CSS: The difference between display and visibility

CSS contains two properties that affect visibility.  If you aren’t fully familiar with the difference, you might assumed the following were basically identical:

h1.hidden {visibility:hidden;}

h1.hidden {display:none;}

However, these two class definitions will do two very different things. Continue Reading

The Avengers – Review

The Avengers 2012 Movie PosterI was skeptical about this movie from the start, and my instinct told me this would be a bad movie. But, eventually overhearing news and hype and seeing ads for this movie every time I watched TV or YouTube, I eventually warmed to the idea of it. I hoped that while it was a blatant money grab that perhaps they’d infused something in it or took some chances somewhere. Unfortunately, good advice always dictates that you should listen to your gut before you listen to Hollywood hype.
I guess I should feel compelled to state that this review contains spoilers, but really, if you can’t extrapolate the entire plot from the previews, then you’ve clearly never been to a movie before and I question the logic of reading this review in the first place.

The Characters

To start with, let’s talk about the characters. My first concern was that with such a mish mash of characters, instead of one or two good character stories we would be thrown into six slapped together ones. However, I’d heard that this was being solved by having the story center on Captain America, him being the “fish out of water” character that we could relate too. I didn’t find this at all thought. If anything, the most relatable characters were Hawkeye or Black Widow, since they were true fishes out of water seeing as they didn’t have any powers.  They didn’t get enough screen time though, and Hawkeye spends the first half of the movie on the bad side anyways. So really we’re back to where we started; washing over conflict with a bunch of characters to fill up screen time between explosions. There is a quarter of the movie after they assemble that is spent jumping scene to scene trying to establish each character’s motivations. If feels unnatural and out of place and you just end up wishing that they’d get back to the explosions. If they’d stuck to having one character being the focal point, like Steve Austin, then you could build up the other characters through their relationship with him. This is what they did with the first X-men movie. We saw the X-men through Wolverine’s eyes, and all relationships were seen through him. An audience needs that. Especially in a movie with so many characters. Wolverine’s struggle allows us to experience the X-men and learn about them through his eyes. This wasn’t the case in the Avengers. Instead, we’re flipping back between scenes, not really building any sense of who these characters are and all of a sudden it’s back to the action sequences, and we don’t really care about these characters any more than we did at the beginning of the movie.

The best example of slapped together tension is between Iron Man and Captain America; namely their opposing philosophies of duty versus self. The problem with this is the entire Iron Man 2 installment centered around the idea that Tony Stark had to learn that he didn’t have to fight alone, with some throw in filler about some disease caused by the reactor in his chest, or whatever. The problem here is we watched this character become someone in Iron Man 2 who he isn’t in the Avengers. For that reason, it feels like the writers just said

“Hmmmm … how are we gonna build character here? Well, Bruce Banner just wants to keep to himself. We can throw some sort of sexual tension between Hawkeye and Black Widow. Audiences love sexual tension between attractive actors. There’s only one girl on the team though, so we can only do that once. Wait, didn’t Iron Man used to be a big billionaire ladies man? That seems like the opposite of what Captain America stands for. Why don’t we put them at odds? Then by the end they could learn to work together and gain mutual respect. Yeah, that will work.”

“What about Iron Man 2 where he learned to work as a team with War Machine?”

“Well, it’s either that or we spend another hour brainstorming, and I’ve got a pile of cocaine at home that isn’t going to snort itself.”

“You don’t write while high? No wonder you have such terrible ideas!”

This led me to roll my eyes when Captain America and Iron Man work together to fix the broken engine on the Avengers base. Why was Loki trying to destroy the Avengers base anyways?

Loki’s Plan

What was Loki’s plan anyways? To get caught and unleash the Hulk? I’m not even sure how his getting captured actually caused that to happen. I mean, they all start arguing when they have Loki’s spear in the room, but its never made 100% clear that it was the spear causing them to do that in the first place. And in the end, Loki’s soldiers end up attacking the Avengers ship anyways. Why did he need to get caught? Is making the Avengers argue important enough to give them the weapon that can dismantle your entire plan? We see later in the movie that the spear is the only thing that can de activate his portal. Loki seems to be there to try to get Bruce Banner to Hulk out and destroy the ship, but in the end it’s his troops attacking the ship that causes that anyways. Did they follow the energy signature of the staff to find the base? Was taking down the Avengers ship REALLY so important that Loki would risk everything to hand them the fail safe to his weapon? But they handle this with a line of expository dialogue by saying the attack was the “trailer”, and taking over is his “big release”. Um … ok. Why not release the army first and use them to attack the Avengers directly? The Avengers are having trouble finding you anyways. Why not release the army somewhere where they don’t have to come through a small hole, but instead get your whole army to the planet and fortify the position of the portal. Attacking through a narrow gateway is a sure fire way to get everything that comes through killed instantly. That’s exactly how the Spartans kept the Persians at bay for so long in 300.

It’s a major problem when the two major points of tension in your movie is when a) an engine breaks down and has to be repaired, and b) one of your heroes loses control and goes on a rampage in your home base. In fact, the scene where they all start arguing in the lab made me question how stupid this group of people really is. Black Widow runs in knowing that Loki’s plan was to make Bruce Banner lose control and go Jekyl on their flying base, and she still ends up joining the argument. The whole scene just makes them all look stupid. If the only thing that can cause you any damage is infighting in your team, then I question why this team assembled in the first place. Why couldn’t everyone just meet up at the end and fight this alien army as individuals? That is basically what happens in the end anyways. Then you could save the cost on your flying aircraft carrier. Oh wait, I guess you have to prove that there is some kind of character development in this movie though. Seriously though, how awesome of a movie would that be? From start to finish, army of aliens open a portal and start coming through, and Marvel characters just start showing up to beat the crap out of them. That’s pretty much the whole Onslaught saga, and that was one of the most popular Marvel series of all time. I’m not against a mind numbing action movie, but then don’t waste my time with the illusion that your building story or character. Cut the story, throw in 5 more Marvel characters, and then have them go tag team and just ripping aliens apart in awesome poses. With this idea, you could even release five more Marvel character films and rake in even more cash.

Onslaught and the Avengers

Guys! You're going the wrong way! He's THAT way!

Wait, and another thing … during the final battle, why is the portal not being defended? You’d think that as an invasion force, securing the one thing that is allowing you to bring reinforcements is the thing that you’d want to most closely protect. Oh no wait, Loki’s guarding it. Because he’s proved to be such a effective force to be reckoned with in the past. Which brings me to the enemy of this film.

The Enemy

Who were these bad guys? I know there was supposed to be a veiled mystery around who the guy who was clearly using Loki was, but what was this enemy force? They are referred to as extra terrestrials. From where? Why do they want to take over earth? Why are they even using Loki? What is Loki giving them when he enslaves man kind? What is this enemy getting out of earth? Are they going to share ownership? I’m not really sure why they’re even attacking, other than being told they are attacking and that Loki has an army. Maybe I missed something in the Thor movie, but this isn’t even the biggest flaw in this enemy.

Loki - The Avengers 2012

I've enslaved mankind! My first act; craft me a helmet with even BIGGER horns! Mwa ha ha ha!!

The final battle of the movie opens and extra terrestrials start pouring out of the portal. At no point during the beginning of this battle is there any struggle. Seriously, I felt no sense of tension or dread at any point for that battle scene. Tony Stark starts leading them around tight corners and they immediately start crashing into walls and blowing up. Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow start picking off the soldiers like flies. A giant monster/ship/fish comes out of the portal, and Iron Man lures it to the Hulk who struggles, overwhelmed, for a few moments and then destroys it. Just kidding, he pushes against it for two seconds and then Iron Man blows it up. Immediately after that, we see more of the same enemies pour out the portal. Why should I care? I just watched the Avengers make short work of what’s already come out of it. At this point, I’m convinced that you could just leave the portal open and beat anything down that comes through. It really kills the tension when the enemy forces can’t even harm the heroes and get picked off so easily. And by this point you thought Loki was weak. At least he can like … hypnotize people… by stabbing their heart … until they get hit on the head. Seriously, that’s how Black Widow snaps Hawk Eye out of it. “I hit you on the head … hard.” Lame.

The Final Battle

The first thing I thought of during the final battle was “Transformers 3”, and at any point in a movie that you’ve done anything that makes people think “Transformers 3”, you’ve failed not only as a director, you’ve failed at creativity in general. You might respond that somehow this battle scene was made first and that Michael Bay totally stole the idea. Maybe even Joss Whedon copied Michael Bay, or worst of all, two directors had similarly bad ideas at the same time.

Now I understand the concept of setting the final battle in a crowded city. When we see familiar buildings being destroyed, we are being told that there is a lot at stake. Again though, this movie still hasn’t explained to us what will happen if Loki wins. I guess we’ll be enslaved, but I don’t even know what will happen to us as slaves. So, to make sure that we know we as humans have something at stake, Transformers 3 and The Avengers feature a big CGI mess in the middle of a crowded city. We watch civilians run for cover and our heros protect them. At this point though, it’s not enough for me to care. This has been done too often in the epic CGI block busters. I get that if they battled out in space we’d feel even farther removed, but featuring the final battle in a crowded city is just overdone, and its a cheap trick to make up for lack of a plot.

The other thing I hate about this is that the enemies are totally faceless. It’s like the designers got bored and just built 3 classes of interchangeable troops. We have the soldiers you run around with axe guns, we’ve got some flying ships that look like a the goblin glider being ridden double dutch, and then some other big ass ship that looks like some kind of animal. There is nothing exceptional or unique about these designs. In fact, you could have traded any random robot from Transformers 3 with one of the soldiers from The Avengers, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.

Tranformer 3 vs The Avengers Final Battle Comparison

Oh no wait, I can see the difference. One is heading in the other direction. My bad

There was no theme, just robot monsters that when you hit them, they explode. Yawn.

Team Balance

Now lets get to one of the most challenging things this film had to deal with; assembling a “super team”. When you have a team composed of a demigod and an invincible rage monster, you need to find something for the human assassin and Robin Hood to do. Now I give props to Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner. They both did well with the parts they were given and actually pulled off seeming pretty badass. I was actually impressed with how this was handled in the first half of the movie. They turned Hawkeye bad so he was sort of out of the picture, and made Black Widow the master interrogator and totally pulled information out of Loki, believably as well. The fight in close quarters even sort of made sense, and they seemed to keep themselves occupied and useful while the flying air base went down. However, in the final battle my worst fears were realized. After the ship they fly in on crashes, they get out and help Captain America protect civilains while Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk deal with the whole “invading army” situation. This draws a very clear line between the Avengers A team, and the Avengers B team, which totally kills the idea of the Avengers “Team” to me. By the end, convenient plot devices had to unfold to give them anything to do at all. It’s not a team if you’re skills encompass having Bruce Banner and Tony Stark on speed dial.

The Avengers 2012 - Black Widow on Phone

Crap, no bars! I wonder if there is a pay phone around here ...

Takeaways

Now I’m not going to beat on this movie much longer. As far as comic book movies go, this one falls about in the middle of the road. We don’t have a scene where Tony Stark starts busting a move for Pepper Potts in a jazz night club

Sam Raimi - Spider-man 3

You are NEVER forgiven, Sam Raimi

but there are a lot of areas that it could have been better. I knew that this whole “Avengers” movie was a money grab right from the moment Captain America came out. And it worked too. Avengers pre-sale tickets topped all over Marvel movies COMBINED. I get that movies are made so that studio’s make money, and this was a logical investment based on the success of Iron Man. That said, with Joss Whedon attached to the project, I expected much more. I thought with such a great director that the movie might take SOME chances. Tell a superhero movie in a way that we haven’t seen before. It didn’t though. It felt like something that’s been done before. Something slapped together and the producers sat back and waited for cheques to start rolling in.

There’s a couple laughs, and the visuals are great, and we get to see Tony Starks new Mark 7 suit (selling for $39.99 at your local Toys R Us) but there is no tension or feeling in the movie. Robert Downey Jr shines through as a great character and his nicknames that he slides in for each of the characters are priceless (Legolas for Hawkeye, Reindeer Games for Thor). We don’t care about the plot because the enemy seems largely impotent and we’re not even sure what will happen if they win. We’re all privy to the fact that there will be an Iron Man 3 so we know that Tony Stark will be fine at the end during his grand sacrifice. We even haven’t seen Hulk for a couple scenes and know that he will fly out and catch him at the last second.

The funny thing is for this movie, I could have accepted a non-stop action romp if there had been some tension in the battle scenes, but there wasn’t. Even the fight scenes seemed to recycle choreography (Captain America throws shield, it gets blocked, he does a somersault at the enemy, a bit of hand to hand, rolls away and grabs shield, and repeat). If you really want to see a movie though, the real question is why go to this one? I can’t give you a reason. I’ve heard great things about 21 Jump Street, and as far as a big budget epic, Hunger Games wins over the Avengers in every way. I guess if you’ve seen all those and you feel like your too old for American Reunion (which really, if you’re considering the Avengers, your not too old for anything) then I guess go with your mind turned off and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Besides! They play the third Batman Trailer at the beginning! Actually, scratch everything I’ve said. Seeing that preview on the big screen is worth the price of admission. Maybe after that, see if you can sneak into The Five-Year Engagement.

91 Days of P90X

Why 91 days and not 90?  Well TECHNICALLY speaking (which is really the only way I speak) when you sign up for P90X its 13 weeks of 7 days of workouts a week, meaning 91 days in total.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who tried P90X.  When I started asking them if they enjoyed certain workouts like Kempo X they would reply “Oh, I never did that one.”  This is a mistake, and one that I made when I tried P90X for the first time.  About 2 years ago I started on the program.  On the 4th week, I blew out my knee on Plyometrics.  I decided to continue on and cut certain things out of the program, and because I did that I didn’t get as much out of it.  This time, I did every workout in the 91 days and with only 4 exceptions (Christmas being one of them).  It was tough, but I have to say that is was worth it.  So with that, if you’re interested in trying it yourself, here are some of the things you have to look forward to, and some of the things that you might want to watch out for.

What I liked

Muscle confusion.  Muscle confusion refers to working a lot of different muscles by doing varied activities.  Humans are creatures of adaptation, mentally and physically.  Your body can adjust to new challenges very quickly, so doing the same 6 exercises in the same order week after week will cause you to plateau very quickly.  By contrast, forcing yourself to do a lot of different workouts and switching up the routine is the best way to get results fast.  Muscle confusion is at the center of the P90X program.

It teaches that you can do a lot with a little.  Even though P90X is a huge time commitment, you don’t need to make a trip to the gym for any of the workouts.  If you have weights and tension bands at home, you can do it all there.  There are a lot of pull ups, but the option with bands is always well represented for any exercise.  P90X is conscious of the fact that you don’t time to get to the gym every day.  Having the option to work from home sets you up for a greater chance of success from the start.

Plyometrics.  This is one of the toughest workouts I’ve ever done.  At the beginning of the program the second time around, I was really careful not to push my knee too hard because I didn’t want to blow it again. Now at the end, my knee feels stronger than ever before.  In addition, I feel all around more agile in all other physical activities.  It’s one of the biggest gains I’ve ever experienced in working out.  I’ll be integrating into my own routine going forward.

What I didn’t like

Tony Horton.  I don’t know why somebody didn’t say anything to him before filming, during filming, after filming …  I’m not sure if all the video’s were shot in a week time frame so there was no time for feedback, or perhaps this was the first time Tony has done a workout video.  Regardless, he is the thing that always turned me off about this program.  I give a very heavy warning to anyone considering doing this workout.  I thought it might be me at first, but I Googled and found many, many, many articles from other people complaining about a lot of the same stuff.  In an effort from changing the title of this article to something like “All The Things Tony Horton Does That Make Me Want To Stick a Fork In My Eye” and for the sake of brevity, I’ll skim over some of my top pet peeves.

He talks too much.  His jokes are bad, his impressions are bad, and his non sequiturs are rambling, incoherent messes that not only don’t lead to a point, but distract you from your workout.  I Wikipedia’d Tony Horton and read that he moved to LA to launch a acting/stand up career before “following his passion” to working out.  Right.  I’m sure that was all his choice.

Despite all the talking, Tony is horrible at giving verbal cues.  Since I live in an apartment I had to be doing some of the workouts in the gym.  I loaded my P90X video’s on to my iPod and listed to them there.  Since I can’t be watching the whole time, I had to be listening for cues which he doesn’t always give.  Now, you might think that mine is a special case, but I noticed it even at home doing Yoga X in front of my TV.  You can’t always be looking at the screen.  If you’re going to talk for the entire video, at least spit out some valuable information once in awhile.

The way he interacts with the women in the videos reminds me of Michael Scott in a first season Office episode.  I felt awkward even though what was happening was on the other side of a screen.  Whether he’s giving nick names like “honey pie” or raving about how “gorgeous” they are, it all comes off like he’s a creepy older uncle. It was just wrong on so many levels.

What you’ll get

I’ll say up front that this workout isn’t for everyone.  I don’t mean that in terms of level of intensity.  There are lots of options given throughout the workout to work with people at different levels of fitness.  I think anyone is capable of finishing P90X if they resist pushing themselves too hard.  What I mean by its not for everyone is it depends what results you’re looking for.

This workout is geared toward people that want to tone up and get more fit.  You will not gain big muscles doing P90X.  I always did higher weights with lower reps on the weight lifting days, and still I noticed that I lost a bit of muscle mass.  The upsides are definitely worth it though.  For any exercise that targets a very small muscle group, like a bicep curl or a shoulder fly, I’ve lost a bit of strength.  However, and exercise that uses a lot of muscle groups working together, such as  push ups or chin ups, I am much stronger.  These are the benefits P90X with bring; more energy, better muscle coordination and agility.  You will lose size, but I’ve always liked the idea of being stronger than I look.  If you share this idea, then 91 Days of P90X is something you should consider.

I have to reinforce something that I mentioned at the beginning though; if you’re going to do this, commit to it.  Do every workout, and do it for the full 91 days.  I can’t stress enough that this is a huge sink hole for your time  There are going to be a lot of days you will be forcing yourself to do the workout.  If you’re planning on doing it, plan ahead for those days you won’t be motivated.  Workout right in the morning before your brain has a chance to turn on and tell yourself you don’t want to.  Do it with a friend so that you can work off each others motivation.  Document your progress on Facebook or Twitter so that there is the prospect of public embarrassment if you fail.  Everyone is different, but really plan ahead and think of 2 or 3 different strategies that will convince you to do the workouts when every fibre of your being is telling you not to (because trust me, that day will come).

My New Job: Corporate Introduction

I recently reapplied within the City of Edmonton IT branch for a job on the web development team.  For anyone know knows me even a little they know that my passion is web technology so it was I was really excited for the opportunity, even though the move came with a) less pay and b) more work (presumably as I’ll be learning a whole bunch of new stuff).
When people move positions or are newly hired, HR sends out an e-mail with the notification.  As part of it, people get to write a quick paragraph blurb about themselves.  Mostly these are filled with things like “has 3 kids” or “was born in summer Vancouver” or “hates purple gift wrap”.  When my coach, Jordan asked me to send him a blurb, my response was “Can I make things up?”  I was asked to send and we’d see how it was.

After send a copy, I tentatively asked:

Dude, do you think its unprofessional? Did you at least chuckle? I have no clue if I’m the only one who thinks this is funny

Jordan is a man of few words:

HILARIOUS!!! 🙂  I LOVE IT! I’ll send it in as is! 🙂

Unfortunately, the resource office didn’t agree with us and it got rejected.  Not one to let something like this never reach the public masses, here was my first draft professional introduction (the second paragraph was my customized part.)

Congratulations to Tyler Findlay on being the successful candidate for our Systems Analyst posting for the Web Team. Tyler graduated from the U of A in 2008 with a degree in Computer Science and a minor in Business. He has worked on various Transit and Finance applications over the last 3 years and a transition plan is being created to facilitate his transition.

During this time he also earned Welterweight titles in both the UFC and MMA until finally retiring undefeated and changing the sport of mixed martial arts forever. Shortly after winning the Indy 500, Tyler joined the City of Edmonton as part of the Transportation Support group which has been his home for 3 years. Scientists speculate that his reputation is expanding faster than the Universe.

The Problem with Forgetting

Do you really need to be carrying all that around?

While in Southeast Asia, I read among a few other books “The Philosophy of Mad Men.” I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves philosophy (most smart people) and who enjoy Mad Men (includes people who have seen Mad Men that have a pulse). While the entire book stood out to me, one chapter in particular seemed very interesting. It was a chapter that talked about the concept of forgetting and remembering the past. This is a very central theme of the show, displayed most prominently among 3 cast members. Without going into details of the show, we have Pete, a character who can’t forget the past and constantly plays the victim and complains when it repeats itself. Don, a character who tries to forget the past but finds that it often catches up with him. Peggy a character who displays a supernatural ability to forget her past. What struck me about this is the strongest characters (at least as I perceive them) in the show are Don and Peggy who consistently forget their mistakes and just moving forward (“This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.” Season 2 Episode 5). There seems to be a major hole in this philosophy though. Specifically, if you forget something completely, you are bound to lose the lesson you could have derived from it (“I guess when you try to forget something, you have to forget everything.” Same episode).

Over the next few months and even since I’ve been home, I discussed with several people about forgetting. Was it a sign of strength to drop the past and forget something ever happened? Or is it unrealistic to live like this because our past mistakes will always catch us if we don’t learn from them? Generally everyone gave the same answer, stating that you need to remember the lesson, but not live in fear of the repeated result. That sounds great, except that it really doesn’t answer the question in any specific way. I would continue to ask where the line was, trying to force them to draw a line in the sand. I’d question “assume you get in a car accident because someone else hits you. What do you take from the experience?” The easy answer would be to pay more attention while driving, but that seems just as unspecific. What are the circumstances you got hit under? Was it on a left turn? Is the solution not to turn left anymore? Is the lesson to be constantly vigilant while driving? That sounds a lot like paranoia to me. Is the solution a far extreme to never get in a car again? Or just take nothing from the experience and keep driving the way you have. Eventually, they would wave me off and just respond “It depends on the situation, I guess.” This was of course completely unsatisfying as an answer.

The answer finally sprang up at me during a Introductory session for Landmark Education. The subject of forgetting came up in terms of how it affects our future, so I decided to question our presenter. The answer came in the general sense again, to only take the lessons forward that helps you but not the part that creates fear. Again, how do we make that distinction? This sounded similar to the answers I’d heard before, and I was looking for specifics. I asked again, trying to force him to draw a line in the sand, and the second answer finally stuck with me. Holding on to an experience becomes detrimental when you can’t recall why you don’t want to do something. When you encounter an event that you resist, if you can ask yourself “why am I resisting this?” and come up with the answer, you’re recalling knowledge. When you encounter an event that you resist and you ask that same question and come up with a feeling of undefinable fear, an “I don’t know” or worst of all, “I’ve always been afraid of that”, you’re holding on to an unhealthy experience. The experience has become unhealthy because you’re likely drawing false conclusions from it. The reason being is that when you haven’t fully diagnosed a situation that resulted in pain. You may be resisting based on an incorrect link you’ve made between an event and a painful solution. An exaggeration would be that I wouldn’t stay home from work on the 17th of every month because I lost my first serving job on that day. I lost my serving job because I was a fairly (very) incompetent server.

Looking at another example, we use the classic metaphor of touching a hot iron for the first time. You put your hand on the iron and it burns you. If you can look at irons after that and say “don’t touch the iron when it is on because it will burn me” this realization will never impede your future interactions with irons. You correctly diagnosed the source of pain and the way to avoid it. On the other hand, walking away with an inexplicable fear of irons causing you to get all clothes dry cleaned for your entire adult life is a fairly bad consequence. Worst still would be if one of your parents asked you to get the iron and you lived your life avoiding anything your parents asked you to do. You might even hold on to this lesson late into your life, even if you made peace with irons and learned to use them safely. It’s a lot easier to connect a painful outcome to unrelated events leading up to it. In addition, the more traumatic the outcome, the more preceding events you will draw into the umbrella of perceived causes.

Your brain is an extremely powerful problem solving engine. You can derive correct solutions to problems in you head well beyond the current step you’re on in a matter of seconds. Your brain does this without exhausting every possible alternative. It uses information stored from past events and their outcomes without even realizing they’ve been accessed (in fact, unlocking the methodology behind this would be a huge breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence). In that same way though, you should be conscious of the use of the powerful problem solving engine that is your brain. When you get to the solution of a problem, look back and check how you got there. Try to trace back how your brain came to that solution. Check back on the “library” of events and outcome you’re carrying around and make sure that conclusions you made in the past are necessarily correct. Your solutions to new problems are only as correct as the information made to facilitate the steps in between. If you’re at least aware you might have used a piece of information that isn’t completely correct, it might help you from making an incorrect leap of faith, or worse yet, missing out on something based on fears that were incorrectly founded.

Last days in Ty-land – Week 2

So I’m now officially ahead of where my blog posts are on this trip, but the internet has been lousy where we’re staying, and in the last place with internet this guy kept clearing his throat and it was driving me insane. So, at long last, I’m able to post this update of our trip up to the beginning of our Intrepid tour.

Koh Phi Phi

The first day in Koh Phi Phi we decided to go scuba diving, so we just walked into the first scuba shop we found and signed up. Because the dive was at 7:30 AM, we had to play safe that night and not drink (drinking pretty much anything the night before scuba diving puts you at high risk for decompression sickness, aka the bends .. not the Radiohead song though). We did, however, scout out the party district for future reference. It also marks the first time on this trip where I saw an abundance of people our own age, and by that I absolutely mean it was the first time we saw a ton of really hot girls our own age. I was strong in my resolve not to party though, but for the first time that I can ever remember, Chris was pressuring ME to go drinking. He started out subtle, but got more to the point as we went on.

“We’d probably be fine with just 2 beers.”

(At dinner)

Ty: “We’ll get two beers.”

Server: “Small bottle or big bottle?”

Chris: (Before I can answer) “Big bottle”

(Walking in the party district)

“We can go into a bar if you want to.”

(On the way home)

“Man, a LOT of people are heading out to the bar tonight.”

(Getting into bed)

“Should I take my contacts out or are we going to go out tonight?”

I was forced to be the voice of reason for once, which is not a good place for me spiritually.

Scuba Diving

Our resolve to save ourselves for scuba diving turned out to be totally worth it. I never thought my first dive would go so smoothly. Our first jump in the water was a bit daunting seeing how deep we would be going, but everything worked out well and my ears cleared pretty easily which was an issue I was having in the lessons. Over the course of the dive, we saw:

  • 2 sharks
  • 2 sea turtles
  • A ton of puffer fish
  • Sea horse
  • And a boatload of other awesome stuff

Oh, and if you missed that first bit, that is correct. I was in open water, unprotected, mere meters from a shark. You may wonder if I wet myself, but luckily being that I was underwater, it will never be possible to prove it.

During the lunch at the dive, they took us to see the beach from the movie the Beach which I recognized immediately which opened my eyes to a) how much time I spend watching movies and b) how much time I spend watching the same movies over and over again.

The beach from The Beach

After the dive we decided to take it easy and be beach bums till that night.

Last Night in Koh Phi Phi

Since we’d missed the party the night before, we decided to make up for it in spades tonight. We met up with our good German friend Diane we’d met in Bangkok randomly. She’d been resting after a bad stomach flu with a British dude named Joe who was also adamant about not going out. We shared a few beers, gathered some more people, and with our silver tongues persuaded them to come out with us (“You need to at least get something to eat. Come out for dinner with us.”)

The Koh Phi Phi Crew

Travel Day from Hell

The next day was a travel day, but I don’t think we were expecting the show that was about to take place. We climbed aboard the van that picked us up and found it totally empty. We were optimistic. Maybe nobody booked today and we were getting a van to ourselves. Think again.

We were just the first to be picked up. We had no idea what we were about to go through. The next people we picked up were a couple traveling friends from Scotland. Nicky who is moving to Malaysia to open a bar, and his friend Tamara who is half Thai, half Scottish, and will apparently be gracing the Thai cable networks on a travel show shortly (though I forgot to catch the name of the show). After a long van ride, they de-boarded (read: dumped us) at a queue point for the boat where we waiting for 15 minutes and were loaded onto another much more crowded bus. From there the bus hurtled completely overloaded down the highway with all the windows down, which made me thankful that it wasn’t a completely boiling hot day like it usually is otherwise it would have been a great candidate for the trips first bout of heat stroke. This worked fine until it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then it started to straight up dump buckets on us like we were in an episode of LOST being chased by the monster. They dumped us at a port in the middle of nowhere, started unloading our bags, and then suddenly asked everyone to get back on the bus. We were definitely lost (though still, not in the show).

We finally reached the dock, but things were hardly a relief from there. At this point the rain was slowing down, but the wind was picking up, which is great news for a bunch of people about to get on a rickety boat. They overloaded the tiny, barely sea capable catamaran. After about half an hour on sea, were were riding up and down on huge waves as the boat crashed down on the water heavily. This started with the universal sound of everyone in the boat shouting and laughing like we were on a roller-coaster, and ended about half an hour in with the crew handing out plastic bags as almost everyone on the boat starting throwing up. Chris and I also had the brilliant idea since the day had been such a gong show so far to have a couple beers to make the boat ride more fun. Hilarity did not ensue.

Riding our good luck and Chris’ expert advice that we stare intently at the horizon till the nightmare was over. I praised him for the entire ride for this advice like he was some kind of magical witch doctor and against all odds with 2 beers in our stomachs, we managed not to toss our goods.

From there, we transferred to a taxi. We expected to get right to our hostel, but anybody who’s taken a taxi in Koh Pha Nga knew what we were about to go through. To get the most of the ride, taxi drivers in Koh Pha Nga load up their cabs with as many people they can carry at all times, even if you’re with people that are going to opposite sides of the island. Adding to this, we’d booked our hostel about a month before the full moon party, which is apparently laughable and we’d ended up in a hostel completely on the other side of the island from Haad Rinn (where the full moon party actually happens). After about an hour, we got to J.B Hut.

The final slap in the face

The hostess (Mama) invited us in, gave us a beer, insisted we have food before checking into our hostel, and Chris and I felt our positive attitude through the day was finally about to be rewarded. Sure, the hostel was far away, but we had our own room (our first non-dorm hostel) with separate beds, and the hostess seemed pretty awesome. Our patience was about to be rewarded … or was it?

After allowing us to finish our meals and have a beer, Mama informed us that since we’d checked in late (despite arriving at 7 PM and specifying online we’d be in at 8 PM) and that all that was left was one room … with only one double bed. We’d survived overcrowded van’s, suicidal bus drivers, a boat more designed for motion sickness than Space Mountain in Disneyland, but the prospect of spending 3 nights in the same bed as one another was more than we could stand. Unfortunately, we were too weak at the time to argue, so all we could offer were cold stares to Mama as she apologized profusely and offered us a discount on the room (which was later revoked).

Needless to say, our first night in Koh Pha Nga was a write off. Chris and I slept so far apart on our bed there was room for a whole other person, curled up on opposite sides like complete homophobes. It couldn’t have been more gay if we’d tenderly kissed and cuddled while gently falling into a deep sleep.

 

First days in Koh Phangan

Haad Rinn the night before Full Moon

The next few days in Koh Phangan were filled with rain, so Chris and my plan to finally turn our skin color from a sickly white to a tolerable eggshell white was put on hold. We’d heard time and time again that the best part of Koh Phangan was the nights leading up to the Full Moon Party were actually much better, so we headed out to Haad Rinn at 3:00 to check it out before the party started. This is essentially a beach town filled with lots of stands and was really interesting to see during the day. We walked up and down the beach a couple times before finding a nice little chill bar aptly named retro and were served by a Thai man with an Afro can’t help but make you smile. Chris commented on it EVERY time the guy came to our table (he might have been a bit jealous, maybe this is our chance to convince him to grow his hair into an epic Afro?)

When the night came we headed out to the beach where I discovered buckets. Basically, when you walk down the beach in Haad Rinn there are these (licensed?) stands set up where people sell buckets of alcohol (not an analogy).

I haven't made a discovery with this poor of consequences since I found out Denny's is open 24 hours

When you first walk up, they all start screaming at you abiding for your affection (money) and since they are all essentially the same (buckets filled with alcohol and juice) you invariably choose the one with the most colorful setup. Being slightly intoxicated, I was drawn to the man dressed as Jack Sparrow. They gave us a few free shots and the second they found out we were Canadian, Jack disappeared under the stand and reappeared a few seconds later with a tank top that said “I (Heart) Canada”. Sold. We’d found our alcohol source for the night.

Actual Full Moon Party

Everyone is right. The night before full moon party is better. The beach is less crowded, the locals are less cranky, and it just generally feels safer (yes, safety does cross my mind every once in awhile). All in all, Chris and I agreed that Koh Pha Nga was our least favorite spot so far. The Full Moon Party is a must see, but much like a wise man once told me about rock concerts “once you’re there, you just want it to be over so you can go and brag about being there to your friends later.”

 

Back to Bangkok

 

I’d say our trip back to Bangkok was bad, but we’d already set the standard for worst travel day ever, so despite having a smelly guy with dreadlocks continually try to sneak his inclined seat back every time I dozed off, we made it back alright.

It was time to meet up with our tour group. We took a cab to “Grand View Hotel” with no expectation, and got out of the cab to have someone greeting us and taking our bags. I know how Dorthy felt waking up in Oz now. This was an ACTUAL hotel we were staying in. The part I love about backpacking is the dirty hostels and the people you meet in dorms, but at this point, I shed a single tear checking into our room. 2 beds, our own bathroom, air conditioning and clean sheets. Definitely a great place to recharge after the last few days.

... and how do we honor this gift? By jumping on the bed of course

Whats next …

So despite my complaining, I’m still loving this trip. I’m thinking an organized tour where we’re not in charge of finding a place to sleep and planning out daily activities will be nice. Also, despite feeling oddly out of place in hotel’s, I’m sure we’ll have no problem settling into the life. That said, I’m already getting the feeling we’ll be anxious to get back to our penny scrimping ways after the tour is over. The approximate itinerary is:

  • Saim Riep
  • Phnom Phen
  • Ho Chi Mihn City

The lack of dates is me fulling letting go of responsibility over our itinerary and just following you for awhile.

To everyone who is writing me, thanks so much for the well wishes, and for all those who asked, yes, we are obviously both still alive despite the earthquake in Burma. Thanks also to everyone who left comments. Feel free to keep face-booking/e-mailing/Tweeting/commenting/carrier pidgeon me. Hope to hear from you soon!

Southeast Asia – Week 1

We are now at the end of week 1 in Thailand, and it already feels like we’ve been here for forever.  We’re sitting in our hostel in Patong, Phuket (Bodega Hostel) waiting for a bus to come in what might be our first downtime so far.  What better time then now to look back on what’s happened.

The Flight

Everything went smoothly through check-in and customs, though Chris was pulled aside for a random security check (after seeing his passport photo, I don’t think there is any doubts this wasn’t a “random” check).  We boarded our flight on time, and were then asked to de-board half an hour later.  Our plane wasn’t taking off.  Bad luck?  Of COURSE not.  Our original flight was booked with United Air which is about as low budget as North American air travel can come.  We were upgraded to an Air Canada flight which meant personal TVs at our seats and all the luxuries they have to provide.  But would that mean that we would be arriving in Bangkok later then expected?  HELL no.  We got in at the exact same time as originally scheduled.  I don’t know what I did in a past life to get this good karma.  My guess; either Gandhi or Mother Theresa.

First Night

In a stroke of genius and to save ourselves 200 BAHT (roughly $6 CAD) I didn’t book us a first night in our Bangkok Hostel (Nap Park Hostel, I’d highly recommend it) since we were getting in so late.  We dropped our bags in the lobby and headed to the hostel bar to pull an all nighter.  We shared beers with a bunch of fellow travelers and everyone thought we were idiots for deciding to stay up all night.  My response: “don’t even WORRY about it”.

First night and fighting sleep deprivation

Tourist Traps

Still buzzing from beer and insomnia, as the sun rose Chris and I prepared to tackle the town with a new friend who was brave enough to stay awake with us.  We headed to a temple and took a lot of pictures but started to walk around like zombies.  We must have looked like walking dollar signs because a Thai man working at the temple asked us if we wanted to take part in a “good luck ceremony”, which we accepted through glazed eyes.  He led us into a back area of the temple and into a monks house.  Made all the more magical by the fact that the place was filled to the brim with junk, we walked in on the monk watching X-factor … which he never turned off for the entire ceremony.  As he spoke in Thai waved his hand around most likely chanting “I can’t believe their buying into this” we were eventually asked to pay 800 BAHT for cheap bracelets at the end, and we politely refused and made 100 BAHT donations to the temple.

Thai Massages

Still convinced we weren’t tired, we went back to the hostel and met up with a couple other people from our hostel we’d spent the night before with.

First Tuk Tuk Ride ... still not tired

We jumped in a cab and headed out for our first Thai massage.  As my masseuse started kneading my shoulders it sounded similar to someone crushing a bag of potato chips.  This is definitely not a relaxing form of massage, it’s more like a stretch than anything else, but the after affects are amazing.

The food (if some can be so defined as that)

After that we all decided to head out somewhere to eat.  This is where I decided never to eat from street vendors again.  One of the things you will find frequently in Bangkok are street vendors who sell sea food.  They do something with the fish that make it look like beef jerky and smell like seafood that has been sun baking all day in a street vendor car.  Now, mix that with the smell of exhaust, and you now have probably only the third meal in my life I couldn’t finish.

The meals we’ve had range across the board from the one mentioned above to the awesome cooking of the lady who runs the restaurant at our Bankok Hostel.  I seriously considered asking her to marry me so I could enjoy delicious Thai food for the rest of my days.  The nice thing about the exchange rate is we can eat pretty fantastic meals for cheap while in Thailand.  Best meal so far was last night in Phuket.  Best Green Curry I’ve ever had.

When Sleep Deprivation Becomes a Problem …

We headed out to a sky bar (basically, a bar on the top floor of a hotel) and got some drinks.  The trek there wasn’t easy.  Our group was now up to 8 people in total which means getting around is probably more relatable to herding cattle then coordinating sentient human beings.  We lost 3 brave souls along the way, but we DID eventually get to the bar.  This is when Chris and I hit our limit.  Note to self: Johnny Walker is NOT a staying awake drink.  I fell asleep 3 times in the bar before finally admitting that it was time to go home.  I don’t remember the cab ride, but I woke up in my own bed the next day, so I’m assuming that I got there without incident.

Spa’s, Fish and Foot Fetishes

The next few days in Bangkok were much more vivid.  We spent that morning going to a foot spa.  They have this huge tank on the ground filled with Chinese Algae Easters which are like tiny Pecos (the fish in tanks that sucker onto the walls) and you put your feet in.  The fish then sucker onto your feet, in the penultimate foot fetish fantasy.  I spent the first 5 minutes laughing uncontrollably (my feet are insanely ticklish) until I finally calmed down enough to sit and enjoy it.  One of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever had, but something I’d do again and recommend to anyone to try it at least once.

Thai Boxing

After another full day of seeing Bangkok, Chris and I decided it was time to see a Thai boxing match.  We got to the stadium with another huge group of people (though this time, we were a lot more callous and just jumped in a cab with as many people who wanted to come as space allowed) and got to the door.  We bartered for the front row seats for 1600 BAHT, and were told we’d get a picture with a Thai boxer.  Sold.

Worth every Baht ... penny ... whatever

Lady Boys first Sighted

Aside from being an undoubted tourist trap, Patong is the home to a thriving lady boy culture.  The best part for me is that they seem to have taken a liking to Chris, who doesn’t seem to get smiling and politely refusing isn’t enough to drive them off.  He did get a picture with a bunch at a bar the night before.  He told as many people as possible about it the next morning and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so excited about anything in my life.  Latent homosexual tendencies surfacing?  Without a doubt.

Enjoying the Beach

The next day we checked out of our hostel, saw a bit more of the city via longboat this time and headed back to relax (pass out) for an hour before we had to go to the airport for our flight to Phuket.  We’re staying in Patong City in Phuket, and it has been a lot more relaxed by comparison.  We had our first day at the beach yesterday which was really nice.  I was overly cautious about sun exposure so I didn’t tan much, but haven’t yet felt the sour sting of the suns cancerous rays, or suntans evil cousin, the sunburn.  Chris said he’s never actually seen me relax and it was freaking him out.  Touche.

Temporary Itinerary

For now we’re setup for the next few weeks in hostels.  Our temporary itinerary is:

March 14 – 16 Koh Phi Phi

March 16 – 17 Phuket City

Mach 17 – 20 Koh Pha Nga

March 21 – ?? Bangkok (to catch a 9 day tour, which I have once again forgot when it starts).

To everyone I have heard from, thanks for writing me!  For everyone I haven’t, write me you jerks!  Better yet, tell me what you think of the blog!  Want to see more or some things?  Less of other things?  Help me to help you and leave a comment below, send me an e-mail, write me on Twitter or Facebook me.

Social Media for Budding Bands

Social Media Bandwagon

The Social Media Bandwagon

I saw my friends Mary’s band Mass Choir and wanted to see what their social media plan was.  Aside from being really surprised by how far MySpace has come in recent years (they have re focused on their original purpose of being a place for bands to create personal websites that look good with ease) they had all the basics like a Twitter account and a Facebook page.  I wanted to see what other sorts of Social Media opportunities would be out there for a budding and talented band, and here are some of the sites I found.

Last.fm – you might have heard of this one, they have a managers account (http://www.last.fm/uploadmusic?accountType=artist#) where you can upload music and video’s from your band and get your music out there, kind of like free radio. Probably some danger of having your songs ripped off of last.fm, but that’s always a danger, and if people are downloading your music that’s never a bad thing. Good exposure

iLike.com – this is a really good tool that allows you to centrally manage your Facebook, MySpace and whatever other accounts you have (though strangely not Twitter …) from one place and update show postings and stuff like that. If also tracks the popularity of each page and you can open up fan sites on other things like Bebo that are popular in other countries but not as much in Canada

ourstage.com – this is a really cool website that allows you to post songs and you face off head to head against other artists every week and people vote on their favorite. Not only is there some great exposure, but there are grand prizes for the highest voted each week. Thought this was a really cool concept.

championsound.com – this is a tool that you can use to track your events as well. They really sell their mass e-mailing feature and you can add people to your mailing list remotely, or you could collect e-mails at your gigs so you can keep people up to date with whats going on. What’s interesting with this is that it recognized that not everyone is on Twitter or Facebook, but almost everyone has an e-mail, so you can reach out to people who are lazy and won’t search your MySpace, Facebook or Twitter.

If anyone has any other recommendations of things that have worked, please don’t hesitate to post them!  It’s interesting to look at different groups can approach social media.  Also, check out Mass Choir at their Facebook or MySpace page and take a minute to listen to their stuff.  Aside from promoting a friend, they really are an amazing band and I recommend taking a minute to listen to some of their stuff.

Making the Right Resolutions

For everyone who hasn’t been reading the news, apparently our calendar’s have rolled over of 2011.  For most of us, means we stayed up late on December 31 and we will spend a large part of the next few weeks groaning when we have to change 2010 on forms to 2011.  The other popular symptom of the New Year is the New Year’s resolution.  By my own opinion (and since you’re reading my blog, you’re going to get it) is the calendar rolling over is a completely arbitrary event that is part of a calendar designed hundreds of years ago, and has no significant meaning outside the minds of the people who follow it.  It can also create issues with people who believe in the mysticism of it and set resolutions that are high out of reach.  This leads to many not following their resolutions past January.  I believe that when taking something on, you should work hard to set yourself up for success.   The most frequent new years resolution is weight loss.  An example might be to “lose 20 pounds by February”.  Dissecting this goal though, there is a lot wrong with it.

Not realistic

The first mistake this goal made was thinking about what happened in the past.  If it took you 2 months to lose 10 pounds, chances are by setting this goal you’re already setting yourself up for failure.

Goals are based on results instead of actions

If the resolutionary (this should TOTALLY be a word) starts going to the gym, that in itself a success; you started doing something that you weren’t doing before.  However, it will be easy to be disheartened when the change doesn’t achieve the weight loss goal.  Make sure that the goal you set for yourself is based on your actions, not the results.  This leads right into …

Lacking Strategy

The first thing I would ask or someone who had this goal is “how are you going to do it?”  The wrong answer would be “start going to the gym more.”  Immediately, you’ve lost the quantifiable part of your goal.  If they answered “by going to the gym 3 times a week for a half hour run”, I would respond “then that should be your goal”.

As much as New Years might give someone the motivation to go for something, I sometimes worry if gives people unnatural expectations of achieving it.  In the end, the achievement of your goals is up to you.  Pope Gregory XIII, the creator of our calendar chose the date, and he won’t be helping you with the goals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_Calendar) so if you fall short, don’t be discouraged.  Renewal comes by our own choice, so if you fall short, don’t be afraid to try again on February 1.

Guess Who? and Giving Advice

Guess Who?

The Guess Who? game

It is human nature to take inductive steps to solving a problem, and the same goes for giving friends advice.  Advising a friend can cover anything from helping them figure out what is bothering them to helping them solve a crisis.  When it comes to advising our friends, it’s nice to think that we will know the answer before they do; that can describe to them what they are thinking and feeling better then they can.  You may often find yourself in conversations with friends giving them advice on a problem based on your expertise or experience.  When we can tell someone what is bothering them before they even know, it gives us a sense of self worth, as we feel we can tangibly see what we are bringing to the table in a friendly or romantic relationship.  What we don’t realize is that when we make these leaping judgements and assumptions, there are a few things that can go wrong.  First, they themselves might not even know why they are upset, or even be willing to admit to themselves that something is wrong.  Even when you might be right in this case, your assumptions might cause someone to become defensive.  Another option that might occur is you may be downright incorrect and cause someone to feel hurt.  This tactic is equivalent to shooting blindly in the dark, in a room with a small target and many sensitive ones.

Think of advising a friend as a game of Guess Who?.  For those of you who don’t know, Guess Who? is a game where each player has a board with 24 different characters with different physical traits.  Each player then draws a card which contains one of the 24 characters who they keep hidden from the other player.  The players then take turns asking each other yes and no questions about their character to eliminate possibilities of who that character is.  Questions such as “are you a boy?” or “do you have red hair?”  This process repeats until you can narrow down the field enough to ask “are you ____?” and guess the name character they are.  First player to “guess who” before the other player wins.

At this time, anyone who took statistics in University knows the best way to play this game.  You should always ask questions that separate the suspected population by 50%.  That way, right or wrong, you will each question wittle your way down to the correct answer.  The alternative is asking a question that might have 75% to 25% separation for example.  This means you are more likely to end up with the 75% of the population still as suspects.  Relating this back to our initial problem, think of advice you give to your friend as each of the possible “characters” you want to guess, with the right character as the “right” advice that your friend needs to hear.  When we try to guess exactly what is wrong right out of the gate, this is akin to asking “Are you Frank?” or your first move.  People would marvel at your clairvoyance and picking the right character in one try, but in reality you have only a 1/24 chance of getting it right.  In reality, you’re more lucky than you are brilliant.  From this example, we can also see that when your discussing an abstract problem, that 1/24 change will probably fall to almost nothing.  Further to that, when you’re advising a friend you aren’t restricted to yes/no questions.  You can ask them open ended ones, like a basic “is there something on your mind?”

Now we might not get the answer in that situation, but that is when you can start asking questions.  The right questions.  It would nice to be (or at least be seen as) people who can derive everything about your personality from one look.  The truth is that people that appear to be able to do this (psychologists, judges, lawyers) are actually just asking the right questions up front.  It’s nice to hear a friend tell us “Claire, you know me better then I know myself”, but unfortunately there is simply no truth to such a blanket statement.  You may know some side of that person in great detail, but that person will always know the entirety of themselves better than you ever will, they may just not have the confidence to admit it, or want to admit it at all!  At best, you’ve only spent fleeting moments in their shoes, and even then its only a bit of the full picture.  The only person that knows the whole story is themselves, start to finish.

The worst part about giving advice without all the information is that the advice you give could end up being harmful because of your limited information.  Think about when you’ve had a really bad day at work.  You meet a friend after work and have a beer.  While you try to act like you’re OK cause you don’t want to talk about your day, your just not able to.  Then your friend pipes in; “You seem distracted.  Are you mad at me?”  Suddenly, your feeling guilty for letting them feel like that.  The better question for them to ask would be “Is something on your mind?”  Not only do you feel more comfortable that your friend noticed your distress, but suddenly you’ve been given permission to vent.  Of course your friend could have guessed “Did you have a bad day at work?” and you would have been in awe at their ability to guess, but more likely and given the breadth of knowledge of stuff a friend knows about you, chances are just as likely they might have guessed “Are there problems at home?”, “Are you thinking about your ex?” or worse “Am I boring you?”  By taking the non-accusatory route, you feel immediately more comfortable to voice your troubles together

I urge you to stop yourself from jumping into giving your friends advice.  Even when they come looking or asking for it, try to spend a good amount of time listening first.  Walk along a path of thought with your friend and ask them questions and get as much information as you can.  While asking the right questions, you might even help them solve the problem themselves just by helping them vocalize the issue (this process is actually called Coaching, but more on that later).  Sometimes the most valuable way to help your friends is to find out first what the problem ISN’T.  Try to view the situation from a neutral place.  Ask the right questions, and keep narrowing down till the advice just pops out at.  Try asking if the suspect has white hair, before jumping to conclusions and asking “Are you Frank?”