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Currently Reading: Dumbocracy and Radical Acceptance

Those that follow me over at All Consuming know that I use the service to catalog some of the media I partake in. It will also show up in my shared items feed when I remember to note that I've watched a movie or read a book. I'm currently reading two books, one sent to me for free by its author and another lent to me by my girlfriend. The first is Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and other American Idiots by Marty Beckerman and the second is Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach.

Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and other American Idiots by Marty Beckerman

Beckerman, you'll remember, is the author of Generation S.L.U.T., a fictional novel of teenagers and sex in middle America, read at a time when sex wasn't a part of my life. Having three years of experience, now, I know a little bit about how complicated that can make life, yet in the book love did not inform many of the decisions and actions taken by the characters. In his non-fictional account of spending time with extreme liberal and extreme conservative forces in the United States, it's clear a chapter or two in that he exposes discrepancies between what those forces propose and the methods they use to enact what they propose. Based on a little bit of interaction with both Beckerman himself and reading interviews and his other writings, he projects a high intensity that calls into question his belief that he speaks for the political centre. This, keeping in mind, after only having read a tiny portion of the book so far.

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

Radical Acceptance, on the other hand, picks up for me where Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen leaves off. In Hagen's book, we get a sense of what Buddhism is, where Tara Brach relates Buddhism to our daily, psychological life. Karen, who lent me the book, recognized I was struggling with the way I was dealing with some strong emotions in the last few months during this, the current episode of my life which people close to me are familiar with. While Dr. Brach's prescription—such as it is prescription—has much for me to in turn struggle with in understanding, putting some of them into practice, particularly the acknowledging and naming of emotions when they are particularly strong, has improved my mental state over its previous state. Some concepts and approaches to explaining them fall short of my full grasping, as I resonate with some of it and outright reject—more like fail to let myself grasp—other parts. More full sentence than two-word phrase, "nothing endures", from Hagen's book, resonated so much with me when I read it that it became a tagline for this website. While the brain fully understands it, the heart needs some convincing. It's with Radical Acceptance, having read half-through, that I've found ways to deal with some of the changes up until the 30th year of existing on this planet that I refused to believe are could happen in my life.

Closed

Going to close comments here for a while here on Just a Gwai Lo in order to focus on the upgrade of the site to Drupal 6 and to attend to things that don't necessarily involve ethernet cables and IP addresses. (And some that do.) Catch me on Twitter.

Knight Foundation's News Challenge: What Project Would You Like to See About Vancouver?

Last night I attended a presentation by Susan Mernit (Twitter) about the Knight News Challenge, an initiative by the Knight Foundation to promote democracy and discourse through innovative digital (and social) media projects. My notes on the presentation, which I first heard of through my employer, comprise only the 4 elements that the screeners look for in filtering out the good proposals for grant consideration:
  • it must be innovative, groundbreaking or new in some way. Not going to just do community journalism based on blog software. Failure is an option: Knight thinks that if half the projects don't fail, they're not trying hard enough.
  • it must be an open source project, not just code, but the lessons and value of project have to be scalable and replicable. You can commercialize the project, but something needs to be documented and exportable.
  • it must serve the public interest. Newspapers dying because of the web, but also because of corporitization. Knight intends to promote democratic discourse through the program. The project needs to make people more informed citizens.
  • it must serve a specific geographic community. It can be a test-bed for a wider project, but the test-bed must happen in a real place, with the possibility of exporting to other places.
(Drupal came up a lot. Boris and I shared a moment.) She cited EveryBlock multiple times, especially during my question which was to get her to talk more about the discourse promotion than the journalism aspect. I can't get excited about EveryBlock until either Vancouver, B.C. (the city in which I currently reside) or Portland, Oregon (the city I have a crush on) get included in the data sets. I understand the importance of it—that it scrapes government websites or taps into their knowledge stores and makes it presentable so that citizens can have informed discussions about important issues in their neighbourhoods—but until it comes to my neck of the woods, I can't be expected to fully resonate with it. That speaks less to the Knight Foundation's goals than it does to EveryBlock as a specific example: I have some very vague ideas of what to propose that involve Urban Vancouver as a starting point (either as a brand or reinvigorating the sadly neglected community site or building upon its function as aggregator of Vancouver bloggers). Boris suggested a wiki page for people to collaborate, and thought to use the barcamp.org wiki as the place to do it. He suggested VancouverKnightNewsChallenge, and before he finishing talking I had created the page. Ideas don't necessarily need to get posted there: they can go on your own site or even stay private until you propose them. What's missing in the digital sphere of Vancouver that would enhance the discussions citizens are having about the city and the region? Do we need an EveryBlock for Vancouver, or has that been done for other cities? Maybe we can do something a little different?

TransLink iPhone App Available at m.translink.ca

Igor Faletski's screenshot of the TransLink iPhone web app showing his bookmarked buses

More TransLink mobile integration heroism from the folks at Handi Mobility here in Vancouver: Igor Faletski today officially announces something I knew unofficially-officially yesterday via Twitter: m.translink.ca as viewed in the iPhone is a web application that gives transit riders quick access to bus, SkyTrain, West Coast Express, and SeaBus information in a pleasing interface. Users of the site can bookmark not just most-used routes but individual stops along that route, and the bookmarks themselves show the next 3 scheduled buses to arrive at that stop. It's already came in handy with a couple of trips last night. No more sending text messages and waiting to receive them for information the next bus! Now I just wait as long as the Internet takes to deliver the information.

I love the nice TransLink logo icon for when you "Add to Home Screen" and the bookmarking functionality. What, I don't have to sign up for an account to do that? Neat! I like the iconography at the top, though it's too bad there's no distinctively "Vancouver" bus that one can play off of. I like the alert bar at the top, but who has seen it change on the website? Maybe the one or two times it snows we'll get a notification that SkyTrain is down again. The part of the web app I'm not feeling is landscape mode: my expectation for landscape mode, iPod app aside (and even there it bothers me) is to see the regular portrait mode screen but wider and/or bigger text. In the case of the TransLink web app, it delivers city transit maps (and miscapitalizes the name of the regional transit authority) and in PDF form. Is it just me or can I not zoom in on them? Regardless, I don't see myself using the maps all that much. Transit is more point-to-point (how do I get from GM Place to Lougheed Mall?) than trying to find myself and where I need to go on a static map. More integration, if possible, with Google Maps' directions (or Google Transit) is needed, though Apple and/or Google have some work to get that happening.

I'm looking forward to the fully-qualified app that one can download from the App store, which promises location-awareness ("show me the buses that stop near me") and getting the Buzzer blog (coming October 6th, evidently, at buzzer.translink.ca) on the iPhone through the app. Also promised, according to a post over at Techvibes, "rider-feedback", which presumably includes a panic button or the ability to tell Coast Mountain Bus Company that their operators are taking personal calls while driving. And, hopefully, point out the awesome drivers as well.

New Westminster Explorer

Last Sunday, in an attempt to escape some personal doldrums, I set out to New Westminster to enjoy the walk outlined by John Atkin in his book, SkyTrain Explorer: Heritage Walks From Every Station. New West holds a strong place in B.C. history, having the distinction of being British Columbia's capital city, though it doesn't hold much in my imagination, spending most of my time in Vancouver or its suburb to the East, Burnaby. I've spent far more time in Surrey than in New West, and New West has always been closer!

Galbraith House in New Westminster

I followed the trail set out by Atkin except for a couple detours, both pointed out by him. I erroneously fully crossed the pedestrian bridge over the rail tracks, stopping past the point where Atkin recommended to see the back of the old CPR station, now The Keg restaurant. Heading back, onto Columbia, I wanted to see “the wonderfully illustrated neon and backlit plastic signs along Begbie and Front Streets denoting Ladies & Escorts, Mens and Licensed Premises”. Maybe I didn't look hard enough. My other detour was to take a look at Galbraith House on 8th (pictured), near the end of the walk. Though not in and of itself unwelcome, a phone call from my sister prevented me from finishing the walk in time to get back to my place in time for an appointment.

I liked walking around downtown New West, and look forward to walking the previous chapter's route, around Columbia Station. I wonder if the city will be as quiet as it was on that sunny Sunday.

This walk, more than others, drove home the sense that I am not a flâneur, someone who strolls the city in order to experience it and notice it, or at least resist the label. Things generally have to be pointed out to me, be it either my girlfriend ("hey, Richard, look at that!") or a celebrated Vancouver neighbourhood historian in a book. I neither seek out nor get a lot of resonance from exploring the city. I acknowledge that the act of noticing mundane things and documenting them fills me with a small joy every time I do it, but I'd hate for someone to make it more than it is. Lately I struggle with people attaching too much significant to regular things, in part because I feel left out from the significance-making but also in part because I don't care. I struggle with opinions held about the "city lecture set", people whom I call friends but wonder why they fuss over the history of a city which a large percentage of the residents don't even come from.

(For an interesting discussion on going from flâneurs to planners, see Grant McCracken's article on Morgan Friedman's presentation and advice on the subject. thx gordonr)

I undertook walking around predefined routes of SkyTrain stations because, one one hand, I sit at my desk too much and feel I can't participate in conversations about the city, but on the other hand, I love SkyTrain. To a guy who had train wallpaper in his room and who grew up 2 blocks away from a still-active small town train station, it's the neatest thing in the world. I don't love SkyTrain walks as much as the mode of transportation that gets me doing them. I don't love walking around unknown city blocks as much ... as much as what? It drives home for me the unanswered question "what do I love doing?" The question, part of a longstanding thread where I compare myself to others and come up short, haunts me because I surround myself with people who have figured this question out and are either doing it or seeking it out. It haunts me because if everybody has a story, then what's mine?

An Act of Will That Set the Tone for the Day

Deepa Ranganathan: We liked our new [sleep] schedule the way it was. It had given us a newfound sense of control over our lives. We started each morning with an act of will that set the tone for the day. We went to work early and finished early. And if the evenings were a bit less fun than before—even a lot less fun—we also remembered how we often stayed up late into the night, zombified, both of us staring silently into our laptops. Our new routine seemed like a commitment to live a more virtuous life. (via Sameer)

Changes

Unless the list is crazy long, like it can be for operating systems, I realized that I read software changelogs pretty closely. This site now has one, with an RSS feed. It will be a sort of commit message, listing additions and changes worth mentioning about the live site. (Can somebody remind me later on to tell you how I setup my staging environment? Yes, for a personal blog.) It will not include updates to Drupal modules run on the site unless it makes a dramatic difference. The changelog will include changes to layout or the underlying Drupal theme and addition of content sections. The first entry? That I created a changelog in the first place. You can find out which version of Drupal I'm running via the usual open secret method, though I will make a note of it when I do upgrade.

Thirty

The past year, especially the past six months, have revealed sides of me I didn't necessary want to know about. A slightly fuller range of emotions and a slightly fuller range of experiences up until today, which marks the end of one decade and the start of another. My girlfriend and I will celebrate it quietly by re-watching episodes of a certain science fiction TV thriller she has yet to catch up on. In the past year of reflection I haven't come up with anything resembling a 5-year plan. Instead of retirement objectives, I've a better sense of who I am. Instead of setting big goals for the rest of my life, I made small changes. Small changes like acknowledging that biking to work is the form of exercise that gives me the most satisfaction, helping solve two problems--weight stagnation and mental sluggishness--that irk more than plague. It's not social like basketball (my true love) or dragon boating or floorball. It gets me somewhere, up and down hills and past soccer pitches and baseball fields and cars and, more dishearteningly, other cyclists whizzing by. No longer do I type two spaces after a sentence. I don't buy fancy coffee anymore, partaking only when it's free and only often enough, not too often. Ice cream only consumed outside the house, that is, no containers of it allowed in the freezer anymore. A smarter routine at work, finding its way into my personal life (why is it hardly ever the other way around?), which means less social media during the day. It works out: I'm looking forward to the era of social media divestiture anyway. Today, when other thirtysomethings welcomed me to the club, I joked that now I have to spend the next 30 years undoing the damaged caused by the first 30 years. That's a joke at my own expense, among the many bad habits not yet discarded, and really, my life up until this point has been easier than I'd like to admit. If daily urgency at work, as opposed to the weekly urgency of months past, is an unwelcome if necessary change, then I need to assert my right to relaxation to ease the belly stress. More swimming in the pool, going out less, working out with a physical destination rather than a number on a scale in mind, and more Sunday brunches on Commercial Drive are included in the self-prescribed remedy. It doesn't feel like thirty, yet. Maybe, as one person already suggested today, I just need practice.

Giro di Burnaby 2008 Photos

One of the Symmetrics boys (by West coast chick)

After finally finding some time to browse through the bookmarks created over the week, I was able to look through the link to the Flickr search for "Giro di Burnaby", the annual bike race in Burnaby Heights. Race organizers closed down Hastings between Willingdon and MacDonald and the crowd gathered to watch the road Criterium bike race in Vancouver's suburb to the East. I posted my own crappy cameraphone photos and video, with other formats (digital SLR and it works, fisheye film) to come in that set. In the meantime, check out the far superior sets from Carol Browne, Jon Christall, Stewart (first photo of the 2008 Giro di Burnaby from his photo stream), Kati Debelic (first photo in a more general Cycling set; that's her photo at the top), as well as the set by MJXWDY.

(The photo at the top, titled "One of the Symmetrics boys", is all rights reserved but used with permission by Kati Debelic.)

Just an iPhone

If you really must know, yes, I'm getting an iPhone. It was not a no-brainer until very recently, when Rogers/Fido offered a promotional 6 GB plan for $30 on top of a voice plan. Still not a no-brainer, because after some speculation, about whether my plan was eligible for the most coveted of mobile computing platforms, I called Fido today to find out if I'm eligible for that which must be worshiped and/or bitched about. The plan has nationwide Fido-to-Fido calling, necessary for calling the girl while we had our long distance relationship, my being in Vancouver and her being in Toronto; unlimited weekends and evenings; something called "Can. ID" (can someone enlighten me as to what that does?); and that's it for exactly 30 dollars a month. That last point is important because it qualifies me for the $249 8 GB iPhone, not the $199 8 GB iPhone, which comes with a plan of more than 30 dollars a month.

Added to my current plan are Caller ID and 50 monthly text messages. No voicemail for quite some time now: it was always quicker for me to call the person back and ask them what they were calling about then to listen to the message, find a pen to write down the number (which requires rewinding not being as fast a write as people are talkers) and forget to delete the message, then listen to my voicemail later on wondering if it was a new message or not. Visual Voicemail looks interesting, but I don't get enough phone calls to warrant paying for it. Forgetting to ask the helpful French-accented Fido representative if I could keep the add on features, I still assume the answer is yes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What am I going to do with the iPhone?

Re-document my world, using Drupal of course, since the phone has GPS and there are going to be all kinds of cool applications on it. (Drupal + Location is in currently in a state of flux and I already have some geolocation stuff happening on this site and am planning more.) And listen to music and watch videos. Not making or receiving many phone calls, I don't really care all that much about the phone part of the iPhone.

Could I have bought an unlocked N95 at a cool $600 from an unknown Craigslist posting?

Absolutely. The 3-year contract the Rogers/Fido alliance goes in the "cost" column, and at $400 maximum to exit and not anticipating a move outside Canada in the next 3 years, that's something I can handle. The N95 is nice, but I can't stand the complete lack of usability on the Series 60 operating system. Everything's a pain. Everything on the iPhone looks so smooth.

When am I getting it?

Not today, and likely not this weekend. I'll wait until next week when the rush dies down a little bit. People are saying that stock is low today as well.

Does that mean you, dear reader, should get an iPhone too?

You don't have to get an iPhone.

What about your existing iPod mini, GlobalSat DG-100 GPS logger and Nokia N70 cell phone?

I never got Internet sharing between a Series 60 phone (like my Nokia N70) working with my Mac, and now I don't have to! The iPod, GPS unit and N70 will get new lives for people that don't have an iPhone. Since I don't have the latter yet, it'll be a few months before I give them away.

Happy America Day!

There's still time. Happy America Day!

Best wishes to my American friends on their national holiday!

Timelapse video by Paulo Ordoveza.

Happy Canada Day!

There's still time. Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day, Eh?

All I did was loaf around, dressed in red shorts and a red shirt with white text on it, playing with a newly acquired HD TV tuner, watching the old Russell Peters Canadian comedy classic, and getting ready for a long overdue trip to Vancouver Island, skipping the fireworks as is my tradition in anticipation of the better ones later in the summer. It was great!

Photo by Stephen Rees.

Kunqu Opera in Vancouver

Liang Guyin, Chinese opera performer

Recently, Josh Stenberg (yes, the Josh Stenberg) asked me to take a look at the Vancouver Society for the Chinese Performing Arts' latest offering, a performance of Kunqu opera featuring Liang Guyin, Ji Zhenhua and Liu Yilong. Josh tells me the society is "having trouble getting a gwailo audience because they think it's all cat-meow-shrieking, which it's not". Myself, the China somewhat-expert that I am, I happen to think Peking Opera really is cat-meow-shrieking, but I watched and otherwise loved Farewell My Concubine so I'm willing to give a different form of Chinese opera a chance. Upcoming performances of the opera in Vancouver are June 16th and 17th at UBC's Frederic Wood Theatre and you can get tickets at Ticketmaster.

Susan Goodman got close up and wrote an article and posted photos of a 2007 Kunqu opera performance in Nanjing, directed by the aforementioned Josh Stenberg.

Collaboratively Mapping Vancouver's Public Spaces

Last night I attended my first meeting of the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) Mapping & Wayfinding group. They are a group of mapping enthusiasts who want to organize collaboratively mapping Vancouver's public spaces and have some interesting ideas on how to do so, including a web service with a REST interface, but also hand-drawn maps. Let it ring throughout the world that I consider Joey deVilla the master of the hand-drawn directional map, after showing me how to get to his work from his former house back when I visited in 2005.

Having heard about it two hours before and deciding to go with one hour to spare, I pre-loaded two of my maps on Flickr. One was the map I made of my bike route home, and the other was the map of a SkyTrain Explorer walk in Burnaby. I got to talk about the latter a bit, and showed off my GlobalSat DG-100, and we talked about the different methods to track points when mapping out various items in the city, like surveillance cameras, bicycle locks and billboards. (Especially "non-conforming signs": the CBC has a short story on the Lee Building advertisement that Vancouver City Council ordered removed after the owners lost their court battle to keep it up. Read more at the VPSN's page on corporatization.) I suggested taking a photo, since the times will match up with the GPS logger, but there are other good, paper & pen methods too.

Geotagged Icon

After the meeting, instead of doing the dishes, I looked deeper into geocoding on the Mac and added the 'geo' microformat to all of my Flickr photos hosted on justagwailo.com that are tagged with a longitude and latitude. A good example is the photo I took of Dave Olson: if you have Firefox and the Operator extension, you can use the actions associated with location to get KML (Google Earth) or view the location on Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps. (I already provide a small Google Map on each geotagged photo hosted on my site.) At last night's meeting, I also learned about geocoder.ca, which gives you latitude and logitude of locations if you give them a fuzzy description (like an address, or an intersection). They also have an API, for free or for fee. Wasn't there a web service floating around that would accept your text and send you back geotagged HTML if it found what it thought were locations inside that text?

I haven't decided whether to participate in the billboard documenting effort—it will depend on how much work surveying a quadrant will be—but I plan on attending their next organizing event. The next VPSN Billboard project meeting from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the MOSAIC Community Meeting Room, located at 1720 Grant St. in Vancouver [event listing]. Just for fun, that previous sentence is marked up in the hcalendar event listing microformat.

I'm Taking the Northern Voice Challenge!

The Sessions I Attended At Northern Voice

In point form, as is the style of the time, here is how I spent my Saturday.

What I Learned From Northern Voice

During MooseCamp, specifically PhotoCamp, I learned that cloudy days are the best to get colour from the objects and people I'm documenting. Also, for portraits, bring the studio to them and tips on where to take portraits from (e.g. shoot down to make them look better) stuck out for me. The rest of the conference I closed the door of knowledge and opened the window of inspiration.

Who Challenged Me At Northern Voice

Whether they knew it or not, intended it or not, the following people challenged me to think a little harder about creativity and craft. People close to me wonder why I don't identify as being creative. The following Northern Voice speakers have me wondering too.

Dave Olson

Dave Olson challenged me to step it up a notch, and to consider another media form if I'm struggling at the one I think I'm good at (writing). Podcasting, maybe? I don't like the sound of my own voice, so that strikes video out as well. Photography is the medium I sunk the most into already, so I will try to bring the SLR to more places, make the same mistakes everybody makes when they start out, and document the process better. I'd like to learn how to draw. And sing. Outside of the conference, he remarked that he likes to find a third place, away from work and away from home to be creative. This has me thinking of the ideal place to work somewhere (and on something) not domestic and not commercial, but somewhere in between.

(I know that my desire to learn how to sing directly conflicts with the angst about hearing my voice, so don't bother pointing that out.)

Northern Voice 2008: Nancy White

Nancy White challenged me to look at the beauty of the visual web, not just the written web. I do prefer visiting an individual article directly, especially articles intended for web browsers (and not printers). Nancy, by challenging me to think visually, to give drawing or other graphic form of expression and honest try, challenged me to rediscover my sense of wonder, a nice little nudge to remind me I wanted to do that anyway.

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward challenged my thinking on Flickr and the social photographic web, disagreeing with Kris on whether it should be rejected. Through the tension between them we learned about two styles of photography, both of which contribute to our understanding of the subject. He also challenged me to think about lighting and the third dimension, making the physical photograph part of the photograph.

Stephanie Vacher

Stephanie, nervous as she was during her first time public speaking, challenged me to think about the process of my "designing". If I understood her correctly, she challenged everybody in the audience to investigate what it means to design and to, if they can get themselves in the mindset, think of themselves as designers.

Dave, Nancy, Alex, and Stephanie: I accept your challenges.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: myself; Cyprien Lomas; Randy Stewart; and Phillip Jeffrey.

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