Friday, August 31, 2007

Natasha's Digital Vacation

I just took Natasha to the airport and she's off on her week long trip to visit some of her friends. She'll be going to Pennsylvania, as well as a three day trip to New York City!

This trip incorporates more of the digital lifestyle than us or any of our family have ever done. A digital camera for photos and video, laptop for internet access and file uploads, cell phone (obvious), and an iPod for listening to music (complete with an FM transmitter)! This will be particularly handy in New York, as the hotel provides wireless internet access to its guests, and you as our reader will benefit from the increased information flow.

Natasha will be sending me a daily set of photos along with a written report so I can post it each day. There's even a possibility of a special video report if we can work it out.

I'm home alone for the next week or so but will be quite busy with all sorts of things that I will also be posting about, so keep checking back!

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Islamic Dig Uncovers Temple Remnant

Here's an interesting story from Jerusalem, where a dig on the Temple Mount has revealed a wall that some archaeologists believe may be a part of the Second Temple wall. And they are not pleased by the damage being done to it.

"A month-old Islamic dig on Jerusalem's Temple Mount to replace faulty electrical cables has damaged an ancient wall that is likely a remnant of the Second Temple, Israeli archaeologists said Thursday.

The work, which is being carried out with the approval of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the state-run Antiquities Authority, has been repeatedly condemned by independent Israeli archaeologists, who are calling for its immediate halt.

"The Israeli Government is lending a hand to the destruction of one of the most important archaeological sites in the world," said Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai at a Jerusalem press conference."

"Among the antiquities that have been damaged are a 7-meter-wide wall that apparently dates back to Second-Temple times and was likely part of the Temple courts, according to Israeli archaeologists from the nonpartisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

"This is the first time in the history of archaeological excavation in Israel that we have remains that could have been part of the courts of the Temple itself," Barkai said.

He added that it was unfathomable that Israel's top archaeological body was turning a blind eye to archaeological destruction at Judaism's holiest site. "All civilized people should stand up and protest this barbaric act," he said."

Read the full article here.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

End Of August Update

August has been a busy month even though I haven't reported on a lot of things. I'll try to recap it all here without taking too much time.

Early on in the month we went to see the Celebration of Light fireworks in Vancouver. It's really a spectacular show. I posted an article with a video as well and if you missed it you can go back and see it now. My Mom's birthday was at the beginning of the month as well, and Natasha, my parents, and I went out for a nice meal at The Keg. And on BC Day, our civic holiday, we went to Granville Island and did a little bit of exploring in places we've heard about but never been to.

Then we had our church youth camp, but we only made it to a few of the services. This also led to our 3 hour wait at the border trying to get back into Canada. Enough said about that. I would like to go down to the USA more often but it's just so inconvenient to cross the border for part of a day when you're in line for hours. Take away the border, and I'll be heading down there much more frequently!

We also went to see the Shakespeare play titled The Taming of the Shrew at the yearly Bard on the Beach theatre production. We went last year as well (A Winter's Tale) and will probably go again next year. They are really quite entertaining and it's a fun way to spend an evening. Next year we want to go with other people, so if you are reading this and are interested, keep in touch with us!

And the last couple of weeks have been spent visiting with my grandparents who are in town staying with my parents, as well as spending time with a few of our friends. The last month has been good when it comes to friends. We've got to know a few people for the first time, and sort of renewed a few friendships with plans for more time to spend together in the future.

Looking at my September calendar, it's going to be eventful as well, and is likely to be filled with blog posts, so check back often, especially over the next couple of weeks.

Natasha and I hope that all of you have enjoyed the summer, and wish you all the best in your school, work, and other endeavors as we move through the last third of the year!

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chess Rating: August 2007

As the Langley Chess Club Open tournament looms in the near future, my overall play has been consistently better. I've kept a win percentage of 70% over the last while, and my ChessWorld rating has increased to my goal of 1700. That's the highest it's been in the last 200 or more games.


Chess Rating as of Aug 28, 2007

Hopefully this momentum will continue into the weekend when I'll get only six chances to show my skill, and find out how well it stands up to the other tournament players out there.

Tournament coverage will begin Saturday evening when I report on my first two games.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Shoe Abuse

... or is it foot abuse? Check out this new sporting event, where participants compete for big shopping sprees (10,000 Euros)... High Heel Racing!


Ouch.

I've never worn anything like high heels, but I can guarantee you I wouldn't ever try running in them. As far as I'm concerned, it's more dangerous than rollerblades™, and I wouldn't put a pair of those on without at least a helmet and wrist guards. Twisted ankles, skinned knees. Being mocked by family and friends. No way!

How far would you go for a $10,000 shopping spree?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Chess Tournament: Langley Open

In just under two weeks I will be participating in my first ever rated Chess tournament. The tournament is being run by the Langley Chess Club, their second annual so far.


Langley Chess Club

If you visit the tournament page, you can see my name in the list of confirmed players. As I haven't played any rated games so far, I don't have a rating which puts me in the lowest level to start. That's fine with me, as I know I can't compete with the highly rated players who are in the 2000 range. My estimate is that I'm somewhere in the 1300 to 1500 range. To give those of you who don't know much about ratings an idea of scale, the highest rating achieved by any player is Garry Kasparov, a past world champion, at 2851.

This tournament will be a good experience for me as it puts me up against live players who are outside my circle of friends, family, and co-workers. It's more likely that these players are better than me, and more serious about Chess as they're actually taking the time to participate in the tournament. Even if I lose every game, I will come out with a lot of information to analyse and learn from.

My goal is to get 2.5 points out of 6 (1 point is scored for a win, 0.5 for a draw, and 0 for a loss), which I think is reasonable because if I win against a lower rated opponent early on, it will bump me up and pair me with a more highly rated player.

During the tournament, I will make a blog post daily to post my results, comments, and any other information of interest. Maybe even a photo or two if I can get them.

Coverage begins Saturday, September 1st!

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Canadian Market Downturn

The Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) took a plunge today due to fears of the recent credit crisis affecting markets outside the United States.

"The sell-off leaves the TSX nearly 2,000 points below the record high set July 19 and in negative territory for the year as whole."

It seems as though this is really a global correction, and everyone's being affected. Well, at least the market numbers are. I'm uncertain how this can or will affect day to day life. I'm not seeing anything yet. How bad will it have to get before things return to "normal"?

Reference

CBC: Still a bad day, but TSX erases some early losses
CNN: Europe takes worst hit in 4 years
CNN Money: 5 ways to know if the bull is over

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Shogi

Here's the latest addition to my game collection. It's a Shogi board, also known as Japanese Chess.


Shogi board and pieces

I bought it in Bellingham at a Japanese store that carried all types of inexpensive items... similar to a dollar store but with slightly better stuff. How cheap? Board and pieces for $3.00! It's not high quality, but for the amount I will use it, it's plenty good enough.

The main problem is that it is quite uncommon outside of Japan, and nobody I know plays it. Some people in the local chess club play Chinese Chess, but I've never seen a game of Shogi in action. So unless Natasha decides to take it up, I may not have anyone to play with for some time.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tire Damage: Response From Surrey

I got a surprise phone call today from the City of Surrey regarding the letter I sent them to make a claim for damages to a tire and rim of my car due to a protruding drain cover. The lady told me she had received my letter and photos, and wanted some clarification on the exact location. She said she would be mailing out a letter to confirm they had received my claim, and would let me know when they made a decision on it.

That's positive news, because I was unsure I'd get any response at all. I'm sure that with accurate investigation, they should be able to determine the photos are from the described location and that my claim is valid.

I've started a new label for this issue, "tire damage claim", and you can click the link below any post in the series to see all related articles.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Lengthy Border Waits

Yesterday morning we went down to Washington where our church youth camp is being held for our Sunday morning service. On the way down, we ended up waiting for about 45 minutes. That's somewhat reasonable, I'd say, considering the volume of traffic. If I knew I would have to wait exactly 30 minutes every time, it would be much better than simply not knowing how long it will take.

On our way back, however, we ran into some absolutely huge delays. The radio was reporting a 1.5 hour wait, but we ended up at least 3 hours wait to get back into Canada. One border crossing had construction delays, and the overflow went to another, creating even more there.


Waiting in line. Move mouse over picture to see us after a while.

Needless to say, we weren't all that impressed, but we survived. We got to talk a bit, Natasha learned a new game on her cell phone, and I examined the Shogi board (Japanese Chess) I bought in Bellingham.

The borders are becoming increasingly problematic, especially for people we know who cross the border a lot. There are probably more people crossing because the currency is nearly equal. And other factors like construction are holding up traffic even further.

If you are going to cross the border, bring some music, a book, or a game to play while you're waiting. Anything to help pass the time. Enjoy the wait, everyone!

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Market Woes

Wow, wow, wow. This has really come up sooner than I expected. The markets are all over the place today amidst serious concerns over the housing market and credit conditions. It seems that investors, banks, and practically everyone else have finally reacted to what I've considered outrageous behavior on the part of consumers and home buyers. Specifically, overspending, and out-of-this-world expectations. Now, some mortgage lender is in risk or bankrupt, and everyone's panicking.

CNN and CBC both have long articles on today's happenings, which I will post below. One really great paragraph I noted:

"In the United States, years of easy lending created huge numbers of shaky mortgages, many of them with teaser interest rates that are now about to reset, leaving homeowners with new, higher monthly payments they may not be able to meet."

That's what I've been saying for a while now, and worrying about it happening to me if I bought beyond my means.

Admittedly, I am not the wisest person with my money, and spend it on many things which are not really necessary. Guess it's part of living the big west coast lifestyle. However, when it comes to bigger issues like buying houses, I've tried to research things and make the right decision based on my own financial situation and the market, not just on what everyone else is doing or saying.

That resulted in us turning down a deal we made on a condo a few months ago. It might have worked out, but it would have been shaky, and by the looks of things, I'm happy to be on solid ground and renting.

So what does this mean for the future? Lenders tightening up their lending policies could mean less people affording housing. Buyers might simply take a second thought about buying which is what I'm thinking right now. That in itself will drop demand and possibly prices.

And don't even get me started on the fatted calf which is better known as the condo market. You can't drive anywhere without seeing some huge condo complex with a designer name going up faster than Lego™.

Sure is interesting, whatever the case! Here are the news articles:

References

CNN: Fed pumps in $38B as markets slide
CBC: Stock markets volatile as central banks try to calm investors
CNN Money: Mortgage meltdown
The Atavist: Is it time to panic and kiss your behind goodbye?

This one just sent to me by Natasha discusses what a subprime mortgage is, and the differences in mortgages in the USA and Canada:

CNN: The U.S. subprime mortgage meltdown... Will it spread to Canada?

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Armed America

In the National Post yesterday (Aug 9, 2007) in the Arts & Life section, was a full page article about a photographer who took up a two year project taking pictures of Americans in their homes... with their guns.

The book, Armed America, has been published, and a photo gallery posted online along with the article. The resulting photos are amazing, and totally unique because without the guns, they would simply be photos of people in their houses.


See the Armed America photo gallery

Talk about a breath of fresh air! I guess being from Canada where guns aren't commonly owned and from a family who aren't hunters (at least not anymore), I just haven't been around guns very much... but I appreciate the people who choose to live that lifestyle and believe in broader freedoms than we have here.

Maybe someday...

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Celebration Of Light 2007

This past Saturday was the final night for fireworks at the Celebration of Light competition. The last night has displays from each country, and a grand finale with a combination of them all working together.

This video is the final 50 seconds of the show. We're getting really high tech now, and are bringing this video to you via YouTube!


Can you hear Natasha cheering at the end?

The beach is absolutely jam packed with people, but it's a fun outing. Maybe next year we'll have a group to go with, which makes it all the better. Helps the time pass more quickly too, as you can wait for a couple of hours just to have a good spot on the beach.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Arctic Quest

There's a new race going on these days, but it's a little closer to home than the space race. And Canada, while having no space capabilities, at least have some aging ships to us. The destination? The North Pole!

It seems as though everyone is taking sudden interest in the area, mostly over the desire for oil rights, and it's become important for everyone to show that they have the means to protect the area... especially Canada.

Russia just sent a submarine to the North Pole to plant a flag on the sea bed, an obvious indication that they're making a claim to the area (Canada and the US both deny this has any legal standing). Right now, the US is sending an icebreaker to the north, and Canada is sending three ships, planning to be in the area over the next few days.

It may not be as huge as going to space, but I'm happy to see that Canada is taking on a more aggressive role, especially when it comes to things right at home. We've neglected the military for too long, relying on the US for support, but I think it's time that we start acting like a country of our size and being able to protect ourselves when necessary.

I have a few links below to articles that give all the details on this, right from the source:

Reference

CBC: Planned army base, port in North heat up Arctic quest
CNN: Canadian PM vows to defend Arctic

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Early August Updates

I've had many things to post over the last five days, but haven't gotten around to doing it. Some people have asked me how much time I spend a week on blogging. It's really not that much, although some time has been invested in getting it to look the way I want it. But other than that, it might take 15 minutes to write something up. Do that a few times a week, and I might spend an hour or so a week.

And yet sometimes it's hard to find the time to do just that.

I will still get around to more detailed posts on various things, but I'll do an overview to get everyone up to speed.

Sunday was my Mom's birthday, and we went out for supper to The Keg. I had the prime rib and was it ever tasty. Natasha and my Dad had steak and lobster type combinations, and Mom had a salmon dish. Overall, fantastic food, and there were even a few mentions of best steaks ever eaten. After that we had coffee and cake, played a game, and went on a walk, generally just a really nice relaxing day.

Prior to that, on Saturday, Natasha and I went to see the Celebration of Light fireworks display in Vancouver. It was the usual mad rush there and back, fighting for a place on the skytrain with thousands of others, but it was a good show and we had a good time. I actually have a video clip of the grand finale which I will post as soon as I can get it converted into a format I can display here.

Monday was a holiday (BC Day) and we spent it by going to Granville Island, and having lunch on the beach in Vancouver. A tour around the SFU campus finished off our day. There's some really great views from up there, something I've heard about for a long time but have never seen.

And now we're back into the swing of things, going to and from work, and all of the usual stuff. I started the month off with a few posts but slipped the last while, and will try to keep up as much as I can. Thanks for continuing to visit!

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Sci-Fi Photo Edit

Susanna is up to it again, surprising us with photos and drawings that include us in them. Her latest release is very entertaining, and most interesting because I am a fan of Star Trek.


Andrew & Natasha as part of the Star Trek crew

Engage!

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Damage Claim: City Of Surrey

As I reported on July 3rd, I had a little road accident involving some road construction and a rather dangerous drainage cover left out in the open.

Here are two photos:


Damaged tire and rim


The drain cover I hit

Needless to say, this was highly dangerous and inconvenient, not to mention the cost of the new (used) rim I purchased.

I've been procrastinating a bit, but finally took the time today to write the City of Surrey a letter along with the photos to make a claim for my expense. Below is the letter.

August 2, 2007

City of Surrey
14245 - 56th Avenue
Surrey, British Columbia
V3X 3A2, Canada

Re: Damage to car due to construction

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing this letter to make a claim for damages to my vehicle due to road construction on Fraser Highway in the area of 176th Street. Along this route, paving and other road construction is taking place, and during the process, some drainage covers have been left well above the road surface. I hit one of these on July 1st, 2007, cutting a hole in my tire and putting a dent in the rim. Some of these drainage covers currently remain in this condition.

I took the tire and rim to Kal Tire who told me it had to be repaired, at a price which was a good part of the cost of a brand new one. I opted to purchase a used rim for a cost of $113.00. It is this cost for which I would like to be reimbursed.

Along with this letter, I am including three photographs; one of my damaged tire and rim, and two of the drainage cover. Also included is my receipt for the purchase of the used rim.

The response, if any, will be posted!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

August 2007

Welcome to the month of August, everyone! July went by quickly as things were so busy, and a majority of it was spent indoors. We got one good bike ride in, and a number of walks in various parks, but it just seems like the summer months are slipping away faster than ever (and with very little in the way of good weather to compensate).

Last week we brought the bikes out of hibernation, wiped the rust of the chains, and went for a spin. We live on a rather steep hill so getting back to the house is a big job, but the rest is fine, and it's nice to know we can leave directly from our house and go on an enjoyable 45 minute ride anytime we want.

An update on the mini-garden too. Our tomato plants are really starting to grow with the increased sunshine (sporadic) and the addition of a tomato fertilizer. Natasha picked the first cherry tomato yesterday, and there's more on the way. The lettuce was pathetic as well and I gave them fertilizer too (right or wrong kind, what do I know?) and it's really grown as well. Almost enough to consider having a salad sometime soon. It would be really nice to have a BBQ and fresh garden salad again.

We hope you're all enjoying the summer and make the best use of it as you can. We have a number of activities coming up over the next month and will post as often as we can.

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