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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Conference in Detroit: Day 3

The conference is winding down. By tomorrow, all the delegates will have left this city and Detroit will once again lose thousands of potential tourists thanks to negative word-of-mouth advertising. It's really a shame because this city has the potential to be so nice if they just fix the roads, tear down the abandoned buildings and beautify the riverfront. When I was at Comerica Park for the Tigers vs White Sox game tonight, I really felt that I had given this city an unfairly bad rap. The view of the Detroit skyline from the new, but oldschool ball park was very pleasant. The old brick-faced buildings more than made up for the absence of new steel and glass behemoths that dominate the skylines of so many other North American cities. Up until the 7th inning stretch, I almost thought Detroit looked pretty classy from my bleacher seats. But my praise of Detroit was shortlived. When the sun went down, it became awfully clear that most, if not all the classy oldschool skyscrapers in the downtown core were either unoccupied or downright abandoned--not one of them was lit up.

As I pack my stuff up for the roadtrip back to Toronto tomorrow, it occurs to me that this conference in Detroit is quite similar to a trip on a cruise ship. In the later case, you spend a week in a palace floating on a turbulent sea; in the former, you spend a week in a palace floating on a turbulent sea of dust, dirt, and boarded-up buildings. At least the food was good.

Your Favorite Jerk

Monday, June 27, 2005

Conference in Detroit: Day 2

I may have spoken too soon yesterday when I said Detroit isn't as ghetto as I thought it would be. It would seem that the conference hotel where I'm staying is located in the General Motors headquarters building, the pride and joy of this city. As such, the city and the owners of this building have made visible efforts to separate us from the "ghettoness" of the city itself by placing guards everywhere around the perimeter of the building. When I wrote my entry yesterday, I had only seen the Renaissance Centre--which is essentially a monument to the (now-faded) prowess of GM--and did not fully grasp the magnitude of this city's "character".

My real introduction to Detroit was made last night after the conference festivities concluded and our lab went for dinner outside the hotel. Acoording to the conceirge, the only safe and entertaining neighourhood in the vicinity of where we were was "Greektown", several blocks north of us. Once outside, it didn't take long for me to realize that Detroit is really a city of drastic contrasts. In essence, this is a city that was once the industrial heart of America, but today is in rapid decline due to the failure of the "big three" American auto makers. The result of this boom and bust legacy is a city where beautifully crafted, brick-facade skyscapers from the middle of the last century stand proudly beside boarded-up, abandoned shops that are gratuitously covered in graffiti.

We walked on streets where the sidewalk had been inexplicably destroyed--yes, destroyed as in someone took a jackhammer to the asphalt--with no sign of planned repair. Along the way, we saw a countless number of Cadillacs and Chevys with the largest, shiniest spinning rims, blasting the latest hip hop singles; but we managed to spot only one Japanese car--a Nissan driven by a white family who wore facial expressions suggesting nothing short of primal fear.

After dinner at the "most happening district in downtown Detroit", we walked to a dimmly lit Irish Pub called the Cock and Bull. There weren't many customers at the establishment, but surprisingly, I felt that this was one of the best pubs I've ever been to. The waitress was super friendly, the drinks were riduculously cheap, and the 12ft ceilings were equipped with gentle fans that provided a cool breeze to beat away the 35 degree weather outside. But above all, I think the biggest drawing point at the Cock and Bull last night was the two state troopers who were having dinner at the table beside ours--everyone drank and was merry knowing that we would not get shot.

This morning, my labmate and I took a ride on the Detroit People Mover, a monorail loop that goes around the Detroit downtown core. When I get back, I will show you some pictures I took of buildings that looked like they had been bombed out by an aerial raid or some sort of concerted RPG attack. Seriously, I didn't know places like this existed in North America. At one point, we saw from the relative safety of the People Mover two people running and assumed innocently that they were joggers; but we later noticed that as soon as these "joggers" rounded a corner, they immediately stopped running and started walking at a more leisurely pace. Either these guys were doing time trials, or they were running from somebody. Nothing in this city really surprises me anymore.

Your Favorite Jerk

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Conference in Detroit: Day 1

I'm sitting in the temporary "iMac Bar" at the Detroit Marriot, taking a break from the talks at ISMB 2005. So far, this city hasn't lived up to its reputation of being a dump; but the day is still young and the sun is still up--check in for tomorrow's installment to see if I have spoken too soon.

The ride over was uneventful--and very quick, thanks to my supervisor's 140km/h driving. In fact, we cleared Windsor in just over 3 hours. Unfortunately, being in a van with 2 Canadians, an American, a Spaniard, and a British citizen meant that we had to spend an hour at US customs going through "immigration formalities". To make a long story short, the customs agents weren't the most friendly, but no one was subjected to full-orifice searches--great success!

Like every other conference, this one has a full complimentary beverage and snack bar. I've already overindulged, and as I type this, I'm finishing off my second can of Pepsi. I wasn't anticipating the availability of internet access before I came, but the presence of an entire wing of the hotel lined with 21" LCD iMacs has made me very selective of the talks I will choose to go to. Talks that appeared to have been must-sees when I saw the program an hour ago, have now been downgraded to optional.

The Marriot is actually right across the river from Windsor, ON and I can still get cellphone reception from the Rogers towers situated on the Canadian side :) So, if you want to keep me company during the next 3 days of mind-numbing talks, please do feel free to SMS (or mobile MSN) me! I hear they've just brought out more snacks. Toodles!

Your Favorite Jerk

Saturday, June 25, 2005


I love dining out at famous establishments, but this sort of experience is often beyond the reach of my grad student budget. On these occasions, I ditch the 'famous' qualifier and settle for the much cheaper 'infamous' one. Such was the case today when I went to the infamous food court at Chinatown Centre on Spadina with Tiffy and Brandon. For those with a decent memory, this is the food court that was shut down by Toronto Public Health about a year ago for flagrant health code violations. According to inspectors, the place was overrun with cockroaches, mice, and other rodents--basically the typical menagerie that can be found at the back of a Chinese restaurant--and over 500lbs of food were destroyed for being unsanitary and hazardous to human health. The closing of the food court last June was unprecedented and made the issue of unsanitary eateries a hot topic for the ensuing months. I remember watching the Chinese TV news when I was still in Vancouver and hearing about this story. I've always wanted to see just how bad a food court has to be to get shut down, so I made a stand today and demanded that we go there for dinner before fellowship.

Before I describe our dining experience tonight, let me first give props to Tiffy and Brandon for their admirable bravery (or foolhardiness, depending on how you look at it). As for Ames, who chose to bail and get BBQ pork on rice elsewhere, the less said the better. You disappoint me, Ames.

The food court is the most ghetto looking eating establishment I've seen in North America. In an effort to save electricity, every other light was turned off, giving the place a 28 Days Later sort of feel; I was half expecting zombies to attack us as we made our way past the early-90s arcade consoles at the entrance. Even Brandon, who has seen his share of "ghetto", admitted that this food court was something else in terms of sheer ghettoness. But I was filled with unspeakable excitment because this was the place I had seen on TV and read about in newspapers, and now it was real to me! It gave me goosebumps to realize that the very ground I was walking on was once traversed by countless others who would go on to get food poisoning. This was history come alive for me. Some people go to Civil War monuments and imagine the battles that took place on now quiet fields; I go to previously shut down food courts and imagine the hurling that took place on now (moderatly) clean floors.

Brandon and I were immediately drawn to the $3.50-for-four-items shop, but Tiffy was less than enthusiastic. Come to think of it, the whole experience was torture for her--before and, unfortunately, after the meal. Still, I give Tiffy much credit for being a soldier and eating with us :)

I don't remember--or rather, I can't really identify--what meats I had, but that's just as well because I don't need to know if I was the first person who was not a Fear Factor participant to eat rat. To be honest, I don't think I'd ever go back there again. The food was really bland and my stomach isn't doing so well with the digestion process right now--and it's 2:00AM, more than seven hours since the meal.

Your Favorite Jerk

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Softball Diaries (Day 10)

Dear Diary,

I have not forgotten you. I know it has already been 10 days since I last wrote to you, but that's just the way I am. Words don't just come to me; they take their time, strolling without haste along the winding meadowy paths of my mind before coming to their final resting place on your handsome pages. Well, I suppose there's also that other minor complication of my not having played or practiced for the past 10 days. But between you and me, the first reason sounds far more romantic and certainly less lazy; so could we just play nice and go with that one?

You'll be happy to learn that I went to the batting cages at the Mississauga Playdium last night. Kalam--have I told you about Kalam? he's a class act--got us two-for-one game credits so we all had a good number of tries. Ed--I know I haven't told you about Ed; he's a class act too--gave me some pointers, but I still have a ways to go before I can really crank that bat. I must say, though, I felt very satisfied when I made contact with the 80mph pitches.

We spent the rest of the evening at the arcade, driving virtual F1 cars and shooting pixelated terrorists with mock sniper rifles. I would tell you more, but I'm sure you'd just be bored with the non-softball related details. Sometimes, I think you have such a one-track mind. I mean really, what about my needs? What if I just want to tell you about my day and catch up? Do I have to make up something about softball to get your attention? Seriously. No, it's okay, I don't want to talk about it. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me. Jerk.

Your Favorite Jerk

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

My Waterloo

Some kids grow up wanting to be firefighters. Others dream of being astronauts. Still others hope to become hockey players. I, on the other hand, yearned simply to go to Waterloo to be an engineer. No, really; I'm serious. Sadly, my parents weren't keen on seeing their kid live in a dorm 2000 miles away from home at the tender age of 15, so I spent my undergrad years closer to home at UBC. In hindsight, this was probably for the best since my lack of will power would inevitably have led to four years of drunken revelry, ending in academic expulsion and quite possibly my siring a dozen illegimate children.

Nevertheless, I have placed Waterloo on a pedastal since my childhood. So when the opportunity to visit my dream school came knocking in the guise of Ames' convocation I jumped at the chance. But like the love-sick grade school boy who puts his secret crush on a pedastal from September to June only to find at the end-of-year dance that she's a total bitch queen, I was thoroughly disappointed with the Waterloo that I saw this Saturday. Waterloo, it turns out, was just like the girl I finally got to dance with in grade seven: cold and soulless. Although, I must admit, Senka looked a lot better under the gaudy rental gymnasium disco ball than Waterloo ever will.

Before I go on, let me first tell Ames and Mike how happy I am that they both accomplished such an awesome feat. Getting in to Waterloo Engineering is hard enough, graduating with distinction from there is truly worthy of sincere praise! Now, let's get on with my (mostly negative) critique of the convocation ceremony.

For a world-renowned engineering school, the logistics planning of the convocation ceremony left much to be desired. Let's start with the seats--or rather, the temporary bleachers. I've never suffered bouts of vertigo on my way to a seat before, but the foot-wide gaps on these bleachers left no room for error; one false move and you got to "graduate" from this world to the next life. When the guy in front of me dropped his program, it took a whole two seconds before the sound of impact could be heard--that's how high up we were.

But worse than the seating was the free-for-all picture taking system that the school set up. Here's how it worked: when a graduate's family members saw that their pride and joy was nearing the stage, they were encouraged to get out of their seats, risk life and limb across the "planks of death" bleacher seating and make their way to the stage to take pictures. Of course, people who made it through the aforementioned "planks of death" without injury often chose (wisely) not to tempt fate and attempt a second crossing back to their seats. Consequently, with each passing graduate, the attrition of the audience became increasingly more obvious. I pity the people whose last names started with 'Z'--it must have been lonely getting their degrees in front of an empty gym.

After witnessing this debacle, I'm not sure how confident I will be the next time I cross a bridge designed by "the greatest minds in Canada". In a way, I'm sort of glad I didn't go to Waterloo. And yes, the grapes, they were probably sour anyway.

Your Favorite Jerk

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hammer time

Nothing cures frustration and general malaise like taking hammer to wood. I came home from a less than stellar afternoon walk yesterday and decided to apply this aphorism to ease my tension and vent my frustrations. My newly-purchased bookshelf has been sitting half-assembled since last week, needing a faux-wood, cardboard backing to be complete. I set out to hammer it in place, but alas, I did not own a hammer; and front desk refused to lend me one, having come to the conclusion that such an implement could not be used for any legitimate, non-destructive purpose by student residents. In a fit of pique, I picked up a screw driver and started my hammering using its handle as a makeshift hammerhead--I suppose the old adage that "when you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail" workes vice versa as well.

My sorry exercise in tool substitution has led me to conclude that there is a reason why Home Depot sells both tools without compromise. The roundness of the scredriver's handle made hammering with it a very difficult task, and bruised both my pride and my thumb. The end product of 30 minutes of banging and shouting nonsensical expletives in an imaginary language was the most terrible looking bookshelf ever assembled by any creature with an opposable thumb. I finished my "home-improvement" project more frustrated than before I started. BRAKAHMESH!!!!! (that means something very terrible in my imaginary angry-apeman language).

Your Favorite Jerk

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Summer of eats

About a year ago, d~ introduced me to a blog about some guy's gastronomic adventures in some of Seoul's finest eateries. I thought the concept was fantastic, but I lamented the fact that Seoul was many leagues away from Vancouver and all I ever got from reading that blog was a literally insatiable desire to eat foods to which I had no access. This particular gourmand/blogger has since moved on from Seoul and no longer maintains the site. But today, I was introduced to something even better.

Peter showed me this blog of a guy doing the same thing as Fatman Seoul, but in Toronto instead of Seoul! I checked out the site this morning and the inclusion of Burrito Boyz told me that this would be a trustworthy resource for local eateries. With no meal plan for the rest of summer, I think I'll be patronizing many if not all of his recommendations--weight gain be damned. Who's with me?

Your Favorite Jerk

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Calm during the storm

I saw the sky come alive with streaks of light last night. I heard the earth shake with thunder. I witnessed all this from the safety of my 26th floor room, separated from nature's catharsis only by the thin glass of my window. Although my refuge offered a mere illusion of impregnability from the awesome forces of nature, I felt safe and strangely calm as I dimmed the lights to take in the thunderstorm. The unstoppable rain promised to chase away the smog, and for that I was more than thankful. I fell asleep with a smile on my face, lulled by the cacophonous lullaby of an angry sky.

Your Favorite Jerk

Monday, June 13, 2005

Rude awakening

I awoke to a furious knocking on my door this morning. House-keeping was at the door and I was still in my bed, my room a mess of unmade bed and scattered clothing. I felt groggy, confused, and then...very ashamed that my facade of cleanliness had finally been destroyed. Since September, I have made an effort to get up early on Monday mornings to make my bed and clean my room so that the cleaning lady wouldn't think that I'm a messy brute. And up till now, I've managed to keep the charade going. But alas, thanks to the dreadfully stupid AM/PM setting on my alarm radio, the gig is up and the cleaning lady knows now that I am no neater than any other student. Shame.

Why do we still use AM/PM? WHY? Image hosted by I want a 24 hour system like the French--if for no other reason than the fact that 'dix huit heure' sounds so much cooler than 6PM...but that might have something to do with the language. Whatever.

Your Favorite Jerk

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Softball Diaries (Day 1)

Dear Diary,

I don't know how to begin this entry because I am new to this diary-writing thing. So, why don't I begin at the beginning and see where it takes us?

My name is Dave, and I don't really like sports--or rather, it's the sports that don't like me. Ever since I was little, my subpar hand-eye coordination has made me a comical but ineffective participant in 'Gym class', and later 'PE class'. Over time, I came to realize that sports and I had a relationship that was marred by too many irreconciliable differences. We keep in touch from time to time, but the passion has never been there, and I know it never will. Recently, we've decided to give it another go when I signed up for the softball team that my friends are on. To be honest, I don't think much will come of this, but I'm open to new things and in a sense, I'm eager to see if I can discover more about myself and see how much I've grown since I left sports some time after highschool. I'm not holding my breath, but we'll see how it goes.

This afternoon, I went to my first non-exhibition game in Scarborough. The weather was hot and humid, but not unbearably so. At 4:00pm sharp, the game started and I noticed that I was 18th in the batting order...out of 18 batters. I suppose they need the big hitters like me to bring the runners home--please just let me believe this...thank you. To quickly summarize, I got two good hits during my two at-bats, although both were in vain as our team lost in the end. But despite the agony of defeat and the annoyance of sticky, smoggy weather I had an absolute blast!

I've also been getting some tips on the whole batting thing. The swing is evidently all in the hips and arms--not the wrists, which were not designed to rotate at full speed only to stop abruptly when the bat hits the ball. If only I had known this earlier, my wrists wouldn't be killing me right now. But learning is a lifelong process, yeah? Maybe in a few weeks I can be the next Barry Bonds or Sami Sosa or some other steroid-enhanced slugger.

So, my Dear Diary, I suppose this would be a good place for me to end my first entry. I will be sure to keep you updated on my progress in the coming weeks.

Your Favorite Jerk

Friday, June 10, 2005

Back from the abyss

I have returned from the abyss. The past two weeks have been very hectic for me and I have not worked this hard since I graduated from UBC. Thankfully, the meeting went very well, and for the next couple of weeks I am free to relax Image hosted by

In my flusttered state last week, I barely even noticed how bad the weather has gotten here. Lately, it seems the sun and the smog have formed an unholy alliance to deliver a two-pronged attack on the inhabitants of Toronto. Step outside today and you can almost feel the particulates in the air cling to your skin and coat the inside of your lungs. If this smog advisery doesn't lift soon, I may have to take up smoking just so I can breath some cleaner air. I have never wished for rain when I was in Vancouver--I suppose this is because there was plenty of supply there to satisfy my demand--but right now I really wish a long, cleansing shower can come down to clear the air a bit here.

Could the native Torontonians who read this blog please tell me if I can expect the whole summer to be like this? I am not a heat + high humidity person. While I enjoy eating mushrooms of all sorts, I don't appreciate it when the walls in my room get so moist from warm humidity that an entire 'shroom farm sprouts from them. My decade old air-conditioner is doing a valiant job pumping artificially cold air into my room to sustain the 22ºC bubble I take refuge in, but I fear I am overtaxing the fragile mechinary in the unit because the thing sounds a lot louder than it used to. When it breaks, I may are all hereby forewarned.

Your Favorite Jerk

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stop interrupting Boy George!

I am very sensitive to sounds. I notice sounds that others don't--and no, these aren't emitted by tiny leprechons telling me to burn things down. At one point, I was convinced I could tell whether a computer was running Windows or DOS based solely on the sound that its monitor made. Later I would find that this was completely untrue, but that's beside the point. The point is: I am easily affected by the sounds and noises around me.

Today, my sensitivity to sounds became alarmingly evident when I was shopping at Winners. The store's speakers were busy churning out craptacular hits of the 80s, but every five seconds someone would interrupt Boy George singing Karma Chameleon, to make some inane announcement about some unimportant call waiting for some uninterested worker bee on line 1. Now, to be absolutely clear, I don't like craptacular hits of the 80s and I most definitely do not sway to the beats of Boy George. But when I hear a song in the background my mind subconsciously includes it into my thought process, and when it gets interrupted in regular but inconsistent intervals, I find my entire thought process gets thrown for a loop and I end up with a jarring headache.

Does anyone else have this problem? Anyone?

Your Favorite Jerk