12.24.07

robotbait: BC MSP and visa extensions

Posted in Canadian life at 7:36 pm by ducky

As I mentioned before, I scalded my hand and ended up feeling very foolish about a resulting trip to the emergency room. Well, I now feel very good about that trip. On Saturday, I got a bill for $130 for that trip because I wasn’t covered. With a bit of exploring, we discovered that the British Columbia Medical Services Plan didn’t think that Jim and I existed. This was disconcerting.

Apparently, when you get a study permit extension, or extend your work visa in Canada, you also have to tell the provincial health care plan that you got an extension. It’s not enough to just keep paying your bills.

In BC, you have to fax your new study permit or work permit to the head MSP office at 250-405-3595. Be sure to include your Care Card number somewhere on the fax so that they know whose file this regards.

You have 90 days to reinstate your same number; if you take more than 90 days, they have to issue you a new number. We faxed in our permits today, 24 December, one entire week before the 90 days would have been up.

If I hadn’t gone to the emergency room for what turned out to be a trivial matter, I would not have found out that my Care Card had expired before the 90 days was up. I would have had to go through even more paperwork… so now I’m glad that I went!

Keywords: British Columbia Medical Services Plan, Canadian study permit extension, Canadian work permit extension, health care, health insurance.

11.26.07

scalding

Posted in Canadian life, Too Much Information, University life at 7:09 pm by ducky

On the day before US Thanksgiving, I was at my lab late, waiting for my beloved husband to get done with an opera chorus rehearsal. For reasons that don’t matter, I didn’t go home for dinner. Instead, I prepared some yummy cup-of-soup for dinner, adding boiling water from the electric kettle in our lab. I immediately grabbed the cup in my right hand to take back to my desk… and slopped boiling-hot soup on my hand. It landed in the little triangle of skin between the thumb and index finger, where there is a little depression — and saw no good reason to leave. This hurt, so my body acted quickly to throw the water off of the web of skin.

Unfortunately, that meant that soup jumped out of the cup onto the floor, onto my shirt, onto the desk, onto the back of my hand, and even one little splatter onto my forehead. YOWCH!

I quickly grabbed my waterbottle and poured it over the back of my hand (watering one of the office plants in the process). It hurt, but not so much that I thought I couldn’t clean up some of the mess before going 50m to the closest washroom to run more cold water over my hand. So it was a minute or two before I ran more cold water over the burn.

It hurt, but it didn’t hurt that badly. I had never scalded myself before, but I certainly had burned myself before, and it wasn’t painful in that same league. So I ate what was left of the cup of soup and went back to debugging.

After a while, the scald started to hurt. It hurt more and more as time went on. This was really, really strange. I wondered if scalds were somehow different from “regular” burns. It was hurting enough that I was having trouble focusing on my work. “How long would it keep getting worse?” I wondered.

What really made me nervous was that I was supposed to jump in a car and go down to the US in a few hours. I have travellers’ insurance so that I can get medical treatment in the US if needed, but it would probably be a big logistical hassle. Finally, I decided to go to the emergency room a few blocks away. I felt kind of foolish for doing so, but I had never had the experience of a burn’s pain getting worse and worse as time goes on.

As soon as I got outside, my hand started feeling better. This made sense, given the cold and moist air on my bare skin. At the emergency room, they saw me quickly, told me I was fine, and sent me home. I felt relieved but somewhat foolish, but it had been really strange for the pain to increase.

I went back to the lab and commenced working again. I started typing and mousing and typing and mousing again. With my hands. Especially my right hand. And what do you think happened? The pain started increasing again in my right hand!

I felt really, really stupid at that point. It was hurting more and more because I was stretching the scalded area. Duh.

09.24.07

voting differences

Posted in Canadian life at 10:01 am by ducky

Here’s another difference between US and Canadian culture that totally surprised me: Canadians normally do not allow write-in candidates for their elections.  In the US, it is normal and customary to allow write-ins.

07.11.07

border checks

Posted in Canadian life at 10:03 am by ducky

When we were first living in Canada, we noticed that every time we crossed into the US, the border guards would ask us how we liked our car. The first time, we didn’t think much of it. It was a nice shiny relatively new car.

The second time, we thought it was a bit of a coincidence, but we do have a pretty neato car.

The third time, it was clear something was up, but we couldn’t figure out what (and we didn’t want to ask).

When we got British Columbia plates, they stopped asking us.

People suggested that maybe they thought our car might be stolen. This made no sense to us: why would we steal a California car, drive it through Oregon and Washington into Canada, and then take it back into the US?

Then someone pointed out that maybe we stole license plates in California, stole a car in Canada, and were driving the stolen car into the US. This makes slightly more sense, but wouldn’t it be easier to steal plates from BC or Washington? If I were going to steal a car from BC, I’d steal the car, go find a car at an airport rental lot that looked just like mine, swap the plates, and run south. I figure that by the time the owners noticed that their plates were different, I’d be long gone.

06.24.07

Torture propaganda

Posted in Canadian life, Politics at 8:58 pm by ducky

I don’t have a TV, so am not current with a lot of popular North American culture.

I knew that “24” was a very popular series, but was shocked to hear that torture is shown in almost every episode and that it is portrayed as being effective. If I were more of a conspiracy-theorist, I would suspect the U.S. military-industrial complex of being behind “24”. Maybe this would explain why Americans seem distressingly comfortable with torture. The Republican candidates (absent the one who was actually tortured) endorse “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Some say that in the “ticking time bomb” scenario, torture is a good idea. I can maybe agree with my government torturing in the following circumstances:

  1. Nobody will ever ever find out that my government tortured the victim. If it becomes known that my government tortures people, then my life and the lives of people I care about get riskier. Not only will my enemies be more willing to torture in retaliation, but the torture will turn more people into my enemies.
  2. The victims are all guilty (i.e. is hiding secrets that will save many many civilian lives). If my government tortures innocent people, that will really piss off them their loved ones, their friends, their neighbors, their hairdresser, etc. It can also make allied countries less willing to cooperate with my government.  Furthermore, I am (and I presume you are) innocent.  If my government is willing to torture innocent people, what’s to stop them from torturing you and me?
  3. The victims will never give false or misleading information. If they fabricate information, that could lead to resources being spent unwisely.  And if you can’t be sure of what the victim tells you, why bother?

Point 1:  The only way that you might be able to hide the torture is if you kill them after you are done torturing them. You then have to figure out where to dispose of the body so that nobody finds it.  And, if you kill too many, people will figure it out anyway (witness the disappeared).

Point 1 is not possible.  You cannot have a systemic policy that encourages torture — or even one that only weakly punishes subordinates who torture — and expect people to not find out about it.

Point 2: Oh come on.  You can’t tell me that my government bureaucracy would never make a mistake?

Besides, they have demonstrated pretty convincingly that they can make mistakes — see the Maher Arer case.  So Point 2 is not possible.

Point 3: I am weak, I admit it.  It wouldn’t take that much beating to get me to talk.  However, I also believe that sadists gravitate to the job of torturer.  (If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do a very good job.)  I figure that it wouldn’t really matter what I said — that if they are going to hurt me they will either hurt me or stop with little regard for what I say.  And if I believe that I will give bogus information, why should I believe that people with stronger convictions than I wouldn’t do an even better job of it?

So Point 3 is not possible.

Let’s review: I’m only willing for my government to use torture only if all three points hold, and I believe that none of the points can ever hold.

No torture.  Ever.   It’s a supremely bad idea.

06.23.07

I'm not in California any more…

Posted in Canadian life at 5:42 pm by ducky

As Jim, I, and nine of our Green College neighbors tumbled out of the restaurant, Andrea groaned about a big blister on her foot. She was also carrying a violin case and a big bag, so I considered letting her take my place in our car and taking the bus home myself.

I hesitated for a moment, however, because it was after dark. It would be a bit slower, more lonely, and there was the chance of getting harassed traveling by myself. Still, being middle-aged but unblistered and unburdened, I would have an easier time on the bus than young, beautiful, burdened, and blistered Andrea. And this is Canada — the buses are pretty safe.

So Jim took Andrea and three other Greenies home. As we parted company, I gulped and squared my shoulders for the journey home alone. I took about two steps and realized that all six of the other Greenies were headed towards that same bus home!

I had assumed that I would be taking the bus myself because in California, everybody drove. In a similar circumstance in California, everyone else would have driven home. Not true here!

06.05.07

Attitude towards petty bureaucrats

Posted in Canadian life at 10:47 am by ducky

I mentioned before that low-level government functionaries seem to have more discretion in Canada then in the US. Since then, I’ve seen a few more examples of this.

  • We heard a story about a company hiring a huge (HUGE) truck to pick something up in Canada and bring it to the US. Aspen trucks are built in Canada, and used for hauling oil derricks around. They are so big that they have two steering wheels so that two sections can be steered independently. The company hired two US drivers, rented a truck (which happened to be in the US at the time), got all the paperwork cleared by the BC government in Victoria, and drove up to the border. The agent at the border said, “You can’t bring that thing in here! It’s too big!” The drivers said, “But we have the paperwork!” The agent said, “You can’t drive that thing in here!” The drivers said, “But we have the paperwork!” The agent said, “I’m cancelling the permit. You’ll have to talk to Victoria. Now park that thing over there.” The drivers parked it over there slick as a whistle (because it had two steering controls), and the agent said, “Oh. I didn’t realize you could do that. If I had realized, I wouldn’t have cancelled the permit.” (He let the truck through, although delayed one day because it was too late in the day to un-cancel the permit.) Now, both sides had some culpability in the communications breakdown, but the US drivers thought that because they had followed the rules, they were in the clear. You might say that the agent was at fault, but if the truck in fact did not have two steering columns, you would have wanted him to cancel the permit.
  • Jim has had to deal with Transport Canada a few times about issues pertaining to his medical clearance to fly. He’s been in in-person once, but usually talks to them on the phone. They remember his name, ask him how his flying is going, and once asked him about a newspaper article that he appeared in.
  • I did a favor for someone who was off-campus and needed to submit a form. It was past the deadline, but that didn’t seem to matter.

I told some US friends about how functionaries had much more discretion in Canada, and they were appalled. “You can’t do that! You’ll get unfair treatment!”

I thought about Southwest Airlines, which we had flown on recently. One of Southwest’s advertised strengths is that its employees have quite a lot of discretion. Why was it okay for Southwest employees to have discretion but not US governmental employees?

I realized that my US friends have the very strong belief that government officials are incompetent and/or hostile. Government functionaries only make your life worse, not better. However, in Canada, the petty bureaucrats who I have interacted with have been competent, polite, and worked to make my life better. In general, they have made my life better.

While I realize that there are good agents in the US and bad agents in Canada, I think that in general the bureaucrats are better in Canada.

04.17.07

Strange divot

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts, Technology trends at 9:59 pm by ducky

Maps are quirky things. The Web is amazing.

I was looking at Canadian province boundaries for a hobby project of mine, and found a strange divot in the border between Nunavut and Northwest Territories. Google maps shows the border running happily due east along the 70th parallel, then suddenly dropping down about seven miles, going over about five miles, back up to the 70th parallel, and continuing east as if nothing had happened.

I was stumped as to what it might be. I looked at the area at the highest zoom, and I could see absolutely nothing interesting there: no roads, no lakes, no nothing.. I speculated that maybe there was a Minister of Parliment who had a summer cottage there, because nothing else made sense.

I asked the geography types here, and one asked a friend, who posted it on MetaFiler, and I got an answer! The short answer is that there was a prior land claim that the government just didn’t want to open up again.

It turns out that the reason that I couldn’t see anything interesting on the sat images was because Google had the divot in the wrong place. It’s supposed to be over to the right a bit. I drew a line on the map over where the Nunavut Act says it is supposed to be. There is in fact a lake there.

Now think about this. Fifteen years ago, I would have never had access to a map that showed that level of detail. (Or maybe I could get access, but it would take enough effort that it wouldn’t be something I did casually.) Fifteen years ago, if I wondered about the divot, I wouldn’t have even known how to start finding out what that divot was. And, if I found an error in the map, I wouldn’t have known who to contact about fixing the map in the next printing. Now, thanks to the Web, I can do all those things.

It’s been thirteen years since I discovered the Web, and I still think it is pretty amazing.

03.19.07

Comparative water use in BC and US

Posted in Canadian life, University life at 6:33 pm by ducky

One of the The neatest thing about living at Green College is the neat people I get to talk to all the time. One of them, Alice Cohen, gave a talk at Green recently about her research area: water. Specifically, she’s looking at the difference in water usage management between the US San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands. These islands have the same geography and the same climate, but different legal systems depending upon which side of the US/Canadian border they fall on. This makes them an ideal study case.

With a few exceptions, drinking water in Canada falls under provincial jurisdiction. The federal guidelines only apply when drinking water is a federal responsibility (in transboundary waters, on First Nations territory, in national parks, and were it affects coastal and inland fisheries). Although some provinces have taken on the Canadian federal guidelines, most provinces use their own standards. Provinces can elect to ignore parts of the federal standard if they so choose. This makes sense sometimes. For example, Prince Edward Island basically only has groundwater, so it might not make sense to spend money testing for things that are only present in surface water.

In the US, all public drinking water supplies must conform to the federally-determined Environmental Protection Agency standards. Generally speaking, then, the Washington State official standards are higher than the British Columbia standards. (There are some exceptions. Some BC municipalities, like Vancouver and Victoria, have adopted the federal Guidelines.)

Washington and BC also have a different approach towards supply. On the US side, you have to prove that there is adequate water before you are allowed to build a house. On the Canadian side, you do not.

Alice spent last summer interviewing residents of both islands on how groundwater management worked in practice on either side of the border. She found, to her surprise, that there ended up being very little difference “on the ground” in water management from one side of the border to the other, despite very different regulations.

She found that on the Canadian side, there were more extra-legal forces that kept water use down. On one island community, for example, the residents were metered and each resident’s use was posted in a public place. This form of “peer pressure” seemed to actually work. (Note that it is many hours journey to get from the islands to “civilization”. It is thus much more important to be on good terms with your neighbors out there than in a big metropolitan area. If you need a cup of flour or a gallon of gas, you can’t just run down to the corner store.)

Meanwhile, on the US side of the border, she found that people sometimes did things without permits in order to bypass restrictions. This is one example of the way that people actually interacted with water was very similar on both sides of the border.

02.12.07

Snow, flooding, rock slides, laryngitis

Posted in Canadian life, University life at 10:51 pm by ducky

I gave a talk last week at Web Directions North that I didn’t get to rehearse as much as I’d wanted due to snow, flooding, a rock slide, and laryngitis.

Snow: This might not sound like a biggie, but the Annual Green College Ski Trip happened on Feb 3 and 4. I had been ignoring my husband for days on end as I worked on my presentation, and I couldn’t really spend the domestic credits that it would take to skip the trip.

Flood: While Jim, I, and 26 other residents were on the ski trip, one of my neighbor’s sprinklers failed and gushed water into his room for 40 minutes before the firefighters and residents got it shut off. (Yes, we collectively are looking into the emergency procedures around here.) While our room ultimately had no water damage, nobody knew if they other sprinklers were also going to go off or not, or if the water would leak into our room.

Resident Mika McKinnon, who impresses me more and more as time goes on, basically took charge and organized posses of people to go into neighboring rooms (via the we’ll-let-you-back-into-your-room-if-you-get-locked-out master key holders), unplug all of our electrical appliances, and take laptop computers out and to hold them in a dry place.

Note that they had zero legal right to do this. If I wanted to, I could probably sue them up one side and down the other for breaking and entering, and trespass to chattels if not outright theft. And yet, they had absolutely every moral right to do so. As Mika’s father is a lawyer, I presume that she realized that she could get in legal trouble for doing so, yet did so anyway. I greatly admire her for that, and I am very grateful to her and all the others for rescuing our laptops.

Rock slides: On Sunday, the day we were supposed to come back from the ski trip, a rock slide closed the only road back to home for eight hours. This meant that we got back late. Not only did that mean that I didn’t get Sunday evening to rehearse, but tapping lightly on the door of the guy who had our laptops failed to rouse him. It took another day to get our laptops back.

Laryngitis: On Tuesday evening, my co-presenter emailed me to tell me that he had lost his voice. It looked like maybe I would have to give his presentation and mine… and while I knew about some of his stuff, there were some detailed technical issues that I didn’t actually know anything about. So I tried to cram knowledge about his area.

Fortunately, his voice came back by Thursday, so I didn’t have to give his talk.

My talk went okay. I got some trustworthy feedback that at least some people liked it, but it wasn’t nearly as polished and professional as I am capable of. Next time.

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