Friday, December 28, 2007


Fortunately for me—and unfortunately for you—nothing too exciting happened at Christmas. That’s fortunate for me, because “exciting” usually equates to “bad”. (It’s unfortunate for you, because I have nothing to write about.)

I’m heading to the States shortly, to visit relatives, so I probably won’t be writing for a while. (Not that I’ll be gone that long.) Of course, along the lines I’ve already stated, I’m hoping I won’t have much to write about. Maybe a quick post saying “I’m back from the States, and it was a lovely trip” would be nice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I thought I was done shovelling snow. I shovelled three times on Sunday: once when I first got up, again when we got back from church, and a final time around 7:00 or 8:00, after the snow stopped falling.

Unfortunately, we went to a friend’s house for dinner last night. (Well, the fact that we went to her house wasn’t unfortunate. The unfortunate part is coming up.) She lives downtown, in the Bloor and Ossington area. An area where they haven’t really done a thorough job of plowing the snow. (Are you starting to get a hint of the unfortunate part that’s going to be coming? Or are you still in suspense?) In fact, there is a block of streets, off Ossington, that don’t look like they’ve been plowed at all. You drive down the street and there are two little tracks in the snow, from the left and right tires of cars that have come before me, and people have dug out little trenches for themselves, to park in. So we weren’t able to park on her street, nor the adjoining street; we had to park a block away, on another street. Again, the street hadn’t been plowed, and people had dug out little spots where they could park, but I found an empty spot. It looked like the snow was pretty deep, but I was able to take a running start at it, and I got the car in there. (Hint: The unfortunateness springs from this event.)

Just out of curiosity, once I got the car parked, I tried pulling forward and pulling back a couple of times, and realized the car wasn’t going anywhere. But I didn’t try too hard, so I figured that when it was time to leave, we’d actually be able to get out.

We had a lovely dinner—good food, good company, what could be better, etc. etc. Except that every once in a while I would think about the car, and wonder if we were going to be able to get out. On our way out, our friend asked us to bring down the shovel she had borrowed from her landlord, which we did, and put in his lobby.

When we got back to the car, we realized pretty quickly that my fears had been valid; we couldn’t get the car out. I was able to reverse pretty well, but there was a very deep patch of snow right in front of the car, and no matter how much of a running start I took at it, we couldn’t get through it.

So we went back to our friend’s house, and happened to get there just as the landlord was coming home. We told him we were friends of his tenant, and that we’d got our car stuck, and asked if we could borrow his shovel. Luckily, he didn’t mind. There were actually two shovels, which was good, because it meant that both Andrea and I were able to do some shovelling.

So I ended up having to shovel a fourth time, from our snow storm, to get our car out of its parking spot. (If you’re still in suspense, this is the unfortunate part. But, really, you should have been able to figure it out by now.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Review: Babel

We saw Babel on the weekend. It’s been on the PVR for a long time, and we finally got around to watching it. And I’m not really sure if I liked it or not.

I won’t bother to recount the plot, except to say that there are three separate stories going on, that turn out to be connected. And I think that was one thing that people didn’t like about the movie; according to a quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes—on which the movie only got 68%—it sounds like people are getting tired of movies with a lot of seemingly disconnected threads, that turn out to come together by the end of the movie.

Andrea did a bit more research—I think we were both trying to decide if we liked the movie or not—and one of her favourite reviewers talked about the fact that the movie is very much about fate, rather than about peoples’ actions. Looking back on the movie, everything that happened really happened to the people, and they had to simply react; it wasn’t like people were suffering the consequences of their actions, for the most part, they were just… well, suffering. Which I have to admit, I liked. We don’t always have control over our surroundings.

I do have to say, though, that I think it was silly for them to put Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in it. Then again, maybe all of the actors in the movie were “big name” actors, from their respective countries; it could have been a star-studded cast, and I just didn’t know about it.

So all in all, I think I liked the movie. It’s not an unqualified “I loved it”, but I liked it.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I"ve written before that my typing skills used to be very good--my fingers used to FLY across the keyboard--but when I wrote a book, my typing skills got much worse, instead of better. At the time, i wrote that it was online chatting that had made my typing so much better.

unfrotunately, my typing has gottne even worse, and ironically, it's chatting that has nmade it worse. I'll explian:

When youy're chatting, there is a school of thought that you're not supposed to correct your mistakes. the point is to get the messages across quickly, so tht the flow of the conversation isn't interrupted. HOwever, I never followed that school of thought; i DID correct my mistakes, and my messages in ICQ or MSN Messenger were always properly spelled, and grammatical. (When I did make spelling mistakes, it was because I didn't know how to spell the words properly, not because I'd mis-typed them ina hurry.) I even used proper capitalization.

But lately, for some unexplainable reason, I've changed, and started getting more lackadaisical in my chatting. I"m not overly careful about capitalization, and I'm not correcting my typos unless it's critical. (i.e. if what I wrote isn't understandable; if I write "teh" instead of "the" I don't bother to correct it, because everyone knows waht it was supposed to be.) And that's all well and good for chatting, but it's spilling over into other areas, too; when I type emails, or Word documents, or blog posts, my spelling is also terrible. I spend as much time correcting myself as I do typing.

My fingers still fly across the keyboard. (People who can hear me (but not see me) are impressed at the sound of my typihg.) They're just producing garbage, instead of words.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Trip to Québec

I took a trip to Québec City this week. It was eventful and boring all at the same time.

I had to get up at 5:00 Monday morning, in order to catch my plane, which means that the week started off very badly. Nobody likes being awake at that time, especially me. The cab was scheduled to pick me up at 6:00, and when I looked out my window at 5:55, I realized that it had snowed, and the driveway and sidewalk were covered in snow. I wish I had looked out sooner; I would have shovelled and salted, but by the time I noticed, it was too late.

The cab was a couple of minutes late, but getting to the airport, checking in, and going through security, were all a breeze. The plane was very nice, too; it was a CRJ-705, which has a personal entertainment system, with movies/TV on demand, in every seat. So I watched the first 30 minutes or so of the Bourne Ultimatum. (I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish it, but I’d already seen it, so I wasn’t worried about it. Also, there was a chance I might get to see the rest on the flight back.) Unfortunately, although I’d chosen to see the movie in English, it had Japanese subtitles. (I think it was Japanese. It looked like Kanji, to my untrained eye, but I’m very ignorant about Asian languages, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I were wrong.) I tried and tried to switch languages, and get rid of the subtitles, but I couldn’t figure out how.

Most of the day Monday was uneventful. I didn’t have access to my email for most of the day, which was very good—it meant I could concentrate on what I was there to talk about, instead of getting interrupted by the many, many problems back at the office in Toronto. (Many.)

We went out for lunch to a nice steak place. One of my colleagues wanted to order veal, but the waitress warned him that it wasn’t really veal, it was horse. As a slight aside, I found it interesting that people were so mortified that they’d have horse on the menu—especially since it was replacing veal, which many people find cruel in its own right. But the person involved decided against eating horse, because his daughter used to have a horse, and he figured she’d never forgive him if he ate it.

The afternoon was still uneventful, and then we went out for dinner. There were four of us—two Québecers and two Torontonians—and we took two cars. The drive was a bit unnerving, though, because when we left the parking lot, it was impossible to see out the windshields. There was so much ice, inside the windows and out, that you couldn’t see. But our hosts were used to it, I guess, and they didn’t have a problem. We had an excellent dinner, with a waitress who had a deep, raspy, smoker’s voice. (Just like the waitress I had last time I went to Québec!)

We then went for a drive, and one of my Québecer colleagues showed us the town. Which is, I must say, beautiful. It’s the oldest city in Canada—this year will be their 400th anniversary—so there were a lot of very beautiful buildings to see. I’d like to go back some time in the summer, and see the city when it’s not covered in snow.

When we got back to the hotel, I arranged with my colleague to meet at 8:30 the next morning, and we’d go and grab some breakfast, before going to the office. The room had complimentary wireless internet access, so I did a quick check of my email, before setting my alarm for 7:00. (Because that would give me enough time to meet my colleague for 8:00.)

My hotel was the Hotel Pur. It’s a very nice hotel, although a bit more “ultra modern” than I usually like. Unfortunately, it was impossible to keep my room warm. I had to turn the temperature up to approximately the temperature of the surface of the sun, so that the room would get boiling hot, and then the heat would turn off—and the room would immediately become ice cold. Until the next time the heat would kick in, and raise it to the temperature of the core of the Earth, and then turn off and start the cycle over again.

I got up at 7:00 Tuesday morning, and could barely get out of bed. In fact, for some reason, I had more trouble getting up than I had Monday, when I had to get up at 5:00. Who can explain the mysteries of the human body? (And/Or mind…) Because of the cold, I had a terrible shower, because the bathroom was frigid. (And I had one of those showers that are either boiling or freezing, but never warm.) But I managed to get ready, get packed, and get to my colleague’s door for 8:00. Now, if you’ve been reading closely, you may have noticed that I arranged with my colleague to meet him at 8:30, not 8. Which he pointed out with gentle good humour. Luckily, he was ready to go anyway, so we were able to have a nice leisurely breakfast, before showing up at the office.

Tuesday was also pretty uneventful, during the day. We worked, and we got a lot done. We had a good lunch, at a Thai place. I felt bad when I couldn’t understand the waitress, but then one of my French colleagues assured me that he couldn’t, either. I took a chance, when she asked me about the soup, and decided to get it spicy, but my gamble paid off; it was excellent. (If you like spicy food, it probably wouldn’t have been spicy enough for you, but it was just right for me.)

We weren’t sure when to leave the office, to get to the airport in time to catch our flight. As it turned out, we got there much earlier than we needed to. (Better safe than sorry, and all that.) I called Andrea, to let her know that I was coming home, and I made the mistake of asking her what the weather was like:

  • INT: the airport
  • serna remembers, at the last minute, that he needs to call Andrea before the plane leaves. He pulls out his cell phone.
  • serna
  • Hey there.
  • Andrea
  • Hey. How was the trip?
  • They have more small talk.
  • serna
  • So how’s the weather there?
  • Andrea
  • It’s terrrible!
  • serna
  • (with trepidation)
  • Oh no. What do you mean?
  • Andrea
  • Freezing rain.
  • serna
  • (hangs his head)
  • Crap. That’s exactly the wrong answer. If there’s any weather that will cause them to delay or cancel the flight, it’s that.
  • Okay, well, I’ll keep you updated, and if the flight gets delayed, I’ll let you know.
Luckily, however, the flight was not delayed. I wasn’t sure if we’d get another jet with the personal entertainment, but we did, so I was quite pleased. Unfortunately, when I went looking for The Bourne Ultimatum, they didn’t have it. So I ended up watching much of Live Free or Die Hard, instead. And, as luck would have it, again, I ended up with Japanese subtitles. I kept glancing at my colleague’s screen, to see if he had the same problem, but he didn’t. I don’t know what I could have possibly been doing wrong, but I’m convinced that it was me, not the TV. It’s just too much of a coincidence that I’d get two TVs with the same weird anomaly.

And that was my trip.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I was at an event Thursday night, put on by METRAC, commemorating the anniversary of December 6th. It was a good event, with spoken word performances from various people. (Some of the performers work with METRAC, in the ReAct program.)

During the night my mind started to wander, as is often the case—especially when it comes to spoken word, which I can appreciate, but don’t really enjoy that much—and I started to ask myself: What’s the difference between me and the people who are performing here tonight? And there were some obvious differences: I’m older than most (or all) of them; I’m white, and most of them were youth of colour; I came from the country, and most of them came from the city; I have money, and most of them don’t. But none of those things, even though they were true, really felt like the real difference.

And then it hit me. What my subconscious had been working on in the background came to the front: I’d had encouragement. My whole life, from the time that I was a kid right up until the present day, I’ve always had encouragement.

In school, I always got fairly bad grades. But did my teachers ever tell me that I shouldn’t bother going to college or university, because I wasn’t smart enough? Did they suggest that I just give up, and go get a job pumping gas or something? Quite the opposite. Almost every report card I ever received had a note on it from my teachers, saying something to the effect that I could do better, if I would just apply myself. I was smarter than the grades I was getting, I just didn’t try, they were telling me. (In fact, it’s quite possible that I got better grades than I should have, from teachers pushing me through.) But from what I know of the kids in my Youth Group, that’s not true for youth of colour in the city schools. They have been told that they shouldn’t bother applying to college or university. They have been told that they should just give up, and go out and get menial jobs.

When they do get praise, it’s usually a guarded form of praise. People will say “wow, she’s a very good spoken word artist!” and you can almost hear, on the end of the statement, “…for a street kid.” As if living in the poor areas of Toronto, with all the lack of food and clothing and proper shelter that comes with it, also brings a lack of intelligence, or a lack of talent. We talk of “street smarts” and “book smarts” as if they’re mutually exclusive; you can either learn how to live on the streets, or you can become an engineer. But they’re both forms of being smart; they’re both ways to apply your intelligence. Who’s to say that someone with street smarts wouldn’t make a great engineer, with the right opportunities? We should never be surprised when someone who’s not so well off is intelligent, or talented. (And, of course, we shouldn’t make the opposite assumption, either, which is equally demeaning: “Oh, she’s from the streets! I bet she’s a good rapper!”)

Even to this day, when I get praise for doing a good job at work, it’s just that: straight up praise. “That was very good work you did, serna.” But people who haven’t had my advantages, who happen to be on the wrong side of the line between rich and poor, or who have the wrong colour of skin, seldom receive “pure” praise in this culture. They get qualified praise. What’s expected of me gets treated as miraculous from them.

I really think praise needs to be doled out equally. The kids in my Youth Group, some of whom are really smart and some of whom aren’t, just like the kids I grew up with, need to be encouraged. They’ll never have the advantages I did—even a poor white kid in the country is still better off than an inner-city kid—but they already know that. What they don’t know, because it’s been kept secret from them, is that they can accomplish something in this life. Some of them will even accomplish beyond their means.

Apologies for the lack of cohesion in this post. I know it’s all over the map. There were too many thing I was trying to say, and too many of them were not so well thought through.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hybrid Gas Comparison (Long)

When I first bought my hybrid—or even ahead of time, when I was just thinking about it—a lot of people told me that they’d heard hybrids don’t actually save that much on gas. That the fuel consumption was pretty much the same as a normal Civic. Well, luckily for me, I was able to look back in my bank account, and see how much money I’d spent on gas with the previous car, for the last 90 days that I had it. And then I tracked how much I spent on gas for the new car, for the first 90 days.

And to all of the naysayers out there, I have only this to say: You were right. I only saved 23%, which is much less than I’d been hoping.

But before I continue, and get to the list of numbers that you’re all dying to see, let me just get this out of the way: I don’t regret buying the new car. In fact, I still love it. It’s a great car to drive, and it does still save me money, even if it’s not as much money as I was hoping. Sure, some of the lustre has come off, since I’m not saving as much as I’d hoped, but still, I love the car.

Now back to the numbers. First off, I guess I should share the money I spent on the two cars. Unfortunately, there is no way to find out how many kilometres I drove for the 90 days in question, in the previous car, so this isn’t really a pure “apples to apples” comparison; it’s just how much money I spent on each car, on gas. That being said, I’m fairly sure the number of kilometres for each car is probably comparable.

CavalierCivic Hybrid
DateGas# DaysDateGas# Days
May 14$53.69 August 12  
May 15  August 13  
May 16  August 14  
May 17  August 15  
May 18  August 16  
May 19  August 17  
May 20  August 18  
May 21  August 19  
May 22  August 20  
May 23$49.479August 21  
May 24  August 22$32.2911
May 25  August 23  
May 26  August 24  
May 27  August 25  
May 28  August 26  
May 29  August 27$29.225
May 30  August 28  
May 31  August 29$28.012
June 1  August 30  
June 2  August 31  
June 3  September 1  
June 4  September 2$35.074
June 5  September 3  
June 6  September 4  
June 7$47.4815September 5  
June 8  September 6  
June 9  September 7  
June 10  September 8  
June 11  September 9  
June 12  September 10  
June 13$50.886September 11  
June 14  September 12$35.7410
June 15  September 13  
June 16  September 14  
June 17  September 15  
June 18  September 16  
June 19  September 17  
June 20  September 18  
June 21  September 19  
June 22  September 20$37.128
June 23  September 21  
June 24  September 22  
June 25$52.0312September 23  
June 26  September 24  
June 27  September 25  
June 28  September 26  
June 29  September 27  
June 30  September 28$34.418
July 1  September 29  
July 2  September 30  
July 3$46.338October 1  
July 4  October 2  
July 5  October 3  
July 6  October 4  
July 7  October 5$33.807
July 8  October 6  
July 9$47.096October 7$33.112
July 10  October 8  
July 11  October 9  
July 12  October 10  
July 13  October 11$30.024
July 14  October 12  
July 15  October 13  
July 16$33.647October 14  
July 17  October 15  
July 18$48.012October 16  
July 19  October 17  
July 20  October 18  
July 21  October 19  
July 22  October 20  
July 23  October 21  
July 24  October 22  
July 25  October 23$34.2712
July 26  October 24  
July 27  October 25  
July 28  October 26  
July 29  October 27  
July 30  October 28  
July 31  October 29  
August 1$49.1814October 30  
August 2  October 31$35.268
August 3  November 1  
August 4  November 2  
August 5  November 3  
August 6  November 4  
August 7  November 5  
August 8  November 6  
August 9$43.218November 7  
August 10  November 8$35.488
August 11$44.232November 9  

The “# Days” columns are how many days it was between fillups.

So how do those compare? Let’s take a look:

Average Fillup:$47.10Average Fillup:$33.37
Average Days Between Fillups:8.09Average Days Between Fillups:6.85

I tried very hard to come up with a good graph, that could compare these numbers. (I know how much my blog readers love graphs.) The best I could come up with was this, where the red line represents gas spent on the Hybrid, and the blue line represents gas spent on the Cavalier:
hybrid comparison line
Or maybe this works better, where again, the red area represents the Hybrid, and the blue area represents the Cavalier:
hybrid comparison area
What you’ll notice, if you look at the numbers, is that I’m filling up the hybrid every 7 or 8 days, on average, except for some occasions where I’m filling up after only 2 or 3. This is because the mileage is much better in the city than on the highway; when I had to take long trips, that involved a lot of highway driving, I didn’t save as much on gas. For example, the weekend that I spent driving back and forth between Toronto, London, and Chatham. On that weekend, I had a fillup after only two days, and then another fillup four days later. (The car has a much smaller gas tank than my old car, which is why I had to fill up so frequently on these trips. I think the mileage would still be comparable to the old car—not less, but comparable.)

Why is the mileage so much better for city driving than highway driving? Well, here are some quick points on how the Honda hybrids work:
  • As opposed to some other hybrids, the gas motor is always on, for the Hondas. (See below for the exception to this rule.) When you accelerate—at any speed, not just at lower speeds—the electric engine kicks in, and helps the car accelerate. This way, the gas motor isn’t working as hard.
  • When the car slows down, it uses kinetic energy to charge the electric motor’s battery. This means that the car never has to be plugged in.
  • When you come to a stop, the gas motor shuts off, so that the car isn’t idling. When you take your foot off the brake, the gas motor comes back on, and by the time you’re ready to push your foot on the gas, the engine is ready to go.
That’s why the hybrid gets so much better mileage in the city than on the highway. With all of the stop and go, including the acceleration, and the fact that the engine can shut off, when you come to a stop, the hybrid technologies shine. When you’re on the highway, and maintaining a relatively stable speed, there isn’t much for the electric motor to do.

So, with this in mind, I decided to play with the numbers in the spreadsheet a bit. What would happen if I had only done city driving, and not taken any trips that involved a lot of highway driving? Then the numbers might have looked a bit more like this:

Civic Hybrid
DateGas# Days
August 12  
August 13  
August 14  
August 15  
August 16  
August 17  
August 18  
August 19  
August 20  
August 21  
August 22$32.2911
August 23  
August 24  
August 25  
August 26  
August 27  
August 28  
August 29$28.017
August 30  
August 31  
September 1  
September 2  
September 3  
September 4  
September 5$35.077
September 6  
September 7  
September 8  
September 9  
September 10  
September 11  
September 12$35.747
September 13  
September 14  
September 15  
September 16  
September 17  
September 18  
September 19  
September 20$37.128
September 21  
September 22  
September 23  
September 24  
September 25  
September 26  
September 27  
September 28$34.418
September 29  
September 30  
October 1  
October 2  
October 3  
October 4  
October 5$33.807
October 6  
October 7  
October 8  
October 9  
October 10  
October 11$30.026
October 12  
October 13  
October 14  
October 15  
October 16  
October 17  
October 18  
October 19  
October 20  
October 21  
October 22  
October 23$34.2712
October 24  
October 25  
October 26  
October 27  
October 28  
October 29  
October 30  
October 31$35.268
November 1  
November 2  
November 3  
November 4  
November 5  
November 6  
November 7  
November 8$35.488
November 9  

(All I did was remove some of the fill ups, that were close to others, and then adjust the number of days accordingly. It’s not by any means scientific, just a “what if” scenario.)

Using these numbers, the comparison works out so that I would have saved about 34% on gas.

Average Fillup:$47.10Average Fillup:$33.77
Average Days Between Fillups:8.09Average Days Between Fillups:8.09

It’s only a coincidence that the average days between fillups ended up exactly 8.09, the same as for the Cavalier.

Still not the 50% that I would have hoped for, but better than I get with a lot of highway driving. If you’d like to see the graphic versions…
hybrid mock comparison line
hybrid mock comparison area
So that’s how the cars compare. 23%. I only saved 23% on gas.

While I’m posting about the Hybrid, I should mention how the cold affects it. A friend of mine was curious, so I’ll satisfy his curiosity. Remember the three points I mentioned about how the hybrid works? Well in the cold…
  • Acceleration is unaffected. As soon as you turn the car on, and start driving, the electric motor kicks in, and starts helping out when you accelerate.
  • When it comes to charging the electric motor’s battery, the car has to warm up a bit, before it will start charging. So when you start the car, in the cold, you’ll just be using up juice from the battery, and not replenishing any, for the first little while. (That being said, for any significant trip, the battery will get back to its fully charged state after a while.)
  • In terms of shutting off the gas engine, when at a complete stop, this doesn’t happen until the car gets fully warmed up. And even then, sometimes you get a “false stop” when the car is almost warmed up; that is, you’ll come to a stop, and you’ll feel the engine shut off for a second, and then it suddenly turns back on. It’s like the engine is saying, “Can I shut off? Yep. No wait! Not yet!”
Just to round off the post, here are some things about this car, that I’m noticing after driving it for a while:
  • The climate control system is great. It has an “auto” feature, where you simply put it to the temperature that you want, and it will take care of deciding when to turn the fan on, and how much, whether the air conditioning should be on or not, whether the air should come out at the windshield, or at your feet, or wherever, etc. It also tries to monitor the humidity in the car, and keep the A/C on when it gets too humid, so that the windows won’t fog up—although I notice that it doesn’t do this quite as well in the winter, so I have to override the “auto” setting and put the air pointing to the windshield, sometimes.
  • I’m absolutely loving the fact that the stereo plays MP3 CDs. That’s a very nice feature. (I’m sure all cars have that, these days.)
  • It took me a while to get used to the digital readout, for the speedometer, rather than the analogue gauge. (I’d still prefer the analogue gauge, I just got used to the digital readout.)
  • I didn’t notice it at first, but the Civic has a lot more room in the back seat than the Cavalier did. This is partly because the Civic doesn’t have the bump on the floor, where the middle passenger would sit. (I’m sure one of my gear-head readers will leave a comment and tell me what that lump is there for, on most cars, but the point is, it’s not there on mine, and my back seat passengers get more leg room because of it.)

Movie Review: Last Action Hero

You may be asking why I’m even bothering to put up a “movie review” for a movie that was made more than a decade ago. Two reasons:

  1. Because I happened to be watching it on TV. (On Space?!? Why are they playing Last Action Hero on Space?)
  2. To prove a point
My point is this: I post a lot of reviews of action movies, and say that I don’t like them. That they’re badly written, etc. etc. But I actually like this movie. It’s terrible, but I like it. (And it’s not just me who thinks it’s terrible; it only has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

I don’t even know why I like this movie. It’s clever, but only in a really superficial way. (Meaning that it’s not really clever; they only make the most obvious jokes, about the most obvious action movie clichés.) But I still find it entertaining.