Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Little Brother

When I was in high school, I read '1984' by George Orwell. For fun. We had just read 'Animal Farm' and I was looking for something else by the same author. My English teacher recommended that I read it. I did. It was pretty fascinating stuff.

Fast forward 20 years.

I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's book "Little Brother" and wow, what a ride. His website calls it a "young adult" novel, but it's much more than that. And to think that I downloaded it last year, started it, and put it down practically at the start of the book. Thanks to my friends for convincing me that it's worth a read.

Other's apparently think so as well, as it's up for both a Nebula and a Hugo award. In the Hugo award, it's up against some stiff competition - some pretty big names in SciFi in this list:

Best Novel
* Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
* The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
* Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
* Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
* Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

The book's protagonists are certainly teens, but through the book some very large and current topics of discussion throughout the world are examined and questioned. Terrorism, security, and the rather free license that was taken in the name of both after 9-11 are both front and center through the book.

It's a fascinating read. As one commenter on his site says : "This novel is the modern equivalent of Orwell's "1984", written for teenagers." I highly recommend it. Excellent read.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A heart of pure gold

Thanks to a blog I read, I found this article on CNN.

What blows me away is that this guy is spending so much of his salary to help people in need.

There are homeless throughout North America. Here we are, worried about this present recession, and the numbers are only increasing. How many of us are only a paycheque or two from needing this sort of help?

I've met homeless here, and for many, they made bad decisions and lost everything. There are some that hold full-time jobs, but still need to visit the soup kitchens for whatever reason. How are they different from you and me? They're still human. They're still in need. The poor and destitute are not an amorphous concept in a far away land. They are real and they are here, regardless of how much society ignores them.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Driving 800 km, with most of it in a mild snowfall...

It's a shame this town isn't better serviced by regular flights.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Caesar's Day

Beware the Ides of March. Sound advice, if you're in a Shakespearean play and you encounter some old hags dispensing it.

I've been watching far too much TV of late. This seems to go hand-in-glove with the fact that I've been out of town working far too much of late. But, as my Dad says, it pays the bills. My station of preference when I'm out of town generally defaults to the Discovery Channel, with the Weather Channel a close second in winter. Sometimes though, it's better to curl up with a good book.

I really wish, those several times that I encountered the subject of this blog, that I had been curled up with a good book instead of watching television. If wishes were wings, pigs would fly. There's a banking commercial out right now that shows a man. He's commenting that "That place, where it's not all about me anymore? I'm there." Of course the visual shows a younger man holding his newborn infant while in the hospital with his wife. Just thinking about it, my heart clenches from an invisible hand. My eyes tear.

It's not bloody fair. We were supposed to be approaching Gabe's first birthday. He was supposed to be born almost a year ago. Instead I sit here, with Gabe's ashes over my shoulder. I am still wracked with grief over a friggin' commercial for a BANK for crying out loud. Times like this, the suckage comes out of hiding and throws me around like a martial arts expert, and there's bugger all I can do.

I am not suffering from a knife in the back from my closest friend. No, this Ides, I'm just suffering from the cruel hand of fate snatching my son from my arms. I have to beware the Ides this year as the memory of the loss of my boy has come floating to the forefront of my consciousness once again.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's a good day

Happy Pi day!

And of course, Happy Birthday to Albert Einstein, extraordinary beatnik!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cooling passions...

Every news outlet in the US went gaga last year when it was announced that the Bristol Palin was pregnant. Then she and her boyfriend who did the deed were going to do the right thing and get married. This from a guy who had stated publicly previously on his MySpace page that he didn't want to have kids.

So it wasn't really a surprise when I saw on another blog that Levi and Bristol have broken up. It's sad that the private lives of a young couple are front page news on the interweb. It doesn't take much time to find multiple articles about it. And of course, being the staid conservative right-wing Christian parents that the Governor and her husband are, things are probably not rosy within the Alaskan first families home today.

Call me cynical, but the whole engagement was more a factor of the Presidential election campaign than it was young love coming to fruition. Which is really sad, because that child deserves to grow up in a family with a dad, not as another notch in the statistic called "unwed mothers."

Life goes on in Alaska... just like everywhere else in this 'enlightened' world of ours.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Anticipating early mornings

Thanks to a good friend of mine who was born in Great Britain, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Formula 1 Racing about 13 years ago. It's the primary reason that Mrs. Spit and I now have the TV package that we do - so that 18 weekends per year, I can get up at stupid times of the day to watch F1 racing live.

I will grant you, I could have a system like a PVR so that I could record the races and watch them later in the day. Besides the fact that I enjoy starting my Sunday mornings at 5:30 am on race days, I'd have to avoid several of the blogs I subscribe to if I miss the race. That being said, my television provider will give me a PVR for free, and I'll soon be signing up for one.

The major pain in the side comes when I'm out of town for work, and am stuck somewhere that doesn't have coverage of the race. That's the suck, so I'm really looking forward to being able to record things.

This year is going to be interesting, as there was a MAJOR change to the car construction rules for 2009. Thanks to Red Bull Racing, you can see first hand how things are going to change this year. Yeah, it's computer animation. Still extremely cool. Kind of like the weather right now. -40?!?!?! Holy Mackrel!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Cold?!?

I'm so happy that I'm working winter construction right now.

-14C air temp
-26C wind chill

-26C air temp
-38C wind chill

-39C air temp
No wind

-36C air temp
-44C wind chill

Thank Goodness the forecast for Friday is only -5C!!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Freezing on the job

Aaahhh... bridge work. It's so unlike other construction, I guess that's why we have a separate bridge department in my company? We're the loony ones who work construction in winter.

In Alberta, the joke goes, we have four seasons just like everyone else. We have to remind ourselves of this, because people from other parts of the country don't believe it. Others have spring, summer, autumn, winter. Our seasons are before winter, winter, after winter, and road construction. Maybe it's a result of the fact that winter often starts in October, and stretches well into April, that we have this self-deprecation in humour? But I digress. The other major departments in the company use winter as a time to STAY INSIDE!!!! Not us! Hey, let's work off of the ice!

Presently I'm working to repair this bridge. Well, I'm not repairing it. I'm watching others do the grunt work to repair it. The benefits of education! Though, as I explained to one of the guys on the crane crew, I sometimes feel guilty about not offering to help when it's obvious that another pair of hands moving something heavy would be advantageous. Then I remember that if I got injured by pitching in, I'd be hard pressed to explain to Workers' Compensation how I got a manual labour type injury from being the inspector on the job.

My job today and yesterday was to stand around and count. That's it. Really. I'm not kidding. I was observing pile driving again, doing blow counts. The difference is that on this job, instead of trying to attain a certain bearing capacity and stop, I was making sure that we got the piles deep enough. Hard ground within 15' of the surface made this an effort - especially when my engineer wanted us to be about 25' down. So, instead of stopping at 15 blows per quarter meter, we were up in the realm of 80 to 140 blows per quarter meter. Overkill anyone?

Here's what the bridge pier looked like this afternoon. We're basically making the old pier piles redundant with a new steel exoskeleton type arrangement to take the weight of the bridge off of the broken timber piles.

Did I mention that I was standing around? Doing nothing physical? As part of the winter construction aspect of this project, Old Man Winter blew into town with a fury. All weekend we have had either a winter storm warning or a wind chill warning in effect from Environment Canada. Saturday we had blizzard conditions most of the day. Not terribly cold (-20C/-15C), but the wind was fierce, gusting to 50 kph! Saturday night the bottom fell out on the barrel. Started the day off with wind chill around -35C. The temperature didn't rise above -20C, and the wind was present all day long. According to the "what happened" today info online, we had windchill down to -39C today. I had frozen drops of condensation collected on my eyelashes, and my eye lids had frost on them.

Thankfully, that's the last of the tasks that requires me to stand around outside for long periods of time. The rest is all checking, measuring, recording, and retiring to the heated pickup truck! But, for fun, here's a photo of me yesterday. I can almost button up the vest in summer time... but here I have a lot of clothing on underneath it. I felt like the Pilsbury dough boy with insulated overalls and jacket, quilted jacket with hoodie, two sweatshirts, t-shirt, polypropylene long underwear, balaclava, touque, insulated work gloves I can still write with (not warm enough for today though!), and steel toed Baffin boots.

The nice thing about this kind of work? I'm on my own schedule away from some of the office 'stuff' that gets tiring at times. Staying in hotels alone and away from Mrs. Spit? Yeah, that's the down side of the work. But, as my Dad likes to point out, it pays the bills. I wonder where my pragmatic side comes from?

More to come on this and other projects.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The silence

It's been just over 14 months since the death of my son, Gabriel.

If he had survived his birth, I would be spending much of my time at home chasing around a toddler, making sure that the house is not hiding any surprises for him to find and surprise us with.

Instead, I can see my son in the same place every day that I am home. His ashes sit on a shelf erected for that purpose. I will never see my son grow from infant, though childhood into adulthood. I don't even know what colour his eyes were. As Mrs. Spit and I were discussing possible eye colours a possible future child might have, this thought came to me. You see, Mrs. Spit has a gorgeous set of blue eyes. Her eyes remind me of a clear afternoon sky during a prairie winter. Me? I have eyes that change with the light, the time of day, maybe even with my mood - I've been blessed with eyes that get called hazel, because nobody can ever figure out what colour they are at a given time. The mystery thus becomes a question of what eye colour do we pass on?

Yesterday morning, I had the express displeasure of sitting through a "tri-party" meeting regarding my construction project from last summer. I drove 8 hours to and from this meeting from the project I'm presently working on. We had a joint meeting with the contractor, the client (the provincial transportation department), and the consultant (us). I was there with my senior manager and my construction engineer. Two hours of discussing what went wrong last year. This with the contractor who doesn't like me anymore - he thinks I have a personnal agenda against him.

There were a number of items where eyes were turned to me in a blame-casting manner. Indeed, the biggest problems we've had on the job stem from actions I took at the end of the job, in error. We had a "process" problem, which had we done things differently, would have led to a much friendlier conclusion to the job.

The manager from the transportation department was at Gabriel's funeral. Both of my engineers that were at the meeting with me came to Gabriel's funeral. How do I point out that last year was the worst work-year of my life? As I have my manager reminding me (somewhat in jest as I'm putting in major OT hours right now) that it's salary review time this month, I recall that I struggled immensely last year.

So there I sat in this meeting, thinking to myself that had things occured differently, I would not have struggled to finish one problem construction project. I would not have dreaded working with that same contractor on a new project last summer. I would have been able to focus more clearly on what I needed to do, and when it had to be done. In this unfair world that we live in, I was expected to bury my grief and continue on as though Gabriel's had never happened. I sat, with a metaphorical target painted on my forehead for people to place blame. I had to say "yes, I screwed that up." or "yes, it was an error that this happened" when I wanted to say "Look, my son died. I should have taken months off of work to grieve him. I didn't. As a result, you got less than I am capable of. Get stuffed."

It still hurts me deeply and intensely when I think of all that isn't, because my son is dead. It hurts me that people don't know that the new me exists. I have to wrap myself in a blanket of silence lest people think I'm a simpering pity case who can't function in the world. Engineering and the construction industry isn't for the emotionally accessible. It's takes someone thick-skinned and hard-nosed. If you can't take someone swearing at you because you're telling them to do work according to the rules, then there's always other work.

The silence took me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The story after...

When you watch a movie, do you ever wonder what happened to the 'other' guys?

Thanks to nerdist.com, the Star Wars geek in me got an answer tonight. Oh yeah... also a big thumbs up to stumble-upon for presenting this to me tonight as well!

Friday, March 6, 2009

New day, new hotel...

The hotel room isn't quite as nice to look at. But there you go, almost 1/2 the price of where I was Wednesday night as well.

I'm wiped. Can't sleep.

This weekend I hope to further the bridge repair information posts! But now, my bed is calling as it's an early day tomorrow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Behind the 8 Ball

Working out of town. It leads to different experiences.

Take this trip that I'm on. I picked a hotel where I've stayed before. I don't recall having problems here before. Alas, after 1 night of a planned 12, they are sitting firmly behind the 8 ball.

It started well. I checked in last night and was told that Tuesday night was Customer Appreciation Night, and that there would be free pizza and beer in their Continental Breakfast area. Fabulous. A dinner I don't have to pay for. Or so I thought. I paid for it later in the evening, with heartburn from the Boston Pizza pizza. It could have been the Molson Canadian beer as well - there's a reason I drink Guinness - it's GOOD beer!

Then I went up to my room, where I had planted my gear an hour earlier. Just in time to see another guy closing the door to my room. WTF?!? And my key-card, which had been given to me earlier, didn't work. The guy said that the desk had given him the key-card that worked in my room. So I traded him and didn't think much more on it. Yeah, I'm typing this with the dead-bolt engaged. But this is standard practice for me while in hotels. In THIS room, it's the only thing holding the door closed... but on to the rest of the story (RIP Paul Harvey)

I tried to setup my PlayStation to relax by playing some Tiger Woods Golf. The TV even had the video/audio RCA jacks at the front - making connection easy-peasey, right? Yeah... So the TV was as snowy as the weather was this morning. Bad connection or something. And then I couldn't figure out how to change the TV to use the a/v input. Casting off my disappointment, I went down to the front desk and reported that the TV wasn't working. When I asked about the a/v input, I was told that it was disabled by the LodgeNet system (this is their TV/Pay-Per-View/Gaming On Demand system). Great. Just, Great. I lugged my PS3 up with me to be able to look at the box. Oh well, that's why I have my laptop.

This morning I grabbed my laptop bag and went for breakfast at their Continental breakfast. Why is it that people on the continent (which one? Antarctica?!?!) eat toast, apple turnovers, and juice for breakfast??? Meh. It's free, and when you're eating in restaurants for all your meals, free is good. Oh yeah, this reminds me. They have a microwave and a mini-fridge in the room. Great, so I could buy cheap microwave foods and cook for myself? No. No freezer. No cutlery. No dishes. But there's a kitchen sink! Pshaw....

I spend my day freezing in the -20C windchill, trying to instruct an electrical engineer in how to drive piles, and generally doing my job on my construction site - fixing the leaning bridge I posted about last week. I talk to the guys in the local office and ask about the other hotels in town, as I'm already doubting my choice after 1 night. They mention another one that I've stayed in previously. I think seriously of moving to that hotel.

I return to my room, dump my computer on the bed, and turn to the TV. I turn it on - aha! No snow, and a real picture. Oh... what's this? A nasty-gram from the maintenance person. Telling me that if I muck with their TV again, they will charge me to fix it. Yes, they're accusing me of vandalizing the TV in my attempt to hook up my PS3. They tell me that I am ONLY allowed to use their gaming system, built into the "LodgeNet", and for which pleasure I have to pay extra. Hmm... there are no big signs, or little ones, anywhere that I can see TELLING me this. My a/v plug is still hanging on the PS3 beside the TV armoir... and there is only 1 a/v input of that type on the whole TV - on the FRONT of the TV. Is it my fault that the co-axial connection was busted? Um... no.

So now I'm steamed. I grab my book and head for supper - not walking to the slowest Boston Pizza in creation next door to the hotel. I close the door. I remember that this morning the door didn't seem to automatically seat fully. Looking at the jam, it appears closed fully. I push the door. It opens. I pull the door FIRMLY into a closed position. I push the door again. It opens, again. The door handle still doesn't open the latch, yet the door is completely insecure. A not-too-firm shove pops the door like a can of Pringles. Now I'm a little concerned. My room was apparently open to anyone all day long. Not cool. I could have had my PS3 stolen - again.

Last night I initialed against a room rate of $145 per night for this not so "Super" room at a hotel that, to my mind, just sank their "8" ball on their second shot. I go to the other hotel. Their rate, which isn't the actual rate they're going to charge me because my company does so much business there, is $82 per night. Includes the same kind of free breakfast. Actually, theirs is better. It's a motel instead of a hotel. Heck, this makes life easier, really. No tromping up 4 flights of stairs to my non-secured room. Yes, I try and skip the elevator when I'm not carrying my luggage. So I reserve a room for the remainder of my stay in this little town. Easy to effect when I am checking out of my present hotel tomorrow morning.

Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to driving home tomorrow, having a night with my wife, then driving back up to this town for another week in the winter construction business. Two days. Sixteen hours of driving. Yea. Haw. Thank goodness for satellite radio and my mp3 player. But it gives me a damn fine excuse to leave this overpriced, under-serving excuse for corporate accommodations. Why you ask? I have to. I have to drive home, as I HAVE to attend a meeting with the contractor who hates me in the morning on Friday. Followed by driving back to this lovely little northern Alberta town. Pardon if the sarcasm drips on your keyboard.

The oak tree that broke the camel's back was impugning my integrity. Everything else was additional to that, I still wanted to change hotels before that note. Afterward? I almost packed my bags and left tonight. Instead I've left them a nicely filled out comment card, commenting on what I think of the service I've been provided. I didn't even use profane language, but my oh my, I was tempted.

Lastly, in the same way that I put a PS on the comment card, it's a PS on my post. They have this whole "Project Planet" thing in the rooms, about saving water by not forcing them to wash every thing, every day. Sure, they didn't change the sheets - they do this every 3rd day when someone stays for an extended period. However, when they give the hotel gives instructions to hang your towels to dry if you don't want them to provide new ones, and then turns around and ignores their own attempts to save water? Further gasoline on the fire in my books.

I haven't specifically named the major hotel chain directly, but as my readers are all intelligent, I'm sure you've figured it out. To this chain I say: No hasta la vista, baby!