Vincent Cheung

Vincent Cheung's Blog

« Newer Posts Home Older Posts »

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hong Kong, China, and Australia

Bye! See you in 2009!

Talk amongst yourselves.

Random observations 2

  • There are *way* more asians in Winnipeg then there used to be. It used to be that you'd go to a bar and you could literally count the number of non-white people on one hand. I don't know where all these people came from. It seems that the generation just a few years younger than mine is a lot more multicultural, even in Winnipeg.

  • Girls definitely dress a lot skankier here than in Toronto. Even with a windchill of -40, girls wear super short skirts and dresses. Girls in Toronto seem to dress rather conservative in comparison.

  • Tonight it'll warm up to -18 with a windchill of -28. I think we've finally seen the end of this cold snap! (This is *not* a sarcastic statement, this is the actual view of people over here)

Oh, and here are some amusing photos showing how cold it is:

Oh wait, these aren't actually pictures from Winnipeg where we've seen windchills as low as -49 in the last few days and there's permanently 2 feet of snow on the ground. My friend in Seattle took these and it was -3 outside and it had snowed a little overnight.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No more orthodontist!

I got my braces back in Grade 6... 1992! My orthodontist is in the Medical Arts Building on the 15th floor and I clearly remember the elevator being a novelty because it was the only time that I would ride the elevator. Nowadays, I ride the elevator every day in my apartment, but my elevator manners have Winnipeg roots.

I got my braces off after maybe a year and a half, but ever since then, I've still been going to my orthodontist every 6 or 12 months just for him to check on my teeth and how my retainer fits, which takes a whole 2 minutes. He tells me to just pop it in overnight once every few months or so just to make sure things stay where they are. The only reason I keep going to see him is that I haven't had to pay for the visits for the past 14 years! I don't know anyone that still wears their retainer, let alone still visits their childhood orthodontist!

I just went today and he told me that he's letting me go! After 16 years, I no longer have to go to my orthodontist!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Random observations

Actual flight path and door-to-door transportation as recorded by my GPS device
(This is just a screenshot b/c Google Maps couldn't handle that big of a file)

  • The taxi driver was giving me career advice. He thought that I should learn Mandarin.

  • Cabbie was talking to me in Cantonese. I hadn't heard that much Chinese for a long time.

  • It's still harrowing walking through the airport metal detector carrying a cat without a leash or anything.

  • Tiki didn't move or make a sound the entire flight. I don't think the woman on the aisle seat knew she was even there.

  • During the initial announcement, the flight attendant tried to make a reference to the commercial where the guy thinks he's on a flight to Hawaii, but is actually on a flight to Winnipeg and goes "...going to Winnipeg..." No one laughed.

  • When asked who was from Winnipeg, the entire flight went in an uproar. No one goes to Winnipeg at this time of the year unless they are from there.

  • The games on the Zune are actually pretty fun.

  • Upon arrival, the flight attendant neglected to notify us of the local time (one hour behind)

  • When it was announced that the current temperature in Winnipeg was -27, it wasn't a big deal or Earth shattering news.

  • While waiting for my luggage, I saw a woman drinking a slurpee. This is why Winnipeg is the slurpee capital of the world.

  • I miss the feeling of the cold fresh air in your lungs.

  • When driving here, if it's not a big road, you actually drive on top of snow since the roads aren't cleared right to the asphalt and salt doesn't work b/c it's too cold.

  • There are 3 cats within arm's reach of me right now as I am sitting on my bed.

  • Mi-Mi has reclaimed her spot on my bed and refuses to budge. Tiki is confused. Tiggy is indifferent.

  • The fish is big now.

  • The dog is big now.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shape Collage

Some collages of Tiki made using Shape Collage

Shape Collage is the latest side project that I've been working on. It is an automatic photo collage making program that can make collages in different shapes. Just look at the collages above and at the end of the post to see what it can do. There are a lot more examples on the Shape Collage web page.

It's really easy to make a collage. You can make one with just 2 mouse clicks and in as little as a couple seconds! It's quite customizable as well, as you can change the shape to really, anything you want. You can even draw your own shape! You can also customize the border, background, etc.

Arranging photos into a collage

The photos are automatically placed in the desired shape of the collage using a machine learning algorithm that I came up with that is simple, but fast and effective. Basically what it does is put the photos on a page and jiggle them around so they are arranged nicely. This is a much harder problem than you may think. My readers with some knowledge of computer science will be familiar with NP problems. My algorithm isn't perfect, but it does a pretty good job most of the time. If you're really anal about it, you can save the collage as a Photoshop PSD and edit the collage in Photoshop if you don't like the automatic placement of the photos.

I started working on this project b/c I read a paper that automatically created a photo collage and thought that it was really cool, especially since it took me so long to make my Californian photo collage. Since they didn't actually release a program or their source code, I decided to just implement their approach, but it was overly complicated and rather slow - it took several minutes to create a collage with just 30 photos. So, I tried something simpler that was much faster - my program can easily create a collage with thousands of photos. Then I realized that my algorithm didn't have to only create rectangular collages and could also create collages in different shapes, something that I had never seen before, and so Shape Collage was created!

Anyways, check it out and let me know what you think! It's available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and anything that supports Java.

Snowboarding snowman collage

Volleyball collage

Friday, November 28, 2008

Encrypted Blog Posts Ver. 2

Over 2 years ago, I developed an encryption system that you could use to encrypt blog posts.

Since then, I have written several encrypted blog posts that were about particularly personal things and I didn't want the general public or certain people reading them. You can ask me for one of the keys if you want, but I can't guarantee that you'll get it :p

I just released a new version of my JavaScript Encryption and Decryption system.

Try it:
Show encrypted text (the decryption key is: password)

The new encryption code is a lot faster than the old version, the webpage decryption code now uses a fancy dialog box to ask you for the key, and I fixed some bugs. The entire process has been greatly simplified and the encryption page now automatically generates code that you can copy and paste into your website.

I'm starting to actually make use of my personal website,, which is where I'm hosting my random side projects. I'm just finishing up the new design on that site in preparation for an upcoming announcement.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations President (Elect) Obama!

After months and months of campaigning, it's finally over! And the US didn't screw things up this time around! I know the polls pretty much had called the election for Obama, but I was still a bit worried that something was gonna go wrong. I was impressed by the polling; they were pretty accurate. I was following FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics quite closely and while each individual poll is not that reliable, they are pretty reliable if you average them all together and weight them appropriately (as 538 did).

Anyways, nothing I can say would be anything more than what has already been said by all the pundits and newscasters. Well, except for the fact that even here in Toronto, people are very interested in the election. After volleyball, I went to the Wheat Sheaf for wings and beer, a pub that seems to have a bit of a sports inclination. Even there, the tv's (maybe 6 - 8 of them) were on CNN for the election coverage and when John McCain was giving his concession speech, the place went quiet.

Congratulations President David Palmer.... err... I mean President Barack Obama ;)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Got out of jury duty!

I got summoned to jury duty, but I got out of it :)

I wrote them a letter saying that I was a student and couldn't afford to take time off, etc. The amazing thing was that less than 24 hours after I put the letter in the mail, they called me to confirm that they got my letter and that I was off the hook! I was amazed! Not that I got out of jury duty, but that the mail got to them so fast! I always figured that the postal system was super slow and took at least a few days, even if it's in the same city, since I imagine that it has to go into some huge sorting facility, etc., etc. I was only sending it a few blocks away, but I still didn't expect it to get to them that fast, especially not by the next morning.

Anyways, it's a relief. It really doesn't make sense for students to have to do jury duty because it can really screw with you if you miss classes, especially if the hearing lasts a long time, you could even miss a whole semester and have to retake the entire year. For me, while I don't have any classes or anything, if I'm gone, there's no one that will do my research for me, so it'd have to be totally put on hold and research is highly time sensitive in that it's easy to get scooped. Students are in school to learn, no point taking that away from them.

The little pamphlet that comes with the summons to jury says that "If this is a particularly difficult time for you to attend, because of your employment, business, schooling, or personal circumstances, you can, by a request in writing, ask to have your jury duty postponed to a later date." I know several people that have gotten out of jury duty. Seems like only the unemployed, severely bored, or people not smart enough to get out of jury duty actually do jury duty, which makes me question the quality of the jurors. I hope I never have to rely on a jury...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lord of the Ants

I now command ants in addition to wasps

My apartment in Seattle 3 years ago

Long time readers will remember my post from almost exactly 3 years ago about wasps coming into my apartment to die. I now have control over ants. For one reason or another, insects are attracted to me in the last moments of their lives. I must be some sort of insect religious figure that they believe they must visit when they die in order to transcend from this life into the next. Maybe these ants are actually the wasps from before, but in their next life...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nuit Blanche 3

Last week, I went to the 3rd Annual Nuit Blanche in Toronto. It's "a free all-night contemporary art thing". Basically, they have artists put up their contemporary art throughout downtown Toronto, often converting public spaces into art exhibits. Some are cool, some are weird, some are dumb. It goes from sunset on Saturday to sunrise on Sunday.

I went to all 3 zones this year and did a lot of walking. I took my GPS along with me to record exactly where I went and so that I could geotag my photos (automagically putting the longitude and latitude into the photos so that I could put them on a map so you can see where I took each of the photos):

View Larger Map

There were my favourite ones (in order that I saw them):

A dozen mascots dancing in a field to music. It was remarkably amusing

Shipping containers that would shine light spelling SOS in morse code

Dropping and smashing stuff! You can't see it b/c of the motion blur, but there's a monitor and computer being dropped in this photo.

I don't think this was an official installation, but it was cool. Some guy in the back of a truck dressed in a chicken outfit sitting with chickens.

My favourite one. A waterfall coming out of a 3rd story window.

Video games using lights in Toronto City Hall. It's Pong on the left and Asteroids on the right. You control it by calling in to the photo numbers supplied.

More photos

Google Chrome

I've converted to Google Chrome. If you didn't know, Google Chrome is Google's fairly newly released web browser. I was previously using Firefox, but I like Chrome for a few reasons. The most important is memory management. Without getting into too much technological detail, it basically spawns a new process for each tab instead of just a new thread, this makes it easier to free memory when you close a tab. I tend to keep a lot of tabs open (I currently have 34 open), which are mostly pages that I opened and will go back to soon (too lazy to bookmark and then delete the bookmark later) or some like Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar that I always keep open. While Firefox 3 has improved on memory management a lot, it still gets really bloated and I would have to close the whole browser and reload it every day or two. Chrome does a much better job and I like that it has it's own task manager (shift-esc) that shows how much memory and cpu usage each tab is using.

Another is cpu usage. I noticed that Firefox would sometimes use up a lot of cpu usage even when I wasn't doing anything (it was just sitting in the background). It happened on just some sites and I think most of the time it was related to flash ads. Chrome doesn't have this issue, or at least I can easily find out which tab is causing the problem and kill it. Also, if flash is having an issue, which it sometimes does, again, I can just kill the flash plug-in and reload the pages that I need flash, all without reloading the whole browser. With each tab in a separate process, one website won't cause the whole browser to crash, it'll just crash the one tab. I find Chrome to be a bit snappier than Firefox as well, especially when first starting the browser. I found the combined location bar and search box confusing at first, but now that I'm used to it, I really like it. I really like that I can customize the search, so for example, if I want to search google, I just type in the keywords, if I want to search google maps, I just precede the keywords with "map" (I added that one). I can also search mininova and isohunt (for bittorrents) by just typing in "mininova heroes" or something like that and it'll send me right to the search results from mininova. It saves me from first going to the site and then searching.

It's not all positive for Chrome though. It doesn't have extensions (though I don't use any that I can't live without) and it doesn't support the google toolbar (which I like for the keyword highlighting and autofill). The bookmarking in Chrome sucks, fortunately I don't bookmark much, but I'd like to be able to periodically bookmark all the opened tabs just to make sure that I don't lose them. Chrome also crashes on me every day or two (though I'm a pretty heavy user). It's not that big of a deal b/c it remembers all my tabs and reopens so fast, but still, it's annoying. It's pretty awesome though considering that this is it's first release. Way more stable than the first release of any other browser.

One other interesting feature that at first I thought was dumb, but turned out to be pretty cool is the page you get when you open a new tab. It shows you your most visited sites (screenshot above). This makes it really quick to open a new tab and go to one of these pages. It's kinda amusing to see what are my most visited sites:
  1. Statcounter - checking how many people visited my sites (blog, school,, etc)

  2. Adsense - checking how much money I've gotten from ads on ($57 since January, most of which is from the last few months)

  3. Slashdot - News for Nerds. Stuff that matters.

  4. The Star - Toronto's newspaper (get local, national, and global news all in one place)

  5. Facebook - No explanation needed

  6. Real Clear Politics - Checking the latest American election polls

  7. Digg - Procrastination

  8. Google News - More news (I also have a special "Volleyball" news section that has news articles with the word "volleyball" in them)

  9. TD - Watching my mutual funds portfolio drop in value

Thursday, September 11, 2008

GPS + Photos = Awesome

I got my GPS logger today and I took it out on the water with me when I went kayaking on Lake Ontario.

Basically the GPS logger is a small GPS device with no screen and you can connect it to your phone through bluetooth to figure out where you are. That's the basic "GPS" part. The "logger" part records where you've been and you can then download the tracks onto your computer later and do some cool stuff with it.

I got the QStarz BT-Q100Platinum. It works like a charm, is small, and the battery apparently lasts up to 32 hours. I'm not able to get a signal in my apartment, but once I got onto the street, it worked pretty well, although it made some errors with the tall buildings in the way, but out on the water, it was pretty accurate.

My attempt at hand modeling. If it looks bad, it's b/c the photo is not rotated correctly and I'm too lazy to fix this after having already uploaded the photo

Here's the path that I recorded (I rollerbladed to the place, kayaked to Centre Island and back, then rollerbladed home). The path isn't 100% accurate and some of the tracking is off. My rollerblading is not as erratic as the GPS device made it out to be (I was going straight on the road, but it thought that I had veered off the road a couple times and it also thought I was somewhere west of my apartment when I was in the elevator). It seems to be pretty accurate on the open water, but got confused in the city with the tall buildings blocking the satellites.

View Larger Map

That's pretty cool. It gets even cooler when you synchronize your photos to the path to get the exact longitude and latitude where you took each photo (since GPS inherently has timestamps for each data point). Click on the camera to see the photos that I took in that spot. This is all automatic!

View Larger Map

The long/lat info is stored right in the image file and when you upload to Picasa Web Albums, all the location information is automatically shown there as well (check out the map view on the right hand side).

I am definitely going to be doing this on my trips from now on!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Swimming is unfair

Not to take away anything from Michael Phelps and his amazing 8 gold medals won with 7 world records and the other just an Olympic record, which took an amazing feat both physically and mentally, the latter of which is not benefited by any known drug enhancement, but swimming medals are cheap. It seems a little silly to have medals awarded for FOUR different ways of swimming the same length, then add relays on top of that, along with races of different lengths.

It's not like for the 100m dash, there's one where you run normally, one where you run backwards, another where you run sideways, do cartwheels, crawl, crabwalk, or run on your hands. It's silly. It's 100m and you get from point A to point B as fast as possible, regardless of technique. It's not like when people found out that doing the "flop" was more effective than the "scissor kick" in high jump that they branched out to make a new event where you had to do the flop or had to do the scissor kick, you just get over the bar any way that you want and who ever jumps the highest, wins. Simple.

You could argue that the different swimming styles require different specialization, but apparently not enough if one guy can get the world record in 8 events and don't give me the argument that it's just because Michael Phelps is amazing (which he is), but Mark Spitz won 7 gold medals in swimming in a single Olympics in 1972, so this is not a unique case (there must also be other athletes that compete in multiple swimming events). Despite the different styles being rather different, it's been proven that it's possible for someone to win in multiple of them, which seems to indicate that they are not that specialized and perhaps that the events are too similar. The backstroke seems different enough still, as it's something that Michael Phelps doesn't do.

Sure, the 100m, 200m, 4x100m, and 4x200m track events are similar in that you can win multiple events with basically the same training, but if you were to keep going to longer events, it would work entirely different parts of your body (aerobic vs anaerobic). Then there's diving where you can basically do the same thing on higher and higher platforms to win multiple medals. Rowing, badminton, equestrian, table tennis, and tennis, could all score you multiple medals if you compete in various combinations of individual and team events. Still, these all seem to pale in comparison to swimming in terms of medal opportunities.

Even just the chance to have more than one Olympic gold medal in a single game seems unfair, because there are many sports where it is impossible to get multiple medals, no matter how good you are and how much you train. Volleyball comes to mind for obvious reasons. No matter how good you are, you can only get one medal. Because of scheduling reasons, it would be impossible to compete in both indoor and beach in the same games, not to mention the grueling schedule and the amount of training that is required to form a proper team. Then there are the sports where no matter how good you are, you can't even transfer those skills to another event even in a different Olympic games. If you were the best batter in the world, the only sport that you'd be able to compete in would be baseball (sorry, no cricket in the Olympics). It wouldn't matter if you were Zoro, you could only ever compete in fencing and win that one medal each Olympics. The discus throw doesn't really translate to being able to compete in any other events.

Michael Phelps must train extremely hard and must be entirely dedicated to swimming, but seriously, 8 medals for him, while an entire volleyball team with a roster of probably 12 or more playing in several preliminary matches followed by playoffs yields you only one single medal? Yet, in the end for the rankings, all medals are worth the same regardless of the event, individual, or team. The amount of effort, talent, performance, ability, and training required for each medal is vastly disproportionate and that to me, is unfair.

I still love watching the Olympics though!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

How to record the Olympic games from CBC

This tutorial will show you how to record the Olympic games from an internet streaming source using VLC. Since I am in Canada, I'm recording from CBC Olympics, which streams the videos in Windows Media format, but this procedure should work for other non-flash, non-silverlight, streaming videos as well (i.e. not YouTube or NBC Olympics).

1. Load the video that you want, eg. from CBC Olympics

2. Right-click the video

3. Select "Properties" from the right-click menu

4. Copy the URL of the streaming video

Edit (Aug. 14): The CBC is smarter than I give them credit. You can't just get the URL as described above. What you have to do is look at the URL of the page, something like:

Then, load that in your web browser (Internet Explorer doesn't load this page for me, but Firefox does), and there is a single line, something like:
var streamPath = "";

The URL in between the quotation marks is the actual URL to the streaming video.

5. Open VLC and open a network stream

6. Select HTTP source

7. Paste in the URL

8. Select "Stream/Save" in the "Advanced Options"

9. Click "Settings..."

10. Select "Play locally" and "File"

11. Specify the save file, eg. "Women's Volleyball - USA vs Japan.wmv"

12. Select "ASF" under "Encapsulation Method" (because the video is in Windows Media format)

13. Click "OK" twice to close the windows for steps 6-9 and 10-12, then watch as it also records (you can also close the browser window from step 1)

14. When you want to stop recording, click stop or close VLC, then rename the save file to .wmv (VLC adds an extra '}' to the end of the filename by accident)

My computer screen

I love how there are multiple internet streaming feeds for this year's Olympics :)

As a bonus, I'm also able to record the videos right to my computer :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rediscovering Winnipeg

Strawberry picking

Ballet in the Park

Fringe Festival Improv Show

Ziplining group photo


Video I took while on the zipline

Wind turbines

More ziplining pictures and videos

People always ask me what there is to do in Winnipeg and I usually reply with "not much". That's a lie. On the surface, it's not a very exciting place, but as with every other place, it is just as much fun as you make it out to be. There are always interesting things to be found in your own backyard. My goal each time I'm back in Winnipeg is to do things that I haven't done before, whether it's watching a Manitoba Moose hockey game, seeing (hearing?) the WSO (Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra), going bumper boating, snowboarding in a valley, or going to Folklorama.

This trip has been no different, as you can tell from the pictures above. I've gone strawberry picking (I got two of those boxes and they were quickly demolished by my family), saw Ballet in the Park (had no idea that it's been going on for 30 years), went to the Fringe Festival and saw an improv show starring one of Jill's coworkers (it was hilarious! I haven't laughed so hard in a while), went ziplining in rural Manitoba, and saw the wind power generating farm.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The fight for my room

Knowing that I'm back, Mi-Mi decided to come up to my room to pay me a visit. She sniffed around for a while not noticing Tiki hiding in the corner quietly growling. Then, the fight for my room began with Mi-Mi attacking Tiki. Then there was screaming and claws and growls and hisses. Not play fighting at all. Mi-Mi moves surprisingly fast for a 17 year old cat! I ended the fight by carrying Tiki away and Mi-Mi ran.

Things unfortunately, are basically picking up where they left off in January. Tiki is staking claim to my room because she sticks close to me and this is where she spent most of her time last time. Mi-Mi is attempting to regain her territory, which had been hers for 16 years. Sharing is not an option. Mi-Mi doesn't share. Mi-Mi doesn't like any other animals and Tiki doesn't like cats that are not friendly to her.

I'm not sure what to do. I can't really stop this unless I keep my door closed, but then Tiki would have no where to go or eat (Mi-Mi has been sleeping in the family room and eats downstairs). At least that would also solve the problem I've been having with Mi-Mi marking her territory, i.e. peeing, on my bed. I think I need Tiggy to act as a mediator, since he was friendly to Tiki last time and Mi-Mi is scared of him.

Inefficient travelling

I loved how I was sitting at the gate waiting for my plane almost twice as long as the actual flight. I got to the airport almost 2 hours early because I had Tiki with me. Then, I found out that my flight was delayed by 2.5 hours (the incoming flight from New Brunswick was delayed due to weather). I ended up sitting at the gate for 4+ hours for a flight that was only 2.25 hours. Factor in the 45 min. it took to get to the airport (stalled car on the Gardiner backed up traffic for miles) and then home from the airport and the efficiency of flying is rather low.

Tiki did well on the flight despite being stuck in the carrier for 8 hours. She's only explored the upstairs a bit so far and still hasn't used the litter box or eaten anything. She's pretty calm and relaxed now just lying on my bed. Tiggy has shown interest in her, but is not impressed by her presence. He'll come around just like he did last time. The puppies are rather antsy. I only saw them in their cages. Toby was not impressed and started barking at me. Yoshi was just excited. I shut the lights and they quieted down. I didn't want to wake every one up. I'll play with them tomorrow and maybe introduce Tiki to the dog species.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sheep for wheat?

Vince to Rob via Irish postcard: Sheep for wheat?

Anyone have ore for trade? I have brick.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

10 years of digital cameras

July 1, 1998. Me and Mittens (in my sister's room)

I was randomly going through some old photos today and realized that I got my first digital camera (the AGFA Photowise camera) just over 10 years ago! (I was an early adopter)

The photo above was one of the first pics I took with the digital camera. Gotta love the longish hair with the part in the middle, the old school Timex watch, Mittens at the youthful age of 7, and the Friends backdrop.

Friday, May 16, 2008

GReunion 5.0

Me and Adam! Just like back in the day, I got Adam sunburnt :p

We walked EVERYWHERE! 17km...

I haven't seen Adam since Google almost 2 years ago. He was in town for a bit, which obviously called for a GReunion! We spent the day together with his friend, Beth, who broke the sexual tension between the two of us. It was really good seeing Adam again and we did a lot of reminiscing of the memorable summer of 2006. We walked EVERYWHERE (17km) and saw a good chunk of Toronto (numbers do not correspond to the numbers on the map, which are kilometre markers):
  1. Brunch at Over Easy

  2. U of T Campus

  3. Maple Leaf Gardens

  4. Eaton Centre / Toronto Life Square

  5. Nathan Phillips Square

  6. Fort York

  7. Plane / swan / duck watching at the lake front

  8. Steam Whistle Brewery (free beer!)

  9. Harbourfront Centre (aka Harperfront Centre)

  10. Hot dog on Queen Street

  11. Drinks and dinner at Montana's (movie ticket included!)

  12. Scotiabank Theatre (formerly Famous Players Paramount) for Forgetting Sarah Marshall

  13. Chinatown

  14. Playing with my pussy and Wii

My prize of the day was swiping this glass from the Steam Whistle Brewery

Couple or just friends?...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New processors

I heard on the radio this morning that the newest and fastest processors are now from Cuisinart. Sell your Intel and AMD stocks!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Living without a car

Living in downtown Toronto, I've managed to get by without a car. This is a far cry from suburban living in Winnipeg where I started driving at 15 and a half, got my full license (none of this graduated licensing crap) at 16 and one day (my 16th birthday was a Sunday), and I drove everywhere. I could have a car here, but it doesn't make sense practically, financially, or environmentally. I get by mostly by rollerblades, subway/streetcar/bus, and bumming rides off of other people (when going places outside of downtown). I'm actually quite adept at the latter. I got rides from 4 different people today :). I've also been able to get rides from people I only met mere hours before. I guess I have a non-intimidating appearance along with a look of desperation.

Why it's better not to have a car in downtown Toronto:
  • Cheaper (no car, no insurance, no gas, no parking, no repairs, no maintenance, no car washes, no having to pay a locksmith to jimmy your car because you locked your keys in the truck). I keep my license though.
    • Money saved now means more money in the future because of the time value of money

  • Less stress. Traffic aggravates me and having to find parking aggravates me even more.

  • Reduced carbon and environmental footprint

  • No need to worry about drinking

  • You get to know people when they drive you around (outside of downtown)

  • You get more exercise when you have to engage in human powered commuting

  • Faster to rollerblade downtown since traffic, one way streets, and turning restrictions are irrelevant and you don't have to find parking or walk to your car

Why rollerblading is superior to biking:
  • Cooler

  • Funner (sic)

  • No need to follow the street rules: do as a pedestrian would do, use the sidewalk or the street or both, no laws about wearing a helmet.

  • Smaller profile so its easier to weave in between pedestrian and vehicle traffic

  • Going over curbs is less jarring (just step onto the curb)

  • Comparable speed when you take into consideration the time it takes to lock/unlock the bike (especially if you don't take off your rollerblades indoors)

  • Cheaper and less maintenance

  • Pant legs don't get caught in the chain

  • Rollerblading inside of stores and buildings is like gliding on air

  • You can carry more stuff (like 5 grocery bags in each hand)

  • No need to worry about having your rollerblades being stolen (wear them inside, carry them with you, or even sneak them into a club and check them at coat check)

  • I'm 5'10 with rollerblades

  • Easier to blend in with pedestrian traffic (either on rollerblades or carrying them)

  • One way trips are possible, where you rollerblade to the destination and bum a ride back home (subway/streetcar/taxi is also possible)

Tips for bumming a ride and being a professional hitchiker like myself (I can easily count 20 different people that I've gotten a ride from this year):
  • Make nice with people that have cars, especially those that live near you or drive by your area

  • Reduce the inconvenience imposed upon the driver (they should be going your way and if the ride is not for the immediate circumstance, you should be punctual at the pick-up location)

  • Have no shame in asking for a ride (it's a common occurrence for me to ask everyone in the group if anyone is going downtown as we are about to leave to go home)

  • Looking a bit hopeless or desperate helps

  • Play hard to get by being a bit reluctant if it would overly inconvenience them (you need repeat drivers :p)

  • Be good company in the car

  • Show gratitude

  • Don't think about how you're gonna get back, just get to where you need to go and figure out the next ride later (backup plans always include subway/streetcars/night buses/taxis

In all fairness, when I am driving, I do my fair share of giving other people rides, even if it is out of my way.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Travels for this year

Here's my tentative travel plans for the year (New Year's to New Year's)
Winnipeg -> Toronto -> Banff -> Toronto -> Ireland -> Toronto -> Winnipeg -> Toronto -> New York -> Toronto -> Winnipeg -> Hong Kong

I'm leaving for Ireland with my family in a month. If you've been, let me know if you have any suggestions for where to go or what to see.

I did a carbon footprint thing online and I would be pretty well below average if it wasn't for flying...

I just added the "Cities I've Visited" application on facebook. It's pretty interesting and nice to keep track of where I've been. Apparently I tagged 194 cities in 24 countries, although that's cheating a bit because it includes suburbs within a city. I also pinned places that I only spent a few hours in (airport overnight layovers, cities I've drove through, but used their toilets, etc.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Still the same after 11 years

Around this time way back in Grade 10, the usual suspects (John, Kives, Kevin, Matt, and Tim) would come over to my house after school every day and we'd play Mario Kart 64. Our favourite was Battle Mode. There were only 4 or 5 different tracks for Battle Mode, but we'd play them over and over. It wasn't boring though because the more we played, the better we got and the more sophisticated our strategies. For me, video games has always been a social activity. Video games was however, far from our only source of socializing. We were a well rounded bunch. We did well in school and played video games, but we also played all kinds of sports together and spent countless hours playing cops and robbers on bikes (even with girls!) throughout the neighbourhood.

Fast forward 11 years and things are eerily similar. I just got Mario Kart Wii last week and I had some people over to play and then we went to go play basketball. Even stranger is that the new Mario Kart has a lot of tracks from the older games in the Mario Kart series, so that just really brings back the memories. Sometimes it's just great being a kid again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Candy canes and Santa hats

It's probably an indication that you have to do laundry when you're wearing underwear with candy canes and Santa hats on them and it's 22 degrees outside. Either that or I need more underwear.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Random sustenance shopping blurbs

44lbs of cat litter that I carried while rollerblading

My brand new shopping cart that I can use instead of being a mule on wheels

Lugging a 44lbs (4 pounds was free!) bag of cat litter while rollerblading is pretty tiring. The people at the pet store looked at me funny as I rolled away carrying the stupidly large bag. The funny thing is that now I know what it feels like to carry 44lbs of stuff while rollerblading and I've definitely carried a lot more than that before.

Side note: I use organic, non-clay based, clumping, flushable cat litter now.

I typically procrastinate grocery shopping and will go only when I have to. This means every 2-3 weeks and I'll spend $100 - $150... and carry it all by hand by myself! I go prepared. I bring a large duffle bag and a backpack! I tell you, that's way heavier than 44lbs. 44lbs is a walk in the park compared to carrying groceries. When I go grocery shopping, the first thing that I think about when I see a product is not the price or it's healthiness, but rather, it's weight and size.

But no more! I finally bought one of those shopping carts from Chinatown! You know, the ones that the old women push, but I got the large, manly size. I've been thinking of getting one for a while, but just have been too lazy to do so. I tell you, it's amazing! Of course, the first thing I do is buy a 18lbs bag of rice and a bunch of groceries from Chinatown. Now, I can go grocery shopping without thinking about whether I can carry it back or not :). People look at you funny when you are rollerblading and pushing a shopping cart though. I had one guy in my apartment building audibly laughing.

In my shopping in Chinatown, I made some interesting observations:
  • If you're shopping for a shopping cart, they speak to you in English

  • If you randomly stop at a fruit stand and quietly pick mangoes, they speak to you in English to tell you to pay inside

  • In the Chinatown TD Canada Trust, despite all their Chinese signs, Chinese tellers, and Chinese customers, they speak to you in English by default. I think the only non-Asian in that building was the security guard.

  • If you buy esoteric dried food products, such as 茶魚 (tea fish), from a small shop where they only have signs in Chinese, they speak to you in Cantonese

  • If you ask for Chinese vegetables (菜心) from the guy that grabs them and puts them in a bag, they speak to you in Cantonese

  • If you're reaching to the top of the shelves for a whole box of instant noodles, and there are 2 boxes above the one that you can reach, they ask you in Cantonese if they can help

  • If you're staring at the multitude of options for rice for 5 minutes, they speak to you in some language I don't understand (Mandarin?), and you reply in English

Monday, March 31, 2008

Earth Hour

Makeshift candle using the lid of a jar and about a dozen birthday candles

Makeshift candle engulfed in flame

Downtown Toronto on Feb. 20, 2008 during the lunar eclipse

Downtown Toronto during Earth Hour

A disappointing showing by Robarts and Grad House during Earth Hour

I think the whole Earth Hour idea (where you turn off your lights and appliances at 8pm for an hour on March 29, 2008) was a bit of a gimmicky, silly idea. Sure, electricity demand dropped by 8% for a brief period during that one hour, but that doesn't make any difference. Congratulations Toronto on reducing your power consumption by 0.0009% for the entire year by turning off some lights for an hour on one day!

As for raising awareness, people that were environmentally conscious before Earth Hour, will continue to do the small things to reduce consumption, while people that weren't, won't change their habits. My roommate continues to leave unnecessary lights on despite sitting in the dark for an hour on Saturday.

I did however, participate, because, why the hell not. Blackouts are fun! I was rather disappointed by the participation levels as there were still many lights on outside. The big thing, comparing my pics of the Toronto skyline from the lunar eclipse and Earth Hour, was that the big office towers turned off their signs and they had fewer lights on. Other than that, there wasn't much difference. In fact, it's quite a bit darker out right now (2:30am) than it was during Earth Hour, though the Bank logos are disrupting the darkness.

Here's what I did during Earth Hour:
  • Used my Forever Flashlight.

  • Realized that I didn't have any candles.

  • Created a makeshift candle using a lid of a pasta sauce jar and about a dozen birthday candles.

  • Thought about what to do if my table caught on fire from my makeshift candle that erupted into a massive flame.

  • Put away my laundry.

  • Put away my Christmas tree.

  • Gave up on the idea of stargazing b/c the sky wasn't fully dark and there were so many lights on.

  • Stood on my balcony and took photos.

  • Turned on the kitchen fan after I turned on the lights because my apartment was really smokey.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Commonly overheard

Conversation commonly overheard while in line for a club:

Bouncer: Manitoba!?!? Haven't seen one of these
  • for a while
  • tonight
  • before

Me: Ya...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

CN Tower Climb

It's been 11 days and I've had over a hundred hits to
my donation page after just having it as my status message for GTalk/MSN Messenger. I always wondered how many people actually click links in peoples' status messages. Surprisingly, I've managed to raise $100 so far without actively pursuing the issue. Now, I'm taking it one step shy of mass emailing and seeing how much I can squeeze of out blogging about it. This also has a reverberation effect because this post will also be automatically imported into Facebook.

Anyways, on Saturday, April 19, 2008, I will be doing the CN Tower Climb, where I'll be walking/running up all 1,776 steps (a total of 144 flights) from the bottom to the top of the CN Tower to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund to help protect our oceans and coasts, our freshwater and forests, and wildlife everywhere.

Please sponsor me

(The page is slow, so please be patient while it loads)
« Newer Posts Home Older Posts »