Monday, October 09, 2006

Two Different Ways To Travel And a Brush With Death

This morning, I made the trek out to Ann Arbor's "Arb", or "Arboretum", which is a gigantic forested area with lots of trails and a river for a public running event. Today's run took place in the Arb itself, in the form of a 5-km race (3.13 miles, but yay metric!) to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy research and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my time was a respectable 28:51, which, averaging 9 minutes 13 seconds per mile, was much better than my original expectation which was to not be able to finish. It helped that I was running with and motivated by Sarah, who almost outdid me, although I luckily overtook her in the last 20 seconds of the race with a sprint to the finish! Ann and Scott were also running and everyone had very respectable times, so we all had lunch at Panera to celebrate.

As if that wasn't enough of an adrenaline rush, we both decided to go skydiving, something which I had never done. We learned all about how you have to sign away any and all rights to legal recourse before you start, and that beginners are supposed to jump in tandem, i.e. attached to the instructor via a harness. We were also told there's only a 1 in 3500 chance of your chute failing to open, but my instructor said in all his nearly a thousand tandem jumps, it has never happened to him. Sarah was first to go up and she had a great tandem jump (her second jump ever). Unfortunately we were not able to go up together because the plane was too small to include my videographer, as I sure wasn't going to miss the chance to prove that I did this. So I taped her jump on my little camera, and then the videographer taped my whole experience, including the ascent in the small propeller plane.

Everything was going great until we got to 10000 feet, at which the view is amazing of course. Strapped to my instructor, the guy next to me, who finally got fully certified today opened the door all of a sudden and then did some sort of backflip maneuver out of the plane. At this point my instructor is shimmying toward the door, with me attached to his stomach facing out of the plane, and then my foot is on the step just OUTSIDE the door in the wind, something I don't find enough time to get used to because then we are flying without the plane, twisting and turning in the freefall! The stabilising mini chute pops open and we settle into a fast fall, with the wind flapping my cheeks back and forth at the speed of craziness. Then the instructor deploys the main chute and we get sucked upward relative to the videographer who plummets even further while filming. But something's wrong, and the resistance from the chute disappears as the instructor performs a cut away - the main chute had a line over! This means that the chute deployed and tangled and didn't work! Now we're accelerating downward like before, and I start to sense something is wrong, and before I can really register any of this, the instructor pulls the cord on the emergency chute, and I instinctively reach upward to grab anything to prevent me from falling (not that this would work of course as there's only air everywhere), and then get jerked skyward as the second parachute slows us down to a nice floating gliding descent towards earth (I have harness burns on my shoulders!)

In the distance the videographer films my descent from the ground. It's possible to tell from the video what happened but it is clear that my first chute was green and when I land its all of a sudden yellow. This, of course, is no camera trick... I was just the first ever chute failure for this instructor in a tandem jump. He of course, loved it and couldn't stop yelling about it! I immediately became a hit with the people at the club and we all sat around to have a beer and talk about it, while we waited for the video to be completed. By the time everything was said and done, I spent nearly $300, but it really was worth it, and its something that I've always wanted to say I've done, and now I can! And I can prove it!


Monday, August 28, 2006

My Vacation

Its time to take a vacation when you are getting slowly burned out, getting sick, and are becoming a bit less productive at work. In fact, I experienced all those things recently, and so I'm now home in Toronto, working on recuperating... And since I've really only had two weeks off in 4 years, I figure I should just do it!

In any case, I will be spending half of my 1-week vacation in Toronto, and the other half back home in Windsor, and probably catch up on everything my life has been slacking on, like emails and blogging and so forth. I'm also planning to set up my will and power of attorney. Did you know that if you don't have a power of attorney set up, and you get into an accident and are in a coma, then the goverment can decide your fate? I'd prefer someone who knows my wishes to make the decisisons.

So overall, my vacation probably won't be all that relaxing, but it will give me a chance to catch up on everything including sleep, so that when I go back to work, I'll be able to focus on work, and when I'm off work, I'll be able to not go insane. Although according to some, the threshhold between sanity and insanity isn't well defined for me.

And one other thing, there are some otters I know that have started a weblog, which you can see at because as everyone knows, otters are people too!


Sunday, June 25, 2006

You Have A Mindset of Scarcity or Abundance (Toshindo Lesson #1)

I recently started marital arts, thanks to my friend Todd, who signed me up for a "Buddy day" at Quest martial arts, where we train in Toshindo. Somehow, I committed myself for nine months, but its probably for the best, since I am enjoying it, even though I don't really have time. I've been late twice, especially when it takes me 2 hours to get there after work, because of all the construction.

It appears that every month there is a philosophical theme, and that is what I plan on blogging about because I really need to blog more. So for the past month, we have been discussing mindsets. Specifically, people have a mindset of either scarcity or abundance about certain things in life. For example, when it comes to money, do you believe that you never have enough (mindset of scarcity), or do you believe that you have more than you need (abundance). This isn't related to how much money you have in numerical terms. It relates to attitude. A person with 60 billion dollars who can do nothing but keep it to themselves is operating from the mindset of scarcity - "money is scarce, and I need more and more, because there just isn't enough for me". However, a person with very little money who uses moeny for things that are outside of themself, is more likely operating from the mindset of abundance - "there is plenty of money around, and I have more than enough for my own needs".

This does not apply strictly to money. One exercise we did in class was to think of many things in which we operate from a mindset of scarcity or abundance. For example think of something of which you believe you do not have enough of (many people came up with things such as friends or money). Then think about the following three things (a) there is plenty of what you want for yourself in the world (b) you are worthy and deserve to have it (c) you can do something to obtain it. This is great because there are a lot of youth in the class who may not believe they can accomplish their goals to obtain what they desire. Then, the inverse question was to think of things of which you have more than enough of (i.e. abundantly), and why you appreciate that in your life. I have many friends and family who support me and love me because they truly enrich my life and it gives me pleasure to enrich theirs.

The goal was to start to change your way of thinking (especially I think in our consumer-oriented society which by default is operating from a mindset of scarcity since every ad explains clearly that there is definitely not enough of their product and you CAN'T afford NOT to get one at these prices!). As we slowly start to change our mindsets from scarcity to abundance we will live more positive lives and be better influences on those around us, instead of focusing selfishly on ourselves, a challenge of which I strive toward every day, although I must admit I do not always succed... yet!

In Toshindo, the concepts seem to be based on a few core principles -- in my analysis, I see a few already (1) the four elements of defense - fire, water, wind, earth and these are also the different styles/philosophies to which all moves belong, (2) use self-defense, and never instigate by offense, which is seen in the fact that the first defense maneuver we learned required yelling "Stop it! I don't want to fight you!" before the person got close enough to attack. (3) community and relationship building, which I've found fun while making new friends there. I'm sure there are others too I haven't noticed yet.

I wonder if anyone else takes martial arts and what kind of philosophy is included in your training, whether it be Karate, or Taekwando, or whatever, so let me know.


Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm Back

I know. I haven't posted anything recently. This is because a lot has happened, and I was very busy and distracted. But now that I've had a few moments rest, it's a good time to say that I haven't fallen off the Earth. And I also think it's about time to make a more personal blog entry.

Over the course of the last couple of months, I broke up with my girlfriend, was the best man at a wedding, and found out that my best friend was in a car accident. All of these things, and others, have been really teaching me a lot about life, and its not an easy process. I feel highly challenged in my personal growth as a person and as a Christian.

One of the things I'm really trying to figure out is a concept that everyone else seems to understand fairly well, but I continually struggle with. And that is the concept of love. Well, the concept isn't so difficult, but the definition can be. What I mean is, how do you know that you love someone? I'm referring to anyone, be it your parents, your friends, your spouse, your relatives. What makes you sure that you love them? And for that matter, can you ever be sure? Is believing you love somebody enough to make it true?

I believe that I do love my parents, for example, but I don't say that to them very much (I'm trying to do it more). I believe that I love my friends, but I never say it. And why? I don't even know why. The only explanations that I have seem to be that either I am afraid, uncertain or unqualified to make such a statement. The reading in church today (which prompted this post) was the one in which Jesus says "No one has greater love than to lay down his own life for his friends" (John 15:13), and although that seems like a good starting point, it isn't easily applicable in everyday life.

I often remind myself of that scene in the movie Ghost where Demi Moore's character tells Patrick Swayze's character that she loves him. He can't say it back since he knows that people everywhere say it and don't mean it all the time. Even though it's very obvious from the rest of the movie that he really does love her, it seems like he is stuck on the same concept as me, which prevents him from telling her that he loves her. This makes me think its more a psychological issue than an intellectual one both in the movie and in my life.

My reflection today on the verse led me toward the thought that if the greatest love is when you lay down your life for a friend, then this would imply that there are different degrees of love for another person. If what Jesus is talking about is the greatest love, then maybe there is such a thing as great love, or even good love, or just simply love, and its all just different kinds or different degrees, or different amounts. So I have a few friends where maybe I would hesitate to actually take a bullet for them. But I'm thinking now, as I write this, that it does not therefore mean that I don't love them. And this seems to be what I'm trying to internalise and believe, but I haven't been able to fully do that yet.

Anyway, I would "LOVE" to hear what other people's concepts of knowledge of love are in the above context. And please don't start talking about the three kinds of love using Latin terminology okay? I'm talking about real love for another person with with whom you have a relationship, love in its most general and basic kernel, whatever that means.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Danny Williams vs. Paul McCartney

And who, you ask, is Danny Williams? I'm not talking about the heavyweight boxer... I'm talking about Newfoundland's beloved premier! (Newfoundland is a Canadian province, people!!!) Newfoundland is home to the much discussed seal-hunt that has been a "cause célebre" for several years in the past, both in Canada and internationally. I watched a debate on this subject take place on Larry King Live yesterday night (yes, I was watching TV on a Friday night). Today, I found the CBC article that talked about it.

It's interesting that even though the entire world is being told by strong media and celebrity endorsements that the seal-hunt is extremely inhumane and cruel, the Canadian media tends to be supportive of the hunt. General Canadian reporting seems to indicate that everyone else in the world is being misinformed. Although most internet sites and international media will make the seal hunt sound really bad, it is very interesting to see the
Canadian government's page on Seal Hunt myths, which supports the opposite viewpoint.

This debate came to a head in the live CNN debate where
Paul McCartney and his wife attempted to convince people that the hunt is cruel, not to mention their economic solutions for Canada. I was initially swayed by their argument, until premier Williams came on (about half way through), and started questioning their facts and arguments. Not that I think Williams presented a greatly eloquent argument, but he did make me stop and actually contemplate the other side. To be honest, I'm now a little unsure of what the truth is, but I'm more in favour of the hunt than against it. The premier raised some very interesting points, including that he felt that the McCartneys were being used (he's a brave man!) by some sensationalist and very well funded organisations like PETA, while more reputable organisations like the WWF supported the hunt.

The McCartneys (Paul was wearing a
nice Canada sweater) were in favour of banning the seal hunt and setting up an eco-tourism industry akin to the whale-watching industry that replaced the now-illegal whaling industry decades ago, along with government subsidies that would supplement the fishermen's incomes. It should be noted that the seal population is not currently endanged, even though the McCartneys said it was only a matter of time that it soon would be, an assertion which was challenged by the premier. The show did show some live video of the seal hunt which was admittedly not pleasant, but I wondered how representative of the hunt this video is or isn't, as it is hard to judge. It didn't show whether or not the seals suffer much, or at all. I also wondered if there is any good way to kill any animal. I guess this animal suffers more because it is so cute.

In my opinion the premier didn't come off as the most eloquent person, but he did force thoughtful viewers to consider that there is another viewpoint. The McCartneys were defensive at times, but they presented a fairly unified and consistent approach that was on-topic. I think the premier felt defensive, since he was going off topic a little, but really, how could you not be defensive when arguing against McCartney, whom everybody loves. It was probably a lost cause to start with, so I think he did really well.

Best quote from McCartney's wife:
KING: Well, what do you make of the argument that most of them are shot, Heather?
H. MCCARTNEY: Well, it's just not true. It's complete and absolute rubbish. It's just not true. Most of them are shot and clubbed in a hacky pick thing, which is a tall, long hook and then they hit them once with it and drag them along the ground. And they only use the one bullet. Again, because it's used for fur. It's not used for any other thing.
Best quote by Danny Williams:
WILLIAMS: Larry, let me tell you a couple of things. First of all, Heather is incorrect. There are 90 percent of these animals that are basically killed by firearms. So I had to set the record straight because I live here and I actually know. As well, you know, there's an unfair comparison that if you go into a beef slaughter house or a pork slaughter house or a chicken slaughter house and you put white sheets down on the floor, well then you're going to see blood. And that's not nice and that's not pleasant.

Here's a full
transcript of the show.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Thirty Six Months

Today I celebrate my 3-year anniversary working at GM. I think its a big accomplishment. But there's another significance to this day. Today, I've finally fulfilled the experience requirements required to get my Professional Engineer's License from Professional Engineers Ontario! I've just got to make sure that I fill in that application next week (on my list of goals, I was supposed to do it this week, but I'm out of time... because I will be celebrating on Saturday... read on)

And how am I celebrating, you ask? I will be going to work at 6:30 on a Saturday, that's how! For the first time ever (when not travelling). After resisting for many years, I now have to do it to meet a deadline (someone else's deadline). I suppose I'm only complaining because I did already work 52 hours this week. But still, it was my decision to accept coming in on Saturday, and 52 isn't that much really. I guess I'm just over-dedicated sometimes. Maybe I let it happen because I actually enjoy work to some degree. Well, I don't mean I'd rather be at work. I simply enjoy getting the work done, and the sense of accomplishment when I'm making real progress. I also believe it will reduce my stress level next week. It may also be because I like my job, I enjoy the work, I think I'm good at it (and getting better everyday), and there's so much to learn. And therein lies the issue, but its a great issue to have I think. Having to work one Saturday is better than having a job that I hate.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Turning Up The Heat

According to this article, the planet is hotter than its ever been in a long time. And its our fault, say our scientists. It seems they are always attributing the warming effect to all the greenhouse gas emissions. I bet that is most of the answer. But what about the fact that we're just burning a whole bunch of stuff! We're burning more than ever before. We're burning coal, oil and other things faster than the planet normally does. And we're doing it more and faster everyday... does this heat just dissipate? The planet is not a closed thermodynamic system, taking heat in from the sun, and radiating heat into space... but just as what once seemed like a small amount of carbon dioxide is now having an effect on the atmosphere, doesn't this widespread burning contribute at all to thermal (dis)equilibrium? I wonder if anyone has tried calculating the effect of growing combustion on the planet? Typically the burning releases greenhouse gases which makes the planet a better insulator, but what about the heat from burning itself? My instinct tells me its negligible, but we're are burning lots of stuff constantly and permanently. Now excuse me, while I turn up my thermostat... its cold in here.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Smiters #1 - Batman vs. Spiderman

This is the first match in a series of tournament bouts pitting two powerful forces, which I'm terming "Smiters" (as in one who smites), against each other. Eventually when enough matches have been decided, I'll have the winners fight each other.

To vote, write a comment with "I Vote for _____" in it. You can also campaign for your favourite smiter, by commenting about the reasons they would win, or why their opponent is terrible. At the end of each match, the smiter with the most votes (or most convincing arguments if no votes have been made) will be declared. I'll even even the playing field by weighting in my vote equally with your vote!

Smite Challenge #1 - Batman vs. Spiderman

Batman's Advantages:
-Cool toys
-Batmobile, Batcave
-Lots of money to buy cool toys
-Highly honed physical abilities
-Willing to play dirty/has a dark side
-Secret Identity

Spiderman's Advantages:
-Web-fighting action
-Superhuman physical abilities
-Spidey sense
-Secret Identity
-Social conscience/integrity

I vote for Spiderman -- I think the fight would climax in a hand-to-hand combat situation where Spidey could basically fly around and web batman into a state of submission. True Batman could use his toys, but Spiderman has really fast reflexes.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Reflections On Another Year

To be honest I couldn't remember where I was on my birthday last year until I dug into my records and realised that the reason was probably because I was alone in Germany for work. The night was an uneventful one, spent at a hotel in Coburg. I guess the company bought me dinner though. But its always better to spend a birthday with at least one person that is truly important to you. This time I spent the evening with my friends John and Mel in Dashwood, so it was time well spent. Actually this birthday turned out really good, as I got a wonderful surprise in an email. Anyway, this seems like a good time to be introspective, and to ask how I've bettered myself.

Some good things I've done:
Important lessons I've learned:
  • Don't forget to talk with the people you care about regularly
  • Not deciding something is a decision in itself, and usually its a bad decision
  • Work is important, but not the most important (I only put the second half of this into action recently)
  • Accept your feelings, and don't suppress them
  • Recognise when you've received a gift - It's too easy to fail to see the ones that are not wrapped
  • Don't be afraid of love
  • Confidence will greatly enhance your life

Now, to establish goals for the next year!


Friday, January 13, 2006

There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

I was recently thinking about the struggle between fear and action. Sometimes, I find that when trying to make a decision, I put too much pressure on myself. I can convince myself that something I want to do must be arranged perfectly or else it will fail. But this is simply negative thinking. This is fear controlling me.

It is by doing the thing that we are afraid of that we can conquer our fears and pursue the great things that we wish for ourselves. And if it goes well, we learn much. And if it goes badly, we learn even more. I must constantly remind myself that I do not know exactly where my life will go. And I must remind myself that it is not necessary or good to know. In life, circumstances can change. People can change. Hearts can change. Climate can change. Everything can change at a moment's notice. How can we predict the way things must be or will be? It is almost foolish to try!

Things will never be exactly as I imagine them, so it is useless to pressure myself to choose certainty over uncertainty. Certainty simply does not exist. Life is a path that either you can choose, or your fear can choose for you. We can be our own worst enemies. If we have a chance to do something important, it can be so important to us that we are afraid to even try.

Maybe this stems from a fear of failure or inadequacy. We don't pursue the possibilities of so many greater things, because we create mental roadblocks for ourselves. It is so easy to remain in misery for which we refuse to take responsibility. But it is truly scary to admit that we cause the very fear which makes us unhappy. As Nelson Mandela said: "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure." Have no regrets, but never make the same mistake twice. Fear and faith struggle against each other at all times. As humans, we would do well to understand, conquer and learn from our fears so that we can achieve our potential. I'm starting now. Again.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Fleece Me, Please!

Making purchases in India is vastly different from what I'm used to. Certain things just don't exist, generally, like price tags. The main reason is that you never pay the asked-for price anyway. Unless, of course, you're a tourist... in which case, get ready to be cheated, or "fleeced", as my sister and I now call it.

The first few days, we were always busy calculating what the asked-for price converts to in Canadian Dollars, (multiply by 0.036) and we thought to ourselves that the deals were better than home. What we didn't know was that first, the price was inflated as a matter of routine, and then, inflated again for us. The latter is what I refer to as Tourist Tax, which is often between 100% and 3000%, and is levied as soon as they see that I speak English instead of Konkani. For example, early in the trip, I was buying a gift for someone and they quoted me something like 1000 rupees (almost $35 Canadian) which seemed high, even to me. I bargained similarly to this:

Me (in tourist english): 1000?! How about 800?
Them (with a smile I didn't notice): No, no, give me good price... see high quality, ya? ...okay, best price 900.
Me (thinking I'm doing pretty good): Hmm... 850?
Them: OK... You take. (as they think "Ka-CHING! What a sucker! Lets take a vacation!")

And I thought I fleeced him! I suppose its happy when both people thinnk they got a good deal. Us Canadians are way too polite.

Of course, the next day I saw it for 600 rupees (first price). He was even willing to give it to me for 450. Later on, I was able to make an offer on another one for even less. It seemed that every day we were getting smarter, but then we'd realise that we still weren't very smart because we had begun from a point of complete ignorance. We've figured out that once we start saying "Well... its still good in Canadian Dollars!", then we've probably been fleeced pretty badly. My sister really hates getting cheated (especially when we know we're getting cheated). Personally I consider it the price I pay to get educated. And hey, maybe I'm doing my part to further fair trade, or something.

We've since come up with a few methods to help us get good deals:

Method 1: Take our grand-mother with us. She once bought me some tea and then fleeced me by 600% when I wanted to reimburse her (as a joke because we're so bad at bargaining). I totally fell for it.
Method 2: Ask "How much?". Then whatever they say, just laugh really hard. Then cut it by anywhere from 60% to 90% depending how bad it was (just guess). Then whatever happens, walk away if you're not satisfied. This has worked a few times, but we learned it way too late. Laugh shows that we know about the Tourist Tax. Still it's no guarantee to get a good deal.
Method 3: This method is 100% effective -- don't buy anything!

So for all you people who I bought gifts for, I paid way too much! Unless I got it right at the end, in which case, I hope I got a good deal. So I guess you'll never know. But its the thought that counts right?