Thursday, May 28, 2009

Two things: Death and access

This is fascinating.

I’ve often wondered about this myself. I keep telling myself I need to get this sort of thing in order (I used to work at the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, so I know how bad it can be not to have a Power of Attorney or Will).

What would happen to your stuff if you were to tragically die (or become incapacitated) unexpectedly?

These days, “stuff” refers not only to your physical belongings but your computer/online stuff as well.

Do you simply give someone your computer password and keep all your important details in a file? Sounds risky.

Do you split clues/passwords up amongst people so that more than one person is needed to get access to your stuff? More secure, but perhaps overly complicated and who knows where all of these people will be when you get hit by a truck – hopefully not with you!

I imagine most Boingboing posts draw a number of comments, but this is one of the very few times I ever felt a desire to check them out. Most of them are innocent enough; some playful (#38), some more nerdy (#16) and some just have too much time on their hands (#41). They get more and more elaborate as people come up with password protecting schemes (holy crap are these people paranoid) until someone deflates the debate with a simple “pen, paper, safety deposit box” solution.

But as we discover, no solution is flawless (#62) and there are a lot of ignorant people out there who think they have the answers (#32…I’m looking in your direction…).

Comment #51 had me laughing at work.

In a world where people keep so much info stored on their computers or online, what method is best to ensure someone can access this stuff after you die – but ONLY that someone?

And who should that someone be? As #64 points out, perhaps it ought not to be the person closest to you, but someone who will be more detached.

Here’s something that I sometimes think about: if I were to die, how would people find out? I have many circles of friends and some of my close friends have never met and do not have each other’s contact info. Some of them are on Facebook (an email to each of the people in my friends list would take care of many – the issue was more complicated in the dark period b.fb.), some are not, some I only have emails for (but who else does?) or a phone number. Should I give someone the means to access my email account in the event of my untimely passing? Who? (Hey man, I’ve got dirt in there!) :P

Do you have a plan for this stuff?

Stop crime, get arrested


I can’t believe this.

Ok, so: let’s play “let’s imagine”.

Let’s imagine you own a store. A small, independently run store. It doesn’t matter what you sell, but let’s say it’s…flowers.

You’re trying to make an honest buck. You display your wares inside and outside your store for passersby to notice and browse through.

Now, let’s imagine some guy comes by on his bike – with an empty cardboard box – and pulls up in front of your store. He goes directly for the goods. He puts down the box in front of the goods and re-positions his bike. He looks from side to side. He starts loading up his box with your goods. When the box is full, he repositions his bike again, gets on, reaches down, picks up the box and rides off.

Now let’s imagine your security camera caught all of this on tape.

Now let’s imagine this douchebag has the balls to come back to the same store on the same day on the same bike wearing the same clothes.

What would you do?

Let’s imagine you go up to the guy and confront him. How would you handle that?

Let’s imagine you talk to the guy calmly, inform him that you recognize him and that he should stay put while your co-worker calls the police to deal with the matter.

Let’s imagine the guy bolts. He drops his bike and runs down the alley away from your store.

What would you do?

Let’s imagine you chase the guy. You’re a pretty fast runner and you’re not a small person. You catch the guy.

Now what?

Let’s imagine the guy puts up a struggle and maybe even takes a few swings.

Now what?

Well, if you’re David Chen, owner of a flower shop in Chinatown, you tie the guy up and put him in your delivery truck until the cops show up an hour and a half later. Somewhere in between, you may or may not have given the thief a shot or two for your troubles.

If you’re me, you’re applauding Mr. Chen for his actions. A job well done, I say. Although I wouldn’t suggest the shots he and his associates may or may not have given the thief, I don’t exactly blame him.

Problem is that when the cops showed up – eventually – the ride-by flower enthusiast was charged with theft and released on $1,000 bail while Mr. Chen and his coworkers were charged with assault and kidnapping and released on $7,500 bail.

Somehow fighting persistent petty crime doesn’t seem worth it.

So what’s a guy to do?

The icing on the cake is that the thief’s son (forget “alleged thief” – it’s on tape) actually had the nerve to come by the store two days later and angrily confront Mr. Chen for “beating up” his dad. Mr. Chen informed the young man that his father struck him first. Thief jr. apparently claimed he didn’t care if his dad stole something. If not for the crowd of patrons who backed up Mr. Chen, who knows where that confrontation might have gone?

Seems the kid is every bit the douchebag his dad is. Isn’t that sweet?

So let’s imagine this all happened to you. What would you have done?

I'd like to think I would have done pretty much the same thing.

Maybe I should start saving up bail money, huh?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Phil's Travel Guide to: New York City

Holy f**k I’m bored. Things are a little slow, which means I feel more compelled to keep my brain working via this blog.

You lucky bastards.

Anyhoo, I was contemplating what was worth writing about when I remembered I had promised a friend I would tell her about my recent trip to New York City and give her pointers for a potential trip later this summer – what’s good, what’s not, what’s hot.

So, here it is - Phil’s Travel Guide to: New York City.

I’ve been to NYC three times over the years; once for a day trip (we parked below the Twin Towers), once for a week about 5 years ago, and of course for a week just this month.

Timing – New York City is very humid. In the summer, it can be almost unbearable. Some people think Toronto is humid…not even close. The most uncomfortable place to be in NYC in the summer is on a subway platform. Ugh. I’d suggest NYC in the spring, but if you really wanna go in the summer to try to avoid the rain, be prepared to pay in sweat.

LayoutNYC is pretty easy to navigate because it’s based largely on a grid system. Avenues run north-south and are relatively far apart while streets run east-west and are pretty close together. So the distance between Times Square (42nd Street) and the Empire State Building (34th Street) is not a bad walk and about as far as walking from 8th Avenue to 5th Avenue. Or so it seems. Downtown (Lower Manhattan) is at the south end and includes sights such as the Statue of Liberty, the former World Trade Center site, Wall Street, the South Street Seaport, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Moving northward, you run into areas with shops and cafes like Tribeca (“Triangle below Canal Street”), Greenwich Village, SoHo (“south of Houston Street”) and Chinatown. Further north you start running into Midtown with its big lights and big buildings, where you’ll find Times Square, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station and the Ed Sullivan Theatre. North of that is Central Park along with the Upper East Side and Upper West Side (relative to the park, of course) where you’ll find the Met, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Natural History. North of the park is Harlem (I haven’t been). Walking within each neighbourhood is certainly doable, but if you’re going to be going from Midtown to Downtown you’ll wanna take the subway unless you feel like wearing out your shoes. It’s a nice walk, but I wouldn’t do it more than once.

Where to stay – It depends what you wanna do, but I think Midtown is best. It’s the area around Times Square between, say, the Empire State Building (34th Street) and the park (59th). It’s convenient walking distance to lots of stuff but also features main subway hubs if you’re going more than 10 blocks. It’s certainly where the tourist action is at with lots of bright lights, restaurants, theatres and gift shops. You can find quieter and cheaper places elsewhere but be prepared to take the subway more often. I stayed at the Milford Plaza during this last trip. It doesn’t get much respect from TripAdvisor or other sites, but my understanding is that it recently came under new management and has cleaned up a lot. It’s not fancy, but if you just want a clean bed and bathroom that is central, I don’t think you can top this for convenience. The decent complimentary breakfast saved us a good amount of dough and the plays we saw were literally around the corner.

Getting around – The Milford is a couple of short blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal (42nd & 8th), so we found the airport bus service a better deal than taking a cab. It depends which airport you fly into, but basically you’re looking at $22 each for a roundtrip. Not bad at all. Figure on spending about $40 for a cab ride each way. In town, you can walk a great deal and there’s lots of stuff to see as you do. If you’re going a fair distance, though, do yourself a favour and take the subway. It’ll save you time which you can spend on activities or browsing as opposed to “destination walking”. Fare is $2 per ride or you can spring for a week pass for $25 (worth it if you take 13 rides and don’t wanna bother with buying a fare each time).

Attraction deals – I bought an Entertainment Book a week before leaving. This is basically a coupon book with lots of 2-for-1 deals inside. It’s $30 normally, but $15 come the springtime (book is valid from November to November). The book didn’t seem as good this year as it was 5 years ago, but it was still worth it. It included a 2-for-1 for the Circle Line Island Cruise which is a nice way to appreciate the island. We used the book for a couple of restaurants, ice cream treats and museums. But if you’re gonna hit the highlights, the City Pass is the way to go. It offers admission to the big boys (Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, Empire State Building, Met, Natural History Museum, Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art) for $79US, which is almost half price. It also allows you to skip ticket lines at each of these venues, which is a big plus. The Empire State Building line can be a bitch, especially in the summer.

Theatre – we saw a few shows this time which featured tv/film stars such as Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, Joan Allen, Jeremy Irons and others. They were good shows. Tickets for Broadway shows are normally $60-120. Off-Broadway tix are about half that and Off-Off-Broadway is half of that. For Broadway shows (around Times Square), you can pay full price to guarantee a seat in advance or you can try the TKTS booth in Times Square (or South Street Seaport) the afternoon-of to get what’s left at half price. My advice is that if you are seeing a “straight play” (as opposed to a musical) that you shell out for the big tickets whether it’s in advance or at TKTS. For musicals it may not be such a big deal to be in the nosebleeds, but otherwise you wanna be able to read the actors’ faces. The long shot option is to try a lottery. Some shows will have a lottery at around 6pm, offering a pair of tix (likely front row) for big musicals for $25 a pop if your name is one of, say, ten chosen out of a hat. I got to see Wicked that way and can no longer say “I never win anything”, ‘cause there must have been 300 people in that lottery and my name was the first one called. Oh, we also took in a one-man show by John Leguizamo in a small theatre in Greenwich Village which was a highlight of the trip. You don’t have to break the bank to find these gems – it was $20. I just happened across the theatre as I strolled down 7th Avenue, but I imagine some websurfing would yield results, too.

Museums – I still have not been to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which is the one gaping hole in my NYC experience. I’m not particularly a museum person, though, so I’ll live. I did the Louvre in an hour and a half, stopping only twice, so that gives you an idea of how much time I think is necessary to drink in what a museum has to offer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is the big daddy. Located about halfway up the east side of the park, it has all the sorts of stuff you would expect from an all-encompassing art museum. Its size can be a little overwhelming if you don’t have the energy to spend 4 hours walking around looking at statues, artifacts and paintings. It’s pay-what-you-can, but $20 is suggested. The Guggenheim is just up the street and, in my opinion, is highly overrated. The admission price was about $18 from what I recall but offers a fraction of what other museum have. The building itself is the main attraction with its spiral atrium. Collections change regularly, I imagine, but my experience was less than satisfying. The Museum of Natural History is pretty massive and covers 4 floors. The dioramas are interesting enough, but you’d have to spend a week there to read all the accompanying text. The City Pass gets you into the planetarium as well, but don’t sweat it if you can’t squeeze in the only so-so show. Still, the museum is a great place for families and the dinosaur exhibit alone makes it worth a look. The Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum is located on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier moored at 46th and the Hudson River (close to where that plane landed in the water). For history buffs or gearheads, this museum offers sights such as fighter aircraft, helicopters, flight simulators and the opportunity to crawl around the tight quarters of the Intrepid herself. I spent two hours there, browsing around. It’s one thing to look at history behind a display case, but another thing entirely to walk around within it. The Museum of Sex was a last-minute adventure we squeezed in on our last days. The Museum featured three main areas – the exhibit on sex in the animal kingdom was fascinating, but was quickly contrasted by the crassness of the “history of porn” room which featured clips from porn films over the years including recent celebrity sex tapes. Standing in that room with a bunch of strangers watching porn somehow made me feel like Paul Reubens. The third area was a sex art/toy display that was more what I had expected going in, and was meh.

Empire State Building – pretty much a must-see. The view of the city is spectacular. Most people will aim for a sunset viewing, so lines can be long in the late afternoon. We checked it out after a show and were delighted to find no lines. The observation deck is open until 1 or 2am, so if you don’t mind seeing lights instead of brick, this is the time to go. The City Pass also included an audio tour of sorts which was actually a nice bonus, though certainly not necessary.

Central Park – make time to stroll through the park either on your way to one of the museums or on its own. There are lots of winding paths, so you’ll likely not cover the whole thing, but each path has its own sights. Highlights include the bridges, merry-go-round, and Belvedere Castle (near 79th Street on the wets side).

The Village – Definitely worth a stroll. Lots of nice cafes and shops and atmosphere. I’d recommend a day of strolling the whole area encompassing Greenwich Village, SoHo, Tribeca, etc.

World Trade Centre – It’s now a construction site with boarding. There really isn’t anything to see other than this big expanse of open space amongst downtown buildings.

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – If you wanna visit inside, book in advance (like a week or more) since you can’t buy tix on the island itself and I imagine getting them last minute is dicey. You can’t go up into the crown (thanks, terrorists) but that’ll change come the fourth of July 2009. Still, I imagine getting tix for that portion will be super difficult since admission is quite limited (150/day, I think). We settled for walking once around the statue from the outside, which was fine. We then moved on to Ellis Island which has a fairly interesting (if sparse) museum chronicling some of the hardships new arrivals to the United States faced many moons ago. The museum starts off with some rather weak statistical displays and a shitty cafeteria, but picks up upstairs once you get to the picture galleries.

Brooklyn Bridge – some may argue it, but I think this is a walk worth taking. Take the subway across to Brooklyn and walk back to Manhattan before taking in some of the downtown sights. The bridge offers nice views of the city but is a beauty in and of itself. Just watch out for the morons who can’t seem to grasp the walkway/cycle path divide.

5th Avenue – I’d recommend walking this route to the park or the MoMA so that you can take in Rockefeller Centre and the fancy-dancy shops like Tiffany & Co and FAO Schwartz. Don’t plan on recreating that shot of Audrey Hepburn, though – the windows are covered by displays.

United Nations – Located on the east side near Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building, this might be worth visiting if you’re a politics nut. The General Assembly is only viewable if you take the $18 tour, which also features strange gifts from various countries as well as some naïve displays on how to solve the problems of the world. Still, a visit to the building is pretty useless unless you pony up for the tour. If you just wanna see the building, you can do that while knocking off the boat cruise or strolling by Grand Central.

Madison Square Garden – I had time to kill alone, so I took in the tour of “the world’s most famous arena”. Notice it is not “the best”. I’d have preferred to see it during a game or event, but nothing was going on while I was there (thanks, Rangers and Knicks). Can’t say I’d recommend the tour unless you’re a hard core sports fanatic. Not much to see, especially for $20.

Hot dogs – I’d generally avoid street meat, but at the very least don’t expect Toronto-style sausages. These New York dogs are strictly the thin Schneiders variety. Check out Papaya Dog at 42nd and 9th for a super-cheap hotdog/burger meal...if you dare.

What else…? Dunno.

If you have any questions, I’ll either respond or edit this post.

I’m hungry. I’m gonna go eat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Cusack has a blog

Did you know that John Cusack has a blog?

I didn’t.

It’s basic, but you can see it here: Huffington Post

It may be more of a “guest writer” deal, but it reminds me of the balancing act I would think most bloggers face: can expressing my opinions in this cyber world forum affect my life/career/relationships in the real world?

One would think celebrities run a greater risk of being skewered for expressing themselves than us mere mortals – just ask Billy Bob Thornton. I imagine he realizes fewer Canadians will be seeing his next flick.

(Of course some folks are celebrities simply for being blowhards – and not just of the Paris Hilton variety.)

This is a dilemma that I have often wondered about personally. I think this blog is pretty true to who I am and I won’t apologize for it – but it’s also entertainment and I can see how some folks might be offended by my amped-up opinions. Maybe someone will read my Harper-bashing and not hire me. Maybe a new girlfriend will read my Friends list post and dump my ass.

Who knows?

(uh…you have a sense of humour, right honey?)

I don’t think any less of Cusack after reading his latest post which is critical of the Obama administration, but I can see how some would.

What does his agent think of it, I wonder?

Any celebrities out there who care to comment?

If they’re willing to risk expressing their opinion… :P

Monday, May 11, 2009

Film Review: Star Trek

While in New York City, I caught the new Star Trek flick.

It was pretty good.

I had avoided trailers for the film, so only little bits and pieces had been spoiled for me beforehand. I had a general idea of the "look" of the film, but didn't know who was in it aside from Heroes' Zachary Quinto as Spock, Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg as Scotty and some new guy as Kirk.

The new guy, Chris Pine, was a home run as Kirk. He was charming and had the right amount of balls (no, not "two") mixed with brains.

Scotty was fine, though not used much, so it was hard to care.

Anton Yelchin (Chekhov) was a bright spot. Karl Urban was a surprise choice as Bones, but did a fine job. John Cho (Sulu) was ok. Zoe Saldana (Uhura) was more than wallpaper, which was good - and bad. But I won't blow that here.

I didn't know Eric Bana was in it. In fact, I didn't even recognize him. I knew I knew the actor, but I couldn't put my finger on who it was. I quite like him normally, but in this he was just another weak Star Trek villain. The story wasn't really about the good guys and bad guys - it was an origins story, basically. In that regard, it did a decent job.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Bruce Greenwood - he's a solid actor and did well as Christopher Pike.

The primary disappointment was the one area I thought this movie was safest - Spock. Zachary Quinto was a more than capable Spock, but the writers completely dropped the ball. I hated what they did to Spock. Because of the basic premise of the film (which I won't blow here) the writers had carte blanche when it came to Kirk and, to a certain extent, plot. But it does not really explain why this film's Spock is so different from the "original" Spock. In my opinion, the writers lost sight of what makes Spock so appealing - his cool exterior. By making him more "human" they've lost the detachment and perspective a character like that can offer and have made any "emotion" emanating from him seem like no big deal. Spock was, in many regards, the most emotionally developed character in the film. That sucked.

The other big letdown was the music. If you are going to go in a different direction from the long-established tune, make it worth it. The music was hardly noticeable and certainly not memorable.

The plot and premise? Well... It was hardly original. We've seen this sort of thing before. But the good thing is that it gives the writers carte blanche going forward - which I assume was the point. There were a few too many leaps in logic for my taste (pardon the pun). For example, the "substance" which plays a pivotal role? Come on....

The worst scene made me think of "there's always a bigger fish." (if you get that reference...)

Overall, I quite liked this film. It looked great. It could have been better, but it could have been a heckuva lot worse.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Jaipur Grille: bad service = no customer

So the other night I went to Jaipur Grille on Yonge between Davisville and Eglinton.

The reason I was there was because I had a 2-for-1 entrée coupon via my Entertainment Book. (If you eat out and are comfortable giving your server a coupon, this is a good buy. I got one for my New York City trip, too.)

The coupon states that you get a second entrée for free when you order an entrée of equal or greater value – up to a value of $15. Pretty standard.

The food was alright. The lamb dish had some tough pieces, but overall the meal was fine. Not as good as The Host, but fine.

The service was ok during dinner (though they tried upselling at every turn, even after we declined) but it took forever to get the bill even after the guy had wrapped up the leftovers to go. We had mentioned we had the coupon when we first ordered and presented it to the server. Still, the bill came back at the full price. I’m not completely convinced this was an accident, but let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just absent-minded. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that there were perhaps 4 occupied tables in the restaurant and at least two or three servers, so it’s not like these guys were running off their feet.

The bill came back again and $10 had been scratched off the full price.

Not only was the amount short, but we were still being charged the tax on the “free” entrée. That’s fine, but kinda cheap – most restaurants who have this deal will remove the amount from the bill before tax. You tip on the full amount, though, before the coupon.

Tired of the slow service and not wishing to potentially debate the issue at the table, I got up and approached the server who was at the till. Another server stepped in and so I explained the situation to him. He seemed to be the more senior guy, anyway and they’d all been serving us.

The server explained that this is how they always do it. The Entertainment Guide rules are a little vague, but refer to the fact that the establishment may credit the “least expensive” item on the bill. It doesn’t clarify if that addresses bills containing more than two items. So that’s what the guy was crediting – the $10 item on our bill, not the $16 item (up to $15 – there was also a $17 item on the bill).

By that rationale, coupons that refer to “free menu item” could be used to credit your fries instead of one of your two burgers. That’s obviously not what the customer wants.

I had never seen a restaurant interpret the rule this strictly and so blatantly in their favour as opposed to the customer’s. While this may have been “by the book” it was certainly not “good customer service”. The server explained that they had been participating in the Entertainment Guide system for 6 years without a complaint. “Well, I’m complaining,” I replied. There goes that streak.

The server refused to budge and I was left stunned by his lack of customer service savvy.

Let me repeat that the only reason I was there was because of the coupon. The coupon got me in the door. The coupon got me to try the place out (that’s the point) and this guy was ensuring that I would not return.

Way to go.

Since I was certain that this was an establishment that shared tips, I informed the server the difference would come straight out of the tip.

And out the door we went, never to return again.

Some places just never learn; provide good service and maybe I’ll tell a few friends – provide BAD service and I’ll be sure to tell a dozen.

I wonder if a dozen people read this blog?

I guess Jaipur Grille is betting not.

May Blockbusters

In case you haven’t noticed, the real kick off to the summer movie blockbuster season kicks off today with the opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I predict this will not only be the first but the last of the “Origins” films. I bet it’ll make a ton of dough, but not boatloads and the crappy reviews will kill any desire for follow-ups featuring Cyclops, Xavier or even Storm (oh, Halle Berry, where has your post-Oscar mojo gone?).

I plan to see Wolverine tomorrow. The review can be found on my Facebook account or directly from Flixster. I may or may not copy it here.

But fear not, true believer, the dismay that Wolverine will (likely) bring will be counterbalanced by the raucous applause I predict the new Star Trek film will elicit. It’s another origins story, featuring the rise of a young James Tiberius Kirk to the helm of the Enterprise. I have been avoiding trailers like the plague so that’s just my guess, but I think I’m right.

Again, review to follow.

After that, it’s time for Terminator: Salvation, or rather, Terminator: Salivation if you’re a fan of the series. This is where the saga gets back on track after the disastrously bad Terminator 3 (which followed the decent but young-actor-handicapped Terminator 2). Christian Bale always turns in a good performance – a small price to pay for him being a bit of a dick.

Then it’s time for Transformers 2 and so on and so forth.

Want a sneak peek at what’s coming up? Check out the awesome Apple Trailers page. (Look for District 9 as well as the potentially hilarious animated family film Planet 51)