Thursday, August 27, 2009

Notes & Neurons - Fascinating

I just wanted to share something with everyone. I find this to be some of the most interesting material that I have ever seen/heard (but I realize I'm a bit of a nerd). The combination of science and music... it's fantastic! Plus, it involves Bobby McFerrin, who I have always admired and appreciated. Some of this is a little dry, but much of it is incredibly interesting and fascinating.

Please enjoy, and hopefully you get as much from them as I did. I think the 4th video is my favorite because of the activity that Bobby whips up with the audience to demonstrate the brains ability to "predict" music.

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kwizera Ride 2009

I would like everyone to consider something seriously for a moment. Try to imagine having more than 50 children under your care, looking to you for food, clothing, love and support. Sounds pretty overwhelming, doesn’t it? Now imagine that same situation but with no consistent or dependable source of funding. This is a daily reality for Annonciata Bamuranga. She and her late husband, Ngondo, established an orphanage in Rwanda in 1995 after the 1994 genocide. Originally they received support through Ngondo’s connections with local churches, but after his death in 2005, the funding dried up. The effort and resources needed to maintain the orphanage has been so substantial for Annonciata that she has actually mortgaged her own home to continue the care these children need.

Many of you are aware that my closest and long-time friend, as well as his family are very involved in Rwanda, specifically, in the medical and educational communities. This friend of mine is currently living in Kigali, Rwanda (the capital city) for a year. He is working for the Ministry of Family and Gender for the Government of Rwanda. His father (a Professor at the University of Western Ontario) has been involved in the medical and educational communities in Rwanda for several years. He is the director of “Rebuilding Health in Rwanda” and travels to Rwanda often. In an effort to go on a bit of an adventure, as well as improve the world a little, my friend and his father have decided to go on a 4,000 kilometer motorcycle trek through Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in August. They are taking pledges for their ride and every penny that is donated will be given to Annonciata to maintain the orphanage in Rwanda.

I know that it is easy to look past the hardship of those so far away, but it is people like Annonciata, Luke (my friend) and David (his father) that make the world a better place by choosing to take action. If everyone we know gave a small fraction of what these people give, the world would look very different than it does. As a man I very much respect once said, "We have an obligation as a global community to ensure everyone has access to excellent health care. It’s not something we should say you have or don’t have by accident of birth."

If you would like to donate (any amount is welcome), please see below for some information on how to do so. Please note as well that there is no deadline for donations. Any funds that are sent following the instructions below, regardless of the timing of Kwizera Ride 2009, will be given to the orphanage.

Also, if you don’t know much about Rwanda, I encourage you to read about the country, the people, the history and their vision for the future. It is an incredible place whose people have demonstrated an incredible resiliency through the deepest depths of grief and adversity.

Finally, if you're interested in the area that Luke and David will be covering during their adventure, have a look at this link. It may not be the exact route they will take, but it's pretty incredible!!

Thanks very much for reading, and feel free to leave comments to encourage Luke and David as they prepare for their adventure!


Donations can be directed to:
Gateway Church *
890 Sarnia Road
London, Ontario, Canada
N6H 5K1
* Please make cheques payable to “Gateway Church” and indicate “Africa Orphanage” in the designation. Tax receipts are available.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back to Reality

If you're wondering how the vacation was, I will say this... if I could, I would leave right now and do it all over again exactly the same. There were many occasions during the trip that I asked myself "who's life is this?". I saw and experienced things that I normally only see on the National Geographic Channel. I will attempt to share a small glimpse of the trip in this post, but I know I won't do it justice. For those of you who are curious (I know there are a few) I ended up with a grand total of about 5,000 photos (good call Gordo!).

We literally could not have asked for better. Remember now that we spent 4 days in Vancouver and 7 days in Alaska. We did not experience temperatures below 10°C (which was in the middle of the night in Alaska) and the majority of the time during the days it was between 24°C and 28°C. We also did not see a single drop of rain for the entire time. Yes, we were as surprised as you probably are!! The closest we came to "bad weather" was some extremely high winds on the way into the Tracy Arm Fjord. Doesn't really qualify as bad weather in my books though. More just a result of where we were.

The Cruise Experience
I think it's safe to say that we will be cruising again. It is such a fantastic way to spend a vacation! You can do as much or as little as you like (there is ALWAYS something to do). An endless supply of great food is both a blessing and a curse so you need to control yourself. The convenience of travelling while you're having fun or sleeping is pretty great too. We boarded the ship after our day in Skagway, had dinner, went to a show, went to bed and when we woke up the next morning we were suddenly in Juneau! The crew on the ship treated us like royalty in every aspect. Everyone, from the cruise director to the maintenance and cleaning staff, were happy to do anything they could to make it a great trip. The ship was immaculate!! Everything was also very well organized. I was a little worried at first because I was wondering how they manage to deal with 2,300 people getting on and off the ship in port, or just keeping them fed and entertained. My concerns ended up being unwarranted because everything was very smooth and well managed. The only line we waited in was Canada Customs when we were leaving the ship at the end of the trip!

So, what's the big deal with Alaska?
I have a similar problem with Alaska that I had with the Grand Canyon last year. Pictures just don't do it justice! As many of you know, I'm not much of a city-boy. Alaska is right up my alley! Everywhere I looked there were breathtaking vistas, storybook landscapes, raw wilderness and unspoiled nature. For the first time in my life, I really got the feeling that I was "experiencing nature" and seeing things that were unchanged and unaffected by humans. I realize that this isn't exactly accurate, but it was the impression that I got. During the course of only a few days, I saw bears, eagles, humpback whales, seals, orcas, jellyfish, starfish and a 320 pound 6' 4" tall Alaskan Native Tlingit man who asked us to call him "Cookie".

I'll finish with a few tid-bits and stories to highlight the experience, and then on to the pictures.

• • •
I never got used to the sunsets/sunrises (which technically never really happened). The extent of the sunset finished at about 10:30 or 11:00 PM but it never got completely dark up there. There was always a dim glow of light over the horizon and then at about 3:30 or 4:00 AM the sun would come up again. Now, I'm an early riser already so this wreaked havoc on my sleeping patterns. I generally get up early enough to see the sunrise every day so my mind seemed to think that this practice should continue despite it being at 3:45 AM.

• • •
The fifth evening on the ship was seafood night in the dining room. After much turmoil, I decided to pass on the lobster and get the seafood pasta. When the waiter came back to make sure my meal was OK, I joked with him about saving some lobster so I could have it for dessert after my pasta. He laughed and told me to trust that he would take care of me. A few minutes later he returned to the table and placed a lobster dinner in front of me. I now had a massive plate of seafood pasta and a lobster and shrimp dinner, but NO... I did not eat it all. I left the veggies alone.

• • •
One of the highlights of the trip (there were a LOT of them!) was when we sailed into the Tracy Arm Fjord to see the Sawyer Glacier. We went head-on into some of the strongest winds I've ever experienced and it would flip between warm and cold as we progressed through the passage. We spent over 6 hours standing at the furthest point forward we could get to on the ship. Everyone was in awe of the landscapes and surroundings. Ice caps blanketed the mountain tops, the water had an eerie turquoise glow, vibrant green patches were scattered throughout the rock faces and mountains, seals and icebergs dotted the water all around us. Every once in a while the Captain saw fit to challenge an iceberg head-on. The hollow thunder of what sounded like a massive gong would ring through the ship, up your body and out your finger tips. The trip though the fjord would have been impressive enough, but after 3 hours of threading the 90,000 pound vessel through a narrow channel littered with ice, the glacier appeared in front of us.

Well, I suppose I have droned on long enough... especially since most of you probably just came here to browse through a few photos. Here are a couple of albums to look through. I managed to narrow my choices down to about 500 for Alaska and a little over 300 for Vancouver. I just wish I could show you what I saw, the way I saw it.

I hope you enjoy!!

Bonus Photos!! These are the photos we bought on the ship that were taken by the photographers running around on every deck.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

West Coast Whirlwind

Despite my lack of belief, our time in Vancouver already. We are getting packed up for the trek to Ballantyne Pier. Our ship came in early yesterday morning and it is currently waiting patiently for us. It looks pretty darn impressive!!

I just thought I would take a bit of a breather and whip together a quick post for anyone who's paying attention. Of course, I have included photos of a few select spots we have visited. It has been EXTREMELY busy, but in a good way. We've seen most of what we wanted in Vancouver, but I could spend a lot of time here (I could actually LIVE here, but don't tell Erika!!).

Don't judge me, but I've already taken over 1400 pictures. :)

Day 1 - A bit of a busy Canada Day on Granville Island and a shot in front of the new Convention Center waiting for the fireworks to start.

Day 2 - The Capilano suspension bridge. Wow! Very impressive, and Erika made it across alive. Also a short walk in Stanley Park in the afternoon. Ontario trees will never look the same.

Day 3 - Started with a nice long walk through Stanley Park (about 7kms total). Not only did I see my first Bald Eagle, I also saw my second, third and fourth Bald Eagles!! We also got to spend some time with some family of Erika's, who took us to little spot with a fantastic view.

Finally, I would like to point out that Vancouver is an absolute haven for anyone who likes cars. Here are a select few of the plethora I have spotted in the last few days.

Well, I guess I should be on my way. Only about a half hour left before we leave the hotel and get on the ship. Yeeeeeehaw!!!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We're Ready!!

We are officially ready to get going on this wild and crazy adventure (aside from a bit of leftover packing that we can finish off tonight). I just got us checked in for the flight (God bless the online check-in) and all we have left to do now is show up at the airport in the morning. Thanks Mom & Dad for the sacrifice of driving us there at 4:00AM!!! I'll buy the coffee. I personally work in phases of excitement on a vacation. Right now, I'm just happy to be going on a plane because I'm just that much of a nerd (we will be on a Boeing 737-800W by the way... isn't that exciting?).

We hope to be celebrating Canada Day tomorrow night on Granville Island. The weather in Vancouver is looking fantastic for the few days that we will be there. Sunny and 24C seems to be the trend. I guess we should enjoy the sun and heat while we can because it isn't going to be quite that nice in Alaska (but who cares... it's ALASKA!!).

Happy Canada Day everyone!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tough (but fun) Choices

Well, it's less than a week until we leave on the big trip and I think we might be making some progress on deciding which excursions to go on. We've also finalized (kind of) our plans in Vancouver for the first few days before we set sail.

The first excursion is the zip-line at Icy Strait Point. Located in Hoonah, it's the longest zip-line in the world at 5,330 feet long and over the course of that 5,330 feet you drop by 1,300 feet. It begins with a quick ride between the trees and then the ground drops out from under you, placing you 300 feet above the earth while travelling at 60 mph (yes, that's MILES per hour).

Here's a sample of what we have to look forward to in Hoonah, Alaska:

The next excursion we're pretty sure we will do is a rail trip (I believe this one is in Juneau, the capital city). This will be a great opportunity to see some of the wild landscape and wildlife. I will be taking every single memory card I have for the camera on this excursion!

The third... well, we're not quite there yet. It will surely be something that involves a strole on a glacier but there are a few different excursions that have this included.

As for Vancouver, we have had a ton of great suggestions (thanks to all who have helped us decide on what to do). We will be staying at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, which is nice and central to just about everything. So far we're planning to visit as many of the regular spots that we can fit in. Stanley Park, Granville Island, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and of course get some plane spotting in at YVR (don't tell Wifey about that one yet). I have also been told that we should take a cab ride along Hastings Street just for the experience, but I'm not so sure about that one. I would rather get to the cruise without any bullets or knives stuck in me anywhere. Finally, I will probably end up getting suckered into taking one of those horse and carriage rides. I wonder if they would take us past the airport!

In closing, here are a few of the lesser-known Alaskan laws we will need to remember while travelling around up there.

  • Persons may not live in a trailer as it is being hauled across the city.
  • It is considered an offense to feed alcoholic beverages to a moose.
  • One may not roam the city with a bow and arrows.
  • While it is legal to shoot bears, waking a sleeping bear for the purpose of taking a photograph is prohibited.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Alaska Bound

It's booked and we're ready to get going! In early July, we will be heading to Alaska on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Leaving from Vancouver aboard Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, we will spend 7 days exploring the edge of Alaska, both on the ship, and off. We will be booking some shore excursions as well, but we haven't quite decided which ones we are doing. How do you choose between a scenic arctic railway adventure, a hike through glacial waterfalls and rain forests outside of Juneau, a helicopter adventure over the Juneau Ice Field, a wildlife cruise on a high-speed catamaran, dogsledding adventures and ATV tours? Unfortunately, budget doesn't allow us to do all of them so we have to decide somehow. Does anyone have a 9-sided coin we could use?

We are both rather excited (as you might have guessed). As if all this wasn't already enough, we recieved news last week that we had been upgraded from the Stateroom that we booked into a Junior Suite! The room and balcony are both double the size of what we booked and it didn't cost us a penny extra. Incredible! There is one part of the trip we already have fully planned, and that is to have breakfast sent to our suite every morning to enjoy it on our balcony. The room looks pretty nice (as you can see in the picture), but I think a lot of time will be spent on the balcony. The suite is on Deck 10 so there should be a pretty impressive view. We have also heard that the captain will do a complete 360 degree turn in several spots so everyone gets to have a look at specific areas. This means we can avoid the crowds on the decks and see it all from our balcony!

Here's an interesting fact to close with. For a very long time now, cruise ships have been assigned "godmothers" when they are launched (you know the whole thing where they break a bottle of bubbly on the hull). Well, the godmother of our ship is none other than Whoopi Goldberg.