Friday, March 28, 2008

Fine dining at lunch

We went out for lunch at work today. It was to mark an important milestone in a big project we've been working hard at for several months.

Our manager sent out an e-mail this morning and said two of my coworkers would organize where to go. I suggested Smitty's to them, as an alternative to the Lone Star. The Lone Star is OK but it kind of starts to taste like cardboard if you go there more than once in three months or so. We've been there a couple of times in the last few months so definitely time for a change.

I was a bit surprised to see we were going to The Cellar Bar and Grill in Bedford. I hadn't been there before. It's a pretty nice place. We were a bit underdressed all in jeans. Eight of us went there. I don't normally go to nicer restaurants.

I saw someone I knew from the past there. I didn't go up to say hi to him. I don't have a problem with him but we don't have much to talk about today. So I skipped that and I don't regret it.

I had to decide what to order. I skipped the appetizer since I didn't want to stuff myself. They brought some parmesan bread out anyway and that was good. Everyone else got an appetizer. I saw they had a peppercorn burger which looked good. But since it was a nicer place I decided to be a bit adventurous and order pasta. I got some chicken breast thing with sun dried tomatoes with some cream type sauce. I can't remember now what it was called.

I don't often order pasta. I don't think I really "get" pasta like many people do. Most restaurants in Halifax are big on pasta with moderate to extensive selections. I don't know what the different pasta stuff is so I'm never sure about it. I think the last time I got pasta in a restaurant was I got spaghetti at Boston Pizza a couple of years ago and it was kind of disappointing.

Presently the food arrived. The chicken was pretty good. About what I expected. Still if I go there again some day I'll get the burger next time.

Our manager got tangled up in some conference call during the meal so we had a little bit of time to fill. We ended up ordering desert and coffee. We usually don't get desert when we go to lunch from work. I got coffee and the chocolate brownie. It was very good, a big slab of chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce on top and a sprinkle of white icing sugar for appearance. The presentation is good there, one of the differences between average and nicer restaurants.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Renewed my passport

I've been thinking about my passport lately. I got a passport a few years back. At work at the time there was a scheme that the programmers should be traveling out into the field. So we all had to get passports. It wasn't clear to me how a programmer is supposed to do his job which is to write code sitting in some hotel in Europe. But that's another topic.

So I got the passport but I never did have to travel. Although most of my coworkers did have to travel, some quite a lot. Earlier this year I got thinking about my passport since it's been a few years since I got it. I pulled it out this week to see it was issued in 2002 and it expired in 2007. Whoops!

I went to the passport Canada site to check about renewing. Luckily you can renew for up to a year after the passport expires. Renewing is fast and easy. After a year you can't renew and you have to do a full new application. The new application is much more involved than renewing.

Checking the date I saw I only had 2 days left where I could still renew. So I had to scramble. I got a passport photo at SuperStore. That was fast and cost $10. You just wait and it's ready in around 20 minutes. I filled in the online renew application which is pretty handy if you have a computer and printer. For a renewal you don't need a doctor, lawyer, accountant or policeman to verify your identity. Any two non-relatives who've known you for two years will do. So I asked a couple of coworkers and they said OK.

With everything ready I went down to the local passport Canada office in the Maritime Centre. That building is one of the ugliest and worst architecture around. On the way I did drive past and admire the Central Trust II building. That building is the jewel of Halifax architecture, perhaps the finest architecture in Canada.

The passport office is on the 15th floor. When I got there the waiting area was around 3/4 full. But they had 10 wickets open and I didn't have to wait very long for my turn, around 15 minutes. There was a lady sitting next to me who must have been in real estate. She made and received a number of calls while waiting and was chatting about all the closings to do in the next couple of days. In that office they have large panoramic windows with an excellent view of the Spring Garden Road side. I used to admire that same view every day back when I worked at PRIOR Data Sciences on Spring Garden.

Everything went smoothly when I put in my renew application. The passport clerk noted that I just made it before the deadline. It cost $87 for the renewal. So a total cost of around $100, grrr. But I should be good for 5 more years now. Perhaps I'll actually travel abroad this time. My last passport is blank, I didn't leave the country.

There's something pleasant about the passport office. Maybe it's the foreign service, the spirit of the best and the brightest. It's nice to have a passport, to belong to a good country, to be validated and able to cross a frontier and later be welcomed back.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kurt Havelock

I find the Kurt Havelock story interesting. This guy was denied a license to open a tacky bar around dirty scottsdale. Then he goes off and writes a threatening letter to some news outlets. Nothing much there.

Then it gets interesting. Surprisingly he actually shows up in a parking lot near the Super Bowl with an assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammo. Fortunately he came to his senses and turned for home before carrying out any massacre.

What I find interesting is the teasers about the manifesto. It's eight pages. While likely rambling he uses spirited rhetoric about puppet politicians. He also describes the Super Bowl attack as an econopolitical confrontation. When was the last time you head someone use the word econopolitical in a sentence? How many people could open a bar called Drunkenstein's, then go on to write such a document, then actually show up at the Super Bowl with the rifle and ammo. His range is remarkable.

I want to read the full manifesto because it looks like there's a lot of entertaining reading in there. Unfortunately I can't find it on the Web. I'll follow the story. Hopefully when he goes to trial the full manifesto will be publicly released.

I'm not sure what crimes if any he can be charged with. He's only been charged with mailing threatening communications so far. The rifle and ammo stuff is largely protected by the second amendment. He didn't actually carry out the massacre so no crime there. The manifesto his lawyers may try to argue as a letter to the editor type of first amendment personal opinion rather than a specific criminal threat.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Debt inventory

This is a good time to go over my debts. Currently I have four consumer loans outstanding.
  • TD Emerald Visa about half paid off. Around 12% interest.
  • MBNA MasterCard around maxed. Mostly balance transfer around 5% interest.
  • TD Bank personal loan 4 years to go. Around 12% interest.
  • Car loan on my 2005 Honda Civic around 2 ½ years to go. Only around 2% interest.
So four loans to go. That's about four too many for my liking. Debt is slavery. I've done fairly well the last few months getting a handle on the debt and stopping the increase and starting to decrease the total amount. My goal is to be debt free eventually.

It will take a while to get there. The debt is the result of of bad life choices over many years. It can't be wiped out in six months. The positive news is that I'm solvent today. With no new borrowing the legacy debts will eventually be retired. As long as my income can remain steady then hopefully I should be OK.

My goal is to pay off the TD Visa by the end of this year. That account has the lowest outstanding balance and the highest interest rate. If all goes well that should be possible.

I'll be glad when the debts are gone. There's lots of stuff I want to do and get. But those things are not necessities so they can wait a little while.