This morning I flew from Boulder City, Nevada aboard a helicopter to one of the most stunning places on this planet, the Grand Canyon. I took a lot of photos but that will have to wait until I get back. It was something I’m quite glad I got to do.
So I’m pretty sure I saw former professional wrestler Bill Goldberg at Caesar’s Palace today. A bit different than my sighting of Dita Von Teese yesterday but I didn’t mind.
So this evening I went for dinner at the buffet at the Wynn hotel. It was probably the best buffet I’ve had in Vegas.
After dinner, my buddy and I were walking around the lovely hotel when we stopped off at another restaurant to take a look at their menu. While at the entrance, some people were leaving and one of them I recognized to be well-known burlesque performer and pin-up model Dita Von Teese. She looked stunning in a long white dress with black accents. Her make up was perfect. If you think her photos might be Photoshopped, they probably are not. She looked just like she does in her photos, with her white alabaster skin marking a stark contrast with her blood-red lipstick. She moved with an elegance as she left the area.
It was very cool to see her in person. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll see Carrot Top.
My loyal readers, I just wanted to let everyone know I’ll be heading to Las Vegas on Sunday for a few days. I’ll be going there with an old friend from grad school. I endeavour to keep posting while I’m away but if I don’t you’ll know why. Keep checking for an update on my travels!
It’s my belief that every large city in the world has its fair share of bad drivers so Vancouver is no exception. The video above is a compilation of some examples of bad driving within the Vancouver area. Enjoy!
Panhandling or begging for change is something that is prevalent in almost every large city in the world. Some people use a very simple yet harmless approach where they sit on the sidewalk in a busy public place and just wait for others to deposit change in a container. Others are more aggressive and will actively approach people on foot, asking for money. The most devious ones are the scammers.
The scammers always have a well-rehearsed story that is designed to prey on people’s sense of goodwill. Some of the simplest scam stories involve being a quarter short of bus fare. Sometimes it’s a dollar short. It’s a story that almost everyone can understand quickly because who doesn’t understand the concept of bus fare? Occasionally, they’ll throw in a comment to put the person at ease, for example, “I’m not a crazy person but…” or “I swear this is the first time I’ve been short on money”.
The more elaborate scammers have a more complicated story that is designed to take advantage of people’s kindness. One individual in downtown Vancouver has a particular script that he stays pretty close to. If he approaches you, he puts on a bit of an emotional tone. It’s not over the top but he’s definitely not nonchalant or relaxed. He is always just hours into his visit to Canada. He’s flown in from a very far place, often it’s Australia. This is to establish he’s very far from home and anyone that might be able to help him. He’ll tell you he’s trying to get to Whistler or Squamish where supposedly he might be able to join up with some people he knows. Unfortunately, he’s just a few dollars short of the Greyhound bus ride up to his destination. There are small variations to his story but the general premise is always the same. Of course, you’ll see him repeat this story to other people just weeks later. He’s always fresh off a plane from some distant location looking for people to scam.
While most scammers operate in downtown Vancouver, the most elaborate scammer I’ve met operates within two blocks from where I live. The first time I met this woman was sometime in the fall. I was returning from Safeway downstairs and walking through the mall area. A woman who looked to be in her 50s approached me. Her clothes looked normal and nothing about her outward appearance gave me the impression that she was a scammer. Indeed, I expected her to ask me directions because she looked slightly lost. Instead, she opened with an apology for having to ask for help. She explained that she had been just discharged from the hospital. To that end, she showed me a patient bracelet on her left wrist. I didn’t look at it too closely but it seemed like it could pass a cursory glance without looking fake. She further explained to me that she was trying to fill a prescription for some medicine she needed after leaving the hospital. It was at this point she showed me a piece of paper that looked like a prescription form. Again, I did not look at this too closely but it didn’t seem completely fake. Then came the kicker, she told me that she was about $20 short for the cost of the medicine. The most interesting part of her story though was here. She said that the medicine was expensive but she already had the majority of the money. To prove it, she was clutching some neatly folded $20 bills in the same hand as her prescription form. Most scammers don’t use the money they have to attempt to put potential victims at ease. I believe she was trying to make people think she was legitimately just $20 short because hey, she already had some money for the drugs.
I admit that her story was unlike anything else I’d heard before so it did make me think for a second or two. The whole hospital discharge, patient bracelet, prescription form, and fistful of money was somewhat compelling. Fortunately, something still felt a bit off to me about this. I can’t explain what it was except that it just didn’t seem right. I told the woman I didn’t have any money on me and walked away. I will admit though that afterwards, I did wonder for about five minutes if she was actually telling the truth, which I never do whenever I’m approached by other scammers.
Vindication came to me just last week. I got off the Skytrain one station early because I wanted to walk on a pleasant summer evening. As I was leaving the station, an older woman in front of me turned around to talk to me. I didn’t recognize her at first but then I saw the bracelet, the prescription form, and the cash. I let her do her spiel, which was exactly the same as last time. Before she could get to the part where she asked for money, I said to her, “oh, I’ve seen you before and remember you”. I did this for two reasons: to let her know I’d heard her sob story before and also to give her a chance to own up to the scam. To her stubborn credit, she barely paused for a second while looking at me and then proceeded to once again ask me for money. I told her there was no way I’d be giving her money and walked away.
I’m looking forward to seeing her again because next time, I want to take a long look at that bracelet and to read what’s written on that prescription form. I might even call the police and see what they might have to say about this.
The final point to this is that scammers are everywhere and their stories can be complex and convincing. Don’t let your guard down. It’s sad that we have to protect ourselves from our own tendencies to help people but that’s the reality these days.
So as many of you, my loyal readers, know I’m trying to lose weight this summer. In the spring, my doctor took a look at me and diagnosed me with a case of the fat-ass. So far, it’s gone great. At the doctor’s office, I weighed about 172 lbs in mid-April. Just a couple of weeks ago, I stood on the scale and it read just a hair over 160 lbs. So in the grand scheme of things, I’m making progress. I’m not even sure where all that weight went. My midsection still feels and looks just as pudgy as it did before. I don’t think I’ve lost any additional chins. Yet the scale doesn’t lie so I do indeed weigh less now. I was so excited to see that I was just north of 160 lbs so I made this somewhat arbitrary goal going under 160. I wanted the scale to read 150whatever. I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult.
Well, I weight myself last night and I’m 161 and change now! I’m pushing up close to 162! Ok, so it might be just water weight or that I hadn’t pooped for that day but it’s still a bit disappointing. It’s not heading in the right direction. I can’t be dismayed however so I’m just going to continue my plan of eating better and getting lots of exercise.
I did another time-lapse video on the weekend. I wanted to see what a sunny day would look like. My previous video was on a fairly cloudy day, which turned out to be great actually. For contrast, this time was a blue sky day.
I also endeavoured to cut out all the boring stuff, which is when the it’s just pitch black. I started recording right before sunrise and stopped it after it got completely dark. As you can see, if you’re recording just the sky on a sunny, relatively cloudless day, it makes for a ho-hum video. I didn’t get the movement of the sun for the majority of the video, so there’s nothing really to look at. I think I’m done with time-lapses with on sunny and cloudy days now. I think doing one on a snowy day would be pretty interesting. It seems like it’s far off now but it’ll be just around the corner before the weather turns bad.
For those keeping score, I’ve already opened two new bank accounts in the last two months or so. Previous to this, I think it had been years since I opened up a new account, probably a tax-free savings account when they were first introduced. Normally, when people open up a new bank account it’s primarily to save or to make money somehow. I opened up these new accounts only for their secondary benefits, not for saving money at all.
The first new account was a generic savings account at TD Canada Trust. A few months ago, I noticed the local TD just down the street from me had an automatic coin counter installed in the branch. Now some of you might have read that at the time I had accumulated huge amounts of spare change in coins. I had a very time intensive effort in finding ways to cash in the coins without being charged a fee for the process. TD was offering free use of their coin counter machine but only if you had an account with them. I decided to open up an account with them purely for their coin counting machine. I had to choose a savings account that did not require a minimum balance as I did not intend to use it as a savings vehicle. The interest rates at TD suck anyways. I went to the branch, opened up an account, and deposited a very small amount of money (just to keep a positive balance). By this time, I’d already cashed in about $500 worth of coins through other means, so I didn’t have as many coins just a few months ago. Nevertheless, the day after I opened the account, I still was able to get about $150 in coins counted. Going forward, I just have to go down the street now to get rid of all those pesky coins.
The second account I just opened up today. This one is a bit of a strange one. I have several accounts with ING Direct. I think they are a fabulous financial institution. They’re able to provide quality banking products by being an online bank and cutting out costs like branches and tellers. It’s a trade-off sometimes but they don’t do things like charge you money for accessing your money. Anyways, the normal procedure for getting at your ING money is to transfer it to another financial institution and then use their branches or ATMs. Since the Canadian dollar has fallen compared to the US greenback, I’ve been thinking about converting some US dollars I have in an US ING account. Unfortunately, I don’t have any other US dollar accounts anywhere else I can move that money to. If I move it to a Canadian account, then I’m at the mercy of the other bank’s exchange rates, which kinda suck. The only way to get at my money directly is to use an ING ATM, of which there two in all of this province. Luckily, they are both in downtown Vancouver. To use these machines, I required a valid ING bank card, which is only distributed if you have an ING chequing account. So today, I had to open up a new chequing account, just to get that card. It’s got a dollar in it, which will collect interest. The great thing is I’m able to directly get at all my money with that bank via their ATMs now.
So two new bank accounts this summer with almost no money in them, for purposes of something other than saving.
As many of you, my loyal readers know, I’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to learn to cook new things and make more of my own food. For the most part, I don’t think about the cost of dishes I make. For example, I learned how to use my slow cooker to make a beef stew. The ingredients for stew are cheap. You can buy stew in can but I believe it’s still more economical to make it yourself. Homemade stew is also way heartier and tastes better than the canned stuff. Making the roast lamb was way more expensive than making the stew but I still think you come out ahead money-wise. Looking at the price of roast lamb at Greek restaurants, I can make three meals of lamb from the cost of just one lamb dinner if I went out. Also keep in mind I bought my lamb at Safeway the first few times, which I know isn’t the cheapest for lamb.
Unfortunately, I think I may have come across a dish where I question the economics of making it myself. I know you might find this odd but I’ve been wanting to learn to make a proper lasagna. I’ve always enjoyed this iconic Italian dish and it seemed like a natural thing to learn next. Previously, I’ve had lasagna at restaurants or when I get it ordered as takeout or delivery. I’ve also sometimes bought it frozen at the supermarket. Now I’ve been looking at various lasagna recipes and most of them have a few common ingredients that are required no matter what which one you go with. The key sticking points are the meat and the cheese. Cheese is expensive. So far, I’ve calculated that most recipes call for about $10 worth of cheese, give or take a dollar or so. Add in the ground beef or other meat and that’s about $5. Now I can order a $15 lasagna from Italian places and while it might be smaller in portion to what I’m making, it’s not that much smaller. I can also buy a frozen lasagna for way cheaper than $15. Sure, there’s the question of quality but the takeout or delivered lasagnas are usually pretty good. I guess part of the problem is I haven’t tried making my own lasagna yet, so I can’t fully assess the value properly.
Going forward, I just need to make it on my own and determine if it’s worth the time and money. My mother is always fond of saying that some things are just easier to get done for you, especially if time and effort are involved. Might lasagna be one of these things?