The fall gaming season is here!

It’s that time of the year again! The onslaught of gaming releases for fall is here! Its going to be a busy couple of months for me as I try to work my way through the huge pile of amazing games that are coming out. Things I am looking forward to playing are:

  • GTA V
  • Halo the Master Chief Collection
  • Smash Bros for Wii U
  • Civilization Beyond Earth
  • Bayonetta 1/2
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity
  • Shadow of Mordor
  • Farcry 4
  • Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby
  • Captain Toad Treasure Tracker
  • Elite Dangerous

Its going to be a busy Christmas and New Years for me!

Moving Servers Again

I decided to move to a new server for this website since the last one I had ran out of RAM quite quickly when running just this blog. This new VPS has a lot more RAM to play with! I also switched to nginx to get more performance and have lower resource usage so I can do some other side projects without having to pay for multiple VPSes.

A New Chapter of my Life Begins…

So this week marks the start of my first full-time job after finishing my undergraduate degree. I am working for the Xbox Kinect team at Microsoft and I am pretty excited about the role. Of course, this is a huge change in my life. I have picked up and moved myself from Toronto to Seattle and in the process, I have left behind most of my friends and family.

The transition is exciting and depressing at the same time. On the exciting front, I have an interesting job, a decent amount of income, I am independent and I live in a beautiful part of the United States. On the downside, I miss my family, friends, Toronto and Canada as a whole greatly. In fact, I still have pangs of regret that I moved so far away from home. Setting up my new life has been taking most of my time over the past week between multiple trips to Ikea, setting up internet, setting up a cell phone plan, buying household items, etc.

I never fully comprehended how much I took for granted in Toronto and how hard it can be to set one’s life up from scratch in an area that one does not know too well. To be honest, I have gained a lot more appreciation for the efforts my parents had to go through to move from Sri Lanka to Canada and essentially start from scratch (while having to raise two kids).

Hopefully, I will be able to settle into a normal routine over the next few weeks. My more immediate problems involve getting a credit card, assembling my furniture, getting a Washington State driver’s license, getting into the habit of cooking at home (very hard to be motivated to do this), and procuring a car. I forgot how much it sucked to not have a car on the east side of Seattle, especially closer to Microsoft. Thankfully, it is not terrible at the moment because I am a 15 minute walk away from work and live right beside two bus routes that go to major grocery and shopping centers. But I definitely will be aiming to get a car as soon as possible.

Australia First Week

I have now spent almost a week in Australia. As the start of my post-university travels, I am pretty excited to be here and to visit all of my family here. So far the trip has been enjoyable. The natural landscape here is amazing and honestly it is beautiful. So far I have spent some time in Sydney with relatives. I have also driven to Melbourne to meet more relatives there and see the beautiful Great Ocean Drive. Great Ocean Drive is a winding highway that follows the coast and I even saw a wild koala while driving along it! I did a quick drive through of Canberra, but unfortunately, by the time we arrived there, everything in the city was closed (as expected of a purely government city) and I did not get to visit the attractions. I definitely wish that I allocated more than 3 weeks to visiting Australia, but I cannot change my flight back to Canada because I have another flight to Europe a few days afterwards.

There are a few things that I noted that I think all visitors should take note of while they are here:

1. Cars are right-hand drive

This is the opposite of North America and most of Europe. As a result, driving cars is kind of weird since you have to constantly remember that you need to keep on the opposite side of the road than usual.

2. Winter in Australia is from June to August

This again is the opposite of North America and Europe due to the fact that Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere. A lot of my relatives who visited Australia also forgot this fact and was met with an unwelcome surprise of colder weather. This is not like winter in North America, it is still pretty warm and there is no snow in most places. Sydney right now is hovering around the mid tens and sometimes goes up to the 20 degrees Celsius  However, it gets pretty windy and the wind can be pretty cold.

3. Most older houses in Sydney (and probably elsewhere) have no central heating and poor insulation

This combined with the winter weather can really suck if you visit. Since older houses in Sydney don’t have central heating and poor insulation, it can sometimes be colder inside the house than outside the house. Heavy quilts are used by most of my relatives here to deal with the cold. Plan to wear stuff like long sleeve shirts, multiple layers or hoodies to deal with the cold temperatures inside. This is also something to be wary of when you use places like AirBnB to rent out houses for vacations in Australia. Houses in colder areas like Melbourne have much better insulation and have central heating so it is not that bad in those areas.

4. Things are more expensive here

Fuel and food are both more expensive in Australia than places like Canada or USA (I am not sure about Europe). As a result of fuel being more expensive, other items will also tend to be more expensive than North America. So you should plan your budget for things to cost more than North America.

5. Highways are not as large North America

Most Australia highways are two lane roads with one lane dedicated for one direction and the other lane dedicated for the other direction. This is especially true once you leave the cities. The government is slowly improving the busier links between cities, but since there are not that many cars going between cities, they are only improving a few highways. Also as a result, food and fuel stops can be separate by far distances even on the more densely populated southern part of the eastern coast of Australia.

6. People are incredibly friendly here

People here are incredibly friendly, even in cities. They smile and nod at you as you walk by, and are always willing to help you out with directions. Don’t be shy to ask a local for directions to something. They may even have tips on what to do once you get to your destination or things to avoid!

7. Hungry Jacks = Burger King

Don’t go to Hungry Jacks if you are expecting a unique Australia style of burger. It’s just a rebranded Burger King.

8. Be careful of wild life on motor ways

If you are driving on an expressway/highway/freeway/motorway, then be careful of any wildlife. Koalas and kangaroos tend to stray onto highways in rural areas on occasion and it can be a messy result. Be careful of kangaroos which stray onto highways more frequently at nighttime. If you are driving at nighttime on a highway, you probably should use high beams when there are no other vehicles on the road. Kangaroos can destroy your radiator if your car hits the animal and as a result, you will probably be unable to drive the vehicle further. A lot of SUVs and trucks have bars that are designed to protect the radiator against kangaroos.

9. Eating kangaroos is actually a thing

It is not a joke and it is legal to consume kangaroo meat. I am not sure about how hunting works for them, but apparently their population is fairly abundant in the country so the government allows people to eat kangaroos.

Thoughts about Toronto’s Hwy 401 Traffic Problem

It’s an understatement that Toronto has some insane traffic. I got my latest taste of it this Sunday when I was stuck in traffic on the 401 highway while trying to get from Toronto back to Waterloo after visiting my parents. It amazes me that traffic is bad enough that it is terrible on a Sunday. Below, I go through several observations about why I think traffic is bad and offer a few pointers on how to fix it. I know this problem is far more complex than what I have listed below and involves a wide variety of factors including weather, demographics, psychology  economics, etc. I have simplified and abstracted away a bunch of things in this post so it does not turn into a novel.

8 Lanes each way don’t help

Any time I pick up relatives, who are visiting, from the airport and we merge onto the 401, they always comment on how absolutely massive size of the 401. They are right. It is 8 lanes wide in one direction, which means a total of 16 lanes both ways. That is a huge amount of lanes and I have yet to see it in any other city I have visited, except for Chicago. Despite the many lanes, traffic still slows to a crawl even on weekends. Mississauga, to the west of Toronto, is undertaking construction to go from 4 lanes in one direction to 8 lanes for their stretch of the 401. They are doing this in an attempt to battle congestion. If the rest of the 401 in the Greater Toronto Area is any indication, this is not going to help.

Some parts have a backwards design that needs fixing

By backwards design, I am mainly looking at locations like the eastbound stretch of the 401 starting from the 404 off-ramp to the Kennedy Road. If you get off the 404, onto the 401 and merge all the way into the left-most lane (about 3 lanes over), then about 2 exits later at the Kennedy road exit, your left lane is now the right-most lane. This occurs when you stick to the lane and never change lanes. Basically over the course of 2 exits, the two right lanes have peeled off and exited. At the same time, new lanes on the left hand side are opened up. This is a huge problem. Now, over the span of approximately 3 kilometres, the traffic needs to shift two lanes to the left just to stay on the 401. You know what happens when everyone tries to frantically switch lanes? Chaos, cars braking and traffic jams. It amazes me that no one has even thought of attempting to remedy this situation. It would go a long way to alleviating congestion because eastbound on the 401 at Kennedy Road is always guaranteed to be moving at a crawl whenever there is medium to heavy traffic.

Not Fast Enough Public Transit

The main reason that many people drive in Toronto during rush hour is due to the fact that it is still faster to drive to a location than take public transit there, even if you have to drive through rush hour traffic. Case in point? When I used to do co-op in Toronto, I travelled from my parent’s home in Scarborough to around Dufferin Road and Eglinton Ave. If I took public transit, this commute took about 1.5 hours of time. If I drove in rush hour to the same location, it took 45 minutes. So, public transit is about 2x slower than driving in rush hour transit despite the fact that half of my public transit time is spent on the subway. The fact that public transit is significantly slower than driving means that Toronto’s public transit is simply not fast enough to entice people to ditch their cars and take the bus/train to work. I am confused as to why there are no such things as express trains or buses from the suburbs to downtown or to other suburban centres. Such express routes, especially trains, which don’t have to deal with the same levels of traffic, would make commutes shorter and entice people to ditch their cars.

Not Enough Alternates to the 401

There are practically no alternate routes to the 401 that will take you across Toronto in an east-west direction. There is the QEW and the Gardiner Expressway, but they go through the downtown core and are more jammed than the 401. There is also the 407 ETR, which is not as congested and runs more north of the city. There is only one problem with the 407 ETR: it’s a toll road. The toll rates aren’t even close to reasonable. I have taken many toll routes through the USA and almost all of the rates there have been reasonable, but the 407’s rates are not reasonable at all. Of course that means that not as many people use it and everyone piles onto the 401, which means the 401 has traffic jams. Would making the 407 free help? Maybe. Recently, it seems like even the 407 is getting heavy traffic. The traffic is not heavy enough to cause major slowdowns, but it seems that even if we make it free, it will do little to address the problems of the 401.

A Strong Car Culture

Despite Toronto having a reasonable transit system (even if it is not as fast as I want it to be), I think Toronto still has a very strong car culture. Almost every family I know has at least one vehicle. About a third of my relatives and friends have two or more vehicles sitting on their driveways. If people can afford it, they will buy a car and drive that to places instead of taking the bus. The reason? Most of Toronto’s residents live in the suburbs and things are spaced pretty far apart. Which means it is a pain to get anywhere on public transit unless you live near or on a major road that has frequent bus service. Subway coverage is not as extensive as other cities like London, UK, which means that most of the time, you take the bus to your destination. On most routes, buses take about 15-20 mins to arrive. So naturally, people prefer to drive than take public transit because it is much easier and saves time. Getting people out of this car culture is probably the only way to significantly reduce the congestion of the 401 and other roads in Toronto. The problem? This is a very hard and uphill battle to fight. It is not something that can be overcome in a few months of a year, one would have to do this over several years.

So what’s the solution here? I think it needs to be a combination of faster public transit (including express trains), more alternative routes (like a toll-free 407), and re-doing parts of the 401 so that traffic does not need to shift lanes in order to stay on the 401. These need to be done in parallel with pushing out the strong car culture of Toronto and getting residents to embrace public transit more.