Florida 2014: Planning


In August 2014, we spent two weeks in Florida, spending two days in Titusville and the Kennedy Space Center, four days at the Universal theme parks in Orlando, and eight days at the various Disney World theme parks. You know what that means – it’s that time again! That time when Graeme uses his blog to capture a ton of vacation information that you, dear reader, probably don’t care about. But to be honest, it’s not you I’m writing this for, it’s me. I’ve done this in the past for other vacations, and I find it’s a pretty good way of capturing all of the minutiae of the trip that we’d otherwise forget. I find it fun to read them over again a couple of years later. That said, if you don’t happen to be me, I hope you enjoy it too.

This was a pretty long vacation with no “down” days, so there’s a lot of information here. I’ve broken it up into a number of different articles: the first (this one) talks about the planning of the trip, the second covers Titusville and Universal, the third covers Disney World, the fourth contains some stats about our trip, and the fifth is a comparison of the Universal and Disney experiences (i.e. stuff other than rides).

The castleWe began by booking the flights and hotels back in about April. Once we booked Disney, we were given access to a web site called My Disney Experience, where we could look over our information and bookings as well as do things like book lunch and dinner reservations (and in some cases, even order our food in advance), and even book Fast Passes for rides. Gail had fun doing this, but there was one other web site that she frequented in preparation: touringplans.com. This is a site that allows you to pick the rides you want to go on at a particular park (it covers all of the Disney and Universal parks) and it will tell you what order to do them in so that you’re not spending half the day waiting in line. There are iOS and Android apps so you can see your plans and even update them on the fly, as well as checking out the current wait times for each and every ride. If it sounds like it’s regimenting your day, it kind of is, but in a good way. Plus these are of course only guidelines so if you want to shuffle things around or skip a ride or do one twice because the line is short or whatever, you can. There were some days where we followed the plan reasonably well and others where for one reason or another we ended up doing our own thing, though having the app really helped. Gail really liked that app – to the point where she was checking ride wait times weeks before we even left. “Look, 158 minutes for Gringotts!” “That’s great, dear, but we don’t leave for another month.”

The cheapest flights we could find were out of Buffalo rather than Toronto. We’d never flown out of Buffalo before but lots of our friends have and the flights were far cheaper than out of Toronto. Buffalo is about an hour from home but our flight was at 8:25am so we elected to book a hotel room and use their shuttle service to get to the airport. Most hotels near the airport also offer shuttles as well as parking services, which were generally cheaper than the $50/week that parking at the airport would have been. We chose the Clarion Hotel Buffalo Airport which included 2 weeks of parking, a hot breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the airport for about $89.

We flew on Southwest, which was unusual compared to other airlines for two reasons: (1) Each of us could check up to 2 bags for free, and (2) there are no assigned seats; instead, you check in online 24 hours in advance and you are assigned a “booking order” (A1-A60, B1-B60, or C1-C60). When the flight starts boarding, the A’s go first in numerical order, then the B’s, then the C’s. When it’s time for you to board, you get on the plane and pick whatever available seat you want. Obviously if you’re C20, you’ll have less to choose from than if you’re A10. We couldn’t get a direct flight on the way down (or didn’t want to pay extra for it), so we flew to Baltimore and then to Orlando an hour later. Our return flight was direct to Buffalo.

At Disney, we originally booked the Port Orleans Riverside resort, based on price as well as recommendations from friends. But after we had booked (and paid), Gail heard from her hairdresser (who heard from her cousin) that Disney sometimes offers a free dining plan, and we should check into that. We did, and the free dining plan offer was only good if you arrived after August 31, so it didn’t apply to us. But we kept checking and after a couple of weeks, they moved the date back to before we arrived, so Gail called them. The deal didn’t apply to our hotel, but they said that if we didn’t mind switching hotels, they could give it to us. We said yes immediately, and chose Coronado Springs, since it was on our original short list anyway. The total cost actually ended up about $80 cheaper, and we now had the free dining plan. This was huge and it sounds weird but words cannot express how excited Gail and I were about this.

The dining plan consisted of one “counter service” meal, one “table service” meal, and one “snack” per person, per day. The meals consisted of an entree, a non-alcoholic drink, and a dessert. So basically, other than breakfast and a couple of appetizers and alcoholic drinks, all of our food at Disney was free. We didn’t do the math (since some of the restaurant bills consisted entirely of $0’s) but we figured this saved us close to $1500. This applied to any restaurant (there may have been restrictions, but we never ran into any) in all four theme parks, Downtown Disney, and all of the resorts. Not only did this save us a bunch of money, but it gave us some freedom as well – if Ryan wanted to order the $29.95 salmon, go for it. We ate at an African buffet for one meal, which we may not have otherwise. We didn’t have to order the $16.95 chicken when we really wanted the $28.95 steak. In many cases, we were too full from dinner to get dessert but since it was free anyway, we got it to go and then ate it for breakfast the next day. That way, breakfast ended up being free as well. Of course, having cheesecake or key lime pie for breakfast isn’t necessarily the healthiest choice but hey, we’re on vacation. And really, is it that much worse than a chocolate chip muffin or waffles with syrup?

In the next article, I’ll cover the first week of our trip.

Habitat for Humanity


Every year, SAP has an event called the Month of Service, where every employee is given time off from work to volunteer in one of a number of venues. Some are right in the building and only take a couple of hours, others are outside the building. The participation in this event is impressive – numbers from the Canadian SAP offices varied between 42% (c’mon Calgary!) to 72% in Waterloo to a confusing 129% in Ottawa. Overall, over 60% of Canadian SAP employees participated in some volunteer event and in addition, SAP donated money to some of the charities involved. This is a great event and kudos to SAP for doing this.

Oddly, I don’t remember hearing about this event last year, though I am now aware that many employees did take part. I wanted to do my part and bump up those Waterloo numbers, so I chose Habitat for Humanity. They are doing a build in Kitchener, and an employee who volunteered with them last year was organizing it again this year. I love building stuff but I’m not very knowledgeable about such things, so a place like this is perfect for me: they’ll tell me exactly what to do, they have the tools and equipment available to do it, and they have truly knowledgeable people around to help and advise.

The block we were working onWhen we first bought our house, we had lots of repairs to be done and I always enjoyed doing them. I can do simple electrical stuff and I don’t totally suck at working with wood, though I’m not going to be building a dining room suite anytime soon. I’ve installed phone lines and electrical outlets and replaced light fixtures and such, and I enjoyed helping my father-in-law and brother-in-law build our “cold room” (pantry) and workshop in the basement as well as replacing our deck. One thing I don’t enjoy is plumbing. For some reason I can just never get the hang of plumbing, though I have installed new showerheads a couple of times. That’s brain-dead easy but Gail’s done some more difficult stuff like replacing the kitchen faucets and our bathroom sink and she’s pretty good at it.

But I digress. We arrived on site around 8am where there were some snacks and coffee/tea available. There were about 15 of us from SAP plus a bunch of contractors. At 8:30 they had a safety presentation and after that we all geared up in our borrowed CSA-approved boots and hardhats and headed out to the work site. The area they’re working on is huge (see the picture below, taken from the top of the scaffolding on the new block). The site manager was telling us that if they were to buy just enough land for one house in this area, it would cost near $200,000 – and that’s without a house. Much cheaper to buy a large lot and put up townhouses, which is what they’re doing in Kitchener. There was one block of six houses that were mostly finished, and they’d started another block of four in the back corner, which was where we were working.

We started by bringing a pickup-truck worth of 4’x8′ sheets of plywood down to the site, and then passed them all up to the second floor. Those were later installed on the roof by some of my colleagues. We then installed a couple of 2x4s horizontally through the trusses, which I believe were to be used for running wire between rooms. The trusses needed spacers installed, so that was our next task. While getting ready for that, another contractor came by and asked if we had extra people since he could use a hand. I volunteered and so he and I headed to the other end of the building, where the all of the siding had been done except for the very top pieces. My first task was to install five pieces of J-channel, so I needed to measure the pieces, cut them to length, and nail them in place. Once that was done, I cut the last pieces of siding for each of the five sections – this took a lot longer than I expected and I burned through a couple of utility knife blades doing it. Finally that was done and I was able to install them and screw them into place.

The work siteThat’s it. That’s all I got done all day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It was a lot of work though and my shoulders and legs were feeling it over the next couple of days.

There was a 10-15 minute break at 10:45 or so, where they supplied some ham sandwich fixin’s as well as some crackers, cheese, and fruit. Lunch was at 12:30 and was catered by people from a local church. They had brought a bunch of baked potatoes and all kinds of toppings: grated cheese, bacon, onions, diced tomatoes, chili, sour cream, and a bunch more. For dessert there was more fruit as well as brownies, lemon bread, date bread, and banana bread. The food was excellent.

I have lots of kudos to go around. First to my SAP colleagues and particularly Dave Brandow for organizing it. Secondly to the church people for supplying lunch – it was fantastic. Thirdly to Andrew and Darrell and Marcus and the other construction pros who were all helpful and very patient with a bunch of non-pros. Fourth, to the person who gave us the introduction and safety training – I believe her name was Janine but I feel terrible that I don’t remember for sure. She reminded me of Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds – particularly her voice. And finally to all of the Habitat for Humanity people everywhere, those who donate, and those who volunteer. You are doing a great thing and I am looking forward to volunteering again next year.

Manufactured controversy


People love controversies, don’t they? There’s nothing like a good controversy to stir up people’s emotions. But what if you want to stir up emotions on a topic that isn’t controversial? That’s easy: just pretend it’s controversial! This is a popular thing to do on Facebook. There are always people trying to get others to like their page or share their picture in order to drive up ad revenue or visitors to their web site, and making the picture controversial will always work.

I saw one the other day saying something like “I’m proud to wear a poppy to honour our servicemen and I don’t care who that upsets!” Who’s upset about it? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being upset by the wearing of poppies. But there was a web address to a Facebook page at the bottom of the picture.

Carrie Underwood is prettyAnother was the one about atheists wanting to ban a Carrie Underwood song because it (gasp) talked about God. There have been headlines like “Carrie Underwood’s brand new song making atheists mad as hell” or “Atheists outraged by Carrie Underwood’s latest song” or “Atheists viciously attack Carrie Underwood’s new song, want it banned“. No we don’t. Go ahead – find one atheist who wants to ban the song. Even if we did, what reason could we possibly give for banning it? There is a whole genre of Christian music which includes countless artists and probably millions of songs. No atheists are trying to ban them and no atheist is concerned about this one song. We’re not outraged at all – but you know who is? The Christians who believed this crap. As a commenter on one of those articles said, maybe it should have been “Carrie Underwood’s new song making Christians mad as hell”. But all of this “controversy” has certainly raised the profile of the song, hasn’t it? There are probably tons of Christians out there who are buying the song and/or album just to spite us horrible atheist bastards. Well played, Ms. Underwood, well played.

The vast majority of scientists know that global climate change is happening and is caused by humans. But a small yet vocal minority of people don’t want to believe that for whatever reason, so they make it a controversy: “Is global warming happening or not? If it is, are we to blame? It’s a scientific controversy!” No it’s not. The scientific consensus is that it’s happening and we’re to blame. Consensus doesn’t mean 100% of scientists, but it does mean that this is the generally accepted position. There is no controversy

Same as evolution, which is also supported by a scientific consensus. In fact, the vast majority of scientists would say we know evolution by natural selection is happening, to the extent that we can ever know anything in science. We can never prove things in science, only disprove them, but bucketloads of evidence supports evolution and no evidence contradicts it. If our current model of evolution is wrong, it ain’t wrong by much. The whole “evolution vs. creationism” controversy isn’t a controversy at all.

You want a real controversy? You need two things: first, don’t make shit up. Second, avoid science altogether. Should abortion / prostitution / marijuana be legal? Should the death penalty be abandoned? Is Obama a good President? The science says… nothing. Find a topic on which the pro or con arguments are entirely based on opinions. Now we have real controversy.

Apparently, I don’t exist


On an episode of Law and Order, a defense attorney is cross-examining a witness (testifying about what killed the deceased) in what looks like a slam-dunk case. The attorney knows the case against his client is very damning, and is trying to find some “reasonable doubt” for the jury to latch on to, with no luck. Finally, in desperation, he asks “It is possible that something else killed him?” The witness replies matter-of-factly, “It’s possible that death rays from Mars killed him. But I don’t think so.”


Noted evangelist Ray Comfort has decided that atheists don’t really exist. Note the way he words it: “There can be no such things [sic] as an atheist.” He’s not just saying that atheists don’t exist, he’s saying they can’t exist. Seeing as I am one, I was curious to know why Mr. Comfort doesn’t believe in me. So I read it.

Comfort is the same guy who once did a video with former actor Kirk Cameron about why the banana is “the atheist’s nightmare” – because it’s conveniently shaped for human hands, it has a non-slip surface, has a biodegradable wrapper, and other nonsensical reasons. Obviously, it must have been designed by God. This is ridiculous on a number of levels. First off, the banana he describes is one of a number of types of banana, and others don’t have the same qualities. Bananas don’t grow all over the world, which you’d think they would if God had designed them to be human food. The coconut was presumably also designed by God but grows in an inconvenient location and the wrapper is much more difficult to get through. There are lots of things that grow on plants that have many of these qualities but are poisonous. But most importantly, the banana he describes was not designed by God at all; it is the way it is because of hundreds of years of domestication – we keep and cultivate only the plants that grow the bananas the way we want them.

(Note that Comfort has since semi-recanted, saying that he now realizes that the argument was invalid because of the way the banana was bred. But now he says that it’s kind of still valid because God gave us the ability to do the breeding in the first place.)

Anyway, his reasoning for why atheists don’t exist is as follows:

To say categorically, “There is no God,” is to make an absolute statement. For the statement to be true, I must know for certain that there is no God in the entire universe. No human being has all knowledge. Therefore, none of us is able to truthfully make this assertion.

While this is undeniably true, it’s also completely meaningless. An atheist is not someone who claims to know for a fact that God does not exist, he’s someone who believes that God does not exist. Even the people who put atheist messages on billboards and buses phrased it as “There’s probably no God.” Not “unequivocally”, not “definitely”. “Probably”. I don’t need to know everything about everything in order to believe this. Can I prove it? No, but I’m not trying to and no atheist has ever (seriously) claimed to be able to. You see evangelists claiming “proof” of God all the time, but none of them has ever actually provided any.

During Bill Nye’s debate on evolution with Ken Ham, each was asked about what would make them change their minds. Nye responded as any skeptic would – if there was actual evidence, I’d change my mind.

We would need just one piece of evidence, we would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another; we would need evidence that the universe is not expanding, we need evidence that the stars appear to be far away, but they’re not. … Bring out any of those things, and you would change me immediately.

Ham responded that nothing possibly could:

And so, as far as the word of God is concerned, no one’s ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true.

So if I were to ask Mr. Ham whether it’s possible that he’s wrong, it’s pretty clear what his answer would be: no, it’s not possible. If Mr. Ham asked me, however, I’d happily admit that it’s possible I’m wrong. It’s definitely possible that there’s a God who created the universe 6000 years ago and then decided to leave no incontrovertible evidence of his existence and make the universe look exactly like it would had it been created in a big bang 14 billion years ago. But I don’t think so.

I am a Whovian, like my children before me


It’s official – I am now a Whovian. I’m pretty new at this – the ink is still wet on my Whovian card – but I am now recording and watching Doctor Who weekly with my family.

A couple of years ago, we visited my mother-in-law. Gail’s brother Stephen was watching Doctor Who, so the boys started watching as well. I was kind of half paying attention but couldn’t keep up with the story. The boys were hooked though, and Stephen gave them a DVD with a bunch of episodes that he had… um… acquired somehow. They couldn’t get enough and started borrowing DVDs from the library and recording the show whenever it was on. They weren’t that thrilled with the older episodes but starting from the Ninth Doctor, they watched everything. Gail and I watched with them here and there and slowly we began to figure out who these people were and who the enemies were, though we didn’t get all the inside jokes that the boys laughed at. (Example: we were watching an episode recently when someone said that he didn’t have a cat because he wasn’t a “cat person”. The Doctor (David Tennant) said, “No, I’ve met cat people and you’re nothing like them.” A throwaway line if you don’t get it but a clever in-joke for those that do. Note that I didn’t get it but the boys did.)

Part of the reason I couldn’t really get into the show was that I couldn’t get past the Daleks, easily the least frightening or intimidating enemy in all of science fiction. Perhaps they were scary in the early 60’s but compared to Darth Vader and the Borg and the Cylons, the Daleks just didn’t seem all that scary so any time I saw them in an episode, I was a little put off. That said, there was an episode called Asylum of the Daleks which was excellent.

Last year, there was a 50th anniversary special called The Day of the Doctor, which featured both Matt Smith and David Tennant, both of whom I really liked. The boys were looking forward to watching it on TV, so as a surprise we took them to the theatre to see it. We all enjoyed it and I started watching a little more after that, and then we went again to the theatre to watch Peter Capaldi’s first episode as The Doctor. I have yet to form a real opinion on him since we’re only three or four episodes into his first season, but I like him so far. He’s similar to Matt Smith in that he’s a little frenetic and almost hyper, but he seems to be a little more, well rude is probably the best word for it. But he’s rude in a good way, if that’s possible.

I’m not sure what’s drawing me the most about this series:

  • the fascinating character of the Doctor, who can be funny, annoying, charming, obnoxious, brilliant, and naive almost at the same time, or…
  • the very clever writing of the show. It’s not surprising that the lead writer and producer, Steven Moffat, is the same guy that writes and produces the equally clever Sherlock. The second Doctor Who episode of this season, entitled “Listen”, was brilliantly written, complete with one of the most surprising “aha!” moments on TV in recent memory. Or possibly, it’s…
  • the fact that Clara is the most stunningly beautiful woman on TV, possibly the world, and maybe even all of time and space. Never before have I watched a show and missed some crucial plot point because I was too busy just looking at someone’s face. She’s just… wow.

Jenna Coleman

Our tubing nightmare


One of the more popular natural attractions in south central Ontario is the Elora Gorge. It’s a beautiful 2 kilometre long gorge that the Grand River has cut through 70-foot cliffs north of Guelph. The gorge is contained within the Elora Gorge Conservation Area, and they rent big inner tubes for people to ride down the river. There are sections of rapids as well as some more serene “lazy river” sections. We’ve now been camping there twice, and both times have certainly been eventful – once because we didn’t go tubing, and once because we did.

About a year ago (the summer of 2013), we went for a few days to Elora in the hopes of going tubing. But it had rained quite a bit over the previous week. It was OK the day we got there, but then it rained overnight and the next night too. The tubing run is closed when the river flow exceeds 8 cubic metres per second; the day we wanted to go tubing, it was measuring 98 cubic metres per second. That’s not a typo – the river flow was over twelve times higher than their safety limit. One of the two bridges over the gorge was closed entirely because water was flowing over it, to the point where you couldn’t see the bridge. There was no way we were going anywhere near the water. We had a fun camping trip (despite the rain), but we were disappointed that we didn’t get to go tubing.

Let’s try that again

So this year, we decided to go back and try again. We booked the same campsite as we had the previous year and this time Mother Nature played nice. Our first day we slept late and decided to have more of a lazy day, so we played some cards before lunch and did some geocaching in Elora after lunch. The second day was tubing day. Our plan was to do one run, then walk back to our campsite (about halfway up), have lunch, and then do more runs in the afternoon. If Gail or I got tired, one of us could wait at the bottom with the van and drive everyone back to the top. After getting ready, we drove to the rental place and walked with the tubes to the starting point. This was sometime around 11:00.

Here’s a Google map of the tubing run; I wanted to use the satellite view but it was cloudy the day the satellite took the picture so you can’t see much. I’ve marked approximately where the interesting events happened.

Note that this is not a water ride, it’s just a river. They rent you the tubes and they’ve built stairs to get you to the starting point, but the rest is up to you. There are no lifeguards or attendants at the start, end, or anywhere in between.

At the start, a friendly man was there taking pictures of his grandkids, and noticed our confusion as to where to go. He suggested walking a little further up the river and starting from there, so we did. We didn’t plan it this way (we didn’t really plan anything – more on that later) but Ryan went first, then Gail followed him. Nicky went next and I came last. Before I even started, I noticed that Ryan had flipped over going down the first set of “rapids”, but quickly recovered and gave us the thumbs up. As I was approaching the rapids, I managed to get spun around and didn’t see what happened to Gail or Nicky. When I hit the rapids, I flipped over backwards as well. I managed to stand up and grab my tube, and started to get back on it.

That’s when I noticed Gail sitting on a rock on the right bank. No tube.

Problem #1

Nicky was floating down the middle of the river and an empty tube was floating down in front of him. I hadn’t gotten back on my tube yet, so I managed to walk/swim over to the bank where Gail was. The water was still pretty fast here, so it took a fair bit of effort. It turned out that Gail had also flipped over, but while Ryan and I managed to grab our tubes, Gail did not. She got pounded by multiple waves which bounced her off of the rocky bottom a number of times. She was eventually able to grab some rocks on the bottom and pull herself to the side and get out of the river. Both of her knees were scraped up pretty good, as well as her ankles and the side of her right foot. She had lost her sunglasses and had thought for a minute that her contact lenses had also been washed away, though luckily they hadn’t. I stayed with her until we determined that she could stand and walk back to the start (she was shaking too much for the first couple of minutes). We decided that I would continue and once we were done, the boys and I would walk back to the van and then come and get her.

Elora GorgeThe whole time we were sitting there, we had to watch our children float further away from us, down a river that we hadn’t seen before, and that we had already found to be much more dangerous than any of us had realized. The boys are 14 and 12 and have been taking swimming lessons their whole lives; they’re probably better swimmers now than either me or Gail. That plus the fact that they were wearing helmets and life jackets were the only reasons we were nervous but not panicking.

After making sure that Gail could walk back to the start (maybe 30 metres back), I continued down the river in my tube. I had no watch on and so my sense of time is rather hazy, so I have no idea how long it was before I caught up with the boys, but it couldn’t have been more than about 5 or 10 minutes. They had reached an eddy in the river, so Ryan was essentially sitting in the middle of a big circle, not moving, while Nicky was slowly drifting around the circle, holding on to Gail’s tube which he had managed to grab. I grabbed Gail’s tube from Nicky, then we had to kick our feet for a while to get out of the eddy and start heading back downstream. Ryan had somehow managed to get out of it without kicking at all and was ahead of us again.

Just around the corner from the eddy, there was a shallow area that Nicky and I got caught up in. We had to push along the bottom to get free, and that led us to the second set of rapids. I told Nicky to go down first, then I sent Gail’s tube down by itself (since I figured I wouldn’t be able to hold onto it), and then I came last. I drifted to the right side of the rapids, near the canyon wall. Just as I expected to bounce off the wall, I heard a loud bang and immediately sank into the river.

Problem #2

The water wasn’t deep but the current was very strong. It pushed me through the rapids until I managed to grab another rock on the canyon wall with one hand, while holding onto my deflated tube with the other. Nicky saw this and wanted to know if he should stop or try to grab Gail’s tube, but he was still in some pretty fast-moving water. I told him to just keep going, figuring it was more dangerous for him to try to stop. I had no choice here but to walk down the river. Some parts had a rocky shoreline which was easy navigable, but for most of it I had to walk in the river holding on to the cliff face or trees sticking out. Some places were ankle deep and slippery, while others were deeper – the water came up to my shoulders in one place. There was one area where I had to swim about 30 feet and another where I had to climb through a fallen tree. There were a few areas with big rocks that I had to climb over, and I saw one rock with a big spider on it – must have been 3-4 inches across. I hate spiders, so that would have been the worst moment of most normal days, but it barely even registered. I slipped and fell once but luckily just landed on my butt, with nothing more than a bruise to show for it. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of it.

Eventually, the river got shallow enough that Nicky was able to grab Gail’s tube once again and get out of the water to wait for me. Again, I have no concept of how long it took for me to get to him – fifteen minutes? Forty five? I really don’t know but from the time my tube burst until the time I met up with Nicky again must have been at least 30 minutes. I stopped there for a rest and then we continued down the river, with me floating on Gail’s tube and carrying mine.

The rest of the way was relatively uneventful but frustratingly slow. Not only was I physically exhausted, but I was anxious to get back to make sure Gail was OK. Problem #2 had slowed us down significantly, so I was sure Gail was wondering where we were. I got caught in another eddy where I had to kick continually for several minutes to get through it. Then Nicky and I hit some more shallows where we had to push off the bottom to move. We eventually arrived at the end of the tubing run where we were finally reunited with Ryan who had finished ages before.

We got out of the river and walked back up to the parking area while I filled Ryan in on what had happened. After about a 10-15 minute walk, we got to the rental place, turned in the punctured tube (“No thanks, I don’t need a replacement”), and picked up our van keys. While tying tube #3 onto the top of the van, Gail’s phone (which was in the van) rang. By the time we found the phone, it had stopped ringing but I noticed that there were eleven missed calls from my phone. Gail had walked back to our campsite and was getting pretty worried that we hadn’t yet reached the van. We called her back and reassured her that everyone was OK. It was now 1:38pm. That one single run – that only three of us finished – had taken us about two and a half hours.

We drove back to the camp site and Gail hobbled over to meet us. She was also doing a little better though her left leg was pretty stiff and it was obvious she was going to have some pretty good bruises in a couple of days. I’m writing this a couple of days later and she does indeed have some bruising (see picture) and her legs are still stiff and achy, but it could certainly have been much worse.

Done

The aftermathDuring lunch, we tried to decide what to do the rest of the day. Gail thought about trying again but skipping the first set of rapids (the subsequent rapids weren’t as bumpy as the first), but she decided her legs hurt too much. I wasn’t really in pain but was still nervous about the river because of my tube bursting. There were a couple of areas during my walk down the river where it had taken most of my strength to avoid getting pulled by the current – what if it had been Nicky’s tube that had burst? Would he have had the strength? Would the current have pulled him along, bouncing him off of rocks the whole way, or worse, dragging him under the surface?

I knew this was a pretty rare occurrence and the odds of it happening again were pretty low, but the tube bursting scared me enough that we decided that we were done tubing. The boys were disappointed but understood. We played some more cards and the boys and I kicked a soccer ball around for a while, and we eventually returned the tubes. The boys and I had one run for our $25 each, and Gail spent about $1 per metre of her tubing adventure.

Gail and I are pretty surprised at ourselves for just jumping in (pun intended) before really examining the river and the rapids and having a plan. We did say to the boys before we started that if we get separated, just keep going and we’ll meet up at the bottom, and maybe there really wasn’t much more we could have done. Hundreds of people do this every day and while I know they’ve had accidents, they’re pretty few and far between. I guess subconsciously we didn’t figure that we needed a “what if one of us gets beaten into the rocks?” plan or a “what if a tube bursts?” plan. Perhaps cancelling the rest of the day entirely rather than letting the boys keep going was a bit extreme, but the what-ifs crept into my brain and took over.

Perhaps we’ll stick to water parks from now on.

Phone reviews: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC Sensation


I recently upgraded my phone from the HTC Sensation I’ve had for three years to a new Samsung Galaxy S4. To say I’m pleased with my new phone is the understatement to end all understatements. Of course comparing the two phones directly is not really fair – we’re comparing new technology in the S4 (actually not that new; the phone was released over a year ago, but it’s new-to-me technology) against a phone that’s well over three years old. In the cell phone industry, three years is a lifetime.

The old phone had a dual-core processor; the new one has a quad-core. It also has more than twice the memory (2 GB vs. 768 MB) and an amazing eight times the storage space. The HTC had 4 GB with 1 GB available while the Samsung has 16GB with 8GB available. This is good since I was to the point of removing one app in order to have enough space to install a new one. The camera is an unbelievable 13 MP (only 8 MP on the HTC) and the front-facing camera is 2 MB while the HTC front camera is a pathetic 0.3 MP. Yay, better selfies! Oh wait, I never take selfies.

Samsung Galaxy S4

And the battery! Holy crap, the battery. I have yet to see the battery drop below about 45% charge, even if I’m twittering and facebooking and cameraing and even watching streaming video. I haven’t tried the GPS (i.e. driving directions), but I know that really sucked the battery dry on my old phone. I do charge it overnight every night but I did that with the HTC as well and if I was using it a lot and not being careful, it’d be dead by dinner.

It turns out that taking a picture of your phone with your phone is a challenge, and I couldn’t take one with my old phone because I moved the SD card to the new phone, so I found a picture online. This is probably a better picture anyway. And yes, I did get the red one though I have a black case.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy with my HTC phone. It was my first smartphone, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to, but it did pretty much everything I wanted it to. It did have its problems, which either weren’t there or I didn’t notice for the first year or two. Google search was really slow – if I entered something in the search box, it took at least 20-30 seconds before the search results came up, and I don’t think it was the search itself that took so long. The 3G network would sometimes just drop and not reconnect. I’d disable the mobile data entirely and then re-enable it and that frequently worked, but other times a reboot was necessary. Very occasionally I had to take the back off and remove the battery for a few seconds. I must have rebooted the phone at least once or twice a week just to try to speed it up.

I had no real problems with phone part of the HTC. It didn’t drop calls often, the call quality was fine, I could bring up the keypad easily while talking, and I could put the caller on speaker and check email or whatever at the same time (though I think I did that twice in three years). But the call quality on the Samsung is great. I was at Nicky’s soccer game the other day and Gail called me. It was quite windy but despite not doing anything to block the wind, I could clearly hear her and she could clearly hear me. I asked her if the wind was a problem and she didn’t even hear it.

Both phones have an “auto-brightness” feature, where the phone adjusts the brightness of the display based on how bright it is where you are. I enabled this on the HTC but it didn’t work very well and I had to continually turn the brightness up manually until I ended up turning the auto thing off and leaving it on full 24/7. That probably didn’t help the battery life. The Samsung auto-brightness thing is outstanding, and the screen is really clear. It’s a bit bigger (5 inch display vs. 4.3 inch), so that helps too.

One thing that I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE is the slidey keyboard. It’s not actually a Samsung thing at all, it’s an app called SwiftKey. Rather than typing each character individually, you put your finger down on the first letter of the word, then just slide it to the second, third, fourth, etc. until you’ve entered the entire word. Not only is that much faster than typing the word, but the word prediction and auto-correct is excellent. It turns out that this app actually was available on my old phone, though I didn’t know it. I never got good at dual-thumb typing on my HTC, I always stuck to the right index finger so it wasn’t terribly fast. With SwiftKey, I still stick to the one finger but it’s much faster.

The only thing that I prefer with the HTC is the lock screen. I had to swipe and then enter the PIN to unlock the device. But if the device had been locked for a short time (under a minute I think), you didn’t have to enter the PIN again, just swipe. The new lock screen doesn’t require the swipe, just the PIN so whether I locked it 5 seconds or 12 hours ago, I still have to enter the PIN. Slightly inconvenient if I lock the device and then remember that I needed to do something else right away.

Oh no, wait, there’s one other thing I don’t like about the Samsung. When dialing the phone, it has a setting for whether hitting the number buttons makes a sound, but there’s no way (I can find) to change what the sound is. I don’t like the “drip” sound it makes but I can’t figure out how to change it. But I think I’ll survive.

Maybe once I’ve had this phone for a few years I’ll decide it has problems too, and then the next new phone I get (with 8 processors, 32 GB of RAM and a terabyte of storage) will be awesome compared to this thing. But for now, I’m very happy with this thing.