Friday, November 16, 2007

Under The Bridge

I spent this past weekend in Seattle and Vancouver. Originally, I was going for no good reason, just because I wanted to go to a party at the Pacific Science Center on Saturday night and to visit a friend (TProphet) in Seattle. I know, that’s a unique name – but it's a long story.

A couple weeks ago, he emailed me and said that as long as I was coming out for Saturday night, I might as well DJ somewhere on Friday night. Since he is a Seattle promoter and has a full sound system of his own, he said he was going to set up an event for me. I said that I’d definitely be willing to play if he got anything together, and I asked where I might be playing. He said, “oh, maybe under an abandoned bridge.” Hm.

I got to Seattle on Thursday evening and we spent most of the night getting things organized, and doing a little bit of touristy stuff. Then, on Friday, we started getting ready for the bridge party. I won’t lie, I expected something pretty low key - maybe a pair of speakers, a dozen people, and the chance to annoy or entertain some homeless people, or to get into a fight with bikers. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The party that he and his friends pulled off was one of the most entertaining evenings I’ve ever had. After we convinced the K-9 unit at 10:30pm that the entire cube van full of sound gear we were loading up wasn’t stolen, and said that we were preparing for a nice responsible folk music concert, we hit the road. Upon arriving at the bridge, there was a flurry of action, and within about half an hour we had two full sound stages set up with power generators, propane heaters for the crowd, a small kitchen selling drinks and snacks, and an art display/sale. The equipment and sound system was better than what I’ve played on in a lot of clubs in Atlantic Canada (five bass bins for my stage alone). A couple hundred people showed up, even though it was a totally unadvertised renegade party. It was pouring all night, but we were completely dry under the bridge. With two stages, and a total of ten DJ’s playing throughout the evening, Friday night alone was worth the trip.

On Saturday, TProphet’s sound system was being used at the main stage of the party of the Pacific Science Center, so he went off to set that up while I went exploring the Seattle social scene for several hours with a couple of his friends. One of his friends in particular was quite entertaining. TProphet introduced him by saying, “this is possibly the sketchiest guy you’ll ever meet, but I mean that in a good way. Try not to end up in jail before the show.” This person, who I will leave unnamed, was quite entertaining. He was discussing his plan to take out a life insurance policy on himself, fly to Zambia to buy a death certificate in the black market, then buy a Zambian identity and passport in the black market, then come back to the States as a different person and cash in on his own life insurance policy, and then use the proceeds to tour the world as a Zambian. Or something like that. Anyway, it was an entertaining start to the evening.

When we got to the Pacific Science Center, I was extremely impressed, once again. They had a full blown party IN the Science Center. There were four stages with DJ’s from 10pm-4am, three or four full bars, and best of all, all of the exhibits were open. I had a few drinks and went straight to the planetarium, where I spent the next hour and a half looking at the stars. The butterfly exhibits were open, and there was a bar in the dinosaur room, and basically the whole place was interesting. The best thing was that the tickets were moderately expensive, which meant that there weren’t a lot of street kids, so it was a very clean and respectful crowd. This, of course, is good when you have several thousand people partying in a museum.

Seattle now ranks near the very top of my list of fun cities to visit. Click here to see more photos from the trip.

Friday, November 02, 2007

911 System in Action

We have a custodian at the MTA Pub named Joann. She's worked for us for about a decade, and does an amazing job of keeping the floors and washrooms clean.

This morning, she was hard at work, and was wiping down one of the phones in the building. Six minutes later, the RCMP stormed the University Centre, to make sure she was OK. Apparently, while wiping off the phone, she unknowingly dialed 911.

She was pretty embarrassed, but it's good to know that the system can function effectively for emergencies!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Naming Songs

I'm just going through the latest Richmond Record Pool DVD, and I'm getting a bit annoyed at the way some record companies promote themselves. Let me cut right to the chase. If you're going to name a song, use the following format:

        Artist - Song Name (Specific Remix).mp3

It is not that hard. Now I can understand someone coming up with a somewhat unconventional naming protocol if you're maybe playing around with something, or naming stuff in a hurry, or drunk. But if you're a Record Company, you need to pay attention to a simple concept. It's called MARKETING.

Let me give you an example of a "bad" job of naming a track. This is an actual example from the DVD that I'm reviewing this evening:


WTF? This is just ridiculous. Who is the artist? What is the track called? Why is "download" in capital letters, and what does it mean, since it's from a physical DVD? Now to assauge your curiousity, I spent a few minutes trying to puzzle it out, and the only thing I can figure out so far is that it is probably the 54th release on the Drop Records label, side B1, and the song is probably called "Be-Bop." But to be honest, after I got that far, and couldn't assign any degree of certainty to that guess, I dragged that puppy right over to the Recycle Bin (where it will not be recycled).

I'm sure there are DJ's out there who like to spend their time checking out mysterious, nebulous tracks. There is certainly a subtle appeal to a "white label" track for some DJ's. However, if I'm personally trying to quickly sort through and review 250 songs in an evening, you've just lost all hope of getting any air time from me if you don't name the song properly.

On a positive note, I'm glad to see more people starting to trade and distribute WAV files instead of 320 kbps mp3's. With the way hard drives are growing these days, it's worth the extra storage space to improve the audio quality.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cambridge Punk Rock Show

I flew out to Vancouver last night. I’m here to do some work on “When I Grow Old,” a track I’m recording with Mike Allison, at FaderMaster Studios. One of the sound engineers and owners at FaderMaster is Shawn Cole, an old friend and roommate, who is now teaching at the Pacific Audio Visual Institute in Vancouver, helping to run FaderMaster, and doing work at a number of other studios in his spare time.

When I got into town, Shawn immediately thrust a couple beers into my hands, and said that we were going to a punk show that evening. That kind of took me by surprise, but he said he wanted to go to the “Pub 340” to see an album release show by Cambridge. It sounded good to me, so we had a few more drinks and went to the bar.

Upon getting to the bar, we had a few more rounds of drinks, and Shawn gave me some background on Vancouver’s punk rock scene. Shawn actually produced the Cambridge album, so he knew a lot of the people in the bar. Shots of Jagermeister were only $3 each (ridiculously cheap for Vancouver), so before long, I knew a lot of people too.

There were actually four bands playing, although I only saw two of them. I think Loose Tooth was on stage when we got there, and they were singing a song that went something like, “America can suck my dick, Canada’s gonna make you her bitch.” I’m not entirely sure about the lyrics – things were already getting a bit hazy by that point. And for any Americans reading this, you shouldn’t worry that this was a sign of anti-American sentiment in your northern neighbours – I think this was actually a song of affection (after all, it was a punk rock show).

I was outside while the third band played, so I missed them entirely, but we got back inside when Cambridge was about to start. Shawn got right up into the mosh pit, while I tried to stay a bit more restrained, and took photos. The band was tight, and the crowd was into the music (and seemed to know the songs very well). It was pretty amusing seeing people getting thrown onto the stage, then back off the stage into the crowd, and dancing and smashing into each other. One of the highlights was when it looked like the head of the bass player’s instrument swung around and smashed into a bottle of beer that someone was taking a drink from. I wonder if it was a member of Loose Tooth? As Monty Python once said, “Now you see the violence inherent in the system.”

The rest of the night was fairly chaotic. We ran into two guys who were getting into a fist-fight on Hastings Street, and one of them had dropped a box of pizza on the ground just before they started fighting, so I went up and asked them if I could have the pizza. I also seem to remember Shawn trying to climb onto the roof of the Price Waterhouse building, so I could get a photo of him up there, although that memory is kind of vague. Anyway, it was an interesting start to the weekend.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Tragically Hip

I saw the Tragically Hip playing in Halifax last night at the Metro Centre. It was packed, not surprisingly. And since my blog is read by a lot of music fans who live outside of Canada, I need to do a bit of promotion here. If you’re Canadian, you can pretty much stop reading now, because you’ll already know a lot about this band. But if you want to learn more, carry on.

First, you need to know that “The Hip” are Canada’s greatest rock band. The drummer, Johnny Fay, was once interviewed by Billboard, and when the subject of being in Canada’s best band came up, he said it was, “kind of like being the world’s tallest midget.” In 1989, the band apparently did a show where they opened for Nirvana, and less than a hundred people showed up.

The group has ten studio albums to their credit at the moment (disregarding their first self-titled album, which was only an EP). If I had to pick my favorites, I would recommend their first five albums, starting with “Up To Here,” and with “Fully Completely” probably being my top choice. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to any of the albums that came after “Trouble At The Henhouse.” I need to go out and buy the others though, because I know a few of the songs on them, and I know that I'm missing out on other gems.

I’ve seen the Hip perform dozens of times. The first times were in Banff in 1990. I had a few weeks off from my summer job planting trees, so I decided to hitchhike to Banff to wash dishes in a restaurant (The Magie & Stump) to pass the time for a week. During that week, I went with a couple friends to the Silver City nightclub every single evening. There was a band playing, and I thought that they were pretty good. Nobody else seemed to agree, because except for Friday and Saturday night, there were only about ten people in the bar each night. Anyway, after seeing them the first night, I was hooked. I kept coming back, and I watched them from about ten feet away, five or six nights that week. It wasn’t until about four or five years later, when they were starting to get famous and I saw them play at Mount Allison University, that I recognized them and realized that it was the same band. Since then, I’ve seen them in quite a few full concerts, and I also saw them in a small venue in Edmonton when they did their album release for “In Between Evolution,” with just a couple hundred people invited. I have photos from that night online here:

An interesting thing about the Hip is that if I had to pick my favorite five songs, I couldn’t. Not a chance. I might be able to get away with my favorite thirty, but even that would be hard to narrow down. Their music and sound are solid, and even though I’m not usually one to pay a lot of attention to lyrics, Gord Downie is brilliant. The funny thing is that I don’t even know if he writes all the lyrics. I’ve always assumed so, because he is their lead singer, but that’s not necessarily true. His improvisational abilities in live shows though, are legendary.

“New Orleans Is Sinking” was one of their earliest songs, written a decade and a half ago, and it’s one of their best-known songs. However, after Katrina, many radio stations stopped playing it in deference to the residents of New Orleans. The Hip are actually playing a show in New Orleans on October 20th of this year.

Anyway, so if you like rock music, and haven’t listened to this band before, take a Canadian’s advice and check them out. If this is the first you’ve heard about them, you’re missing out on one of Canada’s best-kept secrets.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Talking To A Crow

An hour ago, I thought I was losing my mind. I’m sure that hundreds of other people have already come to that conclusion, but today I was even questioning it myself.

You see, I was sitting out on the back lawn, doing some research. Well, to be more exact, I was laying in the sun, but also trying to finish some reading. Anyway, as I was reading, I thought I heard the neighbour saying hello. But it sounded like her voice was in that funny sort of tone and cadence you hear when an adult is talking to a pet or a small child. Then I heard a crow cawing back. There are a lot of crows living around my house, so I didn’t really think much of it – my neighbour must be sitting on her back porch, talking to a crow.

Anyway, after I heard this conversation back and forth five or six times between the neighbour and the crow, I started to think, “This is a little odd.” So I sat up and turned around to get a better point of view. I was quite surprised to see a crow sitting in the tree about thirty feet away, staring at me. No neighbour. I was even more surprised when it opened its mouth and said “hello” to me. And this wasn’t any random squack that could possibly be interpreted as a similar sound. No, this was a perfectly clearly enunciated greeting. And then the same crow screeched at me with a loud caw a few seconds afterwards, when I didn’t answer back. It then waited for a moment then said hello to me again, so I spoke back to it (feeling kind of foolish). After that, it was quiet and just stared at me for a while.

Now I was pretty wide awake, so this wasn’t a daydream. And although this is Frosh Week at the university, which means that the alcohol is flowing pretty freely, I myself haven’t had a drop since April (although that’s going to change tonight because I’m DJ’ing at a house party down in Halifax). So in other words, I wasn’t under the influence, and this crow really did seem to be talking to me.

Crows are extremely intelligent birds. I’ve observed them (and lots of other wildlife) for years as a tree planter. I’ve seen crows go from cache to cache on a block, dragging tree planters’ backpacks from out under the corner of tarps, unzipping them to get inside, and dragging out their plastic lunch bags. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds says that some crows in Japan, when trying to crack walnuts, will allegedly wait by intersections until traffic lights turn red, then fly down and place walnuts on the road in front of waiting cars’ tires, then get out of the way, then fly back down to recover the meat of the walnut after the lights change and the cars have driven over the walnuts. Crows have frequently been observed mastering the art of making and using simple tools, such as bending materials into hooks to retrieve food that they cannot reach themselves.

Researchers have said that American crows have a rudimentary language of about twenty or so “words” that are used to communicate with each other, and that the crows understand the concept of numbers and basic counting. Apparently, it is fairly easy to teach them to mimic simple human speech, and they also sometimes learn to mimic the noise of other animals. If parrots can be taught to talk, it’s not surprising that crows can too. The only thing that puzzles me right now is trying to figure out whether this particular crow learned this trick from watching humans, or if someone in the area has actually tried to teach it to talk.

Alright, to finish this post off, here's a pretty funny pun:

Q: Why was the detective so interested in a small group of crows?
A: He thought it was an attempted murder.

My apologies to the non-ornithologists - that one will go over the heads of SO many people reading this.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Tequila Wave of 2001

I was just going through some old data files, and I found an amusing video. It's from the Mount Allison University Pub, where in 2001, Drew Dudley decided that he would try to set a world record for the most consecutive people taking shots of tequila. The whole point of the exercise was to be a fun & unique way to raise money for Shinerama. Everyone who participated paid $10 to join, and all that money went as a donation to the Shinerama campaign. The folks who distribute Jose Cuervo tequila made arrangements so that someone could cover the costs of the tequila consumed. Here is the video, filmed in the Pub one afternoon just before supper:

YouTube Link:

There's also a page on the Pub website that has more details:

Looking back, it's neat seeing a ton of my old friends and staff members on the video. And strangely enough, even though it was about six years ago now that this event took place, several of those people are still working at or near Mount Allison. Also notable: as much as Drew was able to set a lot of records during his years as a Shinerama Director, both at Mount Allison and in other parts of Canada, I think this is probably the fastest time (four minutes) that he was ever able to raise $2000.

I'm going to try to tag a bunch of the people I recognize when this feeds out to my Facebook Notes - so far, I can see about fifty people that participated and who are in my Facebook friends list. It's pretty entertaining, at least for any of us that were there when it happened, and it's making me look forward to Homecoming Weekend at the university in just another three weeks or so. I'm going to have to keep digging around and see what other old videos I can find to share around.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

That's What Friends Are For

I don't usually re-hash articles that were in the news, but this one really caught my attention this morning:

TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- A Japanese biker failed to notice that his leg had been severed below the knee when he hit a safety barrier, and rode on for 2 km, leaving a friend to pick up the missing limb.

The 54-year-old office worker was out on his motorcycle with a group of friends on Monday, west of Tokyo, when he was unable to negotiate a curve in the road and bumped into the central barrier.

He felt excruciating pain, but did not notice that his right leg was missing until he stopped at the next junction, the paper quoted local police as saying.

I don't know, but you'd think the missing leg would throw him a little bit off-balance.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It

I have a motto in life. It goes, “Anything is possible. Sometimes it just takes a little while to figure out how to do it.” I would describe myself as more of a realist than an optimist, but others would disagree. I’ve developed that mindset after a number of seasons of tree planting. It’s a pretty tough job, so obviously a person has to be fairly stubborn and have a great deal of perseverance to do the job well. Running a crew is even harder. I am working in an outdoor environment, in rugged conditions, with equipment that frequently breaks down, while babysitting about sixty people for three months.

After a couple summers of being a foreman/supervisor, I thought to myself one spring day, “I’ve seen it all. I know how to do this job as well as anybody could. I am ready for anything. I’m not going to see anything new this summer that I don’t already know how to deal with.” However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. That was over a decade ago, and I still deal with new challenges and learn new things every single week that I’m out here. And I don’t mind that – I always did like puzzles and challenges when I was young.

[Note, August 12th: I wrote the rest of this post a couple weeks ago, but I'm only getting around to posting it to my blog today].

I’ve mentioned before that I keep daily diaries of my planting adventures on my website. However, most of those are just “quick summaries” of what happened on a particular day. For example, the other day I wrote, “I got stung a couple times in the corner of the eye and eyelid by a wasp today.” You might think to yourself, “That’s crazy!” But a planter wouldn’t find it to be very out-of-the-ordinary. If I mentioned that in camp at supper, people around me would nod their heads, and maybe say, “yeah, lots of wasps on the block today,” and go back to eating their dinner. I might get some sympathy and attention for all of about four seconds. However, I get a lot of emails from people (non-planters) who think I make up most of the stuff in the diaries, because so much of it seems ridiculous. Not so – I just describe “normal” everyday events.

Anyway, today was an interesting day. I was supervising three employees who were planting a fairly unique block. Most cut-blocks are big chunks of land that were harvested in some sort of square or rectangular or amoeba-like pattern, depending on where the good timber was. However, this particular block was an old road, so it was about eight trees wide and several kilometers long. In other words, it was a very unconventional and awkward shape. The block had been “furrowed” once with some sort of skidder or tractor, to try to loosen up the soil, but it didn’t do a very good job, so it was really hard to drive our shovels into the ground in many places. We didn’t think we could get the block done by ourselves, but we worked pretty hard and we finished at around 6pm despite the temperature hovering around thirty degrees Celcius all day.

Supper was at 6:30pm, but we realized that we’d be a bit late. First, we had to walk out to the front of the block, since we finished off the day near the back. Then we had to walk back out to the truck; a bridge had been removed from our access road, so we had to park about four kilometers from the beginning of the block this morning. I had a quad to move trees around today, but it wasn’t very healthy. In fact, during the day, it burned five litres of oil and two litres of gasoline (it needed a ring job). If you know anything about motors/engines, you know that’s a big problem. Anyway, the quad died as I was about to drive it out to the truck, so Kristin and I ended up having to push it several kilometers back to the truck, while Colleen steered it. And before we got there, we had to push the quad through a river (which the bridge no longer crossed) to actually get to the truck.

When we got to the truck, I had a new challenge. I didn’t have quad ramps, and even if I did, I couldn’t exactly drive the quad up into the back of the truck since the motor had seized. At first, I considered lifting the quad into the truck by myself. I’ve done it before, but it isn’t easy (actually, that’s a huge understatement – I’ve had an easier time flipping full fuel barrels into a truck, and they weigh 460 pounds each). The last time that I had to put a quad into a truck by myself, it took me a while to stand it up vertically (using rocks to brace the tires), then I backed the truck up “under” the front wheels, pushed the front wheels over onto the tailgate, and then lifted the back end of the quad into the truck. However, I did that with a Honda 350, and this quad was a 450, which was considerably heavier (over 500 pounds). Besides, Joanne and the other two girls would be there waiting to see how I’d deal with the problem, and I didn’t want to embarass myself by saying that I could lift it into the truck by myself, and then be the brunt of a bunch of “so you can’t get it up” jokes if it turned out to be too heavy. So I tried to think of a new plan. I figured that I could find a four-foot-high bank somewhere within a kilometer or so, then push the quad up onto the bank, then back the truck up to the bank, then push the quad into the truck. But before I got to that point, I miraculously found a pair of long planks, and I was able to use them as ramps so I could push the quad up into the truck, while the girls kept the quad steering straight. Problem solved.

Then, as I was fastening the quad into the truck, I discovered a new problem – a flat tire on the rear of the truck. I figured that it was a slow leak, and I could probably just pump the tire back up and make it back to camp. I smiled to myself and pulled out the brand new electric tire pump that I had bought from Canadian Tire a week ago, still in the package. The girls were impressed. I tried to inflate the tire and discovered that the cord on the pump wasn’t long enough to reach the back wheels. The girls were no longer impressed. Neither was I. If anyone from Canadian Tire is reading this right now, please tell either your engineers or your purchasing managers that they are morons (and yes, I’m also a moron for not having taken it out of the package and testing it before I assumed that I could rely on it).

So, I needed to change the tire. The spare was pretty muddy, so I had to chip off a bunch of mud then wash the lug nuts so I didn’t strip the posts while taking the nuts off. The axle-jack wouldn’t raise the truck high enough to let me “spin” the wheel wrench, so I got smart and dug a hole beside the tire so I could do that and get the nuts off more quickly. Then, when I tried to put the spare tire on, I had a similar problem because the jack would not go high enough to give it enough clearance to go onto the hub, so I dug another hole under the tire. Eventually I got the tire changed and all the gear loaded. Of course, that was another story, considering that we also had a dozen boxes of trees left over, plus the gear, plus the quad, plus the garbage, all to be fit into the back of just one open-back pickup. But with some creative packing, we got it all into one load, and we even brought home the two large planks that I had used as ramps, for no apparent reason.

I considered this to be a typical day.

You can see the kind of challenges that we have to deal with pretty much every day. None of the girls were the slightest bit surprised that “so much” could go wrong, nor were they surprised that we managed to successfully deal with all the problems in the space of not much over an hour. That’s just the mindset you need to have if you’re going to mentally survive as a planter. It doesn’t help to sit on a rock and wish that someone would come along to make your problems disappear. You have to rely on your own ability/creativity, and try to be prepared or at least try to anticipate possible problems in advance. Getting mad doesn’t help. Having a breakdown doesn’t solve your problem. Having a positive attitude is your biggest asset.

We made it home for supper by 8:30pm, so it wasn’t that big of a deal – just another day in the life. We had enough problems to be a bit annoying, but nothing that I wouldn’t have expected. Earlier though, when we were pushing the quad through the river, Kristin had taken her boots off so they’d stay dry, and waded through in her bare feet. The bottom of the river had some nice round stones which were comfortable on her feet, and she suddenly stopped and looked at me. Despite the hard day we’d had and the problems we were trying to deal with, she seemed to have faith that everything would work out well in the end, and she didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned or impatient. She smiled at me and said, “You know, tree planting really makes you appreciate the little things in life.”

That’s the kind of attitude you need if you’re going to be happy as a tree planter. And that kind of attitude will probably make you a lot happier about life in general. God bless that girl.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

CN Rail Derailment

This past Saturday, we had a bit of local excitement, as CN Rail had yet another train derailment which made the national news. The accident happened just a couple kilometers from our office (which is located in the railway industrial site in Prince George). The track that was involved in the accident actually passes about ten feet behind our company’s garage before it swings out and along the Fraser River.

I’ve got a friend who works as an engineer at CN, so I got the whole story that evening, but the simple version is that a train was unable to stop in time and hit another train that was crossing that truck, and the engine and a couple cars derailed. The engine caught on fire, and a load of lumber and a diesel tanker also burned. Since the accident was right across the river from the center of the city, pretty much everybody in Prince George was able to get a good view of it. And of course, there was a lot of anger and concern because this was just another in a long string of recent railway accidents in western Canada, and because the diesel may or may not have spilled into the Fraser (endangering the Sockeye salmon, which are just starting to spawn). Here’s a photo:

They also had water bombers circling for several hours, so it was pretty good entertainment for a Saturday afternoon of a holiday long weekend. I was working through the day, so I didn’t manage to go down to the park across the river from the accident to get a better photo. But you can probably find a decent photo at this link:

Anyway, the thing that struck me as being kind of ironic about this was listening to everybody talk about the accident. People seemed pretty angry about this being such a huge environmental problem (especially because a body of water was involved). But really, it wasn’t very big compared to other environmental problems that we cause. The government probably introduces far more oil into the environment every year just by putting used motor oil on forestry roads around here for dust control. And there are lots of other much larger (global-scale) environmental problems happening around us every day that nobody gets worked up about, which I think is rather frustrating. Take the case of all the plastic accumulating in our oceans as a prime example.

In the center of the Pacific Ocean, there is apparently an area that is approximately the size of Texas, literally (litter-ly?) covered with plastic trash. Due to the specific currents and wind patterns, this area is sort of like an oceanic desert with very little marine life or biodiversity – it is just a large featureless geographic area of little interest to humans. The winds are very minimal in this area, so the entire area just sort of swirls around extremely slowly, without much happening for excitement. The water is deep, and no plants are able to grow on the bottom of the sea since sunlight doesn’t penetrate that far. The bottom of the ocean is nutrient-rich from millions of years of organics sinking through the water, but the fish and aquatic life generally can’t get down to this nutrient layer, and there are no winds or strong currents to stir it up and get it near enough the surface to be used as a source of food for marine life. The only real food supply in the area is the development of plankton (based on photosynthesis) but there isn’t much in the way of traditional fish, just lots of jellyfish and similar species, which have no commercial interest to humans.

Anyway, plastics don’t really biodegrade. Most other trash does, but the only thing that plastics do is break down (after a number of years) into smaller pieces of plastic. Eventually, these plastics will break down into individual molecules of plastic, so they are out of sight, but not out of mind. Many scientists figure that these individual molecules of plastic may remain intact for centuries before they are finally naturally torn apart (in a chemical sense). Unfortunately, these molecules of plastic enter the food chain in smaller organisms, and eventually many of them make their way up into the bodies of larger marine or avian organisms (or even into peoples’ bodies), where they become toxic in significant quantities.

Studies of the large oceanic accumulation of plastic, the area known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, have shown that the volume of plastics floating around is about six times the volume of naturally occuring zooplankton. For every square kilometer of surface area, there are many kilograms of discarded plastic items of every type imaginable. Now this isn’t something that is completely covering the surface of the water, but there is enough material there to make the ocean’s surface look like a McDonald's parking lot at 1:30am on a Saturday night.

Hundreds of thousands of marine birds and mammals are dying from the plastics in our oceans every year. No national governments seem to care about the trash accumulating in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, because it is not in any nation’s territorial waters. Since it isn’t a rich aquatic zone, no nations rely on it for commercial fisheries. I wish there was a way that some nation could provide funding for some ships to go out into that area with large surface trawl nets of some sort to collect the plastics (without somehow snaring the marine life) and then incinerate the trash. In the coming decades and centuries, even though this area is not a major source of food for people, it would still be nice to clean it up. I’m not a big fan of leaving garbage everywhere, as you can probably guess.

Here’s a photo of a dead seabird, which has decayed somewhat so you can see the stomach contents:

Basically, untold numbers of animals are dying of starvation, while their stomachs are actually quite full. It’s a shame that they are full of the trash that humans are producing, but it’s just one more example of how we’re destroying our planet.

And for all the people who complain about how global warming is causing the ice caps to melt, which is raising the levels of the Earth's ocean by a couple millimeters per year, maybe it isn't global warming? Maybe the levels are rising because we're filling our oceans up with garbage.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

On The Road Again

I wish I could get a Death Ray mounted on the roof of my truck.

Have you ever been driving at night, with your headlights on low beams, and someone flashes their lights at you because they think you have your high-beams on? It happens to me a lot. My car and my truck both have halogen headlights, which are quite bright. Actually, most vehicles today have those same headlights, so maybe mine are just cleaner (which I doubt). Anyway, I was driving from Kamloops to Prince George the other night when we were moving our planting camp, and I got flashed quite a few times on the trip, which prompted this post.

Let’s talk about halogens for a minute. The halogens are from Group VII of the periodic table, which includes flourine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astitine. At room temperature and standard pressure, flourine and chlorine are gases, bromine is a liquid, and iodine and astitine are solids. This makes the halogens the only group in the periodic table which exhibits all three states of behaviour. Halogen headlights took over from the previous generic sealed-beam headlights in the 1980’s, and produce a whiter glare than the typical old yellowish sealed-beams did. But since practically everybody is using them, why am I getting flashed all the time? Perhaps it is because I always drive with my low-beams on. My eyesight is pretty good at night, so being lazy, I feel no need to turn the high-beams on when I’m on a deserted stretch of road – I’d just have to turn them back off when a car is coming at me. So maybe the drivers assume that since I haven’t “switched” my lights when they come in sight, I must still be on high beam. I don’t really mind the people who do a quick flash and then don’t do it again, because they probably realize that my headlights WERE on low-beam after all, and they feel silly. But when I get a second, last-minute flash from someone who thinks they should “punish” me for not dimming, that’s when I feel the need to slam into them head-first (although I can’t do that, because it would ruin my perfectly clean driving record). This headlight problem should get even worse soon with the new HID headlights that are starting to become more popular. Those lights are even brighter than halogens, and since they tend towards the blue end of the visible spectrum (due to the xenon gas), they are even more annoying to oncoming drivers. But enough about headlights.

The next afternoon, I drove from Prince George to Alberta, and luckily, since it was during the daytime, I was able to keep my road rage to a minimum. I also got to drive by Mount Robson, which wasn’t surrounded by clouds when I drove by, so I could see the summit pretty clearly. That happens about once in a blue moon (I think that saying just popped into my head since tomorrow night is a blue moon). Anyway, Mount Robson, at 12,972 feet (for the American readers) or 3,954 meters (for the rest of the logical world), is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. It isn’t the highest peak in British Columbia – that’s Mount Waddington in the Coast Mountain Range. It isn’t the highest peak in Canada – that’s Mount Logan in the Yukon. And it isn’t the highest peak in North America – that’s Mount McKinley in Alaska. But Mount Robson is a nice little mountain to drive by. Here’s a photo that I took of it:

Not much else of interest happened on the trip. I stopped in Jasper and pretended to be a tourist, and ooh’d and ahh’d over the elk running around downtown, and asked some other tourists nearby if they’d ever seen horses that big. Then I stopped and filmed some wild mountain sheep a bit further down the road. Finally, I pulled over and went to bed on the side of the road, because I had meetings starting shortly after 7am. The trip took far longer than planned, but then again, camp moves always do, because something always goes wrong. In fact, one of the girls in our camp hitch-hiked from Kamloops to Alberta with her dog, and arrived before we did, because one of our trucks broke down as we were about to leave Kamloops.

Switching topics abruptly to something with a musical connection (how much does a seg weigh?), you’ll probably eventually notice that I slip a lot of lines from classic rock & country songs into my blog posts, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes just out of reflex. “On The Road Again” is the title of a song by Willie Nelson (country), and also the title of another song by Canned Heat (rock). Maybe I should make a little trivia contest so the first person who correctly identifies a song title or a line from a well-known song in any of my blog posts gets a free CD in the mail (that is, if you figure out the specific song that I pulled the line from).

And back to the whole point of this, if anyone knows where I can get a Death Ray kit, please let me know ...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Billy Bob's Jerky

Have you ever driven past a particular store and wondered how it managed to stay in business? Being a business owner myself, and knowing a fair amount about the behind-the-scenes costs that can be involved, I often find myself thinking about that sort of thing when I look at certain businesses. Sometimes it is high costs that drive someone out of business, other times it might be insufficient customers, and sometimes it is just a "bad business concept" to start with. Sometimes I even feel sorry for the owner, because I just can’t help but think that the business was doomed from the start.

The other day, I was waiting for Alice (one of my crew bosses) to finish writing her First Aid exams at St. John Ambulance. It’s a pretty involved course that she was taking, so the exams lasted from 10am until 6:30pm. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that at the time, and I figured she would be done around 4pm, so I sat in my truck in downtown Kamloops from about 3:30pm until she was done. It wasn’t entirely a waste of time – I had lots of paperwork with me that I managed to finish, but I also spent a lot of time staring out the window at a store across the street: Billy Bob’s Jerky. And now, you probably see where this is going.

Billy Bob’s was closed when I first noticed it. I studied it for a few minutes, and decided that it must be out of business already. But then, at around 3:40pm, someone opened the doors and lit up the “open” sign. I was curious to see why a business would not open until 3:40pm on a Monday afternoon, but then I started thinking, “maybe they’re targeting the after-school crowd.” However, that was pretty doubtful, considering their product line. Among other things, they featured products such as King Crab legs and claws (10 lbs. for $99.95), hot sauces, and Ostrich Jerky.

I paid close attention to this store for the couple hours that it was open. Billy Bob’s closed at 5:30pm that afternoon, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any customers that “day.” Hopefully for the owner, it was just an off-day. I will admit though, that by the end of that afternoon, I had a burning curiosity to see what Ostrich Jerky tastes like. You see, I just can't think of a lot of other stores that I've run across which specialize in Ostrich Jerky. I may have to go visit Billy Bob the next time I’m in that part of town, looking for a quick snack.

On the drive home, we saw someone driving a shopping cart down the highway. Literally. Kamloops has a four-lane highway that has a three or four kilometer section that goes downhill at a fairly sharp slope. Someone was riding a shopping cart down one lane, at around 50-60 km/h, with cars in front and behind and beside him. I don't know whether I was more amazed that he was keeping pace with traffic without crashing, or the fact that the cars around him didn't seem that surprised by his presence.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Stoner, British Columbia

When driving from Prince George to Kamloops last week, we drove through a small town called Stoner. I'm sure that hundreds of thousands of people have been amused by this name over the years, and I can't imagine what their road signage budget is, because I bet the "Stoner" signs have been stolen repeatedly over the years.

British Columbia is a very pot-friendly province, in fact, it is probably the most tolerant Canadian province when it comes to the use of marijuana. I have no doubt that the anti-drug population in Washington State must just hate having BC as their northern neighbour.

According to Stats Canada (info provided by the RCMP), in 2005, the value of the five highest ranked industries in British Columbia by financial value was as follows:

Forestry = $10 billion
Construction = $7.9 billion
Marijuana = $7.5 billion
Hotels, restaurants = $3.8 billion
Mining, oil and gas = $3.5 billion

That's pretty impressive. Cultivation of pot is estimated to contribute more to the province's GDP than hotels, restaurants, mining, and oil & gas put together. That's not small "pot"atoes.

I'm not a pot smoker at all. However, I don't think there is anything wrong with other people smoking it. I just have absolutely no interest for the same reasons that I don't smoke cigarettes - because I don't want to abuse my lungs with the smoke. But although I am convinced that there are some negative health repercussions to smoking marijuana, I still think that pot is probably quite a bit less harmful to the general population than my own drug of choice - alcohol. Canada appears to be slowly moving towards decriminalization of marijuana, which I think is a smart idea.

Anyway, I know that people from around the world have a lot of different views regarding the consumpation of "soft" drugs, and since I'm not a smoker myself, I don't really pay a whole lot of attention to debating the pros and cons of marijuana use. However, I am always amused to see the business value of this underground industry, and I always have to smile when I drive down Highway 97 and see that sign.

So the big question is, if you actually live in that famous small town, how do you describe yourself? I guess you would just have to stand straight up and proudly say, "Yes, I'm a Stoner."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Back to Work in British Columbia

I’m back at work on Canada’s west coast. I run a camp of tree planters every summer, which is a rather strange and adventurous career path. What does this mean for me? Well, I supervise a camp with about sixty-some employees, including two cooks, five foremen, a couple of quality control people, and fifty-odd tree planters. During the next three and a half months, my camp will plant between five and six million trees.

Although the planters usually work a rotating six-day schedule all summer (five days on, one day off), I don’t get that luxury, nor do most of my foremen. I work about 110 days straight, getting up between 5am and 6am, and working until midnight or 1am. I’m responsible for pretty much everything imaginable, from hiring and firing, to overseeing the cooks and making sure that everyone is fed, to scheduling deliveries of food and water, to maintaining a group of up to a dozen trucks, to picking up propane and fuel for the camp, and most importantly, I oversee the safety program to try to make sure everyone stays alive for the summer. Here are some interesting facts:

- My cooks will use about 15,000 eggs this summer. It is not uncommon for some planters to consume six to eight thousand calories per day, and still lose weight. Most of us walk at least twenty kilometers in a typical day, going up and down hills and through swamps and over slash and other obstacles.
- We work in conditions ranging from light snow to temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius. Over the years, I have learned not only to tolerate, but to actually enjoy working in the rain (well, most of the time).
- On a typical spread-out contract, my crews may be planting throughout a region that covers well over twenty-five hundred square kilometers. I have to know exactly where every single person is working at any given time.
- We typically work in central and northern BC and Alberta, although I have worked in Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan on rare occasions.
- The trucks in my camp will drive a combined total of nearly a quarter million kilometers this summer. I often drive an average of well over four hundred kilometers per day, a significant portion of which is on dirt logging roads.
- Our vehicles will probably burn well over thirty thousand liters of fuel in three months. I have to bring a lot of that fuel into our camp from town, a couple barrels or tidy-tanks at a time. I’ve come to love the smell of diesel in the morning.
- It is common to run into bears, deer, and moose on a daily basis. Occasionally, I’ve run into elk, caribou, lynx, bobcats, and wolves. I don’t mind the wildlife – humans cause more problems than most animals.
- I do not expect to touch another drop of alcohol until mid-August. My responsibilities as a camp supervisor are intense, and I am literally on-call 24 hours per day. I have to be in suitable condition to deal with any kind of problem, no matter how minor or major, at any time of day. I like to say that my job description could be summed up as “putting out fires.”
- I expect to lose about twenty pounds in my first twenty days of work. And if you know me, you’ll realize that I don’t have much to spare. Some of my employees, who plant full-time and don’t spend as much time driving around as I do, will lose much more than that.

I mentioned that overseeing our safety program is one of my main responsibilities. I actually think of it as my most important responsibility, by far. Thankfully, the entire industry has become much more safety-conscious in the past decade. Unfortunately, I have had several planters in my camp who have been killed in the past, which was a really tough experience for everyone in the camp. I’ve had a 23-year-old girl die in my arms. I’ve had planters who have been stabbed and/or thrown in jail, and once I had to take a knife away from a very angry (and very large) man who wanted to stab one of my other planters. I’ve been attacked by an enormous dog on the Alaska highway. I’ve had someone try to steal my truck at night, despite the fact that I was sleeping in the back seat. I’ve tried to “hide” from the police in Fort Nelson (a town with four streets), while driving around in a bright pink hearse. I’ve slept with a rifle under the stars. I’ve ridden to work in helicopters hundreds of times, sometimes in machines without doors or seats. I’ve had employees who have been doctors, lawyers and engineers, and I’ve had employees who have been hippies, convicts, and practicing witches. The former are more manageable, but the latter are more fun to work with. I’ve seen people have mental breakdowns that would make Ken Kesey proud, and I’ve had employees who thought that clothing was optional in the workplace. In short, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things over the years, and I really need to sit down and write a book about it all someday.

I have a tree planting website,, which sometimes gets as many as a thousand visitors per day from all over Canada and the world. Go to the “Diaries” section on that site, and you’ll see some pretty detailed stories of things that have happened to me and my employees in the past six years or so, since I started keeping regular records. Here’s the link:

Tree planting is one of the strangest, most difficult, and yet most rewarding jobs in the world. I have seen varsity football players sitting on a stump crying, because the job was so much harder than they expected. I’ve also seen 105 pound girls, eating supper with a tired smile, laughing because the job is so much easier than they expected. New planters worry about being able to handle the physical aspects of the job. What they don’t realize is that the mental hardships are what makes most people quit.

Lots of people ask me why I keep doing it, so I tell them that it’s for the money. The job IS incredibly lucrative, but that’s not the real reason. I do it because it gets me into amazing physical shape. I do it because I love working with nature. I do it because I like to be the best at everything I do. And I do it just because I can, while so many other people can’t handle it. I hate my job in a hundred different ways, and I want to quit at least once a week, but as soon as the summer is over, I can’t wait for the next season to begin. And sadly, if you never work as a tree planter, you will never truly be able to understand why.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Everybody's Heard About The Bird

Last week, after going to see DJ Dan play in Halifax, we were driving home when I saw a dead pheasant (frozen solid) in the road. Ian Allen was acting as my Transportation Engineer that night (ie. designated driver) and I told him that I had to have the pheasant. I took it home and hid it in the freezer at the house, so when my roommate Jamie opened the freezer, this dead bird would lunge out at him. He finally found it today, six days later.

But that’s not what I came here to tell you about. I came to talk about the draft. Oh wait, no, that’s a line from “Alice’s Restaurant,” by Arlo Guthrie.

In honor of the frozen pheasant in the freezer, today’s blog topic is about what happens to objects when they get really cold: specifically, what happens to them at absolute zero. So this is a physics-oriented post.

Now I knew that things stop moving around much as they get colder, and even gases will eventually freeze into a liquid form. As a liquid gets colder, the molecules move around less and less, and get closer together. The liquid will then turn into a solid as it gets extremely cold. So I was thinking about this, and trying to decide if that means that all motion stops at absolute zero. I wondered this because I figured that if this was actually the case, the object would shrink massively and become extremely dense. I had to do some digging and reading to figure this out.

I was under the impression that the molecules (or atoms) of a solid are effectively dense and “locked into place,” and stop moving as its gets colder. However, what about the electrons? An atom of a substance is the smallest individual unit possible of a chemical element. For convenience, we generally describe an atom being semi-analogous to a solar system, with the nucleus of the atom being like the sun, and electrons being like planets which are orbiting the sun. But if all motion stops at absolute zero, then the electrons would stop orbiting the nucleus and that obviously does not happen, because if it did, the atom would collapse and become extremely small, and would no longer exist as we know it. Or does it?

After a bit of reading, I learned that while an object does stop emitting radiation at absolute zero, its constituent parts don’t stop moving entirely. The energy and motion is certainly reduced, but the behavior of the object is explained by what is called zero-point motion. That’s a quantum physics theory, not classical physics, so I won’t get into that. But at least my curiosity was solved.

The pheasant certainly doesn’t appear to be moving, but it is interesting to know that even if it was frozen to absolute zero, its component substances would remain active on an atomic/sub-atomic level.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

White Collar Criminals

Do you know who the real white-collar criminals in Canada are? I'll tell you. It's the Big Five banks.

Let's take ScotiaBank as an example. Not that they are probably any different than any of the others, but I just happen to be working on some accounting right now, doing a bank reconciliation with statements from that institution.

Did you know that with a standard small-business account, they charge $2.00 for every $100.00 of coinage that is deposited? So for example, let's pretend that I own a video arcade. Let's assume that I deposit $1,000 in quarters to my company's chequing account. They will charge $20.00 in service fees (2%) immediately, for the privilege of taking my money. Plus another $1.00 for each deposit as a "transaction fee," just for fun. And let's not forget $1.00 per month for the preparation of my financial statements. So in other words, if I put $1,000 in quarters into my bank account at the start of January, and I don't touch it for twelve months, the bank will charge me a total of $33.00. AND, to add insult to injury, they don't pay interest charges on this type of account for the money that you have sitting in the bank.

Furthermore, switching to a cash-free society won't help. When we used to have debit machines at my bar, before I ripped them out in anger and installed an independent ATM, the bar used to pay over $4,000 per year in annual service charges to ScotiaBank. And that was just for the debit machines, and didn't count all the other service charges on top (incidentally, we also get charged for depositing bills, not just coins).

And they don't pay their staff very well either, considering what kind of revenues/profitability they are raking in.

Criminals, I tell you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Canada's Federal Government

Canada's federal government is apparently offering a new service: time-travel.

Last week, I filled out my taxes. They're pretty simple, and I'm an accountant by training, so it took me about twenty minutes to fill them out. I was quite surprised, however, to see that I would be getting a bit of a refund this year. That doesn't happen very often (although as an accountant, I have to admit that not getting a refund, ie. paying less up front, is a good thing).

Anyway, after I realized this, I noticed the forms that said that I could file online, and get my refund more quickly. I figured that I'd try it out. I managed to set up and access my account, download the right software, and submit my taxes online, all within about another half hour.

Today I got my security code in the mail, which gives me full access to everything online, including the ability to check the status of my refund. So I checked it. It said that the government had already mailed my refund check to me, on April 5th, 2007.

But today is April 4th.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Tecumseh Curse

There is a "curse" in American politics, which alleges that every American President who is elected in years ending in the digit "0" will die before they leave office. Apparently, this curse was initiated in 1811 when Tecumseh was defeated by General William Henry Harrison, who was leading US forces at the time. Since that battle, let's take a look at what has happened:

1820: Well, let's skip this year. The curse can't be perfect, and some things take a while to get rolling.

1840: Henry Harrison (yes, the same former general) was elected President. At his inauguration speech, he gave an hour and a half long speech on a windy day. Unfortunately, he caught a cold, and died of pneumonia a month later.

1860: Surely you all know what happened to Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860 and shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865 while still President.

1880: James Garfield was elected, and six months later was shot & killed by Charles Guiteau.

1900: William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz. Interestingly, he survived at first, but doctors didn't want to risk removing a bullet from his body, and although the X-ray machine had just been invented and was available in Buffalo, where he was shot, doctors decided that the new machine was too risky to use on the President. He died a week later after going into shock.

1920: Warren Harding was elected. Later in his term, he died of a heart attack in San Francisco. Many Americans allegedly thought this to be a good thing, since he was such a weak president.

1940: Roosevelt was re-elected President. Later in the same decade, he died of a brain aneurysm while still in office.

1960: John F. Kennedy was elected, and then on November 22nd, 1963, was shot (ostensibly by Lee Harvey Oswald, although many conspiracy theorists would argue against that).

1980: Ronald Reagan was elected. Here again, the curse seems to be weakening. Although there was an assassination attempt on him by John Hinkley, and he was shot, the wound was not fatal. Some superstitious people allege that he survived because his wife, Nancy, organized public prayers for him and invited many Native Americans to participate.

2000: George W. Bush was elected. On May 10th, 2005, he actually survived an assassination attempt in Georgia (the country), when Vladimir Arutinian threw a hand grenade at him and the President of Georgia. However, the grenade failed to go off.

It remains to be seen whether or not Bush will outlast the Tecumseh Curse. He has about, um, just under two years remaining in office, if the inauguration of the 2008 Presidential election winner takes place the following January. And whatever many of us think of his political abilities (or lack thereof), hopefully he will not be assassinated while in office.

While at university, I've studied a number of disciplines, including math & computer science, engineering, commerce, history, and Spanish. For the past few days, I've been cooped up at home and working on accounting, and I thought I would procrastinate for an hour before bed: hence the reason for this little post. History is so much more interesting than accounting ...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Seattle and Vancouver

I spent a few days in Seattle last week, and then a couple more in Vancouver.

On Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Seattle. Tim Carstons picked me up at the airport, and got me to a friend's place that I was staying at. Unfortunately, that friend (Robert Walker) was in New Zealand at the time, so I didn't get to see him.

On Thursday evening, I played a full show (three hours) at En, a nice Japanese bar & restaurant that has an outlet in Seattle and another location in Tokyo. I usually play in clubs that don't serve food, so it was an interesting change get a good meal while I was playing. On Friday night, Tim took me sight-seeing for a bit and I got a chance to go to the top of the Seattle Needle, which had a spectacular view. After that, we went back to En, and I played again. However, Friday night was just a short set, and two other DJ's played too, so I actually got to sit down and enjoy someone else playing for a change.

On Saturday, I flew to Vancouver, where I spent the weekend with Shawn Cole. Shawn now owns the Lab Monkey recording studio, and he also teaches a few courses at one of the sound engineering schools in the city. Shawn used to be my roommate quite a few years ago, and was a DJ at the MTA Pub and my Assistant Manager for a while. On Saturday evening, we hit the studio and had a little bit of a party. On Sunday, Shawn had to record a group (Bend Sinister) at the Mushroom Studio, so I spent the afternoon and evening at the studio with him.

I had a flight back to Toronto late Sunday night, but unfortunately, that plane got delayed coming from Mexico, so I missed my connection in Toronto. There was chaos at the Toronto airport. Air Canada had overbooked several flights, and people were getting bumped everywhere. Now I can't fault Air Canada for overbooking a flight slightly, because that's a reasonable business decision since there are usually a couple of no-shows on each flight. However, some of these flights had apparently been over-booked by several dozen people, and a lot of the people in the airport were extremely pissed. Add to that the fact that it was snowing, and the airport was also having problems de-icing enough planes, and it turned into a generally bad day for air travel. Luckily, I am the most patient traveller in the world, so I just bought a couple books and hung out in the corner.

Throughout the day, I managed to get bumped off seven different flights. The last one was a bit of a disappointment - I was actually given the very last seat on the plane, on standby, and I was a couple feet through the gate when the passenger who owned my seat showed up at the last second and I got called back. I was a little annoyed at that, since there were no flights open on Tuesday, which meant that my choices were either to spend another day and a half in the airport, or to take a flight to Saint John and hitch-hike home in the middle of the night (since the bus station would be closed by the time I arrived). I had asked for a seat on the Saint John flight earlier in the afternoon, just to be safe, and my luggage was checked for that flight. However, after I got pulled away from the seventh Moncton flight, the agent said to hold on, because there was one more flight to Moncton that I hadn't known about. When that flight finally got ready to go, once again a bunch of standby people got the first half-dozen empty seats, then my name was once again called for the very last seat. How's that for luck?

Now I just have to wait for my luggage to arrive from Saint John, although I always take my records as a carry-on so I don't have to worry about losing my music or headphones.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tokyo, Japan

After visiting Osaka, I spent a few days in Tokyo. While I was there, I stayed with Kevin Snedker, a good friend of mine who used to be the Assistant Manager at the MTA Pub while he was at university. Kevin has been teaching English into Tokyo for the past couple of years.

We took the Shinkansen (the bullet train) from Osaka on Monday morning, and ended up having drinks on the train to get the trip started. When we got to Tokyo, we didn’t have anything planned until supper, so we mostly relaxed for the afternoon. After supper, we walked around the city for a while, then we spent several hours having dinner and drinks at The Lockup, and I met several of Kevin and Danielle’s friends. Several of them were Canadians or Australians who are working for a company called Nova, teaching English in Japan, and I also met Danielle’s friend Yuka.

Naturally, I didn’t get to sleep until about 7am, so I got nothing accomplished on Tuesday morning. However, in the afternoon, I walked around Tokyo, and Kevin took me to the Meiji Shrine. This was a large park area in the middle of Tokyo, with a large Shinto shrine in the middle. After Meiji, we spent several hours walking around the Electronics District, then went for dinner on the 49th floor of the fourth tallest building in the city. The view was incredible, and I was lucky enough to get some really good time-exposure photos of Tokyo at night. After dinner, we went to a couple bars, and again, stayed up pretty much all night.

On Wednesday, I slept for most of the morning and afternoon. I played at Velours that night, which was a fashion bar with a very high-class clientele. The venue was gorgeous, with chandeliers and comfortable couches everywhere, and the place was full of fashion models and other notable people. I played from 1:30am to 4:00am, and it was probably the most fun I've ever had playing a show, just because the venue was so different than most of the several dozen other places that I've played in.

Here are some photos from the trip:

Unfortunately, on Thursday, I had to get ready to move on. The four-hour trip to the airport in the afternoon was a bit of an adventure, but I made the plane with a little bit of time to spare. The neat thing about the flight was that I left Tokyo on Thursday at supper, and I was booked to DJ in Seattle on Thursday evening. However, flying across the International Date Line moved me backwards by a day, so I arrived in Seattle at lunch on Thursday.

More notes to come shortly about Seattle and Vancouver …

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Osaka, Japan

I flew to Osaka (Japan) this past weekend for a show. Although I’ve travelled pretty extensively before, this is my first time in Asia, so it’s been a great adventure so far.

I started by trying to fly to San Francisco for a visit on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, I flew through Montreal and then Chicago. I got to Chicago with no problems, but when I arrived there, I found out that there had been a huge snowstorm there the previous day, which had cancelled over a thousand flights. It was really nice outside at the time, with very little snow on the ground, so I didn’t really think that there were going to be any problems. However, when I got onto the plane, the airline eventually said that they couldn’t fly us to San Francisco because there were no pilots left in the airport – the pilots for our flight had been diverted to fly another plane earlier, to help catch up on the backlog of stranded passengers.

This didn’t seem like it would be a problem – they said that they were going to fly in a different crew from New York to take our plane to San Francisco, so the delay would only be a few hours. However, by this time, the storm had moved so it was over New York, which meant that it took a couple hours longer than expected for that crew to get out of LaGuardia. By the time they arrived in Chicago, the airline decided that those pilots couldn’t take our plane to San Francisco, because it would put them over their daily flight time limit. Our entire flight ended up getting cancelled, which was a disaster because that put all of us into the huge pool of people waiting to fly stand-by. I then ended up getting bumped off or passed over for the next four flights to San Francisco, as the airline tried to slowly catch up on the backlog.

In the end, I did get to San Francisco, but not until after midnight (about twelve hours later than expected). I was a little disappointed by that, because that was the stop on the trip that I was looking forward to the most. However, on a positive note, it was the one night on the trip where I could mostly easily deal with not showing up. Hopefully I’ll be able to reschedule for a visit later this spring, or maybe right after the summer ends.

The rest of the trip went smoothly, and the flights to Vancouver and then Japan were uneventful. We crossed the International Date Line, so it suddenly became Friday afternoon instead of Thursday afternoon. I was a bit nervous getting into the airport because my passport was only valid for two more months and Japan requires a foreigner’s passport to be valid for six months from the time of arrival. However, I had the itinerary to prove that I had a flight already booked to leave the country a week later, so that didn’t turn out to be a problem. Dan Elliot from the Oasis Lounge picked me up at the airport, and took me directly to his club, where I started to orient myself to the Japanese culture. A few hours later, a friend of mine (Ian Warney) showed up. Ian is a DJ and is living in Osaka teaching English. We went out for a night on the town, and I met a bunch of people that evening.

On Saturday, I spent the day touring around Osaka, and taking photos. That evening, I played at Oasis, which turned out to be a very fun night. Ian found me again on Sunday night and we went out for more sightseeing, and then we ate at a nice restaurant in a skyscraper overlooking Osaka.

So far, Japan has been great. There are far fewer foreigners here than I had imagined, but that’s about the only real surprise. The only big challenge so far has been trying to figure out the subway system. I’ve been on subways all around the world (London, New York, Paris, Moscow, and a ton of other smaller cities) but the Osaka subway has been the most confusing that I’ve seen, by far. The fare varies depending on how far you are going, and you have to buy a ticket getting on, then electronic gates scan it as you leave your destination station and don’t let you out if you didn’t pay the right fare. If you didn’t pay enough, you have to go back to another machine and do a “fare adjust” on the ticket. The Osaka (and Toyko) subway systems are not one large system, but instead are a whole bunch of separate lines run by different companies, so transfers can get complicated with ticket changes. Finally, there are very few signs in English, to make things even more confusing. However, after a few days, it was starting to make sense to me. Some of the stations are incredibly busy though – there is one station which has an average of three MILLION people per day passing through it. That’s pretty impressive, considering that the subways shut down at 12:30am and don’t start again until 5:30am.

A few other interesting notes so far:
- The cities are very clean compared to North American cities.
- There is apparently very, very little crime in Japan, and people feel completely safe and comfortable walking around anywhere in the cities.
- I have only seen a few children in the entire time I’ve been here – the Japanese must hide them away somewhere.
- I thought that I might get away with not running into anyone I knew during my visit, but on Sunday night a friend who had gone to university (Kyohei) saw me downtown and luckily had the time to spend an hour or so touring with us. That was an interesting coincidence, considering that Osaka is pretty big (nine million people, I think).
- There are far fewer Western chains than I had expected (lots of Starbucks & MacDonald’s and KFC, but that’s about it).
- A small but noticeable percentage of the population wear face masks in public and while working, either to limit the spread of diseases, or to protect them from smog & allergies.
- The amount of seafood is astounding – it is available everywhere, even as snack food in convenience stores.

Needless to say, I’ve been able to take a ton of interesting photos so far. I’ve got two photo pages up on my website now from the Osaka portion of my trip, and I’ve tried to add many more observations about Japan in the captions to the photos. Here is a link to the Osaka photo pages:

After I left Osaka on Monday morning, I had three days scheduled in Tokyo, so I’ll write more about that part of the trip in a few days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Benny Benassi

I went to a Benny Benassi show in Halifax last night, at Club Rain. This wasn't really a DJ-oriented trip; I took a bunch of the Pub staff with me and we went down to enjoy the show. Here are the photos:

I've been pretty slack with blog posts lately, since I've been so busy in the past four weeks. I'm leaving on Wednesday morning for a short tour, and I'll be visiting San Francisco, Osaka, Tokyo, Seattle, and Vancouver. I'll try to get as many photos as I can at each show, and hopefully I'll be able to take the mini-disc and record all of the sets for my website.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Yellow Beer, White Foam

It's Friday night, and I'm stuck at home. I was supposed to go to a show in Halifax - DJ & Producer Martin Villeneuve from Ottawa was playing - but the weather was too rough for the drive, with snow and icy highways. So instead I decided to find something else to distract me, which admittedly didn't take long, since I have a huge backlog of work that I'm trying to plow through. But while I was working, I thought that it wouldn't hurt to have a glass of beer.

Have you ever really just sat and stared at a glass of beer? And if you did, did you notice anything funny? A lot of people look at things, but they don't see them. When I look at something, I like to pay attention to detail, because there are a lot of things in this world that don't make sense on the surface, if you think about them. Beer is a perfect example. If beer is yellow, then why is it that when you froth it up, the foam is white? Aha! How many people have really thought about this?

I will attempt to explain this to you, being a bit of a closet physicist (and yes, I had to think about this for a bit). You'll note that I said "closet" physicist, not "professional," so if I have any of the science wrong in this, a proper physicist can feel free to add their opinion. And also, for the sake of colour authenticity, let's assume that we're studying a bottle of Corona, rather than a dark British stout or something like that.

First, you need to know how light works. We see different colours due to many different processes. When direct light hits our eyes, the frequencies of the visible spectrum are sort of "directly" visible, as is, and if there is a combination of all frequencies, we see white (true physicists please bear with me, as this whole explanation is significantly dumbed down for the layman). In contrast, reflected light from any object is sort of the reverse concept. The object is a certain "colour" because it absorbs certain wavelengths, and the ones that it doesn't absorb are reflected away, and those are the ones that we see. So in truth, we've got a sort of "negative image" thing happening here with pigments. Anyway, that's not that important. Well, it is, but not for our beer. The point is that when we look at a beer, what we see are the frequencies of light passing through it.

Normally, a beer is illuminated by a form of white light, or an amalgam of visible frequencies. However, some of the "stuff" in beer will absorb some of those frequencies more than it absorbs other frequencies. In the particular example of beer, the constituent components tend to absorb all the frequencies except the ones that we perceive as golden yellow. So in other words, just as your kidneys filter the beer, your beer filters the light passing through it, letting the golden yellow rays through, but blocking the violets and indigos and all that other stuff.

Now you're probably wondering, "Why does this matter? Beer foam is just made of beer - if you wait long enough, it settles out. The only difference is that the foam is in the shape of bubbles, full of air." That's what I wondered for a couple minutes.

But there is the clue to help you solve the problem. The foam is full of air. In other words, there is "less beer" in the foam than there is in the liquid further down in the glass. The foam is less dense than the liquid beer. After you remember that the beer is blocking certain wavelengths, you can deduce that the foam, being less dense, is also blocking those same wavelengths, except that it is not doing as good a job because there is less absolute material that the light is being filtered through. Because of that, all the frequencies are pretty much getting through the foam, and we see white light, which is the combination of all frequencies. If you actually look very closely, slightly dense foam will have a faint yellowish tinge, and the foam that is lower and closer to the liquid beer is denser and therefore even less pure white than the "thinner" foam at the very top of the glass.

Not really that strange, when you think about it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New York City

I just got back from a weekend in New York City. I went down to visit a friend of mine, Polly, who works in Research at Mount Sinai. I had been asking her questions a few weeks ago about a club called Pacha, and she suggested that I come down and see it myself. We figured that the 27th/28th would be the best weekend for me to visit, and ironically, it turned out that Gabriel & Dresden were playing at Pacha on Friday night. Small world.

I got to the airport on Friday afternoon, and since Polly was at work until 5pm, I just hung out in the airport for a few hours, listening to music and doing some work. That's when the next coincidence happened - I ran into Gabriel & Dresden at Laguardia. I talked to them for a few minutes, then headed downtown shortly afterwards.

I met up with Polly and the first thing we did was to get some alcohol for the weekend. After that, we ordered sushi for dinner, then went out to a pizza place to meet up with one of her friends. Later that evening, we eventually we made our way to Pacha. Pacha was a decent sized club - it had four levels, and I would say that it probably held about 800 people, as a guess. I'm not sure, but I think that the cover charge for regular guests off the street was $30. Drinks were $9 for bar shots like rum, and $7 for beer, so it was quite a bit more expensive than most Canadian bars, but not out of line for a big club like that. The lineup at the coat check was huge, which I laughed at because I didn't bring a coat. Of course, being a bar manager myself, I spent quite a bit of time looking at the logistics and operations of the club. I was pretty surprised to see that they had (I think) six bartenders working at each of the two main bars. My place would have two bartenders, or sometimes three, for the same volume of alcohol that was being served at each bar. But at least those bartenders looked a lot more relaxed that we are when we're serving.

Needless to say, the lighting systems were incredible, and the sound was decent throughout the entire club, not just on the dance floor. Gabriel & Dresden played from about midnight to 5am (I think the bars stop serving alcohol at 4am, but then they can start again at 8am). I was talking to Josh for a bit up in the DJ booth during his set, and they looked like they were really having fun playing that night. Their set was quite a bit different than when they had played in Boston - to me, both nights sounded great, but this set sounded more tailored to a dance club crowd, with more vocal tracks and mainstream tracks, whereas at Rise it had seemed more like a set for an afterhours club crowd (not surprisingly).

On Saturday afternoon, Polly took me for a partial tour, including Ground Zero, the ferry to Staten Island, Wall Street, and around other parts of Manhatten. Later in the evening, we went to a place called Crocodile NYC. This bar was insane. It had a crowd about the same size as my bar on a Saturday night (250 people), but it was less than a third the size. It was absolutely impossible to move around, or to get drinks quickly. To make things even more interesting, they gave out a free pizza with every beer, so for $20, we eventually got four large glasses of beer (two Stella & two Guiness, I think) plus three 12-inch cheese pizzas. It was a minor fight for me to finish the two beer and two pizzas, but I managed eventually, and was hungry for more. The bar was ridiculously warm, probably partly due to the crowds and partly due to the 700-degree pizza ovens in the back of the bar. Anyway, it was a pretty neat place, and obviously a lot of other people thought the same thing, considering the crowds.

After Crocodile, we went to a venue called Shelter, which was more of an after-hours type of club than Pacha had been, although they did serve alcohol. Cover was $25, bar shots were $8, and beer was $6. There were a whole bunch of good DJ's and producers performing that night, including D:Fuse, D-Formation (I used a couple of his tracks on my last mix), and Tone Depth (from Montreal). There was also another DJ who I had never heard of before, Chloe Harris. I was quite impressed by her set, so it was good to learn about her. The lighting system upstairs at Shelter was pretty impressive too. I wish that I'd been able to get some decent photos, but it wasn't possible with my camera.

On Sunday, we went for Chinese food in the afternoon, then did some more touring after dinner. We met a couple of my old friends from university in front of Virgin Records in Times Square, and we went up to the Marriot Marquis for drinks with them. After that, Polly took me to a fantastic Mexican restaurant for dinner. I've eaten Mexican food in a lot of places (including Mexico), but this was definitely some of the best that I've had. Of course, I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but I'm not going to forget the food.

I have photos from the trip on this page:

The only sad part about the weekend was that there was so much more to see that I didn't have time for, so I'll have to go back as soon as I get a chance ...