jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) is common lots of places, but I imagine Calgary is pretty bad for it among Canadian cities. It's part of that whole Conservative/Libertarian screw-you-I've-got-mine mindset.

A Google search of NIMBY Calgary will bring up lots of examples, but the most recent one is the city's plans to build a Bus-Rapid-Transit route that goes down a major north-south artery road in the southwest. This could including designating one lane each way as being for transit only. This could increase congestion on that road.

But I'm not really interested in the pros and cons of a city transit project. I'm more interested in the reaction to it by a handful of residents in the southwest. Basically, they've hijacked the meetings with protests, yelling, general asshattery, and, most recently, death threats. So Nenshi cancelled the meetings.

To me, he's doing what any good manager should do when people disrespect your employees - you show them the door. They can return when they learn to behave by the rules we teach kids in kindergarten.

Online, these people lost their shit, which was predictable. In the Facebook thread related to that article, I wrote: "Perhaps Ready to Engage should consider apologizing. Just sayin'." The most interesting response was the one where someone asked if I was a paid astroturfer (someone hired by an organization to push an agenda in online discussions). Which is odd, because municipal governments don't have the kind of money that multinational corporations do. Plus, the city can't afford me for a shit job like that.

So let's summarize: People are losing their collective shit, to the point of abusing city workers, over bus lanes. What the hell is going on here?

I'm sure the other side will defend their position by saying how hard done by they are and on how they don't have a voice, etc. etc. The fact remains that they are a tiny minority, they voted for the municipal government just like everyone did, and they're confusing not being heard with not being obeyed.

There's an old saying "Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low." I think that's what's going on here. Worst case scenario for the opponents of the bus lane: Traffic gets worse and their commute gets a few minutes longer. That's it. Oh, and they get to pretend they're martyrs - that has to be a benefit to people who think they're being horribly mistreated, yet this is the worst thing on their agenda.

If they win, they get to pretend they stuck it to the man. Aside from that, they're life doesn't materially change.

They have nothing to lose. They literally have no appreciable downside if they completely screw the pooch. There is no reason for them to ever negotiate a middle ground. People who have a lot to lose? They're eager to negotiate, because they have so much to lose.

So we have a group of people who get to prop up their self-image no matter how this turns out, and there's no down-side to them being completely unreasonable.

Another reason could be the belligerent nature of political discourse in general, especially with the current US primaries (and, let's be honest, our own Conservative party), but that's fodder for another post.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
Uber, the ride-sharing platform that makes a lot of money for the organizers, and not much money for the drivers, is moving into Calgary.

I predict that we're going to have a long, cold war between the city and Uber. One where the city says "you can't be here without abiding by these rules", and Uber simply ignoring them since the fines will fall on the drivers (whom they don't care about). Attempts to fine Uber directly will result in long protracted legal battles that end when we settle out of court at a sufficiently small amount that Uber's profits aren't too badly dinged.

Throw some Uber execs in jail, they'll come around.

I'm certainly not against the concept of casual taxis. I'd like to see, at a minimum:

  • Drivers need their Alberta class 4 license.
  • They need to pass a background check. I've had this done and it's neither expensive nor onerous.
  • The cars need to pass a regular inspection.
  • They need to have sufficient insurance.
  • They can't go over a defined amount of hours per year, or they're no longer casual and need to get a taxi license. 200 hours of time available as a driver on the system (as opposed to time actually driving) seems like a good point to start the discussion.
Oh, and if any of these criteria aren't being met by the taxi companies, that's not a counter argument - it suggests something they're not doing that they should.

If this no longer makes Uber a viable option for making a living, the fault is not the regulations, it's that Uber is exploiting its drivers. Consider that.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
There's an online petition going around to rename the Calgary International Airport after Ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It seems to have stalled out. It's also spawned lots of counter-petitions. Among them:

  • A straight up don't do it. Of note, it's got four times as many signatures as the one it's protesting. If nothing else, this should make renaming the airport a non-starter.
  • Rename Stephen Harper to Calgary International Airport. Clever. It reminds me of Rick Mercer's attempt to get Stockwell Day's first name changed to Doris as a joke back when Stockwell Day was somebody.
  • Rename the airport Stephen Harper International Terminal. SHIT - get it? Gharf gharf. Funny, but not something I'd like to put up with as someone who lives here, regardless of my opinion of Harper's legacy. It does remind me of the Conservatives earlier (brief) incarnation as the Canadian Reform Alliance Party, before the media pointed out what a bad idea that was.
  • Rename one of the local landfills after him.
  • Better yet, name one of the landfills the Stephen Harper Scientific Archive, in honour of all the scientific libraries he closed, whose contents ended up in landfills, because fuck science.
  • Name the airport after someone else. These range from the ridiculous (Wresting patriarch Stu Hart, who, aside from probably taking flights out of the airport, had nothing to do with it), to fairly serious (Naming it for Fred McCall - it was McCall field back in the depths of time)
Lots of fun stuff here.

Here's the thing; we're going to end up naming stuff after Harper eventually. As much as I believe he's the worst PM in living memory, and shouldn't be rewarded for his deliberate mismanagement of the country, I have to acknowledge that a lot of people disagree with me. A fair amount of those people live in Calgary. The old Calgary Archers Club grounds will probably get turned into a park after they finish building Stony Trail. Name it after Harper, the way they named another park after Klein. Let them get it out of their system.

Should we be renaming airports after politicians? Well, we've already done it three times in this country with Diefenbaker, Pearson, and Trudeau the Elder. A lot of people objected to Harper getting one since he's still alive and those other three were dead when the renaming occurred. This makes a sort of sense, but to paraphrase Captain Barbossa, that's more of a guideline than an actual rule. Clark is still alive, and he's got at least one school named after him.

In the end, I'd like to keep the airport named Calgary International Airport because that's what it it. It's the airport, in Calgary, that handles international flights. It doesn't need anything else. Maybe if we had a second airport, it would make sense to give them unique names. We don't really need a second airport.

Besides which, no one actually calls it that, unless we're discussing it in relation to other airports. Even then, the trend has been to use an airport's code for that sort of discussion. If I get into a taxi, I just say "take me to the airport".
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
CalgaryNext is the proposal to use land in Calgary's West Village (between 14th street and Pumphouse Road) for a new sports arena complex. That complex will be the new home of the Flames, Stampeders, Roughnecks, and Hitmen.

I like the vision of this plan. I think this sort of complex is something the city could really use. Replacing McMahon stadium is long overdue, and a case could be made for the Saddledome as well. CalgaryNext, as an idea, is a good one.

But the presentation, and assumptions suck. Councilor Farrell describes the problems with financing here. Basically they low-balls the costs, ignore all the infrastructure required, and only describes the positives. The whole website comes off as a shady timeshare presentation writ large.

I've had marketers blow smoke up my ass enough times to recognize when it's happening, and it's happening now. This will not cost $900M, it will cost at least $1.5B. And aside from $200M, that money is going to be from tax dollars. For an example of what I mean, the cleanup cost for the land is estimated at between $50M and $300M. When people say that, they mean $300M. Note that the Creosote cleanup is absolutely necessary to using that land, and it's not factored into the cost. What possible reason could you have to not include that in the cost?

Now I have no problem with taxes being levied for things we need. And I have a very liberal idea of need compared to most people. If CalgaryNEXT was up front with the true costs, instead of the lowest of all estimates, I'd probably be for it. It's not like that $1.5B is being used in an arcane ritual where we burn the money and a an arena magically appears. That money is going to be pumped into the local economy. It's going to be used to pay for materials, it's going to be used to pay people to build it. That means several years of steady work for a lot of trades. That means families are going to be supported and those people will be paying taxes. Money for capital projects means we get the capital project, and the economy gets a welcome boost.

But does it have to be this project? This project is basically facilities for a bunch of for-profit businesses (some of which are very profitable). Can't they afford to make this themselves? If they can't do it themselves and still be profitable, do they deserve to stay in business? I appreciate that sports are popular, but if we were talking about building a bunch of office towers for a handful of oil companies, would we be so gung-ho about it? OK, bad example, this is Calgary, we'd totally be up for giving an office tower to an oil company.

I also hate the design. I'm no engineer, but I know that whenever anyone in this climate tries to build a stadium with a roof that does anything but be a roof, it fails. Calgary's freeze/thaw cycle will play merry hell on that transparent roof. I expect it to leak like hell. I'd much rather they had a well-engineered roof that can support twice the weight of the snow that's going to get dumped on it every year. Maybe cover the whole thing with solar panels to make it more green. It really doesn't need to be transparent.

I'd love there to be development on that chunk of land, and I think a stadium complex is a good fit for the area. But they really need to do more homework:
  • Redesign a more conservative complex - one that is tried and true for our climate.
  • Give us a better estimate for the true cost of this endeavor, including cleanup costs, and all of the necessary infrastructure improvements.
  • The Flames and the Stamps need to pony up a greater percentage of the costs. I don't expect them to pay for the whole thing, but they need to do more.
Do all that, and I'll reconsider. Until then, this is just going to irritate the security mindset part of my brain.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
I had to go see a doctor today for something I consider fairly routine - I get excessive wax built up in my ears and every few years I have to get them flushed out. This is irritating, but i've done it before, and it has the side benefit that it feels like I have super-human hearing for the rest of the day.

I knew I'd need to be doing this trip soon because my hearing has been getting worse over the last week and my ears have been fully plugged a few mornings this week since I tend to sleep on my side. I've been treating it with mineral oil to soften up the wax, based on previous doctor's orders (by itself it should soften things up enough so that the wax will fall out - eventually. And if that doesn't work, at least the wax isn't a chunk of concrete that might impact the eardrum (which is what they're really concerned about).

This morning, one ear would not unplug. Time to go to the clinic, I decided.

I went to the Brentwood clinic, even though they've refused to do the procedure in the past. They always want to prescribe ear drops that do the same job as mineral oil. Since I'd been putting the mineral oil in for a few days, I figured that would change their mind. Plus, I'd rather not bother the folks at the hospital for something trivial.

Dr. M: "Here's a prescription."
Me: "Can't you just flush it out?"
Dr. M: "No, this is the procedure for your condition."
Me: "Gotta be honest with you Doc, if you won't flush it out, I'm just going to go to another doctor who will."
Dr. M: "Why don't you want the prescription? Wouldn't you rather have drops for a few days than a procedure that will give you an ear ache and two hours of vertigo and nausea?"
Me: *thinking that's a load of bullshit meant to scare me*
Me: "I've had this procedure done four times in the last decade. I'm fine with a five minute procedure than not hearing anything for half a week. Hell, I'd be OK with two hours of nausea and vertigo than not hearing anything for half a week.
Dr. M: "Well that's the treatment. I can't believe you'd rather risk permanent injury rather than follow a simple procedure."

She continued for a few moments in full-on you're-disagreeing-with-a-doctor-so-I'm-going-to-treat-you-stupid mode. I kept my mouth shut until she finished.

Me: "Are we finished?"

I then went to Foothills hospital. During the drive, the bad ear popped and I could hear. I figured I'd keep going though otherwise, I'd just be back tomorrow when it plugged up again. After walking through the maze that is the Health Science Centre, I made my way to triage. The joint was surprisingly not busy. Good luck for me!

Triage Nurse: "You're welcome to wait here, but since we take people in priority order, and you're basically healthy, that could take awhile. Or we could give you a 1 PM appointment at the PCN clinic in Kensington."

At this point it was about noon, so I opted for the clinic.

The PCN clinic down is in the old Grace Hospital. Side note: I was born in this building. And my Mother died in the hospice next door. That makes the area briefly weird for me.

After a quick sushi lunch at Globefish, I went to my appointment. Apparently the building isn't heavily used on the weekends so they combine several doctor's offices/clinic into the Obstetrics clinic in the building, which added to the weirdness. As I joked on Facebook, I don't want to know what's in my ear if they're sending me to an Obstetrics clinic.

And I saw the Doctor there.

Dr Y: *looking in ear* "Yep, they're fully plugged. Want us to flush them out?"
Me: "Yes, please!"

He proceeded to do that, while educating one of the nurses on how to do it. And now I'm good for another couple of years. Or possibly forever, if I actually use the mineral oil once a week, instead of waiting for it to get bad.

Moral of this story: Pretty much everyone associated with Foothills Hospital (and their satellite clinics) knows what they hell they're doing. Conversely, at least one doctor at Brentwood likes to half-ass things. Given I've seen them over other things in the past and the other doctors also half-ass things, I'm just going to stop going to Brentwood. I learn slowly, but I do learn.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
Nerd Nite Calgary had their third event tonight. It was pretty good. This was the third one and I was at the first one as well. They seem to have a pattern of three speakers: One speaker was someone who did something that "went viral" (the first one was the guy who wants to go to Mars, tonights was a pair of roommates who decided to have a Buy Nothing Year). Another speaker is someone in a local community that's in the nerd orbit (the first was a member of the local skeptics society, today it was members of the maker community). Finally, there is a local scientist (the first was a palaeontologist working on dinosaur buoyancy, today it was a fellow working on computer visualization of the brain).

First, the talks. Then, impressions, a little therapy, and a request.

Jeff de Boer and Shannon Hoover were the first speakers, talking about wearable technology. Their example was the Tech Tie, which they're developing with some big names in tech (IBM for example). An open source, computer driven tie that would respond to motion, change its own design, and do all the shit that Google Glass does, but better because its size restrictions wouldn't be nearly so tight.

They had me right up to the Google Glass comparison.

Ok, I get it, privacy is simply going the way of the buggy whip. Soon every jackass will be able to film me without my knowledge everywhere I go. There's nothing I can do about it because eventually the tech to do this will be so small and unassuming as to be invisible. Doesn't mean I have to like it. I really don't want to spend every public moment wondering if my fashion choices are going to get me onto a people-of-Walmart style website.

Other than that, it looked cool. As a vehicle for self-expression, I think it's a wonderful idea.

Next up was Julie and Geoffrey, who decided to make wholesale changes in their lives by not buying anything (with some caveats, like staggered beginning times for different values of "buy stuff") for a whole year. They were the most engaging speakers and also the one that was most personally inspirational. I'll never make the stuff Jeff de Boer makes, but I can purge my junk and try to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle. Plus I don't need to be nearly so balls-to-the-walls about it as they were. Stop going out for sushi? Not in the cards.

Anyway, they did it and came out the other side both wiser and more open. Good for them.

Finally, there was Dr. Christian Jacobs, who does the sort of stuff I imagine [livejournal.com profile] nosarious would be right into. Visualizing the human brain in such a way as to allow one to take an interior tour of its structures. This also tied in with a project to do the same thing for medical training with the whole body. Either a full on simulation of the body (not just a static image, but one with a beating heart, moving muscles, and other things that make us more than just a lump of hamburger) - which would take an insane amount of computation - but also a "cut down" version that one could simply use on a tablet for reference.

If this guy's grad students wanted a job in something comparatively dull, but that would use their graphical computing knowledge, I could probably set them up.

All in all a good set of talks and well worth my time and ten bucks.

Now for some random thoughts and impressions.

First, this was a smallish venue and they didn't even fill it up. That's probably a good thing since there were two giant pillars in the middle of the room which sharply reduced the number of decent seats. Basically my entire table, except for the one corner I was sitting at, couldn't see the stage at all.

As for not filling it up, that's just pathetic. If Comic Expo can get 10K+ attendees, there is not one good reason these guys can't get 100. They also all seemed to know each other. That might be my mistaken impression as an outsider, but it sure looked like everyone had an easy time chatting with everyone else. I feel like they've saturated one small part of the local nerd community, but haven't "broken out" to other valences.

I was firmly in my usual "alone in a crowd" mode, which was bothersome, but not super-bothersome. I figured I'd just sit in a corner and observe and do my usual quips and bon mots via twitter instead of verbally to whomever I knew nearby.

But I got caught. Namely by Julie (one of the speakers), who quizzed me about whether I was live tweeting the event, and who also immediately followed me. This was quickly followed by Erika doing the same.

Of course, when strangers introduce themselves to me, my ability to act like a perfectly rational human being goes away and I start talking like a Vulcan robot. I am getting better at snapping out of that, though it did take a few sentences this time.

So a small amount of anxiety, but it was good anxiety because I got through it positively. However, I would like to not be the one guy by himself. Again.

So here's the request: Next Nerd Nite is going to be November 20th. This is close to my birthday, but also at a time I'll be in town (I'll likely be away on my actual birthday), so I'd like people to join me, for my birthday, at Nerd Nite #4. Hell, I'll bake a cake if enough people I know confirm and buy tickets.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
Yesterday was the inauguration of Nerd Nite Calgary.

The setting was the basement of The Belfry, which advertises itself as a gastropub. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the food is good and the beer selection is decent. They have a special event room in the basement, and that's where we were.

I got there early and found a table that managed to be far enough away to make it hard to hear, yet close enough that I couldn't pretend I was in the back of the classroom. I couldn't get anyone to go with me (my one maybe turned into a no due to a stress headache at the last minute). Normally this sort of thing would depress me, except A) I'm starting to get used to it, and B) I ended up with two cool table-mates, Jill and... David? I remember Jill's name because she ended up following me on Twitter. Maybe-David I'm not sure about because my facility with names sucks. I need to use your name at multiple different things for it to stick, and I didn't do that this time.

The first speaker was Graham Christensen, who is on the long list to be a Mars colonist. He discussed his own motivations for wanting a one-way ticket to Mars, the Mars-One project itself, and some of the hurdles (both personal and technological) to colonizing the red planet.

He's also a fun and engaging public speaker. I don't know if this is just a natural talent, or if he's worked hard at making it seem natural. As Churchill said (paraphrasing), it takes days of work to make a good off-the-cuff speech. His enthusiasm for the project was infectious.

The other good thing about Nerd Nite? The discussions that happen during the breaks between speakers. After listening to Mr. Christensen, my tablemates and I had a nice discussion about the psychology of long-distance space travel. I, for one, could not imagine spending 200+ days locked in a minivan with three other people. I'd be the world's first interplanetary spree killer. And actually living on Mars? Sorry - I like all the things that civilization can offer. Still, good on the Mars-one folk for trying it. I wish them success, even if I think it's long odds.

The next speaker was Christine Shellska, who in addition to being a post-grad at U of C, is also involved in the local Atheist/skeptic community. Her talk was on how the Intelligent Design community refines their bullshit to better sell their manufactroversy (a new word I just learned).

Ms. Shellska was the weakest of the three speakers, but she still made her points plainly. I think if she had used her initial premise (The Flintstones are historical) using the same "evidence" that the ID movement uses, she'd have made her points in a more entertaining fashion. Of course, ID "proof" is ridiculous, and using ridiculous things ironically has it's own humour.

"Fred Flintstone really existed and worked for Mr. Slate by using a Brontosaurus Apatosaur as construction equipment."
"It was just a cartoon rip-off of the Honeymooners."
"HOW DO YOU KNOW, WERE YOU THERE?!?"
It was a fun talk; I think it could have been better.

The next table discussion immediately veered into mutual ranting about anti-vaxxers (because we saw parallels between ID bullshit and anti-vaxxer bullshit). I've long maintained that the chief characteristic of anti-vaxxers was a thick streak of you're-not-the-boss-of-me-ism. However, Maybe-David had actually studied the phenomenon and discovered that you can explain the facts to someone, they can absorb the facts, they can believe that the facts come from a credible source, but in the end that matters less than whether they had made a public pronouncement on the subject. That is to say, anti-vaxxers (and others of their ilk) will stick to their guns, even if they've accepted the facts, because they'd rather be wrong, then to admit that they were wrong. A rather alien concept for me, since I routinely admit to being wrong.

Other factors included the ease with which one can surround yourself in pseudo-scientific BS in the age of the internet. Anyone can cite a study. Citing a study that has credible peer-review is somewhat harder though. For one thing, you have to accept the notion of peer-review.

As you might imagine, all three of us saw eye-to-eye on this subject.

The final speaker was Dr. Donald Henderson of the Royal Tyrrell, discussing his theory of sauropod buoyancy. This included a computer model of a rubber ball showing the idea of buoyancy. I joked that, as a good scientist, he was starting with "first, assume a perfectly spherical dinosaur". Subsequent models had modern creatures like crocodiles and elephants, to demonstrate it's fitness, followed by sauropods. Turns out they probably floated rather well, due to large lungs and a skeleton that likely incorporated numerous air-bladders.

And, of course, it was all about dinosaurs, which are intrinsically cool.

Overall, the night was pretty good. The company was terrific (hell, any night where a pretty stranger buys me a rum & coke is a good night), the talks were both entertaining and educational, and the setting was ideal. About the only thing I'd change would be the order of the talks (I'd have it be dinosaurs/Flintstones/Mars), and having a partner to go with. If they make it a regular thing, I'll make attending it a regular thing.
jamesq: (Fools)
About ten days ago on a Saturday morning LA and I participated in City Chase. Our team name was, of course, Grätüïtöüs Ümläüt. Here's a quick recap with some hints for future City Chases:

We started at Eau Claire plaza and endured a lot of talk from the MC. A coworker and his race partner were honored for winning last year and also for raising about 3K for charity.

The race started when the MC announced that "security guards on Prince's Island have the clue sheets". This triggered a mad dash by all involved. LA and I second-guessed ourselves and went to one of the remoter parts of the island on the assumption that they'd be spread out. Nope, they were all smack dab in the center at the major crossroad of the park.

advice: During the opening announcements, you'll be in a large area that can fit everyone. It will likely be next to a big empty area where they'll hand out the clue sheets. Be at the border between the two if you can.

The clue sheet had puzzles describing each of the Chase Points that we had to go to. There were 37 ("Thirty-seven!") of them IIRC. There were some odd groupings you had to do, and also some "do this or that, but not both" situations where teh chase points were very close to each other (for example, two where a block away from each other on Kensington Road).

We hunkered down and started solving the puzzles, which required middling knowledge of the city and some google-fu. Make sure you have a smart phone. It took us a little over half an hour to have solved the majority of the clues (we only got one wrong, owing to neither of us having ever been to Flames Central) and have a semi-optimal route chosen.

advice: Take a snap-shot of the clue sheet and email it to a helper, then bolt to one of the mandatory check points!

Our route? Start at the University of Calgary and work our way back. So it was onto the train to go to the northwest.

Chase Point 1: At the UofC, near the library tower, we had to do each of the following:
  • skip rope simultaneously with your partner.
  • Run a soccer ball through pylons.
  • kick the soccer ball to each other through the pylons.
  • Leapfrog with your partner.
  • Solve a four-piece puzzle.
The difficult part for me and LA was the difference in our heights, she being wee and me looking like Herman Munster. We managed it though.

Chase Point 2: We ran down to the Volleydome (just south of the University in Athletic Park) and got to play another team in beach volleyball. We lost 5-2, but had fun.

On the way back to the train we stopped at DQ for ice cream treats. Any race where you can have ice cream in the middle is a good race. Sadly, I dropped my cone before I could finish it. Oh well, it was just going to get into my mouth anyway.

Chase Point 3: At the North Hill Fire Station there were two possible chase points. One was for anyone who had raised $50 for charity. We qualified, so we got that. The other point was for doing a bunch of fireman stuff - dragging hoses, carrying a body, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, they only had a few fireman on hand to supervise and one or two sets of equipment. This led to a long line that wasn't really moving. Someone said "40 minute wait", which I can believe, except I think that number was a guesstimate. We skipped that one, even though it looked like a lot of fun.

advice: We should have rushed to this one first and beat the lineup, solving other puzzles along the way (after all, we had to go there anyway to get our charity point). Failing that, raising $150 instead of $50 would have got us the point and allowed us to skip to the head of one lineup! This would have been a good choice for that.

Chase Point 4: We took the train down to Riley Park and found a fitness setup. You had to pick a snack from a list. They then told you how many calories was in that snack (it had things like a Mars bar, doughnut, muffin, bag of chips, etc.). Once you had a calorie value, you and your partner had to burn that many calories. They had a bunch of exercises there that you could do (examples: fifty sit-ups burned 40 calories, thirty 10-pound bicep curls burned 15 calories). This, more than anything else, contributed to my being stiff and sore the next day. I chose the Mars bar, since I know donuts and muffins have no standard sizes and can be as big as you like, but a Mars bar is constant. We had to burn about 350 calories.

Woof!

Chase Point 5: We headed south to Kensington road and had a choice of two chase points (we could only do one of them though). We went to Pages book store (the one beside the Plaza theatre) and were instructed to go to the upper level and find some "visual poetry that is neither part of a book or on a bookshelf" and identify the creator. A lot of second-guessing and we finally found artwork on one of the windows made up of a maelstrom of letters.

Chase Point 6: At the Kensington Running Room we had to find five differences between two mannequins, the mannequins being decked out in an assortment of merchandise. LA found four of the differences, despite my having the brilliant plan of taking pictures of one of the mannequins and using it to compare to the other (they weren't beside each other in the store).

We had now run through most of the convenient northwest chase points.
LA: Why don't we take the loser-cruiser to Inglewood?
Me: What's the loser-cruiser?
LA: The Bowness-to-Forest-Lawn bus.
Me: Of course!
Chase Point 7: Once in Inglewood we went to 4 Cats art store to do some finger-painting. We had to use three methods of getting paint onto a canvas and "recreate" some pollock-style art on the wall. One of the methods had to include popping a water balloon with paint in it (not much paint, thank Groo).

Now we had a dilemma, we could go to the nearby chase point at Fair's Fair Books, but that would mean missing the bus back into downtown. Or we could catch the bus and hit a chase point in downtown on the way down to 17th avenue. The bus was coming in two minutes, so we opted to skip Fair's Fair.

rant: Why does the city only run the #1 bus (the "loser-cruiser" referenced above) every 30 minutes on Saturday? Every time we were on it it was standing-room only - hell it was "move to the back of the bus so others can get on" crowded. That's not even including the handful of race participants. This bus is clearly being used and used well - crank up the frequency Calgary Transit!

We got downtown and discovered that what we thought was a chase point wasn't. We had got the clue wrong (which hurts more for this pair of geeks). We headed down to Melrose Cafe with less than an hour left in the race. Maybe we could finish if the chase point was a quick one. It wasn't.

Chase Point 8: At Melrose Cafe, the lower level was taken up by a martial arts school. What school you might ask? Ninjas! However, before we got to the ninjas, we had to cool our heels for a half hour in line. A line that went right by Melrose's bar. Any race where you can have a pint of ale in the middle is a good race.

We had to go through a bunch of ninja exercises to qualify for the point. Having read comics and watched movies throughout the 80's I had a bad opinion of ninjas (specifically the Westerners who learned it) as pretentious goofballs. Our guide did a lot to lift that bad opinion though. It seems like a fairly egalitarian martial art, and that pleases the socialist in me. We had to run through some obstacles, demonstrate our ability to skulk, sneak, dodge sword thrusts and missiles and finally we got to throw some shurikens! This was probably my favorite of the chase points that I completed.

This does suggest that the local SCA could get involved - volunteer to do a checkpoint where people put on armour and tabards and did quick one-off combat with Nerf weapons. Maybe not though - the ninja stuff was decidedly non-contact. Oh well.

We now had ten minutes left to get back downtown and check in before the 4pm deadline. We weren't going to be getting those last two chase points. We were a few minutes late, but were told before the race that they would have the finish line open until 4:15. This turns out to be incorrect, they finished at 4 on the nose and we missed check in, so there is no record of our team finishing.

All the race participants got treated to a free drink at Flames Central. Sadly that venue isn't quite large enough for everyone; neither LA or I were able to get seats as we were amongst the last people to get there.

City Chase was a blast and I recommend it to everyone. Vancouver peep: It's in your neighborhood on August 25th!
jamesq: (Cowtown)
It's not that I've been unaware of my upcoming participation in City Chase, it's just that every other time it's come up it hasn't taken up more than about 10% of available brain resources. I was either in the middle of a work problem, or daydreaming, or something.

"Want to do City Chase with me? It's in three weeks."
"Sure. Hey, is that a squirrel outside?"
Later.

"If we fundraise $50 we get perks during the race. [coworker] is doing it to and says he'll donate $50 to ours if we donate $50 to his. Can you do that? BTW, it's in two weeks."
"Sure". *does it* "Gosh Kate Beckinsale is attractive."
Later still.

"I've paid our registration and you took care of the donation, so that means you owe me X. Don't forget it's next Saturday."
"No problem, here's the money. I like pie."
Today.

"CITY CHASE IS TOMORROW?!? WHY DIDN'T ANYONE WARN ME!!!"
I am officially in an anxious panic. Not a bad anxious panic you understand - this is the same sort of thing I get before going a trip to somewhere I've never been, or before a race. Still, it's making me all jittery.

So a few things:

  1. Lots of my coworkers are doing this too (there are six pairs) - I attribute this to one of my coworkers winning last year.

  2. There are a handful of spots left if you want to come out. I hear it's a lot of fun. You like having fun don't you?

  3. I might call you up and pump you for information.

  4. Want to donate? I doubt it will make a big difference to my team's standings at this late date, but it will make a big difference to the people the charity helps! Do so here!
The team name? Grätüïtöüs Ümläüt of course!
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
Calgary doesn't have a lot of good buildings. Booming in the 70's and 90's its buildings tended to have a blocky sort of utilitarianess that broadcasts this is a place for working, not for enjoying. Calgary is, sadly, a city of ugly buildings placed inside a beautiful river valley. When people talk about how nice Calgary is, it's because of the wealth of natural resources we find ourselves in, not the architecture.

There are exceptions of course, but not many. One of my favourites is the Barron Building, site of the Uptown Theatre.



Calgary's first skyscraper, it was designed in an age when we still tried to make office buildings attractive. It was opened in 1951 and has seen a range of owners since then. The reasons for keeping the Barron Building around - for restoring it to its former glory in fact - are plentiful.

I know a guy (he's on LJ and contributes to [livejournal.com profile] calgarians, so he can out himself if he chooses) who was the former projectionist for the Uptown. A few years ago, he was kind enough to give me a behind-the-screen look at the workings of the theatre. It was around that time that the Uptown went from being one of my favourites to my favourite. I especially love the upper theatre for it's slanted design, it's "secret" viewing room and spacious stage. It's a great venue to watch a movie on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The first movie I remember watching there was Xanadu (I was 12, don't you judge me) during it's first run. I've seen animation festivals, foreign and art movies, documentaries along with big Hollywood epics. It was my go-to theatre for weird shit I wanted to see that I couldn't convince others to join me for. The last film I saw was Rango some months ago. I was literally the only person in the theatre, which is a little sad.

In short, the Uptown was a movie theatre for people who loved the movies. Not just liked the movies (and who doesn't like movies), but loved them.

Aside from being a patron of the theatre, I have no other connection to it. I'm not affiliated with either the building or theatre owners.

And now it's closed, pending the resolution between the theatre and building owners. You can read the Uptown's side of the story here. Strategic Equities, the Barron Building's owners, aren't talking. TL;DR version: The Uptown claims that Strategic hasn't been providing adequate heat or maintenance to the property, so they're suing. Strategic has applied to have the Uptown's marquee demolished.

My suspicion? Strategic doesn't want the Uptown in their building but can't simply kick them out. That pretty much just leaves making them want to leave. It's not a new tactic for Calgary building owners. I remember back in early 80's when the building on the corner of Memorial and 10th street (where Julio's Barrio is now) burned down after being largely abandoned following the 80's bust. Vagrants got into it during the winter to use for shelter, built a fire to keep warm and it got out of hand. A similar fate befell the Buena Vista house in Crescent Heights in 1999 - a building that got multiple offers to buy every month, but sat empty for years.

I wonder about the motives of a property owner deciding that it is better to neglect a building to death rather than either develop it properly, or sell it to someone more willing. Historical buildings are more expensive to upkeep and restore, and there are often extra rules involved in doing so. I suspect that a lot of owners bought historical buildings for the value of the land. When they find they can't simply do what they want with it, they get pissy about it. If they can't do what they want, then nobody can do anything with it. But then, why buy a historical property in the first place if you know you can't simply turn it into condos?

Proving such neglect was intentional is difficult. Sometimes people aren't malicious, they're just stupid.

The Barron Building is largely disused now. I think a handful of offices are occupied, but most of its ten floors certainly look abandoned from the outside. That's a sad fate for a landmark that was largely responsible for all the oil companies coming here instead of Edmonton. I'd rather not read how vagrants broke into it and accidentally set fire to the theatre lobby, and well, it's just too expensive to rebuild the theatre, so lets use this alternate redevelopment plan we just happened to have on the shelf.

In my ideal world, Strategic sells the building to someone with the money and vision to restore the building to its retro glory - a 1951 Art Deco marvel with modern amenities for the best businesses the city has to offer. Maybe provide some space to the arts community (Practice space for amateur theatre troupes for example). Above all, a newly revitalized Uptown theatre, showing the best movies that the accountants working for the movie-megaplexes don't think are middle-of-the-road enough.

Sadly, I'm not rich, so I can't do it myself. I do imagine it whenever the lottery pay-outs get high enough though.

Anyone else have a story about the Uptown theatre or the Barron Building? I'd love to hear it.

(Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] calgarians)
jamesq: (genius)
Here's a lighter story to ever-so-slightly contrast the rampaging reduction in Woman's Reproductive Rights that's underway in the United States:

Here in Calgary the Kensington Clinic is beside a playground. That and assorted ordinances means that protesters must stay a certain distance away from the premises and they can't have more then four people protesting at one time. IANAL, so take my description of the legal rules with a grain of salt.

Anyway, there's a nation-wide anti-abortion protest going on right now (coinciding with Lent I think - and isn't sacrificing other people's rights for Lent kind of missing the point) so they've had protesters out in force. Seven protesters (four adults, three children) were out, which violates the rules.

So the clinic manager goes out to tell them to knock it off. The lead protester objects, saying "the children don't count, they're not people".



Anyway, just a story I heard third-hand that made me chuckle.
jamesq: (Default)
We just had a wrath-of-god prairie hailstorm blow across the work place (I work in Research Park, just north of the University). This makes me glad I work indoors and the car is in the garage.

I don't think this one was powerful enough to wreck my roof shingles (which happened to my folks 19 years ago) - the hail was only golf-ball sized and the duration was only ten minutes. Still, you wouldn't want to be caught in it.

A survey of the parking lot at work revealed nearly every car's roof was now dimpled with hail stone impacts, but all the windshields seem to have survived intact. At least one car alarm was triggered.

Images of the hail in NW Calgary... )

(Crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] calgarians)

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