Monday, July 10, 2017

2.5 Weeks Left

Over the past couple of months I've been to Vancouver twice to find a place for us to live, and to get the process of moving in started. It seems to be working: the house is mostly packed, the sale papers are signed, the new home is rented, classes are signed up for, and the dogs are freaked out by the changes.

Yup... it's progress.

But how did we get to this point? Some of the back story:

Back when we decided that we wanted a change, and that Canada was where we wanted to go, we figured that it was time for me to go back to school. I've been thinking about going back to study art for quite some time. After all, I've been teaching art for nearly two decades without any formal training. Wouldn't it be nice to know if anything I've told my students is right?

And the Pacific Northwest is a very appealing part of the world, with wonderful indigenous culture that I may be able to draw on for inspiration. Add the fact that Vancouver is a very nice, livable city, with working transit & lots of culture and the destination decision was made.

So after some research into art schools in the area I applied to Langara College. Why there? There were three main reasons:

  • Their program appealed to me.
  • They don't require a portfolio from new students. Instead their goal is to graduate students with a portfolio so they can go on to the big art schools for a BFA or MFA.
  • Their cost for international students wasn't quite as high as that of some others I looked at. We could afford other places, but I am more comfortable on that front here.

They got my application and said yes pretty quickly.

Next I applied for a student visa. The Canadian immigration system made that pretty easy, though I do admit a couple of things they asked were less than clear. But an hour on the phone with an immigration attorney and those were cleared up. Not quite six weeks after submitting the application (all done online), I got email saying my visa was approved. In addition, Canada is happy to give spouses of students an open work permit, and Anne's visa was approved as well.

A side benefit of Anne's work visa is that she can work for any company. Often when people cross an international border to work, their employer sponsors them, effectively getting their visa written. Between the US and Canada such visas are apparently pretty easy to get thanks to provisions of NAFTA, but should you quit working, be laid off, or in any other way lose your job, you have limited time to find a new job before having to go back home, and your new employer has to sponsor you again. Our arrangement means that for the duration of my studies Anne can work for any company that wants to hire her, and they don't have to sponsor her in any way. It's more flexible in the crazy world of high tech, and that's good.

The visas are good for the duration of my studies at Langara. It is my understanding that I can extend the visa if needed to finish my studies, which is good because it takes 6 courses a semester to finish the diploma I am seeking in 4 regular semesters. Even using summer sessions it takes 5 courses during each regular semester and 2 each summer semester. That's a heavy course load.

In addition, once I graduate I can apply for a post graduate work permit. As the rules currently stand that would be good for 3 years after completing my studies, which keeps us in Canada for a minimum of five years, or a bit more if I extend my student visa to finish the diploma.

Of course, we're also working on getting permanent residency (PR) - the equivalent of the US "green card" - but that's harder to to achieve because we are oldish. If we were in our mid thirties it would be simple with our technical and educational backgrounds. As it is, we have to work a bit harder to make that come about, but more about that later.

For now, we're on track to cross the border in a couple of weeks and start setting up our new digs.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Adventure, New Purpose

As I write this, Anne and I are prepping for our next big life change: we're moving.

To Vancouver. Canada. Yes, really.

I know. We've lived in the same place forever. We have friends and roots and deep connections to the community, but we have decided it is time.

You can read some of the reasoning behind it over here.

With this change in our lives, I am repurposing this blog a bit. And yes, I know it has been a while since I posted here at all. Such is life.

But, while I may still ramble on about things that matter to me, or that interest me, I also intend to discuss the process of moving to Canada, my school work there, and so on.

Some of those reading this post will know me from my role as a moderator of a particular email list for Santa Cruz Mountain residents. In that role you'll know I really tried to keep my comments there on point and balanced. I avoided political topics and hot issues. And I will continue to do that within that list until I am no longer a moderator there.

But here, the rules are different. Here, I get to talk about whatever interests me. And I get to cross over into things that I would probably not say in the mailing list.

So beware. If you think you know me, or what I think about a given topic, you might find you are not correct within these pages.

Anyone wanting to is welcome to email me - assuming you have the email address - if you have comments on these posts. But you'll note that there are no comments here. That's because I find commenting on most sites to be a problem.

If you have something to tell me, email me, or call me, or find me on twitter, or (shudder) possibly on Facebook. Perhaps what you have to say will prompt a reply here.

Otherwise, please enjoy the site, and come back from time to time to see what (if anything) I have added.

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's almost like a new machine

So I made some updates to my desktop computer, finally:
  • Upgrade from Ubuntu 12.04 LTS to 14.04 LTS.  Yeah, I know, I'm not exactly a fast follower here, but I like my machines to work. Waiting a while to update to the next long term support release feels smart. I let others work out the kinks for a while before moving up.
  • Changed from 32 bit version to 64 bit version. I tried 64 bit a while back - probably in the 10.04 era - and had no end of trouble with software not being available in 64 bit, or not working properly. It appears those issues are now resolved.
  • Changed the boot disk from a standard hard disk to a solid state disk. Just a small one (128 MB) from Crucial but plenty big for the OS and swap space.
The difference in how the machine feels is amazing.

Boot time is substantially improved, though the POST on this motherboard still takes forever.

Apps load faster. Much faster. All that I/O wait while Chrome loaded for the first time is gone. Or rather, it's not gone, but I don't note it happening anymore.

Even simple things like working with email and playing YouTube videos are faster and smoother. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems to be.

This system has a new lease on life, which is a good thing. I hate buying new computers and this one should go another two years easy now. Maybe more than that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Comments are hidden

I just hid all comments on this blog. If you want to reply to something, feel free to email me.


Because I have come to the conclusion that comment sections - in news media outlets, blogs, YouTube, and every other place I have seen them - can get absolutely repulsive. Yes, they can be fine if they are moderated well, but that's a pain for a big site and even I have hit questions about whether to delete a comment or not. So I'm getting rid of them entirely. Gone.

Now I know this is a small time blog, with only a few readers. I've rarely had a problem with comments, but it has happened. Nothing serious, but it has been a thing.

So I have decided to take a stand. Comments are hidden, and I will not display them.  If I could turn them off entirely I would.

This will do nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it makes me feel slightly better. And as always, if you want to reach me, there are ways. It's not like I hide on the Internet and make myself hard to reach.

Thanks for your understanding.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance At The Gas Station

You've all probably seen the sign at the gas station telling you not to use your cell phone while filling your tank. Something like this one:

The first thing to know about that is that it's wrong. No one has ever found a connection between cell phones and explosions at gas stations. No one.  Here, check it out for yourself:

Yes, a spark can cause a fire from the gas vapors, but cell phones don't spark unless something is seriously wrong - perhaps like this:

That said, you wouldn't think the company that put up that stupid sign saying you should turn off your phone also put up this:

Yes, those signs are on the very same gas pump. I've grayed out much of it because it doesn't matter. Just in case you can't read it, it says "SMART PHONE CHECK-IN at a Valero Station to receive one (1) entry to sweepstakes." Really.

Turn off your phone!
Use your phone to check in and enter our sweepstakes!

Hey, Valero! Which is it? Will I die in a fiery explosion if I check-in? Can I (or my next of kin) hit you with a suit if that happens?

Sometimes I have no idea how we continue to survive.

This shouldn't bug me, I know. It's a small thing, but it is the small things that help explain why we haven't found intelligent life anywhere in the universe yet: because there isn't any. Not even here on earth.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The NSA Is Reading My Email

This isn't paranoia on my part.

As some of my readers here know, I am a sculptor. I carve stone. In addition I repair sculptures in some cases. I don't work on really expensive stuff, or anything by noted artists, or anything valuable by virtue of age - I don't have formal, conservator training - but that doesn't stop people from emailing me and asking for those kinds of repairs, or asking questions about how to get such repairs made by someone else.

And I've had questions from a fair number of places... much of the US, Australia, and England, at least.

But two days ago I got one from Pakistan. A very nicely spoken (well... written) gentleman there has a couple of very old, broken, Buddha sculptures, and he was looking for some advice on how to fix them. I replied and told him what I could, as I do with everyone who asks such questions of me. (The gist of my advice, of course, was to find a conservator. 2000+ year old sculptures need to be repaired by an expert.)

This morning he sent me a picture of one from his collection that is unbroken. I don't feel like I should publish it here - I haven't asked for permission - but it is lovely. He also asked for advice on how to safely display his sculptures with less risk of additional breakage.

And once again I replied, discussing the issues around displaying them, and telling him about museum putty.

This is all completely innocent, of course. Or is it?

I've now exchanged multiple emails with someone in Pakistan, and that someone has also sent me a picture.

Wanna bet I am on the NSA's radar now? And probably their equivalents in at least the 5 eyes countries? You know I am.

If my emails weren't being monitored and saved before, they definitely are now.

And I had to think about whether I would reply to these emails or not. I actually sat at my desk for a couple of minutes wondering if it was worth the risk - of getting tagged by the NSA as communicating with someone in Pakistan, someone I don't even know personally - to discuss sculpture repair. That's appalling.

Imagine what this could have looked like. What if we'd talked about something more delicate, like the state of politics in his home city, or religion.  Ponder that for a bit.

The direction the US has taken is a dangerous one. Each day we look more and more like the dictatorships we claim to oppose, and it happens one tiny little step at a time. One little freedom given away in the name of "security". One little act of self censorship because someone might be watching.

I'm sure this blog post will only cause the NSA to watch me that much more closely. And possibly other agencies as well... FBI, CIA, who knows. And apparently various presidential directives and secret interpretations of certain laws make that all completely legal.

It makes me sick to my stomach.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On Wreckage: Urban and Human

A few weeks back we found ourselves in New Orleans for a weekend. It was French Quarter Fest, but we were there for a wedding. We were only there for a few days, so we had fairly little time that wasn't structured or spoken for. As a result we really couldn't get out of the French Quarter while we were there, and what follows is from only that point of view.

The town felt crowded to me, and apparently exists on tourism revenue alone. I am not a big fan of crowds, so I am glad we didn't find ourselves there during Mardi Gras, or something similar, where the crowds are - I think - much larger.

French Quarter Fest is a big, free music show, with quite a few stages set up around town, in addition to the various existing music venues that were also participating. And that music was a good thing, though after a while the traditional jazz bands were starting to sound very similar. Still, we could walk just a couple of blocks and encounter some new group playing something different if we got tired of the group we were listening to.  We heard biggish bands, a middle school band, and a bunch of things in between. The music was the best part of the city in my opinion.

And of course, in addition to all the music on the stages, there were the various street performers. Quite a few jazz bands, as well as a number of smaller groups, more than a few human statues, some magicians, a transformer (honestly... watch the video), a bunch of artists selling their work, and more than a few barkers for various businesses.  (Huge Ass Beers, anyone?)

Everyone raves about the food in New Orleans, and we did eat reasonably well, but only if your definition of "reasonably well" includes "dramatically increasing your chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke if you stay on this diet for more than a couple of days."  And given our hotel was a block or two from the French Quarter, and the number of times we were woken up by ambulances in the middle of the night, it is pretty clear a fair number of people in the city were succumbing to various - possibly diet related - medical emergencies. A look at the people attending FQF supported that suggestion, if you get my drift.

But if that was all I had to say about New Orleans I wouldn't have written this post. Sadly there were a number of things I found problematic in The Big Easy, and those are what I really want to mention.

Some simplistic research on hurricane Katrina tells me that the French Quarter was not severely damaged or flooded during that event. There was some wind damage, and a bit of flooding, but apparently it wasn't too bad. However, looking at the French Quarter today I would have thought it had been flooded out.

Streets and sidewalks are uneven at best, and a serious hazard in general. Buildings - and the famous iron balconies - sag in obvious ways. Any steel or iron that hasn't recently been painted is rusted. In short, the French Quarter is decaying right before our eyes. On top of that was a nearly omnipresent stink of sewage - I think - which I found particularly distressing while we were attempting to pick a restaurant. There was always water pooled in sidewalk damage and potholes, but it didn't rain while we were there. Perhaps that was the source of the odor?

And walking down Bourbon Street was, well, fairly offensive. I guess the various strip clubs and what-not have all set up shop there, and I understand that's part of what New Orleans is famous for, but it was all so run down and ugly that it actually felt awful. Nothing struck me as upbeat, or a place where a dancer, bartender, or bouncer might go to get a break, even if they were doing something less than desirable in the eyes of society. Instead it felt like the run down, disreputable end of the city, where people wind up when they have no choice. I avoided Bourbon Street after I figured out how I felt about it.

And then there were the people. There, too, I saw decay and degradation, as well as the PR side of things that the town wants you to see.

How many homeless do you need to see sleeping in doorways? How many kids who should be in school but were instead out tap dancing to earn a few bucks? How many obvious health problems - obesity being the easiest to spot - are straining Louisiana's health care budget?

Yes, there were happy and healthy people. I have no idea how many were locals as opposed to visitors for FQF, but there are definitely health and homelessness problems in New Orleans that are difficult to address. Interestingly, though, nearly all of the people I talked to who actually worked there - in the restaurants and hotels - left me with the impression they would like to leave town, or were already planning on it. Perhaps two felt differently, but honestly it seemed like people who live there want to leave.

And after a while, walking down the streets and seeing the leaning, decrepit buildings felt a lot like passing the homeless people sleeping in doorways. The empty shop windows - and there were more than a few of those - had a similar impact. The whole place felt physically dirty - like it could be scrubbed with bleach for decades and never get clean - and more than a bit desperate.

By the time Sunday rolled around I was glad to be getting on a plane and going home.

Of course there are problems in every town, and maybe the Central Business District or the Garden District are in better shape than the French Quarter. I didn't get there, so I don't know, and I shouldn't judge an entire town based on such a small sample of what it has to offer.

But then again, it seems - based on my admittedly skewed view of the world - that New Orleans puts the French Quarter on a pedestal. It's the place people go to have fun, the home of Mardi Gras. I can't help but feel that it ought to be more attractive than it is. Better maintained. Healthier. Less downtrodden.

So now I've been to New Orleans, and I really don't feel a need to go back. I know people who love it there, and I can see there is history to be learned and a culture to understand, but it wasn't a place that I felt comfortable. The people were friendly - and even welcoming - but it just didn't feel like a place I would want to call home.