Friday, April 28, 2006

Reverting to form

I came across this picture while going through Washington Post's "Day In Photos" feature. In the picture, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is switching from an alternative fuel vehicle (used for his press conference on gasoline prices) to his SUV. Sometimes you just can't improve on reality.

Making the switch

Unfortunately screen-capped as opposed to directly attributed due to the Washington Post's Flash interface

Monday, April 24, 2006

Viva Fifa!

The tickets have arrived! In a little over a month, four good friends (Pedro, Geoff, Karl and myself) will be in Europe to watch the FIFA World Cup and, in general, have the time of our lives.

Destination Germany

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Concept Commerce

This site made me smile. Click through, for products that are more interesting than they are useful.


(via Drawn!)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Re-Post: The friends begin to assemble (or Weil am Rhine Part II)

Original posted on: June 23rd, 2004

After Ulm, Karl and I returned to the Maurer's in the Weil am Rhein region. It was not to be a good day for train travel.

Our train from Ulm to Friedrichshaven Stadt was delayed half an hour in the station due to a derailment further down the track. When we arrived in Friedrichshaven our next connecting train didn't arrive for an hour and half. Luckily Friedrichshaven is probably the most beautiful place ever to have a stop over. We spent the hour and half sitting along the pier which is just outside the train station. It was very beautiful with Switzerland and the Alps filling in the background behind the lake. On the lake little white sailboats floated, enjoying the beauty of the day as well.

The beautiful harbour

In case the beauty proved too monotonous, an irate white swan and a group of unwary school children provided entertainment.

Karl confronts the swan after it has attacked his backpack

After arriving successfully in Haltingen we waited to pick up Kyla from the train station. She was supposed to arrive at 8 o'clock, but numerous checks at the train station and two trips to Basel later she still hadn't arrived. At midnight we had run out of ideas for what to do, four hours had passed and six trains from Frankfurt (her last connection) had come and gone, so we returned home. Just as we entered the door, the phone rang and to our immense relief Kyla's voice greeted us from the other end. She was in Haltingen (the same village as us) and with a guy she had met by the train station named Raphael. We found out later that she had power problems on her train from the Netherlands into Germany. Two hours later in Frankfurt and not knowing German, she got some extremely inefficient advice and added a few more stops to her journey. Needless to say, we are quite thankful Kyla is with us.

Tuesday we headed to the alps. The day started off cloudy and you couldn't see a thing from the top of the mountain we had decided to ascend by tram. We waited it out over lunch though, and by the time we had finished eating the surrounding mountains started appearing one by one. It was an absolutely amazing effect to look down at once was complete white and now was an extremely long and straight drop to the lakes and villages below. As we walked down the mountain the weather becoming increasingly more beautiful until it was a full out gorgeous day. It was one of the most beautiful walks I've ever been on. The trail weaved it's way down the mountain over hills dotted with flowers, through small villages, past farm yards and through pastures where classic swiss cows grazed. The sound of the cow bells carries for miles and creates a soothing yet surreal effect I wont soon forget.

A view from the top


A small chapel set against the hill

What was previously a wall of white

Our "Sound of Music"esque shot

A random encounter

The cow that fell in love

The valley

Wednesday is today, and I've stayed back to get some rest while Karl and Kyla have gone out with Richard to see more of the Black Forest. Tonight we'll watch the Germany Czech soccer match. Then tomorrow we'll take off for Paris, our meeting point with Sherri (the final member of our travelling group). Then the travels will truly begin. We've been completely spoiled up to now (and we've loved every minute of it) staying with relatives and connections, but tomorrow it's time to actually set off on our own and travel. I'll try my best to keep you all posted.

Ed: As mentioned the trail we took wound its way through farmer's fields. In one of these fields (see shot labeled "The cow that fell in love") I met with a large cow. Since we wanted to walk right in its path, I decided to try and be friendly and pet him. If you click on the picture for the close up you will see the result, the cow giving me a big sloppy lick (I'm not pulling out the cow's tongue, as it appears). Anyways, the cow became my instant best friend and decided to follow me. What made this all the more disconcerting was the fact that we were travelling downhill and here was a gigantic beast following me with a loud clanking sound and its head literally within a foot of my back. I wasn't concerned that the cow meant me harm (it clearly adored me), but the fact is that a cow travelling downhill isn't the most graceful creature. I would describe the motion as periodically checked descent and this, as mentioned, just a foot from my rear. I was quite relieved when we finally entered the next field.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

If only he had email

There are times in our lives where we, much like King Solomon, ask ourselves what is the point of all our possesions.

What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?

ECCLESIASTES 1:3, NRSV, the new email account for the world's discerning elite, encourages us to probe even deeper, "What is the point of a yacht in Monaco... when you are just one out of billions on the Internet?"

Luckily, Millionaires24 has an answer. For the distinguishing price of 399 US$ a month, a limited group of 10,000 people will be able to have web based email with less features than most free accounts. As Ray Smuckles would say, "At this level the market demands non-linear value."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Update: Bomb Squad Collects Power-Ups

Some brighter news for today, in a follow up to the original post:

Charges will not be filed against six juvenile girls who placed brightly wrapped boxes at several locations in Ravenna on March 31, Portage County Prosecutor Victor V. Vigluicci said today.

Beacon Journal | Girls won't be prosecuted after bomb squad called on art project

In a State of War

Here's an inflammatory quote for the day*:

Clawson said that he would prefer to rely on sabotage and other clandestine activities, such as "industrial accidents." But, he said, it would be prudent to prepare for a wider war, "given the way the Iranians are acting. This is not like planning to invade Quebec."

The New Yorker: The Iran Plans

The subject is America's plans for dealing with Iran. The New Yorker, as usual, provides a well reasoned and well researched article. The BBC also has some information on the author of the article.

As pointed out in the article, a tactical win through brute force, is not necessarily a psychological win while dealing with Fourth Generation style warfare. It is interesting that with the evolution of sub-state warfare, pacifism becomes not an alternative but often the only viable approach.

*To be clear, the quote is a merely a hook

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Re-Post: Ulm Summary

Original posted on: June 23rd, 2004

Karl and I spent the weekend in Nattheim, a small town just outside Ulm. The town is note worthy for having two stoplights, one school and being the temporary residence of Jan and Olga Hoffman. Over all it was a very low key weekend, but it was really good for me to get a chance to see Olga again. Olga is a young lady who stayed at our place two winters ago while student teaching in Winnipeg. Stephen and I consider her our older sister from a different mother (....and father).

Olga and Jan

I'll briefly summarize the highlights for us:

On Friday we attended the school where Olga was teaching. Due to it being a small town, and the children never having seen a Canadian before, we had instant celebrity status. After showing the kids pictures of Winnipeg from a coffee table book about our city, the majority of kids wanted to move immediately to Winnipeg and live there... poor kids. Also, I was the fastest Grade 1er at subtracting numbers under 20 in German. I finished first in my initial round (knocking Karl out of competition) and then stole the show in the final round with a convincing victory. I was appointed math king for the day and received an official certificate (Mom if you're reading this, save some space on the fridge).

Myself, proudly bearing the certificate

Saturday was Jan's birthday and we celebrated outdoors in the evening. Someone had created an oversized Twister mat, and we had a team competition. Our team arose victorious thanks to Karl's strategic game play and Olga's superior strength.

Awwww, two locally brewed bottles by candlelight

Playing Twister

Sunday, we went to Ulm munster which has the largest church spire in the world. We climbed up the numerous spiral staircases to the top, for a total step count of around seven to nine hundred (Karl counted, I'll get an exact figure later).

The inside of the spire

We then stopped by an Italian ice cream shop, which had the most creative visual designs for ice cream in a bowl I've yet to see, along with a wide range of excellent flavours. Later Karl and I took the Hoffmans out to a Sardinian restaurant they knew of for an excellent supper.

Italian Eis!

...and that was our stay. Thanks Olga and Jan for your hospitality.

Ed: It never struck me until a friend came back from Germany and shared a similar experience of the elaborately created Italian ice cream creations, that this seems to be something unique to Germany. I travelled Italy and while it was no problem to find Gelati, I never came across these crazy "Italian" ice cream inventions. Perhaps it shares a similar story to the infamous Döner, which was popularized by Turkish immigrants to Germany, but differs from its original form to appeal to a German market.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Re-Post: Weil am Rhine (Part I)

Original posted on: June 19th, 2004

I don't really function by dates, but I guess it would be good to give you some since I'm always posting slightly later than the actual event.

Monday late afternoon on June 14th, we arrived at the one track train station of Haltingen, just a six minute train ride from Basel Badischer Bahnhof. There we were greeted by the Maurers (our hosts) and two incredibly cute grandchildren. After the short ride to their house (essentially three blocks away), we sat outside on the patio for some really good ice cream. If you ever worry about becoming old, come visit the Maurers, they are the most active, busy and entertaining grandparents I have yet to meet.

Tuesday morning we woke up and after a good breakfast, took off for some hiking in the black forest. We drove part way and then climbed up a large hill/small mountain called Blauen. It was a fairly steep hike, but the Maurers never lagged and we were soon to the top. The view was spectacular and when the clouds were replaced by the sun in the distance, we could see all the way to the Swiss alps. From the top, Richard pointed out another large hill/small mountain, telling us he had climbed up with skis and then skied down. Imagining what it would like to accomplish such a feat, I imagined myself undergoing a few weeks of training to prepare or at the very least upon reaching the top, spending a day not moving. So I asked Richard how long ago he had done it. Last year, was his response. Now you may begin to see what I am talking about when I say they are active people.

Hiking through the black forest

Coming out on top of Blauen

After descending the mountain, we grabbed some gelati at little store in a classically European looking little village.

When we returned home we were treated to an authentic meal from the area. For our meal we had Raclette. Essentially cheese on everything, Raclette is an ingenious idea where you melt Raclette cheese in a special device and then pour it over potatoes, tomatoes, whatever you feel like really. You can also throw in onions, peppers or meat in with your cheese on the melting tray to excellent effects. How you Raclette is up to you. The combinations are endless, but all the combinations I tried tasted absolutely amazing. Then to top the meal off, genuine Black Forest cake was brought out. It tasted great, but our host, Richard, looked disappointed. Something was missing. A few seconds later he came out with a bottle of "Cherry Water", alcohol distilled from the local cherry harvest. A light (i should probably put quotations around light too) sprinkling of "Cherry Water" later and we could never go back to the Safeway version of Black Forest cake.

Having Raclette on the terrace

After lunch we biked to two of the garden plots owned by the Maurers. It was a relaxing and beautiful ride that wound through the small town and hilly vineyards to get to the garden plot and small orchard.

At the orchard with Richard

After returning home and relaxing a bit we set off to their daughter's by bike to watch the Germany Netherlands match.

The next morning we took off fairly late (due to me being so faithful and writing posts for you guys) and headed for Basel by car. We walked around the city a bit and saw some of the major sites. Basel is a very beautiful city with small winding roads, many only accessible by foot.

A narrow street in Basel

Shopping for basil in Basel (I thought it was clever)

Walking by the shops you can definitely sense that this is a city for the rich (or at least not the budget traveller). In the evening we watched slides with the Maurers, which at first may sound like a recipe for boredom, but when the slide show is with the Maurers is anything but. Travelling in a foreign country you notice the differences. As Karl and I travelled, we were amazed by the history of the place, the outstanding food and so forth. The Maurer's slides, on the other hand, showed the opposite perspective, what it was like to be a European visiting America. Things so unbelievable they had to be documented on film included, obese people (evidenced by a photo taken in the zoo of the overweight people attending, not the animals) and the fact that dilapidated automobiles were allowed on the road (seeing once such vehicle, Margit stopped on the side of the road to pose by a rusted out truck with her granddaughter).

The next morning was our last of "Part I" (we were to return in a few days to meet Kyla) and Karl and I did a relaxed walk through Basel in the morning and then said farewells and took off for Ulm (our next destination).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bomb Squad Collects Power-Ups

Police in Ravenna Ohio were called in on Friday (March 31) to investigate packages looking suspiciously like power-up cubes found in Mario games. I don't know how big Ravenna Ohio is or how much of a terrorist target it could be, but nobody seems to be fooling around over there. The girls may face criminal charges. The website that inspired them has this to say:

To clarify some of the points in the article: this is not a sinister 'game', it is supposed to be a comment on public spaces being routinely used for advertising (billboards, etc) but not for art (these boxes). Also, despite what Ravenna Police Chief Randall McCoy says, the purpose of these boxes is not "just to see what kind of response you get". It is to bring a smile to people's faces, to get them to connect with their neighbours, to bring colour into an otherwise grey urban landscape. Posterchild and myself are both deeply sorry that things are not working out in Ravenna. - poster child mario question blocks!

It's a sad day when paranoia replaces what could have otherwise made someone smile.

Related Post: Brilliant! - Two subversive additional ways to make people smile