Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oh Yeah

Jono or Janice reminded me last night that I had promised to post on my Victoria day lunch time entertainment. So here goes.

I was sitting on the balcony, quietly eating my lunch when a car was pulled over by the police. It took a while before the police officer got out of his car to talk to the driver. When he finally did, there was no other traffic on the road for a few seconds, and we could hear a little bit of what the officer and the driver were talking about. It sounded to us like the driver had changed his mind at the last which resulted in an unconventional manoeuvre, catching the attention of the officer. After talking with the driver for a minute or two, he went back to the cruiser. A little while after that, another officer showed up. Eventually, the two officers asked the man to get out of his car, handcuffed the man, and the first officer took him to his car. The second police officer then searched the now handcuffed man's vehicle. Something tells me he was up to more than unconventional manoeuvres. For most of this time traffic was fairly steady, and the noise from the cars drowned out what the police officers were saying, so we had no idea why the driver was handcuffed and taken away. There was a moment where we could hear that he was concerned about the fate of his car. Perhaps he was hoping that if he showed enough concern, they'd let him drive his car home, and then they could arrest him later instead.

This doesn't really compare to what happened on Thanksgiving weekend a few years ago, though. I had taken two people back with me from Kingston, and just dropped them off at their houses. One of them lived in Dundas, a small town at the just west of Hamilton, and the other lived on the eastern end. I had to do a lot of city driving (simply going to my own house involved almost exclusively highway driving), and it seemed like I was catching every light red. Not only that, but after I had dropped off the second of the two passengers, I was a bit disoriented and started driving the wrong direction at first, making it take even longer to get home. I had become impatient. There was one more traffic light to get through before my street, and it went from green to yellow sooner than I wanted it to. There was plenty of time for me to stop, but I was tired of stopping for red lights, and decided that I would go for it anyway. I cut it close. If the light wasn't red when the front of the car entered the intersection, it was by the time the whole car did. Just as I had cleared the intersection, I saw the flashing lights of police cars up ahead. "That was fast," I thought to myself. I got further and realized that that they were at my street. "How do they know where I live?" Once I reached my street, I saw that the cars were blocking off my street. It was obvious then that they weren't there to ticket me for running a red light. I drove to the next street to take a different route in, only to find out that that route had also been blocked off too. I didn't really have any other options that wouldn't have been a major hassle, so I parked my car and walked home (it was only a block away). On my way I tried to get information from the officer that was blocking the street. He wasn't going to give me anything, and seemed annoyed that I even asked. As I got closer to my house, I saw at least four more police cars, a news crew, and a girl leaving her house trying to cover her face and yelling at everyone to leave her alone. I still couldn't tell what was going on, but it was happening right next to my house. My parents had gone away that weekend, and my brother was the only one home. He was half asleep. I asked him if he knew what was going on. It was clear that he was annoyed, but he didn't seem to be aware that anything had even happened. After a while, a police officer knocked on my door trying to find out if I knew anything. I explained that I had just got home and that my brother was sleeping and didn't know anymore than I did. He asked for the birth dates of some family members for some reason and requested permission to check out our back yard. As far as I knew, we weren't break any laws back there, so I said okay. Somewhere in the conversation, I tried to get the police officer to tell me a bit about what had happened, but he wouldn't tell my anything either. I finally got to find out when the news came on. Somebody had shot my neighbour.

While we were a bit shocked that something like that could happen so close to our house, it was probably the least shocking place that it could have happened. They had been bringing down the property value from day one. For the most part, they didn't do anything that was obviously illegal, but they were very noisy and requests by us and the neighbours to keep it down weren't simply ignored, but rather were laughed at. We were always a little suspicious, though, that something else might have been going on that was less obvious.

As mentioned, my parents were away that weekend, so they weren't witness to any of this, but the news did reach them eventually. It turned out that the shooter's name and my brother's name were very similar, though not the same. When they heard this, they thought that somehow my brother might be involved. They called home to make sure that he wasn't.

A week later, in church, one of the members announced that her son had been arrested.
Can you guess what for?

As it turned out, this woman's son was scheduled to be a witness at a drug trial, and someone had threatened her. It seemed that we were right to suspect that our neighbours were up to something besides making a lot of noise. The story, as I've heard it, is that he went over there to talk. When our neigbour saw the gun, he turned to run away. The shooter, who up to that point had merely been a gun holder, panicked and shot our neighbour. The wounds weren't life threatening, so the guys still alive somewhere. I don't know what happened to the rest of the people who live in that house, but it was very quite there for a long time afterwards. My mom moved out the following July (she had been planning on moving before all this happened), though it appears that she just can't escape the crime.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Monkey See Monkey Do

I meant to write a little something about my thoughts on the NHL playoffs a while ago. The usual suspects get the blame for the absence of such a post. The Stanley Cup finals begin tomorrow, so it's now or never, despite that fact that I should be working on the last remaining suspect.

I usually root for the Leafs, but they weren't in the playoffs this year. The only team that I was cheering for this time around was Calgary, and they had almost been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round before I even noticed that the playoffs had started (blame that on the usual suspects too).

I managed to catch a good part of one game on the last Thursday in April while I was sitting at the bar on my friend's last day at work. The sound was off, and the only commentary came through some questionable closed captioning. Detroit was playing. I don't remember who they were playing against, San Jose maybe, nor whether they won or lost. If I searched the archives I could find out, but I don't care that much. I spend a lot of time living in the past, and barring anything else, the team that was around when I was a child gets my support (if they both were, the team that was around when my dad was a child gets my support). But Detroit is the team that beat Calgary in the first round, which provided me an "anything else". Consequently, I was consumed by ambivalence.

The next thing I remember is that the Ottawa Senators were facing the Buffalo Sabres. At this point, you might think the obvious answer is to cheer for the Canadian team. Patriotism and all that. I picked Buffalo. Why? Simple answer. The same year that Ottawa put in a bid for an NHL team, Hamilton did too. Only one Canadian city got a team. How can I cheer for the other city? Call it sour grapes if you will, it's still my reason. Add to the mix the fact that I've typically supported the Leafs, and Ottawa is just that annoying other team from Ontario, there really isn't any reason to support them. Besides, Buffalo's just a hop, skip, and a jump from Hamilton. Ottawa's not.

Unfortunately, Buffalo lost, and so Ottawa's heading into the finals. In the past, I've always enjoyed watching them do well enough to advance, only to get beaten by the Leafs in the next round (every time). Of course that didn't happen this year. It was nice of Toronto to throw the season so that the Sens could have a chance at the Cup, don't you think? They're facing Anaheim, a team which barely exists in my mind (a recent addition to the NHL, in one of the warmest parts of the continent, named after a fictitious team in a children's movie. No thanks!). I can't screw up the will to care that much about whether or not they win, even if it means that Ottawa loses. So, rather than making a choice between a healthy antipathy and a rock solid apathy, what can I say? May the worst team lose!

M & Ms, & M from M & M

Two reviews via my sister Melanie.

A short review of the movie Shrek 3:

"We went to see Shrek III last night. It was O.K. but the critics were is not nearly as good as the first two."

A more favourable review of the Shrek M&Ms:

"So this brings me to answering your question about the M & Ms.............. Meaghan has not been even close to well enough to eat chocolate till yesterday so the girls finally got to try them last night. They must have liked them because they are all gone and I didn't get a single one!!! Meaghan would only eat the red ones though!! :)"

Saturday, May 26, 2007


First Guy: I was watching American Idol last night and somebody
mentioned John Locke. My friend was like "Who's John Locke? Isn't he a
magician?" I was like "I can't believe that you don't know who John Locke

Second Guy: Oh my God. Has he been living under a rock? We learned
about him in, like, grade 9.

Girl: Your friend doesn't like me now because I made fun of him for not
knowing who John Locke was.

First Guy: So what did Locke do?

Second Guy: I'm not really sure.

First Guy: Me neither.

Girl: ...

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Snapshot of my Weekend

[Please forgive any stylistic, grammatical, or factual errors. I just spent about twice as long writing this as I had intended, and don't feel like proofreading carefully.]

Just returned from Victoria day weekend back home.

My weekend adventures began on Thursday evening, even though I didn't actually leave for the H-bomb until Friday. On a typical trip home, I'll take passengers. I had a call from one potential passenger who had a rather large piece of luggage, and she wanted to know if it would fit in my rather small car. I was pretty sure that it would, but she asked me to drop by her place to see for sure if it would fit. My usual evening activity these days consists of sitting in Coffee and Company for about as long as it takes to drink two large coffees. For those of you who know my issues with sleep, yes, this practice is having its usual effect, but at this point, I'm not at liberty to care. Given this effect, I was eager to get there as soon as possible, so I drove to my potential client's place so as to spend as little time as possible on this. Plus, if I wasn't sure whether the luggage would fit, I'd have my car there to check it out directly. This wasn't necessary. I could see just by looking that the fit would be no problem. After settling some details with the passenger, I left for the coffee shop in my car. Now fast forward to 2:00 Friday afternoon. I was in a meeting with my supervisor, and, as usual, not always focusing on what he was talking about, when it dawned on me that when I had left the night before, I walked home. My car had been sitting out all night. When I realized this, it appeared to David that I had an insight of some kind, and what an insight at that. How disappointed he must have been when he found out that I did not, and that I was thinking about something entiriely nonmathematical. The meeting ended, perhaps too soon because of this realization, and I left to check on my car. It was still where I had left it. Had I done that on a Wednesday night, however, who knows what would have happened? Parking is not allowed from 1 am to 7 am on Thursday mornings, or something silly like that. I then ran home, picked up my car keys, ran back, drove my car back to my place, and packed.

The ride home was, for the most part, uneventful. I dropped off one passenger in the bustling metropolis of Ajax (population 90,000. Looks even smaller on a map.), and then another in Richmond Hill.

It's a good thing I remembered to bring the key to my mom's building this time (forgot last time), as I didn't get home until about 1:30. I would have hated to have to get her up at that time to let me in.

Saturday morning was mostly lazy. I didn't get out of bed until around 10, and sat around drinking coffee for most of the morning, until I got a phone call from a Kingston friend who I haven't had time to talk to lately, and spent an hour on the phone with him (I do recognize the irony, or "irony" as the case may be, of not having time to talk to a Kingston friend until I'm out of Kingston). I then lazed around until about 4:30-5:00 when my brother showed up. We entertained our mother, and each other, joking around and whatnot until about midnight when he left. (My brother and I have similar enough senses of humour that we can make each other laugh (what? you mean there are two of us?), yet different enough that it's not annoying.) Part of the time we spent sitting on my mom's balcony watching neighbourhood fireworks. Backyard fireworks seem to have come a long way since I was a kid, or even since I was in my mid-twenties, and most of them consisted of coloured flaming projectiles shooting more or less straight up into the air, possibly accompanied by a loud bang (which is fun for some reason). Some of the fireworks that we saw Saturday night were like that, but there were a bunch that looked like the more professional variety that the city might get, except at a smaller scale. I was impressed.

On Sunday my mom and I were invited to my cousin's house by my ex-girlfriend's little sister [1]. While there, I met two relatives (second cousins) whose existence I was only vaguely aware of until that day, while my mom got caught up with her niece (earlier referred to as my cousin) who I don't think she had seen in quite some time.

When we got home around 5:00, there was a message waiting on the answering machine from my brother-in-law, and a voicemail on my cell from my sister-in-law. I called back my brother-in-law first. He invited us to come over for a campfire. I then returned my sister-in-law's call. My brother (different brother) answered. I told him the unfortunate news that we had been invited to my sister's and brother-in-law's place, and that therefore I would not be able to grace him with my company. There was some weeping, and then, once he got over it, we chatted for a while about nothing in particular, until he had to go. Shortly after, my mom and I left for my sister's house. Once there, I talked to my sister for a bit while my mom talked to my brother-in-law until my mom came to talk to my sister and I went to talk to my brother-in-law and get started on the fire (tag team or something like that).

I was asked to take a picture of my mom and my sister framed by two bleading heart bushes (plants, flowers, shrubs?). My sister told me that these bleeding hearts were made from cuttings off of one of my mom's bleading hearts, which was made from a cutting off of the bleading hearts from my Aunt Shirley, who passed away almost 10 years ago, which was made from a cutting off of the bleading hearts from my grandmother, who died when I was 7. I've got a hoya with the same story, but it doesn't look quite as nice. These facts make these plants extra special to both of us [2]. The rest of the evening was a simple affair, sitting around the campfire, roasting hotdogs and eating fresh cantaloupe, watermelon, and other fruits.

I had every intention this morning of getting to some work on my thesis. I certainly got up in time to do it, but instead I decided to call my sister (different sister). While I was on the phone, her younger daughter pleaded with her to get off the phone for no particular reason except that something might come up while my sister was on the phone that could only be properly attended to if my sister was off the phone. The purpose of my call was to inform my sister that, the next time her kids went to grandma's (their grandma) house, there was a package of Shrek themed M&M's waiting for them. That took an hour and half. Hopefully my niece will forgive the long phone call when she gets the M&M's.

After that I packed, ate lunch [3], managed to finish off the index of notation for my thesis (as a bonus, I got the list of figures and list of tables done too, though each of those involved only one line of ``code''). Around 5:00 I brought most of my stuff to the car, and then ate dinner when I got back. For most of the day, I had anticipated a call from anybody who happened to read my ad for a ride from Toronto to Kingston, but in the end nobody called [4]. So I only had one passenger on the way back. Truth be told, though, I didn't mind one bit.

[1] To be honest, I just said it that way for dramatic effect, or some such thing. It was so long ago that we dated it seems strange to refer to her as anything but a friend, and her little sister is all growed up now and deserves to be recognized as a friend independent of the relationship of her older sister to me. For added dramatic effect, I'll mention that there is a third sister who is getting married to one of my cousin's sons in less than two months. This third sister is responsible for introducing this relative to me. Apparently this relative also has a similar sense of humour to me (what? you mean there are three of us?)

[2] Anybody who talks to me for a little while will realize that horticulture is an important theme in my family. Each one of my siblings and myself have at one point or another worked in horticulture (not too special, actually, since we're Dutch, and the Dutch seem to run that business in the Hamilton area, aside from a handful of Italian operations), and my older sister and older brother both still do. It's often a topic of conversation in our family, even among the not-so-green thumbs. For that reason, to me, and I think moreso to my sister, these plants are one of the most important heirlooms, even though the original plants from which the cuttings were made are no longer around.

[3] While I was eating lunch, a rather noteworthy event occured on the road in front of my mom's apartment, but that is fodder for another blog post on another day. Remind me in a week if nothing appears on the matter.

[4] When I got back, however, my inbox was loaded with emails asking about a ride from Toronto to Kingston. Too bad I was netless the whole weekend. Well. Maybe not.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Down to Earth

For most living beings, to bite the dust is not a good thing.

For earthworms, however, it's a different story.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Signs from God?

This morning in church, the pastor mentioned that he had bought some fiddleheads, but didn't know what to do with them and asked for suggestions. I've only ever cooked with fiddleheads once before, but the results were quite pleasing. I told him about the recipe, and now I'm telling you.

I made it back in February with the Blogless Erica. Fiddleheads weren't in season then, and we used frozen, but they are now. So if you think it sounds good and you might want to make it, make it now (now being around the middle of May, for anybody who happens to be reading the archives in the future). Frozen is still good, but if you can use fresh, why wouldn't you?

The recipe is below.

First a few comments about how we made it. We used powdered turmeric, rather than fresh. Instead of chopping the shallots, ginger, and garlic, and putting them in a blender, we used a microplane (I would have called it a grater, but the package says microplane) and hand grated them. If you don't have either, but want to make the recipe, I should point out that it's cheaper to buy a good microplane than it is to buy a bad blender (well, probably), and, all things considered, the difference in effort between the two methods is not that great, so buy a microplane and save your money until you can buy a good blender (or don't buy one at all, if that suits you). If you read the directions below, you will see that using a blender may even be extra complicated if the ingredients don't behave well, so even if you have one, it might better to just use the microplane anyway. If you don't have one, this recipe is a good excuse for buying that microplane you've always wanted but couldn't justify purchasing. Erica's technique for grating the shallots is to leave the root end on to use as a sort of handle. The recipe calls for 3-10 Thai chillis. I believe that we only used 3. This was a satisfying level of spiciness for me, though I could easily have tolerated more. We substituted tamarind paste for asam gelugor, and used regular salt instead of Kosher salt.

This recipe marked a quite a lot of firsts for me. I had never used shrimp, shallots, asam gelugor, fiddleheads, Thai chillis, or coconut milk before. Shallot seems to be a tad ambiguous (only a tad, though). The shallots referred to here are like small red onions with offsets (when I mention shallots, many people, including the pastor, don't seem to know what they are, and some guess that it's some sort of seafood. possibly they are thinking of scallops). The shrimp in this recipe tasted better to me than any shrimp that I had ever eaten at a restaurant. There were quite a lot of brands of coconut milk brands at the store, and I wasn't sure which one to buy (Erica bought it when we made it, but I bought some myself later), however in another cookbook it says that "the heavy, oily quality of some cheaper brands will literally destroy your recipe," so it may be better to opt for the pricier option if you're not sure.

If you can't find some of the ingredients below at your usual grocery store, you should be able to find them at an Asian grocer. The Asian grocers nearby here have a wider selection of coconut milk than the other grocery stores, and a friend who bought hers at Loblaws complained of a greasy after-texture in her mouth (which she blamed on the preservatives, though according to the above, it could have been due to the cheap quality), so I would recommend buying that specific item at the Asian grocer, even if your regular grocery store does stock it.

The spice paste below is quite versatile. Even though I haven't made this specific recipe since, I've made similar things using a variant of the chilli paste that also turned out quite well. For example, I used mushrooms, zucchini, and chicken (chopped up) instead of fiddleheads and shrimp, substituting milk and/or yogourt for coconut milk, using crushed chillis (Sambal Oelek) instead of Thai chillis, or adding sweet soy sauce (Kecap Manis). Also, I haven't bothered with Asam gelugor or any of its substitutes. That's because I forgot about that ingredient until today when I reread the recipe. I wouldn't recommend simply substituting these things and following the directions below, however. For example, the mushrooms and zucchini need to be sauteed at some stage.

Fern Curry with Shrimp
Source: Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland
(The book is on sale at right now. Follow the link. This is one of many interesting looking recipes in the book. I haven't bought it yet, but it's on my wish list.)

2.5 cups (about 11 ounces/310 grams) fresh or frozen fiddlehead ferns

For the Flavouring Paste

3 shallots (about 25 ounces/70 grams total), coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen turmeric, 1 inch long, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 teaspoon), or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 piece fresh ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain (about 2 tablespoons)
3 to 15 fresh green or red Thai chillis, stemmed and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 piece asam gelugor
1 stem fresh lemon basil, Thai basil, or Italian basil
7 ounces (200 grams) medium sized shrimp in the shell, preferably with heads intact (10 to 15 shrimp)
1.5 cups (12 fluid ounces/375 mL) unsweetened coconut milk.
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1. To clean fresh fiddleheads, use kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife to snip off the bottom 1/4 inch of the stem jutting out from the centre coil of each fern. Next, remove as much of the light brown, paper-thin sheath from each fiddlehead as possible. (This paper sheath protects the fiddleheads from insects and cold weather as they unfurl; much of it is naturally discarded by the time they're harvested, but some tenacious bits, which are unpleasant to eat, may remain.)

2. Rinse and drain the fresh fiddleheads in at least 3 changes of cold water. Fill a 3-quart saucepan with water to a depth of 3 inches and bring it to a vigourous oil over high heat. Add the fiddleheads and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the fiddleheads into a colander and run cold water over them to halt the cooking. Drain them once more and set aside. If using frozen fiddleheads, blanch them for a few seconds in vigorously boiling water, drain them into a colander, and rinse with cold running water to halt the cooling. Drain again and set aside.

3. To make the flavouring paste, place the shallots, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and chillis in a small food processor. Pulse until you have a smooth paste the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes, with no visible pieces or chunks of shallot or garlic. If the paste won't puree properly and repeatedly creeps up the side of the processor instead of grinding, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time, periodically turning the processor off and scraping the unground portions down toward the blade.

4. Rinse and dry the 3-quart saucepan, add the oil, and place over medium-low heat. Test to see if the oil is the right temperature by adding a pinch of the ground paste. The paste should sizzle slightly around the edges, not fry aggressively or sit motionless. When the oil is ready, add all the paste and sauté, stirring as needed to prevent scorching, until the garlic and shallots no longer smell raw and the paste begins to separate from the oil, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the asam gelugor and basil, if using, and the shrimp, stirring well to combine. Raise the heat slightly and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about two minutes.

5. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk, all of the water, and the fiddleheads and stir well to combine. Raise the heat slightly and bring the coconut milk to a gentle simmer. Immediately reduce the heat a bit and continue to cook, stirring often, until the fiddleheads are fork-tender but not mushy, about ten minutes. They should be deep forest green, not spring green, by the time they're finished cooking. Add the salt and sugar and stir to combine.

6. Stir in the remaining 1 cup coconut milk and then raise the heat slightly. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly, until the coconut milk is heated through, about two minutes. Remove the basil stem and asam gelugor, if used. Taste once more for salt, and add a pinch if needed.

7. Transfer to a serving dish. Set the curry aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes or longer before eating, which will allow the flavours to intensify and mingle.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Out of the frying pan...

It's been a while. I'm sorry.

Conference preparations and teaching got in the way of regular blogging for most of this past term. It also got in the way of the more important (to me at least) activity of thesis editing. Once I got back from the conference, I took a few days to catch my breath. I didn't do much of anything important, aside from tying up the last loose end with my course, between the time that I got back to the time I posted about the conference. The next day, I started getting ready to move and working on the thesis.

Everything aside from a few odds and ends was moved out on 29th of April. I picked up the the odds and ends the next day when I went back to help (now former) housemate number 1 clean up the old place--(now former) housemate number 2 had packed and left a few days earlier--and deliver a carload of her stuff to their new place that the movers, who were already behind schedule when they arrived, didn't have time to deliver. By the time that was done, I barely had enough strength left to lift my fingers to type.

The boxes were mostly left unmoved during the first week in my new place, except to find this or that item that I happened to need, since most of that week was spent working on the thesis, either making corrections or discussing them with my supervisor. Needless to say, after spending that much time thinking about corrections and typing them into the computer, the ideal break-time activity was not sitting at my computer thinking about and typing up blog posts. Besides that, blogging is usually a spontaneous activity, writing posts when things come to mind. There isn't much room for that to happen when my thoughts are focused on my thesis.

On top of moving and editing, I was asked a few weeks ago to give a talk. I couldn't think of an excuse on the spot, so I had to give a talk in the Queen's/RMC discrete math seminar on Thursday. Most of the talk was spent discussing known results, so preparing the talk wasn't difficult, but it was still quite time consuming, and it was yet another thing to do amidst being quite busy already. My supervisor said that it went well, which I take to mean that it went well.

Instead of handwriting the corrections onto a paper copy of Chapters 4, as my supervisor has done so far for Chapters 0-3, he made a nonpaper copy of the file and typed his own corrections to that file. So today the roles were reversed, and I spent the evening reading his corrected version of my file and making my own corrections to his work. It's the first day in about two weeks where a substantial part of the day was not spent typing, so here I am blogging... about why I haven't been blogging.

Hopefully soon I can get back to blogging about things other what I've been up to lately.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Less is more

"How would you like it?" she asked.
"Shorter," I said.

Simplest instructions ever. Best haircut ever.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


iPods are never on sale. Never. At least not the Nanos or the Shuffles. Of all the different stores that I've seen selling them, the Nanos are always $169.99, and the Shuffles are always $89.99. Always.