Friday, December 21, 2007

This is the End

That is, the end of my first term at the University of Waterloo. So how was it? On balance, not bad, not at all. It was not, as I might have feared, overly intense in terms of work or other commitments. Coursework is, well, coursework and I've long since gotten used to the regular routine of assignments and exams. My TA duties weren't overly onerous, either, though they did entail some seven hours of proctoring and marking on Monday - a great thrill, let me tell you. All that aside, most people in the department are friendly, especially my many officemates.

Otherwise, I'm quite happy - ecstatic, really - to be off to Toronto tomorrow at last for my vacation. My blog updates will hopefully continue while I'm away from Waterloo, though my internet access will likely be sporadic.


As it turns out, my wintry name for this blog has been prescient. It's been a relentlessly cold prelude to winter, with temperatures typically just below freezing during the day, cold winds, and, above all, lots and lots of snow. This past weekend, a great storm blanketed the eastern half of the country in snow. I stayed inside, feeling very thankful that I wasn't travelling by air just then.

Unrelatedly, the trees next to my apartment building appear to be a magnet for crows. I see literally hundreds of them flying overhead sometimes, or else roosting in the big elms and oaks nearby. Insofar as common birds go, I quite like crows. They're smart, for one thing, in contrast to pigeons, and they aren't anywhere near as dirty or aggressive as the Canada geese which infest the UW campus (and some of whom stubbornly refuse to migrate, even with all the cold, snowy weather in the past month).

Anyhow, need to go finish packing... Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Yoda: The Puppet

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can post whatever you feel like. So, without further delay, I give you Yoda as he was meant to be - as a puppet:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Praised Be Air Canada

That's right. I like Air Canada. Although it is something of a national past-time to complain about the beleaguered airline, I've never found their service anything less than professional and helpful. Typically I fly at least several times a year, though mainly on the Halifax-Toronto route. Since June, however, I've been on at least 20 different flights, most of which have been on AC (the others on KLM and Porter). In that time, my baggage has been lost twice (something of an inevitability when you arrive at the airport with 40 minutes to spare or less), and I've experienced a number of weather-related delays and, as of yesterday, a cancellation.

What happened? Well, my initial flight from Halifax to Toronto early in the afternoon was cancelled due to the storms that have been passing through much of the country in the past few days. This was rebooked automatically due a flight later in the afternoon connecting through Ottawa. No problem there, this simply made my afternoon more relaxed. Of course, that flight was delayed by around 30 minutes, but upon boarding I discovered that I'd been rebooked with free food on the plane. Yay! So I watched two episodes of The Office on the vastly expanded on-demand entertainment system and the beginning of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles - certainly a pertinent movie for my day! Of course, the delay meant that I missed my connection in Ottawa, but it simply resulted in being booked on a slightly later flight.

At this point, this is starting to sound like a commercial for Air Canada, but I really don't understand all the bile directed at it. Air travel is hectic at the best of times, and delays due to adverse weather events tend to be handled fairly well all told. Otherwise, I like AC's entertainment system and the selection of food-for-purchase isn't bad at all.

As for WestJet? Never flown with them - primarily because they have only a fraction of the flights of AC (and hence a fraction of the scheduling flexibility) and because their prices aren't any better. Porter was neat, though, particularly the view of the Toronto skyline at take-off and landing.


As an aside, I've seen more than a few Canadian politicians and quasi-celebrities on flights or in airports. Yesterday I saw Bob Rae at Pearson Terminal 1. On my Porter flight from Ottawa to Toronto in October, I noted that Rona Ambrose, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Ex-Minister of the Environment, was among the passengers. On a flight from (I think) Edmonton to Montreal in June, Roméo Dallaire was sitting in business class - and a woman went over to commend him! Otherwise, I once saw Don Cherry and Ron McLean at the old Terminal 2 at Pearson, and I once noted CTV reporter Mike Duffy bounding about through the Ottawa terminal.

I don't know what it says about me that I had no trouble recognizing any of these people immediately.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stir-fry from Scratch

Tonight I made a stir-fry. I use pretty much the same recipe every time; it's based on directions from Vickey, so I can't really claim originality, but it works well. Onward...

The main distinction of this stir-fry is that the meat is not cooked in the wok itself. Rather, I always boil it first with slices of ginger, soy sauce, and, usually, some powdered garlic. Fresh garlic would work too, but the ginger is more important - I use fresh ginger roots. Previously, I've cooked sliced pork, stir-fry pre-sliced beef, and stew beef. The latter I won't use again, since it was both too tough and too fatty. Tonight I used chicken thighs - it worked marvellously. After a solid half hour of boiling, the chicken is soft, tender, and, crucially, fully cooked. Boiling it with sliced ginger and soy sauce gives it a subtle flavour.

After the chicken has been thoroughly boiled, I stir-fried it for a few minutes with cooking oil, some more garlic powder, soy, and shredded ginger. Next I removed the chicken from the wok, and started stir-frying the vegetables. In this case, I used cucumber, green pepper, Shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, and diced green onion. I added more shredded ginger, soy, oil, and water, in roughly that order, and let them cook, stirring regularly. I then readded the chicken. After about 15 minutes (and once the rice had finished cooking), it was done, with enough leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Winter Has Come

As evidenced by the picture below. It's cold. But not too windy, and, frankly, there really isn't that much snow. It hasn't even merited the use of my boots. The great concrete edifice visible behind the trees is the Math and Computer Science Building, colloquially referred to as "MC".

Actually, every single building at UW is referred to be its acronym: SLC, DC, RCH, ALL, CIF, and it goes on. You also often hear terms like "2B" or "3A" thrown around. Eventually I figured out that these refer to the class year and respective term (A for fall, B for winter, C for spring... I think - maybe it's just sequential without reference to the specific term.) I still haven't quite gotten used to the jargon.

In fact, I haven't gotten used to the city in general. It's maddeningly spread out and, lacking a car or (currently) a bike, I haven't been able to explore farther than Sobey's or the Valumart (Loblaws substitute) in what passes for a downtown here. (They call it "uptown Waterloo" so as not to give the impression that it's a particularly lively or interesting place.)

Fortunately, Toronto is but a short train/bus ride away...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Potter's Field

Apparently J.K. Rowling is lacking in money, and so is helping Time Warner quash a Harry Potter "lexicon" by a third-party author:
J.K. Rowling is suing the publisher of the Harry Potter Lexicon, which began life as a popular Potter blog, and wants a court to rule that she has the sole right to profit from the "descriptions, character details, and plot points" of the Potter tales. Now, a federal judge has issued an injunction against RDR Books to prevent them from completing the typesetting, selling the books, or even marketing it on
Sounds pretty money-grubbing and petty for a woman who has amassed a billion dollar fortune by writing a single book series of questionable literary value. Of course, it's not that simple:
"There is a big difference between the innumerable Harry Potter fan sites' latitude to discuss the Harry Potter Works in the context of free, ephemeral web sites and unilaterally repackaging those sites for sale in an effort to cash and monetarily on Ms. Rowling's creative works in contravention of her wishes and rights," says the federal complaint, filed late last month in New York. Rowling, it turns out, has long wanted to produce her own companion book to the popular children's series and donate the money to charity. She believes that the Lexicon would eliminate much of the demand for her product (because past titles with "J.K. Rowling" on the cover have sold so poorly).
No doubt it would eliminate much of the demand for her product. Who fucking cares. If she wishes to donate money to charity, she could surely part with some of her existing and undeniably vast fortune. It's not as if she's not making money from officially licensed merchandise, movie residuals, and God-knows-what-else.
The complaint repeatedly stresses that Rowling has not "authorized" such a work, though whether such authorization is even necessary will certainly be one of the key points in the case. The Lexicon is stuffed with plot summaries, maps, and the sort of minutely detailed timelines you'd expect from such an endeavor. It's a huge treasure trove of information of Harry Potter characters and the world they inhabit.
In other words, Rowling wants to deny the publisher of the aforementioned blog the right to profit from his own work in putting together plot summaries, maps, timelines, etc. A pertinent further quote:
I think she should be thankful that her amusing hackery is even getting the same recognition as LOTR or Narnia.
Thank you Judy. I like reading the Potter series. They're entertaining, despite Rowling's often hackneyed plotting (does every book need to end with one character explaining the big mystery in one dialogue or flashback scene? She even does this in Deathly Hallows.) and the increasingly annoying behaviour of one Mr. Harry Potter.

But as literary works they certainly fall short, and they are far from the best fantasy around, even among youth-oriented fantasy (I haven't read Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series for well over a decade, but the images and characters have amazing staying power. Wonderful books - just avoid the recent movie adaptation.)

So what's next for Rowling? Suing authors who want to use the Philosopher's Stone as a MacGuffin in their stories? Ludicrous.


As I may have mentioned, I am taking Chinese (Mandarin) classes. In the spirit of Judy's Korean posts, I will attempt to review what I have learned here. With any luck, I'll be able to figure out the pinyin (the formal romanization) rendering in HTML, but we'll see. For now, it suffices to know that there are four emphasized tones in Chinese, a high even tone (1), a rising tone (2), a "reverse" tone which drops and then goes back up even higher (3), and a falling tone (4). There is also a "neutral" tone which takes no emphasis. It takes some time to get used to these tones, but fortunately I'm past having to recite the pinyin table repeatedly (think reciting syllables repeatedly at each tone - boring). So, here's a quick lesson of how to say hello to someone:

Ni(3) hao(3).

This simply means "hello" or "hi". It literally means, "you are well", but the appropriate way to respond would be simply to repeat the phrase. On the other hand, if you say,

Ni(3) hao(3) ma?

Literally, "how are you?". When someone says this, you should actually respond. If you're doing well, you'd say, "I'm well", or

Wo(3) hao(3).

Or you've doing very well, you'd say,

Wo(3) hen(3) hao(3).

At this point, you should ask how the other person is doing,

Ni(3) ne?

In this case, "ne" is simply a question particle which means that you're asking the same question to the other person. If the first person isn't feeling so well, he might say,

Wo(3) bu(4) hao(3).

"Bu(4)" is simply the negation adverb and functions much the same way as "not" in English. And I think that's about it for now.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Unsocial Apartments and More

I live in what can only be one of the most unsocial university residences on the planet. Granted, they are not dormitory-style, but actual apartments, but we have an exercise room, several lounges, and other common spaces like the laundry room. There's also a nice games room down the hall from my apartment whic has pool and ping-pong tables. Occasionally, I might see some people in there, but it's rare.

Now, you might wonder, why don't I set an example and go make use of these quality facilities? Well, I do use the exercise room, but otherwise I'm not much inclined to play pool by myself. Solo ping-pong would present an interesting challenge though. Of course, I do have two apartment-mates, at least I think I do. I don't really see them all that much, unfortunately.

But it strikes me... we have some great facilities in this building! Arguably, grad students are simply so tired, overworked, or else suffering from mind-numbing procrastination that they are not in the right mood to enjoy a nice game of pool regularly. Seems reasonable enough. But it would be nice if I lived in a residence community, which seems to be the intent.


However, since I don't want to write a post where I do nothing but complain, I will report some brighter news. My soccer team won* both games today! I didn't make it to the victorious 10am game, but the second ended 1-0 in our favour. Of course, it was technically a forfeit in our favour, since the other team lacked sufficient players, such that we just played a "fun game" wherein some of our team members played on their team. 'Twas good fun all the same.

In my next post, I'll document some of my cooking experiments. In the meantime, here's some Seinfeld. Why, you ask? Because I can!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A New Beginning

And a new blog!

Moving to Waterloo has been something of an adventure for me; this blog will document the continuing saga of my journey as a grad student among the strip malls and subdivisions of Waterloo, Ontario. Topics will include but certainly not limited to the following, in no particular order:

  • The travails of graduate statistics courses

  • My attempts to learn Mandarin Chinese

  • Experiments in cooking

  • Travelling

  • Whatever else that may come to mind... even politics

Since I'm intending this post to be short-ish, I won't say much more. The blog's title refers to the fact that I'll be living here all winter... and the coming spring and summer too, but I'll worry about that later. I can definitely feel that Winter is Coming, though, as it's starting to get rather chilly not just in the mornings but during the day too. Well, it IS mid-October.

So, since I'm getting pretty tired, that will be all for now. I'll post again soon, though.