Category Archives: Misc

Wii Fit

Our “family present” this past Christmas was Wii Fit. The boys were kind of excited about it, but not thrilled. It wasn’t like their reaction when we bought them Star Wars Lego for Wii – that game was a big hit. Since then, however, they’ve really started to enjoy Wii Fit. It’s not their favourite game – that would be the aforementioned Star Wars Lego – but I’d say it’s in the top three. Gail and I also enjoy it. There are basically three “modes” to Wii Fit. It can be:

  1. a fun game
  2. a workout that doesn’t seem like a workout
  3. a real workout

The balance games may help your overall balance, but they certainly just seem like fun. Or, you can combine the balance games with a couple of the aerobic ones for a bit of a workout. There’s a boxing one that combines throwing punches with step aerobics, or there are regular step aerobics and some running ones as well. Or, if you are actually in the mood to work out, some of the strength training and yoga exercises are quite difficult (the “dance” yoga one is the hardest one I’ve done yet).

Does it compare to an actual weight bench or going for an actual run, whether outside or on a treadmill? Well, not really. But there have been times where the boys are asleep and Gail is either asleep as well or doing something else, and I have some time to myself. Sometimes I read, blog, work, play my guitar, but rarely do I decide to go and work out for half an hour. However, on some occasions I have decided to play Wii Fit for a while and before I knew it, I had worked out for half an hour or more.

People have been trying to making exercising fun for non-fitness buffs for years, so kudos to Nintendo for finally succeeding.

Roll up the rim to lose

I buy a tea and bagel from Tim Horton’s on my way to work every day. For the last couple of weeks, the Roll up the Rim to Win contest has been going on, and thus far I have won exactly nothing. Last year I won a couple of coffees teas and a couple of donuts — nothing much, but it’s always nice to win something. But does my lack of winning make me get angry and not go to Timmy’s anymore? No, it makes me want to go more because I know the chances of winning are pretty decent and the fact that I haven’t won yet makes me more likely to win the next time. Yes, I know that is absolutely not true, but it sometimes feels true.

So if I win, I want to go back to Timmy’s to win again and if I lose, I want to go back to Timmy’s to try again. They can’t lose. It’s brilliant.

Update: A friend of mine pointed out on facebook that she wins more often when she buys a large. Last time they ran this contest, I bought a large tea every day, and I won a few times. These days I buy a medium every day and haven’t won at all. Coincidence? Hmmmm…

Hotwash…. ain’t so hot

For Christmas about three years ago, Gail bought me a thing from Canadian Tire called “HotWash”. It’s a device that you insert between the windshield washer fluid pump and the wipers, and it heats up the wiper fluid on the fly to help melt ice and snow from the windshield, and it also helps get rid of bug juice in the summer. Great idea, right? I thought it was. Did it work? I still don’t know for sure.

When I first got it, I looked over the installation instructions and figured I could install it myself. After a half hour in the garage with the hood up, I decided that I should probably let a professional do it, since I’m no auto mechanic. I can change my air filter and wiper blades, but that’s about it. I took it into Canadian Tire and had them do it, and figured I was all set. We had a relatively warm winter that year, so I didn’t get to really try it out for several weeks. It did eventually get cold and snowy again, and driving home from work after a day of snow and ice, I remember hitting “wash”, ready to watch in amazement as the ice on my windshield quickly melted away. Never happened.

When I got home, I remember standing in the garage for about ten minutes, repeatedly spraying the windshield and feeling how warm the spray was, but I never noticed a temperature change. According to the manual, once you spray it the first time, it takes 10-15 seconds to warm up, and then if you spray again after that, everything is warmed. The actual temperature was a mystery — it was listed in the manual in at least two different places, with two vastly different values. One said something like 60°C — warm enough that you should see steam (I never did) when you use it on a cold day. I don’t remember the other number, but it was different from the first one by a significant margin, and wasn’t simply 60°C converted into Farenheit or anything like that. Either way, the water coming out of mine was no warmer than the air temperature. The thing just plain didn’t work. I took it back the next week and told them it wasn’t working. They had a look and told me that it was, but that the manual was wrong — the fluid is heated up to above freezing so that it will still melt the ice, but it’s nowhere near 60°. I decided that this was why I didn’t notice a difference in temperature and assumed that everything was OK.

Over the two years, everything seemed fine, but I was unable to notice any kind of difference. I then had to bring the car in for service a couple of times for an unexplained power loss — the engine would just stop while I was driving. I’d quickly put the car in neutral, restart it, and get back into drive. Only once was I not able to restart it this way, and that was in the parking lot of a Canadian Tire. Three different Canadian Tire stores (Waterloo, Kitchener, and Burlington) were unable to find any problem. Finally I brought it into a local shop in Waterdown, Al’s Auto Service, and he basically unplugged a bunch of things and plugged them back in to make sure the fittings were all tight and weren’t corroded. He found no problems either, but after he did that, the problem vanished and I never had it again. Then last winter I brought the car into the brand spankin’ new Canadian Tire in Waterdown. They fixed something (don’t remember what) but while doing that, they noticed that my HotWash wasn’t plugged in. I have no idea how long I’d been driving with the thing unplugged (and therefore doing nothing), but I suspect that during his investigation of my problem, Al unplugged it and simply forgot to plug it back in. They re-enabled it and once again, I didn’t notice any difference.

Finally a few weeks ago, I noticed a big ad in the local paper saying that Canadian Tire was recalling the HotWash things for safety reasons, and were giving full refunds of the purchase price. Ironically, the problem was that they were overheating, which was certainly not the case with mine, which never got warm in the first place. I brought my car in earlier today and asked them to remove it, which they did. They also refunded the purchase price and the cost of installation, so when I picked up my car from the service desk, they gave me about $92. When was the last time you got your car serviced and they gave you money?

Games people play

I read an article on BoingBoing today called “The case against Candy Land“. The author writes (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) about how video games are far more educational for kids than some classic board games like Candy Land, where whether you win or lose depends entirely on the random arrangement of the cards, and not on any skill on the part of the player. If I play chess with my six-year-old, I can almost guarantee that I will beat him every time, because I have some skill at the game — very limited skill, admittedly, but more than him, which is all that matters. If we play Candy Land, however, he is just as likely to win as I am, since no skill is necessary. You don’t even have to know how to count. In particular, there are no decisions to be made.

I have noticed this with my kids’ games as they get older. The older the kids at which the game is targetted, the more decisions they need to make to be good at the game. As a kid, my sister and I played a card game called “war”. You shuffled the deck, then dealt out half the deck to each player. Each player turned over a card and whoever had the higher card won both cards. When you run out of cards, you take the cards you’ve won, shuffle them up, and keep going. If you both put down the same card, that’s a war. Each player deals out three cards face down, then turns one over, and the same rules apply. First one out of cards loses. It didn’t take long before I got completely bored with this game because even as a kid I realized that nothing I did mattered. There were no decisions to be made. Other than the speed at which I could deal the cards out or turn them over, there was no “getting good” at war. Candy Land is the same, as is snakes and ladders.

A game like Sorry or Trouble, or a similar game we like called Aggravation, also involves counting, but some decision-making as well. When you roll a one, do you bring out a new piece, or move an existing piece one space? If you have more than one piece out, which one do you move on any given turn? If you have the chance to either take someone out (“Sorry!”) or move one of your pieces into your safe area, which do you do? I really noticed the difference when playing snakes and ladders one day with Gail and Nicky. The phone rang and Gail went to answer it, asking me to play for her. I did and after three or four turns, she returned. It had never really occurred to me before, but that’s when I realized that the outcome of the game was going to be exactly the same whether I played her pieces or she did.

Ryan is starting to figure this out. There are some games, like snakes and ladders, that he used to like but doesn’t like so much anymore. I’m sure if I asked him, he couldn’t say specifically why; he’d just say that it’s a game for younger kids and he wants to play older kids games. I’m sure that the real reason is that he realizes at some level that what he does has no effect on the outcome of the game. When playing snakes and ladders once, I told Ryan that I could write a computer program to play this game and it would be just as good as any human player. I think he was impressed by that, but someday he’ll realize that it’s really not that impressive. It’s not that I can do it because I’m a great programmer — I couldn’t write a similar program for Monopoly, for example — but because it’s purely an algorithm with no decisions. Pick a random number from 1 to 6, move that many squares, go up a ladder if you’re at the bottom and down a snake if you’re at the top, and repeat until you get to the top.

As you get older, you get into games where more decisions are necessary, from Uno to checkers to Monopoly to backgammon to the game where all you do is make decisions, chess. In fact if you get to a point in a chess game where you don’t have a decision to make about what to do, you may be in check and are very likely in deep trouble.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that games such as Candy Land serve no purpose. They teach things like playing nicely with others, taking turns, and how to win and lose graciously. But if you’re over the age of 6 and looking for a challenging game, Candy Land may not be the one for you.

Failure is not an option

Our camera stores pictures on a compact flash memory card. The other day when changing the card, Gail managed to bend a pin inside the camera, so it wouldn’t recognize any card. We took it into a camera repair shop yesterday, and it’s going to cost us $200 to get fixed. The repair guy said that Gail likely tried to put the card in sideways or backwards or something and that it’s not that uncommon. For a fairly expensive piece of equipment, this seems like a blatant design flaw. If a card should only go in one way, why can’t they design them so that it’s physically impossible to put it in wrong? Make it so that it’s impossible to screw it up. Failure should not be an option.

We had the same problem with an old wireless PCMCIA card. We had a PCI card in the computer, and that card had a slot that the PCMCIA card could slip into. But it was entirely possible to put the card in the wrong way, in which case it simply wouldn’t work. (Luckily it didn’t damage the card.) Unfortunately, it wasn’t plug and play, so you had to shut the computer down, put the card in, and boot it up again. If you got it backwards, you’d have to shut the computer down again, reverse the card, then boot it back up.

The designers of the SD card that’s in my kids’ $89 cameras seemed to get it right:

  1. Make it a rectangle that’s longer than it is wide, so you can’t put it in sideways
  2. Put a notch in one corner so that if you put it in backwards, the notch makes it not fit before the card gets to the pins.

Update: I wrote the above before talking to the camera guy. Turns out it is impossible to put the card in backwards or upside down, but it is not impossible to put it in sideways. If they had made it “portrait instead of landscape” as the camera guy said, this possibility would have been removed as well.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

I’m not a big fan of the snow. I go skiing once or twice a year, maybe more in the future because I took the boys last year and they enjoyed it, and tobogganing and making snowmen with them is fun too, but other than that, I’d be fine living somewhere that never got snow.

However, and I can’t explain this, one of my favourite things is a work-from-home day when I sit down at my laptop, sip a mug of hot chocolate, and watch a huge snowstorm outside. Maybe it’s the knowledge that I don’t have to navigate the roads, or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s cold and nasty outside and I’m toasty and warm inside, but I love that feeling.

It’s snowing like crazy outside, and I just finished my hot chocolate. I might make another cup. It’s a snow day today so the boys and Gail are home, but I’m warm and cozy inside and have no plans of venturing outside today (except maybe to shovel later on but I won’t think about that now). Suddenly my TLS certificate validation problem on the Mac just doesn’t seem so daunting.

The Run

Yesterday was the “5K Your Way” run in Toronto for which I requested donations a little while ago. The run started at Queen’s Park at 8:00am, so I stayed at my sister’s place in downtown Toronto on Saturday night. We got to the start line around 7:30 and met the other members of our team. One of them had made custom (hot pink!) T-shirts for the rest of the team that said “Trudy and Jean 2008” on the front and “We acquire the strength we have overcome” on the back. The picture near the bottom of this post shows me wearing mine. BTW, Trudy is my sister and Jean is my mother, both of whom have been fought cancer within the past year. I will write more about that sometime later this week.

My parents were originally planning on walking as well, but my mom had an appointment at the hospital, so they were unable to. I was planning on walking with them while Trudy ran on ahead, so with the change of plans, I was going to walk alone. A couple of minutes before the race started, I told Trudy that I was going to start out running with her, and then when I was no longer able to run, I’d walk from there. I didn’t have any kind of goal in mind at this point; I was hoping to make it more than just a couple of blocks. If I’d really thought about it, running half the race would have been quite optimistic, considering I don’t run and didn’t do any training for the race (since up until Friday afternoon, I figured I was walking it with my parents, and I can walk 5k without any problems).

The Race

The race started at the northwest corner of Queen’s Park and looped around to University Ave. We ran southbound on University to Wellington Ave., then turned around and ran north on University back up to Queen’s Park, and looped around it again to the finish line at the south end. We didn’t start near the front of the pack, so the first few minutes was mostly walking since there were just too many people around to run. We passed underneath a large metal scaffold-like thing that I assumed was the sensor for the electronic timing chip that each of us was wearing. I assumed at this point that this was also the finish line, though that turned out to be wrong. Once the pack thinned out a bit, we started to run. There were a number of us running together for a while — me and Trudy and a bunch of her friends: Maria, Monica, Lindsay, and Jen (who has run full duathlons in the past, so this 5K was like a warm-up for her). We were between College and Gerrard when we saw the first guy coming back along the course approaching the finish line.

Trudy and I several years ago
Trudy and I several years ago

Before I knew it, I had run with the girls down to Dundas. I was feeling a little tired, but no big deal, so I figured I could keep going. Shortly thereafter we hit Queen St., and I realized that I only had a couple of blocks to go before we hit Wellington, where we would turn 180° and go back up University. I was excited about running half the race, so I made that my goal. I had kind of pulled away from Trudy and the other girls at this point without realizing it — it had ceased to be a social event at this point. I was simply trying to run as far as I possibly could.

Halfway there

After making the big turn, I got a bit of a second wind, and I started making smaller goals. I wanted to make it back up to King St. Once there, my next goal was Queen St., and then Dundas after that. It was when I passed Dundas that I realized that my “pipe dream” of running the whole thing just might really be possible. I mean, my legs were pretty sore, but Queen’s Park was right there a few blocks in front of me, and the finish line was at the north end of that, so I was almost done! As I passed Gerrard, I saw Toronto General Hospital on my right, which is where Trudy had had her surgeries back in January and March. As corny as it sounds, that gave me a little more energy when I “remembered” (not that I ever really forgot) why I was doing this in the first place. Up until there, I was hoping that I would be able to run the entire race. Once I passed the hospital and College St. and realized that I just needed to get to the north end of Queen’s Park and that was it, I decided that I was going to finish it. No more of this “hoping” crap, I’m going to do this.

I remember the very second that I first saw (what I thought was) the finish line; the song “I Kissed A Girl” was blasting from a loudspeaker, and I tried to concentrate on the song rather than my aching legs. It wasn’t until I was maybe 50 feet from the finish that I realized that it wasn’t the finish. There were no people standing around it, and people who were passing it ahead of me kept running without slowing down. Then I remembered that at the beginning of the race I had seen an actual finish line near the south end of Queen’s Park, complete with a timer and everything. I’m kind of glad that my brain fooled me like that, since for most of the last quarter of the race, I was concentrating on the finish line at the north end, and didn’t think once about running all the way around Queen’s Park. By the time I realized my mistake, I was at the north end, and so all I had to do was loop around to the south end.

Beginning my recovery
Napping after the race

The Finish

About 50 feet from the finish line, there was a mat that went across the track, and as I passed over it, I heard my name being read out over a loudspeaker. A few seconds later I crossed the finish line (I didn’t actually raise my arms in the air, though I felt like it), and immediately slowed down to a walk. This was almost a very bad idea, as my legs decided “Finally, he’s finished the damn run and we can shut down now.” Luckily my brain convinced them to hang on just a few minutes more and kept me from collapsing. Trudy and her friends finished a minute or two later and we celebrated our collective triumph.

Each runner was given a timing chip, which was a little RFID tag that you attached to your shoe. As you crossed the start and finish lines it recorded your start and finish times, thus giving you an accurate count of how long it took you, even if you were in the back of the pack and hit the start line long after the start of the race. It also allowed them to post the results of the race on the internet in real time. I ran 5 km in a time of 32 minutes 3.7 seconds. I finished 869th of 2071 participants, 406th of the 769 men in the race, and 48th of the 89 35-to-39-year-old men. The comparisons are rather meaningless, considering it wasn’t a race where everybody was running; it could very well be that all 41 men in my age group that finished after me were walking, not running. I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. I finished the race, and I considered it a race against myself. Next year, I plan on running it again, and the only time I’m interested in beating then is my time from this year.

More importantly, I raised $480 and Trudy’s team raised almost $6,000 for cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital. Our team raised more money for gynecological cancer than any other team. To my sponsors: a huge thank you to all of you, and I hope I can count your support again next year! (BTW it’s still not too late to sponsor me!)

Hurts so good

After the race came the pain. We took a cab back to Trudy’s place, got changed, and went over to the restaurant where the team was going to have brunch. My parents came too, as did Gail and the boys. My legs were a bit sore at this point, but I didn’t really feel it until I had to take Nicky to the washroom, which was upstairs. Going up was bad enough, but coming back down was brutal. We spent the afternoon at Trudy’s place and then came home, where I soaked my legs in a hot bath then took some more Tylenol and flaked on the couch for a while before going to bed. This morning I could barely walk, and I decided very quickly that there was no way I could sit in a car for an hour to get to work, so I worked from home. I made sure to get up every now and again and just walk around the house a little, and by dinner time I felt pretty good. It’s now almost 8:00pm, and I haven’t taken any Tylenol since early this morning. Stairs are still tough, but getting better.

I’ve never felt pain like this though. It doesn’t actually feel any different from other times I’ve had pain from overexertion (for example after skiing or the baseball tournament), though maybe a little worse. I think the difference is that because I’m happy (OK, proud) that I ran the entire race, it’s like I have really earned this pain, in a good way, and that makes it somehow different from the “I haven’t been skiing in a year and now my legs hurt” pain. I plan on running again next year, though I will be training long and hard beforehand, and next time, the expectation will be that I run the entire thing, and beat my time from this year. I also expect to feel less pain after next year’s race, but right now, I’m kind of enjoying it.

Home Reno

We did some a little bit of home renovation this past weekend. Actually, it was more destruction than renovation.

One of the “features” of our house when we bought it in July, 1997 was the dry sauna in the basement. It was a nice little cedar room with a sauna heater in it. A few days after we moved in, we turned it on, found that it worked, and turned it off again a few minutes later. That was the last time it was used. We’ve used it primarily as storage ever since, but we’re considering getting the basement finished sometime over the next year or two, and we knew that this room was going to be the first thing to go, so we did it ourselves.

On Sunday morning, we removed the door and the drywall from the outside of the right-hand wall and that was about it. Monday morning I took this “before” picture:
By about 2:00 on Monday afternoon, the room was gone, and we had piles of cedar and 2×4 studs piled in our garage. We moved a couple of bookshelves over as well as a loveseat, and now we have a nice little sitting area:

The only drawback is that you can now see the insulation in the walls, where it was hidden before. However, the rest of the basement isn’t finished either, so there’s insulation all over the place. Other than a couple of tiny cuts on my hand and a few slivers here and there, there were no injuries, and nothing got damaged that wasn’t supposed to. The only downside to the day was that it was beautiful outside, possibly the last beautiful weekend of the summer, while we were in the basement all day.

The Spaghetti Factory incident

I took Ryan to a Rock game back during the winter. It was a Saturday night game, so we went out for dinner (at The Old Spaghetti Factory) with the rest of the Rock gang before the game. Ryan and I got there quite early, so we sat in the lounge with a couple of drinks and watched the hockey game, which was on a TV in the corner. After a minute or two, Ryan stood up and walked over towards the TV. He walked more than half the distance to the TV, so by the time he stopped, he was closer to the TV than he was to me. He walked back, sat down, and told me “It’s 4-3 for Detroit”. I was stunned. Not because Detroit was winning, but because I could clearly see the score on the TV from where we were sitting.

Gail and I had talked a few times about taking the boys to get their eyes checked, but just never did it. After “The Spaghetti Factory Incident” (with apologies to Guns ‘N Roses), I called the optometrist that same week and made appointments for all of us. Gail hadn’t had one in a year or so, and I hadn’t had one since about a year after my laser eye surgery, which was eight years ago. My eyesight wasn’t terrible before my surgery (something like -4.75 to -5.00 in each eye), but Gail is almost blind without her glasses or contacts. She’s in the -13.00 to -15.00 range and her grandfather was just as bad, so we kind of figured that the odds of both of our kids growing up with good vision were pretty slim. We were right — Ryan needed glasses. Nicky’s vision was smack dab in the middle of the “normal” range for his age group, so that’s good. Even after eight years, my overall vision is still better than 20:20, so I’m still very happy with the results of my surgery.

One thing we’re very happy about is the greater level of acceptance of kids with glasses than when we were kids. Gail first got glasses in grade two, and vividly remembers constant taunting from other kids; she was called “four-eyes” more often than she could count. I remember feeling sorry for kids that I knew who got glasses because other kids would tease them (I like to think that I didn’t partake in the teasing, but I probably did). I didn’t start wearing glasses until grade 10, so we were beyond that — at that point they were teasing me because I was a dweeb, not because I wore glasses. The glasses just completed the dweeb ensemble.

Anyway, a few kids in Ryan’s class have gotten glasses in the last few years, and nobody gets made fun of. Ryan said that one girl was nervous about getting hers, and the whole class made a point of telling her how great they looked on her. When Ryan found out he had to get glasses, it didn’t phase him at all. There was no complaining, no fear, no worries, no problem. He whined more the last time he had to get a haircut. We picked up his glasses a couple of days before we left for France, and he’s been doing great with them.