Thanksgiving in Regina

So a friend of mine invited me to the Golden Crown volleyball tournament, and it was tons of fun. I’d never been to Regina (or Saskatchewan, for that matter), and was looking forward to visiting someplace new. Before this year, I really hadn’t done much of that—but that’s changing, and gay volleyball tournaments are a great excuse to expand my horizons.

Over two weeks late, but it took me a while to get around to sorting through the hundreds of photos I took.

So a friend of mine invited me to the Golden Crown volleyball tournament, and it was tons of fun. I’d never been to Regina (or Saskatchewan, for that matter), and was looking forward to visiting someplace new. Before this year, I really hadn’t done much of that—but that’s changing, and gay volleyball tournaments are a great excuse to expand my horizons.

Regina is a lovely town, with super-friendly people and super-hot university students. I didn’t know many people there and my introvert side was acting up, which was kind of annoying, but I managed to have fun and socialise, even go out dancing at the gay club. Yes, there’s just one. It looks like it’s managed by a non-profit—probably because a for-profit club wouldn’t survive in a town this size; but according to its Facebook page that does make it the only GLBT community-owned club in Canada, which is pretty awesome. It reminds me of Club 318 (I think that was its name) in Ottawa, back in the day, except that only took place every second Friday at the Lisgar Street community centre. I wonder if that’s still going on?

I gave myself time to do the tourist thing by myself Friday afternoon and all day Monday. Everything is pretty much within walking distance, so transportation is no problem. On Friday I walked around the amazing Wascana Park, dodging all the bundled-up cyclists and joggers. Yeah, Regina is a bit chilly and overcast and hella windy—though I guess I should count my blessings, since it hadn’t actually started snowing yet. Still, the park was beautiful in its autumn finery, all soft golds and oranges. No red that I remember; I guess they don’t have maples in Regina. Which really makes you think: Canada is a big place, with many and varied ecosystems. Magpies in Calgary and Kamloops, but not Vancouver. At least 2 species of crows, in Vancouver and Ottawa. Neat. I just needed to get my feet on the ground a bit more in this big land of ours, instead of flying over it.

Two days of volleyball and partying really took it out of me, physically and emotionally, so on Monday I was happy to do the solo tourist thing again. I bade farewell to roommates (they were all driving back to Edmonton), and I set out.

My first stop was the Mosaic Stadium, home of the Roughriders, and easily visible from our hotel room. I don’t particularly care about football, but I was told I should try to get in, and take pictures from the seats—or even the field, assuming there’s no practice going on. I walked around the whole place but couldn’t find a way in, so I shrugged and went on my way.

Next was the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, located in Wascana Park (like half the city’s major landmarks, it seems). An awesome place where I learned all about Saskatchewan First Nations, geology, and wildlife both past (dinosaurs) and present. Amazingly, they had a fossilized Mosasaur skeleton, along with stuff about how Saskatchewan was mostly underwater back in the day. But I already knew that, thanks to The Oatmeal!

Megamunch the animatronic T Rex, was just the icing on the cake.

Next was the Legislature. I wasn’t sure if it’d be open for tours on a holiday, but it was! Yay! (Though the bookstore and gift shop was closed. Boo!) The handsome francophone guide took us around the foyer, to the Library with neat historical artefacts on display, the hall with Saskatchewan Order of Merit recipients, the room with portraits of past SK Premiers and even more historical artefacts and documents. And the Legislature itself, which we unfortunately were not allowed to set foot in, so we had to take pictures from the door.

And last, the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Which at first I thought was closed, but then a security guard came up and showed me the right door to use. Derp.

And then I was off to the airport! But I’m sure I’ll be back someday.

More photos here!

Hwy 1 crossing Evans Rd

Downtown Calgary

Victoria Park

Good morning

Mosasaur skeleton

Sask Legislature

Saskatchewan Legislature

Saskatchewan Legislature, from the West

Albert St

Thoughts on Star Trek Continues, Episode 1

This video is beautifully done: very true to the 60’s show both in tone and content. The dialogue is expository, the action is slow, the physics are loose and kinda mystical, the men are real men, the women are real women, the costumes are beautifully retro, the sets are authentic down to every detail. How did they even manage that? Did they get access to Paramount Studios or something? Did some enterprising (pardon the pun) geek recreate them from scratch?

So much fun.

Star Trek Continues E01 “Pilgrim of Eternity” from Star Trek Continues on Vimeo.

This video is beautifully done: very true to the 60’s show both in tone and content. The dialogue is expository, the action is slow, the physics are loose and kinda mystical, the men are real men, the women are real women, the costumes are beautifully retro, the sets are authentic down to every detail. How did they even manage that? Did they get access to Paramount Studios or something? Did some enterprising (pardon the pun) geek recreate them from scratch?

The actors are quite good too. Vic Mignogna as Kirk has the steely gaze down, and is way more built than Shatner ever was (hello, gratuitous shirtless scene!) Todd Haberkorn is kinda bland as Spock, and Larry Nemececk is quite good as a somewhat-less-curmudgeonly McCoy. Chris Doohan (son of James Doohan) was excellent as Scotty, and I found myself thinking it made perfect sense to have an actor with a natural Scottish accent—until I remembered Doohan wasn’t Scottish. Huh.

The biggest surprise was Grant Imahara as Sulu. I didn’t even know it was him. Sure, Sulu kind of looked like Imahara… and he sounded like Imahara doing Sulu… but it wasn’t until the closing credits that I saw it was actually him! Wow.

The plot was an interesting revisit of “Who Mourns For Adonais?”, with the Enterprise stumbling upon a crippled and dying Apollo (played by the same actor, even) who claims to no longer desire worship, and merely wants to live out his remaining days with mortals, in peace. Kirk sympathises but doesn’t really trust him, Spock is neutral, Bones is more sympathetic, and Scotty flat out doesn’t trust Apollo at all. At first I thought he was just being contrary to drive the plot, but he’s got good reasons: I’d forgotten that in Mourns, Apollo made the moves on Scotty’s girlfriend, and also attacked him with his divine lightning. But more than that, it’s revealed that said girlfriend, Lt. Palomas, was still infatuated by Apollo, and so distraught by the experience that she transfered away from the Enterprise, which later led to her death. So Scotty blames him for that too.

It makes for some good continuity, but also sadly continues the TOS tradition of women going gaga over charismatic alpha males, whether physical gods or genetically enhanced supermen. And I got to thinking: do we need a continuation of the original series? Okay, maybe that’s the wrong question: it’s art, of course we don’t need it. And granted, NCC-1701 is the ship that started it all, and the series does have a special charm all its own. But I’m torn about seeing it recreated so faithfully, with all its flaws intact. The slightly improved special effects and different actors highlight to me how problematic some of the tropes TOS ran on were, and how maybe they shouldn’t be given new life in the 21st century. The franchise has moved on. The world has moved on.

Overanalysing? Maybe. And to be honest, it didn’t keep me from enjoying this episode, or looking forward to any future episodes. Because seriously: getting Michael Forrest to reprise his role? Jamie Bamber as a redshirt? Marina Sirtis as the computer’s voice? You gotta respect that.

Some thoughts on the Calgary skyline

It’s been a month and I’ve kept postponing writing this post. Partly because I still have hundreds of pictures to upload, until I realised I could attach only the required photos to this post, and worry about uploading the rest later.

So, Calgary. I’d flown over it a number of times, connected through its airport a couple times, but I’d never really visited until this Easter weekend. The occasion was Western Cup, an annual volleyball/curling/dodgeball tournament that I heard was tons of fun but never got around to. But a couple months before, I’d been hunting for a team for Queen Vicki, Vancouver’s own queer volleyball tournament, and a friend invited me on his QV team, his Western Cup team, and his Ottawa team (there’s a gay volleyball tourney in Ottawa two weeks before, which I also went to, but that’s another story.)

I had a great time, and met tons of amazing people. But my view of the actual city wasn’t so positive. Downtown Calgary looks pretty ordinary from the air: a cluster of high-rises surrounded by urban sprawl, not too different from Vancouver.

Downtown Calgary

From the ground, though, actually walking through it, it’s a different matter. Downtown Calgary is full of massive, shiny buildings, monuments to the giants of industry, oil and finance. Catch them from the right angle, and they’re attractive enough. But they also easily become dark and oppressive, since they’re far more crowded together than Vancouver and block out much more of the sunlight.

But in the midst of these ultra-shiny highrises there are older buildings, smaller and more modest, showing that Calgary does indeed have a history. Some that were previously commercial space have been converted into condos. I found them comforting, architecture on a much more human scale.

Down side: some of them, like the old City Hall, are utterly dwarfed by the surrounding highrises. Which is not unfamiliar. Christ Church Cathedral, anyone?

And some of these old buildings are just… old and sad. The eastern edge of downtown feels empty and run-down, maybe in the middle of pre-redevelopment, I don’t know. Just empty lots, gravel, and faded commercial façades. In fact, a lot of the eastern and southern edges of downtown feel very haphazard, with apartment buildings, heritage homes and commercial lots arranged seemingly at random. It had the feel of a city that had grown very fast with little actual planning—which, well, I guess is exactly what happened.

In fact, it was while walking back from Fort Calgary towards downtown that I formed my strongest impression of downtown: it felt like a herd of sleeping behemoths, shiny and faceless, as forbidding as the not so far-off the mountain ranges. It was not a pleasant impression.

What would Colonel MacLeod say if he was still alive? I’m sure he’d be happy to see the city prosper, but wouldn’t it look weird and alien to him?

Gut impressions aside, there was a very real downside to Calgary’s highrises: they blocked part of the view from the Calgary Tower. To the north I could see only straight up Centre Street; to the south and east I could see forever; to the west my view was half blocked by downtown. This being so close to the equinox the sunset was pretty much exactly due east, and it was just barely visible by one of the big shiny highrises. Any later in the year, and visitors to the Tower would be minus a sunset.

Shame, isn’t it? Just a few short decades after its construction, the Tower has been passed by the rest of the city. What good will it be as a tourist attraction, if Calgary keeps growing around it?

Pride and Curiosity

Vancouver celebrated Pride this weekend. And that means a lot of things, some familiar and some not.

Vancouver celebrated Pride this weekend. And that means a lot of things, some familiar and some not.

First, the Davie Street Dance Party. To kick off Pride weekend, the Vancouver Pride Society takes over four or five blocks of Davie Street, puts in a couple of stages with DJs and performers, food and drinks booths, and then fences the whole thing up and charges an ungodly amount of money to get in. Seriously, a lot of people were less than pleased at what they considered a shameless money grab. $20 to basically enjoy what you’d get at any club, except you get a smaller selection of drinks and it closes at 1AM? Yeah…

Still, I went. Got there early when there was still some light out, paid my $20, and wandered around until I ran into friends. Then I ran into some more friends. Hugs, hugs, catching up, wishing each other “happy Pride”—really, the only reason I was out tonight. Then the crowds grew fiercer and the music got louder, and it got a bit less fun. I danced for a bit, but the party was just too exhausting for an introvert like me, and I called it a night around 11:30.

Which was longer than I’ve ever lasted, when I think about it. Once or twice I skipped the whole thing entirely: 2008, especially, because I’d been laid off that day and I just wasn’t feeling sociable. But generally, I just don’t last very long at all; I don’t like the club scene, and the street party is basically like one big open-air club with an outrageous cover price. If I’m not with people I know, or don’t immediately run into them, I’m more likely to ditch the whole thing. So hey, I guess I’m getting more outgoing!

Saturday was the Dyke March. I’d never gone, and I didn’t really have any plans until a friend in the Rainbow Marching Band invited me to tag along. I ended up helping to carry the banner, but I didn’t mind. The Dyke March is a great event, full of energy, very small and informal compared to Sunday’s parade, with much more of a sense of community. Individuals can walk along, groups carry hand-made banners, participants are invited to sign or initial the main banner (they make a new one each year and keep the old ones). No gigantic truck floats for WestJet or Royal Bank or Celebrities. No politicians that I could see, either. It reminded me of Ottawa’s Pride marches when I came out in the early-mid-90’s, back before it got all corporate.

Sunday was the Pride Parade. Corporate or not, you didn’t think I’d miss it, did you? As I’ve done for the last several years (since I moved downtown, in fact) I volunteered walk with the VGVA float; we’d be handing out freezies (insanely popular), suckers (not so much), a few of us would pass balls around, a few more would spray water at the crowd or just wave. Good times. And I got kudos on my control of the ball—because the last thing you do is have it shank off into the crowd.

Dinner, nap, shower, and I was off to the Vancouver Men’s Chorus Big Gay Sing. I’ve been going for the last 3 years (since it started, in fact) and it’s always tons of fun. We get to sing along to classics (the Sound of Music medley is always a favourite) and new material (Lady GaGa, Call Me Maybe) with cute little skits and clever costumes and production numbers.

Then after the show, I hurried home to follow Curiosity’s landing live (well, live minus the light-speed delay). I’d already seen the Seven Minutes of Terror video and knew that as crazy-awesome as this crazy-awesome plan was, it could still fall apart so easily. But that didn’t happen; atmospheric entry happened without a hitch that I could see, everything went perfectly smoothly. And when they received word Curiosity had touched down, the control room just went crazy. Don’t ever think scientists can’t get emotional! This was the culmination of years of work, one of the first steps on the road to the stars.

Then they started receiving images, and the room went fucking nuts again.

It’s times like this I feel Humanity can do something to rise above its present condition, to be more than it is now. People could say that we should hold off exploring the cosmos until we’ve solved our problems here on Earth—but, first, all the deep-space telescopes and Mars landers and particle accelerators only cost a fraction of what we spend on wars or filthy rich CEOs’ tax breaks. Second, endeavours like this give us (or some of us) some much-needed perspective. Astronauts on the moon saw the Earth rise above the Lunar horizon, a pretty swirl of blue and white, no national borders in site. In 1990 Voyager 1 snapped a picture of Earth from 6 billion km, a barely visible blue pixel in the vastness of space.

So yes, Curiosity is important, pun intended. This weekend I celebrated my pride in myself and my beautiful queer community, and I am just as proud of America’s achievements. Here’s to a bright future!

Wave of Pink

On June 14, the Burnaby school board voted on an anti-homophobia and anti-heterosexism policy, and a rally in support was planned. Now, there had already been pro-homophobia rallies, so would we have to face a counter-rally? In a way I kind of wanted one: let’s be honest, part of me likes a clear-cut, good-vs-evil confrontation every now and then.

Back in 1997 I joined the SFU queer group to protest the blatantly ideological and oppressive banning of gay children’s books by the mostly right-wing Surrey school board. It was a frustrating and infuriating experience because the board ignored us, ignored all protestors, and just went on with their censorship. (Though there is a happy ending: a few years later (and a round in Canada’s Supreme Court), the ban was overturned)

This is not 1997, and this was not Surrey. On June 14, the Burnaby school board voted on an anti-homophobia and anti-heterosexism policy, and a rally in support was planned. Now, there had already been pro-homophobia rallies, so would we have to face a counter-rally? In a way I kind of wanted one: let’s be honest, part of me likes a clear-cut, good-vs-evil confrontation every now and then.

No homophobes showed up that day, though, except that one guy from the Mormon church across the street, probably looking to see what all the noise was about. Instead there was dancing and singing and beautiful inspirational speeches, by David C Jones, Spencer & Romi Chandra Herbert, and parents or kids from Burnaby gay-straight alliances. The weather was overcast and cool-ish, but the rain held out. Still by 7 (when the board actually met to vote), the entertainment was over and I was ready to go. I (and the 150–200 others) had done all we could, now it was up to the trustees to do the right thing.

Which they did, unanimously. Now bigotry has lost a battle, and queer/trans kids will be a bit safer, at least in Burnaby.

Lock Up Your Sons and Daughters

Bill Taylor put together a collection of old anti-gay propaganda to educate and entertain. easy to laugh, and in fact that’s part of the point. Laughter is the best medicine, and celebrating how far we’ve come is part of Gay Pride. But it’s also important to learn how our enemies think, and what they tell people about us.

Bill Taylor put together this collection of old anti-gay propaganda to educate and entertain. It’s easy to laugh, and in fact that’s part of the point: laughter is the best medicine, and celebrating how far we’ve come is part of Gay Pride. But it’s also important to learn how our enemies think, and what they tell people about us. David C Jones (in one of the many, many introductory speeches) pointed out that Evil wins too often because Good is dumb. Sorry, no, I meant because Evil is organised; Evil hates and fears and is authority-driven, while Good is just out to do good and have fun. Proposition 8 passed in California because of big money and lies propagated in part by the Mormon Church and NOM and a lot of people weren’t worried because, hey, it’s California! Likewise, few expected the Conservatives to get a majority, and now look at us.

Plus, we need to remember that these movies are still being made today. The lines have probably shifted a bit—I haven’t seen any recent anti-gay movie, but I bet they go on against same-sex marriage more than the evils of homo sex per se—but the message hasn’t changed.

Boys Beware

Apparently all homosexuals in the 50’s/60’s wear suits and have little creepy thin mustaches. This infomercial lays out the horrifying truth about how homos prey on good wholesome sports-playing American boys, and they (the boys) need to beware: don’t get in strangers’ cars, don’t accept gifts, don’t spend time with creepy guys without your parents’ permission, etc… It’s as deadly-earnest as you’d expect from a short of that era.

And hey, Boys Beware is available on YouTube!

Soapy The Germ Fighter

Equally old, this one features a boy who’s worried that excessive washing-up will make him a sissy. A talking bar of soap appears to him in a dream telling him that washing up isn’t sissy, cowboys totally do it, and goes on a bit about germs and why it’s important to fight them. This cutesy film is in the same vein as the old educational shorts shown on MST3K, like A Case Of Spring Fever. It’s not anti-gay, though, except insofar as sissiness is perceived as a valid fear.

Highlight 1: the soundtrack from The Nutcracker.

Highlight 2: Soapy recommends that women wash their hair at least every two weeks. But that part is (IIRC) because shampoos were very harsh and damaged the hair. Hence the need for perms.

Watch it for yourself!

William’s Doll

Fast-forward to 1981, and the touching tale (adapted from a book) of a boy who wants a doll for his birthday. Amidst the horrible acting and clunky writing, there’s actually a nice message here: dolls aren’t just girls’ toys, it’s okay for boys to express affection too, and the final scene shows that doll-playing isn’t turning William into a “sissy,” because he’s just as happy playing football and digging up dirt with his Tonka™ truck.

Which makes me wonder why this movie was included, since it’s not anti-gay at all. Mind you, I wouldn’t call it pro-gay, but it’s definitely pro-flexible-gender-roles.

Highlight: The toy train scene, where I’m pretty sure I saw some old Star Wars action figures (Greedo, especially, caught my eye). Ah, that brought me back, I totally played with them back in the day.

Perversion For Profit

Back to the 60’s now, with a deadly serious short going on (with pictures!) about how pornography is ruining the moral fiber of our country. And by “our country” I mean of course “America”. To be fair, this film features equal-opportunity fearmongering, giving equal time to girlie, S/M and physique mags.

Highlight 1: those hilarious little taped bars, blotting out eyes, nipples, asses and crotches of the models.

Highlight 2: the porn industry is controlled by Communism.

Watch it on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2

The Gay Agenda

This film was done in 1992 by some anti-gay group in California (I think), and so can’t be dismissed so easily. It features a couple of talking heads discussing oh so calmly why sexual orientation shouldn’t be a protected status under the law, because it’s a choice and gays are a health hazard, the latter backed up with all sorts of statistics: 95% of homosexuals have enjoyed fellatio, 92% anal sex, 35% have done fisting… Honestly, I forget the exact numbers, I’m making it up as I go along. Just like them.

Also, just to shock those decent church-going viewers, shots from Pride parades. You know the drill: half-naked men humping each other, topless women, leather doms dragging their slaves on a leash, dildo-wearing drag nuns, juxtaposed with pictures of kids at those parades. One little girl looked cranky and crying; Gawd knows what the audience was thinking when they saw her.

In addition we get to hear from a couple of “ex-gays”: what’s interesting is that both these guys are young, pretty and a little flaming, though obviously toning it down, while the stats-spouting talking heads look like regular straight guys. I didn’t realize it at first, but just like the parade scenes, this is designed to visually push buttons with the audience: at best, the producers wanted guys who looked stereotypically gay enough so that the audience would buy their story. At worst, it implies that ex-gays are still not really straight, and no matter what they do or say they can’t be considered normal.

Highlight: one of the “ex-gays” getting just a bit too excited when talking about bathhouses. You can bet that got a laugh from the audience.


Out of these five movies, three are gold, exactly what I signed up for. Two are not. They’re funny and cheesy as all hell, yes, but they’re not anti-gay by any stretch of the imagination. And while googling this show, I found references to a couple of other anti-gay shorts that for some reason were not shown tonight: Neurotic Behavior—A Psychodynamic View (via Hummingbird604), and Red Light, Green Light: Meeting Strangers (mentioned on the event’s Facebook page, and viewable online here). I wish we’d gotten the chance to see those.

Northern Voice 2011

And it’s that time of year again. Time to hob-nob with all sorts of bloggers and assorted geeks in UBC’s lovely Life Sciences Centre, with its gorgeous atriums filled with natural light.

And it’s that time of year again. Time to hob-nob with all sorts of bloggers and assorted geeks in UBC’s lovely Life Sciences Centre, with its gorgeous atriums filled with natural light.

Friday Keynote: April Smith

This was different. Both previous keynotes dealt with high-level politics, how social media intersects with mainstream media and corporate power. But April Smith brought us down to earth for a moment with her stories of living in the Downtown Eastside. We learned about her work as a citizen journalist empowering the residents with access to technology—Nokia handphones, specifically. I forget the exact model, and I’ll forgive the constant product placement, especially if it turns out that they’re as easy to use as she claims. Those phones were donated by some Nokia rep, and it’s a hard reminder that this shit ain’t free, and every social movement must depend on the kindness of sicher strangers.

April was clearly nervous and reading from prepared notes—she admitted to being uncomfortable speaking in front of people—but that didn’t matter. Her stories were raw, straight from the heart, and powerfully moving. The short clip of the man whose cat was thrown out of his 5th storey apartment during a breakin. The simple brief connection that stopped a man from killing himself, just because she showed him a bit of kindness and let him see his own photo. If April hadn’t been there, with her phone, that man would now be dead.

That’s what social media means, in the Downtown Eastside. It’s about connecting with people, telling your story, and changing lives for the better.

Drawing on Walls

Okay, that was kind of a bust. I don’t think I got anything out of it, except yet a reminder that my drawing skills suck. I chose this session just to go a little outside the box (and because none of the other ones really appealed to me), but an hour-long workshop wasn’t going to give me any super-creative power. Ah, well. Live and learn.

Your Blog Is Boring and Your Photos Suck

Syx Langemann and Morten Rand-Hendriksen teamed up to give the audience some tools to make their photos suck less and their blogs less boring. Somewhat disappointingly, they mostly covered the technical aspects (Syx: aperture, shutter speed, ISO; Morten: ALT tags, meta tags, SEO, and WordPress-specific tidbits) but not so much ways to make things less boring or sucky. I guess that part is up to each of us. But I did love the sample photos Syx showed us; nothing like the portfolio of a talented photographer to get you inspired!

The Naked Truth: Canadian Science Blogging Scene

A panel consisting of Rosie Redfield, Beth Snow, Eric Michael Johnson and Maryse de la Giroday discussed science, blogging, and all related issues. Does blogging impact your credibility as an academic and researcher? What are the pros and cons of pay-to-read vs. pay-to-publish journals? What place do non-peer-reviewed blogs have in science education and research? What incentive do researchers have to blog about their work if it means the risk of competitors scooping them out (and their funding)? Why would a researcher blog?

Dr. Redfield (who did most of the talking) answered that last question: she likes the idea of a non-scientist stumbling on her writing, it clarified her thinking, serves as a memory aid, and helps her write. Also, it allows her to critique science in the media.

Good stuff, for sure.

Incidentally, I found it interesting that 3 out of the 4 panelists were women. I wouldn’t have expected that kind of breakdown for science bloggers and academics, but there you go.

Also: the following day at lunchtime, Dr. Redfield took a few of us on a short tour of the labs in the building. Behold the power of social media: there was no big announcement, no signs put up, just a couple of calls retweeted back and forth.

MooseCamp: Five Card Flickr

Five Card Flickr is fun. Our small group spent the hour with Alan Levine getting to know the game, choosing pictures, and coming up with a story. Didn’t go anywhere and it had no plot, but man was it fun. I haven’t taken part in this kind of collective storytelling since… what, my D&D days? Ooo, and check out Pecha Flickr.

Communities That Rock

How do you create kick-ass online communities? Arieanna Schweber and Raul Pacheco-Varga give us the lowdown. Some of their advice applied for blogs, others for forums and community sites, but the bottom line is pretty much the same: engage with your audience, have everything (tweets, photos, videos) point back to a single site, have proper internal linking, know how to tell a story. Pretty common-sense stuff, right? Maybe, but it has to be said. Also, keep in mind that this is hard work, and community building doesn’t happen overnight. Finally, avoid becoming isolated. It’s good to be active both offline and online.

Saturday Keynote: Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson took us on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about NCSA Mosaic (which I also remember fondly from my early days on the WWW), his early work on Web standards—apparently he’s responsible for overlapping <B> and <I> tags—and adventures in social media. Of course, they didn’t call it that. But games like Nethack (through other people’s ghosts) and other applications allowed connections and interaction between people, mediated by technology. And isn’t that what this conference is about?

Wilson cautioned us: There are people that need to learn how to play well with others. What voice should you use? How much should you share? Sharing feels good. It makes you vulnerable, but you create lots of real connections. I guess it’s up to each of us to choose how far to take it. He closed off with a quote from the late, great Douglas Adams

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be

A Code of Ethics For The Social Web

Morten R-H again, this time discussing our responsibility, as bloggers, to the truth. This applies much more to journalism-style blogging, and reviewers, but everyone can benefit. Really, it boils down to a few simple principles: be honest with yourself and your audience; admit when you may be biased (e.g.: when you get freebies in exchange for reviews), be critical of your own biases and opinions. It is important to have such a code of ethics, and hold each other accountable, because anyone with a big enough audience has a big influence.

Trust relationships—brought up by an audience member who disagreed with Morten’s basic thesis—will only take you so far. It’s all very well to personally be critical of the blogs you follow and if you find they’re unreliable, well, to just stop following them, but (a) that does nothing to discourage unreliable bloggers, and (b) it doesn’t help people who don’t have working bullshit filters. If the Tea Party, 9/11 Truthers and the Huffington Post* have taught us anything, it’s that popularity has very little to do with truth.

(*Seriously, early on in the talk he lumped all three together. Awesome)

And here’s his code of blogging ethics

Looking Through The Lens

Alan Levine again, taking us through some of the ins-and-outs of taking good photos, both from a technical and creative standpoint. It was great stuff, but hard to summarise.

Stop Apologising For Your Online Life

Alexandra Samuel asks: is online life any less real than IRL? Are those three letters themselves a dead giveaway? She argues that no, life online is just as interesting and meaningful as offline. She proposed a new 3-letter term: RLT, meaning Real Life Too. Kinda catchy, though I’m not really feeling it. Still, who knows? It just might catch on.

Online art is just as valid and meaningful as offline art, just because you can’t hang it on a wall or show it off in a gallery. There is amazing stuff being done online, like the It Gets Better Project (and indeed, for a lot of queer youth, online is the only way to connect with other queer people); I’ll just add Pogo’s fantastic remixes.

But you also have a responsibility to your online life, as much as your offline one. Don’t be passive, invest real attention; give back, and commit to creating something real. Likewise, don’t just friend any Tom, Dick and Harry on Facebook. Friendship means something, online as well as off-. Only connect with people you feel a relationship with, not just faces that’ll increase your friend count.


I left early on Saturday, because I was still feeling a bit under the weather, but I’m so glad I went. Looking forward to next year’s Moose!

Jesus says BRB, Mary Magdalene says LOL

Found this right in front of my building this morning. There were also a few Earth Day-themed chalk drawings on the sidewalk, and others pointing us to the nearest polling station (they all want us to vote Green). I love the West End!

Found this right in front of my building this morning. There were also a few Earth Day-themed chalk drawings on the sidewalk, and others pointing us to the nearest polling station (they all want us to vote Green). I love the West End!

Jesus Says BRB

PNE 2010: Rain, Candy, Pigs and Quacks

We got in right under the buzzer. Some friends and I made our annual pilgrimage to the PNE on September 6th, the very last day. It was cold and showery, but I didn’t let that bother me. There was fun to be had!

We got in right under the buzzer. Some friends and I made our annual pilgrimage to the PNE on September 6th, the very last day. It was cold and showery, but I didn’t let that bother me. There was fun to be had!

First, Candy Nation, a history of candy through the ages—well, really just modern candy, since 1900 or thereabouts, though there were a few bits about sweets of the 18th and 19th centuries.

And of course, no candy exhibit would be complete without some actual (ridiculously cheap) candy to buy. I, uh, may have indulged in a few pieces.

It's a Candy Nation!

Then the dog show, always fun. I caught the tail end of it (no pun intended) last year, which consisted mostly of bloopers: you know, releasing cute little puppies in the arena while older dogs are trying to do their thing, sure to get a laugh or an awwwww from the audience. But we sat through the early parts, and it’s actually pretty exciting, with some real tests of skill.

My only question is: one of the dogs was introduced as “Lady Gaga”, but I don’t think it ended up competing. What happened to Gaga?

The biggest disappointment was missing a performance by people from the Academie Duello. But we left the dog show too late, and got to there (apparently) just after the duellists had packed up for the day. Boo. Still, no big deal. The rain had stopped for the moment, so we wandered around looking at cans.

Canstruction: Ice Cream Cone

Then, contortionists. It was a pretty good show, though we had to run under cover when the rain came back. Those kids do have the skill, but most of them didn’t have much of a stage presence. Ah, well, I’m sure they’ll grow into it.


And no visit to the PNE is complete without a tour of the prize home (this year, it’s somewhere near Kelowna).

Prize Home: Dining Room

And then you’ve got the farm, with the duckies and bunnies and cows and horsies and huge sows with their eight (count ’em!) suckling piglets.

Sow and her piglets

Speaking of pigs, I watched them race for the first time. It was a lot of fun, though over too soon. Those pigs can really run!

Pig Race

Mini donuts, cos you gotta have mini donuts at the PNE!

Mini Donut

PNE At Night

On the other hand, no visit to the PNE marketplace is complete without running into a couple of pseudoscientific garbage. Here we have an “ionic footbath”, meant to detoxify and help you live longer. The (ionic) water is supposed to turn different colours based on which organ the toxins come from, but all the ones on display and in use were the same dark reddish brown colour.

Ionic Footbath

And in the Home Depot pavillion (along with many booths, including one model of the upcoming new BC Place, complete with animation of the retractable roof), artwork from some artists in the East Side Culture Crawl. Can’t wait!


Ghosts of Old Victoria

As I said in my previous post, during my recent trip to Victoria I went on a ghost walking tour. It was fairly entertaining (our guide was quite a good storyteller), and I learned quite a bit about the history of Victoria, though of course it didn’t convince me that ghosts are real.

As I said in my previous post, during my recent trip to Victoria I went on a ghost walking tour. It was fairly entertaining (our guide was quite a good storyteller), and I learned quite a bit about the history of Victoria, though of course it didn’t convince me that ghosts are real.

Starting Out

We started out near the harbour. Our guide—an older gentleman with a nice hat and a cane topped by a silver skull–got the ball rolling by asking, “What are ghosts?” He went on for a bit about how ghosts are energy, and the law of conservation of energy says they never go away, so we’re surrounded by ghostly energy all the time. Sometimes we see ghosts, sometimes we hear them, or feel a cold breeze, or something. And anytime you don’t know exactly where some random sensation comes from, you should ditch logic and consider the supernatural. Seriously, this was a textbook Argument from Ignorance.

Sigh. I guess I expected the bullshit pseudoscience and broken logic, but this wasn’t really getting me in the mood. I wanted gory tales of death and dismemberment and ghostly torment, dammit! Everybody else seemed to be eating it up, though, especially once he gave us instructions on sensing ghostly energy with the palm of our hands. The trick is to rub the thumb on the opposite palm quickly (do this with both hands), then sort of feel around, or slowly put both hands together, and if you feel a tingling or prickling it’s totally that you’re sensing your own energy. No other possible explanation!


The Empress Hotel

Anyway, on to the ghost stories! Our first stop was on the harbour, in front of the Empress Hotel. The Empress, dontcha know, is one seriously haunted hotel.

The Empress Hotel

Apparently almost every room and corridor has a story attached to it, but our guide focused on two. First, the eighth (and topmost) floor of the West tower is haunted. Apparently, in the 60’s when that whole wing was under construction, a workman was up in the unfinished 8th floor and saw weird moving shadows, of a body swinging back and forth, but there was nobody there! The man was scared out of his gourd, and immediately quit. Further investigation revealed that a worker had hanged himself there about a year (I think) previously, but management had hushed up the whole thing so as not to scare away employees or guests.

Our guide claims to have worked at the Empress during the 60’s, but got the story second-hand through another employee; he never spoke to the worker who saw (or claimed to see) the apparition. Maybe there never was such a worker. Maybe the whole story is just urban legend. Who knows? This happened 45 years ago, and the top floor (supposedly) remained vacant or unfinished since then. 10 years ago they converted the floor to luxury suites. I don’t remember if those suites are said to be particularly haunted. But they probably are.

The Empress Hotel's West Tower

He also told us about a ghostly old woman who haunts the 6th floor of the same wing. You’ll hear a knock at the door, and open to an old lady in pajamas, who seems lost and confused. You try to help her find her room, and she leads you to the elevator. Then about that point, she vanishes. The story goes that she was a winter guest at the hotel many years ago, who simply died of natural causes. Her spirit stayed in the room, but got brutally evicted when that room was torn out to make room for the elevators. Now she wanders around lost, unable to rest because ghosts don’t like change.


Burial Boxes and Floating Heads

Moving a little bit up the harbour, the guide pointed out the Inn at Laurel Point, clearly visible across the bay at night with its green neon “L” sign. This is the setting of the next story. The Songhees people (the Nation whose traditional territory includes the Victoria area) have a custom of burying important people in boxes either placed high up in trees, or buried in the ground. One such burial site was at Laurel Point, but was torn up by an evil enterpreneur who built his house and shop on the desecrated site. Soon after, the shop went up in flames. The owner’s wife is said to have seen something emerge from the flames, but it’s not clear what. She got sick and died a few weeks later; the coroner’s verdict was that she “died of fright”.

The land was sold to William Pendray (one of the biggest industrialists in Victoria then) and a factory was built on the site. But a string of weird accidents and occurrences kept happening; Pendray’s son died when his horse spooked and threw him off and somehow his head was cut off by a cart wheel. Four years later, Pendray himself died while inspecting his factory when a pipe fell on his head. Pendray’s house is now part of Gatsby Mansion, an upscale little hotel right by Laurel Point. The spirits don’t try to kill people anymore, but it’s supposedly still haunted. If you stay in room #5, you will see two ghostly heads emerge from the walls and sort of circle each other. They may try to talk, but their words are impossible to make out. These heads are Pendray and son, haunting the places of their untimely deaths.

PS: the deaths of the Pendrays are documented fact, though I suspect details in the guide’s story are exaggerated. For example, all the sources on the Net mention only that Pendray Jr. was thrown from his horse.

PPS: there’s a simple way to disprove the haunting story. The guide said that anybody, even skeptics, will see these heads if they stay the night in room #5.


Haunted Kitchen

Next stop: Nautical Nellie’s. The kitchen is said to be haunted, with various poltergeist-y activities: rattling cookware, occasionally thrown objects, that sort of thing. What’s odd is that there are no records of murders or violent deaths in that spot, which is usually an indicator of restless spirits.

The real (for certain values of “real”) story is this: back in the 1850’s, the spot was part of Fort Victoria, with the palisades, fur storehouses… and cannons. In 1846 those cannons were used to shoot at a chief’s house across the bay, whose subjects were hostile and needed to be intimidated; thankfully, nobody was home and nobody died. In 1853, Governor Douglas was coming into the harbour; as he rounded Laurel Point, the fort fired its cannons to greet him. Some guy (I forget his function, either a junior officer or civilian) was leaning too close to the cannon and didn’t hear the warning, and got his hand shot off. The story goes that Douglas saw this hand fly overhead, and the crew of his ship unsuccessfully tried to retrieve it.

It is apparently this hand that’s haunting Nautical Nellie’s kitchen.


Waiting for the Flood

Right next door to Nautical Nellie’s is Red Fish Blue Fish, another fine seafood restaurant. It is also the former old Customs House, built in 1875 and still standing to this day. At the time, the customs house was generally hated by Victoria’s population because it was a symbol of broken promises. When BC joined Confederation in 1871 Victoria was promised a railway, but the terminus ended up in Vancouver instead. I’m not really clear how politicians expected the train to cross the water, but hey. Worse, the customs house took a cut from all the commerce coming into Victoria—and there was a lot—and sent it out to faraway Ottawa.

That’s not the ghost story, that was just a bit of history to put us in the mood. And honestly, as a tourist I do appreciate all these little tidbits of Victoria history. But here’s the ghost story:

Emily Carr (yes, that Emily Carr) was born in 1871, the same year BC became part of Canada, not far from where the customs house would be built. As a young child (it’s said) she hung out on the docks in this very spot by the customs house, listening to tall tales from an… uncle? family friend? I don’t remember and my notes aren’t clear. Anyway, there was one particular story she loved, of a great wave coming in from the sea and washing over the buildings. She’d spend hours at the window (of the customs house, apparently) watching out for this fantasy tidal wave. It’s said she’s there to this day. The guide pointed out one window on the ground floor of the customs house, where a ghostly image of the child Emily may sometimes be seen.

Carr died on March 2nd 1945, at the James Bay Inn, which at the time was operated as a hospital. It is said she still haunts room 115, where she died. I don’t remember what the guide said about apparitions in that rooms, but they’re probably not frightening. Incidentally, this means that Carr is haunting two places at the same time. This makes sense if you think of ghosts as echoes, projections, as opposed to disembodied consciousnesses, but the guide never brought that up—maybe hoping the group wouldn’t pick up on the apparent contradiction. I guess ghosts can be whatever you want them to be, and the more stories the better.


The Steamship Valencia

We walked over to the north end of the wharf, and the guide related the sorry tale of the SS Valencia.

On January 22nd, 1906, the Valencia was coming in from San Francisco when she got lost in the fog, hit a reef near Pachena Point and ran aground. Though they were in sight of land, the waves and cold meant that few of the crew made it to shore to signal for help. Rescue ships could not approach the wreck but managed to pick up some survivors in lifeboats. On January 24th a large wave washed the wreck off the rocks, killing all remaining passengers on board. In all, out of the approximately 150 passengers and crew, only 37 men survived (and no women or children).

Since then, there have been a number of rumours and ghosts sightings of the Valencia or her dead crew. Sometimes the ship itself is seen reenacting its destruction; one time, a lifeboat is claimed to be found with skeletons on board but always disappears before an investigation can be mounted. According to the guide the Valencia “wants to be remembered”.

PS: interesting factoid, it seems the Valencia is the only ghost ship in the area.


Cradles and Ley Lines

The supernatural isn’t all about suicides and tragic deaths. Some of it is positive. Songhees Point (opposite Laurel Point, and together with it forming the entrance to Victoria’s inner harbour) was known to the local people as “Place of the Cradle” or “Cradle-board.” This name came from the tradition of leaving infants’ cradles in that place as soon as they were old enough to walk, to give them luck and long life.

Then the guide went off on a tangent about Stonehenge; why is it there, out in the middle of nowhere? Turns out it aligns perfectly with other special landmarks, all the better to carry energy or something. Oh crap, I thought, he’s talking about ley lines.

Yes indeed. Did you know there’s a ley line in Victoria? It’s several city blocks wide (really) and about 5km long, stretching from Place-of-the-Cradle through Bastion Square, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and ending at the 7th fairway of the Victoria Golf Course. No, really. Naturally, that fairway is haunted—by a woman who was murdered there, though my notes don’t have any juicy details.

I know what you’re thinking: do these places actually line up? Well, sure… as long as you accept that the ley line is “several blocks wide”. Songhees Point is almost exactly due west of Bastion Square. That might or might not be a problem, since the Square isn’t exactly aligned east-west, pointing more towards the Delta Victoria Inn. Likewise, St. Andrew’s is pretty much due east of Bastion Square, so those line up okay. But the golf course, and especially the 7th fairway (which I believe is at the southern end of the course, hugging the coastline), is way off. You’d really need to stretch to align that with the other 3 landmarks. The Oak Bay Marina is a much better fit, but I guess there aren’t any murder stories associated with it.

And really, in a city with such a rich history that kind of mystical math isn’t hard to do. Take a halfway regular street grid, a good mix of Native and colonial landmarks, give yourself enough leeway, and you’re good to go.

At this point we got away from the harbour and crossed into Bastion Square. The guide pointed out the Commerce Canoe, a recently-commissioned piece of art. It definitely looked like a reference to the old Songhees custom of burying their dead in canoes up in trees, but the guide hinted that there was more than that. The canoe, he said, pointed towards Laurel Point.

Part of another ley line? Did he get it confused with Songhees Point? Because the Commerce Canoe most definitely does not point towards Laurel Point, that’s too far south. As I remember it, and as my photo suggests, it’s pretty well aligned with the street, which means it points a bit north of due west.

Commerce Canoe


The Hanging Judge

The website advertised “narrow streets and back alleys of Old Town”, but up to that point, there hadn’t been any back alleys. Now that was about to change! Our guide first pointed out the BC Maritime Museum, which is—you guessed it—haunted. Many people have reported feeling pressure (not just slight, but a strong shove), seeing a strange “burly man”… sorry, my notes aren’t too clear on this. Bottom line: haunted. He took us on a side alley, turning only a couple times but that was enough to completely lose me. We ended up in a little courtyard behind the museum (I think), and there we went inside.

It was a little side room, with a dozen or so chairs, and some weird decor I’ll get to in a moment. We sat down and he regaled us with some old tales of the museum from when it was a courthouse and gallows. There was a particularly nasty judge, lots of hangings, and since we’re talking criminals here, a lot of them didn’t have anyone to claim their body, so they were buried on the premises.

The room we were in was either designed to play up the “ghost” theme, or else it was co-rented by a coven of cheap gothy Wiccans. The only illumination came from a couple windows and a couple lamps with very dark lampshades. In one corner was a sort of Hallowe’en graveyard display, with cardboard tombstones and a sad plastic skeleton with a missing leg.

One girl sitting by herself at the very back seemed… kind of spaced out. She looked either still cold or really nervous about the whole ghost thing, and I kept waiting for her to scream that she saw a ghost. Honestly, I couldn’t help wondering if she was a plant, there to ramp up the spooked-out atmosphere and thus make everybody else more likely to “see” something.

Nobody did, unfortunately, even those that went into the very dark corner that was lousy with ghost energy—or so the guide said. You’d be likely to feel physical pressure or strong tingling on the palms of your hands that you just rubbed with your thumbs. Unfortunately, that was kind of a bust too.

We went back out into the (comparatively better-lit) night for the last leg of our trip.

Lars and the Skeleton


Helmcken Alley

The big attraction here was the haunted well. It seems that in the spring of 1858, during the Gold Rush, a group of miners were camping out in what’s now Helmcken Alley, just outside the site of Fort Victoria. One of them lost a ladle (according to my notes) down the well, and bribed a boy to retrieve it, but the boy fell and died. The well remained, but was eventually covered by subsequent buildings until 1975, when it was rediscovered, then nicely bricked up and made the focal point of the lobby. This apparently ticked off the boy’s spirit and now he causes… actually, I’m not sure what, my notes don’t say. But it’s not good. Apparently if you look at night, or take pictures without a flash, you see… something. Which I thought was very silly, because what you’re seeing is reflections on the glass outside the lobby.

The alley just outside the building is also said to be haunted. Long ago, chain gangs used to march back and forth down this alley. One of them was murdered by the guards. Some say you can hear the clang of chains. Sometimes.

Haunted Well

In Conclusion

Okay, so that was pretty entertaining, a nice way to spend an hour and a half in a city you’re not too familiar with. And aside from the supernatural stuff it was quite educational—gotta say, Victoria packed a lot of history in a mere century and a half. But for me, all the pseudo-scientific babble actually worked against suspending my disbelief, because I could spot the faulty logic. If it had been a straightforward “here’s what people are saying, here’s what they believe” tour, or a bunch of way over-the-top tales of tragic deaths and vengeful spirits, it would have been easier to swallow. Oh, well. So when I get another chance, I doubt I’ll go on another tour to try different routes.