My Varied Collection of Drinking Containers

I have a thing about glasses, cups, and containers for drinks of the water and non-alcoholic varieties, specifically for drinking iced tea (Nestea for those who are wondering), of which I drink really large amounts daily, and which itself is a personal trademark.

My obsession with drink containers is to the point that it would also be a bit of a personal trademark in and of itself except that, barring given containers that have been and/or are particularly noticeable or distinctive in their colouring scheme or design, most people would not notice my obsession because most of the containers I use — publicly, anyway — are actually rather mundane containers and cups.

That being said, I’ll start with what I use at home to drink my iced tea:

Some of my favourite glasses, which I use at home.

At home, my favourite drinking glasses are old glass candle holders of the variety that some restaurants have been known to have on their tables. I started using the glass candle holders back in the early 1990’s when I found one still with the wax in it; I took it home, reclaimed the wax for a hobby of mine that uses wax, and cleaned up the container. I have since found, cleaned, used, and unfortunately, broken well over a dozen of these containers over the years.

I also have a tall glass container that may have once served as a flower vase, which was found in a garbage bin.

When I go out, whether or not the drink container I use is distinctive enough to be a personal trademark depends on which container I bring with me. Below are three of my more distinctive containers:

A few of the attention-grabbing travel mugs I have.

The large “X-Treme Gulp” mug – the largest of them in the centre – holds about a litre and a half, and garners attention and incredulous comments to the order of it being “one really big coffee mug”. This was a surprise Christmas gift from my aunt in 2005; I had mentioned my interest in (at least somewhat) unusual drinking containers, and I probably joked about wanting a clownishly large container. That Christmas, a package arrived in the mail, with the mug in it. It is indeed clownishly large, and at the point of being unwieldy to use and drink from.

The yellow mug on the right holds about a litre, and garners similar attention. In 1995, I was driving around for work, and a yellow “something” caught my attention in a snow-filled ditch; I stopped and went to find it, and it was the thermal travel mug pictured above (but without a lid). Obviously, I grabbed it and took it home.

The smallest of them holds about a half litre, and its claim to fame is its wide bulbous base. In 1996, I was part of an organizing group for a party weekend with a wide group of friends, and we’d ordered a bunch of those travel mugs with custom artwork put on it memorializing the event — this one being the tenth edition of the event. We ordered enough for everybody to get one, so as to discourage people from leaving empty bottles of beer, liquor, and soft drinks laying around, which not only of course would have been a nuisance to clean up at the end of the weekend, but which also would have become a safety hazard when many of about a hundred, twenty-somethings became somewhat to very inebriated.

Found Containers

A particular characteristic many of the cups, mugs, and bottles which I have collected over the years is that they have been found on the street, or were found in recycling bins or the garbage.

A number of the mugs, bottles, and water containers I have found on the streets and elsewhere over the years

Most of these containers and mugs shown above have at various times been a favourite container of the moment, and have seen a lot of use over the years. In fact, the opaque container with the red top (second row, first on the left), which I found in the bushes while I was geocaching in 2002 or 2003, came with me on a trip to London, while the small greenish Nalgene container with the black lid (first row, second from right), was found in a lost and found pile in 2017, and went with me on a couple of cruises.

Of course, all containers I find on the street or elsewhere are properly washed in a dishwasher before I ever use them; it’s the same logic as “don’t you wash your dirty dishes before using them again?”

Unfortunately, a number of the bottles and cups I find in the street, including the stainless steel units, that were used for coffee, have a lingering coffee odour to them, and even after an initial cleaning, will impart a coffee taste when filled with a new drink. This is a mild issue for me since I do not drink coffee, nor do I particularly care for it. However, the taste disappears after a few uses and cycles in the dishwasher. Soaking in a mild bleach solution can help in extreme cases.

One virtually new travel coffee cup I found on the street in a snowbank in 2018 was branded with the logo of a well known goodwill organization; I imagine that the organization’s local major location being barely a block away made the chances of finding the mug there coincidental approaching zero. A family member guilted me into not using it, and tried to prevail upon me to return it to the organization. I ultimately gave the travel mug to my aunt when she visited, so that she may have a thermal coffee mug for when she were to go about her visits with friends.

Another travel mug I found in 2016 is a favourite given how well its lid seals (photo above, first row, third from the right); however, it has two little holes in its base, which allow water to enter in between the mug’s interior and exterior when I clean it in the dishwasher, upside-down. Mildly annoyingly — and a perverse reason why I like it all the more — it leaks a lot of water after I take it out of the dishwasher. However, its story lies in the corporate logo and company name which were silk-screened on it side; I was not familiar with the company name, and thought nothing of it, much as I would not think anything of most other common corporate logos on a mug. For months after finding the mug, I innocently used it everywhere, such as at work and other areas my life would bring me. One day, a work colleague saw my mug’s logo; he asked me if I knew what it meant, and suggested – in a suspiciously insistent way – that I should look it up. My immediate reaction was one of horror that it might be connected to a website of a particular type of explicit material (which could lead to unwanted consequences with my employer); I checked on my personal phone’s internet connection — of course not my work computer with the work internet — and found out that the logo was indeed generally connected with explicit websites. I quickly scraped the silk-screened logo off of the stainless steel exterior of the mug, and of course I continue to use the mug to this day.

Nalgene Water Bottles

Prior to learning about Nalgene containers for the consumer market in the early 1990s, and that they don’t absorb and retain flavours, then impart them in later contents, I only knew of Nalgene through school lab equipment such as squeeze bottles for lab-grade water and other reagents and solvents such as acetone and hexane.

Generally, I use Nalgene bottles for carrying water around, and I’ll drink my iced tea from another container or mug.

My current collection of Nalgene bottles

My first Nalgene bottle was one I found at a campsite in Vermont in 1994, left behind by previous users of the site. Unfortunately, after several years of service, I inadvertently left it – filled with water – in my car overnight in the middle of a particularly bitterly cold part of winter. The ice expansion caused the plastic in the bottle to split open, and I put it in the recycling bin.

Another early experience with Nalgene bottles was during a sales call with my employer in 1995, who showed a potential client two water samples — one murky, one clear — in clear Nalgene sample bottles in order to demonstrate his filtration device to recondition the process water or glycol in building heating and cooling loops. The sales demonstration was very effective on me, and I asked if I might be able to secure a bottle or two. I used the bottles he gave me for several years; however, the plastic was soft and over time became deformed by the heat in my dishwasher.

Over the years, I have found a Nalgene bottle in a recycling bin (second from the right, 500mL, blue cap), another in a lost and found bin (last on the right, green container, black cap), and others at used goods stores. My most recent acquisitions are two 1.5 litre bottles (first and second on the left), received as a recent Christmas gift (2019).

Stylish Insulated Stainless Steel Bottles

The “stylish” insulated stainless steel bottles I have: three new ones on the left, which I have never used, and three used ones I found on the street on the right

There are the relatively new fangled stylish insulated bottles that seem to have taken the water bottle market by storm. Although stainless steel insulated bottles and thermoses have been around for ages, S’Well and similar bottles seem to have started a style revolution in water containers over the past few years, with a lot of copycat competitors, ranging from low end look-alikes to high-end rivals.

I have three new such bottles which I have never used: One received from my employers in 2017, of course with corporate branding (third from the left), and which was the first time I’d seen the style; another received as a Christmas gift in 2018 (first on the left), which was a copycat; and one received as a promotional item during a themed cruise in 2018 (second from the left).

The only such bottles I actually use are the three I found on the street: A cheap discount store, single layer / uninsulated knockoff bottle in 2019 (third from the right); a salmon pinkish orange bottle of the S’Well brand in 2019 (second from the right), and a third, which I call “Le Chic” (because of the branding on it) in 2020 (last bottle on the right). All three show varying degrees of definite signs of wear and tear, and at least two leak very slightly, one a bit more than the other. The “Le Chic” bottle is a very recent addition, and it has the coffee taste issue mentioned earlier; it will probably enter into my regular usage rotation.

Glass Drinking Jars

I have known about glass drinking jars for a long time, although I only first had one in 2006, when I bought two at the tuck shop at a campsite I was spending a long weekend at; they were relatively expensive, but I purchased them anyway.

Since then, I have found a few at Walmart (the fruit design on the left in the picture above) at a far more reasonable price. Of the other two, one was found on the streets when it caught my eye one morning, while the other was given to me by the recipient of some of my pickled eggs who was returning empty mason jars.

Save for the fact that they are glass and hence susceptible to breakage, these jars are great travel drink containers: In fact, I brought one with me as my main drinking container during a month long business trip out of province in 2009. It served me well, and it amused me when I used it on an airplane. Once I’d finished drinking the water the flight attendant poured into it, I put a lid on the drinking jar. When the airplane landed, I opened it, and was amused by the popping sound caused by the relative vacuum created due to slightly lower cabin pressure.

However, as to the breakage factor, they can be difficult to use on a daily basis in a backpack, since I have accidentally broken a couple of them over the years by simply putting down my backpack on a hard floor in a less than ginger fashion, unfortunately breaking the jar in the bag.

What’s Next on the Horizon?

Of course, I haven’t told the stories to all of the containers I’ve seen come and sometimes go, let alone some that never were. But that is, in a sense, part of the story: There have been so many over the years — including old plastic containers never meant to be used as drinking containers, but rather should have been placed directly in the recycling bin once the original contents were consumed, or finding really good quality travel mugs on the street with excellent seals, that allow me to vigorously shake it to dissolve the iced tea powder I added to the water in it. Oh, and the sort of pear-shaped clear 500mL bottles that a certain type of inexpensive, convenience-store table wine came in … I have fond memories of using those for several years throughout the 1990s.

And while over time I’ve had — and continue to have — favourite containers in the lot, the choice of which container(s) is(are) today’s or this week’s favourite can be ephemeral over time, especially as the overall collection grows with new additions, and contracts due to losses and breakage.

Also, while I actually (somewhat) zealously protect my containers, including very much those found for free, this has also led me have a certain zen when one goes missing, especially if it was one of the “found for free” containers. Just as I found the container because somebody else lost it before me, sometimes I lose containers, leave them behind locked doors to rooms to which I no longer have access, or they get confiscated at a public event such as at a stadium that doesn’t allow participants to bring in items like mugs and bags, both for safety reasons (projectiles), as well as to protect revenue streams from the concession stands.

But this is one of the fun things about what I dare call a hobby: The collection evolves and renews itself, and while I may “mourn” the loss of one of my containers, all I have to do is wait to find another “new to me” container or mug in my various travels, and I’ll end up with a new favourite container.

Portable stoves spotted during a cruise ship cooking demonstration

I originally posted on cooking relatively large amounts – relative to routine home cooking, anyway – of soup for my church using portable countertop stoves I had purchased over time following having made some soup for the coffee / social hour. The intended central theme of the post, besides initially to discuss making soup for a group, was my collection of portable countertop stoves, and using them in non-traditional locations.

I was recently on a cruise; during which I attended some of the cooking demonstrations that were offered. The various subjects included cooking with chilies, and two sessions on Mediterranean cooking styles and dishes. Although these specific subjects were not interests of mine, a general interest character to the cooking demonstrations, that they were sometimes an activity to do with my aunt, and that the demonstrations were generally pleasant activities in which to participate at those moments, were attractions.

Various recipes prepared included a rice and chili sauce dish; lamb meatballs and couscous; and pasta with a garlic and olive oil sauce.

During the first of the cooking demonstrations, I became fascinated by two of the central cooking appliances: Two portable countertop induction stoves, incidentally of the exact same brand and model of which I own; this latter detail piqued my curiosity. I also realized later on while in the buffet lines and watching the cooks prepare meals in front of guests that there were a number of portable countertop induction stoves in use; in this particular case, usually to prepare fried eggs and omelettes, both to order. Some were of the same consumer grade make and model I had, and some were of a different brand, and I suspect of a commercial grade instead of a consumer grade.

Two portable induction countertop stoves (in black, one with a pot on it) used during a cruise ship cooking demonstration

The chef leading the demonstration was unsurprisingly confident and competent (although no doubt following a script, flawlessly and naturally), and she used the two countertop portable stoves as though she were using any other more traditional stove; I found her ease in using these appliances fascinating.

I imagine that induction cooktops were chosen for convenience, more precise cooking control, and perhaps electrical efficiency. No doubt ventilation and fire issues were also considered, (ie. in comparison to the use of gaseous or liquid fuel stoves) despite the presence of a fume hood, and no doubt the presence of a fire suppression system. Perhaps the promoters even considered the use of consumer grade portable countertop induction stoves as easier and overall less expensive to replace in the case of failure, since depending on the ports of call, they could easily send someone to the local department store with a credit card in order to purchase replacement units. But I digress.

Unfortunately, we did not get to taste the food cooked in front of us due to an apparent policy to not serve the food prepared during the demonstrations. To a degree, this may also have made it easier for the various demonstrations to be developed since they could be designed around relatively small amounts of overall food to be prepared, such as one or two servings, which would also make it time efficient (and incidentally somewhat more cost effective at least on the level of ingredients required).

While this case partly goes against the charm I see in portable countertop stoves – the ability to cook anywhere, any time, with portable portable countertop stoves instead of traditional stoves– I found it fascinating that this instance shows how portable countertop stoves can be used for everyday cooking – well that’s what they’re designed for! – and more generally as replacements for a traditional stovetop.

I admit it: I’m also excited to just see one of the things I bought actually being used by someone besides myself, and by someone in the know to boot. 🙂

Followup to the original post, which is mostly a rehashing of the original post:

My original vision for the post, which was somewhat blurry when I began writing, was in broad, vague, terms swirling about in my head. It surrounded the notion of “the joy of cooking” and doing so in a mobile fashion with the portable countertop stoves, anywhere, anytime, as long as you had a space and electricity. A part of my enthusiasm came from having once seen a home kitchen without a traditional stove and oven, but rather a 1500 watt portable countertop stove with two burners like one I have, and a toaster oven (which is in my mind an ubiquitously common kitchen appliance to begin with anyway). I certainly wanted to discuss the joy of cooking with these appliances.

The post ended up having two main points:

A) Expressing in general terms that you can cook with portable countertop stoves, though in a limited way, using the example of, and concentrating on, the relatively large amounts of soup I make at my church. I mentioned that cooking a full course banquet using one or two portable countertop stoves for a large crowd is not practical, even perhaps not for a small intimate group, depending on the menu, and that such was beyond the scope of the post. However, almost surprisingly, large amounts of “one thing” (such as soups, stews, and the like) can be prepared, again depending on the item. However, I should have intimated that limited amounts of other items, or perhaps other more complex items, could still be prepared with portable countertop stoves in non-standard cooking locations, usually given enough lead time to prepare, cook, and assemble the food. See, for instance, the cruise ship example above.

B) And, that cooking in the non-standard areas with the number of portable countertop stoves I have, using the collective maximum capacity of my portable stoves is not possible, because it is far above the electrical capacity of the church hall in which I prepare the soup. I have been learning the practical limits of how much soup I can prepare at once, as well as beginning to be worried about issues such as electrical fires (especially due to aging electrical wires) and ventilation, be it due to deliciously distracting soup smells wafting through the building, or due to having to evacuate combustion gases from other types of portable stoves, were I to be using them.

How A Walking Tour I Couldn’t Take Helped Me Learn How to Get More Out Of Travel

In 1988 when I was 18 years old and fairly naïve, I went on a school trip to London and Paris, graciously financed by my parents. Leading up to this trip, I had done little to no pre-planning, figuring, without any concrete evidence to support it, that « The school chaperone knew London and Paris, and would no doubt be an excellent tour guide. »

These were famous last words.

The school chaperone’s familiarity with London and Paris was probably at best that of a seasoned traveller who had passed through these two cities a few times, and who had done a bit of pre-planning for this trip; in reality, in my no doubt clouded view, she came across to me as hardly the enthusiastic, tireless tour guide with a boundless, intimate knowledge of the locales I somehow expected her to have been. This of course is not her fault; one can hardly ever live up to being as good as the expectations hoisted upon them.

Don’t get me wrong; the trip was great, and the school chaperone was effective at chaperoning a small group of 17 to 19 year olds, and dare I say even moderately effective at being a tour guide. In fact, I’m probably being ungrateful, and she was no doubt a fairly good tour guide.

I did nonetheless have a rather enjoyable tour, having visited various museums and attractions in London such as The London Dungeon (a favourite for me), the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and the War Cabinet Rooms. Speaker’s Corner one Sunday morning was a highlight of the trip.

I also found it curious though memorable one day when a number of us in the group decided to visit a London pub at roughly 3:30pm, only to find the doors locked; the publican did eventually open the doors for us. This was in the day when English pubs still closed for a time in the afternoon, due to a law from the First World War meant to curb excessive drinking by munitions production workers.

In Paris, we visited the Champs Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, and, if I recall correctly, Le Rond Point du Champs Élysées.

I remember a person in our group being rather almost obsessed with the crêpes street vendors were selling; as I recall, he favoured the Nutella spread. I myself indulged in bringing to life a French stereotype, that of walking down a Parisian street eating a baguette. On one of Paris’ bridges over the Seine River, I haggled with a street artist for a charcoal drawing of myself, shown here. I remember being fascinated by the abundance of chestnuts littering the ground and streets in some neighbourhoods.

The charcoal drawing of myself drawn by a street artist in Paris on a bridge over the Seine River in 1988

A critical point in the trip came on the day before we returned home, when we were crossing the English Channel from France back to London to stay the night before going to the airport the following day, and ultimately returning home back to Canada. There was a dock strike, as I recall on the Dover side, which delayed us by a good six or eight hours while waiting in Calais for limited space on the minimal ferry service which was operating. We were lucky when we finally arrived in Dover; the bus driver for the charter to take us to London had patiently waited through the delay for us, aware that our absence at the appointed hour was no doubt directly as a result of the dock strike.

Upon arrival at the hostel (which was different from the first hostel at which we had stayed earlier when in London) at roughly 18:00 or thereabouts, I noted a promotional tourist pamphlet at the reception desk for a « Jack the Ripper Walking Tour » which began at about 19:30. The timing was such that I figured I could quickly place my bag in the room and then travel over to the meeting point for the walking tour. However, I quietly and somewhat reluctantly, though probably wisely, realized that in a group setting on the night before returning home, this would be logistically less than perfectly easy to arrange for several in the group. Perhaps – probably – it was something that the chaperone would frown upon, having already had choice words about some innocent but clearly gullible behaviour of mine several days earlier at an attraction, at which I also managed to get separated from the group for about an hour.

I went home disappointed that had I known in advance about this walking tour, I probably would have keenly tried to insert it into the group schedule when we would have had the time to do it, or on an evening when a small willing party from the group could have gone. I did not resent the dock strike for having deprived me of the opportunity, even though all things being equal, had the dock strike not occurred and we’d made it back across to London several hours earlier as had been originally scheduled, there would have been a good chance that participation could have been arranged, or at least realistically considered. Certainly, had I done some pre-planning, the disappointment of missing out on this activity may have been somewhat less.

I went home regretting not being able to go on the walking tour, squarely placing the blame on myself for having assumed that « The school chaperone knew London and Paris, and would no doubt be an excellent tour guide. »

About two years later, my parents went to London on a trip of their own; I was envious, wanting to correct my prior travel errors. The next year when they repeated their trip, I even listened for the first time to the walking tour cassette tapes I’d received three years earlier on my trip, and I became really envious of my parents, and I wanted to return to London.

Almost four years after the London and Paris trip, my parents brought my older brother and I to New York City over the Christmas holidays, and, as you can imagine, I planned out some attractions I would have liked to visit. My brother and I went to a winemaking shop I’d sought out (since I had recently taken up the hobby), taking the famed New York Subway; we visited the ConEdison Museum; and we patronized an electronics store to purchase a CD player for a home stereo I had. Passing by Rockefeller Plaza, we even decided on the spur of the moment to take a tour of the New York NBC studios, where we visited the studio for Saturday Night Live, as well as the studio for Late Night with David Letterman. This latter studio was surprisingly small, which on TV benefited from special camera lenses which made the studio appear larger. While hardly all trip defining or even noteworthy attractions, my brother later confided in me that he was glad that I’d planned out a few attractions to visit since he hadn’t done any such planning; I related to him having been disappointed in myself over not having done any research for the above-mentioned London and Paris trip and had as a result done some planning for this trip.

In the intervening years, I went on a couple more smaller trips, each time researching in advance to various degrees the various sites and attractions that I could visit.

One fateful day at the beginning of August, 2003, a bit over fifteen years after the school trip to London and Paris, my mother, now recently widowed, made an offhanded remark, perhaps just idly speaking aloud a passing thought without really being too serious. « I think I’d like to go to London in October. »

Without losing a beat, I replied « May I join you? »

And so began the trip of a lifetime for me.

I began planning my trip, while my mother planned hers. Plane tickets were purchased, and a bachelor apartment rented by the week was reserved, which we shared during the trip. I hit the internet, at a time when it was just beginning to grow and be useful as a means to plan such a holiday. I searched for festivals, museums, shows, recommendations, landmarks, tourist attractions, and the like. After I had spent several weeks researching a wide variety of museums and attractions, I felt satisfied with my research. At this point, a hunch lurked in my head, which fortunately didn’t backfire the way it had in 1988: I knew that while I had found a good variety of things to do and see, I also knew that I had found roughly only enough for about half the trip; however, I decided that I would leave the other half to chance findings once in London, something that fortunately worked well for me during the trip.

My trip brought me to several museums and local attractions, such as:

  • The changing of The Guard at Buckingham Palace, but I was disappointed because it was ultimately either cancelled or severely curtailed due to the rain;
  • The London Science Museum;
  • The Charles Dickens museum, located in one of the homes occupied by the writer;
  • “The Mouse Trap” at St. Martin’s Theatre;
Me at the London Dungeon in 2003
  • The London Dungeon, whose layout and exhibits had been changed enough from those in 1988, and which in 2003, had a greater emphasis on Jack the Ripper, as well as an indoor slow roller coaster type ride to bring visitors through a portion of the various exhibits;
  • The Medieval Banquet, which was good fun albeit slightly contrived and overly florid, with actors and animators costumed in what I would describe as 1940’s to 1960’s historical and period Hollywood movie attire (think Robin Hood movies prior to Kevin Costner in 1991.)
  • The Museum of London, which seemed to grow larger and larger through every door and passage I went, and in which I found a fully constructed house. I was fascinated by the presence of this house in general, but particularly because there was a toilet room separate from the main bathroom, a characteristic I found curious and very interesting, especially since I had only ever seen it before or since in my grandparents’ house;
  • Covent Gardens, which I visited a few times, including one spectacular Saturday with the clearest blue skies and beautiful mild weather one could ask for;
  • Pollock Toy Museum, which was spread over two neighbouring Victorian-era houses, each of which were similarly high, but one having one more floor than the other as a result of shorter ceilings;
  • The Imperial War Museum;
  • The HMS Belfast, a World War II era ship-turned-into-a-museum;
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum at which I recall having seen a good amount of iron works which were saved from being melted down for their iron value during World War II;
  • The Clink Museum, located in London’s oldest prison;
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral;
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which was rebuilt on a site 400 metres away from the site where the original had burned down, and the “new” buildings on that site were listed historical buildings which could not be demolished for when the current Globe Theatre project was being built.

Unplanned visits included:

  • The London Eye, which I did not actually ride in;
  • Southwark Cathedral;
  • The Swiss Bells in Leicester Square, visited twice;
  • The Sherlock Holmes Museum, yes, at 221B Baker Street (resulting from having taken a Sherlock Holmes themed walking tour);
  • Three walking tours.

This is not an exhaustive list; there are several more museums and tourist attractions that I visited.

Having been an avid geocacher at the time, I also researched in advance a small handful of geocaches to find if and when an empty afternoon were to present itself; this proved useful, since at the time, Zone 1 in London on Sundays appeared to virtually shut down, and there were few activities, attractions, and the like open for tourists, or just about anyone else. (But I do recall having found a walking tour, and having gone to Speaker’s corner, on the Sunday morning.)

This activity led me to finding geocaches at The London Stone; Postman’s Park beside the London City Presbyterian Church, across from the Museum of London; and St. John’s Garden, a short walk over from Farringdon Tube Station. As I recall, all three were fairly easily walk-able each from the others within the afternoon, and that I indeed had planned out the route in advance as a function of being able to walk from one to the next to the next.

Another highlight of the trip was the ubiquitous presence of pubs in Zone 1. I generally avoided well known restaurants – in fact, I don’t recall having gone to a chain restaurant, or at least one I recognized as being part of a chain, at all during the trip. Certainly, besides the ubiquitous presence of Starbucks and a few Krispy Kreme Donuts franchises (the latter of which I was obsessed with at the time, but which I did not consume while on the trip), I don’t even recall having seen any other well known chains, including McDonald’s. Eating at pubs was a pleasant way to eat for me: In Zone 1, it seemed to me that when I wanted to have a meal, all I had to do was stop where I was, and if there wasn’t a pub more or less in front of me, all I had to do was walk a block or two either to the left or the right, and I was bound to find a pub that served food. It was a wonderful dining experience for me! Interestingly, it did not occur to me until writing this post that, assuming that at some point I tried to enter a pub mid-afternoon, that I never dealt with a mid-afternoon pub closing hours.

In between, my vacation and my mother’s coincided on a daily basis. It was not unusual for her to show me the occasional attraction, and of course often enough we dined together, as well as of course having shared an apartment during the trip.

And, having done my research in advance, I had found information on the “Jack the Ripper Walking Tour”, in which I participated early on during my trip.

During my research prior to leaving on the trip, I found the website for “London Walks”, and it announced that a well known expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, would be leading the walk one evening while I was to be in London.

Leading up to my trip and on the advice of a friend, I bought a book on the subject of one of the various theories as to the identity of Jack the Ripper. I read much of the book in the time leading up to the trip, and indeed in the time leading up to when I took the walking tour once already in London.

I made a point of showing up at the appointed time and place on the evening that the walk was advertised to be lead by the well known expert. The walk was entertaining, visiting several of the key places surrounding the stories, evidence, and legends and lore of the Jack the Ripper story. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and listening to the stories. One of the more amusingly memorable parts of the walk was when the group was brought through an area known as a gathering spot for skateboarders, and we had been warned in advance by the tour guide “Whenever I bring a group through here, I never know what to expect.” Indeed, we were not disappointed: One of the skateboarders saw our group, took his shirt off, and called out to us “I’m Jack the Stripper!”, much to our collective bemusement, giggles, and guffaws.

I asked the tour guide what he thought about the particular theory presented in the book I’d read. He politely dismissed it as just another author unfamiliar with Ripperology trying to capitalize on the subject. He went on to state that in his opinion, it consisted of connecting circumstantial evidence together insufficiently well, and that it lacked sufficiently substantial proof to connect the person in question above all others, given the available (and sometimes lack of) evidence in the case. As I see it, ultimately, the Jack the Ripper case is at its core indeed so fraught with insufficient and conflicting evidence, and in the meantime so much legend, lore and a certain romantic notion surrounding the mystery have been created around it, that it will continue for a long time to be ripe for many to capitalize on the subject – in an indirect sense, myself included here. But I digress.

The defining raîson d’être for my trip having been fulfilled, I continued with my trip as described above, thoroughly enjoying the various attractions I visited, and was enthralled by the vacation. Here are my pictures from the trip.

For many seasoned travellers, the above seems to be an easily compiled list of obvious and easy to implement options that so many tourists visit in London. Yet, in a lot of ways, it was the kind of trip that I’d wished my first trip fifteen years earlier in 1988 had been, and which I thoroughly enjoyed in 2003.

There was a key difference, however: I became personally invested in planning out the trip, and planned it out accordingly, in advance. I of course enjoyed myself due to the inherent value of the various sights and attractions; however, it was also due to how well it was being executed and the extensive planning I’d done.

As a result, in 2003, I managed to go full circle and participate in the walking tour that I would have loved to go on but missed out on in 1988, because of my lack of planning and engagement, not because of a dock strike, and certainly not for any rational basis to be disappointed in the school chaperone as a tour guide.

Katadyn Pocket filter capacity: The verdict is in

I purchased a Katadyn Pocket filter in 2012 for a variety of reasons, the principal amongst which was to have drinking water at my cottage during the off season (winter) when the water system is turned off to protect it from freezing. Issues such as not wanting to depend on neighbours and even just whether or not the neighbours were there, the relative convenience of having as much water as I was willing to filter when I wanted regardless of the hour, and not having to transport very large quantities of water from the city, circled through my head.

Like so many other people, I repeated in my blog the 50,000 litre nominal capacity of the filter cartridge as a deciding factor in the purchase of this particular filter. Despite having accepted the value as a ballpark figure to mean “you’ll get lots and lots and lots of water, a few orders of magnitude more than other filters”, I also recognized the ballpark nature of the figure, and that actual capacity would vary (possibly considerably) according to real world conditions such as varying water quality and just how vigorously one might clean the filter cartridge. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with just how variable this figure has actually proven to be in my case.

In 2016, I began wondering about the real life capacity of the filter cartridge, given a noticeable change in pumping experience filtering water from my artesian well instead of melted snow from my front yard at the cottage. The obvious visual wear of the filter gave me a reference point, and, having kept notes, I revealed that since purchase and up to that point, I’d only filtered roughly 1,500 litres. I had estimated that I might attain a very rough total capacity of 3,000 litres.

In 2017, I had passed a benchmark: The plastic gauge that had come with the unit had passed over the filter, at about 1,650 litres, and by the time I’d written the post, I’d reached 1,750 litres. This represented 3.5% of the nominal 50,000 litre capacity. I mused over the lack of any reported real life capacities that I could find on the internet, going through some hypothetical arithmetic I was able to develop from one source.

I knew that I wouldn’t get anywhere near the oft-touted 50,000 litres. In anticipation of needing a replacement filter cartridge, I went to a store selling them, hesitantly because the replacement part has a fairly expensive price. I purchased a replacement, and was pleasantly surprised to get a 73.2% discount on the price at the counter (for reasons unknown). I surmised that a part of the discount was since the unit was in a box that had obviously been opened and resealed, although why it was so significant still eludes me. The only thing in my favour were the local consumer protection regulations requiring that in the case of a difference between the advertised price and the price at the counter, the consumer gets either up to a $10 discount from the advertised price if lower than the value at the register, or the value of the register price if lower than the correct price.

Since January, 2017, when the gauge passed over the filter unit, I have been bringing somewhat more water up to the cottage, up to five gallons at a time instead of just a single gallon, in order to somewhat extend the life of the filter cartridge. I have been continuing to use the original filter unit, wanting to take full advantage of its lifespan.

During my most recent weekend to the cottage in April, 2019, I began filtering water as usual. The filter had been cleaned and bleached prior to use. However, the filter quickly clogged, and suddenly, the plunger went down quickly; the unit’s internal pressure had been sufficient to collapse that which remained of the filter.  

The collapsed filter, note that the element has been worn and significantly ablated

It should be noted that the filter failure was due to the fact that over time and hundreds of filter cleanings, it had been physically worn away, and therefore the failure was due to it being thin (about 1mm to 2mm thick) and not because I’m inventing a frivolous claim of manufacturing defect.

I also have a definitive capacity of the cartridge I received with the original  purchase, under the various conditions of water quality I filter and maintenance: approximately 2197.5 litres (let’s round that up to 2,200 litres), or 4.4% of the stated 50,000 litre capacity. It was used up over seven off seasons at the cottage, providing a significant amount of the drinking quality water needed for cooking, cleaning, and drinking.

It seems that I didn’t get anywhere near the nominal capacity. Sigh.

Now it’s time to see how much capacity I get out of the second filter.

Hotel WiFi Passwords — 2018 edition (aka what a snore fest)

Yet again, I am in a hotel using their wifi. Again, after being asked during check-in if I wanted wifi access, I was curious about how their wifi password would stand up to any kind of security test as they handed me a slip of paper with the information.

Sigh, it is a terribly obvious password that would only barely pass a “security by obscurity” test by virtue that by and large, people don’t have wifi guessing software with standard dictionaries ranging from a normal library dictionary to a hacker dictionary that anyone’s 11 year old could probably compile, certainly with the help of their friends. In fact, while there are no doubt dozens, no hundreds, no thousands of “obvious” word combinations that would meet the following criteria, it in fact is obvious that it is intended to be very easily remembered by an overwhelming majority of people, be they a typical everyday-anyone-off-the-street person, or a tech savvy person, or a forgetful person, or children, or “even your mom” (I am trying to delicately refer to my mother, who is both not tech savvy in the least, and very experienced in life, if you take my meaning.)

Back in 2015, I was on the subject again, having been impressed at least that the wifi password given to me appeared to be auto-generated at check-in, and obviously not susceptible to simple dictionary attacks.

I started this rant on hotel passwords in 2009 during a series of business trips in which I was at a lot of hotels, and was frustrated for the innkeepers that their wifi would have been so easy to steal for the cost of a night at the hotel and a series of repeaters in the bushes.

Since then, however, I came to realize that my concerns were a bit overrated. Firstly, the potential of signal theft in that fashion was only really was useful for neighbours of the hotels. Secondly, the technical aspects of providing multiple repeaters and power cords down the street (or as the case may be, through the woods) make the cost, both financial and in terms of maintenance, somewhat impractical beyond a few hundred feet.

This is based on some personal experience of the legitimate variety: Since about 2011, my neighbour at the cottage has had internet provided through, I believe, line-of-sight microwave service; it includes VOIP service to provide telephone service, which apparently is prioritized within the router setup. He kindly gave me the wifi password. After about a year, I installed a wifi repeater so that it could be useful within the house, since there was only about one location within the house within a usable radius of the neighbour’s router (a solid two to three hundred feet away); fortunately, I could plug in the repeater at that location. I have since also been giving him some money annually in appreciation.

What have I found?

The repeater is useful. It itself provides constant signal, although it has been susceptible to things like weather, tree foliage, and the like. And, unfortunately, the general service seems to be susceptible to the same, plus things like mountains, and probably the dozens of customers just on my lake and neighbouring lakes. (Yes, people keep on complaining, and no doubt the suppliers’ techies just shift “prioritizing” their services to each successive round of complaining customers, at the expense of the rest of their customers.)

But to wit, the quality of service, at least on the repeater we have, is only barely useful for things like YouTube and the like under the best of conditions; the speed drop from beside the router to our repeater is such that we were able to demonstrate to our neighbour that even if we were consuming such services, we could not be the source of the fluctuating service affecting his internet service (see above.) In any case, by and large we respect a request from him that we not use it to stream video and download large files, since his usage is also metered.

My brother has been wanting to improve our end of the signal for years by setting the repeater near the edge of the property, closer to our neighbour, with things like “waterproof boxes”, electrical extensions, and Ethernet cable through the woods a bit, and then hanging in the air above the clothesline. I have been responding bah humbug, it seems far too susceptible to the elements. As a former geocacher, the notion of a “waterproof” container left out in the woods is no simple feat, and even were it to remain locked, it — and the power cable, and the Ethernet cable too — likely would become susceptible to the elements in short order, and not worth the maintenance effort. It seems to be a challenge beyond most commoners such as myself and even I suspect my brother, more along the lines of the phone company or electric utility face on a daily basis. Remember how annoying it is when the power goes out or the telephones (landlines or cell network) don’t work? Why do they have local teams on the ready 24 hours a day to deal with this? Such outages are regular due to trees falling, water infiltration, and the like.

Is it really worth going to all this trouble in order to have a series of repeaters going down the street for free wifi? I doubt it would be useful to any real degree except to demonstrate proof of concept to your friends for bragging rights.

So … does it really matter how easy it would be to hack a hotel’s free wifi?

Obviously, to the hotel and any costs incurred, of course. The reduction in service and inconvenience that in principle such a signal theft may cause to the hotel and its guests? Of course. And, any illegal activities in which such illicit users may be engaging (kiddie porn, spam, financial fraud, etc.), of course it matters.

But, is anyone beyond the immediate neighbours going to bother with the series of repeaters and power lines through the bushes and/or down the street, possibly spanning several blocks and neighbourhoods?

I have to say “Poppycock!”

PS The “snore fest in the title” was not meant as a pun, but realizing that it unintentionally is — well, I like dumb jokes and puns, especially the dumb ones. 🙂 So, keeping it is intentional.

In the modern world of prepared foods, it must be challenging to be vegetarian. Vegan, extremely difficult.

For the past several years during my summer holidays, I have been visiting the grounds of a Buddhist monastery near my cottage as an activity. Normally, my visit centres around going about mid-day and bringing a picnic lunch to be enjoyed on the grounds, as well as walking the grounds and admiring the scenery, the various Buddhas throughout, and of course the temple.

At the gate, there is a sign with a crossed-out pictogram expressly, at least on a literal level, forbidding chicken, steak, and eggs to be brought onto the grounds. Obviously, the pictogram more widely means “no meat or animal products”. Underneath, it says “only vegetarian food”. The specific use of the word “vegetarian” confuses the matter.

As per my understanding of vegetarianism, generally eggs, milk, honey (surprise — made by bees, it’s an animal product!) and a few other animal products are acceptable; the interpretation to which I personally subscribe is “no animal flesh”. I assume, given the inclusion of the egg in the pictogram, that the policy is actually veganism, as in no animal products whatsoever. (If I am incorrect on this point, then that is only somewhat beside the point I am trying to raise here. Update 20180805: See notes at the end.)

I typically eat three meals a day of the meat and two vegetables variety, although peanut butter, pickled eggs and cheese are central to typical breakfasts. However, especially since in the past I have flirted with vegetarianism of the meatless-but-eggs-and-cheese-and-other-animal-products-are-fine variety, I don’t have a problem with the sign; I consider myself to eat a wide enough variety of foods that it isn’t an issue. Further, I do not have any food allergies or particular dietary restrictions — for instance, I do not have any dietary requirement to eat, let alone at every meal, certain foods; certainly for the purpose of this post, foods which contain animal products.

And of course, the monastery is clearly and very well within its rights to place such a condition on the guests it invites to visit its grounds: One does not need to visit the grounds if one is opposed to the condition. In any case, when I have visited, I have never had my picnic lunch bag verified at the gate. Once, I noticed a gentleman eating his lunch on the road just outside the gate; I imagine that he didn’t know in advance about the condition, and his lunch presumably contained some offending ingredient. I can only imagine that based on my personal experience, the gentleman saw the sign, and complied of his own accord without any intervention from the monks.

Nonetheless, planning my picnic lunch for these visits has proven to be quite the challenge over the years.

I bring foods which I enjoy and which I assume are vegan. I even now somewhat plan in advance for this lunch, including when I go to the grocery store on my way up to the cottage. I usually check ingredients lists. As revealed below, obviously not well enough.

And, so far, I realize after the fact every year that I have failed to bring only vegan foods.

One year, I made a peanut butter sandwich on Challah bread. That’s the braided bread often found in delicatessens and jewish bakeries. Challah bread nornally contains eggs.

Another year, as I was planning my lunch, I looked at the ingredients list of various products I wanted to bring: One cake contained eggs. Another commercial snack cake also contained eggs. Two favourite varieties of flavoured potato chips and similar snacks contained milk products (sour cream and onion, and cheese flavoured snacks). Pleased with myself, I did not bring either of the cakes nor the chips / snacks. However, I failed on the sandwich I’d brought: I made my peanut butter sandwich on the bread I make at home in a bread machine. I later remembered that the bread recipe I use contains milk.

This year, I thought I was really well prepared: My peanut butter and jam sandwich, on a very plain bread that did not contain milk nor eggs. Dried pineapple, which I had dried myself. Caramel popcorn, whose ingredients list did not contain any animal products. Juice boxes. And a few other items, which I deal with in the following paragraphs.

To my amusement, though not surprise, I learned after the fact that the roasted and salted cashews I brought may contain milk, along with peanuts and other tree nuts. This is in a grey zone, as the warning’s purpose is to inform that the cashews were prepared in a facility which prepares other items which may contain the offending items, and that cross-contamination might have occurred, not to indicate that the cashews actually contain the offending items, at least by design.

The following items were also brought, and which I later realized were not allowed under the above-mentioned presumed vegan food condition:

– a brand of salt and vinegar potato chips, whose “seasonings” contain lactose, and whose label states they contain milk, to my great surprise: I had bought the chips on the presumption that they contain potatoes, vegetable oil, salt, and vinegar;
– a variety of chocolate buttons candy, whose label states it contains milk (this should have been a no brainer, since they are in the milk-chocolate range of chocolates);
– a store brand of a swiss-type chocolate bar, whose label states it contains milk and eggs (again this should have been a no-brainer, at least for the milk);
– a chocolate-coated granola bar, which contains honey and multiple mentions of milk and milk products (once more, this should have been a no-brainer).

As such, I guess I will yet again have to plan better for my visit during my holidays next year: I will have to buy fruit cups and fresh fruits, while excluding the various above-mentioned items. These aren’t a real problem for me, but I do admit that these items are not always the first things that come to mind when I go shopping or make a last-minute grab for food for my lunches, be they regular daily lunches, or my visit to the monastery grounds.

In the past, I have subscribed to the mostly-meatless form of vegetarianism, for environmental reasons, principally in that meat consumes enormous amounts of water to produce. (As a side bar, one complaint I had was that prepared frozen pasta dishes could have been made in one extra variety: In addition to the vegetable lasagnas that are made, why not make traditional meat lasagnas exactly as usual, save that the meat hoppers are not filled during some runs?)

However, I am generally typical of North Americans in that I eat meat very regularly. Lately, for health reasons, I have been somewhat, mostly only very slightly, cutting down on my meat consumption; the environmental reasons of water requirements and carbon footprint in the form of methane production (21 times as efficient as CO2 as a greenhouse gas), have also been present in my mind.

But this little exercise makes me wonder how a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, or for that matter, someone who is lactose-intolerant, suffering from celiac disease, allergic to eggs, nuts and peanuts, or seafood, or who has some other intolerance to some food ingredient, is able to navigate commercially prepared foods, restaurants, and even dinner parties serving only foods “made from scratch” but in kitchens with the following ingredients, given the omnipresence of meats, milk, eggs, honey, other animal products, wheat, nuts, peanuts, seafood and any other I consider to be common and basic foods, and which in and of themselves are mundane, at least to me.

Yes, I am aware of various commercial foods and food management systems, such as nut-free candies and gluten free foods, and restaurants catering to the various issues raised above. I am also aware that making foods “from scratch” present options for my picnic lunches. My point here lies in the insidious degree to which certain common ingredients are used in food products not purchased for the presence of said ingredients.

Update 20180805: I have done some cursory checking into Buddhism and vegetarianism, and according to the wikipedia page on Buddhist Vegetarianism, (here’s my archive), the traditions of the particular monastery I visit likely fall under the “no meat, eggs and dairy” category, although strict veganism does not seem to be the case.

Shows on the Star Trek: The Cruise II, a.k.a. Paging The Squire of Gothos

During the Star Trek: The Cruise II, I was often wondering about licensing issues related to everything that was going on around me. Besides amusing me, there was a particular reason: Early during the cruise, Michael Dorn (Worf) made an uncanny quip while introducing Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois for their show: “You would be still be clapping even if I were reading from the phone book!”

From that comment on, I was frequently commenting to myself what later gelled in my mind into “Phone Book Recitals”. As such, I was often wondering about licensing issues and the economic choices which were made during the organization of the cruise regarding each and every show, event, and detail on the ship.

For instance:

  • The on-board PA system alternated between sound effects and music from mostly, as I perceived it, The Original Series, and pop music from the 1980’s. I noted several repetitions of tracks from the “Invisible Touch” album by Genesis, making me assume that the ship was rotating through the same play list of music. Part of me wondered how much of this latter part was targeting the likely demographics of the passengers, as in those of us old enough to both have enjoyed such music in our youth, and be able to reasonably comfortably afford being on the cruise, and how much of the 80’s music was being played due to a favourable music licensing deal. Despite this, I rather enjoyed both the sound effects and the music.
  • On the in-house television in the cabins, there were two channels which carried Star Trek; by the end of the cruise, I’d noticed that there were three. I typically would watch bits over three episodes of Star Trek a day when waking up or going to bed. On one channel, the second Abramsverse movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, appeared to be in almost constant rotation. On the other, there appeared to be a preponderance of DS9, with just enough Enterprise for me to notice. I only starting seeing some TNG near the end of the cruise. So: Are Star Trek into Darkness and DS9 lagging behind on broadcasting rights royalty income?
  • Near the concièrge desk, there were a number of video screens, apparently with constant and perpetual loops of the TOS episodes Charlie X, Shore Leave, and The Naked Time; another appeared to always have Star Trek: The Motion Picture playing. What was it about these episodes and this movie? Is it the same broadcasting rights royalty income conspiracy theory I mention above? Or just that the DVDs or BlueRays or digital copies got stuck in a perpetual playback loop?

Then there were the live shows and events I attended, almost all of which I otherwise found thoroughly enjoyable. Several of the shows had nothing to do with Star Trek, other than the fact that the performers happened to have been, well, the actors who portrayed Captain Sulu, Lt.Cmdr. Laforge, Odo, Major Kira, Q, The Doctor, and so on.

Given the several shows I saw, virtually all starring one or more Star Trek actors and / or personalities, while I was clapping at the end and otherwise (usually) thoroughly entertained, I was often scratching my head as to what the show I had just seen had to do with Star Trek, and (usually) expecting that I would have been equally entertained had the performers been any other performers, be they known stars, or career cruise ship entertainers.

Don’t get me wrong: With one exception, all were thoroughly enjoyable, perhaps more so because of who were performing. (I’ll even grant the one exception the courtesy of having been interesting in its own right, albeit beyond what I would have chosen had I known what it really would have been about beforehand.) However, despite rather enjoying the cruise and the shows I attended, I felt like I was giving a number of the shows and the performers a bit of leeway, while wondering where the “Star Trek” part was. Often enough, I was wondering how much a given show or activity was being presented because it passed muster based on the promoter’s entertainment committee’s (and I’m pretty sure the cruise line’s committee’s) “entertainment index” (though ignoring for Star Trek content), and how many licensing issues arose regarding more Star Trek specific shows, be it more Star Trek script readings (or readings of scripts that didn’t make it to screen), dramatic adaptations of fan generated stories, or more exposés on the inner workings of Star Trek.

For instance, John de Lancie and Robert Picardo (as well as other Star Trek personalities) performed a reading of a dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) as well as individually in other shows having nothing to do with Star Trek. Robert Picardo also performed his current show called “BFF” with Jordan Bennett, (apparently) known for starring in Les Misérables on Broadway; except for a song opening at the beginning in which the Star Trek theme song is performed, it appeared to have nothing to do with Star Trek. Had the cruise been themed for the Stargate franchise, both John de Lancie and Robert Picardo, who also were secondary characters in that franchise, could have performed almost all of the same shows I saw them perform on the Star Trek cruise, and there would be little difference.

Yes, these actors have virtually all had acting careers before and after Star Trek. I imagine that at least a modest ability to competently sing and dance is a somewhat more common skill amongst actors than the general population, while generally, their portrayals on Star Trek usually had nothing to do with song and dance.  Yes, they do have lives outside of Star Trek. And yes, I don’t only watch Star Trek on TV, or only watch TV all day long; yes, I have other interests beyond Star Trek that have nothing to do with spaceships or TV. I understand that thirteen, sixteen, nineteen, twenty-three or forty-eight years after the end of the respective shows in which the actors appeared, they have gone on to other performing activities and interests, and in many cases actually have current shows – take Robert Picardo’s current “BFF” show, which I thought was remarkable for rating very close to zero on a scale of one to ten in Trekkie-ness.

But … I went to, I paid for, a Star Trek themed cruise. I did get part of it: Star Trek actors and personalities, and a number of Star Trek themed window dressings on the ship. And yes, of course, I got a great cruise!

Yet, from my perspective, the cruise felt like a cruise that happened to have an (almost merely nominal) Star Trek theme. I found it hard to immerse myself in Star Trek.

Yes, I got to see Star Trek stars. Yes, there was a good amount of gawking at “cool t-shirt” or “great klingon costume” comments (at least three of my Star Trek themed t-shirts drew attention from others).

However, I did not happen upon any impromptu “heated” discussions about anything Star Trek. The type I might have in mind would be the likes of ethical discussions over the Dominion War, which episodes were the best (or worst), or whether or not they should have actually killed Kirk onscreen (which I think was a mistake, both in and of itself, as well as how they did it; that he wasn’t with Bones and Spock at the time isn’t the point.) Admittedly, I do recall, more as an afterthought, having one brief conversation with someone: “Which starship would you see yourself on?” I replied that I’d liked to be on Enterprise-D, but if I were really lucky, I might end up being one of Janeway”s lost sheep (a reference to an episode in which she takes a personal interest in three under-performing crew members.) And to be fair, I was often running from one show to the next such that I had little time to sit back and seek out these kinds of bar conversations.

Basically, I felt that at the core of the cruise, there wasn’t actually enough Star Trek. It was like Trelane in the “Squire of Gothos”: So many of the trappings, but not quite enough of the actual substance.

Do you think that instead of reading the Scopes Monkey Trial, they could have read through another Star Trek script?

Could Robert Picardo have sung (at least one of) “My Darling Clementine”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “You Are My Sunshine”, and the Doctor’s fantasy version of “La donna è mobile” in his show, since these are songs he sang onscreen in Voyager?

Do you think that Viacom or CBS or whoever deals with the licensing could have made the shows more Star Trek like?

Star Trek Cruise 2018

For the past year, I have been looking forward to a cruise from which I have just returned.

Being a long time Trekkie (please don’t start talking about Trekker vs. Trekkie, I find the argument as silly as Trekkie is purported to be pejorative) and now, well let’s say able, my brother and I bought berths on the NCL Jade for this year’s second sailing in the Star Trek Cruise.  We had a great time!

Here are my pictures.

UPDATE January 21, 22:45:

Ports of call included:

  • Roatan, Honduras (suffice it to say that beyond the small and minimal but adequate tourist zone, we turned back within minutes, disappointed in the overly ferocious solicitation by the locals);
  • Harvest Cay, Belize, a private island owned by NCL best described (positively so!) as Gilligan’s Island run by Mr. Howell for tourists (yes, I am aware of “The Castaways” Resort);
  • Costa Maya, Mexico, where I hope that the haggling over the price of a “Mexican” blanket in the large tourist zone, both of which I expect are about as authentic as the deed to a bridge in Brooklyn — but both of which I liked anyway — made me a little less of a mark than anyone who may have paid the original price I was quoted (assuming anyone else was labelled to be one of a given number of “marks of the day”, and outside of which I got to go out to see genuine Mayan ruins!

Actors on the ship:

On the cruise, we got to see many Star Trek stars, of course all of them anywhere from 15  to 50 years older than when they were first on TV.  On the first day, we managed to get a seat around the pool with a poor view onto the temporary stage where the stars were introduced, but we had front-row seats to the open air green room where the stars waited to go onto the stage!

In my personal view, the “hard workers” amongst  the actors were:  René Auberjonois (Odo), Robert Picardo (The Doctor), Ethan Phillips (Neelix), Robert O’Reilly (Gowron), John de Lancie (Q), and Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun, Shran, Liquidator Brunt, and others).

And to a somewhat lesser degree:  Max Grodenchik (Rom), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar and the Romulan Commander), and Nana Visitor (Major Kira).  (I learned that the correct pronunciation is “Nuh-naw”, emphasis on “-naw”, not “Nay-na” with emphasis on “Nay”).

The “Invisible Cast Members” whom I don’t recall seeing at all after the first day’s introduction of the actors:

  • Karl Urban (McCoy from Abramsverse) — who apparently possibly became ill, as well as apparently developed contractual conflicts after the first day, requiring him to leave the ship prematurely, and all of which I knew about early on, although not from official sources, at least not those to which I was paying attention;
  • Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest, and apparently 11 various other Star Trek characters over various series).  After a bit of research into the daily schedules, I learned that he:
    • hosted a celebrity bingo earlier in the week during my dinner seating;
    • appeared often in the “Rat Pack” musical group who played late at night, after I usually went to bed;
    • hosted Gorn’s Gong Show, when I was at another show with George Takei,
    • hosted a karaoke night the last night of the cruise, to which I tried to convince myself to go, but ultimately didn’t bother doing.

Which leaves Jonathan Frakes (I saw him in two shows), George Takei (who was actually all over), Michael Dorn (whom I only saw introduce a show once, but whom I bumped into one evening), Connor Trineer (whom I saw in the Star Trek Squares game, and who apparently hosted a Karaoke night as well as the Gorn Gong Show with Vaughn Armstrong, see above), Brent Spiner (who was the star of one shows that I saw), and Gates McFadden (who was in one show I saw but who did do at least one session teaching tap dancing basics).

Here is a review of the various shows I saw, and other activities in which I participated:

The first evening’s show

  • Michael Dorn introduced Levar Burton, who read a children’s book he’d written, as well as an essay he’d written.
  • Later when he introduced René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor, one of Michael Dorn’s quotes was “you’d still be clapping even if I were reading from the phone book” — a comment I found fascinating, and which followed me and the shows I saw all week long, since so many of the shows were NOT Star Trek related at all beyond the actors starring in them, but were still rather entertaining.
  • René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor reading various humourous quotes and a scene from DS9.

Day 2:

  • Photo op with George Takei (basically, 15 seconds with Mr. Takei)
  • Star Trek’s Script Secrets Revealed with Lolita Fatjo.  Interesting points:  Star Trek The Next Generation had an open invitation for the public to submit scripts, virtually unique in the TV world.  And, at 10AM, people were ordering noisy-to-make margeritas.
  • Scopes Monkey Trial with John de Lancie, Ethan Phillips, and Robert Picardo.  As I recall, Mrs. de Lancie, René Auberjonois and Jeffrey Combs participated as well, and three people from the passengers, amongst whom one who was a dead ringer for Col. Sanders of chicken fame, who also dressed the part.  The show was a dramatic reading / stage play based on the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in Tenessee.
  • T-shirt party with DJ Needles:  Basically, a pool party on the pool deck offering free punch and carbonated barley water (oops, I think they called it Budweiser and Coors Light) to all those wearing the cruise T-shirt.
  • A Visit to the Galley:  Cooking Demo with Nana Visitor — Three recipes easy to prepare in advance party items:  A crab meat dish, kiwi and tequila in watermelon cups, and a third dish I have forgotten.  Apparently, Nana Visitor once was a co-owner of a catering business in New Mexico.  During the presentation, Nana Visitor played the comedian, and the ship’s executive chef played the straight man.
  • Interstellar Improv: An episodic overdub with Denise Crosby and Friends (René Auberjonois and Robert Picardo) — a really dumb show with the three of them ad-libbing dumb comments to a silent viewing of “And the Children Shall Lead”, including some shady comments about Captain Kirk.  (Ahem, NOT along the lines of “Spock is better!”)

Day 3:  Roatan, Honduras (see ports of call)

Shows:

  • A Visit to Original Trek with Gates McFadden and Jonathan Frakes (and Picardo, Philipps, Auberjonois, de Lancie, Mrs. di Lancie).  Reading the script to “The Trouble with the Tribbles” — Hilarious!  And, having had a good amount of time on my hands, I had showed up about 50 minutes early to get a good seat.  Good call, it was an overflow crowd!
  • Gow-Rom:  A skit and then Q&A with Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) and Rom (Max Grodenchik) — in full costume and makeup, and during the first part, in character!
  • In Search of Lost Time:  Brent Spiner performing Broadway hits.  As it turns out, despite having known about “Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back”, I learned that Brent Spiner is actually a decent singer!

Day 4:  Harvest Cay, Belize (see ports of call)

  • “High Lord Cuckoo Face, 3 Little Klingons & O’Reilly Too” — a very deceptive title which, lacking any further explanation or context, unless one already was familiar with the reference, ultimately only relayed that the presentation would be given by Robert O’Reilly and have a vague reference Chancellor Gowron.  In fact, the talk was indeed given by Mr. O’Reilly, firstly explaining that the three little Klingons referred to his three triplet sons, who at a certain point in their childhood decided that “Chancellor Gowron” was a silly name for their father’s character, and that it should be “High Lord Cuckoo Face”.  After which, Mr. O’Reilly recounted poetry, and personal vignettes from his childhood.  I mentioned the deceptive nature of the title in conversation, and a cynic responded to me sardonically that it might well have been better titled “Poignant stories from Robert O’Reilly’s Life Experiences”.  Overall, it actually would have been a better and more accurate title, and in the process not have set me up to expect a hilarious slapstick routine.
  • Star Trek Squares, with George Takei as the centre square, and a Gorn with (intentionally) unintelligible speech.  The Gorn was definitely the hit of the show.

Day 5:  Costa Maya, Mexico (see ports of call)

  • Notes on the visit to the Mayan ruins:  The guide was excellent, and at least trilingual (she spoke French with me, to my pleasant surprise).  I learned that in a very flat area, not only were the ruins all built by volunteer labour (trying to get more “points” to get to the Mayan equivalent of Heaven), but also a low mountain!
  • Star Trek Online presents Gameshow Night:  The Liar’s Club with Jeffrey Combs, Phil Plait and Robb Pearlmann
  • Evening with George Takei:  George Takei spent an hour recounting his experiences in a WWII Japanese-American internment camp as a child, his path to becoming an actor, and as a civil rights activist both surrounding the Japanese-American internment camps as well as LGBT rights.

Day 6:

  • Behind the Scenes Tour:  A two hour walking tour of the ship in areas such as waste disposal, laundry, galley, and other areas, where passengers normally don’t get to see anything.
  • Klingon Pub Crawl:  A pub crawl to three of the ship’s bars led by Chancellor Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) in full costume and makeup.  As a part of his act, Gowron told two great dumb jokes, feigning a lack of understanding of the humour:
    • Two cannibals are eating supper.  One says, “I don’t care for my mother-in-law.”  The other responds, “Try the potatoes”.
    • Two cannibals are dining on a clown.  One says, “Does this taste funny to you?”
  • (Second half of) The “Women’s” View with Mrs. de Lancie, Nana Visitor, Denise Crosby, Lolita Fatjo
  • Oh My!  With George Takei, hosted by Brad Takei — Q&A with George Takei
  • Wine Tasting with Casey Biggs:  As it turns out, Casey Biggs, who played Damar on DS9, owns a vineyard in California, and is involved in making his wine!
  • The Real Life Search for Planet Vulcan, a short presentation on Mercury’s orbit, which at times fooled historic astronomers into claiming to have found another planet in close orbit to the Sun.
  • “BFF” with Robert Picardo and Jordan Bennet.  A show starting off with the Star Trek theme lyrics sung, and a cute set of jokes, stories and slides, but which ultimately featured a ho-hum performance by Robert Picardo and Jordan Bennet with a string of recognizable songs that (armchair critic here) could have been sung better, and which had little if any discernable link to each other, the show overall, Picardo and Bennet, and obviously Star Trek in general, and which left me scratching my head as to why they were included beyond a desire to fill up a one hour time slot.

On ship television:

  • In the midship bar, there was an area displaying various props (and / or reproductions, no matter) from the various shows.  There were TV screens showing TOS episodes.  Specifically, every time I passed by, Charlie X, The Naked Time, and at least one more which I never bothered to identify, as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, were playing.
  • In the staterooms, where I perhaps watched the equivalent of about an episode and a half over perhaps three episodes per day (ie bed time or waking up in the morning):
    • On one of the two Star Trek channels, I noticed a preponderance of DS9 episodes, then a far second of Enterprise episodes, and then even fewer TNG episodes.  No TOS or Voyager episodes that I saw.
    • On the second Star Trek channel, Star Trek Beyond appeared to me to be in almost exclusive rotation until about the second to last day.

To be fair, of course I didn’t sit in my room 24/7 keeping track of the episodes being aired, but I would have expected to see a far more balanced airing of episodes over the week.

Food:

Firstly, we had decided not to bother spending the premium going to the premium restaurants on board — this trip was admittedly rather expensive, even though we could afford it.

We had also discussed going to the Irish pub, such as for a late night snack (since it was pretty much the only 24/7 option besides room service), but we never did go.

Which leaves the buffet area, and the dining room.

The buffet area was large enough, and rather long — and, finding empty tables normally involved a walk.

The breakfast menu seemed to be roughly the same daily.  My only observation was that the scrambled eggs were undercooked and slimy some mornings (no doubt a way of countering the hotplates on which they were being kept).

Lunch menus varied somewhat daily along with standard foods like burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and the like.

The supper menu also varied somewhat daily, and had some nice though typical items.

Dining room:

The menu changed daily, save five or six items which were repeated.  Additionally, there was a special menu to the effect of “From Neelix’s kitchen”, with a special of the day.

The food was definitely better-than-most calibre (only to distinguish it from that food with price tags to make the afore-mentioned Mr. Howell shiver.)

My disappointing choices in the dining room?

  • Not having ordered the moussaka on the first day, which the wait staff claimed was not available a few days later.  It looked and smelled great, but I was concerned about which of the many varieties of moussaka I expected I might be disappointed in.
  • The cheese plate for dessert one day; a bit too frou-frou for my tastes.
  • The steak-frites I chose one day; rather pedestrian, instead of the lamb shank I should have ordered.

Geek factor:

Obviously, there were a lot of Star Trek related shirts — I had a different Star Trek T-shirt for every day.  And, there were a lot of Star Trek uniforms from the various series — some home made, mostly excellent while none of the expected worst costumes ever, and a number of obviously purchased from professional suppliers.

To my mild disappointment, I never happened upon impromptu hardcore discussions about anything Star Trek.  I figured that they would be hard to avoid.  Of course, Star Trek was being discussed.  However, no obvious friendly debates over which series was the best, or who was the best or worst captain, which ship was the nicest or sleekest or fastest, or the relative merits of holodeck training vs. traditional field training in real environments, or shuttlecraft vs. transporters ….

Katadyn water filter capacity — update

This is an update to my post from 2013 on the Katadyn Pocket Water Filter.

In 2012, I bought a Katadyn Pocket water filter principally for use at the cottage during the off-season when our water system is turned off, plus a small handful of personal interest reasons like being a trained water techie, having been involved in Scouting, camping and hiking a long time ago (but no longer), having been involved in geocaching which can involve some hiking in the woods, filtering water from snow or ice for my homebrewing (mostly just to be able to have a story to tell about the “specialness” of the water), and generally to use for my amusement while hiking around at the cottage during my holidays and other times.

About two thirds of the way down the above post, I asked “So, does the filter work? And do I get the runs any more?” to which I answered with an obvious tone, “Of course, and of course not.” Those answers are as true today as they were back in 2013.

I use the filter principally up at the cottage during the off-season, about mid-October to mid-May (during the winter, when the water at the cottage is turned off due to freezing weather), for my water needs for drinking, cooking, hand washing, and dish washing (normally, just the rinsing part at the end.) Obviously, as long as the water isn’t grungy, a lot of water doesn’t need to be filtered to begin with, like for soaking dishes before cleaning them, or as long as it’s fairly clear, for washing my hair and taking a sponge bath.

Every year, I keep a register of the amount of water I filter, as a function of the five litre plastic jug to receive the filtered water, which I always fill up to the brim. I’ve checked the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 registers (I can’t seem to locate the previous two), and I respectively had filled the container 67 and 72 times. That adds up to roughly 695 litres of water. There is going to be some variance in this number, since I when I fill up my container for brewing water, I skip using my 5 litre container and fill the brewing water container directly.

Assuming that during the previous two winters (2012-2013 and 2013-2014), I’d used it similarly, let’s say that I’ve filtered about 1,400 litres. Add to that the very occasional use during the intervening summers, let’s say a good 100 litres, and I’m up to about 1,500 litres.

Here’s the clincher, though: The ceramic filter is visibly wearing down after four seasons of use, and I’m certain I won’t get 50,000 litres out of it.

Normally when I use the filter to filter melted snow or lake water, I have to clean the filter typically after about 12 or 13 litres, because it’s becoming too difficult to filter water at that point due to the ceramic filter clogging up. On general principle, barring the exact number of litres, this is normal and has always been to be expected.

However, recently I noticed something I find curious: During my most recent usage, I was filtering water from the artesian well, which is a good 60 feet deep. I was filtering this water since while the water system had been turned on, I hadn’t yet bleached the well after the winter to clean out the well as well as the house’s pipes. The curious part: I was able to get to 20 litres and beyond without any increase in difficulty in operating the filter, and were I not to have been too curious and opened up the filter for a preventative cleaning, I would have been able to filter an ample amount more.

The well, being a good 60 feet deep, is therefore supplying water that has been very nicely filtered by typically 60 vertical feet of gravel and sand. Further, since I’m assuming that the aquifer is at least somewhat dynamic, I assume that one day the water I’ve drawn from the well could have been rain water or lake water from a few days previous that trickled through the 60 feet of gravel and sand on my property, while another day the water may be runoff having traveled through I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of lateral feet of sand and gravel from the hills behind my cottage. As such, the water is presumably — and I assure you, actually is — sparkling clear.

This is as compared to when I filter lake water or melted snow, the latter of which, may I remind you, is not quite so pristine as you may think, even when excluding the yellow variety; it is relatively chock full of dust particles that fell with the snow or became nuclei as part of the condensing and / or crystallization process. At this point I assume that at least some of the dust particles may be coming from the various chimneys at the cottages surrounding mine, including the chimney from my own cottage.

Which leads to the notion of this post regarding the filter’s capacity.

The filter is rated as having a capacity of “up to 50,000 litres”. When I bought the unit, I did recognize this to be codespeak for “Depending on the source water quality, the capacity may and will be reduced in real life.” Unfortunately, as it seems in my experience so far, possibly by a very significant margin.

However, I am wondering exactly when I’ll be needing to replace the filter. Yes, I have the little gauge to measure the filter thickness, and I use it occasionally. The question *is*not* “How will I know when to change the filter?” The question is “*When* will the ‘when’ be.” Let me explain.

I’d guess I’ve worn down at least half of the working thickness of the filter in the past four years of use over roughly 1,500 litres, especially if my vague memories of where the gauge the unit comes with was at when the filter was new are correct as compared to where it is now, and just visually guestimating the wear against where it obviously used to be when it was new.

And here’s the conspiracy theory:

I bet that the 50,000 litre estimate that they give is based on using either laboratory grade distilled water, or perhaps treated tap water intended to be potable.

I know that everyone’s source water will be different, and generally using it while traveling to areas where the tap water is clear but not quite potable is as legitimate a use for the water filter as filtering swamp water while out hiking.

(As a side opinion: Regarding dubious water systems while traveling, depending on where you go, unfortunately outside of the westernized world — and even within it in some cases — the tap water may not be quite potable at least from a microbiological point of view as one might expect or hope it to be. The water system can be dubious at best due to antiquated pipes, or the production plant is old and breaking down, or the employees are severely underpaid, or there aren’t enough of them to do the work well. And that’s just the areas which have a distribution system, and that isn’t delivering water that’s smelly or cloudy or outright foul.)

But I’m wondering just how long my filter unit will actually last. For the moment, I’m betting on another two to four cottage seasons, or “up to” another 1500 litres, the way I’m using it. That’s still far beyond other filters where the unit has a nominal capacity of a few hundred litres, and the filter unit itself is disposable and needs to be replaced the way a razor blade in a razor has to be, or ink cartridges in a “wow this printer isn’t expensive at all!”. Ultimately *a* *part* of what makes the other filters, razors with disposable blades, or ink jet printers so deceptively inexpensive is that the manufacturers make their money in selling you spare parts and refills.

I know that the kind of water I filter and of course its quality are far beyond Katadyn’s control. I know that if I’m filtering snow where a good amount of the particles to remove are composed of fine mineral dusts, there will be a sandpaper effect when I’m cleaning the filter, versus filtering stream water where the solids to be removed are more likely to be decaying organic matter in the form of fish poop and dead leaves, which will be easier to clean off the filter when the time comes. I know that the filter is designed such that when it is being cleaned, the process is meant to be ablative. But I’m wondering how much of my perceptions are, well, perceptions and not real life, how much of my use represents an edge case, how much my of cleaning is a bit too vigorous, and so on.

And I wonder just how much Katadyn knows that the 50,000 litre mark is about as close to an imaginary number as it can get. (Or conversely just how delusional I am. 🙂 ) I’d love to see their internal graphs on the real life capacity of their filters. I’d love to see the range that their customers get out of their filters.

So Katadyn: Here’s my estimate, for my filter — about 3,000 litres, given the kinds of water sources I’m using (cottage country snow, some lake water, and a small sundry other sources like streams when I’m hiking, etc..) At the rate I’m going, I expect that it may take as long as until 2020 to find out, though. 🙂

Any and all Katadyn Pocket Filter users are invited to leave your estimate — I hope at least somewhat evidence based — here, or send me an email malak at the site malak dot ca

More on hotel passwords

Back in 2009, I was ranting about hotel passwords and the lack of any serious consideration most gave to their wifi access,
Hotel internet access passwords — Here’s a case for Captain Obvious
and Well Hallelujah! Big Brother has finally acted!

Well here I am in 2015 writing again on the subject. As you can guess, I’ve used plenty of motels and hotels in the intervening almost six years. As you can guess again, I’ve pretty much given up on my rant since then. And, as you can guess yet again, I’m currently sitting in a motel, using their WiFi.

And can you guess what comes next?

Well, when I checked in, they asked me “Would you like WiFi access?” which tipped me off to ask about whether or not the passwords are auto-generated each time someone checks in. Of course the poor lady was bewildered by the question, to which I responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll have the answer to my question when you hand me that ticket.” And whaddya know, it had a wifi access code that was obviously created on the spot after she’d clicked once or twice on her keyboard and looked at the screen before writing on the ticket. Not too too strong at only five alphanumeric characters, but it wasn’t a dictionary word. The sign in page said that the code was case-insensitive. My untrained eyes would guess it would only come up in a brute force attack, if someone were willing to try all 60,466,176 possible combinations, assuming it’s just the 26 letters in the alphabet and the 10 digits, with no special characters, and they only give out codes five alphanumeric units in length. Of course this ignores the fact that only the “currently active” codes are, well, active, that the system probably has some kind of maximum tries per period of time per mac address, and the like.

Of course, it would probably be cheaper and easier to rent a room, but then I don’t really know how easy or difficult

Of course this story’s postcript is that when I entered the code, it didn’t work — so I called to the front desk to report this and ask for a new one. Whaddya know, Big Brother not only has finally acted, he keeps records — the nice lady asked “Is it such and such?” I answered “not quite, here’s what’s written.” Turns out, the handwritten part of the code that said “U1” sure looked like a “W”.

Hallelujah, indeed.