Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Hippopotamus

It's a book by Stephen Fry that I picked up from the library - and they want it back. But my partner hasn't finished it yet. But that's alright because it turns out to be on my bookshelf too. A paperback I bought in 1995 for $5.99. I must have read it because the spine shows that. When I read it recently only one thing struck me as familiar. A passage that speaks of someone using a computer to write something "in quotation marks" that get put in the right way round. Annoyingly, in Blogger's editor, while the commas get curves, quote marks don't. Anymore than apostrophes do. But that was something that had stuck in my mind since Stephen Fry has used it more than once: the pleased smile that arrives on the face of someone who suddenly realizes that there is some benefit of "word processing" that had previously not occurred to them. Unless that was Douglas Adams.  

At first I found this lapse embarrassing evidence of memory loss, but I ought to be used to that by now. It is not an indication of senility, but it is a fact of aging. As someone once explained to me it's like having a hard drive that is full. (Or as my partner says: "Things just fall out of your ears as there is no more room in your brain for them.") The only way you can get more onto your hard drive/memory is overwriting what is already there. So you need to have a notebook or diary handy to jot things down so you won't "forget" them. I think that is one of the reasons that I like blogs and flickr. I can refresh memories, and put dates and locations to them.
The book has now been turned into a movie which I haven't seen yet, but I would urge you to read the book first before you do. Someone convinced me once to read "Sophie's Choice" before we saw the movie and I am glad she did. No matter how good the movie, the experience of reading the book is somehow better.    

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Men in White

Playing at the Arts Club Granville Island until March 11, 2017

I did not think that I had read about this play before I went to see it, but as I sat there watching the action unfold it did seem somehow familiar. Maybe because we have been, every so often, the only spectators at a cricket match in Vancouver where all the players were Indians.

There is only one set on the thrust stage - the angle almost bisects the front row of seats - but two locations, one a changing room in a park in Vancouver, the other a chicken shop in a market in India. The action alternates between the two locations: 

"When Abdul’s cricket team decides to take action to end their losing streak, they talk of recruiting Abdul’s brother, Hasan, who is an expert at the sport. But bringing Hasan from India to Canada will take more than just a plane ticket, and not all members of the team agree with the high cost."    

I am not going to reveal any more of the plot than that. It is probably significant that when Laura Evely did her pre-show announcement, she said that people leaving during the second act would NOT be reseated. It is also important to know that by the time that happens you actually care about what happens to the characters on stage. The suspension of disbelief essential for any drama to work is complete: the play is absorbing even if sometimes the dialogue is a little hard to follow.

This is a new play, commissioned by the Arts Club and getting its premiere here, where half of the action is set. I did not know that Sir Donald Bradman was so impressed by the field at Stanley Park, though I had heard heard something similar about Nat Bailey stadium. I have also actually played cricket in BC - for Sidney. You do not have to know much about cricket to understand this play but you will understand a lot about Canada - and by the end of the play - what Indians think about us. Indians as in people from India, that is.

I was saddened to see so many rows of empty seats at the back of the house last night. This ought to be a sold out show. It deserves a bigger audience.    

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Who are the trolls?

Rosa Brooks writing on Foreign Policy about the reaction to her purely theoretical think piece on what might happen if senior US military officers refused to obey an order from a clearly unhinged Commander in Chief "And Then the Breitbart Lynch Mob Came for Me" 

Sometimes I wonder who they are, these people who spend their free time sending vitriolic messages to strangers. Often, I imagine them as actual trolls, leaving their computers only to kick the occasional puppy, smack their children, or tend to their basement meth lab.
Other times, I imagine something even worse: Perhaps these are all seemingly normal people who go about their days smiling politely at strangers but then go home and start spewing.

I think at least some of them are police officers, security guards and employees of the Department of Homeland Security. I have certainly come across several who were themselves in the grip of some power trip.

Not every border crossing, but enough that I am beginning to get very wary of crossing the border if I am going to be asked to give up my smartphone and password. If my political opinions are going to be questioned. We have already seen people turned back at the border for quite egregious reasons, and appallingly bad behaviour by people who clearly have no fear whatever of being called on it. Police handcuffing a five year old girl (I thought that was an isolated incident until I did a Google search). Refusing entry to Canadian citizen with a valid passport and no links to any country on the already suspended "Muslim ban" Executive Order. Or because they intended to exercise their right of free speech.

On the most frightening books to read for me was "Hitler's Willing Executioners" - or Hannah Arendt's "Banality of Evil". Bannon and Trump are legitimising the knee jerk responses of those who are only to ready to see threats and enemies: who make huge assumptions based on little or no evidence, who readily confuse a sikh turban and dark skin with militant Islam.

I had a troll go after me on my other blog - until I blocked him. Because of that he confirmed his real identity. He is now dead, and I will not identify him but he was a popular mainstream leftwing political activist, and civil servant, who claimed his activities were simply "harmless amusement". He was actually driven by the common delusion that all progressive votes belonged to his political party, and that independents and third parties simply aided the powers that be to win elections with a minority. One might have thought that such a person would want to win over someone like me by persuasion or reasoned argument. Something had tipped him over the edge. He even invited me to talk about this over coffee: I declined.

I saw something similar once with a police officer who transformed from a possible source of assistance to a hectoring bully in the blink of an eye. I have no idea what set him off. But reading the reports of the various trials and enquiries that have occurred after the death of Robert DziekaƄski I began to see how some people seek out employment as police officers but ought to have weeded out long before they could do any harm. Of course, in many parts of the US police officers have been able to work out their racist and other phobias with little fear of retribution for years: if that were not the case there would be no Black Lives Matter campaign. There would be no account of a black man held for over forty years in solitary confinement and who had to sign a tendentious admission in order to get released.  The behaviour of RCMP officers to women in their own force, and to indigenous women in general would fill many more paragraphs. I am not at all surprised that one group now does not want to see the police take part in the Vancouver Pride Parade.

Actually the answer to my question is as always the same: we have seen the enemy and he is us.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Canada Post FAIL

We just emptied our mailbox: it is now January 18, 2017. The mailbox was last emptied yesterday. There is a large card in three languages announcing the Golden Rooster Collection, in celebration of Chinese New Year. The unveiling took place on January 9, 2017. The card states that if you bring it to the celebration at 11:30 am on that day you will receive a FREE Day of Issue Collector Envelope (limit 500).

I know that the bad weather here has been hampering some mail deliveries. But to get this particular mailpiece nine days after the advertised event does seem to mark a new level of incompetence.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Farewell Coast Capital

When I moved to BC it was after the 1990 housing crash. In fact the economy of Toronto by 1994 was so bad that I was unemployed for a year - on my resume I was a self employed consultant but the contracts I got were few and far between. I considered myself lucky to get a job with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources in Victoria. I also expected to be able to bring my so called portable mortgage with me: the Bank of Montreal declined. My lawyer, as I have so often heard, told me I had a Good Case but not the resources to take on one of Canada's biggest banks. So when we settled in Saanich I opened an account with Pacific Coast Savings, the local credit union. They really were a breath of fresh air after BMO. I was sad that they did not have any branches on the mainland when I had to move again but was content to switch to Richmond Savings, also a local credit union. And very well run indeed. Fast forward twenty years or so, and by now Richmond Savings and  Pacific Coast have merged into Coast Capital and are looking at the opportunity to become national.

The nearest branch to where I live is not especially convenient, but most of my banking gets done on line and there are "ding free" ATMs all over. Without me asking, the chequing account has a pre-approved overdraft limit of $2,000 which makes the "available balance" look very healthy whenever I use an ATM. But I have no need of an overdraft.

On our recent trip to the UK my partner and I used the same British bank ATMs to get pounds, but hers cost a lot less than mine. So when I got back I opened up a VanCity account. It then took a while for the various pension deposits to get shifted over. I do not understand how that takes months in a system that is largely automated and virtual. It is not like the goblins have to shift around piles of gold coins.  I also was annoyed that a payment through PayPal did not get charged to my credit card as I expected but deducted from the Coast Capital checking account. A small sum, but one that incurred a large (compared to the amount) fee. There was a significant balance on the savings account, but it did not occur to Coast Capital that on the whole I really wasn't actually in debt to them at all. And the fee was distinctly unexpected given their sales pitch.

So today I went to the branch on Broadway at Cambie. There were two tellers working - and a steadily growing line of customers. In VanCity it is not unusual for the staff at other desks around the branch to come forward to see if they can help the people in line. I have never, ever seen that happen at Coast Capital. When I get a teller, I tell him to close my accounts, and that I want the balances in cash. This apparently requires multiple transactions - each one requiring him to go and get a separate sum of money after I have signed a paper slip he has printed. And an agreement about "Overdraft Protection": I don't know how that protects me - I am that one that got dinged. He cannot manage to actually close the account. He has to call over another member of staff. The line behind me is now getting restive. Each transaction is, of course, rounded down. NO attempt is made to explain why they have to be separate payments, and not added together. It cannot be done purposely to save the pennies - can it? The process is lengthy and conducted in silence - except for the two tellers whispering to each other and pointing at the screen between us.

At no time did anyone evince any interest at all as to why I had chosen to close my accounts, and get back my $5 membership share.

But I am glad I did.


Post Postscript

This evening I got a telephone call from the Assistant Manager at the branch in question. She was very apologetic and listened to what I had to say - even though it largely repeated what is written above and which she said she had read. She even offered to meet with me, buy me a coffee, and hear my questions and concerns. I explained that I have been a member of the Coast Capital "Tell us what you think" panel since it was set up. Not once did I get any feedback from that. She said that what I have written and said will be of great concern to Coast Capital.

It has taken me about four months to wrap up the "relationship" I had with this credit union. It is a shame that only after it is all over that they think to ask why. Too late for me, I hope not too late them.  


I learn from Integrity BC that in 2016 Coast Capital donated $11,700 to the BC Liberal Party.

January 20

A letter arrives by Canada Post from Coast capital suggesting I should switch to electronic statements - for the accounts I closed ten days ago.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Farewell Leonard

I have been sitting listening to the CBC Radio 2 tribute to Leonard Cohen. He has died at the age of 82. And here are 82 reasons why you should care.

He had just released a new album "You Want It Darker" and the New Yorker printed a profile in its October 17 issue. By a curious twist of fate, the magazine came to be in my mailbox, by mistake, and I took the opportunity to read it before passing it along to my neighbour, who has a subscription but was at work while I read it.

Elizabeth Renzetti has a piece in the Globe about the impact he had on her

"If you live without the comfort of religious belief, as I do, it seemed like the universe was playing a cruel joke by removing a force of light just when the world seems so broken. But the crack, as he so memorably taught us, is how the light gets in."

There is a lot on Twitter right now too. Including this image

He saw the future with unerring accuracy.  Maybe we should all have paid more attention.  

Sunday, 23 October 2016


When I saw this I laughed. The box inserted into the wall outlet (unswitched standard North American electrical socket for my English readers) is a ThingCharger. I was one of the early adopters. That meant I joined in a crowd funding scheme before any were actually made on a production line, and the company used the crowd's funds to get started in business. Some time later - quite a long time in fact - they sent me the chargers and I started using them.

Let me say at the outset that the ThingCharger is beautifully designed and carefully made. It does exactly what it says it will do and comes with clear directions and all sorts of videos about how to use it. The main benefit claimed - that you will no longer need to have cables trailing around to charge your things is true - but only so far as that goes, as the photo illustrates. We have had ThingChargers since they first started shipping and we no longer use them as designed, even though they are still plugged in around our home.

The place we used to plug in our phones and iPads  - before ThingCharger - was the kitchen counter. Why? Easy, those are the most accessible outlets. They cannot be used with the ThingCharger because of overhangs: the one on island has a shelf with an overhang above it. The one next to the stove is under a cupboard - and so on. The outlets in the bathroom are simply too perilous. Balance an iPad on a ThingCharger and it is at risk of falling into the toilet. So the places where the ThingCharger can be plugged in are outlets low on the walls of other rooms that are not hidden behind desks, tvs or stereo systems - all of which tend to have multi-outlet surge protection bars plugged in at all times.

So to use the ThingCharger, you need to bend down, and then plant the device exactly and correctly onto its power tip that protrudes from the Charger into the bottom of your Thing. If the phone or iPad is in its case, you have to be ensure that the power tip is in its intended socket and not just trapped between thing and case. There are USB ports under the ThingCharger but we have never used them as they are inaccessible in their current locations, and anyway leave cables trailing on the carpet which was what we were trying to avoid in the first place.

Yes, we no longer have cables trailing across the kitchen work surfaces where I was always convinced  I might slice through them. No, we are not using the ThingCharger. Except as noted above.

Before writing this article I did a Google search to find the links. The second item in the suggested list of searches was ThingCharger Complaints. There are many hits on that list. Here instead is a more balanced review. Which seems to reflect my experience. If your desk has a standard, flush mounted North American electrical outlet at a convenient height with nothing above it, then ThingCharger might be useful for your phone - or possibly a new iPad mini or similar. I cannot recommend its use on the old multipin Apple connector as used on older full size iPads.

UPDATE ThingCharger got into trouble. I have had several emails now from its founder, explaining what went wrong. That also cleared up why it is apparently no longer possible to get new spare tips. My partner would need a new USB C tip for her now phone if she was ever going to use the Thing again. The founder is apparently also convinced that he has another brilliant idea that he may try to crowd fund.