Sunday, June 29, 2008

Making it without cable

A number of years ago, in anticipation of the birth of our first child, we purchased a home. At the time we decided not to connect the cable and, since the reception was poor, have lived without TV programming since. Sacrifices were made, but we coped: I went out to pubs, my brother's and friends' places to watch sports and we borrowed heavily from libraries and video stores. In the beginning the internet offered very little as an alternate source of programming; now, due to changes in technology and mind-sets known as Web 2.0, it provides for the bulk of our watching.

After years of watching clips, trailers, as well as short films on sites such as iFilm and AtomFilms, I can now watch prime time TV on-line (for those who care, it's legal): in 2007 the big three TV networks began streaming prime time content. ABC was the first to do so, and they did it well. In the player, you can select which show and episode of their line-up you wish to watch; the programs load fast and then you watch it commercial-free in full-screen. ABC broke ground again by offering the four seasons of Lost in HD. (So far, they're the only ones to provide HD content.) NBC's HULU player not only contains their impressive line-up (e.g., The Office and 30 Rock), but an extensive library of past shows and movies. On the whole, I've found that their player operates a little slower than ABC's player. CBS took their time getting on board and has only done so half-heartedly: CBS provides very few full-length episodes of prime time shows and consists mainly of clips, which are not always clearly marked as they are in HULU. CBS, however, does provide a good selection of older shows. On the cable side: Showcase provides streaming of many of their awesome shows, HBO does not.

Now if you live in Canada, like me, CTV is your destination. Not only does it provide great Canadian content, such as Corner Gas, but it also has a wide selection programs, from Mad Men to The Colbert Report. This like the American network offerings is commercial-free and loads quickly; the only catch is that CTV, only hosts programs that are currently being broad-casted, presumably to reserve bandwidth and server space (ABC does this to a lesser extent: only affecting the previous season's episodes). The only downside is that none of NBC's programming has made it to the site. Although HULU, like ABC and CBS, are restricted, there is an easy work around. Just download, install, and run Hotspot Shield prior to going to the respective web-site. It also offers decent protection in wi-fi hot-spots. An alternative is to install and run Tor bundle; this method can be slower, depending on the server choice and requires some effort to set up (Torbutton works well with FireFox).

Watching movies, except through HULU, is somewhat less legal; however, if they are streamed it's pretty much a grey area since no content is actually stored on your computer. In effect, you're just using an on-line service. However, since storing content is illegal most of the movies are difficult to find without using an indexing service. (Although some surprising finds can be made searching YouTube and GoogleVideo, particularly in the case of documentaries.) I have found that OnclickVideos and alluc are the best. Although both present the material differently, Onclick with thumbnails and alluc with listings, they provide links, often multiple ones, to a wide variety of movies (including new releases). Most links are current. Nevertheless, the quality and buffering speed varies greatly depending on who hosts the material, so try the alternate links.

Since news broadcasts have been available on-line for years, the big vacuum on-line is sports coverage. Very little is available and when it is it's not available in a decent resolution. Sports, like the movie industry, are hampered by distribution rights and neither has come up with an adequate distribution model. Even when a pay-per-view system is attempted, networks use the awkward and antiquated DRM in MediaPlayer rather than Flash or DivX. Today I tried to watch the EuroCup 2008 final via the internet and was disappointed with a message noting that all available bandwidth was used up. This occurred after I had paid and after the website showed it was available. I am currently in the process of trying to get a refund. I came across Jumptv, which promises unlimited access to nearly every sports match, but have not yet tried it. Of course, this would be easy if I lived in Britain or could subvert the British system as easily as the American one, for ITV and the BBC show a number of sports live. If you know of a way let me know. I have tried Tor and Hotspot Shield.

As a side-note regarding Canada: Although I really enjoy Canadian content and the CRTC's promotion of it, I bristle at the CRTC's slow adoption policy. Come on! Two years to get iTunes in Canada, and then another two to get TV shows via iTunes (by which time the service had become irrelevant, not to mention the poor selection). The same also applied to satellite radio. In general, Canadian distribution seems to be far behind in everything; I should know as I've paid a ridiculous amount in duty and the courier's extortionate broker fee just trying to get unavailable items shipped up here.

Getting here

A big part of me brightened when I read that SUV and big truck sales have plummeted, causing a shift toward the production of fuel-efficient cars and technologies. The success of Honda, which has the most fuel-efficient line-up, illustrates this point: it was the only company to show an increase in sales (1 percent) while the sales of other companies, such as GM, Toyota, Ford plunged by 18 to 28 percent. Another part of me asks, "How did we get here?" and "Why did it take so long to realize we were here?" In other words, "Why were SUV's ever so popular?" and "Didn't they lose their luster years ago?" Although I never purchased one, I recall being entranced by them, wanting one and thinking it would solve all my problems (I could go wind-surfing anywhere and sleep in the back). Nevertheless, a year or so after, me and my friends were mocking all those ads showing a "ute" that still had its last waxing untouched by dirt in the middle of a forest or on a mountain-top. Perhaps, their expression of power or not giving a damn made them so appealing. Perhaps, nostalgia drew us in; I still want to rebuild a 70's era Toyota Land Cruiser to relive my travels as a kid through deserts and jungles.

Likely, it's some wider marketing tool more closely related to Manufacturing Consent. The StoryofStuff does an excellent job of how this came about. Soon stories such as Vancouver City Hall's conversion of free parking spots to pay spots won't make the news. In other words, items that aren't free won't be considered as such. Besides an opportunity-cost, parking spots have many costs which remain outside of the profitability equation, oil and gas run-off being the most prevalent. The frequency of oil-logged pits in parking spaces and the rainbow effect of mixed oil and water after a rain hints at just how much oil leaks out. In the end, the eco-system pays, as do we: "Mercury with your fish, anyone?"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Harper's Apology

After my complaint, I was happy to learn Harper would make an apology for Canada's treatment of First Nations in residential schools; however, I was skeptical of how sincere or thorough he would be. Harper, however, delivered: his apology (text excerpts here) was so much more than the words of speech writers; his teary eyes said it all, so did the tears of those on the Hill. These effects continued to spread: a First Nations friend of mine who home-schools her children offered to provide a seminar on the traditions of First Nations in response to questions stemming from the apology. As a result I was shocked when I heard a woman on the bus refer to an apology for the treatment of First Nations in foster care, and follow with echoes of Poilievre's ill chosen words; I guess some don't get it. I do agree with some pundits that the apology could have gone further, perhaps then everyone will get it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pain's devouring and the earth's finest

Since April illness has struck my family; I can almost imagine Apollo's arrows flying overhead. I was the first victim with a back injury, then as I began to get better, my wife's chronic back condition flared up. She continues to be riddled with pain and in the meantime her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer and her grandmother has passed away. There is little one can do in these times but adapt. I now do most of the household duties and have had a difficult time completing my other work. The upside is I've gotten to spend more time with my family and I've been exploring new tastes since I now do all the shopping.

I have invested heavily in stimulants to combat my tiredness. One of my favourites is chocolate and I've tried many types: Chocolate Santander produces high quality single-origin bars; I have not been disappointed with any of their bars. The website has a graphic for each bar, which breaks down the flavours of each bar (this one's from the 70 percent cacao):

For an extra kick I turn to the 70% with Coffee Bits, although it does have a bitter after-taste. The 53%, my favorite, has a smooth caramel flavour and rich creamy texture.

OrganicFair is produced much closer to home in Cobble Hill. They have a much wider array of offerings, yet despite compelling combinations, some varieties remain inferior to other products. For instance, Chiapas with cinnamon, cardamom, and chipotle chile does not compare with Cocoa Camino's Chili & Spice. While Camino achieves a balance of flavours with one flavour complementing the next, the bitter chocolate and chile flavours in OrganicFair's offering overpowers the cinnamon and cardamom so much they are barely perceptible. Similar failings inhibit the Provence bar with lavender, rosemary, and sweet orange: these flavours are barely discernible. Although I admire their innovative flavour pairings, it does little good when the flavours do not balance each other. Fortunately, this is not the case with all their products. They achieve perfection with the Westcoaster, toasted hazelnuts and wild blueberries; here the rich smooth chocolate asserts its dominance, then the blueberries, and last the hazelnuts. A pleasant aftertaste lingers on the palate, which compels one toward further measured consumption. In Sakura, the only other bar in the Nuts and Berries category, bitter chocolate draws out the tangy crispness of candied ginger and rich sweetness of sundried cherries.

Unlike the above companies which only use organic and fairly traded ingredients, NewTree has not embraced this level of corporate responsibility. Despite this lack of foresight, they do produce a polished and delicious product, which catchy names, such as Crave, Vigor, and Blush, and an endorsement by Oprah don't belie. The blackcurrents in Renew burst on to a backdrop of rich buttery cocoa and the hint of lemon in Forgiveness cleanses the palate with each bite. Refresh is the only dark chocolate bar that disappoints: the mint just doesn't mix well with the choice of chocolate. The milk chocolate bars also have vibrant flavours, but these bars are sweet, condensed milk sweet. Although the apricot in Crave and cinnamon in Cocoon complement the sweetness, I have to be in the right mood to enjoy them.

Zazubean's flashy names like Flirt and Lunatic and promising flavour combinations attract, but don't deliver. When I tried Flirt, acai and cherries, I expected an experience comparable to the Westcoaster; however the tart, fresh berries were undermined by bland flat chocolate. The cherries were hardly noticeable. Although I would like to see Zazubean prosper given their corporate responsibility and use of high quality products, I am somewhat hesitant to try further varieties.

Whenever I'm in the chocolate aisle and unsure of what to pick, I turn to my longstanding favourites Terra Nostra and Bjornsted. Terra Nostra's Raisins and Pecans bar brings back the flavour of the Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar which I enjoyed as a kid, but no longer enjoy (I swear the chocolate was better and there were much more raisins and nuts in each bar). Their Double Dark Truffle has a rich soft centre nestled in a crisp shell. For a plain dark chocolate bar it's hard to top Bjornsted's Dark Chocolate bar; sweet bitterness is not a contradiction.

For ice cream sundays, chocolate milk or iced-coffees look no further than Wilderness Family Naturals' Raw Chocolate Syrup; with only two ingredients, organic agave nectar and cacao powder, the health benefits match the deep flavour and rich texture. A delectable iced-coffee can be made by mixing 1 cup of ice, a handful of blueberries, 2 shots of expresso, a tablespoon of Raw Chocolate Syrup and a cup of vanilla ice cream in a blender.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Orange Onslaught

After Holland's flawless entry into the World Cup and their dirty defeat by Portugal in the 16, much has been expected from this young squad of van Basten's design. Commentator after commentator has remarked on KNVB talent and their need for only experience. This team has matured since that ugly game and learnt from their mistakes. It was awesome to see such confidence in the team and van Basten getting along well-enough with van Nistelrooy. The 3-0 score was representative of Holland's dominance and abated any question on the significance of the first off-side goal. Normally I watch Holland's games with trepidation at the edge of my seat, and although it wasn't till the third goal that this abated, I have never been filled with such jubilation since the 80's. The dominance of their accurate passing punished the Italian side and van der Sar was there to mop up the few mistakes made by the competent and confident Dutch side. I hope their mental toughness and confidence to rush the other side continues against France.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Fevered Earth?

As I freeze in the stands watching my son's baseball games I often hear, "so much for global warming." To me it's seems like the earth has a fever, exemplifying symptoms of being cold while it's hot. Climate change means that dramatic climatic events will take place more frequently, not that politicians like Gary Lunn and George Bush can hit the beach at all times of year. This program clearly and concisely lays it all out.

In the meantime there's much that can be done, and much is being done in parts of the world. Portugal is constructing the world's largest solar farm and by 2020 plans to generate one-third of its energy from clean sources. Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Lyons have provided fleets of bikes available at self-serve kiosks throughout the city. In Paris, to borrow a bike you provide a credit card deposit and get the first one-half hour free and then pay accordingly. You can then leave bike at any kiosk. Unlike BlueBike programs which deterred theft by providing clunkers and never really took off, Paris's scheme is very popular. Lobby for similar goals and projects in your country; I am ashamed of Harper's goals and targets in mine.

Smaller-scale options include changing your spending habits and for "necessary" items purchasing green products. A number of clothing lines now produce clothes made from sustainable, organic, and fairly traded materials. MEC requires every cotton product to be 100 percent organic and even stores like Superstore offer the product. Bamboo is a great material because it absorbs four times the moisture as cotton and has anti-bacterial properties. Bamboo towels and sheets are awesome. Marks has a new line of bamboo briefs and Ingeo socks. They also have an Ethical Sourcing Program. In textiles, there's a wide variety of options out there (if you're ever in Victoria, head down to lower Johnson Street; you'll be amazed). Here's an article discussing some of them. It will be true progress, however, when all products are sustainably produced and biodegradable/recyclable, as they should be.

Remembering Greatness

It's uncanny how much Obama embodies Bobby Kennedy's qualities and how his presumptive nomination fell so close to the 40th anniversary of Bobby's death. The same hope was blossoming 40 years ago. Many have recalled the story of Bobby's impromptu speech in Indianapolis after Martin Luther King's death; the fact that very little violence erupted in the city after his speech is a testament to his effectiveness. The fact that he quotes Aeschylus further exemplifies his greatness:

The transcription is available here. Here's some articles on his life: Remembering and Who was.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Shralp's snow and surf video-casts not only consistently provide good coverage/footage of the various circuits and competitions but also do so in a fun and polished manner. Besides the great editing, they incorporate a wide variety of funky soundtracks. Watching them' s also a good way to get a first look at new trailers/teasers and short films; a new favourite with my family is Gnar Wars:

Some of my past favourites have been Purple Yeahh (the artwork of Christian Nuenschwander stands out and the reel-to-reel tape is cool), In Short (the back country footage of Alaska is great), 1st place Jib-Vid winner (remote control snowboarder with girly legs), and Teenage Love Graffiti (the graphics in the intro are awesome as is the rail to foam mattress trick and cutting of icicles). The video-casts come in a variety of formats, for phones, X-Box, et cetera; it looks especially sharp on my PSP.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Yesterday, after some doing, I finally got my hands on a Gardena Turbotrimmer. It took the better part of two months due to the inefficient and inaccurate inventory systems of HomeDepot and various e-stores I visited. At one point I was so frustrated with the phantom products and supposed shippings that I swore I'd revamp their systems. (If you're reading this HomeDepot and others, it's ridiculous that the salesperson cannot view shipping info from the product page). One advantage of the long wait is that the weeds in one corner of my lawn inaccessible by lawnmower have grown long and thick enough to adequately put the Turbotrimmer through its paces.
I purchased the Turbotrimmer because the guilt of running a two-stroke weed-eater had become too much, as had the rough running and constant stalls. I had too much grass to hand-scythe and disliked cords, so I opted for the cord-less model. The 18V lithium-ion battery provides more than enough power for my yard and that thorny corner of the lawn was effortlessly reduced to stubble. I did the backyard between rain showers and still had lots of power left after 20 min. The battery charger has a light on it to indicate whether the trimmer is fully charged or not, so there's no guess-work. I am fairly tall, 194 cm, and this product is fully adjustable so there's no need for me to stoop. Also, despite warnings in the manual, I was able to weed-eat in sandals and casual pants, as displayed on the box (I, at least, had my eye-glasses on).
The only disadvantages I experienced were that the guard gets in the way at times (I'm considering removing it, an easy operation) and the plastic blade wore pretty quickly, though by turning it around I'll get more wear out of it.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

New Hope

It has been quite a week: first, 109 nations approved a treaty banning cluster munitions, and second, the democrats now have a presidential nominee who may actually ratify such treaties. In the past large arms-producers have opposed similar treaties; however, these can still have an effect on the big guns, e.g., although the U.S., China, and Russia did not sign the 1997 landmine treaty, none of them have used landmines since. The above article has a good graphic on how cluster munitions work; in order to comprehend the extent they can damage an area check out this documentary where a virtual minefield has been created by unexploded bomblets. (I'm glad to see Dan Rather has moved on to better things).

I have been surprised about the relative vacuum on reports of Obama's crossing of the threshold (2,118 delegates, including pledged super delegates). Perhaps, the media's belief was suspended, like mine; I couldn't believe the Clinton/Obama race was over and that he's the Democratic nominee. Most of the news has centred on Hilary, e.g., secret meetings, her as vice president, will she concede. All of these stories have come and gone and we'll see if she fades from the limelight after Saturday and her concession speech. I am glad that she aims, at least on the surface, to unify the party, but I am wary of her as V.P. First, as Carter notes it's a bad decision. Second, some nut case would probably view assassinating Obama (something I worry about enough) as a good way to get Hillary in.

Despite all the focus on Hillary there's been some good reporting on him: the Guardian released a story on his Kenyan roots and a video which compiled his answers to various interviews. He's so down to earth. I love when he says that talking to his grandmother drove the fact that he had won home. After watching Katie Couric's interview of him I think he deserves the nomination for gracefully responding to her annoying questions for almost half-an-hour after such a long day. Obama makes so much sense and offers so much hope, "I think they [the American people] will select who they think can best lead this country into a safer more prosperous future. ... They will make a decision based on, is this the guy who can make our health care premiums lower, is this the guy who is actually going to break the addiction we have with foreign oil, is this somebody who can responsibly get us out of Iraq and allow us to invest those billions of dollars to rebuild the infrastructure here in America? ..." (from Couric's interview, in response to her question on racial bias). Brian Williams is a much better interviewer:


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