Recent Entries in Travel

With the nice weather, I've been getting on my bike and trying to discover more of the cities of Waterloo and Kitchener that I missed by virtue of the fact that I'm a car owner. I drive all the time, mostly because it's extremely convenient, especially when the weather is less than ideal. We've been trying to walk a little more, and R's even been biking to work. Not me. Too far, and uphill both ways.

But when you drive everywhere, or even if you take public transit, you can miss places that are hidden from public thoroughfares, even when they're right in your own neighbourhood -- a stone's throw, so to speak. I mean to walk more since I'm so close to both Kitchener and Waterloo cores, but I'm both lazy and impatient. So cycling surprisingly accomodates both of these personality limitations.

The other day, it was quite warm, and a Sunday, so I was taking the bike for a test ride after some light Spring tuning. I still need to replace the front fork, as it never really recovered from a spill I took in a construction zone. The accident necessitated a new front wheel, and a couple of icepacks (only).

As I headed up Union St., I pulled into the parking lot at 350 153 Union, the old site of one of the Regal Capital Planners satellite offices, now a dance school and a largely empty parking lot. I zoomed around for a bit, and thought I'd circle around back and see what lay on the other site. The site borders both Union and the railway tracks that cut across Weber St., Moore, King, Erb, up past the Perimeter Institute, and up to St. Jacobs.



So I assumed the back of the building had only a parking lot with a view of the railroad tracks, and the back parking lot of the Lens Mill store. That's pretty much what I got ...





... except there's also a little community garden back there.



In addition, there's a hidden exit to Roger St. as well. Looks like it wasn't used very much.




So, hidden community garden. Something that would be impossible to locate from any of Union St., Roger St., or even the railway, since it's protected by some very dense tree cover. A very cool find.

The only bad part about this is you can't buy it in Canada. It fits 20 cases of beer, dammit!


ZENN Motor Company

Here's a pretty awesome electric motorcycle that uses advanced gyros for steering and speed control. I think I want one.


mental_floss Blog - The Uno

Hey, let's put the tent on the roof. No I mean, with a ladder and everything, so you can sleep on the roof of your car.


AutoHome Roof Top Tents - Maggiolina, Columbus Variant, and OverLand

I'll admit I jump at the chance to disrobe in front of TSA people. Usually, I'll have my pants halfway down before they quickly usher me through. So I'm a little surprised at this. Well, not all that surprised. I have had people tell me I have to remove my earrings before. These are 10 gauge piercing rings that need two pairs of pliers to remove, so they have always just shrugged and let me go.

Once I actually had a TSA guy draw a gun on me when I went through a metal detector. I had saved up about 10 packs of ketchup in my coat's breast pocket. They must have thought I was packing in a shoulder holster. That was fun. - TSA Forces Woman To Remove Nipple Rings For Flight

A Texas woman who claims she was forced to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane called Thursday for an apology by federal security agents and a civil rights investigation.

"I wouldn't wish this experience upon anyone," Mandi Hamlin, 37, said at a news conference in Los Angeles. "My experience with TSA was a nightmare I had to endure. No one deserves to be treated this way."

Hamlin said she was trying to board a flight from Lubbock to Dallas on Feb. 24 when she was scanned by a Transportation Security Administration agent after passing through a larger metal detector without problems.

This is pretty cool. It's kind of what I've been looking for in a mo-blogging mechanism for a while now. Unfortunately, it's for MT 4.x. Means I'd have to upgrade to get it.

Six Apart - News and Events: Yahoo! Fire Eagle for Movable Type

...Yahoo!'s Fire Eagle service, which is simple, privacy-aware, and most importantly, is now hooked in to Movable Type, using the new Fire Eagle plugin for MT. This makes my MT profile location-aware: I can add a map of my current location; changes to my location are added to my Action Stream; and other MT plugins can build off of the location to provide additional location-sensitive features. You can see it in action -- combined with the Action Stream plugin -- on David's site.

Another interesting aspect of the Fire Eagle API is that it uses the new OAuth standard for all API requests. We've written about OAuth in the past and are really excited to see Yahoo! supporting it. To help do our part in the adoption of this open standard, we'll be shipping the Perl OAuth library with the next release of Movable Type so that no plugin developer needs to worry if they'll be able to develop atop OAuth with MT.

  Infiltrating North Korea

Facinating blog looking behind the curtain of the world's most reclusive nation.

Infiltrating North Korea Part 1 - Gadling

My first impression of North Korea was just what I expected: an old, weathered airport crowded with dour-faced people in uniforms.

Policemen, soldiers, customs officials, airline employees and lord knows what other branch of the government requiring a uniform were all packed into the arrival terminal at Pyongyang International Airport looking stern and threatening. It was an intimidating show of force and I was not looking forward to a cadre of officials tearing apart my luggage in search of whatever they might consider contraband. But instead, my baggage was simply x-rayed by a stoic soldier who asked me, in probably the only English he knew, "Cell phone?"

Cell phones are not allowed into North Korea and I watched as those behind me surrendered their only link to the outside world to customs officials who would eventually return them five days later when it was time to depart.

I've been doing a little goofing off these days, working on some art projects, and generally playing around with Photoshop. I was going through some pictures, and had a bit of a laugh when I saw "The Teaching of Buddha" photo from Cancun. This book was in the hotel room instead of a bible.


I guess either the Gideons hadn't been by, or the Abimelechs had. I like the style and general mischievousness of the Abimelech Society. And they were apparently Canadians. Here's a little tidbit of information from our good friends at Positive Atheism:

The Abimelechs are an association of Atheist commercial, business, and professional men and women who have as one of their objects: The removal from circulation of the so-called Word of God or Holy Bible, from hotels, motels, hospitals, school classrooms, university dormitories, penal institutions, and many other places, and by the confiscation of New Testaments from school children, service personnel, and nurses.

The Association was founded in Canada 29 years ago by a couple of Freethinkers who, in a hotel room, found the only reading material to be a Gideon Bible, and were angered by this overt propaganda by the Christians and decided to do something about it. There are now adherents in many countries around the world, and thousands of Bibles and New Testaments have been withdrawn from circulation, confiscated, destroyed, or put to some useful purpose.

The Abimelechs named themselves after the bastard son of Gideon and his followers who, in the story related in ninth Chapter of the Book of Judges, were inspired to usurp the work of the Judge Gideon and his associates, who had wrought havoc upon the many peoples whose religious beliefs differed from their own conviction that Yahweh was the Only True God.

So, in the same vein as Biologists Helping Bookstores I thought it might be fun to try being an Abimelech. I've always thought it would be fun to make sure each hotel room I visited had a copy of "The God Delusion" or some other book to balance it out. Or perhaps a little calling card saying "This bible removed courtesy of the Abimelech Society". That might be something someone would actually buy (say a bunch of postcards with that little message on it and something inspiring, like a picture of a sunset on the back).

Here's my first attempt on this as an art piece:


The next thing I wanted to do was to compile a list of books that would either replace the bible, or complement it -- balance it out, so to speak:

  • "The Teaching of Buddha"
  • "An English interpretation of the Holy Quran" by A. Yusuf Ali
  • "Wicca For Beginners: Fundamentals of Philosophy & Practice" by Thea Sabin
  • "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
  • "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
  • "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" by Christopher Moore
  • "The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993" by Charles Bukowski
  • "The Origin Of Species" by Charles Darwin
  • "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens
  • "Wish You Were Here: A Tour of America's Great Hotels During the Golden Age of the Picture Post Card" by Barry Zaid

If you have a list of other books you'd add, please leave a comment.

More beautiful pictures of this same place I previously posted about.


the Vanishing Point

I've never felt deeper and more completely embraced by the earth around me than I did when I got the chance to enter the tailrace and push through rising waters to stand in Niagara's secret mists. The specifics of how we did it are best left unreported -- those with sufficient ability and experience to do what my expert acquaintances did for us would have already (the plant is now being renovated by the Niagara Parks Commission, as a result of which the wheelpit is on the verge of becoming completely inaccessible).

Lying below a river that will relentlessly tear into the bedrock until all has been obliterated from Queenston to Erie, this tunnel thirty-three feet in diameter is imprinted into my being forever. A swirling army of red brick millions strong, the eye of a petrified hurricane leading us right into the centre of the stalled but fighting storm that is Niagara Falls. Standing in its back-blast, in a place far deeper and darker than any middling storm sewer, I breathed and drank from the fount of the universe and swam closer to its centre than I ever will again.

Oh well, I suppose the Americans now get a chance at tourism in Cuba. Now it'll probably start to look like Cancun.

ABC News: 'That's All I Can Offer' Fidel Castro Steps Down, Ending an Era

After almost half a century in power, Cuba's Fidel Castro is stepping down.

He made the announcement overnight on the online edition of the Cuban Communist Daily paper Granma.

"I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of president of the state council and commander in chief."
Fidel Castro Resigns

That means that for the first time since 1959, the 81-year-old will not be officially in charge in Cuba.

His brother Raul, 76, who has been acting president for his ailing brother, since July 2006, will be formally installed this weekend.

Huh, and here I thought Dubai might be the new Thailand...

Press Release Regarding Cat-Luy : The Truth About Dubai

According to friends, Le-Huyâ..s decision to travel to Dubai came about after visiting the official tourist website of Dubaiâ..s Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTMC). The website is part of a larger campaign aimed at Western tourists and promotes Dubai as a safe and modern holiday destination. The DTMC aggressively advertises Dubai Tourism all over the world; as per their website, â..The marketing mix of DTCM-Dubai comprises of very strong, strategic placement of media campaigns in print, electronic and outdoor, which reaches the target audiencesâ.¦ the media vehicle, language and the creative are all tailor made to suit that market.â.

The government-created DTMC website, which advertises itself as an all-in-one tourist resource, fails to mention any of the new, strict laws that ensnare Western travelers in Dubaiâ..s prisons daily. One Dubai law states that trace amounts of drugs used before coming to Dubai in the travelerâ..s system count as â..drug possession,â. a crime punished with a four-year jail sentence. This includes legal, prescribed drugs for health conditions (examples include codeine and similar narcotic-like drugs prescribed for pain).

Although Cat Le-Huy tested negative for any drug use, he, like many other travelers, still fell victim to Dubaiâ..s harsh anti-drug policy and remains in jail under ambiguous circumstances.

  Sorry, I was in Cancun

We celebrated NOXmas this year by heading down to Mexico and drinking a few tequilas. Spent the week hopping between the Hyatt Grand Caribe and the Hyatt Regency on the hotel strip. We were travelling largely on points, so had to do a little reservation finagling, but it wasn't too bad, and we were able to get a bunch of free meals out of it as well.

I, of course, expected Cancun to be extremely commercial, but I still wasn't quite prepared for the amount of American restaurant and store chains that we saw. Walmart, McDonalds, Chili's, Outback Steakhouse, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, Bubba Gump's -- San Francisco was more authentic than this place.

But we toughed it out, and got some sun and salsa into us. We braved the flea market vendors and the taxi drivers and tried to find the smallest, cheapest hole-in-the-wall places that the locals favoured. We tended to eschew the touristy restaurants for the places the staff ate at, and were pretty satisfied at the experience.








You did *what* to the fruit?


Language Log: The Etiology and Elaboration of a Flagrant Mistranslation

A series of earlier Language Log posts have discussed the curious phenomenon seen in the grocery-store sign on the right: absurdly crude English mistranslations in bizarrely inappropriate contexts.

In "Gan: whodunnit, and how, and why?" (5/31/2006), I explained one of the sources of this phenomenon: several Chinese characters pronounced GAN1 or GAN4 -- and meaning such widely disparate things as "dry," "calendrical sign," "to do," and much else beside -- all got collapsed into one simplified character: 干. This has led to enormous confusion, especially when people who know next to no English rely on machine translation software to convert Chinese into English. The chaos caused by this combination of circumstances is vastly exacerbated by the fact that this little, three-stroke symbol also has a vulgar meaning when pronounced in the fourth tone, GAN4, namely "fuck," which is probably an extension of the regular sense of "do." Because GAN4 ("do") and GAN1 ("dry") are now both written with that little, three-stroke character, the damage is compounded by the enormous range of intended senses of GAN1/4 ("dry," "do," "act," "work," "undertake," "shield," "have to do with; be concerned with," "edge of a body of water," "be rude, impolite, blunt," "embarrass or annoy," "give the cold-shoulder to," "empty, hollow," measure word for a group of people, "trunk, stem, main part," "cadre," "competent, capable, able, talented," "go bad," "be a disaster," etc.), all of which are capable of coming out of the translation software as "fuck."

I've always been interested in urban exploration. Enough so, that I've snuck into abandoned buildings, crawled into water pipes, and explored hidden places -- much more so when I was a kid, and could be excused for such behaviour. I always wanted to find a hidden cache of treasure, or antiques, or even just really old newspapers, so that I could find out more about the past. Since we've mapped the entire world from space, there are precious few places to explore, save those we've forgotten about.

Take that hidden parking lot I blogged about a while back. Known to some ... but hidden from the rest of the world, unless you happened to stumble upon it by taking the wrong bike trail, or by turning into an unmarked entrance from the main road. Hidden in plain view.

I photographed another such spot, also hidden in plain view, and visible from Northfield Drive, in Waterloo. It's right beside the Williams Coffee Pub, but no one ever seems to visit the spot, and nothing ever seems to change. It's crammed in-between the Williams and the Home Depot, and the property must be quite valuable.




Behind the main property is a narrow rectangular one-acre buffer zone, lined with tall cedar bushes, and adjacent to that zone is the loading area for the Home Depot. The only things on the main property, are a shed, a snow blower attachment for a large truck, and several old microbuses. Also, a "No Trespassing" sign. It's not even immediately evident where the access point is, though it appears to run parallel to the entrance to the plaza. If you look at the satellite photos, it's pretty easy to see.






I want to call these places HammerSpaces, from the concept of hammerspace, the hidden pocket from which cartoon characters pull hammers or other objects. I was going to title this entry "In-between Places," or "Interstitial Zones," but HammerSpaces sounds more fun -- more steampunk. It sounds more appropriate to the kinds of spaces I'm interested in. Those locations forgotten about by normal people -- places you don't even notice, which seem to be squeezed out by society.

I'll try to get a few more locations uploaded as I find them. It may not seem like there would be many hidden spots in K-W, but that's probably because they're so well hidden.

For those interested in urban exploration, an excellent starting point is Web Urbanist's beginner's guide to urban exploration. A very cool publication is Infiltration magazine, which is based out of Toronto, and showcases some of the locations around the city that have been explored.

  Back to square one

I'm back home again. Still fighting the remnants of a virus I picked up flying down to San Jose.

My flight back was luckily uneventful -- it was a non-stop back into Toronto, in an updated Airbus with touchscreen multimedia stations on the backs of the headrests. That was pretty good, and I got a choice of a dozen movies, as well as TV and audio podcasts (for lack of a better word). So I watched the latest Harry Potter film along with the first two thirds of the latest Die Hard film. I was pretty sure I knew where the Die Hard film was going, so had little regrets when we started our descent.

The most unfortunate part of the flight back was that food was still only available for purchase. It wasn't a problem on the shorter flights, but man, a 5 hour flight without a snack was a bit of a downer. I bought an overpriced cylinder of Pringles during the Die Hard movie.

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