Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where have all the bloggers gone?

It's been ages since I've updated my blog. I left it in the middle of a cliffhanger. (For the record, I was kicking ass in blackjack in Las Vegas... until I stopped kicking ass and ended up losing $40.) Well, I'm not the only one who seems to have abandoned blogging. A lot of my friends have stopped actively posting. Where are they now? They are on Facebook and Twitter. Ironically, I have chastised both forms of social media in previous blog posts. I claimed that Facebook was too superficial and shallow to keep people's attention. I claimed that Twitter was too brief and impersonal. Well, it looks like I'm the fool, because Facebook and Twitter have proceeded to gut the world of personal blogging completely.

What happened? Maybe it took too much effort for people to put their thoughts into complete paragraphs. Why not distill it into 140 characters of snarky wit on Twitter. Maybe it was because nobody actively read personal blogs. Why not have your posts automatically delivered to your personal contacts by a Facebook new feed? I don't presume to be any better, because I too have abandoned my blog for Facebook and Twitter. I guess it's all in the name of progress. It's been a blast everyone. I'll probably start this blog up again... but not sure when.

PS: Back in my day, we posted our thoughts on message board systems using 2400 baud dial-up modems... and we liked it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vegas, Baby! Your gambling options

The last time I was in Las Vegas was 8 years ago. Since then I've been yearning to go back. Enticed and teased by my favorite Las Vegas movies, I've decided to go back to Sin City this month. I've foolishly decided to take a more methodical approach to gambling (if there is such a thing).

The last time I went gambling in Vegas, I did it in the worst way possible. I was tired, sleepy, and maybe a little drunk. I hit the roulette tables and the craps table, betting on impulse and gut feelings. I didn't lose the shirt off my back, but I did lose pretty badly.

This time around, I think I'll take a more academic approach to Vegas... and see if it holds up against the glitz and glamour of the moment. Here are the gambling choices when you get to Las Vegas. Pick your poison. Good luck.

Slot machines: They are called one-armed bandits for a reason. Personally, I believe them to be the worst gambling option available. I've been told that casinos are increasing the number of slot machines versus gambling tables, as it gives them more control over the odds. Even more terrible is the phasing out of coins and tokens in favour of card and receipt based rewards. Let's say you win triple bar on a slot machine. In the old days, you'd hear the satisfying plunking and clinking of tokens falling out of the machine... well nowadays, it would only update the balance on an electronic card or print out a receipt with an ID number on it. It's psychologically not the same... and it makes little difference to me because I'm vowing to avoid slots altogether this time around.

Poker: Poker became crazy popular a few years ago during the NHL hockey lockout, when sports channels began to show poker tournaments instead of hockey games. Is poker a sport? Who am I to say? I had a glimpse of the poker rooms during my last Vegas trip, and it was a snake pit. The poker rooms of Las Vegas should be avoided unless you are a pro, because they will eat you alive in there. It didn't even look fun, with all the ball caps, sunglasses, and stone cold poker faces.

Roulette: This was one of my favorite games. If you are lucky, it offers you a 35 to 1 pay out. If you bet red or black, it offers a payout of 1:1. It all seems quite fair, except for one problem. There are zeroes on the wheel! The single zero and the double zero are not considered red or black, and they are not factored into any of the other payout odds. This gives the house an edge of 5.26%. These are the worst odds of any of the table games. If you insist on playing roulette, you MUST find a European table with only one zero on it and a house edge of 2.70%. I've been doing research on roulette strategies, and I've discovering the existence of betting systems. The infamous Martingale system involves doubling your bet every time you lose, in order to win back your losses. While it seems very methodical, you are playing with fire. Eventually you will hit a losing streak that will force you to bet over your budget or the table limit... as which point you are broke. A milder version of this system exists, based on the Fibonacci sequence and a slower level of increase. (Martingale is exponential. Not good.) As fancy as these betting systems are, statistically-speaking, they do NOT improve your odds of winning. Roulette is purely a game of random chance and bad odds. The only way to win is to find an uncalibrated roulette wheel that favors certain numbers. Good luck with that, because it's likely the casino will find them before you do.

Keno: They offered Keno everywhere the last time I was in Vegas. I could play it at a restaurant, while waiting for my food! Now I don't understand Keno very well, but it works similarly to Bingo, in that a sequence of numbers are called out and you have to match them on your card. The house edge will depend on the payout ratio, and there doesn't seem to be a set standard. You can do more research about Keno, but I don't find the game very interesting.

Craps: I like this game, but the rules are a bit complicated. The basic "pass" bet has a house edge of 1.41%. And if you are a jerk and bet against the dice thrower with a "don't pass" bet, your bet has a house edge of 1.40%. There are a lot of other bets you can make on the roulette table, but they have worse odds, so don't bother with them. Under certain conditions, you can get fair odds. When the dice thrower rolls a 6 or an 8 on their first roll, you can bet if they are roll another 6 or 8 before they roll a 7. That will pay out 6:5... which are fair odds. You can only make these bets after you have make an inital "pass" or "come" bet, and that overhead ensure that the house still makes money. In terms of strategies, one can use the betting systems I talked about before, but they don't actually work to win you any more money. Some hardcore craps players use dice control, where they practice throwing 7's by throwing in a consistent manner. This is crazy hard to do, and not feasible if you have a life outside of playing craps. Like Roulette, Craps is mostly a game of chance... It offers better odds than Roulette if you stick to the bets I talked about.

Blackjack: This game offers the best odds of any table game in Las Vegas... but only if you know how to play it well. I've decided to focus on Blackjack exclusively during my upcoming Vegas trip. I'll write up a separate blog post about how to improve your odds in Blackjack.

PS: Our first trip to Vegas in 2003 has been immoralized by VXT.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The White Poppy

My thoughts about Remembrance Day have been blogged before. This year, I was going to blog about the inevitable story of a low-life thief stealing a red poppy donation box. Let's talk a little bit about that. I've set up donation boxes for various fundraising events before. If you have a red poppy donation box: PLEASE secure them when on display! PLEASE hide them after hours! PLEASE have them checked on often!

With that out of the way, I'd like to talk about the buzz around white poppies this year. The white poppy campaign started in the UK as a less soldier-centric take on Remembrance Day. Some people feel that Remembrance Day promotes the glory and/or necessity of war. I have never thought of Remembrance Day or the red poppy campaign this way. Remembrance Day is somewhat like a funeral ceremony, and it's purpose is to remember the dead. Imagine one group going to a funeral of someone that died of cancer, and another group staging a competing rally proclaiming that cancer is terrible. Those messages are not exactly in conflict with each other. However the first group is having a more personal solemn event, while the latter group is having a more detached and reactive event. Ultimately, both groups have come up with different ways of dealing with the same issue... Either group could argue that the other is missing the point.

I have very mixed feelings about the white poppy campaign. I support it in principle, but I chastise it for bad timing. I feel that Remembrance Day is not a day for divisive arguments. Perhaps the white poppy can have any other day (or ALL other days), but November 11 should remain solely for the purpose of remembering those that have fallen during war.

PS: At the end of the day, this argument doesn't matter since I have not seen white poppies on display in my area. I suspect they may show up next year after all this buzz it's been generating. I may wear both red and white in early November... but only red on November 11.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rob Ford stops gravy train: Poutine shortage expected

Making good on his central campaign promise, newly-elected Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, has taken steps to stop the gravy train. Toronto residents, still stunned by Mr. Ford's decisive victory, must now come to grips with a city devoid of gravy...

Near city hall, the lunch truck vendors weigh in on the issue. One vendor (who does not wish to be named) told us that his customers love gravy. "It's free when they order my french fries, and everyone has gravy with their fries. Even some City Hall workers come for lunch and have gravy." When asked how he would deal with the new gravy train policy, he shook his head. "We still have ketchup, you know. Maybe people can try mayonnaise with their fries. I hear people from Europe do that."

At the downtown location of Smoke's Poutinerie, the line-up stretches around the block. "Once I heard that Rob Ford won, my first thought was for poutine. When he stops the gravy train, poutine will be in short supply in this city. I have to eat as much as I can before it runs out!" exclaims one poutine fanatic. Truth be told, several poutine outlets have began price gouging, forecasting a city-wide gravy shortage in the next 4 years. "Business is great right now, but once our gravy runs out, who knows what will happen to us. We got our last gravy shipment yesterday. Once they start re-routing the trains away from Toronto, we will have to close this place down."

Other city residents are taking a more entrepreneurial approach to the gravy train crisis. At an undisclosed location in Markham, some creative individuals are brewing their own gravy and smuggling them into Toronto in hip flasks and small bottles hidden inside their boots. A spokesperson from Toronto Public Health has strong words for anyone considering acquiring gravy in this way. "Gravy distributed in this manner is not only illegal, it is also a health risk. Without regulation and oversight, home-brewed gravy is an accident waiting to happen."

On October 25th, Toronto voted to stop the gravy train... but are they prepared for the consequences? Can 2.5 million people live in a city without gravy? Only time will tell. God help us all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


About a month ago, we disconnected our TV antenna. We decided to turn our backs on the wasteland that television programming had become. Every night, we'd watch some procedural police drama that would start off with a grizzly murder, end with a sloppy murder confession, and filled in the middle with a series of unrealistic events. It was either that or the increasingly lazy spectacle of reality TV, which has become increasingly trashy and less entertaining. No, we weren't going to spend our precious evening hours staring at a glowing screen watching nonsense. They say that television is the Second Screen, with the First Screen being the movie theatre screen.

So what's happened in the last month? We've started listening to the radio. We've started going for walks. Most frighteningly, we've been diverting a lot of time to Facebook. So I can't declare this experiment a complete success, since we've substituted one time sink for another. I have diverted my time to the Third Screen. I surf the internet and Facebook on my laptop. Royal Pinguo is more tech savy and has diverted her attention to the Fourth Screen: Her new smart phone. Even though it's an Android phone, she reminds me of some of the people in this Microsoft commercial:

They also say there is a Fifth Screen... being the in-your-face screens in public places. Like the ones at Yonge/Dundas or the subway station. Meh.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010: I don't know art, but I know what I don't like.

Before I begin, I would like to say that I am by no means "an expert" on art. My interactions with Nuit Blanche are fairly casual. I don't stay up all night... I don't plan a route in advance... But for better or for worse, I have been caught up in the annual hype surrounding Nuit Blanche for the past one or two years. As a casual fan of the event, I agree with Celestialspeedster that this year's offerings were a little lackluster.

Royal Pinguo and I stayed near the Distillery District this year, since we were already in the area during the afternoon/evening for a friend's birthday party. We headed out to see Nuit Blanche around 11:30. One compliant of mine was lack of good lighting. This is a night time event, and if you want your art to be appreciated, it has to be seen. I saw an elephant sculpture dimly lit by a large flashlight being powered by almost dead batteries.

Next we found a post-apocalyptic campsite that was dimly lit and populated with actors portraying life in the grim future. I was on-board with the theme they were going for, but it was a little ruined by the fact that the camp was overrun with other Nuit Blanche visitors and surrounded by the coffee shops and bars of the Distillery District that were still open for business.

We came across the clay slab exhibit which had messages written on it that originated from electronic text messages. This was a good concept, but visitors can only see a slab of clay cluttered with graffiti-like markings and other scribbles that people added by hand. It was essentially a heavily defaced piece of clay. Interesting concept, but not the most visually enticing exhibit.

There were some good exhibits. The most obvious one to me was The Hand of God painting recreated using many Rubik's Cubes. It's obviously art to an art-novice like me because it takes a recognized masterpiece and recreates it using a different medium. It's also effective because an art-novice like like can understand the difficulty in creating the piece.

Another exhibit that I found visually-stimulating and meaningful was statue on the water that was surrounded by flames. The accompanying projection made it obvious that the sculpture was a statement about lack of human rights in parts of the world.

I recognize that Nuit Blanche is not an easy event to organize. As an event, it tries to cast a wide net. In an effort to cater to everyone, you cater to no one. How do you create an event that will entice the artistically ignorant (a group which I proclaim membership to), engage the artistically-educated, and entertain the rambling drunk who is looking for an all-night party? You can't, because it's impossible. At some point, I think Nuit Blanche has to make a decision about what it wants to be. I am on board if Nuit Blanche wants to do giant exhibits with little artistic meaning. I am also on board if they do elaborate complex exhibits that not everyone will understand. I'm not on board if they do simple exhibits that are poorly executed in concept and/or implementation... and that's what I saw a lot of this year.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Park at Pacific Mall (or any Asian Mall)

If you've visited Pacific Mall, you'll know that parking there is an experience like no other. This is true for other Asian malls and events. When the cherry blossoms were in bloom in High Park, I had to compete with every Asian in the GTA for a parking spot. The same can be said for those night markets.

Now before people start to play the race card, I'd like to point out why parking competition is so fierce when Asians congregate. There are a lot of Asians in the GTA, but not so many Asian-themed events. As a result, when there is something cultural activity or event that Asians want to go to, they do so in large crowds. The cherry blossoms in High Park are a good example of this. It is an event that resonates with the Asian culture... in a venue ill-equipped to support the massive influx of cars. Pacific Mall is also a good example of a popular venue without sufficient parking to support the volumes of customers it attracts. Due to this situation, it quickly degrades to survival of the fittest in the parking lots of all the T&T's and Asian malls in the GTA.

Some basic strategies for finding parking:
  • The Outcast: Parking spots close to the entrance are very popular. Parking spots in the far corners are not. Some people will spend 20 minutes trying to find a good spot. The outcast parker will choose a faraway spot and walk to the entrance in a shorter period of time. It's not as glorious as other strategies, but it's good if you're non-confrontational.
  • The Stakeout: Feeling territorial? Find a row of cars, then park to one side and wait. It's a bit like fishing for a parking spot. Eventually the owner of one of these cars will leave, and the spot is yours for the taking. It's important to stake your claim too. If you see another stakeout parker on the opposite end of the parking lot, you have to defend your territory by honking and telling them to get lost. You got here first.
  • The Stalker: Ever feel like you're being followed when you are walking back to your car? That's the stalker parker slowly following you in their car... waiting for you to leave so they can take your spot. If you're a stalker parker, you want to make sure the person you are following is actually leaving their spot and not just dropping something off and going back into the mall. Also, the person you are following may cut between rows of cars, forcing you to do some frantic driving to follow them.
  • The Tour de France: If you don't like to sitting still, you can circle around the parking lot looking for spots that open up. In order for this strategy to work, you have to be very aggressive and agile with your driving. You will have to intercept newly opened parking spots from stalker parkers and stakeout parkers. This is the most common parking strategy, but it's only successful if you are a jerk. In single rows of parked cars, you can quickly steal a spot by driving into the parking spot from behind while the previous occupant drives away.
Some team strategies for finding parking:
  • The Car Pool: Instead of driving 4 cars and having to find 4 parking spots, carpool into 1 car and 1 parking spot. Of course, the driver will have to use another strategy to actually FIND this 1 parking spot. Some good team strategies below...
  • The Chauffeur: Have a friend drop you off at the mall, then call them to pick you up. This eliminates the need to find a parking spot at all, though your friend will still need to drive through the heavy parking lot traffic to get you to the entrance.
  • The Tag Team: Boldly park right by the entrance. One person stays in the car to make sure it doesn't get towed or ticketed. Everyone else goes into the mall. After some time, someone goes back to the car and rotates with the person sitting there. It works well for short trips.
  • The Scout Master: Send all your passengers out to find an empty spot. When they find one, they stand in the spot and prevent other cars from parking there. They will call you by cell phone to tell you where the spot is. Your scouts have to have nerves of steel, as every nearby driver will be horning and giving them the evil eye.
Some risky strategies for finding a parking spot:
  • The Lawn Ornament: Who says you need to park in a parking spot when nature provides? Park on the grass and hope you don't get ticketed or towed. It's an easier decision once you see other cars doing this. They can't ticket all of you, right? (Actually, they can.)
  • The Impostor: There are special spots reserved for the handicapped. More recently, there are also special spots reserved for expecting mothers. Still recovering for that sports injury? Think you MAY have a bun in the oven? Why shouldn't that parking spot be for you? (Actually, that parking spot is not for you.)
  • The Morlock: A lot of these Asian malls actually have underground parking... but most drivers avoid underground parking lots. Why? Stairwells that smell like urine... Increased probability of break-ins... Safety issues... But mostly because underground parking is not as prestigious as above ground parking. (Actually, if you're alone, this is not a safe idea.)
  • The VIP: Hey, that parking spot says it's reserved for John Smith... or to the customers of Joe's Restaurant... or private parking where your car will be towed at your own expense... The parking spot isn't being used, so it's a shame that it go to waste right? How can they tell that I'm not John Smith, the patron of Joe's Restaurant, who is entitled to private parking where other cars will be towed away at their expense? (Actually, they can probably tell quite easily... especially John Smith.)
Well, those are my strategies for how to park at Pacific Mall. Please let me know if you've used one of these strategies or have one that is not included on this list.