Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I remember back in the summer of 1997 while I was working for the Sandbox at Acadia I saw my first ever Shockwave cartoon. It was a thing done up for the Chemical Brothers song “Block Rockin’ Beats.” When I saw this for the first time, I knew this technology would revolutionize the internet. I know that Flash and Shockwave are different, but they produce more or less the same effect, and it seems that most everybody uses Flash these days instead of Shockwave, so I am just going to consider them to be the same thing. Since the summer of ’97 I have seen perhaps hundreds of Flash cartoons, and have even learned a bit of Flash myself.

One of my all-time favorite Flash cartoons has to be “Punk Kittens” by Joel Veitch of I don’t recall how I first came across this gem, but it is certainly one of his finest works. Another great Flash cartoon is “Laid-Off: A Day in the Life” by Todd Rosenberg at Again, I don’t remember how I stumbled on it, but I sure do like stumbling back to it every once in awhile. If games are more your thing, check out for a great selection of time-wasting Flash goodness. has also stolen many hours from my life. If you go there, you must check out "The French Erotic Film" (nothing erotic about it really).

It has always been my dream to create one of these crazy popular Flash cartoons that gets forwarded all over the net. The “Online Virtual Gong Project” does not seem to be taking off so far. I do have an idea for one that I think might work, but then I think of how much effort I had to put in to my short Flash bio, and I wonder if it is worth the effort. One day I will get motivated and unleash my masterpiece on the web, but until then we will have to rely on the old favorites to get us through.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I got an email earlier this week from an old coworker / friend inviting me to a party to celebrate her leaving EDS and going off to start a new job with a small local company. Coincidently, I had been invited to a retirement party for another friend who had been working at CMHC for 30-some years. I went to both parties last night, and had a great time hanging out with some old friends.

In my time at the CMHC client site, I went to at least four retirement parties, and received countless more emails about others in the organization who were retiring, typically with 30+ years of service. In my 6 years with EDS, I don’t think I ever saw a single note about a retirement. It seems that nobody can stand working there long enough to reach retirement age. I remember getting my pension statements from EDS and agonizing over my “normal retirement date” of 2041 or so.

Maybe it is because EDS is a “high tech” company and as such typically employs younger people, but I prefer to think that there is a fundamental cultural difference between the two organizations. I have not worked at enough different places to know if it is strictly a difference between public and private sector, but I imagine there are private firms that value and respect their employees much more than EDS does (and there are probably public sector organizations that do so less). Everyone seems to complain about where they work, but I often said that if I was a CMHC employee instead of an EDS employee, I would probably still be working in my old job.

I think corporate culture is partly one of these chicken / egg scenarios, in that it is hard to say whether a company attracts good people because it is a good company to work for, or if any company that employs a good group of people naturally becomes a good company to work for. In my experience comparing EDS to CMHC, I think the former becomes evident. I cannot remember how many good people have left EDS out of frustration with the way the company is treating them. I know there are some people who left CMHC because of that as well, but not nearly on the same scale. I don’t know how a company that relies on people for nearly 100% of their revenue generation could be as foolish as to let all their talent walk (or in many cases, run) out the door. They will pay in the long run as they will start losing customers in much the same way, unless they wake up and shake things up from the top down.

I know that many CMHC folk would argue that CMHC is not such a great place to work, but from what I have seen, you could do a lot worse. I figure any organization where a person can work for more than 30 years without being committed to the psych ward has to have something going for it. The next time I am being interviewed, I will be sure to ask how many retirement parties the company has had in the past year.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Google Update

I was happy to discover tonight that when you search for my name and any other keyword related to my life, my site is coming up 1 or 2. So for example, of you search for "andrew baxter wolfville" (no quotes required), there I am. I also discovered, oddly enough, that searching for "wolfville school" brings my website up somewhere on page 2 of the results. Of couse, I will not rest until searching for "andrew baxter" alone returns me at #1.
Sometime back in March I took a technological quantum leap forward and started using a VOIP phone from Primus. I love this phone. For $30 / month I get a full feature phone line with unlimited long distance within North America, and great rates overseas. I was a little skeptical of this offer since the traditional phone companies always seem to have restrictions on their “unlimited” packages. I was happy to discover this was not the case with Primus. In the past two months I have amassed over 3000 minutes of long distance and paid not a dime more than the flat monthly rate. I would like to see Telus even try to compete with that.

I remember when I worked at Nortel in 1998 VOIP was on the verge of becoming the “next big thing”. Nortel was heavily invested in ATM technology (no, not bank machines) and somehow were convinced that TCP/IP would never be reliable enough to use for telephone calls. I have to admit that they were not entirely wrong. The VOIP phone is not without its problems. It does drop the odd call, and Joan often complains of echoes on her end. However, the appeal of VOIP is not in its reliability, but instead in its price. Nortel may have misjudged how tolerable people would be of the minor inconveniences of VOIP, considering the difference in price between the new internet phones and the old school telco phones.

In this case, I guess I am an early adopter. Traditionally early adopters paid a premium to be the first to possess hot new technologies. When it comes to VOIP, we are instead being rewarded with almost equivalent phone service at a fraction of the cost. The traditional economics have been turned around, and it seems to be disturbing some of the big telephone companies, who have been living off the fat of their monopolies since the beginning of the telephone era. If companies like Telus had bothered to pass along the savings from implementing new digital communication solutions to consumers, we might not be so quick to run off and play with the new kid on the block. Their greed will be their downfall.

Telus, if you are reading this, I am happy with my new internet phone, and I expect you will never get another cent from the pocket of Andrew Baxter.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I am back in Calgary after a lovely long weekend in Vancouver. The weather was typical of Vancouver, but the company more than made up for it.

Joan took me to my first ever real live rodeo in Cloverdale on Sunday. The rodeo was all right, though I don’t think Cloverdale attracts the “A list” cowboys. None of them seemed to be able to make the requisite eight seconds before being bucked off. It was still some good entertainment sandwiched between an extended walk in the rain and a decidedly sketchy visit to the rodeo saloon.

There were also a number of successful home improvement projects on the go this weekend. Joan and I paid a visit to the Home Depot on Saturday and picked up some supplies, and made her place marginally nicer than it already was. While there, we ran into our friends Lauren and Jim among the hordes of long-weekend shoppers.

You know how when you want to describe a large group of people, you use the phrase “everybody and their dog”? Well, at the Home Depot on Saturday this would-be hyperbole proved to be almost literal. I don’t know why, but many, many people had their dogs at the Home Depot. I expect the owners deceived their dogs into coming with them by saying they were going for a walk in the park or something. In my opinion, dogs should not be allowed in the Home Depot. Maybe Petcetera, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

As usual I had a wonderful time in Vancouver, and Joan was the best hostess anyone could hope to have. Coming back to Calgary gets harder every time. That sounds like it could be the beginning of some kind of song. I will see if I can flesh it out a little.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Google Update

Well, due to my optimization efforts, my main website now sits at #14 in the google search results for "Andrew Baxter". It came at a price though, this blog has dropped to #68.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I can’t believe it is only Tuesday! Maybe it is because I am really looking forward to Friday, or maybe it is because the extreme heat we’ve been having here in Calgary is making time drag.

I took my approximately weekly trip to the Laundromat tonight. The Laundromat is about a block away from my house, and has been an endless source of bizarre “entertainment”.

The very first time I went there was a Sunday morning. I was greeted by a large woman of Eastern European descent who gave me the rundown on the place. Amidst advising me on what size of loads the washers and dryers were capable of handling, she mixed in warnings about leaving my laundry unattended. (I had decided to run home to enjoy my coffee while the machines were doing their thing.) She said the she was there in the mornings to keep an eye on things, but if I went there in the evening, I should keep watch over my clothes myself. I should have taken that as a sign to do my laundry elsewhere, but when you are limited to the mode of transportation provided by Mother Nature, the options are not forthcoming.

I took to doing my laundry on weekday evenings since the machines were generally not as busy. I quickly discovered that the laundromat, which is unstaffed in the evening, is a haven for some of the oddest folk the streets of Calgary has to offer, and the odd non-human parasite as well. It is not uncommon to walk in and find someone sleeping in one of the not-so-comfortable molded plastic chairs the facility offers its clients who wish to take a load off while doing a few loads. The sleeping folk at least kept to themselves.

You know the classic sketch comedy routine where a person goes into a laundromat and takes off all their clothes to wash them? I thought that was funny until I witnessed it (nearly, thankfully) happen on an early visit. The man, then clad only in a white t-shirt that may have seem action in World War II and a pair of shorts proceeded to fall asleep for the duration of his laundry session.

Then there was the woman who asked to borrow my cell phone to call a cab. Being the kind-hearted guy I am, I loaned it to her, and she proceeded to call her drug dealer to order some weed. As if that was not bad enough, she arranged to have the dealer conveniently drop the shipment right there at the laundromat.

Of course, among all these crazy folk, there were a few genuinely nice people as well. A few offered advice on which dryer dried fastest. One even gave me a review of every laundromat in the downtown area. He claimed to have been coming to my laundromat for 30 years if you can believe it! I sincerely hope my days of having to use that facility come to a close sometime soon, but is sure is good to know that the business is well established, and will likely always be there when I need it.

At the end of the day, my clothes are clean and I have a handful of seemingly unbelievable stories to tell. It could be worse.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

One of the best five dollar investments I have ever made has got to be my dollar store cast iron frying pan. I have not had one for years, and I am now regretting it. I went out and bought one a few months ago because I wanted a smaller frying pan for all this cooking for one I do. I have really wanted to make cornbread, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. More to the point, this frying pan is amazing. I do not know how these fancy new pans can possibly compete? The heat is consistent across the whole pan, so all the food gets cooked perfectly. On the downside, having spent most of my life using pans with insulated handles, I have burned my fingers a few times in moments of forgetfulness, but much like Pavlov’s dog, I am learning to reach for a tea towel before I reach for the pan handle.

Tonight I made a pork chop. My preferred method at this time of year is barbecue, but I do not have one available to me at this point in time, so I had to use my trusty little cast iron pan. I first marinated the chop for some time in a mixture of ginger ale, soy sauce, ketchup, apple juice, oil, pepper and seasoning salt. Then heated up my precious pan and put the chop on the heat, adding a bit of the marinade with it, and topping up as required. Meanwhile, I was microwaving some diced potatoes, which I was going to have on the side. About halfway through the process, I was struck by one of those ideas that are so good you just must act on it. I was planning to just eat the potatoes from the microwave (I had added some oil and seasoning salt for flavor), but then I thought, how amazing would it be if I fried them in the pork chop pan after I had taken out the pork chop and drained the excess marinade? I was not disappointed. These were the best tasting potatoes that have ever crossed my palate.

Now for my point, if I was not using a cast iron pan, I would have removed that pork chop, drained the excess marinade, and through the supposed miracle of non-stick cookware, there would have been nothing left in the pan. Instead there were all kinds of tasty bits of pork stuck to the bottom in which to fry my potatoes. The pan was responsible for the delicious taste of my potatoes.

There are many other reasons why I like my little pan, but that is clearly the one freshest in my head right now. I recommend that anyone who does not have one now, go out and buy one as soon as possible. Don’t be tempted by those fancy-pants high end ones either. Cast iron is cast iron, so support your local dollar store. You will be happy you did.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

As I write this entry, Joan is winging her way back to Canada from Amsterdam. She will be landing here in Calgary, but sadly is not allowed off the plane before she reaches her final destination in Vancouver. Even though I won’t get to see her, it will be nice just to know that we are in the same city for an hour. I will get to see her again before too long.

Today is May 13, which means it has been three months since I started my new job. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but the calendar does not lie. The job has given me the chance to work on a lot of interesting projects that I would have never gotten to do when I was working for the big soulless corporation, EDS. It was a good move for me, and I am glad I made it.

I am having a grilled cheese sandwich craving, and as luck would have it, I have everything I need to make them. The only problem is that I just had breakfast half an hour ago. Too bad I didn’t have this craving when I first woke up.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are one of those foods that I associate with the free and easy days of my childhood. I guess they call that “comfort food”. I am sure everybody says it, but my mom made the best grilled cheese sandwiches. There are a few other foods that evoke the same sort of memories. One other that stands out is toast with butter and honey. It always tasted delicious when my dad made it, and he would always cut the bread diagonally both ways so I would have four small triangles. It always tasted better that way.

I really enjoy symmetry in my life, some would say compulsively. As an example, when I chew my food, I make sure to chew the same amount with the left side of my mouth as with the right, or if I am eating chips or jellybeans, I alternate sides with each piece. If you browse on over to my website, you will see that almost every page is centered. Everything must be in balance. However, I hate it when bread is cut symmetrically. I only like sandwiches that are cut on the diagonal. Down the middle is no good, and split top and bottom is particularly disturbing to me. Lately though, I have restored symmetry to my sandwiches and other bread-based eats by using “Texas toast” style bread, which is baked in a square. Is it because I like the thicker slices of bread, or is it because the square bread has brought balance to my lunch hour? If only Freud were around to talk this over.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

When I started university at Acadia in 1994, the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. I started learning HTML in my second year and set up a rudimentary homepage for myself that year. At the time Yahoo and Google were not yet on the scene, and AltaVista was my search engine of choice. I remember how excited I was the day I discovered their image search. (I know what you are thinking, and you are wrong.) The reason I was so excited is because I entered my own name in the search box, and the very first image returned was my smiling face.

At some point in time, I switched to Yahoo for my searching, and now, like many others, I turn almost exclusively to Google. One thing I enjoy doing when I have some down time is Googling peoples names. I Google old friends, I Google new friends, I Google friends of friends, I Google business associates, I Google pretty much anyone that pops into my head. It’s funny that I do this, because I almost never find what I am looking for. It is rare to find any mention of anyone I Google. I occasionally think I have found the needle in the haystack only to find out that I was on a wild goose chase. What an exciting moment though, when I find bona fide information on the person of interest!

Now my goal has become to insure that anyone similarly Google-obsessed will be able to track me down by entering my name into that search engine. I initially started reading up on how to improve your ranking on Google as part of a work project, and I have now decided to apply it to my personal website to see if this Andrew Baxter can make it to number 1 on Google. My brother seems to have been smiled upon by the Google gods, his website is number 2 when you search his name (maybe this blog entry will push him over the top). My website sadly does not show up at all when you enter my name in Google. I have scrolled through the top 800 results on three separate occasions since I put my site up in hopes that I would be moving on up, but in three months my page has still not made an appearance. You can find my profile on page 3, and surprisingly my week-old blog on page 4 (thanks guys), but my actual website, that I have meticulously toiled over, sadly does not rank. On the upside, the Canadian version of Yahoo puts my site in the number 1 spot, but who uses Yahoo anymore?

So tonight I am appealing to the good crawlers at Google (I know you power to give a geek a break and give some credit to my little slice of the World Wide Web.

See you at the top.
Here is a picture of Joan and I that cheers me up when I am grouchy. It was taken at her birthday party earlier this year. I am superman, and she is wonder woman. :)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The girl who lives next door leaves her radio blasting when she leaves the house. I have noticed it every day this week, blasting away when I get home from work. She comes home late, usually between 11:30 and midnight and shuts it off within minutes. I wonder why she does it because it is so annoying.

In case you are not aware, for the past 8 months I have been living in a rundown bachelor pad in a not-so-friendly part of town. When the radio next door is not blaring, I can expect the guy across the way to be practicing his electric guitar, or the people downstairs to be maxing out the volume on the new surround sound stereo system.

It all makes me wonder how people can have so little respect for those around them? Despite all this noise I keep my TV and music at the lowest level possible because I do not want to disturb others. It seems comical to me that I would extend this courtesy when clearly the feeling is not mutual.

I guess I will appreciate all the more the peace and solitude I will experience when my life finally does settle down. Until then, I will savor my escape weekends in Vancouver, where Joan’s place is generally blissfully quiet.

Monday, May 08, 2006

So I played my first softball games of the season last night. The team lost both halves of a double header, but not by nearly the margin they lost last week. Of course, it probably helped that the opposing team had three players over 60 (I think we have three over 30!).

More importantly for myself, I am not in agonizing pain today. I remember after the first game last year my legs felt like hamburger and even my arms hurt from swinging and throwing. Add to that a rotator cuff injury from a fall I took last year, and I was pretty much expecting to be immobile today.

It would seem that my physiotherapist, Yolanda, from Innovative Fitness here in Calgary has worked a minor miracle. Somewhere in the middle of January this year I woke up with screaming pain in my shoulder. I have experienced this before and found that it typically went away on its own, so I decided to wait it out. About two weeks later, it had not improved, and in fact had worsened to the point that I now had pain all down my left arm, and numb fingers on my left hand. I presented myself to my chiropractor, who has helped me with other problems in the past, and she did her thing for a few weeks to no avail. I visited my GP, who suggested physiotherapy instead, so I checked in to Innovative Fitness, primarily because of their close proximity to my office.

On my first visit I was a little freaked out, not only because of the $80/half-hour fee, but because Yolanda decided I would benefit from a little acupuncture in addition to the usual regimen of stretches and exercises. Well, I should not have balked for an instant because the results were almost immediately noticeable. I was able to get off my anti-inflammatory drugs and live pain-free for the first time in months. I now have the feeling back in my fingers and full range of motion in my arm. And, after last night, I have passed the most important test of all, the softball test. Now I know I am healed.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

One thing I like about weekends is that I have time to make a good breakfast in the morning. As you know from my previous posting, on a typical weekday I get up in enough time to run through the shower and head off to work.

Somewhere along the line I took a liking to cooking. I am far from a culinary artist, but I have learned to throw together some pretty good meals. Breakfast seems to provide the greatest return for the least effort, and it has become one of my favorite to make. I especially enjoy making breakfast for Joan when we are together, but I do not scrimp on myself when I am alone.

One of my new favorites is eggs benedict. I got a great recipe from my mom last time I was home for microwave hollandaise sauce. I have not been able to find its equivalent on the internet, or I would link it for you. It came from Jean Paré’s “Company’s Coming” series. I would reprint it here, but clearly there are copyright issues. Buy the book instead. Eggs benedict is a tasty treat, but of course not for every day, or every weekend for that matter. If only they had fat free butter.

Thinking back to my childhood, a staple breakfast for many years was chocolate milk made from powder. I would mix approximately equal portions of powder and milk to achieve a thick chocolate sludge. The milk was the boring part, what I enjoyed most was scooping the sugary-chocolate goo from the bottom of the mug when I had finished. Recently, while shopping for groceries, I happened across the chocolate powder that I loved so much, and I bought some for old time’s sake. It is just as I remembered. I drink the milk as fast as I can, and scoop away until I can scoop no more. It is funny how some things never change.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

So Canada's current government is reducing funding for / scrapping a bunch of environmental programs. Is it just me, or does it seem a little myopic of the Conservatives to roll back commitments to saving energy, reducing emissions, and developing renewable energy resources? I saw the documentary "The End of Suburbia" last year, and it was pretty dire in its predictions of our fate if we, in North America, do not soon start curtailing our use of oil. What I don't understand is why, in the face of such a grim future, the government would not be pouring billions into the development of the next great source of energy? Instead, Western governments see fit to pour billions into annihilating countries that have the energy resources we need.

By ending subsidization for retro-fitting homes to be more energy efficient, the government is not only adding strain to the environment, but also ensuring that energy prices will continue to rise to unprecedented levels. It is a simple problem of supply and demand. By not working to curtail the demand, no matter what may be happening supply-side, we are setting ourselves up for ever-increasing energy costs.

Imagine if we, here in Canada, developed a replacement for oil. Right now residents of Arab countries are using their oil-driven wealth to buy up hotels, casinos, retail stores, and even American ocean ports. Why would Canada not want to reap the same rewards in the future? The payoff is obvious, but the investment needs to be made now in order to realize the benefits in the future. It upsets me that we seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

I am encouraged by some grass roots movements developing fuel alternatives for cars. One of the most interesting things I have read about in recent years is the use of discarded cooking oil to replace diesel fuel in cars. The idea is catching on slowly, and I am sure needs some refinement, but just the fact that someone is working on alternatives is a step in the right direction.

Now if only we could get our government to buy in.
It’s Saturday morning (for another 46 minutes). I have been up for half an hour and I am now enjoying a big old cup of coffee. Today I am drinking Starbucks Columbian that I bought at the Safeway the last time Joan came to visit. It is reasonably good.

I have been trying to decide these past few days what I want to write in my blog. It is so hard to decide what format would be best, so I will probably mix it up a little with some diary elements, some news, and some commentary. I really hope that I have the time to dedicate to it because I want it to be good and to appeal to a range of people. I am sure millions will visit :)

I woke up two or three times this morning before finally being woken up for good by a call from Joan who arrived in Amsterdam this morning. I had checked earlier, when I woke up for the first time at 7:30, and saw that her flight had arrived safely. It was nice to hear from her in person though, and I hope she has a really good time over there this week. Someday I will travel with her…

I have been doing this lolling about in bed thing more and more lately. It seems to go in phases. I realize that staying up late makes it hard to get up in the morning, so I start going to bed earlier and find it easier to get up. Then I gradually start staying up later and later, and it becomes harder and harder to wake up early. I have found that waking up really early and having time to at least make coffee before I rush off to work is a nice thing, but despite that, it only happens once in a blue moon for me. A morning person I am not. Plus, it is so nice and warm in bed, it is just hard to get out.

I got a TV recently. I haven’t had one for ages, but thought it would be nice to occupy some time since I am living alone. Every time I turn it on at night I think of the Emerson Drive song “I Should be Sleeping”. I don’t watch it very often late at night, but these past few weeks I had been watching the Calgary Flames games. One nice thing about living in Calgary is that you don’t have to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to watch hockey during the playoffs. Growing up in Nova Scotia, it was hard to stay awake even to see the end of the Eastern games, let alone the games out west. Anyway, it is common knowledge now that the Flames disappointed we Calgarians this past week with their lackluster performance in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They came out strong (OK, Game 1 they looked a little rusty, but still managed a victory), but by the end of the series, it was looking like we could have subbed a peewee team and had better success. It is kind of funny though, because with Calgary’s loss ALL the top 4 seeded teams from the Western Conference are out of the playoffs. It is the battle of the basement now.

Now that I have blown half of my Saturday sleeping, I must get on with the rest of my weekend. I don’t have any grandiose plans, but I do have my first softball games of the season tomorrow. The team’s first games were last weekend, but I was off on my Vancouver / Port Alberni / Uculet tour, so I missed it. It was a dandy too, the team went down 25 – 1. I am sure if I was there it would have been 25 – 0.

Enjoy your days, wherever you are!


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Welcome to my Blog

Well, I just set this up and here is my first post. This is about the millionth time I have tried to start a blog, but I hope that this time it works out :)