Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh Canada!

Keen eyed readers will notice a new link to Kate Beaton's site. It was Lisa who first alerted me to her home-grown cartoony goodness, diverting me from at least two hours of work (thanks Lisa!). Kate is Canadian, so I might conceivably meet her someday. Which would be good because she is clearly someone you want to go out and have a pint or five with. In the meantime I'm going to rely on Kate for all my knowledge of Canadian history, like this gem.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Very Long Day On The Train

I love to travel by train. Not only is it environmentally friendly, it's quiet, comfortable and I can spend the time reading, writing and catching up with administration. Driving is fun, but time-consuming. Flying is faster, but rarely as productive and never as restful.

One of the great advantages of St Catharines is that there is 10 am train to New York Penn Station every day. It's a long journey -- I've never arrived before 10 pm -- but if you plan it well you can have a very fulfilling day.

Of course, lately it's been hard booking a seat at short notice. I asked a conductor in the cafe car how the gas prices were affecting Amtrak and he said it was crazy, every train was booked solid. Which is good for Amtrak, I just hope it has a corollary effect on the way the system is being run. Because it needs work, especially where a border crossing is concerned.

Take my latest trip back from NY. Torrential rains hit the city the night before and there was chaos at Penn Station as thousands of commuters were stranded by electricity outages on the tracks. Flash flood warnings were out. By the time my 7 am train was up to Yonkers, the Hudson was very high, brown and turbulent, but the worst was over and everything was running smoothly.

And then there was a CRKGRNCH noise. "Uh Oh, that's not good", I thought. Seconds later there was the most almighty wallop and a noise like KGRUDKCRRNCHRRGRUCKRRNNNCHK as pieces of kindling flew past my window and the smell of the brakes grew hotter and hotter.

We had hit a tree.

The train had been passing through a steep cutting and there must have been a sudden landslide. The first crunch must have been a sapling or branch. The second must have been a much larger tree. Nobody was hurt and no windows were broken, but the engine had taken damage and there was wood pulp stuffed into the rubber seals of the windows, pulling them apart.

So we limped into Albany, where we were taken off our car and waited on the platform for replacement stock. After an hour a car was found, the engine was recoupled and we were loaded back on. Unfortunately, because of the delay we had lost our time slot. This meant that whenever another train approached we had to stop and allow it to pass because there's not enough track for two trains going in the same direction, so our one hour delay stretched into two.

Then just outside Niagara Falls, Canada we were delayed another hour because there was already a train in the station. Yep, only one train allowed in the station.

Then there was the usual hour while the customs guys went to each person and quizzed them on why they were entering the country, where were they staying etc. One guy asked all the questions, the other just stood there silently. I think they did the whole train. Two guys.

So I finally got into St C. three and a half hours late. It had been a long, long day and while the rail people were great, I was glad to finally get off the train.
All afternoon people had bitched and moaned. Many were travelling by train for the first time and swore never again, which is a shame because when it works it's a superb way to get from A to B. There will always be unexpected setbacks, but there needs to be more investment in tracks and rolling stock if Amtrak want to capitalize on their sudden windfall in customers.

Oh, and maybe someone can look into streamlining the customs process. Having more than two customs officers per train might be a good place to start.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Some good news, some not so good news

Good news: My brother is arriving tomorrow and will spend my birthday with me.
Bad news: My sister has to have a spinal tap.

The latter item has me pretty upset, even though I was expecting it.

I had put this evening aside to do some blogging, but I can't really think of anything else, so I'll call it a night.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Homo Sapiens is just so Old Hat

Humanity is very restrictive, don't you think? All that bipedalism, opposable thumbs and only two genders to choose feels kind of restrictive. So if you could be a non-human sentient being what would you be? Me, I'd be a Tine (from Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep). Group minds appeal to me and the Tines have the advantage of being one of a non-insect/biomechanoid group mind. They don't have opposable thumbs, they manipulate tools with teeth and stumpy paws. They can have 360 degree panoramic view. Their personality can change over generations as new members join a pack and old ones die. This process can be voluntary and heterogenous ('loose'-souled people) or controlled like a scientific experiment. I like the idea of having an evolving soul.

What would you be?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

One of these things is not like the others

So as I'm waking up yesterday morning, there's a hockey report on the radio.
Hockey news this week has been quite interesting, not that I know anything about it, but as far as I can tell money is being thrown about like confetti. This report is about one of the latest hot signings. Don't ask me to remember his name, we'll call him 'Bob'. In any case this post isn't about him really, it's about the journalist who did a feature on him.

"Before Bob joined the NHL he did something that he doesn't really talk about with his teamates, but he credits it with making him a man."

Blimey, I think, it's a bit early for this sort of thing isn't it?

But it turns out that Bob, who sounds like a nice young man, worked for two years in Las Vegas as a Mormon missionary. The interviewer was terribly excited at all the crime and hardship that nice young Bob had witnessed, police shootouts, dead soldiers crunching underfoot as he went from boarded up door to boarded up door, all the while wearing a suit in 98 degree heat.

"His neighbours were prostitutes, strippers, and crack dealers," intoned the journalist.

Hang on, I thought. That's just not right. Prostitution and dealing crack = illegal. Stripping = perfectly legal. It's Niagara's second biggest industry after tourism. It's not a career choice for everyone, but there's nothing wrong with it per se. At the end of the day it's a way to pay the bills, like everythings else. How dare the interviewer lump them all together like that? Lazy journalism, it ticks me off.

And today's commentators on Quebec's 400th anniversary kept saying that the Irish ambassador was speaking 'Gaelic'. No she wasn't, she was speaking Irish. Gaelic refers to football or what they spoke in Scotland.