Friday, 30 December 2011

Lessons from the Power Outage

There is plenty of hot water in the tank, and it will keep reheating as it runs on gas. Unlike the furnace, the water heater does not need mains power for its control or ignition.

The phone does not work. Even though I have corded phones, I use Shaw home phone which relies on a modem on the cable. And that modem has to be powered to work. If you are debating the virtues of buying a package deal between Shaw and Telus, that might be the decider. Telus land lines work in power cuts - as long as you have a simple corded phone.

The cell phone of course works and can also be used for internet connectivity as long as its own battery is charged. I have now bought a spare wall charger and another for use in the car.

The alarm clock-radio still works (it has a back up battery) even though its display is off: so the alarm will sound even though you cannot tell the time from it. I have several clocks which run on batteries and of course an old fashioned wristwatch which winds itself.

I have emergency candles: I have no candlesticks. Saucers work and are essential to catch wax drips. The candles should be kept with the saucers and matches.

The flash light batteries died almost as soon as I turned it on. It uses rechargeable cells, but I also have spare non-rechargeable cells. When the rechargeable fades, it fades fast. I had forgotten that I had put rechargeables in it and had not recharged them as a standard practice.

Skier dies after avalanche in Pemberton, B.C.

Last night I expanded my use of new media. The Vancouver Sun is offering a free download a day on iTunes. This is not a service I have used very much since I do not own an iPod nor do I feel like paying for downloads. The great success of Steve Jobs was getting people to people for downloaded music, which changed the distribution of recorded music and now video too. Up until now I have been limiting the amount of video I watch on my computer, as I regard it as a personal device, though my MacBook Pro has a 15" screen, that is quite small by tv standards. It dies of course play HD - something my tv and DVD cannot do.

For home movies we mostly borrow from the library or rent from zip.ca who send the discs by mail. But I cancelled my zip subscription since they seem to have fewer and fewer hints I want to watch. I suppose at some stage we will have to consider an HD tv and a device to download or stream from internet, but my partner was persuaded that we could try out this free documentary I had downloaded from the Sun. I was about snowboarding - something one of her sons does, but within the confines of the ski resorts. This was about the extreme stuff. Back country heli-skiing - or rather "riding" - we had seen something rather similar quite recently and the photography of the mountains was spectacular.

"The Art of Flight" is said to be "a new breed of sports action film from Red Bull Media"
"Equal parts action and adventure mix with the inevitable drama encountered along the way. Two years in the making, "The Art of FLIGHT" gives iconic snowboarder Travis Rice and friends the opportunity to redefine what is possible in the mountains. Experience the highs, as new tricks are landed and new zones opened, alongside the lows, where avalanches, accidents and wrong-turns strike. For the first time, viewers are immersed in the sometimes successful, often trying quest to open up new, unexplored mountains in remote corners of the world. "


What Red Bull is doing, of course, is promoting a product to a specific demographic - young, single, adult males. And of course as much youth as they can get too. Young men have excess testosterone and an unshakeable belief in their own invulnerability. They strain against the restrictions and rules of society - and all societies have rituals and activities designed to channel their energies and enthusiasms. Some of which are successful. I will not get into the role of the product Red Bull is selling. In my own view it is unnecessary - but it is not illegal. And the way that we regulate food and drink as well as additives and supplements works in the interests of the producers not the consumers. As one would expect by a state which has been taken over by corporate interests.

Watching the movie we were struck by the avalanches caused by their penetration of back country areas where there are no ski patrol or snow grooming. Indeed in one sequence the young men stamp their boards on the top of a crest and watch as the top surface of the snow below them sheers away and slides for miles, gaining strength as it goes.

The cbc story that the title links to includes details of the very high avalanche risk in BC at present. No-one going into the mountains should be unaware of such risk. I cannot comment on the specifics of the four young men involved in this incident, not am I any kind of winter sportsman. I do not and will not slide on any surface voluntarily. But those who do must understand the risks.

The juxtaposition of the cbc story and Post Media's use of what is really a 1 hour 40 minute Red Bull commercial featuring very dangerous snow boarding in back country areas is possibly unfortunate. But is does cause me to wonder the extent to which corporations should be encouraging young people to put their lives needlessly at risk. And others who may take a more objective editorial stance but would still be happy to accept advertising material - and maybe even programming - material from them.

UPDATE The CBC is now ( 11:45 Dec 30) reporting that the skier who died after being caught in the avalanche was a ski patroller from Whistler

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Last night we finished watching the DVDs (from zip.ca) of the BBC series. The new movie is now showing in Vancouver, and it is on my to do list, but for me George Smiley is Alec Guinness. Just as before the tv series started (many years ago) I re-read the novel, because something once seen cannot be unseen, and if you hear something on the radio first (like The Hitchhiker's Guide) or read it you already have a clear visual memory of what you have not seen, that is going to be replaced.

The six part tv series seemed slow going this time around- even though thanks to DVD we could watch two episodes back to back, and zip was careful to send us the disks in sequence. With the book - and yes I re-read that too, having to buy an new copy (why do otherwise honest people never return the books they've borrowed?) - I often stopped reading to think about how the plot was working. Even though there was no "who dun nit" by then. The movie is going to have to be very compressed to get all that plot in. The book is a bit like a dance of seven veils. The opening chapters of Jim Prideux as a school teacher appear to have nothing to do with spies. Jim just seems paranoid. Or perhaps a bit shell shocked.

If you have not seen the movie I will not spoil it for you. But you should know that there really were moles in the British Secret Service. One of them even turned out be the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures (Anthony Blunt). Kim Philby is the model for le Carre's mole, I think.

I was a lad from the East End. Went to grammar school. Left wing politics were part of my being. When I started encountering the upper classes they were still very snobby about background, and questioned my loyalty simply because I was not a Tory. I spoke BBC English - but not the strangled vowels of the "public schools" (which in England are, in fact, private). "A thizeand pinds in my trizers". Somehow the treachery of the aristocracy - the donkeys who lead the lions - the self serving of every villain in English Literature from Shakespeare onwards - the cruelty of the bullies, the selfishness of the rich, the double standards - "the law is for the guidance of wise men and the instruction of fools" meant that I was hardly surprised at all at the revelations of real double agents, who came from privilege and Oxford.

And besides, Deighton had already covered the territory of the lower class, smart lad in Intelligence in a masterly counterpoint to the myth of James Bond.

Reading le Carre now - especially his newest books - he does seem dated. But one thing that did strike a chord last night was the denunciation by the mole of "the Americans". Substitute "the 1%" or "multinational corporations" or "the elite" and you have a very good justification for why someone who cared about social justice might indeed be willing to spy for the Soviets, and would feel quite justified betraying his colleagues. All of whom have some very unpleasant characteristics. The Circus is populated withe real, fallible human beings and is a much more credible account of the workplace than The Office.

And where did this bit of dialogue come from

"I question your loyalty sometimes"

"I question it all the time"