Grant McWilliams

BC - day one

img_1278The train north only leaves once a day and returns once a day so we didn't have a lot of choice when it came to time. That's ok because with it leaving at 8:30 we'd be getting into Vancouver at just before noon and the returning train would leave at 6:pm which would give us almost two more days that we wouldn't have to pay for accomodations. We had several choices of stations to leave from making us feel a bit like Goldilocks including Seattle (too far away), Edmonds (too small) and Everett (just right). Most of the Amtrak stations that I've been to on the west coast are dinky little shacks in the wrong part of town but Everett has built a brand new station that they're sharing with the Everett City transit and Greyhound. When (if) we ever get a commuter rail it too will service this station in addition to the 5 state colleges have classrooms upstairs. It really is a nice station and I took plenty of pictures of it.

The train up was comfortable and took about 3.5 hours. We didn't stop at the border because apparently the Canuks aren't nearly as paranoid as the Americans are when it comes to terrorists blowing up trees in the middle of nowhere. We arrived at Vancouver station at about 11:30 am and went through immigration easily enough. I brought custody papers and they asked me where "mom" was and I fumbled as I usually do. I finally said that I was the sole parent and they let us on through. The first thing that we did was find an ATM so we could have some Canadian spending cash on us. There were taxis waiting out front so we told them to take us to the Victorian Hotel . About  5 minutes and 7 Canadian dollars later we arrive and are greeted by a lady with a strong French accent.

It was a beautiful sunny day and she urged us to put our stuff in our room and head directly to Stanley park which I had planned to see the next day. After checking Saturday's weather she said we should go right away. We dropped our bags in our very nice old room, got our bearings and took off. The bus was supposed to pick us up at the end of the block so we waited there. Another bus came by and asked us what we were waiting for and then informed us that the routes had changed because of the work being done on the subway. He then volunteered to take us to the correct stop which he did. The correct stop was in front of the revolving restaurant that you see in a lot of pictures of Vancouver. Strangely the buses don't take dollar bills so we went downstairs to a souvenir shop and bought a $1 bookmark with a $10 bill. This gave us plenty of coins for the next bus. We went back to street level and the bus pulled up immediately. Fifteen minutes later we are at the entrance to Stanley Park and Piper won't stop asking if we can ride bikes so we set out to find bike rentals.


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Transportation

So we've decided to go to Vancouver BC and we need to get there. There are several ways of doing thisimg_1292
  1. Greyhound Bus
  2. Amtrak Bus
  3. Car
  4. Amtrak Train
  5. Ferry to Victoria, Ferry to Vancouver
The first is out on the account that I'm not into torture especially when I'm the one being tortured. Amtrak Buses aren't too bad but really if you have the choice of riding a train or a bus which would you choose? Maybe you don't know because you've never ridden trains but let me tell you there is no comparison. A coach seat in a train is about the same size as a business class seat on an airplane. A seat on a Greyhound bus is worse than a 2nd class airplane ticket - you decide. The fifth choice is a great one but I took it out because of time constraints. That leaves two choices - drive or ride the train. The cheapest would be to drive my car to Vancouver but the problem I have with that is my car has a lot of miles on it and who knows how much longer it will last. Ok, so I can rent a car for the weekend which ends up costing about $40 more than the train plus I need to pay for parking once I get there. So my two choices are rent a car, spend 6 hrs driving, have to find a place to park it in the city, sit in line at the border for customs checks, worry about convincing the rental car agency to let me cross the border, convince the border people that it's ok to take a rental car across or walk onto a spacious train, watch the beautiful Pacific Coast scenery (not seen in a car) and cross the border stress free. Hmm, not hard to decide. Having said all of this if you can drive it will still be faster and cheaper than the train.

There's just something about trains though that make you feel like you're further from home.
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Planning

Originally I was going to take all of Spring Break and do a Northwest trip that included Seattle, Victoria B.C. and Vancouver B.C.  Image but my project at work is dragging on so I only had a few days left of it for holiday so we decided to just spend it in Vancouver. I figured that it was close enough that we could come back later if we liked it. Since I did the research for the whole Seattle->Victoria->Vancouver->Seattle trip I will be putting that Itinerary up on this site later for others to follow. That section of course doesn't even exist yet (but it will).

So I've lived in the Pacific Northwest on and off for 17 years and I've never been to British Columbia. For those of you who don't know it's only a couple hour drive from Seattle. So why haven't I ever packed a picnic lunch, got in the car and driven to Canada? Well, when I first moved here I had other pressing issues (no money, no interest), then later after I moved to Seattle I was busy experiencing Seattle and the U.S. side of the border like the Olympic Penninsula. Once I started traveling I would climb on an airplane and fly halfway around the world and not even think about BC. British Columbia got neglected.

There is another reason I never went there - similarity. I've met quite a few Canadians over the years and they all resemble us (Americans) for the most part. When I started traveling I wanted to go to foreign lands, not the Canadian side of Washington. I feared Canada would be too much like the U.S. to warrent any serious travel. Canada in my opinion was for inexperienced travelers that couldn't make it in Paris or Istanbul.

So I originally planned on spending a week somewhere because my kids were out of school for Spring break. Not knowing what was going to happen at my job in the near future (like whether I'd have any money or not) I decided on going somewhere close. That means Portland, Spokane, Seattle, Victoria or Vancouver. I live in Seattle so obviously that's out, I've spent enough time in Spokane to know you don't want to be there in the winter and it's not that great anyway in comarison to the others, Portland is getting old since we've been there quite a lot. At this point the hilight to Portland is ice skating in the mall! So that brings us to Victoria and Vancouver - the northwestern cities oft neglected by me.

As I said I had planned on spending a week in the two cities but project overruns at work meant I was only going to have a few days. That cut out one of the cities and since Vancouver is easier to get to (and larger) we decided to name it the winner and give the runners-up prize to Victoria. I did however, plan the whole Victoria/Vancouver trip so I'll be finalizing itineraries and uploading them to this site in time. Later we'll do it as I planned.


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Mexico 2006 - Day 9

Today we took a tour to Mitla, Santa Maria del Tula, Hierva el Agua and a few other places. I had wanted to go to Mitla but my guidebook didn´t tell me how because it´s about 50 km down the road. Thankfully our hotel Casa Arnel had a tour again in a suburban for 300 pesos. This ended up being about $120 all together but everyone in the family thinks it was a good deal. I almost didn´t take the tour and just stay around the hotel because Piper was slowly getting sicker and I thought it would be dumb to risk her health just to see something that has been there for 2000 years and will still be there the rest of my life but she woke up in better shape than she was when she went to bed so we went.First stop was Santa Maria del Tula which is a small town with a tree. Since Mexico has about a billion towns called Santa Maria they have to give each one a last name too. So since this town used to have a bog filled with Tula plants the name ended up being Santa Maria del Tula. In this bog also was a cyprus tree. It needs a lot of water so the bog was a perfec place for it to plant it´s roots. Problem is the bog dried up after about 1950 years and the tree was still alive.


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Thomas Jefferson's view on Intellectual Property Rights

I just ran across this quote of possibly this country's smartest founding father - Thomas Jefferson. It concerns copy writes and patents.

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

Interestingly he believed that as soon as you released an idea of your own it belongs to everyone. Much in the way the GPL lays it down.

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El Pechugon

I use dining certificates from restaurant.com whenever I want to try out a new restaurant. It works like this, you go to restaurant.com and put in your zip code and click go. It will give you a list of restaurants in your area that have dining certificates available. You can usually get a $10 certificate for three dollars or a $25 for 10 bucks. Sometimes there will be a condition on it saying you have to spend a certain amount. I’ve never had a restaurant enforce this yet. Anyway last night I was in the mood for some different food and since I’ll be heading to South America in less than two months I’ve been wanting to explore that portion of the cuisine world. In Washington D.C. we ate Chilean empanadas which were wonderful. We don’t have any real South American restaurants close without going into the city but I found El Pechugon in Everett that had a $25 certificate available and it specialized in Latin American and Carribbean food. I figured the meal would only cost me 10 dollars so it was worth a try.

El Pechugon website
909 S.E Everett Mall Way
Suite E-540
Everett, WA
98208
Map It

El Pechugon isn’t hard to find once you’ve found it because it’s near the Everett Mall but it’s in a business complex that has been mostly deserted so you don’t expect to find it there. On entering we found tables covered with white table clothes and soft music. The wall decor was relaxed but the tables looked very formal. Any formal stuffiness was erased as soon as we were greeted by a waiter. All of the people working there were warm and pleasent and looked like they were from somewhere else. That’s a good sign in my book because I don’t really want the guy that was serving up fries at McDonalds last week working at the local ethnic joint, it spoils the mood.

A quick glance at the menu reveals that they focus a lot on chicken and seafood. What a strange combination but it works. You can go to the El Pachugon website and view the menu as a pdf. Prices have changed a bit since the pdf was created but they’re close.

Shrip and Crab crêpe

We ordered the Shrimp and Crab crêpe as a starter. I was glad that our server said crep and not crape like most Americans. I have people “correct” me on the pronunciation of the word all the time and it’s irritating. Apparently the Spanish pronunciation is similar to the French in that the ê is a sounded as a short e and not as a long a. This is definately not a French crêpe as it’s made from a variation on a tortilla. The tortillas we got looked like Mexican tortillas but didn’t have the same flavor or texture and were much thinner. I liked them. Anyway the tortilla was folded over in half and stuffed with cheese, shrimp and crab and served with a hot mango salsa. I liked as did my kids. It costed $9 but was good.

For our main meal we ordered 4 dishes knowing that we couldn’t eat all the food. I told them up front that our plan was to try a lot of different things. We ordered the Pollo en Mole, Pollo en Empanizado, Pollo en salsa Dulce, Pollo en Pipian. yep, they like their chicken!

Pollo en Mole:

Mole is a Mexican sauce and there are only two places in the Seattle area that make decent mole and that’s Frida’s in South Everett (mole poblano) and La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard (mole negro). I can now add a third place as this mole was good. It tasted like mole negro to me even though it wasn’t labeled as such. There were bits of chicken in it and it was served with rice, beans and a sweet corn mound. I don’t know what else to call it as it’s not on the online menu but it was listed in the restaurant menu. The corn stuff was very good and maybe addictive. The beans were standard fare Mexican style beans and were nothing to write home about. They’re there just in case you didn’t eat enough and though you’d starve if you didn’t fill the empty spot with something.

Price: $6.99

Pollo en Empanizado

Ah, fried chicken! My son always wants fried chicken no matter where we eat so I let him order this and I was pleasantly suprised at how good it was. The skin was thin and seasoned with something so it tasted good. It also came with beans, rice and the corn stuff.

Price: $6.99

Pollo en salsa Dulce

I asked our waiter what he’d have if he could choose anything and he chose the Pollo en salsa Dulce otherwise known as barbeque chicken. It was bits of chicken in a barbeque sauce non unlike the sauce you get at texas barbeques. No matter it was real nice tasting and also came with rice, beans and the corn stuff.

Price: $6.99

Pollo en Pipian

chicken in a hot sauce that tasted a little like buffalo chicken spices or cajun. It was ok but my least favorite of the four dishes we ordered. It wasn’t that spicy either.

Price: $6.99

Conclusion:

We went on a Friday night and there was a man there that had about 4 types of wind instruments around his neck like the things you see people playing in the Andes mountains. He also had a guitar and played mainly South American music. This is a wonderful break from all the obnoxious jazz played in restaurants in the Seattle area. Anyway I will be returning to El Pechugon for several reasons. I was impressed with the quality of the food, the environment, the service and the music that plays on Friday nights. What is truly amazing is that you can come here and eat dinner for $6.99! These plates would cost $9-13 at most Mexican restaurants.

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On the road battery power

I found this online today and think that it just might be what I’ve been looking for. It only weighs 4.4 ozs a

nd stores 4400 mAh at 3.7volts. It also provides 6 volts and 8.4 volts as well for devices that need more voltage.

It has about 30 tips to connect litererally hundreds of devices. I takes about 3hrs to charge from the wall socket or about 4hrs from USB. This is great for me because I could leave yet another wall wart at home and just plug in my laptop and charge it with that. Then when I’m out on a plane or train I could use it to power other things. I’m not sure it would help with my camera because my current one relies on batteries but in the future maybe.
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Was fully functional

Ok, so my site did work. I’m making massive underlying changes to the site so expect it to be messed up for a while. I’m getting too much stuff in the left menu and it’s getting messy so I’ve got this idea that I should have tabs along the top for each major category like Photography, travel etc… When you click on a tab the menu on the left changes according to what you clicked on. That way it’s like 5 separate websites in one. I can even have separate themes per section etc… The problem is that bridges don’t respect this - meaning that if I have the gallery2 or Wordpress embedded in the site via a bridge component their menus either show up all the time or never making it difficult to have a context sensitive website. I’m resolving part of the problem by getting rid of Wordpress. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Joomla and I think I can do virtually everything with Joomla that I was doing with Wordpress outside of one post in multiple categories. I’ll use feedburner for the main RSS feed (and maybe the others) and an RSS module to provide a feed for each category. My comment module provides RSS feeds for comments and it has ping back support too. So it seems like I will be able to use Joomla for blogging.

The last problem is Gallery2. I’ve been wanting to get rid of it but to be honest all the other gallerys for Joomla stink unless I go with another bridge so I think I’ll field the question in the gallery forums on how to get it to work better with Joomla. Maybe I’ll hack on the code some. The bridge needs to be updated too so maybe I’ll see what I can do about that.

Grant

Thoughts

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Fully functional

I think (and correct me if I’m wrong) that this site is fully functional again. After much work and many late night hours the site is running on the new
server and seems to be doing fine. As soon as the backup server is done I’ll be adding content daily. It’s amazing how much energy goes into heating up water before it starts to boil.

Things I’ll be looking into:

  1. Getting rid of Wordpress. (actually getting rid of all bridges)
    1. This means using Jooma for blogging. I think that it may have all the stuff needed now.
  2. Making a new joomla module that provides an AJAX accordian menu for the items on the left.
  3. Maybe getting rid of the major categories on the left and put them in a menu lining the top of the site.
  4. Actually finishing the Gallery theme that uses AJAX to provide for very quick (feeling) picture viewing and sideshows without giving up what I have now. And make it really cool looking.
  5. Move to Joomla 1.5 as soon as it’s done. This will make blogging with it much easier.
  6. Move to the commercial Jooma Reviews module for all reviews
  7. Completely rewrite the cookbook module. Currently it’s barely usable. I’ll use Garys cookbook as a base and build something wonderful!
  8. Optimize the site. I’ve been saying this for months but really I have to get the functionality first. I’ll optimize all the images, php code, php acceleration, database etc… Using AJAX will make it feel faster but I still want to cut down on the amount of data that needs to be downloaded and the amount that needs to be interpreted by PHP. I’m moving so I may be able to get a faster line too as well as throw more hardware at my end.
  9. SEO - enough said.

There’s a lot to do but hopefully I can be adding content while I’m doing it.

Content changes:

  1. I’d like to add podcasts for trips that we take in addition to the photos, movies and blogs that I currently have.
  2. More movies via utube or similar service linked into content. Heck if they’re providing bandwidth…
  3. Gimp tutorials as I figure stuff out. The photography section will grow with time.
  4. Forums? Something I keep telling myself that I don’t need but sometimes I would be really nice to have a discussion place so people can discuss topics like cooking, travel etc.. I’m just not satisfied with any of the offering for Joomla as their all bridges or crap. I want the bridges gone.

Grant