Looks like snot

2 09 2015

But it tastes divine. Favourite after-gym tipple. Probably undoes most of the good work but YOLO. Allegedly.

Green Goodness

Wild Weekend

31 08 2015

Bit of a to-do here in the Lower Mainland this weekend.

After literally months of uninterrupted sunshine the weather finally broke on Friday night. By mid-morning the welcome rain was joined by a much less welcome wind storm. The parched trees suffered mightily and the urban landscape is still strewn – almost 3 days later – with bits of tree. White Rock/South Surrey got away pretty lightly and we didn’t even lose power except for 2 or 3 “glitches”. Enough to reset the olde worlde desktop PC and aquarium air pump but not enough to lose the time on the cooker’s LED clock.

Number 3 offspring had to help me do some running repairs on our panel fence as the gusty winds blew two panels completely off the fence. Spiketta the devil dog was too scared to go out into the garden otherwise I’m sure she’d have made a break for it. I knew those random pieces of drilled steel from the old overhead garage door opener I replaced a few years ago would come in handy…

Saturday was largely a day for hunkering down and writing, but I did venture out towards lunch to take aforementioned devil dog for a promenade. As we got to the wooded ravine she likes to sniff, we were met by a city workman who told us it was unsafe until someone had been through to check for loose limbs. Having already had to circumvent a pretty large tree limb in the normally serene butterfly garden, we decided that it was prudent to listen, and we detoured around Centennial Park instead.

Sunday was a lot more bright so offspring numbers two and three accompanied me to Van Dusen gardens for a breath of fresh air. We began by having High Tea at Truffles, the café there. It was atrocious! Number two and I had taken tea there before and had a most excellent experience. This time though? Yuck.  They offer afternoon/high tea for two or four. We were three, so we ordered “afternoon tea for two ($40!) with an extra cup please, and a Turkey Club sandwich (~$9!!)”. The order was relayed back to me as “afternoon tea for two and a Turkey Club sandwich”. There was a moment of confusion when I was asked what kind of sandwich we wanted, but this was my mistake as I  hadn’t realised there was a sandwich as part of the High Tea. So, all good, I went to pay. Only as I walked away did I realise the price was wrong. It was $42… not enough! I returned and said, there seems to be a mistake, the bill is $42 and the High Tea is $40 (meaning… the sandwich should have made it nearer $50). At this point I was told (presumably because of my not exactly local accent) that this was “because of the tax”. Here in BC the tax is added on at payment time and not included in the sticker price like in the UK, and I suppose the young lady thought I hadn’t realised that the $40 would become $42. I explained that there was a whole Turkey sandwich missing from the reckoning, but by now there was a large queue and they were on to the second person after me. We slunk off to get a table and I sent last born to rejoin the queue and re-order his Turkey sandwich.

After a while his sandwich arrived all hot and steamy and by all accounts was most tasty. This despite being ordered SEVERAL orders after our High Tea. Then the pot of tea arrived. Without the third cup. The server was pleasant enough despite exuding studied boredom from every pore of his being. He reluctantly sloped off to reappear with a third cup which was no less wet or poorly presented than its two earlier siblings. I don’t take sugar, but the sugar bowl was huge yet held only a small number of sugar cubes. Worse… it was dirty with some old coffee drips on the inside and the sugar was covered in fluff (or worse!). Just as my son finished his sarnie, the main event arrived, was swapped for the number we’d been given and that was it. No cutlery. No serviettes. No smile. Just lots of attitude!

I can’t complain about the food itself. The Croque-monsieur we’d ordered was hot and tasty. The lemon/white chocolate truffles were delightful. The petit fours were exquisite. The scone was a bit odd. Despite being attended by strawberry jam and thick cream (and for the locals – honey), it seemed to have orange in it rather than the more customary raisins or currants. Still that and the croissant went down very nicely thank-you and I can report that at least the kitchen staff were on their game, if not the front of house.

Both offspring were affronted enough to fill out pretty vociferous comment cards (with their real names!) and we went off to tour the gardens. We’ve visited many times and yet I was surprised to find that we ended up in various stretches of the garden I had never before visited. It really was a very pleasant little visit, and I was quite sad when we had to call it a day and leave.

As ever – click on an image for a larger version.

Summer Holiday – day 15

29 08 2015

Day 15 was spent being tourists in Portland. First thing’s first – figure out the Transit! It turned out we were just a couple of blocks from the station and it was easy peasy lemon squeezy to get into town. Cheap too. You get all sorts on public transport. The lady with the pet rat running up and down her arm was a first though…

Second things second… coffee! I’m a big tea drinker but this is Portland! We tried to find a non-chain establishment to better support the hipster economy.

Brazilian coffee sack

Brazilian coffee sack

I forget where we ended up, but I was amused to find the above coffee sack on the wall. Minas Gerais was the area of Brazil I had visited several years ago. Small world, isn’t it? Portland has cute names for its districts, Pearl, Rose, etc. I guess we were in the Rose District when I saw this cover for some utility ducting.

Utility cover

Utility cover

Number two offspring wasn’t with us for this trip, but we’d promised to return with some offerings from Voodoo Doughnuts. After first spending a couple of joyous hours in Powell’s bookshop we dutifully joined the queue for these doughnuts. No idea why they were so popular but the queue ran round the block. Over the road was a telling sign…

Keep it weird

Keep it weird

Having queued the length of the building, we then got the joy of queuing all the way back! Good job we were English… this counts as entertainment! I got dripped on once or twice and I eventually figured out it was an Air Conditioning unit in a first floor window up above the queue.

Little England. Love a good queue...

Little England. Love a good queue…

The jokes I was making about AC units and Legionaire’s Disease suddenly didn’t seem so funny when I realised that the doughnuts we were about to buy spent some period behind this open doorway protected from airborne disease and children’s bogey-laden fingers by nothing more substantial than a wire grille! Pink, I admit, but even so…

Now THAT's healthy...

Now THAT’s healthy…

I’m told by more discerning doughnut-lovers that they were especially scrummy, but personally I don’t think they were worth the effort…

Voodoo doughnuts

Voodoo Doughnuts

What’s in a name?

8 06 2015

I was invited out for drinks and a bite to eat on Friday with some old work friends. “Old” as in long-standing, as opposed to elderly. That said, we’re none of us getting any younger. Anyway, we ended up at The Main on Main, in Vancouver’s trendy Main Street. Parking was a pain. Though plentiful, the meter-controlled parking on Main was unavailable due to me habitually travelling like royalty… and therefore without cash. Eventually I parked in a twee residential area around the back and only a few minutes walk away.

I’d arranged to arrive early for pre-drinks and my friend and I took a table in the open (as in not present) window to soak up a few rads before the others arrived, and to more readily watch the world pass by. I noticed a large old pub sign on the wall, being used as “art”. It was a Tetley’s sign for “The Oak Tree Root”, and obviously a few thousand miles adrift from its origins in the north of the UK somewhere.

Tetley's Sign - The Main on Main

Tetley’s Sign – The Main on Main

I innocently asked if they served Tetley’s and the waitress asked if I’d like tea. Taken aback, I had to explain at length that Tetley’s tea had nothing to do with Tetley’s brewery. Despite being far from a common surname, they were in fact two completely different things. The Oak Tree Root is a bit of an unusual name for a pub, and it turns out it’s in Howe Bridge, near Manchester. No idea if they realise their pub sign has been stolen though…

A photo of the pub (complete with assurances that they did indeed sell Tetley’s) can be found here on Flickr. Unfortunately it seems they went bust and the building is now a cheap Costcutter shop.

The sun was warm and still high, and we enjoyed a pint of  Driftwood’s White Bark wheat beer. Thankfully it didn’t arrive with the usual fruit salad. What is it about putting orange slices into wheat beer?!

Driftwood - White Bark

Driftwood – White Bark

Our other friends arrived, and as predicted, we had to move away from the window due to their vampire-like dislike of the sun. Oddly, I’m not a big fan of hot weather, but I don’t mind sunshine per se. The Main on Main is OK, foodwise. Slight air of pretension with the way it serves its pretty basic food, but clean and friendly. There were a few too many Greek items on the menu for a traditional pub, but all-in not too bad.

The Non-GMO Project

14 02 2015

Those who know the Quieter Elephant in the real world would be amongst the first to agree I was a bit of a geek. I love technology. But there are limits. I also espouse “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. Falling firmly in this category for me are genetically modified organisms. GMOs.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a religious position. Far from it. I don’t have a religion, so it would be a little difficult.

I have a lot of respect for Neil deGrasse Tyson but I’m afraid his stance on genetically modified foods was a bit off target for me. The question asked in the video was specifically about transgenic plants. It was in French though, so I’ll give him the benefit. He gave a totally reasonable monologue about how foods are virtually all genetically modified – in the sense that wheat is a selectively bred form of grass, that cows are selectively bred wild bovine, etc. As far as this goes – I’m with him.

But that’s not the point.

To get from wild grasses to productive wheat fields there were a whole series of ever more productive – genetically naturally viable – intermediate steps. Each step was viable in its own right. Seeds were selected, and the next step grown. In a field. With rain. Same thing with cows. Modern cows could never exist in the wild. They produce unnaturally massive quantities of milk. If they were not milked by humans twice a day they’d likely die. However, each step prior to the modern cow was born naturally of a naturally viable earlier form of cow. Stretching right back to a natural wild cow, producing milk, but at a lower volume.

For me, the important point is that this selective breeding – though technically modifying the genetics of the breed – iterates through a series of intermediate steps that are each naturally “validated”. Each step must be viable in the world we all share. It must be born, survive to an age fit to reproduce and then produce viable offspring.

There are a few exceptions in the plant world where cloning is possible. The word is laden with science fiction potential, but in the plant kingdom it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon every time a branch breaks off and re-roots. It has the exact same DNA as the original plant yet now lives a separate existence. This phenomenon was used to save the ancient, spiritually laden Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii. It was felled by a disgruntled logging employee, and was thought lost forever – it was a male tree and therefore unable to produce seeds. UBC scientists managed to clone it from cuttings though.

Golden spruce clone

Golden spruce clone

This phenomenon can be used to reproduce plants without the more normal form of seeds being used. This is how the seedless watermelons Tyson refers to are produced, and yes, it is true that in a human-free world they would be highly unlikely to reproduce. Same thing with bananas. Their seeds are not viable any more… for human convenience. However, by and large, our “genetic modifications” are bound by the normal processes of seeds/birth and natural reproduction. Forced, guided, evolution, you might say.

It is true that these processes of selective breeding can lead to some abominations. Just look at the French poodle if you need further argument!

Wikipedia: French poodle

However… they are genetically viable in their own right. “Natural” is a subjective word, but the intermediate steps were at least not creations of some Frankenstein process.

And then we get the “oo, I wonder what would happen if…” brigade. To be fair, some of our most exciting leaps forward have come from “blue sky” ideation. Just trying something to see what happens. Unfortunately though, we are all too capable of creating things that really have no place in our world. Like creating an explosive device capable of generating the heat of a small sun for example. And then trying it out on Japan. And then trying out an even “better” one, just to make sure we got the maths right.

So, whilst I can understand the excitement of seeing what might happen if you take a gene from a firefly, capable of making it luminous, and placing it in a plant, I shudder at what might happen next. This is what I refer to as a GMO. An organism that is genetically modified outside of the natural process. It is true that a few cross-species boundaries can be breached in nature (a mule is a sterile result of cross-breeding a donkey and a horse), but there is no possible natural way a firefly gene could naturally find itself inside a plant. There were no shortage of Kickstarter funders though…

Kickstarter: Glowing Plants

These laboratory procedures don’t merely speed up the process that could be done naturally through careful selective breeding. They break the rules. They merge genes that have no business being merged. This is where my problem lies. Natures checks and balances are being subverted. The natural balance that aborts “unfit” organisms, that sterilises incompatible organisms so that they may not breed further, these are all circumvented. Instead we humans are left as the only arbiter of “valid”. We, who have only inherited this finely tuned ecosystem for the blink of an eye. We who are ourselves an experiment in one solitary line of evolution’s grand enterprise. Yet somehow we ended up with the keys to the entire toolkit. The capability to disrupt the very processes that nature itself has relied on for eons.

Life itself will look back on humans and chuckle. Those silly little hairless apes. They gave the Earth luminous plants, four-legged chickens and perhaps some other things from Margaret Atwood’s all too prescient imagination. They have gone now. Long forgotten. The planet spins on. Better for their passing.

In the meantime, people are slowly waking up. Monsanto was met with stiff resistance in the UK and the EU around 20 years ago. People didn’t see the need for genetically modified foods. There was outcry that US food labelling laws meant that soy beans from there might contain  some proportion of GMO content and not declared. It could therefore slip past EU labelling rules. Soy beans and soy extract were in everything. Same with GM canola oil. It was a huge issue.

And then we emigrated to Canada… and food labelling of any kind was rare. Sell by date? Best before date? Why would you need that? Over the years it’s got better and better. And then today, we visited the US and I was delighted to see that there was very prominent shelf labelling for non-GMO products. A real ground swell seems to be starting . It’s taken a while, but it’s arrived.

GMO? Not on my shelf!

GMO? Not on my shelf!

For further reading, check out the Non-GMO Project.

Non-GMO Project

Evolution and competing for life

19 01 2015

So you may recall I was given a FitBit for Chrimbo.

Quite a discrete little thing – not much bigger than my handmade leather (and EVER so masculine) bracelet. It faithfully logs my every step and reports on my restless sleep each night. All it asks is that I recharge it every now and then. It’s even thoughtful enough to email me when it’s time to perform that little task.

I went for a swift bevvie on Friday with a couple of old workmates. Old as in “not current” – they’re both substantially younger than me. Anyway, one of these gents let slip that he too had recently bought a FitBit, though his was a more sophisticated one that also counts stair flights climbed, heart-rate etc.

Atrial Fibrillation aside, I tend to see heart-rate as a pretty digital thing: “on” or “off”. Off is not generally considered a good thing and can lead to permanent lack of income and a loss of social status. “On” in my case can be anything from 70 or so bpm when at rest to off the chart when it’s in fibrillation. Not a lot of point paying extra to measure that, then!

Anyway yesterday I received a curious email suggesting I become his friend on the FitBit site. This seemed harmless enough, and as I’ve recently given up FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter etc, I figured I’d best say yes so he doesn’t think I’m spurning him. What I was too dim to realise of course is that this is basically an invitation to be on a scoreboard with his daily FitBit data being compared to my own.

The theory it seems is that a little competition will egg all parties concerned to try a little harder. This naturally works best with men and women of a particular mental slant – viz: egocentric. I’m hoping Darwin was only partially right. I have no issue at all with the survival of the fittest. I’m just hoping that coming second doesn’t mean an instant relegation to the land of the dead!

So this evening I went to the gym with my son (number 3 child). Years ago I bought a “10 entry” pass for the Surrey area leisure centres. I was down to the last one or two, so I bought another 10 entries (it gives you a discounted price). But there was a snag. It seems the original 10 units were not time limited (indeed – I look very young and slim in the photo), but the new block of 10 units runs out in 2 years. What?! That’s five gym visits a year! That’s positively obsessive behaviour that is! I’m just relieved my Yorkshire genes were held at bay and I didn’t go for the slightly cheaper per unit 20 entry pack. That would be almost one visit a month! My gods, I might actually get fit if I went that often. Are they mad?!

Joking aside, I find it very calming to put on my iPod and zone out with my private thoughts whilst pounding away on the elliptical trainer. I find myself feeling a little superior when people come and go on the machines around me, demonstrating as much staying power as a kitten with a ball of string. The woman on the machine next to me was barely at walking speed, was on her phone most of the time, and didn’t even break into a sweat. I on the other hand needed to wade to shore after my session, there was so much moisture exuded.

I have eclectic music tastes and a large capacity iPod on shuffle. It’s always something of a mystery then what my fitness playlist will be on any specific occasion. Usually though one particular song stands out. For last night’s run, it was Arctic Monkey’s “Suck it and see”.

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock

Now that, dear reader is poetry. Though possibly only if you know what Dandelion and Burdock is.

Tonight’s standout song was Ani Difranco’s “As Is”. A very dear friend alerted me to this song years ago, and I love the sentiment in the lyrics.

Cause I’ve got
No illusions about you
And guess what?
I never did
And when I say
When I say I’ll take it
I mean,
I mean as is

So, whatever the long term results of this accidental competition I seem to have entered are, at least I will continue to be reacquainted with some great poetry set to music.

Now, if you’ll excuse me dear reader, I have a dog to walk (to get my FitBit steps in for the day ;o) ). Good job I have a dog, or I’d be forced to steal one for the purpose…

Palm Readers…

16 01 2015

Mass consumption and junk food. Ruining more than just your waistline.

The Hilarious Fake But Real Doritos Ad That Doritos Will Never Let Win Their Super Bowl Contest.



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