Friday, July 17, 2009

Urban Art in Minto Park

While I'm really not much of an art aficionado, I must admit my last few posts have all been about urban art. So in keeping with that fashion, I'm posting about an event tomorrow, Saturday, July 18, 2009 from 9am to 5pm: Urban Art In Minto Park

Here's a poster in the window of White Cross Dispensary (who have a very convenient Rx renewal-by-phone system):

According to the event's blog, the organizers are Katie Argyle and Tim Hunt.

Event is rain or shine. Go!

- RG>

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cigarette faces at 333 Laurier

There's a lot to be said about minimalism. While tucking under the overhang at 333 Laurier as the rain started last Monday, I found these two characters. All it took was a pair of well-placed marks (made not by me) to bring them to life:


"Say 'aah!'"

I also just happened to take the photos with the "mouths" at just the right angle.


- RG>

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Swine Flu Survival Kit

In early May, El Maks posted a hint on The Swap Box Blog to "Go check out the corner of Bank/Slater Streets for the newest streetart piece."

(He subsequently added two photos to the post, which made me waste the last fifteen minutes looking for the blog where I had first seen this comment without photos.)

When I took these photos on May 11th, I didn't yet know what it was, just where.

For context, it's on the same block as the Bank Street bus stop on Slater. The side of the army-green box has two columns of white stenciled letters, spelling ELMAKS MMDCCI from left to right:

Maks previously used this spot for "A Very Bailout Christmas" last December, which is captured in my previous post, "Street Art Rescue #3 - Elgin Flower Box Rebuild."

On the other side, white marker ink in Maks' characteristic handwriting warns people to "Please Remain Calm. / Everything is under control. / Follow the instructions given inside. / elmaks!"

On the red interior of the box, we see the Swine Flu Survival Kit: Vol. 8 - Dating & Romance, brought to you by the Department of Public Safety, Detachment 2701 [Hence the roman numerals on the side - I just got that now. Clever!]

Inside the Kit are a pair of "His & Hers" dust masks, a thermometer, rubber gloves, a first aid kit, hand sanitizer, and various tips on how to minimize Swine Flu during romantic encounters.

I won't type them all out. Click the photos to enjoy them yourself!

Another great piece, Maks!

- RG>

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Yogourt Rant

In a recent post, I referred to "The Yogourt Rant." It's a somewhat boilerplate rant of mine that many people who know me have heard in one form or another.

A fellow named Barry Schwartz wrote a book called "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less," which talks about this phenomenon. I haven't read Shwartz's book (yet), but he describes it well in his (20-minute) 2005 TEDTalk: [disclaimer: RG takes no responsibility for the incredible amounts of time you lose watching TED videos]

I had heard of this principle, probably even seen this very video, a few years ago, and it certainly resonates with me. Since then, I had forgotten the term "paradox of choice" and where I had heard it, but I had lived it and reconstructed it.

In the yogourt aisle.

The concept carries to many of my consumer-purchase experiences (for example, I refuse to specify a "chocolate" Frosty at Wendy's), but its purest form is when I'm buying yogourt.

When I go to the supermarket and I want to buy yogourt, it takes me forever.

For one, they're sorted by brand. I'm not interested in brands, I'm interested in flavour--raspberry. But because of the way the products are sorted, I have to first determine which type I want before I can decide on flavour.

This is harder than it looks. There are at least a dozen different types of yogourt on the shelf. Some types are the same brand, but different varieties--like, say, Danone Silhouette yogourt, Danone Creamy yogourt, and Danone Activia yogourt. (To further confuse you, "Danone" is known as "Dannon" in the U.S.)

Some are from the same company, but different "quality" brands, like President's Choice brand yogourt, the No Name brand yogourt, and the Blue Menu yogourt, all of which are from the same company. Often these brands may vary in quality and/or health factor, or at least, so say the packages.

Some are different brands' version of essentially the same product. Metaphorically speaking, the "Coke" and "Pepsi" yogourts, and the "Diet Coke" and "Diet Pepsi" ones. Similar price, similar product, similar taste, different brand.

Then there are the specialty brands, like the middle-eastern not-yogourt yogourt, goat's milk yogourt, and the organic yogourt with Omega 3 and "active bacteria cultures". I'm sure there's Soygurt out there, too, and other horrible things that go to extraordinary lengths to distract me from finding ordinary raspberry yogourt.

And without tasting them, how do you differentiate between these alternatives? Price? Perhaps, but is this one priced higher because it tastes better, or because it's healthier for you? Or simply because that brand costs more? Or do they push the health and social benefits of this one to make up for how much it offends the palette?

I know what I want when I shop for yogourt. I want raspberry yogourt. I want it in the large container, because the small ones are a waste of packaging. I don't want the fat-free stuff, because yogourt is supposed to have fat, and whatever additives and processing they used to make it fat-free is probably worse for you than the fat itself. I don't want the creamy stuff, but I don't mind unstirred yogourt. I don't want the organic stuff because all organic yogourt I've tried so far is disgusting. And I don't want the cheap stuff that has a dollar less taste for forty cents less price.

All of this is a very complicated way of saying I want simple raspberry yogourt.

So I stand in front of the yogourt section, staring bemusedly at the wall of containers in front of me. As Barry Schmidt put it, I'm paralyzed. I stand there for five whole minutes, scanning the brightly-illuminated array, processing the information that's pouring in, mentally arranging each group of flavours into brands, and categorizing each brand, scrutinizing each one until I find the one group of containers in which is the one yogourt that I had set out to find. On the home stretch, all that remains is to select the desired flavour from the row of six containers that I excruciatingly parsed from the wall of plastic jugs.

And they're out of raspberry.



Every few months, I empty my fridge of yogourt containers, some not even opened, all of them long expired. There are usually two or three different brands, though they're all raspberry. The tubs are bulging from the chemical and biological metamorphoses they're struggling desperately to contain; I don't want to know what's inside them. Probably a lot more than just "active bacteria cultures".

I don't know why I even bother buying yogourt. Do I even actually like it? Am I buying it as a quasi-healthy alternative to pudding? Because I tend to throw out more of it than I end up eating. Maybe I just think I want to eat it so that I have to confront my fear of the yogourt-buying process. Maybe I subconsciously like the stress of buying yogourt, like some form of mental dairy-bondage.

But whatever my reason for buying yogourt, it's clear that I don't eat nearly enough of it to know which kind I should buy when I shop for more.

Hence the rant.

- RG>

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Mayfair Swap Box

This blog is going to look a bit like El Maks' Swap Box Project blog for a few posts, because I'm scheduling a bunch of street art posts to upload over the next little while.

Today's entry is a swap box I happened upon in Old Ottawa South at Bank and Sunnyside, near the Mayfair Theatre. I saw it on June 18th.

I was thrilled when I saw it, because Centretown has been without swap boxes since the one at the Bridgehead on Elgin was taken down at the end of April. I extracted from my pocket the obligatory trinket that I always keep with me (in case of Swap Box), and plopped it in the box. There wasn't much inside to swap, so I treated my deposit as a donation.

Here's the swap box in relation to the Mayfair:

And the view across the street:

Keep 'em coming, Maks!

- RG>

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Mental blocks, emotional dams, and projections

Just over a month ago, I decided I wanted an LCD projector.

I had calculated the amount of spending money I'd have left from my tax rebate. After padding my savings buffer, I was left with $600, much less than I had hoped before starting calculations.

Still, I discovered that $600 should be about enough to buy a projector.

Why a projector?

Well, a few months ago, I was in a meeting at City Hall where the projector had been left out by the previous users. We used it to put the agenda on the wall, which was very useful for all in attendance. Ever since then, I'd wanted a projector to help facilitate such meetings.

Of course, I'd be able to use it for sharing my photography, for presentations, and to lend/rent to my friends, family and colleagues for their miscellaneous uses. (bolo?) But the meeting thing was a concrete function that I know would get used. [How much of a geek do you have to be to buy a multimedia projector for volunteer meetings?!?]

I don't like to shop for yogourt.

After deciding I wanted a projector, I trotted off to the computer store and asked what projectors they carried. This is how I shop: I go to a place, look at what they have in store, see what best fits my needs, and buy it.

"We don't carry any projectors in stock," said the clerk, after scoffing at me for asking for the salesperson I'd been in contact with by e-mail (let's call him Victor) after 5pm. "Realistically, we can order anything out there."

This is not how I like to shop. A completely open-ended selection gives me no place to start. Not being able to see the thing before buying it makes the decision even harder.

A projector-owning friend of mine pointed me to this US company, whose website lists a wide selection and good product details and reviews. He also gave me a few things to look for. In addition to my own requirements for portability, price, andbrightness, my friend recommended a wide viewing angle for use in small rooms, and lauded the high resolution of his Hitachi.

A choice is made

I settled on this baby, listed for US$669 on the US site. I like the Hitachi CPX5 because it's small, versatile, and has a USB port to plug in a flash drive, so you don't even need a computer. On June first I e-mailed Victor with my selection.

He said it would come to just under $1200 (plus tax), and because it's a special order, a minimum ETA of 7-14 days. I consulted a CDW catalogue I had on hand to confirm this was a reasonable price for a projector in Canada, and chalked the price difference up to the border, the dollar, and the website's volume.

But still, yikes.

After a closer analysis of my budget, I could manage $900, and borrow the remaining $300 from my savings, to be replenished after Bluesfest.

I bit my tongue and told Victor to order it. The order was delayed until I placed a deposit the next day. Sigh. I'm supporting local business, I told myself. Victor would call his supplier the next day to get a more precise ETA than 7-14 days. Hopefully, I'd get it in time for the next meeting on June 16th.

Finally, on June 10th, he said the projector should arrive on June 18th(!). Like Eric Cartman in the South Park episode Go God Go, I had some waitin' to do.

Waiting for Hitachi; steady as she goes

Later that morning, Victor e-mailed again to say that the June 18th ETA was wrong, and that he's still working to get a correct date from Hitachi. So not only was I waiting, but I was waiting for an undetermined length of time.

On the 15th, he e-mailed me to say that (paraphrased) the Hitachi people were being total jackasses with him, and he suggested I find a different projector as a plan B. Hitachi later told him that this was a US model, and it would be a further 10-14 business days for one to get "released" to Canada. (I assume this model was bred at the Hitachi International Wildlife Preserve.)

If I ordered a different model, as Victor suggested, it would arrive in the same 7-14 day timeframe as the Hitachi, namely, during Bluesfest, when I won't have time to play with it. So time was no longer an issue. Stay the course, I said.

To which he replied (my emphasis):
To be honest, we usually sell NEC, Samsung and Viewsonic projectors. Those
are generally stocked at their Canadian warehouses. Looking at the specs on
your Hitachi, you'd be paying a lot more to get the same from either of
those companies.

I'll leave the order open then. Thanks for your patience!
The time delay I could handle, but wasting my time AND my money was infuriating. Why didn't he tell me this before? Maybe he didn't want me to think he was second-guessing me. I was quite tempted to ask for (nay, demand) my deposit back, but that dishonours the sacred notion of the deposit. Hell, I was even considering abandoning the deposit and going elsewhere.

I told him I didn't want to go on another wild goose chase looking for another projector from one of those companies, only to risk getting the runaround again, and I instead asked him to find one with similar specs with a lower price, as he suggested was available.

He responded in two separate messages, one suggesting this behemoth, and the other asking "is size and weight *that* important?"


So far I've only talked about the technical details of this transaction. But during this rigmarole, a lot was going on in my life. On the week of the 15th, I had meetings after work just about every night. On top of that, I had stuff on Saturday and Sunday very early in the morning (including the LRT forum). These last drained what little spirit I had left in me, and I became very tired, unmotivated, and unable to get anything done. In short, I burned out.

I had felt this drained last year after pushing myself too far during Bluesfest, and it took me until the end of August to get back together. Here, I was still half a month away from Bluesfest, and I would need to be back in top form to last it.

On top of this, we had our annual audit at work from the 25th to the 29th of June, and because of our small office, my desk would be needed for the auditors. As much as I tried to frame it as time off, I couldn't forget that it was unpaid time off, right when I needed to shore up my reserves for Bluesfest.

What's worse, the company I work for is having trouble getting funding for my position for this year. My boss told me that these days off would "buy me more days later in the Summer." (A fourth way of seeing these days became 'time to work on my resume')

So the week after the one from hell, I decreed that I wasn't going to any meetings. I met some friends, took some time to myself, dined with family, went to the coffeeshop.

Yet I still felt a malaise the whole time. I literally felt sick (possibly also food poisoning.) All this time off, yet I still couldn't bring myself to so much as clean my apartment, cook a meal, or tend to my pressing to-dos.

I didn't quite realise it, but I think a lot of it had to do with the uncertainty about the projector. It was driving me mad: not only did I not have control of the situation, but I didn't even know where things were at. I was a slave to a timeline of unknown scope and duration.

At least I had the Daily Show and the Colbert Report to keep me from going completely insane. It always sucks when they're on vacation.

Victor admits defeat

On June 26, the second day in a five-day weekend, I had dinner with an old friend. We had Ethiopian food at a place I'd often passed many times but never gone in. It was my first time trying Ethiopian food, and hopefully my last. I had decided not to check my e-mail before meeting my friend, as part of the whole "I'm on vacation" mentality.

After dinner, I found a mid-afternoon e-mail from Victor. He was admitting defeat with Hitachi, who was basically telling him "they'll ship when they ship." He said he'll no longer sell anything from Hitachi to a customer unless his supplier has something in stock. Victor offered me my deposit back.

I thanked him for his persistence with Hitachi, and agreed it would be best to cancel the order and refund the deposit.

CDW saves the day

At some point during the long wait, my boss mentioned that CDW has much more selection on their website than in their print catalogue.

So on Friday night, after e-mailing Victor, I went on their site and found the Hitachi CPX2 for $926.99. In addition to having everything the CPX5 had, it also had an SD card slot. Très cool.

With tax and shipping, the total came to $1086.99. It would ship within 3-6 business days and arrive the following day. So I might get a day or two use out of it before Bluesfest. Wicked.

On Monday morning (June 29), the fifth and last day off, I got a phone message from Alicia at CDW, who wanted to confirm my order. Fair enough, I thought; it's a big enough purchase to warrant double-checking with the customer.

When I phoned her back, though, she told me that this projector was no longer available. Frankly, after the hoopla Victor had with Hitachi, this didn't surprise me.

She pointed me to the ViewSonic PJL3211, which has very similar specifications, including "USB Input". The 4.5 kg weight in the technical specifications is a typo; it's actually 4.1 lbs.

Despite the ViewSonic being $60 more, Alicia said she'd give it to me at the same price as the Hitachi. I confirmed with her that I wouldn't get any catalogues or anything in the mail from CDW, and that was that.

Later in the day, while blowing away on bike accessories the money I'd saved with the cheaper projector, someone else from CDW called me to confirm before running my credit card through. It would go out on June 30th, to arrive on the following business day, July 2nd.

Lifting the weight

On June 30, my life was starting to get back together. I was back in the office, getting my regular dose of workahol, and this projector, which I had been trying to buy for over a month, was finally on its way. I had also taken a bunch of vitamins in the morning, and had a sizeable lunch, in the event that malnutrition was a contributor to my doldrums.

After my work was done, I stayed in the office to get a bunch of my agenda items off my plate. I was finally productive again.

And just in time, as I was working on Wellington Street all day on Canada Day, from 10am to midnight, plus the following day for a few hours, and I'd need a healthy dose of stamina.

This morning, July 2nd, I got a call from a colleague at 9am to let me know my projector had arrived. Very shortly thereafter, I got another call from CDW's Alicia asking to confirm that I had received it. Cleanup after Canada Day took less time than expected, and I was done at 11:30am. I stopped by the office to pick up my projector, ran a couple errands, then went home and set it up.

Unfortunately, "USB Input" on this device's spec sheet means I could plug it in to my computer with a USB cable; it doesn't have a USB drive slot, nor an SD card slot, for independent projection. But my laptop has dual-monitor capabilities, so this isn't a big setback.


After a post-Canada day nap, I felt my élan has returned. I was able to get those repairs done on my bike, eat stuff, and work through my e-mail inbox. I am, as they say, "back, baby."

But what a whirlwind. Something that had started out as a quick ego-pleasing toy purchase turned into an emotional saga of stress and uncertainty. It was only when the pressure was lifted that I realized how much weight I had ascribed to this one simple goal.

Now, with the dam burst, I have the energy to attack Bluesfest on all cannons, and to get back to my usual routine (of putting off important tasks by blogging voluminously).

More importantly, I can blog on the wall, old school. Take that, Facebook!

- RG>