05.22.11

Novice paragliding

Posted in Canadian life, Family at 7:36 pm by ducky

Note: Dion, my instructor read this and was concerned that it painted an overly negative, overly scary picture of the sport.  I toned my language down slightly, but my main objective was to tell my family and friends about how I felt, not to evangelize for how fun (or safe) the sport is!.  Paragliding is actually quite safe when done right; my next post will be on paragliding safety.

My husband Jim flies powered aircraft; I find flying in small planes dull, noisy, cold, and a waste of fossil fuel.  Jim sings; I don’t.  Jim runs; I have bad knees.  I do artwork; Jim doesn’t.  I like to skate; Jim doesn’t.  I like to read and write, which are inherently solitary activities.  From time to time, one of us will try to do something that the other likes: I sang in one opera; Jim has gone skating a few times; Jim and I took a sketching class together; I have flown in small planes with Jim a few times.  Unfortunately, those efforts have not worked really well.  (For example, I threw up on one of my small plane rides with Jim.)  Despite us really liking each other, we don’t do much together.

When we were in Turkey with the nephews, I got a chance to take a ride in a tandem paraglider.  Despite throwing up twice due to motion sickness (I am sensitive, and didn’t take meds in time), it was one of the high points of the trip for me.  (Figuratively as well as literally.)  So I seized on paragliding as something we could maybe enjoy together.

We signed up for and are now mostly done with the P1 introductory class at iParaglide.  In the rest of this post, I’m going to talk about our experiences.

We started out with two theory classes.  We learned intellectually what we were supposed to do on launch and landing, about the gear, a little on the aerodynamics of the wings, how the controls affected the wing, how wind strength and weight affected ground speed and sink rate (which are the components of the glide ratio), and a bit about weather in BC.

Jim preparing to do a reverse launch kite; our apartment tower is in the background.

We next had a gratis session of kiting practice.  (This wasn’t on the class agenda, but Dion Vuk, our instructor, said that the weather was great for it and it would make us better fliers.)  Kiting is done on a flat piece of ground and the exercise is to get the glider (aka “the wing”) aloft over our heads for as long as we could.

It was difficult, and hard work for my out-of-shape 47 year-old body.  I was exhausted at the end of it.  I said to myself that my enjoyment of this sport would be lower if I didn’t get myself into better shape, so I started carrying water in my backpack on my walk to work.  Four or five days per week, I would walk 3km to work carrying five litres of water in my backpack; two or three days per week I would also walk home with it.  If there had been an earthquake, I would have been prepared!

The day after our kiting session, the class of about seven students practiced what is called “slope soaring”.  We got up at 5 AM to go out to a city park about an hour away which has about a 30′ hill. That hill  is just steep enough that you can launch off of it, but not steep enough that you can get very high above it.

Jim catching air at slope soaring

The wing needs a relative airspeed of 20 km/hr (12.5 mph, or 4:48 minutes per mile).  This would be really really hard on a flat surface with no headwind if your name isn’t Usain Bolt, but running downhill with a little bit of a headwind (which drops the groundspeed you have to achieve) makes it more possible.  It is still a little bit of a challenge: when the wing isn’t fully up, it’s like you are pulling a parachute — because you are!  As soon as the wing gets up, it is easier, but if you don’t haul posterior, worst case the wing’s momentum can bring it over and in front of you and you run into the wing, oops.  More likely is that you run run run and just don’t get enough speed to lift off the ground, which is unsatisfying.

There is no jumping: if you jump up, that reduces your airspeed and you just come right back down.  (Hubby Jim also points out that it reduces tension in the lines, which is counterproductive: the tension in the lines is part of what gives it the shape you need.)

The weather that day was suboptimal: the winds were coming from the west instead of the east, which meant we needed to launch from a less-optimal hill; it was a bit gusty, so hard to keep the wing from rolling off to one side. Because the weather was worse than forecast,  Dion decided to not take us up to the mountain that same day, but to give us another morning of slope soaring.  I was glad, because I was wiped out.  (See above about being 47 years old.)

Thus the next day, we got up at 5 AM to get to the park at 6 AM, for another three hours or so of slope soaring.  It was much easier due to much better winds, and we had fun running up and down the hill in a friendly competition to see whic pair of people could get the most flights-with-air in a specified time. (Note: it is really helpful to have a “buddy” when learning.  Once you are clipped in to your harness, you are connected to your wing so can’t do a good job of laying the wing out by hand if the wind moves it.  We were taught how to better adjust our wing on the ground using our lines, but it is helpful to have an extra pair of hands.  We were paired with a buddy in kiting and slope soaring.)

We then drove 2 hrs up to the mountain site, walked around the Landing Zone (LZ), and then went to lunch.  The weather in the Lower Mainland of BC is such that almost always, the winds will pick up significantly at mid-day, too much for novices to handle.  We pretty much can’t fly between 1300h and 1700h, so lunch tends to be from 1400h-1600h or so (with the rest of the time spent packing or unpacking and getting up from or down to the restaurant).

After lunch, Dion (slowly and deliberately) launched the students, one by one.  The winds died down as the day progressed, so Dion launched the students in reverse order of weight, which put me in the penultimate spot.

A note: I ♥ Dion.  Dion is extremely safety conscious, attentive, and supportive.  Not only did he give Jim and I kiting practice plus two days of slope soaring practice before the Big Launch, he spent a long time with each student on launch to make sure that they had a good launch: checking the lines (the cables that attach to the glider), checking our harness (the thing that attaches us to the lines), laying out the glider so that it would be maximally easy to launch, reassuring us, etc.  All of Dion’s students had perfect launches the first time that day; this was not true of all the student pilots with other teachers.

I had a totally unremarkable launch and then… I was in the air!  “Was it cool?  Were you excited?” I hear you ask.  Well, yes and no.  Mostly I was focusing on not killing myself; following Dion’s instructions on the radios (we each had radios clipped to our harness; two for redundancy) to sit back in the harness, do a left turn, a right turn, a 180, etc. as he made sure that I had some modicum of competency.  Next, I was focusing on aiming at my target: three tall trees at the far, upwind side of the LZ.  I was distracted for a minute by some bumps in the ride: I apparently had gone through a thermal: one bump for going in, one bump for coming out.

The landing sequence goes like this: go to above the far, upwind corner of the LZ (a rectangular grassy field bounded by tall trees).  Do one or more figure-8s along the short side (cross wind) to burn altitude; then turn and go downwind along the long axis of the field on the far (i.e. farther from the launch area) side of the field.  At the other end of the field (“the base”), optionally burn some more altitude with one or more figure-8s; turn into the wind (to help slow the groundspeed); at the last minute, flare (i.e. stall the wing) to give a slight bit of lift and a lot of decrease in ground speed; run like hell to keep up with the glider as it comes down.

We were told to always always always turn towards the instructor, never ever away (which meant left turns for this landing spot); to “put our landing gear down” (i.e. stand up in the harness instead of sitting in it) halfway down the downwind leg; and to never ever ever make sharp turns close to the ground.  I blew all three of those.  The LZ instructor (who was new) had the practice of putting legs down much closer to the touchdown so didn’t tell me yet, and I didn’t remember to do it on my own.  On the downwind leg, I misunderstood the LZ instructor telling me to ease up on my right brake as a request for a right turn, which confused me long enough that I didn’t turn left when I should have.  That meant that I was closer to the trees in front of me than I liked, so I made a sharp turn (oops!) to the left.

"my" wing in the briars

Well.  If you do sharp turns, you lose altitude fast, and suddenly I was on the ground.  Also, because I had not turned in time to hit the nice part of the field, I landed in bunch of briars.  I didn’t really panic because I didn’t have time.  One minute I was heading for the trees, the next I knew the ground was really close, the next I was on the ground on my side in the midst of briars.

I thought to myself, “Am I damaged?  Nope: successful landing!”  And I really wasn’t: not a cut, not a scratch.  Later I found what might have been two tiny little puncture wounds, each about the size of a small zit, but I might have easily gotten those during slope soaring.

 

My heroes!

My stomach felt awful, however.  My stomach is already acid-sensitive, and it turns out that adrenaline dumps a lot of acid into the stomach.  I didn’t know that, however, so thought I had gotten motion sick. “This sucks!”, I thought to myself.  I really wanted this to be something Jim and I could do together, but if I am so sensitive that I will get this motion sick on my first fifteen-minute flight, that wasn’t good.

Given how concerned everyone else was by my well-being after “crash landing” in the briars, and how bad I felt, they let me lie around groaning while they untangled my wing from the briars for me.  Thanks, peeps!

Interestingly, this landing did not make me more scared of flying, it made me less scared.  I am an out-of-shape, not particularly coordinated 47-year-old who did three things that I had been explicitly warned not to do, had an uncontrolled landing into briars, and still was unscratched.  There is more room for error in this sport than I had realized.

Jim and I debriefed, went home, and collapsed into bed.  I was wiped out.

The next two weekends had nasty weather, so we didn’t fly.

Finally, a break in the weather.  On Thursday, Dion offered another evening kiting session that we jumped on.  (The kiting sessions are surprisingly fun.)  While I had trouble getting the wing up, I was not completely exhausted.  Let’s hear it for carrying five litres of water 3 km to work and back for three weeks!

We were scheduled to have class on Sat/Sun, but Thursday evening, after the kiting session, Dion looked at the weather and didn’t like what he saw.  He called around to see who could come to a session on Friday, and managed to get a quorum.  So we got up at 5AM on a Friday morning and drove out to the mountain.

One really big advantage of flying on Friday is that we had almost no company at the top of the mountain.  I think there were only five other people there the whole day.

At the launch site, holding the bag the wing is stored in; you can see Mike setting up behind me.

Me starting to get up from a faceplant; LZ instructor coming to check on my health.

On my first flight of the day, I was a little bit more relaxed, and actually got to look around a little bit.  However, I came in a little bit low and wasn’t able to make my turn onto final.  Instead, I landed crosswind on the downwind short-side of the field.  This meant that I didn’t get any help from a headwind to slow me down.  I couldn’t run fast enough, so stumbled and fell face-first.

The great news was that I was again completely unhurt (again, not even a scratch, bruise, or scrape); the good news is that my stomach wasn’t nearly as upset as it had been after my close encounter with the briars; the bad news is that my stomach was still unhappy; the worse news is that I got motion sick on the bumpy drive up the rutted logging road.  (The great news is that I did not get vomit all over the inside of Jeff’s vehicle!)

I was still feeling queasy when the time came for my next flight.  Dion asked how I was feeling, I shook my head “no”, and he immediately scrubbed my flight with no recriminations of any kind.  The man is extremely supportive.

(Jim and the other students flew, however, and had great fun.  Dion had them ride thermals a little bit to get them used to soaring.  One of the other students, Jeff, is really good at this, in part from experience kiteboarding, and he was aloft forrrreevvvvvverrrrr!)

Then we debriefed, had lunch, and went back up.  We started flying again around 1700h, I believe.  As I said before, the winds are high mid-day and get weaker, so Dion again sorted by decreasing weight, putting me at the end of the line.  When it was just me and Dion at the top, the wind started being a bit erratic and I started getting nervous about the launch.  I was also aware that everyone else was waiting for me at the bottom.  Dion soothed me and calmed me down about the launch.

I was also a bit nervous about the landing.  The stated objective of the last flight was to get us to land on our own.  At this point, I have one landing in the briars and one near-face-plant… and that was with help.  Zero fully correct landings (unlike the others, who have had two or three apiece by this time).  Now I’m supposed to do it on my own?

That tiny speck in the center is me.

But Dion was right, the winds did die down.  I tried to launch — and wasn’t going fast enough.  I tried to abort, fell on my butt, and slid into my wing.  Pick up, try again, wait… wait… wait… and finally, it was a go!  I ran like hell down the slope and was airborne!

This time, everything felt smoother.  I looked around more, and got to go “wow, I am way up in the air and can see all kinds of stuff!”.  Eventually I got over the landing field and started my way down.  First mistake: I did triangles instead of figure-8s to kill altitude on the upwind short side.  No real harm done, but it meant that I ended up way over (inside) the field instead of sticking to the boundary.  Next mistake: I forgot to put my landing gear down halfway through the downwind leg.  Then, when I got to the base (downwind, short-side), I was a bit high.

On the base (downwind, short-side) leg

I did one loop of a figure 8 to kill some height, and started back towards the far side of the field.  I dithered and dithered for an eternity (like, two seconds) about whether I should turn upwind or do another loop.  I wasn’t sure if I had enough height to do another loop of the figure 8 or not, but felt like I was higher than I was supposed to be to land.  I worried that if I was too low, then things would happen so quickly that the instructor (monitoring and on the radio to provide corrections if I got into trouble) might not be able to help me before I got in the trees, and that would be bad.  The landing field is very long, so I figured that the instructor would have enough time to tell me how to recover if I was too high.  I thus decided to go for “final” instead of another figure 8 loop.

I was too high to land in the first third of the field like they like us to.  The orange spot in the lower left of the next photo is the target we were supposed to try to hit, and you can see I am way too high to hit that:

on final approach

As I came in, I flew over the heads of the other students, who gaped up at me.  It became clear that I was in fact going to land well before the trees, which was a relief.  The LZ instructor came on the radio and told me to put my landing gear down when I was about 30 feet off the ground, oops!  Fortunately, it was easy to pop into a “starfish” stance from my sitting position.

But where should I flare?  If you flare too high, then you fall from a height.  If you flare too low, then you don’t lose enough speed and might get pulled by your glider (i.e. face plant).  Fortunately, the instructor came on and told me to when to flare.  I flared hard and got ready to run like the dickens:

getting ready to sprint

I touched down very gently, took two, maybe three dainty little steps, and was, much to my surprise, stopped!  Zero forward velocity, and my wing was just sitting above my head.  It took 15 or 30 seconds to float to the ground as I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.  In the following picture, I am not only stopped dead, I have started to turn around an look behind me at everybody else.  You can if you look very closely that the lines to the right of me are slack and starting to collapse.

cold stop

~1(?) sec later

It was amazing. I literally could not have imagined — it was beyond my imagination — that it was possible for me to have a landing like that.

My stomach was not upset immediately, but it got unhappy a minute or two later.  (Not as bad as the other times.)   I immediately chewed two Tums, and that seemed to make it better.

 

about 10(?) seconds after landing

We debriefed and went home.  The next day, I was really lethargic and spent basically the whole day in bed.  Note, however, that I was merely lethargic after one day of flying plus one evening of kiting (and two days of getting up way way early) instead of being totally wiped out after one day of either.  Now if you will excuse me, I need to go carry six litres of water down to the beach!

10.26.09

Canadian stimulus infrastructure leaving Québec out

Posted in Canadian life, Politics at 1:29 pm by ducky

Update: Some of the ridings were assigned to neighbouring ridings due to losing some precision in the input lat/lng.  This did not make a big difference in the overall picture, as only 2.7% of the projects were classified incorrectly.  I’ve updated this blog posting and the map; we probably won’t update the spreadsheet unless we have strong requests to do so.

There has been a fair amount of press lately on the distribution of Canadian stimulus money, with most of what we’d heard saying that Conservative ridings were getting more than their fair share of stimulus money e.g.  The Globe and Mail’s Stimulus Program favours Tory ridings.  Conservatives countered that it was important to look at the big picture, and that there were multiple stimulus programs. The National Post’s Liberal, NDP ridings getting more than fair share of infrastructure money: analysis reported that non-conservative ridings were getting more than their fair share of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program grants.

My husband and I kind of looked at each other and said, “We can analyze that data!”, so we did.  We saw a bias in Conservative/non-Conservative ridings, but it wasn’t huge.  We found that Conservative ridings got 51% of the projects, while only 46% of the ridings are Conservative.  NDP ridings got 15% of the projects, despite only having 12% of the ridings, and even liberals got slightly more than “their fair share”, with 27% of the projects and only 25% of the ridings.

So who is getting less?  The Bloc Québécois.  With 15% of the ridings, the Bloc only got 6% of the projects.

If you look at the breakdown by province, it looks like Ontario is getting way, WAY more than its fair share, with some other provinces — especially Québec — getting less than their fair share.

Province % of projects % of population
AB 6.71 11
BC 9.2 13
MB 3.81 3.6
NB 3.05 2.2
NF 3.33 1.5
NS 4.20 1.8
NT 0.55 .13
NU 0.39 .094
ON 53.0 39
PE 1.7 .42
QC 8.2 23
SK 5.26 3.1
YT 0.53 0.1

Dollar values are much harder to estimate because the value of each of the projects is given as a range — “under $100K”, “between $100K and $1M”, etc.  We made our best guesses at how to calculate that, and our best estimate gives Québec 12% of the dollars for 23% of the population — better, but still way less than they should be getting.

Now, there might be some errors in the data, as described below.  However, we think that this is worth investigation, and soon.

If you would like to look at the data yourself, Jim put together a spreadsheet in Open Office format, a slightly less-powerful spreadsheet in Excel format, and a PDF showing information from the spreadsheet, available on his writeup of the data. I of course made a map of the data.

Caveats:

  • We are in no way affiliated with the Government of Canda or Statistics Canada.  This analysis does not represent government policy.
  • There are multiple parts to the stimulus package, and this analysis only covers the infrastructure component.  Other money in the stimulus plan is going towards improving the financial system (which I think means “bank bailouts”, but I’m not sure), extending unemployment benefits, etc.
  • I assigned ridings based on the latitudes and longitudes that were given in the Economic Action Plan’s data (which Jim pulled down using their API).  We have some doubts about the integrity of those lat/long pairs, especially since two of the stimulus projects have lat/longs that are unquestionably in the United States.
  • My software truncated the latitude and longitude used to assign ridings down to two digits, which means the points can appear a little bit to the east and/or south of their actual location.  In cases where a point is very near a riding border, that could mean that it would be assigned to the neighbouring riding.  I expect this would only affect a very few ridings, and would not significantly affect the by-province countsThis made absolutely no difference in the riding assignment. Update: 174 ridings were mis-assigned, but this did not make a huge difference in the aggregate numbers.  It meant that Conservative ridings got 51.1% of the projects instead of 52%, and Quebec got 8.2% instead of 8.6%.  The message stays the same: there is inequity here.
  • It might be that some national projects are assigned a lat/lng in Ontario because there wasn’t an obvious locus for the project.  However, if that were the case, then I would expect that Ottawa would have the biggest number of projects.  In fact, the most projects (144) are in the Vaughn riding in Toronto, represented by MP Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua (L).  The Ottawa Centre riding does have the second-highest, but only 101 projects out of the 6424 projects — not enough to explain why QC has so few projects.

Copyrights:

  • Information on the stimulus project information came from Canada’s Economic Action Plan
  • Canadian federal riding geometries came from Elections Canada, which requires this notice: © The federal Electoral Districts Boundaries (Representation Order 2003), Elections Canada. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Elections Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M6 Canada (2007).
  • Information on Canadian MPs came from the House of Commons Web site and were produced by the Government of Canada.  The right to reproduce for non-commercial use is given here.
  • Provincial population figures came from Statistics Canada.

Update: I looked at per-capita figures, and that makes things look even more skewed. Five of the top ten ridings in projects per hundred thousand people are in Ontario:

Kenora, ON 132.211
Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON 124.42
Yukon, YT 111.94
Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON 101.90
Ottawa Centre, ON 92.37
Egmont, PEI 91.91
Vaughan, ON 91.44
Nunavut, NU 84.82
Western Arctic, NT 84.41
Labrador, NL 79.65

The top riding in Quebec, by comparison, ranks 82th out of 308 ridings (at 29.9 projects per hundred thousand people).

(Note that ridings have roughly between 25 and 125 thousand people, with the average right around one hundred thousand.)

04.21.09

UBC programming team takes 34th in the world!

Posted in Canadian life, Hacking, University life at 11:47 am by ducky

The UBC programming team took 34th place at the 2009 International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals in Stockholm!  W00t!!

This marks the sixth year in a row that UBC has gone to the World Finals, despite being entirely undergraduates and entirely without World Finals experience.  (We have information on past teams, but don’t know the seniority of the 2004 team.)

Congratulations, team!

03.14.09

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”.

03.05.09

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.

viewfromourwindow

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.

12.09.08

Canadians worrying about US water appropriation, wtf?

Posted in Canadian life, Politics at 11:35 pm by ducky

I am baffled by a concern that seems endemic in Canada: that the US is going to steal Canadian water.  The way they talk about it, it’s almost like they think there are already secret contingency plans drawn up that one more dry season in California will trigger.

This seems totally preposterous to me:

  • I have never heard anyone in the US talk about routing Canadian water to the US.  I remember about ten or twenty years ago, hearing people talk about a canal to Oregon, to the Columbia river, but it wasn’t something that people were taking seriously.  It was sort of like how in the late seventies there were people talking about building space colonies.  There were a few people thinking about the theoretical possibility, but there wasn’t any real thought that they were practical.
  • Which states might run out of water?  Let’s suggest California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  States in the South.   Where is Canada?  Way way north.  Where is the closest water to California?  Oregon.  Don’t need to go any farther.  Where is the closest water to Texas?  The Mississippi.  Don’t need to go any farther.  What is the easiest water to get to from Arizona and New Mexico?  Probably the Mississippi again.  Maybe you’d object that the Mississippi water isn’t very nice by the time it gets to Louisiana.  Maybe it is, but if they are out of water, they can’t be that choosy.  The next place they could look would be Lake Michigan; you don’t have to go over any mountains and you don’t have to cross any international borders.
  • Why should the Canadians worry about water when they could worry about oil instead?  The US has a history of belligerency related to oil; I don’t know of any US belligerency related to water.
    • One Canadian, in response to that question, said “Yeah, but we already sell the oil.” Yeah, but Canada could sell the water, too. And Canada has a lot more water than it has oil.

So I find it a very odd concern. I am not suggesting that Canadians should think of the US as an entirely and always consistently benevolent country. I’m sure there are things Canadians should be nervous about. But water? That is so far down on the list of things that I would worry about that I find it very odd.

To be fair, I also have heard a man from Michigan be concerned about California stealing Michigan’s water.  (He went on an extended rant about how people shouldn’t live in places that required importing large quantities of natural resources.  I wonder how he would enjoy winter in Michigan without large imports of fossil fuels.)  Maybe they got this idea from the Canadians.

11.05.08

Are we moving back to the US?

Posted in Canadian life, Family, Politics at 1:45 pm by ducky

Several people have asked me, “So are you and Jim moving back to California now?”

The answer is “No, not yet.  Maybe never.”

I had six reasons to move to Canada:

  1. I was devastated that my fellow Americans could elect G.W. Bush for a second term.  That said to me that my fellow Americans and I were not at all on the same page, and that maybe I didn’t belong in the US.
  2. I was upset at how my government shredded civil liberties for both citizens (e.g., illegal wiretapping) and non-citizens (e.g., torture and abuse).
  3. I was unnerved by an almost willful neglect/disinterest in some major, fundamental structural problems in the US and Californian economies.  In particular, the US has been, as Lloyd Bentsen famously put it in a 1988 VP debate, been “writing hot checks” for a very long time: spending a lot but not paying enough in taxes to support those costs.
  4. UBC was more nurturing than Stanford, my other choice for grad school.
  5. We have lots of relatives close to Vancouver, just across the border in Bellingham.
  6. Canada’s health system is not tied to employment.  It is highly likely that we will, at some point, earning money but not be employed.  Living in Canada, that’s not a problem.  (Like right now.  I’m looking for work and Jim is consulting.)  Living in the US, that might be a problem.

The fact that my compatriots turned out in such droves for Obama lessens the feeling that I am out of step with the rest of America.  I was shocked and appalled by the divisive tactics used by the McCain/Palin campaign, but enormously heartened at the number of Republicans who have publicly voiced being likewise shocked and appalled.  So Obama’s election knocks off #1 pretty well.

I have finished my graduate degree, so #4 is off the list.

Our families are still in Bellingham.  We could move to Seattle and be slightly closer to our families, but California would be quite a bit farther away.  So #5 favours Vancouver or Seattle, but still disfavours California.

I think Obama will probably make #2 better.  Issuing an executive order banning torture at one minute past noon on Jan 20, 2009 would be a good start, but to see how he does on #2, I’ll have to see him govern.

Likewise, on #3,  I won’t know if he will make things better until I see him govern.  However, it’s not likely that he will be able to avoid “hot checks” in his term because of the horrible horrible financial problems.  He also can’t do much about California’s problems due to Prop 13.

There are more factors to consider now.

Ducky Watching Election Returns

Ducky Watching Election Returns

  1. I like many things about Canada and Vancouver.
    • I have friends here.  (It was really nice to watch the election last night surrounded by a bunch of friends!)
    • It is really cool to live in the heart of downtown.  We are able to walk to everything (so much so that we only use our car about twice per month).
    • I like, in theory, that there is skiing so close.  We have season passes this year to a mountain that we can see from our apartment.  It takes about 30 minutes to drive there.
    • By and large, Canadian government services have far better customer service than in California.  It takes me about twenty minutes to renew my Social Insurance Number (like a Social Security Number in the US).  It took me about fifteen minutes to move my driver’s license to BC.
  2. It is not a perfect fit.
    • In particular, I still have ambitions to change the world, while I think Vancouver puts more value on having fun.  I’m trying to get the “fun” attitude, but it’s swimming upstream for me.  (Hopefully the ski passes this winter will help!)  Silicon Valley is all about changing the world, and so that is a huge magnet attracting me south.
    • I don’t like maple syrup, I have never played hockey, and I thought Anne of Green Gables was a boring book.  I did not spend many years steeped in the Canadian cultural stew, absorbing the Canadian value system, shared experiences, and etiquette.  I will never be fully Canadian. (At the same time, the longer I stay in Canada, the less time I spend in the American cultural stew; the less American I become.)
  3. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that I still love my country.
  4. I am growing to love Canada.
  5. I haven’t found a job yet.

So.  Will I return to the ever return to the US?  To California?  I’m not sure.

Move to Canada?

Posted in Canadian life, Gay rights, Politics at 11:39 am by ducky

To all my GLBT friends in California who want to live somewhere that respects them, there’s always Canada.

Canada wants immigrants.  Here’s the funny version; here’s the serious version.

Do think carefully, however.  Canada is not the US.  There are some
subtle but important differences in the culture, outlook, and
priorities.   They are not better or worse in one country or the other,
they are different.  Exceptions: it is easier to shop in the US and the
Canadian governments have better customer service.

If you are thinking about emigrating to British Columbia, I’d be happy to talk to you about it.

Update: Here’s a blog post by an American lesbian talking about what it’s like to live in a country where she and her partner are fully completely legally married.

10.30.08

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.

10.22.08

I'm against UBC joining the NCAA

Posted in Canadian life, Married life, University life at 3:31 pm by ducky

UBC is considering joining the NCAA’s Division II.

As someone who has attended as many US universities as Sarah Palin, let me say that I feel that joining the NCAA Division II would be dangerous. I can’t say that it would be unequivocally a bad idea, but it is likely to be a bad idea. (If it were Division I, I would have no reservations in saying that it would be a bad idea.)

At Division I universities, “revenue sports” — i.e. ones that people hope can bring in more money directly or indirectly (football, basketball, and sometimes baseball) — corrupt in many obvious and non-obvious ways. It might be that Division II doesn’t have revenue sports, so maybe it wouldn’t have the same problems that revenue sports bring.

While revenue sports do not always result in all of these things, these things tend to happen:

  • Weakening of admissions standards. While academic standards for athletes have gotten slightly stricter, they are still pretty weak. While there are many athletes who are fine scholars, there are also numerous cases where admissions and grading standards have been bent into pretzels to accommodate star athletes in revenue sports.
    • I saw this hurt minority students, especially those of African descent. People I respected admitted that when they saw a black face on campus, they assumed that it was an athlete, and hence less academically qualified. (Note that these were not people who harboured animosity towards blacks. They were upset at their own reaction.)
  • Bad behaviour excused. Universities tend to have their own police department. (UBC has sort of a hybrid.) Those departments get pressured to not press charges against star athletes. There is a history of really frightful behaviour on the part of athletes in revenue sports being overlooked.
  • Abuse of the athletes. Star athletes in revenue sports get surrounded by sycophants and encouraged to engage in extremely hazardous behaviours either explicitly or implicitly — playing while hurt, taking performance-enhancing drugs, etc. Almost none of them will get pro careers. The fraction is so close to zero that it is stupid… and they get completely ignored the minute their college career is over. (Go see Hoop Dreams to understand the mechanism.)
  • Overbuilding. Bear with me. When a revenue sport does really well, alumni donations go up. In particular, really rich alumni start to give big hunks of money to construct buildings. (I grew up in the hometown of the University of Illinois. For about fifteen years, the team was crummy, and there were essentially no buildings built on campus. In my fourth year, the football team did extremely well. In the next ten years, the building square footage doubled.) Nobody ever gives huge chunks of money to the maintenance fund, so what happens is that the maintenance and salary gets stretched. Tuition tends to go up as well.
  • Tribalism. Revenue sports can create a highly competitive “us-against-them” mentality that is bad news for anyone who ends up on the “them” side. This is very un-Canadian.
    • Ten years after I graduated, I was put on a work project with a University of Michigan alum (the University of Illinios’ main athletic rival at the time). Much to my surprise and dismay, I had a very strong, visceral, irrational dislike of him because he was from Michigan. (I got over it; he was totally wonderful to work with.)
    • Murray Sperber, a Canadian-born professor at the University of Indiana, received death threats because he dared to voice the opinion that the basketball coach’s was so bad that he should be fired.
    • My fourth year at the University of Illinois, the backup quarterback threw three interceptions in an important game. A friend who lived near him said that for weeks, cars would drive slowly past his house. This seems threatening and uncalled for to me.
  • Expensive tickets. If a team is consistently successful, the tickets become desirable, so the price goes up. Students cannot compete with alumni: they just don’t have as much money. The university might set aside a block of cheap tickets for the students, but at least at the University of Illinois, they were crummy seats.

One argument people make in favor of joining Division II is that it might help keep the top Canadian athletes from going to the US. I say let them go. The percentage of athletes at a university is very small; the number of “top athletes” will be even smaller. I do not thinkk it is appropriate to change the culture of a university on the hopes of attracting five people per year? Five people who are good at something other than the university’s core mission? I would much rather that UBC work on attracting the top scholars instead of the top athletes.

I believe that revenue sports are a dangerous, corrupting, un-Canadian institution.

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