Toronto

The last stop on my trip/vacation was Toronto. I had planned on spending the day there, but that didn’t really work out, so I just took the Robert Q directly from the airport. But just because I was only there for an hour doesn’t mean I don’t have stories to tell you, dear blog readers. No no, I’m determined to blog about something from every city I visited. I’ll even make up stories if I have to.

This one is true though. While waiting in the airport, I saw a couple enter the waiting area. The woman was blind. She had a guitar and a walking cane. As they got closer, I saw that the man was deaf, or at least nearly so. He had a big hearing aid device, and whenever the woman talked to him she had to lean way in and speak directly in his ear.

They happened to be on the same bus as me. She asked if she could tune her guitar on the bus, and I was like hell yeah, gives us something to listen to. So she tuned her guitar and quietly practiced while the man read a book. When they both got bored of indulging in their respective senses, she leaned over and asked him to describe the countryside. He whispered about things that are mundane to most people – trees, farms, cows – in her ear.

It was just cute how they complimented each other’s shortcomings like that.

This story isn’t funny or anything. Oh wait, one thing that was funny was when she went too far in tuning her guitar, and immediately exclaimed “I popped my g string!” Hah.

Halifax

My last major stop on my trip was Halifax, where I presented research at the Canadian Psychological Association convention. The poster was about my research on the relationship between geomagnetic activity and creativity. Basically I found that when the earth’s magnetic field is disturbed by funky stuff going down on the sun, people are more creative. So, you know, pretty out-there stuff. Surprisingly, nobody really challenged it and most found it quite interesting. One person asked me if this means that there is something to magnetic bracelets, and I said no, those are a scam and they are stupid. I think maybe she was wearing one so that was insulting, but dude, they’re a scam.

Halifax is a beautiful city. I’d love to live there someday (though maybe I’d regret it come winter). Here are some pictures:

Apparently Halifax has the most pubs per capita in North America, and was populated only because residents were promised free booze for a year. My kind of place.

The Keith’s brewery is there, obviously.

Alexander Keith, who was a mayor of Halifax in addition to brewing average-tasting beer, is buried in this graveyard:

We saw Anonymous protesting Scientology. One sign said “honk if you oppose Scientology”, but I was on a tour bus at the time, so I just sorta made a honking motion in the air. Because seriously, screw Scientology.

Peggy’s cove, a tiny fishing/tourism village just outside Halifax, is gorgeous. Look:

This girl was chasing two ducks and some giant mutant duck-goose-thing in a prom dress. She was laughing as she tortured the poor birds, while other nicely dressed people took pictures. It was all very surreal.

Anyway, Halifax was probably my favourite part of the trip, because I did lots of fun things and ate lots of delicious foods and met lots of awesome people. You should go.

British Columbia

My family and I went to BC for my grandma’s 80th birthday celebrations. My grandma is as sassy as she ever was, and it was awesome seeing that she has so many friends that she hangs out with. I hope that I can still be that social when I’m older, because it seems that for a lot of people, being old can be lonely.

She lives in a gated community where people give dirty looks to anyone they don’t recognize. I suppose that’s the price you pay for making it slightly more difficult for criminals and hooligans to wander into the neighbourhood.

This is supposed to look like eyeballs.

We were in White Rock, a small place pretty close to Vancouver. However, when you’re driving around there, you never really know what city you’re in. One minute all the signs say White Rock, the next you see Surrey City Hall, then the Burnaby shopping centre goes by, etc. There’s no place where one city ends and the next begins. I guess there are areas like that here (i.e., the GTA), but I’m used to seeing at least a few cows between one town and the next.

See, not cows.

BC rained most of the time we were there. So typical of you, BC. Many of the shops along the main strip in White Rock were closed, with signs explaining “closed on Sundays and rainy weekdays”. I wish I could stop working every time it rained.

There was one nice day though, on which we went to Crescent Beach.

It was wonderful to just walk around, enjoying the weather and taking a few pictures. There were crabs under most rocks.

And lots of sea shells around. If you picked up a handful of shells and stayed still for a few minutes, many of them would come alive; hermit crabs would emerge from them and scuttle around.

I took this picture of the beach and a cloud, which I think is quite beautiful and artistic:

But reality is uglier than fakery, so I photoshopped it:

You can use it as your computer wallpaper if you pay me $5.00, and/or promise to back me up if I am ever involved in gang warfare.

This is a Betty Boop limo / hearse looking thing for a wedding that was happening on the beach. The driver explained that he rents it out “to weird people.”

The trip had many other highlights, such as learning what bum fluff and fairy liquid are, and many good times with family and alcohol. But I will save some stories for boring my real life friends with a narrated slide show.

Montreal

Montreal was the first stop on my cross-country tour. We went to see Geoff get ordained, so I got to experience the actual religious versions of all the Quebec swearing. Before, I didn’t know that the “‘ostie” tacked on the end of every sentence when a person from Quebec gets emotional was referring to little flour wafers, but Geoff had a little tub of hosties and they taste pretty good. Crisse, chalice tabarnac ‘ostie!!!

In general, it was interesting to see the issues with language that are prevalent in Quebec. Here, language is something that requires no thought; it’s a safe assumption that everyone speaks and approves of English. There, every greeting requires a guess as to whether one should say “hello”, “bonjour”, “hellobonjour”, or “bonjourhello”. Sure, everyone will probably understand any of them, but the language one starts with will colour the first impression given off, and there is always uncertainty over whether the other person will understand. I often felt a bit bad starting with English, but I don’t know if starting with mangled French would be any better (P.S. Education system: you failed me. Thanks for nothing. Sarcramant!)

The city has its own feel to it, with the unique houses with the stairs on the outside and the “mountain” always giving a sense of direction. The subway system is great. It felt almost like a teleportation system; get in the subway station, wait a while, and pop up in a completely different part of the city.

We went to two different bars that made their own beer – one was Brutopia and I forget the other one. Both were delicious and I wish they shipped their beer outside of the bar. Like to my house. Montreal is also famous for its bagels, and those did not disappoint.

Montreal is an awesome city, and I’m looking forward to going back. There is so much to see there that I didn’t, like the people who beat each other up with fake weapons while wearing duct tape every Sunday, and I didn’t stop by to see my entire family that lives there. Next time.

Coffee of Doom

I’m writing this from a Starbucks in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve never written anything in a coffee shop before, but it seems to be a thing that real writers do, so here I am.

This vacation has been awesome, but I gotta point out one thing about traveling in today’s world. More and more, every place I go looks almost the same. This Starbucks has a pretty sweet fireplace and no breakfast sandwiches, but other than that, I might as well be in London. I drive down any major street in any decent-sized city, and it’s Wal Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pet Smart, CIBC, Starbucks, some generic family restaurant chain, Starbucks, another family restaurant chain, etc., repeat. Any major street corner plaza could be constructed, and probably be successful, by putting the names of big franchised businesses into a hat and pulling a dozen out.

One of the most fundamental laws of the universe is that entropy constantly increases. Things get more spread out, random, arbitrary. Less meaningful. Us humans like to think of ourselves and our society as an exception to this law, getting around it due to the open vs. closed system loophole in nature, as we get more organized, and our lives becoming more meaningful. But maybe that’s not entirely true.

Maybe the future of human civilization is every restaurant collapsing together into a Kelsey’s-flavoured mass; every coffee shop mixing into a super-grande cup of Starbucks. Then, like milk poured in coffee will eventually spread out randomly until it’s just a beige sludge, each type of business, represented by a single brand, will randomly disperse throughout the world. The “character” of a city will be determined purely by chance fluctuations in its mix of businesses.

The fact that you can already get a hot cup of Starbucks coffee on every corner of every city is an early warning sign that the heat death of human civilization is near.

Good People

Let me share a story that raised my spirits today.

The last two weeks or so, when I’m out for a walk with Willow, there’s a certain bush she’s obsessed with. When we’re near it, she’ll sniff at it like crazy and refuse to move on. She’ll ask to go outside, then when we go out, immediately run to this bush instead of doing her business. I never saw anything special about it. But then, yesterday, as she did her usual sniffing at the bush, I saw a baby rabbit poke its head out from the other side. Willow loves baby things…she probably smelled it long before anyone saw it.

I also made a note to myself to make sure to walk on the side of the bush closest to the road from now on. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but if we scared a rabbit out onto the road and something happened, I don’t think I could live with myself. Roads are no place for baby animals.

Today, we saw the baby rabbit again and said hi. Further down the road, on the way to the Thames river, we were off in some brush, and Willow stopped as someone walked by on the sidewalk. It was an old man. Willow started waving at him with her front paws, and he waved back. I brought her over to see him, and they were both delighted to have met each other. Something about this guy caught Willow’s attention and she just had to see him.

I got to talking with him, and he told me that the reason he’d been down at the river was that he’d seen a mother duck and six baby ducks walking down his street. He knew they would have to cross several busy streets before reaching the river, so he followed them and stopped traffic on these streets, allowing them to cross safely, then walked them all the way to the water.

Isn’t that the sweetest, most touching thing ever?

No matter how crappy the world may seem sometimes, at least there are people like that man out there. People that dogs just know are good people, and that we should all aspire to be like.

Beer : Statistics :: Peas : Carrots

I once got slightly intoxicated while “studying” the night before a major exam in statistics. Normally this would not be something to be proud of, but the fact is, despite the morning headache, my mind was clear of distractions and all that wonderful statistical knowledge flowed onto the paper just as smoothly as the beer flowed into my belly the night before. I aced the exam and secured my future in psychology. (This is a story that Nick likes to tell whenever someone mentions exams and drinking in the same sentence).

It turns out there is a very good reason that beer and statistics go together like birds of a feather. The study of statistics has been linked with beer since its early history. Anyone with basic stats knowledge has heard of Student’s t-distribution, often used to tell if two groups are different from each other on some measure. Student was the pen name of William Sealy Gosset, a statistician working in Dublin. The dude chummed with some of the more familiar names in stats, like Pearson and Fisher.

The thing is, Gosset didn’t give a crap about discovering the inner workings of the mind by poking and prodding samples of unsuspecting humans. No, Gosset just wanted to use mathematics to brew tasty beer. He worked for the Guinness brewery, applying statistical knowledge to growing and brewing barley. Guinness wanted to protect this powerful secret knowledge from competitors, so Gosset was forced to publish under a fake name, and apparently more math-creative than naming-creative, chose the name “Student.”

So that’s how Student’s t-distribution was born. And that’s why having a few pints of Guinness before a major stats exam should be encouraged. Even if it results in failure – and very well might – mention to the prof that it was a tribute to the long and fascinating history of beer and statistics. That’s gotta be worth a few bonus marks.

…..

P. S. I hope you noticed the subtle normal curve in the picture of the Guinness up there. That took some serious Photoshop skills you know.

Donate Your Useless HBC Rewards Points to The Humane Society

Willow is over today, which got me thinking about how to do nice stuff for dogs, so I went over to The London Humane Society‘s web site and discovered something awesome.

You can donate to The London Human Society with HBC Rewards points. To any individual person, these things are useless anyway. I’ve had my HBC card since long before it switched from being “Club Z”. Yet, in 10-15 years of occasional shopping at Zellers and hundreds of dollars spent on Mac makeup at The Bay (as gifts for girls of course….yes…gifts), here is the complete list of wonderful rewards I could obtain:

Yay?

So screw that. My points are useless to me. With lots of people donating their points to the Humane Society, though, they add up and can probably net some stuff that’s actually useful. Stuff that could improve or save an animal’s life. You can donate any percentage of points you want, and you can do it all online right here. If you’re not in London, you can donate to your local humane society. (I’m seeing mostly Canada on there, but you people in the US probably don’t know what the hell HBC is and stopped reading two paragraphs ago anyway).

Unfortunately, you can’t donate points already earned. To keep them from going to waste, then, I’d better order that magazine holder. It’d go good beside the toilet for some bathroom reading. I’ve never understood that, since I eat lots of fiber, but maybe guests would enjoy it, and the faux leather would certainly spruce up the bathroom’s style.

But seriously, dear blog (and Facebook) readers…though I hate being preachy, this is something that can do some good for virtually no effort.

Publish and Perish

Not to not brag or nothin’, but you are now a friend/acquaintance/worshiper of a published scientific researcher. My first publication finally popped up on the internet recently (even though it was apparently published in 2007, the journal seems to be running behind or something).

Here is the full reference:
Sorrentino, R. M., Seligman, C., & Battista, M. E. (2007). Optimal distinctiveness, values, and uncertainty orientation: Individual differences on perceptions of self and group identity. Self and Identity, 6, 322-339.

If you’re subscribed through your university (or wherever), you can find the article here, at your local library, or through Google. That’s right, I’m Googlable.

Optimal distinctiveness refers to the fact that people don’t like to feel too different from other people, but also don’t like to feel too similar. However, this is true for some people more than others. We found that people who prefer certainty to uncertainty also tend to try thinking of themselves as similar to other people after being made to feel different. In other words, these certainty oriented people tend to want to assimilate back into a crowd when they feel like they are weirdos who don’t fit in.

We proved this with advanced science. Here is some science from the article:

Those are graphs and formulas formulae. It doesn’t get much more scientific than that.

I do find it strange that this article costs $43.75 to purchase without a subscription. That’s more than most books, just for one article that is, no offense to the authors (none taken), not all that exciting. What’s strangest, though, is that I don’t get a dime of that. Musicians complain that record companies take a large percentage of the profit from record sales. With us, publishers take 100%.

Plus, isn’t science supposed to be free, open, and collaborative?

Oh well. Luckily, with the internet, it’s nearly free to distribute a file containing a research article, and many researchers make their own work available free of charge on their personal web sites. Hey, maybe I should do that. I will soon. You just stay tuned.

Anyway, I’m done bragging / feeling sorry for my broke self.

See also: Optimal Distinctiveness Theory on Wikipedia. Oh look, there’s our article! How did that get there? *WINKY FACE*

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP


Arthur C. Clarke died today (*). The man was a genius. I’ve only recently started reading his books, but his impact has been felt throughout my life. Nearly every piece of science fiction created since the 50s owes something to Clarke. More directly, seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey as a kid, even though I didn’t fully understand it at the time, probably had quite the impact on me. It’s a testament to human curiosity about life’s most perplexing questions, and the fact that there is more to life than this earthly existence, with no need to invoke the supernatural to appreciate it. Perhaps this was part of what sparked my interest in science.

Speaking of which, anybody interested in science should take note of Clarke’s laws of prediction:

  • 1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  • 2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  • 3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

There’s a lot to take out of those three little statements. But I think the main message is one of hope rather than cynicism. What seems impossible may very well be possible; what we consider magic today may be within our reach tomorrow.

Even though it’s impossible, let’s hope Clarke is now a glowing fetus looking down on us from a bubble floating in space. Float in peace, Arthur C. Clarke.

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* Actually, he died tomorrow, since he was in Sri Lanka, where it’s already Wednesday.