27 August 2009

The Ellen McAllister

After our Board of Directors meeting this week we boarded a working tugboat, the Ellen McAllister, for a tour of New York harbour. This was more a tour of our competitors' facilities as opposed to a tourist style dinner cruise, if you know what I mean. It was a warm evening and the seas were calm. It was an unusual way to see the harbour, but very educational.

After the obligatory sail by the Statue of Liberty and view of the Manhattan skyline, we headed down the Kill van Kull, the strait separating Staten Island from New Jersey.

The third picture is the Bayonne Bridge. Dating from 1931, the Bayonne Bridge is the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the in the world. The span presents a difficult obstacle to large container ships passing under it on the way to and from the port complex in Newark. Many of the larger vessels require 175 to 200 feet of clearance and the Bayonne Bridge has only 150 feet of air. This problem will become more serious after the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014 that will allow larger ships to pass through. This is good news for us because our company operates the ONLY container terminal outside the Bayonne Bridge, and we are the only game in town for large vessels. Location, location, location!

The next picture shows Maher Terminal on the left and PNCT on the right. The Maher brothers sold in 2007 to Deutsche Bank for $1 billion or so and then promptly lost $400 million of it with Lehman Brothers. Easy come, easy go, I guess. Maher also operates the tiny terminal in Prince Rupert. PNCT was one of the terminals bought by Dubai Ports in 2007 that caused such a commotion in the press about Arabs owning critical port infrastructure...it was subsequently sold to a US based company. PNCT is the only container terminal in New York owned by a US company.

My last photo shows part of APMT (the blue cranes) and part of Maher Terminal. APMT is a sister company to Maersk line, based in Denmark.

We ended the tour at our other facility, NYCT, on Staten Island, but it was too dark for a picture at that point.

22 August 2009

Coffee Wars (Thursday)

Today I sampled a local coffee house - JJ Bean. JJ Bean is a Vancouver based micro roaster that provides beans to restaurants around the city and also has several retail coffee outlets, including a small kiosk at Granville Island. I don't really know anything about the business - who owns it, when it started, etc. - but I do know they make great coffee. I usually buy a pound of JJ Espresso beans for home. JJ Bean is one of the last places around that will give you a free coffee when you buy a pound of beans.

Interestingly, JJ Bean is one of the most expensive drip coffees in town at $2.10 for a large. Interesting because most of their outlets are on the less affluent east side of Vancouver. If you stop for a cup of joe on the way to work with your tie on, you're sure to get attitude from the bohemian crowd and servers. In the summer, you can often smell marijuana wafting from the patio at the Commercial Drive location.

JJ Bean makes GREAT coffee. Strong and flavourful but not stinkface bitter like Starbucks. And they have sleeves for their cups. And you can usually find parking. The downside is that the price is high and there's only a few locations to choose from. Overall, I'll give it 4.5 beans out of 5. Delicious coffee, served hot, JJ Bean is a refreshing change from the major chains.

20 August 2009

Coffee Wars (Wednesday)

Starbucks. Coffee Mecca or purveyor of overpriced sludge? I eased into Starbucks in 1993 with cafe lattes. But it wasn't long before I was addicted to the intense caffeine and wanted more. I moved to dark roasted drip coffee and cafe americanos.

The Starbucks phenomenon started in the Pacific Northwest where there are a lot of rainy days to spend inside reading the paper at your favourite coffee shop with a hot beverage. Starbucks invaded Vancouver in a major way, and they use our city to test market saturation. Finding a Starbucks isn't a problem.

Starbucks is responsible for coffee prices soaring from $1 a cup to $2 a cup. They're pretty good at packaging things up and marketing "quality" so they can justify their inflated prices. The independent coffee houses in town should be thankful to Starbucks for opening up the pricing, which has become pretty much standard at any upmarket place.

The most annoying thing about Starbucks is the proliferation of fancy, expensive foo foo drinks they serve, which also slow down the espresso machine. "I'll have a tall, non-fat, extra-hot, slightly wet, decaf cappuccino with one pump of vanilla, one pump of hazelnut, a dollop of foam and a dusting of cinnamon." WTF? Even worse is the pretentious dorks who order it at "precisely 103 degrees". Why don't you try a cafe americano...watch out, you might actually taste the coffee in your coffee!!!

A grande dark roast drip coffee at Starbucks will run you $1.98 including tax. It will be consistent from location to location, hot, served with a sleeve and strong enough to strip the paint off your car. So watch out for spills. The caffeine content has got to be at the upper end of the legal limits. One Starbucks and my hands start to shake and I'm good for the morning, if not on edge. People who do cocaine have never tried Starbucks...the same high legal and cheap. The coffee is usually so bitter it invokes a frown and a quick shake of the head, but after a few sips when you start to feel the infusion of caffeine your body is craving, you stop noticing the taste. Aaahhh.

Starbucks does a lot right and for caffeine content alone, I'll give it 3.5 beans out of 5. I would have scored it higher in my younger days, but lately it just leaves me a bit too jittery and the flavour is a bit much. The other thing about Starbucks is the super laxative effect...excuse me while I run to the washroom!

19 August 2009

Coffee Wars (Tuesday)

Tuesday morning saw a reunion with Tim's. I have fond memories of Tim's...a steaming hot coffee to warm up from those frigid Halifax winters, a delicious maple dip doughnut (donut for Americans), a bowl of soup...and in eastern Canada you can't walk two blocks without running into one. The last time I was home to Nova Scotia, I noted that my little hometown of 10,000 people had at least seven Tim Horton's stores. They obviously love their doughnuts.

I am embarrassed to tell you that when I first moved to Vancouver, there were NO Tim's anywhere, and once in awhile on a Sunday morning I'd get up early and drive all the way across the water to North Vancouver just to get a coffee and a doughnut at the lone Tim Horton's I knew of in the Lower Mainland. It was a bit of a treat and a reminder of home. Fast forward 15 years and Tim's presence is finally being felt in Vancouver proper. There's even one on Commercial Drive, right there competing with the real Italian coffee houses. Wow! Ten years ago the Subway store on the Drive was forced to close after being constantly barraged with anti-corporate graffiti. My adopted city is changing.

I've tried to push the nostalgia aside and just focus on the cup of coffee in front of me. Hmmm. It's still not easy to get to Tim's because they don't seem to have any locations in my part of town that have any parking. That's inconvenient, but at $1.68 for an extra large coffee, I can afford the quarter for the parking meter. One thing I've noticed at Tim's is that now that they have breakfast bagels and all this other crap besides doughnuts, the service is painstakingly S-L-O-W. It doesn't help when all the customers and all the cashiers are ESL from different parts of the world trying to understand one another in broken English...but that's a rant for another day. When I finally got my coffee, I burned my fingers on the paper thin cup. Good for the environment I suppose, but not so good when you have to carry your coffee two blocks back to your parking spot. They have sleeves but it seems like management has told the employees not to be forthcoming with them unless a customer makes a fuss.

When I finally tasted my coffee, it was a major disappointment. In fact, I would say that Tim's coffee sort of tastes like dirty water. I think there's a little bit of coffee in there somewhere but it is fairly weak. It provided a mild level of stimulation, but the caffeine content seems minimal. I think I'll need another one before the morning is out. On the positive side, it seems to have a low laxative factor.

I know this will seem like blasphemy to Tim's fans and eastern Canada in general, but Tim's coffee is really nothing special, and requires a fair amount of effort and planning to get to in Vancouver. If you add a maple dip doughnut to your order...well, now you're talking. Maybe the difficult access is a good thing given how much I LOVE those calorie ridden doughnuts. Its just NOT good coffee, people. And it left a nasty film in my mouth. Yech! I'll give it 2.5 beans out of 5, based on value.

18 August 2009

Songs You Didn't Know Were Covers (Part 3)

If you were alive in 1982, Toni Basil's 80's anthem "Mickey" has been forever burned into your memory banks. In fact, it has appeared on so many 80's compilations, I'd be surprised if anyone over the age of 12 hasn't heard it. Well guess what? It was a rework of a 1979 song called "Kitty" by the UK band Racey.

** Link Removed **

Mighty Machines

An exciting day yesterday for the company as 3 new quay cranes for our Deltaport expansion arrived from China. These are currently the 3 largest quay cranes in all of North America, capable of handling the largest container ships afloat. Each of the new cranes can lift four 20 foot containers or two 40 foot containers at the same time. Now if only we had a weapon of massive consumption to kickstart the economy, we'd be all set!

Coffee Wars (Monday)

After years of being a diehard Tim's fan in Halifax at university, my move to the west coast precipitated a shift to Starbucks. Then came Bean Around the World, JJ Bean and Cafe Artigiano, to name a few. But recently the introduction of McDonalds new premium roast coffee has thrown me for a loop and left me asking "What is the best cup of coffee in Vancouver?"

I've decided to try a different coffee every day this week and evaluate each one. To be fair and consistent, I'll only order a straight forward drip/filter coffee...no foo foo drinks loaded with caramel or chocolate. We're talking manly man's coffee here, the stufff that'll put hair on your chest.

Today I kicked off my morning with a large McDonalds coffee. First off, it is extremely convenient, being just around the corner from my home with plenty of free parking (that's a big deal in Vancouver)...no drive-through though. At $1.77 including tax ($1.67 in East Van) it scores high on value. The cups are freakin' amazing...the insulation keeps my beverage hot long after my commute is over (running the Olympic construction gauntlet has added 20 minutes to my drive). The new McDonalds coffee tastes like how I imagine coffee should taste - strong but not in a tongue-curling bitter way. On the caffeine front, it definitely perks me up but not so much that I'm jittery. And it has a moderate laxative factor (more on that one when I get to Starbucks!!!).

The downside is that living in a city of coffee snobs, it isn't cool to drink McDonalds. If one more person says "eeewww, you're drinking that crap" I'm going to go postal. Just try it, people. Also, the smell of french fry grease at 7 AM is a little off-putting. Wish they had a drive through.

If you couldn't already guess, McDonalds new coffee scores high in my books. I'll give it 4 beans out of 5, mainly for value, taste and those great cups.


Well, still no pictures...

I'm so proud of Justin. We've had several attempts at swimming lessons and up until 2 weeks ago, the kid still didn't like to put his face in the water. It is pretty hard to learn to swim if you don't want to get your face wet! And yes, we've always had goggles for him. It has been frustrating, because he loves to swim in a pool with his floats on.

We've been taking the kids to the pool on the weekends, and 1 week ago he finally started putting his head underwater. Then we arranged for 5 straight days of private lessons for Justin and Brooklyn for 1/2 an hour each day (2 1/2 hours total). So then on the weekend when we went to the pool again, all of a sudden Justin could swim - head in the water doing a front crawl, doing rolls, floating on his back, jumping into the pool and then recovering and swimming away, etc.! All of a sudden it just all clicked, and he was loving it!

It is really nice to see him gaining confidence, and overcoming something that was a great fear (head underwater). Now I'm really looking forward to our upcoming holiday! Afternoons at the pool are going to be a blast!

11 August 2009

G's Surgery

My aunt Gretchen is home recovering from from an operation where they reconstructed her jaw with the bone out of her ass...must...resist...making...joke...

Back in 1980 she had a gall bladder operation...I was 12 at the time...and she saved the letter I wrote her. Can you imagine a 12 year old writing something so nasty to his dear old aunt suffering in the hospital? What a little twerp!

06 August 2009

Urgh! A Music War

Warner Brothers unceremoniously released the film on DVD this week, to the delight of new wave and punk lovers everywhere (believe it or not, there are several websites dedicated to this film and pleading for a DVD release).

Urgh! is basically a series of live performances filmed in the UK and US around 1980. It features the Police, XTC, Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Go-Go's, Joan Jett, Gary Numan and a lot more. Fans say it captures the essence of the new wave music scene happening at the time.

Alas, WB do not ship to Canada!

01 August 2009

Pictures of You

Well, Judie dropped our camera and smashed the crap out of it. Ugh! Hopefully we'll get a new one soon, but in the meantime...if anyone has any pics they'd like to contribute to my blog, just email them to me and I'll see what I can do about posting them!

Yikes! Cousin Robert

OK, this isn't exactly what I thought I'd get when I asked for pictures!!! My cousin Robert is lucky to be alive after a serious car accident...someone is definitely watching out for him!

According to my aunt June, someone passed him on the highway and then slammed on their brakes. Robert swerved to avoid hitting the car and lost control. He doesn't remember what happened but witnesses say his car flipped three times, broke a telephone pole in half and his car landed, right side up, in a deep ditch half filled with water. He got out of the car and laid down on the grass. They did x-rays and an MRI last night and all is well. He has a bad headache and many bruises and a lot of aches but he will be fine. Whew!