Interesting Link (All About Waterloo)

I found this page completely by accident--I was trying to use Google to see if the local supermarket had a website, to find out what hours they were open.

It's the website of some guy who tries to attract businesses to the Waterloo area ("Business Development and Marketing Services for Emerging High-Tech Firms"). But he had a few features that were neat to see--a 'personal orientation to Waterloo', and a virtual walking tour of the town.

Neither of those links will probably mean very much to most of you, but it was kinda neat for me to see most of the places I go to day-to-day, and descriptions of places I've either discovered or had pointed out to me during my intial visits. If you're thinking of visiting, go ahead and check these links out.



I originally intended to grab a photo of myself on the way to work, to show how I dress for heading outside here. I'm in Waterloo Park, by the bridge at Silver Lake.

Anyway, after looking at this photo, it reminds me of nothing more than the Unabomber composite sketch. Oh well. I guess that's better than looking like Kim Jong Il.

Incidentally, this reminds me of one of my visits to Oberlin College: the school's motto is (I believe) "Think one person can change the world?" Somebody printed and put up posters of the Unabomber with the motto underneath. Hey--I found it funny.

Perhaps a bit too cold

As I probably mentioned earlier, I have a penchant for keeping the heat off in my apartment when I am not there (which is most of the day, except when I'm asleep), due to the use of electric radiators (each controlled with its own dial). As my boss has put it, electric resistance heat for houses is a thermodynamic obscenity. I would consider it analogous to building pallets in California, shipping them across the country to the east coast (without using them as pallets), and then breaking them up and burning them as firewood.

Anyway, I was amusing when I picked up my olive oil this evening (see photo). If its not clear from the photo, the oil has fallen below its congealing temperature. According to Cook's Physiomedical Dispensatory (which also has some interesting information about olive oil), that is about 38 F/3 C.

Okay... perhaps I'm keeping my place a bit too cold.


Party and Exciting Ride Home

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the weekend in Ithaca celebrating The 10th Annual Jofish / Robbie Burns Birthday Party. He posted the photos I took on his website; they include a few shots of the drive out, portraits of haggises, and various shots of the celebration.

As I discovered while hanging out, Jofish (at Cornell) has built a large circle of friends who are interesting, smart, cool people. Including beautiful, intelligent, talented women. Jump back ;).

Anyway, one of the requirements of the evening was a ceremonial reading of Robert Burns' Address To A Haggis. That's what he's reading as he was gesticulating with a very sharp knife near his guests. The first stanza is reproduced here.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.

Damned if I know what it means either.

This was followed by poetry readings by the guests. There were some great readings that evening: selections of Vogon poetry, ridiculous Marxist verse (which actually included the phrase, "Kill the Fascists! Power to the people!"), and a delightful reading of Donald Rumsfeld poetry.

As for myself, I chose something by Dana Gioia, who is a pretty interesting character--he spent fifteen years as a businessman at General Foods (becoming a VP), pursuing poetry on weekends and evenings, and then doing it full time when he left the firm. I read an incredibly depressing (but good, IMO) poem titled Insomnia. After finishing, I apologized and promised a more amusing one for the second round.

The drive back was very different than the drive out. First of all, it was at night (from 6 PM to 12:30 AM). Second, it was after a fair amount of snowfall in upstate New York. The highway (I-90) was fine, however, the 30 mile drive from Ithaca to the Interstate was a royal pain in the ass. In fact, I ended up driving off the road twice. Fortunately, I keep a tow strap in my car, and the locals are pretty generous about helping people out.

The worst part is that I went off the road trying to be a nice guy. There were a few people piling up behind me, so I wanted to pull over to let them pass. The first time, I pulled over too fast for the snow accumulation on the shoulder, and skidded off the road. The second time, having learned this lesson, I slowed down much more. However, the plows do a very good job of disguising where the actual edge of the road is--including the 6" drop-off from the road surface.


Kitchen. Anger. Hate.

Apologies to any readers here with a slow connection--today's entry is relatively photo-intensive (as well as rant-intensive).

One of the big disappointments in coming to Canada was the digs that I chose... specifically the kitchen and bathroom. The apartment itself is fine--it's the second floor of a nice little worker's cottage, in a great location (right near the center of town), and a convenient walk from the University. But I already ranted about my kitchen back in August (8/30) (i.e., "as seen in Crack Den Magazine’s Kitchens and Baths Special..")

What makes me angry about this kitchen? Let me tell you...

It has the world's worst counter space layout. There is about 18" of space next to the sink (not counting drainboard space). And it's a painted countertop. Painted? Who paints a countertop? Maybe if you really want to make sure that stains don't come out, and stuff really sticks to it. Clever.

And the sink. It makes me angry.

(Then again, perhaps this suggests that somebody who owns Calphalon saute pans this big shouldn't be slumming it in an apartment like this).

The cabinets are solid wood heavy construction, but they have obviously seen far too many tenants who have attempted "improvements." As a result, you can examine the layers of peeling paint and see the colors that have been favored over the years. Those paint jobs that make you say, "Man.. it must be a lot of work to mask off knobs before painting." The former tenant painted some decorative designs on the cabinet doors, which more than anything, adds to their pathos. And contact paper on the inside. What makes people think that contact paper is really an improvement? Congratulations: you have just covered the shelf with a big pastel floral sticker.

The appliances are both Harvest Gold. The oven is electric (first time I've lived with one)--can't say that I like it at all. The oven door kinda falls off its hinges when you open it. The refrigerator uses four times as much electricity as the Energy Star refrigerator that I bought for myself back in Cambridge (yes, I keep track of these things, actually--energy geek, remember?).

It is basically obvious that the kitchen hasn't seen much attention or improvement for several decades. It is, quite frankly, the crappiest kitchen I've ever lived with, and that includes the one that Bird and I first had near Central Square (Back when we were in the 'hood and keeping it real, yo.).

Perhaps some of you are wondering just why I am so bitter about this kitchen. First of all, I really love to cook. Second, I know how a real kitchen goes together (both in terms of cabinetry, design, and materials), and this ain't it. Third, I was really spoiled for the past 6 or 7 years with the kitchen Judy put together at Pemberton Street (including the completely sexy black and stainless range, along with the Kraft Maid cabinets and ridiculously German Franke sink).

Back to my place in Waterloo: as for the landlord paying for renovations--I've pretty much given up on that. First of all, he's a property manager, not the owner. So based on brief conversations with him, it seems like anything that requires thought or decision making is way too much work. He'd much rather show up and pick up checks. My reaction was, "Don't want a kitchen renovation for just the material cost? Sure, you bonehead... be my guest... I'll be glad to take any work I do with me and leave you with the same lame-ass setup that I found."

So why am I doing this blog post? Just to rant? Actually, I am doing something about it.

I have bought several cabinets and a 4' length of countertop. The previous setup in this corner of the kitchen, incidentally, replaced my 4' countertop with the refrigerator (and 18" of absolutely wasted space). Now I have a stretch of countertop in the work-useful location of next to the range (albeit on the far side of the room from the sink). I will be adding a set of shelves above the countertop, as well as three drawers (on full-extension slides) betweeen those two cabinets to store pots and pans. Countertop electricity will be provided by the quad box that's on the counter now (and will be mounted on the underside of the shelf, along with a light and the toaster oven). I'll keep you all posted.

As for those of you who might say, "Well Bats, if this kitchen pisses you off so much, why don't you move?" Well, first of all, I'm improving it now, bit by bit. Second, I really don't want to move again, especially if its for less than a two year at this point. Third--hey, I get to practice my cabinetry chops, eh?

Apologies for the rantiness of this entry. I promise a bit more humor and entertainment next time.


Banff Film Festival

I just went to the travelling exhibit of the Banff Film Festival on Saturday on various outdoor adventures (mix of travel/water/kayak/snow/ice/desert/climbing/cycling)--it's a travelling exhibition, and it will be coming stateside soon. I'd strongly recommend seeing it--it was pretty damn cool.

They had a mix of short films (from 8 minutes to 52 minutes) of varied content, seriousness, and quality. They had an intermission (given the length of the presentation), and they also had door prizes (from the outdoor equipment sponsors). Nope, didn't win anything.

The showstopper for me was the last film, "Alone Across Australia," about Jon Muir, the man who walked solo across the entire Australian continent (south to north), with just the supplies he carried with him (300 lbs in a wheeled cart he was towing), and what he could hunt and gather off the land. Pretty insane.

Had great quotes along the lines of "...and what's for dinner tonight? Mmmmm... dried lizard...(crunch, crunch, crunch)." (for full effect, the line must be delivered in an Aussie accent). Other choice culinary moments included cutting steaks off a cow he discovers dead in a field, and demonstrating how to skin a rabbit with his bare hands.

As a side note, hello to Dan, who is a fellow grad of the Institute, a young prof at the esteemed university where I am studying, and a friend of a bunch of my fraternity brothers. He recounts accidentally coming across my blog here. Dan--I apologize for not saying anything in line at the grocery store--I thought it might be you, but wasn't really sure, myself. We can go grab a beer at the Heuther or a glass of wine at Solé sometime. Bring your sweetie, if you'd like to. I managed to snag the "batman" address at the 'tute's alum service (I figure that's convoluted enough to keep the web crawlers for spamming me).


Christmas Hadrosaur?

They just took down the Christmas decorations in Waterloo Park this past week. Yes, this is the path I take on the way to the University every morning that has the llamas that I mentioned.

Over the holidays, they put up a bunch of decorations; I took pictures of a few of them. I found an explanation of the display here:

Waterloo, Ontario – The Wonders of Winter, a Festival of Lights, is held in Waterloo Park showcasing 60 static and animated displays. Owned and operated by eleven service clubs, the Wonders of Winter was started eleven years ago. Continually growing, this year’s festival will feature 100,000 lights. Volunteers, many of whom are retired electrical workers build, install and maintain the displays. Over 70,000 visitors have viewed this sparkling tribute to the WinterLights Celebrations.

Holy cats... these guys have made a whole website about the display.

The yellow reindeer totally makes sense for the season. But the pink rhino and the animated dinosaur eating the palm tree were pretty odd--in a surreal/amusing way. And what's the thing on the left? A bear? A rampant giant sloth? Man... if I ever have a family crest, I think I need a rampant giant sloth.

Rock on--they even have a light-up stegosaurus. Yay! I guess every kid loves dinosaurs. (Well, yes, and I love dinosaurs too. Especially a smiling stegosaur. Some things about nerds that you just can't change.)

I have to admit that the whole display gave me a chuckle on the way home.


Movies for spare change

One reason my neighborhood in Waterloo is cool is that the local art-house theater, the Princess Cinema, is a seven-minute walk from my door. The photo above demonstrates one cool fact: I can get into the movie with the change in my pocket. OK, admittedly, it's because I bought a membership (bringing the cost down to $6 CAD), and Canada is clever enough to have $1 and $2 coins (loonies and toonies), and I had more change than usual. But it's still cool, compared to paying, say, $10+ in New York City.

Movies I've caught there include DeLovely, The Motorcycle Diaries, Maria Full of Grace, Broadway: The Golden Age, Ghost in the Shell 2, and The Machinist (Christian Bale loses 63 pounds and looks like a walking skeleton). A pretty awesome selection; they've also added two more screens down the street (at the Princess Twin). I'm pretty psyched--hope they can keep up volume to make those screens profitable.


New York, New York

I guess I should be titling these recent entries, “Bats Not in Canada, Eh?”—the tail end of my vacation was a week in New York (both the City and the ‘burbs). It was another great time—Bird and Jen gave me a ride down to the Island and spent a few days in the City with me, and I also got to see Probe and Becca (and Probe’s sister Kara) and Doug (aka Air Force Guy) and his fiancée Christina. Lots of fun seeing all of you; thanks for hanging out!

The Times had an article about how the crowds in town change over the holidays. Basically, all of the touristy and well-known spots are completely swamped, and the local sites and restaurants are almost empty, because the natives have skipped town. I think the article is pay-only, but a short excerpt here:

For those worried about getting around town, please do not be alarmed to find an empty seat on the subway, even at rush hour. Nothing is wrong. It is not a prank.

Then again, don't even bother trying to find a seat in a horse-drawn cab near Central Park for a romantic winter-wonderland ride. Every out-of-towner has the same idea.

It should come as no big shock, of course, that New York often takes on a different personality during certain holidays. There are more tourists and fewer natives. Businesses change their hours, their décor, even their attitudes to match the conditions.

But this year, it seems, New York has become even more a best-of-times, worst-of-times kind of place, depending on geography and other factors. Or so said dozens of New Yorkers and tourists in conversations this week, who have noticed that some places seem more jam-packed than ever, while others are deserted.

This description matches what I saw in town: the Museum of Natural History had lines for half a block on a weekday afternoon. There were huge lines at the (ugh) Hard Rock Café—-before now, I didn’t realize that they have a store for their merch that’s as big as the restaurant itself. Of course, I ended up cursing under my breath at the slow-moving bovine tourists who were sauntering four abreast across the whole sidewalk, and stopping mid-stride to gawk and cause a pile-up.

In contrast, we ended up at a few sites a bit off the beaten path—-I can’t claim to be a true New Yorker (grew up in the ‘burbs; came into the city a handful of times every year), but I’m definitely learning. In fact, the previous time I was in town, I actually did take the A Train. It was, indeed, the quickest way to Harlem. More importantly, I really have developed a love for experiencing this city--if it's not home (like Boston is), it's a pretty familiar happy place.

We hit excellent Moroccan (Tagine Dining Gallery, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal) and Ethiopian (Ghenet, Houston Street) restaurants—-both of them were Jen’s excellent call. We went to the Noguchi Museum—it’s a converted warehouse in the industrial Long Island City section of Queens, about a 20 minute walk from the nearest subway stop-—not too many people there. I strongly recommend it-—the space alone is really cool to wander around in, not to mention the sculptures. I also hit the Skyscraper Museum, down near Battery Park—-a pretty neat space, but it’s a relatively small museum, without too much content (single floor of exhibits).

The photo above is the Roosevelt Island Tram, taken from the island. It runs parallel with the 59th street bridge; we took it back after walking from Long Island City.

Thinking about my vacation, I think whole month has been the longest vacation that I’ve had in years. When I was in the workforce, I usually took my vacations in one- or two-week increments, at the most-—what I could eke out between various business trips. Not that I minded—it felt fine. I just hope that this month off hasn’t caused me to fall behind the curve before the semester has even started.

BTW--I have safely arrived home; it's now back to "Bats in Canada, Eh?"