The 10 Best Albums of 2016

While I spent most of 2016 buried inside podcasts and audiobooks, I still found time to listen to new and interesting music. Much like 2015, this was a year for discovering new and extremely interesting artists. However, unlike 2015, this was a year filled with nonstop bad news, from Trump, to music becoming exclusive, to the deaths of beloved musicians such as Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie. Here's hoping that the following list of albums I could not stop listening to this year will bring you some solace as we leave 2016 behind and welcome in the New Year.


Erra - Drift

Drift is Erra's third studio album in five years, and the first with unclean vocalist, J.T. Cavey, formerly of Texas In July. As a whole, most metalcore bands tend to pigeonhole themselves, and as a band, Erra has been bucking that tradition for years now. J.T. Cavey fits right in with both the harder and more melodic sounds that Erra is known for, and while it may differ sonically from Impulse or Augment, Drift is as good an Erra album as any.

 

Islands - Taste

Islands released two albums simultaneously this year, Taste, and Should I Remain Here At Sea? The former is more experimental and electronic, and the latter more acoustic in its sound. If any of it sounds even vaguely familiar, it's because the band's lead, Nick Thorburn, penned the soundtrack to the podcast Serial (including the mailkimp girl). Both albums are incredible, but it's Taste that stands out the most to me.

 

David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie has died many deaths over the span of his career. Everytime he has put to rest one of his many identities, another one will pop up. Blackstar is no different, other than it shakes up what we think a Bowie record can sound like. It blends jazz, pop, rock, and that familiar sense of Bowie drama. While this will have been his last LP, Bowie will live on long after his death. Rest in Peace.

 

Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat

Black Terry Cat, Xenia Rubinos' album, is nothing short of an absolute indictment of 2016 as a whole. The album's thick beats and jarring jazz underscore Rubinos' challenging and complex lyrics. It's equal parts conversation and dance party, all held together through Xenia's flawless vocals.

 

 

 

L.A. Salami - Dancing With Bad Grammar

With the strum of his guitar, L.A. Salami brings the spirit of a 1970s singer/song-writer while invoking the sounds of post-modern acoustic blues. Throughout this album, you'll hear hints of Connor Oberst and Courtney Barnett in the wounded delicacy and droll observations peppered throughout the lyrics. For fans of introspective ruminations, this album is worth the 80 minute listen.

 

Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Denial

Teens of Denial is one of the best indie-rock albums I've heard in a long time, and is probably the best album I've ever heard about being a chemically dependent 20-something year old. The backing band slowly kicks in as the trip that is this album gets worse (better). It sounds like a guy walking around, sifting the bad thoughts from the good, and it works really well.

 

Dance Gavin Dance - Mothership

Mothership is Dance Gavin Dance's seventh studio album, and third with Tillian Pearson, and he's here to stay. No more drama, or major lineup changes. This is Dance Gavin Dance as it was always meant to be. The album was highly anticipated, and came only a year and a half after their previous release, Instant Gratification. The band comes packing, and boy do they deliver throughout all 13 of their tracks. If there's one album on this list that is a must listen to, it's this one.

 

 

Kaytranada - 99.9%

Kaytranada is a Montreal based musician, who first made his name as a dance DJ on SoundCloud. He moved to Canada when he was an infant with his family from Haiti, and within his music, you can tell that he's proud of his roots. There are heavy doses of weird and nostalgia, mixed in with catchy and incredibly inventive drum beats. 99.9% is a dreamy and mellow album to listen to, one that will take you to far off places.

 

Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!

Awaken, My Love! is the album in which Childish Gambino ditches rap for a lovingly produced funk inspired album. I've always been a fan of Donald Glover, especially as a musician, but his newest LP is his most enjoyable piece of work yet. The intensity of Gambino's singing mixed with his crooning falsettos work beautifully with the ripping electric guitars throught the album. It's a different kind of album, but one well worth the listen.

 

Tobacco - Sweatbox Dynasty

You may not think you've heard Tobacco before, but if you've ever watched HBO's Silicon Valley, then you're more familiar with him than you were aware of. Sweatbox Dynasty is as as much a Tobacco album as any, in that it's weird, uncanny, and not-quite-right-but-it-works, and while this may be a slight different take on synthpop, it's still unconventional in its approach. Much like Kaytranada's 99.9%, this album will take you places you didn't think possible.

 

BONUS

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Beyonce - Lemonade

You can't talk about 2016 without someone mentioning this absolute gem of an album. From her Super Bowl halftime show to the 30 minute HBO music video for her entire album, Lemonade was 2016 in a nutshell. The only problem with Lemonade was how it was tied down to Tidal, yet another streaming service. It wasn't until earlier this month that Beyonce made some of Lemonade available on YouTube. And it's because of this lack of accessibility to this album that it's a bonus, and not in my top 10.


Trump Triumphant, Wins Election

Last night, at 2:33am, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President-elect of the United States of America. That is a sentence I thought I'd never have to type. Or, if I'm being honest, that's a sentence I hoped I would never have to type. I'm horrified because I was secretly holding out hope that after all the tapes and awful things he said at rallies, that no one would be able to bring themselves to vote for that tangerine coloured monster.

Yet, here we are. America took one step forward in having Hillary Clinton as one of their two main presidential nominees, and sixty steps back in electing Trump. We went from Barack Obama, the first black President to Trump, a man endorsed by the KKK. 

And the scary part is that no one saw this coming. Looking at all of the polls leading up to last night, Trump barely had a 23% chance of winning, but now he and the Republicans control the Presidency, the Senate, and the House, and now have the ability to appoint not just one Supreme Court Justice, but potentially three more. Never has America ceded so much power to one party before, and it just goes to show that polls are scarily wrong. All the do is force people into lying, because like Trump said, he won because of his silent majority. He won because we all underestimated just how much people in America hate women and minorities.

Current mood.

Current mood.

As a Canadian, having viewed elections on both sides of the border, it's painfully obvious that America's two party system is fundamentally broken. What America desparetly needs is a legitimate third party, as that would alleviate some of the pressure that voters felt. It would mean that when faced with choice of Trump or Clinton, neither of whom were ideal, voters could have a third option to turn to. In Canada, we have the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the NDP (and several smaller parties like the Green Party). What this means is that even when there is a party with a majority, voters aren't forced into choosing one or the other - there is choice.

The thing is that America doesn't have this third party, but instead, has a host of independent candidates that lie outside the two main parties - the Republicans and the Democrats. Until America does have that third option, voting for an independent is a wasted vote. Remember what happened in 2000, with Ralph Nader in Florida? Had people not flocked to him, Gore most likely would have won, and we would have been spared years of Bush Jr. The same thing goes for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, who managed to take enough electoral votes away from Clinton, which more than secured Trump's victory.

There is something fundamentally broken when your first response to a brand new President-elect is, "I'm scared."

This was not the election to vote with your conscience or to make a protest vote. This was the election to show the GOP and to show Trump that your vision of America is not what we want. This was the election to show up in numbers and to say, "Donald, you're fired." And the numbers don't lie. If you voted for Johnson, or Stein, or anyone else other than Clinton, you voted for Trump. You were told what would happen, and you shouldn't tell yourself any differently. Your vote more than likely cost America everything it has. Your vote allowed a sexist, misogynist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and fraudulent monster the chance to wield unfathomable power for four years. Say what you will, but a Trump victory does mean the end of decency. It means a validation of hatred and ignorance over intelligence and love.

2016 was already a rough year for many, and this election did not make it any easier. With Trump in office, America can say goodbye to meaningful gun control legislation, marriage equality, affordable health care, climate change and criminal justice reform, and a woman's right to choose. That's the saddest part of all this to me - that with all the progress we made over the last eight years, it's about to be undone entirely.

And with that, I hold the following people responsible for Trump's ascendance to power.

Rudy Giuliani
Chris Christie
Newt Gingrich
Paul Ryan
Ann Coulter
Kellyanne Conway
Sean Hannity
James Comey
David Duke
Peter Thiel
The NRA

And most importantly, the news media. The news media is what made Trump who is he. They kept comparing Trump's zero years of public service to Clinton's 30+ years. They kept comparing the two as of they were equal, when in fact, she was the only qualified, viable candidate. They kept going after her emails, focusing on that non-story, instead of going after Trump for his endless list of gaffes and faults. They wanted it to be a rat race. They wanted to play on your fears and anxieties because that's what gets them views. They wanted it to be exciting, to they artificially raised the stakes. And now they are just as complicit as the rest of the white conservatives who refused to reject Trump time and time again.

Caurml6.gif

It's twelve hours past the initial shock, and I still don't know how to process this. I don't know how Clinton, who won the popular vote, had to stand on a stage and concede to Trump. I don't know how the literal incarnation of 4chan and YouTube comments was elected the 45th President. I don't know how Trump, the most under-qualified person in the history of America, beat out Clinton, who was perhaps the most qualified person to run the country. I don't understand why more people didn't go out and vote. I don't know how to process the words First Lade Melania. I don't understand how our new President-elect now has to get ready to go to trial facing fraud charges in 20 days time. I just don't know how to process any of this.

What I do know, however, is that despite how normal Trump sounded during his acceptance speech last night, we cannot forget everything else he has said and done. We cannot forget how he mocked disabled people, all the vulgar things he said about women. We cannot forget how he threatened to jail Clinton for her emails. We cannot forget his friendship with Putin, or his refusal to acknowledge climate change as a reality. We cannot forget all the divisive, horrendous things Trump has said over the last 18 months, because if we do, then he will not have only won the Presidency, he will have shown his supporters that it's okay to talk and behave just like him, and that you can get away with it.

And the same goes for everyone who was joking and may now be seriously considering moving to Canada. That will not solve your problems. Working within your country will. This is the party that when Obama was elected twice said, "He's not MY President," yet will ask you to put aside your differences and respect the outcome of this election. Yes, the next four years are going to be incredibly tough, but leaving now will solve nothing. Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to stick together, because there is much work to be done.

One thing is for certain, and that Kanye's chances in 2020 have never looked better.
 

CBC Threatens Podcast App Makers

If you know me, you know that I'm a huge fan of podcasts, so much so that I've almost all but stopped listening to music. Podcasts have been going through a bit of a renaissance over the last couple of years, and I honestly believe that they are the future of audio

Lately, I've been trying to find more Canadian content, because the majority of what I listen to is made and produced in America, and is intended for that demographic. The thing is that there is very little Canadian podcast content being made, and within that small pool, only a handful of those are actually any good. Several of the podcasts that the CBC produces, and others like CANADALAND, are what stand out to me, which is what the CBC is now doing is so shocking to me.

Earlier today, Corey Doctorow, wrote on boingboing that the CBC is threatening third party podcast developers with legal action. According to the CBC, making an app that pulls down publicly available RSS feeds is a violation of the organization's copyrights and Terms of Service. Either the CBC has no idea what it's talking about, or it genuinely doesn't understand how RSS and the internet works as a whole.

As Corey Doctorow said,

This is a revival of an old, dark era in the web's history, when linking policies prevailed, through which publishes argued that they had the right to control who could make a link to their sites -- that is, who could state the public, true fact that "a page exists at this address."

What the CBC is essentially arguing here is that making a tool that simply allows someone to load a public URL without asking for permission first is a violation of copyright law. By that logic, the CBC should go after makers of web browsers. Google is an example of this, because as a for-profit corporation, any time a user of Google's Chrome browser loads up a CBC page without first asking the CBC for permission, Google is violating CBC's copyright.

This in absolutely insane, and completely ignorant of how the internet works. Another example is an internet cafe. You can argue that they are also tools, as they are charging customers to use their computers for a variety of reasons. Would the CBC block these places from accessing their web pages? 

And this is where the CBC changes its argument, one from the tool itself to one that profits from ad dollars against its content. The thing is that this isn't any better of an argument, in that RSS readers with ads isn't selling against content any more than a cafe with papers is selling food against content. There are no ads displayed against CBC content. The ads in question are being displayed on the user's screen, computer, phone, or tablet, in a space provided by the software. 

When putting someone on the web that can be linked to, there is an implied license. If you don't want people to load your RSS feed, there's a simple solution - don't publish it. Or, add a password. To argue otherwise is arguing against the open standard of the internet itself. An app that simply collects and brings in a publicly available feed that you yourself have made public is not something that anyone would consider commercial use.

The only thing that comes to my mind is that this is an attempt to strong arm people into using the CBC app to listen to their content instead of the podcast app of their choice. Two things immediately stand out to me, the first being that this doesn't bode well for the quality of CBC's app if they have to use legal threats to suppress competition, and the second being that for a public broadcaster funded by taxpayer dollars, this is completely unforgivable.

The CBC is for the people funded by the people. It is beyond me how a podcast application can be considered to be more than a very limited web browser for media playback. This is incredibly short-sighted and counterproductive on the part of the CBC. In following through with this line of legal action, this will lead to a world in which every content producer is independently licensing with every software developer for independent playback licenses.

If the CBC is trying to force people into using their own app, they will be losing listeners and supporters over the long term. The biggest consequence of mandating individual licenses is that the CBC would be locking itself into arrangements with third parties who will have significant leverage over them, in that they would have to approach developers and likely pay them to unblock their content from being searchable. 

I just don't understand why the CBC would want to limit the access to information and content that the public has paid for, again, through our tax dollars.

What's mind boggling is that several CBC podcasts invite listeners to follow them with "your favourite podcast aggregator," or whatever words they use to that exact semantic meaning. I'm not sure what the CBC's endgame is (other than a legal shakedown) but if they are right, then all browsers, including the one you're reading this on, are presumptive unlawful. Hopefully, in the coming days, the CBC's argument will be more nuanced than, "RSS violates our Terms of Service."

I Have No Idea What Apple Is Doing Anymore

I'm just going to out and say it - I have literally no idea what Apple is doing anymore.

Four days ago, Apple unveiled it's newest item, the latest and greatest iteration in its MacBook Pro lineup, and sure, while it's definitely gorgeous, there's something strange lurking beneath the surface, and that's that Apple no longer has a unified, cohesive design language or product message.

What's strange is that there's nothing meaningfully wrong with what Apple announced. A lighter, thinner, and more powerful laptop is always great. Moving towards the UCB-C standard is a solid idea, and knowing how the entire industry likes to chase and out-Apple Apple, hopefully this will mean wide spread adoption. The Touch Bar I think is an amazing idea, because aside from the f5, f6, esc, and prt scrn keys, I never use the function keys.

What's strange is that aside from people still using really old machines, I genuinely don't know who the new MacBook is for. For the longest time, I'd tell people to wait and not buy a new MacBook, because there surely was going to be a massive refresh. The last one was the addition of a retina display some four years ago, and since then, the "refreshes" have just been improved processor speeds and new chips. My girlfriend, for instance, has a MacBook Pro from 2008, and if it wasn't literally about to die on her, I don't think she'd feel the need to replace it so soon.

6 out of the 7 Mac line products that Apple sells are listed as DON'T BUY. 

6 out of the 7 Mac line products that Apple sells are listed as DON'T BUY. 

Going through everything Apple announced, it just feels like a whole lot of nothing. The Touch Bar is a really great example of this. Microsoft is letting you touch the screen and interact with the entire display. Apple is instead making you look down at your keyboard to interact with your display. Again, I think the Touch Bar will be genuinely useful, because like Steve Jobs said of phone with physical keyboards back in 2007, sometimes we need something to dynamically change based on the current use case scenario. The row of function keys is definitely outdated, but again, was the Touch Bar really the best implementation of this idea? I'm not so sure.

Then we have the device itself. The Pro used to be the best version of what Apple wanted to showcase to the world, for professionals (artists and business people alike) who have big requirements to get stuff done. Now you have to choose between the Pro, the Pro, and the Pro.

Which one is for Pros? I'm confused.

Which one is for Pros? I'm confused.

The thing with this is that MacBook Air is essentially dead. There haven't been any meaningful updates to it in 385 days. And now there are two 13" MacBook Pros, but they couldn't be any more different. One has the Touch Bar, and one doesn't. One has four USB-C ports, and one only has two. Why not just call the non-Touch Bar model the MacBook Air to alleviate confusion? It's specs are actually worse than it's Touch Bar enabled brother, and is more in line with what previous MacBook Air users wanted in a laptop. But no, that would be too easy, because Apple itself considers the new line of Pros as competitors to it's old like of Airs shows that they're not really Pro laptops anymore.

The event itself left a lot of loose ends, which is very unlike Apple. For instance, back in September, when Apple announced the iPhone 7, they made a bold claim that the standard 3.5mm headphone jack that we all know and love were dead, because the future is wireless and not having wires is superior to having wires. If this is truly the case, then why did they include a 3.5mm headphone jack in the new line of MacBook Pros? Even worse, Apple delayed their wireless earbuds that they promised would change your world.

From there, the questions become even more insane.

Why isn't there a Lightning to USB-C cable to connect your iPhone to your new MacBook Pro? Why can't you plug in the included Lightning headphones that come in the box with the iPhone 7 into the new MacBook Pro? Why did Apple tout how great the Touch Bar is for messaging, but didn't even port most if not all of the new iMessage features to macOS? Why do we have to carry two sets of headphones now? How do you charge your Lightning Cable Mouse? Why remove the HDMI port, which is still a popular standard? Why remove the SD card slot? Are HDMI and SD Cards also a dead technology? If so, where's Apple's future proof answer to replace these now seemingly decrepit technologies?

It just works.

It just works.

What's worse than all of this is why it took Apple so long to get to this point? For so long now I've been telling people to wait, and even now, I can't actually recommend the MacBook without including its many many caveats. You could just as easily buy a 2012 MacBook right now and not see any meaningful difference, and therein lies the problem. The company waited four years, but didn't deliver any real future value other than it's new and this is right around the time that people are going to want to upgrade to a newer model.

Apple 2010: There's an app for that.
Apple 2016: There's an adapter for that.

What's frustrating is that Apple used to push products into the market that would change the way people thought. The iPod and iPhone were truly game changing devices, and rather than making us carry more stuff in our pockets, they reduced it to a one device for all. Now, they have different standards for their different products. Lightning on mobile and USB-C on desktop, and no way to communicate between the two outside of dongles.

Courage

Courage

To me, it seems that Apple had this event to remind people that yes, it does actually care about the Mac and not just its primary money maker, the iPhone, but they only care about it when it's convenient. Look at Mac Pro. The last time that was updated was 1,048 days ago. That, much like the MacBook Air, is dead in the water, meaning that the only Pro-grade machine worth buying from Apple is the new MacBook Pro, and even then, that's a hard sell. Even more telling is that six out of the seven Mac line products that Apple sells are listed as Don't Buy on the MacRumours Buyer's Guide.

It's not just that. Even Apple's own naming schemes are all out of whack. You have the MacBook, the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro, the Mac Pro, the Mac Mini, the iPad Mini, the iPad Air, the iPad Pro, the iPad Pro 9.7", the iPhone and iPhone Plus. It's all over the place with no sense of product cohesion anymore. 

Earlier in the week, I wrote about how I was excited for this new era of the Mac vs. PC war. Both sides are bringing their industrial design A game (and with that exorbitant prices), but it seems now that Apple and Microsoft have switched places. Apple is now the giant monolith unwilling to take meaningful risks, ad Microsoft the scrappy underdog out-Apple'ing Apple.

For a company that prides itself on a singular ecosystem, and thinking of an end to end experience, or continuity if you will, Apple really has lost its way. 

#madebygoogle 2016

Three years ago, we saw the first real hardware effort on the part of Google in the form of the 2013 Chromebook Pixel. It was crazy expensive, but it was never meant to be a commercial success. The Chromebook Pixel was meant to show what could happen if Google got serious about its own hardware, and man, did it generate serious hype.

Three years later, we're seeing that idea come into fruition. Earlier today, Google held it's much anticipated #madebygoogle event, and they debuted some of the most compelling pieces of hardware I've seen to date.

Let's start off with their successor to the long running line of Nexus devices, the

Pixel Phone

Google finally announced it's much leaked Pixel Phone. It's built by HTC, but you wouldn't know it, as the only branding on the back is the Google G logo, to indicate that it's a Google built phone. What makes this different is that on older Nexus devices, alongside the Nexus logo, you'd see the hardware manufacturer's logo right next to it, so you'd know that LG, Huawei, or Samsung had built it for Google. With the Pixel, it's straight Google.

Hardware wise, it looks fine. Strikingly similar to the iPhone in many regards, but fine nonetheless. Unlike the Nexus 5X and 6P from last year, which had differing internal specs, the Pixel has the exact same specifications no matter which size you go for. The only difference between the 5" and 5.5" models is the size of the battery, which come in at 2,770mAh and 3,450mAh respectively.

The Pixel phones are interesting for a couple of reasons. First is that they're offering Pixel users exclusive features, like unlimited storage at full resolution on Google Photos. No other phone has that, but that's probably because Google is saying that this is the highest rated camera on any phone - ever.

One thing to note is that Google also announced that they have no plans for future Nexus devices. While materially, it's hard to see what differentiates the Pixel line from the previous Nexus line, it makes sense. Pixel may not offer any crazy new hardware, but it's the software that allows it to stand out from the crowd, and that's what Google is banking on. Hardware has plateaued over the last few years, but software is the real value, and is still going strong.

Speaking of software being the real value, the Pixel is also the first device out with the successor to Google Now and Google Now on Tap - Google Assistant. What's surprsing to me is that it's basically the same Assistant that's found in Allo, but without any of the extraneous chat capabilities, which to me, makes it far more useful and compelling. I'm not sure what Google was thinking with Allo, but it seems like it's more or less a dead product now. 

Google Assistant & Google Home

This was probably the one part of today's event that got me the most excited. Amazon was the first to really nail a home voice controlled assistant, but Google's Home to me seems far more useful, since it's tied directly to my Google account and services that I use.

Home as a piece of hardware is extremely beautiful, and that's something that you can thank Rick Osterloh (former President of Motorola, now head of Google's hardware division) for. He's brought some of the best hardware design to the table in this event, and accompanied it with really compelling software.

Google's Home runs Google's Assistant software. If you've ever seen or used an Amazon Alexa, you'll already be familiar with it. However, Home seems to be better an recognizing contextual information. For instance, on stage, they demoed it by saying, play that Shakira song from Zootopia, and it immediately knew what Rishi Chandra was talking about. That's something that even the Echo can't do yet.

Home is also a Chromecast receiver, meaning that you can yell it to play something on YouTube, and have it play on your TV immediately. That'd be really useful if you're doing something with your hands, and want to show someone something, but can't, because you know, you're hands are occupied.

Assistant on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. It's basically taking the already powerful Google Now system, and super charging it. If you've used it inside Allo, you already know how it works, but now, instead of getting Now on Tap whenever you long press the home button, you get Assistant. It's equal parts Google Now, and equal parts Siri, but infinitely more useful and powerful. You've got a chat system that you can type into, and it's also voice controlled. The best part is that it's open to third party apps, so things like Wikipedia and Open Table can plug right into it to give you instant results.

Daydream View VR

It's a VR headset made my Google, using the Daydream platform that was announced back in may during #io16. It's built by Google, and it looks really premium, and oddly very comfy to wear. The first phone to support this will be, surprise surprise, the Pixel Phone. 

Chromecast Ultra

The Chromecast Ultra is like every other Chromecast, but the Chrome browser logo has been replaced with the Google G logo, and it now supports 4K, which is cool. Again, not much here has changed all that mushc.

Google WiFi

There's not much to say about this, other than it's Google's successor to the wildly popular and useful OnHub platform. It's more than a simple rebranding too. Here, watch their introduction video to see what it can do.

Final Thoughts

I only have three issues with the Pixel. The first is that for it's price, which is matched dollar-for-dollar with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, it's not water proof/resistant. On cheaper priced Nexus devices, that would be okay, but for a new flagship in 2016, that's completely unacceptable, especially if Google wants to compete against Apple and Samsung. The second is the price, which is going to turn so many people away. Google at one point used to have incredibly affordable hardware, but no longer it seems. The starting prices of the Pixel line are a solid $200 more expensive than last years Nexus 5X and 6P were. Companies like OnePlus have proven that you can have amazing hardware at an affordable price, but it seems like Google doesn't seem to agree. Third is that if Google wants to price the Pixel phones the same as the iPhone, then they need to guarantee 3-4 years worth of updates like Apple does. Currently, a Nexus device is only guaranteed 2 years of support and even then, that might not actually happen. The Nexus 5 is eft running Android 6.0, and who knows what will happen to the Nexus 5X and 6P now that the Pixel line has taken over.

While the Pixel phone looks great on paper (despite its obvious flaws listed above), the real standouts were Google WiFi, Home, and Assistant. Google is betting big on AI. They're whole move is for them to make the same hardware as everyone else, but do AI better than anyone else. And it's totally going to work.

The Pixel is the start of Google's grand reunification under one hardware and software brand. No more side hussles and confusing product names. Google is going all in on their biggest asset and brand value - their name. And it's about damn time. With the Pixel, and the massive marketing push behind it, Google is betting that it can be on par with both Samsung and Apple, and with it's Assistant constantly learning about you and improving upon it's AI, Google is going to win where others seem to be flailing around. And now just on your phone, but inside your home too.

To put this into perspective, imagine that your LG, or Sony, or Huawei, or Samsung. Your brand, especially in Samsung's case, has literally just exploded. Your OS vendor is now making it's own hardware, with it's own integrated payments, VR, and Assistant systems, all the while you're betting that your proprietary offerings will be what saves you. Even with WiFi and Assistant, Google is not only targeting Apple, but it's also seriously undercutting both Amazon and Eero.

If this wasn't Google dropping a mic, then I don't know what is. Either way, I'm seriously stoked.


Here are the Canadian prices for everything listed above:

Daydream View VR - $99
Google WiFi Single/3-Pack - $170/$395 (Estimated)
Google Home - $170 (Estimated)
Pixel/Pixel XL 32/128 GB - $1,028/$1,158 & $1,178/$1,308 outright (contract pricing unavailable*)
Chromecast Ultra - $90

*The Pixel and Pixel XL are priced exactly the same as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, so expect their 2 year contract prices to also be the exact same on all the carriers.

My #EverydayCarry

Back when I would frequent some of Gawker's better blogs, sites like Gizmodo and Lifehacker, I'd love when they'd run this recurring feature called, "What's In My Bag?" They'd sometimes have users submit their bags, and what they'd carry on an everyday basis, and sometimes it'd be a well known person showcasing what they use on an everyday basis.

That spawned a site called Everyday Carry, and at first, it started off in a very similar vein as Lifehacker's. Now however, it's turned into this ultra macho entity, in which every single upload has to feature some sort of rugged rope and knife. That made me ask the question, who actually uses rugged ropes and knives on an everyday basis? Unless you're working outside or in a field that needs it, it's not exactly a necessity?

In any case, I decided that I wanted to show what I carry around on an everyday basis, and while it may be boring, I don't need a bag for any of these items - they all fit in my pockets or somewhere on my physical body.

So let's start this off with something that I think is actually useful to have, at least more than a knife.

Chapstick

If you're like me, then you have perpetually dry lips. It's not for a lack of hydration either - it's just something that we have to deal with. This is where Chapstick, or lip balm, becomes essential. I've tried numerous kinds, from the Burt's Bees brand to the egg shaped nonsense. The one that I keep coming back to however, is the mint flavoured OG Chapstick brand. For whatever reason, it's the only one that seems to work well.

Car Key Fob

This one's pretty self explanatory, however, I do wish I could cut this one out entirely, and have it added to the next item on this list, but seeing as my car needs it to function, it'll have to remain in my pocket right next to my Chapstick.

KeySmart Key Holder

So this is probably the one item of mine that turns the most heads. After years of having my keys dangling loose, and moving around all the time, I got sick of having to constantly figure out which key does what. After a couple of weeks searching online, I discovered the KeySmart Key Holder. It's basically a switchblade style holder for all your keys - work, home, and USB. With this, I know immediately which key I'm using, because I know exactly where it is inside the holder. As someone who strives for maximum efficiency, this thing has saved me a lot of fumbling around with my keys time. Seriously, it's awesome.

Minimal Wallet

About two years ago, I was getting dinner with a friend of mine. I pulled out my chunky $10 wallet from Walmart, and he was shocked. He pulled out his, and we compared the two. He was carrying at the time, 5 cards. I had 27. At the time, I didn't think it was possible to cut out 22 card from my wallet - I used them all! But he made me realize, I don't, or least not every single day. After switching from the chunky wallet, to a Bellroy Card Sleeve, to this one my girlfriend bought me from Fossil, I'm now down to four cards. Four. My debit, credit, driver's license, and health card. Really, you don't need any more than that, and if you do, you can store all of your loyalty cards on your phone now with numerous apps like Stocard. The only downside to such a minimal wallet is that I have no more than three minor heart attacks every day when I think I've lost it, mostly because I can't feel it in my back pocket.

Watch

If I leave my house without my watch, I feel naked and wholly incomplete for the rest of the day. I've been wearing a watch every single day since I turned 10, and I don't think that'll ever really change. Personally, for me, I prefer the look and feel of a leather band over a metal one. Sure, it's not the most comfortable in the summer time, and I do have a wicked watch tan, but I don't care. Having a watch is as much a part of who I am now as wearing glasses is.

Glasses

Ever since I was eight, I've been wearing glasses. Everyone in my family does -  we just have bad eyes. I've never tried contacts, and I never will. It's just the idea of having to stick something into your eye that really grosses me out. Seriously, I just can't do it. Glasses are a part of who I am now, and much like wearing a watch, I'm always going to wear glasses. That is until the make it so that laser eye surgery actually gives you laser eyes. Pew pew.

Phone

My phone of choice is the Google Nexus 6P. It's Google's flagship Android device for 2016, and with the recent rumours of the Nexus name going away, it might be the last Nexus phone we ever see. It's become my primary computing device. Don't get me wrong, I love my laptop, but my phone is where it's at. It has all my contacts, emails, calendars (granted, those are all synced to my Google account), music, podcasts, and then some. It's how I communicate with my friends, and interact with the world. That, and while I love my DSLR (a Nikon D3200), sometimes I genuinely prefer the shots I get from my Nexus 6P more. I mean, they do say that the best camera is the one that you have on you, and while I don't always have my Nikon, I always have my 6P on me.

Restaurant Review - Vij's

Last month, I went on a cross-Canada road trip with my best friend and girlfriend. While we were planning, we kept hearing about this restaurant that we just absolutely had to check out in Vancouver. It was called Vij's, the restaurant owned and operated by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala. The main draw to Vij's was two fold, the first being that Vikram Vij was one of the Dragons on CBC's Dragon's Den, the show where entrepreneurs can go and pitch business ideas with the hope of getting investment seed money from the Dragons. The second draw is their non-traditional approach to their menu.

They view their restaurant and menu as something that can change. They describe it as having a fancy dinner that you've been cooking for all day. And really, that's where the draw to the restaurant ends. Beyond this interesting approach, the appeal quickly disappears.

Trying to find the restaurant is hard. Even with the location loaded up in Google Maps, we drove past it twice, not noticing the nondescript building. Aside from the name painted in a faint blue colouring, and a small chalk board outside, you'd have no idea that it was a restaurant and not an abandoned warehouse.

This image makes the sign look larger than it actually is. In reality, it's really quite small and easy to miss, as we did - twice.

This image makes the sign look larger than it actually is. In reality, it's really quite small and easy to miss, as we did - twice.

Inside is a different story. The staff was plentiful, and they were very friendly. While we waited for a table, they sat us in a lounge area and gave us water and small hors d'oeuvres (masala fries and chaat papri). You immediately get a sense that this is a high end place. The ceiling was decorated with tiny clay pots, that added to the Indian aesthetic. One thing I did find interesting was that the kitchen was completely open - no windows separating the cooks from everyone else. I thought that that alone was enough to separate them from everyone else.

The ceiling inside the waiting lounge. It's really quite pleasant to look at.

The ceiling inside the waiting lounge. It's really quite pleasant to look at.

What surprised me most however was the sheer volume. Not only was the music loud, but so were the conversations. You could hear everyone else around you, but not the person directly across from you. For a place that oozed class not even 10 feet away, it quickly devolved into a total cacophonous chaos. This is when we stopped knowing who was serving us, as we went from the podium hostess at the entrance, to two separate servers bringing us snacks, a third to take us to our table, one to tell us how their unnecessarily confusing menu worked, one to take our order, another to offer us drinks and two more to actually bring the dishes. All in all, from the moment we entered to the minute we left, we interacted with 10 different servers. Granted, the service was quick and efficient, but given that the servers did not have any uniforms or other identifying features, it was hard to tell who was serving and who was dining. Another odd thing we noticed was that all of the servers were Caucasian, and all of the cooks were of South Asian origin. That stood out to me, because you wouldn't find that at any other Indian restaurant. Perhaps it's all apart of their approach at trying to be different.

The food looks better than it tastes.

Going back to the menu for a second, it has an interesting approach, but is poorly executed. The restaurant is trying to go for a homey, handwritten approach, but it's barely legible and hard to read, especially in the dimly lit dining area. It's one page, and none of the three "sections" are separated. If it takes a server having to explain how the menu works - not even the food, but the menu itself - then it's poorly designed and the approach needs to be rethought. It's also not your typical menu in that you won't find any of your staples like butter chicken. This is part of the draw to Vij's - the menu is seasonal and the items listed change every so often, which is both beneficial and a drawback.

The unnecessarily confusing menu in question.

The unnecessarily confusing menu in question.

Vij's doesn't like present itself as a traditional Indian restaurant, but rather as a Fusion of tastes (Hakka, Indian, etc) but it doesn't come across that way, as the menu is heavily Indian oriented, with little culinary fusion.

The food, while presented well, was nothing special to write home about. I can safely say that I've had tastier Indian food elsewhere, but they weren't presented as nicely is all. We ordered the pork tenderloin, vegetable korma in tomato curry, and the lemon ghee grilled chicken, and out of the three, the vegetable korma was the tastiest. You can tell that the cooks take pride in how they prepare their food, as it tasted very clean with the most minimal use of oil. We definitely did not have the normal sense of feeling bloated and gross when we left, but overall the food was fairly bland. The servers told us that they use a blend of spices from all over India, but I honestly couldn't taste any difference. In fact, I could barely taste any of the spices - it wasn't subtle, but rather felt like it was outright missing from the meal. It's definitely a uniqueness that you won't confuse with any other Indian restaurant.

The fact that the menu is seasonal is interesting. It's great, because it's the only reason I'd want to go back, but not so great in that if you find a dish you really enjoy, there's a slim chance that it'll still be on their menu when you do go back. And that's the only reason to remember it - their different approach to their menu. If they didn't have that going for them, Vij's would be a restaurant you could go to once and then immediately forget about.

"I've had infinitely better cooked food in roadside inns for 50 cents." - Yelp Review

Vij's is interesting as an idea, but a place to visit only once, which is odd and rather sad to me given that his cookbooks tend to produce genuinely tasty meals. Realistically, I'd give it a 2 out of 5 stars, but if I were hard pressed, I'd give it a 3 out of 5, and for me, that's being very generous given the overall bland experience the restaurant provides as a whole - especially with the higher than normal prices. Vij's tries too hard to stand out, but in the end, results in being largely forgettable. 


Update: I spoke with Vikram Vij on the phone for around half an hour, and we chatted about this review. I explained my experience to him in further detail, and he explained to me what I had missed. 

The current location of Vij's was built in 1926, that he purchased for over $4 million dollars. He wanted to preserve the facade of the building, to keep it's integrity. Whatever his reasoning, from any angle other than head on facing the logo on the wall, the building looks nondescript - like a plain old building. However, while we both agreed on the fact that the interior was very nice, we disagreed on the noise level, which is meant to be very loud on purpose, "because this is an Indian restaurant, and if you've ever been to India, you'll know it's extremely loud."

What we disagreed on is the menu, in that what I perceived to be an unnecessary failure in basic design, he sees as something meant to be interactive. He doesn't want to make his menu self explanatory, because something that makes sense takes away from having conversations with his servers.

He also believes in total democracy, where everyone is equal. That's his rationale for not giving out reservations, or for giving any of his staff any identifying features. "Why should I make my mostly white staff wear Indian outfits when they're not Indian? When I was a Dragon, I refused to conform and lose my Indian-ness." That's all well and fine, but would a simple name-badge kill you? Would that take away from your principled stance on no uniforms?

The last thing he said was that the only reason he could think of as to why we thought the food was bland was because he had been experimenting with using less salt. He also listed off ingredients used in the dishes we ordered, but listing them off, from fresh yogurt to coconute water. The thing is that listing off the ingredients, no matter how amazing they may be, doesn't change your bland dish into tasty one.

In the end, we had differing opinions, and that's totally fine. Looking at reviews online, the reactions are a mixed bag from loving it to being thoroughly displeased. I would still say that you should check out Vij's at least once for yourself, if only to make up your own mind, but my review still stands at 2 stars out of 5.


Result: Vij's = ★★☆☆☆

Google Spaces: Wave, with none of the splash

Google just released a new app platform, Spaces. It's their latest attempt at social, and is very much like Google Wave mashed together with Slack, but with none of the functionality. 

Google Hangouts Group Messaging Plus All Access

Google Hangouts Group Messaging Plus All Access

When Wave died, 99% of it's features (which were way ahead of their time) got adapted into Gmail, Hangouts, Google+ Communities, & Drive. The thing is that Spaces feels really limited right now. Sure, you can do stuff within a Space, but it's limited to just Search, YouTube, & IMs. I can't drop a Drive file into a Space, which is what I want to do more than anything else, really. Just drop a Drive file, and have it automatically give sharing persmissions to anyone in that particular Space. It's essentially Pinterest for small groups, and as a Slack competitor, it fails in that regard. 

What Google should have done with Spaces is bake it into Hangouts. WhatsApp already has groups that allows sharing of images, YouTube links, and more importantly, documents. Yet, without a trace of self-awareness, Google actually wrote on the Spaces website, "getting friends into the same app can be challenging," which is why we have Hangouts, Gmail, Drive, WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Slack. Who needs one more app that does more of the same stuff, only in this case, not.

Spaces is certainly interesting, but right now it feels wholly unfinished, but hopefully it will get some feature updates shortly after ‪#‎io16‬. I'm just hoping that Google doesn't kill this product off in two years time, because it does seem to have a lot of potential, but the last time I said that, we were given Hangouts, and we all know how well that went.


You can also read this over at my Medium or Facebook.

On Podcasts, the Future of Audio

Every day, I commute half an hour to work, and another half an hour back home. During those thirty minutes inside my car, I'm simultaneously alone, but surrounded by some of my closest friends. This may sound strange, but bear with me, I'll explain.

Back in the mid-aughts, around 2006-07, while I was still in high school, my brother was a student at the UofT Mississauga campus. For a while, he worked with their on campus radio station, CFRE, and one day, he brought home an .mp3 file of an interview CFRE had with one of our favourite bands, Moneen. I must have listened to that interview hundreds of times, devouring the words and their live acoustic renditions of some of the more popular songs. At the time, I didn't know two things. The first being why I loved listening to that interview so much, and the second being that that was my first exposure to what would soon become one of my favourite things in life - podcasts.

If I'm being entirely honest, I'm still not 100% sure as to what draws me into listening to podcasts. I think it's a combination of being able to passively listen in on incredibly interesting conversations about politics, technology and design while also being able to learn more about the things that interest me. But that's not where podcasts end, rather, where they begin.

Podcasts are more about the art of story telling, and in the last three years, it's been going through something of a renaissance. From new titles like Serial, that spawn discussions about the weekly updates (and subsequent discussions on those discussions) to Welcome to Night Vale, which is a sort of meta-podcast about a radio show taking place in a fictional mid-western town where all sorts of strange things happen, to Radiotopia, anchored by the incredible 99% Invisible, which is all about design in the modern world. Each of these podcasts brings something incredibly unique to the table, and every day people spends hours upon hours consuming and listening to these shows, and many others, from fantasy football to terraforming Mars.

Hello, my name is Tapas, and I have an addiction to podcasts

Hello, my name is Tapas, and I have an addiction to podcasts

The interesting thing though is that podcasting isn't new by any stretch of the imagination. It's been around for decades as talk radio, but only now is it really making noise. The reason for this is that I think it's now far more accessible. Anyone can find a show that they like and subscribe. You no longer have to tune in at a specific time and sit in your car or by a physical radio to listen. Instead, you can set up notifications, have the show you like to auto-download, and listen at your own pace. It's the audio version of video-on-demand, and it's fantastic.

The second reason as to why I think podcasts are booming now it's that it's such a personal and intimate experience. It doesn't matter where you are when you're listening - a car, train, bus, or walking down the street - you feel like you're sitting with these people inside your ears and like you're actually participating in that conversation in that exact moment. That's something you don't get with television or games. Sure, those two mediums may be more visceral, but they're not nearly as tangible. 

There have been many times when I've been driving home from work late at night, only to see other drivers around me staring at me as they pass me looking utterly confused and scared because I'm laughing to myself. What they don't know is that in that moment, Chuck Nice (from StarTalk Radio) just cracked a hilarious joke and he, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I are all sharing a laugh - together.

I've been listening to podcasts for the last four or so years, and in that time, I've managed to get my friends into them as well. Sometimes we listen to the same, and others not at all, but that's okay. And that's the brilliance of podcasting, it really does bring people together around topics you'd never think anyone else would ever share with you. It reminds me of Google's new advertising tagline for their Android OS platform - "Be together, not the same."

So, for as long as the people behind my favourite podcasts and radio shows like Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Welcome to Night Vale and Song Exploder keep producing amazing content, I'm going to keep listening and supporting them, because that's what friends do.

How Tesla Turned Me Into a "Car Guy"

Back in 2004, when I was in the eighth grade, Sony launched their first portable gaming device, the PSP. I was so stoked at the time, because compared to what Nintendo had to offer, the PSP seemed amazing. The power of a PS2 in the palm of your hand? Where do I sign up?!

One of the first games that I bought for my brand new PSP was something called Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. Up until this point, I had never owned a racing game. Sure, I was familiar with them, having played Mario Kart, Cruisin' USA and Diddy Kong Racing, but I had never actually owned one. Needless to say, I was hooked. I knew very little about the whole world of cars, and the subsequent market of aftermarket parts and mods, but Midnight Club was a game that really stuck with me.

I recently found my PSP, and it still had my copy of Midnight Club inside of it, so I fired it up, and drove around for a little while aimlessly. The controls were still incredibly tight, and it felt great. Then I went into my garage, to see what other cars I had. A 2003 Chrysler 300C, a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air, and Lotus Elise. Quickly going over their stats and parts I realized something two things. One, I still know very little when it comes to cars, and two, that I despite having loved this racing game, I still don't really care about cars.

I think both of those stem from the fact that when I was growing up, my family only had one car, and that was a thoroughly un-sexy minivan. It never spoke to me in the same way that other technology did. I never could understand how some of my friends could pop open the hood of their car and ogle at the engine for hours. I never got into all the parts, and how the connected and worked together. To this day, even after buying my own car, I still tend to think of automobiles as magic metal boxes strapped onto four wheels powered by exploding dinosaur juices.

And that's how it's been for me. Sure, I can appreciate an antique, like a '57 Chevy Bel-Air, or a '55 Ford Thunderbird (those tailfins though, hnnng), but beyond the sheer aesthetics of the vehicles, I have no interest in them. Recently, that changed because of one company in particular. 

Tesla Motors.

I've written about Tesla, and its CEO Elon Musk, in the past, and my love for him and the company only grows with every announcement. That's not the entire story though. Musk, and his company, Tesla, have done something that I never thought possible - they got me to care about cars, more importantly, electric vehicles. Having studied Environmental Politics in university, and being a 100% out-of-the-closet confirmed nerd, Tesla and Musk speak to me in the same way that Midnight Club 3 for the PSP spoke to me - it lets me nerd out in a way I normally wouldn't be able to. And this is primarily due to the fact that Tesla functions as a tech company that just so happens to be in the business of making cars.

The thing with Tesla is that the cars they make are more than just cars. They're the future of the entire automobile industry, a multi-billion dollar bet that is beginning to prove successful. Tesla is the future of technology, taking a tried and trued design philosophy, and improving upon it. Tesla's vehicles are the first truly modern cars that have me excited. Oooh, Bugatti has a new car that can go like super fast. Yeah, that's great and all, but it's not practical. It's not the car that I know is within my reach. It's not the car that I'll be able to know how it works inside and out. It's not a car that gets me excited for the future.

When Musk announced the long awaited $35,000 Model 3, I told my dad that my next car is going to be a Tesla made car. That's the first time he and I ever really discussed cars, because up until recently, I didn't care. He told me to wait until EV technology matured, and while I tend to agree with him, in this case, I can't wait. I want to help play a part in making that future a reality now. I want to help lead an environmentally conscious life in an affordable manner. I want to be able to vote with my wallet in a way that will help impact the industry in a positive, meaningful manner. But more than any of that, I want to be able to look at my car, and know exactly how it works, from the software being used to the hardware powering it. And right now, as I look at my car outside my window, parked in my driveway covered in snow, I feel none of that hopeful anticipation. All I see is a magical metal box, strapped onto four wheels powered by exploding dinosaur juices, and not the future.

Brussels 22/03/16

On March 22nd, 2016, after a nine and a half hour long flight from Mumbai, I landed at the Brussels Airport an hour before terrorists detonated two of their three bombs. By now, you've likely read all about the facts of what happened. Four terrorists detonated three bombs, two at the Brussels Airport and one inside the Maelbeek Metro. 31 people were killed (three of those deaths belonging to the suicide bombers) and approximately 330 people were severely injured. You've also probably already read about the history of terrorism in Brussels, but what you haven't read is a first-hand account of what the passengers who were suddenly stranded in Brussels with little information and nowhere to go had to go through.

This is that story. This is what my family and I, along with the thousands of others that were stuck in Brussels, dealt with during the three days we were in Brussels, from the failures to small successes. 


An hour after my family and I landed in Brussels, while we were waiting at our departure gate to catch our flight home to Toronto, we suddenly saw a rush of people coming our direction. We asked someone what was going on, and this is what we were told. "We don't know. There was an explosion of some kind. We were told to come to this part of the terminal." A few minutes later, we saw an even larger crowd, but this time they were running looking visibly scared. It was 8:05am, and the second bomb had gone off, but at this point we still didn't know everything.

A map of the airport, showing where the two bombs went off at 7:58am & 8:05am

A map of the airport, showing where the two bombs went off at 7:58am & 8:05am

It wasn't until we heard, "Emergency. Evacuate the terminal. Emergency. Evacuate the terminal," coming over the P.A. system did we start to worry. This is when several airport officials began yelling at the large crowd to drop everything and run towards the tarmac.

Crowds evacuating towards the tarmac.

Crowds evacuating towards the tarmac.

Now, having just come from India, where the temperatures hover around 35°C, we had packed our warmer clothing in our luggage, not thinking we'd need it until we reached Toronto. We weren't alone in thinking that, because as we went outside into the 2°C weather, hundreds of us were freezing. We stood out there for an hour, and the crowd only grew. I never realized how many people are in an airport at any given point in time until I saw a constant flow coming out onto the tarmac. While we were standing there, we saw several people walking towards airport ambulances, covered in blood. "We heard some shots fired, I think. And someone yelling something in Arabic, right before the blasts went off." Again, thinking that this was just the talk of someone who was scared, I listened, taking in what they were saying with a pinch of salt.

The first group of people on the tarmac, most not properly dressed for the cold weather.

The first group of people on the tarmac, most not properly dressed for the cold weather.

Finally, the airport brought shuttle busses for us to get inside. They were taking us to an aircraft hanger at the other end of the airport, and we didn't know it at the time, but we were going to be inside that hanger for the next eight hours. The hanger, while providing us some cover from the biting wind, did little to dispel the pervasive cold that seeped right into your bones. Airport staff started bringing out water and blankets little by little, until they could set up an emergency HQ. We were put inside a warm room for the first four hours, until the hanger began to fill up, and they needed that room for children and the elderly.

Right before the room began to fill up, airport staff handed out food and water, even small games to keep the little children occupied.

Right before the room began to fill up, airport staff handed out food and water, even small games to keep the little children occupied.

The makeshift First-Aid room. Supplies and space was limited, so not everyone could be looked after.

The makeshift First-Aid room. Supplies and space was limited, so not everyone could be looked after.

Once we were told to leave, we headed back into the cold hanger for the next four hours. Food and water was scarce, but airport workers kept the flow of blankets coming to provide some semblance of warmth. While we waited, the crowd of people only began to grow, and we still weren't getting any more information. We knew at this point that there had been terrorist activity, and that two bombs had been set off. But we didn't know how many bombs there were, and if there were any more terrorists left in the building, or if they were armed. Everyone was on edge, and a few fights broke out over blankets and water. It wasn't until they brought out the space heaters for everyone to huddle around did it hit us that we were likely going to be stuck in Brussels for sometime. 

People sitting and sleeping on blankets, yellow tarps, to prevent the cold concrete floor taking away the little heat they had.

People sitting and sleeping on blankets, yellow tarps, to prevent the cold concrete floor taking away the little heat they had.

A group of passengers bundled in several blankets huddled around one of the heaters for warmth. This was taken around six hours into our stay inside the hanger.

A group of passengers bundled in several blankets huddled around one of the heaters for warmth. This was taken around six hours into our stay inside the hanger.

At around 6pm, we were finally told that we were going to be evacuating the airport hanger, and heading to another facility. An "event hall that's warm and has beds and food." We began our slow walk to the other side of the hanger, only be met with everyone else that were also trying their very best to get the hell out of Dodge. The airport had arranged for shuttle busses. The first large group of 1,000-plus people were taken to a military base. Our group of around 1,500 people were taken into a town called Leuven, approximately 30km away from Brussels. We crowded onto the shuttle buses, and took the half hour journey into Leuven. 

While we were lucky enough to be closer to the front of the crowd, it still took us another 45 minutes to actually board the shuttle bus. 

While we were lucky enough to be closer to the front of the crowd, it still took us another 45 minutes to actually board the shuttle bus. 

Airport officials were telling people to leave their luggage behind, but no one listened, opting to haul large suitcases and carry-on baggage through the crowd. The passengers who did listen, or the passengers who airport officials were able to enforce that rule upon, had to leave their luggage behind, unsure what would happen to it. Luckily, I was able to keep my laptop bag with me. I suppose why it took so long for the airport to get us out is because they needed to find several places outside of Brussels that could hold thousands of passengers. We heard of groups going into Antwerp, our group going into Leuven, and others into military bases - hey needed to make sure those places were secure, as well as ensure that the roads were empty for the convoy of buses and police cruisers. I remember how eerie it felt, being inside a convoy on completely empty roads; not a single car in sight. In a few hours, Brussels had become totally shut down.

When we finally arrived in Leuven, we entered the event hall, where we had to stand for another hour or so in line, waiting to register. We had to write down our names, nationality, airline, and destination, and with 1,500 people, that can take some time, especially when a large percentage is elderly. While we were in line, we began to hear rumblings of unhappiness; people were becoming frustrated with how slow and seemingly disorganized everything was. After sometime, we finally managed to register and find ourselves a cot before grabbing some food. While my parents sat down and ate, I helped unload a truck full of cots and blankets. In about an hour, we unloaded 1,200 cots and around the same number of blankets. 

What half of the event hall looked like before people began claiming their cots. In this room alone, there were around 800 people.

What half of the event hall looked like before people began claiming their cots. In this room alone, there were around 800 people.

What it looked like when it filled up.

What it looked like when it filled up.

The other half of the event hall. There was close to 700 people in this room.

The other half of the event hall. There was close to 700 people in this room.

Toys and colouring books for the little kids to keep themselves occupied with.

Toys and colouring books for the little kids to keep themselves occupied with.

It wasn't until around midnight were we able to begin thinking of sleep. We had just started hearing stories of what people saw and heard during the attack. As this one family was checking in their luggage, the first explosion went off. They were far enough away from the blast that they were okay, but the saw a man with a massive gash across his chest, bleeding profusely. Another man saw a group of school children covered in tiny red dots, from where the glass and nail shrapnel had embedded into their skin, with their teacher either dead or knocked out right next to them. Another guy said he saw one family. The mother and newborn were at the counter, and the father chasing the older kid down because he got away. The father and older kid survived, but the mother and infant didn't. 

We woke up the next morning at around 6am. No one could really sleep, but there wasn't much else we could do besides wait. At around 10am, representatives from the Indian, American and British embassies showed up, followed not long after by representatives from United, American, and Brussels Airlines. My family and I were flying via Jet Airways, and by noon, they still hadn't shown up. While my family and I waited, we realized that our airline had by far the most passengers - 800 in total, where as United, Brussels and American had less than 200 each. It was easier for them to coordinate with other airlines, such as Air Canada, to shuttle their passengers into other towns like Amsterdam and Frankfurt, and send them to their next destination. 

At around 1pm, our airline did show up, but they had no information for us. Being a smaller airline, they had fewer planes in the air, and given that many of their passengers were traveling from India into the US, they needed visas, many of which had been left behind in Brussels during the attack. Jet decided to tend to those passengers without any documents first, and after two hours, they still had no information for us. There were talks of trying to get their planes out from Brussels and into Amsterdam, but that wasn't a certainty.

While we continued to wait, my family, along with other Canadians, wondered why we hadn't heard from the Canadian Embassy at this point. Several of us called the Embassy in Belgium, but we were told repeatedly that there was little the Embassy could do. A few Canadians were even told to contact the American Embassy. My dad, again with several other Canadians, while I was on the phone with someone from the Embassy, tried contacting Stephane Dion's office in Ottawa, and left several voicemails, only to have none of them returned. We even went so far as to call the Global Affairs office, but again, we were told to simply wait. 

It wasn't until we contacted the CBC and the Toronto Star did we finally hear back from the Embassy. The same lady that I had spoken to on the phone actually asked me if I would like someone to come to the event hall that we were staying at. At this point we were all dumbfounded. This is around the time that we finally heard back from our airline, Jet Airways. Without any help from the Embassy, they had arranged a hotel in Noordwijkerhout, a town 34km outside of Amsterdam, for all their passengers to stay in that night. They had also been able to get their three planes out from Brussels so that they could fly their passengers out.

Around 5pm, an hour before we were to leave Leuven, three representatives from the Canadian Embassy finally arrived. This is when my dad and I did a Skype interview with Ali Chiasson from the CBC, regarding everything that was going on. We were told by her that until we contacted the CBC, they too were not getting any information from the government, or from Brussels itself. We were her first source of on-the-ground news. I walked her through the event hall, where we were staying, the food and washroom conditions, and how we had felt abandoned by our government and Embassy.

Immediately after we finished our Skype interview with Ali, we boarded a coach bus and drove three hours into Noordwijkerhout, where we spent the night in a hotel and had our first shower in two days. After that, it was more or less smooth sailing. There were a few hiccups with Jet Airways - the flight staff was absolutely amazing, but the overall management did drop the ball quite a few times. When we did eventually land in Pearson, the airline had set up an area where passengers could fill out forms with their checked in baggage tags, so that when Brussels does open up again, Jet Airways could ship us our luggage. We were in that line for two hours, because even though they had 24 hours to prepare, they were understaffed and overwhelmed.

Now, this is the part where I begin talking about some of the failures of what happened. These failures do not include the Belgian Red Cross, or the literal army of volunteers that came from all over to help the stranded passengers. No, for everything the Belgians did, I am eternally grateful. Inspite of all the chaos and stress of the situation, every single person was absolutely delightful and calm under all the pressure. Given what was going on, we were not cold. We were not hungry. We were relatively comfortable. I think that it says a lot about the Belgians that they even set up a clothing donation box, which was useful when babies needed diapers and the elderly jackets. The level of care and attention to detail that we were given was absolutely outstanding. However, the downside to having the Belgians taking care of us so well is that our Embassy and the Canadian government did absolutely nothing.

Remember when I said we had called Stephane Dion's office, but heard nothing back? Well, his office issued a statement saying that they have "no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected by the incidents." Simultaneously, the Canadian Embassy was issuing statements, saying, "We were being told our citizens were being looked after." In a sense, yes, we were, but when the Embassy for Sierra Leone shows up, and Canada is nowhere to be found, for lack of a stronger word, it's frustrating.

The fact that the Embassy did not show up until the very last second is beyond me. The fact that two different organizations were saying two completely different things regarding several hundred Canadian citizens stuck in a foreign country during a high-alert terrorist attack is beyond me. How does that reflect "no Canadian citizens being affected by the incidents"? How can both the Embassy and the federal government think that a flight coming into Toronto contains zero Canadians? The fact that every other Embassy, from India to America to Sierra Leone, showed up, and did their best to help their citizens stranded without travel documents, and that Canadians were left high-and-dry, that is beyond me.

I'm immensly proud to consider myself Canadian, and proud of my country for all the good it normally does both at home and abroad. However, for the first time in my life, I felt utterly let down by my own government. Yes, mistakes happen, but when they happen on this scale, it's disappointing. I'm all for humanitarian aid, and for helping refugees escape crisis situations, but when the Canadian government is putting up thousands of refugees in hotel rooms and could not be bothered with its own citizens stranded abroad - that is beyond frustrating. If the government is unable to balance the two, then something has to give.

To add insult to injury, if Canada had stepped in, the government would have sent us an invoice to cover the costs. To break that down, currently the government is assisting thousands of refugees, putting them up in hotels, meanwhile, Canadian citizens have to take care of their own humanitarian crisis bills within 30 days of receiving said invoice. 

If it were not for the Belgians and our airline, Jet Airways, my family and I would still likely be stuck in Brussels, and we were lucky in many regards. We didn't lose our passports, and unlike many Indians trying to travel to America, we didn't need a VISA. We were able to get out of Brussels, and get home safely, but so many of the other passengers were, and possibly still are, stuck in limbo without their travel documents. They can't go home, nor can they go to the country they wanted to visit.

It's not a matter of me and my family being uncomfortable for a few days. It's that a large percentage of travelers were elderly, and in dire need of assistance. That there's only so much an army of untrained volunteers and a stretched-thin Red Cross can do. That the government and Embassy should have stepped up, offering to take the passengers out of the city into other airport and out of the country. If England and America can get their citizens into Frankfurt and then home, why couldn't Canada?

In the end, my family and I are home, safe now. Our luggage is still somewhere in Brussels, but given the fact that we're alive and healthy, that's a relatively small, inconsequential price to pay. But I am still so incredibly angry with our government. I am still so incredibly angry with the lack of concerted effort to bring us home as quickly and safely as possible. I am still so incredibly angry at the loss of life.

I'm grateful and happy to be home, but I am still just so incredibly angry.


Click here if you want to follow a lively discussion on this article on Reddit. You can also view all of the photos I took during my stay in Brussels here

India 2016

Over the last two weeks, I traveled throughout India with my parents. It was a whirlwind 15 days, that ended up with us being stuck in Brussels for an extra three days, but nonetheless, an amazing time. We landed in Mumbai, went to Lucknow, took a day trip into Kanpur, flew out to Jaipur, and drove three hours from Chennai into Pondicherry, and then back to Mumbai before finally coming home.

Throughout the entire trip, I had my Nexus 6P, and my Nikon D3200 at my side. While I'm not a professional photographer, I used this trip as an excuse to really hone my amateur-ish skills. Out of the 750 photos I took, I chose around 50 photos that I was really proud of, which you can see below.


The Catcher in the Raichu

Yesterday, my friend Dave and I spent our Saturday afternoon as two full grown 20-something adults binge-watching the first three Pokémon movies. We were feeling nostalgic, given that the franchise just celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Looking back, however, we may have been a tad too nostalgic, because objectively speaking, the first three Pokémon movies are pretty terrible. You can follow along below, as Dave and I take them apart bit by bit. 


Tired of Technology

Just a quick warning: this is going to be more of a rant than one of my more traditional posts. It's been something that I've been thinking over for some time now, and I really just wanted to get it off my chest.


I've always been a fan of technology. If it has a power button, then it was fair game for me to tinker around with. However, lately, I've been feeling particularly fatigued with the world of tech. It's simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. That may sound paradoxical, but let me explain.

In 2007. when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, it was nothing short of a world changing device on the same level as the computer mouse. It completely revolutionized the way that we, as consumers, look at our phones and pocketable devices. Fast forward eight years to 2015, and Tim Cook unveils the Apple Watch, and calls the digital crown the next mouse, or iPod click-wheel. It's was a bold statement that could never have possibly lived up to the hype. Eight months later, and anyone I've talked to has said that 1. they forget that the digital crown even exists and 2. that they don't know what to use the Apple Watch for. I don't know if Apple even know the actual use-case for the Apple Watch, and the same can be said of almost every single other tech giant making smart watches. There's no clear direction, and the direct consequence is that I'm not seeing many Apple Watches in the wild. 

In the previous decade, the aughts, most consumer technology conventions, from CES to MWC, felt extremely exciting. Every year, big companies would come out and showcase their latest and greatest. This year we had Samsung showcase a fridge with a 21.5" touchscreen slapped on to the front of it. A smart fridge. That is the best that Samsung thought they could do? Sony, on the other hand has a press event where they went up on stage to talk about how they had nothing new to offer, except for handicams, which haven't been used since the early aughts. 

And this is where we currently are - a valley, inbetween the end of one explosive decade, and on the verge of entering a brand new one. But, for right now, companies are trying to do much, and accomplishing very little. Every tech giant is investing in VR, and The Internet of Things (hence Samsung's smart fridge), but nothing is compelling. They're throwing out product after product, not guaranteeing any form of update system, just to iterate as fast as possible to be the first one to really make a splash.

Looking at Samsung again, since 2013, they've released seven smart watches, the previous versions of which have been all but abandoned. And the problem is that companies like Samsung are pushing for The Internet of Things as hard as they can, because living in an ever more connected world seems super appealing. Who wouldn't want their toaster to start toasting bread in the morning from the comfort of their bed? More automation means less work, right? No. Not unless you buy into one company, and one company only, because every company wants to be The Internet of Things, but only if they get to use their own proprietary systems that can't communicate with anything else outside of their stack.

The worst part is that every single one of these companies demand that every 12 months we ditch our current devices for their updates models. We all know about this planned obsolescence, yet we still buy into it year after year, which is why companies like Apple are allowed to charge $1000 for a phone. And it's the same tactic that universities are using - forcing students to spend even more money that they simply do not have because they updated the textbooks with one or two minor changes. It's the same material with a new cover, and all it does is generate nothing but waste and resentment. 

There's just too much going on, with very little impact. I'm being overwhelmed by just how underwhelming and stagnant technology has become over the last year or so. Don't get me wrong, I am extremely excited for what the future holds. Driverless cars, and more automation; city-mapping and fewer smart fridges. But for now, I'm just so damn tired.