Thursday, August 28, 2008

More random bits

Well the Olympics are over but it looks like a least one athlete has been reading my blog. Here I was saying that Taekwondo was kind of dull so the Cuban tae kwon do champ Angel Matos decided to liven things up a bit by kicking the referee in the head! Shame I missed that. Anyway he's been banned from the sport for life, can't say I blame the IOC for that call -- what referee would be willing to oversee a match with Matos after that.

With all the Olympics stuff going on I missed a really good story involving critical thinking. This has to do with that Bigfoot scam that happened in the States, where a couple of guys froze a gorilla suit in a block of ice and claimed it was Bigfoot. Even some major media outlets were reporting on it. Shock of all shocks, thanks to the media hype they sold the "body" to some pro-Bigfoot people for some undisclosed sum and by the time the buyer managed to thaw it out and discover it was a rubber suit the guys had skipped town.

I kind of feel bad for the buyer as they obviously let their enthusiasm for Bigfoot override their caution. When someone announces that they have found an hereto undiscovered new species of 7 foot primate that had been roaming North America without us discovering it until now verify it before putting money down.

So what do I think of Bigfoot? Sorry all you Bigfoot enthusiasts out there but I cannot believe that a species as large as Bigfoot, which apparently roams North America from Alaska all the way down to Alabama, could have escaped being captured and studied by now. How can a species with that big of range have escaped detection all these years?

Anyway for those of you are interested in such things Google the word "cryptozoology". This is about researching legendary animals, though I think most of those people are a little out there. Bigfoot, yeti, the Loch Ness monster, and so forth, there are people still trying to find them.

In local news the big stories are a Qatari student in the UK who was beaten to death by a gang, and a road rage incident in Qatar where one of the drivers pulled a gun and started shooting at the other car, causing an accident which killed the other driver. (Both drivers were Qataris) The gun incident is kind of concerning as that is the first time, that I know of, that has happened here. The guy with the gun is now in serious trouble of course but even if he had not killed anyone or shot the gun he was facing good jail time. Qatar takes unregistered guns very seriously, it was only a couple weeks ago that another Qatari had his car searched by the police where they discovered an unregistered rifle and some ammo. The guy got three years in prison! Ouch. That is some serious gun control laws.

Finally, a piece of trivia that you may have seen in the papers recently. The Collins Dictionary company recently announced what they believe is the most misspelled word in the English language. The result?


Because it is not spelt "supercede". Collins believes we get it wrong because we are used to words like "precede" and "intercede". I was surprised because I definitely would have spelt it with a "c". I surveyed six people in the office and five of them thought it was spelt with a "c" and the sixth wasn't sure if it could be spelt either way. Oxford dictionary agrees with Collins. One of my co-workers suggested that maybe "supercede" is an acceptable North American spelling. If anyone has an American or Canadian dictionary who can verify it, please let me know.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Birthday wishes

My niece's birthday was yesterday (at least it was yesterday my time, because she lives 11 time zones west of here it shouldn't be yesterday where she is) Happy birthday Karis!

Hopefully Mommy and Daddy took her out to a playground or somewhere else fun and then went home for cake! Or maybe stayed home and played, and then had cake! Anyway, hope you have (had?) a great day Karis, and cake. *kiss*

More on Olympics

Apparently Canada has in the last four or five days acquired a nice haul of medals, which should at least allay fears that we were not going to win any. Of course Australia has a lot more so I'm sure there will be more moaning by Canadians once the initial rush has calmed down and the Olympics are over. Whatever.

I do like watching the Olympics possibly because it gives you the chance to see all sorts of sports that I would never usually see. So here is my take on some of the sports I had been watching:

Rowing -- pretty interesting to follow, races do not take a lot of time and they are usually quite close which adds to the excitement.

Volleyball -- decent amount of action, sometimes good drama, but I find the matches sometimes take too long

Boxing -- to me Olympic boxing is not as exciting as watching regular boxing (you know, 10 to 15 rounds, usually ends in a knockout). Knockouts are rare Olympic boxing and they do not fight many rounds.

Taekwondo -- not that exciting to watch unfortunately. A lot of time is spent with the fighters just moving a bit back and forth waiting for their opportunity.

Diving -- interesting for perhaps about 20 minutes then gets repetitive. I couldn't get caught up in the excitement.

Athletics -- I like watching it, even the more obscure ones like polevaulting. Except for speed walking, which I just find bizarre.

Gymnastics -- a lot of people really like watching it but I find myself kind of neutral about it, doesn't really grab me.

Water Polo -- actually not that bad. I happened to turn the TV on when one match was starting (Greece versus Germany) and watched the entire match. It will not be replacing hockey or soccer any time soon though.

Handball -- I don't really get it, rather watch water polo or basketball

Basketball -- the games featuring the United States have not been all that great because the US has been stomping over every opponent. Basketball is at its best when the game is close. I will still try to watch the gold medal game though.

Equestrian -- believe it or not I actually watched a large portion of the team competition and found it interesting. But I must confess it was interesting only in that I wanted to see just how badly some riders were going to screw this up. One horse refused to jump over a water hazard, and another almost managed to throw his rider. One horse seemed to make a career out of just crashing through the gates, which I found quite amusing. I also amused by how the Saudis had one "his Royal Highness" on the team (one of the hundreds of Saudi princes I assume) and he was the worst one on the team.

So enjoy the last few days of the Olympics, I'll try the catch what I can.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Canada and the Olympics

So it is day number eight of the Olympics and I woke up this morning to see that Canada still had zero medals. [Update: by this afternoon we had 3 but I'm still going to rant anyway]. Now I know that Canada has never been a major Summer Olympics nation but even this was a little surprising to me as it usually doesn't take us eight days to get medals. Not surprising to me however was the inevitable news articles and editorials in Canada griping about our Olympics performance. So why wasn't I surprised?

Because this happens every Summer Olympics!

Canadians always seemed shocked when we don't wind up with 40+ medals so we start going through the excuses, the handwringing, the appeals to our politicians and sporting authorities to explain what happened, the angry letters to the editor. Comparisons to Australia are inevitably made. Comparisons to countries in the developing world who managed to get medals are inevitably made. And then one month later we forget about all that because it is time for hockey to start. Four years later the cycle will begin anew. As far as I can tell moaning about the Summer Olympics is a Canadian tradition.

So, in true Canadian-Olympic spirit, here are my gripes about the whole process:

1) Stop the comparisons with Australia

Yes, Canada and Australia have similar levels of wealth. Yes, both countries are large, sparsely-populated “Western” nations. Yes, men in both countries like to wrestle wild and dangerous animals (Australians: crocs, Canadians: Revenue Canada lawyers) but there is one key difference -- Australians happen to like some sports that offer a lot of medals, such as swimming, whereas we like sports that don't offer a lot of medals, such as hockey and curling. It is that simple. The most medals a country can win in hockey is 2. The most medals at country can win in curling is 2. The most medals a country can possibly win in swimming is probably something like 10,000 or so. That's just the way it is. If it bothers you that much that Australia has big Summer Olympics medals tallies than petition the IOC to include all of the NHL's Skills Competition events as separate medal items in the Winter Olympics. While you're at it, ask them to include relay versions of those same events. Canada will then triple its Winter Olympics medal tallies and you can sleep smugly.

2) The other 46 months between Olympics

One article I read really hit it on the head when they noted that we don't seem to care about almost any of the Summer Olympics events or the athletes competing in them for the 46 months between Summer Olympics. Only when the Olympics are upon us are we suddenly concerned with our rowers, wrestlers, gymnasts, and swimmers and demand that they perform and get medals. Is this really fair?

Why are we heaping these expectations upon them now? If we haven't been following gymnastics for these last four years it seems a little unfair to suddenly become concerned about our athletes performance in Beijing. While we spent 46 months ignoring the athletes they continued to train and compete, representing their country in the sports they loved. They certainly couldn't have been doing it for the money, and probably 98% of them are never recognized by people when they walk down the street. Local television usually doesn't even bother broadcasting their events because they know Canadians would rather watch something else. And a major endorsement deal is highly unlikely. So we don't embrace them for 46 months, then for two months demand medals. If I were a Canadian athlete slugging it out for four years in obscurity, then suddenly asked why I'm not in the top three, I'd be tempted to tell these people demanding medals where to go. Maybe Canadians should stop looking at medal counts and look at how they placed compared to expectations. Winding up in fifth place at an Olympics is pretty awesome when you are only ranked number 20 or so in the world. Yet for many of these athletes such achievements go unnoticed.

3) Stop the comparisons with developing countries

Whenever we start comparing our medal count to some country in the developing world the underlying implication is that only money gets medals. The worst offenders are those that state something along the lines of “EVEN country XYZ has medals” with country XYZ inevitably being either war-torn, destitute, in Africa, or all of the above.

Many Olympic events do not require a lot of technology or money to train athletes in. Athletics, boxing, weightlifting, in sports like these any country has the potential to create gifted competitors, and in many of these countries sporting success is the only hope these athletes have of earning a reasonable amount of money to support their families. So they train, and train hard. Their countrymen support them. I attended the weightlifting at the Asian Games the place was packed with Iranians, Arabs and people from other nationalities, who were loudly cheering for the athletes, many times chanting their names. Can you name one Canadian weightlifter? And many times these athletes are successful and rightfully earn Olympic medals. Good for them! Money doesn't mean everything in sport so stop acting too shocked when someone from a poor nation can actually outcompete “Western” athletes in some events.

In fact the Olympic events that annoy me are those that basically exclude the Developing World because of the costs involved to either participate in it, or to train people to excel at it. Could someone explain to me how most developing nations could have even a chance of competing in something like equestrian events? Or sailing? As far as I'm concerned the IOC should consider getting rid of most of these high-tech, high-expense events and focus on those that countries of any economic level have a realistic chance to participate in.

Okay rant over, time for me to go back and watch the Olympic coverage.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Coming back from my vacation I had a bit of coinage with me from the various countries that I've visited and immediately put it in my "coin drawer" and then realised that there were a lot of coins in there. So what do I have?

-- $1.36 Canadian, including two fifty-cent pieces (any Canadian remember those?)
-- £2.25
-- 500 Bahraini fils
-- 11.80 Euro (Christ that's a lot, better remember to bring it with me next time I am in Europe)
-- 1.60 Hong Kong dollars
-- 2 UAE dinar
-- 22 Czech crowns
-- 0.25 Caymanian dollar (where did that come from? I've never even been to the Cayman Islands)
-- 22 pence from the Isle of Man
-- 0.10 Turkish lira
-- 1.50 Macau dollars
-- $.40 of convertible Cuban peso (in Cuba this currency had a value on par with the US dollar but is worthless anywhere else)
-- unidentifiable coin, has "20" on one side and "confederatio Helvetica" on the other. I don't think it is Turkish.
-- unidentifiable coin, has the number "1" on one side and some sort of Oriental script on it which I think is Chinese. Maybe some kind of Chinese penny?

While I'm in the drawer I may as well list a few "souvenir bills" that I have kept over the years:

-- 10 million Zimbabwe dollars (was only worth about $.30 when I got it and the bill expires on June 30, 2008 so is worthless now)
-- 1 punt note from the Central bank of Ireland
-- a US two dollar bill

And of course I have some Canadian, US, British, Bahraini, UAE, and Euro notes for spending when I am next in those countries.

Looking back at all of this I now realise that different currencies are annoying. I think the Europeans have the right idea by trying to harmonise to just one currency. The Gulf countries may do the same in 2010 and have just one Gulf currency. Fine by me.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I'm back

Okay -- I'm back!

Where have I been? On vacation in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and even a day trip to Vienna.

For those of you on my e-album list I'm starting to get all the pictures together to put into albums but it is going to take me a bit of time. Between my friend Zuzana and myself we had over 900 pictures. I'm thinking of splitting it up into three e-albums (of about 50-100 pics each, I'm not going to use them all) so that it is more manageable. Just be patient, 900 pictures is a lot to sort through.

So instead of going into detail about the trip I think I will use this post to discuss things that I experienced that can not be explained in pictures:

-- the Slovak and Czech languages, while they use the Latin alphabet, have of course different syllable stresses than English and certain letter combinations are pronounced differently then you would instinctively do in English. As a result I became very good at pronouncing most Slovak/Czech words that I saw incorrectly. I did improve a little as time went on but it is funny how as soon as you start reading a word it is very difficult to "override" your instinct for how it is pronounced in your native language. My friend explained that in Slovak the letters only have one sound, which makes it even less complicated than English where letters like 'c' or 'g' could be pronounced in different ways, but I never could quite get a handle on it.

-- beer is reasonably priced, in many cases the same price as a soda. I've never been to many places in the world where a beer was about the same price as a cola. Outside of the big cities a pint of beer was usually around US $1.30-$1.50. And Czezh/Slovak beers are quite nice too. I quickly learned that "pivo" means beer.

-- for you nondrinkers the cola of choice is not Coke or Pepsi but a local one called Kofola. In some restaurants it is even available on tap, much like draft beer. While it is very popular in Slovakia and the Czech Republic my friend told me she had never seen it anywhere else.

-- the border between Austria and Slovakia is open and you do not even have to stop your vehicle when crossing the border. Quite a change from when Slovakia was in the "Iron Curtain" and Austria was in the "West", and that was what, 20 years ago? It is sad to think that it was not so long ago that people could be arrested or even killed crossing that border.

-- The highway road quality is generally better in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The main highway from Prague to Brno (the second-largest city in the Czech Republic) was rough and bumpy while the moment that highway crossed into Slovakia it became a lot smoother. Unless the Czech Republic do some serious roadworks that highway is going to be a real mess in about three to four years.

-- in the Czech language "Prague" is actually spelt and pronounced "Praha". That kind of surprised me as I had no idea why English would convert Praha into Prague (why would English add a 'g'?). A Czech friend of mine figured that English took it from the German who also pronounce it "Prag". Perhaps to get even while we use "Vienna" in Austria the city's name is actually spelt "Wien". Bear this in mind if you're ever on a road trip through Czech Republic and Austria because if you start looking for road signs pointing you to "Prague" or "Vienna" you will not find them.

That is it for now, if I think of anything else I will post it. The e-albums should start arriving within the next week or so.