternoon and evening. Clothes and bags are hung up to dry. I've posted a bunch of photos, and it's time for sleep.

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14 July 2008


Frightening photo of the day

Frightening if you were the doughnut, anyway:

13072008953 at Flickr.com

Photo by teh Boris, featuring the Mouth of the Travis.

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06 July 2008


Coming back home

IMG_0320.JPG at Flickr.comOn Tuesday, my wife Air and our two daughters were joined by our friends KA and her son to fly to Disneyland, where they have been (with, for the first couple of days, our Australian friend Leesa, bound for home in Melbourne) for almost a week now. They fly home late tonight, when I'll pick them up at the airport.

As you might expect, it's one of those vacations that requires a nice break afterwards: they've been going going going almost non-stop for five days, with a few opportunities to sleep, swim in the pool, and have breakfast at the Best Western. To avoid the monster crowds on U.S. Independence Day on July 4, they rented a car for the 25-mile drive to Laguna Beach for a day in the surf, followed by In-N-Out Burger (mmm, In-N-Out).

The week has certainly felt odd here. I had a significant to-do list, including some paperwork, but (as I should have expected) only got about half of it done. What's most remarkable is how quiet our house is, and how little I've had to do laundry or run the dishwasher.

It's a bit lonely, however, and while I have as much room as I want to sprawl out in bed and sleep in, I've found myself still lying on my side next my wife's empty pillow, and not for as long hours as I might have thought. (I have returned to my college-age nocturnal behaviour, though, often staying up till 2:00 a.m. or later.) I'll be glad to have everyone back soon, so we can start our family summer, which I hope is a good one.

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27 June 2008


An author chimes in

Steve Ettlinger, author of Twinkie, Deconstructed, which I wrote about recently, left a comment saying that my blog post was his favorite review of the book.

In part that must be because I liked it, but it also seems that most other reviewers missed the winking irony in his use of Registered Trademark Symbols® throughout, which reminded me of Douglas Coupland's early-'90s novel Shampoo Planet. In that previous case the brands were made up, but the effect is similar: as a reader you feel a bit uncomfortable being hyper-aware of them.

I like that Ettlinger is keeping track of online reviews, in addition to those in traditional publications and media.

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15 June 2008


Father's Day

We didn't get the whole clan together (my wife's parents couldn't make it today, for instance), but we did have a very nice Father's Day dinner at the Keg Steakhouse in Burnaby this evening:

Father's Day dinner

From left to right, those are my daughters, my wife, me, my mom, and my dad. We had steak. And dessert. Very full. Yum. It was particularly satisfying since it was a lovely sunny day, and my wife and I spent the morning painting one set of front steps at our house. She also cleaned and stripped the paint from the other set.

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09 June 2008


Book review: "Twinkie, Deconstructed," deconstructed

twinkie at Flickr.comAnyone who's ever eaten a Twinkie remembers the experience, even if it's been years. The textured, firm, sweet dough combined with the intense vanilla creme (not cream, mind you) filling is distinctive and, especially when you're a kid, delicious, yet obviously somehow sinful and wrong and unnatural at the same time.

While I was in hospital last week, my wife brought me Steve Ettlinger's book Twinkie, Deconstructed (buy using my affiliate code at Amazon Canada or U.S.A.). It's a perfect "Derek's sick" book: a sort of "science lite" non-fiction tome that's fascinating, informative, and non-polemical while still making a political point. I finished it in a little over a day.

The concept is brilliant. Prompted by a question from one of his kids, Ettlinger, a long-time science and consumer products writer, tells a story of traveling around the world to find out where each of the dozens of ingredients in a Hostess Twinkie comes from—in the order in which they're listed on the package. In doing so, he visits a lot more factories than farms, and encounters many more industrial centrifuges than ploughs.

Some reviewers think that Ettlinger got co-opted into the "Twinkie-Industrial Complex" (as he calls it) during the writing of the book. They think that he is too accepting, too uncritical, and indeed too friendly to the various large corporate interests who show him (or, in many cases, refuse to show him) around their facilities and processes. But I think he's smarter and more subversive than that.

Here's something from page 195:

In an undisclosed location, perhaps in an industrial park near Chicago, maybe in rural, central Pennsylvania, possibly in riparian Delaware, in a plant full of tanks, railroad sidings, and a maze of pipes and catwalks, big, stainless steel vats are filled with fresh, hot, luscious, liquefied sorbitan monostearate.

Or check out this label-text Kremlinology from page 255:

...while it seems that not one natural color is use in Twinkies, sometime the label has said "color added," which would make me suspect that annato, the butter and cheese colorant that is popular with [Hostess's] competitors, is indeed in the mix. But their punctuation indicates otherwise. "Color added" is followed by "(yellow 5 red 40)" which would seem to indicate grammatically that they are the only colors involved.

One of the most obvious stylistic effects throughout the book is that whenever Ettlinger first mentions a trademarked product, he adds the registered trademark symbol: Yoo-hoo® Chocolate Drink, PAM® cooking spray, Clabber Girl®, Davis®, and Calumet® baking soda, and so on. Normally you'd only see things written that way in a press release or corporate brochure.

You might think he was simply pressured by company lawyers, but when I read the book every trademark symbol seemed to me like a wink from the author, an unavoidable reminder that while he's breezing along in his personal, gee-whiz style, he hasn't forgotten that the process of Twinkie-making is huge and industrial, one that has only a little to do with baking and nourishment, and a lot with multinational chemical firms and drill rigs and mines and massive tract farms.

Twinkie, Deconstructed is no Silent Spring, or even Super Size Me. It's neither a manifesto nor a satire. It's not horrified at what Twinkies are made of—because ingredients originating from petroleum or minerals rather than food plants or animals is part of the Twinkie legend. What's surprising is only how far some of those ingredients have to travel, and how extensively they have to be mangled, reprocessed, ground, dissolved, flung, and dried before they get used in even minute quantities to bake those little cakes.

Ettlinger's book is, I think, more effective because he doesn't politicize it overtly. He simply tells us, repeatedly and relentlessly, about conveyor belts, pipes, pressure vessels, railroad cars, noxious chemical reactions, huge stainless steel tanks, monstrous earth-moving equipment, and what obviously must be enormous quantities of energy used in all those processes. He talks just as blithely about factories that refuse to tell him where their ingredients come from at all as he does friendly chemical engineers who show him around less secretive facilities. You can draw your own conclusions.

I did find myself wishing, at the end, that he had calculated how much energy a single Twinkie consumes in its manufacture—how much oil or coal or gas, or how many kilowatt-hours of electricity, it takes to bring all those ingredients together. And I was surprised that, after nearly 300 pages of background, Ettlinger never actually describes step-by-step how a Twinkie is made at the Hostess bakery.

But Twinkie, Deconstructed is a fun read. Whether you feel safe eating a Twinkie afterwards is a message you can safely infer from the book, rather than having to be clubbed over the head with it.

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25 May 2008


Broccoli and cheese

Broccoli and cheese 1 at Flickr.comMy older daughter is 10 years old, and like many kids, she's a picky eater. She's never liked most fruits and vegetables—not the flavour so much as the texture. She finds bananas actively repulsive, and won't go anywhere near a salad.

However, for some reason she's developed a taste for broccoli, of all things. Last night before bed, she was hungry after a long day at Playland with her friend. She asked for broccoli as a bedtime snack. With her special cheese sauce, which she made herself based on a recipe from her grandmother.

I had some too. It was yummy.

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11 May 2008


Mother's Day

TulipsThere are a lot of moms in my life—most importantly my wife, of course, who's the mother of our two daughters. There are also my own mom, my mother-in-law, my aunt, my cousin, many of our friends, and, most recently, my long-time pal and one-time roommate Tara, who had a daughter in February.

I think when your kids are young, they really don't fundamentally understand the concept of sleeping in at all. Pretty much any child past infancy treats sleep as an enemy. It's a measure of still being a kid, like aiming for puddles instead of avoiding them. Mother's Day is probably the prime example.

I remember bringing my mom breakfast way too early on Mother's Day Sundays when I was old enough to cook, in the late '70s. It never occurred to me that she might rather sleep than eat the delicious food that I spent so much time messing up (but not cleaning up) the kitchen over. No. Idea. At. All.

Today, my own kids were already awake at 8:30 when I carefully tiptoed out of the bedroom and closed the door, letting my wife sleep while I went to the bathroom and got ready to start the day. By the time I'd come back upstairs, our bedroom door was open and their mom, with a tired smile, had eaten some eggs prepared by our older daughter, who makes a pretty decent omelette. After some Mother's Day morning greetings from our younger girl, my wife was, blessedly, able to go back to sleep, and the girls went back to playing The Sims.

So, here's a toast to all of you moms who got woken up too early today for a kid-prepared breakfast. I hope it was tasty.

I've persuaded the kids to bring the Mother's Day gift to their grandmother, my mom, closer to lunchtime.

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09 April 2008


A tear for Wally's Burgers

30-03-081247.jpg at Flickr.comAbout 20 years ago, when my roommate Sebastien and I were first learning to play in a rock band, he wrote a song whose chorus was:

Wally's Burgers is the place to go
Wally's Burgers is the place to go
Wally's Burgers is the place to go
Let's go!

Wally's has been a drive-in burger joint on Kingsway in Vancouver since the 1950s (it changed its name to Wally's in 1962). A couple of weeks ago I dropped by to grab one of their delicious Deluxe Wagon burgers, but the place was packed, so I went elsewhere.

I only found out this week that was because Wally's closed forever at the end of March, so my last meal there had actually been a couple of months ago. A few days ago my wife and I noticed that the famous neon sign had come down, and today I drove past to see the windows boarded up. It's a shame. The burgers really were extremely good.

For someone born and raised in this city, I discovered Wally's surprisingly late, in the 1980s, but I was hooked. Over my years of commuting by bicycle along Kingsway, first to university and then to work downtown, I've eaten innumerable Chuck Wagon burgers and fries there.

There are other tasty hamburgers in Vancouver, but none quite the same as Wally's. As far as I know there has only ever been the one location—but had its owners taken a different business approach, I think Wally's could have been a B.C.-wide institution like White Spot.

At least we still have Me-n-Ed's Pizza. In fact, I ate some three days ago.

UPDATE: As of spring 2009, Wally's has two new locations opened by new owners of the names and recipes, one at the Cates Park concession in North Vancouver, and one in Killarney Village in East Vancouver, not too far from the original Kingsway restaurant.

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21 February 2008


Northern Voice TikiCamp photos

It wasn't really called TikiCamp, but the Northern Voice opening tiki dinner at the Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver was a ton of fun. Here are my pictures:

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More from the main event tomorrow and Saturday.

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