Friday, September 29, 2006

Vancouver Restaurants - A View from Afar

A little while ago, while summer was transitioning into autumn, little did we unsuspecting Vancouverites realize that a spy was in our midst ... and a culinary spy from Chicago no less! Jessica Reaves, a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, decided to grace our burgeoning town with her knowledgeable palate.

The result was published in the September 24th edition of the Windy City's big newspaper and the story was syndicated to many other papers across the U.S. too. Such stories have a major impact on what tourists think of us. You can read her well written and comprehensive story here.

As someone who takes great pride in writing a plethora of restaurant reviews, I thought her article was very fair and well balanced. In fact, she picked up a lot of insight into the city in a very short period of time. My only regret, on her behalf, was her first few choices. Tsunami Sushi and the Bellagio Cafe are simply not great examples of what Vancouver has to offer. There is much better sushi a few blocks west on Robson and if she had gone half a block further north she could have enjoyed a splendid breakfast at Griffins in the Hotel Vancouver.

I know I'll get in trouble for saying the following, but as someone who spent 1 ½ years in Montreal, Siegel's doesn't come close to providing what I would consider to be a decent bagel. But perhaps they're the best of the worst, since I've never found any good bagels in this part of the world.

Other than that, my mouth started watering at her descriptions of all the other delicious meals she tried here, some of which I haven't even been to myself. Though I plan to change that asap!

Side note: I was informed of Ms. Reaves' excellent article by my "sister", Kristi, who is infamous for being the Food Queen of Chicagoland. She's a fellow member of Virtual Tourist, the travel site I belong to, and has the #1 rated tips of Chicago for good reason!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My Favourite Coffee Shop is Closing

Earlier this month, this story appeared in the Vancouver Sun:

Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, September 08, 2006

Seattle's Best Coffee Co.'s Canadian licensee is closing its five company-owned retail cafes in Vancouver because it had too few locations to operate efficiently and no mandate from Starbucks, the brand's parent company, to expand.

Jay Garnett, president of the licensee firm, the Whitefish Group, said the company gave its approximately 30 full- and part- time employees at the Seattle's Best locations notice on Wednesday that the cafes will close Sept. 29, and offered them full severance.

However, Garnett added that Whitefish Group has opened up several jobs on the rapidly expanding wholesale side of the Seattle's Best business, so "most people who want a job and to continue with [the company] will have a job."

Employees had until today to state whether they were interested in those positions.

Garnett said the reason Whitefish is closing the cafes goes back to Starbucks' 2003 purchase of Seattle's Best.

He added that, at the time, Seattle's Best wanted the Whitefish Group to expand on both the retail and wholesale sides of the business.

"When Starbucks purchased the [Seattle's Best] brand, that was not the strategy they wanted to see for Seattle's Best [in Canada]," Garnett said.

"They wanted to grow the wholesale side of the business, so we're continuing to grow the wholesale side."

Garnett said the result was that it became difficult to operate the retail side, with all the requirements of being Seattle's Best, at just five locations. He added that the small profile did not give the Canadian employees enough opportunities for growth or offer online catering or other customer service incentives.

"Chains need to be somewhere around 25 to 30 locations to have economies of scale," Garnett said.

However, Garnett said the Seattle's Best's wholesale business has been growing at double-digit rates year over year. Whitefish has been Seattle's Best's master distributor in Canada for 13 years and has 1,000 customers nationwide including IGA, Save On Foods, Costco, Intrawest, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts and Mac's Convenience Stores Inc.

My favourite location was the one at the corner of 11th & Granville. It opened in the fall of 2000, while I happened to be staying with my mom at the time, who lived just a block away. I went there most everyday with my laptop, to think, to work, and to just get out and see people. I also interviewed several dozen people for my old company there.

I knew most of the managers at this SBC too. First there was Jen. She eventually moved on and is now selling pharmaceuticals. Then there was Michelle. I think she's still with the organization, albeit at a higher level. I then moved to Montreal for awhile so lost touch with the establishment. But when I got back to Vancouver I discovered it was being run by a stunning blonde beauty, whose name I was always too timid to find out!

I don't like the way my South Granville neighbourhood has changed over the past few years. It is becoming another personality-less clone of Robson Street. In just two days, the disappearance of SBC will be yet another nail in the coffin of what used to be a fun shopping area. :-(

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Death of a Great Man

Patrick Foran was a local chiropractor here in Vancouver. Born just before Christmas in 1935, he graduated from Kitsilano High School in 1954 and then married his high-school sweetheart, Louise MacDonald, two years later. By the time he was 40, he had 9 children! He was strongly committed to his family, his work, his church, and his community.

I never met Mr. Foran, nor his wife. She died just over a year ago and he passed away last week, both succumbing to cancer. His second youngest child, Jocelyn, and her husband, Joe, are friends of mine. I attended the funeral out of respect for them and their family. While there I learned that Mr. Foran was an avid caller to CKNW, just like I am. Jocelyn joked with me that no matter what the topic, her dad would always find a way to focus it on health care.

It was a very touching ceremony and St. Augustine's Catholic Church was absolutely packed. It's so wonderful to know that this man touched so many lives. And I couldn't stop thinking how very fleeting our time on this earth is. Patrick Foran clearly spent it wisely.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Late September in Vancouver

The Dictators at the UN

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez were at the UN recently. Both were full of great gusto and rhetoric. Black is white, up is down, free markets are bad, socialism is the answer, the Holocaust never happened, Bush is the devil, blah, blah, blah. Yet both got a friendly response from many of the delegates in attendance. And why wouldn't they? Their message appeals to many in the world, including many in the West.

Mark Steyn summed up the event quite well in this recent piece.

I couldn't stop thinking that we're seeing a repeat of history from 70 years ago. Since so few seem interested in learning about history, I fear we're doomed to repeat it. Different actors, different countries, but exactly the same result. Actually, it'll be worse because they didn't have nuclear weapons in 1936.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Just a Typical Vancouver Morning

Though people in other places drive a lot faster, at least they're relatively competent. Here basic driving competency is a pipe dream for most drivers, something they hope to achieve over the next decade. God help us all!!!

What makes all the effort worth it!

I just received a wonderful little thank you card from one of the recipients that BCDD recently provided a computer to. It reads:

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending me my fabulous computer & printer. I was so excited when it arrived & am using it everyday. I am in the process of trying to find a job & it helps me more than you can know with my search & resume building, etc.

Thank you So much!

Donna D.
Kelowna, BC

Friday, September 22, 2006

Canadian Passport Application Advice

The next time you're applying for a passport, do everything online first. Then take the papers into the Passport Office. I did so yesterday. And though there were at least 100 people waiting, my wait time was ... all of about 30 seconds!!! They push you right to the top of the line because you took the trouble to apply online. Now that's what I call great service!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Rebirth of the Electric Car?

After watching "Who Killed the Electric Car?" a few days ago I happened upon and listened to my favourite business journalist, Peter Day, discussing a new electric car initiative from startup firm, Tesla Motors. Conceived and financed in California's Silicon Valley, their first model is actually being built at a Lotus plant in Norfolk, England. It's a really great story and perhaps one hope of removing the stranglehold that oil has on our society these days.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Personalities, Patterns, and More!

I have a very wise, very brilliant friend named Wendy. We've not yet met in person but I've known her for several years via a travel website I belong to. We've corresponded A LOT and in some ways I think we know each other better than even some of our own friends know us.

Recently we got into a discussion about patterns of behavior between two people - lovers, friends, family members, whatever. My belief is that patterns get established very early on. And much like glue, once "set", they're very hard to change.

Another friend of mine, Geoff, once said that when it comes to business, people tend to define you with the first thing they understand about what you do. So for example, in my case in years past, I'd meet someone and explain that I'm involved with building "mobile enterprise software solutions". I could see their eyes glaze over after the 2nd word! Then I'd add, "So for example, we've created software that handles the capture of timekeeping data, production statistics, safety information, etc."

At that point my fate was sealed. I could go on & on and explain that we also build advanced websites and do great database work, and can also customize AutoCad. But forever and a day, they would think: "Robert = Timekeeping with Mobile Computers". Period.

I'm convinced the same thing goes on between two people who start dating. Within a few weeks, perhaps even within just a few hours, the pattern of behavior between them starts getting quickly established and before too long it is pretty much solidified. Perhaps the reason why many relationships don't last more than a few weeks/months is because one person doesn't like the way things have been established and doesn't feel they have the right to suggest that the other person change. On the other hand, some others enjoy nothing less than reshaping the other person into their version of perfection. This can also cause great friction and also lead to a quick break-up.

So let's get back to Wendy's Wisdom ... actually, that’s a pretty good byline for a newspaper column! Up until this point I had thought lots about the patterns and had just accepted that they occur. Wendy broadened my thinking by providing me great enlightenment about the personalities involved. Perhaps such patterns are quite predictable if the personalities are well defined.

She spoke of 3 basic personality types:

  • Alphas - as in "Alpha Male" or "Alpha Female" - Leader of the pack, a need to be out front and be in charge.
  • Betas - the opposite of an Alpha, generally someone who accepts being directed by Alphas
  • Omegas - a new category of her own invention

Here's some of what she wrote:

I invented the "Omega" term for those of us who don't fit into the Alpha or Beta grouping. So just as I suspected, you're a fellow Omega!

Omegas don't need audiences, nor do we need micro-managing leaders. We can work just fine on our own. We are by no means anti-social, but often we like small groups or 1-on-1 best, since we really aren't pack animals by nature. We CAN take charge when it's required, but we see positions of authority as positions of responsibility more than of privilege, and we are never about glory for ourselves. We tend to be honest about 'fessing up to any mistakes we've made, and we never take credit for things others have actually done (unlike most Alphas, who consider the entire team "theirs", and everything the team does is for their greater glory).

Alphas have their place, and the good Alphas actually make wonderful supervisors. Unfortunately there are a
LOT of bad ones out there, and they make it all about competing for attention & glory and perks. They are also a real drain to be around, since everything must be about them. They are extremely high maintenance. They will misinterpret something you say and run with it, bulldozing any reasonable objections you may have.

I used to put up with Alphas and make excuses for their bad behavior, but now I just avoid them. They are too exhausting. Now I most enjoy the company of other Omegas - and yes, there are more of us out there than you might suspect!

I'm going to pay a lot more attention to what she's said and be on the lookout for [the worst kind of] Alphas. One of my dilemmas is that I generally find true Betas way too passive. I find people with opinions much more interesting but will now seek out more of the Omega class!

Special Day

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Amazing What You Can Find On The Internet

I was searching for images for my new website and came across this page of photos of magnificent libraries. Pretty amazing!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Great Day in Vancouver!

I was working late last night but woke up at 7am in order to get over to the home of BCDD's lead tech, Bruce, in order to distribute computers. Normally we only do the distribution on the last weekend of each month but we're backlogged with a number of requests right now and wanted to double our efforts this month, especially to families with kids. Six sets of people picked up their computer before noon and between 10 - 4, two friends of mine, Amy and Nadia, helped me to deliver 6 computers. All recipients were extremely grateful, which always energizes us to keep on doing what we do.

After the last delivery, I asked Nadia to drop me off downtown so that I could get a longtime friend & colleague, John, to sign my passport application papers. It's funny because I often act as a "guarantor" for countless friends but can't sign my own papers! I walked home from there, stopping at the home of a Mexican family who had recently received a computer from us. Really nice people!

I walked across the art-deco Burrard Street Bridge and took these photos:

Friday, September 15, 2006

Top Addictions .... According to David Hasselhoff

As I often do, I was listening to the BBC World Service this evening when an interview with David Hasselhoff came on. He was a whole lot more interesting than the comicbook type characters he generally portrays.

He said two particularly interesting things:

  1. The top 4 addictions in the world are:
    1. Food
    2. Caffeine
    3. Alcohol
    4. Cigarettes
  2. Every morning he writes a letter to someone. Sometimes to God, sometimes to someone else. I didn't get the sense that he actually sends them but just finds it cathartic to get his feelings off of his chest. I very much understand what he means.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oz vs. Trudeaupia - Guess who has more relevance?

Mark Steyn provides an insightful and whimsical comparison of Australia vs. Canada. You can read it here. Most Canadians will dismiss it as hogwash. But then again, most Canadians have had their collective heads stuck in the sand for decades.

I've long wondered when Canada was going to evolve beyond its teenager like idealisms and become a serious adult on the world stage. This past week's news that certain NDP'ers are comparing Canadian soldiers with terrorists and that a reported 22% of Canadians believe that 9-11 was a huge neo-con conspiracy provide proof positive that it ain't going to happen anytime soon.

Interesting Statistics

I just received this from a colleague:

There has been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theatre of operations in the last 22 months, with a total of 2,112 deaths.

This gives a death rate ratio of 60 deaths per 100,000 soldiers.

The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. for the same period was 80.6 per 100,000.

It therefore follows that you are approximately 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capitol than in Iraq, even though Washington D.C. has the strictest gun control laws in the nation .

Conclusion: The U.S. should pull out of Washington

Monday, September 11, 2006

Vancouverites: What An Ignorant, Disgraceful Lot!

As this is a very sad, memorable day, I tuned in to my local station, CKNW, to hear discussion about the terrible tragedy 5 years ago. To my dismay, about 75% of the callers to the Bill Good show were American-hating conspiracy theorists. I found it absolutely disgraceful to hear them go on & on & on with their nonsense, especially on this most sacred of days.

One fellow espoused that jet fuel couldn't burn steel and suggested people look on the Internet for proof. So I did. And I found this. But of course, these people don't want to hear such things because it flies in the face of their narrow minded, hateful views.

Newcomers to Vancouver often wonder why I'm so dismayed with so many in my community. This is just one small example why.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Few Minutes to Remember

Five years ago I was visiting my ex-girlfriend and her son in Aguascalientes, Mexico. I was supposed to fly to Mexico City on the 9th, which was a Sunday. But I missed my plane (it actually left early!) so I had to take an overnight bus instead. Then on the 10th I flew home to Vancouver, via Chicago. I distinctly remember that time at O'Hare Airport. Everything seemed perfectly normal.

The next day, when I woke up, there were all kinds of e-mail messages from friends, saying how good it was that I had made it safely home. I had no idea at the time the deeper meaning of their sentiments.

The world changed that day. Actually, the realities of the world didn't change. We in the West just woke up to the fact that the world was a very different place. Here's a touching video from Celine Dion that will surely bring back a mixed set of emotions from September 11, 2001:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Missing Slice of Pizza - Hilarious

I just reading the "Best of Craigslist" and came across this story. This surely has to be one of the funniest things I have read in a loooooong time!!!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Straight Talking PM

Mark Steyn has just published a fascinating article about John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister. In it he illustrates why Howard has been incredibly successful with his electorate in regard to the War on Terror and the internal battle all Western countries are currently having in regard to maintaining their identity & value. He provides an interesting contrast with Bush & Blair, who seem to be losing these battles.

5-Year Memorial Video to 9/11

Though we all tend to get caught up in the wants and worries of our daily lives, I think it behooves each of us, especially in the U.S. and Canada, to not forget what happened just over 5 years ago.

Evan Coyne Maloney, a videographer in NYC, presents this memorial video to that tragic day.

And on a personal note, this month if I hear anyone trying to rewrite history by espousing stupid conspiracy theories, I will start their clearly necessary psychiatric counselling with a smack on the side of the head, followed by "What the hell is wrong with you?!?"

Canada 4th Best Place to Do Business?

Here's an interesting story about a recent World Bank Report. It claims that Canada is the 4th best place to do business in the world, after Singapore, New Zealand, and the U.S.

What I find most strange is that Hong Kong and Ireland are below us in terms of ease of doing business. Everything I've ever heard is quite contrary to this.

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Day at the PNE

While growing up here in Vancouver in the 1960's & 70's, the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) was an annual ritual that every child endlessly nagged their parents to take them to. There were the amusement park rides, the arcade games, the junk food, the animal displays, and even the historical exhibits in the BC Pavilion. It was always lots of fun!

I hadn't been in many years but decided to go yesterday with some [adult] friends of mine. I had a lot of fun - perhaps not as much as when I was a kid - but still enjoyed the day. Here are some photos I took:

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Dirty Truth About Politics

I just finished watching the wonderful 1948 film, "State of the Union". Think "The West Wing" in black & white. It's about an honourable, down-to-earth American industrialist, played by Spencer Tracy, who gets recruited to become a presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

He starts out with great conviction to speak his mind and always be completely truthful about his intentions if elected president. But then the political operatives coerce him into realizing that if he doesn't "play the game", he'll never get nominated as the candidate. And playing the game means concessions - to union leaders, to businessmen, to "ethnic" leaders, and endless other special interests. Before he knows it, he's had to give up all of his principles and is sliced up so thin that should he ever become president, he'd be constantly preoccupied with paying back those favours ... and not much else.

What's so incredibly interesting about the film is that it could have been as easily set in today's political climate as back then ... without one word of the script being changed. This got me depressed. Then I realized that if the language were changed from English to Latin, it could have been as easily set back in Rome. That got me really depressed!

What a sad and sickening irony that the average, honourable, hard working citizen abhors such behaviour and yet this has likely always been and will amost certainly always be "the way things work". For if one candidate won't suck up and promise the world to a group then that group will take their money & support to another candidate that will. And the sheep-like electorate will get convinced by whoever has the larger advertising budget.

This got me thinking about professional sports. We tend to cheer for the sports team in our city. We convince ourselves that our team is battling another city's team, that our team is fighting for us. What nonsense. Professional athletes, like professional politicians, are mostly in it for themselves - the salaries, the pensions, the power. Anyone thinking otherwise is smoking something stronger than cigarettes.

That's why I shall never join a political party and will forever remain a pragmatic libertarian: minimal government, though a realization that enough is necessary to stop stupid people from destroying themselves and us.

Friday, September 01, 2006

John Batchelor is Off The Air

At least for now. John Batchelor is a prolific author and historian who first went onto the air on September 12, 2001 in New York City. I first discovered his show in early 2003, while I was living in Montreal. I discovered the WABC website and tuned in most every night between 10pm - 1am. Now that I'm back in Vancouver, I listen every night between 7 - 10pm.

Batchelor's show has often been described as "the BBC with American accents". Like the host, the show is intelligent, informative, and thought provoking. He's a Republican and an intellectual and doesn't apologize for either.

It's not clear why his show is going off the air on the ABC radio network. But there were strong hints that after a few months' sabbatical he'll be broadcasting again, albeit on a different set of stations. I sincerely hope that online streaming is available!

Benjamin Franklin's Wedding

276 years ago, on September 1, 1730, Benjamin Franklin was married to Deborah Read. He was only 24 at the time. She had been married before but her first husband ran off to Barbados because of bad debt problems.

So why do I know all this trivia? Because a few years ago I read Franklin's autobiography on my Pocket PC and found it to be utterly fascinating. As I often do, I recorded certain pivotal dates in this great man's life. He truly exemplified an ingenuity and commitment to one's community that I strive to attain most every day.