Benton Harbor Beach

St. Joseph and Benton Harbor appear to be twin cities. Either way, I believe I’ve used “the Beaches of Benton Harbor” before, and I must have my alliteration!

Yesterday was a good day. We left the west of Detroit and didn’t have long before we hit our booked hotel in Benton Harbor. After meeting up with my mother-in-law and her husband, who were following on behind, we headed out to dinner and then a jaunt at St. Joseph’s beach park. The sand is really quite good, and some enterprising soul seemed to have brought a big shovel to the beach hours before, for they had created four great big craters in the beach sand. Maybe they were digging for treasure, I don’t know, but these craters were, of course, kid magnets.

We like to dig when we get to the beach. My theory is that it’s because we can. It’s our best hope to reach China with only plastic shovels. You could never envision doing something similar with coarse topsoil.

I built my own sandcastle closer to the shore, and pleased myself by being able to dig below the water line. Indeed, I created a growing sinkhole that I had to collapse less somebody come along and get their foot trapped.

One alarming moment came at supper, where the restaurant’s ceiling fans created a flickering light that made Erin woozy. Switching seats helped. The alarming part, however, is how Nora was affected by the same light. Like mother, like daughter. The poor girl went quite pale. We took her out of the restaurant, though, and she perked right up. So, now we know, and we’re armed for the future.

Further photos of our day can be found here.

Fri, Jul

Twelve Mile Road

We started the first leg of our journey today, a two-week tour of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. We are visiting family once again, even though two very important members of our family (my mother-in-law and her husband) came across the border with us back in January, with permission to stay.

Turns out, Nebraska is a lot easier to get to than California. Despite offering ludicrous economy travel, the fares are far from economy. With a flight of four to California topping out over $3000, we realized that my father-in-law and his wife would be in Nebraska for two weeks at the end of July to visit family. This was a golden opportunity, even if it means driving, with no sanctuary in Des Moines on offer.

But the kids are troopers, as always, and we’ve made this journey into something of an art form, knowing the best routes to take, and the best crossing to use. Though construction in Detroit threw us for a loop. I now type this in a hotel room just west of Detroit. I’m not too far off of I-94, so we should be back on track tomorrow. The hotels in this area seem to be operating at near capacity; many times in the past two years, we’ve had our plans to just drop in on a place hoping for a room dashed by some event or something that keeps kicking us miles down the road. Today, we lucked into the last suite in the place, and we were in bed by 10:30 p.m.

Fortunately, the hotels for Saturday and Sunday are pre-booked.

In the attempts to divide this nation between Tim Horton’s double-double drinking Joes and elite Starbucks latte sippers, I come down firmly in the middle. I drink at both establishments. Copiously. So much so, that I own both a Tim Horton’s card and a Starbucks card.

What can I say? I need my cup of Joe. And I don’t ever want to be caught short for cash, so the cards, which are automatically reloaded when my balance gets down past a certain level, are convenient and ensure my access to caffeine is never blocked.

And when Starbucks expanded its card into an iPhone app, allowing users to swipe their phone display over a scanner in order to pay, I embraced the technology. It was one less card I had to carry in my wallet.

Cellphone payments are the next big thing in mobile technology. In the drive to converge everything that can bulk up a pocket or a travel pack, we’ve subsumed our digital cameras, a number of our computer programs, GPS maps, internet searches into a little device with a four-inch screen. Some phones, like the Android or the Blackberry, are now experimenting with “near field chip readers”. I look forward to a future where I no longer have to take out my wallet to swipe my Presto card before boarding a GO train.

Tim Horton’s has always been a bit behind the times, though. Used to be, you could only pay cash at these establishments. It was thought to be faster, if you didn’t count the time it took to fish into your pockets and pull out the proper change (and, to be fair, it is compared to the time it takes to punch in your pass code on your debit card, and wait for authorization). They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the debit card world. Their embrace of the TimCard, however, came fast, and the company has had great incentive to make sure that a piece of plastic that allows them to hold on to a chunk of your money until you actually use it to pay for something works flawlessly at the cash register.

But their attempt to allow payments by mobile phone has been shaky, at best. If you don’t have the near field communications chip of an Android or a Blackberry, they rely on having your iPhone display a barcode which they can then scan — precisely the technology that Starbucks uses.

So, why can’t Tim Horton’s get this right?

Earlier today, I came up to the Tim Horton’s cashier and ordered breakfast. I told her I was going to pay by my cellphone. And this is what followed.

“Okay,” she chirped. And she picked up the scanner and scanned my phone.

The scanner went “beep!”

We waited.

“It didn’t go through,” she said. “Let’s try this again.”

She picked up the scanner and scanned my phone.

The scanner went “beep!”

We waited some more.

Repeat last four lines sixteen times.

In the end, I paid cash.

The thing is, I know this system works, because I’ve used it successfully in many establishments. And there seems no rhyme nor reason which establishments this works at. From downtown Toronto to far flung North Bay, I’ve had payments work, and I’ve had cashiers be completely flummoxed over how to make the payment work. Invariably, they turn to the back and call up a manager, or the one person who seems to understand the nuance of the system. He or she then shows up, taps a few buttons, scans the phone again, and the payment goes through.

Guys, Starbucks had this down over a year ago. What is up with your training? Mobile phones aren’t going to go away.

This probably deserves repeating.

In my earlier review of Snowpiercer, I suggested that the distribution company’s decision to extremely limit the release of the movie was a fit of pique resulting from the director refusing an edict to cut twenty minutes from the production and add opening and closing monologues. However, there are two sides to every story. And, according to this piece, by creating controversy around Snowpiercer, distributor Harvey Weinstein might have been crazy like a fox.

As the Hollywood studios struggle with a depressed summer box office, losing the fickle young male demo and locked into a standoff with theater chains on release windows, they’re watching the independents experiment with video-on-demand release models. “Snowpiercer” marks a tipping point in the movie industry’s shift from analog to digital. Why? It marks the most commercial movie to ever open in theaters and quickly go to VOD.

According to Weinstein, following two weeks in theaters, “Snowpiercer“‘s first week on VOD earned $2 million, a company record. That’s a serious number, exceeding the performance for their previous breakout “Bachelorette” (VOD cume: $8.2 million). Movies with stars have always performed better on VOD.

A multi-platform release was not Weinstein’s original plan for “Snowpiercer,” which he acquired after reading the French graphic novel and screenplay and seeing some early footage. Korean producer-distributor CJ Entertainment and Bong wanted a 2500-screen release.

But when Weinstein saw the final film with moviegoers he decided that the picture wouldn’t play for a wide audience without editing changes, especially in the Korean language sections. But Bong didn’t want to alter his film. That was the crux of the much-publicized debate over the film. Go with the director’s cut theatrically and risk spending $25 million on prints and ads and possibly disappoint a mass audience, or stick with the artist’s vision?

Weinstein looked at the film’s performance in France, where it fell off after the opening week and scored only $5.3 million, even though the graphic novel was popular there, which told him it was a cult release. And he saw that Rotten Tomatoes’ score from critics was 94% vs. users’ 77%. That showed him that the film would not play widely with a mainstream audience.

“CJ wanted to go wide, they believed in it,” Weinstein says in a phone interview. “I read the script and saw the footage and when I saw the final movie with the very artistic flourishes that we all love, I thought, ‘it’s not for a wide audience, it’s a smart movie for a smarter audience.’”


Looks like I may owe Weinstein an apology.

Mon, Jul

On the Nature of Luck

On Thursday, I was travelling in Toronto, and I’d stopped for lunch at a restaurant at Yonge and Davisville — some place that was halfway between fast-food and sit down, which had two television screens showing the news. I happen to look up and saw the news that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 had crashed.

My first reaction was, “Again? What is up with Malaysian Airlines?” It has only been a few months before Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 vanished from the radar and disappeared beneath the waves of the southern Indian Ocean.

The true nature of the MH17 disaster was revealed through the next few hours, of course, and revealed to be a far less mysterious tragedy and more a wartime atrocity, but I still couldn’t help but marvel over the coincidence. Malaysia has been afflicted by not one, but two major air disasters this year. What are the odds?

But I couldn’t help but wonder what other awful coincidences this would provoke. In the same manner that at least 160 people have experienced the atomic bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I wondered how many people in Malaysia, or elsewhere, would have known passengers or had family members on both planes.

Well, I haven’t heard of anybody, yet (I’m sure there are), but from The Telegraph comes this report of a Dutch cyclist who had booked passage aboard both flights MH17 and MH370, but cancelled these at the last minute. Maarten De Jonge is understandably elated to still be in the land of the living, saying:

“It’s inconceivable,” he told Dutch public broadcaster RTV Oost. “I am very sorry for the passengers and their families, yet I am very pleased I’m unharmed.”

“How happy I am for myself and my family that I was on this flight and did not take it the last moment; my story is ultimately nothing compared to the misery in which so many people are dead,” he said.

“Attention should be paid to the victims and survivors. Wishing everyone affected by this disaster a lot of strength.”


I appreciate his desire to downplay this coincidence, and to refocus attention on the victims of both flights, but this hasn’t stopped people from calling Maarten “the luckiest man in the world”.

Is he, though? For me, real good luck is having a winning lottery ticket fall into your hand, or to be in the right place at the right time to meet a person who will change your life for the better. Maarten’s luck is luck in the sense that he is “lucky to be alive”, but how unlucky do you have to be in order to have been almost killed, twice over?

As I type this, however, I recall that there was a show on Fox in the early 1990s called Strange Luck, where the protagonist went through his life with a strange superpower — wildly amazing coincidences kept happening to him. Some of these coincidences were for the good, but many were for the bad. In the aggregate, however, the bad and good luck combined to achieve the ends of the story, for him to nail the villain, rescue the good people, and save the day. Erin used to state that she had “strange luck”, since wild things happened to her, some good and some bad, but they’d shaped the person she was and the world she lived in, and so she made her peace with that.

Maybe that’s at work here. Maarten’s luck was not bad (he is, after all, still alive), but I couldn’t call it good, either (he came very close to death). But it is still a powerful moment that will make you reevaluate your priorities, and be thankful for the good things in life that you have. In this way, such brushes with bad luck can be positive, if it makes you value your loves even more.

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