March 10th, 2002

Digital Cable

Our palace at 100 Prince St. is now equipped with Eastlink’s new digital cable service. We’ve made the jump from 50-odd television channels to something in the neighbourhood of 200.

The installation experience was frustrating. A guy came around on Thursday morning to do the installation, and spent about 15 minutes installing the digital box in our living room. He then made a telephone call to activate it, and then was on his way, telling me that in about 45 minutes everything would be downloaded to the box, and we’d be in business.

Well, 5 hours later we only had about 20 of the channels between channel 100 and channel 200 coming in: the rest of the channels simply contain a message saying “One Moment: This channel will be availble shortly.” But many moments passed, and nothing came in.

After 15 minutes on hold to Eastlink technical support, I got through to a helpful agent who was able to reset the digital box several times remotely, but alas to no avail. She scheduled a service call for Friday morning.

Friday afternoon another Eastlink guy showed up at the door to do the repair. He fiddled with the box, and couldn’t do anything immediately. So he phoned in to headquarters and was on hold for 10 minutes himself (proving that at least they treat themselves as poorly as they treat their customers). More remote resets, etc. Nothing. Finally he resorted to going out to the pole on the street where he found that we were plugged into the “old plant” rather than the “new plant” and, further, that the line from the pole to our house was in rough shape.

He spent another hour giving us a brand new line from house to pole, and when he left about 4:00 p.m. we were fully digital, with all of the channels coming through loud and clear.

That we had a bum line from pole to house probably explains something about why our analog cable had quirks, like wavy lines showing up every 2 or 3 minutes on A&E.

For the next three months we’ve got a free trial of the whole universe of new digital channels. I’m disappointed that the international channels seem to be “Canadianized” versions: for example, we get “BBC Canada,” not the bona fide BBC. If you’re a fan of advertising as I am, it’s disappointing to get ads for Bobby Vinton CDs from Kitchener rather than bona fide British ads.

My initial favourites of the new channels: BBC Canada (for the pre-Trading Spaces show Changing Rooms), iChannel (a weird channel that seems sort of like the Discovery Channel, but hosted by Joe Clark’s daughter; they have Scientific American Frontiers hosted by Alan Alda, which is great), BBC Kids (for all the kids shows with multi-ethnic kids with British accents), Tech TV (just for the crazy insanity of watching people take technology absurdly seriously) and, of course, the Movie Channel, all 5 versions thereof, for movies and HBO programs.

It’s amazing I can get any work done.

March 9th

Ed from Melfort

My brother Steve emerges from hiding, with this classic line:

Yeah this is Ed from Melfort. What kind of a yahoo have you got on there this morning?”
Welcome back, Steve.

Melfort is located about 1/3 of the way up Saskatchewan, roughly halfway between Saskatoon and Prince Albert and over a bit to the east.

Oddly, Melfort appears to have three city slogans:

Melfort is Saskatchewan’s “City of Northern Lights”.

They have another city slogan: “You’ll love it here.” That doesn’t seem too original to me.

And Melfort appears also to be known as the “Heart of the Carrot River Valley.”

Some day I will visit Melfort and find Ed and avenge the insult.

March 8th

Mexico Lindo

We ate at Mexico Lindo for the first time last night. It’s a new restaurant here in Charlottetown on University Avenue right across from Metro Credit Union. We’d heard mixed reviews from others, about 50% good and 50% bad. Here are my impressions.

Pros: the Mexican chef is incredibly nice and attentive (he paid particular attention to Oliver which, as regular readers will know, is a plus in my world); our waiter was pleasant, had a command of Spanish (or was a good actor), and was generally attentive; there was a nice tangy salsa served with the complimentary corn chips; the refried beans (usually a monotonous weak spot on the menu) were fantastic and served at just the right temperature; Catherine’s steak was cooked exactly to her liking; the tequilla mousse that I had for dessert was served hot and was very interesting; the after dinner mints were high quality.

Bothers: the parking is precarious and hard to locate, as is the entrance to the restaurant itself; the host forgot to give us menus and I had to get up and get them myself; the complimentary corn chips were cold and thick and too greasy; silverware management was weak and I ended up without proper dessert tools.

Cons: the rice served with both Catherine’s meal and mine was bland and served cold; my enchilada was cold and uninspiring; the sauce on Catherine’s steak wasn’t all that tasty; the deep fried ice cream wasn’t anything to write home about; our server overcharged us by $8.00 on the check (credit to the host for catching the error).

Taste-wise it’s important to mention that the host warned us that the chef would, unless otherwise instructed, serve the dishes without a lot of spicy heat; it’s our own fault for not requesting something more than “no spice at all.”

Mexican food approach-wise, if our meals were anything to judge by, there’s a commendable attempt to avoid the Pat & Willys / Lone Star / Taco Bell school of Mexican food (serve really huge portions of a generic tomato-based ricey dish and hope nobody notices).

While many components of the experience came off well, there was a certain “we just opened and we’re not really sure what we’re doing” quality about the place; this is understandable, as they just opened, and they probably don’t know what they’re doing.

We’ll go back. But we agreed that it would be hard to recommend to anyone else just yet, and we wouldn’t take anyone from out of town there, at least until things move up a notch or two.

I’d welcome reports from others.

March 7th

Mood/Food Charts

About 10 years ago, my trusty friend Stephen Southall and I took off east from Peterborough, Ontario in my 1978 Ford F-100 pickup to deliver the life possessions of our friends Richard and Victoria to Halifax.

Once we dropped them in Halifax, we headed back west, and when we got to the fork in the road with one road taking us to Moncton and the other to Prince Edward Island, we flipped a coin and PEI won. And so we had a brief vacation in PEI rather than a brief vacation in Moncton.

Then, in a fit of careless abandon, we decided to return to Peterborough via Providence, Rhode Island. Those of you with a cartographic bent will realize that this isn’t the direct route.

I wanted to see the Rhode Island School of Design and Stephen wanted to see Brown. We caught the 10:40 a.m. ferry from Borden and arrived at the Super 8 Motel in Providence at about 1:30 a.m.

We were exhausted.

And at 3:00 a.m. someone decided that we were in their room, and a brief ruckus ensued.

In the morning we were even more exhausted, it was raining, and Stephen was starting to catch a cold.

While we had quite a pleasant time touring the college area of Providence, by the time we were ready to head north again we were both in pretty foul moods.

By way of distracting ourselves from this, Stephen came up with an analytical approach, and thus was born the “Mood/Food Chart.”

The idea is that for every occupant of the long-distance vehicle, you create a column on a chart. The rows on the chart can be developed as your needs and imagination dictate; we included things like “hunger level,” “honesty level,” “foods consumed,” and, of course “mood.”

The charts were a good distraction and they helped us from killing each other. And, interestingly enough, sometimes they pointed out one of those never obvious enough things like “30 minutes after you drink a can of Coke you fell horrible.”

The “Mood/Food Chart” has become a regular part of our family travel arsenal as a result.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across a link on Doc Searls’ website to this software program called MoodStats. It’s described as follows:

Moodstats is an application that allows you to quickly record & rate how your day has been in six different categories. You can also attach comments to these values to further illustrate why your moods are the way they are.

After you’ve entered at least three days of data into the program, Moodstats springs into action and begins to generate multi-colored graphs & statistics showing you exactly how your moods have been over the last week, month, two months, six months or year.

Certainly a step up from a pad of paper in the back of a pickup truck, and maybe overkill for casual analysis. But interesting nonetheless.

Cold Hearted Heat

At the beginning of this week I wrote here about the different attitude toward children here in North America and in Thailand.

Apparently people actually read this page (something that always comes as a shock to me), and Catherine has caught some heat from her friends and colleagues along the lines of “hey, we like Oliver…”

Please note that my comments weren’t meant to be a “hey, you don’t love my son enough!” plea. Oliver gets plenty of attention, love, regards, waves, etc. in his regular everyday life here in Charlottetown, from our friends, family, colleagues, and sometimes even from the people that you meet while you’re walkin’ down the street.

So you can stop complaining.

In other cold hearted news, an anonymous friend — let’s call her Libertà — called me today with a story: she was in the bank, at a wicket beside a woman with small child. The woman was struggling to balance dealing with the teller and dealing with the child. By way of trying to be helpful, Libertà tried to engage the child in conversation, which prompted the woman to pick up the child and move him to the other side of her.

Libertà commented on this to the teller after woman and child had left, remarking that in other cultures she might have picked up the child so the mother could bank in peace. The teller recoiled in shock, and said she would never do that lest she be accused of molesting the child.

Which explains a lot about a lot of things.

Another friend emailed to say that our experiences in Thailand echo those that he and his wife experienced in Mexico with their son. This was reinforced tonight for us when we ate at Mexico Lindo for this first time, and found the Mexican chef doting on Oliver in a way we’d only ever seen at the wonderful Lobster Claw out in Brackley Beach.

Libertà, by the way, remains undaunted, and will return to the playing field with as much determination as ever to do right by the kids of town. More power to her.