I Hope My PDA Can Go 12 Hours Without a Recharge

I don't know why I didn't do this sooner, but I just checked out where I will be sitting during my flight to Japan and back this coming Winter.

I have not flown very often, but luckily I have had the window seat each and every time. I enjoy looking out the window (before the plane gets above the clouds) and seeing the world below. This bird's-eye view gives me great appreciation of both nature, and the ingenuity of the human race. I can see well planned cities, and not-so-well planned cities. I can see the rivers and streams flow through lush greens, golf courses and even suburban residences. I can see the small cars travelling here and there as people go about their business.

Of course, this is just my excuse for not saying things like "I get claustiphobic when I'm stuck between a bunch of strangers in a tight space for hours and hours and I want to look outside to get at least a partial sense of space and freedom."

During my flight to Tokyo from Vancouver, I will not be sitting beside a window. Instead, I'll be sitting in the centre row of seats. Luckily I'll be on the outside, so I can assume that this means I'll be flying next to a married couple with one child. Hopefully that child knows how to relieve the stresses of cabin pressure.

On my last overseas flight, there were several children under two years of age that didn't know how to handle the cabin pressure. Unfortunately, the pressure would fluctuate quite often for some reason as well. The pressure changes alone gave me a terrible headache 30 minutes into the 10 hour flight, but the crying children only added to it. Even though I could listen to some music in order to escape the echoing cries, I could not drown it out completely.

My flight back will be a little better, because I'll have a window seat. I'll also be on one of the nice Boeing 767's as I fly back from Osaka. One little hitch will be that my seat cannot recline. I'll be right ahead of the rear cabin door. While this means I'll have a great unobstructed view of the ground (because I'll be ahead of the wing), and I'll be right beside the washrooms should nature decide to call, but I will not be able to get much of a comfortable sleep.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain.

I was able to obtain these flights pretty late into the season, and they were at a pretty decent price ($1430 return). Had I bought the tickets sooner, I could have saved a few hundred and maybe been able to request better seats. But even though I might not have the most comfortable flights, I'll get to spend two weeks with my Reiko-chan. That alone will make the 21 flight hours seem like nothing.

That said, I'll still bring my PDA and about 2 Gig of music with my trusty headphones just incase. Who knows … maybe I'll meet someone really interesting on these flights and make some new friends, or find some opportunities for work in Japan.

Image Gallery

In preparation of my upcoming trip, I've been examining digital cameras to see which one would be the best to capture all those unique moments. I've been looking for months, really.

When it comes to capturing a memory on film (or in a computer), can you have too much quality?

For the last few months I've examined dozens of cameras made by Sony, Canon, Panasonic, HP and Fuji to see which would be the best option for me. I'll admit that I do not want to have a film camera, as development costs are not something I would look forward to, and I would really much rather have the freedom to capture a thousand pictures and then have just the ones I want developed and put on paper.

I'll also admit that I will not settle for anything less than 6.0 MegaPixels.

When I first went to Japan in April, and when Reiko came to Canada in August, I had borrowed a friend's 3.2 MP camera. This was okay for some shots, but it was an older unit. This meant that some pictures would be out of focus or in the wrong color spectrum depending on the lighting, the shake of my hand, or the speed of the object (very few of my shots from the Nagoya Aquarium turned out really well). Add to this the fact that I'm looking for something that I can use for several years to capture all those moments when I go somewhere nice or spend time with the special few people in my life, and I'm forced to wonder if "buying" is even the right option for me.

One of the things I've seen many people do (and get away with) is the "return". This idea makes very effective use of a department store's policy to accept returns on things within a certain time frame. One option that I've been considering is to buy a really nice Canon 7.1 MP (or better) camera before going to Japan, and then return it right after I return. So long as I keep the unit in great shape, this shouldn't be a problem. This option would also give the the ability to "borrow" a better camera this spring when I visit my family in Ontario with Reiko. Of course, I could do the very same thing again when I travel to Japan or Reiko comes to Canada at a later date.

Using this policy to my advantage, I could always have a great camera at my disposal with ever-improving picture qualities and ever-larger pixel resolutions. I've met people that do this very thing with almost every piece of technology they own so that they are able to have the latest and greatest cell phones and notebook computers, so I should be able to do the same thing with a camera … right?

Unfortunately, every time I've ever tried to return something to a store, I've been turned away for some reason. The best I've ever managed was a partial store credit on a PDA. I also have this notion that exploiting this policy is morally wrong, so my conscience warns me against it.

Sure, I wouldn't have the camera for more than 3 weeks. Sure, I probably wouldn't even have more than two thousand pictures taken. Sure, I would make certain that I didn't get any scratches or damages on the device to ensure a smooth return transaction. But even with all this, I would feel as though I was cheating the system for my own personal gain. This is a practice that I've never endorsed or successfully accomplished.

Then again, perhaps that explains a few things…

I'll definately be going to Japan with a camera. There are just way too many memories that will be made, and I want to have something to show everyone that can't come with me. I'm sure I could borrow the same camera I had used before, but I want something more. I want a device that will give me bigger and brighter images. I'll be in another country with my Reiko-chan … why would I want to settle for less?

So I guess that means the only question that remains is: which is the right camera?

Benkyo! Benkyo! Benkyo!!

It seems that my trip to Japan will be quite interesting this time around, and I should really study the language better.

The route has been confirmed as follows:

  1. Fly from Vancouver to Narita (Tokyo, Japan)
  2. Somehow find the JR Train Station and the train I'm supposed to get on to Gifu
  3. Find Reiko at Gifu Station

And then on the way back:

  1. Make the trip from Nagoya to Osaka without Reiko
  2. Find the right place to catch my plane
  3. Fly from Osaka (Kansai) to Vancouver

It should be interesting…. One of the nice things is the time I need to be in Osaka. Luckily, my plane will depart at 5:55 pm. This means I need to be at the airport no later than 3:00 pm. This will give me the required time to "get lost" and completely make a fool of myself as I try to find my way to the airport :P

Of course, it shouldn't be too bad. The first time I flew to Japan, I had to take the train from Nagoya to Gifu following a set of instructions from Reiko. She did a pretty good job of putting everything together, and once I got to Japan and started using them, it made sense. I'm sure I'll be able to get instructions that are just as clear as before.

By taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Toyko to Gifu, I'll get to see quite a bit of the country, too. In April, it was already dark by the time I got on the train from Nagoya to Gifu so, there was no way to take decent pictures of the countryside. This time, I'll be landing in Tokyo at 3:20 pm, so I should get a few hours of sunlight before I can't take pictures from the train without excessive reflection from the glass. I can't wait!

I've wanted to see Japan in the winter for the last 10 years. In all the movies, dramas and anime's I've seen, it's always looked so peaceful and serene. It shouldn't be too cold where I'm going … but one day I would really like to visit Hokkaido during the Christmas break. It's supposed to be really cold up there, and it would be great to see many of the less-Americanized places in Japan.

Before meeting Reiko, I found it hard to believe that people would fly to other parts of the world more than once every few years. The costs always seemed to be very limiting. But now I can see what the attraction is, and why so many do it whenever they can. Seeing the beauty of nature around the planet, and the amazing cultures everywhere is what makes distance vacations so enjoyable. We can learn so much more in person than we can with any documentary … no matter how good the narrator and script is.

I'll make sure a photo gallery is running on my site before I go. This trip I'm aiming for at least 1000 pictures. I still need to get the Canon camera I want … but it shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

Of course I should really learn some more Japanese so that I can get around better…

Overstated Requirements

Computer technology is an amazing thing. Moore's Law continues to be true, despite the incredible complexities involved, and the applications people use daily are becoming more and more powerful to take advantage of this power.

It's no secret that I've wanted to upgrade my notebook since the release of Intel's Core processors in March of this year. The new architecture would resolve some of the bottleneck problems that I've faced when working with really large records at work, and it would make my favourite applications at home run faster, too. Of course the other benefits of upgrading, such as a more powerful video card, would be an added bonus.

For the last few months I've been looking forward to a new game called Need For Speed: Carbon. This game has minimum system requirements that practically match my current computer. This made me wonder whether it was time to upgrade the notebook. I would not be upgrading my computer only to play a game, though. The upgrade would have been used to get around much of the sluggishness and stagnation my PC has faced since it was introduced three years ago.

Windows XP has become a pig on resources with the release of SP2 and the quarter-million updates since. The programs I've been writing at work have become more complicated and involved, requiring more processing power and time to work through the incredible number of records. And my video needs at work have increased as I have a new LCD that is being under-used due to the limitations on my notebook's video card.

But this was before I started using an application called CleverCache by O&O software. This has got to be the best caching program ever written. Less than an hour after installing the program, my notebook was noticably more responsive. The last time it felt this responsive was when I first took posession of the device in January of 2005.

I managed to obtain Need for Speed:Carbon last week and it plays considerably well. I had worried that perhaps the game would lag, or not install whatsoever. This is not the case.

This has given my notebook a new lease on life. I can most likely continue to use this machine until January of 2008, which is when I plan on replacing it. By that time, it will be 4 years old (according to the date stamped on the motherboard), and would have served me exceptionally well in the time I've had it. I've got to give HP credit … they know how to build a notebook PC.

I've saved more money over my computing career with their hardware than with any other vendor, and with O&O, this hardware has a new lease on life.

Three Weeks!

Where does the time go?

It seems like only a week ago that my countdown showed 38 days, but now it's rolling under 21. As my trip to Japan edges ever closer I'm beginning to wonder whether I'll have everything ready in time. For the moment I still need to get a few little things, like a new suitcase that won't bust open during airport baggage handling and some stocking stuffers for Reiko-chan. I still haven't found the perfect gift for Reiko's family and, of course, I'll need to get some money converted to Japanese Yen, too.

Last time I went to Japan, I was there for 9 days and managed to spend less than $900. This time I'll be in Japan for 13 days and can only bring about the same. There will be some extra expenses this time, too. The trip from Narita Airport in Tokyo to the train station in Gifu will be about $100. And then the train from Nagoya to Osaka when I return will be about $50. Will nine hundred be enough?

Accessing my Canadian money is not very easy when I'm in Japan. Last May I was forced to draw money from my MasterCard when running low on cash, and this could only be done at a Post Office during regular business hours (not all ATM's operate 24 hours a day, there). I'll admit that the exchange rate during these transactions was much better than expected, but I really don't want to resort to this unless necessary.

So there's the question … just how much should I bring in cash?

One Man's Trash ...

Today I witnessed the time honored tradition of a father teaching his son some important life skills. Often times this can range anything from using hand tools, to barbecuing, to shaving. Today's lesson was quite a bit different, though.

While waiting at the laundromat, I happened to see a father show his son howto effectively "dumpster dive". For those that have never heard the term, Dumpster Diving is the art of going through a garbage bin in search of usable goods, sometimes food.

Today's lesson seemed to focus on recyclable metals such as aluminum and copper.

Witnessing homeless or poverty-stricken individuals going through garbageis hardly new to me. In Vancouver, the cost of living is ridiculously higher than in other parts of Canada. Because of this, and the difficulty in finding well paying jobs, many people find it necessary to root through the refuse of others in search of something that can be exchanged for money at the local recycling center, or the things they cannot afford.

Most large cities around the world have a problem with homelessness and those living below the poverty line. At rallies here in BC, many of the participants (mostly students who should be studying, rather than pissing away their parents' money) seem to think that raising the minimum working wage from $8 to $12 will solve the problem. Unfortunately, this would only make it worse.

Wages have to come from somewhere. Nobody should think that increasing wages by such a large amount wouldn't have dire consequences elsewhere. The cost of food would rise as employees at processing plants and grocery stores get the increased rate. Gas prices would rise as attendants would have higher wages. Department stores would have to recoup their costs, also. Every sector would be affected by this change, and it would only make the high costs we deal with that much higher.

At 90% of all businesses, payroll is the highest monthly cost. Many small and medium sized businesses would be forced to either close down because they could no longer compete, or they would need to lay off 40% of their staff just to afford the other 60%. And that's assuming it's even a viable option.

Then comes the problem with the wages for skilled people who earn less than $12 an hour now. Will they be happy earning the same as someone at McDonald's? Probably not.

The lessons that child learned today with his father will likely have a lasting impact on his life. He'll be able to tell the difference between usable and unusable refuse with a very quick glance. People throw away useful materials all the time without any idea of their true value. It's up to people who are desperate enough to sort through the trash to keep these useful materials out of our landfills.

One of the most positive things I witnessed about this lesson today was that the father never once said anything bad about another person, or group of people. Often times, people who are very poor or homeless blame others for their condition. In BC, most of the homeless people I overhear will complain about Asians, and how they ruined everything by bringing their money when immigrating. In Ontario, I would hear people blame Italians and black-skinned people. There was not one racial or ethnic slur uttered in the 10 minutes I witnessed.

I really hope that child can do more in their life than root through garbage. If they're taught that where we come from or what we look like does not warrant our futures or our enemies, then he could do just fine.

Giving money to those who need it most will not solve their problems. Changing the core concepts of society and dependency will.

Christmas in Japan

Although it's a little late, I'm now making the plans to visit Japan this coming Christmas! Sure, it's been verbally planned since May. But now it's being put into action.

Why the delay? Well, I'm an idiot, for one.

This will likely be the most exciting Christmas I've had in … well … forever. This will be my second time off the continent, and my second time to Japan. This will be my first Christmas with Reiko, though.

It's almost hard to believe that Reiko and I have been seeing each other for a year. We started talking on Chinese New Year (January 29, 2006) and have chatted every day since. In this time, we've shared over a thousand emails, several dozen phone conversations, and countless hours on MSN Messenger. It's helped make the 7380 km between us not seem so large a number.

Hopefully I'll have a really nice camera with me, this time. I'll be able to post some really great shots of winter in Japan, and Reiko in a kimono. I'll try to take pictures of some of the foods there, too.

Last time, I managed to take 699 pictures while in Japan. This visit will last two days longer (13 days in Japan total), and I'll be bringing a really nice Canon. It should be much easier to shoot 1,000.

Of course one of the down-sides is that Reiko will need to work some of the days that I'll be in Japan. This won't be an issue, though. I'll attend her school (if I'm permitted) and get to see the great Reiko-sensei in action. I'm sure I'll even learn a few things about how to handle multiple kids in a classroom.

Who knows … maybe one day I'll be Jason-sensei …

Pride and Prejudice

Today I was fortunate enough to receive another job offer with the resume I have posted on Monster.ca. This is nothing new, as there are hundreds of employers looking for skilled workers, but I've noticed a distinct pattern with the companies that are offering me work.

None of them are within a 3500 km radius.

In the last year, I've had job offers from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, the UK and even as far away as Sweden. These European jobs were offered because someone at that company knew me back in college, and knows that I've been interested in working for an organization where I can put optical recognition and artificial intelligence systems together.

In August of 2005 I was offered a position in the UK that would have been perfect for me. It was for the company that was (in November of 2005) awarded a contract with the European Space Agency to write the software that will be used on the next probe to Mars. Unfortunately, I had turned this position down because I was not ready at the time to leave Canada.

A few months later I was offered a position at a company in Waterloo, Ontario to write software with a talented group of people to control the next generation of assembly line robotics. I turned this down because I wasn't really prepared to move back to Ontario, and I was about to start on a great project with my current employer that would allow me to flex my mind in other directions.

In spring of 2006, I was approached by someone to write a web application here in BC, but couldn't devote myself as I was about to enjoy a vacation in Japan. The prospective employer didn't want to wait for my return, so decided to get someone fresh out of BCIT (the site looks really good, so I'm sure they got one of the better grads).

Now today I receive another offer, this time in Quebec. Employers in this province must be pretty desperate for software developers, but unaware of the value they can offer. At least once every few weeks someone from Quebec manages to send me an offer promising to help with moving expenses (which would be about $20, plus air fare for me), help me find a cheap apartment, and three weeks of vacation per year on top of the standard company holidays. On top of this, today's offer included a signing bonus of $1500, and an hourly wage of $9.44.

If it wasn't for that hourly wage being less than half of what I make in BC, it would almost be tempting.

Software developers in Quebec are paid about fifty cents more than people who work at McDonald's. It's an absolute joke in that province, which is probably why nobody has ever used software developed there. Programmers are underpaid to the point that they move to other parts of the country as soon as their education is complete.

In British Colombia, a programmer averages about $34K a year to start. In Alberta and Ontario, it's $30K. Other provinces range between $28K and $32K with a benefits package that's pretty complete. Quebec, however, seems to think that anyone and everyone can just sit down and write logical software. I admit that some developers want nothing more than a list of instructions where they can just plug away without any creativity to solve the problem at hand. Others want to have input and work with a team of talented individuals to produce the best software possible. But to get these people, you have to be willing to pay.

With an offer of $9.44 an hour, I'm surprised that anyone who's not still in school earning a degree is programming in Quebec. That province has suffered a severe brain drain since the mid-70's, and the influx of lawyers isn't helping matters, either.

It's not that I don't appreciate the offer to work, don't get me wrong. I just wish employers would do a little research before trying to court prospective employees from other provinces. At $9.44 an hour, I would never be able to afford anything outside of basic needs and the occasional coffee from Starbucks.

When Doing The Right Thing Goes Wrong

Throughout our lives we will make important decisions based on what we think is right at the time. Sometimes these decisions pan out … other times, they fail in a blaze of colour.

When I had originally left Ontario in August of 2002 to work and live in BC, I had made the decision for several reasons. One was to start over where nobody knew my name, another was to work my way up the social ladder to become a semi-successful person who seldom worried about things like money. I had sworn to myself that I would never go back to work or live in Ontario because the province seemed grey and lifeless during the 22 years I had spent there.

However, it seems that there is a very real possiblility that I might just move back there for the sake of stable employment. This could be a very good thing as I would be closer to family, but at the same time I would be leaving behind everything I had ever worked for in BC. Sure, it might not be much to look at, but everything I've accomplished in this province I've earned. My few accomplishments have come at great cost, and each has included a lesson that I've had to learn the hard way.

So why am I so reluctant to go back to Ontario where I would have closer access to help?

Reiko has asked me to consider finding work in Ontario as I would be able to make more money there than in some other provinces in Canada. At the same time, I'm looking at attending a decent university to earn a bachelor's degree. I haven't yet decided in what subject, though … there's just way too many enjoyable courses to study. Since a degree will require four years of study, I should go with something that I can really become involved in.

Yet at the same time, I'd really rather stay in BC. Even if it means I need to work twice as hard for half the gain.

Perhaps I'm too stubborn. Once I set a goal for myself, I will not look back. Even if that goal needs to be rescheduled because other factors of life got in the way, I will one day accomplish that goal.

It's situations like this that I wish I had older friends who could give me a little clarity with their experience.

I Wouldn't Be So Paranoid If People Would Stop Sneaking Around

Since last Thursday I've been tracking some statistics involving my site, and I must say that I'm quite surprised by what I see. Thanks to reverse DNS lookups, I've been able to see that people from BC, Japan, China, South Korea, Ontario, California, Louisiana and Florida have viewed by blog. Only four of these locations don't surprise me.

I must admit … I wasn't expecting this site to generate so much traffic.

The first comment on this site was left by what I believe is a verification bot. Something that confirms the existence of my blog and then records that entry somewhere. This probably means that my site will appear on Google at some point, and I'll see random hits here and there. It's not that I don't welcome the random hit from the outside world, don't get me wrong. I'm just surprised by the range of locations, considering how the only people that know of this site's existence are on my MSN list.

For the last several years I have entertained the idea that I'm being watched for some reason. This sort of paranoid thinking is usually reserved for people who have committed some crime and expect to get caught. While I haven't exactly been a model citizen in my life, I can't think of more than a half dozen reasons I would be monitored. I've noticed that letter mail takes longer to receive, bank transactions take longer, and random MAC addresses appear on my router as other devices try and connect to my network.

I'm sure there are perfectly rational explanations for all of these … the post office is handling more junk mail, bank systems are being upgraded and transactions checked to ensure no terrorist organizations are being funded, and neighbouring devices are reporting my router as part of their standard site surveys.

I won't lose too much sleep over this, but I'm surprised by how quickly things are found online and shared with the world community. It's almost like everyone lives in a glass house, with everything open to anyone and everyone with a browser and basic internet connection. I have very little to hide, so I will not be locking this site to be "members only". I'm also pretty certain that even if I was being monitored for one reason or another, I wouldn't be permitted the freedom to move about like I do.

Or maybe this is exactly what they want me to think …