Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays


I work in an apartment building as a concierge, and over feasting holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etcetera), afternoon shift is one of the best because often kind and generous residents will bring down a nice plate of dinner or dessert.

It always makes me feel grateful for my job which is otherwise really not particularly glamourous or well-paying.

We also received a bunch of neat apples from the Okanagan, each with an Ogopogo logo on them, presumably done by pasting a sticker on the apple while it was developing. As we had such an excess of them, I gave some away to residents who were kind enough to give us staff a little something as well -- It's the season for giving and sharing, right?

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Great Stories in Spellforce 2: Dragon Storm

I recently finished playing Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars and the Dragon Storm expansion. It was for the most part standard fare, but there were a few really good subplots. These very short stories were told in bits throughout the main story arc.
In our last posts I talked about the DreamStalker and the themes of the innocent and weak defeating the wicked and powerful; and Judge Caine and moral dilemmas. In this post, I'll mention the short but touching story of the protagonist and his ward Yasha.

In bits and pieces, we learn that Yasha Ashir is a mean, possibly evil woman, taking after her powerful father, a Mage of the Circle, Hokan Ashir. In the time of the Circle Mages, Rune Warriors traded free will for immortality, bound to a magical rune stone that forces them to obey whoever carries the stone, but which also allows them to return to life again and again so long as the stone exists. After the magic of the Circle ended, their artifacts also lost their enchantments, and with immortality lost, free will was restored.
We learn that our protagonist was one such Rune Warrior. Hokan Ashir gave their runestone to his then very young daughter Yasha, and additionally bound them with a (non-magical) pledge of honour to protect her.
Yasha grew up willful and cruel, it turned out, just like her father. Perhaps because she had power from a young age, or could command a competent Rune Warrior through the rune she held, she did evil things and forced the Rune Warrior to do evil things.

Even after the Rune Magic was gone, however, the protagonist held on to their pledge to protect Yasha, perhaps from herself sometimes. And in Dragon Storm, even though Yasha tries to kill them, the protagonist defeats her, but revives her with his mystical dragonblood. From then on, she is somehow bound to the protagonist. We are given the impression that she is reluctant, but nevertheless obeys. So our protagonist continues to hold on to the pledge to protect Yasha Ashir, despite the evil that she forced the protagonist to perform while under the influence of the Rune. And also declares themselves her gaoler, to keep her from harming others. We are made clear by mid-game that Yasha Ashir hates this captivity.

In one necessary scene, the protagonist is required to call forth their most hateful memory, and it is the one of their time under the Rune and the things Yasha made them do. More than anything else, this they hated and regretted the most.
And yet, at the end of the game -- the very, very, end -- when the protagonist lies dying, it is Yasha Ashir who is by their side first, trying to save their ebbing life. Perhaps imminent death changes many things about people, and compels them to set aside pride to express the simplest, deepest, gratitudes that would sound corny at any other time. It is at this time that Yasha Ashir thanks the protagonist for singing her bedtime lullabies when she was a very young child, and had to be soothed to sleep.

Then the other members of the party rush over and kneel around the protagonist, desperately trying to save their life, yet knowing what was eating at the protagonist was inevitable. If you paid attention to the dialogues and did all the sidequests, then this is a powerful moment. The end of the campaign also brings the protagonist into confrontation with their past, with what was at the very root of the Rune Power that had brought them both power and shame. The enemy defeated, the world saved, the quest won--the protagonist can finally be at peace. Throughout the quest, their care and interest in the the other members bonded them together, and now, at this final hour, the protagonist is truly surrounded by not just comrades in arms but true friends. And will not go into the next life -- to "the River of Souls" -- alone.
Combined with the touching background music and great camera angles, this scene lingers just long enough for you to hope it is not truly the end for your hero, but resign to the fact that it is.

There's more to it, but that would spoil things more than I already have. Play the game! It can be a bit tedious at times, but on the Easy setting, you can whip through most of it and focus on experiencing the story. And in the case of Dragon Storm, it's really worth the wait. Do all the quests, and I guarantee you it's worth the journey too.

On useless information

Well, my dad's still in Royal Columbian Hospital. I guess I never really did update my blog about it. He's had multiple surgeries, and the nurses have hinted on occasion that he might not make it through the night.
We had another such call tonight. He went in for some surgery, and it looks like he's having trouble pulling out. Breathing is weak. The hospital called to let us know, and of course they are doing their best and trying this and that.
I missed the call and they spoke with my sister. Who then relayed it to me in the most long-winded fashion imaginable. And she wanted me to call the specialist later to get an update.
I suppose the feel-good thing would be to call the hospital, but at this point, I'm not sure what the point would be. I'm sure if they're not busy with my dad, they're busy tending other patients. And if something happened, they'd try to call. Meanwhile, why bother them?
And why load me with detailed information about the exact procedures? Where I know about them or not makes no difference. All I really needed to know was that he was having a hard time -- to put it bluntly, that he might die and I should go see him. Just in case. To be there at the end. If it really will be the end this time.Even if I were right there in the hospital throughout the night, there's nothing I could do to change his condition. It's up to the hospital staff now, and we have to trust that they are doing the best they can. We've never really had a choice there.

We've all seen him deteriorate so it wouldn't necessarily be a surprise if he did pass away, but I guess no one is ever really ready to lose someone to something as permanent as death.

And if he does pull through, he can expect mashed potato for lunch. Again. Just like every other day for the months he's been in the hospital. Every. Single. Day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Great Stories in Spellforce 2: Dragon Wars

I recently finished playing Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars and the Dragon Storm expansion. It was for the most part standard fare, but there were a few really good subplots. These very short stories were told in bits throughout the main story arc.
In our last post I talked about the DreamStalker and the themes of the innocent and weak defeating the wicked and powerful. In this post, I'll examine the moral dilemmas presented by the Judge Caine.

In the world of Eo, there are otherworldly demons that offer power in exchange for one's soul. When the contract is up, the demons come and take what is theirs. However, they cannot enter holy ground, and so some parties hide from their fate by staying in such areas. When that happens, a human assassin is sent. Not being a demon, holy ground does not deter them. In exchange for these errands, these assassins are given the power to sustain their life indefinitely by drinking the blood of their targets.
Caine is one such assassin, and when out of mutual benefit and necessity he joins the protagonist's party (that is, "your" party, as you make choices for the protagonist in this computer role-playing game), he is accused of being a mere murderer.
But he is also a "Judge"--he examines the cases, and can choose to pardon the target. The contract is destroyed and his demonic masters are none the wiser apparently. Their souls, at least, are safe.
To give the protagonist some insight into his role, he lets the protagonist decide the verdicts in three tricky cases. We now have the power of life and death over three persons, and this is reinforced by making an actual execution an automatic thing: There is no fighting involved -- Caine just walks up and chops them down with a massive sword that is granted to him by his Abyssal masters.
This subplot has nothing to do with the main story, but it's definitely worth doing just for the mini-stories that go with each of the people named in the contracts. There is ultimately no difference in the outcome on the protagonist's side -- they get the same rewards / find the same items no matter which choice is made.
The stories are Ainur, Ironbelly, and Una.

Ainur was horribly abused by his employers/masters, who treated him like an animal yet managed to have a decent image in public life, so many were appalled by their particularly horrible murder. The law hadn't caught up to him at the time the protagonist confronts him.
With all the cases, there are different elements of the law with which the protagonist can uphold. For example, there is the matter of the contract into which they more or less freely entered. Although it may have been made under durress, the supernatural forces of the Abyss were not involved in creating the stressful circumstances (Ainur's captivity, for example), and therefore are merely (ruthless) merchants offering a service in exchange for a price. To destroy their contract would be to cheat them.
In Ainur's case, we also have to decide whether his torturous captivity was grounds for murder. Complicating this was the fact that some people actually did know about it. Why nothing was done is not mentioned, although it does convey the impression that it was up to Ainur to do something if anything was to change.

Ironbelly signed a contract with supernatural powers for wealth and success in business. As a result, lives were ruined and some competitors were even afflicted with illnesses by the supernatural, resulting in businesses lost to Ironbelly. The result was that he made more money than even the King of the Highmark. His current circumstance (which Caine notes came up after he signed the contract) is that his wife has a yet uncurable bone marrow disease, and he has since been a very generous benefactor to research. Without his support, the local healers could not afford the necessary imports to continue research and treatments, and it is made clear that without him, such could not continue. So in Ironbelly's case, we are forced to weigh past deeds against present and future benefits. Does his generosity count as atonement? And what happens to the people who need his money now?

Finally there is the case of Una. Her father made the contract, but he escaped it through some sort of exorcism which ultimately killed him. "The law", Caine explains, says the price must then be paid by his descendents (just as debts can still be collected from one's estate after death, perhaps)--which in this case is Una. Which law, exactly, is not revealed. All we need to know is that Una's head is the one under the axe.
Una clearly has wealth, and we may well suspect much of this was due to an inheritance of contract-gotten gains from her father. She is ruthless in business and bitchy in person. Knowing she is bound to a demon contract has made her hide on holy ground in the temple and pray to the Light Gods, but her heart holds none of their teachings.
Here, we are asked to decide on the basic fairness of her being bound by law to her father's contract -- and weigh with our previous decisions. If we have previously ignored the letter of the law--the fact that there is a contract with the Abyss--and made judgments in different ways, will we now conveniently resolve Una's case by debating law -- in this case, deciding that her inheriting her father's debt is unfair?

We often demand a game to have a long story and a long quest. But long stories aren't necessarily better than good stories (they just give more bang for your buck when you buy a game), and sometimes focussing on the essential emotional elements and moral conflicts -- making people stop to think by wrapping it around a story and engaging them with choices (as a computer role-playing game can, in some limited way) makes the *experience* of a story that much more fulfilling.

caine 2

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Great Stories in Spellforce 2: Dragon Storm

I recently finished playing Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars and the Dragon Storm expansion. It was for the most part standard fare, but there were a few really good subplots. These very short stories were told in bits throughout the main story arc. In this post and over the next few posts, I'll talk about some of these short but powerful stories.

One of these stories is the series of quests involving the DreamStalker.
A similar story appeared in the first Spellforce game, but the resolution was much simpler: Kill the Dream Thief. Except it was extremely difficult unless you also killed the innocent woman whose dreams it was stealing and giving him power.
In Dragon Storm, this sidestory has been re-written into a full quest.
In the city of SevenKeeps, we quickly find out that the dreams of children are being stolen, and as a result they wither away. As part of the ritual to this, four children were murdered and their dreams stolen. Each continues to linger on with painful memories, and this pain keeps the DreamStalker Sharad'Naine invincible.
One child had a toy sling, another a toy sword, but they did no good against the sorcerer. Others mentally withdrew, holding on to a doll or staring into a marble.
In order to defeat the Dream Thief Sharad'Naine, we are tasked to remove his power, which is fuelled by the suffering of the now ghostly children. We find each of them, ask for their help, and are in turn given their token -- the sling, the doll, the marble, the wooden sword.
During the confrontation with Sharad'Naine, he calls on the children for power. But having rallied them, we now raise these toys against the invincible sorcerer and the children pull away from his power. In the end weakened, he falls to the ground, merely a man now.
So far we have a simple story of evil versus innocence, the ultimate triumph of justice and good over power and wickedness, and also the powerful theme of how the weak can overcome the strong, and still have justice in the end. In life these children were helpless, but now are instrumental in the defeat of a great evil. In fact, the game reinforces these themes by making our powerful heroes impotent. They can keep Sharad'Naine at bay, but cannot defeat him. Only the children can, only their courage is required. To have allowed powerful heroes to short-cut the process by simply killing Sharad'Naine would have diminished the emotional impact of the story.
If the story ended here it would be a decent one with a stirring and powerful finale--but there's more!
Sharad'Naine, now merely the man Barubas, explains that it was not for him that all these deeds were done, but rather for his wife Hazibelah. She has grown old as time takes its course, but lives in denial. He had to hide all the mirrors lest she be upset at the truth, and made him steal the dreams of children so that she could, at least in her mind, have her youth by dreaming their dreams.
Do we let him live? Is he ultimately responsible? Here, the story is taken briefly out of our hands, and we are left to wrestle with it -- one of our companions, Caine, who is a judge and executioner of supernatural contracts, steps in and pronounces "judgment" on Barubas and executes him. (More on him in another post as we explore the side stories related to his background).
To finally end it, we confront Hazibelah. She is upset at the truth and attacks (and is a worthy mage in her own right, though behind a childish mindset), but if we have a mirror on hand and can show Hazibelah her true self, she retreats and is helpless. In the end, she must be slain, and finally the threat of the DreamStalker ends with her.

hazibelah 2

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - People are the same everywhere

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the things I found in Germany, and indeed everywhere I've ever been in Europe, is that people are the same everywhere. There's graffiti. People litter when it's inconvenient to go to the next garbage can. If you can't speak the local language, you're probably from North America. And everyone does the same thing with soup apparently.

On the last night, my friend brought me and two of her closest friends to the Ratskellar in Bad Hersfeld where they ordered for me. They started me off with Ochsenschwanzsuppe, a soup which, with my limited German, I thought to be ox tongue soup, but turned out to be something surprisingly available in many cultures.

When it came, there was no ox in it, just a couple of really thin dumplings. By the time it landed on the table, we'd laughed about it and I figured out what it was, but was again surprised that it wasn't in the soup. I cut open the dumplings and scraped the filling out, but no, there was no ox meat in it.

Afterwards we asked the server about it, and she said the part of the ox used is boiled in the soup, then taken out. I was strangely disappointed.

If you haven't figured out what I had, you can check it out with this Google search link and be amazed that it's in so many cultures spanning the globe.

By the way, if you have kids, the Ratskellar menu also features a cutesy fairy-tale menu for kids, with items such as "Snow White and Rose Red" -- from what I could guess, this was fries with mayo and ketchup for dipping.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - The Sadness of Being Sorry Too Late

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the stories that was shared with me was about a person who hated, or was at least contemptuous, of his neighbour. But one day, his neighbour passed away. He contritely went over to convey his condolences and offer assistance but was turned away: A lifetime of ill-will had nursed resentment and bred distrust. It was even thought his gesture was a cunning attempt to improve his own reputation, to be seen as a respectful person even to someone he thought so little of.

Perhaps he was really, at this too-late time, sorry for the relationship with his neighbour. Perhaps pride had gotten in the way of reconciliation when they were both alive, and somehow at his neighbour's death, when an olive branch wouldn't be met with rejection, it was easier for him to be sorry.

You can unburden yourself of an "I'm sorry" at someone's grave, but they're long gone, and can't take it with them.

Dharma: What is that which, when renounced, makes one lovable? ...

Yudhishthira: Pride, if renounced makes one lovable ...
Dharma: What enemy is invincible? What constitutes an incurable disease? What sort of man is noble and what sort is ignoble?
Yudhishthira: Anger is the invincible enemy. Covetousness constitutes a disease that is incurable. He is noble who desires the well-being of all creatures, and he is ignoble who is without mercy.

-- from the Mahabarata

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I learned in Germany - The Universe is Piloting, part 2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

Yesterday I talked about how the universe had once moved me where I needed to be. The trip to Germany turned out to be just another incident of this, but with such longer strands of fate and timing that my friends have been amazed.

I came out of my career change (about 10 years ago now) looking for a "helping-people" type position, and expanded my volunteering. I was with the ASK Friendship Centre (until a transit strike made going there too costly) and the Vancouver General Hospital STAT Centre. I joined the Burnaby Hospice Society, and later the Vancouver Crisis Centre (and I'm still there, eight years later...).
All this volunteering gave me experience with seniors, some knowledge about bereavement, and crisis counselling. I also looked into Occupational First Aid Level 1 for my concierge position (although year after year, it seems they teach less and less).

They say the universe only gives you what you can handle, even if it might not seem so at the time.
When my friend's father passed away on my third day in Germany, it really sank into me just how everything had come together. I was at the right place at the right time to support my friend, and with the right training.
If I hadn't had all those experiences, I think I would have freaked out or just have felt lost. But I managed to stay calm and present for my friend. I just hope I was supportive in the right way, with the right mix of mostly empathy and understanding, as well as basic advice and information about bereavement.

It was a strange vacation. I stayed in small villages and didn't see all the major sights. We spent a lot of time walking in the beautiful woods and their fall colours. Above all we talked a lot.

I wouldn't change it for anything.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What I learned in Germany - The Universe is Piloting, part 1

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

Long ago, I had an experience of the universe being in control of my life. I had had enough of a desk job that involved a lot of overtime and unappreciative employers. I made lots of money but had no time to enjoy it, and didn't have enough of a social life anyway.
One day, I walked into Transitions, a career-change agency. There was exactly ONE spot left for their next class. On an impulse, I took it and gave my notice.
I came out of it with a vague idea of a job, something involving helping people face-to-face. I bounced around and finally landed as a teaching assistant with King George International College for a while. The SARS crisis lost me my job, but shortly after, Drake Medox called me back to be a companion for a while. They specifically needed a male companion for an assignment, and the client had rejected all their existing candidates.
When that assignment finished, I was shortly after picked up by an apartment in downtown Vancouver to be part of their 24/7 concierge team. Not the most glamourous or high-paying job, but the best and most rewarding type of position I've had to date. I was eight years there, and then moved on to an even more interesting position.

I have never forgotten that experience -- of being moved by the universe to where someone needed me and at the right time, and finally landing in a better place -- and in small ways it happened now and again, although at the time I didn't realize it.
The trip to Germany turned out to be another of these "greater plans" that I'll never forget.
More about that tomorrow night.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - Relationships make everything meaningful

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

Long ago, I went on two major vacations. Once on a cruise to Alaska, and years later, on a bus tour in Europe (which I'll never do again since you spend the best part of the day in the bus, because no one wants to sleep on the bus at night, but they do sleep anyway during the long transit on the highways).

The cruise turned out to be a lonely affair. The bus tour had you grouped with a bunch of mostly couples, so there was more of a chance to socialize. I remembered that the best time we had on that tour was when we pulled into Italy (if I remember correctly) in the evening. It was snowing. We had a bunch of South Africans who'd never seen snow, so we brought them out back to build a snowman. Naturally, the first thing that happened when we hit the snow was to get snowballs flying. We had such a blast. And it had nothing to do with Europe.

After that, I lost my desire to travel. Never again was I fixated on any place. "It's not about where I'm going, it's about who I'll be with."

I've heard stories about the generations before us that they'd travel to a country only if they knew someone there. It sounds funny sometimes. But on my trip, it was everything. I had only one week there, and I have no idea when I'll go back, or if ever. I gave up touring Frankfurt on my own to stay in small villages and see friends. (In fact, the museums we tried to go to were either partially or fully under renovation!)
And I wouldn't change a thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - Time Wasted Mourning and What You Can Do

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

When someone passes away, the people closest to them often go through a period of mourning. This is typical, of course, and to be expected. But gawd, is it ever time-consuming! We plod around for days, weeks, maybe even months. Thinking sad thoughts, missing the person, possibly even blaming ourselves.

In other types of loss, we are encouraged to live and learn, look for the upside, call it experience and move on. But not death. Even though everyone knows it's coming and we see it all around us every day.

Dharma: ... What is the greatest wonder? ...
Yudhishthira: ... Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to live forever...

-- from the Mahabarata

And grieving is all about us. You can say it's about honouring the dead, but they're dead and they probably don't care. The cares of this world are shed. They can't take their riches with you, but neither will they take their debts and worries. And if there is an afterlife, they're probably busy figuring that out.

I definitely think death should be handled better. Accept that we're gone, celebrate the good times we had. Then turn the page to a new chapter. I think that as people who will one day die, we should prepare things for the sobbing messes that are loved ones. Get things in order, prepay our way into the afterlife (coins for the ferryman won't cut it anymore -- it's thousands for a funeral and then there's either the urn or the casket and burial site).
And let people know what you want in the way of post-life festivities: It's almost selfish how they who grieve most get the most say on how the funeral is conducted, and in their depression, you know it's going to be a somber affair.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - Unrequited Love and Time Wasted on Hope

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the things I saw in Germany was the profound sadness of unrequited love. There is a certain nobility in loyal love and persistent attention for "the one". Often we are wowed and inspired by stories of grand gestures and enduring patience ending in heartwarming love.

When we read these stories, we already know that in the end it will work out to a happily-ever-after. When we're in it, however, it's different. We need persistence.

But what if there really is no hope? That the other party simply doesn't feel the same way, and tries to tell us clearly and unambiguously that it will never be? How much persistence is enough, and how much is simply wasted time?

For a long time now, I've decided that I will love my friends however much I feel love for them. I don't care if I do more, give more, or love more. Give freely because you want to. Never expect, ask, or hope for anything in return. In fact I feel it's sad and complicates our friendship if someone does something for me out of gratitude.
But I also tell myself not to wait for anyone. Because they might be waiting for someone else (and sometimes it's surprisingly hard to say that, to dash hope away). Cherish friendships for what they are now, not what you hope they will become in the future.
We can only control what we can do, and, of course, we can choose to have hope. But we can't control anyone else, and in love, it takes two.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I Learned in Germany - The Life Unlived and Living Your Own Life

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got back from a week in Germany on Sunday, November 2nd, 2009. It was a crazy trip as my friend and I discovered that their father had passed away while we were out hiking.

One of the things that came out -- that almost invariably comes out -- is how the deceased didn't have a good enough life. Often we are reminded that "you can't take it with you" and to enjoy life with whatever riches or resources we have amassed. The life unlived, so to speak. Especially when death comes unexpectedly.

But what if that is what *we* want, and not what they wanted? What if travelling the world and is what is important to us, but not to them? For the person who passed away, perhaps they lived in quiet contentment, with the things they loved comfortably around them, life a comfortable routine of familiarity and ease.

(Especially) in North America and our self-help-book culture, we are taught -- pushed -- to grow and expand and seek new experiences. And if we don't, we aren't "growing", and we are admonished for it. People feel sorry for us.

But there is another way. In Buddhism, "suffering arises from attachment to desires".

Dharma: What is that which, when renounced, makes one lovable? What is that which is renounced makes happy and wealthy?
Yudhishthira: Pride, if renounced makes one lovable; by renouncing desire one becomes wealthy; and to renounce avarice is to obtain happiness.

-- from the Mahabarata

Remember to live your own life. It's exhausting to live it for someone else. And definitely stop doing that when when they're gone.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back from Germany

I ducked out to Germany for a week to see a friend, and landed back in Vancouver Sunday night. It was the best of times and the worst of times. On day three, my friend's father passed away, and we found him together.

After that, I learned a few things that I always knew but never did pay enough attention to. Over the next few days, I'll blog about them... If for no other reason than to get it out of my system.

I did just fine in Germany, but, combined with songs on the radio in the airplane that seemed to resonate with all that happened... I admit I cried on the way home.

How music can move us sometimes. And how words can take on different meanings at different times in our lives.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Investors Group Comedy Tour 2009 in support of the Food Bank

I've been an Investors Group client for many years now, but apparently haven't paid enough attention to their mail-outs because this is the first time I've heard of the annual Investors Group comedy tour which has been on for several years.
BC clients were invited by their respective advisors to attend, free of charge. as it was in support of the Food Bank (Investors Group is a $100k+ "key partner" level donor), however, we were asked to kindly bring something in support, and I was happy to bring a 12-pack of Campbell's Vegetable Soup.

Investors Group Comedy Tour 2009 in support of the Food Bank

The event was hosted by comedian John Wing, and also featured David Merry and Ryan Belleville. I must not have been going to enough comedy events because the trio was absolutely hilarious. It's too bad they ducked off-stage so quickly because the audience wanted to give them a standing ovation!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Computers equal No Blood

I was donating platelets at Canadian Blood Services last week, and one of the nurses happened to mention that they were low on donations at the moment. The cause, it turned out, was the computers having been down for a while.
Without the computers, donors can't be reliably screened for safety or reasons they should not be donating at the moment.
No screening = no donations = no blood.

How sadly reliant we are on computers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

SunStar Realty is hiring a photographer/web master - full-time

SunStar Realty is looking for a photographer / web presence maintainence person.
Ideally, one person would fill the entire role as a single full-time position. They are willing to consider breaking up the position into two part-time positions.
The essential tasks are:

* Take professional-quality real estate photographs. Please have a look at the various listings for style and quality of photography you will be expected to produce.

* Update advertising on Craigslist, Kijiji, various other advertising websites, and some social networking sites such as FaceBook and Twitter. For their furnished properties, advertising sites will require constant monitoring and maximum-allowed reposting. For sales and long-term rentals, work load varies.

* Update their website at the HTML code level. There is no content management system per se. At the most basic level, you will be required to copy existing files to use as a template for new entry; edit existing entries as the status of properties change; delete old entries; upload files to the host.

To apply for this position - Absolutely no phone calls.
Contact David Mak at with the subject, "application for the Photographer/Web Master position" and indicate in your e-mail cover letter where you saw this ad.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Go with the flow or Do it right?

I recently took the BST (Basic Security Training) online course from JIBC (the Justice Institute of BC).
One of the questions for discussion was,

You are working at a nightclub. Your job is to monitor the entrance, watching for minors and anyone who may be concealing alcohol. A young female approaches the gate, and the entrance attendant allows her to proceed into the venue. When you question the attendant, he tells you not to worry because the young female is his girlfriend. What should you do?

The technically correct answer is to challenge her for ID. But is that a real-life answer? What if no one -- your co-workers, or even your supervisor -- supports you? Sure, you may be right, but what if your boss is wrong and insists on being wrong?

Just started a new position this week, and some things just weren't right. The head concierge had a clumsy set of over twenty keys but couldn't open the mechanical room. Didn't know he couldn't. Didn't have any explanation except to blame the building manager for changing the keys or the lock and not telling him.
I guess he felt embarrassed by the whole thing, because when I pushed for the keys to be sorted out, he threw a tantrum and called our mutual supervisor. Said I was an "asshole" and that either I was to be fired, or he'd quit.

Later, our supervisor came on site and spoke to us both, separately. He could see my point of view, accepted that I really wasn't out to embarrass the head concierge -- after all, I had spoken with him in private, and had tried to show that it was reasonable to get the keys sorted out and simplified instead of spending five minutes sorting through over twenty keys and still not being able to open a door. In an emergency, the firefighters would be swinging their axes to get through while the building was burning down.

The point is, should someone "go with the flow" and just let things be? Is this the prevailing work reality? Or am I just in the wrong crowd and need to find people who are more conscientious?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Does Canada have the most inconvenient banking policies?

I tried to close my HSBC internet banking account tonight. After all, every single time I went to the website, it indicated that "internet banking is currently unavailable". It had been this way for so long that I discovered the account to actually have become dormant.

Could they close the account right away? No. They wanted me to reactivate it first.
Okay, no problem.

Could they reactivate it for me? No. It had to go to the supervisor, and presumably the next business day.
Okay, no problem.

Could they have an instruction on my account to reactivate it? No. They needed me to fax in my name and signature. This, after I had verified my identity over the phone. And I wouldn't even have had to do this if the account were still active.
Okay, fine.

How do I get my money out? Could they transfer it to another institution? No. ATM (which won't give me any residual amount that was less than $20) or bank draft. Which would cost me $6.50.

$6.50 is probably more interest than they've ever given me in the history of having this account.

Okay, whatever.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Long Table at the Irish Heather

Irish Heather on Urbanspoon

Last night, I attended one of the Irish Heather Gastropub's Long Table Series dinner (212 Carrall Street, half a block up from Gassy Jack) through an event put together by the Vancouver Activity Group.

Although it was all booked up even up to about a week ago, for some reason over a dozen people dropped out at the end, and we ended up with 44 out of 52 spots (helped no doubt by the waiting list that Sean Heather had on hand). All in all a fair showing for an event that's invariably sold out.
(Special thanks to @HummingBird604 for helping out with a last-minute tweet on my behalf to try to fill up the spots. Honestly, I felt so embarrassed by the no-shows from the Vancouver Activity Group that I sent out a tweet at around 5pm.)

If you're not familiar with the Long Table Series, the basic idea a one-course dinner and drink for $12 plus tax and tip (roasts on Sundays for $15). Everyone gets the same thing. It invariably involves meat, but you can ask for a vegetarian option 24 hours ahead of time. Meat-eaters last night got two thick slices of pork on shredded cabbage and mashed potatoes, with an apple jus.

It invariably involves beer, though last night we got an interesting cider made from five different kinds of apple and weighing in at 7% alcohol. You can ask for a Coke instead (and check out the coke-bottle-cutout napkin holders while you're there).

Here are the menus from August 30th to October 29th, 2009.

If you'll be asking for veggie and no booze, honestly there's no point in going unless it's for the company--And that's one of the other draws. At a very long table and community eating, there's supposedly a chance to make new friends and what not. If you're going alone, that'll definitely happen. If you know too many people, you'll have to position yourself near strangers. Because once you're seated, you really have access only to five, or maybe nine, people next to and across from you.

The evening starts at 6pm with optional drinks at the Shebeen "in the back" of the Irish Heather / Salty Tongue narrow squeeze at that section of Gastown. Everyone's herded to the kid-friendly-by-day Salty Tongue Café side of the establishment at 6.30pm so dinner can start at the same time for everyone. From then, it's dinner in front of you by around 7pm, and it goes till late.
Optional dessert of the day was $7 last night, with a choice of a chocolate tasting plate; apricot mousse in what looked like a jam jar; or creme brulee with a funny biscuit at the bottom. Don't expect the same every time, though.

It's not fancy food, and not particularly interesting food, but it's an uncomplicated one-plate of tasty, filling food and something to wash it down with. If you figure your pint of whatever is about $5-7, the $12 combo is cheap eats if you drink.

P.S. Check out the Irish Heather on Facebook and Twitter.
On Facebook? Check out the Irish Heather there.

Monday, August 10, 2009

TreeBanking LLC in the News

Hi Everyone!

Awesome news! As you may know, I recently invested USD 5000 in TreeBanking LLC, a Colorado company whose primary business is reforesting rain-forests. Unlike other conservation efforts, this one is not a charity money sinkhole, but a sustainable business that will also capitalize on carbon trading.

They were recently in Indonesia, and have been mentioned in Newsweek. It's just the beginning of extensive involvement in Indonesia. Very promising news for investors!

If you're curious about them, you can chat with the company principals on Twitter at @TreeBanker or @TreeBanker2 -- they're flying home from Indonesia now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Little Caesars Pizza Deal

My sister dropped by today en route to see my dad in Royal Columbian, and for a no-fuss lunch we ordered a Supreme! Supreme! from Little Caesars. There's an awesome $10.99 deal going on at their somewhat obscure Burnaby location. We ordered by phone and it was ready in about 10 minutes -- all set for pick-up when we got there!

Anniversary Special!
Any Size Pizza $10.99
Unlimited Toppings
Original Round Crust. Plus Taxes. Extra cheese & chicken topping excluded. Pick-up only. Expires August 31/09.
6681 MacPherson Avenue., Burnaby
Sunday - Thursday 11am - 11pm, Friday - Saturday 11am - 1am

Can't decide on the toppings? Try one from their menu.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dad's out of ICU

Hi everyone!

Just last Tuesday, my dad took seriously ill and ended up in Royal Columbian Hospital's intensive care unit. Today, finally, he was more or less in the clear and was transferred to Critical Care. Which, to me sounds worse, but is actually a de-escalation from Intensive Care.

He has serious diabetes and his illness was in part blood infection and in part some kind of cough or cold or other bug which showed up on tests on his sputum.

Special thanks to the nurses at Royal Columbian for taking great care of him and being patient with our family's visits.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Natto Bomb

Alpha Global Sushi & Bar on Urbanspoon

Went out for a lovely dinner tonight with The Yaletown Vancouver Meetup Group at Alpha Global Sushi and Bar, where I had the 'Natto Bomb'.

It's got that infamous natto goop and some other stuff which didn't seem to matter much because the whole concoction was strangely tasteless (and very slimy thanks to a raw quail's egg). The mix is all chopped up, and I was recommended by staff to put soy sauce -- a lot of soy sauce -- then use the provided seaweed sheets to wrap it.
The seaweed turned out to be tricky to use because it was too tough to bite through, and in any case promptly sticks to the roof of my mouth.

It was worth the experience for $8.50, I suppose, but not much else, IMO. And without the soy sauce, I wasn't sure if it would have had any taste at all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Experience the Story or Play the Game?

After a long hiatus, I finally went back to playing Heroes of Might and Magic V. I used to play it on the highest difficulty (Heroic), and could make it through most of the missions at that level. But there were a couple of maps that I just couldn't do at Heroic, and after several wasted days, I decided to give it up and took a break.

I wrestled with it for a while. Succeeding at Heroic difficulty felt great: Even the developers warn that they didn't test the game at that level and there was no guarantee the missions were winnable. But the time! All that wasted time!

When I came back to the game, I decided to play at Normal difficulty, and, sure enough, the game was very easy. I suppose having played on Heroic helped me find the strategies and tactical combat tips to make it easy. But now there was a new challenge -- tedious missions. Sylvan Campaign 5 Mission 5 was one such tedious mission. It's a huge map and endless fighting. I could certainly see that it was winnable, but after two days, I'd had enough. I just wanted to experience the story and move on.

Once victory was in sight, I used the cheat codes to zip through to the end, to see the cutscenes for the critical points and move on.
One last campaign for the Heroes V story, then on to the expansion, Hammers of Fate. I decided the mission wasn't fun anymore and I just wanted to see the story and move on.

There are many perspectives on cheat codes and mods, but honestly I think they can be very useful if used appropriately. Take responsibility for your game experience, but also play the game you want. It's just a game, and I won't let it put my life on hold.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Edgeworth Properties - Is 12.5% ROI too good to be true?

I recently checked out the Edgeworth Properties "EMIC" -- Edgeworth Mortgage Investment Corporation -- offering. The bottom line: 12.5% annual return on investment. Although it's got the word "mortgage" in it, it's really about land banking. Minimum investment $10,000. Offering closes once they get $50 million.

As I was feeling anxious about investing with line of credit monies, I pumped them for how they were doing it. Here's the summary, in crude layman's terms. Contact them for the official scoop. This blog is not affiliated with Edgeworth Properites or any other kind of investment you can possibly think of. We make no money off Edgeworth or anyone else for writing this. Consider this all opinion. To cover my ass, why don't I just say this is all utter rubbish for feeble comedic entertainment value only.
  1. Research. Find out where there will be strong need for construction. Where will there be expansion? Where will the government want to build? These are just some of the questions.
  2. Buy up land. Buy a chunk of land and prepare to develop it. Since it's undeveloped at the moment, it's relatively cheap compared to final developed land. (For simplicity and to illustrate process, the sales VP used $1 million as the cost. Obviously, we shouldn't be using these numbers to make any kind of financial decision.) This is one step where the EMIC comes in. Edgeworth Properties puts in 25%, the EMIC loans the remaining 75%.
  3. Ask for permission to build. Some initial work is done to secure permits and blah blah blah. Essentially, from undeveloped land, they are getting commitment from the government that they will be able to develop it. Once that is secured, the value of the land shoots up. Edgeworth will now try to sell it off at (again, only for illustration purposes) $2 million. Whopping 100% profit. Less expenses they are still confident they can give back 12.5%.
    • If it all blows up and they don't get any go-ahead from the authorities, the land is still worth the original amount (hopefully) and even at firesale prices, EMIC should be able to recover 112.5% of their 75% stake (84.375%). In the worst case, Edgeworth Properties obviously has to step in with the shortfall. Their construction company, Sonex, also does work for other companies, and the Sales VP cited revenues of $25 mil annually -- clearly alluding that they are just one of the ways that Edgeworth is good to pay 12.5% even if it turns out to be disaster at this early stage.
  4. Sell the land. The now more highly-valued land is chopped up into tiny parcels and sold to offshore investors to pay back the EMIC. Offshore investors (Singapore, the Philippines, etcetera) now hold the investment, secured by land. They are promised as much as a 50% return after about 5 years.
  5. Prepare land for construction. Prior to throwing up buildings, land has to be prepared with stuff like sewers and wiring underground. Sonex preps the land, causing the value to go up again.
  6. Sell the land as lots. Now that the land is ready to have stuff built on it, Edgeworth sells it again (or, if you prefer, sells it on behalf of the offshore investors holding the investment) in their Lot Program. Offshore investors are now bought out, and individuals now own their own plot of land to build their own thing.
  7. More development. In some cases, Edgeworth does build on land, and has (for example) condo products. This further increases value since there's a funny building sitting on the land, so now they can sell for even more.

Right now, Edgeworth is looking at Alberta because (from the company website) "Due to the influx of trades needed to support the major expansion of oil field operations in Northern Alberta, there is presently and will continue to be dramatic demand for residential housing in the Fort McMurray and Edmonton areas. The growing number of trades people moving into Northern Alberta ensures the demand for accommodation will also continue to escalate."

12.5% sounds too good to be true? Well, to first get past the hurdle of double-digit returns, sales VP Pierre put it into context: How much are credit cards charging you? Clearly double-digit returns exist. Try to be open-minded.
Further, according to MIC rules as established by the government, excess profits must be distributed to shareholders, so even though Edgeworth talks about 12.5%, in private conversation they'll bring this up and tell you that it's anywhere from possible to probable to extremely likely you'll get more than that.
Obviously, past performance does not guarantee future performance, and investment rules say they must tell you there's risk and you could lose all your money, so you can't take them to the bank on that.

I was thinking about using my line of credit. 12.5%, less ~3.5% (at Prime +1% and allowing for the fluctuation on Prime over 3 years) is about 9%. (And if you further take away maybe a third in taxes, and I'm left with 6% annually.)
I'd have to hold the investment for at least 3 years because the cash-out penalty is 9.5% in year one and 5.5% in year two.
Because I'm using borrowed money, the ROI doesn't look all that exciting anymore.

Google about Edgeworth Properties

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Canada Post has more access to my money than my bank does

Spagnuolo & Company Real Estate Lawyers called me today to set up an appointment for finalizing my mortgage, which is up for renewal. The final amount I needed to cough up was just over $2000. The appointment was for 9am the next day, and it wasn't even 9am when I left the house. I had it in the bank, so I figured, no problem, even though my account is with the online bank, President's Choice Financial (you know, the one that gives you free groceries).

There were two banks side-by-side: CIBC and BMO. They both indicated branch opening times of 9:30am, but at 9:30am, only BMO was open. So, I go into the Bank of Montreal. Can I get a money order or certified cheque? No. Cash, or I had to have an account with them. Huh. Looks like they don't have an Interac machine, which every two-bit vendor and their dog has to get a cash-equivalent payment from any bank. Why is it actually harder at a bank?
Can I pay with cash? Oops -- My daily ATM withdrawal limit is $1000.

So I head to CIBC, which supposedly does the actual banking stuff for President's Choice Financial. Same problem. This time, they directed me to the President's Choice Financial pavilion inside Superstore, to order the money order there, and pick it up at CIBC.

I head to Superstore and waste another half-hour waiting because they open at 10am. Finally someone arrives. How do they "help" me? They direct me to call customer service. I could've called customer service myself half an hour ago at CIBC! Duh.

Finally I get through to customer service. Money order for tomorrow? No way. Two days minimum and it'll cost just over $27. Could they release the limit on my ATM withdrawals to cover the amount I need? Apparently no, because they kept ignoring that question.
But finally, some useful information: I can go to Canada Post, which sells money orders in denominations of up to $1000 (actually, $999.99) and at about $3 a piece (actually $4.95 -- and why do I have to have three money orders totalling the amount I need when I only need one big one?). I can have it the same day and pay by debit.

I truck off to Canada Post, which was open at 8:30 am -- this could all have been done almost 2 hours ago! -- and get the money orders. I pay with Interac. No problem.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Go 100 percent faster with Shaw -- if you need it

Got my Shaw modem swapped with their swanky new model this afternoon at Shaw Tower downtown. Now that I've got it, I've been told it allows me to sign up for their Shaw High Speed Xtreme-I, which goes up to 15Mbps, or twice as fast as what I've been using.

The introductory cost (only until May 31st) to get you spoiled on higher speed is an $4.95 per month over what I'm paying now, for the first three months. After that, the regular additional charge of $10 starts.

So what can surfing at double speed let me do? Discover Twitter is over-capacity twice as quickly?

For now I'm going to decline, I think. There's "faster", but for average schmoes, there's also "fast enough". Just as someone who only needs word processing really could do just fine with an old IBM AT Compatible and Windows 3.1.

Trini Roti at the Reef

The Reef (Commercial) on Urbanspoon
Ducked out for a walk in the late evening from Stanley Park following the Sea Wall to Vancouver Convention Centre and it's wonky lights, then on a whim headed to Commercial Drive for dinner before my graveyard shift at the Crisis Centre.

I'd been to the Reef on Commercial Drive (1018 Commercial Drive, 604.568.JERK) a long time ago, for the Jamaican national dish, Ackee and Salt Fish (which is interesting food if you've never tried it, but nothing so tasty you absolutely have to have it). This time I just sort of eyeballed the menu and chose the Trini Roti.

On a Wednesday night, past 8:30pm, the patio was pretty packed, but the inside was deserted -- a plus if you want to cool down from the still-hot summer day, as you had the pick of seating and could choose to be more or less right under a fan.

The Trini Roti for $10 was about the size of two fists put together. I had the one with Jerk Goat, and the curried meat was moist but not gooey wet, very tasty, spicy but not tongue-burningly hot, and very tender. As mentioned in the Georgia Straight article, the 'roti' portion was like a huge tortilla shell, so purists looking for a West Indies roti may raise an eyebrow at it.
It came with a serving of coleslaw that was about half the size of the roti. The smell and taste of the coleslaw was a bit strong -- is this because it'd sat in vinegar all day and wasn't freshly prepared? Or just the style?
The server also brought a bottle of their Reef hot sauce -- a bit too hot for myself, so I didn't use more than a little sample of it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hamilton Street Grill's 12th Anniversary $12 Steak Special

Went out to the Hamilton Street Grill for a lovely dinner last night with my wonderful friend Jennifer! In case you still haven't heard, all through June they are celebrating their 12th anniversary with a $12 steak (8 oz) special! You get a moderately sized steak, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, and a long, skinny, baby carrot for colour.
(While you're on their website, be 'warned' -- clicking the links about menus or events initiates a PDF download. Harmless, but unexpected).

Do remember to try their ultra-delicious Gingerbread Pudding if you've never had it before (recipe here courtesy of CityTV). It's changed a bit from years past, no longer drenched in gooey sweet sauce that may have been a bit sweet for some palates.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bloggapedia wants to Pay for your Blog!

Once upon a time, I listed my Fantasy Art Blog with Bloggapedia, and more or less forgot about it. Today, I got an e-mail from same...

2009-June-9 Bloggapedia Syndication Message

When I signed up for it, there was this blurb further explaining the process:

What is syndication and what does it mean for me and my blog?

Essentially, it means there are websites out there that would like to offer your blog content for download on devices like smartphones and e-readers, for a small fee. Because these websites are looking for the best of the best in blog content, they've partnered with Bloggapedia If you choose to allow us to syndicate your blog you'll receive a 30% royalty on the profit from the syndication of your blog once the submission of your blog listing is approved.

Whenever someone downloads your blog content onto their device via Bloggapedia's syndication service, we'll pass on 30% of Bloggapedia's revenue from that sale to you! Payments are made quarterly; minimum payout $25. Funds will accrue in your account until the minimum payout amount is reached.

If you're curious about it, definitely check out Bloggapedia!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Public Service Announcement - DANGEROUS FUGITIVES ON THE LAM

Following Saturday's tragic news of Vendors Bludgeoned to Death over Happy Song, I of course immediately rushed over to the gory aftermath of the Texas Scottish Festival (which will stoically continue, as the festival is scheduled over June 5th to 7th -- the show must go on!). After exhaustively interviewing the key more-or-less reliable witnesses Christine R. and Ethan R., I am pleased to present this public service announcement positively identifying the dangerous suspects involved in Saturday's bloodbath!

Suspect #1 - "C. Rose"
Christine Rose Retro Diva
The first suspect is known to frequent seedy karaoke dives, and we expect she can be easily apprehended there. She can be positively identified by her (1) Bad Pasty Makeup, (2) Alluring Dark Eyes (unconfirmed sources say she is some sort of evil hypnotist who can mesmerize unsuspecting persons into appearing on YouTube), and her (3) Tight Ass... about inane children's songs -- which triggered the outrageous fit of violence ending in Saturday's horror.

Suspect #2 - "E. Rose"
RotW head

RotW hand

The second suspect is some kind of accomplish or tag-along who drove the getaway vehicle, a suspicious green RV that eyewitnesses swear on Barak Obama's childhood Rubber Duckie to look exactly like a gimungous zucchini. Witnesses say he ducked into the RV and emerged shortly thereafter looking exactly like a mild-mannered carpenter, but his TRUE FORM is described as having (1) Fabio-Like Girly Red Hair, (2) a Hunky He-Man Chest, and (3) swinging a long, hard, thick shaft... Of stiff wood.

We'd like to remind our gentle readers that "E. Rose" is extremely dangerous. Here's what terrified award-winning author Christine R. had to say of her brief encounter: "I got tingles all the way down to my doodah! I mean, what woman wouldn't gasp at it? ...Uh, did I say 'it'? 'Him'--I meant, 'him'."

Other witnesses claim they saw vicious, bloodthirsty, man-eating, baby-rending, slavering hounds fighting over the carrion that was left after the carnage. One brave soul managed to take this picture of one of these devil-hounds.

If you should see C. Rose, E. Rose, or the Gimungous Zucchini, keep your distance! Contact the authorities! Not sure it's them? A sure sign is that they'll go on and on about some hapless boy lost in the woods.

Valiant vigilantes Christine and Ethan R. are hot on the trail of these vile perps to keep you updated! For the latest scoop, you can catch up to them at the Texas Scottish Festival on Sunday, June 7th, or on the road as they continue to promote their award-winning magical story of Rowan of the Wood, available now on Kindle. You can even request they appear in your bookstore and sign copies of their book. If they are in between tour locations, chat with them on Twitter.

Before I sign off for today, Ethan R., wanted to add, "It absolutely did NOT look like a zucchini! Everybody knows it's the Geekalicious Gypsy Caravan! Er... or at least that's what I heard. From sources. Who can't be named. Hey, look there! It's Chuck Norris!"

Friday, June 5, 2009

Feeling frustrated with my Canon iP1600 today

Okay, sorry for the rant, but here goes:

I haven't had my Canon iP1600 for very long. Less than a year, I think. I got the cartridges refilled once, and it seemed to work fine. Until today. The black cartridge still felt heavy with ink, but the printer said it was empty. I couldn't get it to try printing anyway.

So I take it to Cyto-Ink refill near Metrotown, and the guy says he didn't know of this printer model locking out refilled cartridges. He didn't think refilling it would work again, and he tested the cartridges for ink by pressing the nozzles to a piece of absorbent paper. Yup, there's ink.

So he sells me a refurbished black cartridge. I plod home in the sweltering heat and put it in the printer. Now, the printer says it detects the cartridge as a previously used one, and it won't detect ink levels, but I can press RESUME to print anyway.

Only there's no RESUME button. I click okay. The message pops up again. The printer's still not printing. I hit cancel. No printout.

Thankfully the guy at Cyto-Ink gave me a refund. He thinks the printer's messed up somehow. I take a chance and buy a brand new black cartridge from Best Buy. Works fine. For now.

So much for reuse and recycle and help the environment and all that. It's ~$30 for a new black cartridge. Why not buy a new cheap-ass printer with cartridges included? I mean, honestly -- check out the prices and deals on the Amazon widgets to the right. Add up the cost of a couple of cartridges, and you'll see that if you spent a bit more, often you might as well get a brand new printer, which will come with cartridges anyway.

All this on top of the paper feeder occasionally deciding it doesn't want to pick up paper. URGH.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Poutine and Chocolate Cake

The Templeton on Urbanspoon

Thursday's my day off, and I decided I'd duck out before the evening rush to try that poutine from the Templeton) (huh?).
If you do go either don't order any other entree, or bring a friend, because for a measly $7, you do get a full meal worth of poutine. It didn't taste particularly mushroomy, but it was savory, spiced, fries started off crispy, and there was a generous amount of gravy (so eat the soggy fries first, and save the crispy ones for scooping up leftover gravy). The gravy's a bit salty on its own, so water's recommended.
The server initially asked if I wanted tomato sauce on my fries -- I didn't try this, but you may want to. I don't know if I'll get in enough Grouse Grind time (now Smoke-Free, by the way) to justify another serving of so much poutine.
So, was it "addictive" as reviewed by Vancouver Magazine's October 2008 issue (101 Things to Taste Before You Die)? Nah. If anything, perhaps they could make it into a small plate for half the price and portion. Makes a good snack or small sharing plate. I do find potatoes with lots of cheese on it to feel heavy, but that's just my preference.

Topanga Café on Urbanspoon

Right after, I hopped on the 44 at Burrard and Nelson to head for the Topanga Cafe (2904 West 4th Avenue, 603.733.3713) for #32 on the list of 101 Things to Taste Before You Die.
If you're going there for the first time to try their chocolate cake, you might do a double take when you walk in. But just so you know, yes, they're a Mexican food outfit. There's a menu on a stand just inside the door, but it doesn't include the tiny dessert menu. (And the website menu's old -- there are more than 2 types of cake now).
For $3.75, you get a heavy, moist cake that's quite crumbly. Rather sweet chocolate cream. Any denser and moister, and it'd be a brownie. It's simple yet good. Not sure I'd rank it a must-taste-before-the-electric chair, but you can't go wrong with a slice to share after your meal.

It's still bl**dy hot out there. Try to avoid rush hour if you're taking transit.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Too hot to try something before I die

I have no idea how I ever survived living close to the equator in Singapore when I was a kid. It's sooo hot these days. I, for one, never complained about the extended winter we had this year.

I had fancied going to the Templeton (1087 Granville Street - 604.685-4612) this evening for their supposedly famous vegetarian poutine, said to be so wonderful it received a mention in Vancouver Magazine's October 2008 issue where they recommended "101 Things to Taste Before You Die":

Herbivores rejoice! The meatless mushroom gravy, generously poured over crispy fries and chunks of white cheddar cheese, doesn't make for a traditional poutine (not a cheese curd in sight), but it's highly addictive.

If you're dropping by their website, here's a tip: DON'T use the menu links on the right to look at the menu. It adds irritating "#links" bookmarks and at least the Side Orders menu link is broken. Instead, keep scrolling down on the main page till you reach the menu listings, posted in 2006. I guess the menu and prices haven't changed since...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The St. Regis Bar and Grill has a downstairs meeting space

Attended the Vancouver Blogger Meetup tonight at the St. Regis Bar and Grill, with a panel of local well-knowns (Shane Gibson, Raul Pacheco, Raincoaster) talking about social media etiquette and such.

No summary here -- You sort of had to be there to try to make sense of the chaotic conversation and pick out what was relevant for you. Best if you had a question and asked them about what you wanted to know, which someone did at the end, about how to gauge how much time a business should be spend building relationships in social media. Gibson answered it best -- Measure results and compare time and returns (business gained from it) with your other advertising efforts (expect to put in start-up effort of course).

Most curious to me was how a few people professed to not have known of the existence of this lower-floor meeting space, even though they'd been to the street-level St. Regis bar plenty enough times. This "Regis Room" has pictures of historic Vancouver, the kitchen entrance, a big-screen TV, and a small sink/kitchen one one corner. Pretty quiet upstairs for 6pm when we were there, so there wasn't a disruptive stream of comings and goings from the kitchen.

Restaurant recommendations -- Order your own thing

Last time I went dining out on a recommendation was based on a newspaper column. Some kind of latin bakery that sold lots of desserts, but also these supposedly authentic Mexican sandwiches with fresh bread, slices of beef, mayo, and green beans. Sounded bleah, but the reviewer said the combo worked, so I gave it a go. It was bleah (her recommendation for the 3-milk cake turned out fab, though).

Cut to today: My friend Lina recommended La Bretegne Creperie. Said she had the apple, cinnamon, cheese, and sausage crepe and thought it was fab. It was a nice little restaurant, just off busy Robson on subdued Jervis, opposite the Pacific Palisades hotel and a bit squashed between louder storefronts, so you might easily miss it when you walk by. Very friendly and attentive staff when I was there, hours after the lunch crowd and still a couple of hours before any kind of dinner rush from the end of the work day.

I ordered the apple, cinnamon, cheese, and sausage crepe (from the Savoury menu). It was bleah.

Still, it comes highly recommended with thumbs up from many reviewers at DineHere and Yelp, some trumping it over Granville Street's Cafe Crepe, so if you know how to properly evaluate a crepe, you might want to try it out -- Just remember to order what you think you'd like, and not rely on what someone else liked.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Intimate Get-Together at Sip Resto Lounge

Took time out from working on more screenshots (from Dungeon Siege II, to add to my website, The Fantasy Art of Computer Games) tonight to meet up with Yourah at her Young and Adventurous Social Group meet-up at Sip Resto Lounge. We went in just after 7pm, and the place would have been dead if not for a Persian business networking group that grew in size steadily till close to 10pm. They had a photographer nosing about taking shots of the beautiful people, and ubiquitous socialite Francis Hui also made an appearance, which could only mean that this was a big deal.

If you don't already know, all the menu items use booze of some kind. I ordered the beer-battered fries to share, and it came with a generous amount of dip. Very crispy, a little spicy (but not hot) kick to it. No beer flavour, though -- The beer evaporates during the cooking, and is used to make the batter crispier. Definitely not greasy at all, and, like all fries, best when hot. Good fries, but I thought it was a smallish portion for $8.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Special Thanks to Oasis

Donated platelets at the Canadian Blood Services permanent clinic on Oak Street today. Three weeks ago, Oasis juice was giving out FREE 960ml Oasis Classic juice tetra packs to all donors, and they were doing the same today! You can even sample it first, as it's served to all donors after donating either blood or platelets.

Thank you Oasis juice!

Japadog's Okonomi at the Sutton Place Hotel

Japadog (Burrard & Pender) on Urbanspoon

Okay, it's not "at" the Sutton Place Hotel per se, but it's more or less right outside (outside the wine store, actually). I finally got around to trying the fourth of Japadog's four specials, the Okonomi. I was meeting my friend Marcy there for dogs today, and got there shortly after 12:30 pm. One of the four, one of them (the MisoMayo, I think) was already marked SOLD OUT (though I wonder if they had just run out of an ingredient?).

My Okonomi (not listed on their online menu yet) was a nice mix that had a sweet sauce juxtaposed with savory fish flakes precariously sprinkled in a generous quantity on top -- cover your dog on windy days! You might want to duck under the awning nearby to eat your dog without bits flying all over.
Marcy also liked her very first Japadog, the Oroshi. We both declined to try the various optional condiments (such as the popular miso mayo), as we wanted to taste what it was like before possibly ruining it with our experimentation.

Japadog's been around for quite a while, but there's still no one else like them in Vancouver (or if there are, they just aren't big enough a blip to show up on the local eats radar yet). If you're looking for a quick dog on the run, this isn't the place for you. I chatted briefly with a construction worker who paid his money and was standing in line, then fretting about being late for work as he thought it'd go as a fast as a typical hot dog stand where they slap a dog in the bun and hand it to you. He said he ran a hot dog stand for a while, and was certain that at the time you order, Japadog doesn't actually relay what you order. Instead, when you are in line, they ask you what you order and assemble it there. I suppose that's the most practical way when your lineups constantly hover around 7-10 people waiting to order, and a similar number waiting to get their dogs.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Chow at Third Tuesday

Went to my very first Third Tuesday Vancouver Meetup put on by NetChick (Tanya Davis) today. The speaker was none other than John Chow -- the John Chow, the blogger Google hates, the blogger who makes $40,000 a month. It was at Republic (958 Granville), and best of all, it was completely free to attend! Check out Third Tuesday Vancouver regularly for more free-to-attend events local to Vancouver (or the Lower Mainland), BC, Canada.

At the talk, John Chow presented the fundamental paradigm shift necessary to have all three of time freedom, financial freedom, and location freedom. What I took away from that talk was a reminder of Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad Poor Dad:
  • Buy Assets, where Assets are defined as things that make you money without effort from you.
  • Use Time to Create Leverage, instead of trying to do it all yourself, or trading time for money (i.e., working at a job).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Customer Loyalty Program with the Glowbal Group

When I originally wrote a review at Yelp for Sanafir (1026 Granville), I forgot to mention that at the end of the meal, there was a brochure for their current regional menus promotion, and on the bottom of that, a tear-off coupon for a free appetizer at any of the Glowbal Group restaurants. I also filled in the customer survey form, and couple of days later, got a note thanking me -- a note that included yet another tear-off appy coupon!

Tonight I finally got to catch up in person with my friend Charlene, and I decided to invite her to the Italian Kitchen, another of the Glowbal Group of restaurants. They would only accept one coupon, and in exchange gave us the free appy of the day, something apparently everyone who turns in a coupon gets, and something not on the menu -- a pair of Kobe beef meatballs. Very tasty balls and about the size of golf balls.

I let Charlene choose and she got the garlic pizza she'd seen on the online menu (available only as PDFs on their page), and I we agreed to a second order, the bruschetta sampler plate. Food was slightly above passable over all. If you are looking for light meals with what appears to be an authentic historical Italian look, this place is definitely worth a look.

When the bill came, there were three (3) different brochures promoting the Glowbal Group of restaurants -- all of which had tear-off coupons!