Postcards from the Highways

We’re often asked by our American friends how life is different in Canada — and almost as frequently asked by our Canadian friends how life is different in the States. The truth is, aside from health care and politics, there’s not much difference at all — at least in our daily lives. There are a few minor things that are done slightly differently in each country though, so this time when we crossed the border, I started keeping a mental list of things that stood out as being different here in Canada. Most of these were noted while on the highway home, or on the stops along the way. I don’t know if that’s because those are the only differences, or because by the time we got home I stopped paying attention. But here they are, anyway, for interests sake…
Debit/Credit Cards
The first time you go to buy something using your bank account, this difference is readily apparent. In Canada we use a system called Interac, that essentially behaves like a tiny ATM connected directly to a vender’s Point of Sale system. Its entirely unlike the credit card system, and technically not related at all.
At the time of its inception, and for easily 10 years before the States caught up, Interac was brilliant, and a huge benefit to banking in Canada. I have to admit now, though, that it seems a little backward.
In the States, instead of requiring each retailer to have a seperate credit and debit system, your debit card is simply a Visa or MasterCard that withdraws funds immediately from your bank account. Anywhere that takes credit can, at your choosing, debit your bank account.
In Canada, many small shops are forced to choose which system to use, since they can’t afford the fees for both, so if you don’t have the card they require, you’re out of luck. In the States, everyone takes credit, ergo everyone takes debit.
There are a few advantages remaining to Interac — one being the speed and detail of the reporting system. But even with that, we’ve developed a strong preference for the US system.
Buying Gas
Aside from the fact that gas prices are better in the States, there’s also the issue of paying. I would say that 90% of the gas stations we’ve used in the States are pay-at-the-pump. That percentage is much lower in Canada. We bought gas soon after crossing the border, and I was shocked to find that there was no slot in the pump to stick my credit (debit) card. I actually had to go inside and pay.
However, the few non-pay-at-the-pump stations in the States invariably require that you pre-pay. This is a HUGE pain in the butt when you’re trying to fill up your tank, because you basically have to go in, over-pay, pump your gas, then go back in and collect the difference. This easily doubles the amount of time you spend at the gas station — worse if there’s a line-up both times you go in.
This one is a tie, because although there are less pay-at-the-pumps in Canada, the ones that aren’t don’t abuse you with time wasted in line.
Touchless Bathrooms/Highway Rest-Stops
So this one is primarily a comment about highway rest-stops, and although the win will go to the States, I’ll acknowledge that our experience is along major Interstates, so the difference might be less drastic on small routes.
Nonetheless, bathrooms in the States seem to, in general, be more frequently hygenically developed. Here again I was astonished, upon stopping at the first rest stop in Ontario, that the designers of the bathroom actually expected me to touch the taps on the sinks to turn the water on. Given a choice between the few germs I may have encountered on my person while peeing, and the germs of the hundreds of travellers who had, just today, touched those faucets, I obviously went with the devil I knew.
There’s no excuse, in this day in age, for having to touch a toilet handle, faucet, or even a paper towel dispenser. Canada fails miserably on this one, and given that most of the rest stops are joint operations between major restaurants, I think they really need to step up.
As an aside, New York Throughway rest stops ALL have free WiFi. All of them. WiFi hotspots seen in Canada between Niagara Falls and our home town? Zero. Get it together, Ontario!
Tolls are something of a necessary evil in New York (and something of a farce-of-numbers in New Jersey). One which should be mitigated in Ontario by our insanely high taxes. There is one major highway here that requires a toll — but doesn’t require you to even slow down to pay it. And that one is there as a convenience for commuters to Toronto, not as a necessary route for general travel.
Canada wins on this one, despite the taxes, because as nice as EasyPass is, I’d rather not have to pay for it at all.
Tim Horton’s
Another win for Canada — hands-down. There are two Starbucks between our home in New York at the border, and they make for a nice treat during that 5 hour stretch. But there are easily 20 Tim Horton’s in the 3 hour stretch between the border and our home in Ontario. And each one of them is a little oasis. Their coffee is better, their food is better, and their prices are WAY better.
Tim’s is slowly making their way into New York, but the US really needs to understand the value of a good cup of coffee. None of that Dunkin Donuts crap.
Anyway, that’s all I could come up with worth blogging. There are a few minor things we noticed — position of stop-lights being one that New York seems to have gotten all wrong, but most of them are a wash. Some of our readers might be surprised to find that South-Western Ontario and North-Eastern New York are almost identical places to live, with comperable costs of living, average incomes, and common ammenities. I’m sure the differences would become more apparent as you headed North in Canada, or South in the States, but from where we’re looking, both countries are pretty great places to live.
Well that does it for 2007. Happy New Year, everyone! See you next year!

Happy Birthday, buddy!

Although I’ve managed to find WiFi almost everywhere we’ve been, my Craptop has not been behaving, so getting online hasn’t been a frequent occurrence. The iPhone manages to keep me from withdrawal symptoms, though, and things are usually pretty quiet around the Internets this time of year. I had to come out of my blogcation to share this picture with you. There will be lots more when we get home, but I had to post at least one.
Benjamin’s birthday was yesterday, and even though he’s got a Christmas birthday, he hasn’t been short on gifts. Thank you to everyone who loaded him up with more stuff than we’ll be able to carry home with us. Here’s the little man himself, enjoying a birthday cake made by Aunt Pammy.

He’s now in the bathtub, having covered his whole upper half with cake and icing, and will likely be on a sugar high for the next few hours. Getting him to sleep tonite should be an adventure!

Question From A Reader: Mirroring an iTunes Library

Shawn writes…
…i’m looking all over these internets, and I have a feeling you can point me in the right direction.
Short short version: how can I mirror/sync the itunes database file (just the database, not the song files themselves) between two macs on the same home network, so that any changes made on one mac will show up when itunes is opened on the other mac? Foldershare doesn’t seem to be working…
I’m looking to:

  • Store my itunes library (the files) on my mac mini, storing no mp3’s on my macbook pro (this is done, easily, by sharing the mini’s itunes folder and pointing the mbp to it…got that done already…it’s the sharing of the database file that I’m having trouble with)
  • Either NAS or external fw/usb drives for saving music/movies/photos attached to mini (raid 1 or 5…I’d love to hear suggestions of why a NAS or external would be a better bet…I’m leery about capability of NAS to stream high quality handbrake rips through my elcheapo linksys wrt54g router…would love to get lacie Ethernet RAID, but I don’t think it will cut it)
  • Use that repository of files on the mini/nas/external drive whenever i’m on my home network…rip a cd on the mbp, consolidate, it shoots over to the mac mini, and occasionally clean off the mbp so it’s got no MP3’s stored on it
  • Reference either the same library database file or have a mirrored library file on my macbook that updates/syncs regularly, so I can access the library (add new podcasts, new music from cd’s, etc.) even if I’m not on my home network


  • if i’m out and about, and add a cd to the mbp, or a podcast, I can still sync my ipod…the easiest solution of just pointing the MBP to the itunes library database on the mini is problematic, because if I’m off the network, I can’t use that library database, and I’ll get a blank itunes library, and not be able to sync the ipod. If, however, I set it up like I’m wanting to, whenever I’m out and open up itunes, I’ll just get the ‘grey exclamation point’ by all of the songs (because the actual files are still housed on the mini/external drive). Then, when I get back home and onto the home network, any changes I made to the itunes library (playcounts, playlists, etc.) would be mirrored back to the mini…and vice versa, if I happened to change the playlists on the mini…though I’m not so worried about changes from the mini being mirrored back to the MBP…that won’t happen all that often.


  • I can’t get the damned itunes database file to mirror. I’ve tried foldershare to link folders between the two computers, and it *will* copy the itunes database over into each folder, but it loses some file information along the way: somehow, whenever it’s copied, the itunes database “turns into” a ‘unix executable file’, and is no longer recognized by itunes as a valid database file…I’ve looked at rsyncx (for about 15 minutes), but couldn’t figure out how to use it to do what I needed automatically.

Great question, Shawn. As you’ve found, this is much harder than it should be. I do have some tips you might try, but I never got all the way to a solution myself, and eventually settled with a one-way solution. I’ve posted everything I’ve discovered in the comments below. I’d love to keep this discussion going and see if we can’t find a way to get this done right…

Sign when I got on the highway after work this afternoon: LONG DELAYS EXITS 1-7. SEEK ALT. ROUTE

Translation: The whole way home is a parking lot. Get comfortable, because there’s no escaping the holiday traffic! 
Gotta love Christmas, hunh? Such a wonderful, peaceful, joyous time of year. Where everyone is happy relaxing with their loved ones…
We’re off tomorrow to visit our loved ones in Canada, and for a change, we have 9 whole days to do it in. This is what those days look like (the names having been removed to protect the innocent):

Still, this is going to be much less stressful than our usual visits home, and I have to say that we’re both really looking forward to it. The last half of this year has been a challenging one — and that’s without saying anything about how tough work has been lately. I have a half day tomorrow to get things to a place where I’m comfortable leaving them, then the nine hour drive home.
To those we’re going to see, we can’t wait to reconnect!
To those we are leaving behind, have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year!
We’ll be back in 2008 with news about what comes next for the Wises…

Working from home

So for the last couple days, they’ve been warning about the “severe weather” that was coming. Churches shut down, people (us included) scrambled to the malls to do their shopping, and we all prepared for the worst. We rented some more episodes of 24, and even bought a snow shovel. Earlier in the week, we got hit with a pile of snow that caught me by surprise and slowed the highways to a near halt on my way home from work. So this time we were going to be prepared.
The storm did come — but it was spread out across the better part of two days, and wasn’t nearly as bad as they predicted. Not even as bad as what we got earlier. Nonetheless, I took the excuse to work from home today, and enjoyed being in my pajamas and taking breaks to play with Benjamin — in between coding like crazy and a long con-call with the guys in India.
Toward the end of the day I got tapped to help troubleshoot a problem at work, so I closed the door and dialed in from my cell phone. There were two other guys on the line trying to figure out what was going wrong when suddenly there was a bang on my door, followed by:
BLOOOOObububub-bubb Dadadada thhhbbt?
The guys on the line went silent, trying to figure out what the sound was, then there were 3 more bangs, and:
All pretense of professionalism gone, I explained that we had a monster living with us, and I’d have to lock him back in his cage before we could continue.
Both of them were dad’s themselves, so they understood perfectly.

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who was a part of Benjamin’s birthday party tonite — and especially to the Matula’s for throwing it. It was wonderful to see you all! We’ve missed everyone, and it was great to have friends surrounding our little guy with love for his birthday.

World Missions

Something that I’ve noted of late, in most of the churches we’ve seen over the past few years, is a reduced focus on global missions. Our current church is something of an exception, but in general I think its fair to say that missionaries over-seas get a lot less air time than they used to.
When I was growing up, my family went on two 1 year missions trips, and I have distinct memories of visiting what seemed like thousands of churches. My dad would speak, sometimes the whole sermon, sometimes just at the end. We often gave a slide show. And occasionally my siblings and I would be put into play with cuteness factor, by singing “As the Deer” in front of the congregation. That was just how it worked. When you give up a year or more of your life — many missionaries, their entire adult lives — and everything you’re comfortable with, to reach people, the body of Christ is supposed to support you.
But I can’t think of a time, in recent memory, where I’ve seen a missionary invited into a church to ask for help in the “Great Commission.” We build mega-churches, and cater to spoiled North American’s who want God delivered to them like entertainment, or pop-culture, and although there’s nothing wrong with delivering the message in a relevant way, it seems that we’ve forgotten that there are people in the world who have never had a chance to be picky about how the sermon is delivered. And those burdened few who were born with a passion for the lost in distant countries… well, they don’t fit in that much any more.
Its probably obvious that this is a passion of mine — one that I’m still learning about, and still wondering what I’m supposed to do with — but rather than continuing my rant, I thought I’d just pass on a request from one of the missionary families we support. Its profoundly out of context for those of us in our comfy churches to realise what it actually means to be so out of your comfort zone, so on the edge of ministry… and so dependent on God and the obedience of His children.
This family of 5 has recently returned to Paupa New Guinea after a heart-wrenching blow to their ministry sent them home to re-group for a couple years. In that relatively brief space of time while they were away, their house was all but taken over by the jungle and the climate, and they’ve been struggling to rebuild their base and re-connect with the people there — both as leaders and as facilitators who support other missionaries on the field…

On November 23rd, our mission helicopter was involved in an accident that totalled the helicopter. It was only by the grace of God that the pilot walked away safely, but it has shelved our whole helicopter program until the Lord provides funds to replace this important piece of equipment. There is insurance, but this will not completely cover the replacement cost, and our pilots are trusting the Lord to upgrade to a larger helicopter.Many of our colleagues, in very remote locations, are completely reliant on this helicopter to meet all of their supply needs and for medical evacuations. Just the other week, one family had to charter a commercial helicopter to get their family out due to possible appendicitis –at a great cost.
We too were planning on using this helicopter to shuttle in our house building materials on January 8th as we have a 6 person work team coming to rebuild our house – materials that will not fit on our small mission airplane. Now, we have to look for other options –and we’re hitting walls on every direction.
Our faith is in God that He will provide, because His word says, that “Faithful is He who called you, who will also do it.” He has so graciously provided a work team to come to meet this important need and thus allow us to get back into language study quickly. He has held the rain off day after day as I’ve been preparing our timber, He has provided all the timber and furniture we need and it’s all coming together as needed –God is sooooo good.
But right now we urgently need you to stand with us in prayer, believing that God will part the waters to get these building materials into the bush in time for the work team. There are some options – please pray that God would definitely show us which route to take and that He would provide the funds that are necessary to meet this extra cost. It’s all coming down to a God moment –where our backs are to the wall, and He alone is the one who must work and thus alone receive all the glory for doing it.
As well, please pray for some parts for our generator and quad to arrive in the next day or so. They are coming by mail, but this is delayed due to our main airstrip being closed. We need to overhaul our quad this next week to prepare it to go bush on the above flights and our generator needs to also be overhauled and we had a mechanic available to go into the bush next week to repair it.
Thank you for standing with us right now, we couldn’t do it without you.

If some of you reading would consider re-directing your tithe this month, it is very easy to give a tax-deductible donation to this particular missions agency, and we’d be happy to provide you with the details on how you can help these missionaries re-build their home.

Morgan Stanley issues full US recession alert

Think of Nicole and I like the canaries that miners used to bring into mines. When the canaries started to have problems, the miners knew something was wrong.
We feel the hurt of the US economy’s problems first through our exchange on the dollar, but that doesn’t mean everyone else won’t be feeling it soon after.
According to Morgan Stanley — financial analysts much smarter than me, “consumers face what could be a perfect storm” in the wake of the mortgage crisis, and the Fed is considering yet another cut in rates — for the third time in recent memory, to try to rescue our financial infrastructure.
A rather inflammatory, but thought-provoking discussion on the current plans to bail people out, can be found here.

13434 Lines of Code

I’ve been a little stressed lately. I get home from work late and my back is like steel coils wrapped up in knots. I haven’t been terribly social. And I’m not good for much more than coding and sleeping…
Two brand new displays, designed and engineered from scratch. 13434 lines of code. Two grid developers on and then gone (bye ObiShawn!) More bugs than I care to count — with about a 1:6 signal-to-noise ratio. A half dozen “voice of customer” sessions. A ridiculous number of arguments about the validity and use of the “toggle button…”
But we’re approaching the end. My boss called it a “16 month pregnancy” which seems to be a pretty good analogy right about now. If it ships on time, I will personally buy all the developer’s still on the project a good, stiff drink — which shouldn’t be hard, because I’m pretty much the only one left now. Still, its my baby, and its either gonna “wow them” or I’ll… move to the QA department, or something…
Two more weeks, and we’ll find out if it’ll be allowed out the door. Two more weeks and I can breathe again.