So…

Well, here’s my regular update and well, I haven’t really done too much recently. Nothing for me to talk about really to make my life sound oh so interesting for you people out there. There are a few things of note though… Makes me feel like I’m not living in a hole completely.

We got more wood to build the second shelf, this one going down to our basement. We’ve improved the design somewhat. I also had a quick glance through a patio book and damn, there are some impressive designs. I’d love to try my hand at it, but I’m afraid I have neither the tools or (more importantly) the skills to accomplish such a feat.

I also received a few letters from politicians (Patt Bins, Joe Ghiz, etc) recently congratulating me on my graduation. Seems somewhat odd that they do that. Perhaps it’s cause I received the GG medal or maybe they just do that for everyone. I dunno. Kinda weird nonetheless.

And uhh, we finally got our phone lines installed. Yeah, just two days ago actually. Bell workers here have been on strike for the past 8 weeks and they recently got back to work. So I have a phone. Who am I going to call though… We still haven’t gotten our long distance thing switched to the new number yet.

Views of this blog are increasing. I had 20% of the entire amount of views in the past 10 days. That’s compared with the remaining 80% I received over the course of May, June and July combined. Woohoo… I guess people are finding what I write interesting. Either that or they have nothing better to do than just sit around and refresh their web browser. I’d prefer to think the first actually.

Read a little about the upcoming frosh week at Waterloo. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to it that much. It’ll be awesome meeting new people and making some friends, but the events look… well.. interesting. Engineering students there are known for their craziness and the lineup they’ve got there will definitely be dignity breakers. But what the hell, I’m always up for an ego downsizing.

Yeah, so that’s about it for now. Pretty boring I know, but I’m not gonna fabricate stuff out of thin air. You pays your monies and you takes your chances as Mr. Holton would say. Wha? Huh? What’s that phrase got to do with anything I wrote you say? Not sure. Just though I’d stick it in there for S and Gs….

And oh yeah. George Bush said the use of military force is a possibility against Iran if they don’t cease their reported nuclear development (again). So what else is new…

Technophobia

How many of you use a computer simply as a means to communicate with the world? How many of you know all the functions and what they’re useful for on your camera? Perhaps your answers are, I do and I don’t, to those two questions respectively. And why is that you may ask? Is it because you’re lazy and haven’t bothered figuring out? Is it too nerdy? Or maybe it’s because technology has scared you away with a bad past experience. It’s too ‘advanced’ and not reliable for the masses to use efficiently. Who honestly wants to read a 300 page operating manual for proper usage and care of a computer? You use it to talk on MSN or write a few emails and surf the net and that’s about it. Anything more would mean running the risk of messing something up.

Now it may be that you’re sending your piece of technology the wrong vibes:

Jinxed computer users might be sending out a bad vibe, researchers suggest

Or maybe it’s the fact that these high tech toys just aren’t properly made (yet) to be used by your regular Joe. In reality the fear of technology is either due to prior bad experiences or anecdotes of experiences passed from one person to the next. These less than stellar tales of the interaction between human and technology is the result of faults of both the product and the user.

In the manufacturing process, some units do come off the assembly line with defects. The manufacturing process must be ever so precise to guarantee a problem-free product. With everything technology shrinking in size, it only makes the job harder. Quality control must ferret out these defects, but any test can only be good for the duration of the test. There is always the possibility of future failures or breakdowns. Invariably, some of these defective parts do get out to the stores and we, as consumers, are ready to gobble them up. They cause some headaches, but for the most part, the defects that leak through QC labs are relatively few. So you shouldn’t worry that you may be buying a semi, or non functioning item.

Then there’s the question of software. Software, simplified, allows a user to interface with the hardware. You give ‘instructions’ which are interpreted by the software which then instructs the hardware to do a certain thing. Sometimes it is this software that causes the breakdown. Without proper software, hardware cannot function. For example, an MP3 player has a firmware, which is essentially what allows you to control the player. The buttons are merely a tactile way for you to interact with the firmware. Now say that firmware is buggy, meaning it has defects of its own. When you press play, there could be no response because the firmware isn’t relaying what your finger’s telling it to relay. So the hardware is working properly, but isn’t receiving any or the proper instructions. So it is often recommended by manufacturers to update your software on a regular basis to fix problems that were present. I’m sure you’ve all undergone the fun and joy of updating your Windows operating system.

Not all software is easy to use. In fact, that large majority is quite challenging to the average user. That’s why you see companies often market their products as ‘Easy to use’, ‘operates without special software’ or ‘great for beginners’. That market is the largest. It’s also why you see some products far more successful than others. Take a look at the iPod for example. It is pleasing to look at and has a very intuitive user interface. Anyone with a finger or two and some common sense should be able to use the player relatively well. The same cannot be said for many of the competing products. They lack the easy to use and polished interface. The buttons may not be arranged logically or what you think something should do actually doesn’t. Thus users tend to shy away from these complex things. Because if you don’t, you may feel like this:

If the product isn’t to blame, then we users must be the ones at fault, be it directly or indirectly. The Western Hemisphere is a very internet-driven society. Just about every medium class household will have a computer with some form of internet access. It has become a useful tool for us, be it for entertainment, study or whatever else suits your fancy. However, because of this, it is also a tool with which harm can be done. There are thousands if not millions of viruses, worms, trojans and other pieces of malicious code out there on the internet. While some are relatively harmless (displays a laughing face that says you’ve been infected), others can be very dangerous, sending out any banking information you may have on your computer or even help people steal your identity. It is through the internet that many of our problems arise.

A very interesting view of the internet was presented by a frustrated ISP worker who was tired of customers blaming the ISP when it was the user who did not know how to properly protect themselves on the internet. “I don’t walk into a hospital and start performing open heart surgery just because I bought a scalpel, why should someone be allowed on the Internet just because they bought a computer?” – James, SharkyForums. Those are the words of a somewhat exasperated person, but you know what he’s getting at. The internet can be dangerous. You can’t expect anyone else to protect you from those dangers. You have to take charge.

You can never be absolutely safe on the internet. The only way that would happen is if you didn’t go on the internet. The next best thing is to use up to date firewall and antivirus programs. The firewall blocks unauthorized people from your computer while the antivirus will clean any virus you may get from downloaded files/files from other computers. A spyware detector and remover application can also be very useful. It is because of the lack of knowledge on the part of the user that causes the quick and wide spreading of internet viruses and worms.

We all like to be intelligent, or at least appear that way. That’s why you’ll see someone randomly mess around with something they really don’t know much about instead of referring to an operating manual. Anyways, manuals are boring to read and it’s much more fun to just figure it out as you go right? Well that’s where many get caught. They do things without thinking or realizing the possible consequences. Thus they mess things up and then are quick to push blame from themselves. What better thing to blame than an inanimate object which can’t defend itself? So when the story gets told to the co-worker, friend or family member the next day, the events are often skewed to present it as though they did nothing wrong and it was all the computer/camera/mp3 player/[insert tech object here]’s fault. These stories scare others from unlocking the full abilities of technology. Eventually you get the mass paranoia of technology that exists. Any deviation from the basics would lead to certain trouble if the stories are to be believed.

To be sure, it’s not always the users fault but for the most part, unfortunately, it is. As in many things we do, our ignorance is our weakness. I usually read manuals before fiddling around too much but I’ve still run into the odd problem here or there. However, I realize that they’re localized occurrences. I don’t go running off, spreading tales left and right. So a big piece of advice, RTFM. And if you don’t know what that stands for, don’t even ask, or even better yet, go look in an acronym dictionary. Our society’s technophobia is due in small part to the products but in large part to our ignorance. It is our nature. But try to overcome it all and see if it really warrants your fear. Chances are you’ll be surprised by the untouched potential of the technology around you. Just remember, the tool is only as useful as the user makes it.

Oi!

We had a little day trip today. To say the least I’m pretty tired. We went to Toronto, stopping at various places along the way and then came back to Niagara Falls and I went to see them for the first time since getting here. Here’s a more detailed rundown.

I got up around 8:30 this morning which is friggin early for me. I’ve been accustomed to the sloth-like laziness I’ve been exhibiting over the past week or so. As such, getting up at that hour was not fun. So I dragged my ass out of bed and to the shower and we eventually headed off in the direction of Toronto at about a quarter past 9. I spent the drive to St. Catherines propping my eyelids open with sharp objects. (well, okay that’s a lie, but it was damn hard trying not to fall asleep again) We had a few things to do in St. Catherines including getting my driver’s license and health card switched over to the new Ontario ones. Just another tie I’ve severed to the Island. Anyways, I was struck full force by Ontario’s sometimes wacky rules. This province has a graduated driver’s license system. That basically means there are multiple steps to acquiring your ‘full’ license. At the age of 16 you can get your G1 license which is comparable to the Island’s beginner’s license. Then after a year you can take your G1 road test which gets you your G2 license. That’s more like the first year of your actual driver’s license on the Island. Basically it says you cannot have any blood alcohol level and only as many people as seatbelts. That’s reasonable. But to get your full G license you need to wait another year to take another road test. I’m beginning to think they do this to squeeze more money out of you. 😉

In any case I only got a G2 license since I’m supposed to hold a driver’s license for at least 2 years before I can get my full G license. In a way I’m ahead of the curve since in Ontario I’d still only have my G1. Hooray for shortcuts! I’m not sure how much I’ll be driving in the near future since I’ll be living on campus at Waterloo. Then to get around the city of Kitchener/Waterloo, I can always use the buses, so that’s not too big of a deal. The problem will be to actually take that test two years from now because I probably won’t have had too much practice on Ontario roads. To say the least, I think driving on the 401 would be suicide for me at this point. I’ll cross that bridge when it comes though.

Driving along the QEW (Queen Elisabeth Way, a highway linking Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Toronto and many destinations in between) along the south of Lake Ontario, I was greeted by a very spectacular sight. Just past St. Catherines, there is a stretch of the QEW that runs almost right along the shore. I happened to glance over at the lake and I saw a bunch of sailboats; however that’s not what astounded me. My parents and I were discussing the fact that the lake was still a lake and not the ocean like what it was on PEI. However I pointed out that you couldn’t see the other side, so it felt like the ocean. And that’s when I noticed it. As I looked across Lake Ontario, I saw the city of Toronto appear out of the haze. You could only see a few of the taller buildings, but the CN Tower was unmistakable. It was truly remarkable to not even see the coast due to the curvature of the Earth but see the top parts of the buildings 60 kilometers away.

Next stop was in a place called Burlington, really just an extension of Hamilton and Toronto creating a 150K population city in between. I was pretty excited by this stop because I was going to go have my very first IKEA experience. Yes, it was an experience. It truly is different from any store I’ve ever been in. The way they have their store set up is very unique. I’ll also mention now that the store was absolutely massive! The top floor was set up as a showroom. They had mock home interiors where they set up their furniture and other things to mimic how it would be in a real house. It was definitely interesting to see how they designed the layout for all the furniture. There was a seemingly endless number of things sold there. Almost anything you could want in a home aside from electronics could be found. To be honest though, I had expected something different. I pictured a store that sold only high-end stuff. But in reality, they’re like the Walmart for homes. They sell anything from the lowest priced magazine to very expensive, modern/weird looking items. There’s even a restaurant included in the store that made things like Swedish meatballs available for the eating. The store is not laid out like your ordinary store with aisles. Instead it’s kind of like a journey where you follow the arrows and make your way through areas that sell different things for different parts of the home. Sort of annoying if you’re just there to buy one thing and end up walking through the whole store, but it’s great for people like us who just felt like browsing and taking it all in. Anyways, there are shortcuts you can take if you absolutely don’t feel like navigating the store. I got disoriented several times because you can’t really get a sense of where the exit is if you left the predetermined path due to the lack of aisles/etc.

After wandering through there, we started the grueling process of looking for home furnishings, again I might add. After spending multiple hours on that, we had the smart idea to make a trip into Toronto right during rush hour, around 4:30PM. To say the least, crawling around on the 401 at 10km/h isn’t exactly the best way to get anywhere. After about an hour and a half of driving (which should only take probably 15 mins when it’s not congested) and a few wrong turns, we ended up at our destination. We needed to buy some Chinese groceries for the coming while. That was where I was thrust into the middle of another interesting experience.

In the Markham area north of Toronto itself, it actually feels like China. The only difference is that the people, especially the younger ones, have been seriously affected by the culture here. Back on the Island, there was a young Chinese male (who I won’t reveal at this time) who I thought was perhaps the exception, not the rule. He was fairly gangsta’d up and whatnot. It seems like that is perhaps the rule here in Toronto. At every turn I’d see the male teenagers with big hats turned sideways with big, baggy shorts and shirts. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought there were like 500 Nelly lookalikes in that area alone (well lookalike aside from the fact they’re, well you know, Chinese and all…). I felt seriously out of place with my polo shirt and well fitting shorts. I may as well have been the white man in ‘Da Hood or something… (no offence meant by that at all to any party) The girls weren’t much better off. The older ones (20+) were fairly conservative, but the teenage ones have obviously been watching too many music videos and reading too many magazines. They looked 3/4 fake with the amount of makeup on them. I probably could’ve dragged my fingernails across their faces and only dent the nearly impenetrable layer of it. It was quite the sight up there in Chinatown… It was less Chinese than anything in my opinion. I’m probably being too old fashioned, but don’t expect me to start thuggin’ it up anytime soon. 😉

On the way back to Niagara Falls, I saw the most beautiful moonrise ever. At first I thought it was the sun setting because there was a haze and you could see a huge reddish/yellowish orb right near the horizon, but as I watched, I realized it was rising, not sinking. It was an absolutely sight. We decided that it would be a good time to visit the Falls as well. I hadn’t seen them yet since I arrived here. Oh, and you thought the Island gets a lot of tourists.

It was around 10PM when we arrived in Niagara Falls so the sky was pretty dark. They had the multicolored lights shining on falls and you could see the crowds of people lining the railings for their own look at the falls. The night life there I’d say rivals anything I have ever seen, including Montreal. The fallsfront area has to be one of the most commercial places I have ever seen outside of Las Vegas. I’ve only seen Las Vegas in photos but if you took one of the Niagara Falls downtown region, I could definitely mistake it for Las Vegas in a cursory glance. Of course the actual waterfalls gives it away quickly, but the high-rise hotels and bars that line the falls are rediculous for a city this size. You’d think a million people instead of about 80K lived here. Just goes to show just how much we sell ourselves out for money… We decided to just drive along the road that runs along the river (or whatever it is you call that area) because we didn’t feel like navigating the huge amount of people. Along our probably 2 or 3 kilometer run by the falls, I did not once see the crowds thin out on either side of the road. There was a constant flow of people from the bars and restaurants on the land side of the road and the rails were completely filled by aghast tourists and sightseekers. Let’s just put it this way. The Island gets slightly over 1 million visitors during the tourism season. Niagara Falls gets over 14 million. In recent years, two casinos have sprung up in the area along with several very large, very expensive hotels. This is all so we can shaft as many tourists as we can. Our course, these tourists really want to get gouged. After all, what fun would it be if they came here worrying about every penny they spent. So they give us money and we gladly take it. And then the area expands even more, making it more extravagant and awe-inspiring, drawing more tourists. For godsakes, they have fireworks over the falls every Saturday night in the summer. Talk about waste. Hehe…

Anywho, that’s just some of the things I wanted to share with you about my day today. It was pretty filled with interesting experiences to say the least. I have the Waterloo Student Life Day to look forward to this Saturday. I’m hoping to meet some people my age for the first time in Ontario. Wish me luck. And its off to bed I go; I’m thinking about getting up relatively early tomorrow as well to see if I can’t plot a course for my (hopefully) daily run. We’ll see how that goes.

New Experiences

There’s always something you are assured of when you move to a new place. You’ll see and experience new things. I can say even though I haven’t been out and about in this area, I’ve already got quite a taste of the things that are different here.

As we were driving home to Niagara Falls from Pearson International Airport, I noticed a often talked about store in our economics class. The sign was unmistakable as the one of furniture superstore IKEA. I had never been inside an IKEA store so I told my parents and we’ll go someday to see what it’s really like. From the outside, it looks absolutely huge.

You know on PEI there’s the black and green garbage can thingies and how you have to separate everything before it’s chucked into the garbage. Well, there’s none of that here and while I cringe at the thought of the amount of waste we’re producing, it’s also quite a relief to not have to think before throwing something in the garbage. I guess it’s that kind of mentality that’ll kill us. The Island’s great for having implemented a great system but I wonder what good it’s really doing if a place like Ontario with its relatively massive population isn’t doing that to conserve. On the other hand, there are some grocery stores here where you actually have to pay to use bags. They want to reduce the amount of plastic used. Also they throw their boxes into a tray type thing at the end of the cashier line so you can put all your food into them. This way you help them recycle the boxes and you use less plastic. There are some weird, innovative ways they conserve.

Everything’s so BIG here! No I don’t mean everyone’s fat or anything. I mean I know it’s due to the fact that there are quite a few more people here than on the Island. (St. Catherines has the same population as the whole Island for example) But even a place like Niagara Falls with its 70-80K population has several very large malls. We went shopping today (I know, it’s Sunday and all the stores are open) for like 4 hours. I think my feet almost feel off walking through those malls. And there’s so many stores no where to be found on the Island. When Walmart, Futureshop, Old Navy (well soon) and Home Depot came to the Island, I began thinking there’s no reason to go to say Moncton to shop anymore. For the most part, that would be true. But now that I’m here, I realize there’s so much more than what even Moncton or Halifax has to offer.

Oh and there’s a buttload of Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, [insert name of fancy car maker] vehicles here. I saw a BMW retailer in St. Catherines that I’ll just have to go to.

There’s something else that I wanted to write about in this post, but I’ve forgotten for now. I’ll definitely write it up when I remember again.

The Things You Take For Granted

Now I know the title would give you the impression that this is going to be a long rambling post, but no. I merely have one thing to point out. Back on the Island, I wouldn’t think twice about drinking the tap water as is. I mean I didn’t (we always drank bottled water which now when I look back seems a waste) but I wouldn’t worry about doing that. Fast forward to today and all of a sudden, I don’t feel so comfortable with drinking the water that comes pouring out the faucets. Actually, let me be honest, I won’t drink that water. Even to brush my teeth with it feels/tastes funny. I’d much rather that it not go into my system without being boiled or something beforehand. In any case, I just thought I’d point that little observation out to you all. On the Island, if I were really thirsty, I could just turn on the tap and grab a glass of water. Now when I’m thirsty it’s more like, hmmm hope there’s some bottled water/pop in the fridge.

Maybe I’m being unfair here. I’m sure it’s safe to drink. I mean those Walkerton inhabitants’ll tell you so. (Ok, that was a mean poke at them, I mean absolutely no disrespect) If I moved to, say, Shanghai or something, then I’d probably think the water here’s like heaven or something. Oh well, it’s all relative.

Meanwhile, I did more cleaning today. We got rid of like 10 of the 250 boxes we have lying around here. I also worked a bit more on the blog layout. I just noticed that there’s a major problem with the sidebar in M$ Internet Explorer, but then again who uses that crappy browser right? (Oh yes, I just remembered, only about 90% of users do… I guess the Firefox’s 6%’s kind of the minority.) Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work I go…