Saturday, April 28, 2007

Vancouver highlights

Despite the car woes, we had a really good time in Vancouver last weekend. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The Pacific Pallisades hotel is highly recommended - it's right on Robson St, so you can walk to most of downtown. Bright, spacious rooms decorated in a modern mediteranean style. Wonderful friendly service, and there's a nice restaurant downstairs for breakfast.
  • Liberty Wine Merchants have a few stores around the city - one on Robson Street near our hotel, and one on Granville Island. The store manager at the Robson St. store was really friendly, and their selection is great. I was very happy to see their large selection of South African wines (compared to most Washington State stores), and they had a lot of wines from SA that I'd not seen before. They also had some really good Italian wines (a few Brunello di Montalcino's that were tempting but a bit out of my price range...) And they had a Barolo Chinato that looked good. Of course they also have a great selection of wines from British Columbia - we bought a Cab/Merlot from the Okanagon Valley as a gift for some friends.
  • There are some great coffee shops. A new chain, Blenz, seems to have popped up since I last visited Vancouver a few years ago. They are quite prevalent - I think I counted three on Robson St - and their drinks are very good. Their dark chocolate mocha is great (maybe even better than the Dilletante dark mocha that Tully's used to have). They also have some really good tea lattes: in addition to the normal chai tea latte, they have a matcha latte, and a few black tea lattes (London Fog, which is Earl Grey and vanilla, and Royal Tea, which has rose petals). Yummy!
    Another coffee place to go to is Caffe Artigiano - I had visited them a few years ago, and they have the best coffee I've tasted in Vancouver.
  • Definitely take a walk down Robson to Denman St, and head left. Denman St is full of interesting shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. and takes you down to the English Bay park. This is a great spot to watch the sun set on a sunny day. The Denman Street Free House is a nice pub/restaurant with tables that give you a view of the bay. The barman was really friendly, and their mussels are not bad. (The waitresses have a bit of a 'tude though...)
  • Speaking of Denman Street, that's where you'll find an amazing dessert restaurant: True Confections. They've won all sorts of awards, and it's easy to see why - their cake selection is huge, they are all lovingly-made and very tasty. This place is informal and full of energy - more like Seattle's B&O than the now-defunct Coco La Ti Da.
  • Yummy Belgian chocolates are to be had at Daniel's on Robson Street.
  • The huge Chapter's bookstore is worth a visit. While books in Canada are more expensive in the US, they get some books earlier than the US does. For example, I saw the new Iain Banks novel, Steep Approach to Garbadale. They also have a fun list of famous Canadians decorating the wall as you ride up the escalator to the upper level. :)
  • We finally got to see Granville Island Public Market on Saturday, and it was fantastic. If you're staying downtown, I'd recommend taking the water taxi from the Aquatic Centre. The market is about 4 times the size of Pike Place Market in Seattle, and the produce seemed even better (too bad we can't shop here every week!). They also have a nice food court and outside seating (for the few days the sun is shining). The market is surrounded by buildings with interesting stores (clothing, homewares, soap, native art and touristy gifts, ...) The hat store would have made H a very happy lass! There was also an incredible street performer from England (Barry, I think... Barry, if you read this: You rock!)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Vancouver, eh?

I was in Vancouver BC last week for a conference and padded out my stay so that A and I could spend the weekend there together. We had a great time over the weekend, with the only wrinkle being some "fun" during the drive back down to Seattle.

The drive back was already destined to be "fun" after my car was broken into on Thursday mornin (while parked in the hotel parking lot!) I was not a happy camper when I found out about the break-in and had to rush down to the hotel lobby at 6am on Thursday morning. Luckily, I had nothing of any real value in my car - the thief only stole small transmitter I use to listen to my Zen Micro (MP3 player) in the car. Aparently, Vancouver has a huge drug problem and petty theft (especially car break-ins) is a big problem.

My car looked pretty sad - the thief had tried to pry open the passenger door using some tool, and fr@cked up the door frame nicely. He* had also tried to do something to the door near the lock, which ended up seperating the metal in the door panel. Finally, he decided to break the passenger window, and grab his loot...

The hotel did a quick patching job with a sheet of plastic and duct tape, but for the long ride down I knew I needed something tougher, so I ended up buying a roll of clear duct tape and taping the heck out of the window. It actually looked quite nice - a bit like a pale curtain. (Of course, looking into my side mirror was now not possible, but hey - that's what passengers in the back seats are for!)

I'm happy to say we all made it back from Vancouver safely, and didn't have any problems crossing the border, even with the sad state of my car...

In closing, my advice to you, if you're visiting Vancouver and are thinking of driving up:
  1. Take the train or bus up instead and rent a car in Vancouver. (Make sure you have insurance coverage for the rental too)
  2. If you really want to drive up in your own car, make sure the hotel you stay in has decent security in their parking lot! :)

Next up, a quick list of the discoveries and fun places we went to in Vancouver.

* Hotel security saw the thief fleeing the scene, and said he was male...

Monday, April 16, 2007


So, this will be a rather odd blog entry. Perhaps you've come to expect that by now? :)

Let's take a little "random walk" around the web together.
First, I stumbled on a trailer for the movie Eagle vs Shark - a quirky film from New Zealand. I was intrigued to see who was behind this, so over to the IMDB main page for the film, where we see Taika Cohen wrote and directed it.

Taika also acted in a NZ documentary called Frodo Is Great... Who Is That?!! (aka FIGWIT)
The "who is that" is Bret McKenzie, a NZ actor that had a small part in one of the Lord of the Rings films. It looks like he has quite a large fan following!

He's also part of the NZ comedy music duo, Flight of the Conchords. (The other member is the actor from Eagle vs Shark!)
Flight of the Concords are very, very funny. There's a lot of video of them on the 'net, but these two are hand-selected by me for your viewing pleasure:
  1. Business Time
  2. Hiphopopotamus vs Rhymenocerous

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kubuntu and VPC - keyboard woes solved

A while back I posted about running Kubuntu under Virtual PC, and mentioned keyboard weirdness I was seeing. Specifically, keys would randomly repeat as if the keys were sticking. This turns out to be a common complaint, and one suggestion I found was to tweak the keyboard settings in Kubuntu.

It turns out this works perfectly. So the two options are:

  1. Completely disable repeating keystrokes (so you'll only get one keystroke no matter how long the key is held down for). This works fine, but is a little irritating.
  2. Increase the time before a key will start repeating. I think the default is small (60ms) - make it larger and the problem should go away.

To get into the keyboard settings on Kubuntu, log in to KDE, go to System Settings and then Keyboard.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"This will be brief"

A certain wine retailer (which shall remain nameless) has again managed to be both amusing and slightly irritating at the same time. From a recent email from them:

This will be brief as I’m boarding a plane ...

"OK... Why don't you hang on to the email and send it once you land?", I wondered. It's not like this is super-urgent, surely? (The wine is not likely to evaporate while you travel...)

The snippet above hints at these meanings:

  1. I'm very busy and very important, so you're best off reading this brief email now, since I'll be too busy later to write up a longer one.
  2. I'm so cool I get to travel by air all the time! Do you want to be cool like me? Buy some wine, then!

In case that didn't make you smirk, here's some wine-speak silliness from the same email:

with a dancing personality and the tell-tale aromatics of pepper and flowers (with a fair dose of freshly sifted oregano and thyme)

Ah yes, always sift your herbs, mes amis!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where there's a beer, there's a way

This YouTube video doesn't inspire confidence in hotel safes...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Come anytime...

I just watched the first episode of the US version of Thank God You're Here!

While the show was not great, I was very pleased and surprised to hear the theme tune: Come Anytime by the Hoodoo Gurus. Somehow I got hooked on them in South Africa (probably thanks to the same DJ that got me hooked on Crowded House and Split Enz)

They seemed to disappear from the international (or South African) music scene after their album Magnum Cum Lauder, so I had pretty much forgotten about them. It turns out their song Come Anytime is the theme for Thank God You're Here! in Aussie too, and the band is back, touring the USA this year.

It seems to be a good year for bands from down under...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Willets on Wine

While researching my previous post, I found a cool wine-tasting blog: The Willets on Wine.
Worth checking out (and maybe subscribing to...)

Lindemans South African wine

Today while browsing throught the wine selection at our local big-box grocery store, I stumbled upon three wines from Lindemans that I'd not seen before. The kicker: these were South African wines, not Australian!

There were three varietals in the store: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay. I bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to taste - I'll let you know how it is... (Judging by this review, they're uncomplicated, drink-now wines).

Lindemans has always been a solid bet - their Bin series wines are some of the first Aussie wines I tried (and liked). Lindemans is now part of the monolithic Foster's Group (which seems to own all the big Aussie wine brands) - so I'm not sure how I feel about them extending their reach to South Africa. (See this article about objections from Australian grape producers )

I guess it's good that the name recognition of Lindemans will help get more people to try South African wine, but there are some sad things...

Their South African wine labels are cute (featuring a springbok), but there is almost no information about the wine. For a $9 bottle, some info about the winery, region the grapes come from, winemaker, etc. would be nice. All the bottle indicates is that the wine comes from South Africa (they have a helpful map of Africa on the back of the bottle with South Africa highlighted). How hard would it be to say where in SA the wine comes from?

Another peeve is that there's also no "Wine & Spirits board" seal on the wine (which can indicate wine quality, similarly to the AoC and DOCG/IGT system in France and Italy). My initial suspicion was that wine from several wineries is bought and imported to Europe or the USA, where it is blended and bottled. However, this article has more details, and it turns out the wines come from Roodezandt Winery in Robertson (the name means Red Sand). To quote the article:

For South Africa he went to the Robertson region of the Western Cape and formed a partnership with Roodezandt Wines. He says South African wines mix a climate similar to Australia's with a bit of European winemaking influence. He bought three reds (merlot, shiraz, cabernet) from the 2005 vintage as finished wines and the '06 chardonnay straight from the tank after vintage.

Roodezandt winemaker Abe Rossouw is now referred to in Lindemans' advertising material as "our man in Africa".

All in all, I'm pleased to see more marketing muscle behind South African wine (which is still hard to find on the West Coast of the US), and wish Roodezandt good luck!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Green Tea is "in"

Slate has an interesting article on America's current obsession with all things green tea. I agree that the hype is over-the-top and the marketing behind some green-tea products is mind-boggling.

My favourite dumb add featuring green tea is the one for Snapple's green-tea drink, where a hapless young man treks to China to find out what EGCG is. The use of nutritional jargon and acronyms is an interesting marketing ploy - green tea must be good if it has a cool compound with a complicated name (so complicated we need an acronym, and so cool that nutritionists have researched it). "Let's not mention it's flavour, or how refreshing it is... let's just tell folks it has tons of EGCG!"

Now, I'll be happy if green tea actually has health benefits - I drink some almost every day. But the reason I drink it is that I enjoy it. I'm not going to pop green-tea pills, or use green-tea soap, just because it's the hot new thing...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The happiest day of my life!

OK, maybe not quite, but it's certainly looking up!

First, I read the initial artist line-up for Bumbershoot and see that Crowded House are performing. Waaa? They're not together anymore...

After a quick Google search, I see that they are in fact back together, and have a new album due out this year with Johnny Marr. (I love his performance of "Down on the corner" on the "7 Worlds Collide" live album).

Marr joins the surviving Crowded House founding members, and new drummer Matt Sherrod who replaces Paul Hester (who died in '05). Johnny Marr certainly seems to be getting around lately: he's also joined local band Modest Mouse...

I'm glad I bought my Bumbershoot tickets early, and can't wait to see the new Crowded House line-up! I wonder if Eddie Vedder will make a guest appearance? :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Time to get your Windows updates

If you use Windows, now would be good time to hit and install MS07-017

Monday, April 02, 2007

Kids today make me feel old

This weekend, Yum Lass and I were looking after her nieces and decided to hed down the local animal shelter to look at dogs. We all jumped into Lass' car with the girls in the back, and were en route when the eldest niece (who is 8) asked "What is this for?" - pointing at the handle to wind the window up and down.

Now, I've never thought about it much, but you have to try pretty hard nowadays to buy a car that has manual windows. The nieces have obviously never been in a car that had them, and to her the handle was some freakish thing with a mysterious purpose. I'm old enough to know what the handle does (and to think that powered windows are a luxury feature).

The eldest niece was quite pleased to discover that we had no way to prevent her from winding the window down (Haha! No window locks!) - doing things the old-fashioned way has it's advantages.

On a related note, she also had to figure out how to lock the door using the antediluvean knob.

Fun with cookies

(Another geeky post)

Recently at work the topic of HTTP cookies came up. (For some background info on HTTP cookie, see this). Most websites that provide a logon form (username & password) use cookies to allow you to save your logon information ("Remember my information on this computer"). Sites also use cookies to store user information if you don't tell the computer to remember your information - these cookies stay around as long as your web browser is open.

Why is this bad? One reason is that it's sometimes possible for people to steal your logon information using what's calls Cross-Site Scripting (XSS). I won't go into that here, but will share some simple mechanisms you can use to inspect cookies, and mess with them. (Nothing here is really new or revolutionary, but was new to me, so I thought I'd share it...)

It turns out your web browser is capable of showing you the cookies for any page you're viewing: just paste

in the address bar. You should see a window pop up with cookie information, such as this (from Google) :

Some websites requiring a logon will have your username and password right there in the cookie (making it easy for someone to use them if stolen). One example of such a site is If you have an account there, log on and then use the above javascript to see your info - nifty, eh?

Now let's pretend we're an attacker that has stolen cookies from someone. How would you use them to log into a website? Again, Javascript makes this really easy. Let's take as an example again (I'm not bashing on them, their site is great!)

Log out (if you were logged in), and look at your cookie using the above Javascript. It should only contain one entry, e.g.:

Now let's "inject" the logon information we stole (you can use your real CellarTracker information if you have an account). Type in the following in the address bar, replacing and with your info:

javascript:{document.cookie="Password=your password; User=your username";}
The webpage will change to display the cookie values you just set. No problem, just re-enter in the address bar. You should now see the page for logged-in users...

Tweaking cookies using Javascript is an interesting way to do targeted deletion of cookies you don't want hanging around (instead of erasing all cookies). This website covers Javascript and cookies in more depth, and has some examples of deleting cookies.

Note that there's a way to prevent all of the above: HTTP-Only cookies. This tells the web browser to not expose the cookies to the web page in any way (so no script access). They are still sent to the web site when you make requests, but malicious script code running in your browser can't see them or modify them...