Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March Travels

It's a busy month with lots going on. Natasha's parents are here to visit and we've been doing a fair bit of traveling and sight-seeing. Here are a few pictures for you to enjoy.

On Friday, we drove over the Coquihalla highway to pick them up from the interior of BC. It's a unique part of the province (and the country) which is very desert-like.


Coming through the mountains on the Coquihalla highway is an amazing drive, especially in good weather. We had clear skies and dry roads both ways and got a great view.



On our way back, we stopped at a rest stop area and took this picture. We believe this is the same rest stop Natasha and I stopped at in our trip last summer. This time there was quite a few feet of snow instead of flowers.


Yesterday we went on a sight-seeing tour of Vancouver. Natasha and her parents went to Gastown and looked around a bit during the afternoon. After picking me up, we went down to Chinatown and explored (really) for over an hour. The kind of stuff you can buy there is absolutely amazing... stuff you won't see anywhere else.


Bins of bulk food everywhere. See those things on the left? That's some kind of dried gecko or lizard thing on a stick. I don't know if people eat them or what. I mean, most of the labels had no English. To the right, huge mushrooms.


Close-up of the mushrooms. I touched them and they seemed almost charred as if they were burned.


Here's a general idea of what Chinatown looks like. Lots of red, yellow, little shops all over the place selling a variety of things. This is a statue that Natasha took a picture of. I'm unsure of the meaning of it, but it gives an idea of the kind of things you'd see.


All of the lamp posts and signs have a Chinese theme as well. These dragons (two of them) were attached to each lamp post along the streets.


And don't forget the shopping! Not only are there a ton of knick-knacks, there are many stores that sell Chinese style outfits. Natasha and her Mom looked at quite a few but couldn't find just the right one.

Anyway, I want to go back to Chinatown again to explore the areas we didn't get to.


On our way to supper at Hon's, we took a drive around Stanley Park. Our first stop was the Totem Poles.


Around the other side of the park there's this huge hollowed out tree. We were running late by this point in time but nobody could resist a picture.

The trip continues. More details and pictures to come later if time permits!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tax Return Complete

For the first time ever, I have completed my tax return (and Natasha's) way early. Over a month early in fact. Since I'm expecting to get a wee bit of cash back, I'm going to fire them off ASAP and beat the rush! Woo!

Get on your taxes people! I recommend QuickTax!

Chess: Battle for First

I've made it into the final match, where I'll be playing for first spot. The loser will take second (still pretty good!), and the other two in the top four will play for third and fourth.

My opponent is away on business so I won't have any games for a week or so. Keep up to date by clicking the chess image at the top right of the page.

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Squeek-Mate

Someone at work sent me this yesterday.


Interesting how when you take interest in something, people start sending you things that are related to it. I love it. =)

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring 2006

Today is the first day of Spring! And it's sure looking like it outside. Hopefully the weather will keep up like this for a while now. We've had our rainy season, now it's time for the sun to shine!

Get out there and enjoy the nice weather, everyone!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

CANstruction

On Saturday, Natasha and I went to a place featuring all kinds of things built out of food cans and other food containers. It was a promotion for the food bank, and the admission was a donation of some kind of food.

We were quite impressed by what these artists had come up with. Here are a few of them:


A dump truck



This was my favorite, the monster truck



Spongebob, of course. The kids loved this one



Natasha with her favorite... the cat and the mouse

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Chess Simultaneous Match

Yesterday I played in a Chess Simultaneous Match at work. Len, our resident Chess expert (ranked in the top group in BC) and tournament advisor/referee agreed to play against the top four players in the tournament at the same time.

The top four players, shown below are (left to right) Allan, Joel, Scott, and Andrew. There's another Andrew between the two tables who is just observing. Len, of course, is the one standing... there's no time for sitting when you're playing four people at the same time!


The game progressed well, with a few blunders here and there (can't help it when playing fast games I guess). I tried to watch the other games at the same time but it proved impossible once the board got complicated. Since I was playing, I couldn't take photos. Thanks to Tony, our other resident photographer for taking pictures of this event!


Here's me, concentrating on the board. I didn't want to lose quickly, so I couldn't afford to make any big mistakes.

In the end, however, I was the only one of the four to win my game! I'm far from being as good as Len, but I played as well as I could, and in the end, he made a mistake which gave me the winning advantage.

Len and Brent (from the Port Coquitlam Chess Club who came to watch the match) reconstructed the game and recorded the move list as well as created some computer generated images of the board positions.

Len (w)
Andrew (b)
2006-03-10

1.e4 g6

I wanted to play something different. The three other players responded with 1. ...e5 but I chose to go a different route. This lead to a unique position and one which I may have easily lost (due to my own oversight), but it was fun.

2.Nc3 Bg7
3.Bc4 e6
4.d3 Nc6
5.f4 Nge7
6.Nf3 0-0
7.0-0 d6
8.Qe1

Preparing for Qh4 which you see six moves later. Should have been watching this.

8. ... Nd4
9.Nxd4 Bxd4+
10.Kh1 c6

This was a mistake. Moving the pawn up one square does nothing or very little. I did this with the idea of defending an attacking pawn on the Bishop. In the end, this loses a pawn for me, and further on in the game, you'll find this pawn blocks the bishop on b7 from being useful.

11.Ne2 b5
12.Nxd4 bxc4
13.dxc4

Agh! See, lost the pawn over the deal.

13. ... Bb7
14.Qh4 e5

Another pawn error. Now that I have the pawn on c6, I should have played ... d5, attacking on the white squares, with the help of the Bishop. As it is, it leaves me with a lone pawn on a dark square, completely unprotected, and opens up the diagonal for the white bishop. I'm even thinking that ... Nc8 would have been better, trying to drive the white Queen away.

15.fxe5 dxe5
16.Nf3 h5

We now arrive at the position seen in the image below. ... h5 was the third pawn mistake as it did nothing useful (in fact, it opens it up to attack by white's pawn on h2, breaking down my protective wall). My position is cramped, and the Knight hardly has anywhere to go (pawn at c6 coming back to haunt yet again).

So many better moves...


17.Bg5 Re8

Len missed the opportunity to play 17.Bh6 winning the Rook.

18.Nxe5 Qd4

The abandoned pawn falls, and I had to move the Queen out to get at least something going my way.


19.Bxe7 Qxe5
20.Bf6 Qxe4


21.Qg5 Qe3

Len moves in for the kill and I push for the Queen trade.

22.Qxe3 Rxe3
23.Rae1 Rae8
24.Bc3 c5

Shocking how a questionable move early on can have such a far reaching effect. Now I move the pawn but it's way too late and accomplishes little. It puts the pawn on it's own on a dark square, and it eventually suffers the same fate as the other abandoned pawn. 24. ... Re2 might be better.

25.Kg1 f5
26.Kf2 f4
27.Bd2 Rxe1
28.Rxe1 Rxe1
29.Bxe1 Kg7

... Kf7 would be safer from the Bishop.

30.Bd2 g5
31.h4 f3
32.g3 g4
33.Be3 Be4

Now the two lone peons are captured. Moving ... a5 might have been a good idea to keep a pawn alive for the endgame.

34.Bxc5 Bxc2
35.Bxa7 Bb1
36.a3 Kf7

... Kf6 would have protected more and helped keep the King on the white squares when it moved up to block the white King.

37.Ke3 Ke6


38.Kf4 Kf6
39.b4

A critical moment for Len. 39.Bd4+ would have forced the King in one direction or the other, likely creating a winning position as I couldn't protect my pawns and stop the rush of enemy pawns on the other side.

39. ... Bd3
40.c5

This was the move that gave me the game. In a regular paced game, Len would never have made this move, but in a simultaneous situation, it's easier to not see all the consequences of a move. In this case, it blocks the Bishop from protecting my pawn on f3 from advancing. I make a run for it.

40. ... f2
41.c6 f1Q+
42.Ke3 Qg1+
43.Kxd3 Qxa7
44.Kc4 Qxa3
45.Kb5 Qa7
46.Kc4 Qb6
47.b5 0-1


Our Chess tournament at work continues, and the top four will play a series of matches to determine who takes the top four spots.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

March Snowman

Last night we were in the house about 10:30pm, and the snow really started to come down. And I mean come down, because later when we went outside, snowflakes were coming down in large chunks, some the size of business cards!

About 11:00pm the snow looked too tempting, so we put on our winter clothes and went for a walk. Believe it or not, there were people outside making snowmen at 11pm! And we made one too:


Poor guy didn't make it overnight though. Either he fell over or someone kicked him down.

Anyway, we've never seen that kind of snow before, and the streets were an absolute mess. There were people coming up the hill and sliding all over the place, spinning their tires. And some of them had to stop on the hill and had some serious trouble getting momemtum again. We stood around for a while watching the cars, and even tried to help a few people (unsuccessful because they didn't know how to drive the car properly in snow to begin with).

When we came in, the snow had collected on my hat!


Today the snow is melting quickly, the weather turning warm again. Going for a walk tonight in the forest park nearby. Hello, Spring!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Spring On Hold

... as you can see from this photo:


We're on the side of a mountain, and getting a fair bit of snow right now. Natasha took this picture just a little ways from our place.

Here in Vancouver it's been snowing but there's nothing on the ground. Natasha tells me there's about an inch of snow on the ground right now, and a snow plow just drove by! This is unbelievable.

Come back, Spring!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy 5 Month Anniversary



It's our 5 month anniversary today! I went to the florist on my way home and a nice lady put this arrangement together for me. Natasha was very surprised and pleased, and promptly used our glass pitcher as a vase!

5 months and still smiling!

New Chess Board

My new Chess board arrived today! I ordered it on eBay and it took about a week to arrive.


This one is about 10 inches across, folds in half, and is magnetic (with wooden pieces) so it's perfect for travel and carrying around. Now all I need to do is teach Natasha how to play Chess!

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Ready for Summer

We're ready for summer with our new BBQ!


We picked it up on the weekend and I put it together on Monday. Lucky I'm good at assembling things because the instructions were poor. Some of the diagrams were actually incorrect.

Steaks, burgers, chicken... all on the menu!

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Scrabble Battle

Natasha and I have been playing Scrabble lately, and we've had some really interesting games. We're even now, two wins each. She won the first two, and I came back with two wins of my own.

Today's was particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. Here's the board:


Not too bad! We did some fancy plays and made that nice big group of words. One unbelievable play though... on the left you see 'BRAVERY'. Well, there was just the 'V' there at the start, and I had 'BRA', hoping for the 'E' to make 'BRAVE'. Well guess what... Natasha played 'ERY' on the 'V', making my word even better, and getting me the triple word score! I caught three of them during the game. Interesting to note is that if I hadn't got the word 'BRAVERY', it's likely Natasha would have won the game in the end.


Here's a close-up of the group of words. I think doing crossword puzzles every day on the train helps with this kind of thing because it never happened before. The 'Z' in this group got used for four words too! 'MAZE', 'AMAZED', 'ZOO', and 'ZOOS'.

15 Trooper Points to the first person to figure out and post which two letters were NOT used on the board!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Quizno's: High Prices, Lowering

I walked by Quizno's and saw a sign saying that for their 10th anniversary, they're giving us all a great deal by lowering their prices. Who ever heard of lowering prices? Things don't usually get cheaper overall. People want to make more money, not less. That's why we have inflation.

Thinking more about it, it can mean one of a number of things:
  1. Cost of food has gone down so they can offer a better price. Doubt it.
  2. They're hiring staff for lower wages, and passing along the savings. Nah.
  3. They've been gouging us all these years and are trying to make it look like they're giving us a "deal". Bingo!
Honestly, I think Quizno's are the best toasted sandwiches around. But their prices are outrageous. They started out with great combo deals for $5. Now a 12 inch toasted sub is as much as $10!

Maybe with their discount I'll be able to afford to eat there!

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Western Standard

I bought the February 27th copy of the Western Standard today:


As far as I am aware, it's the first major publication to publish the Mohammed "cartoons" in North America.

In this magazine, I find a completely open and straight-forward stance on many issues others find controversial, and it's very refreshing indeed.

If you want to read about today's hot issues from a different angle than you'll get with other news sources, go pick up a copy of this magazine. You won't find this copy at major book chains though. Chapters, Indigo, Coles, etc have refused to display this copy due to the "cartoon" content. But you'll find it at the smaller magazine shops (that couldn't care less about content, likely, and just want your buck).

It's a $5 well spent.

Chess Tournament: Elimination Round

The chess tournament has moved into the elimination round with the top four players. I made it into the top four, and will have to battle it out in the semi-final round and then for first place. I'm confident I will do well, but will need to do some study and analysis, and watch my play carefully.

You can see more by clicking the chess image on the top right.

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