Things, stuff, and other items of interest

January 27, 2010

Notes to my Nephew #002

Dear future Jack:

  Hey there pal. I hope this finds you well, happy and hopeful. It's a few days past your second birthday, and we're still flying through space on a piece of rock at the approximate rate of 29.8 kilometers per second. Or so I'm told. I haven't actually stuck my head out the window and checked, but it sounds about right.

You probably won't remember it, but you seemed to have a great time at your birthday party. The usual gang of ruffians showed up and you seemed to enjoy their company if your laughing and smiles were any measure. You got more gifts than I suspect you know what to do with, and were a gracious host from start to finish. Not much of a secret where you get that from. Your Mom & Dad could make a grizzly bear feel at home in a shoe box.

Lets get down to brass tacks shall we? These letters serve two purposes:
  1. They will (hopefully) give you an idea of what was going on in the world when you were still a wee squirt.
  2. They are cheap ploy on my part to come up with some regular fare for this site. A little exploitative perhaps, but I never claimed to be a pillar of ethical integrity.
While you and I, your parents, grand-parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and neighbours were quaffing down brews in honour of your second year, others were hard at work.

Lets start with some protests that took place across the country shortly after your birthday. On Saturday, January 23rd 2010 Canadians from coast to coast (to coast?) were giving voice to their discontent with our current Government. This isn't really all that out of the ordinary. Living in Ottawa such as I do,  I can tell you that there are protests on Parliament Hill fairly frequently. This time however, it was a little different.

For the second year in a row, our Prime Minister: Stephen Harper, has prorogued parliament. Not 100% clear on exactly what that is little buddy? Allow me to elucidate:
Prorogation is the ending of a session of parliament. At prorogation, the business of both the House of Commons and the Senate is stopped until the opening of a new session of parliament.
Bills being considered by the House of Commons and Senate are terminated at prorogation, and must be re-introduced in the next session of parliament.
Parliamentary committees cease to exist at prorogation, all orders of reference to committees lapse, and memberships and committee chairs end their duties.
Clear as mud? Another way of defining the prorogation of Parliament is:
The Prime Minister took his ball and went home.
Mr. Harper basically gave all the politicians a couple of months off. Now he said he had a good reason for doing this, but it would seem some (most?) Canadians aren't all that impressed with his explanation. Naturally, the opposition parties are jumping on this like a Torontonian does an empty parking space. Suffice it to say that the silver plated shovels are flinging just as fast as they can be loaded.

Now it has been suggested in the past, that I have been both gifted and cursed with what is normally considered an excessive dose of paranoia. This may be true, but then someone wise and probably short-lived fellow once said:
"Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you."
Personally, I'm of the opinion that Mr. Harper's explanation was about as satisfying as a punch in the face. If I were the cynical sort, I might start to get the impression that our government was less interested in the business of governing, and more interested in establishing mechanisms by which they can more easily perpetuate their control. Granted, that's an easy barb you could tar any sitting government with I suppose, but typically most of the Canadian ones tend to do this while at least maintaining the semblance of a democratic rule. If nothing else, the prorogation of parliament is insulting because to be perfectly honest, it's a sloppy attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. You know what they say about fooling some of the people some of the time....

When put into context with initiatives being proposed else where around the world, one could be forgiven for becoming a tad anxious. Governments are sacrificing civil rights in favour of harsher, stricter security measures. I understand the argument about the nasty fellows who want to do us harm for whatever variety of reasons, it's just that some of the security measures seem completely ineffective. One might go so far as to suggest that some governments are taking advantage of the situation for their own reasons.

I think that's probably enough about the politics for now pal, it's easy to get caught up in the topic and I find all of this stuff quite fascinating, so I can babble on about this crap for hours on end. For the most part, I'm going to try to focus the topics in these letters to things going on in Canada. There's a lot of stuff going on in the world, and you're going to need a much smarter uncle than I to give you an accounting of it all. Some of it's good, some of it's not so good, and most of it.... we never hear about. To give you an idea of how events fell into place while this was going on,... here's a quick list of items from a larger perspective:
So as not to leave you on a down note, I've included this next video in the hopes that you get a kick out of it. It starts off rather dire, but it finishes off strong. Watch it all the way through, it's not as bad as it seems.

"He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything."
I've seen that quote being sourced from an ancient Arabian Proverb, as well as being a quote from Thomas Carlyle. Either way, it seemed fitting.

I hope all is well with you little buddy, eat your veggies (except the brussel sprouts), listen to your folks, be good. I'll see you soon.

Uncle Onion

January 14, 2010

Robots, Mr. Shatner, and Ethel. Plus a few other odds and ends.

So before we jump into today's mixed bag of content, a few follow up notes from last week's post:
  • First and foremost - A quick "shout-out" (word-up homies) to the readers from Tower C. For further information on your co-worker's travelling mishaps, ask him about the Buffalo Bills football game, and why the Canada Customs agent ran off of the tour bus. Incidentally, some of you mooches still owe me for that cab ride.
  • As per request, more user tracking / site usage reports are available in the side panel. 
  • No, a Norwalk virus diagnosis was never officially confirmed, but we had it on good authority that this is what we were suffering from. I never went to a Doctor or hospital, and I'm pretty sure B.A. didn't either. 
Now then, on with this week's update....

   As part of my "research" for this site, I tend to keep a list of a variety of different bookmarks and sites I find from week to week. Sometimes they're a good fit for something I'm writing about, and some times.... they're not.

The problem with this approach is that after a while, I tend to build up a list of links that are worth using, but never really fit in to the flow of any of my posts. That leaves us in our current situation, with a boat load of links that are worth sharing but don't follow any particular pattern. Consider this something of a mix'n match + random link post.

I tend to spend far too much time browsing through YouTube looking for hidden gems. Some times I get lucky and find something worth while, but most of the time it's a wasted effort. Some of the clips I find I post up on twitter, some of them get saved for later... a few are worthy of both:

This week however, I hit pay dirt. I came across a link to an entry on wikipedia that described a series of short films made nearly a decade ago as part of a marketing campaign for BMW. Now apparently, I was living under a rock at the time because I never saw them, despite them being part of one of the company's most successful marketing campaigns of all time. Guess I don't fall into their target demographic. Regardless (or is it irregardless?), these clips are so staggeringly impressive, I've opted to give them a page all of their own. You'll be doing yourself a serious disservice if you don't take a look at: "'The Hire' - A series of eight short films from BMW".

This next one,... I have to admit I hesitated as to whether or not I should include it. It's definitely not for everyone. Consider that your warning, the humour is a little morbid to say the least. That being said, I found it at least as funny as I did disturbing. It's another commercial, this time from Volkswagen, and it was banned from airing in North America (apparently).  I'll leave it up to you as to whether or not you want to check it out.

Last but not least, I include this one for two people in particular.
  1. First, for my cousin - because she was the first one I thought of when I saw it. Not necessarily for the reason you may think. I can recall sitting down to dinner with her and our respective families one evening where upon she impressed us all with her surprisingly detailed expertise of the topic at hand. I'll admit, I had always questioned the validity of some of her statements, but in light of my recent discovery she is completely vindicated. She's all grown up now, with a family of her own. I doubt this will hold the same fascination for her that it once did, but if nothing else... her kids may enjoy it in a few years.
  2. Second, for my brother. For precisely the reason you think. 
Only fourteen times a day.... guess I'm above average. Cuz, Bro,... enjoy:

Facts About Your Farts

"The Hire" - A series of eight short films from BMW

These blew me away. Here's some information on the marketing campaign that lead to these short films. I've embedded the films from YouTube, in order of their original release.

1. BMW - The Hire S01E01 - "Ambush":

2. BMW - The Hire S01E02 - "Chosen":

3. BMW - The Hire S01E03 - "The Follow":

4. BMW - The Hire S01E04 - "Star":

5. BMW - The Hire S01E05 - "Powder Keg":

6. BMW - The Hire S02E01 - "Hostage":

7. BMW - The Hire S02E02 - "Ticker":

8. BMW - The Hire S02E03 - "Beat the Devil":

January 5, 2010

Trains, toilet bowls & Superbowls: The story of a gastro-apocalypse

[WARNING:] The following story contains some rather descriptive passages about bodily excretions. Nothing perverted or twisted, just a rather detailed account of a Superbowl weekend gone horribly, horribly wrong. It is most certainly not for those among you who have delicate sensibilities, or particularly vivid imaginations. For that matter, anyone currently eating, anyone who has recently ate, or anyone planning to eat in the near future should also reconsider proceeding. With this in mind, enjoy.

This is actually my third attempt to write this up. It's a bit of a monster to wrestle down to an appropriate size. Take my word for it, it was a memorable weekend. The basic premise is that I, and a few of my buddies, got together to watch the Superbowl. Sounds simple enough right? Nothing out of the ordinary there. Certainly nothing that would irrevocably change the course of four men's lives for all of history. No no, just a few beers, some munchies, and double dose of the norwalk virus, and apparently, what was Via Rail's most unreliable piece-of-shit locomotive in their entire fleet. Allow me a moment to try to set the scene for you. I'll be using my friend's nicknames so as to preserve their privacy, and hopefully save what's left of their 'respectable' reputations.

January 26th, 2003; Superbowl XXXVII: A contest of skill between the Oakland Raiders, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A Superbowl significant if only for it's complete inability to garner any interest from the viewing public. Note worthy perhaps if only for the fact that it had the third lowest attendance recorded in Superbowl in history. An all star line up like the Raiders vs. the Buccs, and no one's interested? I can't begin to fathom why.

Our tale takes place in the snow-dusted surroundings of the quaint little village of Oshawa. Also known as the industrial heartland of Ontario's manufacturing industry, home to the largest collection of automobile manufacturing factories in Canada I believe. The principle characters in our little drama were:
  1. "HeeMan"
  2. "Big Al" (B.A.)
  3. "Pedro"
  4. "Mrs. Pedro"
  5. Yours truly.
Heeman, B.A., and I took the train from Ottawa to Oshawa so that we could go visit Pedro who had volunteered to host the festivities. Sadly what we had failed to notice, was the diseased ladened Typhoid Mary who was sitting across the aisle from us. Like some sort of evil she-devil from a Shakespearean tragedy, this germ spreading old crone doomed our weekend before it even began. Hunched over, wrapped in blankets and wearing a tuque, she sweated profusely while seeming to shiver from the cold. It wasn't until approximately forty-eight hours later that I would fully comprehend the look of unmitigated misery that adorned the visage of this sickly bitch-beast.

The three of us arrived in Oshawa oblivious to our impending gastro-apocalypse, and proceeded to throw ourselves whole heartedly into the magic that is Superbowl weekend. That is to say, we began drinking. Dinner was consumed, bars were visited, ladies of questionable virtue were admired, large intimidating gang members were cautiously appeased, more beer was consumed, and eventually.... the first day of the weekend came to a finish.

We awoke the next morning in a dehydrated stupor, which was quickly remedied by an ancient curative known as "hair of the dog". Superbowl Sunday morning was something of a hungover lazy endeavour in which a lively game of Risk was engaged, fought over, and finally concluded in the only way a true game of Risk can be; anarchy and chaos. While we entertained ourselves, Mrs. Pedro had been up with the crack of dawn throwing herself with lively gusto into the task of preparing a feast without equal. I know that any description I may offer would fail miserably to do justice to the cornucopia of dishes layed out by our esteemed hostess, and to try would merely cheapen the achievement that she so gloriously wrought. That is to say good reader, there was a shit-load of food, as fate would later demonstrate ad nauseam. Mrs. Pedro had surprised, to say the least, all of us with the magnitude and the abundance of choices, and her efforts and accomplishments were very much appreciated and in NO WAY responsible for the horror that was soon to visit her happy, unsuspecting home.

It was soon revealed that B.A. was not feeling up to his normal, reliably durable, high standard of peak efficiency. Not one to normally be layed low by a mere hangover, his honest and sincere appeal for support and understanding was met with the only appropriate response. A chant of "Girly-boy! Girly-boy!" was soon livening up the house while we all enjoyed a good laugh at the expense of our soon-to-be-fallen comrade. If any of us had even the slightest insight into what was in store for us we would have called for an ambulance and an industrial strength power washer right then and there.

All too soon, game time was upon us, and the spectacle had begun. To this day, I can recall with perfect clarity the kick-off that began the penultimate showcase for the contrived glory of American football that is the Superbowl. I can remember it with perfect clarity, because that is the only portion of Superbowl XXXVII that I saw. Three minutes into the game, I began to notice an odd feeling below the safety line, as I call it. For those familiar with such things, I was in the first stages of what has been described in less-than-polite society as "a case of the gurgles". An affliction I once heard referred to in a children's rhyme as "rumble guts & rumble butts".

With an immediate sense of urgency, I ascended the stairs to the lavatory, and proceeded to attend to my rather pressing business. Once concluded, I congratulated myself on a disaster narrowly averted, and set off down the stairs to return to the party. It was then, that I became acutely aware that something was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

When I say, "something was wrong" I don't mean it in an average Monday-to-Friday, regular day, common-use sort of way. I mean it in more of a - 'This is what inspired Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg to develop a scale to measure the magnitude of tectonic plate collisions' - sort of way. I mean it in a -  'Atheist-finding-God at the last second' - sort of way. I mean it in a - 'There's only one parachute left!' - sort of way. Have I sufficiently conveyed the scope of the situation? Is the magnitude of my all too late epiphany adequately established?

I had descended no more than a half dozen stairs before I turned and sprinted back up the steps only to arrive at my destination within the narrowest of safety margins. Where I had so recently patted myself on the back for a job well done, I once more took up the challenge that was before (or rather behind, as the case may be) me. Imagine my surprise when the task at hand, a task that I have no small amount of expertise in, presented itself not in it's well established familiar fashion, but rather a considerably less structured, down right fluid like, manner. Suffice it to say, that I met the challenge presented to me. I stood before my foe, and I was tested in the crucible of battle. I was found to be adequate to the task. I left that bathroom a changed man. Fearful of what I had seen and experienced, but elated that I had managed to survive it.

Unfortunately for all involved, that was not the last battle I would fight that evening. Nor was I alone in fighting the war against the dreaded foe. I can only recall what was the following twelve hours as a hazy blur of toilet bowls and puke buckets. B.A. and myself had been stricken with a variation of a norovirus, or the "Norwalk virus". Not to be melodramatic, but people have died from this in the past. I don't mind saying that I was reasonably well convinced that I was dying that very night. The thought occurred to me just how ridiculous a death it would be.  To be found dead on a toilet bowl with a full puke bucket on your lap. Not the "blaze of glory" I had imagined in my youth to say the least.

Those twelve hours are easily the longest hours I have ever spent on this earth. While I set up residency in the basement bathroom, B.A. claimed the upstairs washroom as his new domain. Between the two of us, we occupied the only two lavatories in the house for a full half day. Twelve solid hours of violent expulsions from one end or the other adds up to a wicked case of dehydration. Irritatingly, our foe had the last laugh as neither one of us were able to keep water down for more than a few minutes before it came back up in horrendous stomach churning fashion. Needless to say, no one got any sleep in that house on Sunday January 26th, 2003.

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity had passed, morning finally arrived. B.A., Heeman and myself were scheduled to return to Ottawa on a morning train. A journey that neither B.A. nor myself were all that eager to undertake. However, after the horrors we had visited upon Pedro & Mrs. Pedro's good house, we were keen to depart and leave the disheveled and obviously traumatized couple in peace. The symptoms of our affliction had not retreated entirely, but were no longer presenting themselves with the veracity of the overnight onslaught. With no other options available, we set out once more to travel the rails.

Clearly, a strategy was required. While our situation was dire, it was not hopeless. Heeman had already planned ahead that he would be getting off the train in before B.A. and I, in order to visit family. Thus, he was seated on a different car and was not present for the final leg of our journey. B.A. and I were to travel the remainder of the trip with out the safety net of a healthy companion, dangerous, but still feasible. Our plan was simple but effective. Rush the train with all available haste and claim the two seats closest to the washroom. If they were already occupied, beat unconscious anyone who may already be sitting in them and move their bodies to other chairs. With unfettered access to the washrooms, we were essentially guaranteed priority 'seating' as circumstances may dictate. The train soon arrived, and we put our plan into action.

Thankfully, the seats we coveted were unoccupied, and so a trip of leisure and convenience was all but assured. Or so fate would've had us believe. The train ride between Oshawa and Ottawa takes roughly four hours on your normal day. This particular day: Monday January 27th 2003, turned out to be the exception that proves the rule. Keep in mind, that during this trip, B.A. and myself were fooling absolutely no one. It was abundantly clear to everyone in our train car something was seriously wrong with us. Two large gents, who are gaunt and pale, sweating profusely, and seemingly down right territorial in regards to one of the two available bathrooms does not pass without notice. Wisdom prevailed, and they gave us a wide berth while trying to discretely ignore us.

Our situation was made infinitely worse however, when our chosen mode of transport broke down. Not once,.... not twice,... but three times. THREE [EXPLETIVE DELETED] TIMES! Before arriving at it's final resting place that god forsaken piece-of-shit locomotive broke down, and ceased all forward motion, on three separate occasions.  Each unscheduled stop lasting longer than the last, until finally, "the little locomotive that couldn't" gave up the ghost in Brockville. Brockville. Nearly-an-hour-and-half-from-home Brockville. By this time, my travelling companion and I had entered a dehydrated trance-like state of exhaustion, only coming out of our daze long enough to crawl to the bathroom, conduct whatever business we needed to, and return to our respective seat. It was then that the conductor "apologized for any inconvenience", and announced that Via Rail, had arranged for a bus to come pick us up at the train station, and take us the rest of the way into Ottawa.

What choice did we have? None. None what so ever. We waited for the bus,.. hoping, praying, begging that it be a coach bus with an on-board bathroom. What did we care if we usurped it for the remainder of the trip? These other people could clearly see that we needed exclusive use of the bathroom, surely they wouldn't risk injury, nay death itself by putting themselves in our way. They were strangers to us. It's not like we asked to be in this condition, all we wanted was to go home. What pulled up was a modified cheese-box that so many of today's youth ride every day to and from school. A distinctly "no-frills" bus, free of any unnecessary clutter of modern convenience like seat belts, televisions... or more notably, bathrooms.

I'm not the most fit fellow you'll ever meet. I don't have washboard abs, or chiseled pecs, or tight glutes. I haven't run a marathon, and I don't know what the hell "upward dog" is, and I 'pre-load carbs' pretty much every day. Even so my friends, despite all of this.... I am convinced that my stamina is at minimum measured on an Olympic scale, if only based on the seemingly never-ending endurance test that was that bus ride. If I had to choose one single word to describe that exercise in agony it would be: "Clenched".

One hour, and twenty-seven minutes later, the bus pulled up to the Ottawa train station. I vaulted off the bus, body-checked a Via Rail attendant, and sprinted at near-light-speed to the nearest bathroom. As I rounded the corner to men's room, I noticed a small tiny yellow & black coloured sign hung on the door:
"Closed for cleaning"
I payed it no heed what so ever. I flung open the door, and quick-marched into the nearest stall and proceeded to let loose the wrath of hell itself on that previously pristine toilet bowl. A few minutes later, I exited the stall, and apologized profusely to the cleaning lady who had stood mop-in-hand for the duration. Transfixed in shock and horror at what she no doubt has had nightmares about ever since. My trial was over. I washed my hands, left the bathroom, retrieved my luggage, said my goodbyes to B.A., and went home.

While the symptoms were essentially over by the next day, it would be at least 3 days before I had the strength to get out of bed, and a full week before I or B.A. returned to work. I don't think I've ever been so dehydrated ever before. Part of the feast that Mrs. Pedro had prepared contained shrimp. Despite the obvious source of our illness (Typhoid Mary on the train ride down) I had made the association in my mind, and couldn't eat shrimp for at least five years after that. That's my story of the worst Superbowl ever. Go Niners!