Thursday, May 08, 2008

Now check my own domain!

It's been WAY too long since I posted on Blogger. Admittedly, some people still end up here (I'm hoping Google will soon realize the errs of its way). Anyhow, just as I told you that my next posts would be hosted on, now may I present to you the new and improved Random Thoughts of a Student of the Environment (if you click on this link you'll reach, my new domain). How cool is that? Please update your bookmarks and your RSS feeds. Thanks!

Monday, March 10, 2008

New posts will be hosted on WordPress

Dear all,

I've noticed that some of you have not changed your RSS feeds, changed your bookmarks and updated your blogrolls. I just wanted to say that in the future my posts will be hosted at:

I have imported all of my posts from Blogger on to WordPress, so even if you liked an old post of mine, you will still be able to find it on my WordPress site. So, please make sure to check that one.

Thanks so much for your continued support and readership!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Please update your bookmarks and blogrolls - I've moved

Well, I figured the time would come eventually for me to move platforms. Blogger, it's been a great time. I created 632 posts on Blogger and I progressed from basically nothing to now having more confidence in my writing and my minimal Geek Factor. But since a number of awesome Vancouver bloggers have offered to have my back if I need help with WordPress (you know who you are!), I've decided not to wait any longer.

So, despite the annoying 'by hummingbird604' little thing over there at WP, I've decided to migrate. It may take a while to adjust, but hey whatever. I am just hoping my loyal readers will have no problems switching their RSS feeds, Google Readers, bookmarks and blogrolls.

So, welcome to my WordPress blog!

Please be patient. I'll be adding bloggers to my blogroll and playing with the themes until I find a nice one.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Review of "Two decades of failed climate change policy" by Mark Jaccard

First, I want to apologize because while I heard the second half of the lecture, I couldn't take notes as my battery died half way through (actually, exactly half way through). So, the notes you're going to read are pretty much only from the first half. Since Mark is an academic (and so am I), I think I would be making him a disservice if I wrote what I recall. The rest of my notes are pretty verbatim (I type really really fast) so I think I captured what he said.

Second, my overall assessment. I think Mark's lecture was excellent. I know that a lot of people are going to complain about certain points that he made, or about his particular viewpoints on a number of issues (for example, on why he opposes Gateway). And quite honestly, I do disagree with some of his points as well (particularly in regards to carbon offsets). But the truth is, he really made it easy for a general audience to understand the rather conceptually complex theory behind environmental policy instruments. I think that there is a place for academics like Mark who are able to connect to general audiences and explain these concepts to them in an easy and accessible way. I know three other experts in the field of climate change in Canada who have the same ability, although they are based at UBC (not SFU).

He first started by explaining four broad categories of environmental policy tools to reduce GHG emissions from fossil fuels, based on four methods of reduction:
  • Energy efficiency
  • Switch to renewable energy sources or nuclear energy
  • Pollution control (carbon sequestration)
  • Catch-all
In Mark's words, politicians don't do the above. Consumers, households and industry do it. So, governments only have policy tools to lead us to change actions. The four categories of policies he suggested are:
  • Information programs
  • Subsidies
  • Regulation
  • Financial charges
Mark made a point that I found interesting - he is NOT an advocate of a carbon tax, as often portrayed in the media, but he said he was an advocate of compulsory policy because research has shown him that's the way to do it. That's not surprising to hear (that his research is often misinterpreted and portrayed in the wrong way on the media - that's happened to a number of other researchers - just ask Robert Putnam and his latest research on social capital, diverse communities and 'hunkering')

Mark also made a point that all previous policies that had been implemented in Canada had failed to meet the target. According to Jaccard, energy efficiency is more costly than we think (what he called the second inconvenient truth), but that doesn't mean that we ought not to do it, we still should do it.

While I have a smattering of other notes, I think that the best I can do is to just give you what were his main points. He suggests that non-compulsory policies (like subsidies, information programs, etc.) are NOT a substitute for compulsory policies.

I was a little surprised (and taken aback) that he apparently doesn't advocate or even like the idea of offsets (as noted below)
With apologies to people who have worked very hard to establish offsets emissions. It can give us a sense that “we don’t need to put in the compulsory policy”. An offset is a subsidy from an individual to another individual. Still has the same problems with subsidy – we have to try to make sure that the money will indeed make people behave differently – how can you be sure of that?
I do like the idea of offsets because (a) at least they're at least a first step in reducing emissions and (b) there are systems that can be third-party audited. But then again, each one of us is entitled to our own opinion.

Overall, I liked his delivery style, and it was an interesting lecture. I think that what VTACC is doing is rather important (educating people on climate change issues). I also think that they can't stop with three lectures and they need to keep this going. You'd be surprised. I got to the Canadian Memorial Church to see a room pretty much full with people who wanted to learn more about climate change. I don't think that VTACC should stop, they should continue the lecture series (and bring lots of other perspectives, even within the academic realm).

VTACC will make his PowerPoint slides available freely on their website (he didn't want us to 'read the slides' so he only showed one or two throughout the conference). If you want to learn more about what Dr. Mark Jaccard does, you can look here.

Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do

While I admit that I'm somewhat of a clean freak (my apartment is about 450-500 sq ft so it's tiny and thus needs to always be clean and impeccable), I also know myself. Once I'm tired, the only thing I want to do is read, read and read. I hate doing dishes and having to clean up. However, last night (if we consider this Wednesday morning) I felt extremely frustrated by the state of affairs.

Let me explain. I hadn't rented a movie in a long while. When I do, I usually rent either at Happy Bats Cinema or a very tiny local store. On Tuesdays, said store has the 2x1 special. I have almost never been able to make use of it as I almost never make it to the store on time to pick up a movie on a Tuesday.

However, last night I went home straight after Mark Jaccard's lecture (which I will discuss on my blog probably later today or tomorrow) and while tired, I felt still really full from having eaten curry chicken in the afternoon and a very late dinner. So I thought "well, instead of reading, tonight it's time to rent 2 movies". So for the first time in a long while, I have two movies to watch.

I've seen the first one (Sydney White - yes, I know - it's definitely a brainless movie) and I am waiting until later today (tomorrow) to watch the second one (Smokin' Aces with a number of good actors but the one I want to see is Ryan Reynolds in a completely different role to all the ones I've seen him in).

The title of the post relates to the fact that I am still awake after having responded to my cleanliness frustration and urges despite being so tired. While I wanted to just curl on my couch and watch the movie, seeing my apartment as messy as it was before I had this urge to clean up just made me not enjoy the movie. So I decided to do a full clean-up. The floors still need some moping, but I think the rest of the apartment looks ok. Hence the title of the post - sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do. I needed to feel as though my place was tidy, clean and livable. Now, if I could just get back to sleep... :)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Green Living Show recap

My good friend HZ and I were talking about the fact that we already lived 'green' and he pondered "how much greener can I live?" I think that while generally I live a fairly environmentally-aware life (that's what I do for a living, so it would be kind of ironic if I didn't). But the Green Living Show did give me an opportunity to see a number of other opportunities for improvement.

For example, transportation choices. Yes, electric cars can be an option, I think. Since I am not a transportation expert, I can refer you to the blogs of Stephen Rees and Paul Hillsdon if you want to talk about those issues. But definitely, walking or biking or taking the bus are the only options we have.

Another area (rather important to me given my busy social life) was beer consumption. I am not kidding! Organic beer is good :) I will send you to check Rebecca's, Keira's and Phaedra's blogs for very good recaps of the Green Living Show that include the topic of organic beer. Furthermore, a visitor to my blog informed me that the Canadian Wildlife Federation's magazine (Checkerspot) was liveblogging, so check them out too. Here I would like to just make some broader comments about GLC.

First, I really think that BC Place was a very good choice, but I wonder if Canada Place would have been better (just simply in terms of transportation access to the show). Although come to think about it, maybe it was just the fact that I didn't remember how to get to BC Place by transit. I attended the Green Living Show on Saturday morning with Phaedra, and we walked from Our Town Cafe on Broadway and Kingsway all the way down to BC Place. It was a very beautiful walk. But if it had been raining, we probably would have had to take the Skytrain. I really had forgotten that Stadium Skytrain station is very close to BC Place.

Second, the overall theme and design of the show was fantastic. I didn't feel that the show was crowded at all. And they really brought some high-powered speakers (Stephen Lewis, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Adrienne Carr). Really, that was a very very good idea.

Third, the only thing I was a bit surprised was that Green Table wasn't there. Almost every aspect of every day life was showcased. To give a few examples, soy-based candles, organic beer, water-saving and energy-saving appliances, sustainable and sweatshop-free clothing, organic snacks. But the question in my head remains - why wasn't our very own Sustainable Restaurants Association there? Of course, I can always email and ask :)

Going there with Phaedra was really a highlight of the weekend, because she is really awesome. We have had the chance to e-mail and comment on each other's blogs, but it was very very nice to really hang out outside the blogosphere. It's always awesome to get to know the person behind the blog.

One of the things that really hit home with me was that the organizers realized that the show would have environmental impacts, and looked for ways to reduce them. You'd be surprised how many organizers of environmentally-themed events don't really look INSIDE their event! But this wasn't the case with Green Living Show. If you click here, you can read all the ways in which they reduced environmental impacts.

All in all, I really enjoyed the show, and will definitely do my best to attend next year's. Kudos to the organizers! Now, on the critical side of things - the statistical profile they provide of a typical Green Living Show attendee would suggest (and thus, even possibly confirm) that to be more sustainable you need to make enough money to pay the environmental premium price (just read this fact - 37% of last year's attendees make more than $ 100,000. Wow!).

I am not sure that I like reading this fact, to be quite frank. Saving money is one of the selling points of going greener in this city (given the exorbitant prices of housing and gas). Thus, if you tell me that I need to first make more money and THEN go green, it becomes a hard sell (particularly for those like me whose money-making power is not yet in the six figures realm).

Overall, as mentioned, the show was great and I'm looking forward to next year's.

Please note: This post is cross-posted on both my blogs (Blogger and WordPress) for the time being, but I think that the time is coming for me to just continue on with WP. I'll post an announcement when that happens.

Small oooooops...

So I was very proud that I had remembered to write a post to celebrate International Women's Day, and raved about the women in my life, etc. But the small detail I forgot is that I am about four days early! Sorry about that. Since I'm attending a seminar today on the experiences of women researchers investigating gender issues, I seriously thought it was today. But it's not. Ooooops!

So, I fully deserve to have experienced the frustration I felt last night. I was a bit annoyed that, since I wanted to highlight IWD, I basically had to leave all my other ideas in draft form until the day was over (or half-way over) to start posting again. I usually follow this guideline because not everybody is subscribed in a RSS reader, so sometimes they check blogs in the morning, and thus this would be the first post at the top of the page.

But I had a few other ideas on the making (like reviewing the bar Library Square, the restaurant India Bistro) and I didn't write anything because I thought "well, if I do post something AFTER having posted the IWD thingy, the focus on IWD will be lost, so better not to post anything until mid-day". But reading today's Morning Brew I realized... it's March 4th, not 8th. So thus the title of the post... OOOOOOOPS.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Upcoming events - International Women's Day

Mark your calendars! March 8th is International Women's Day. It is a date to celebrate the contributions of women to society in all realms (social, political, economics, natural sciences, etc.). For me, it is slightly bizarre to have such a day (and before I get bombarded with negative feedback, let me explain why).

Let me start with the most important woman in my life, my Mom. My mother is highly educated, undertook her PhD in political science when she already had grown kids, has lived abroad, maintains a leadership position in her school and has many amazing qualities. The thing is, to me, that has always been completely normal. We (my brothers and I) were raised in such a way that gender really didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was(and is) amazing, period.

Then, let me continue with my friends. As some of you may know, my first degree is in chemical engineering. Traditionally, there has been a distinct absence of women engineers (I have observed this trend particularly in three fields: chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering). But the funny thing is (and to my male peers' surprise) that the top six students in my class were the only five women in the class and yours truly. So much for "male superiority in the engineering field"!

As a matter of fact, the person who made me fall in love with chemical engineering itself is a woman (the most beautiful professor of Separation Processes, and Process Control ever). Fashionable, trendy, and extremely bright. To this day, AMVG and I remain really close friends (we became friends after I finished my undergraduate). She was by and large my favorite instructor in undergraduate.

The vast majority of my girlfriends are experts in their fields, some of them in non-'traditionally female' areas. They are urban planners and epidemiologists, geographers, computer geeks and nurses, project managers and strategy consultants, specialists in environmental issues and policy analysts. I have them in all flavors and sizes (and all of them astoundingly beautiful, but that's just a bonus) and they're all leaders in their fields. And some of my best former students are women!

Of course, I am not about to suggest that there haven't been historically gender disparities. I was quickly scanning a report online mentioning that women engineers were earning 70 cents per dollar earned by their male counterparts (sorry that I don't provide the link, I was just quickly browsing and didn't save the source). Income disparity is an unfortunate but real fact of life.

So please join me in celebrating the achievements of women and their contributions to humanity. And to all my girlfriends, sisters-in-law, nieces, fellow bloggers, former students, female colleagues, and former professors: Happy International Women's Day!

Tired from the weekend

Weekends are supposed to be fun and relaxing, right? Well, yeah I did have some R&R and had friends over for dinner, but the weekend was also stressful. Had to deal with a lot of stuff, missed volleyball due to a migraine and literally dozed off on the couch while watching Superman II. Thus, I missed this morning's lecture on climate change and I'm exhausted from a very busy weekend. I need a vacation from my weekends :) (j/k)

Content will be published intermittently. I am preparing a guest post for Rebecca on the history of Mount Pleasant. Have a couple others in draft form.

UPDATE - I forgot to mention that I had a couple of days of tranquility away from my unbearable neighbours. But apparently they're going on holiday next week and then the following weekend (Easter Weekend) I'm house sitting so maybe March will be the month I won't hear screaming kids.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Testing the waters I: From Blogger to WordPress

It's kind of ironic. Now that I've gained a more-or-less steady readership, and I'm on a few blogrolls (thank you guys for adding me!), I'm in the process of switching from Blogger to WordPress. A couple of days ago I imported my posts (it seems that even though WordPress says that only 500 out of my 622 blog posts were imported, I kind of can't see which ones weren't). And I can see most of the comments even though the converter says none of the comments were transferred.

So, go check my WordPress blog (it's pretty much the same content as here) and if you could, leave a comment or a trackback. I'm trying to see how it works. For the time being, most likely I'll be cross-posting (e.g. posting here AND there) to avoid potential surprises -- please don't change your blogrolls just yet, give me a few days to adjust. .

So, Matt Mullenweg and WordPress, here I come :)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Upcoming climate-change and environmental events in Vancouver

Well, hello sunshine! Today was a beautiful day and thus I had a chance to enjoy the sun for a bit. Worked from home for most of the day, although felt really sleepy at times. Anyhow, for those of you enviro-folks in town, here are some events you can hit.
  • Via one of my close friends, here is a link to a lecture that will be given tomorrow by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, sponsored by the Terry Project at UBC, on The Right to be Cold: The Global Significance of Arctic Climate Change. This will be at the(Life Science Institute, West Atrium, Friday Feb 29th, 12noon. If you don't know who Ms. Watt-Cloutier is, she was one of the top nominees for the 2007 Nobel Prize (which ultimately went to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
  • Via Keira-Anne's blog, I found out about the Green Living Show (February 29th to March 2nd, 2008). She is going to head there on Friday with Rebecca (aka Miss604) so if you want to check the show AND hang out with two beautiful women, I'd suggest you head there on Friday. I plan to go on Saturday morning as I have a pretty packed social weekend, and most likely I'll go with Phaedra and probably my friend HZ. I wish I could go on Friday but I'm totally booked (so blog updates unlikely until Saturday afternoon).
  • Via VTACC (Vancouver's Taxpayers Against Climate Change), I found out about a lecture by Dr. Marc Jaccard on "Lessons for the Future from Canada's Climate Policy Failures", Tuesday March 4th, at 7pm at the Canadian Memorial Church (15th and Burrard). From VTACC website, here's the abstract:

Decades of climate policy under different governments have failed to reduce or substantially slow the growth in greenhouse gas emissions in this country. How has this happened? How can we get out of this muddle so that Canada can do its share in the fight against global warming?
Go here for more information

  • And, from a colleague of mine, here are the details for a special lecture at SFU Harbour Centre by Professor Michael Grubb: Cutting carbon in Europe to 2020: competitiveness, emissions trading and beyond’, Room 2200 (RBC Dominion Securities Executive Meeting Room), Monday March 3rd, 2008 - 9:00am to 10:30am (yes this is a morning seminar).
I am probably going to attend all four. Hope you can make it to at least one of them!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Music review - Trouble by Pink

Sometimes I feel guilty about writing 'Music Reviews' as I rarely have 'new' songs on this blog, but mostly these are songs whose rhythm and/or lyrics and/or vocals I enjoy (or hate, like in the case of a remake of 'You Really Got Me Now"). This song, Trouble (by Pink) is particularly enjoyable.

While the video is themed as a 'Western' movie, the song itself is kind of rock-ish. But the video is hilarious. Pink basically starts a brawl (something I've always dreamed of doing -- yes I know, it does sound crazy). But mostly, this song is the first one that comes to my mind whenever any of my closest friends smirks and tells me "oh, Raul... you *are* trouble" ... and yeah, I got to admit, sometimes I can be a little bit of trouble :-)

Video from YouTube.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Upcoming events - BC Anti-bullying Day

Given that the Government of the Province of British Columbia has proclaimed February 27th, 2008 as BC Anti-Bullying Day, and a number of organizations (like CUPE) and public figures (including Christy Clark) are encouraging the public to wear pink (by the way, great website from the CKNW), I figured that, in celebration of BC Anti-Bullying Day, I'm should share with the blogosphere an intimate look at a part of my life I wish I had never had to endure, and how I dealt with it.

When I was in primary school, I used to be as tiny as a midget. For some bizarre reason, I started growing when I was 17. I am not kidding you. Nowadays, at a my 5'11" (6' on a good day) and 170 pds, it's kind of hard to mess around with me (well, my height/weight and my martial arts and street fighting training kind of help). Unless, of course, you're 6'7 and super strong... but I digress.

So back then, when I was short and wore glasses, I was bullied by taller, stronger young men. After all, "I was in an all-boys school and had to learn to fight" (their words, not mine). Many, many times, my brothers (particularly my eldest brother) had to intervene and calm some of these bullies. But I couldn't have my older brothers always protect me. I had to learn to do it myself.

I have always been privileged in that my parents have always been my best friends, so I needed to tell them what was going on at school. After careful deliberation we (my parents and I) decided that I needed to take martial arts training. Not because I enjoyed kicking people's butts, but because I wanted to be able to defend myself should I ever need to do so. As a young kid (and to this day), I always tended to be extremely sensitive, emotional and sweet. These were not traits that aggressive bullies would take in a positive light. But I didn't want to be a victim or a target. I wanted to empower myself and be able to break through to these bullies.

One day (several months after I had started my martial arts training), a guy who had bullied me for a long while started picking a fight with me (Gustavo was his name), right before school was over. I was faced with the choice I never wanted to face - "do I fight or do I run?" I decided it was time to fight back. I grabbed Gustavo's arm and applied a judo move on him. I threw him over the top of my shoulder and, strategically, forced him to land with his back towards a trash can. I did this purposefully as I knew that would immobilize him completely. He started crying on the spot and ran away from me as fast as he could.

My classmates were astonished. "How could Raul, the tiny little midget, defend himself now? What happened to him?" From that moment onwards, I never looked back, and never had to face another bully. The word was out: Raul was never going to let anyone else pick on him ever, ever again.

So, in celebration of British Columbia's Anti-Bullying Day, I am going to wear a pink t-shirt to the office tomorrow (Wednesday February 27th, 2008). I encourage you to do so, too. Because bullying is simply wrong, and because once upon a time, I had to fight back too. And if you know someone who is being bullied, there are resources out there that can help him/her deal with it.

Music review - Somebody Help Me by Full Blown Rose

This is one of my favorite songs, and used to be the theme for a TV show with Eliza Dushku, "Tru Calling" - which by the way was filmed in Vancouver). I am sure that if you hear this song, you'll love it too.

It has rock sounds, nice vocals, and lyrics that make me cringe because I don't really think I need help right now (well, unless you wanted to give me the job opportunity of my life, but that's not the point right now). Apparently, Full Blown Rose is now defunct. Seems like people didn't heed the call for help on time (sorry, had to make this joke!)

Video from YouTube.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The politics of award-winning

Well, the Oscars have come and gone. I missed a large part of the ceremony because I had other social commitments, but when I heard that Julie Christie hadn't won Best Actress and that it had gone to Marion Cotillard, my heart broke into small pieces. I had been hoping they would give it to Julie Christie for her heart-wrenching performance in Away from Her, but the Academy didn't.

Not to say that Cotillard's performance wasn't good, because that'd be a lie. But I really believe Christie's work was much more worthy. This event made me reflect on the politics of award-winning, both in glamorous Hollywood and in my own professional life.

I'm a competitor, have always been. Ever since I was a little kid, my parents groomed me and my brothers to succeed. Don't be confused though. Mom and Dad never demanded me to be a straight 'A' student; the only thing they ever demanded was that I gave my very best, that I tried as hard as I could. If my best effort won me a "B+", then so be it, but at least I gave it my all. That has been my philosophy always, to live to the fullest and to try as hard as I can.

Of course, in the trials, you have to face other people and you have to try and win. That's why I said I had always been a competitor. I've been faced with lots of competition, academically, in sports, in art, and in everything I have done. I don't hate losing in and of itself, I hate losing AND knowing I could have tried harder. But when I try hard and I'm competent enough in an area, success has frequently translated into winning awards and trophies.

One of the areas where I have always been frustrated with the politics of award-winning is teaching. A few years back, I was teaching at a high-end, upper-class high school and (as I usually do) I gave my students my very best. I tried so hard to help them in and outside of the classroom, not because I wanted a 'Best Professor' award, but because I felt that I should give my best.

Soon enough, a competition for 'Best Professor' ensued and, while I was nominated, I didn't win. The shock for me wasn't that I hadn't won, but that the professor who won was 'the sweetest one'. I thought "What the heck?!?!? Am I not sweet enough? Am I not dedicated enough?". I was devastated.

The Monday following the awards ceremony, three quarters of my classroom's seats were empty. My beloved students, the ones who totally swore for me, the ones who thought I was 'simply the greatest ever', were absent. Why was that? I wondered if they felt that they couldn't face me after having voted for someone else and not for me.

I couldn't let this go for a long while, so one day I actually attended a lecture given by the winner. I was quite unimpressed, but I could now clearly see why I hadn't won: I was too demanding. Yeah, I was sweet and always available to my students, but I pushed them hard. But this professor was so laid-back and care-free that his students liked him a lot. So much they wanted him to win. So he didn't win for being the most competent teacher nor the most skillful. He won because he was popular.

In more recent years, my teaching experience has been actually quite the opposite from previous stints. My students have loved me not only because I care for them but because I have pushed them hard. I have cared for their personal growth and their development, but I haven't made it easy on them. And I have been handsomely rewarded. My former students (the very recent ones) often write to me to ask for advice, ask for a letter of reference, let me know what they've been up to, or just inquire how I am doing and what I'm up to. Knowing that my former students respect me and understand that I pushed them to be better because I saw potential in them, and because I cared, is the best award I could ever win.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Embracing destiny

While I was not able to sleep well from Friday to Saturday, I had a great night of sleep from Saturday to Sunday - although it was hard to get to sleep because I had tinga poblana and flan at AF's place (and while I love tinga and she is an amazing cook, it was heavy on my stomach - so I ended up feeling totally full until past midnight, even though we had dinner at 7).

It was quite an enjoyable evening, as SF was there too, and we joked, ate great food and enjoyed each other's company until about 9.30. They stayed to watch a movie, but I just wanted to go home and sleep. Was really exhausted. Brunch was also really fun, at The Nice Cafe, with C, B, J and L.

What I was meaning about embracing destiny on my post is that we should just go with the flow and not fight destiny. Let me explain. My upstairs neighbours, with their usual lack of regard for our sleep (my and my next door neighbour's), woke up at 7 am and started doing their usual rounds (stomping on their floor - my roof - and making noises). So instead of fighting it, I went along with it, and turned on my TV (as loud as I could possibly have it without being annoyed myself) and made breakfast. That has allowed me to be prepared for volleyball just in time. And I've had a chance to watch the news (which is rare for me, as I'm always super busy).

This evening I'm sure we are going to be watching the Oscars. I've got my bets on Julie Christie for best actress (despite how much I do like Ellen Page). Most people think Daniel Day-Lewis will win best actor. What do YOU think?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ah the paradoxes

I'm usually a night owl. Love staying up late and work my way through stuff. Only problem - I love waking up late too. But I've been awake on and off since 3.45 am. ARGH! Why, on the only day that I can sleep in (I can't on Sundays as I have volleyball), why can't I just sleep my way through the night? Frustrated.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vancouver Blogger Meetup - February 2008

This month's Vancouver Blogger Meetup was sponsored by Voxant and the folks of Smarter Than Your Average Blog. Had very nice conversations with Matt, Jan, Isabella and a few other folks. And of course, got to meet Rebecca's husband in person (though I've commented on his blog quite frequently) and Duane Storey. We had a very good time (photos on my Flickr stream).

Pondered for a while there about whether I wanted to post my own photos publicly on Flickr, you know, with the privacy thing, the anonymity, etc. So I decided to post some that I think can be public (the rest only my Flickr friends - which include some good blogger friends - can see them).

Normally I would embed my photographs here, but I haven't figured out how to do it without having Flickr have a hissy fit on me, so I'll just send you to my Flickr photostream. I left VBM unusually early (around 7 pm) because I was exhausted, and also because I have another social commitment. Hope you guys are having a great weekend!

Band review - Delhi2Dublin

D2D in full force
Originally uploaded by Raul P-V (Rolex)
Great friends usually means great perks. And having a close friend who is a die-hard fan of talented local bands usually means getting dragged along (very willingly I might add) to impromptu gigs. So HZ brought JH and myself along with him to see a live, in-studio performance of Delhi2Dublin. His review of the evening is here.

I don't think I can add much more to his review. You have to listen to D2D to really understand the uniqueness of their music. They simply rock (and no, they don’t actually do rock – it’s a fusion of Irish, Indian with some overtones of African I’d say).

It had been a long time since I saw a live performance (admittedly I am a fan of the Backstage Lounge, which is one of the venues where you'd see local bands perform). But, back to the D2D review. I was absolutely transported, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. One of the things that I would have personally enjoyed would have been to hang out with them after the performance (maybe have a drink or something). I've done that with other bands and the insight you get into their music and style is much better.

In this case, we ended up doing dinner (where our good friend BS joined us) and then a drink at 1181. More in-depth review forthcoming. But here is a picture of the performance last night. I am SO sorry that it's such poor quality, but I don't have the equipment. JH and HZ, on the other hand, are much better photographers and own better tools for their hobby. So, I am sure that at next D2D's gig you'll get better pictures. For now, you'll have to do with mine.

Northern Voice and Vancouver Blogger Meetup

Unfortunately, I'm going to miss most of Northern Voice 2008 because I forgot to register well in advance. But you can get the scoop on many local bloggers' sites: Rebecca, John, Duane, to mention just a few... I am sure just about every Vancouver blogger is posting about Northern Voice (myself included and I'm not even there). Best bet to read EVERY Vancouver blogger's account of Northern Voice? Simply Google "Northern Voice 2008". Easy as that.

I'm going to be at the Vancouver Bloggers Meetup though, and afterwards will head to meet my good friend AF for some flan and tea and much-needed catch-up. Of course, I am not sure how coherent I will be given that VBM is post-Friday drinks in my office. Oooops :) But I really want to meet some of Vancouver's bloggers (and my Team Blogger teammates!). Slowly but surely I'm getting to know in person some of these brilliant folks.

On Wednesday I met Rebecca in person for the first time, after having communicated via e-mail, GChat and on our respective blogs. Were you wondering if she's as pretty and sweet in person as she is in her blog and pictures? Yeah, she is. Totally. And moreover, she makes such a cute couple with John... makes me hopeful that I'll find true love some day!

Coffee shop review - Our Town Cafe (Kingsway and Broadway)

Well, while we are on the topic of coffee shops, I have to say that one of the cutest (and most relaxing ones) I’ve ever been at is Our Town Café. Located at the corner of Kingsway and Broadway, Our Town Café is the epitome of relaxation. I wouldn’t recommend you to come to OTC if you really like to have an ebullient atmosphere.

OTC is the ideal coffee shop to come and read a book, relax, take the day easy. The food is nice (they’ve got some organic items there too) and the coffee is good too (although I wouldn’t actually say it’s Artigiano’s coffee). The most important element: the relaxing atmosphere you get here. Best place to have a nice coffee or tea and read a book. Even when it’s raining.

Coffee shop review - Cafe Artigiano

There are few things I love more than coffee. Real coffee. The stuff that makes you smile when you wake up in the morning to the smell of a dark, freshly brewed concoction. Unfortunately, my tummy has begun to be slightly sensitive (please replace that with VERY sensitive) to irritants, and therefore coffee is now more or less off grounds.

The problem with this is that my daily routine does involve coffee. Even if I work from home for about one or two hours before heading to the office, that’s the first thing I do: I wake up, barely conscious, stagger until I reach my coffee maker and turn it on. However, I’ve recently had several episodes of stomach ache that are associated with dairy consumption (cheese, of all things!) and caffeine consumption.

Therefore, what I did today (as an innovation) was to make a pot of English breakfast tea, and start working. The kick wasn’t enough, I got to tell you. So, when KP said that she wanted to meet for coffee downtown, I jumped at the possibility. Particularly since we haven’t seen each other (and I totally missed her birthday!) and so she suggested Café Artigiano.

Now, to the uninitiated, this could be just any other coffee shop. But no, don’t be fooled. This is Café Artigiano. The one and only. This is gourmet coffee, even the Americano is amazing. The atmosphere is extremely warm. And the staff… not only are they beautiful (physically speaking), they are so incredibly sweet. *swoons*

I have been to Café Artigiano many a time, but had never actually had the time to sit down and write a coffee shop review, so now that I’m waiting for KP to show up, it’s the perfect occasion.

As I write this review, I’m looking at the baristas (both male and female) and they keep smiling. How do they do that, particularly after a really long day at work? I don’t know, but those smiles are beautiful and I feel so welcome at this place, it’s going to be kind of hard to leave. Of course, the incentive to get out of here is that I’m heading down to CBC Studios to see a live performance of Delhi2Dublin. I’ll tell you all about it afterwards.

Small inconvenients of Café Artigiano:

  • If you’re a blogger or need a wireless connection, you are pretty much SOL. This place doesn’t provide wifi. But on the plus side, if you actually want to work on a paper or read stuff, you can do it without the added distraction of having an internet connection.
  • The people coming here (and working here) are pretty damn hot. That may be a bit of a distraction if you’re trying to concentrate on a project. I have a very, very short attention span and can easily be swayed away from an assignment with a beautiful smile [ that being said, I’ve also been blamed for charming people away from their work by using my eye-lash batting powers and my mega-watt smile… ooops :o) ]
  • Not enough power outlets to connect your laptop. So, make sure you got a nice battery before heading down here to do work. I managed to sweet-talk my neighbours into letting me connect to the power outlet and run my cord undernearth their legs, but it’s slightly embarrassing.
  • The atmosphere is quite animated, so if you’re trying to concentrate on something that requires attention, you may be SOL. I am wearing my headphones and listening to Miguel Migs on my iPod and still can hear my neighbour’s conversations.
Overall, I still would come to CA (Hornby and almost Robson, near the Vancouver Art Gallery). Just accompanied with a nice book though ;)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Putting this beautiful day to good use

Normally, I work from home on Fridays (I used to do this to avoid being dragged out for a pint, but then I caved in and it has become a nice tradition). Anyhow, I'm working from home today as my building is not going to be well-heated and thus I preferred to be here. While I can't complain (I'm getting lots of natural sun light through my windows), I think it's a waste of a beautiful day to work at home. So I'm going to take my laptop and go somewhere to do work (and take this opportunity to take some nice photographs).

Suggestions for good locations to work? All I need is wifi :) Was thinking of hitting the Lonsdale Quay (I know of a fairly secluded spot where I read lots of research papers related to work). But other suggestions accepted. I'll have online access so I'll know what you suggest :)

Movie review - Shoot' Em Up

I was kind of expecting my good friend Nomade Moderne to do a review of "Shoot 'Em Up" (he has a great sense of humor and would probably have written a very witty description of the movie) but I know for a fact he's up to his eyeballs in work, so you'll have to do with my review.

If you have seen anything with Clive Owen, Monica Belucci or Paul Giamatti in it, you know that they're pretty serious actors. So when you see a movie where a British hit-man, all-around assassin becomes the unlikely nanny to a cute baby (whose destiny is to become a bone-marrow donor for an ailing politician), you know that you're in for a laugh.

Said British nanny (played by Owen) is trying to save the baby from Giamatti's thugs, and in the process, making extensive and very creative use of carrots (you have to see the movie). Since he is incapable of feeding the baby by himself, he seeks a working woman to help him out (Belucci). The rest of the movie is so over the top that we couldn't stop laughing.

Why would these actors choose to do this movie? I don't know. But I can tell you that the Wikipedia summary doesn't do it justice. You *have* to watch it to really get it.

And while we are at it, you should really check the most recent post of Nomade Moderne, where he published some of his photography (he recently purchased a Digital SLR, so he's making good use of it).

And here is the YouTube trailer for the movie:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On randomness

Very quick pre-sleepy time post, just to answer a question that was raised at today's Green Drinks, and at last night's Third Tuesday. The question was - what do you blog about? And my long winded answer is always "well, I'm interested in environmental issues, so it started like that, but now I blog about very random things".

The general response I got was (with the exception of a few individuals particularly at Third Tuesday) ... "so, say you wake up thinking about something, you just blog about that?". That got me thinking about a shorter way to respond. I blog about what peaks my interests, what I have on my mind or what I want to articulate for future reflection. That may be a very complex issue, or just a song that I want to find and keep here.

So, for example, I got very light-hearted and non-reflective pieces like the 'music reviews', but I also have some fairly complex analyses of Vancouver-related or environmentally-related issues. For example, I think one of my best pieces is the discussion around Al Gore/IPCC winning the Nobel Prize. Another one that I liked was my comparison of Vancouver's and Mexico City's transportation systems. Ah, and lest we forget... my discussion about the meaning of 'forever' in relationships.

So, in short - my blog is titled "Random thoughts of a student of the environment" for that reason: because I want it to reflect whatever random thoughts cross my mind. I am still interested in environmental issues, and I can write reflective and analytical essays. However, that's not the end of it all. I am here to have fun, and hopefully, so are you.

No recap of Green Drinks :(

Sorry guys, but as it turns out, in my intent to be as "non-specific" and "protecting everyone's privacy", my photographs turned out horribly and thus I don't want to post a detailed, non-pictorial recap of Green Drinks. Suffice it to say, it was fun and I had a really delightful time. I think I actually need to bring my business cards next time. And perhaps ask people in advance if they mind photographs, because the ones I got are hideous and really don't show anybody's face.

Green restaurants: More than a gimmick

While reading Morning Brew this morning, I came across a commentary from John Martin (published by The Province). Up until now, I had never heard of Martin, truth be told. But the commentary (provocative and somewhat shocking) made me think that people aren't really aware of what green restaurants (or sustainable restaurants) are, and that in a very similar fashion to carbon offsets, the public is criticizing the idea before really understanding it.

So I went back to the Green Table website to see if they had put up something newer that could help educate the readers (and perhaps Martin himself if he comes across my blog) about the concept of greening a restaurant. They now have an educational video that might be of some use. You can see it here (I copied the original link from Green Table's site).

It is clear to me that being oblivious to the reality that global environmental change is happening is just a demonstration of what I've called the "ostrich technique" (otherwise known as putting your head in the sand). Admittedly, I am one of the advocates of not putting all our eggs in the climate change basket. I want the public to know that there are many pressing environmental problems other than just climate change (e.g. wastewater, hazardous waste, e-waste).

The way Martin frames his article is very much that of the opinion of someone with limited exposure to the idea of sustainability in the food industry, and that's ok too. There is one basic fallacy though, that should be rebutted. Being a sustainable restaurant does NOT mean being a lousy restaurant. That's something people should be very well aware of. The idea of greening a restaurant which is already high quality is important, and I would hope that good restaurants will want to transition to becoming greener restaurants.

Take the list of Green Table members, and tell me which one you think is NOT a good restaurant. Hard to do, right? So, it's not that hard to be greener AND high quality. There will be some trade-offs, for sure. And there are products for which solutions are harder to find (I dare you to pack a steaming curry with basmati rice in a non-styrofoam container).

I can understand the frustration of Martin if the restaurant's efforts aren't legitimate or true. He clearly says in his article that he doesn't want 'pseudo-green gimmicks' confused with real efforts to be energy efficient or water efficient. That's why you have third-party certification and audits. That's why you enter in an eco-labelling scheme. That's why you make sure that restaurants comply with industry codes of conduct. That is precisely the reason why we have an organization like Green Table: to avoid restaurants with poor environmental performance to use green marketing to position themselves without actually making real efforts to improve the environment.

Just my $ 0.02 ...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Third Tuesday quick recap

So I went to Third Tuesday Vancouver (brilliantly organized by Tanya and Tod) which was held at The Network Hub. The gracious hosts at TNH offered wine to all attendees and were extremely personable and sweet. The venue was phenomenal. TNH provides office space (all the back end for new technology-based startups) and they also may be able to fund some entrepreneurial ideas.

The speaker was Jeff Young, an intellectual property lawyer with a great personality and a fantastic wit. He made the evening absolutely enjoyable. Some of the familiar faces I saw, in addition to Tanya and Tod, were John Biehler, Monica Hamburg, and in addition, some new friends were made (shout out to Vern, Chris, Dario, Ryan, Rastin, Jennifer)

After the event a smallish group moved down to Century (pretty much next door to TNH), a very nice restaurant that I'll have to check next time. I was somewhat surprised at the Mexican food choices that their menu presented, so I'll have to see how well they work. It was a very pleasant evening, and I learned lots about intellectual property (and actually Jeff would be proud of me, as the post previous to this one makes a political opinion, yet it is within the proper boundaries of IPL!)

UPDATE - Oh my God, Warren and John were faster than I was in blogging about it! Click on their names for their recaps of this evening.

Green shoes, green taxes, green hypocrisy?

One of the things that really irks me is the announcement of a new budget, because it usually brings the associated element that the Finance Minister wears new shoes. Nobody really knows the origins of this tradition, but I've seen the BC Minister of Finance unveil new budgets and wearing very expensive shoes. As noted in local newspapers, the current BC Minister of Finance, Carole Taylor, will be wearing 'green shoes' to go with her new 'green budget'.

There are several ironies here. First, shoes are very expensive (particularly in Canada). Wearing new shoes when you are about to hit taxpayers with new taxes or to speak about budgets doesn't really reflect very well on you. Second, shoes' manufacturing process is not really environmentally friendly (I do know this for a fact, and if you want to challenge me on this particular area, I dare you). Therefore, to say that you're wearing 'green shoes' is somewhat of a contradiction (yes there are more environmentally-friendly materials for shoes, but I saw a photo of Taylor's and they don't seem to be manufactured in that way). Third, shoes are often the commodity that homeless and poor people can least access. Thus, it's somewhat ironic that Taylor spends a few hundred dollars in a new pair of shoes that could very well be spent on feeding a few homeless people.

Wouldn't it be better if (even if just for PR purposes), every time a new budget was tabled, the Minister of Finance actually auctioned his/her shoes and all proceeds went to charitable causes? Or that the actual money that they were supposed to spend on new shoes goes to those charities? Oh, no... That might actually require to have some degree of sensitivity for the poor and marginalized, something that it is clear, politicians in this province, city and country don't seem to have that much of.

Recognizing heterogeneity in Vancouver's urban form - The pitfalls of EcoDensity

In a very recent post, Stephen Rees links to an article written by Erick Villagomez (a Vancouver-based architect, and I might add a very fine writer) on the actual urban densities in Vancouver. Making use of really nice visualization tools, Villagomez shows that East Vancouver is highly dense (despite whatever people's perceptions may be).

Since Rees asked the question "do you think EcoDensity(R) will make a difference)?" I figured I'd answer with a short essay of my own. Furthermore, I wanted to express some ideas that relate to the concept of urban density and the realities of sustainable urban form.

First off, we need to think about what we define as urban density. The statistical figures offered by Villagomez are in dwellings per acre. While one could criticize his data for not actually including the number of people in each dwelling, these data shed some light on whether there has been an increase in urban density (as measured by dwellings per acre) or not. Let's accept his data for the insights they provide - there are more physical units in more denser areas than there are in less dense areas. We don't know if there are more people there, but we could safely assume that it is the case (imagine 10 houses per acre with 4 people each house, vis-a-vis 10 buildings per acre with 10 apartments each with 2 people - the ratio is 40/200 or 1/5)

Clearly, from Villagomez's map (which you can find here) the Downtown core is the most dense area. There are some surprises with areas like northern Kitsilano having a comparable density to that of downtown (or at least so would appear from Villagomez's map). What I find interesting is that there is now evidence to support the statement that the West Side of Vancouver needs to increase its density.

Villagomez's point seems to be that we should look at homogeneous densification processes (e.g., achieving the same densities in East Vancouver and the West Side). That would be a good idea. The problem is that it would go against the realities of heterogeneity in urban form in Vancouver.

That is the point I am making in this essay: That we should recognize the heterogeneity of communities and populations in Vancouver. The West Side has been traditionally considered affluent and wealthy. The East Side houses more middle-income (and in some areas, low-income) population. There are natural heterogeneities in Vancouver's urban form that have been in place longer than I've been on this planet. We should find rational and smart ways to address these heterogeneities, and first of all, we should recognize them.

Now, don't get me wrong - I am not saying that recognizing this heterogeneity means that we should just keep our arms crossed. Not at all! I think what we ought to do is to call things like they are and tell the politicians that we are aware that there should be a middle-ground where some single family homes may need to remain. However, that doesn't mean that densification shouldn't occur. The chasm between the East Side and the West Side can be bridged with smart densification strategies.

One of the problems I see with urban planning consultations is that they are very prone to problems of NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard). Sometimes, communities even go as far as to go BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone). We should try to make it clear to the people living in areas that are potential targets for densification that the intent is not to bring crime to a certan area, but to reduce car trips, build vibrant communities and strengthen social capital. These would all be good objectives of an EcoDensity strategy. And to respond Stephen's question - no, I don't think EcoDensity is making a difference right now. But I would like it to. So, here's hoping...

Music review - Give It to Me Baby by James Rick

If you grew up in the era of funk, you'll immediately recognize this song, which remains one of my all-time favorites! Since I'm planning to get my close friends to go out and do karaoke in the not-too-distant future, I am browsing through my old archives of awesome music, to decide which tunes I think I can sing and which ones I want to see them sing. This is definitely one of them.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Music review - Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone

I've reached the 600 posts mark way faster than I thought! If you think about the fact that I am not a geek, don't do this for a living, and I reached 500 posts in December (and it's only February now), this is an important milestone for me.

So I thought I'd celebrate it with some music. The song featured here is "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone. Admittedly, this tune has been listened to much more in Anglo-Saxon North America than it has elsewhere (for obvious cultural reasons).

I just heard it for the first time in the first 3 minutes of the movie "Definitely, Maybe" which I just reviewed. Again, I insist... The song sounds so much better in a movie theater with surround stereo sound. Great choice of song to begin the movie (you have to see it to understand what I meant).

Video from YouTube. This is not the actual video of the song, but I couldn't find a rendition that sounded similar to the one I heard during the movie.

Movie review - Definitely, maybe

Last week, I scored free passes to the advance screening of "Definitely, Maybe" thanks to, so I invited my good friend HZ to join me (this could potentially be seen as a Valentine's Day movie, or a chick flick, but he didn't mind the movie, even though it was fairly cheesy).

First of all, for the Ryan Reynolds lovers out there (ladies and gentlemen alike) - he does NOT show his abs in this movie. He does NOT take his shirt once. Not ONCE. So, if that was something you were hoping to see, you're watching the wrong movie (see Blade: Trinity, Buy the Cow, or The Amityville Horror if you're looking for Ryan showing skin).

However, he does what he does best: make people laugh. The basic premise of the movie is a single father who tells a story to his daughter about the three women he loved: the girl's mom, a journalist who ends up being a lover and a free-spirited young woman. While I won't spoil the ending for you, I sort of expected this movie to be a bit more Hollywood-esque.

Don't forget that you're reading my review - I'm a fan of Ryan Reynolds, have been for a long while. So, I have to admit that I did like the movie. It made me laugh considerably, and it had some moments where it demanded a bit more range from Ryan. That being said, as HZ rightfully pointed out, I should watch "Smoking Aces" if I want to see Ryan in a totally different light.

If you have a chance to go see it, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it.

Restaurant review - Arms Reach Bistro (Deep Cove) [dinner]

Normally I don't do two reviews of the same restaurant even if I've been there for dinner AND brunch. I went to Arms Reach Bistro for brunch a few months back, but I hadn't been there for dinner, and it was a whole new experience. First of all, we were lucky because even though it was a Sunday night, they were completely full. They only had one table for two, which was the one that we got. Phew!

The staff is extremely nice and very friendly. The service is top-notch, although maybe slightly slow (I am not sure if it was the fact that they had full house or maybe we were just super hungry as we had just done the Baden Powell trail hike - I wanted to take photographs from the wonderful view of Indian Arm).

I ordered a dukkah crusted B.C. salmon with crisp madras potatoes and yogurt which was very well prepared, and the main course (while not inexpensive at $ 25) was very good. The desserts are to-die-for: the chocolate torte ganache and the tower of power cheesecake were by and large the nicest cakes I've had in months. I would seriously recommend Arms Reach Bistro for dinner. They do have more affordable entrees [if you are on a budget]. You may want to go for the pasta, which also looks very tasty.

The view at night is wonderful, the food is great, the staff is impeccably trained and on top of everything, they provide you with small blankets in case you are cold (yeah, the restaurant can get a bit chilly - and since I'm always cold, I would say this is one of the most thoughtful ideas I've seen in a restaurant). Will definitely be back.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I'm normally very smart, but...

In general, my planning background comes handy when I have social engagements in my calendar. The past few days have been lovely in regards to having some opportunities to spend time with friends (although I have not had a chance to see others). Thursday was a wonderful Valentine's with dinner and a movie.

Friday was JH's birthday which we celebrated with dinner and a movie as well (HZ, ML and myself). Now, this is when I explain what's behind this post's title. I generally do not disclose that I am lactose-intolerant as I love ice cream, yogurt, milk and other dairy products with the exception of cheese (which I, luckily, hate to the bottom of my heart).

Whenever I go on a dairy binge, I start taking my medication well in advance so that my tummy can take it. Well, stupid me, I did not take it on Friday (nor early in the week) even though I figured we might end up ordering pizza in at HZ's apartment. Quite obviously, the logical result is that my stomach gave me cramps all day today, and they got to the point tonight where I am in pain right now.

That was a very stupid idea - I should have planned better to just not eat dairy, period. Or simply take my medication. Better luck next time, because right now I am in pain. I'll have to deal with this tomorrow. For now, I'm just going to go to bed very happy as it was a lovely evening at JH's (cheese fondue - which I did NOT touch - and chocolate fondue - on which I binged on). Come to think about it, maybe there was some dairy in the chocolate fondue as well, because my tummy really got in extreme pain right after that. Oh well, who cares. It was a great evening, in my books.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Curry chicken with basmati rice

Rice is tough. Rice is very tough. It's hard to make rice the right way the first time around, I find. So when I score and end up having a great bowl of basmati rice with curry chicken, I feel like I am in heaven. The only drawback is that when I save the rice for later, I need to add more water and microwave it for 3-4 minutes before it has the same consistency and texture.

And this is so wrong on so many levels, but as soon as I tried to modify the code for the caption of my photograph, it hid it (see what it did to my Mount Pleasant clock photo). I am not keen in having my own photographs captioned as "Originally uploaded by Raul". Those are MY photographs, not only did I UPLOAD them but I also TOOK them!

Grrr... I think I'm going to get serious about the Blogger to WordPress transition.

Blogging from Flickr

the clock mt pleasant
From the Flickr photostream of Raul P-V (Rolex)
Given the number of entries I've posted on this blog (nearing 600!), you'd think I'm more of a geek than I admit to be. Well, not really. My good friends are usually the ones I run to, asking for advice on "how should I sync my iPod with my computer?" or even the super lame "I can't get my GMail to talk to my Flickr".

Anyhow, I have managed to link my Flickr to my Blogger pages and now I can blog a photograph directly from my Flickr photostream. Nomade Moderne suggested in a recent comment that I should find a way to add the Creative Commons license to my site and to my Flickr account so that people can use my photographs and content and link back to it. I think that his idea is pretty smart and I have started doing that, now that I have a bit more time. I am not 100% sure I have the right license on my Flickr account, but I think that the right one is here in my blog.

I have also increased the number of photographs on my blog posts, not only to make them look pretty (although they are nowhere near as pretty as some of my fellow bloggers!), but also to start transitioning from Blogger Padawan to Blogger Jedi. And yes, I know... that transition may require WordPress! :)

The things I hate the most

I am a very loving guy, and most people would agree that it's really hard to make me angry or mad. That being said, I was over at Meg Fowler's blog, and with my newfound freedom, I proceeded to take the time to actually reflect on the things I hate. All my friends know that I hate cheese and Chinese food, but ... did you know I also hate this rainy weather?

So, without further ado, here is a list of the things I hate. You may find some surprises, you may share the same hate for some things, or you may actually love the things I hate. Everything is fair in love and war! By the way, the list has expanded from what I commented on Meg's post ...

The original list of the things I hate...
  • Cheese
  • Chinese food
  • Celery
  • Rainy days
  • Pushy panhandlers
  • Idiotic people
  • Bureaucracy and red-tape
  • People who aren’t flexible
  • People who only follow rules
  • Stubbornness without respect
  • Improper attribution of ideas
  • Drivers in Vancouver (generally speaking)
  • Politician’s lies
  • People who talk out of their … pretending they know something they don’t
  • My upstairs neighbours
  • … and their kid
  • … and his tantrums
  • … and their callousness and lack of respect for my and my next-door-neighbour’s sleeping patterns
  • Telemarketers
  • Arriving late
  • Having lost my cell phone
  • Sleep deprivation
  • When someone stands me up
  • When someone changes pre-existing plans without consulting with me first (and those are our plans)
  • Not being able to blog when I want to
  • Not having good ideas to blog about
  • Self-pompous people who think they’re all that and a bag of chips
And more recently (e.g. within the past few hours) I remembered other things I hate...
  • Living in a different country than my parents and my brothers
  • Forgetting friends' birthdays
  • Double-booking myself
  • ... and triple-booking
  • ... and booking myself multiple times
  • ... because I don't have a Palm Pilot to keep my Google Calendar organized
  • Missing wonderful Christmas and New Years parties because I spent mine 6,000 miles away from my dear Vancouver friends
  • Not being fully fluent in French (even though I'm fairly conversant)
  • The smell of cigarettes
  • ... and second-hand smoke
  • Having some people take me for granted
  • Dry martinis (I know - shocker! I should get my bartender license revoked)
  • Not being able to leave trackbacks in WordPress-powered blogs because I am still with Blogger.
  • Running for a bus only to have it leave me behind for a fraction of a second
  • Buses filled with drunken kids who tend to grab my derrière
  • Losing a block on the net because I was too distracted looking at how cute the power hitter was (despite the fact that I did indeed have a good position to block the spike!)
  • Missing serves (both in tennis and volleyball). My serve used to be my best weapon.
Wow. That was a long list... But honestly, I swear, I love lots of things :)

Upcoming event - Green Drinks (Vancouver) Wednesday Feb 20th

I have been so insanely busy that I have missed many of the most recent Green Drinks events. However, this coming Wednesday I am NOT busy and thus will definitely be going to Green Drinks. This is a gathering of enviro-minded folks from ENGOs, academia, industry, etc. Yes, there are actually 'green drinks' on tap.

From the Green Drinks Vancouver website:
There's no agenda or other formality - it's just a chance to meet regularly to chat, debate, socialize and connect with others in Vancouver who are passionate about environmental and sustainability issues. Whether you're keen on green building & design, sustainable energy, organic gardening, or something else entirely, you'll find like-minded people. Please feel free to bring your business cards, brochures, info sheets, magazines and newsletters to put on a table for people to take away with them. Do make sure to take whatever you left on the table with you when you leave.
I suggest that you check it out. I am not generally a fan of Steamworks, but it's a great pub for this kind of gathering. Plus, I always end up bumping into lots of friends of mine from the environmental field (kind of the point, isn't it?). Plus, if you end up going, you'll get to see my megawatt smile :)

Movie review - P.S. I Love You

Perhaps the best movie of the year (and yes, admittedly it is only February 14th), this is one of the nicest films I've seen in a long time. While I admit that Hilary Swank is not one of my favorite actresses (not because I don't believe in her acting ability - she has two Oscars, after all!), she has had some excellent work (particularly her 'Boys Don't Cry' which gave her the first of her two Oscars).

This is, by and large, the best performance I've seen of an ensemble cast in a romantic comedy. With actors of the caliber of Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Gina Gershon, Lisa Kudrow, James Marsters, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Harry Connick Jr., I wonder how much pressure the director felt. Often times, it feels as though there is a risk that the movie will place too much emphasis on just one character and leave the rest underdeveloped. That's definitely not the case in "P.S. I Love You".

One word of warning before I continue with my rave review (yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie) ... I wouldn't recommend seeing this movie if you've gone through a recent breakup or if you've lost a loved one (as the film deals with how Swank's Holly Kennedy deals with the death of her beloved husband, Gerry Kennedy, played by Gerard Butler).

The movie traces the evolution of Holly's coping, mourning and moving on with her life after her husband Gerry dies of a brain tumor, a short ten years after getting married. The ultimate slacker, Gerry is a happy-go-lucky, free-spirited man (in contrast to Holly's uptight, all-around planner personality). However, in a movingly sweet display of maturity and love, he plans (and writes) a series of letters to Holly. Each letter is supposed to help Holly inch forward towards moving on and accepting Gerry's death. And guess what... without giving away the ending, I can assure you that she ends up being alright, although in a non-Hollywood kind of way.

Admittedly, "P.S. I Love You" can be categorized as a chick flick. I have read some rather negative reviews (one even coming from The Globe and Mail). But the truth is that I spent half of the movie with tears in my eyes. And I can assure you that I wasn't the only one in the theater who had that reaction.

I found many positive aspects to the movie, some of which I discussed with JT. One of the best elements of the script is that each letter actually does push Holly forward. Holly does not have emotional ups-and-downs during the grieving process (which truthfully may be a little bit of a stretch). Maybe it's just because I believe in the power of self-awareness. Holly finds out more and more about herself and about the immense love that Gerry had for her. And in the process, she learns to let go of her deceased husband.

Swank delivers a very nice performance, as does Butler. The rest of the cast is phenomenal, and Kathy Bates steals many scenes as the overbearing, possessive yet absolutely adoring and loving mother of Holly. In one of the main scenes, where Swank's character lashes back at humanity and destiny for having had her husband taken away from her, Bates does an absolutely amazing job of comforting her and explaining that fate isn't fair.

Of course, some of the climactic moments are associated with the title of the movie. After imparting wisdom, offering reflections on their life together and on how the future should shape for Holly, or simply suggest that she takes the time to go out on the town and enjoy herself with her two best friends (impeccably played by Gershon and Kudrow), he always signs each letter... "P.S. I love you". I couldn't help but get goosebumps and shed a few tears every time he read out loud these words.

It is a good movie, despite whatever negative comments some reviewers have. Honestly, I don't know if the people who wrote the reviews are just jaded or what, but I for one, absolutely loved the movie, particularly because I saw myself reflected in many instances. This movie reminded me that, once in my lifetime, I was entirely, unabashedly, totally and fully in love. For an amazing year, my former partner's first words every morning used to be "Good morning. How can I make you happy today?". No wonder why this movie struck a chord with me. I have previously indicated, Amado Nervo was right about me in his poem. Truthfully, yes, "I loved, I was loved, the sun graced my face. Life, you owe me nothing. Life, we are in peace".

"P.S. I Love You" is a great Valentine's movie and I couldn't have asked for a better movie to see on Valentine's Day. My evening was simply perfect. I hope yours was too.

Trailer courtesy of YouTube.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's :)

I know that some people hate this Hallmark(TM) day, but at least in the case of my close friends, Valentine's is a reminder of how lucky we are to have the friends and loved ones that we do. I have used every opportunity to rave about my friends and family (wherever the country they live in may be).

There have been good times, and not so good times, and in moments of despair, I have always had close friends near by to remind me of who I am and where I am headed. I have had my family and my friends to stand by me, to help me along the way and to keep me sane. For always being there for me, I'm forever in your debt. I love you guys.

And the great thing is that, through the blogosphere (and volleyball), I've made new friendships... how cool is that?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

QUESTION PERIOD: How to deal with relationships and dating?

Given that Valentine's Day is coming up (February 14th), I figured that a QUESTION PERIOD post should address Valentine's and how we celebrate in Vancouver. I already gave you a list of the most affordable (and nice) restaurants to do Valentine's (in my humble opinion), and now for QUESTION PERIOD I'm going to ask you - how do you deal with relationships and dating? This is a question I have been asking myself, but with a recent post by Tanya (aka NetChick), I was reminded of the issue, and thus I thought I'd use this as a lead in to the post.

Having been single for over four years now, it's kind of interesting when people ask me if I am in a relationship, or whether I'm dating anyone. I have been in complicated relationships before (a term I commonly use for those is situationship -- although I did not coin the term itself). Recently, because of conversations with very close friends, I've started to reflect and think about the issue. Not in much depth, truth be told. But just began thinking about it again.

I haven't paid much attention to dating as I've been lucky in that I get many of the perks and very few of the problems when I'm in a situationship. Don't get me wrong. I am a very loving guy, and for sure enjoy the idea of a life partner. There are complications to being in situationships too. But if I were to really buckle down and get serious with dating, there are still a few things that stand in the way, at least at the moment.

First, I need to find myself a job that will pay for the kind of lifestyle I want. Having a romance at this moment in my life is therefore pretty secondary. Second, I want to make sure to be in a relationship for the right reasons. I don't want to be attached just because I am alone (and trust me on this one, I am NEVER alone -- my weekend fills by Tuesday morning and if you are lucky, I'll book you for next week). Third, I want to ensure that I am not chasing the perfect relationship. I am not perfect by any measure, nor do I want to be. I'm happy to grow with a partner as time goes by.

I've always been curious about what people think of the dating process, and particularly, of whether the fact that I've been out of practice for so long does make any difference to whether I will be able to find someone or not. Somebody told me that the only way that one can really develop the skills necessary to date is to engage in the process. I am someone who believes in learning by doing. That's the reason why I took up modeling. That's how I learned so many languages. I learned to be a bartender just because I thought I might need the skills sometime (I already have put them to good use, so ...). Therefore, my question is, should we just plunge in the dating pool just because we need the skill set? How have you dealt with your relationships? Have you faced any particular challenges?

Note - I've enabled comment moderation since a short while ago, so if you don't see your comment posted, don't take offense. I'm just a bit slow at the moment in getting through comments.

Blogging for Big Brothers - Registration :)

Well, I finally found my donations page :) You can click here to sponsor me. The funny thing is that the message is not mine. I'll update it with a more personal message (because the reason why I joined the team is not the one on the main page) but for now, it should work. I just think it's a great cause.

And it should be fun to share these good times with the bloggers I've always read but so far, have not met in person!

Different methods of relaxation

For the past two years, I've been super stressed with work, and in particular, have put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. So, as an important deadline nears (and since I already have the product ready), I am in the extremely rare position of actually enjoying myself without any guilt or pressure.

While I haven't written weekend reviews in a couple of weeks (I should do that one soon), I can't say I haven't had a chance to relax. Went to a movie recently with Nomade Moderne, did dinner with C, B, J and M (sushi), but still had to do a lot of work. But today, as I arrived home from work, I just prepared a pot of English Breakfast tea, took my bag of Chipits (mini-kisses from Hershey's) and just curled on my couch to watch TV.

I ended up (not surprisingly) having a fairly long nap, but the most interesting part of it all is that, despite how much I brag about getting really drunk with lychee martinis, I end up having a much more mellow approach to relaxation. I actually do have some vodka at home (and some Kalhua) and I didn't even want to make myself a drink.

How do YOU decompress? What is your idea of a relaxing, chill evening?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This is a test entry

Originally uploaded by Rolex PV
Since I promised Rebecca that I would write a guest blog post on Mount Pleasant, I needed to experiment with my photographs and my Flickr account. As it turns out, I've got also a PicasaWeb, and miraculously (for someone who isn't that much of a computer geek like me) I have managed to link them all.

Since Rebecca and other blogger friends link to Flickr, I figured I should test if my blog links to my Flickr account. So, here is my first attempt. In the photo you can see the mountains and on your right, the new building for the Mount Pleasant Community Centre, at 1 Kingsway.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Vancouver's most romantic restaurants for Valentine's Day 2008

As many of you may, or may not know, I'm one of the contributors to UrbanSpoon - Vancouver that has the highest number of restaurants reviewed (I think my latest count was 42). I am not saying that this makes me a food critic, but I would like to believe that I know the restaurant scene pretty well.

I keep in touch with Ethan from UrbanSpoon quite often, we communicate via email and share some ideas and stuff. But even though we correspond, I did not know that they had a blog. And in their most recent post, they review the most romantic restaurants for Valentine's Day 2008.

While I must admit that I am totally tempted to tell you which ones I think are the most romantic (thus increasing the probability that I will end up bumping into you on Valentine's Day), I think I'll just indicate my own suggestions for where to take your loved one for dinner on that special day (or your friends, as the case may be).

However, I thought I'd plan this post in a slightly different way. Instead of telling you the most romantic places to take your sweetheart or go out with your friends, I'm going to give you a few suggestions of places to go based on how expensive the deal may get.

So, say that you are a starving student yet you still want a nice meal out with a loved one (or a group of friends)... or you are getting paid the big bucks and want to surprise your sweetheart... here are my top recommendations for dinner for Valentine's Day (bear in mind that I will definitely recommend local business over chains).

On the budget-savvy side of things...

The Red Sea Cafe - One of the best, if not the best Ethiopian food in town. Definitely romantic, has a nice atmosphere at night. Great service. Good food for your coin.

The Cascade (I think they've dropped the 'Room') - Excellent food and service, and not really expensive. However, I don't expect them to have a lot of space for Val's Day.

Cafe Luxy - Great Italian food, although with all the Davie Street crowd overflowing with love, I'd probably say that they'll be fully booked.

The Dunbar - Yes, I know that it may look a bit like a pub now, and have pub food. But it can get romantic, for sure. And it's not really expensive.

A bit more expensive, yet affordable...

Burgoo - I am afraid they may be fully booked for Val's Day. Great stews, soups and burgoos.

Ouisi Bistro - Definitely great Creole food. Romantic, and not too too expensive.

Enigma - Oh yeah, romantic for sure. Although a sure destination for UBC students who will want to take their girlfriends/boyfriends out for dinner, I imagine.

Crave - It's good for dinner - and not horribly expensive. Though I am also thinking it may get a little bit busy.

If you really want to go all out...

Aqua Riva - Many people hate it, but I love it, and it's one of the nicest views in town. And yeah, it can get expensive.

The Observatory at Grouse Mountain - You'll pay $ 35 dollars for the lift, but the view is SO worth it.

Horizons - I went there with a very close friend of mine, we probably should've waited for a much more meaningful occasion but it was great. And yeah, it's a bit on the pricey side.

Seasons in the Park - Located at Queen Elizabeth Park, this is one of the best spots for a great view of the city. And yeah, it may burn a hole in your wallet.

Cloud 9 - Enough said. Revolving restaurant, great view. And costly! But definitely worth it.

If you want, of course, you can leave a comment and tell me what you think of my suggestions, or make different ones... or simply tell me where you plan to go out for Val's Day. Whatever it is that you do on that day, I hope you enjoy it!

Blogging for Big Brothers - and bowling too :)

So Rebecca (aka Miss604) is organizing a team of bloggers who will be bowling for Big Brothers. As most of you know, dear readers, I have a tendency to volunteer. I've done a lot of charity work -- literacy campaigns, sex education, meals-on-wheels, etc. Since I became a blogger (and again, thanks to the positive influence of Rebecca), I found yet another avenue to give - the Blogathon. This was one of the most fun things I have done for charity.

Must confess that I was deciding whether I should Bowl for Big Brothers, and I factored a number of elements in my decision. First, it's a charity and an important one. Second, it would give me a chance to have fun with my fellow bloggers, hang out and do a good deed. Third, it is important for a dear friend of mine (the event itself, Bowling for Big Brothers). And fourth, although I am definitely busy, I'm not as crazy busy as I've been in the past couple of years.

Well, I did it. I signed on. I'm not 100% sure that my page is correct, so I can't link you to my "Sponsor Raul" page right now, but I'll get to it. The first thing (and most important thing) is that I signed up :)

I was considering the possibility of raising funds through carefully written posts. Yeah, kind of what I did for Blogathon. My individual goal is $ 100, so let's say that I wanted you all to contribute. So I'd basically do a 24 hour Blogathon to raise the funds, and I'd be asking people to say, give $ 0.50 (fifty cents) per blog post (so if I did 48, that automatically would ensure a $ 24 dollar donation). I'm mulling over how to do this. Suggestions accepted.

I will of course be bugging my close friends to sponsor me, but I also kind of want to 'earn' the sponsorship, particularly if it comes from my readers. I mean, there must be some kind of reward or incentive for you all, right? :) Anyways, suggestions taken for a fun method to raise funds for Bowling for Big Brothers. My individual goal is $ 100.00 but I'd be more than happy to surpass it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Definitely, Maybe - Well, I'm definitely lucky!

I *never* win anything. Other than tournaments, of course, when I play a sport competitively. What I mean is that I never win raffles or any kind of contests. Well, recently, the Vancouver-based gossip doyenne Lainey (from LaineyGossip) held a contest for advanced passes to the movie "Definitely, Maybe"

Everyone and their mother know that I really like Ryan Reynolds. Not only he is from Vancouver, he is funny and good looking and has some really cool movies. This one is a pretty sweet one, so I'm quite excited about the prospect of seeing 'Definitely, Maybe'. Well, lo-and-behold, I ended up winning some sweet swag from LaineyGossip, so I am headed to an advance screening on Monday. I can't tell you how happy I am!!! If only Ryan was at the advance screening, hehehe... just kidding!

I'll do a movie review after I've seen it. In the meantime, thanks so much to Lainey for the swag, and keep up the great work with the celebrity gossip site!

Focus on Vancouver: Cold Squad and Canadian actors

I had previously written about Canadian content policy (Cancon) and how the fact that Cancon had been implemented as a national policy. In particular, I think that it has allowed me to gain a better understanding of Canada as a multicultural nation. Sure, we do see Canadian actors in American television, but I really enjoy watching Canadian actors in Canadian TV shows.

One of my favorite shows was (and still is) Cold Squad, even though it's been cancelled. The show's premise revolved around the Vancouver PD Homicide Squad, tasked with solving cold cases. The main character, Ali McCormick, is played by actress Julie Stewart. It was a good show, with a smart premise, excellent writing and great filming. But the best part is that it showcased Vancouver.

In many episodes you could easily recognize landmarks or elements of Vancouver (such as Commercial Drive, or the Downtown Eastside, Cordova Street, or the bus 20 Victoria). I feel such warm fuzzies about Intelligence as well, DaVinci's Inquest, and Robson Arms, all shows that depict the day-to-day life of Vancouverites as we know them.

Of course, I'd like the depiction to be realistic yet not so grim. The fantastic movie Mount Pleasant (which I reviewed here a couple of years ago) does have a lot of location work done around the area near Fraser and Kingsway, but it still paints a sketchy neighbourhood, which is getting better and nicer through time.

Perhaps one idea for a new show would be to film something on Mount Pleasant or South Main. Trust me, there's enough action and day-to-day drama to fill a new soap opera!