Friday, 18 November 2011

Hard Times for Good People

In light of all the news coverage of all the "Occupy" protests. I'd like to tell a true story of a very good friend of mine.  We all know times are hard.  The economy has bottomed out in many places, governments overspend, and the rich get richer.  My friend is no different to many people because he has been a victim of this bad period.

My friend retired early and decided he'd invest in a business that he could pass on to his children as a legacy, should it have been a success.  His plan looked doable and even a good idea.  Unfortunately his timing and luck worked against him as the economy got worse and worse.  He tried hard to make a go of it for many years but to no avail, his business failed.  Many people would have been legitimately despondent and I'm sure he wasn't happy.  Yet despite this, he managed to pick himself up and find another job to make up for his losses.  I'm sure that it wasn't easy because there aren't that many jobs to be found these days.  It isn't high paying or glamorous but it's enough to get him back on track.  He could have given up, had a tantrum, and gone to join all those protests over social injustice but he didn't.  He could have turned his nose up at this menial employment but he put on his big boy pants and went to work.   Many would have felt that low wage kind of work is below their dignity but I see the opposite.  It takes a person with integrity and self respect to perform these jobs whether they have been used to better or not.  He has always had my deepest respect but I admire him even more now.  He is a good role model and I am honored to be his friend.

To spin this back to all the Occupy protests, I see people who are complaining and have never worked,  and people who are living off of their parent's silver spoon complaining.  I find that I have very little sympathy.  No one gave my friend anything, he had to go back out and work for what he wants or should we all.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cross Border Excursion

Despite living only 20 minutes drive from the border with the USA, I find that I haven't been going across for visits as much as I used to.  Sometimes the hassle of border waits just doesn't justify any savings I might make in filling my gas tank.  Today my wife and I had the day off so we decided to take a little trip to Point Roberts.  Point Roberts is an isolated peninsula belonging to the United States but it is surrounded by Canada.  After a short drive we arrived at the border.
Of course after we performed our obligatory filling of the gas tank, we bought some food for a picnic and headed off to Lighthouse Marine Park.
The weather was milder than usual so we had an enjoyable lunch with a seaside view.  After lunch, we took a little walk along the beach.  The scenery was beautiful, the ocean breeze was refreshing, and we were amazed at how peaceful the area was.  I couldn't ask for a more relaxing outing.
My wife and I still have a few days off together so we plan on taking advantage of it with at least one more local adventure before it's back to the daily grind.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Under the Volcano

I have been interested in volcanoes for almost 40 years.  The interest was sparked from my father, who is a retired geological engineer.  I used to spend hours looking at all his old geology texts.  Almost all my childhood vacations involved road trips to one geological wonder or another, most of which were often volcanic in origin.  Dad also used to take me on his rock hounding trips.  I used to be rivited to the TV when there was National Geographic special featuring people like Maurice and Katia Krafft (world renowned married French volcanologists) adventuring up some active volcanoes.

I have seen everything from actively erupting volcanoes to long extinct skeletons of once great mountains and everything in between.  I could go on for pages of examples of what I have seen so instead, I thought I would share a few of my favorites.  I have picked several which are relatively unknown as well as a few volcano celebrities.  It is my plan to showcase more volcanoes in future blog entries.

Mount Savona

I grew up close to this extinct shield volcano in British Columbia's dry interior.  For those of you interested in the geology of this mountain, it is composed of brecciated basaltic lava flows  which erupted 30-50 million years ago.  This is a giant mountain which dominates the Thompson River valley.   I see it as a brooding sentinel, a comforting waymarker for my travels.  The local indigenous indian people used the caves in this mountain for their ceremonies and sometimes burials and consequently there has always been a legend about vistors to the mountain being cursed.

 I have hiked up to the caves several times out of curiosity and on rock hounding expeditions for volcanic opals.  I let you be the judge on whether I have been cursed or not.
Logger's Lake Cone

Approximately two hours drive from my home is Logger's Lake Cone, a 100,000 year old basaltic vent which is part of the Garibaldi volcanic belt.. This small cone has a crater filled with Logger's Lake.   This feature formed under a glacial ice sheet.  Despite it's proximity to Whistler BC, this destination is not well known.  I have enjoyed hiking the rim trail which encircles it.  I drove past this cone last month and could barely see it from the lookout.

Mount Baker

Mount Baker is a dormant composite volcano several hours drive southeast of my home.  I can see it out my windows.  Being an avid hiker, the Mount Baker area is my playground.  I have smelled the sulfurous emissions from Sherman crater and soaked in the backcountry hot spring at its base.  Mount Baker is one of the Cascade volcanoes with its last known activity being 100 years ago( probably a phreatic event).  In 1976 the mountain started getting more active with increased fumarolic activity in the crater.  It has not abated....nor has my love for this mountain.  Whether it is snowshoeing, skiing, climbing, or hiking, I intend to continue spending my time around this beautiful slumbering giant.


  It was a childhood dream of mine to actually experience a live eruption of a volcano, red lava and all.  In 2009 my dream came true when I went on a family vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii.  My wife purchased a helicopter trip for  my birthday so I could get to see the eruption close and personal.  It was arguably one of the best gifts I have ever received.  My only regret was that there was too much gas in Pu'u O'o vent to see the lava lake but I did get to see lava flowing through tubes from their open skylights and where it was pouring into the ocean.

Stay tuned for more volcanoes in future blog entries.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Turn the other Cheak-amous

 I haven't gotten out on as many backpacking trips as I used to so I took the opportunity of perfect weather and a long weekend to remedy this.  My son Aiden and my friend Vida joined me.  Since most trails and hiking locations tend to be gong shows on long weekends, I decided we should take a chance on an easy location which is often strangely quiet for overnighting.  Since it was a short hike, I decided to take a few toys along to play with.
Our campsite at Cheakamus Lake was nothing more than sublime, our neighbors were quiet and good natured, and a friendly ranger checked in and chatted with us a few times.  The bugs were not as bad as advertized and in the heat of the afternoon we decided to refresh ourselves with a little raft on the lake.
Dinner was cooked on a wood burning campstove (our way to circumvent the no fires rule).  Our friendly ranger reluctantly allowed us to use it and we had backups just in case he didn't.

Last night we watched the stars and Milky Way stretch across the sky...a special treat for us city dwellers who don't often get to see such a spectacle.  This morning I got up early and watched the sunrise over the lake while savoring my coffee.
I can't wait for the next trip!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

From Farm to Farmer's Market

Today I decided to take my son out berry picking.   Blueberries are currently in season.

It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon and while I was picking it got me thinking about how lucky I am.  All too often we take for granted all things familiar to us where we live.  I'd like to say that I am truly grateful to live in an island city surrounded by ocean on one side and the river with bordering rich productive farmland on the other sides.  Food is plentiful and fresh.  My family takes advantage of all the local produce that is harvested here.  If we don't pick it ourselves, there are plenty of local farmer's markets to suit our needs.

While I am not fanatical about buying local or organic, I do so when I can.  I want our farmers to prosper and feel valued for what they provide.  It alarms me when I see good farmland being sold to real estate developers to build more condos and golf courses.  I feel the same about our local fisheries.  I am often found roaming the docks in Steveston nearby looking to buy something fresh off a fishing boat moored there.

Even what I drink is often local by choice.  I love microbrews.   Today"s beverage, after a hot day's berry picking, is a Raspberry Ale by Granville Island Brewery.

I am truly blessed living in a land of plently.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ice Ice Baby

As you can probably see from previous pictures in my blog, I love shave ice.  I have never really seen it anywhere other than in my travels to warm destinations or occasionally in fairs on hot summer days.  In Hawaii, shave ice is served with the same amount of pride as is Spam.  Indeed the competition for who makes the best shave ice on various Hawaiian islands is fiercely fought over and local media food critics frequently write columns featuring their favorite vendors.

Why do I like this simple concoction of ice and various flavored syrups?  Why is it any different from gabbing a Super Slurpee from the 7 Eleven down the block?  What makes it unique from all those blended lime margaritas I am often found imbibing?   The answers to these questions boils down to the location where it's served and recognition of the artistic pride and/or talent that goes into making it.  Getting the right shave, ice crystal density, and syrup distribution through the ice is different between establishments as is the selection of flavors.  Shave ice is refreshing and feels surprisingly light despite all the sugar there is in the syrups.   Eating ice cream does not feel the same.  Shave ice can be personalized in thousands (if not millions) of different flavor combinations.  It's also cheap.

Despite owning my own ice shaver (for those previously mentioned margaritas), I wouldn't attempt making shave ice at home.  The location would be all wrong and that would sour the experience.  I doubt I could get it right anyways and it only has two ingredients!

Perhaps the biggest reason I love shave ice is that I only have it on vacation.  It could be a simple matter of conditioning.  Eating shave ice triggers all the good time, relaxing, freedom feelings and memories.  Perhaps if it were readily available, it would lose its attraction....but it's not, so I can continue to look forward to many more shave ices in the future.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Maui à la carte

I am just back from a ten day trip to Maui with my family, my fourth trip to Hawaii.  The last time I visited Maui was sixteen years ago and the last time to Hawaii was two years ago which was a visit to the Big Island.  My family loves Hawaii.  I love the climate, playing in the ocean, the natural beauty, the geology, the beautiful Hawaiian people and culture, and all the fresh fruit.  Did I mention how much I love shave ice?  This keeps us coming back and indeed, we plan to visit Kauai in another two years.

Oahu never really appealed to me because of how busy Honolulu and Waikiki are.  It's just a little too crowded and the simple charm of a tropical paradise seems to get lost beneath all the hustle and bustle of a busy modern urban landscape.   You can be rewarded if you dig hard enough.  A good example of this would be visiting the Bishop Museum or Queen Emma's summer palace.  The big island of Hawaii on the other hand, is like the antithesis of Oahu.  It is a very relaxing place to visit where you can do as little or as much as you want without it being forced on you. The locals are more interested in living their own lives than intruding into yours.  This brings us to Maui.

The Maui of sixteen years past was like a good mix of Oahu and the Big Island.  It was busy but it didn't interfere with my rest, recreation, or simple enjoyment of island culture.  The island still had pineapple plantations and sugar cane was still sometimes(albeit rare) being cut by hand.  Parking anywhere was largely free and roads to some awesome spots, like Mekena Beach, were still dirt tracks so consequently less people were found there.  As expected after a long period between visits, things have changed.

The Maui of today is not only crowded and more developed, but it has become predatory to its tourists.  It felt like I was visiting Mexico rather than a mellow vacation spot in the USA. As a matter of fact, in a conversation with a fellow passenger on the flight back, he felt he''d rather stay in an all inclusive resort in Mexico than be continuously shelling out cash in Maui.  The pineapple plantations are almost all gone(the last surviving plantation now charges $65/person to tour it).  Many of the rustic  shops selling inexpensive souvenirs have been replaced by pretentious boutiques like Gucci or Louis Vuitton.  The island was filled with hustlers soliciting things I wasn't interested in.   Phrases like "buy two for half off the second?", "want to upgrade?", "get your *insert item here* for only $$ extra", and "that will cost you more" happened at almost every interaction.  They even pushed for me to add scoops of ice cream to the bottom of my beloved shave ice!  Things that were free before, now cost.  Parking for free was rare.  Often when I did pay "extra" for some service, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, an example my family's intermittent and slow internet service.  Price gouging was rampant.  Rather than making me mad, all this swindling activity made me sad.  It is a shame seeing a jewel lose its luster.  I dispair in witnessing a place with a unique culture being transformed into another generic beach resort destination.

 Maui is a beautiful island with some truly beautiful locals.  Like Oahu, you now have to make an effort to find those quaint charming places and talk to some authentic happy local Hawaiians.  Take the time to enjoy the simple things like the ocean and the countryside.  Do some snorkeling at Olowalu Beach.  Buy some huli huli chicken and macaroni salad and go for a picnic.

Aloha A hui hou

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Better Late than Never

At last it's strawberry season after a cold and wet spring delay.  I'd rather pick them in the wild but using a U-pick is still a favorite family activity for me.

Despite the late season, the berries are sweet and plentiful.

Since we are leaving on vacation in less than a week, we decided to only pick a couple pails full.  It was still six pounds worth!

The rewards were well worth the effort!  My wife's strawberry shortcake is one of my favorite deserts and I even made some freckled strawberry lemonade.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Oh no, another gadget!

Recently I entered the growing tablet community.  Already owning a netbook and in my ignorance, I used to scoff at the lack of utility for tablets...."they're just smartphones on steroids", I used to say.  I had similar views on smartphones until I bought an Apple iPhone 4 this past winter.  Now the iPhone is an indispensable tool for me.  So what can a tablet do for me that a Netbook can't?...very little however, it's significantly lighter, faster, and lasts three times longer on a battery charge.  Granted most tablets are really nothing more than platforms that allow people to browse the internet, get caught up on social media, and play games, there are a few that can do much more...Mine in fact.

Before purchasing my tablet, I researched very carefully.  An Android model or Apple iPad2?  I leaned heavily in favor of the iPad because I was already familiar with using the Apple iOS (thanks to my iPhone) and I had invested hundreds of hours into my playlists and soundtracks on iTunes.  I really wanted something to bridge the gap between my netbook, and Acer Aspire One, and my iPhone.

The iPad just seemed to lack the productiveness I was used to when traveling with the netbook.   I eventually chose an Asus Eee Pad Transformer with it's optional Keyboard docking station.  

Although I had some misgivings with using Android Honeycomb 3.1 operating system, an unkown to me, the Transformer had the tools I wanted.  They keyboard docking station holds a second battery which can charge the tablet and extend it's time from 8 to 16 hours, usb ports to run peripherals, and SD card slots for additional memory.  The keyboard would also come in handy when I had serious typing to do. 

Asus also comes Polaris Office app which allows you to create and modify the same work you can with Microsoft's Office. 

Of course my favorite feature on my Transformer has got to be the mini HDMI connection  It is fun playing games and HD movies through my device and onto one of my bigger flat screen TVs.

Not being familiar with Android, I was pleased that the learning curve was steep.  Navigating the file system was very different from Windows.  The widgets were a new concept for me but I really like how they can transform a simple app icon into something more visually appealing and usefull.  Honeycomb makes iOS look like nothing more than a warehouse for app icons.  The 3d graphics rendering using Nvidia's Tegra 2 duo core processors is stunning.  Videos play smoothly without stuttering encountered on other media platforms.

I believe I have come close to finding that one device which bridges the gap between phones and netbooks.  In the process I have learned a new operating system.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cameras, Cameras Everywhere!

Have you noticed that every gadget that is created these days has a camera built in it?  Smartphones, computers, tablets, kids gaming platforms like the Nintendo DS are a few examples.  I think the only toys I have without a camera in them are my GPS and my eReader and even they have been looking at me kinda strangely these days!

In less than a month my family and I will be flying to Maui for a much deserved vacation.  Between the four of us, we will be carrying a total of 7 cameras on various devices and believe me, we could take plenty more!   I do have cameras which are specifically designed to be nothing but cameras and we'll be taking three on our trip.  Some perform specific functions like one is better at videoing in HD, another is bombproof and works well underwater, and one is easily carried in a pocket.  I'm leaving my big SLR camera with all the lenses and whatnot at home this time.

Is it social media that is driving all this camera madness?  Perhaps, but I am a self-confessed geek who loves technology and toys.  My family has come to expect me to have my vacation pictures uploaded and shared daily no matter where I am in the world.  My parents and inlaws have been housebound for years and really appreciate it.

So to end this particular blog entry with a little irony, I will not add a picture to it.

Monday, 25 April 2011

My Second Life

This week I tried an online escape very similar to the MMO's(massively multiplayer online games) that I was once addicted to.  It is called Second Life.  I know, I'm a little behind the times but it is a form of social networking that I haven't experimented with until now.  I created an avatar which looks akin to me only he is skinny, young, and can move without any aches or pains...OK, he doesn't look one bit like me!

Perhaps my entry into a Second Life is too late or I haven't yet visited the right places because I have so far found my travels through it to be hauntingly unsettled.  Compared  to WOW (World of Warcraft) which is teaming with people on most of its servers, SL seems disturbingly underpopulated like I have arrived after some sort of major apocalypse has taken place.  I find my lonely avatar walking  (and sometimes flying) through empty virtual boroughs long abandoned by their creators, shopping concourses filled only with the echos of previous inhabitants and customers.  I feel like Charlton Heston's Omega Man.

 This is not to say I haven't met other people.  There are the usual mix of degenerates one should expect from a fantasy world where you can be whatever you want, however, the smaller population makes the freaks shine like beacons.  Do you know how hard it is to have a serious conversation with a man sized toucan, a purple and blue fairy(wings and all), and someone who was flopping around like a seizuring gothic zombie?  I understand that this is exactly the place where someone can and should feel free to interact any way they want.  Perhaps I have outgrown it just like I kicked my dependency on MMO's.

Not all my experiences have been bad in Second Life.  I have managed to find a secluded tropical island very much like my favorite place in real life, Hawaii.  The surf roars in and Hawaiian music, (streamed from a radio station on Oahu) fills my ears as I take in the view and just daydream about really being there.  It relaxes me.  Perhaps I have found a reason for my Second Life.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The State of Soccer/Football in my household

Now I will never understand how someone becomes a soccer parent.  I have always personally  despised organized sporting activities and avoided them like the plague.  Indeed, I am often found gazing despairingly at the people on our local soccer field, as I am walking or driving by, which seems to run 24/7.  Don't these crazy people ever sleep!  They do it in any weather too!  Somewhere in my head, there is a disconnect between amateur community based sport and professional although I know you really can't have one without the other.  Partly, I think it's because I have observed so many kids, who really don't look like they are having any fun, and their obsessive parents, who appear to be pressuring them far too much.  My wife hated the game but felt compelled to play soccer as a child out of love and devotion to my father in law, who was the president of the local soccer league.

I cheered for Canada's soccer team when we went to the world cup in 1986 in Mexico City.  In 1990 I became fan of the Italian world cup soccer team and haven't missed a world cup match series since... not one game!

 In 2007, I took my father in law to a semifinal match of the FIFA World Cup under 20 and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.   Locally, I took note of our local soccer team as it started out as the Whitecaps, changed it's name to the 86r's, and now back to the Whitecaps again.  Our local team was pretty mediocre until they joined the North American MLS this year, a premiere league.  After going to one of the Whitecap's first home games, I have decided that what makes this soccer (Football Club) truly fun to follow and watch, is their loyal fan base.  Whether it is the rowdy support of the ravenous horde, which call themselves the "Southsiders", or the cacophonous cheering and heckling from the other 20,000 fans, it is an event well worth experiencing.  I have been assimilated into their collective!

This year I am making an effort to spend more time with my 13 yr old son, Aiden.   I have not only been enjoying his maturing company but also his growing interest in the game.  So today was our first Whitecaps game together with , I hope, many more to share in the future. 

Oh and we tied 3-3!