Nine Times

Wednesday 09 September 2009    9:09 AM
I took this screen­shot of my menu bar (I use Menu­Cal­en­dar­Clock, an appli­ca­tion that offers more flex­i­bil­i­ty in terms of what it dis­plays, along with a drop-down mini-cal­en­dar that syncs with iCal).

Yes, that was a pic­ture tak­en at 9:09 on 9–9-09. Next year I get to take one a month and a day and an hour and a minute lat­er to match.

Oh, and the title refers to a line from the movie Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off. If you don’t know it, you’ll just have to see it.

Blog Vacation is Over

I admit it: I was tak­ing the sum­mer off from blog­ging. A com­bi­na­tion of lots of change in work/life com­bined with some real­ly great get-out-and-enjoy-the-out­doors weath­er pushed typ­ing at the com­put­er screen right off the sched­ule. Until now.

What pushed me back to the blog? Lots of changes in day-to-day life around here:

  1. The new Canada­Line, which is essen­tial­ly a sub­way (with a bit of it above ground once you get fur­ther out — just like the good old Boston T) start­ed ser­vice this past Mon­day (the first day free from 1 till 9). That means, for all intents and pur­pos­es, that the city that I know of has instant­ly grown. Rich­mond, as well as parts of the city clos­er to the Fras­er riv­er are now just as con­ve­nient to get to as Burn­a­by, the city to the East. Pam and I rode it from the sec­ond stop (Granville/City Cen­tre) to the last one (Rich­mond) — but did not take the spur to the air­port. This new tran­sit line also brings Van­cou­ver the dis­tinc­tion of being the first city in Cana­da to have a tran­sit line that links the down­town to the air­port, just like Lon­don, Paris, Bei­jing and oth­er cities not in North Amer­i­ca.
  2. The har­bin­ger of the end of the sum­mer is around the cor­ner: The PNE. I look for­ward to this ‘Coun­ty Fair’ just out­side the city (although tech­ni­cal­ly it’s still with­in the city lim­its) every year.  This will be our (gasp!) fifth one.
  3. A shock­ing and sad announce­ment that Work­space, one of the favourite gath­er­ing places for the tech com­mu­ni­ty here in Van­cou­ver, will be clos­ing its doors at the end of the week. Work­space was an engag­ing com­bi­na­tion of café, office space for cre­ative tech­no­log­i­cal entre­pre­neurs, incu­ba­tor, club­house and even a lit­tle bit of a Soho gallery (lots of local art on the walls). The floor to ceil­ing views of Howe Sound and the moun­tains, the grit­ti­ness of the train tracks (and trains pass­ing close by), along with the white paint over a for­mer slaugh­ter­house all con­tributed to a unique space that I will miss ter­ri­bly. For­tu­nate­ly, as I write this, there is some heart­en­ing traf­fic on Twit­ter about some­thing to fill this gap­ing void in the Van­cou­ver tech­nol­o­gy and social scene. We’ll have to see what comes out of the ash­es of that gem of a loca­tion that holds many fond mem­o­ries for me (and I’m sure it does for many oth­ers as well).
  4. I men­tioned changes in work. I don’t usu­al­ly blog about work on this blog. My phi­los­o­phy has always been that there was plen­ty of oth­er things to talk about, and there was always the poten­tial of offend­ing some­one or mak­ing some oth­er career-lim­it­ing move, so why chance it?  That said, I’ve resigned from my posi­tion of VP of Cre­ative Solu­tions at Busi­ness Log­ic (if you want to find out why, I can tell you over a cou­ple of beers), and I’m once again look­ing for a per­ma­nent posi­tion, despite the fact that I have a con­tract at a local Finan­cial Plan­ning com­pa­ny.  I know all too well, when con­tracts are done, there is often noth­ing else wait­ing in the wings, espe­cial­ly dur­ing cer­tain months of the year (although I’m pleased that for once, I’m work­ing in August, despite the fact that I’m not an employ­ee any­where — yet).
  5. I’ve also got a back­log of some video and pho­tos to show. The sum­mer of events and peo­ple con­tin­ued with the always enter­tain­ing and colour­ful Gay Pride Parade, Vinocamp (and Cheese­camp), a pleas­ant Wed­ding Anniver­sary pic­nic at Kits Beach (and thanks to Netchick for the idea). I’ll try and post some pics and video before it’s too ancient. If noth­ing else, the video of out first trip on the Canad­line has some great ver­ti­go-induc­ing footage look­ing back­ward down the tun­nel (I couldn’t get any­where near the front of the car, but the back end was more acces­si­ble, hence the back­ward-look­ing video).

So, as my father is fond of say­ing ‘The only thing you can be cer­tain of is change’.  He’s right, and I sup­pose it makes life more inter­est­ing. I have to admit that I’m nev­er a huge fan of change, but I’m get­ting bet­ter at it, and some of these changes haven’t been bad. Just the Work­space loss. Yup, that one just plain sucks.

Summer in the City

It’s been a while since I’ve writ­ten any­thing, main­ly because I always feel the need to take a lit­tle time off in the sum­mer, par­tic­u­lar­ly since this sum­mer weath­er has been so spec­tac­u­lar­ly good. True, it has been a lit­tle warm, and even on some days, down­right hot. Still, that hasn’t kept us from get­ting out and enjoy­ing the city, vis­it­ing with friends, tak­ing long walks along False Creek, and even a few out­ings with the car.

An Intimate Evening with Hummingbird604 and Some Exotic Potent Potables

It was one of those hot nights in Down­town Van­cou­ver when we went out one of the evenings a cou­ple of weeks ago. Rather than try and escape the heat (as any sane per­son would do), we embraced it. We climbed the stair­case to the third floor of The Net­work Hub, one of the shared office space and social incu­ba­tors in town on West Hast­ings and Richards, a cou­ple of blocks away from Water­front Sta­tion. Hummingbird604 (AKA Raul to those who know him), host­ed a small group of friends and blog­gers to try out some inter­est­ing new bev­er­ages from Chi­na. When we arrived, we were greet­ed by Christy Nguyen and Min­na Van of Urban­bel­la Mar­ket­ing Group. To go with the liq­uids, they had already begun to put out some Chi­nese food (which was help­ful to see how the liq­uids might go with dif­fer­ent dish­es).

The 15 or so of us dug in and chat­ted as we were try­ing to keep cool. I was hap­py to see plen­ty of friends, includ­ing Gus (and Russ), Tanya (with her new fiancé, Bar­ry), Degan, Eri­ca and John.

So what were we try­ing? There were three dif­fer­ent items. First, there was a red wine, a saki (or rice wine) and a whiskey, which we could try straight up as well as a mix­er in a sort of lemon­ade (which was per­fect for a hot night). I opt­ed imme­di­ate­ly for the most unusu­al (at least for me) thing to try first: the whiskey, straight up from a shot glass. This is not because I want­ed to get drunk fast, but because I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to liquor, and love Sin­gle-malt Scotch. I was also intrigued, because this whiskey , called Chu Yeh Ching Chiew, was, as an accom­pa­ny­ing infor­ma­tion card put it:

…a spe­cial ancient liquor made from tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese herbal recipe. It has (a) trans­par­ent gold­en and slight­ly green colour, and intense flo­ral herbal aro­mas of dried apri­cot. It’s off dry with a hint of anise and packs a lengthy fin­ish.

What this infor­ma­tion does not include (and which the name and pic­tures on the bot­tle do), is that this is alco­hol fer­ment­ed from bam­boo shoots. I tried it and was impressed. To me, it had the strength of an Irish Whiskey, but the fin­ish was exot­ic; with a bit of gin­seng, and per­haps anoth­er spice. Here’s what the bot­tle looked like:

 Bamboo Whiskey from China. Photo courtesy of Hummingbird604

Bam­boo Whiskey from Chi­na. Pho­to cour­tesy of Hummingbird604

Here’s my own pho­to of the bot­tle:

My own photo of the same bottle

My own pho­to of the same bot­tle

The com­pa­ny who pro­vid­ed it is Hi-Bridge Con­sult­ing, although as I men­tioned, Urban Bel­la was the Pub­lic Rela­tions firm who arranged for the tast­ing. I have to say that this prod­uct, with some repack­ag­ing, and per­haps a new, Eng­lish name, could do extreme­ly well. They also offered it in a lemon­ade mix­er, which wasn’t as inter­est­ing (but did prove that it could be a fine mix­er), but I have to say that straight up, it is a very impres­sive drink. I pro­pose that they call it, Bam­boo Mist, and put it in a dis­tinc­tive, frost­ed bot­tle with bam­boo brush style let­ter­ing on the label (and keep the bam­boo leaf art as well). Mar­ket it to upscale liquor stores and put it in the sec­tion that has oth­er drinks strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with a coun­try (like Jame­son Whiskey, Aqua­vit, Midori or per­haps Sabra). I real­ize that some of those are liqueurs, but hope­ful­ly you can see where I’m going with this. In addi­tion, there’s the whole sus­tain­abil­i­ty angle, since bam­boo is one of the world’s most sus­tain­able nat­ur­al resources (it grows in a vari­ety of places like a weed). Many peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca have floors and fur­ni­ture made of bam­boo. It makes excel­lent cut­ting boards. If you don’t use a lot of nasty chem­i­cals, it also can pro­duce won­der­ful, earth-friend­ly and silky fab­ric. One of my all-time-favourite T-shirts is a long-sleeved green­ish cocoa one that feels an awful lot like silk. It is also wash­able and wicks per­spi­ra­tion well. To have a whisky from the same mate­r­i­al seems a nat­ur­al for a mar­ket­ing cam­paign that not only plays off the exot­ic sound of liquor from ancient Chi­nese bam­boo groves, but also of a whisky that ecol­o­gy-mind­ed folks can love as well. Are you lis­ten­ing, Hi-Bridge?

There was also a less impres­sive Sake (Sake from Chi­na? Well, OK) which did have a strange, thick, almost choco­late taste and con­sis­ten­cy, and an extreme­ly undis­tin­guished Caber­net Sauvi­gnon (sor­ry), but the Chu Yeh Ching Chiew (although the name doesn’t exact­ly trip off the tongue for those who don’t speak Chi­nese) made the evening, which in addi­tion to friends, imbib­ing and talk, also includ­ed some appro­pri­ate Chi­nese food to nib­ble on.

We All got together for a group shot near the end of the evening. Photo courtesy of Hummingbird604

We all got togeth­er for a group shot near the end of the evening. Pho­to cour­tesy of Hummingbird604
Another Evening

As I men­tioned, Pam and I have been tak­ing lots of walks after din­ner (main­ly to walk off the meal — we have been eat­ing so well late­ly!) One time we actu­al­ly drove some­where, how­ev­er, was a trip down to Rich­mond for the famous Night Mar­ket. It’s an open air mar­ket in an indus­tri­al park, far from every­where, but you feel as if you’ve gone fur­ther. Besides the booths of every­thing from socks from Korea and iPod/iPhone acces­sories from Chi­na, there are the food booths. Oh. My. I real­ly do love street food, and this was no excep­tion. In addi­tion to some fan­tas­tic squid, cooked up on the flames right in front of us:

Squid! Yum!

Squid! Yum!

I also got a ridicu­lous­ly fun (and sil­ly) spi­ral of a fried pota­to, driz­zled with a hot and sweet chili sauce. Tru­ly a won­der­ful blend of ‘carny’ food and Thai-style spices. As you can see, I was grin­ning like a kid. I think I’m real­ly get­ting psy­ched for our trip to South­east Asia that we’re just start­ing to plan for next year:

Me at the Night Market

Me at the Night Mar­ket

Summer Days, Trips and Food

I haven’t been blog­ging much late­ly, par­tial­ly because I am still some­what busy with work, and also because those times when I’m not busy, I’m usu­al­ly tak­ing it easy. The weath­er has been so warm and sun­ny, and this time of year the sun sets so late (usu­al­ly around 9:20 PM) that we are tak­ing some walks after din­ner, part­ly for weight con­trol, part­ly because it’s just too good to miss the sun­sets and light on the water.

With the good weath­er have come some trips that were a photographer’s hol­i­day, notably one where we met my broth­er and his fam­i­ly at the tail end of Skag­it Tulip Fes­ti­val:

Skagit Tulips - 30

Skagit Tulips - 50

Skagit Tulips - 58

We also had a nice walk through the Rieger Bird Sanc­tu­ary on West­ham Island (where we intend to go to pick berries in a cou­ple of weeks):

Feeding a Chickadee

Duck Swimming in Dappled Sunshine

Final­ly, we took a cou­ple of walks through Stan­ley Park and Pacif­ic Spir­it Park:

Near the Pavilion

Beaver Pond - 5

Beaver Pond Lilies - 6

Pam on Spirit Park Trail

Mushrooms in Spirit Park

As you might expect, with the laid-back weath­er and walks have come the sum­mer fruits and veg­eta­bles. It’s been a great year for aspara­gus, and we heard that the straw­ber­ry har­vest, due to the dry, warm spell, is excel­lent. The apri­cots (both orange and pur­ple), sweet Donut Peach­es (sor­ry, Mom and Dad, this time they were per­fect — not like the ones you had), and Dinosaur egg plums are all appear­ing in the mar­ket, and today we saw the first of what we hope will be bushels of blue­ber­ries. Tonight, we decid­ed to fol­low the cue of Edi­ble Van­cou­ver mag­a­zine and make this superb appe­tiz­er, Stuffed Apri­cots:

Stuffed Apricots

10 small, per­fect­ly ripe apri­cots
2 oz.(55g) blue brie or oth­er mild blue cheese
4 oz. (115g) cream cheese
10 small leaves fresh basil
20–40 pine nuts, toast­ed

Halve apri­cots and remove pits. Mix cheeses togeth­er until well blend­ed. Fill each apri­cot half with cheese and gar­nish with one basil leaf and one or two pine nuts.

Here’s what it ends up look­ing like:

Stuffed Apricots

Thanks again, Dad, for the cam­era.

Coming Up for Air and Tired Old Phrases

I’ve had to neglect blog­ging for much of this month, because I’ve been work­ing very hard. It’s hope­ful­ly going to work out in the end, but this is one of those times where I have to keep inton­ing that mantra “It’s Only Tem­po­rary.” So, while today was one of those pic­ture-per­fect days we in Van­cou­ver get in the spring and sum­mer, I must con­fess that I only saw it via the occa­sion­al peek at a the KatKam web­cam from my win­dow­less office. I might as well have been under­ground, instead out in the place that has once again been named by Mer­cer Con­sult­ing, Num­ber 4 of the ‘Top 5 qual­i­ty of liv­ing rank­ing for cities world­wide’. While I am proud of the fact that my home is once again up there with Vien­na, Zurich, Gene­va and Auck­land as one of the best places to live, I have to admit that for us per­son­al­ly, for a vari­ety of rea­sons,  it’s been a very tough past cou­ple months. How­ev­er, I’m look­ing for­ward to beau­ti­ful sun­ny days with cool breezes, local straw­ber­ries and aspara­gus, walks along the False Creek sea­wall and the return of the Farmer’s Mar­kets on the week­ends. The foun­tain in the park across the street is flow­ing again, and the tulips are out in full force. I just have to be sure to get out and enjoy all of those things. After all, they are all only tem­po­rary as well.

Heard Often. Way Too Often

To keep an eye on our for­mer coun­try, Pam and I have tried to catch one of the net­work news chan­nels from the US each evening over din­ner, so we keep switch­ing between TiVO record­ings of Bri­an (Williams), Katie (Couric) and Char­lie (pro­nounced the way Sarah Palin did in the puff-piece inter­views he did her, as the sharp, twangy CHAR-ly, Gib­son). I’ve been notic­ing an annoy­ing ten­den­cy by both the reporters as well as the pub­lic (and politi­cians) for using the same phras­es over and over again. Here are a few that I’ve just about had enough of:

Come Togeth­er
What does that phrase mean? Aside from the sex­u­al dou­ble-enten­dre, as far as I can tell, it means to have a pub­lic meet­ing where  prob­lems like gang vio­lence, racial strife and pover­ty are all mag­i­cal­ly over­come by an aura of good fel­low­ship. Sor­ry, I’m not buy­ing it. It’s an emp­ty phrase uttered over and over again in front of TV cam­eras by peo­ple who have no idea what they are say­ing.

Bipar­ti­san
Until recent­ly ‘bipar­ti­san’ used to mean some­thing. I think it meant that both of the big, icon­ic US polit­i­cal par­ties sup­port some­thing, as opposed to its more com­mon oppo­site, ‘par­ti­san’ (which now that I think of it, could have been Monopar­ti­san). Now,’ bipar­ti­san’ is uttered by politi­cians mean­ing (depend­ing on which side they are on)  ‘Some­thing I want­ed but nev­er got’ or ‘Some­thing we should all look like we are try­ing for even though we real­ly don’t want it any­way’.  Like Lite and Fat-Free or Sus­tain­able, it’s an now a mean­ing­less word held aloft like a flag of vic­to­ry or rag of defeat.

Wall Street always fol­lowed by Main Street
It used to be that you could say ‘Wall Street’ and every­body knew that it referred to the New York Stock Exchange, as well as the oth­er busi­ness and orga­ni­za­tions in that gen­er­al geo­graph­ic area of Man­hat­tan. Now, like Twee­dle Dee and Twee­dle Dum or Flot­sam and Jet­sam, it has become a stu­pid short­hand for the hos­til­i­ty between the rich and con­nect­ed in the Finan­cial Ser­vices Sec­tor vs. Mid­dle Amer­i­ca. Like two squab­bling chil­dren, we are sup­posed to make sure both are tak­en care of, but not to let the oth­er get jeal­ous or sulky. I hope they break up the idiom before it becomes anoth­er ‘prim and prop­er’ or ‘tooth and nail’.

Bailout
‘Bailout’ orig­i­nal­ly meant ‘an act of loan­ing or giv­ing cap­i­tal to a fail­ing com­pa­ny in order to save it from bank­rupt­cy, insol­ven­cy, or total liq­ui­da­tion and ruin’. (Wikipedia). Now it’s almost become a joke phrase, mean­ing  Free Mon­ey.  Enough, already. It’s nev­er fun­ny.

…and the word or phrase that I’ve found the both the most ubiq­ui­tous and annoy­ing­ly impre­cise on the news these past months:

Trans­par­ent
I’ve heard this word used so many times, I’ve start­ed doing the old Pee-Wee’s Play­house shtick (well, not scream­ing real loud, but say­ing ‘ding!’) every time it is uttered.  I think it was to sug­gest that like a glass house, the oper­a­tions and deci­sions of an orga­ni­za­tion (such as the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment) were to be eas­i­ly appre­hend­ed by the pub­lic, typ­i­cal­ly by using a Web Site or some oth­er pub­licly acces­si­ble medi­um. Wasn’t that what C-SPAN was sup­posed to do? (except of course, nobody but the wonks and fanat­ics both­ered to watch it). Again, like ‘Come Togeth­er’, Trans­par­ent is anoth­er word or phrase overused to the point of mean­ing­less­ness.

There are oth­ers, but these are the ones that come to mind today. I’m sure that in a few weeks I’ll be sick of ‘Tor­ture Memo’ and ‘Pan­dem­ic’, because they’ll have been made just as mean­ing­less through rep­e­ti­tion by that time.