Monday, December 28, 2009

Birthday lunch

Yesterday we went out for my brother-in-law's wife's birthday lunch. We went to Maurya, an Indian restaurant on Broadway. My brother-in-law's wife picked the place, partially I think because it featured a lunch buffet. Now normally "Indian" and "buffet" to me would suggest crap food (as I don't like curry and buffets can have pretty crappy food). Here, however, the food was truly fantastic. Not overly spicy-hot, but very flavorful. I can't remember all the dishes I had now, but I do recall the Tandoori chicken was my favorite. The shot below has most of what was offered—the cooked spinach was very good (creamy) although I don't think it needed the baby corn in it, the rice and beef something-or-other (like a stroganoff) was also delicious. I don't know how expensive it was but definitely a place I'd go back to. The only gastronomical disappointment this trip was not being able to go to Tojo's and doing the omakase. Next time, perhaps.

A night out on the town

On Canada's Boxing Day (Dec.26), the biggest shopping day of the year I think, I went to Oak Ridge mall via the SkyTrain. Actually all the time here I've been making good use of Vancouver's Light Rapid Transit (LRT). Where I'm staying is situated right by one of the stations which makes moving around the city quite convenient. At Oak Ridge I wanted to buy myself an iPhone, to replace the one I lost in Barcelona. I thought maybe it'd be a touch cheaper here with the Canada/US exchange. Nope, Apple wanted $799 for the model I want and wouldn't let me leave the store without locking it to a Canadian service provider. So there goes that idea. I'll have to wait till I'm back in the States. The wireless bluetooth headphones I want to pair to the iPhone were also more expensive than what I could get them for online—that's going to be the next evolution in my skiing music system. Some 20 years ago I used to ski with a bulky Sony Walkman tape deck strapped to my chest. The thing was heavy and difficult to control (buttons were inside this case; flipping tapes was a hassle). Currently I ski with one of those postage stamp-sized iTunes shuffles and wired headphones. Pretty decent and lightweight system. However, I met a British guy at lunch who had an iPhone and bluetooth headphones—no wires! "The way of the future," he said, and I agree! I've already ordered the headphones. They should pair up with my laptop as well which should mean wireless music on my next flight to Europe.

After Oak Ridge I went down to Richmond to go out for sushi with my brother. I should have taken pics of the excellent sashimi we had but we ate it up so fast there wasn't time. I should probably take note of the sashimi I like: uni (I think that's what it was, the creamy urchin), tako (ocotpus), and the giant clam, but I forget its Japanese name. I tend to like the gummy stuff. I should have also ordered mackarel but my brother said he didn't like it. Oh, one other thing was the quail egg in warm sake. Very tasty. On the way to where I'm staying I decided to keep going on the SkyTrain to Yaletown to get to the Yale, a hotel downtown with a decent live rhythm and blues bar at street level. I had checked their schedule beforehand so I knew there'd be a band called Mud Dog playing but I've never heard of them. They reminded me of Steve Earle (e.g., the song Copperhead Road). They were pretty decent and the harmonica player was outstanding!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


The second day skiing was sort of the reverse of the first: ski Whistler first, then hop on over to Blackcomb. Part of the reason was that both days the only sunny slope that we could see was Blackcomb's 7th Heaven. It seemed to be the only sunny patch on both hills both days. And it looked like it had some moguls on it. So back on the Peak 2 Peak, but the other direction this time. I took a snap of some of the factoids about the gondola. In case you can't read them in the image:

  • World's longest unsupported (free) span for a lift of this kind
  • World's highest lift of its kind
  • World's longest continuous lift system
It runs at 7.5 m/s and takes 11 mins to cross the 3 km (1.8 mi) span. The haul rope (46 mm in diameter) is 8,850 m long. The shot at bottom is from Blackcomb's 7th Heaven, back towards Whistler. But I blew this shot because Whistler is to the right. I should have panned to the right to show Whistler and the two bowl chairs, but I was trying to capture the sun. The sun is there, and it was sunnier than the picture suggests.


Ah skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb... Started off going up Blackcomb. The first day mainly in "socked-in" conditions, in a cloud most of the day, with the sun peeking at times. I don't know Blackcomb well as I used to prefer Whistler. The intention was to ski some runs and then get to Whistler via the Peak 2 Peak, a modern marvel of engineering.

The gondola between the two peaks is unique. A touch creepy, suspended at about 1,500 above the valley floor, but actually very convenient—you don't have to ski down to the bottom to get to the other mountain. Which is good because you don't have to ski through all the "sitting ducks" on the flats near the bottom. That should be particularly handy in the spring when the snow at the bottom gets slushy.

Skied Whistler the remainder of the day. The Harmony Bowl, the preferred ski area back in the day, has changed drastically. The old blue chair (a double!) is long gone, replaced by a high-speed quad that goes up to where skiers used to hike, the top of the bowl. I suppose that's a good thing, but on the other hand it eliminates the old blue lift line, which used to be an excellent mogul run. Added to this chair, there was yet another chair, the Symphony chair was situated way back in what looked like a new back bowl behind Harmony. We never got to ski there really since the chair, while running, wasn't allowing people on as the mechanism at the top kept freezing. Yeah, it was cold! And your truly decided not to wear a sweater, thinking that spring skiing attire was perfectly acceptable in December. D'oh! Froze my butt off, particularly since we couldn't find good mogul runs to warm up on. No mogul runs on Whistler? Strange. One of the highlights, however, was the Dave Murray downhill, pictured here. This is the ending point of a pretty hairy run they've set up for the 2010 olympics. Yes, I skied down the same run that we'll see the athletes ski down in February. And I've gained a new respect for these guys. How they can fly down this run at their speeds boggles the mind. I can't wait to see them on this one part, that seemed nearly vertical to me. It wasn't long but it dropped right into a flat spot, compressing the snot out of your legs. There was also a bunch of netting all set up for the skiers. I bet there'll be a few wipeouts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dinner at Araxi

Last night we had dinner at Araxi, the high-end place that we heard of on Hell's Kitchen, as it is the place where that show's winner will go to work early 2010. It was just down the road from where we're staying (Mountainside Lodge), a couple of buildings away from both Whistler and Blackcomb gondolas.

Here are my two dishes: grilled octopus followed by venison. The octopus was tender and not as tough as when I made it. I wonder what the secret is, must be longer boiling time. The venison was really good. It doesn't look like much but it was actually just the right amount and everything was prepared really well. Even the parsnip on which the venison pieces sat. Parsnip? I've never heard of it, but I really liked it and look forward to trying to make it at home. It's just vegetable I think and hopefully won't be too difficult to prepare. Tonight we scale down the choice of restaurant and go to a BC favorite, The Keg. It's a chain but I like it. Looking forward to a nice steak after a full day of skiing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Barcelona Home

I never updated the blog upon returning from Barcelona. Part of the reason is that I've been particularly busy this semester with a large number of projects happening all at the same time. Last week (last week of school) I had two out-of-town visitors, right in the middle of final exams. Not the best timing, but then again a whole bunch of other deadlines all piled up at the same time. ETRA papers were due, including reviews of a dozen or so papers. I submitted three long papers and three short papers. Now I'm working on completing two more papers for submission to Graphics Interface. Deadline two days from now. Five long papers in about as many weeks? Crazy! Anyway, back to Barcelona...beside meeting up with my brother and my professional activities, another mission objective was to scope out an apartment for my stay there next May. I ended up reserving what you see in the picture—it's billed on the Barcelona Home web page as "an apartment in the middle of a shopping area". I went there via metro to check it out. I should make a note to myself: the web page states it's by the metro station Espanya, but actually I think it may be closer to Hostafrancs. Right by that metro station is where I saw some of the stores that I think I can use for buying basic supplies like groceries. I've also started putting up some recipes that I would like to try while living there. Besides this I guess I should also start assembling music to bring with me. Of the recent bands that I've found, I really like these:

The Blasters are the latest band that I heard on Rasio Paradise. It's one of those rare finds where the entire album is really good. All of the above albums are like this. Surely stuff I'll have to bring with me to Barcelona next year. And a pair of mini speakers...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Water is Back

The other day it rained all day and that brought the water back filling up the lake. Our dock is floating once again. Even the rear floats are floating. I don't think it's done that since several years ago. For the past two or three years it's been sitting on dry land, so it's a real thrill to see this view. And right now in late fall, with the leaves down, we can see quite a bit of water from our kitchen door windows. It's really nice to see the sky reflected in the water. The view below is from our dock just after sunset. It's nice to be looking at water instead of a meadow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Meal Plan

This week I decided to try my hand at a few of my favorite recipes. On Saturday I made our homemade pizza, Pizza Rustica with Wild Nettles. I found this recipe in the back of a Coastal Living magazine issue. It looked interesting, save for the wild nettles. I don't know what those are or where to get them so we usually substitute kale. This is a type of "pizza bianco", or a pizza that lacks that the traditional layer of tomato paste. Instead, this particular pizza has as its base layer a paste of roasted garlic. It is then topped with a finely diced red pepper flake and thyme leaf seasoning, followed by four cheeses along with the chopped up kale. I highly recommend this recipe along with the accompanying pizza dough recipe, which I also made the same day. I'm pretty slow in the kitchen, so it seemed like the whole thing took me 3 hrs to make, but it was well worth it.

Sunday was such a nice day that I thought, why not barbeque something? Later this week I'm making Gordon Ramsay's Beef Wellington, so I wanted something other than steak. Some time ago I came across this Salmon on a Plank recipe in an in-flight magazine. I think I've written it up in this blog some time before. From another previous BBQ experiment with octopus, I had grilled Belgian endives, that I thought would go well with salmon. Unfortunately I'd forgotten where I saw that recipe for grilled endives, but luckily I found something similar in Mario Batali's Italian Grill.

Batali recommended Endive with Marjoram and Provatura on the grill. It looked simple enough, I happened to have the cheese (Provolone) left over from the pizza and we had a lemon. It seems like it's just a basic vinaigrette that is used to coat the endives before going on the grill. I was actually surprised that Batali didn't suggest a pinch of red pepper flakes to the vinaigrette, so I added it thinking he'd just forgotten. The cheese atop the now tangy endives combined really well and balanced out the sweet spice rub on the fish. My only trouble with this dish is that the fish takes way longer to cook on the grill than what the recipe suggests (more than double the time I find). My timing was a bit off so I had to hold warm the endives in the mircowave. Seems kind of lame but it didn't seem to spoil them; they still had enough of a crunch. Pretty good, simple dish in all, the pic (my presentation) doesn't really do it justice I'm afraid.

Warm November weekend

This past weekend was especially warm for November (went up to 75F) and particularly notable for the return of the water in our lake. The remnants of tropical storm Ida dumped about 4-8 inches of water over a two-day period, resulting in about a foot of water topping off the lake at 660 ft, its "full pond" level! We haven't had the lake at full pond for what, 3 years now? Last year it was about 15 feet below, precluding us from ever launching our powerboat the entire year. This year we had the boat out but almost had to pull it out due to decreasing lake levels. Luckily we had a fairly wet early fall which allowed us to keep the boat in till just past Halloween. Now, with Ida's contribution, our dock is floating (yes, floating!) on a foot of water, for the first time in a long time. The water has actually submerged the beaver dam behind the house allowing me to canoe out to the lake (Corey missed out, attending the SuperComputing conference).

I'm home alone this week but luckily I was only given one gardening-related task, and that is watering the whatever-those-leafy-plants are underneath the deck. I also took a pic of the grass germination, thinking that Corey might like to see that. I also took the leafblower out and cleared the deck as it was starting to accumulate. I did a couple of other things around the house, but mainly I've been focusing on the meal plan and figuring out what to cook and how to do it. That and of course taking the cats out for walks in the forest. Below is a pic of Sidney finding something that must have been particularly odiferous. She rolled around in it for quite some time. I think Harley later found it as well. Lucky for me the scent was detectable only by the feline proboscis and not mine. Mine's a little stuffed up by a cold. Luckily it must be a low-grade variant because it's not too debilitating, only just slightly annoying.

Shoring up the foundation

The above pic is of our eastern wall, as seen from within our crawlspace. Back in August I happened to notice that a supporting concrete block column had its top block tilted such that it was no longer supporting the main beam on which the house sits. This was partially due to the sinkhole that formed behind the column and partially due to the side wall having sunk into the ground signified by the large fissure in the block and brick. You could see the outside light through this fissure, which clearly was not a good sign. As one of my friends used to say, "you could see large sums of money stuck here and we'd need a professional crew to come out and yank it out for us" :) Yeah, you could clearly see that the repair work would run into the thousands. I don't have a pic of the leaning column, but the pic above is of the finished job. It took the crew about three trips to get all this done. First, they noticed that our builder hadn't used a wide enough foundation so that they could not sink down the steel support jacks to lift the house up from the inside. So they had to come back to dig outside the house to install these metal girders beneath which they could put in the jacks to hoist the house. In doing so they cracked the sewer drain pipe and shifted the wall such that there was a noticeable 2-3 inch offset between the lifted wall and the wall above (that luckily hadn't caved in yet). So, on their third visit, they sunk in these anchors about 5 feet outside the house, then connected those to the anchors you see in the pic. There are large nuts on these anchors so that we can tighten up the anchor system in the case of the wall shifting in further into the crawlspace. In the end, I think they did a decent job of fixing this potentially disastrous foundation problem. Glad that's over!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Laptop reconfig

In getting ready for my upcoming trip to Barcelona, I decided on trying to dual-boot my MacBook Pro so that I wouldn't have to bring two laptops with me. I need a Windows machine to run a portable eye tracker that I have on loan that I'm going to demo over there. After numerous re-installs and false starts, I think I finally have a winning combination: Windows 7 (32-bit) with OS X Leopard (10.5.8). However, I set up the dual-boot partitions and am using the Windows drivers from the Snow Leopard (10.6) DVD. I was hoping that I could switch over to Snow Leopard and just go with that, but that upgrade broke too many things that I need so I had to roll back to 10.5.8. Similarly with Windows—I first went with XP. After getting that going, following a multitude of Windows Updates to SP3 et al, XP crapped out in insisting on installing some SQL Server service pack...over, and over, and over again. I finally got fed up with it and thought why not try Windows 7. I first tried the 64-bit version, but that crapped out the eye tracking software (wrong driver). So, a clean re-install once again, this time with the 32-bit version. The screenshot above captures one of many frustrations in doing the lengthy install—occasionally (and there are more than one of these occasions) everything just sort of blanks out while Windows is "processing" something. I swear it seems the only improvements Microsoft ever implements are aesthetic, meanwhile, their underlying OS can never do anymore than 1 job at a time. So much for "multi-tasking", IMO Windows still can't. I wish they would just throw in the towel on their ancient DOS-based OS and switch to a Unix-based "enginge" under the hood, like Apple did. But to be fair, the Mac isn't without its frustrations, either. Snow Leopard, Apple's 64-bit OS isn't all that ready for prime time either. Or at least the stuff that I use (fink) hasn't really caught up to it. Or maybe I'm behind (I still use Qt 3.3). Anyway, I had to clean install that side of the MacBook as well, and re-installing all the fink stuff takes about as many hours as re-installing Windows (maybe longer even because fink has to compile everything from source). Hopefully by the end of today I'll be back to where I was a couple of days ago with the new tracker, as seen below.

Monday, October 5, 2009

NWA flights to YVR: how's that merger coming along?

I'm trying to book a flight to YVR for Christmas...maybe I'm trying to do this too early? Maybe I should abandon attempting to do it via NWA? I'm not sure what their problem is, but it's pretty frustrating. They offer tantalizingly low fares ($374 per person), but when I click on the suggested itineraries, I either get an error or a message stating that that itinerary is no longer available. I've tried numerous approaches, varying dates and times of departure, several airports including Charlotte (CLT), Asheville (AVL), and Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP). The latter is the most convenient but seems to cost $100-$200 more for the convenience. ATL is a mess, I'd rather avoid having to fly through there. CLT is nice and I wouldn't mind driving up there and the itineraries offered are pretty decent...flying through Cincinnati (CVG), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), or Salt Lake City (SLC). I'd like as few hops as possible, with a decent time of departure (e.g., noon-ish). Some of the combinations look really good, every one I select comes up as no longer available. Which is why I thought the screenshot at left was pretty funny: eventually I managed to blank out the entire date adjacency grid except for that tantalizingly low but unavailable fare. It could be the NWA/Delta merger, but even Delta for similarly low fares comes back with "We're sorry. The fare you chose just sold out. See our lowest available fare below." Give it another week maybe? I'll keep looking at this and see how things change, but at the moment it's pretty laughable.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The illusive ellipse

Well, it took me a while, but I finally got my ellipse fitting code working. And I couldn't have done it without Google. I've no idea anymore how research could have been done before the advent of the Internet and more importantly search engines. You'll see what I mean as I explain the picture. The pic contains two ellipses. The first, the one in white is the reference, or known, ellipse. In other words, I specified its quadratic equation and am just drawing it. Then, I also randomly pick points on the ellipse and use those to sample the original ellipse and then to fit a new ellipse to these points. The fit ellipse is shown in green. The sampled points show up in yellow. The reason the points are not on the ellipse is because they get shifted and scaled by the algorithm used to fit an equation to the points. The ellipse fitting code is due to Fitzgibbon, Pilu, and Fisher and a few other authors, particularly Halír and Flusser, and this superb WSCG '98 paper. I had most of the math coded up but what held me up was calculation of the generalized eigensystem. I had code to calculate eigenvectors before, but that was for symmetric matrices. In the current situation, the key matrix for which I needed its eigenvectors was not symmetrical. It took me about a week's worth of looking at everything but that one line of code to finally come around to thinking that it had to be this one routine that I've been using for years that could be messing up. Eventually, I came across the Template Numerical Toolkit that has freely available C++ code to calculate the eigenvectors that I needed. Once I plugged this in, everything worked. And as an added bonus, I came across this paper on A Fast Bresenham Type Algorithm for Drawing Ellipses that uses integer math to draw ellipses. I've known (and had written code for) Bresenham circles and lines, but I'd never written up the ellipse drawing code. It was really rewarding to get everything running finally, and I think the Internet made getting this done relatively quickly. I mean, how did people do this before? Via hand-written letters? Faxes?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dinner out

Meal for two including drinks and service, $120.

A couple of nights ago we went out for dinner at Rudy's on Ram Cat Alley. This location has a spotty history. It has changed hands several times as restaurants come and go. I think this is about the third restaurant to occupy this location. This time, it's been bought by the same people that run Pixie & Bill's and Calhoun Corners in Clemson, so maybe they know what they're doing and the place will stick around for a while. I guess one downside of this restaurateurian monopoly is that it may lead to very similar menus at all three places. But, at least it gives us three choices of atmosphere. I personally don't care for Pixie & Bill's although locally it's quite popular. To me it's just a large, open dining room with no particular distinctiveness. I like Calhoun Corners and I like where Rudy's is, because it's not far from home and we can get there via a couple of back roads instead of the main highway. And the interior is pleasant enough. As to the food, I guess we need to sample enough things to be able to settle on favorites. The appetizers were quite good: I had the prosciutto wrapped scallops, Corey had the hummus. My scallops came with sauteed leeks with warm corn, red pepper and black bean relish that had a nice kick to it (due to the red pepper). One downside was the mojito: it took them several long minutes to bring out, and when it finally arrived it was grossly underwhelming (especially after all the hype preceding its delivery). It seemed like they used some kind of mix instead of freshly squeezed lime juice. And with only one mint leaf showing in the glass, there seemed to be no hint of muddling of mint leaves whatsoever. Sorry, but my mojito is much better.

For the main course, I had the rosemary crusted lamb loin chops in pinot noir demiglace, Corey had the fish and chips. The rosemary crust was interesting, reminiscent of the bread crumbs in butter topping I sometimes use to top green beans or brussel sprouts when making my traditional pork chops. The lamb was good, going together nicely with a glass of Rodney Strong pinot. Corey said the black cod was good, but perhaps not as good as the fish and chips we had in Aspen.

Perhaps the highlight of the meal was the dessert: the homemade pretzel crusted key lime pie. Oftentimes the key lime pie is too tart, this one, however, was very much like a key lime cheesecake, balanced nicely with the crunchy pretzel crust and the sweet raspberry cream sauce drizzle. Very tasty. Together with traditional coffee and Bailey's, a nice way to finish off dinner.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hell's Kitchen HD

A couple of weeks ago our old 32" Sony TV finally gave up the ghost after about 10+ years of service. So we decided to go digital and upgrade to HD. You practically can't avoid doing so these days. After looking at various options, we went with another Sony, this time a 46" HDTV. I was considering a Samsung or an LG maybe, but we went with the Sony, partly for aesthetic reasons partly because the old worked pretty well for so long we figured this one should last a while as well. It's a 240 Hz LCD model with conventional (fluorescent) backlight. I kinda wanted an LED backlit model because I thought it would be brighter, but the Sony is working out pretty well. Unfortunately, along with upgrading the TV, we also had to upgrade the cable service as well as our Tivo box. Everything has to be HD and for that it all costs a little extra. After upgrading our cable service, I couldn't notice the difference from our old Standard Def (SD) signal. Finally, today I clued in that the HD channels (just a handful of them) are sitting on these decimal channels, e.g., 63.3. Now that I've dialed into those, wow! what a difference. We're getting the signal coming in at 1080i resolution and it looks pretty damn crisp. I've also hooked up our BlueRay DVD also in 1080i so that shows up nicely. Finally, the DVD player also feeds our HD projector, our only 1080p feed. I don't recall what our projected image on the wall measures, but I think it's about 75" or so, or maybe even more, possibly 96". There are still a few kinks that need to be worked out (e.g., Tivo doesn't list the HD programs; I'll have to call them), but other than that we're all HD now. I finally get to see Hell's Kitchen in fine detail :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My next car?

Maybe it's the Bond movie, I don't know, but I sure like the look of the modern Aston Martins. I saw this one in Kingston, and then I saw another one parked outside the W. Hey, there's a dealer in Atlanta. It lists a few of the models in their inventory: ballpark about $150,000, ouch! A little more than what I paid for my current car :) Well, I can at least look. And CHI is in Atlanta next year, hmmm, maybe I can combine academic conference with a test drive, heh heh :)

Me, the food critic

I just finished reading Jay Rayner's "The Man Who Ate the World", where he (a food critic) goes around the world to dine at fine (e.g., three Michelin star) restaurants, including ones in London, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, and New York. The more I read and learn about food (preparation), the fussier I seem to get. One point that Rayner, as well as other writers including Bourdain, Ramsay, make about the whole restaurant experience is that you don't want to eat crap food and you want decent service. Pretty simple, no? Rayner's point, particularly at the more expensive places, is that you're paying for these dishes and service and the experience should be enjoyable and memorable. Yes, I do remember the $70 steak I had in Boston's Smith and Wollensky three years ago. And yes, I do remember the shoddiest dinner my wife and I have ever had at the Marriott in Cocoa Beach. The best vs. the worst, where I didn't mind paying for the former and I resented the fact that they were charging for the latter. I know, it sounds somewhat prissy to complain, but in some cases it's well deserved. Like at this place, the Houston "steak house" at the YUL airport. (Meal for one, including glass of wine and tip: $60.) Inattentive service served along with an uninspiring steak. I had the notion that I'd have a big lunch, knowing that I won't be fed on the planes home. So I had dinner for lunch and opted for the tenderloin. She brings out chicken tenders. "What's this?" I asked after which we clarified the misunderstanding concerning the word "tender". When the steak arrived, it was just ok. For a $34 piece of meat to be just ok is really unacceptable. It was cooked ok (medium rare), but it was just kind of gray, both in appearance and taste. It lacked something. Some kind of spicy, tingly crust is what it needed. I've cooked better steaks on my BBQ than this flaccid grey matter lying on my plate beside the overcooked veggies and what seemed to be powdered mash potatoes. Like Rayner was about some of his meals (at top places no less), I was quite disappointed about this meal, although such dismal experiences help better understand (sympathize with) his complaints (as well as his praises, which I can also appreciate when I find them).

Back in Montreal

I caught the train out of Kingston on Sunday morning. "Renaissance equipment" I think they called it, meaning more modern I guess. True enough I suppose, it seemed a bit more modern looking than the train I was on to Kingston. The seats were fairly comfortable, great at reclining, with some storage underneath for my backpack, but with hardly any legroom! Plus they did away with space for luggage so you had to check it in and then pick it up at baggage claim upon arrival. Still, an enjoyable ride. I think I'm starting to prefer trains to aircraft. After checking in to my hotel I wandered up and down St. Catherine street and found out that it was the last night of FrancoFolie, a set of free outdoor concerts showcasing Francofone talent (or lack thereof :) Here are the first two acts I saw—the first one was ok, the second was more funny (to me) than anything else. It was this muscle-building, long-haired metal band, composed of a guy playing a kind of electronic contra-bass (like a standup bass, but being electronic it was this skinny thing hanging off his shoulder), guitar, and drums. After the first song the shirt went off and off he went twirling his head groaning out Metallica-like grunts. In French! About the only things I managed to catch was the swearing in between numbers, e.g., all my favorites including Hostie, Chalice, and of course Tabernacle! I don't know what prompted him to issue these blasphemes, but it was quintessential Quebecois. Actually I rather enjoyed this bit, not so much the music. Occasionally though the drummer would show off his double-footed technique, which was cool.

The next three acts consisted of a rap group ("The first rap duo out of Montreal!" I was told by a guy helping staff the event earlier in the afternoon), some folk-like ensemble in the mall, and this kind of Brazilian/French fusion band. The rap act appeared to be very popular. I once again had no clue as to what they were rapping/complaining about, but it seemed angst-ridden (much like the metal appeared to have been), and the audience seemed to enjoy it (with the exception of the mall act, all outside acts were accompanied by whiffs of various herbs being smoked by the crowd—gotta love it, Canada is way less uptight than the US of A). The mall act was actually pretty good. It lacked a drummer, instead the percussionist sat on some kind of box that acted as bass and snare to fairly good effect. They would include various instruments including some Indian-looking sittar type thing, a tuba, sax, etc., etc. Anyway, they sounded pretty good with the only crappy number being one where the sax player sang in "phonetic English" as I believe he said he was attempting to due. Well, it was just plain mockery of English, he should have stuck to singing in French which he did much better. The Brazilian act was possibly the highlight of the evening, particularly the drummer. She sang in Portugese but spoke French in between numbers. At one point the drummer launched into this kind of fast-paced, instrumental percussion number evoking visions of Rio's Carnivale (which I've never experienced but imagined it to sound something like what the drummer was doing). I was quite envious of his rolling technique. How the heck did he manage to play that with such good pace and clarity? The last act I saw was these two Francofone girls doing rap yet again. Meh. About the only good thing about this last venue was that I could find a seat on which I could munch on my street-vendor hot dog and $5 beer. Afterwards I caught the Metro home, where I realized that AC/DC just finished playing (judging by the hordes of people with AC/DC t-shirts and red devil horns worn on the head). I stayed at the W, a kind of swanky hotel with its own night club that I was told about a couple of times. Very trendy, and a bit pricey ($10 Coronas, can you believe that?). Still, it was enjoyable to a certain extent except for this annoying club song that I keep hearing here and there: "My dream is to fly over the rainbow so high". Ugh, I can't stand that song, but every time it comes on in these "clacker bars" invariably all the clackers start singing it and flinging their arms up in the air. It's kind of sickening and yet curiously amusing :) It appears that I'm a member of the Starwood hotels group which owns/runs the W and as a perk I had late checkout (4pm). I took advantage by sleeping in till about 10am and then made my way leisurely to the airport where I now sit chewing up bandwidth writing up last night's escapades.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kingston, ON (Queen's University)

Kingston is actually a very beautiful town, perched on Lake Ontario. Around here are the Thousand Islands, an archipelago of islands that straddle the U.S.-Canada border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario (I shamelessly got this from the Wikipedia entry). The left pic above is the view from my hotel room. Nice, eh? The pic at right is of Loughbrough lake, just a little ways out of town, close to my friend's house. I'm not sure why but I've always envisioned Kingston as some kind of suburb to some large, stinky industrial town. I told this to people I know here and they laugh, saying, no this isn't Hamilton.

My friend works at Queen's University, where I am currently visiting and attending the PhD defense of a former Clemson undergraduate (he just passed, btw, congratulations!). The pics above are of my friend's labs (not the new PhD, although he had worked there doing his Masters). I've known my friend for 10 years now, having met at CHI 99, when I was just starting out my academic career and when (and where) I conceived ETRA, partially inspired by his paper there (and by a workshop that I happened to have missed that year). He's turned some of that work into a spinoff eye tracking company, and moved on to other types of human computer interaction projects. He's a pretty innovative guy. It's funny—when I hear people proclaim they're going to reinvent the interaction paradigm (currently our familiar desktop metaphor, based on windows, menus, icons, and [mouse] pointer, or wimp), it's hard to believe them. This guy is likely to do so without even having to say so. He's just probably going to do it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Delta late again

Delta, Delta, Delta...of course they came in 90 minutes late into Montreal. There was a huge queue through Customs, and so I ended up missing my 4pm train to Kingston. Luckily there was one more at 6:30, but I had to cough up another $30 to rebook the ticket. I had a couple of hours to kill in Dorval, so I had dinner consisting of Canadian chocolate bars: O-Henry, Aero, Wunderbar, great stuff you just can't get in the states. There was even some kind of giant Kit-Kat bar that had some kind of gooey toffee squeezed in between the cookie sheets. The train itself was decent, it even had power and sporadic wifi. Wifi didn't quite work, they said they were having problems with their satellite connection, but because of that they made the service free. So I managed to check my email once or twice without having to pay. Not bad. Not quite as convenient as Germany's S-bahn, but not too bad. I made it to Kingston by 9pm, then went out for a couple of quick beers and calamari. When ordering calamari I was pleasantly surprised to find that they could fix it either in the deep-fried fashion (yuck) or the unbreaded way with sausage and tomato. Yes, to the latter. It was similar to the Batali dish we make except for the sausage/pasta substitution. Not bad. Today I'm off to find the University and get some lab demos.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Delta service

Amazing how ever since the Northwest/Delta merger started Delta's service rapidly went downhill. 90 minutes late getting into ATL, now we're sitting here waiting for a new fuel sensor. I still have a train connection to make in montreal. Come on...

Salmon on a plank

A couple of weekends ago we tried grilling salmon on a plank, following a recipe I found in a magazine on the plane that I posted last month. I bought a couple of cedar planks at the store and followed the recipe. The planks are fairly expensive and yet nothing really special. I thought they'd be smooth at least, but nope, they looked like a 1x6 you'd get from the lumber yard. You have to soak the plank for an hour before sticking it on the barbie, and each plank is reusable about three times. (We've done this twice now and the second time the board starting crackling, so I guess they're right, it might start catching fire on the fourth try :) Along with the novelty of using wood as the grilling surface, I found the recipe's spice rub really tasty. Here it is:

  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 3/4 tsp. freshly gnd. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic

I guess I really like the combination of brown sugar, paprika, garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. I don't know how much the oregano contributed, but all I can say is that I really like the rub—I was even eating it dry after coating the fish and drizzling olive oil on it. The only two problems I have with the planks is that (1) the cooking time required seems longer than the 10 minutes the recipe gave, and (2) the planks are somewhat messy, leaving little shavings and charcoal on the counter (and Corey says they stink up the kitchen). However, I think the plank imparted a nice flavor to the fish, giving it a woody kind of aroma. Very good indeed.