Jonathan Brun

Via Rail ticket purchase user interface

I just purchased a one-way ticket to Toronto on the Via Rail website. The experience was decent enough, though one thing did baffle me. Take a look at the screen-shot below of the last screen before the purchase. It states that the ticket is “Non-exchangeable and non-refundable” and below it says it is “Fully refundable prior to paper ticket issuance…”. If this is not contradictory, I do not know what is – very confusing.

Published on February 24, 2010

Igloo in Parc national des Monts-Valins, QuébecIgloo dans le Parc national des Monts-Valins, Québec

In early January 2010, my girlfriend and I rented a fully-equipped igloo for two nights in the provincial Parc des Monts-Valins near Chicoutimi. For about 140$ per night you got two sleeping bags, two snowshoes, two mats and a candle to get rid of the moisture. The lady at the welcome centre warned us that if it got too cold at night we could sleep in the heated entrance of the welcome centre. She warned that the vast majority of people caved in around midnight and that two nights in their igloos was unheard of.

The igloo was resembled a snowfort of my youth more than a textbook igloo; the structure was made of compacted snow dug from the inside out, but perhaps that is what an igloo is? As night fell, we prepared a fire and settled in. After much talking and eating, we prepared ourselves for bed, only to realize it was only 19:30 – the sun sets early on a january Chicoutimi night.

Real Igloo:

We got lucky, the thermometer hovered around -5 and we lasted the night. At the crack of dawn, we strapped on our snowshoes and headed up the mountain. We climbed nearly 1000 m of height and covered 18kms. Nearing the top we had great views of the Saguenay.

On our trek down, it began to rain. Exhausted and sweaty, we wondered if our snow-home would be able to withstand the warm weather; we were very happy when the welcome centre offered us a cabin instead of the igloo. Using the rain as an excuse, we hapilly obliged.

Though the igloo lacked authenticity, it was a fun experience and the parc staff were fantastic.

Building a real igloo:

Published on February 14, 2010

Mandela and Rowling

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom“, is fantastic. Well written by Mandala and his associates, the book lays out the struggle for freedom in South Africa – it is a struggle that spanned 75 years and many sacrifices. Mandela himself is an amazing man by any standard. He grew up in a typical rural south african village where he was pegged as a future advisor to the local king. This privilege allowed him to pursue education and opportunities denied to nearly everyone else. Despite these benefits and apparent easy career path, he fled to Johannesburg to search for work. After struggles and help from various people, Mandela eventually entered the legal field and opened his own practice.

It could have stopped there, he could have comfortably rested on his practice, made a good living by African standards and turn a blind eye to the inequalities of the society around him. Instead, Mandela gave everything up – his practice, his family and his loyalties to fight for equality between whites and blacks. His struggle spanned four decades and culminated in the end of apartheid. His decision to use his privilege and status to help others, without hope for compensation, is what makes him stand apart. The noblest human action may be the personal sacrifice for others without expectation of compensation or recognition.

J.K. Rowling gave an amazing 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, where she says among other things,

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

If anything, that is the crux of Mandela – his ability to fight for others, to give his life for the benefit of his fellow citizens.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Published on February 3, 2010