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 ...

To Drive or Not To Drive

In two days, the next in the Need For Speed series of games will be released in Canada. I've been really excited about this release as it has many of the features that I've been waiting to see in a game of this caliber. Players will be able to create teams, where you collect digital 'friends' along the way who will help you win races by keeping competitors out of the way. This is something I've wanted since Need for Speed:Underground when the computer opponents would often times catch the tail end of your car, and nudge you into a wall at 260 kph as you make that final corner before the finish line. I'm sure the neighbours have heard my reaction whenever this happens...

But as I examine the "Minimum System Requirements" for this game, it makes me wonder whether I should even try to play the game. As it sits, I have the bare minimum processor, and a barely capable video card in my notebook. Add to the fact that I have a notebook, and that just compounds the limitations further. Single core ... non-upgradable components ... 5400 rpm hard drive ... the list is shamefully extensive.

Several years ago, I would have laughed at the Minimum System Requirements, thinking to myself "who still has such old equipment?" Back in the day, I was at the forefront of home PC technology. Dual processors, 2 Gig of RAM when it was still $400 per gig, RAID 0 across six hard drives, and a video card that was more powerful than most PCs at that time.

But that was almost six years ago, when I could easily drop $1400 in upgrades for my already over-powered PC. Before I had moved from Ontario, I had actually bought an air conditioner for the room my PC was in. It ran that hot.

I don't play many games, anymore. Need for Speed is one of the few that I still enjoy as it gives me the opportunity to drive around cities wrecklessly while racing other cars. I enjoy the rush that comes during the really difficult races. Winning by 0.05 seconds is much more exciting than winning by a full second, or even 12 seconds. Driving against heavy traffic is also incredibly enjoyable as it adds an element to the races that make it all the more difficult. Cars get in the way, opponents are pushing you from the side or behind, causing your ride to slide ... and despite all this, you drift through three lanes of heavily populated cars to make the final corner perfectly as you step on the gas and drop the clutch in the final leg of the race ...

That's where the exicitement lays.

But as I look at these requirements, I'm forced to examine whether this would be a good investment. Would I be able to enjoy the game, even at reduced video settings with all the cool factors turned down? Or would this be the onion in the ointment? I play need for speed to relax and unwind, even though it might seem as though the opposite were true.

My notebook is three years old, and in my possession for two. I've been wanting to replace it with a newer model since January of this year, but just haven't had the opportunity or found the proper justification. I can't just run out and buy the latest and greatest of something anymore because it leaves me with the question "what do I do with the old one?" Sure, I could put it to use somewhere ... but why? This notebook here has surpassed all of my expectations. I've never owned a computer as long as I have this one, and certainly never been able to go so long without upgrades or repairs of one type or another.

This box lets me write software in several different languages, watch downloaded TV shows, movies, documentaries and whatever else I want to view. The wireless network card has transmitted terabytes of data as I'm almost constantly downloading something while at home. And it's given me a new appreciation for quality built machines. Quite frankly, this notebook could easily last me another year or two at the minimum before I would be forced to consider an upgrade to keep in stride with the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.

In the last few years it has been harder and harder to keep up with the pace of progress. Not only because of the cost factors, but because I try to justify my purchases better. Saying it's okay to spend $600 on a new video card just because it's "cool" doesn't cut it anymore. For the last year, I've been promised a new notebook through work. I figured this would be the prime upgrade for me. I had requested a nice HP model to replace my current HP notebook, and when it was ready to be replaced again, it would be the responsibility of my employer. The only catch I might have to face is what I would do about all my personal software ... I would almost feel guilty installing video games or watching inappropriate material on a work-owned notebook.

So at the end of the day, I'm still left with the question of whether to drive, or not to drive. Need for Speed:Carbon will be one of the most exciting releases for this series. But if I can't enjoy it even remotely, the game would become more of a wasted liability than an investment. The argument could be made to get a new notebook (I'm really taken by the HP NC8430 and NW8440 models) and enjoy the newer technology for the next few years ... but if this notebook here will do the job for a little longer, then why spend $2000 on a new PC for the sake of enjoying a video game and loading some other software a little faster?

I wonder if I could push the question of new machines at work again ...

Photoshop Isn't the Over-Glorified Paintbrush I Remember

Over the last few months, I've found that I've needed to use Photoshop more and more. This strikes me as odd, considering how I haven't needed it for a single touch-up in over four years. But now that I've built an intranet at work, as well as putting up this simple WordPress site, it seems that Photoshop has once again become part of my regular tools.

I've taken more pictures since meeting Reiko than I have in my entire life. Everything seems more interesting and has more colour when I'm with her, so why not capture those moments with a camera? Of course, those images then need to be sized, trimmed, re-touched or down-right modified before being posted online (if posted at all). That's not to say that every picture needs to be touched up ... just one ones that need to sit at a 11.5 degree counter-clockwise rotation, like the picture in the upper left hand corner.

The version of Photoshop that's currently installed on my notebook is CS. I realise that this is an "older" version, but seriously, for what I do with images, I could easily get away with Photoshop 4. Layers, overlays, text manipulation and simple transformations are all I really do (and understand). I'm sure that over the next few months I'll learn how to do very cool things like alter skin tones or change backgrounds as well as subject lighting. But that would change the entire purpose of the picture, wouldn't it?

I love technology, don't get me wrong. But I wonder how much of a picture can be changed before the purpose of the picture is lost? A picture is a snapshot ... a moment in time. By altering it, we're altering our memory of the event. People could make themselves look thinner, or heavier, or taller, or have darker or lighter skin ... the list goes on. In this ever self-conscious society, how many of us will be altering our pictures to make ourselves look better?

I guess this is really a question of how much fiction will we insert into our personal histories.

While I don't think I'll be modifying these pictures to darken my skin or give myself that million dollar smile, I'll certainly make sure to never over-write the original pictures. Life is beautiful as it is. We don't need to fret over the little things.

Jason No Baka!

Okay ... it's clear that I'm an idiot. For the last week I've been having trouble viewing this site properly when not at home. Other people have told me that it loads, but I don't think they've been seeing what I wanted them to see. Today I decided to change all the site's internal links to look at Port 88 (since my ISP filters out port 80 requests), and voila! It works.

I should have tried this last weekend ... because now that I know the NAS will do what I need it to do (albeit, slowly), I can start loading it up with pictures and other details. It should be fun. I think I'll put up most of my comedic images, too. This way I'll have something to link to people who need to see Domokun chasing a kitten ...

Over the next few days I'll try to add some of the pictures and events that occurred in Japan, as well as talk about my upcoming trip there during this Christmas break. I've managed to squeeze two weeks of vacation out of work, and I can likely extend that to three without much hassle. The biggest problem will be the amount of vacation time I'll have remaining afterwards ...

Let's see what happens.

Not The Box I Was Expecting

Okay, I've had this NAS running for over a week now, and I must admit that it's not quite what I was expecting. I guess it's a good thing I didn't rush out and buy matigo.net ... because it seems that people can only access this site when my router has been recently reset.

Since buying a new router is out of the question right now, I guess I'll have to keep these entries short and to the point. Of course this is just a little hiccup that'll eventually be resolved. I still want matigo.net :P

LAMP Up And Running

Well, it looks like it's finally running.

Yesterday I received my new NAS (Network Attached Storage) and LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) box while at work. It's nothing spectacular, just a simple Synology DS-101j, but it certainly gets the job done and has some pretty cool features considering it's the size of a standard 3.5" HDD enclosure.

Over the next few weeks I'll be updating this to be much more personalized, and eventually it'll have pictures from my trips to Japan, Victoria and around BC (I guess that would be Whistler, and my work).

w00t for Simplicity!

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