Interesting Vancouver

Posted in Art, Canadian life, review at 9:01 pm by ducky

I got a ticket to Interesting Vancouver from Boris Mann, who uh reminded me that I owed him a recap in exchange.  That’s a perfectly perfectly reasonable request, but that message didn’t sink in ahead of time, so I didn’t take notes or try very hard to remember.  I’ll do a dump on my impressions, but you should note that I seemed to have been grumpy that evening, perhaps because I didn’t have enough dinner.

  • James Sherret from AdHack:  I was about 10 minutes late, so missed his talk completely.
  • Darren Barefoot, laptopbedouin.com: I came in in the middle.  Darren was basically waxing rhapsodic about the value/joy of telecommuting from other countries for multiple months at a time.  His message seemed to be “go, it’ll be fun, you’ll learn, it won’t cost as much as you think, what do you have to lose?”
    • When I was younger, I wouldn’t have found anything at all wrong with that message. I would had little patience for old farts telling me (or anyone) that I should grow up and start being responsible blah blah blah. However, now that I am older and have seen how health issues can trash a life, I would suggest more caution, particularly for people who are citizens of countries without socialized medicine. Part of “being responsible” is saving away the money that you will need for later. When you lose your job. When you can’t work because of your illness. When your partner can’t work. When your mother has a heart attack. When your kid needs rehab. You might be fine now, but someday you won’t be. Running off to live in a third-world country probably increases your risk of illness, complications, accidents, and/or violence at least slightly. It also cuts you off from your family — the same family that you might need to turn to someday.
  • Roy Yen, soomo.com: I think Roy was the one who was arguing that our “vertical architecture” (i.e. skyscrapers) was contributing to loneliness and isolation, and that we really needed a public gathering space in Vancouver.  He said that Vancouver used to have a big public gathering space, but there was a riot in the 70s and The Powers That Be decided that having a big public gathering space was a Bad Idea, so redeveloped it away.  He pointed out that the only public gathering space left is the back side of the Art Gallery, and that the Art Gallery is slated to move to False Creek.
    • When he blamed the high-density development for loneliness and isolation, I was kind of stunned.  “Has he ever lived in suburbia???” I remember asking myself.  I immediately thought of a neighbourhood in Orange County where a friend lived, where I spent a few days once.  It was all snout houses, and my friend said that in a year of living there, she had never spoken to a neighbour.  I think she maybe hadn’t even seen her immediate neighbours — they drove into their garage, and thence immediately into their house.  I am now living in a skyscraper for the first time, and I find the density wonderful: I see people in the elevators, I see people as I walk to the bus stop, I see people as I walk to the grocery store, etc. etc. etc.  It feels far more communal than driving to everywhere in a car by myself.
    • I did think it was interesting to hear about the bygone public space and to think about the back of the Vancouver Art Gallery being the one public gathering space.   However, most of the places that I’ve lived didn’t have public gathering spaces, and somehow we got by.
  • James Chutter radarddb.com:
    • James’ presentation didn’t have a real obvious thesis statement — I don’t know that I learned anything from his talk, but I remember I enjoyed it.  He told the story of his evolution as a storyteller, and in doing so talked about the evolution of the Web.
  • Cheryl Stephens, plainlanguage.com: Cheryl is a lawyer and literacy advocate who talked about how widespread the problem of literacy is.
    • Cheryl lost my attention very, very quickly.  Some combination of her voice level, the microphone level, how far she stood from the mike, and me being in the back of the room (I was late, remember?) meant that I had to exert some effort to understand her words, and I didn’t like her words well enough to pay attention.  In particular, early on, she asserted, “There can be no education without literacy.”  While I  might have been extra grumpy that evening (note my grumpy comments elsewhere), I found that statement offensive.  Um, blind people can’t be educated?  (NB: Only 3% of the visually impaired students at UBC read Braille.  I presume the rest use screen readers.)
    • Later, she talked about how widespread illiteracy was, and said that only about 10% of the population could read at a college level.  I didn’t know about Canada, but right around half of the US population has attended some college.  Um, does that mean that 80% of people in college can’t read at a college level?
    • One thing that I did find interesting was her report that the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that explaining something wasn’t enough, that the plaintiffs also had to understand it.  (She gave the example of someone being offered counsel, and the perp saying he already had a drug counselor — not realizing that “counsel” meant “lawyer”.)
    • I was a little confused as how explaining something verbally related to literacy.
    • At the end, she rushed in about thirty seconds of how to make your prose more understandable.  I personally would have preferred less talk aimed at convincing me literacy was a problem and more on how to address it.
  • Shannon LaBelle, Vancouver Museums: Shannon gave a very quick talk that was basically, “Vancouver has lots of interesting museums, especially the Museum of Anthropology when it reopens, go visit them!”
  • Irwin Oostindie, creativetechnology.org: Irwin talked about his community, the Downtown East Side, and in bringing pride to his community through culture, especially in community-generated media.
    • I wanted to like Irwin’s lofty goals.  He was a very compelling speaker.  But I have done a lot of work in community media, and know that it is extremely difficult to make compelling media.  It sure seemed like he was getting his hopes up awfully high.  Well, best of luck to him.  Maybe.
    • He seemed to want to make DTES a vibrant, interesting, entertaining place.  I worry that if it becomes entertaining, it will quickly gentrify.  I think a lot of people in DTES don’t need entertainment, they need jobs.  They need housing.
  • Jeffrey Ellis, cloudscapecomics.com: Jeffrey gave a very quick talk advertising a group of comic artists who were about to release (just released?) another comic book.
    • Sure, fine.  Whatever.
  • Tom Williams, GiveMeaning: Tom told the story of how he used to be making big bucks in high finance, and thought he was happy until someone he had known before asked him a penetrating question.  I don’t remember the question, but it was something along the lines of “Are you really happy?” or “Does your life have meaning?” and that made him realize he wasn’t happy.  Tom quit his job and went looking for his purpose and couldn’t find it.  He came back to Vancouver, found that guy, and said something along the lines of “You ruined my life with your question, how do I fix it?”  The guy said, “Follow your passion.”  Tom said, “How do I find my passion????”  The guys said, “Follow your tears.”  From that, Tom started a micro-charity site.  (Think microlending, but microgiving instead.)  People can create projects (e.g. “sponsor me for the Breast Cancer Walk”) that others can then donate small amounts to.
    • I don’t mind giving people a little bit of money sometimes, but I do resent being on their mailing list forever and ever after.  When he explained his site, it made me think of all the trees that have died in the service of trying to extract more money from me.  🙁
    • His friend’s advice, “Follow your tears” has hung around with me since.  I told my beloved husband that it probably meant that I had to go back to the US to try to fix the system.  Unfortunately, I find activism really boring.  🙁
  • Naomi Devine, uvic.commonenergy.org: I don’t have a strong memory of this talk.  I think she was arguing for getting involved in local politics, especially green politics.  I suspect that the talk didn’t register because it either trying to persuade me of something I already believe, or teaching me how to do something I already know.
  • James Glave, glave.com: I have very weak memories of this talk also.  I think again, he was trying to persuade me on something I’m already persuaded on.
  • Colin Keddie, Buckeye Bullet: Colin gave kind of a hit-and-run talk about the Buckeye Bullet, a very very fast experimental car developed at Ohio State University and which runs on fuel cells.
    • I would have liked to have heard more about how the car worked, the challenges that they faced, etc.  However, he only had three minutes, and that’s not a lot of time.
    • (Slightly off-topic: I got to see a talk on winning the DARPA challenge when I was at Google.  It’s a great talk, I highly recommend it.)
  • Joe Solomon, engagejoe.com: I don’t have any memories of this talk.  Maybe I was getting tired then?  Maybe I’m getting tired now?
  • Dave Ng, biotech.ubc.ca: Dave’s talk was on umm science illiteracy.
    • Dave gave a very engaging talk.  He put up three questions, and had us talk to our neighbours to help us decide if they were true or false.  All of them seemed to be designed to be so ridiculous that they couldn’t possibly be true.  I happened to have read Science News for enough years, that I was very confident that the first two were true (which they were).  The third was something about how 46% of Americans believe they are experts in the evolutionary history of a particular type of bird — again it looked like it couldn’t possibly be true.  It was a bit of a fakeout: it turned out that 46% of Americans thought that the Genesis story was literally true.
    • The audience participation was fun.
  • David Young, 2ndglobe.com: David talked about Great Place/times and wondered why Vancouver couldn’t do that.  He pointed out that Athens in Socrates’ time, Florence in Michelangelo’s time, Vienna in Beethoven’s time, the Revolutionary War-era US, and several other place/times had far fewer residents than Vancouver, so why can’t we do the same?
    • I have thought about this, and maybe I read something about this elsewhere, but I believe there are a few factors that account for most of why the great place/times were great:
      • Great wealth (which means lots of leisure time).  Frequently this wealth came by exploiting some other people.  The US Founding Fathers and Athenians had slaves, for example.
      • Lack of entertainment options.  We are less likely to do great things if The Simpsons is on.
      • Lack of historical competition.   Michelangelo showed up at a time when the Church was starting to be a bit freer in what it would tolerate in art.  (Michelangelo’s David was the second nude male sculpture in like 500 years…)
      • Technological advances.  Shakespeare wasn’t competing with hundreds of years of other playwrights, he was competing with around 100 years of post-printing-press playwrights.  The other playwrights and authors’ work didn’t get preserved.   The French impressionists were able to go outside and paint because they were able to purchase tubes of paint that they could take with them and which didn’t dry too fast.  (They also had competition from the camera for reproducing scenes absolutely faithfully, so needed to do something cameras couldn’t do.)

I also had an interesting time talking with Ray-last-name-unknown, who I met at some event a few months ago and who I’d spoken to at length at Third Tuesday just a few nights before.  We walked back to downtown together and didn’t have any dead spots in the conversation.

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