Thursday, September 14, 2017

So many piercings...

Bonus post. If you find this, it wasn't announced in any of the usual places.

People watching is always fun, and I do it on occasion. There are the elderly Chinese gentlemen who think they can just cut into the line to get on the bus, and no one tells them they can't.

There are all the people with tattoos, most of which are totally forgettable to me.

There are the hair colors, which I am generally jealous of, and wish I had the guts to do myself. Bright pink hair on the Jeff, anyone?

There are so many smokers. What is it with people and smoking? Shudder.

But mostly, it's piercings. Lots and lots of piercings. Ears aren't really all that odd, even when there are lots of piercings in them. I get that, even if I don't want to do it myself. But lips, nose, eyebrows, and who knows where else? Really? Many of them look uncomfortable, unsanitary, or both. I really don't get it.

But life is full of things I don't get, and living in a city, and going to college with a particular cohort of people - roughly 31 to 33 years younger than I am - is showing me that for that generation, piercings are the thing.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Art School: Week 1

Today is the Saturday after my first week at art school. I've promised to share what I can about this experience, so here goes:

My schedule is fairly busy by modern college standards, I guess. Three courses is called a full load in a given semester. I am taking five, and started out thinking I would take six. I worried a bit about the load initially, but now I think I'll be OK.

As announced at the various orientations (which I am discovering lots of students didn't attend), each class gave us a detailed syllabus, listing just about all the dates you could want. There is one exception: final exam dates aren't yet set, so I don't know when my Art History final will be. None of my other classes have exams, just projects of various kinds due throughout the semester.

Overall the classes seem good, though just one session of each isn't a lot to go on. Overall the students I've talked with seem to think these instructors are good (I agree) and I think all of my studio instructors have taught (or currently teach) at Emily Carr University (or some other major school) in addition to teaching at Langara College. Emily Carr is a big art & design school, with some prestige, so if they're associated with Emily Carr in some way, they have recognition, if I understand the world properly.

My schedule has no classes on Monday, which is nice. It gives me an extra day each weekend to do homework, and I am already pretty sure I will need that.

Thoughts on individual classes:
  • Ceramics: We have a substitute instructor here: Gailan Ngan. The usual instructor is off taking a class herself, so they've brought in Gailin. She's quite good, very nice, and interesting, with lots of relevant background. Her website is Our first assignment is to create a coil built work of some kind. We're going to glaze the greenware, before it is fired. There are two other projects in this course: a work done in clay slabs, and a simple set of pots thrown on a wheel. And of course there is all kinds of other stuff to go along with all of that, the technical side of kiln loading, firing, glazing, etc. We haven't even started in on the first pot, though. That happens this coming Tuesday.

  • Visual Culture I (Art History): This is a thematic overview of art, rather than one organized chronologically. The instructor is Dr. Ivana Horacek, who has taught at quite a number of schools, including UBC, and most recently at the University of Minnesota. So far I think she will be an excellent instructor, and I have hope of learning a lot in her class. I don't delude myself into thinking I will be the best student there, but I hope to do well, and her teaching style seems suited to me. I'll know more with additional class time, but it seems good.

  • Painting: Taught be Steven Hubert (whose website I cannot be certain of; there are a few that might be his, but I am unable to confirm that given what I know, and they lack pictures of him, so... I can't give a link I know is right) who is an instructor at Langara, Emily Carr, Simon Fraser University (I think), and probably others. His approach is direct and to the point: paint a lot. He's got exercises for us, and is starting us off with a limited palette (monochromatic at first). We did some painting the first day, mostly to loosen up and get the idea, I think. Next week we start getting formal assignments to do during class and afterwards. All painting in this class is with acrylics, no oils or water colors. I'm OK with that. My oil experience is that they turn muddy brown when I look at them, and I know nothing about using water colors after about grade 3. Assuming I take more painting classes, I'm sure I'll learn more about those options. To be honest, this class probably worries more than any other, simply because my previous painting experiences gave me so much frustration. Time will tell how I react to the media, but this instructor seems like a good one to me, and I hope to enjoy it and learn a lot.

  • Design: This is an introductory Industrial Design class taught by Philip Robbins (yet another instructor who's taught in many places). Our first assignment involved drawing an orthographic projection of a simple object. Eventually we'll be creating ideas for things and figuring out how to draw or document them, and even some computer (CAD) work. Given my background I expect a lot of this to be pretty simple, but I have to work at it not to make stupid mistakes, and my technique will probably never be perfect. This is another class I think I'll enjoy, but I do wonder a bit about organization. I expect we'll be doing some group work, rather than all individual projects, and working in groups - despite being part of reality - is an odd thing in school. If everyone works hard and well, it can be fine. If not, things can go sideways in a hurry. In the real world you're always working in groups, but there isn't a grade coming, per se, and your manager should know what you've done and how much effort you put in. So even if a project tanks (and a lot do) it's not held against you personally unless you deserve it. That grade on a project in school is always kind of worrisome, and there may be nothing you can do about the level of effort on the part of another person in your group. We'll see how it goes, obviously, and I expect it won't be an issue, but I still worry about these things.

  • Drawing: Taught by Sarita Baker, who has also taught at a bunch of schools, played in a band, and written music for a cartoon TV show. Her class is an introduction to drawing, and gets us going with exercises and assignments. I don't have a sense of how well I will do at this - I get uptight about my own work pretty easily - but it seems she isn't worried about such things, and will help us succeed. Again I was unable to find a website specifically hers, so I have no good link to share.
Thus far I have no pictures to share of anything I have done. We did some drawings in the first drawing class, but I recycled them all. We did a couple of quick paintings on paper in the painting class, and those are still in the classroom, but are definitely not worth sharing. The first homework in the design class is done and sitting in a drawer at school waiting to be turned in. And (as stated above) no clay has been worked yet. So don't expect pictures for another week or two, I think.

There. Now you are as up to date as I am on my first week of school. Now I need to publish this and get started on some ceramics homework.

PS: It's cool and rainy today. Totally overcast. Absolutely lovely weather for me. I am happy with it!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back to school

Today is Labour (Labor) Day, in celebration of which I do not labo(u)r.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. Tomorrow, I labo(u)r. Possibly a lot. Tomorrow, I begin a new chapter in life, and start to figure out what some of the decisions we made over the last six months really mean.

For the curious, I am taking five classes this semester:
  • Ceramics Studio
  • Design Studio
  • Drawing Studio
  • Painting Studio
  • Visual Culture I
The first four are art classes. Each meets once a week for four hours, and I am told to expect four hours of homework from each per week (which will have to be done in the studio rooms themselves in most cases) except for ceramics, where I should expect eight hours of homework per week, all in the studio.

The last class is from the Art History department. I chose it as this sequence (Visual Culture I & II) looks more interesting to me than the traditional, chronological art history presentation, but I could be wrong. Additionally, the class has a new instructor, just hired into Langara College. It will - no doubt - involve extensive reading and writing papers, and thus add to the homework commitment.

It is my goal to post about art here, as well as other aspects of life. As I have previously mentioned, though, I don't yet know how much time I will have for anything other than course work, so time will tell. Please be patient as I adjust to the new schedule and get my life in order, again.

Thanks all!

Mysteries Reprise

A while back I wrote a post about three mysteries, things I didn't know the answer to.

After a very brief period of time I had an answer to the first one. It turns out that these lines in the road:

in freeways, as seen here:

Are part of a kind of road repair called a "dowel bar retrofit". It's a way of tying one section of concrete to another so they don't move as cars cross from one to another. I'd seen these for years all over the country and had no clue.

The second mystery to be resolved was a problem with using my USB scanner under Ubuntu Linux. That was fixed with my own continued digging and a reader pointing out a final syntax issue in something I did. The scanner works again, which is the important thing.

And the final mystery is now resolved as well. A series of strange items out off the western coast of Richmond are now identified as "Beacon Piles," and are present to keep ships from running aground. They are unlit, round, orange signs visible from the north and south, looking like this from the back (on land):

(The front sides are painted orange for visibility to ships out in the channel.)

The only question I have remaining about these is why they are where they are. The actual channel is well beyond these beacons, and any ship of significance will run aground long before it gets to them. Still, the contributions of several readers helped definitively identify them, so I can stop pondering them now. (And I am sure they are not radar reflectors, despite many references to them by that name. They are simply visual markers for ships to see in the daylight.)

Much of the conversation about these things took place on Facebook, and while I have all kinds of problems with that platform, it helped in these cases. If you're friends with me there, you can find the back & forth on this in the comments to the post announcing that earlier blog entry.

Also, if you have a burning question needing an answer, consider sharing it with me. Apparently I have more than a few readers who love digging into things, and who know all kinds of stuff. Maybe we can get it answered for you.

More Canadaisms

A few more Canadaisms, just because.

Canadians call it a "buggy", not a shopping cart. I have no idea why.

Here are a few things about Canadian money. Some of these you may know, but they still interest me:
  • Canada has a $1 coin, colloquially called a "Loonie" because it has a loon (the bird) on the back. It is slightly larger than a quarter, and is gold in color making it relatively easy to distinguish in a handful of change (unless you're blind, I suspect). Why the US $1 coin has not caught on I don't know. Probably something to do with merchants not having space in their cash registers for them.
  • They also have a $2 coin, called a "toonie". It's larger than a loonie and has a gold center surrounded by a silver outer ring. Again, it's pretty easy to distinguish from other coins.
  • Oddly, as an American, the hardest thing about Canadian currency is telling quarters and nickels apart. They are similar in size, and since the art on them is not what I am used to, I actually have to look closely and think about it. Someday that should be easy, but a month of rarely using cash is not long enough to get me to that point.
  • Canadians don't use pennies. They are still legal tender, but you can only deposit them in bank accounts. Merchants round things to the nearest nickel when dealing with cash. The US should have done that a long time ago.
  • Another oddity is getting a large amount of change but no bills. Imagine you pay for something costing $1.21 with a $5 bill and getting $3.80 back in change: 1 toonie, 1 loonie, 3 quarters, and 1 nickel. No bills. (And note the rounding down to $1.20 on the cost.) That pile of change still doesn't feel right.
  • When paying with something inexpensive with cash I still look for $1 bills in my wallet. Every time. I might have 15 loonies in my pocket, but I don't think about them yet.
  • Canadian bills have lots of color and transparent plastic in them. They are much prettier than American bills, in my opinion.
And finally, the name of the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced "Zed" not "Zee", which makes the end of the alphabet song fail to rhyme, among other things. It doesn't come up often, but it clearly marks me as not Canadian when it does happen.

My wife is still employed

Some of you may recall that my wife (Anne) brought her job with her as we moved to Canada. Her employer - Oracle - was willing to do that, and it works for us in ways related to immigration and other things.

So you might understand that there was a bit of heartburn a week or so after we arrived when rumors of a massive layoff began circulating at work. These rumors were so significant that all work on hardware projects stopped. (My wife is a hardware diagnostics developer - she breaks microprocessors for a living, and she's very good at it.) Instead everyone was making connections on LinkedIn and revising resumes. This was serious stuff.

And the rumors were right. Friday, Sept 1, 2017 saw a large layoff; hundreds of people. This was reported in the press, so I am not telling tales out of school. Nearly all of Oracle's SPARC development staff was let go.

Nearly - but not quite - all. A few were kept on, and Anne is one of those who stays employed, at least for now. Exactly what that means entirely clear yet. Tomorrow some of that information should start to flow. I won't be able to write about most of what she learns, so there won't be a lot of closure on this. Time will tell how it all goes down, though.

Most importantly, we know a lot of people who are now looking for work. It was a very long weekend, with people checking on each other. We wish all those impacted only the best. May you find some place better to work, or something better to do, whatever that means for you.

Take care.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

College Orientation

Last week I went to two different orientations for new students attending Langara College: International Orientation and the normal version. Being American (and college educated) I suspected I would know most of the information bring presented. I also figured that since it had been over three decades since I last did anything significant related to school, I should show up with an open mind.

Mostly, I was right. There wasn't a lot in this presentation that I needed to know, but it was still interesting, in large measure because either college has changed since I was a student, or the world has changed (hello Internet!), or both.

Here are some things I noted from the presentations in no particular order.
  • There is a lot of support for students at this school. Counselors, free tutoring in a bunch of subjects, study spaces you can reserve, and much more. If such things existed back when I was in college, I don't remember it.
  • We were told that Langara has about 3000 international students. That's a huge number, and it imposes a lot of interesting things on a college supporting that kind of enrollment. As you might expect, cultural differences can be significant and lead to several issues. Here are some things that popped out:
    • Eye contact is good. It implies attention and listening. Some cultures see it as a challenge to authority, so it is not something that all students are comfortable doing.
    • Speaking up in class, asking questions, and interacting with the instructor and other students is expected. Again, not all cultures see this as a good thing.
    • Personal space expectations differ between cultures. Canadians have a bubble of personal space and like to keep it (as do Americans). Not so with everyone.
    • Plagiarism is a thing that you have to teach people to avoid. Some cultures think copying the work of others is just fine, or even a form of flattery. That is obviously not the case here, so that has to be discussed.
  • Another interesting section (to me) was on consent. With all those kids getting away from home for the first time and being free to try new things - ahem, sex - I guess that is a topic that really needs to be discussed, but we didn't do that 30+ years ago. Good job for bringing it up.
  • Things seem more organized now than I recall from my original college days. We were told every class will have an outline (syllabus) and all the relevant due dates, exams, papers, and so on will be listed on it. We're to be given that on the first day of class, and we'll live by it. That and Google calendar should be enough to keep anyone on track, but given the tenor of the discussion there are clearly plenty of students who can't manage that. I know some of my classes back in the day had syllabuses, but not all of them, and they were pretty simple things.
  • On a related topic, it was obvious I was much more prepared than other students I interacted with. I had gone in a couple of weeks ago and gotten my student ID, bought my textbook (only one of my classes this semester has a required text), knew my classes and schedule, had activated my local computer accounts, setup WiFi access, and so on. I figured doing all of that would be easier when there were no lines. Lots of people had done nothing like that, despite being in town for weeks already.
  • There is at least one other, mature (a lovely euphemism meaning "older than normal" in this case), international student starting in the fine arts program, like me. He's an Aussie with some silversmithing background. He's younger than I am by a fair bit, but still older then the typical entering Freshman. I hope we share a class or two as we go through the program.
All in all I actually enjoyed the orientations, and while I didn't learn a whole lot that will help me, I am reassured about my own ability to cope as I jump back into this world after a very long time away.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

More power isn't always better

Maybe it's an American thing, that belief that more power is always better. The big engine, the big car, and so on. Today I have a story where (so far at least) the opposite is true.

At our old home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, we had 2.5 acres of land, on a slight slope. We had redwood trees, what remained of an old pear orchard, and a lot of very tall weeds that needed to be mowed several times during the season to keep the fire danger down. Then the rains arrived and you didn't mow until it started to dry out because your mower would get stuck or slide on the hillside.

To do that work I used a walk behind, high weed mower from one of the big manufacturers of such things. (DR, in my case, but there are others.) It had a 17 HP motor and a 30" blade. It had four speeds powered going forward, one in reverse, and weighed something like 400 pounds. Steering it was real work. I also used a heavy duty, gas powered string trimmer made by Stihl.

Mowing took 12 - 16 hours spread over 2 or 3 days, and left me dehydrated, with leg cramps, blisters, and callouses.

Then we moved away from all of that. And oddly I am mowing the yard in our rental. Doing so got me a small reduction in the rent and the landlord bought me a mower and string trimmer to do the work. The lot is large by suburban standards, perhaps 20,000 square feet, or nearly half an acre.

On arriving, the house had not been maintained for months. The grass was two feet long, dried out, and matted down.

Based on the agreement with the landlord, I bought a $300 gas mower and a cheap string trimmer that is either battery or extension cord powered. Both are laughable in comparison to the gear I used in California.

And yet...

Despite worries from the landlord about how large the lot is and the work involved, once the initial overgrowth was mowed down, mowing this place is trivial. I can mow and trim the whole thing in two hours or so.

It turns out that the cheap gear is just fine for this job. It uses a lot less gas, and is easy to steer and move. (The mower doesn't even have powered wheels... it's up to me to make it go.)

Fascinatingly, I am told the previous owner of the house had a riding mower (amusingly called a "sit mower" by some up here). I didn't even have a riding mower in California, as I didn't trust such a thing on the sloped ground. But I am certain that a riding mower is totally unneeded for this lot. Compared with what I am used to, this is an easy lot to maintain.

I admit that first mow - trying to cut the grossly overgrown grass - took a long time, and required hours of effort. But now the job is easy.

And I find it interesting that in this case, less power is just fine. Not a very American point of view, I fear.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


This post is going to cover three different mysteries. These are things I have wondered about, and want to know the answers to, but that I have yet to understand.

Anyone who can help me with the answers to any of these things will earn my eternal gratitude, and a link here to their website if desired. Obviously that means I will update the post with new information as it arrives. As with all things, you can reach me if you try, despite comments being off here.

Oh, for all images here, click to see a larger version.

MYSTERY 1 - Strange marks in highway pavement in the USA

Here's a picture taken on I-5 in Northern CA, on a trip to Vancouver:

Look at the road in front of the car. See those sets of 3 marks on each side, roughly where the wheels of the car go? Those are the mystery. Here's a closeup:

What are those things? Here's what I know so far:
  • I have googled quite a bit and been unable to find a search that tells me anything.
  • It appears that they happen on expansion joints (or some other linear crack in the road, perpendicular to the direction of travel).
  • I have seen them in several states, mostly in I-80, but also (as above) in California on I-5.
  • The spacing between groups (in the direction the cars travel on the road) can vary.
  • Sometimes there are 2 groups of 4 marks instead of 2 groups of 3. No idea why. But that happens on very different roads. I have never seen groups of 4 & 3 on the same road.
This question has driven me crazy for years. I have no clue what those marks are for. The cannot be for traction (like rain grooves) and I can't see why you'd need them across expansion joints.

Mystery 1 has an answer! Readers K and P (possible links still coming) tell me these marks are made as part of a 'dowel bar retrofit', which is a mechanism used to reinforce cracks in highway concrete. Here's a Wikipedia article about the technique.

MYSTERY 2 - Wood, round, antenna structures west of Richmond, BC

On our regular dog walks along the dyke on the western edge of Richmond, BC, we see odd, round structures, apparently made of wood. There are several of them, well spaced out. Here's one, from afar, and zoomed in. (The zoom'd image is blurry... sorry.)

And here is a shot showing several of these things off to the south:

And finally, here is a captured image from Google Maps, where I have measured the distance between these things. The points on the white line show their locations.

And here's what I know (it's not much):
  • They appear to be made of wood, and have no apparent electrical connections.
  • They face South West. (Bring up google maps for Richmond, BC, switch to satellite mode, and zoom in to confirm that yourself. You can see them in some detail there.)
  • The spacing between them isn't regular. (See map above.)
  • They are in a straight line running very close to due North/South, as far as I can tell. (Again, see map above.) It is just possible that they do not run perfectly North/South, but from the level of detail I have, it's hard to know.
  • And once more, Google has let me down on finding more details.
That's it. I know nothing more.

Mystery 2 has been solved. It prompted a lot of discussion on Facebook and in email, and many people participated in the conversation. K suggested these are navigation markers for ships, and looked at some nautical charts but didn't find them specifically. I found them in, but couldn't find the description of the actual things I found. J found the actual information about the chart annotation that resolved it, along with the formal description of the item type - "Daybeacons" - which says: "Generally, daybeacons are unlighted aids used primarily to assist the mariner during daylight hours" and goes on with other information that makes it clear that these things off the coast of Richmond are there to keep ships out of trouble.

Thanks to the many people who looked into this and helped find the definitive answer! It was really fun to get it worked out.

MYSTERY 3 - The scanner that stopped working in Ubuntu Linux 16.04

No pictures for this one, I'm afraid, but I wrote it all up in great detail in a post on the Ubuntu Forums here:

In short, I updated my OS and everything works (as far as I know) except the scanner. And the failure mode of the scanner is really, really odd. It's as if the bus ID and device ID that were in use for the scanner in the previous version of the OS were saved somewhere, but after the OS update everything got renumbered. When software to find the scanner is run as a regular user, the scanner cannot be found. When the same software is run as root, it does find the scanner (apparently).

As with the other mysteries, Google has not revealed a solution so far.

Mystery 3 has been solved. Without going into too much detail, there was a permissions problem because of changes introduced in Ubuntu Linux between 14.04 LTS and 16.04 LTS. I, personally, got the problem about 95% solved, but thanks to confusing and inaccurate documentation, I missed a bit of syntax that kept it from working. A good friend (John M.) pointed that last issue out, and suddenly everything works again. I think someone at Ubuntu needs a kick in the head for this, but such is life. The scanner works, and that is all that matters for now. Anyone wanting all the details can read this thread:

wherein I document the entire mess.

And that's it. Fame* and fortune** await the people who help me understand these things. Consider it a challenge, please!

* "Fame" defined as a link to your website, if you want it.
** This is a lie. There will be no fortune for anyone who helps. Sorry.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It appears humans really are all the same

There's an old saying:
If it bleeds, it leads.
According to the internet (and specifically this site), that phrase was first used in an article in the New York Magazine in 1989. I guess it's not really that old then, but it sure feels that way.

It happens that I don't get the New York Magazine. It also happens that I only get one dead tree edition of anything, and that's Science News, a publication where that journalistic philosophy doesn't apply.

But I do read the news online, using Google News as my aggregator. When we moved to Vancouver I adjusted my feed. Google News tracks what you read and click on to build things, but it also lets you pick places you are interested in, and I am pretty sure it also taps your physical location as well.

The current political situation in the US is such a disaster that I can't stop clicking on articles about the latest idiocy committed by the orange menace and his rabid followers, so my feed still has a lot of US based news in it. With luck that will drop over time, possibly because of an impeachment. If that happens, the feed should naturally shift towards more Canadian news.

However, tying this post back to the introduction, Canada suffers from "If it bleeds, it leads" syndrome just as much as the US does. There is a difference, though: Canada has a lot less violence overall, and only about 10% of the population of the US. As a result, the news media here has to go farther afield to find blood, but they do it.

Every morning in the local sections about Vancouver and Richmond, I scan headlines about bodies found, gun shots, accidents, and so on. These are local news sources, and there probably isn't that much local news every day, so they fill their pages with whatever they can get. Blood first, though.

Sadly the national news does the same thing. I read about violence in Victoria, murders in Manitoba, and serial killers in Saskatoon. (Yes, some - ok, a lot of - liberties were taken with the truth in that sentence, but I like it.)

It's actually rather depressing, but reality is a bit different from what you might think (and in particular from what the idiotic minion in charge of the US Justice Department wants you to believe):

  • In 2015, the murder rate in the US was 4.88 per 100,000 people. Wikipedia puts that at 94 out of 219 countries. There are 93 countries with higher murder rates.
  • In 2014, the murder rate in Canada as 1.68 per 100,000 people, and the same article puts that at position 158 out of 219.
  • Due to the population difference, the actual numbers are starkly different: there were 15,696 murders in the US in 2015, and 604 in Canada in 2014.
  • Violent crime rates in the US - and, indeed, just about all crime there - have been steadily declining for 20+ years now.
  • Similarly, crime rates in Canada are mostly dropping as well.

Despite all of that - actual information! - people in both the US and Canada believe they are always in danger, and worry about highly unlikely events for no reason at all. And in both countries it plays into the hands of politicians wanting power to exaggerate those fears.

I'm tired of that.

In the US the deluge of crime and bad news - due simply to population size - means that if you live in Florida you probably don't read about murders in Oregon unless something really awful happened. And in big cities you don't read about every murder that happens just for lack of space in publications to document them. (Again that is due to population size, not overall crime rates.) So while"if it bleeds, it leads" is still true, there is other news on the front page, at least some of the time.

Here in Canada, though, we read about every murder, shooting, major accidents, and so on all over the country. The simple act of listing them all out in headlines can make you think that crime and death are rampant. It's actually a bit depressing.

I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this. I mean, the political headlines from the US are depressing enough, but add in the major crimes in cities 3000 miles away, and suddenly the news is just an awful read. I don't have any answers yet, but I am open to suggestions.

And yes, it really is safe here. It's lovely, and safe. Just avoid the news.

Note: This is a secret post. That is, I am not emailing an announcement about this one because I've written a lot of posts lately, and sent email about them. I don't want to drive people getting those emails nuts. This will get announced on FB, and on G+. And I need to think about twitter too, I guess... hmmm. But I won't email the announcement list. If you find this post you are thus a member of a very select club. Congratulations. Being a member gets you absolutely nothing, but you're in. Yay! You can join the club by getting in touch - email, DM on FB, telegram, phone call(!), whatever - and giving me an email address where you'd like to receive notices of new posts. Once school starts I'll almost certainly post less often, so you shouldn't get flooded with email. Thanks!

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.