Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas in Cuba!

Well, technically not quite, as we were there December 10th-17th, but still, last week, my Mom, Dad, sister Danielle, cousin Sherry, and my “Nannie” (grandmother) spent a week in Cuba and it was amazing!

We stayed at the Breezes resort in Jibacoa, halfway between Matanzas and Havana, a 4-star resort which felt like 5..
For those of you who want the short version, here it is: we stayed in a 4-star resort, Breezes Jibacoa, in Cuba, for a week, enjoying beautiful beaches, all you can eat/drink, amazing vistas, wonderful culture, took a trip through Havana, had our shares of ups and downs, I obtained open-water scuba certification, my Mom, Dad, and I dove at The Bay of Pigs, and we all had a fabulous time!

The longer version involves adding some of the finer details concerning the trip, obviously.

Monday, 10 December 2012


Came home at the end of November, not too much has changed. Comforting to know that no matter how up or down life can get, no matter how busy, life at home remains much the same. Sure, sometimes that's boring, or can be annoying, but honestly, I found it steadying, and relaxing.
It was really nice seeing my family again. I have a great relationship with my family, and talk with them on the phone almost every other day, but it was nice to be in the same room again. Sometimes, I come home and everyone is so busy it makes me crazy. My family doesn't like to stay still for too long and can be very busy most of the time, and sometimes that frustrates me as I just want to come home, relax, and get rid of stress, not take any more on. But, things were good this time, and I spent the first week or so just planning ahead, peacefully.

First thing was to plan for my trip to Cuba! Last year, my parents presented the idea of us going to Cuba as a family for Christmas and foregoing the usual exchange of gifts and my sister and I jumped at the idea. We just love spending time together and usually have more fun watching movies together on Boxing Day in our pajamas than during Christmas Day itself, so this looked to be a great idea! My parents went to Cuba a year and a half ago with my uncles and had a fantastic time. They learned to scuba dive and I decided to follow suit (as it were).

My sister wanted to join me in learning but her doctor had some concerns with her ears and wanted to be absolutely sure before he authorized her to dive. She wasn't that disappointed though, safety is key, and she'll learn next year. I went through the dive lessons online and am excited to take my water tests and be certified. I've always loved staying under the water, and this is going to be just another cool thing to cross off my list, at least. I say at least because I think I'll probably enjoy it quite a lot. My parents are cute as they keep saying that if I ever want to be an astronaut some day, this training will help as some of the testing is done underwater. Either way, I'm treating life as a C.V. I wish to fill with interesting skills and experiences so learning to scuba dive is a great contribution to that.

Other than that, there wasn't much to do. Most of my stuff was still packed, from moving back from Edmonton, and all I really had to do was ensure I had the proper attire for Cuba and get the proper vaccinations.

My grandmother is coming on the trip, which surprised the rest of us because she's usually very content with staying in even when we want to go out for dinner. My cousin is coming along as well to take care of/keep my grandmother company as some of the activities will be a little too strenuous for her.

Once my stuff was settled, I turned my attention to helping my mom in any way I could. With my grandmother coming, my dad being at work, and my sister and I never before flying out of the country, my mom has a lot of planning on her hands. Appointments for vaccinations, packing for herself, my dad, my grandmother, and checking that my sister and I aren't packing too lightly, all that and a million things more, well, my mom is in real need of a vacation, conveniently enough.

I made the last week before the flight a little more difficult for her because I took off to Toronto. I needed to find a place to live once I moved back to the city and while I was planning on doing this after Christmas, my mom insisted I just go ahead, before we left for Cuba. Still, I know she not only missed me, but missed my help and having that extra set of eyes, ears, and hands at home.

Came back to the city, via Greyhound bus, the only eventful aspect of which was when a woman accidentally reclined her seat into my lap. The bus was dark, as most had decided to sleep and I had just decided to stop reading. We stopped at the Scarborough town centre, there to pick up/drop off some people and a woman rushes to the seat in front of me, sits down and reclines her seat all the way back, intending to take a nap, I guess.

So, I'm looking down at her, I clear my throat and turn on a light. She screams, bolts upright and profusely apologizes. Thankfully, my usual response to something like this is just to smile and shrug. Still, it was rather amusing.

Made it to Toronto, under cover of darkness, seeing the city lights and CN Tower for the first time in a long time. A smile lit up on my face in the same way it did when I made it home and saw my family's house as a shining beacon against the pitch black background of mother nature, the only other light being the fading light of stars long gone. Picked up at the airport by one of my closest friends, it was a casual, but exciting reunion. For years, my friend Mike and I had been almost glued to the hip. We lived together for almost 6 years and while our personalities can clash sometimes, we know each other so well that we can anticipate the other. In any case, it was refreshing to have someone who got most of my jokes, and I had missed that :)

Mike and his girlfriend Sarah were exceptionally kind and let me stay at their place for the week. It was kind of like a hotel room there for strays though as they were also taking care of Mike's family's dog, Arbe. (pronounced Arby).

I didn't tell anyone else that I was coming back to the city. The main reason was that apartment hunting was my top priority and while I wanted to see people, I didn't want to distract myself from my main task. The other was that I have been comfortable being alone again and I didn't want to just dive right into being surrounded by friends right away.

As the week went on, the prospects for apartments were better than I had feared. Finding housing in Toronto can be tough, not because there's a lack of housing, but because all the limiting factors can be quite, well, limiting. If you want to live in a certain location, for a certain price, in an apartment in a certain condition, things become bleak quickly. I keep telling friends that finding a place to live in Toronto involves taking anything you can find as soon as you find it, even without verifying that it exists.

But, in the end, I found a really nice basement apartment, which fits my budget and gives me the semblance of living alone. The only downfall of the place is the kitchen, as it lacks in size, but as long as I have my appliances and some counter space, I will be good to go. I'll post some pictures once I move in and set everything up.

In between apartment viewings and online apartment hunting, I did end up having a nice time in Toronto. I saw Skyfall with Mike and Pat, a friend I haven't seen in quite some time, he has a big beard now, it's quite impressive. I played D&D, saw Wreck-It Ralph with Mike and our friend Alex and it was, as they said, "full of feels" (full of emotion). I also had a chance to see a few more friends at a board game birthday party, which I'll go into a few more details in a moment.

D&D was fun, as always, and it was a really good game, mixing some older sessions/characters/campaigns with the new, and it was a night full of fun, role-playing, and kicking butt together in a fantasy setting. We had a Dragonborn Paladin/Sorcerer looking to end a curse placed upon him and refused to sit, even when we took him on a wagon ride. We had a Genasi Swordmage whose mysterious background was forgiven for the sheer amount of damage she saved us from taking. We had my character, Cyrus, a gruff but funny Dwarven Runepriest, saving people with the power of laughter and divine magic, and we had Hassim, the Kalashtar Wizard whose comedic outbursts and adherence to character were commendable and hilarious. I had really missed D&D and hope to play again soon!

Skyfall was quite good, and I liked it a lot more than the previous two Daniel Craig Bond films. While I haven't seen a lot of the other movies, I know the franchise and the character enough to know when someone or something isn't quite right. Plus, Mike's a huge fan, has all the movies, so I know a bit more than my own experience would account for. While the previous Craig movies lacked the true essence of Bond, in my opinion, Skyfall was great because it incorporated all of those missing aspects and presented some refreshing, new twists. Craig went from being cocky, to confident, showing me that he deserved to be Bond for the first time. The dialogue was suave, the action was intense and comical in a timely fashion, the villain was well-acted and interesting, Dame Judi Dench was brilliant as always, and the film had a lot of references to the series including an almost shot-for-shot of M's office from Dr. No. All in all, it was quite enjoyable and for anyone doubting or loving this current franchise, I would recommend it.

Wreck-It Ralph was quite good, and I was a little surprised. I went into it knowing it would make me laugh, but I didn't think it would make me cry. I thought I would only enjoy the video-gaming aspect of the movie, but it was surprisingly deep, and while the plot was simple, it was simply enjoyable. Something Alex pointed out which was quite interesting was that the relationship between two of the main characters, Ralph and a little girl named Vanellope, was interesting as it wasn't sexual (her being a young girl), it wasn't father-daughter, or brother-sister, it was just two friends. It's one of those points which is refreshing when you reflect upon its lack in other movies/books. A simple platonic friendship between two characters is actually a rarity, from my experience, so that alone was a nice touch. Again, a movie worth my recommendation.

Alex, Mike, and I joined up with Fiona and her boyfriend James to see what was known as Fan-Fiction Improv. The premise is that people find fan fiction about a certain book/movie series and portray it on stage, adding their own embellishments. Tonight's theme was A Game of Thrones. Fans of improv, the books and TV show alike sat upstairs in The Black Swan pub awaiting what promised to be a hilarious evening. And it was. The pieces ranged from a mere interpretation of a scene from the book/TV show, to re-imaginings, or cross-overs. We saw Sarah Connor in Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen signing a contract of consent with Khal Drogo (in a Fifty Shades of Gray interpretation) and watched as Loras decided what colours to choose from for his wedding to Renly whilst attending high school. The performers were quite excellent, the fan fiction was quite terrible, and the night was enjoyable. Plus, for $5 and access to the bar, you really can't go wrong.

The encore was a piece written by Shakespeare Hemingway about the blood-feud between Dr. Niles Crane and his brother Frasier. While not Game of Thrones themed, it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen, watching as Niles used his Jungian powers of psychiatry to literally beat up and take over the world.

I had not laughed that hard for that long, in quite a long time. My insides were sore, and so was my jaw, but I really look forward to going back on January 5th to see their take on Star Wars. The main comedic troop, Rulers of the Universe, can be befriended here: Rulers of the Universe.

Last night, I went to Steph and Dom's apartment, seeing it for the first time since they moved in. When we helped them move in, there were 10-15 people in the apartment and with the boxes and furniture just placed around the room, I was a little concerned about how much space they would have. My fears were unjustified, however, and I was quite impressed with the efficient use of space.

The party was really enjoyable. We played board games, video games, ordered food in, and had a really nice time. We also had some Skype appearances from some friends in the UK and it was really awesome just being surrounded by my friends again. My favourite parts of the evening were talking with our friends from the UK, and playing Clue. Due to the recent playing of D&D, I decided to become the character of Colonel Mustard and everyone else followed suit. It was really funny, suspecting people from a first-person perspective, but the funniest moment was when I suspected myself. "Aha! I find myself within the lounge. Well, I suspect...myself! Ahem, yes, I suspect that the wrench and I joined forces to take out Mr. Body in this very room. Can anyone disprove that?" To which the other players chimed in..."You're in that room by yourself, this house is huge, who is going to hear you?" Nevertheless, I will now always act out the role as it made things really enjoyable.

I now find myself getting ready to meet my parents at the airport. My time in Toronto, while short, has been quite enjoyable. I am really looking forward to spending a week with my family, and while I've been on planes before, (I even flew one!), I have never flown out of the country before. I look forward to getting my passport stamped, seeing my sister's reaction to being on a plane for the first time, seeing Cuba from above, getting settled at the resort, seeing the beautiful water, enjoying the all-inclusive food/drink, and trying scuba-diving. It will be an incredible week, and I will tell you all about it when I get back.

Also, I have some really interesting space news and thoughts to share with you, but that'll have to wait until next time.

-Merci pour votres temps!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sunset on my time in Edmonton...

My plane ticket is booked; I fly out at 6:30am Monday, November 26th. I have had quite the adventure, and it has been pretty remarkable.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion

Last time, we looked at the basics of getting into orbit, namely the speed you would need, and the amount of fuel. And while I made mention that the next post in this series would look at the different orbits and launch site considerations, I decided to insert this brief coverage of Kepler's three laws of planetary motion. When I was drafting the post about the different types of orbits, these laws kept coming back to me and so I think we should have a look at them in order to better understand how orbits work.

The first commonly held misconception is that orbits are circular. Thanks to the tireless work of astronomer Johannes Kepler, and others, we know this not to be the case, most of the time.

A tireless astronomer, Kepler watched the skies and made careful notes as to what he saw, night after night. Eventually, he noticed some patterns and his documentation of them eventually became Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

The first law is that all naturally occurring orbits, whether it concern planets, moons, or asteroids, all are elliptical, and thus, the distance between the orbiting and orbital body increases and decreases over time.

I've included a picture below to help illustrate this. Trust me, it was the best one I could find and while I could make one for you, it would appear more or less the same.

So, let's take a look at this. Earth's orbit is elliptical as it goes around the Sun. At one time of the year, the Earth is the closest it can get to the Sun, called the perihelion, and later in the year, the Earth is at its farthest point, known as the aphelion.

One quick thing to point out, look at the dates. Some people have the misconception that the distance from Earth to the Sun determines the season, when in fact, you'll notice that it's summer in the northern half of the Earth when it's farthest from the Sun. It's actually the tilt of the Earth which causes the seasons.

Now, these terms and conditions also apply to an object in orbit around the Earth, case in point, the Moon. So, if you were interested in getting into orbit around the Earth, you should probably consider this.

The second law, is that a line joining the two bodies in orbit, sweeps out equal areas in equal times. Once again, a picture is included below:
This one was a little confusing to me at first, so allow me to explain. The purple segments above, taken by looking at the distance the Earth has moved in its orbit after a month, are supposed to be equal in area. The better way of explaining this is that the closer the two bodies are, the faster the one in orbit moves around the other.

Imagine a figure skater, with his/her arms out. When that skater spins, they move at a certain speed. When the skater brings their arms closer, he or she spins much faster. It's the same with orbiting bodies. As the orbiting object gets closer, it moves much faster in its orbit. The Russians made expert use of this, which we'll see in my next post about orbit types.

As you might imagine, Kepler's third law was that the period of the orbit, the time it takes to go around, is related to the total length of the ellipse.

So why are these laws important? Well, first off, because they work, consistently, with any body in orbit. That's one of the strength of physics, and is in fact its underlying goal; to better understand and model the universe.

If you're considering putting a satellite in orbit, you should know these laws and how they might affect your mission. The fact that all naturally occurring orbits are ellipses and not circles means that a lot of your math and predictions might be off. In fact, when I did the calculations last time, I assumed the orbit was a circle. It's not a large margin of error, especially for the casual reader, but as our standards and computing power increase, and we need to know exact orbital location to the micro or even nanosecond, well, we should start by knowing the correct shape of our orbit. You can have a nearly circular orbit but since it is not the natural default, it requires more energy to keep it that way.

The second law is important because if your orbit is more elliptical, it means your satellite will spend more time in the part of its orbit which places it farther away.

Consider a satellite meant to look at the Arctic ice, to determine how large its coverage is and to watch for changes over time. A satellite like that should really spend as much time as possible over the Arctic and as close as possible to the Earth to get the best results. But, if the orbit is too elliptical, we know that it will spend the least amount of time there. It will slingshot around the Earth and spend more of its time farther away.

The third law is important for the same reasons, but I like to think about how it relates to exoplanets. You might have heard news stories about how astronomers keep finding planets in other solar systems. You might wonder how they know so much about planets they can barely see. I mean, sure, we have some excellent telescopes, but how do we know how far a planet is from its sun? Most people cannot guess distances very well. But, knowing Kepler's third law means if we know how long it takes a planet to go around its sun, we can determine how far it is from said sun.

And that concludes our look at Kepler's three laws of planetary motion. Next time, we'll look at inclination, launch sites, and the types/uses of different orbits.

Thank you for the readership so far; I understand that this post may have been less exciting than the one prior, and didn't have nearly enough hand-drawn pictures or calculations, but there's more of that to come, so stay tuned!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Getting into orbit, and what to consider...

We begin with the idea that for some reason you want to get into space.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe you’re bored, maybe you just saw Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking freefall from 39 km up and you were inspired to do better. (I have issues with the coverage of this event, which I'll talk about later.)

Or maybe, like me, you want to explore the final frontier.

For whatever reason you like best, this series of posts begins with the idea that you want to get to space, and stay there. So, how do we get there?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Space. The Final Frontier?

Maybe, but more importantly, it’s my frontier.

I have been obsessed with space and space exploration my entire life. Most likely this began with my mother sitting me down to watch Star Trek at an early age, although she still pokes fun at how I didn’t, at the time, like “day-time Star Trek, only night-time”, the former being The Original Series and the latter being The Next Generation.

As I grew older, the final frontier didn’t loosen its hold on me. I read every book I could on the subject, tried to make every school project relate to it, and of course, continued to watch Star Trek. My parents fostered this dream, and shared it, loving every odd fact, idea, and invention I threw their way. My dad’s fascination with star-gazing even inspired my mom to get him a telescope to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

I have just about completed my Bachelor’s degree from York University, where I’ll obtain my Bachelor’s of Applied Science, Specialized Honours in Space Engineering. I plan on continuing my quest by obtaining a Master’s program in space engineering, and thereby become a qualified professional in the fascinating field of designing systems and spacecraft for, you guessed it, space.

But enough about me; I am starting a new series of posts aimed at bringing what I have learned to your attention. I have often found people interested in what I do, but it’s not always the easiest topic to bring up at a party. Actually, that’s not true, I’ve done it, and to a roaring success, but I’ve decided that I wanted to take you all on a tour of how to get to space, and what you’d need to do once you get there. I will do my best to walk the line between entertaining and educational, however should you have further questions or comments, please let me know, I am always looking for feedback.

In addition, if anyone finds any fault in my logic, please let me know. I am not afraid of admitting I’m wrong, and I’d rather have it pointed out and questioned than assumed to be right when that isn’t the case. Finally, if you have any ideas for further posts, I would love to hear from you!

So join me next time, when I walk you through the math and forces which need to be understood if you're going to break through into that final frontier! For now, enjoy this Russian Soyuz rocket launch photo!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

There's light on the road ahead...

It has been said that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. I am reminded of this many times in my life when I work, and toil, and labour over something, make no progress, and then in a flash, something changes.

Not too long after writing my last post, I took a closer look at Master's programs in Europe and made an incredible breakthrough!

First off, I found this website, Master's Portal, which helps to sort through academic programs in Europe, filtering results in many ways including type of program, cost, and location. I have complained about not being able to find a website like this for quite some time, and I wonder why I was not able to find it before. Of course, now that I think about it, it might have been recommended to me last year by my friend Meredith, but either way, I'm glad to have found/re-found it. Coming from a small town where only the teachers had gone to university, and being the first in my family to attend university, I have found my quest for higher education to be a little challenging.

Anyway, so I found the above website, and I typed in 'space' under the keyword section. I kept it super vague because I had my doubts as to how well this website would work. I was pleasantly surprised when I obtained 184 results from all across Europe. Not wanting to limit my options too much, and excited by the prospects, I reviewed them all. From that, I found 10 programs which looked really interesting, and from that, I've narrowed it down to 3 which I really like and 2 which are okay. Of the three I really like, 2 are in the UK, and 1 is in France.

I couldn't believe it! I was so happy! I finally found programs which I didn't have to just say maybe to. Of the programs I mentioned in my previous blog post, every single one of them only interested me because I thought there might be some flexibility to make the program more about engineering for the space environment. They were all general electrical engineering programs which I thought could be interesting, with effort. But, check these programs out!

Astronautics and Space Engineering

Space Technology and Planetary Exploration

Master of Space Studies

Designing for space! I couldn't believe it, I had to read these programs several times. I went to the school's websites, looked through every shred of information I could find, worried the whole time that I had missed something really obvious, that there would be some reason why these programs would not work out, that I would be back to not knowing where to go.

But as far as the academic credentials are concerned, these programs are perfect! Cutting edge, connected very closely with the industry, each program offers a chance to learn more about the space environment and designing therein. Each school offers a term of lectures comprised of mandatory and optional modules, and some offer both a team and group project.

The Master of Space Studies, in France, offers an internship where you work with/for a company, getting some great experience in the field and making it that much easier to work in the field once you've graduated.

Each and every course I've seen from all of the schools really interests me. Subjects like: Space Propulsion, Structural Mechanics, Life Support Systems, ans so many more, they sound straight out of Star Trek and I am really looking forward to learning all that I can.

The only real catch is the cost. $23 000 - $33 000 just for tuition alone. That's crazy. I mean, that's pretty much double what I was expecting to pay here in Canada for even the most expensive of universities.
So what to do? Well, the responsible option would be to wait a year, save up some money, and then head overseas. And I might just do that, yet again, I might not. Another advantage of these programs is that they're only a year long and they seem to have a great connection with many great space industry institutions and companies.

I have some time to think about it, as applications aren't due until March at the earliest. I have already done most of the work, I just need to secure some references, and look into living arrangements overseas. Well, I also have to figure out how to afford it, but I've been looking into scholarships and loans, and I'm sure once I get the chance to show people my enthusiasm, dedication, and qualifications then the rest will work itself out, as it always does.

In the meantime, I've been working on a side-project or two, and getting ready to move back to Toronto. I've been reading, a lot, about the space environment and designing therein, and it feels amazing to be focused in a way I haven't been in a long time. I wanted to get more specific about the programs and what it is I'm working toward, but I think I'll leave that for another day.

I plan on writing a series of posts about my studies, hopefully presenting my knowledge and dedication whilst keeping the subject matter entertaining and enlightening. I look forward to sharing that with you, and as always, thanks for reading.

Friday, 5 October 2012

During the days of denouement...

This blog post is more important for the writing of it than the sharing of information. I say this because I have been very good, almost too good, at keeping in touch with my friends and family lately, and this blog post is about my life and what has been happening in it.

Thus, if you happen to be a frequent reader who is more interested in my engineering endeavours, or my D&D creativity, please skip to the end of the post, and stay tuned for future updates. Normally, I would apologize for the verbosity and introspective nature of this blog post, but I don't really think I have to.

Since the last post, a lot, and yet only a little, has happened. Life has been neutral at best. If one could scale my impression of the last month between 1 and 10, the latter being the best, I would rate the average to be 5.5.

Why you serious? You may ask, well, I have been going through some introspection and working on my life and making some changes, and that can be tough. Long story short, I am single again and have spent considerable time inside my own head, which is both good and bad. Now, before you get too down, I want you to know that this post has a happy ending, but I want to work through the negatives before I get to the positives, it's how I work, and it's how you're going to read it.

First off, the choice was mutual, although I will admit I did not take it well. Without boring you of the details, the timing was not right and neither of us were ready for the seriousness our emotions might have suggested. We both decided that this was the best way for us both to take care of ourselves and what needed to be done. I made a promise to myself, and to her, that I would do the right thing if/when that time came and that I would not make things difficult.

I broke that promise, and I have been fighting my shame.

Basically, my mind and heart work like this:
[Mind] "I am in control of everything, all the time, no matter what."
[Heart] "Can I be excited or sad about [random topic]?"
[Mind] "Yes, but only a little."

That is how I work, all the time. While I may appear to wear my emotions out in the wind for all the world to see, it is all actually carefully controlled and processed. By the time you see it, it's been filtered, weighed, considered, and delivered. I understand how you might either doubt this, or find it difficult to understand. But that's how it is.

Except...when I find a companion who shatters that shell. This has happened to me a few times now, and so I recognize it. Part of me wants to find that someone, that person who I feel most comfortable with, who breaks through that shell and is able to glimpse that part of myself I rarely even let myself see. When this happens, my emotions, reactions, thoughts, everything, is unfiltered and delivered as it happens. Which, is a little difficult for me or the other to bear, and I have grown to understand that about myself.

Anyway, so we broke up, mutually, and then I accidentally was a little about my feelings. Truth be told, I work extremely hard to keep myself focused and disciplined, but sometimes I become too close and too comfortable with someone and my heart, which has gotten used to being so open and unfiltered with that someone, now thinks it runs the place. What's even worse is that I cannot even defend myself and say I was being true to myself and my emotions, and that's the other bad thing; I was not only too open and emotional, not giving the appropriate time and space needed to heal, but I was speaking with my heart which was saying things which weren't true entirely to myself.

My heart was only thinking about how sad I was and how happy I was before. It ignored my brain which was saying this is the right thing to do, and ignoring my brain which was telling me that we needed to give each other space to work things out.

But, I have moved past this, I have apologized and am working toward being friends again, like we used to be. I am providing this analysis, explanation, and apology for two reasons: I hope she and some previous ex-girlfriends see this so they may better understand and forgive/accept this about me, and secondly, I realize that I do and have done something similar to my friends, albeit to a much smaller extent.

But, things have moved forward, as standard conventions of time would dictate. My only lingering thought on the above, other than the hope that I learn from this, is that I hope to bridge understanding so that we may again be good friends someday. And while most of me is completely content with working on myself and my life and leaving her alone so she may do the same, there is a part which adds to the normal amount of missing a friend which hopes that we can again spend some time together before I move back to Ontario. Part of me worried about writing that just now, as I am not intending to add pressure to the situation, but I realize everything I say can and will do just so and so I might as well be honest. Still, it's only been a month, these things take time.

So, what else have I been up to? Well, the first big thing has been my focus on graduate school. I have been looking for sometime, and have narrowed down quite a number of things. The first thing I did was I set out to do nothing but think about what I wanted to do with my life and career. While I had done this a long time ago, the past two years at York have really distracted me, and one of my reasons for coming out here was to be alone in my mind and cut through all the distractions.

In the end, the answer was simple, as it always is. I want to design spacecraft and spacecraft systems to work and work better in the space and extra-terrestrial environments. I have always wanted to put things in space, and now I really want to help be part of the innovation and the space industry, and help make exploring easier and better. I have to narrow down exactly where I want to specialize, but that's what grad school is for. I want to spend the next two years becoming an expert on spacecraft design and by the end of graduate school, be a Master (pardon the pun) in a certain area. I haven't determined exactly what area yet, but I think it leans toward electronic/software design as that is the area with which I have the most experience.

Where does one go to look into this type of career? You, or a version of me from the past, may ask. Well, there are several places to look. First, there is the international option, namely, the US, and/or a lot of places in Europe, and even China/Japan. The latter especially because they are devoting a lot of money toward their space programs right now. But, that is not the path for me. I have given it a lot of thought, and I have determined two things: I don't want to live in the United States (too many negative reasons), and I haven't found the right program in Europe, which is my preferred choice if I were to study abroad.

While I have seen some programs which look quite interesting in Europe, Canada has always been a great contributor to this industry and we have some of the best programs I have seen. Plus, financially, it would be difficult. Not that this makes much of a difference, because I am idealistic enough to not settle and I usually weigh the academic credentials more carefully than the financial.

So, same question: Where does one look? So far, I have some options in Ontario, one in Quebec, and one, surprisingly enough, in Calgary. I have more research to do, and more to say on that matter, but this post is getting longer than I wanted. Suffice it to say, on the matter of grad school, I have been spending a lot of time finding out what I want to do, and when I'm not looking at the schools themselves, or the professors/research being done at them or reading up on the subject of spacecraft design, I am only working on one other project. I will get back to you at a later date with more thoughts and my decision. I plan on having all of the paperwork, research, and applications finished by November, which is incredibly early as most of the applications do not have to be in until January, March, or June for some of the schools.

So there you have it. It's not a lot, in terms of an update, but I have spent most of my time working on directing my future and while it's a lot of work, it's not something one can talk about too much without boring the reader. 

Also, it's amazing to know what you want to do and to spend your time doing it. I have been just flying through books from the local libraries on this subject and it makes me feel very happy to know that I've found something to which I so eagerly want to pursue. Most people spend their entire lives looking, and I've been fortunate enough to have always known; I just needed the reminder.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A beautiful weekend in Calgary and British Columbia!

Sometimes, so much awesome is packed into such a short span of time that later you think, "That was only a weekend?"

Brittany and I had planned on going to her family's home in Calgary, and to take a tour of Drumheller and the Rocky Mountains and while I was super excited for it, apparently, I wasn't excited enough. What I mean by that was, as usual, I was vastly under-prepared for how incredible things would be.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The maize maze, shopping, fancy dinner, and a surprise event!

On Wednesday, I had what could best be described as a random assortment of events which culminated in a pretty awesome day. You ever have a day like that? A day which you couldn't have predicted, and wouldn't have changed? Well, Brittany and I did, and here's how it went:

First thing was a drive out to the southwest of Edmonton, heading to The Edmonton Corn Maze! Or, as I love to call it, the maize maze, hahaha!

With the path through the maze at just over 5 km in length and featuring 85 decision points, it's one impressive maze, and they change it every year. As you can see on the link above, each year they feature a different design honouring or celebrating something special. This year, it was the 30th anniversary of a Country Music radio channel, which was nice of them.
Standing at over 10 feet tall, the corn is high enough that you can't see over, and thick enough that you can't see through it. I loved this because, while I haven't been through that many mazes, the ones I had were a little too easy for me to navigate. Adding to the general excitement of traversing through the maze were little CORNundrums as they called them. At the start of the maze, you could pick a category of either questions or tasks and, at specific points throughout the maze, solving or performing them would help you find the correct path. If you answer correctly, you are shown the short way, and if not, you loop around a couple of times and find out you had taken the wrong way, haha. Brittany, being the beautifully logical person that she is, took 3 cards. At first, I thought it was because the questions might not be difficult and it would be more fun to answer more, but I quickly realized that with more cards, you could cross-reference the answers to find the correct path.

Hey! It's not cheating, okay? Some of the questions were actually pretty tricky and while I'm pretty sure we got them all right, I wouldn't want to subject some of those questions to the children entering the maze, haha.

Thankfully, with it being a Wednesday, the maze was pretty empty. Brittany and I only ran into 4 others through the maze, a family of four. Interestingly enough, the 2 children were competing against the parents and both teams had chosen the same card, asking them to sing nursery rhyme songs to determine which word was on which syllable in order to make the correct choice. It was pretty funny to answer some obscure question about animals, only to hear two parents behind us singing, "Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes..."

While the forecast had called for rain, we were lucky enough to have it pass us by, but there were some particularly muddy spots throughout the maze. I like to think it added to the excitement of the whole event. It would be a really fun place to visit for Halloween, at night, because even during the day the isolation you feel along the path is spooky.
An added bonus was one section which featured a little walkway over which you could see the entirety of the maze. Of course, from that lack of height, all you could see was a field of corn, but it was really neat to not be able to see too many of the paths, made the maze that much more impressive, in my opinion.

After completing the maze, we wandered over to a racetrack, of sorts, where they had pedal cars on a circular track. It wasn't that developed and was probably more fun because I was just too large for the car and because I made racecar noises the whole time, but still. After parallel parking my cart, we mozied along to the petting zoo where you could purchase handfuls of feed for a quarter and feed goats, pigs, and lambs. I didn't get any pictures of these, although there was one cute moment where Brittany was feeding 3 lambs and the goat decided that it was his turn, but I couldn't get the shot what with the fence in the way.

There was also a haunted barn, closed until Halloween, I guess, and what they call the jumping pillow, a large "bouncy castle" without the castle. But, the ground was just wet enough, and there were a few too many kids on it for us to give it a try. In any case, the maize maze was pretty aMAZE-ing, and it was only the beginning of the day!

Brittany had been telling me for days how she had a surprise event for me on Wednesday, and while I've been pretty good at not trying to figure it out, the suspense was getting to me. Unsure of what it was, and without much to go on, I asked if she would like to go out somewhere fancy for dinner beforehand. I'd been wanting to try some fine dining in Edmonton, and wanting to take her somewhere nice to thank her for how much she's helped me acclimatize to this western city.

But, before we could go somewhere fancy, I needed something to wear! Not knowing what we were doing after dinner, I needed to don some dress-casual clothes. Something nice, but something that wouldn't make me feel over-dressed in case the event was a little casual. (Upon re-reading, my ever-logical nature is really showing here, haha) Anyway, acting as both chauffeur and fashion consultant, Brittany accompanied me to the South Commons where we took a look around for dressy-casual-y things. I've been re-watching BBC's Sherlock and really enjoying the show's style. While not that fancy, some of my choices, and Brittany's suggestions, began the move in that direction.

For dinner, we chose The Creperie, with images of its fancy decor here, as a suitable spot, what with its fancy, Old-World charm, and its supposed proximity to the surprise event. I must say that I really enjoyed this venue; the atmosphere, the decor, the food, all were exquisite and not too far outside my fine dining price-range. Not that you particularly care, but I had grilled chicken, with fettuccine and strawberry sauce. Contrary to a story told to me by a friend of mine, in which he used strawberry jam to flavour his pasta because he ran out of spaghetti sauce, this was actually quite tasty!

Moving on! Halfway through dinner, I guessed the surprise for the evening, it being a Dungeons and Dragons Improv night as part of Edmonton's Fringe Festival! Hosted in a nearby theatre, it featured an array of improv actors playing out the scenes in a D&D game, handling the twists and turns thrown at them by either the Dungeon Master's bidding, or the audience. For the nerd in both of us, it was rewarding to see the basic rules of D&D actually playing themselves out whilst still providing a unique and entertaining show. Since a significant part of playing Dungeons and Dragons is roleplaying, and making things up on the spot, it's a natural progression, and one thing which makes the show really interesting is the emphasis on improv means that every show will be completely different. It was a really fun event and a really great idea and makes me want to try it sometime with some friends back home, especially those who have done improv before.

After this wonderful, and eventful day, we ventured back to watch a movie and relax. Today marks my third month being here in Edmonton, and I'm glad to say that my time here has been as fun, easy, and adventurous as this day has been!

Next stop? We'll be taking a weekend road trip to Calgary, to see mountains and things!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Why I cheer for The Dark Knight Rises...

My fears were unjustified, but just like Batman has taught us: fear is necessary. As those who visit this blog regularly will remember, I wrote a post some time ago featuring my fears concerning The Dark Knight Rises. In said post, I expressed my concerns for the movie, stating overall that while I was excited, I was worried about being disappointed and that I was using my concern to keep my excitement in check.

And, as the introduction to this post relates, my fears were abated, but I'm still glad I had them. After seeing The Dark Knight Rises this past Sunday, I must say that I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I thought it was amazing! I will now go into why I liked it so much, having a spoiler-free section up here, and a section with specific analysis later on; don't worry, I'll warn you first.

The Dark Knight Rises was an incredible combination of everything that has made this series brilliant so far. It has an excellent cast, a brilliant storyline, an amazing score, and is complex enough to give die-hard fans something to talk about, while still straight-forward enough for the average movie lover to enjoy.

Let's review some of my fears and how they were dealt with in this film. The first thing I mentioned was "the Batman voice" as I call it. For anyone who has seen the first two films in this series, you'll know that Christian Bale's Batman often speaks so excessively gruff that often it's hard to understand what he's saying. This movie only had one scene where Batman was a little hard to understand, and he was quite upset at the time, so I'll excuse him for it. Another voice I failed to express concern over prior to this film was that of Bane. When the first trailer came out for The Dark Knight Rises, people immediately complained because Bane was too difficult to understand. He wears a mask over his mouth, for crying out loud, and you want to put him next to Bale's Batman!? Talk about a foreign film; 3 hours of mumbling, might as well be at a Van Morrison concert!

With an eye for detail, and probably a good outreach team, the creators of this film must have sensed this concern and immediately edited and fixed Bane's voice for the subsequent trailers and for the movie. Bane is not only easy to understand, listening to him is a pleasure. I don't know a lot about Tom Hardy, to be honest, the man who played Bane, but what few films I've seen him in, I've enjoyed his charisma. Bane is almost Shakespearean in his way with people.
 Every line of dialogue is beautifully intoned and everything he has to say carries such depth of meaning and such power. Bane is an interesting character, and this film does little to tarnish that reputation. His planning is brilliant, his skills are exceptional, and his menace and place as Batman's villain are convincing. The struggle to overcome defeat is obviously why we enjoy watching heroes succeed, and Bane is so good at being bad that Batman's journey is all the more extensive and enjoyable.
I mentioned that I was worried about Anne Hatheway playing Catwoman, and again, I shouldn't have been. Maybe it's because I know so little about her, but I honestly am impressed by her every time I see her in something. I mean, when I first saw The Princess Diaries, I didn't know what she normally looked like, and the transformation to princess flabbergasted me...I mean, it would have, if I'd seen that, yeah. But, Hathaway's Catwoman was a delight. She wasn't crazy like Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, taking on the more recent character path of naughty and complicated. Right from her first scene, Hathaway's Catwoman captured my interest. Her street-smarts, her sassy attitude, and her ability to so quickly and easily switch from innocent Selina Kyle to the dangerous Catwoman make her a complicated, and interesting character, and Hathaway carried the right tone and was a delight to watch doing so.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Enough said.
No, that wouldn't be like me at all. But seriously, I love this guy. I've been a fan of his since Third Rock from the Sun and I haven't seen anything he's in which I haven't liked. I haven't seen all of his work, but I absolutely love him as an actor. He has such a realism about him, a way of becoming and unveiling his characters in such a way that I not only really relate to them, but just generally enjoy his time on screen. He doesn't let me down in this movie, playing a cop in Gotham City. With Commissioner Gordon being a little above the regular street-cop, it was nice to have this perspective again, of the people but also of the people who uphold the law. You need this in a movie about a superhero, you need to know how they feel about the vigilante. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake, and his role proves to be quite necessary and influential in the film. Without giving too much away here, for a movie with so many characters, the depth of development of the character of John Blake is impressive and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays it in a way which feels so real, and so easy. While the depths of human emotion are not really explored too much for this character, the story is so compelling and his delivery so excellent that I found it very enjoyable.

Bruce Wayne made an appearance in this movie! Haha, what I mean is that I had expressed an interest in seeing more of the other side of Batman, knowing that Bruce Wayne is a tough character to play, and I wasn't too sure Bale was up to it. I've seen Christian Bale in many things, but usually, he's expected to play an exacting psychopath. While Bruce can be like that, it was really refreshing to see his character develop a little more in this film. When you get down to it, the movie was approximately 70% Bruce Wayne, and 30% Batman, when you consider Christian Bale's time on screen. And while I'm paying to see Batman, I need to know more about the man behind the mask, if I'm going to care about him.

After the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce has been in isolation and "retirement". Rumours persist, he never leaves his home, and things are rough for him. As is a classic in the genre of heroes, and a direct reference to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a crisis occurs which forces the hero back into action. Forces might not be the right word, as Alfred might say, but Bruce feels that way. Donning the cape and cowl, Batman comes back again, only to face an enemy for which he isn't truly prepared. As the name might suggest, the Dark Knight must rise, both figuratively and, funny enough, literally, going on a journey that touches deeper into the heart of Bruce Wayne than I expected. I can't say more without telling you the plot, but let's just say that it was a refreshing experience, the breaking down of Batman and his confidence, the laying and reminder of the foundation which makes Bruce who he is, and the rise to, and over, what he once was.

Christopher Nolan has expressed that while Batman Begins dealt with fear, The Dark Knight with chaos, The Dark Knight Rises deals with pain. This motif is everywhere, both ubiquitous and subtle at the same time. Bruce's journey exposes the depth of his pain, and what was preventing him from dealing with it. Alfred, Bruce's ever-present butler, shows a heavy heart in this film, making it very clear to Bruce, and to us, what he has suffered all these years, trying to keep a shattered little boy from killing himself through his vigilance. Bane is the embodiment of pain, hey that rhymed! The mask he wears is to moderate his own pain, and he aims to not only take Gotham, and to defeat Batman, but to destroy his soul, to break his spirit. He aims to make Batman's destruction complete and total. As Tom Hardy himself expressed about the character's actions, "It's about carnage." And Batman's will to overcome this pain shows an anger which had not, in my opinion, shown through before. While it may sound sadistic, it can be rewarding to watch the hero take out his anger on the villain. It was rewarding to watch Batman rise to Bane's challenge, and beat him at his own game.

Finally, Christopher Nolan reveals himself for what he is, not simply a director, but a composer, a maestro of movie making. The Dark Knight Rises proves itself to be a film worthy of the rest of the series. It was fresh, and while it borrowed from a lot of source material, it did so in such a way that only proved the genius of the film. There are so many important characters in this film, each with their own story to tell, and Nolan sets the pace so wonderfully that all is revealed in time, foreshadowed quite beautifully, referenced so easily, and sewn together so immaculately that even my skeptical eyes can barely find a weakness in the film. I'm not saying every one of you will love this film, I'm just saying that it was well done and if you don't think so, I'd be surprised. For those who know Batman comics, you'll see so many references and you'll even miss some, trust me. For those not as familiar, the movie provides an exciting and convincing conclusion to this terrific trilogy.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie, your journey should probably end here, thanks for reading, I appreciate it and had a lot of fun writing this blog post. For those who continue, I also thank you for reading, haha.

I warn you here and now that below this, I talk about some film specifics, don't read if you want to avoid spoilers.

Alright, so, a couple of quick things. Talia's presence felt a little rushed/unnecessary to me. It does work decently well for this movie, but really, if you removed her, the film wouldn't lose too much. I liked Bane being Batman's foil, and while Talia adds to the film, I probably could have done without her. But, I guess she did add some needed complexity to the story and Marion Cotillard captured the character very nicely.

Second, I think that it must be difficult to show surprise when you are wearing a helmet. Batman's look of shock is almost comical toward the end of the film, but I think I'm just spoiled by cartoon animation's ability to do anything.

John Blake's character development was amazing. Honestly, I loved this version of Robin, and simply applaud whoever came up with it. I mean, to my knowledge, this is a pretty original rendition of where Robin comes from, and not only is it original, it's very well done. The fact that he figured out who the Batman was isn't exactly new; Tim Drake (a different Robin in the comics) figures it out as a kid from, ironically enough, watching Dick Grayson's Robin, but the way he figures it out in this film is not only more realistic, but adds to the motif of pain in the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal really builds up to the final developing moment (there's a word for this, English students help me out...the moment when a character becomes who they were destined to be, when their fate is revealed and they take it upon themselves) when the cop blows the bridge. Here we have a cop, someone who's sworn his life to justice, seeing that very system, hell an actual Gotham city cop, doing what he is ordered to do, not what he has to do. This moment is perfect and it bridges the gap between John Blake and Robin so amazingly, that I had a hard time not doing this when it happened:

The film's conclusion was pretty good in my opinion. It satisfying left us with more on which to speculate, but concluded things enough not to make us demand a sequel. Bruce's escape was wonderfully Batman, especially the repair of the guidance system, and I really enjoyed Alfred's vacation and how that was developed and portrayed in the film. I am very happy with how things ended and while I would love to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt play Robin, I would be happy to leave things as they are, with the hint of promise, allowing me to play it out in my mind rather than ruining it by misadventure.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Magic of Recluse

I find it strange that I think the burning of books to be such an heretical act, yet when I read through books quickly, I usually refer to it as "burning through them". I guess it's one of those idioms which I must train myself not to use.

Also, I am well aware of the grammatical/orthographical, controversy over using the word an before heretical, but I'm hoping that my acknowledgement of such a grievous error can placate the punishment I will receive from it.

Nevertheless, I am very sidetracked and since I am not allowing myself to use it again, and since fire is such a prominent element in fantasy fiction, I will allow myself to say this one time, that I am burning through a lot of fantasy lately.

...yeah, I realize that this entire introduction resulted from free-writing my internal argument over the use of burning, whatever, I like sharing some of my thoughts.

Anyway, while waiting for the second book in The Wheel of Time series, and the third in A Song of Ice and Fire, to be available at any library in Edmonton, Brittany referred me to The Magic of Recluse.

The Magic of Recluse is a fascinating book and a great introduction to the world of Recluse and the magic therein.

The story follows the typical fantasy format of following a young man around on his adventures, but I found the delivery to be unique and interesting. It seems that magic exists in one of two forms in and outside of Recluse: order-magic and chaos-magic. Contrary to typical chromatic connotation, chaos magic is white, and ordered is black.

We begin our adventure, where else, but in Recluse, in a small town, with a boy who is bored with his surroundings. His parents are very disciplined and very orderly and they constantly try to instill the benefits of order upon their son. Restless, he tries learning wood-crafting with his uncle, but regardless, or irregardless even, of all of this, Lerris, the main character, finds that he is too bored and unsatisfied by the lack of answers to his questions and is basically exiled for this. The exile comes in the form of the dangergeld, a trip one must take if they cannot fit into the society of Recluse, which involves a person going their own way and learning about the world at large, determining if they can adapt to Recluse or if they belong elsewhere.

As is typical of fantasy, Lerris is capable of more than he knows, and his adventures allow him to grow and learn more about the world and about his own abilities. I found the beginning of the book to be as annoying to me as it was to Lerris. I did not feel bored, but I too felt frustrated because none of his questions were getting straight answers. As he travels, things start to make a little more sense, but more importantly, Lerris takes a stronger role in thinking and answering his own questions and determining his own path.

The author is very descriptive and doesn't, in my opinion, use language which is too poetically excessive. Things are described from Lerris'(s) point of view, and are simple explanations which make sense and really helped me feel a part of his adventure. Even when he's trying to explain and understand magic, he likens it to wood-crafting, which while not a new technique, is still one I found most useful.

The theory of magic is quite interesting in this book and makes me think I should have gone into it more for my Eye of the World review. Anyway, in this series, one can use either order or chaos to accomplish great things. Neither is inherently good or evil, but each carries their own consequences. For example, as a character points out in the book, if you have a person suffering from a disease or sickness, either chaos or order can be used to heal them. Order would be used to organize the body's immune system and chaos would be used to destroy the disease.

It is an interesting concept, and one I hope to be explored in the later books. This book introduced the concept but was a little too quick to polarize the morality of the types of magic. I mean, to their extremes, either would be bad, and the case for chaotic being evil is a lot easier, but I hope the later books do a better job of pointing out how chaos can be used for good and how order can be used for evil. Don't get me wrong; these ideas are touched upon, but I guess they were just following the adventures of Lerris in this one and the villain is pure chaotic evil while Lerris is as ordered as they come.

Nevertheless, I found The Magic of Recluse to be an exciting read, worth my time, and well aligned with the genre of fantasy that I seem to have re-fallen in love with. I look forward to reading the later books in the series, and hoping to get a little further through the other series for which I'm so anxiously waiting.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Eye of the World

A couple of my friends have been reading a certain fantasy series for years, telling me about it when they could, but more frequently nerding out in their own corner when they got together. The series sounded interesting to me, but it sounded like a lot of "work", being something like 14 novels by now. When they recommended I read it, I said I would but not until my life had freed itself up a little.

Well, my life is in a bit of a calm right now. I have things coming up, and I have things recently dealt with, but for now, I have time to read, so I thought I would give it a shot.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

August Long Weekend Camping Reunion!

A couple of years ago, I started a tradition of hosting a long weekend camping party in the summer up at my place. On a long weekend of my choosing, my friends, some family, and I would get together at a spot on my parents' property and have a weekend of campfires, tents, and everything else that traditionally goes with such an event.

I ran them for a couple of years, but then I had to stop. I started working at the Toronto Island Marina, a job which is busiest on weekends, especially the long ones. So, I stopped hosting parties for a couple of years.

But not this year!

Ironically, despite being 3 provinces away, it was actually easier to host the party this year. As soon as I was hired by Shaw, I booked the August Long weekend off, and booked my plane ticket! I invited my friends, made plans, over-planned, and got ready to have a reunion like no other.

This year's party was fantastic, as all previous have been, even more so because it was a real reunion amongst my friends and family. I have been in Edmonton since the 24th of May, and I missed my family and friends very much. This party was the only chance I will have of seeing them until Christmas time, (or after) and I was looking forward to it! One additional, extremely fantastic bonus was that I was able to bring Brittany along to reunite her with friends she hasn't seen in over a year, and give her a chance to meet my family.

The flights from Edmonton to Ottawa were pleasant enough. We started early in the day, leaving at 7am, and arrived in Ottawa around 3pm. My mother picked us up at the airport, and we were on our way.

Not directly home, however, but somewhere equally as exciting! My mother had been planning an anniversary present for my dad for about a year now, and had been working toward it quite craftily, if I may say so. Knowing my dad's interest in stargazing, notably by his reluctance to come indoors on a beautiful, clear, summer night, she started off by giving him a starchart many months ago. Then, she proceeded to give him a set of fully recline-able folding lawn chairs for his birthday so he may lie down instead of staring straight up and straining his neck.

A few months ago, my mom asked me to look into telescopes, as I had more experience with them and would know what to look for. I researched, and asked around, and this was what I came up with.

The Celestron NexStar 4" SE Telescope has a 4" aperture, with a motorized mount. The motor, which can be powered by batteries, a car adapter, or by plugging it in normally, also has a computer system in it for tracking and cataloging objects in the night sky. It comes with 38 000 objects in its database, and has the ability to strap a camera onto the end for easy astrophotography. It includes a steady frame, and is an impressive unit. Conferring with the staff at Focus Scientific, the store which looked most promising in Ottawa, we decided this would be the best unit for my dad. My dad has a fervent fascination with the stars, but only amateur use with telescopes. Still, he is willing to learn, and I wanted to give him something which would be easy to set up but could grow and provide more functions as he saw fit. Also, the entire family has a strong interest, and I wanted something which would be useful for all skill levels and interests.

Bringing it home was quite exciting, and my mom wrapped the external power supplies in pretty blue wrapping paper. Opening it up, my dad realized what it was, but not what it was for. Pointing out the large box in the dining room, I helped him to open it. I admit to being as excited as he was, and having to remind myself that this was his present and that I should step back a little. But, it was exciting! We used to check out the stars together, and it's one of my earliest memories! Anyway, my dad opened the box and seemed pretty excited, as I caught him on film. My dad is a silent fellow, usually, and so his exuberance was hard to measure, but I could tell by how he dove into the instruction manual, after I teased him that he should actually read the thing, I could tell that my dad was really pumped for this gift. In the spirit of romance and gift-giving, my dad gave my mom her anniversary gift a little early as well, which turned out to be an elaborate puzzle ring. I will include a picture of it once I get a picture from my mom. She loved it, of course, and it was a nice little moment.

To backtrack a little, the drive between the airport, the telescope shop, and home was uneventful, but had a few moments which were interesting, to me at least. First, my mom unveiled the stress she had been carrying. My mom balances a lot of things, sometimes unfairly, and she had already been awake for 14 hours that day, doing the job of 5, before she had picked Brittany and I up at the airport. Thankfully, Brittany has already witnessed my mother's strong personality, as she was often around when my parents helped me move in/out of residence; usually a very stressful time. Still, my mom let out her stress, and I could see that it didn't faze Brittany at all. I wasn't surprised by this, but relieved. My mom is awesome, but usually a little startling. The second little thing, or set of things to happen, was that Brittany was very helpful in helping us find things in Ottawa. For someone who has rarely been in that city, her powers of observation continued to serve her well (V for Vendetta quotation) and her keen eye caught my mother's attention. Once or twice, I caught a look of approval from my mom, and I could tell a good first impression had been made.

Now, I am going to stop right here and make something perfectly clear; something which I thought had been by now, but I have been told was not: Brittany is my girlfriend.

I apologize for those who have found out just now, but really, don't feel bad, it's quite common. While most of you know me to be open in nature, I usually keep some things pretty close. Sure, I tell you, and most of those I know, mostly everything, but at heart, I am a private person. It's an unusual paradox, I know, but basically, I share a lot with you all because I want to, because there is no reason not to. But, when it comes to personal relationships, especially budding ones, I am careful. I kept the information close not out of fear, but out of respect, for me, for Brittany, and for our relationship.

Anyway, I do apologize for anyone finding out this way now. Please don't be insulted, but the truth of the matter is, while our courtship had been for some time, our relationship did not start until I came here to Edmonton. After which time, things progressed so naturally and so wonderfully between ourselves that I felt more like developing it than boasting about it. Not that it was unworthy of boasting, but I preferred to direct such energy to her, rather than to shouting it from the mountains (which I haven't had a chance to see yet, anyway, haha)

Yes, the motivation to move here was a little more than job-dependent, but I am not so big a fool as to have made the decision to move here based on my heart alone. Some of you may mock this, some of you have mocked this, but I know my mind and I know my heart, and I know how to balance them both. 

So, ugh, long rambling tangent later, basically, it was nice for my girlfriend and my mom to get to know each other, and approve of each other. The drive back to the airport on the Monday cemented said approval as my mom discussed some of Brittany's finer points aloud. I won't go into them here, but it's just nice not having to worry about the scrutiny of my parents. My sister seems to like Brittany as well, judging by her favourable reactions to Brittany's piano expertise, and her interest in Celtic music. That was just the cherry on top of the whole weekend; my family is extremely protective of me and while it's nice, it was more nice to share someone with them without having it feel forced, sudden, or uncomfortable.

So, made it home, telescope was set up, and man was it ever sweet! I forgot to get a picture of the Moon that night, but the scope's view was incredibly impressive. You could see the outline and shadow of every single crater! It was extremely bright, and incredible to view. I look forward to looking at nebulae, and other planets through it, and I know my dad is just itching to try it out too. Plus, the computer system is great for auto-locating targets. Just ask for, say Mars, and the telescope aligns itself!

Late, tired, and in the dark of night, the rest of my friends arrived! Danielle (my sister by the way) and her friends had already done quite a bit of work that day getting the spot ready for our party, including gathering wood, clearing the firepit, and setting up some tents. Carrying all of my stuff, and helping my friends to carry theirs, was no easy feat, but eventually, we all made it up top and all tents were made. We had an assortment of shapes and sizes, with Steve's tent being large enough to hold some of the smaller ones.

Staying up entirely too late, it was a good first night, full of friends, family, and fun!

We started the next day off with a wonderful breakfast, prepared mostly by Jason and Brittany. Jason tended the fire, and Brittany cooked the bacon and eggs while avoiding the smoke Jason stirred up, haha.

After everyone was fed and awake, we decided to go into town to do some shopping. Some of my over-planning previously had provided us with bacon, eggs, and hotdogs/hamburgers/buns, all on a combined party tab, but I had asked people to shop for their own drinks and snacks. It worked out quite well and we even all pitched in on some S'More ingredients, having to "settle" for the giant marshmellows as the normal-sized ones were unavailable. I wish I had gotten a picture, but there were several amusing moments where people tried stuffing their mouths with a marshmellow while saying "Fluffy bunny" and failing hilariously!

Making it back, and putting our food on ice, we decided to go swimming. Reminded of a nice swimming spot just down the road from my place, we set off. The spot was called Tooey Lake, and it was a really nice place to relax, swim, and spend the afternoon. We swam, tanned, had snacks, and enjoyed the day. The water, which was remarkably clean, cooled us off and was a nice respite from the weather.

Walking back to the party spot after our swim was an unfortunate adventure. While my sister and I have been traipsing back and forth through that path for ages, not once had we seen, or had to deal with, a bee hive. I guess with the greater number of people, the odds were higher, and 7/10 of us were stung by bees, some multiple times. Thankfully, my friend Kyle, allergic to bees, was not stung, but as mentioned, most others were. It was a sad experience, but I really have to congratulate everyone on their reaction. First off, no one really panicked, other than the initial running away from the spot, which was warranted. Secondly, while I should have foreseen this, what with the 3 ex-dons, the quick triage of the situation was most impressive. Everyone and everything was quickly taken care of, and I honestly felt a little lost only because I was not stung and there was nothing I could do to help. It was a weird situation for me, feeling so helpless, but I appreciate the feeling, knowing that it was because my friends are so on top of things. Thankfully, the pain subsided in time, and everyone seemed to move on from the event quite nicely. Or at least, they were incredibly stoic about it.

The next set of misfortunes seemed to happen mostly to my friend Jason. First, he contracted a rash, poison ivy, it turns out, on his ankles which became very bad toward the end of the weekend. Other than commenting on it, and wondering if it was indeed a rash of some sort, he fought the urge to scratch quite bravely. The next thing was that a piece of wood punctured his sandal and his foot. It bled quite a bit, but again, my friends took care of things quite quickly. After all that, and bug bites, I had expected my friends to have frowns by the end of the party, but they showed me how tough they really are, smiling and enjoying the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, it rained, as expected, and while we had originally agreed to play volleyball at my grandparents' trailer park, no one was in the mood to play, especially after the aforementioned injuries. After another delicious breakfast, again not cooked by me (thanks guys!), we decided to nurse our wounds and just relax for the day.

I was still planning on going to see my grandparents and extended family, and by the late afternoon Brittany, Jason, and Brandy came with me. It didn't make much sense in my other friends coming as without the volleyball or trip to the beach, the trip was entirely one for a family connection and might have been awkward with more people. The three of them came for the company, and for Brittany to meet some more of my family, but left early due to fatigue, and Jason's inability to join us in the potluck due to his peanut/nut allergy. That was okay, I enjoyed the time with family, and they enjoyed the uninterrupted time with me. The food was also magnificent.

Leaving my grandparents a little early, I came back to find the party in full swing. Everyone was chatting, laughing, having a great time, and it was my favourite moment of the entire weekend. I had been in a mood earlier that day, balancing the empathy of injuries and the demands of time-management between friends and family, and found the moment allowed me to relax and have fun. Unfortunately, I was called away to play designated driver for a cousin of mine, but it was a nice drive, which I shared with Alex. Coming back, everyone was so tired, they apologized and went to bed. I didn't mind as I understood and had had my fun.

The weekend was an incredible time to catch up and interact with friends and family. Seeing my friends again was a treat, and watching them interact was as interesting as it was enjoyable. I missed everyone and it was nice to catch up.

Brandy and Jason, my friends almost the longest out of the group of friends, were cute, adorable, hilarious, and I re-realized how much I miss their company.

It was nice to see and catch up with Stephanie, and I really enjoyed having her out at my place again. She also took all of these pictures, so I thank her for that too! I had missed Michelle quite a bit, but due to us both being busy, and adjusting to the change, our interactions were a little limited at first. Our friendship is the newest and the one which is most unused to change. It was good to catch up, and I know we'll work things out.

Steve was his usual hilarious self, and it was great getting him out to my party, as the previous years he has been busy working a summer job at Wasaga Beach.
It was Alex's first time out, and his first time camping. I have to say he provided a lot of the entertainment, whether it be teaching us all about religion and philosophy, throat-singing in the middle of the night, or just coming up with crazy antics.

Patrick came once again, and this time did not get bitten by my dog! I was happy to hang out with him as I hadn't seen him in quite some time.

My friend Kyle even came out which was incredibly surprising. He didn't even tell me until I heard it whispered from Jason. His was, as always, a comforting and awesome presence, and I am glad he was able to make it out. He had to leave early, due to work, which is why he isn't in the group shots at the end.

After a long day of packing and cleaning, and flying back to Edmonton, I enjoyed the luxury of a shower before crashing into bed. Getting back to work has been a chore, but the weekend was well worth any fatigue. I thank everyone who came out and helped to make it a highlight of my summer, and I thank my family for hosting and getting the place ready.

Lastly, I thank you, for reading, and I hope you also had a wonderful August long weekend!