Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Last night's sunset

click for full size image

That's taken just a couple of blocks from the house, looking a bit north of due west along the Fraser River, on 8/21/2017. We walk the dogs along that dike (spelled 'dyke' here) most every night. It's lovely.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Random Canadian Obervations

Just Trudeau tweets in both French and English. Should be obvious, but still made me say "huh... that's kind of cool." Imagine if Donald Trump was able to tweet in two languages. Actually, forget that. Imagine instead that he was actually fluent in English. How different things would be.

Tortillas in Canada. Yes, they exist, but note the manufacturer:

I have to admit I laughed out loud when I found these in Costco.

Speaking of Costco, you know how the items they carry are different from store to store down in the US? Well, it gets worse up here, because there are products that are US only or Canada only items. Years ago they stopped carrying Turkish apricots in the US, switching to California apricots (which are not as good in my opinion) and (for a while) some awful organic things that tasted like bland cardboard soaked in bit of corn syrup. Well, those Turkish apricots are available up here. For me that is just about reason enough to remain a Costco member all by itself.

Also, alcohol is expensive. We're trying BC wines out of curiosity. So far they are drinkable, but a bit sweeter than CA wines. The red varieties I see most are Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus blends of those. On the white side I see Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and a couple of others. Thus far the most impressive bottle we've had (and all the ones we've tried have been comparatively inexpensive) is the Naked Grape Pino Grigio. It's quite good. Not too sweet, with some citrus notes in it. Most of the local bottle shops, however, have fairly poor selections as a rule, and we'll have to go a bit farther away to find more choices. The Wikipedia article on BC wine indicates there are more varietals grown up here, but I haven't seen them yet.

People are pretty much unfailingly polite, unless they are driving. A small but significant percentage of drivers are rude, aggressive, horn honking, elegant gesture making, um... individuals. Not sure why that is, but it is a thing. In person, though, apologizing really is as common as the stereotype would indicate - much more so than in the US - and it's a way of greasing the skids, of making society work more smoothly. Apologize early and often - and be certain to politely acknowledge apologies! - and you'll blend in a bit better. (Being American means I will never completely blend in, but I try.)

Some things are expensive. Car insurance is something like four times what we paid in the US. Renters insurance is also costly. Maybe our rates will go down once we've been in country and insured for a year or two, but I have my doubts. Gas is also really expensive. Blueberries, though, are pretty cheap at the farm stands. Still trying to figure out electricity and natural gas. The weather has been so warm that we haven't needed much of either yet. Come January, that will have changed, and we'll see what the bills look like.

The overall pace of life is a bit slower here. Admittedly I am used to Silicon Valley - where things are rather intense - so perhaps most places would feel slower, but it is notable. It's not quite all the way to island time, as on Hawaii, but it is still significant. I am told that Vancouver Island - home of Victoria, the capitol of BC - runs on island time. Eventually I will confirm that one way or another.

Video availability on the internet is highly variable. Some things I used to watch simply aren't available. John Oliver is mostly not accessible. Rachel Maddow's stuff on YouTube is available, but the free segments from her show on the MSNBC website are not. (And don't ask me how to get paid content. Last time I looked into that, MSNBC wanted to know which cable service we subscribed to. Being cord cutters, we had none, and the same is the case here. So I guess we're out of luck on that front.) But some of these limitations are odd. Why isn't the stuff that John Oliver puts up on YouTube available world wide? No clue. Seems like they are unnecessarily reducing their available audience, but maybe there are considerations I don't understand.

Speaking of TV, so far it appears the city of Richmond mostly shuts down on Sunday evenings for Game of Thrones. Without a cable subscription, we don't watch it (and I began loathing the books somewhere along about volume 4 or 5) but we can see the park is mostly empty on Sunday nights when I think it is on. We walk the dogs every night, so the difference is pretty obvious.

Canadians pay for most everything with plastic. Credit or debit, makes no difference. Some, apparently, never carry cash at all. And they use a tap & go (NFC) system for smaller payments that doesn't require any ID confirmation. Above a certain amount, though, you have to enter a PIN. We had the tap & go system in the US briefly. I think it was called something like "pay wave" but it never caught on, and as far as I know it disappeared from all our cards after a brief time.

And of course the US never went to chip & PIN on credit cards, opting for chip & signature instead, which is dumb. Chip & PIN is much more secure, but apparently the CC companies in America thing Americans are too stupid to adapt to that. Alas, the current occupant of the white house makes me think the CC companies might be right about that.

I'll probably have more observations like this over time, but school will overwhelm me starting in about two weeks, and I hope blog posts start being about art more often once that happens.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

We have car insurance... finally

On Wednesday evening we finally completed the car registration and insurance process here in BC. That took a long time, but it is now done for a year.

Car insurance is very expensive here. We're paying something like four times what we were paying in California, but that comparison isn't really fair, since we bunded our home and auto insurance there and got discounts as a result. In addition, we had a very long accident free record in California, and while have a letter from our insurance company saying we were accident free for 10 years (which gets us a substantial discount) there may be more discounting available once the ICBC has insured us for some time.

That takes a big thing off our backs, and we're almost fully settled in and ready to just live. It's getting close, at least. That means there isn't a lot going on for us right now as a result, which is good. We've lived the last several months in a state of heightened tension as we prepped for this move. Some down time - before school starts in September - is a good thing, at least for me.

I've had a few discussions with people about the wildland fire situation in BC, and it's pretty dire. I heard yesterday that there were 138 fires burning in BC, and an online article said 26 of them were significant. I hear about evacuations on the radio, but I am not yet savvy enough with the local geography to know where they are or how many people might be affected. It is clear that most of the problems are north and east of us from online fire maps. Also, the province just re-authorized a wild fire state of emergency for the third time, and it now continues through September 1.

I know California has sever fires as well, and I wish all my mountain friends the best as the fire season progresses. Someday the rains will come back - both here and down there - and at least reduce the danger. In the meantime, be careful and keep in touch with the news.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thoughts on Charlottesville

Two brief notes before I get to the gist of this post:
  1. Some readers of this blog know me from a large mailing list where I was a moderator. In that role, I kept my political leanings and most other opinions to myself. In this blog, I don't do that. If that bothers you, feel free to skip those posts or stop reading entirely, but I am not going to limit my posts here based on the restrictions I faced in another - completely different - forum.
  2. The content of this post was first published on Facebook. I've revised it slightly for the blog format, but the basic ideas are the same.
And with that:

I am going to be a bit harsh here, but it is deserved, so...

I am appalled at the idiocy that went on in Charlottesville. Nazis have no place in America - or the world - and a president that supports them - even implicitly - has no place in the oval office. If you support the so-called "Alt Right" or the "New Right" (or any other variant on that lunacy) you're a Nazi, and I want nothing to do with you. There is no place for that in our society. World War II was supposed to have settled that.

Also, the south lost the civil war. It's over. Stop flying that horrible flag and move on. All humans deserve respect and dignity. If you can't do that, get lost.

It's sad that we've come to the point where making statements like that is necessary, but I have too many friends of different backgrounds, skin colors, and immigration statuses to be silent about this.

What happened in Charlottesville cannot happen again.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

An update on the move

We continue to settle into our new neighborhood.

The smoke from all the fires in BC blew out of the Vancouver area yesterday as the wind changed. Last night we had rain for the first time, and it was lovely.

The moving truck brought our stuff a few days ago and we are unpacking the important items. Since this is only a rental, we're not unpacking everything, but we are making good progress on getting things setup for regular use.

We have BC driver's licenses, and it appears we finally understand enough about car registration and insurance to deal with that this coming week. Both of those items were interesting but in different ways.

On the driver's license issue, we went to an ICBC office and the process of getting BC driver's licenses is simple: write down your new address, show them your passport, give them your old license and $31 (CAD), answer a couple of questions about driving, get your picture taken, and done. They give you a printed, temporary license on the spot and keep your old one. All too easy. The amusing thing is that we were told it could take up to two months for our new licenses to arrive in the mail, but they actually arrived in a week. Not bad.

Car registration and insurance is something else, however. There are two groups that seem to be at odds with each other. The federal government controls vehicle imports into Canada, and their people - the Border Services Agency - told us this was easy. Because we're here on my student visa, we're only temporarily importing the cars, so we're exempt from vehicle inspections and compliance requirements, just as if we drove them across the border as tourists. They issued us the paperwork and told us that was the case, and I confirmed it several times, with different Border Services people.

The insurance and registration side - handled by the ICBC (the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) - has a different story. When you find a competent insurance person (and a couple we tried early on were not competent, or were rude, or both) they tell you that we still have to get the vehicles inspected to register and insure them. And that inspection will be sure they pass the rules, which include a requirement for DRLs (Daytime Running Lights).

How to resolve those conflicting statements?

It appears that the Border Services people are right, but only about federal level vehicle inspections and requirements. We're exempt from those. But we are not exempt from BC level inspections and requirements.

So after a week of trying to figure it out, we are doing the inspections. The newer car passed with no problem. The older car doesn't have DRLs, but I did eventually find a local dealer that claims they can install them this coming Tuesday. Then we can get it inspected and assuming it passes - which it should - we can register and insure them both.

This is complicated by the fact that the insurance on the older car was going to run out a couple of days ago (I extended it at the last moment) and by the fact that registration on the older car ends at the end of August. So getting this done in a hurry was the plan, but we didn't manage to get it done quickly enough to beat the insurance ending. Oh well. This can be handled.

Given I am already registered for classes and orientation at the school I am attending, I suspect my dealings with bureaucratic world are done for a while. Anne is dealing with registering for provincial health insurance and work stuff, so she's in the thick of it still.

There are also interesting bits about getting mail from the US to Canada. We had one package of forwarded mail go into a black hole in the US for 10 days with (so far) no explanation. When it finally arrives (we hope in a couple of days) we might figure out what happened. Another forwarded package seems to be on the cusp of arriving in good time. And a birthday card sent for me is now 13 days into delivery and we have no clue where it is. So we're still working this mail thing out. Thankfully the person forwarding things for me in the US gets tracking numbers, and those have been helpful.

We're walking a lot - enough to lose some weight - and will be using transit the bulk of the time we need to move around, which is interesting and different from our US environment. School promises to be fun and I look forward to writing about it here.

That's about it for now. We wish all our friends and family only the best!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

First Impressions

We are settling into our rented house now, and waiting for the moving truck to arrive next week. The dogs are getting lots of walks, and we are doing lots of yard work to catch up with a suburban lot that wasn't maintained for months.

The house has more than a few quirks, but it is pretty liveable. The biggest problem is that our oldest dog hates the fake wood floors. They are slick and noisy when her toenails encounter it. And given it sounds like it is raining whenever she walks around downstairs, there is a lot of toenail / floor interaction going on. Even worse is that she has her paws spread as wide as they will go, and is nervous about her footing, which only makes things worse. Thankfully we have a number of area rugs on the truck that arrives next week, and we'll put those out to give her have safe zones.

The weather is, frankly, not what we were promised. Hot, humid, and smokey about covers it. Here's tonight's sunset:

That was taken at about 8 pm, and you could stare right at the sun without harm. Smoke in the air, and lots of it, from fires all over BC. Having come from Northern California, I understand it, but where is all the rain? Where are the cool temperatures? There are heat alerts going out for parts of Vancouver and the lower mainland - particularly a bit more inland - and people are suffering. So far, we're lucky. We have a strong prevailing wind off the ocean that has kept us in the mid 80's or so, but it will be warmer for the next few days. We'll see.

We still have things to deal with, alas. Drivers licenses. Car registration and insurance. The overhead of life as a good friend of mine taught me to call it. Now that the yard is pretty much beat into shape I will try to get onto that ASAP.

In all it's good so far. A couple of days is hardly a valid sample but things are going well.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Eagle Has Landed

Short post today.

We've arrived at our rental home in Richmond, BC. It's still here, exactly as we left it a month ago.

The dogs are exhausted and clingy, but they seem to be realizing ("realising" in Canadian English) that we're staying here for a while. At the moment they are all stretched out on the floor around Anne as she talks with her mom. We went for a long walk this morning and that combined with the stress and the complete lack of desire to eat anything other than junk food (which always happens on long car trips) makes for tired puppies.

Today we build a list of things to do while Anne organizes ("organises") the kitchen. There is a bit of shopping to do, and I get to start mowing the jungle (formerly a yard, before it was left unmowed for months). That will take me several days, I am sure.

The moving truck doesn't get here for a week or more. When it left our place in the Santa Cruz Mountains it was heading to LA, and then to Calgary. It will arrive when it arrives. We're fine.

Not much else to report for now. More in a few days when I have started to catch up.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Moving Preparation Goes Wrong

So, you know how you're trying to plan way ahead of things when you're moving? Everyone does that, right?

Because you're doing that, a few days in advance of moving you call your Internet and phone provider (who shall remain anonymous, but whose name might partially sound like something you do when you're fishing) and setup a disconnect of your service the day after you need it. After all, you're going to be in crazy mode for a few days in a row, and the internet and a phone will help deal with surprises and thus keep you sane, right?

Your service rep is very nice and sets it all up just fine. Disconnect is set for Friday, since the moving truck takes all your stuff on Thursday. The call goes so well - almost no time on hold even - that you are lulled into a false sense of security.

So Tuesday arrives, and at about 12:30 pm, just like you didn't schedule it, your internet and phone go away. Poof.

So you call your COMunications (and fishing related) service provider and get into their automated system, which helpfully sends a reset command to your equipment and tells you to wait ten minutes to see if that worked.

But you're smarter than that, so you push deeper into the phone tree saying "Representative!" until you are hoarse and eventually (after three hours and a light snack) get to a "Live Body" (tm) who might be able to look at your account and figure out why it's stopped working three days early.

The "Live Body" (tm) eventually isn't sure but it was probably someone who didn't read the date right on the disconnect request and just did it. They are escalating to the service rep that setup the disconnect and that person's boss...

[[Here we have to make a slight digression...]]

You know how calls like this go. They always take longer than you expect, and you might as well sit down while it is going on.

And (at least in our case, though possibly not yours) the cellular phone service at your home isn't exactly stellar, so you need to step outside to make this call, where the walls and some air won't interfere with the tenuous cell reception you get from an antenna powered by three geriatric squirrels running in wheels in a cage some 18 miles to the east.

So you're standing outside and as realize you should sit down for this conversation. Happily, you have a deck and some chairs and even a table you might put your feet up on while you wait through this.

[[Here we return you to the original narrative, but you have no idea where this is going.]]

So you pull out a chair, sit down, and just as the "Live Body" (tm) is starting to explain that he's escalating this ticket to someone, your left elbow hurts. A lot. And then your right elbow. And then you realize that there are rather a lot of flying, stinging things around you. Quite a lot of them, in fact.

You leap up - as one does - saying a lot of four letter words - as one does - that almost certainly surprise the snot out of the "Live Body" (tm) - as they can - and eventually get far enough away to be sure that you're not being chased by a horde of angry, stinging things. But what things?

Wasps, as it turns out.

Once you finish the call from a safe distance, and are assured the internet and phone will be restored within one - two at the outside - hours, and drive to the local store to purchase the needed "Horrific Chemicals" (tm), use them, and retreat again for a while, you eventually turn the table over and find this:

Yes, that's the "Trump Nest" (tm) , created sometime in the last three or four weeks by a group of rather unpleasant freeloaders living on your property without paying rent. And stinging you for disturbing them besides.

Anyway, that evening, when the stinging nasties that weren't in the nest when you nuked it from space are trying to figure out what to do with rest of their lives - ideally somewhere in Siberia - you scrap that nest off the underside of the table, hose off all the "Horrific Chemical" (tm) residue, and set about dealing with all the stuff that you put off while:
  • Dealing with an Internet outage
  • Being stung by insects that don't care about your Internet outage
  • Exclaiming in pain/fear/frustration in the ear of the "Live Body" (tm) trying to fix the Internet outage
  • Running from said stinging insects whilst teaching the "Live Body" (tm) some exiting new words
  • Figuring out what sort of medical treatment you have for stings, since everything is already packed
  • Mentally recovering from the stress induced by these two, entirely separate - but now horribly related - events
I'm sure something just like this happened the last time you were prepping to move. Right?

Oh, and it took 1.5 hours and another email - sent over those tenuous cellular radio waves - to get the Internet back.

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.