I didn't take this photo of the Monument Valley Tribal Park Navajo Reservation in Arizona - it's from: tarzanpanorama.net.  Awesome panoramics here.

Suspect Information, Ideas, and Opinions - rarely updated and of dubious quality.

 

 

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Et bien, On trouve que vous êtes arrogants, brailleurs, libidineux, lâches, incultes ... et sale.

Astérix & Obélix: Au service de sa Majesté (Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia) is one of my favourite French comedy movies. I can't believe it's rated only 5.3 on IMDB. That has to be because either North American reviewers don't understand all the hilarious references (to A Clockwork Orange, to Star Wars, English Rugby, etc.) and/or the French people's interesting take on the concept of humour. (France awarded a "Chevalier, Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur" to Jerry Lewis for crying out loud.)

Here is my favourite scene; I've memorized it should I ever need to use it on a French person. Here the "Brit" Jolitorax is telling Asterix and Obelix how the Brits regard the French, Keep in mind that this is only after Goudurix (the kid in the background) fired the first insult. I put the video at the exact spot of my favourite line, but rewind it a little bit if you want to hear the kid say his little insult first.

It's a hilarious movie, especially they way they used French actors to play Brits and then instructed them to totally murder the French accent. Imagine seeing a great French actress like Catherine Deneuve (who plays the queen of England) speaking French like a schoolgirl from south-western Ontario.

Check out this scene. Here as well as in every scene they are in, Miss Macintosh and Ophélia (played by Charlotte Le Bon who is actually from Quebec) absolutely murder the accent better than anyone else in the movie.

The Egg

An interesting short-story, beautifully executed.

Read: The Egg by Andy Weir

The Egg
By: Andy Weir (full-story also available here in many languages)
You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”
“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”
You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”
I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“I’m Jesus?”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”
You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”
“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”
And I sent you on your way.

fifteen year old writes a poem

Alliteration
When words will wallop with
Similar sounding syllables
And an auditory aesthetic

Hyperbole
There’s a million different types of hyperbole
Exaggeration of the most vital sentences
Without them, the poem would bore us to tears

Personification
When poems cause the Sun to smile
And the wind to dance
And the darkness to embrace us

Onomatopoeia
Words that sound like what they mean
Guns go BANG! Bees go BUZZ.
Bacon SIZZLES in hot pans

Imagery
When words escape our lips, they swirl around
Cascading down the backs of our minds
In effortless waves of curiosity and excitement

Rhyme
Running out of time
I have ten cents, we call that a dime
My poems are so rad, that I’m committing a crime

*mic drop*

e.h.

They're made out of meat

A piece of meat.  Steak actually.

I think the short-story is really poised to make a comeback as the preferred art form, what with the limited attention span of young people these days, mostly thanks to portable technology that begins with the letter 'i". Anyway, I recently found this little gem that I really enjoyed: They're made out of meat

"They're made out of meat."
"Meat?"
"Meat. They're made out of meat."
"Meat?"
"There's no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"
"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."
"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."
"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."
"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they're made out of meat."
"Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."
"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long. Do you have any idea what's the life span of meat?"
"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."
"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads, like the weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."
"No brain?"
"Oh, there's a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat! That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"So ... what does the thinking?"

"You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat."
"Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"
"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal!  Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?"
"Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."
"Thank you. Finally. Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."
"Omigod. So what does this meat have in mind?"
"First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the Universe, contact other sentiences, swap ideas and information. The usual."
"We're supposed to talk to meat."
"That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there. Anybody home.' That sort of thing."
"They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"
"Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."
"I thought you just told me they used radio."
"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."
"Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"
"Officially or unofficially?"

"Both."
"Officially, we are required to contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe, without prejudice, fear or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."
"I was hoping you would say that."
"It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?"
"I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say? 'Hello, meat. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"
"Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can't live on them. And being meat, they can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."
"So we just pretend there's no one home in the Universe."
"That's it."

"Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you probed? You're sure they won't remember?"
"They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we're just a dream to them."
"A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat's dream."

"And we marked the entire sector unoccupied."
"Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"
"Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again."

"They always come around."
"And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone ..."

Fantastically bad.

Snoopy types out: It was a dark and stormy night.
Finally after ninety-seven long days adrift Captain Pertwee was rescued, mercifully ending his miserable diet of rainwater and strips of sun dried Haddock which was actually far ghastlier than it sounded what with George Haddock being his former first mate. — Phillip Davies, Cardiff, U.K.
Whew Phillip, that was fantastically bad, which is good! That was Phillip Davies winning entry into the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual tongue-in-cheek competition sponsored by the English Department of San Jose University where each year, entrants are invited to “compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” The prize? A 'pittance', whatever that is.
Seriously, any writer worth his salt knows and loves this thing.

Scorpions and Electrocution

A review of Sol Pelicano resort in Cayo Largo Cuba

Just look at those luxurious chairs at Sol Pelicano in Cuba...
Just look at those luxurious chairs...

My girlfriend and I were there January 24th to January 31st, 2014 in rooms 4313, then 4427. If those of you who were there during that time can't tell who we are by the room numbers alone, keep reading. You'll definitely recall us by the end of this review.

Rooms - Ours was 4313. Shabby and run-down with positively the cheapest possible furnishings. Two twin beds pushed together. The patio chairs were of the dollar store variety. The rooms were indeed spotless though. I've always said that clean matters most of all, and it does - but SOME quality in the contents of the room would've been nice. Later on, we were upgraded to a suite (4427) which was again very clean, with an actual king bed, and this time had a second TV and fridge in the now separate living-room. But though the furnishings and appointments in this suite were improved over room 4313, I still would class it well below the most basic room at the 4.5 star Riu Playa Turquesa, which I had visited just months before in August 2013. I was expecting a hard bed and true to form, the one in this suite was pretty hard. But in the cheaper room 4313, it was positively rock solid and positively unsleepable. (Yes, that's a word I just made up.)

Room location - It's a small resort and we don't mind a walk, so as far as I'm concerned there's isn't a bad room location on the entire property. Of course, it's nice to have a window facing the sea to get that nice sound of the waves at night.

Grounds - At the 4.5 star Riu Playa Turquesa, there were always gardeners around working on keeping the property and the pools "just so." One afternoon, we walked over and checked out Sol Cayo Largo and saw the same thing - well kept buildings, gardens, and walkways. At Pelicano however, the property is something you endure on your way to dinner or the beach. My girlfriend said it best: while on the beach people watching one day, we spotted a very attractive younger woman walking the beach with an older gentleman. I speculated that perhaps he was very wealthy as an explanation for the age difference, to which she replied: "If he was wealthy, he wouldn't have taken her to Sol Pelicano." (and right then and there I decided to take my girlfriend to a 1-star in Havana next January.)

Food - We ate primarily at the buffet, we did a couple of a la cartes at the Ranchon (good) and one a La Yana (a little better) I don't need to go into much detail here. The food was not really tasty or varied or well-prepared, which was no surprise - we were expecting that. What we did not expect was that it is impossible to get a decent cup of coffee anywhere on Cayo Largo. After being upgraded to the suite, there was a coffee maker with one precious coffee packet, with which we made exactly one small pot of passable coffee (using bottled water) but that was the only coffee packet we could get for the week and no amount of requesting or tipping or gifting could change that. And yes, we taught Guillermo how to make a cafe Americano at the lobby bar - they were still terrible. Plus I found Guillermo and Erick usually too busy sucking up to Argentinians to have time to serve me anyway. When I saw them working, I sent my girlfriend up instead - she's much easier on the eyes than I am :-)

Drinks - This was important to me. I'm kind of doing the low-sugar and low-carb thing these days so my choices were definitely limited to more or less liquor straight-up or wine. So I drank lots and lots of wine that quite frankly I would've returned had I got a glass at a Toronto restaurant or a bottle at the LCBO. But it was just passable and there was no trouble getting lots and lots of it. So I'm going to give the drinks a "thumbs partially up."

Beaches - We spent the majority of every day at one of the beaches. Sol Pelicano beach, Sirenis beach, or Paraiso beach - take your pick. Beautiful beaches for sun worship, great water for swimming. On Sol Pelicano, try a teepee for a day. I loved it. Beaches were 10 out of 10. Rent a scooter and use it on the washboard road to Sirenis/Paraiso for an experience you will never forget!

Pool - We both stuck a toe in for about 5 seconds and so can't really comment on it. Why would we spend time at the pool when there are three of the most amazing beaches on this island that I've ever seen?!

Service/People - The service was terrific from virtually everyone of the restaurant, housekeeping, and security staff we came across. And it's been said in the reviews before, but I get the sense that the good service is the result of individual effort rather than from the guidance of management. Management is virtually invisible at this hotel. Again, putting friendly Cubans together with friendly Canadians is a potent combination. There were a few generally crabby guys but I don't know their whole story so it was no trouble being nice to them as well as the 50 or other various workers we encountered all over the island who were amazingly friendly, kind, and helpful. And since that kind of behaviour is contagious, we also met many friendly, helpful, and pleasant Canadians and Italian guests as well.

Oh, and there were Argentinian guests there too.

And now, here come the two stories that will make you recognize us if you were there when we were. (Because we told virtually everybody at the resort about these two events) I did labour over whether I should even mention these things, and in the end decided to simply report them as they happened. Take from it what you wish and don't necessarily base your opinion of the resort on what's below:

Story #1: On the first morning after arriving, after my shower I went to throw my towel over the shower rod; my fingers brushed up against the ceiling and I got an electric shock! Not quite believing it was possible (the ceiling looked like vinyl panels) I touched this certain spot on the ceiling again and definitely got a good shock again. (As one who has been shocked before and as something of a connoisseur of electricity, I sensed that it was about 110v with just a touch of 220v for extra flavour, and just the right number of amps to make my heart jump.) I debated whether to even report this to the front desk, but for the sake of future guests and the fact that my girlfriend was now very nervous about even taking a shower, I decided to report it. The guy at the front desk (don't know his name so I will call him "Young with stylish glasses") was at first skeptical, then treated it as if it was something that happens every day. But eventually he agreed to get a maintenance guy to our room. We were instructed to go back to our room to wait. Presently three maintenance guys came by and we all went through the ritual of fondling the bathroom ceiling to absolutely no effect, with the guys (none of which could speak English) beginning to make spinning-fingers-like-this-guy-is-loco gestures...when one of them had the good idea to turn on the air conditioning, upon which the lead guy got a good shock! Ha!! I was vindicated!!! In short order, they had the ceiling removed and we could all see a rather poorly insulated wire had fallen from the A/C unit onto the ceiling thus making it live. So it was fixed in short order. We hoped we'd be upgraded for our troubles but no effort was made so we let it go. I went to the front desk later on and asked for a coffee maker for our room. Young with stylish glasses said he would try but our basic room didn't really deserve a coffee maker (they're only for ocean view rooms) Yet hours later a coffee maker appeared! Yay! But there was no coffee with it. Boo.

Story #2: On the morning of day 2, while brushing my teeth, I was running the water in the sink (just a little - very responsibly and very aware of my carbon footprint) when a very large and menacing scorpion, with human blood all over its claws, clambered right up out of the sink drain while growling deeply and threateningly!!

Now you may read the above and be skeptical. You may believe that scorpions don't growl. Well, in response I ask that all of you who have ever had a scorpion come out of your bathroom sink drain before, could you please now raise your hand? Oh? I'm the only one with my hand up? I thought so. I shall now continue...

So this massive, growling Scorpion comes out of the sink and my only thought was to protect my girlfriend, so I immediately and calmly sprang into action by emitting a high, defensive, keening wail, not unlike the way my daughter used to when she was 5. Once that was done, I ran the water faster until the scorpion disappeared back down the drain. At this point, my girlfriend came into the bathroom to investigate what she thought was the sound of a small child crying? I told her about the giant scorpion and in retrospect, I'm not surprised that she was a bit skeptical. She supportively said things like: "It was probably just a housefly." and "You're crazy." We waited...but the scorpion did not reappear. Just when my girlfriend was sure I was playing a joke on her - with me insisting the whole time that "YES, it WAS DEFINITELY an actual SCORPION", I ran the water into the sink once again and the scorpion again clambered out of the drain. I can't deny that at that point I found my girlfriend's ear-piercing scream and subsequent levitation pretty satisfying.

It looked like the scorpion was about to jump (can they even jump?) so heroically, I grabbed my girlfriend by the shoulders, swung her out in front of me like a human shield, and then hauled my behind out of there, straight to the front desk where Young with stylish glasses said: "A scorpion? They are harmless. Bring it to me; I will eat it and prove it to you." Dejected, I walked back to the room and figured, "If it's no big deal then my neighbours won't mind it either, will they?" So I grabbed it (my girlfriend had killed it when I ran screaming out of the room.) and deposited in front of the door of my next door neighbour. 10 minutes after that, the housekeeper and housekeeping manager appeared and kindly upgraded us to suite 4427, which was a pretty nice gesture since a scorpion coming out of the drain is something kind of hard to prevent, right? In essence, I was happy because Sol Pelicano did their best to make that situation right. But think about this when you visit this place: room 4313 is on the SECOND floor. How does a scorpion crawl up the drain pipe from below ground level, straight up more than 14 feet and past the P-trap to emerge from the bathroom sink? That fact as much as any kept us both pretty jumpy for the rest of the week. After the scorpion, I just had to brush my fingers across my girlfriend's calf to get her jumping to the roof *evil laugh*.

Lastly, I thought I had uncovered some kind of gem when reading the reviews of Sol Pelicano prior to booking our trip there. After all, how else can you explain the glowing reviews for a lowly 3.5 star from other visitors returning for their 6th, 12th, or even 15th time? Well, after visiting the place and actually speaking to some of the hard core repeat visitors, I can tell you - it's the nude beach. I guess there is no other place on earth where you can find an all-inclusive for $700 with a nude beach included. And yes, I did spend an afternoon at the nude beach (in order to check it off my bucket list.) It was exactly the same beach as the non-nude beach a hundred meters away, except it had the added bonus of me having to see some stuff I am not going to be able to 'un-see' for a long, long, time.

In summary Sol Pelicano is no gem. It *may* be a 3.5 star, but if so, it's just barely.

Room Tip: Anything has got to be better than the standard garden view room.

Read it all on: TripAdvisor.com

Finally, I'm a published author!

My resort review WAS published on TripAdvisor in 2013, but I just went back now and they took it down!

Oh well, the royalties were terrible anyway.

the classic, cliche shot of lounge chairs at the beach at Riu Turquesa  

If I ever do find it in my Evernote or something, I'll put it up below. :-(

Ellie, the promising new author

...she's a regular Wilbur Shakespeare...

graphic of a mailbox

Accident Report
"Mail Monster"
Me and my cousin Stephanie were having fun watching movies all morning until my Aunt Karen demanded us to go outside for some fresh air. She gave us some ideas, like going for a walk, or playing with the neighbors. Of course we had to agree, we did need exercise. I walked upstairs and grabbed my coat and boots. Then, we went outside and ran to the edge of the road. Then, looking both ways before crossing. Just then, Stephanie noticed that the flag on the mailbox was up.
I marched over impatiently and looked inside. I took out the mail and gave it to my cousin and walked back over and put down the flag. We were gonna walk around the block a few times, and finally we were able to continue our walk. We walked around and talked a lot. Until we got tired and could only do one more block. To pass time, I made a few jokes and Stephanie laughed. Until I finally could see her mailbox with the flag up.
Stephanie said to me: "I wonder why it's up again."
I ignored her. I was so excited that I ran up to it with my eyes shut. More mail! I could hear my cousin in the distance saying "Open your eyes, Ellie." I didn't care, I thought. What could go wrong? Just then a hard object slammed against my face - BANG! I screamed. My nose was bleeding a little. My cousin ran up to me and said, "Are you OK?"
"I'm fine." I said. Just then I heard my Aunt and Mom coming outside and wondering what happened. Stephanie reached into her pocket and took out the mail from the mailbox, and giggled.
"What?" I asked.
"It's the same mail." she replied.
"No new mail?"
"No new mail." she replied.
I frowned. My family carried me inside and cleaned me up. "Sorry for breaking your mailbox." I said.
"It was getting old, anyway." my aunt replied.
I had to sit on the couch and watch movies for the rest of the day. When one of the movies was over I put my hands on my nose and forehead and laughed. I probably looked ridiculous. I've hated mailboxes ever since.

H1N1 Disgrace

The Canadian Medical Community's handling of the H1N1 Flu crisis is a complete disgrace.

A syringe filled with Bombay Gin.

Despite my almost frantic searching for clear and concise information and resources so I would be able to act quickly in the best interests of my children, I felt confounded at every turn by the idiotic medical establishment. Here's my timeline of what I experienced:

  • In early October, the media reports that vaccine manufacture has been ramped up and there will be plenty of vaccine for everybody in Canada who wants it. Clinic locations and hours are announced.
  • Two weeks later, even though flu season is well underway, there is a shortage of vaccine and so healthy children must wait while the most at risk children get their shots.
  • A healthy kid in Toronto dies in four days of H1N1.
  • A week later they finally open up the clinics to the public. I plan on going to get my kids vaccinated in 4 days time.
  • Two days later, before the public clinics even open, the vaccine shortage is again so acute, they re-close the clinics to the public! I think to myself, "screw it" and decide I will punch my way through a legion of medical staff if necessary to get vaccines for my kids.
  • As I originally planned, the following Monday I arrive at the clinic just 30 minutes after opening. I am expecting line ups. There is nobody there. Actually there are about 10 people in front of me. I decide to play it stupid. The staff asks me if my kids are high risk and I say, "I dunno. My wife said bring 'em in, so I brought 'em in...I don't even believe in this H1N1 malarkey anyhow..." Because I used the word "malarkey" they think I'm Irish so they must immediately realize it's pointless to challenge me with difficult questions - I just won't know the answers. This plus the fact that there is nobody in the clinic makes it hard for them in good conscience to turn my kids away. They get their shot.
  • Much to my kids chagrin (to my daughter's terror actually) we all learn that they will need to come back in 21 days for another shot. They are very clear about this. If we don't get the second shot, then the first shot is wasted. The kids won't be properly immunized.
  • The hospital is Peterborough, Ontario instructs family physicians to clear their schedules each day from 3PM onwards. The plan is to divert patients from the overwhelmed emergency room at the hospital to their family doctor. When I heard of this, I thought it was a great idea. Apparently the doctor's didn't. They went home, they went on vacation, or they just plain did not clear their rosters as instructed.
  • Despite my own experience, I am seeing on TV long line-ups for flu shots, yet when the posted clinic closing hours come, the clinics still close! In any other industry if there was an emergency, you would expect them to work extended hours, but when 6PM comes for these doctor's and nurses, they go home. In fact, I understand that many doses of vaccine went to waste because they are packaged in multiples. The needle givers would open a package and not use it up before closing the clinic!
  • Concerns arise over the safety, dosage, everything to do with the vaccine. There is no coherent and definitive information to be found anywhere. Not even at the Health Canada web site.
  • Now, the Peterborough County Health Unit reports that kids no longer need the second dose of vaccine... or they do ...or they don't. I've read the fucking document three times and I can't figure out whether or not my healthy 6 and 9 year old children require the second dose or not!
  • I still haven't gotten my shot. I wanted everyone else in my family to have it first in case the vaccine turned everyone into brain-eating zombies. I should have known better. My kids won't even eat peas, let alone brains...I'm ready for my shot now, and I think there is a clinic somewhere willing to give it to me, but flu season is almost over now...

As I get older, I can't escape the sneaking suspicion that despite the face they present to the world, the medical profession doesn't really have the answers for all but the most basic stuff; they don't even know what the hell they are doing. My experiences during this H1N1 scare only reinforces that.

Holy Freaking Moly

That's Sour!

toxic waste - hazardously sour candy Patti and I dropped by the unfortunately named Bulk Barn a couple of Saturdays ago in order to pick up a couple of Valentine's day treats for the kids. Somewhere along the way, I spotted a bin of these deceptively little sour candies - Toxic Waste "Hazardously" sour candy. Neat packaging. So I grabbed a handful, paid for them, brought them home and put them into the candy jar on my desk - and thought no more about them until the next day when Nik asked for one. When he popped it into his mouth,he gave this hilarious agonized expression but I thought he was just hamming it up. (even though us Hoppes have been told ten million times that we are not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole.) I mean I have had sour candies before but really, I've never one that was even moderately sour. I thought for sure he was faking...

...so I popped one into my mouth. A watermelon one. Instantly, my lips slammed together into a point. I couldn't open my eyes. You know that pain you get behind your earlobes when you eat something sour? I got that times 10. After about 15 seconds of the most excruciatingly sour taste sensation I have ever experienced, the sour was over and the candy then turned blessedly sweet. I continued to enjoy my Toxic Waste straight through to the soft sour center - nowhere near as sour as the beginning.

Just this evening, Ellie and I tried the lemon and the apple flavours. If anything, they were even more sour than the watermelon! Definitely not for sour amateurs. Of course they are made in Pakistan - as you know nobody knows sour like the Pakistanis. In short, Toxic Waste isn't a candy, it's an experience. An awesome one. They are so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking some up. I know I will.

sour Hoppes

Dear Diary...


"They're laughing because
I am pinching their bums..."

Today, I had my teeth whitened using the "dentist-delivered" Rembrandt Laser whitening system. This is how it worked for me: Last week, my genial and friendly dentist gravely recommended tooth whitening to me because for some reason I still cannot fathom, 25 years of smoking seems to have turned my teeth yellow. The procedure is not covered by insurance because it is considered "cosmetic" and costs $300. Though I'm sure I could make a case that I passed "cosmetic" about 10 years ago, I decided to take the plunge anyway. I reasoned I could use money from the grocery budget - the kids can eat dog food for another couple of weeks. Though the brochures in the dentist's lobby claim results on the order of "10 shades of whitening" my dentist told me to expect something more like 3 shades - he said this while shaking his head sadly and wondering (I'm sure) how some people can let themselves go so badly.

Upon arriving for my appointment, my hygienist, Melanie, took me back into "the whitening closet" - possibly the smallest room I have ever seen in a dentist's office. It contained the standard dentist chair and that freestanding octopus thing with angular metal tentacles emanating which I guess is all that's important. I was given a Standard Release Form to sign that warned me of some possible negative side-effects such as increased tooth sensitivity and gum bleaching, death, etc. The form made me a little paranoid because my teeth are already pretty sensitive; I'm not sure I could stand any more sensitivity for extended periods - but Melanie was very professional and reassuring. I should say that what she said was very professional and reassuring but she was evaluating me the whole time and her eyes said something like: "This crackpot is going to mentally snap 15 minutes into this procedure..."

So after the legalities were taken care of, we started. Melanie pumiced my teeth to clean them, then handed me a cup of something to gargle with - something to suppress my saliva production I think? Then she handed me a cotton swab covered in something and said something like: "you're mouth is going to be open for around an hour and a half so we ask you to apply this to your lips to prevent drying/chapping..." so I smeared what seemed like a half a pound of Vaseline over and around my lips. I should mention now that Melanie is good-looking, and though I am married and fat and old, I am still pretty good-looking comparatively speaking. And good-looking people like me don't like to look ugly around other attractive people. (Those of you out there who are ugly all of the time will have no idea what I am talking about, but all of you other hotties hear me, right?) The lip balm wasn't exactly making me look cool but I figured I could make the shiny lips work for me. But Melanie had other ideas. She next gave me to wear, a pair of yellow safety glasses styled in the 1980's. This was to prevent my eyes from getting aggravated by the laser light. So now, with the dry mouth, shiny Vaseline lips and the gayest glasses ever created, I was failing fast in the cool department.

But it was far from over. Melanie next adjusted the chair so that my feet were up and my head was low, causing my sinuses to instantly clog. She also pulled out this contraption called a "cheek spreader" and instructed me to flip over on my stomach so she could install it. No, I'm totally kidding. The cheek spreader was to hold my lips and cheeks away from my teeth while the bleach did it's work. Picture the eye spreader thing from A Clockwork Orange in your mouth. The inventor of the spreader however decided that this horrible medieval device was missing something - a tongue suppressor which is a snap-in addition, a sort of shot glass with wings that you tongue slides into - to prevent the tongue this time from coming into contact with the tooth bleach. The whole assembly was plastic and the sharp edges pinched my gums and dug-in to that skin-thing that fastens my tongue to my head. Next I received this vacuum tube to suck up the saliva that was collecting at the back of my throat. Then Melanie applied this blue stuff called Rubber Dental Dam to the edges of my gums so that any excess bleach would hit the rubber instead of my gums. So forget about me looking cool or sexy - instead by this point I think looked like Predator near the end of the movie after Arnold knocks off his helmet.

I couldn't believe I had endured all of this and we hadn't actually started whitening teeth yet. But thankfully that was next. Melanie applied some bleach-solution-gel-cream to my teeth in sections, and once she had done all of the top teeth she placed some Saran Wrap over the teeth to hold the bleach on. Then she applied bleach to the bottom teeth and another piece of Saran. Lastly, she flicked on this laser light that looked like some kind of gem (so that the laser light shoots out in multiple directions at the same time) and shoved the gem in my cranked-open mouth. Then she flipped me back upright, swung a television in front of my face, put a remote in my hands, and gave me a box of Kleenex because I guess I was crying pretty hard by that point. Melanie asked me if I was OK. I said "Unngh, Ack!" and threw in a few clicks like some central African tribesman. For good reason there were no mirrors in the room, but I could imagine what I looked like and sadly accepted that fact that Melanie and I will never date if Patti and I ever split up.

All of that took exactly 30 minutes. All that was left was an hour holding still with my face locked in the rictus of happy-horror. I watched Everybody Loves Raymond and Cheers. Ray's mother reminds me of my own, but without the humour or the kindness, and that Woody is quite the country bumpkin! Melanie had left a motion detector behind and told me to wave my hand in front of it if I needed any assistance - she would come check on me periodically. The damn detector went off every time I moved so eventually I turned it around to face away from me. After 10 minutes Melanie came into to check on my progress and noted that my Saran had fallen off. She asked if I was a mouth-breather and said, "Try to breathe through your nose so the Saran doesn't fall off" So, snorting like a fine-food critic dining at an A&W, I endured 10 solid minutes of pulling a thin and barely survivable stream if oxygen through my completely stopped-up nostrils, only to have Melanie return after 10 minutes and report with a sigh that the Saran had once again fallen off and that I must breathe through my nose to prevent this from happening. This statement didn't bode well for our blossoming relationship and I am sad to report it caused our first fight because I responded with something along the lines of "I can't breathe through my @#$@ nose! It's so plugged that when I try, it sounds like a pig farm at lunchtime, godd----t! But all she heard was "Unngh, Ack!"

After the hour was over, everything went quickly. The laser gem was pulled out, the horrible plastic spreader was removed; she pulled out the Saran, and the blue rubber dam material. I think I might have gargled again with something, then she handed me a mirror and...

...well, I don't know what I was expecting going in, but the utterly medieval and horrible procedure was offset by the fantastic results! It TOTALLY exceeded my expectations. I haven't had teeth like this since I was 20! My teeth look fantastic! So good in fact, that I don't want to drink coffee anymore. Or eat ketchup or anything else that could remotely stain my teeth. I brush my teeth three times a day now. Life is good. When I smile now, streams of God-like light radiate out from my mouth. Angels sing. Funny enough, I stood in front of the mirror with Patti afterwards to compare the whiteness and she is already the same shade of white as me. Wow, but it's way more dramatic for me because of how yellow I was before.

So the long and short of it, dear diary, is that I would recommend this to anyone contemplating it. Phenomenal!

It was a dark and stormy night

where WWW means Wretched Writers Welcome.

"While the nurse adjusted Achmed's body cast, he recounted that though he was a new arrival to the country and had never before driven anything faster than a cow, he was positively thrilled to obtain a new leased and loaded Chrysler mini-van; and so upon taking delivery of it from the dealership, promptly took the vehicle out on the 401 highway, set the cruise control, and then headed into the back to make breakfast."

That is going to be my entry into the 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. These are an absolute riot - my favourite from the 2007 results:

I'll have a pack of cigarettes please.no, Marlboro 100's . . . lights please, in a box yeah, no, wait, give me a soft pack, no, not those, the ones right above them, no, no, right next to those, yeah, wait, make it two packs, no wait, how much are they . . . no, one pack will do me, and a lighter please, no the other one, yeah, that one will be fine, he said quickly.
Shane Spears Blytheville, AR

Puppy Love

I bought a Canon Powershot A630 from Best Buy earlier this week. I've been on the hunt for a new camera since last summer, when I decided to "get back into photography" after a 15 year hiatus This roughly corresponds with my interest in computers - that is, I became interested in computers and lost interest in photography. (Let's now see if the inverse becomes true.)

In October I bought a Kodak P880 for $100 more than this Canon costs. Being a super zoom, it was a little bigger which I initially thought was nice, and zoomed a little more than this Canon. It created photos with excellent colour, but you had to flip the flash up yourself and I couldn't stand the LCD viewfinder. In December, the Kodak developed some mechanical glitches and I guess that was the clincher for returning it. So since December, I've been on the lookout for the perfect camera (for me.)

It's only been a few days, I'll admit but I've gotten to know this camera really well since I sleep with it under my pillow every night. (and I know what you're thinking - bad grammar or big pillow HAHAHA) I love this Canon. I love it because it has 8 megapixels I takes four AA batteries - I can use alkalines if I wish or NiMH. It came with a hi-speed 2g SD card (which is nice). It has voice annotation, a large 2.5" LCD back screen that articulates, like a camcorder's does - If I flip the camera for vertical orientation, that LCD panel flips too! If I win the lottery I can purchase additional lenses for the camera, just like with an SLR. The macro is mind-blowing. I can get as close as 1 centimeter to my macro subjects!

           

But mostly, I love this Canon for the panoramic shots it takes. I don't know how it does it (I actually exactly know - it's just a figure of speech) but this little Powershot A630 takes the most impressive panoramic shots with almost no effort - certainly no more effort than taking regular pictures. So, I'm looking forward to redeveloping my photographic skills and creating some cool panoramics.

Ou est mon Sirop D'Erable?

A Rick-Mercer-style rant.

With a single drop, the rite of spring in eastern Canada has begun. Sweet and pure, maple syrup epitomizes the Great White North in all its unspoiled glory. But out in the snowy forests where the nation's iconic, slowly awakening trees are being tapped, there is more brewing than unadulterated amber sugar. - from a Macleans article, May 2007

 

I read recently in Macleans about issues with the Maple Syrup industry. You see, Canada has 85% of the global maple syrup market, and the province of Quebec has 95% of that. The Quebec maple syrup producers are entirely mom-and-pop shops producing their own syrup and surprisingly the whole thing is regulated by a quota system; there are apparently "vast" reserves of maple syrup out there so that prices remain stable from one year to the next. Maple syrup is also graded by number and colour, with #1 Extra Light considered the best and being the most expensive.

I never gave it much thought before. I've never really understood the numbering and grading system - all I know is that pure Canadian Maple Syrup is awesome compared to any artificial sugar concoction from Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin. So whenever I end up in Quebec, I pick up a couple of cans of the first syrup I see - because it's about half the price it is in Ontario.

The problem (according to the article) is that with so many unregulated small operators making "mapple sirop" in their bathtubs, some are resorting to unsavoury practices to pad their margins. Of most interest to me in the article was the gadget they use to inject air into lower quality "amber" syrup to make it look like #1 Extra Light. Also of some concern was the contamination of some of the syrup with (sweet-sweet) pipe-lead and paraformaldehyde - an illegal chemical that makes the trees bleed longer. So, the tone of the article suggested that instead of a closely regulated company like Aunt Jemima making their barely tolerable excuse for syrup under the close watch of the US FDA, we have Jean-Paul and Germaine filling up empty bottles of Labatt 50 on the back porch, sucking on a couple of Craven-A's, and letting their cigarette ash fall into the vast syrup reserves while giving the finger to Health Canada.

What is proposed in the article is an expensive certification system where by maple syrup is "certified organic" Apparently the system is broken and ISO9002 is the only way to fix it.

Now, it's obvious to me that there is no problem. The system has worked for many years and the vast majority of the syrup producers out there are responsible people, but just as one guy tries to put a bomb in his shoe and now the world has to take off their shoes before going through X-ray at an airport, so it is that one (or so) unscrupulous maple syrup producer is going to have repercussions for an entire industry.

As I read the article, I realized that I can also see the future of maple syrup in Quebec (and Canada). One big conglomerate will purchase several smaller operations and produce non-descript yet "certified" maple syrup. Slowly, (but not really) they will either swallow up or squeeze out every single existing producer of maple syrup in Quebec until they are the only player left. Then this conglomerate will be purchased by a U.S. concern and that will be the end of another Canadian icon.

Our national beer brands, Molson and Labatts are no longer Canadian owned. Tim Horton's, the donut and coffee chain that Canadians most identify themselves with, is owned by Wendys out of Columbus, Ohio. And the image and likeness of the very symbol of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman on horseback - the Mountie - is owned by...wait for it...Disney!

And now we are going to lose Canadian Maple Syrup. All that will be left is back bacon, the beaver, and the maple leaf, but let's face it: we don't really want back bacon, Dubai will probably buy all rights to the maple leaf, and we lost the beaver a long time ago to Jerry Mathers.

Customer Service and ducks

This is a Billy Idol (Muscovy) duck from our site. Provincial parks are certainly not what they were 10 or 20 years ago, yet interestingly they enjoy much more popularity now than they did back then. Perhaps it is this single fact that has contributed the most to the Provincial parks' decline. Or then maybe it's simply because of the filthy facilities, the disinterested teen-aged staff, the myriad rules and posted threats you must navigate for a successful stay, or the sandy/muddy campsites themselves. But lately I've figured out that private parks actually have something that provincial parks don't: customer service and ducks.

For the last few days, we've been out camping at Rideau Acres near Kingston.

Riiiideau Acres is the place for me. Farm livin' is the life for me. Land spreadin' out so far and wide. Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside...

Sure the site was small and not private, but what am I doing that requires all this privacy exactly? But it was practically on the beach, there was a great lookout trail, a pool, a wicked playground for the kids, and friendly, helpful staff and fellow campers. It was also super-proximate to Kingston, Ontario (the birthplace of the least genetically diverse university students on the planet; their practically British royalty...), had an excellent park store, hydro, water, the cleanest bathrooms EVER - certainly many, MANY, times cleaner than our bathroom at home has ever been - a fact my wife was thrilled to hear about - seventeen times...and did I mention the ducks?

New York is where I'd rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay. I just adore a penthouse view. Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

The park had lots of ducks, and even some peacocks. Apparently ducks must eat their weight in mosquitos each and every day because provincial parks have no ducks and many, many mosquitoes, and our park had all these ducks and not a mosquito to be seen or felt! We even had a resident duck at our campsite and who my kids imaginatively named "duck" though I named him Billy Idol because he had a sort of Mohawk that made him look a little like Mr. T from the A-Team.

Our duck was extremely friendly and stuck around the whole time we were camping there, but it was just about the ugliest duck I'd ever seen which is really an allegory for life, isn't it? You either go for the pretty ducks for a short time, or have long-term relationships with the friendly and smart-with-good-personalities ducks...Ours had this kind of red rubber covering most of his face...like a duck/chicken/rooster cross but I guess it's actually a breed of duck in its own right. "A Muscovy duck with large red warty caruncles above the beak and around the eyes." Believe me, looking at this duck, it can't be that popular a breed.

...The chores. ...The stores. ...Fresh air. ...Times Square

Moving on, my family and I were sitting around the picnic table, with the duck, wondering about exactly what kind of duck it could be and I, seeing a once in a lifetime opportunity, said: "Well, a German duck is called a Guck, and a Hungarian duck is called a Huck, so a French duck is called a..." And my 6-year-old daughter (whom I knew couldn't wait to answer) promptly yelled out the correct expletive at the top of her lungs, and upon hearing hearing it from her own mouth (rather than her father's for once) assumed an expression of such utter mortification, and she clapped her hands over her mouth "Home Alone-style" so comically...well, I'm still laughing about it days later.

You are my wife. Good bye, city life. Rideau Acres we are theeeere!!

So later, again with "Billy Idol duck" present and allowing this line of discussion, and as I am wont to do while camping, I asked my wife what a duck's natural predators would be. Because ducks really aren't that fast, and a duck's quack is not exactly on par with the arsenal of say, a skunk - skunks which I believe do not naturally exist in Sweden... but I digress. I reasoned a bear would eat ducks, for the only reason that I could literally picture a bear sitting on its haunches eating a duck, which to be honest made me a little hungry.

My wife suggested that the only predator for ducks would be foxes and human hunters, which got us both thinking about the pride a hunter must feel at first tracking, and then bagging the elusive and ferocious duck. It actually got us laughing pretty hard as we came up with things the hunter would say to his wife as be brought home his kill-or-be-killed prey..."Honey, it was either me or him!" and "Honey, it just walked right up to me!" and "I just put the gun on the side of it's head and pulled the trigger!" I fear I will never get to experience the duck hunter's pride after acting on those atavistic urges...

Conclusion: Ducks really like Corn Pops.

I'm an Arby's girl...in an Arby's world...

I've wanted to put this up for a while but it kind of got lost in the depths of my laptop.

The following is an email I sent to Arby's after dining at one of their fine establishments back in 2004. Upon rereading it, I have to admire myself for my ability to accurately describe a situation without embellishment or hyperbole, as well as my knack for judging and giving criticism without offending.

Almost immediately after sending the message I received a canned response back from Arby's (which I will add to the end of this just as soon as I find it), however that is the only response I ever received.

August 14, 2004

I just wanted to take a moment to thank Arby's LLC, and specifically the Unit #02040 on 1063 Chemong Road in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada for my recent dining experience there.

It was a Saturday afternoon in July around 2PM. The store was almost empty although I guess there was some activity in the drive-thru. That though, didn't stop the cashier from running around like a chicken with her head cut off. I ordered some combo (a sandwich, drink, and curly fries) and a pie. What was most notable aside from the 5 minutes that it took this person to assemble this simple order, was the "temperature reversal" of absolutely everything about the order. The fries were not simply warm or even room temperature - they were actually cool! The soft-drink had no ice and was warm. The sandwich was totally pathetic. By the time I got to the pie, I was unpleasantly surprised to find it was actually pretty good - although it was the wrong pie. This wasn't take-out; I "enjoyed" this meal in the restaurant - a dirty, depressing place... Now, I've eaten at several Arby's before (all in Southern Ontario) and I certainly wasn't expecting gourmet fare. I was expecting something more workman-like, simply a few minutes of decent fuel before I moved on with my day, but this meal was so fabulously bad, so terrifically fucking awful that I actually was forced to re-evaluate the choices I make when I choose to dine out.

Here's what I've come up with:

More and more often lately, I've been feeling something vague and undefined after experiencing something this far removed from what is promised in the slick marketing from big fast food chains such as yours. I wish I could describe it - it's not guilt, it's not really anger, but more of a feeling of having been deceived or swindled. It's like you are screwing me right up the ass, and I just take it like an idiot.

Now don't take this too personally. You are in good company with McDonald's on this. And I imagine you don't want me to feel this way - it's not in your best interests. But after the odd meal like this over many years, it (an epiphany) has finally come to me!

You, Arby's, pay your people a totally disgraceful wage. The work is mind-numbingly boring - hell, it borders on demeaning. Your staff would be better off prostituting themselves in city parking lots, at least then they wouldn't have to be so ashamed of what they do for a living. Paying them what you do, it's no wonder they have absolutely no interest in what they do or in the food they slide across their dirty counters at me.

To test this theory out, I have started dining only in independent establishments. Nothing affiliated with any chain. Boy, the food is good! The service varies but is uniformly better than any Arby's anywhere. The price is only slightly higher, but I figure that's OK because I am supporting my local economy now, instead of some conglomerate. I've come to learn that these small establishments depend on me coming in and coming back and it really shows in the food, the cleanliness, and the service. So for all of this I thank you. I'm not being sarcastic when I say that my visit to Arby's was a positive one. In fact, that 8 bucks I spent was not only the best 8 bucks I have ever spent, it was also the last cent you will ever see from me. I want to give you full credit for all of this as you deserve it - I feel like telling everyone I know about my experience!

Thanks again,
Stephan Hoppe

Addendum 2016: Arby's never answered me more fully. Not even a coupon for some free, ice-cold curly fries. :-(


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Maybe read No Big Deal, a story I consider to be the very best thing I ever wrote.