Dream date

Posted in Random thoughts, Too Much Information at 1:18 pm by ducky

I’ve had a constant question running in the back of my head for a long time, “Who would you have dinner with if you could?”  (I talked about this a little in the post about Steve Wozniak.)

I have expanded it a little to which three people I would like to be at the same table with, or even just to witness.  I’ve decided that my dream dinner team is Randall Munroe of xkcd, Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.

How to go about pulling that off is a trickier matter.  Step one would probably be to do something really interesting, such that I would be a desirable dinner date…


Sovereignty of the people

Posted in Canadian life, Gay rights, Politics at 9:40 am by ducky

Recently, the California Supreme Court heard arguments in a case designed to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which overturned the judicial decision that gay and lesbian people had the right to marry.  While I didn’t watch the hearings myself, I understand that Ken Starr (the defending attorney) basically put forth the belief that a majority vote could strip rights of  minority.

People who are better than I at guessing what the outcome will be by examining the questions, tone, and body language of the justices think that they will rule against overturning Proposition 8, in part because they think that the California Domestic Partnership gives all of the same rights as marriage.  Essentially, they are fighting over a word, with Starr’s side saying that a bare majority of the citizens can take away gay and lesbian people’s right to use the word “marriage”.

There was a Canadian political figure, Stockwell Day, who seemed to have similar beliefs in the rights of the majority over the rights of a minority.  He pushed for a law that would have required a referendum on any proposal supported by a petition signed by 3% of Canadian voters.  He stopped talking about this when Rick Mercer (sort of Canada’s Jon Stewart) called for a national petition forcing Stockwell Day to change his first name to “Doris”.

Perhaps the correct response to Proposition 8 is to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot requiring Ken Starr to change his first name to “Brenda”.


The view from our Canadian window

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts at 2:08 am by ducky

If you know us, you know we have raved about the view from our apartment.  It’s not the absolute best view in the world, but it is pretty stunning to a gal from the flat lands and buildings of Champaign, IL.


That picture (and an absolutely ginormous version) were taken and stitched together by Randy Stewart from Seattle.

Randy apparently walked into our apartment, said, “Oh my god!” or something such, and dashed into our bedroom to take pictures.   Our other dinner guest, from metropolitan Canada, was slightly perplexed/bemused by his reaction.  It is completely ordinary for people in cities in Canada to live in high-rise apartments.

Randy (and Jim and I) are from the US.  It is very uncommon for people to live in high-rises in the US.  If I think really hard, of all the thousands and thousands of people I have known, I can only think of six households who I know ever lived above the sixth floor, and one more who I think might have had a high-rise condo a few years ago.  (And three of those households were in the same building in Mountain View.)  That is it, period, total, everybody, and I had to think pretty hard to come up with that meagre ration.

Why are there so few high-rise residences in the US?  There are many factors.  I am by no means an expert, but these are a few:

  • The American Dream of owning your own house is cliche for a reason.  It is assumed that if you don’t own your own house, at least you aspire to owning your own house.  To not aspire to have your own house is sort of like not wanting to own a TV.
  • When renting, you generally get more square feet per dollar in a shared house than in an apartment, especially a shared apartment.  Even I, through all my moves, have only lived in four apartments in the US, and two of those were while I was a student.
  • In some places, the only high-rises around were “the projects” — government-built and -run publicly-subsidized housing.  Thus high-rises were decidedly un-sexy.
  • In California, where one-eighth of the US lives, cities can’t afford dense housing.
  • California has earthquakes, which makes people nervous about high-rises, even though high-rises constructed to modern codes are much safer in earthquakes than older houses on landfill or alluvial floodplains.
  • Traditionally, cheap gas has meant that it was feasible to live quite a ways from work.
  • In the US, not having a car can have a significant negative impact on the quality of your life, parking is difficult in cities, and very few US cities have good public transportation systems.  The poor transportation is due partly to density, but also part to the easy availability of guns.  Many people in the US are afraid of taking public transportation.

You should also note that Vancouver has worked very hard to develop its downtown.  The fact that it has a vibrant and vertical downtown was the result of very deliberate and careful urban planning, not an accident of fate.

UPDATE: I realized that several of the dorms at my US university were high-rises.  I’m not sure that counts.