27 August 2007

Touring the White House

This past weekend I toured the White House. Toured the White House. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Well, I thought it sounded impressive. Unfortunately, the actual tour turned out to be rather anticlimactic, especially after all the anticipation and excitement generated by having to arrange the tour five months in advance.

When I play tourist I have two basic requirements to make the trip worthwhile: ability to take pictures and something interesting to see. Truthfully, it doesn’t even have to be all that interesting as long as I think it’s picture-worthy. White House prohibited items include all recording equipment, so one of my criteria was out right off the bat, and I didn’t find the White House interesting beyond the fact I could say, “I was there.”

The tour consisted of peeking—not entering—in to four to five rooms (two other rooms were undergoing renovations behind closed doors), walking through a state room, a dining room, and then out the door. There were displays of dinnerware, paintings of several presidents and former First Lady Clinton, and a small sculpture of four cowboys riding on horses, but that’s pretty much it. Oh yeah, and Secret Service personnel.

Let’s see, speed-walking, I’d say the tour takes 5 minutes, tops. Deliberately walking slowly and staring for minutes at what normally would only interest me for a few seconds because - I - swear - I - waited - five - months - for - this - tour - and - I’m - darned - tootin’ - not - going - to - finish - it - in - less - than - 10, 15 minutes.

The day of my tour turned out to be hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 40°C, so the fact that the White House prohibited bags, water, cameras et cetera, with no coat-check or storage area, meant that my trip was restricted to the tour itself—no exploration of other DC sights. It was 40 minutes on the Metro, the tour, and then back for another 40 minutes on the Metro. Ugh.

Here are the prohibited items:

“the White House PROHIBITS visitors from bringing any of the following items with them while they are on the tour: handbags, bookbags, backpacks, purses, food and beverages of any kind, strollers, cameras, recording devices such as video recorders, tobacco products, personal grooming items (including make-up, hair brushes, combs, lip balm, hand lotions, etc.), any pointed objects (including pens, knitting needles, etc.), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size. Coat and package check facilities are NOT available.leave all unnecessary belongings at home on the morning of the tour… visitors carrying any of these items will NOT be permitted to enter.”

At first I wasn’t too disappointed about the prohibition of cameras but afterwards I couldn’t help think, what was the point? The area for the tour was so limited and restricted; pictures of the White House rooms are already on post cards… why bother prohibiting cameras? You can’t tell me taking a picture of something I can see on a post card is a security risk. Mystifying and frustrating.

Would I recommend this tour to anyone else? I guess, as long as you aren’t expecting very much. Definitely stop by the White House Visitor Center across the street for another security check, the live, interactive “Are you smarter than a 5th grader Park Ranger?” game, rest rooms, post cards, recipe books, a little history on the White House, various displays including one on… presidential pets. Eh?

24 August 2007

Tainted pet food vs. Lead-paint toys

I read this article on Time.com that I find a little befuddling—not because it’s poorly written but because I can’t quite fathom why so many more people were interested in the tainted pet food story rather than lead-paint toys. I guess I’m not a pet person.

Here are some selected quotes from the article:

“Mattel recalled almost 2 million toys worldwide for lead-based paint and other contamination issues. In response to the news, searches for the term "toy recall" spiked, nearly doubling the two-year average for all product recall searches… the Food and Drug Administration found that contaminants in hundreds of brands were causing cats and dogs to fall ill. Searches for pet food-related recall issues were over seven times that same two-year average, over double the number of toy recall searches.”

“Google News indicates that there were over 9,750 online news stories concerning the toy recall while the pet food recall has generated over 77,500 news stories.”

I wonder how many pet owners there are compared to the number of parents—could that explain the disparity between “pet recall” and “toy recall” searches? Perhaps the sheer number of media reports could be the root—more news reports regarding the tainted pet food kept the story in the public eye longer and hence more people conducted more searches for information? That begs the question why news media ended up reporting so much less on lead-paint toys.

Whose health is more important, pets or children? I’m sure if asked straight out the answer would be overwhelmingly the latter. Nevertheless, if you go by online searches I’m wrong and in the minority.

Humans are confuuuusing.

22 August 2007

Canucks re-sign Linden!

Hurrah! The Vancouver Canucks have re-signed Trevor Linden for another year! I hope the Canucks have a good run this year. It might be a long shot but I think Linden is one of those players that deserves a Stanley Cup.

The Canucks will need some luck and more support for Luongo to have a realistic chance at the Cup, though. Last year they were basically the same team that missed the playoffs previously, but the addition of Luongo took them to the second round.

Anywhoo, this news makes me even more eager for the season to start.

"Linden is Vancouver's all-time leader in games played (1,081) and points (721).
He also holds franchise playoff records for games played (118), goals (34), assists (61) and points (95)."--cbc.com
Linden's longevity may have contributed to his numbers, but as the last playoffs showed, he can still make a positive contribution to the team and on the ice.

19 August 2007


The other day I stopped by my local Volkswagen dealership to pick up some wiper blades before taking a personal look at the new 2008 MkV Golf R32.

On the way from parts/service to the sales area I had seen a worker with a huge grin taking a grey MkV R32 on a short roaring circle within the lot, starting and stopping in the service bay. I didn't think too much of it at the time but it turns out that R32 was the only one they had, and the salesman said it was still being prepped so no test drive.... Hmm, so was that part of the PDI?

Anywhoo, the salesman was kind enough to let me sit in it and take a close look. It looked nice, but I think there's a greater difference or "wow" factor between the MkIV GTI and the MkIV R32 than there is between the MkV GTI and the MkV R32. The front seat was comfy but it lacked the support I've grown accustomed to--it had side bolsters, but nothing like how mine are. The steering wheel was numbered, 3xx of 5000, which I still wish VW had done with the 2004 R32. Oh well.

Where does the irony come in? Well, after the salesman asked me what I drove, he proceeded to comment on how nice the 2004 R32 is and how the 2008 R32 looks like the GTI, and in return I found myself making comments about how nice the 2008 was. It was odd. I also had the impression that he had given up on trying to sell me a car. I don't know exactly what gave me away, but it's an interesting coincidence that his decision coincided with learning I had the MkIV. On the other hand, maybe it was an attempt at reverse psychology.

16 August 2007

Postage stamp honors James Stewart

I've mentioned this before, but James Stewart is my all-time favourite actor. I thought I'd post this article published on Time.com.

"Lots of actors play war heroes on the screen. James Stewart was one in real life. A decorated World War II bomber pilot who returned from battle to star in "It's a Wonderful Life," Stewart will be commemorated on a new 41-cent postage stamp being released Friday.

Stewart flew 20 bombing missions over Germany, including one over Berlin, after wrangling combat duty when commanders would have preferred to use a movie star for morale building work at home.

As a squadron commander, Stewart flew many dangerous missions when he could have sent others instead, recalled Robbie Robinson, a sergeant who was an engineer-gunner in Stewart's B-24 squadron. But while Stewart rose to colonel during the war and later retired as a brigadier general in the reserves, he didn't stand on ceremony.

Robinson, of Collierville, Tenn., recalled one time when a creative tail gunner managed to "liberate" a keg of beer from the officer's club. That evening, Stewart wandered into a hut where some men were resting, picked up a cup, walked over to the "hidden" keg, poured himself a beer and sat back and drank it slowly, relaxing in a chair. "We were shaking in our boots," Robinson said. But Stewart merely got up, wiped out the cup, asked the men to keep an eye out for a missing keg of beer, and left.

Another time, Robinson recalled in a telephone interview, his plane landed behind another that was stuck on the end of the runway, nearly clipping it's tail. After watching this Stewart rubbed his chin and commented: "Ye Gods, sergeant, somebody's going to get hurt in one of these things."

"Once in your lifetime someone crosses your path you can never forget, and that was Jimmy Stewart," Robinson concluded.

This is the 13th stamp in the "Legends of Hollywood" series and will be dedicated in ceremonies at Universal Studios, Hollywood, Calif. "It's our privilege to pay tribute to James Stewart, a fantastic actor, a great gentleman, a brave soldier, and an inspirational human being who truly led a wonderful life," Alan C. Kessler, vice chairman of the postal governing board, said in a statement.

Other highlights from Stewart's career include the movies "Rear Window," "Vertigo" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much," all directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Stewart played a country lawyer in "Anatomy of a Murder" and played a lawyer again in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," a Western released in 1962. He won an Oscar for best actor in "Philadelphia Story" in 1940. Stewart died on July 2, 1997."--Time.com

I'm not a stamp collector, but maybe I'll pick one up, anyways. :o)

05 August 2007

Site visitors in July 2007

Once again, a few days late. This time I have an excuse besides procrastination--it's been a busy summer! ;o) The top 5 visitors listed by countries are:

1) United States,
2) Canada,
3) Australia,
4) Great Britain,
5) an European country.

Eh, what's up with number five, you ask? Apparently the stats program I use to get this information is using that now instead of "European Union". Sounds kind of odd, but it is supposed to be a list of countries.

You can see the full list here: Site visitors in July 2007.

Stats for previous months can be found here: Site visitors.

2008 Volkswagen MkV Golf R32

FYI, this past week the 2008 VW MkV Golf R32s have started arriving in the United States and are being prepped at dealerships. I’ve heard that all 5000 units have been reserved. I’m wondering if I should make time to take a look in person before they’re all picked up. I may already be too late.

03 August 2007

A hypothetical question


"One morning a man kisses his wife good bye, gets in his car and drives off to work. After a long day and during the commute home the man is involved in a traffic accident and rushed to the ER of a local hospital. The surgeon looks at the man and says, “I can’t operate, we’re married,”--how is this possible?”

Thought of an answer?








When a colleague originally posed this hypothetical I hesitated before answering. Not because I thought the question difficult, but because the answer was so simple I wondered if it was a trick question. “The doctor is his wife,” I answered.

“Yes,” my colleague replied. At my puzzled expression he assured me that not everyone would be able to provide the correct answer. I admit I had my doubts, but fortunately I witnessed a demonstration immediately thereafter. A second colleague entered our office and was asked the same question. To my surprise he was completely stumped—he was unable to come up with any answer at all.

Upon further discussion it was revealed that this hypothetical question was designed to provide insight on an individual’s attitude towards gender and professions. Anywhoo, the memory of this episode has stuck with me for years. I can’t say with expert certitude that this hypothetical question does exactly what it is purported to do, but it at the very least gave me food for thought on the subject. Beyond this, it forcefully affirmed—for me, anyway—how significant a role differing POVs, cultural and societal backgrounds or beliefs, etc. can play when diverse individuals are presented with identical situations, and how their responses, while perhaps being completely different and befuddling to others, can be utterly reasonable and logical to themselves.