Monday, August 20, 2007

That Bear Wants to Talk to You

I'm back from my relaxing vacation.

But not all my vacations have been relaxing. One time I went with my family up to a "cabins on the lake in the woods" vacation. No TV, no phones. No Internet. No cel phone service. Just south of Algonquin Park. Very peaceful.
The environment was peaceful anyway. My family... not so much.

Here's a picture of the area.

So one evening while the sun was setting we went for a walk down the road. Typical Northern Ontario crushed granite gravel road, bordered on both sides by birch and pine trees. We were on our way back and it was getting very dark. I'd gotten ahead of my family and was fooling around with some wood I'd found in the ditch. Suddenly Dad called out to me.

"Hey Teddy, that bear over there wants to talk to you."

I jumped out of that ditch so fast I'm amazed my socks and underwear didn't fly off.

High comedy. Thanks Dad. Scare me to death in the woods. Yeah, yeah you can stop laughing.

So one time I was staying up at my Grandparents house along with my cousins Leilani and James. They lived way out in the country in an area of red granite and pine forests. Much like the above picture.

We went for a walk down the road. I was the oldest so it was my job to protect the little ones. Right. The first thing I did when we got about half a kilometer down the road was start talking about bears. (Hey, I learned it from my dad.) Leilani and James got really nervous, bottom lips quivering, ready to cry. I was so mean.

We stopped and I said, "What's that noise? Over there in the woods! Shhh!" We all froze. Of course, I was making it up. There was nothing there. Or so I thought.

Suddenly there was a real noise in the woods. A kind of chuffing, snorting belch, very deep and growly. All three of us screamed and started running. We blasted across the field towards the house as fast as our little legs could take us, not looking back, shrieking in terror.

Partway across the field we heard a new noise. It was Grandpa, waving the cowbell to get our attention. He was shouting, "Children! Come back!" This struck us as odd behaviour for Grandpa but we were so scared we didn't care.

Then he tells us that he came looking for us because there was a bear in the woods. Some vacationer had been killed and the police had phoned the residents and warned them to keep kinds and animals inside until they tracked the bear down and killed it.

I don't think my cousins ever forgave me.


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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What's the Letter that Look Like a Swiss Chalet?

Today's title is my Dad's idea of high comedy. I swear. Go ahead, try to figure it out. I dare you.

He was trying to make a joke about not being able to read. Mom and I were making a lot of noise and joking is his clever way of telling us to shut up without actually saying it. So he says, "I can't read anymore. Somebody help me. What's the letter that looks like a Swiss Chalet?"

We stared at him for a minute and then mom made the shape of an 'A' with her arms. "You mean this one?", she replied sarcastically. "That would be an 'A'." I just shook my head.

Of course, Dad's jokes always have to include a reference to food or a bodily function. Otherwise it's just not funny. I have seen my father laugh out loud at the stupidest movies. Pauly Shore movies. Carrot Top movies. But Wallace and Gromit? Not even a smile. He came down while I watched Curse of the Were-Rabbit and ruined the movie for me by sitting there with a dour expression on his face. When it was over he said, "This is not funny. How is this a good movie?"


This is the same guy who watched me play Civilization IV on my PC for several hours then came over and said, "Why are you watching this crap? And by yourself? Why don't you do something real like come watch TV with us. We're watching Discovery Channel!"

Oh Boy. My Favorite. I guess leading the Mayan civilization from its humble beginnings to world dominance over six thousand years isn't going to teach me anything. I should go watch TV instead. I wouldn't want to miss yet another show about primates flinging their feces at each other and how much we can learn from it. What a tragic loss THAT would be.


Family. Can't live with 'em. Can't kill 'em.

And people wonder why watching model trains on a layout going around and around helps calm my nerves.

I need a vacation.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Most Fascinating Thing I've Heard This Century

Theoretical physicist and 2057 host Michio Kaku speculates on the future of civilization.

YouTube Video

Quote - "The generation now alive, and our grandchildren, are the most important generations ever to walk the surface of the earth."


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Monday, August 6, 2007

When Model Railroading Goes Horribly Wrong

When I was little, I went to the store with my father and grandfather. When we got to the checkout counter I noticed grandpa was carrying a large, flat box. It looked to me like a train set. I said so. He told me, "No, it's a tool." I was pretty sure but I knew better than to argue. So we got home and eventually I was presented with a completed oval train track on a cut wooden frame, complete with an engine, boxcar and caboose. I was in little boy heaven.

Of course, it set in motion a train of events (I know, terrible) that would culminate in my brush with death during an ill-fated Model Railroading experience.

As I grew up, I became more and more interested in Model Railroading. Please note, this is not the same thing as "playing with toy trains", though that is considered by some to be an effective entry point for new aficionados. Check out this terrific Wikipedia entry on Model Railroading a.k.a. "Rail Transport Modelling".

Later on in life I convinced dad to spend some money on some serious Model Railroading equipment. He got me some HO scale track, cork roadbed, an MRC Train Control, and my first two model (as opposed to 'toy') road engines. One was a Burlington Northern GP38-2 and the other was a Canadian National F7. (The links have pictures.)

I was on cloud nine. I remember gleefully nailing cork roadbed to the ping pong table downstairs and running crazy track work everywhere. Seeing my locomotives in action for the first time was spellbinding. Here's a short YouTube Video of Model Trains running. Here's another video showing a model train operating at accurate scale speeds, with a working traffic signal light system! And if you have no life whatsoever, here's yet another video of the longest model railroad train I have ever seen, complete with terrific sound effects.

So I was running my engines down a stretch of track one time, and since I didn't have a camera handy, I used my eyes as a camera. I watched the trains from above, from track level, from in front, from behind, every angle I could think of. Of course, it didn't take me long to exhaust all the safe angles and start coming up with dangerous ones. I suddenly had a vision of watching the train from the track level, as though I were standing on the track. Brilliant!

I contorted my body so that my face was mashed against the track as hard as I could, and I got my head twisted around so I'd have a perfect view of the train as it came towards me. I grabbed the controller and got ready for action.

I'm sure you think you know where this is going, but really you don't. There are two pieces of information you need to know. Then all will be clear.

1) Model Railroad track flows with electricity.

2) I wear metal-rimmed glasses.

With my cheeks jammed against the track, the edge of my glasses ever so gently made contact with both rails, completing the circuit. There was a horrible flash, a very bad smell and I remember trying to scream but instead spitting and shrieking like a epileptic with Tourette's.

My experiment with camera angles was over. I slumped away in disgrace.

But I still love model trains.

P.S. Here's a silly video of Model Train Wrecks that has to be seen to be believed.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Good Thing They Have Flippers and Not Hands

Ok, I just had to share this one...

The more we study dolphins, the brighter they turn out to be.

Quote - "At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans."

Ok... that's totally awesome. But wait, it gets better!

Quote - "Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins."


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Ice Cream, We're Gonna Get Ice Cream!

The Ice Cream truck came down our street today.

This particular truck has been around off and on all summer. We know it's the same truck because of the song it plays. It's a slightly discordant music-box type tune, horribly repetitive and unnecessarily cheerful, yet oddly disturbing at the same time. It's like something that would be on the soundtrack if Stephen King were reading aloud from Cinderella.

(Bling-eee-blingetty Blingy-bling Buh-blingy-blingy Bling Bling!)

And keeps going and going and going. It's like "The Song That Never Ends", only less melodic. Or like "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" performed by Nine Inch Nails.

I know, horrifying.

So it was about 34 degrees Celsius out today, not including the dreaded humidity factor.

"That's right Jennifer, it's a sweltering 34 degrees out there today, but with the humidity, it's going to feel like the surface of the sun! Be sure to wear plenty of sunblock, ha ha ha!"

"Thanks Jim! Now here's Shemvit with a look at traffic!"

So mom and I were sitting quietly reading when suddenly we heard the first plaintive notes of the "Devil's Ice Cream Adventure" song. I had just enough time to look up and say, "Hey! It's the...", when the truck blasted by faster than the F22's from last week's Air Show. Keep in mind this is a side street. With two schools and a park. A posted school zone. This guy put Michael Schumacher to shame.

I'm not completely certain, but I think he really didn't want any customers today. I think he just wanted to finish his route, get home and get out of the heat as fast as possible. I guess I can't blame him though. It was miserable.

Of course, mom pointed out something else. He drives that thing all day. He probably just wants to get away from the horrible music.

(Bling-eee-blingetty Blingy-bling Buh-blingy-blingy Bling Bling!)


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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Vote For July's Post of the Month

It's time to vote for July's Post of the Month. Please leave a comment below and let me know which post was your favorite!

Here's a linked list of all July's posts for your convenience.

July 2007

It's Canada Day!
I Should Be Having a Rotten Day But I'm Happy
The Worst Smell Ever
The Great Timbit Incident
Window Cleaning: Great In Summer, Horrible In Winter
Kids Do the Funniest Things
Ignorance Is Bliss: Part One of Many
I Soiled My Armour I Was So Scared
My Secret Identity
Running With Geniuses

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The Worst Thing I've Ever Tasted

Yesterday I wrote about being in the "Gifted" Program in school. Let me tell you what that was like and how it led to my most bizarre flavour experience.

In grade seven, Mr. Allen was the head of the program. He was good, but even the best teacher can only focus his attention on so many things at once. Especially when those things are a bunch of hyperactive nerds with wicked imaginations and no sense of propriety. Yeah, we were monsters.

So one time we had to do a really interesting science experiment. The experiment involved sense and observation. Ironically I ended up learning more about human nature and survival than I did about my senses. The way it worked was, one group would eliminate one of their senses. For example the subject would be blindfolded and then given beakers of liquid to smell and identify. Or the subject would be blindfolded and would wear noise cancelling headphones and then have to feel an object to identify it. Very cool.

So in my role as resident victim, I was the first to run The Gauntlet(tm). I was blindfolded and led into the utility closet by my fellow future Dr Mengele's. The first part of the test was the taste test. I was blindfolded and handed beakers of fluid to 'observe'. It was pretty easy. One was orange juice. Another was root beer. Fun stuff. So I got to the end of the taste test and all my compatriots knew it was the end of the taste test because they could read the instruction sheets. I was still BLINDFOLDED and could not read the instructions.

So they hand me a new beaker. It was supposed to be part of the smell test. Nobody bothered to tell me it was the beginning of the smell test. I thought it was still the taste test.


So I put the beaker to my lips and took a large slurp.

I recognized immediately that it was something very, very bad. It burned and froze and stung and hurt and tasted like fiery death. Somehow my instinct prevented me from swallowing. Good thing too. It was a beaker of Turpentine

Quote from Wikipedia - "Drinking turpentine is extremely dangerous and can be life threatening... Its vapor can burn the skin and eyes, damage the lungs and respiratory system, as well as the central nervous system when inhaled, and cause renal failure when ingested, among other things."


Everyone started screaming and I yanked off my blindfold and headed for the fountain to rinse out my mouth. One guy, I'm pretty sure it was Dave Morris said, "You idiot! You were supposed to smell it not taste it." To which I replied, "How was I supposed to know that?"

"It's on the sheet!" he screamed.

"Yoo-hoo!" I waved. "Blindfold!"

Gifted, my arse.

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