Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Uh oh, it’s happening again. The federal government seems bound and determined to continue throwing good money after bad. This week we are being treated to the shocking news that former prison inmate ombudsman Ron Stewart may have swindled we taxpayers for the princely sum of $325,000 during his last six years in his post.

I assume it has already cost us thousands for Sheila Fraser and her crew to uncover this scandalous waste. Now our heroic Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, has got the RCMP involved. No doubt there will be some kind of inquiry and we will be on the hook for lawyer fees and whatever other bills might come of it. By the end of the day, we’ll have spent more “uncovering the truth” than Ron Stewart could have ever bilked us out of.

This seems to be a disturbing trend in government of late. I can’t imagine how much we spent going after the players in the “sponsorship scandal” only to recover a fraction of what was allegedly wasted. I understand that people have to be held accountable, but it seems a little counterproductive when the price of accountability is more than what goes missing in the first place. If somebody stole my wallet from me, I wouldn’t pay a private investigator $1000 to find it, I would cut my losses and get on with my life. Why can’t our government do the same thing?

There is one final insulting twist for us folk who will be footing the bill for all this. If Ron Stewart ends up being convicted and sent to prison, it will cost us over $80,000 per year to keep him there, or roughly $30,000 per year more than he is alleged to have taken in the first place.

Stockwell, I say we let him go.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tomorrow I finish up my second week at my new job, and so far it has been quite nice. I have really hit the floor running and I have already been working on a number of interesting projects. My first big project, oddly enough, was setting up a Microsoft Project Server to help centralize and streamline project management in the organization. My other major achievement was winning the Friday night poker tournament the first Friday I was there. Luckily I have been invited back for another round.

One of the biggest drawbacks to this job is that it has forced me to become a commuter. Eleven kilometers is just a little too far to walk every day, as good as it would be for my health. It takes about half an hour, and parking is a nightmare, but so far I have not been too unlucky in that regard.

Since I am working again, I have started shaving regularly. I have been shaving now for roughly 14 years. I still have the old Gillette Sensor 2-blade razor that my parents got me for Christmas so many years ago, though I rarely use it these days. Somewhere along the line I upgraded to the new and improved Gillette Mach 3 shaving system which uses 3-blade cartridges. I didn’t realize just how good this razor was until my recent brush with abject poverty. The Sensor blades are considerably cheaper than the Mach 3 blades, but I know from previous experience that the Sensor blades are also much harder on my face. Sometime in October it came to pass that I needed new razor blades desperately. I went to my local Shoppers Drug Mart (I still shop there despite evidence of their ties to international terrorist cells), and I cringed at the thought of cheaping out on the Sensor blades. Then I found the miracle solution to my problem. Schick. Their Xtreme 3 razor had 3 blades and cost a fraction of the Gillette replacement blades. I quickly thought about how much I would save over the course of my lifetime and proceeded to the checkout.

The next morning I lathered up my face and proudly wielded my new razor. I took a few tentative swipes at my face and then a full-blown stroke. I cringed. It was as if I had taken some 60-grit sandpaper and pulled it down my cheek. By the time I was done I was bleeding in a dozen places. It would seem that 3-blade razors are not all the same. My face fell as I realized that I would no longer be saving on razor blades for the rest of my life.

I have heard it said somewhere that Gillette is the best a man can get, and I have to heartily agree. A few weeks after my torturous mistake, Joan surprised me with two packs of Mach 3 blades that had been on sale at London Drugs. It was very sweet of her, and now my face is pretty much back to normal.

Recently, Gillette has been pumping the new 5-blade Fusion. If the Mach 3 is so much smoother than the others, I can only imagine how incredibly smooth the Fusion must be. Sadly, the Fusion is too rich for my blood. The replacement blades cost nearly twice as much as the Mach 3!

With their constant addition of more blades, I envision a day when Gillette comes out with a razor with so many blades that you’ll be able to finish shaving in just one stroke. I would certainly be lining up to buy that product. I estimate that it could save me five minutes every day. The sooner I am done shaving, the sooner I get out the door. The sooner I get out the door, the sooner I get to the office. I could save enough time with the Gillette “whole face special” that I might just get to the office in time to find a parking spot. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Well, it has been an interesting week. I am no longer looking for work, but I am still not working. This has been the most blissful week for me since I got back from Mexico, I really feel like I’m on vacation. Starting Tuesday I will be a Network Administrator at Digital Payment Technologies, but until then I am making the most of my last days of freedom.

The typical winter rains have started here in Vancouver, and it is really too bad because this would be an excellent opportunity to get out and explore some of the outdoorsy stuff to do in Vancouver. It has cleared up a bit today, and if it holds off, I’ll make a point of getting out tomorrow.

Since I have been cooped up inside for the most part, the old PC has been my prime source for entertainment, and it has not disappointed.

Thinking back, one of the most memorable Christmas presents I ever received was the Atari 2600 game console. Like many people my age, I spent countless hours mastering the various games. I played it for years and years, and I am sure that it is still in good working order somewhere in my parents’ house.

The other day Joan was asking about whether or not I could get the classic Donkey Kong to run on my computer. I set out on the internet, and to her (and my) delight I discovered an emulator for classic arcade games that will run on my new PC. I have also discovered a treasure trove of ROMs captured from the original games, and I have been engrossed in some of my old favorites again. It is incredible how after all these years you can still remember all the tricks to play these games! The old games were ultra-simplistic in design since they didn’t have much hardware to work with back then. What they lacked in sophistication they made up for in addictiveness. Playing these games again, I take as much delight in trying over and over again to get past the first screen of Donkey Kong or the cherry level of Pac Man. I don’t think I will ever get tired of it, I just hope I can stave off the carpal tunnel syndrome for a few more days.

Now, if you don’t mind, 1982 is calling…

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Historically I have used this space to describe my own foibles as I struggle through everyday life, but sometimes I witness others at low moments in their lives and I just have to share these stories. Some would say I am making myself feel better at the expense of others, but I prefer to think that looking back on the humor of a situation is better for everybody involved. Today I feel much like the guy who recounted the tale of a would-be hit and run driver who was pummeled by a foursome of grannies.

About this time last year the Corb Lund band was rocketing up the country charts with their runaway hit “The Truck Got Stuck.” In this song they detail numerous attempts to free a pickup truck from a prairie quagmire. Who would have thought that yesterday morning, from my window high above Marpole Avenue in decidedly urban Vancouver, I would witness a near perfect reenactment of the song?

It would seem that the mansion across the way that is currently the home of the University Women’s Club has hired some contractors to assess the stability of their retaining wall. I think it was about 11:00 yesterday morning that I looked out the window and exclaimed about two trucks parked on the sidewalk across the street. There was a black pickup truck in the front and a blue full-sized SUV in behind. I thought it was a bit of an obnoxious place to leave their trucks, but if I had known how much entertainment they would provide, I surely would have kept my mouth shut.

It all started a few minutes later. Perhaps they decided that rather than walking to the next section of wall they would drive so they wouldn’t have to lug their equipment by hand. The guy got into his black pickup and hit the accelerator and the mud started flying. The truck didn’t budge an inch, and as people who have never been stuck in the mud before tend to do, the driver applied more gas and buried his tires deeper and deeper into the soft ground in front of the multi-million dollar mansion.

By the time the tire was in mud up to the lug nuts, the two decided they weren’t going to get out the easy way, and had more or less ensured that they would not be able to get out the second or third easiest way either. At this point a rational person would call a tow truck, but these two decided that they would use their own ingenuity to solve this little problem.

Plan A was to push the truck out. The driver would hit the gas and his associate would push on the tailgate with all his might. They succeeded in adding about six inches to the length of the rut they had carved in the ground, but the truck remained thoroughly stuck. Apparently they determined that there was too much weight in the back of the truck for this method to work, so they emptied the bed and tried again, once again they were thwarted by the mud. In a final modification to Plan A, the pusher decided to stop pushing and instead stand on the back bumper and bounce up and down while the driver hit the gas. I was staring out the window simultaneously hoping the truck would get some traction and send the pusher flying and hoping that if they did so, he would not break his neck. I got the portable phone just in case I had to call 911. As you can imagine, the truck remained stuck.

After these failed attempts a rational person would call a tow truck, but these two ascertained that with a little more traction under the tires they would be able to get the truck out of the rut. Not being on the prairies meant that there was no genetically modified canola seed around to put under the tires, but they did have at their disposal what could be considered to be the next best thing. Seeing as how they were working on the retaining wall, they happened to have in their possession a few bags of cement mix, and they started to unload it into the rut. Apparently the cement needed time to set because at this point, they proceeded to take their equipment by hand down the wall, and do whatever work they were supposed to be doing. It was fine with me, I needed a break for lunch anyway.

Some time later, having finished the work they were tasked to do, they returned to the truck to complete the more complex project of getting the truck out of the mud. It would seem that the concrete had time to set so they took there respective positions as driver and pusher and went about trying to get the truck out again. Despite the added traction of the concrete, the tires spun mercilessly in the mud and the truck remained stuck.

At this point a rational person would call a tow truck, but for these two a new plan was required, one that was a complete departure from things which had already been attempted. I can only imagine the sparkle in their eyes as they realized that only one truck was stuck and that they had a whole other truck at their disposal. The driver of the blue SUV hopped in the cab of his truck, and was delighted to discover that he was not stuck. He slowly crept to within inches of the black pickup under the direction of the black pickup driver. Then the driver got into the black pickup and the fun began. Ever so carefully the blue SUV made contact with the black pickup and began to push. At the same time the driver of the black pickup applied the gas and the tire started turning. In a manner of course the truck triumphantly rose from the rut where it had been stuck. There was traffic on Marpole Avenue, so he couldn’t completely get off the sidewalk, but he was out. The driver of the blue SUV backed off and the two exchanged hoorahs and high fives. If only they knew that this story was only half over their jubilation may not have been so overt.

At a break in traffic, the driver of the blue SUV took the opportunity to drive off the sidewalk and onto the street, where he promptly turned on his 4-way flashers to give the driver of the black pickup the chance to pull his truck onto the street without worrying about oncoming traffic. The driver of the black pickup is apparently a slow learner because instead of inching his truck off the grass, he once again stomped on the gas, and as you can imagine the tires started spinning once again and within seconds he was once again buried to the lug nuts in mud.

At times like this a rational person would call a tow truck, but with one truck on the road and the other stuck in the mud, the two came up with a brilliant plan. They decided to try and tow the truck out of the mud themselves. The only problem was they had neither a chain nor a rope. What they did have was an industrial extension cord. They determined that it would do. The driver of the pickup tied the cord to the frame of his truck and then took the other end to the back of the blue SUV. I was pondering how many seconds the cord would hold up under the strain of two trucks. I estimated fives seconds as they proceeded to tie the loose end to the trailer hitch of the SUV. I did not have to wait long to find out. The driver of the blue SUV hit the gas. The cord pulled tight. The pickup did not move an inch. The cord snapped instantly and fell to the ground, and the hapless contractors were back at square one, down one industrial extension cord. Not quite ready to give up on the idea of towing, they checked the back of another pickup parked on the side of the road, but they would not find anything worthy of a tow job. Traffic was backing up on Marpole as it was down to a single eastbound lane. They put their heads together once again.

Having tried everything they had, a rational person would call a tow truck, but these two decided it was wiser to build on previous success. They decided that pushing was the answer so they backed the SUV down Marpole while traffic scrambled to get out of the way. Getting the SUV back over the curb presented a challenge itself, and I suspect that about half the rear left tire rubbed off on the curb while the rear right tire was spinning in the mud on the other side. Eventually, after leaving a lengthy tire track in the grass, they got the SUV back up onto the sidewalk, and once again slowly crept up to within inches of the black pickup.

Again the driver got into the truck and they carefully locked bumpers. The blue SUV strained and the black pickup inched forward. The SUV kept pushing and the pickup kept moving forward. Eventually the truck once again triumphantly emerged from the rut and perched upon level ground. Another celebratory high five was in order, and then the two proceeded to bury the evidence with freshly fallen wet leaves.

It was about three hours after they first got stuck that they finally got both trucks off the sidewalk and onto the road. A rational person would have called a tow truck, but they both drove off presumably proud of their accomplishment, and perhaps with a few waning chords of Corb Lund’s song echoing in their heads.