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A Welcome Change From Urban Drudgery

This morning, instead of working from home as I had promised, I ducked out to ride around my neighbourhood for a half hour before the deluge predicted by Claire Martin. A half an hour turned into an hour and a half, and took the route that I decided will be the route to work. Mostly downhill, and not scary downhill like Union which levels off just as it crosses with Boundary. And under the Second Narrows Bridge. And next to train tracks and the Cascadia terminal. And next to New Brighton Park, which you have to go underneath the train tracks to get to. And which forces you to turn left onto Lakewood Drive then turn right onto Adanac, which is a downside, since it takes me briefly away from work.

Vancity Bike Share at New Brighton Park in Vancouver

A woman walking her dogs said hi and noted that the bike I was riding was part of the Vancity Bike Share, which she had read about in the newspaper. We have a brief conversation about it, and then ran into her on the way back home. (It's not likely that she notice I was also wearing my OK button as well, but it keeps me accountable for the times I don't want to talk to friendly strangers.) The bikes are indeed identifiable, so I was wise to call this social biking. I'm not expecting to make any friends or business contacts through it, so far saying hello to fellow trail walkers and bikers sure beats heads-down and fearing talking to those we don't know. Having grown up in a small town, I'm used to at least acknowledging others' presence on the street, so this is a welcome change from urban drudgery.

Vancity Bike Share Launch

Vancity Bike Share: Take it.  Ride it.  Pass it on.

This morning, Roland, Karen and I went to the launch of Vancity Bike Share, to wait in line and eat pancakes served by Libby Davies, Gregor Robertson, and Shane Simpson, all BC MLA and pick up my shiny red, Vancity logo-emblazoned one-speed cruiser plus non-branded red bike lock and non-branded red helmet. And a Vancity logo-emblazoned red t-shirt. Pretty good score for writing a 98-word blog post. After three weeks of going who-knows-where with the bike, I'll be handing it off, likely to Karen. Photos forthcoming from me, but Roland already has a set on Flickr. This will be my first ever bike ride home from work, so I'll have to dig deep for my signals and etiquette, having lived in the Lower Mainland for 10 years but having ridden a bike two times at most in that timespan.

I'm already a Vancity member, so they're not winning a convert out of me. As far as PR campaigns go, "releasing" bikes to share then donating them to PEDAL could be a lot worse.

Some Sweet Summer Reading

Monique links to the miniBookExpo for Bloggers, where you claim a book in exchange for sending in $3, and promising to write about the book within a month. If my unread pile weren't as high as it is, I'd be interested in claiming a few of the books listed, including The Best American Magazine Writing 2006 [claim by leaving a comment] and The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (audiobook, not many of which I've listened to) [claim by leaving a comment], but if you're looking for some sweet summer reading, the miniBookExpo might be for you.

A suggestion for next year: a small maple leaf next to each book's listing. I'm making an effort to read more local authors, and I'm sure Canadian publishers could use the extra little indication that the writers are themselves Canadian.

Social Biking

From Rob Cottingham and others, comes a link to the Vancity Bike Share experiment. The basic idea is that Vancity gives me a bike, I keep it for about 3 weeks, write about it on ChangeEverything.ca (and here, of course), then give it to someone else. I'm not sure if I know what I got myself into, but I've submitted a request and tomorrow I should be picking up a bike. My brief, just-under-100-words submission follows:

Vancity Bike Share

I haven't owned a bike in years, and never while in Vancouver. I'm a little nervous about the concept of biking to work, since I know how many hills, up and down, there are on the way. Thankfully, the bike path starts just outside my apartment, and maybe I can get some experience with the bus bike rack if it comes to it. Time for some daily low-impact exercise to add to my high-impact twice-weekly workouts. If the bikes are identifiably bike sharing bikes, then I'm not afraid of making it a conversation piece either!

Tomorrow is the launch and pancake breakfast, not necessarily in that order. I'm planning to attend, with my camera, of course.

Alcan Dragon Boat Festival Recap (and Photos!)

Dragon Boats at the Finish Line during the Alcan Festival

My scanner and I had a fight this morning, so I can't yet post the awesome photo of me at the end of a dragon boat race on Saturday. That said, the photo appears somewhere in a whole bunch of photos from DG Event Photography, and I posted some crappy cameraphone photos to Flickr, one of which (the one that adorns this post came out pretty well though). I had a great time, especially during the first race on Sunday, where we came second in the semi-final for the recreational C division.

City Making in Paradise at Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre with Mike Harcourt and Ken Cameron

Mike Harcourt at City Making in Paradise

On Thursday night, Karen and I attended City Making in Paradise, a panel session at Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre, which featured an introduction of the book of the same name by former British Columbia premier Mike Harcourt and former GVRD planner Ken Cameron. Subtitled "Nine Decisions That Saved Greater Vancouver's Livability", the book, due in September, lays out the case that Vancouver and surrounding area since 1948 could have gone in many directions but instead chose a relatively enlightened one. Stephen Rees has the definitive notes, and I took a few <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sillygwailo/sets/72157600369864728/"">my photos of Harcourt, Cameron, and the other panelists.

City Making in Paradise cover at Amazon.com

Stephen's notes reflect the amount of discussion paid to the Olympics, a decision that no doubt shapes the next 30 years for the city. Only at the end were the Games and their effect on British Columbia and its major cities. For the record, I opposed the Olympics, but not on economic or environmental grounds, but rather moral grounds. It's a done deal—a phrase to describe both the proposed freeway through Strathcona, the opposition to which is fairly mythologized in this city, and the Gateway Project (the subject of some inspired blogging at Urban Vancouver), which Harcourt argues should go ahead, but done right.

The night featured a heckle from the back, the heckler's wife Adriane Carr (yes, the Adriane Carr) writing about it at some length, David Eaves has a recap and thoughts of the evening.

Dragon Boat Weekend

Alcan Dragon Boat Festival

For the next two days, I'll be participating in the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival held at False Creek near downtown Vancouver. Only two races each day, so not a lot of time for me spent actually on the water, but it's always fun to walk around the festival. I'm looking forward to out-of-commission military vehicles, silly mascots and the roving sunscreen dispensers on rollerblades.

This year I'm racing with the CBC Wave Catchers as a ringer—I think I've given some of my teammates the impression I actually work for the broadcaster—and will wear my too-small CBC-logo-emblazoned hat and our cool new CBC-logo-emblazoned red jerseys. Admissions is free, and it's fun for the whole family! Actually, I wouldn't know, because I've only ever gone either as a participant or with a media pass, but if you can stand a little corporate sponsorship then you'll get to see some great paddling action.

With Rules That Emphasize Stickhandling and Playmaking Over Physical Toughness

Readers of Urban Vancouver know that I've been playing floorball, a type of floor hockey with modifications like shorter sticks with golf club-like grips, a whiffle ball, with rules that emphasize stickhandling and playmaking over physical toughness. I'd only heard about the sport a few months ago, but the people are really friendly and encouraging, and though play is a little more 'lower-body' than I anticipated, it's a nice compliment to the primarily 'upper-body' sport of dragon boating.

After the BC Federation Floorball challenge a few weeks ago, I was getting a little discouraged with goal-scoring, but after last night's play, scoring on the final play of the final game, and feeling a lot better about my defensive play, I've gotten over any doubts I might have had about enjoying floorball. One of the organizers noticed an increase in velocity on my shot—though we'll see how accurate I am under pressure—and going the almost the whole night without water makes me wonder if my fluid intake is way more than it needs to be.

British Columbians who want to check out the sport can contact the BC Floorball Federation, and Vancouverites (and allied visitors) can play at the Yaletown Roundhouse on Monday evenings from 6:00 PM to 7:45 PM, and in either North or West Vancouver on Thursdays at 7:00 PM. I understand the current location for Thursdays is yet to be determined.

What To Write About?

After two months of not writing for Just a Gwai Lo, I still haven't come up with anything important (urgent!) to write about. Quality control needs improving, and the best idea I could come up with was to hire an editor. Which would mean, in essence, paying someone to tell me what to write about.

(How many blogs are edited in the traditional sense? With assignments, deadlines, correction, feedback, rejection? Has the nature of editing and roles of editors changed because of blogging? Are individual editors relevant anymore that we "crowdsource" the process?)

While on 'hiatus' here, I've written about floorball and other topics at Urban Vancouver, and kept posting to improvident lackwit (Heckhole, Lord Palmerston, Crazy Town, and today, Tiananmen Square). I thought about news that matters to me: it needs to be local, match my interests without perpetuating tunnel vision, be "actionable" and allow me to "add value" to it, among the other features listed in Dave Pollard's piece on continuous environmental scan. I successfully pursued outdoor exploits, regained if not my figure then at least a better outlook about it, created about the same, which is to say not a whole lot, moved from del.icio.us to Ma.gnolia, kept up with Twitter, Vox, NowPublic and Flickr but gave up on Facebook, at least for the moment.

Sharing still doesn't feel as meaningful as creating, though. So what's a person who doesn't feel very creative to do? At least be grateful that the flow of work email shows no signs of letting up?

Floorball: Recovery

The 1st annual BC Floorball Federation Challenge this past Saturday was a major success! I was placed on Team Sweden, and despite claims of coincidence, I suspect conspiracy—I started participating in order to counter Swedish dominance with a surging Icelandic wave, and this is how they repay me?! Team Czech won the championship, which lasted all day at Mulgrave School in West Vancouver. Separate from the challenge, Swiss all-stars continued their dominance over the Canadian team in the middle of the day, and kids entertained the adults who deservedly rested after some pretty intense action. Each team had only one or two substitutes, making for some tired legs at the end of each game, but I scored twice and assisted once, so I'm pretty happy with how things turned out. Team Sweden lost twice, tied once, and won their final game.

I bought a stick at the tournament, a Salming with a hammer grip, and ball to practice at home, personalizing the stick with an sticker of the Icelandic national flag. (I fully expect to lose the ball at some point, which should be easier to replenish.) Other than the start time, having gotten up at 5:30 AM to catch a 6:00 AM bus to catch a 6:45 AM SeaBus to catch a 7:00 ride to have enough time to warm up for an 8:00 AM game time, there's not much I would change.

Photos to come, and today I recover from the weekend of physical activity (Sunday was dragon boat practice). I saw the Swiss contingent downtown today, where I bragged about my awesome Iceland hockey team jersey. For now, marvel at Roland's floorball photos, especially the Fossil in net and Frederik's penalty shot, as well as from the official BC Floorball Federation photo gallery, the championship team, featuring Urban Vancouverite Boris Mann.

Floorball: Everything I Know I Learned From Basketball

Stewart already addressed the issue I had about floorball, that is that tricks have more value than fundamentals. This is true of all sports, really, but it's also true that teams that best exploit the regime (the infrastructure of the sport, including the rules and how the refs call it) are the ones that dominate, not necessarily those that are the most skillful. Think the New Jersey Devils of hockey and the Detroit Pistons of basketball. But practicing tricks makes you better at the fundamentals: in basketball, getting better control of the ball involves playing around with what you can do, and the same goes with floorball. The more you're able to control the ball the more you're able to go around people and put it in the net.

Basketball is the sport I have most knowledge in, having played it most of my life. I'm relying on my basketball positioning in floorball, to possibly humourous effect. In basketball, when the defensive team gets the ball, if I'm not inside the key, my first instinct is to go towards the sidelines for the outlet pass. Same with floorball, but I'm learning to go from sidelines and cut to the middle if I can see that someone particularly skilled at passing has the ball. Also, I'm used to standing in front of the net in basketball, using my size to intimidate the offense. In floorball, this isn't necessarily ideal, since the goalie might not be able to see the ball as it's shot. I need to train myself to either not fear the shot and block it, or make a lane so that I'm not an unwitting screen. Another thing borrowed directly from basketball is to not cross my legs when the offensive player is in front of me while on defense. Instead, shuffling my feet from side to side may be a little slower, but at least makes it harder for the player coming on me to turn me around.

Things I've picked up watching other players: on defense while an offensive player is behind the net, their temptation is to come right out and wrap it around. As a counter-measure, I've been cutting off that angle. Another positioning moved I picked up in observation is to use my feet, placed one in front of each other and then putting my stick in front of both, forcing the player to thread the needle between my legs if they want to make a pass. This instead of facing the player directly, which makes a bigger five-hole.

Floorball: Video

As promised, some video of floorball in action. Izzard's video gives you a sense of what it's like to play pickup floorball in a gym, except we don't play to a Chemical Brothers soundtrack. For tricks (which floorballers seem to prefer to call skills), go no further than video showing the "Zorro" performed during games. I'm not so fond of the tricks, they intimidate me as a beginner, and besides, I won the award for best fundamentals on my basketball team (that's also why Tim Duncan has long been a favourite player of mine). For a good introduction to some of the rules, GlobalTV Quebec's This Morning Live did a short series one day on the sport, calling it "Floorball Fun With Richard" (hey I should have thought of that!): part 1; part 2; and part 3.

You might need to pump up the volume a bit on those.

There's video of floorball played in a small gym, and tricks dominate the list in YouTube, but in the end, I enjoyed the longer shots that showed match play, like Finland vs. Sweden, Finland vs. Czech Republic, and more from unihockeyportal's videos. The second one answered the question for me "do floorball players change on the fly in real games?" (correct answer: yes). The fine folks at BC Floorball no doubt can add to my list of must-see videos, including more about the tricks and skill play, not to mention penalty shots.

Floorball: Nordic Rivalry Edition

Thanks to the fine folks at BC Floorball for the link back to yesterday's introduction to the series. Referring to me, they say "as soon as he realised Sweden is a top nation in Floorball he knew he HAD to play. Nothing like a bit of Nordic rivalry!" That's right, it took not Stewart's gentle pleas to get me to try the sport, but rather looking at the Wikipedia page for floorball and noticing that the Swedish men have won all the world championships to get my Icelandic blood boiling.

(The Swedes always beat Iceland at soccer, which started my mock hatred for them. After mock hating the Dallas Stars and the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL playoffs, I wondered if real honest hatreds began as jokes, as some of my friends do when talking about ethnic groups they have friends from, for example?)

Fred Herzog and Citizen History

You have a few days left to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery to see Fred Herzog's photographs from the 1950s of Vancouver and Vancouverites, which shows a short interview of the photographer and another room featuring his photos projected with the theme of The City as Art. (The city as museum!) I strongly recommend it, especially if you can go on a night where lots of people attend: as a 10-year resident of the city, and in my late 20s, I don't have much history here, but overhearing those who have lived hear reflect on the past of a city sometimes described as a city without a past. Almost too bad there aren't microphones recording these conversations: the photographs evoke memories of neighbourhoods lost or grown, some now barely recognizable but still with their distinguishing features. Call it citizen history or crowd-source history, which are new words for "people's history", but these stories and perspectives are important and interesting. Herzog captured the mundanity of a growing city, much like John Goldsmith in Vancouver and Kemp Attwood in Paris, France, do today. (To name two street scene photographers on my Flickr contact list, hoping not to intimidate them with comparing them with someone with Herzog's stature.) I'm just a beginning hobbyist photographer, interested in people and urban transportation (esp. trains) but I find Goldsmith's and Attwood's and Herzog's photographs, and the philosophy of documenting places and small events of the city that might blow away in the winds of history, very inspiring. But enough faux-pretentiousness: the exhibit shows until May 13th, so time is running out. As a bonus, there's even a Jeff Wall photograph on the bottom floor in the Photography as Theatre exhibit on the ground floor!

Letting Go

No more stats tracking, either internally or externally. Comments closed. Unused content management functionality disabled. In the spirit of doing less and making it count, it's time to mothball Just a Gwai Lo for a bit. Alternatives to writing pretentious sentences like "after listening to field recordings of electroaccoustic soundscapes and sound sculptures, I feel better attuned to the aural beauty and ugliness that surrounds us on a daily basis" include, but are not limited to, leaving the counting machine for healthier, more outdoorsy pursuits. Like regaining my figure, my jump shot, and my sanity. If the weather doesn't permit, then more creating and less consuming while inside.

I've consulted with a few about this, who argued I should continue, but instead, I am letting go. I'll return, but in the meantime, I'll see you in the photo galleries and comment threads.

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