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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons


Quick Hits

Visited Nfld. for five days with my brother to catch up with the family out there (older brother and older sister). Everyone is doing well, and is busy as usual. Rebecca, the oldest niece competed in her first triathlon and did pretty well (she does well in school AND she's a jock, both of which should serve her well). Dave and I walked up Signal Hill one very nice day, taking the trail that runs along the Narrows, the entrance to St. John's harbour. I always forget how crazy that trail is, it's narrow with shear drops down to the water in places without a railing, and you've got people going in both directions with pets and kids. There's one point where you've got a cliff face on your left with a chain set into it and a straight drop into the water on your right, so you've got to hang on for dear life. At least the view from the top (of the city and the ocean) is worth it.

Attended Son of Kung Fu Friday at the Toronto Underground Theatre last Friday, an informal event Colin Geddes said he hopes to hold a few times a year. You got $2 off if you wore your "I am a Kung Fu Friday Disciple" button, which Colin gave out a few years back when he ended Kung Fu Friday's, and which is one of my Treasured Possessions. The movie was Mad Monkey Kung Fu, which has the same plot as every film the Shaw Brothers ever made, but was a lot of fun as usual. Afterwards, went over to the Royal York as benet was in town for a night, and got to hang out with him for a bit.

Saturday went geocaching with Paul Hirst in Taylor Creek park. A geocache is a plastic container with a notebook and a few small items. People hide them in public spaces (like parks), publish the latitude and longitude, obtained by a GPS, and then you with your GPS try to find them. You sign the notebook and are encouraged to take an item, leaving another one in its place. Paul and I have been meaning to do this since forever, and finally got scheduled and the weather to match up. We (well Paul), found six all told in a couple of hours looking thru the underbrush that got me cover in spiderwebs and insect bites, but it was a lot of fun. In the evening I tried to catch up with some friends for the Scott Pilgrim movie, but thanks to the subway delay at Bay Station I got there 25 minutes late and decided not to go in. So I finished reading the John Dickson Carr novel I had with me. Managed to guess the murderer in this one, but not all the details of how he did it.

Sunday i was going to be leading a ride with the bike club, but the forecast up to midnight Saturday was showers and a possible thunderstorm, and as we were going to be riding out to Rouge Hill and up to Steeles, returning past the zoo, with no real cover along the way I thought it prudent to postpone till next Sunday. So of course the rain held off till the late afternoon when the ride would have been over. Sigh. So I did some riding myself, saw the Cecilia String Quartet in the Music Garden, and went over to davemerrill and dwinghy's place in the evening to watch Locke the Superman, a pretty kick-ass anime movie from the 80s that still hasn't gotten a DVD release. Also saw most of The Sea Prince and the Fire Child, a non-kick-ass release from the 80s that looked very Disney, but had massive pacing problems. When it takes 30 of 108 minutes for your Romeo and Juliet characters to actually meet, that's not good.


Niagara Falls Cycle Trip

My brother and I spent the weekend doing our biggest bike trip to date, a trip around the Greater Niagara Circle Route, something we've been talking about doing since last year.

We started off catching the 9 AM GO train to St. Catherines from Exhibition Station. Last year the GO trains to the St. Catherines / Niagara Falls area didn't stop there and we had to go to Union, which was pain in the butt. Exhibition works much better as I can get there in 15 minutes flat. Also, last year the GO trains used a regular car on these runs to store bikes, so you had to leave them in the aisles and between the seats. Now they have two cars with the seats removed and bike racks in their place, plus the centre post in the doorways is removed, which makes it so much easier to get bikes on and off and to store them for the trip.

It's about 1.5 hours to St. Catherines, and with many checks of the map (no sense of direction) and the occasional dead end when we misread it, we set off along the Waterfront Trail towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, going right by the many winery's on the way as they held no interest to us. But Niagara-on-the-Lake had the barracks of Butler's Rangers, and Fort George, which was much more to our liking.

The weather was gloomy but had held off up to then, but after we had starting to explore the fort it started to rain. It wasn't much of a nuisance then, as we could just go from building to building checking things out and waiting for it to pass, which it did after about an hour. We then started down the Niagara River Trail towards Niagara Falls (which is a really good ride), but we did get rained on again for about a half-hour, causing us to wait it out under a tree in ponchos. After that it cleared up for the rest of the day, and we made our way past the Falls, and down the trail to Fort Erie (which we had checked out last year). We were staying in a Comfort Inn, which turned out to be right at the very edge of town, nestled so far back in the trees that we couldn't actually see the building, just the sign, till we were right on top of it. We cover about 98 km that day, which is a record for David and nearly one for me.

After a night's sleep and quick breakfast (free continental) we got on our way again, but some dark clouds rolled over and we took refuge at Fort Erie for about 30 minutes waiting to see if it would rain or not. It held off, so we decided to press on, and it did end up clearing off nearly completely. The trail from Fort Erie to Port Colburne is an old paved railbed, 27 km long and nearly perfectly straight the whole way, with the regular access road running straight north/south, farmer's fields, and backyards on either side. It was such an east ride it was almost unfair.

In Fort Colburne we had a proper greasy breakfast ( a HUGE plateful for $6) at this little greasy spoon run by this guy in the late 60s, did a little ride about the town, and headed up the Welland Canal trail, which is also great. We passed by some rowing races going on in the old canal, and one HUGE ship slowly entering a lock on the main canal. Would have loved to have stayed and watched it go thru entirely, but we weren't sure how long it would take us to reach the train station back in St. Catherines and decided to try that next time (turns out you can get the ship schedules on-line, so you can arrange to be at the locks at the right times in advance). Half-way up the canal we were in desperate need for ice cream, but the next little town only had an Indian restaurant. Next town was bigger so we rode up and down the streets till we found a place (will know where it is for next time). Continued up the canal, made it back to St. Catherines, and stopped for some dinner. Oddly enough, neither of us were hugely hungry, so we both just had some soup. After a few more mis-turns, found the train stations again and headed about home at 7:45 PM, arriving back at Exhibition 9:20 and then back home.

Total distance travelled over the two days, 191 km, the most I've ever travelled in two days. Kind of tired today, but not wrecked or even sore. Now that I know the route, and about how long it will take, I can see about seeing some more of the sights next time I do this ride. Really glad I did it.


An Avatar:The Last Airbender (animated) Sequel Coming!

And here's some GOOD Avatar news! Nickelodeon has just announced an animated sequel series to Avatar, The Legend of Korra.

Set 70 years after Avatar, it's about the new Avatar, Korra, a teenaged girl waterbender. A lot of the action is going to be taking place is a chaos-stricken, steampunk-filled metropolis called Republic City, and she's going to learn airbending from Aang's son, Tenzin.

The showrunners say it's going to be more "mature" than Avatar. Honestly, it sounds like it's going to be the Batman Beyond version of the show, and to me that's a good thing.


Polaris and other stuff

Attended the SF con Polaris last weekend, and it went all right. I was on three panels, all of which went well, the most fun being the British TV Panel where two of my co-panelists were a women dressed as the Master-as-John-Saxon (as she put it, she was dressed as John Simm really) and a women dressed as David Tennant. Saw the guest of honour talks with Kai Owen (Rhys from Torchwood) and Mark Sheppard (Rollo from Battlestar Galactica, who was a lot of fun). The Constellation Awards were OK, with the highlight being a video presentation from Rick Green honouring those who passed in the past year. That is, all those fictional characters who got killed on their shows in the past year. It was a complete scream and has me thinking we need Commander Rick for Governor General.

Saw a few more panels, the Masquerade, hung out a bit, the usual. Attendance was certainly no more than last year, and may even have been down a bit (Polaris numbers are a state secret). The fact that they were charging $70 for the weekend I honestly think is driving off more people that the media guests they get with the money is bringing in, but that's just MHO. Still, the hotel being connected to a Chinese mall with a food court, so you can get cheap Chinese food within 5 minutes of deciding you're hungry is a big plus.

Wasn't at the con Friday night as I saw Inception with some friends. Vaguely disappointed by it. It's certainly solidly written with good performances (especially by the secondary characters, who were more fun than the main character) but I felt it was oddly bloodless, I couldn't really involve myself too much with it, and I think Nolan really didn't use the whole "dreamscape" setting to anywhere near its potential. As Jason put it, the dreams were just genre movie (with way too many shoot-outs, especially in the final sequence). If you've seen the trailer, you've seen nearly all of the "fantastic" images from the film. I was hoping for something more like the anime filmPaprika, which really knew how to handle dreams.

Also saw Predators which I do recommend as solid turn-off-brain fun. There was only one outright stupidity in the film (a line what just doesn't make any sense), good action sequences, and some fun characters. I could even buy Adrian Brody as a tough guy (the film-makers went for wiry among the cast rather than hulking like in the original).

And I lead a ride for the bike club out on the Toronto islands, which are always a fun place to zoom around on in the evenings. Although for the future I have to remember that it's much better to head back in the evening on either the Ward's Island or Hanlan Point ferries, the Center Island ferry is always late and always crowded.

Monday was the release of the sixth and final Scott Pilgrim graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. This is a great series, set in Toronto, about a slacker's quest for true love, involving bad rock bands, video games, and having to defeat the seven evil ex's of his girlfriend. The movie, directed by Edgar Wright, comes out in August, so I am very glad the comic wraps up before then.

The Beguiling had the book for sale starting midnight, and made an big event out of it, with the author, Scott Lee O'Malley, available to sign it. The turned into a street party, with several hundred people coming out. There were costumes, bands in the local eateries, and the 8-Bit game society had computers set-up in Butler's Pantry to show off their latest creations. I've been to conventions this year that were smaller. Anyway, I got the book, but didn't get the autograph, I would have been in that line till 3 AM. Now I need to re-read the first five to fully refresh my memory before diving into book six, working on that now.


Driving school

In the bus shelter by my workplace, there were ads posted up for seven different driving schools today. Is there some deadline or rules change coming up?


In short...

A full past several days. Wednesday had dinner with the Terry Prachett meetup group, and found that next year's North American Prachett Con will be in Madison, Wisconsin, home of benet! I smell being a houseguest in my future.

Thursday zipped down after work to the Music Garden for the first time this year, to hear a string quartet (plus clarinet) perform some Brahms. Purchase the Music Garden book in order to toss some money their way, I live in fear that the city will decide that these events are nice but not necessary. After the performance it was zip up to U of T for one of their monthly astronomy lectures. That night it was a grad student talking about his infra-red work observing dust clouds in the Milky Way. These nights have been getting a steadily increasing turnout which I'm very pleased with.

Science continued on Friday with my dropping by the North York Physics Meetup for the first time, to hear a spirited debate on the meaning of the double-slit experiment. And yes I had fun.

Saturday it was time for new vistas on my bike. I took the GO train out to Hamilton to try out the Hamilton-Brantford bike trail. It's a converted railbed, and the trail actually goes all the way to Cambridge, a distance fo about 80 km. Even with a map of Hamilton it took me riding in circles for about an hour to find the start of the trail (have no sense of direction). The ride was OK, the trail itself is good, not paved but packed hard with crushed stone, so it was easy to ride on, and there was few roads crossing to interrupt you, with even those very quiet. But the scenery isn't very interesting, the whole trail is trees with the odd cornfield on one side, so I dunno if I'd do it again. The first 10-odd km was all gently uphill, so it was steady work getting up it, but far easier coming back (thank Newton it wasn't the other way around, I would have been destroyed). Did 85 km in all that day.

In the evening Rebecca called up, and we went to see Splice, which I enjoyed. I know that its gotten knocks for its treatment of women, but I really don't know what that's all about (probably opening myself right up here). I thought the film was quite smart (ending was a bit conventional) with good performances from Sarah Polley (who's character has issues up the yin-yang, or she would never had done this in the first place), and Adrian Brody (who can't quite say no to her even when he wants to, at least partially because he knows she's smarter than he is).

Saturday went over to Clinton's to watch the World Cup finale with some friends. Was rooting for the Netherlands, but the damned octopus prevailed with a Spanish goal late in the overtime. Well, it would have felt wrong had the game been decided with penalty kicks. And finally relaxed in the evening with some anime watching with my brother, the fourth (and last) season of Maria Watches Over Us. I'm currently making a decided effort to get thru my anime backlog, and am also working on the Original Gundam Compilation Movies, three two hour plus theatrical films that are a retelling of the first Gundam TV series. Their message: War is Bad (bought home about 17,612 times).


Doctor Who: The Stalker of Norfolk

Rich's Comic Blog has just finished his latest story, The Stalker of Norfolk, featuring the third Doctor. Rich really has a handle on Three, so I invite all fans to check it out!


More Science Cartoons

Since it's a topic I seem to be dealing with today, blogger Darryl Cunningham put together a fabulous cartoon overview of the Andrew Wakefield affair. Wakefield is the British doctor who claimed that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism, a claim that has been thoroughly debunked, and Wakefiled cited for various ethical violations. It's really worth a read.


Cectic is back!

One of my favourite skeptical webcomics, Cectic, went on indefinite hiatus over a year ago, but its creator has just started it up again. Check it out.

In the same vein, you should also check out Saturday Morning Breakfest Cereal, Calamities of Nature, and Tree Lobsters!


Canada Day

That was quite the long weekend. I got Friday off from work as well as Thursday, thank to the Americans in my company getting a four day weekend last year, so we got one this year.

On Thursday the board game group got together and I won a game of Dominion, and learned to play Puerto Rico, which has been the #1 game on boardgamegeek.com for some time now, and for good reason. It's a very balanced game that always gives all players something to do, while also letting you freely stab people in the back. We met up at Ryerson, and very nearly didn't get in as all the doors were locked (which apparently is rare). Fortunately, a student already inside had pity on us and opened the door. Afterwards, i took a bike ride out to the Beaches boardwalk and back, to warm up for Friday...

...because on Friday, I was leading a bike ride with my bike club. I've mentioned before how I really like taking the Waterfront Trail east out to Oshawa, and then taking the GO train back, so I put together a ride out there for the club. I tried to do this TWICE last year in the fall, and got rained out both times, so with all the rain we've been getting I wasn't hopeful we'd actually manage to do it, but it was perfect weather, sunny but not too hot. We met up at 11 AM at the Eglinton GO station (near the start of that section of the Waterfront, and with free parking), and we set out, seven of us in all. The ride went really well, with the wind at our backs, and as Friday wasn't an official holiday it wasn't too crowded. I had noted down the complete GO train schedule for the day so we wouldn't just miss a train back, and schedule wise, it worked out well, we had time to have coffee and a snack in Oshawa before the train, with everyone covering the 55 km without too much trouble.

Actually, I had thought I had blown it a few days before the ride, as I've only ever taken my bike on the GO train on weekend and official holidays, when you can bring one on board at any time. When I remembered that Friday was an official work day, I thought I was screwed, but it turns out you can take bikes on the train workdays as long as you are moving AGAINST the rush hour flow (i.e. away from Union in the morning, or towards it in the afternoon), so I dodged a bullet there. After I got off at Eglinton and said goodbye to everyone I rode the remaining 20 km back home as well, in a fit of energy, although with the sun in my face in that direction I got a bit burned.

That evening I managed to stagger over to the Center for Inquiry for a talk by an economist on how the need for constant growth with our current economic set-up is going to screw us over no matter what we do. Everyone is looking to green tech to save us, but if it means we just consume more of it (i.e. improved gas mileage means we can afford to drive more) we still lose. He been working on models of what a "no-growth" economy might look like (which is what his book was about). It was really interesting stuff, but I personally think the people with their hands on the levers of power have too much invested (no pun intended) on how things work right now to ever risk changing it, or even admit it might need changing. My brother is more optimistic than me, so I hope he's right.

Saturday I rode my bike (yes again) down to Oakville (45 km) for the first ever ConBravo, an new anime con. I don't know the guys running it, but they had taken my key piece of advice to heart, they started small and didn't think that was a bad thing. Running two days, they had a few dealers and artists, local guests, two panel rooms and a video room, and a Main Room, seating about 150 for contests, Masquerade, dance, etc. I've heard that total attendance over the two days was about 300, and they had reached their break even numbers, so good for them! There was an excellent selection of costumes, I watched some episodes of Spice and Wolf, which I'm going to have to get, sat in on a panel on Classic Anime run by davemerrill (good panel, low turnout, people there were too young to appreciate that the 70s had good stuff), had dinner with marinav and ionelv at a great Indian place, and saw the Masquerade. Nice to get to relax at one of these for once. Took the GO train back as I wasn't quite crazy enough to try and bike back about all the distance I had covered in the last few days.

Sunday I more or less rested. Had brunch with Joel at Clinton's and talked Runescape, got some shopping done (mostly comics), and went back to Clinton's in the evening for Chris From The Beguiling's birthday (33, the Jesus age!).

And now I'm back to work. Yay.