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Mission 26

The Endeavour’s last mission.

Christmas Gift Guide for Teenage Boys | 2012 Edition

A couple of weeks ago search results looking for Christmas gift ideas started to appear so I knew it was time to dust off the Christmas Gift Guides and start on 2012’s.  As usual, I start with the kids and move from there.  If you have any idea or feedback, let me know in the comments.

Shopping for a tween or a teenager is hard.  Amazon suggests MacBooks, they all want $600 iPhone and if you get it wrong, they will hate you forever.  Welcome to shopping for a teenager.  Here are some ideas that are cool, won’t break the bank, and may actually inspire them.

HTC Desire CI have long been a fan of Virgin Mobile prepaid for teens.  You can control their data, their minutes, and if something goes wrong and the phone is lost, you aren’t hit with a massive phone bill or contract.  Everyone wins.  The HTC Desire C ($149) has the newest version of Android Ice Cream Sandwich, a 5 megapixel camera, and a sound system that is by Beats by Dre.  It’s only $149 upfront and you can either put that on their no-contract plan or go prepaid.  It’s not a Samsung Galaxy III or a iPhone 5 but for someone that is 12 or 13 years old, they don’t need a better phone than you.  If  you really want to spoil the kid, you can get them some Beats by Dre headphones ($149) to go with it but a more fiscally sound and responsible choice may be these highly rated and fairly inexpensive JVC Xtreme-Xplosivs headphones ($14.99).

Kodak Playsport video cameraWhile Kodak has fallen on hard times, it still makes a great little compact camcorder in the Kodak Playsport ($80).  It’s shockproof, rustproof, and waterproof to a depth of 10 ft. Since it is designed to be used on the go, it has built-in image stabilization to smooth out the ride. It also has a share feature making it easy to get the video onto YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.  If you want more stability from a manufacturer, check out the Sony Bloggie camera (or the Sport model).  All are great options for your young aspiring filmmaker.

Of course they will need some adventures to film.  Geocaching is extremely popular all over the world and Magellan has created the eXplorist GC Waterproof Geocaching GPS ($119).  It easily connect to the User Community and perform "Send to GPS," create and sync Pocket Queries, and upload Field Notes. Pre-loaded with the most popular geocaches in the world.  Additionally, the product comes packed with common outdoor GPS features, such as waypoint creation, a worldwide base map, active tracking, and trip odometer.

If they are a gamer, chances are that they have grown out their Nintendo DS.  If they have, check out the PS Vita ($249).  With any gaming system it is all about the games and I am pleasantly surprised the amount of good looking games there are out there for the PS Vita (compared to the PSP).  There is Assassin’s Creed III ($39), Madden 13 ($25), or FIFA 13 ($39)

2012-ipodnano-product-initialWhile my son would love an iPod Touch ($299), I am not sure if any child needs to be online 24/7.  There is a great alternative in the new iPod Nano ($149), especially if the child you are shopping for is extremely active (or you want them to be more active).  The redesigned iPod nano now has a larger, 2.5-inch Multi-Touch display. It plays music and has Genius playlists and FM radio.  It has enough memories to watch watch movies and widescreen videos on the bigger screen. The iPod Nano tracks your steps, your runs, and burned calories and syncs to the Nike+ website to challenge friends. And with built-in Bluetooth technology, you can wirelessly connect to speakers, headphones, or car stereos.  While you are at it, you can add some amazing iHome rechargeable mini speakers as well.

If your child is a skateboarder, you may want to consider a Tony Hawk skateboard deck and kit.  I know what you are thinking, "What’s Tony Hawk a skater back when I was a kid?" and the answer is yes and somehow he is still skating and he is still pretty awesome… if you consider a 900 degree turn on a skateboard awesome.

If you teen is planning to do something awesome like that, you may want to get them a GoPro camera ($169) and a headstrap to record the madness/injury.

Sometimes the best technology and gifts are some of the most basic.  Binocular prices have dropped while the optics are still great.  A pair of compact Bushnell binoculars ($30) are perfect for a hike, some urban exploring, and compact enough to toss in a bag.  If taken care of, they will last a lifetime.

Canada at War: A Graphic History of World War II:  A visual look at Canada during World Ward II.

Canada at War follows the developments and setbacks, wins and losses, of a nation learning to stand up for itself in the midst of the most difficult war of the 20th century.

In graphic-novel format, fully illustrated and in full colour, Canada at War shows the growth of a nation’s army, navy and air force through movingly depicted triumphs and tragedies. From the disheartening losses at Dieppe and Hong Kong through the Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of Sicily, it focuses on the human dimension of the key battles and decisions that ultimately swung the war in the Allies’ favour.

This poignant graphic account ends, after the victories of D-Day and Juno Beach and the liberation of Europe, with a final reckoning of the legacy these storied years have had on a country forged through war. Aimed at both adult and young adult readers, this very human history tells the stories behind some of this country’s most distinguishing military moments.

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestions made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

Surfing the South Pacific



Skateboarding through the streets of Los Angeles.

Watching a plane crash from inside the cockpit

A couple of guys were in a small plane crash while wearing GoPro cameras.  While there is a lot of blood, everyone is okay and you can see the crash while it is happening and also afterwards as they crawl out of the wreckage and start recording again.

Wine Explorer’s Best Wine’s of 2011

Wine Explorer’s Best Wine’s of 2011

Click if you want a full sized graphic. via

Vacation USA

Foreign Policy takes on the cruise ship industry

It’s not pretty (or that ethical).  I don’t even know if it is that safe.

Unfortunately, ship accidents are not the only safety concerns facing cruise passengers. Between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, the FBI received 421 reports of onboard crime from cruise ships, including 115 simple assaults, 16 assaults with serious bodily injury, 101 thefts, and 154 sex-related incidents. Cruise ships made these crime reports following March 2007 congressional hearings in which the cruise industry made a commitment to report to the FBI all crimes against U.S. citizens (though the data also include some reports regarding foreign nationals). The rate of sexual assault on Carnival Cruise Lines in 2007 and 2008 was a surprisingly high 115 per 100,000 passengers.

Of course it a profitable industry based on really low wages.

The cruise industry’s atrocious environmental record is matched, perhaps, only by its disregard for workers’ rights. Workers on foreign-flagged vessels, even those owned by U.S.-based corporations, generally work without union protection and are frequently subjected to arbitrary wage cuts. As Paul Chapman, founder of the New York-based Center for Seafarers’ Rights, told the Los Angeles Times: "A ship owner can go any place in the world, pick up anybody he wants, on almost any terms. If the owner wants to maximize profit at the expense of people, it’s a piece of cake."

Although the U.S. minimum wage was extended to ships registered in the United States in 1961, Congress left intact the exemption for foreign ships. A 1963 Supreme Court decision extended this exception by ruling that U.S. labour laws, including the right to organize, do not apply to foreign vessels engaged in American commerce, even if the owners of these ships are from the United States. This is the context in which the modern cruise ship industry developed and took hold. Today, as reflected in records disclosed in discovery in several court cases, the typical worker on a cruise ship has a mandatory 77-hour work week, can work for 10 to 12 months without a day off, and can earn as little as $450 per month.

Keeping these practices in place requires that cruise lines violate long-standing U.S. law. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, provides U.S. maritime workers with the right to sue for pain and suffering damages from job-related injuries. But in the mid- to late-2000s, following settlement of Borcea vs. Carnival, the cruise industry began including arbitration clauses in cruise-ship workers’ contracts — they are now commonplace. These clauses have dire consequences for crew members. They mean that a foreign cruise-ship worker on a U.S.-based ship has limited right to sue his or her employer in U.S. courts because the ship and the company operating the ship are both foreign-registered.

To make a long story short, the cruise industry pays essentially no taxes, flaunts the laws of the sea and then when it is in trouble, relies on the navies and coast guards of the world to bail it out.

The cruise industry enjoys an enviable position. The corporations are registered offshore, thus avoiding U.S. taxes and regulations, but they benefit from many services paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. For instance, as disclosed in Freedom of Information Act requests, one disappearance from a cruise ship can cost the U.S. Coast Guard more than $800,000; the Carnival Splendor’s engine-room fire that left it adrift off the Mexican coast in November 2010 reportedly cost the U.S. government $1.8 million. By registering ships under flags of convenience, the corporations also dodge U.S. labor laws, even though their passengers are mainly Americans. In effect, North Americans taking a cruise enjoy an economic vacation on the backs of the foreign workers employed on these sweatships.

I have never been on a cruise for the primary reason that I prefer to drive but their labour rates have driven me crazy for years.  Sadly as I read of a 77-hour work week and work for 10-12 months without a day off for the privilege of earning $450 a month, I am turned off by the prospect.

The weekend

As Wendy writes, we headed out to the cabin on Sunday for a couple of hours.  What a difference a year makes.  No water laying in farmer’s fields, no destroyed highways, no dangerous gravel roads, no there is actually a beach this year.  I didn’t stop long in Watrous but I did manage to hear a farmer talk about the dry winter.  One season removed from the worst flooding in my lifetime and already it is too dry.  I love Saskatchewan.

2012 Ford Edge Review

2012 Ford Edge

The good: Fantastic styling, comfortable ride, usable Ford Sync, vehicle adapts to you.  

The bad: Fuel economy isn’t great.

So I got a Ford Edge last week and have put it through the paces.  Here is how it did.

How the Edge felt:  Absolutely loved it.  Everything on the Edge feels refined and well thought out.  From the exterior to the interior and how the MyFord Touch is laid out.   Let me describe to you how I used it.  The car does not have a key but features a dongle that as you get within distance of the car, unlocks the doors as you touch the driver side door handle.  As you start the car, I had to use Ford Sync to switch to Sirius ESPN Radio.  After a couple of days of that, the radio stayed on ESPN.  Without fooling with any settings, the car used to reset to the past driver but again after a couple of days, the seats stayed the way I liked them.  I could have figured out how to do that myself but was impressed the car did it for me.

As I got in, the Sync connected with my iPhone which allowed for easy hands free calling while driving.  While I loved the paddle control on the Ford Focus, the Sync in the Edge was started by a button on the steering column, an inconsistency that I wasn’t that crazy with, especially if I owned both a Focus and a Edge.  Hands free calling quality was excellent and was superior to the speaker phone on my iPhone.  One thing that you need to be aware of is that MyFord Touch downloads your address book to the car which means that you need to delete your phone book when you are done with the car.  Something to remember if you are sharing a vehicle or lending it out. Several reviewers before me had left their phone information in the car which I dutifully deleted for them. 

As a crossover, the Edge includes seating for five plus an ample cargo area. The Edge retains its bulky, squat shape, but gets a more curvy front-end and smoother metal for the sides and rear pillars than previous versions. White LED parking light strips set into the front fascia make a nice addition to the car.

The Sony audio system is worth the price for its excellent audio quality. It produces very well-balanced sound through its 12 speakers. The highs come out clearly and the bass has some power to it, thanks to the system’s 390 watts of amplification.  That being said, I generally just listened to ESPN.  The one thing I didn’t like about the Ford Edge was the stereo controls.  Turning the stereo off an on would often change the radio station.  It’s not a big thing and definitely wouldn’t hold me back in buying it but it was the one flaw an other wise flawless car.

As for the Edge’s fuel economy, it was not great. EPA testing gives the Edge Sport 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway (check out fuel efficiency on Fuelly). In our driving, much of it along two-lane highways, we came in at 17.3 mpg, on the low side of the car’s range. Driving around Saskatoon, the transmission remained subtle, getting its job done without fuss. On the freeway it let the engine run at low rpms, around 2,000 while cruising at highway speeds. When I put the pedal down to pass or just get some good acceleration, it kicked into action and never had the disturbing habit that the Ford Focus did of shifting down killing both the acceleration and speed.  When I wanted to go somewhere quickly, it got me there.

I am almost 40 which means that I drive increasingly like an old man so I didn’t push it to the limits, but the car also showed nice stability and grip when turned.  It did have to pass the ultimate off road adventure, the side streets of Mayfair and it did quite well hitting the ruts, potholes, and water main breaks that define my street.

This Edge came  with Ford’s blind-spot detection system, which turns on lights in the mirrors when a car is in the Edge’s blind spot. This system worked well in our testing, giving few false positives.   It does have park assist but I refused to test a feature that helps me park.  That’s just me. 

The handling was fine.  Some reviews thought the car was top heavy but I never noticed it.  I wasn’t tearing into corners but I loved the handling at all speeds.

To summarize, this may be the best car I have ever driven.  I really look forward to owning on in the future.

Dueling Ice Hotels

I had a similar idea but for a temporary homeless shelter.

On a recent crisp afternoon, chainsaw-wielding ice sculptors repaired a giant elephant in the bar of Snow Village—home to one of just two ice hotels in North America.

At the other, Hotel de Glace, 160 miles north in Quebec City, crews pushed mini-snow blowers through the hallways, while monitoring a massive ice chandelier hanging in the lobby.

For the past 12 years, Hotel de Glace enjoyed a monopoly in ice tourism on the continent. But this winter, after upstart Snow Village opened its doors, both are scrambling to distinguish themselves in this super-niche market.

Tammy Peddle, a Snow Village spokeswoman, plays down any rivalry. There is "no conflict" between the two, she says in an email. "We have an entire village where you can eat, sleep, visit, play…they have a hotel."

"We are the standard," says Hotel de Glace founder and president Jacques Desbois.

Both tout the uniqueness of spending a night in a cold, dark room entirely made of ice and snow, with no electricity. It is generally not a market with a lot of repeat customers.

"A must do," wrote Martin and Tonia from Spain, in the guest book of the Hotel de Glace. "Once."

"What we’re selling is not accommodation," says Snow Village proprietor Guy Belanger. "It’s an experience."

Magic Igloo MakerBack to my idea.  I was reading about igloo makers and after talking to friends who have gone ice camping and stayed quite warm with just a candle and body heat that guys in the shelter would probably prefer their own igloo to living in a dorm.  I remember joking about the idea with guys in the shelter and as long as we could run extension cords for a television and they had access to showers, they actually thought it was a good idea. 

Of course I was only kidding but they were not, it is one of the reasons why when the weather warms up in spring, why people are moving back out to the encampments along the tracks and along the river.  It isn’t that they want to stay outside it is for them preferable to sleeping in a warm bed but in a congregate setting.

One of the things that I am thrilled that The Lighthouse did is with the new women’s emergency shelter, it is still congregate settings but with three times the space as the old women’s dorm, they are only adding three new beds and using room dividers.  Being homeless is hard enough and in an emergency, there will at least be a nice place to stay.

Bike Friendly Los Angeles

A guide to cycling in the most car driven cities in the world, Los Angeles

Los Angles’ reputation as a car-only town has been cracking for years, and recently that reputation may have crumbled for good. The much hyped “Carmageddon” (in which a section of the 405 freeway was closed down for a day) did not, as many predicted, bring chaos. Rather it did the opposite, providing tangible evidence that Los Angeles is not as hopelessly auto-dependent as previously thought. More importantly, cyclists used the shutdown as an opportunity to showcase what they had long known — that biking offers a viable alternative to what is arguably the city’s Achilles heel, namely a transportation infrastructure overly-geared to personal cars.

What’s next is next

When I resigned from the Salvation Army, I didn’t really have a plan or a job to go to so I’ll let you read into that all you want.  It was a pretty sudden decision but it was time to move to something else.  After years of being on call 24.7, I wasn’t sleeping well and it had started to take a toll on my body.  Stress was a major contributor to my heart “event” and part of the tension I had in my shoulders which is what partially lead to my rotator cuff issues (it’s healed now).  I have lost 30 pounds since I was hospitalized but as my doctor said, the stress still needed to be dealt with.  As he said, “my body was demanding a change of pace”.

When I resigned, I immediately updated my LinkedIn profile and sent out some resumes that day as to be honest, the idea of being unemployed doesn’t appeal to me.  I heard from a couple of headhunting recruitment firms that had some clients they were working with but I didn’t know what to think about those job descriptions.  I have had a job that I cared passionately about for so long that the idea of collecting a pay check for the purpose of collecting a pay check kind of freaked me out.  Well that might be too strong, if I got the kind of compensation package Urban Meyer got to coach OSU, I might sell out as well.  Especially if Notre Dame offers me their head coaching job. 

We did get some offers overseas that kind of came out of the blue.  The idea of living and working in England and Europe excited me, it would have been taking the job for the experience, it wasn’t anything that evoked any great passion out of me.  With the looming recession in Europe, I envisioned being made redundant (laid off) in 6 months anyways.  It may have been different if I was single or Wendy and I didn’t have any kids but it’s a big deal to move there just because I want to experience a part of Europe.  While the romantic in me loves the ideas of weekends in Paris or Berlin, the practical part of me says that at my payscale, it wasn’t likely to happen.  Because I always prided myself in thinking globally, I have wanted to live globally.  At the same time I do love this city of ours and I like to call Saskatoon (and Arlington Beach on summer weekends) home.

I then had to figure out what I wanted to do.  I know what I need to do to live on and Wendy and I don’t have much debt (mortgage, small car payment).  While Wendy wants to do a bunch of work to the cabin, the bill for that will be in the hundreds of dollars this summer, not thousands.  On top of that, Wendy cut back on a lot of her job responsibilities at Safeway this year.  She wasn’t getting paid for them and it was taking away from she liked about her job.  On top of that Oliver is at an age where being at the sitter a bit isn’t that bad for him and he really enjoys being there which has meant that Wendy can get much earlier shifts.  Both of these factors contributed to Wendy enjoying work a lot more and as she says, she enjoys work more now than she has at any time over the last 15 years.  While her depression is always there, things are better and it gave me some flexibility on what i wanted to do with my life.

So what do I want to do?  Initially I was so tired that I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I still wasn’t sleeping right but over the last week I have just relaxed and felt more alive physically, emotionally, and spiritually than I have in a long time.  I did realize that I still want to do something that I care about and I want it to be local.  I also realized there are relatively few things that get me excited.  I get friends who are working in churches and want to talk about ancient/future worship or some great new idea in technology and communication and I can barely generate an opinion.  It’s not that for some that stuff isn’t important but for me, it’s not how I am wired.  On the other hand I am not driven by money.  I wish I was sometimes and I have been derided for my lack of greed but I am driven by helping people.  It left me in a place where I want to spend more time on stuff I care about and less time on stuff that is important to other people.

So what does it all mean.  It means that on Thursday I’ll post where I landed and some other projects that I am working on.

Will Heathrow become irrelevant

The coalition government and Labour withdraw their support for a new runway at Heathrow, an airport that is already running at 98% capacity.  As the Economist sees it.

The language both politicians used shows how keen they are to move the focus of British aviation policy away from Heathrow’s third runway. But I fear they are too optimistic, especially given the absence of viable, fundable alternatives. The reasons for not building a runway are valid, but for the time being a politician has to embrace them when discussing improvements at Heathrow.

The third runway remains the elephant in the aviation-policy room. So while in her speech Ms Greening also referred to other efforts her department would be making at Heathrow, these sounded like so much window-dressing. Talk of improving “resilience”—so that the next time bad weather comes, the airport responds more effectively—is unlikely to impress British business. The easiest way to improve resilience at an airport operating at 98% capacity would be to build some slack into the system. The creation of another runway would certainly help achieve this, as Ms Greening is no doubt fully aware, while also helping boost the British economy (according to a new report). The debate, therefore, remains very much alive.

The question is will more and more air travel start looking for a hub that is easier to get in and out of.

Six Ways Never to Get Lost in a City Again

I am pretty comfortable navigating new cities and while I have gotten lost, I generally can find my bearings.  For those of you who are not quite as comfortable getting around (or lost) as I am, here are six tips to find your way home again.