The choice is ours

May 1, 2007

Resurfacing

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 7:17 pm

Finally resurfacing from hibernation for a couple of reasons, one of which is to note that in the relatively short time I’ve been blogging, the sheer number of blogs on WordPress has increased from about half a million to 938,000 at last check (moments ago) – if they are all updated as regularly as this one, that means there must be two or three new posts on the site every day…

Well, I’ve been busy doing, you know, other things…

In other news, celebration time as Liverpool edge out the despised Chelsea (AKA best team money can buy) to a seat in the Champions League final. Not having TSN I had to follow it on the Guardian, but it was almost as exciting. Now, if AC Milan can edge past Man United (unlikely I’d say), we’ll have a rematch of the legendary 05 final, hopefully with the same outcome, or at least as exciting a match…

I chuckled when I heard that Gordon Brown gave Tony Blair ‘ten out of ten’ for his performance as PM – his anniversary of his decade-long reign marked yesterday by seizing several more opportunities for self-congratulation – what utter political nonsense, I mean, who talks like that? Still, after Labour get crushed in the coming council elections, we’ll get a sense of the kind of score the British public give him. Between the changing of the guard in the UK and the upcoming French elections, Europol watching is more interesting than it’s been since the last German election was decided by the two main opposing parties creating a coalition…

A brief rant about the LCBO and Vintages in particular, who continue to insult my intelligence and knowledge of fair market rates. The latest offer is for a limited release of Brane Cantenac, an average-to-ok Margaux that they have the gall to price as if it was some kind of mindblowing sensory overload. Between that and their other recent Leoville Poyferre release, they must be making a killing passing off this stuff as rare – if we were in the States I could get it for about half-price. Oh wait, the exorbitant taxes on my wine consumption help to house the homeless you say, if only it were so…

Currently reading: Planet of Slums (Mike Davis)

Currently hearing: Fully Body Workout Volume 1 (Catwash)

Currently watching: Sopranos finale (HBO)

April 2, 2007

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 4:42 pm

Missed a week of posting there after being captured in disputed territorial waters… Back now with deadlines looming… It’s exactly as they described it in school – deadlines come and go, progress slows down as you have to work harder and harder to find the last nagging glitches, tempers and patience are tested, but through it all I am optimistic that we will have the killer app.  Our team is working overtime on two continents to iron out the last details and pull everything off.  I have my list of requirements for tomorrow morning, and I’m checking it off, so no time to post…

March 12, 2007

The good, the bad, and the very good

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 10:05 am

Headed out to Koolhaus last night to catch Damon Albern’s latest incarnation, The Good, The Bad and The Queen.  While the album seems a bit mopey and introspective, the live sound was massive and dynamic, and the show was dynamite.  The band performed a fairly short set – understandable since they only have one album – with Damon and bassist Paul Simonen (ex of the Clash) alternating bandleader position.  Afrofunk legend Tony Allen laid down a rock-solid groove, and the band was accompanied by a string quartet.  All in all, a worthwhile Sunday evening.

I find Albern’s new direction to be intriguing – there’s a delicacy and deliberate anti-pop sensibility which really forces you to listen.  As the composer of some of the most absurdly catchy music of the last two decades – Blur’s Girls and Boys, almost anything by the Gorillaz – it must have taken a lot of discipline to retain the skeletal, subdued tone of GBQ.  Either way, he once again takes off in a new direction, proving himself to be the most creative voice of the (woefully named) Britpop generation.

Currently reading: The Looming Tower – Lawrence Wright

Currently hearing: The Good, The Bad and The Queen

Currently watching: Pan’s Labyrinth (dir. Guillermo del Toro)

February 16, 2007

In my natural Habitat

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 1:59 pm

I was out at Habitat last night, on Queen West, for what must rank as perhaps the best meal I’ve eaten in Toronto in quite some time. Arriving early, there was a bit of a delay which the manager put down to Microsoft problems in printing out their new menu, and as an Office veteran I believe him, but once seated we were indulged royally. I should also mention in passing that the room itself – fondly recalled as the former home of Future Bakery on Queen – is one of the most nicely appointed in the city, all dark woods and creamy cloth with large booths and tasteful music selections.

We were presented with an amuse of grilled octopus, chorizo and olive which was superb – octopus can often be unpleasantly rubbery, but here it was deftly handled, very delicate and mild, while the chorizo was spicy and a single olive – dark, smoky – balanced everything nicely.

I started with the foie gras, which was seared and served on a brioche, with a fried quail egg, a piece of double-smoked bacon and a single date, which was somehow infused with coriander seed. It was everything you imagine – fatty, sweet, indulgent – and if it wasn’t for my cardiologist’s recommendations, I would eat it every day.

My main was filet mignon, served with rainbow chard and potato rosti. Nicely plated, it went superbly with the manager’s suggestion of a glass of a big Southern French red from Pic St. Loup. The beefiness of the meat merged wonderfully with the huge structure of the wine. Up to that point, I’d been indulging in a bottle of white Corbieres, just one of many unusual options in their substantial wine list – primarily grenache blanc with a few other grapes I’d never heard of before, it was medium bodied and very enjoyable. The manager, a fellow wine geek, even went so far as to call his distributor to get me more info on this bottle, which I’d never seen before – in fact, I didn’t even know they made white in Corbieres.

Dessert sent the meal over the top, with a deconstructed apple tart a la mode, which was composed of a wedge of baked apple, an upside-down cake, and olive oil ice cream, which was deliciously subtle and oaky – it didn’t behave like regular ice cream, but was appropriately creamy and smooth. Combine that with a gratis round of late harvest Vidal from an artisanal producer here in Ontario, and you have a meal to remember.

Currently reading: Noel Gallagher, in his own words (Independent)

Currently hearing: The Good, The Bad, and the Queen

Currently watching: Little Miss Sunshine (dir. Jonathan Dayton)

February 8, 2007

Phantom Power

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 6:06 pm

I recently came across a very interesting site called TriplePundit, most interesting being their ‘Ask Pablo‘ section with Pablo Päster, which had some rather arresting information about bottled water and its drain on resources – namely, that it takes about 200 litres of water to create a single plastic bottle, which contains 1.25l.  Even more interesting and worthwhile, though, was Pablo’s new year’s resolution, to stop drawing phantom power, by which he means the tiny, though cumulatively large, drains of power caused by things like the clock on your microwave or DVD player: “Let’s say that I live in the average household. Let’s assume that the average household has two mobile phone chargers, around 5 more chargers and power supplies for various other electronic devices (your Dust-Buster Vac, your I-Pod charger, etc.), two laptop power supplies, one microwave, and two TV/VCR combos (or one TV, one VCR, and one Stereo). This adds up to 37.8 W (1.8 x 7 + 7 x 2 + 1.2 + 10). That’s enough to power three CF bulbs around the clock! In one day this amounts to 0.9072 kWh of energy, or 331 kWh per year ($53.80 at current CA rates).”

It turns out Pablo is a graduate of the Presidio School of Management, which is also involved in such worthwhile projects as the Chicago Climate Exchange and DriveNeutral.  It got me to thinking about what our company can do to reduce emissions – and if I come up with any good ideas, I’ll post them here.  Please feel free to do the same.

Currently reading: FP Passport

Currently hearing: Anything – Martina Topley Bird

Currently watching: M (dir. Fritz Lang)

February 5, 2007

More than money

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 7:22 pm

I recently read this very interesting article (Nine things developers want more than money) about what motivates developers, and it got me to thinking about the kind of challenges I like to deal with, and how Shipping Pal has literally exploded over the past year or so as we transitioned from our working proof-of-concept to the actual creation of a web-enabled continent wide shipping network.  We’ve expanded our XML systems on numerous occasions as various issues arose, and I suppose the single biggest transition was from mySQL to MSSQL, which required a lot of rewriting of code as they use different commands for everything from echoing data in PHP right through to table structures and other core elements.  Now comes the API, with its attendant struggles.

My preference is for challenging, but not insurmountable, problem-solving.  Stuff that might take a while to design and build, but ultimately provides something of real value to the system.  A current example would be our new package type script, which I’m currently working on – it’s essentially an order-picking extension for our e-commerce customers, and it involves finding the optimal fit between the objects being shipped and the boxes which will contain them.  All sorts of challenges involved, since we can try cubing the whole shipment, but then if we need to resize it, it has to be in the most efficient manner possible.  I’m still working on all the details, but it’s proving intriguing, and once it’s built – and it will be built – we’ll have something really useful.

Currently reading: Sleeping with the Devil – Robert Baer

Currently hearing: The Blackfish Remixes

Currently watching: Blood Diamond

January 29, 2007

Back to the blog

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 10:18 am

Well, the move was successful and all boxes now unpacked, it’s back to the blog.  Actually, I’ve been extremely busy with work too this past week, as we move towards a revamp of our system to complement our new, national level service providers.  Our previous system only required small/large parcel specification, whereas now we are requesting dimensions for all packages.  This will result in more accurate quotes, though for me it’s resulted in a few late nights handling all sorts of if/then algorithms.  We’re also close to completion of the alpha version of our API toolkit, which will allow third parties to plug into our system to get quotes and place orders – our subcontractors are reporting a version ready for evaluation within the next day or two.

Aside from all that, Winterlicious is in full force across town, so there’s plenty of options for dining, and I’m hoping to get out and check a few places in the coming weeks.  In other food news, Michael Pollan, author of the fascinating The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a great article in the NYT magazine, Unhappy Meals – his advice: Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly vegetables.  Can it really be that simple?

Currently reading: Unhappy Meals – Michael Pollen (New York Times Magazine)

Currently hearing: Killer (Funky Lowlives Mix) – Boozoo Bajou

Currently watching: Rashomon (dir. Akira Kurosawa)

January 18, 2007

Moving

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 6:57 pm

I’ll be a bit too busy to post for the next few days as I’m moving, again…  Hopefully there’ll be time to come up for air on Monday…

December 11, 2006

Best of the best 06

Filed under: Blogroll, music, News and Comment — shippingpal @ 12:00 pm

As the year wraps up, I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon and fire off a few best-of-year lists.

Most memorable meals (bear in mind, this list may be revised as a result of upcoming visits to London and Paris)

1. Le Lan, Chicago – a stunning, and completely unexpected meal back in September. The tapas place my brother and I planned to visit was packed, so we strolled around the corner and happened on this place, which I now know to be staffed by Roland Liccioni, ex of French Laundry. Inside, a tasteful room, attentive service and decent wine list whet the appetite for a truly incredible meal which made me re-assess everything I know about cooking. My main of lamb was so fresh I’m sure they must have slaughtered it in the back room moments before cooking, and it was plated with an eggplant and orange chutney that reminded me that truly great cooking has nothing to do with rare or fancy ingredients, but imagination. As Brillat Savarin once wrote, ‘the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.’ (links to interesting manifesto by Keller, Feria, Blumenthal)

2. Bouchon, Las Vegas – Thomas Keller’s other restaurant, but whereas his French Laundry and Per Se spots are booked up months in advance, in the permanent twilight of Las Vegas, I was able to secure a table at 3pm for that very evening. The chef billed as America’s greatest did not disappoint, with classic bistro dishes served with style, an excellent wine list (we had the Dame de Montrose 01) and superbly attentive service. The steak frites was quite simply the best I’d had all year, a giant hanger steak cooked perfectly medium-rare, dressed simply with shallot and herb butter, and accompanied by properly salty frites. The appetizer of raw seafood (clams, oysters, lobsters) was similarly thrilling.

3. Po, New York – Lured in by the promise of the chef’s Sunday night 8-course prix fixe, it soon became clear that it would simply be far too much food. Instead, choosing from an extensive, all-Italian wine list, we opted for simpler fare, and were not disappointed. Founded by Mario Batali, but long since its own West Village institution, Po delivered the goods with heaps of flavour and finesse, the best comfort food I’ve had in a long while. The squash ravioli in brown butter and balsamic vinegar was good enough to compel licking the plate, and my main of back ribs braised in beer and served with polenta sealed the deal, the rich meat falling off the bone and into a sumptuous tomato-and-beer ragu.

4. Fleur de Lys, Las Vegas – Located in Mandalay Bay resort, where we were attending the eBay conference, Fleur de Lys was a celebration meal to acknowledge how far we’d come in a short time (well, it was not that short I suppose). Opting for the four-course tasting menu with accompanying wine, we had all the usual suspects, served with a singular vision and expertly matched to some very interesting wine choices – foie gras done three ways with a sweet Loire wine, tuna tartare, and a mind-boggling venison dish, seared and served in its own juices, sided with a massive Californian zinfandel. The meal was polished off in grand style with an artisanal cheese plate accompanied by vintage port. Another fabulous evening.

5. Japango, Toronto – For my money, the best sushi restaurant in the city, and host to a holiday-end blowout for my brother, over from the UK where he studies law. We celebrated in grand style, with their signature dragon roll (soft-shelled crab) and lots of sake. Attentive service and a relaxed, almost bar-like atmosphere left us free to indulge in laughter, drinking and copious amounts of superbly fresh nigiri, sushi and sashimi.

Also notable:
Blowfish, Toronto
The Modern, NYC
Vong’s Thai Kitchen, Chicago

Best albums of 2006 (may not have been released this year)

1. Whatever People Say…, Arctic Monkeys – Of course. Soundtrack to Spring and Summer 2006. Can’t wait for the follow-up.
2. Snow Borne Sorrow, Nine Horses – David Sylvian partners with sometime K7 wunderkind Burnt Friedman to release the most lovely songs of loss and misery you’ll hear for quite a while.
3. Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – A return to form after the rather sentimental Nocturama, the double-album format gives Nick the range to really explore his obsessions, and the accompaniment of backing vocals adds a gospel-style layer to the music which makes it instantly addictive. Lyrically and musically, it may be his best album since Murder Ballads.
4. Scales, Herbert – Perhaps my favourite artist these days, and continually inventive and melodic, Matthew Herbert releases another album of his instantly-recognizable glitch disco, and once again makes me wonder how it is possible to be so conceptual and so funky at the same time. Additional props for his superb August show at Harbourfront.
5. Dimanche a Bamako, Amadou & Mariam – The breakthrough album for this veteran Afropop duo, full of catchy, uplifting melodies and great musicianship. They are rightly becoming international superstars.

Also notable:
Another Late Night, Kid Loco
Faking the Books, Lali Puna
Is This Desire, PJ Harvey

Best films of 2006 (again, may not have been released this year)

1. The Edukators – Daniel Bruhl continues his rise to stardom with a fabulous performance in this ensemble piece about youthful convictions colliding with adult responsibility. It starts out a bit slow, but draws you into the confused and conflicted world of young people, struggling to acquire their own identities in stifling conformist settings. The ending will have you pumping your fist in the air, cheering. I think this premiered at the 05 Toronto film festival and was released on DVD earlier this year.
2. Infernal Affairs – Not having seen Scorcese’s The Departed, I can gladly endorse this film purely on the basis of its own excellence. Tony Leung exudes the kind of charisma actors like Colin Farrell would kill for, and Andy Lau keeps it buttoned down before revealing his murderous streak when it comes to self-preservation. The supporting cast, particularly Eric Tsang as crime boss Sam and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Inspector Wong, give superb performances as well, and the plotting and dialogue are utterly compelling. The sequel (actually a prequel) is worth seeing too.
3. Yes – One of the most unconventional films I’ve seen in a while, an interracial love story told entirely in iambic pentameter. Joan Allen is superb in her role, and Simon Abkadian breaks out in a role that in lesser hands could have fallen victim to the exotic-lothario cliche. Superb and unforgettable.
4. Cronicas – John Leguizamo grabs you by the throat in this incredibly compelling mystery/horror movie/ indictment of media hypocrisy. A superb supporting cast, multi-lingual screenplay and deft storytelling touch result in a movie that will make you want to stay up a while before going to bed after watching it. Damián Alcázar’s stunning performance gets way under your skin.
5. Murderball – An amazing documentary about a bunch of mean SOBs who just happen to be quadraplegics. As compelling as a feature film, with equally memorable characters, and a satisfying narrative arc, these guys don’t want your sympathy – in fact, they’ll kick your ass.

Also notable:
Carandiru
Grizzly Man
The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Best websites of 2006

1. Guardian Unlimited – Whether it’s George Monbiot‘s commentary, Ricky Gervais‘s equal-parts hilarious and annoying podcasts, or Steve Bell‘s wickedly funny cartoons, it’s become my homepage for a lot of reasons. Plus, good football and cricket coverage, and Media Guardian too. Irresistible to expats the world over.
2. Epicurious – It really is the world’s best recipe collection. Too many favourites to count, but try the monkfish with leeks, chantarelles and ginger.
3. Metafilter – still going strong, one of the web’s most interesting community weblogs. Can be counted on to consistently deliver a wide range of interesting, funny postings ranging from the political to artistic to just plain weird. Just don’t call it best-of-the-web (or should that be teh internets?)
4. Der Spiegel – Their english-language site, along with sister Sign and Sight, provide an invaluable insight into european perspectives for a pathetic monolinguist such as myself.
5. eBay – still addicted.

Also notable:
php.net

imdb
Foreign Policy blog

December 8, 2006

Cool

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 4:32 pm

One of my favourite sites to periodically check in one, The Cool Hunter, features a piece on an interesting audio/interactive installation now on at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  In addition to looking really cool, it features music from Robert Del Naja, AKA 3D from Massive Attack, all time greatest band in the world.  I’ll be in London later this month and am planning to check it out, along with the promises-to-be-incredible Velasquez show at the National Gallery.

Back in Toronto, the Daily Bread campaign is heating up – we’ve already transported around 2200 lbs of food, and it should get busier next week as the food drives wrap up.  It’s very rewarding to be able to work with a worthwhile charity to make a real difference in the community.

Our billboard is up on the DVP — will post a picture of it as soon as I locate a digital camera…

Currently reading: A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson)

Currently hearing: The Rough Guide to Ethiopia

Currently watching: Flowers of Shanghai (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)

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