Monday, January 30, 2012

Salmon Burgers - YUM!

I was in Saskatoon this weekend, and on Sunday night Robyn and I made salmon burgers!

They turned out AWESOME. And they were wickedly easy to make. We chopped about 650g of boneless, skinless salmon in a food processor, then mixed in (by hand) 1/4 cup chopped green onions, about 1/4 cup feta cheese (more would have been good), an egg, a cup of bread crumbs, a shot of lemon juice, and as much fresh dill as we could muster. Which was one package from the grocery store.

We formed patties and fried them in 1-2tbsp of olive oil in a pan for about 4 minutes per side. Also, I made "homemade tartar sauce****" which has four emphasis stars because really I just cut up pickles into tiny bits and mixed them into mayonnaise.

We found the recipe in Looneyspoons and it would have been way better if we had all of the ingredients (lemon zest, for one) BUT they were still amazing. Robyn made homemade buns (pictured) the day before so they were extra-awesome!

A very simple recipe: will make again!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Products That Are Awesome: Location-Based Call Screening for Android

This past December a spam caller started to phone me two, three, four, sometimes five times a day. Hitting "ignore call" each time is frustrating, so I searched for a better solution. I found built-in number blacklist in my Android phone. When a blacklisted number calls me, nothing happens. It's awesome. My phone doesn't make a noise and the screen doesn't turn on.

But that wasn't the greatest solution - new spam callers would start calling, or existing spammers would call from new numbers... and the built-in Android blacklist wasn't the easiest to use. I found a great way to solve these problems with a smarter app that handles area-code identification and blacklisting.

I found a fairly well-reviewed app called Instant Area Code. North American area codes are hard-coded into this app, so when you receive a call from a 604 number that's not in your contacts list, the phone will display "BRITISH COLUMBIA". Having the information hard-coded into the phone is a plus - it means that there is no delay showing you the area code location (some completing apps perform the lookup on the internet, so you have to wait a few rings for the location to show up).

Here's a screenshot I took of my phone receiving a call that I placed through Gmail's web interface.
You can see that the call is coming from Escondido, California (where Google must route their Gmail phone traffic through). Having this extra bit of location information is extremely useful in screening calls.

Just to be clear: the app doesn't show you the physical location of the caller. It just shows you where the area code of the number is used.

Android users, the downside to Instant Area Code is that the UI is ugly as sin, the app hasn't been updated in a while, and some blacklist-numbers-by-contact functions appear to be glitchy. That said, if you prefer function over form, and just want to know where your calls are coming from, it will do the job. Trust me, I tried a lot of free and trial version apps, and none of them could do this location-based identification right.

Long story short: If you have an Android, BlackBerry or iPhone and you've got Call Display, there are apps to help you identify the caller and/or where they're calling from, and blacklist spam phone numbers (or area codes) entirely. Find one, install it, and spend less time answering spam calls!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The McDonald's Wet Chocolate Caulk Pie

Most mornings in Montreal I grab a medium coffee with two milks from the McDonald's in the mall below my office. Plain McDonald's coffee (not the fancy McCafe stuff - I haven't tried it) is actually pretty good. And cheap! And all the cups have an air insulation layer inside. And the lids don't suck, like Tim Hortons.


Recently McDonald's has introduced what - to me - looks like the most vile and disgusting product ever to hit the shelves: The Oreo Pie.

Each day when I order my coffee, I have to look at a menu like this (this is not the exact menu, just an image that showed up on Google):

Maybe it's just me, but that picture is GROSS. Yeah yeah fast food is all gross etc, but come on - this is especially unpleasant to look at. The exterior cake looks overly moist while the cake near the frosting looks rock solid.

And the frosting... I can't look at it without thinking of this:

There you have it: The McDonald's Wet Chocolate Caulk Pie. Am I insane though? Does that picture look gross, or am I overreacting? I can tell you that the idea of an Oreo pie sounds great, in theory. It's just when I gaze upon the menu picture in the morning, I suppress the urge to gag.


Bonus: while searching for images for this blog, I found this insane cake recipe that combines ice cream sandwiches, Cool Whip, crushed Oreos and Jello chocolate pudding. Strangely, this homemade gargantuan calorie feast looks much more appetizing than McDonald's Wet Chocolate Caulk Pie.

Blog link:

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Fine Meat Sauce

For supper tonight - and for several of my lunches next week - I made a meat sauce using ground-up hot Italian sausage in my wok. It turned out awesome:

Ingredients: 1 package Bowtie pasta, 450g spicy Italian sausage broken (skins removed, broken apart while frying), one red pepper, one onion, green onions, 5 huge mushrooms, can of diced tomatoes, can of tomato paste, and a shot of balsamic vinegar for aroma and flavour. Seriously, balsamic vinegar is awesome in Italian meat sauces.

Turned out great, will make again!

Monday, January 16, 2012

TV Review: National Geographic's Drugs, Inc.

I'm really digging this new show produced by National Geographic, called Drugs, Inc. As a NatGeo production it is, obviously, a non-fiction show.

(image source: website screenshot)

Each one-hour episode of the show is a fascinating look into a specific drug that makes up part of the global illegal drug trade. Only eight episodes have aired so far, covering drugs like cocaine, heroin, cannabis, ecstasy, and meth.

National Geographic has really done their research on this show. Every episode features footage, interviews, and information with and about the following:

  • End-users;
  • Dealers;
  • Distributors;
  • Traffickers;
  • Producers/Growers;
  • Scientists (who talk about what the drug does to the brain);
  • Law enforcement (in regards to enforcement issues);
  • Doctors (in regards to personal health impacts);
  • Sociologists (in regards to societal impacts);
  • Politicians and lawmakers (in regards to legal history and current legal issues);
  • Pro-legalization groups (when applicable, obviously. No one wants to legalize meth, but the cannabis episode highlighted the current debates in that realm, and apparently acid and other hallucinogens have some valid therapeutic uses);
  • Just-say-no groups. 
And they really do go global - they visit poppy fields in Afghanistan, coca fields in Peru, hashish fields in Morocco, and grow-ops in North America. 

The end result is an incredibly balanced and informative show that is not trying to present an agenda, just the facts. The show boldly tackles issues that lots of people would rather not talk about. Interestingly, the US Government and the US Drug Enforcement Agency directly support the show's production, even though some of the facts don't always agree with the law. 

Here are a few of the things you can learn from this show. 
  • Hard-drug growers (poppy growers in Afghanistan or coca leaf growers in Peru) usually have exceptionally poor families. This is not because growing the ingredients for drugs provides a bad income. In fact, growing ingredients for drugs is often several times more profitable than growing non-narcotic crops. They are trying to earn money so their kids can eat and go to school, and they are well aware (and sometimes ashamed) of the irony: they're taking money and food out of other people's mouths to do it. 
  • Acid can be produced in two ways. One way is to synthesize it in a lab. The other involves refining a byproduct of the Sassafras tree - the same tree we get Root Beer flavour from! 
  • Hard drugs (meth, heroin, crack cocaine) are terrifyingly addictive, which is also why they are expensive - hardcore addicts will do almost anything to get them. Drugs like heroin and crack cocaine change the chemistry of the brain in such a way that the user undergoes incredibly painful withdrawal symptoms if they haven't had a "hit" within a few hours. Once I saw how these people live on a day-to-day basis, my perception of them changed from criminals to victims - their lives are being controlled by hard drugs. 
  • In North America, as a rule, the further North of the Mexico-USA border you are, the more expensive drugs are. 
  • In the United States, the Federal Government regards cannabis (marijuana) as illegal - you can go to jail for a long time on a pot charge. However, 16 US states defy this ban and have decriminalized cannabis for medical purposes. In an M. Night Shyamalan twist, the Federal Government legally mails four people legal cannabis for medical purposes every month (see also). They used to mail it out to 14 people but... 10 died. 
  • Traffickers and the cartels behind them are usually the real bad guys. Not so much the growers, not even the dealers and end-users, but the traffickers, where there is big money to be made. 
I think people from all backgrounds and preconceptions will find this show really interesting. It's neutral enough that hardcore anti-drug people and hardcore pro-legalization people will both exclaim "I told you so!" after watching a few episodes. 

This neutral balance contributes a LOT to the viewers' understanding of the drug in question, and lets the audience draw their own conclusions. My reaction to every episode with hard drugs (crack cocaine, meth, heroin) has been "holy shit, I'm glad I have never and will never touch the stuff." For other drugs like cannabis, acid and ecstasy, I am left with the impression that they should be controlled and people should be able to safely make their own choices about them. Hey, don't judge me - Steve Jobs dropped acid

Anyway. I wish I watched this in high school instead of a Just Say No video - Just Say No focuses on the "no", not on the "knowledge". Hey-o! 

The producers venture deep into realms that I thought would be impossible to capture on film. The semi-taboo subject matter just makes the show more interesting to watch. Watching this documentary TV show is like watching Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Law & Order, and Cheech & Chong's Up In Smoke all at once. It's surreal. 

Check the show out, I highly recommend it! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Wise Cubical Visitor

There's an older gentleman at my office in Montreal who enjoys getting to know random people on this floor. He'll wander by my cubical a few times per week and chat with me, but before wandering away he usually tries to pass along some wisdom.
He's a totally nice guy and I mean no offense to him whatsoever, but the magnitude of his wisdom varies greatly day-to-day.
Today I said I'd like to "settle down" in Saskatoon. He said that was unlikely; once you start accepting travel assignments (as I have in Montreal), you never want to stop moving around. This pushed me deep into thought, as right now I DO I want to settle down in Saskatoon and I can't see that changing. I focused my thoughts inward and tried to think of a scenario where I'd want to pick up and move. I couldn't think of anything, but he still made me challenge an important idea that I hold true.
Yesterday he told me to take my dress shirts out of the dryer when they're still damp so I could skip ironing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Guitar! So Metal.

I bought a new guitar today with some money I got from my parents for Christmas!!!!

It is a Jackson Rhoads RR3, made in Japan, with a Floyd Rose licensed tremelo and Seymour Duncan humbuckers (pickups). The guitar was designed by the late Randy Rhoads, who played with Quiet Riot in the late 70s and Ozzy Osbourne in the early 80s, before a dying in a plane crash in 1982.

Although Randy Rhoads designed the Jackson Rhoads guitar, he (tragically) never played it. He played the prototype and sent feedback to the guitar makers, but died before the revised prototypes were completed. Although Rhoads was only 25 when he died, he had a massive impact on the metal scene with some original guitar work in classic songs like Crazy Train, Diary of a Madman and Mr. Crowley.

I bought the guitar from Italmelodie in Montreal where a guy named Dino was super helpful, letting me play on a crappy practice amp (to simulate the crappy amp I have here in Montreal) and a huge Marshall stack in a soundproof room. He was great - he left me alone to play for 40 minutes or so, stopping by every once in a while to ask how I was doing or tell me he liked a song I was playing (I was playing a lot of Randy Rhoads stuff, and he's a huge fan). A+++ would shop again! 

It is hard to take a picture of yourself holding a guitar and also looking cool.

Here's a little video I recorded this evening. I'm playing part of a song called Paraphrase by Swedish guitar sensation Yngwie Malmsteen. I couldn't get an cut with no mistakes so I said "eff it" and uploaded this version. 

I've only put a few hours of play into this guitar but I already love it. The action is super low and the notes just jump off the fretboard. My Gibson SG has no tremelo/whammy bar so it will take some time to get used to the whammy on the RR3. The only downside: it's not easy to play sitting down. But that's okay, sitting is not very metal. I might upload a few more videos of me playing guitar in the future, we'll see! 

Thanks Mom and Dad! 

Friday, January 6, 2012


I was talking to Robyn on the phone the other night and I asked her, "have you ever just walked around without your glasses on? I walked home without my glasses today and it was awesome."

She laughed and said no, but that her sisters sometimes did and they called it "blindwalking."

I was excited to hear that other people without glasses sometimes do this too, and that it's not just me being crazy.

My vision is fairly poor: I'm nearsighted with a -4.5 and -5.5 prescription on whatever scale prescriptions are on. In layman's terms, I need to have my looking-balls about 10 inches away from size 12 font to have any hope of reading it. To have any hope of recognizing a person when I'm not wearing contacts or glasses, they need to be less than 5 feet away (and they need to be even closer for me to figure out if they're making eye contact).

When I walk around without glasses, it's like being teleported into a colourful, blurry, and isolating world. Why isolating? When your vision is poor and you don't wear your lenses, you can't see people's eyes, which prevents you from seeing their intentions. You don't pick up any social cues like eye contact, smiles, raised eyebrows, etc. Everyone is just a blob moving from A to B and you're moving around in this fuzzy version of reality. This isolating feeling is strangely (and consistently) peaceful, even in a busy, loud place like downtown Montreal.

The thing I love most about terrible vision (no sarcasm, I promise!) is lights. Lights on cars, street lights, digital billboards, neon signs, and Christmas trees all look more magical. When I look at a Christmas tree in low light without my glasses, I can't make out the ornaments. Rather, I see a tree covered in GIANT orbs of colourful light. This is one of my favourite things to do at Christmas - take of my glasses and look at trees.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Difficult Day

I just got back to Montreal, and so far today I've had what Eugenie Fernandes would call A Difficult Day.

I'll get all of my complaining out of the way at once:

  • My Saskatoon apartment's sink is backed up. We can't drain anything, and whatever our upstairs neighbour drains comes up through our sink. Oh joy! Here's my attempt at plugging the sink with Gladware to prevent overnight floodage (it didn't work)
  • I slept poorly last night, due to the one-man highland dance troupe living upstairs. 
  • One of my flights was cancelled so I was bumped to a later flight, guaranteeing that all of my daylight hours were spent in airplanes or airports. 
  • My bags were last on the carousel (#firstworldproblems)
  • The drug store in my building wouldn't sell me a box and bubble wrap because only the post office (inside the drug store) is allowed to sell them?? Umm, the post-related inventory is mixed right into the stationary isle, why can't I give you some money in exchange for some shipping supplies?! "Oh, the post office part is closed, so you can't have the items on this shelf in this open store."
  • Most strangely, apparently my apartment's management showed my apartment to at least one "client" while I was on Christmas break in Saskatoon. What? People were in my apartment? Okay, there was an advance notice of this visit slipped under my door, but when they visited a week later would they not have seen that undisturbed, unopened notice on the floor? No consent was given to enter and I did not see the notice until today. I am very annoyed. Nothing is missing, but how do you feel when someone enters your personal space without permission? It's creepy. I called the "agent" and left a message asking her how many people were in here and when. These so-called clients are welcome to see my apartment but only if I have actually received the notice and only if I actually give consent. 
Life is not all bad; I suppose my tiredness just magnified all of these relatively minor issues. On the upside, today I saw some friends on the plane who I haven't seen for a long time, and I had a really, really, really great Christmas break at home in Saskatoon. Lots of food and fun with friends and family (eff, that's some fine alliteration!). 

I should have some interesting, non-complainy blog posts up within the next week or two. Happy New Year!