The Road to Kamloops

Oh, and I took pictures before, during and after Imagine No Religion! The weather was fine throughout and if I do say so, I took some awesome shots. I’m particularly proud of my shot of Merritt after we left it, lightly kissed by the setting sun.

Plus, the Kamloops flora and fauna. I didn’t see any magpies this time because I didn’t go on a long walk, but there was this species of tree growing by the convention centre parking lot. It had very thin leaves, of a light silvery-green colour. What kind of tree was that? My googling suggested some kind of spruce, but I don’t know anything about trees, so… All I know is, I’ve never seen one in Vancouver. They must like the drier climates.

Highway 1

Coquihalla Hwy

Coquihalla Hwy

Coquihalla Valley farm

Friday night sunset

Tree and mountains

Stopping for gas in Merritt

Oh, and a moonshot. This was pretty much the only time of day I can take photos of the moon: late enough that it’s clearly visible, but with enough light for my camera to work.

Half moon

Leaving Merritt

I think I heard one of my friends say this is the Coquihalla summit.

Coquihalla Hwy

Imagine No Religion 3, Day 2

Day 2, from DJ Grothe to Daniel Dennett

D.J. Grothe

Skepticism is about doing good by being right

That’s how D.J Grothe, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, summarised their mission and their work. The JREF has been working to expose psychics, faith healers and other fakes for years, through the Million Dollar Challenge, as well as outreach, literature, podcasts They never engage the credulous, because they are not the bad guys. Skepticism, as Grothe reminds us, is not about some snooty elitists in a bar finding reasons why Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Psychics and fakes hurt and exploit people, usually at their most vulnerable.

And the JREF is moving into the classroom! At the JREF table in the lobby were copies of their excellent new classroom kits, designed to teach skepticism to high school kids.

William B. Davis: Living With Belief

Yes, William B. Davis, the Cigarette-Smoking Man from X-Files. He started by talking about his early life, dealing with religion. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary growing up in rural Ontario in the 50’s: learning that Jews are bad in Grade 2; having people try to save him after publicly admitting he’s not a Christian in high school… thankfully, he found other unbelievers in university.

After he became part of X-Files, people naturally assumed he believed in UFOs, but it was always just a gig to him. Still, he was curious, so he did some research, found Barry Beyerstein and CSICOP, and now he’s got arguments against UFOlogists!

But speaking of X-Files, he did also mention how Dawkins (who he greatly admires) once criticised the show for feeding paranormal beliefs. And you know, that’s one thing that bothered me too, even before I identified as a skeptic. But what could Davis do? He didn’t want to quit. In the end he decided that the show wasn’t that bad, and he didn’t really see that it increased beliefs in UFOs. Fair enough, I probably would have done the same.

He ended with criticism of Stephen Harper, and how the biggest issue of our time is climate change.

So that was interesting. A bit scattered but engaging.

Cristina Rad: The Nature of Evil

Christina (aka ZOMGitsCriss is a Romanian YouTuber, and she’s freaking hilarious. Go check out her videos now. Her talk was not about the nature of evil, that’s just a title she came up with for the schedule. No, the talk is about anti-theism. If you don’t believe it’s important to speak up, because religious beliefs are still shaping the world. A secular world may not be paradise, but at least it’d be one less excuse to oppress and discriminate.

Bottom line? Don’t be a dick. But don’t be a pussy either.

And seriously, check out her channel!

Sean Faircloth: Attack of the Theocrats

Sean Faircloth is an attorney and former Maine state senator (in his last term, he was the Majority Whip). He came to talk to us about religious fundamentalism, and how it’s a booming business. American-style religiosity is exported to countries like Uganda, and even New Zealand: it seems NZ has special religious education in the public school system. Kids of minority religions have segregated and punished for no reason. In Canada, public funding is increasingly going to right wing Christian or Muslim schools.

But all is not lost! Humanists and freethinkers can be organised as well.

If the religious right can organise for intolerance and injustice then we can organise for reason and science and compassion

Victor Stenger: The Atheistic Atom

Dr Stenger is not a very engaging speaker, I’m sorry to say. The main thrust of his talk was that atomic theories and atheism have historically gone hand-in-hand. From the early Greek philosopher who believed that the vengeful gods of stories didn’t exist (and if any gods did exist, they didn’t care about humankind) to Renaissance scientists who rediscovered their theories, to modern scientists who discovered that atoms are themselves divisible…

He went over the Standard Model quite a bit, but there was no explicit link to atheism. Is it that visualising the universe as a collection of particles interacting in quantifiable ways tends to lead to atheism? Maybe. My notes don’t say. A crash course on particle physics is not really what I signed up for.

Aron Ra: How Religion Reverses Everything

Hey look, his talk is on YouTube! The bottom line: religious fundamentalism turns everything upside down. Knowledge and progresss are disdained, ignorance is elevated, abstinence is preached but never practised (Evangelical xians have the highest divorce, teen pregnancy and abortion rates), religious people are more likely to condone torture or the death penalty, and on and on.

Also, heavy metal caused a drop in violent crime in 1981. There was a similar drop in the mid-90’s, possibly due to the availability of downloadable porn. Check it out at 22:00

Taslima Nasrin: A Woman’s Life in a Muslim Country

Dr. Nasrin is a writer who was exiled from her native Bangladesh for criticising Islamic misogyny. There are fatwas against her even in India, and her writings are banned in her native country.

(I took very few notes during her talk because it was so engrossing.)

Daniel Dennett: Non-Believing Clergy

The closing keynote speech was a whopper. Dr. Dennett talked about his work with non-believing clergy

It’s got to be a horrible situation, and Dr. Dennett was very good about making us empathise. You grow up believing that priests / ministers are all good people, doing good for others, so naturally you want to join them. But then you get to a seminary, and you have to actually question and analyse scriptures, taught by people who may be a lot more cynical and jaded than you. It’s a shock, and apparently a lot of such schools have counselors specifically to deal with crises of faith.

Even if you make it through, it’s an incredibly isolating life. Non-believing priests may think they’re the only one to doubt, probably don’t have any peers they can spill their guts to (especially not their parishioners) and in general will feel trapped in a non-believing closet. If they quit, they’re letting their flock and their own dreams down. It’s a dreadful bind.

Mind you, that’s if they make it through. Fewer and fewer prospective priests are even making it through religious schools; on top of that, fewer and fewer people are called to the priesthood; worst of all for religious authorities, fewer and fewer parents are successfully passing on their religious traditions to their children. What will happen to religious structures when they run out of people?

Dr. Dennett used an excellent analogy, that of the cell. Now, biological cells can be reduced to just a few processes and elements: a membrane, to keep the insides in and the outside out; energy consumption, to keep on living; and reproduction. Could we look at social groups in the same way? In this analogy, energy would be cash to keep the group going; the membrane would be whatever hoops one has to go through to join; and reproduction would be whatever is necessary to keep the group going or expanding.

We looked at four types of social cells: Japanese tea ceremony schools; debutante cotillion training programs; Ponzi schemes; and religion. Without going into too many details, the first two are very similar in that members pay buttloads of money for something that is supposed to enhance social status but (a) serves no actual social purpose and (b) at least for cotillions is increasingly seen as silly and irrelevant in today’s world. For the last two, people often get started without realising what they’re getting themselves into, and by the time they realise the costs it’s too late to easily quit.

And what will the world look like in a generation or two, when today’s religions have shrunk or mutated beyond recognition? Will the Vatican be reduced to a museum and gift shop? Will Mecca be a Disney subsidiary? What social structures will replace churches? Should we need to worry about it? How painful will the transition be? That’s still an open question, obviously, but we can can find clues by looking at the deeply secular parts of Western Europe and Australia: people still form relationships, and find purpose in their lives. You don’t need religion or religious social clubs to do that. The reactionary elements will fight back, of course, but that’s another story.

Imagine No Religion 3, Day 1

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go this year. Last year’s INR was fun, and had some great speakers, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out the bucks again. But then a friend of mine was going, and needed both a ride and a roommate, so I figured what the hell.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go this year. Last year’s INR was fun, and had some great speakers, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out the bucks again. But then a friend of mine was going, and needed both a ride and a roommate, so I figured what the hell.

And I’m glad I went! The drive was lovely as always, and the speakers were generally excellent.

Dr. K. Sohail: Secular Ideas, Humanist Ideals

The first talk was by Dr. K. Sohail, an ex-Muslim secular humanist and psychotherapist. He started with the story of his childhood in conservative Pakistan, surrounded by superstition and hardline dogma but also—fortunately—a couple of freethinking older relatives who encouraged his questioning, and how he gradually moved away from religion.

His talk was mainly on the harm caused by organised religion, both to individuals (eg: blind faith, wilfull ignorance, sexual guilt and other problems) and societies (eg: discrimination, violence). He’s seen both, first-hand: in particular, he told of a holy war against India taking place when he was 13, and how he was swept up in the fervor of it all.

But Dr. Sohail’s focus was on compassion, and how important it is if you want to establish a dialog with religious people and form intercultural alliances. Freedom of religion (other spiritual paths) and freedom from religion (secularism) can both challenge organised religion. Having multiple faiths coexisting peacefully is a step in the right direction.

Other people’s journeys had helped me, maybe my journey would help others.

Peter Boghossian: Street Epistemology

Dr. Boghossian used material from his upcoming book A Manual for Creating Atheists to give us some extra tools for talking people out of their faiths. The basic idea is that religious people can be classified on a scale, starting with “pre-contemplative” (not questioning their beliefs at all, being 100% convinced of their truths). The goal is not to immediately create freethinkers, but to nudge people up on the scale of non-belief.

He went over one technique he called “street epistemology:” because it can be used anywhere, even on the street, and it focuses on faith as epistemology. It’s not about debunking particular beliefs; precontemplative people, Boghossian argues, wouldn’t be receptive to facts and education. However, they may respond to being asked why and how they believe the things they believe, turning their focus on themselves without any need for defensiveness.

Thing is, though… that technique may work in his practice, in controlled conditions, but I question whether it’s particularly useful on the street. It’s certainly one more tool in your rhetorical kit, but people can find a lot of rationalisations for the kookiest beliefs.

Another thing that bothered me, and this hit me only after several hours of picking away at it, was that his approach to street evangelism seemed condescending and even manipulative. In my notes, I wrote that it was a more aggressive counterpoint to Dr. Sohail’s talk, with a different tone but with similar goals. But then I realised it really wasn’t. Dr. Boghossian repeated several times the phrase “sitting at the adult table” to mean have a rational discussion about one’s beliefs and epistemology, and if you couldn’t do that there was no point in having a conversation. My problem is that approaching people to evangelise to them, while looking down on them in that way, is not a good attitude to have. This is not the compassion espoused by Dr. Sohail, it feels more like pity.

Plus, it’s inaccurate. As a couple other speakers prove over the weekend, even precontemplative people can be de-converted by facts and education. Even when those facts come from New Atheists like Dawkins or Hitchens.

Aruna Papp: Unworthy Creature

Aruna Papp grew up as the daughter of a church pastor (Seventh Day Adventist) in India. All her life she was despised just for being a girl, and her mother equally despised for giving birth only to daughters. Married against her will, her family relocated to Canada—a good Christian country, she was told, almost paradise. She started taking classes, making friends with other immigrant women who were also abused, and eventually found her independence.

This deeply moving talk got the first standing ovation of the day.

Richard Carrier: Bayes’ Theorem

After a lunch break, we’re back to academia! Here Dr. Richard Carrier looks at the question of the historicity of Jesus using Baye’s Theorem as a starting point to discuss how likely the Jesus story is, versus other dead and resurrected saviours.

Turns out, there are quite a lot of them—including Romulus, which I didn’t know—and they can be ranked according to a checklist.

A fascinating talk, though the mathematical stuff went a bit over my head. But I learned a few neat factoids, a couple new historical terms, so it’s all good.

Christopher DiCarlo: The Future of Ethics

Dr. DiCarlo examined the problem of free will. Namely, how much do we really have? Total free will? Some free will? None at all? Some probably have more than others, being pulled and pushed by faulty brain chemistry… So the question is, what if there is no free will? What if we are nothing more than agents in complex webs of systems?

The goal, then, is to understand and model these systems. This is what he calls the Onion Skin Theory of Knowledge (or OSTOK); like onion skins, knowledge modeled this way would be extremely complex and multilayered.

This is actually not too different from this talk last year. And maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how this new conceptualisation of human behaviour can really move us further along, since we don’t know how much free will we actually have. So that was a bit disappointing.

Louise Antony: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Friendships are based on common values, not metaphysics. It shouldn’t stand in the way of making common cause.

And that’s mostly what I got from Dr. Antony’s talk. She admitted at the start that she was going off script (I think, to respond to earlier talks), so it ended up kind of rambly and disorganised. Originally it was going to be a double challenge: to theists, it was to speak out against extremists of their own religion as much as we do. To New Atheists, it was to avoid replacing religious extremism with atheist extremism.

Which… is a really problematic equivalence. It’s true that secularism is no guarantee of ethical behavior, but using the Tuskegee Experiments (done “in the name of science”) as an example that science can be just as bad? No. So, I didn’t get a lot out of this talk either

Brian Dalton: Mr. Deity

I guess I’ve been horribly deprived, because I’ve never watched Mr. Deity. Well, I’m remedying that as we speak. I didn’t take any notes during his talk, which largely consisted of clips of his show.

Zoltan the Adequate

After dinner, we had a fun little magic show by a skeptical magician. Educational, too: he repeatedly counseled against looking down on victims of psychics and so on. It’s too easy to say, “well, they deserve it for being stupid/ignorant/gullible”, and easier to say “I’d never fall for such obvious scams.” But we’re all human, and vulnerable people deserve our support, not our scorn. Educate them, sure. But it has to be done from a place of empathy. We the skeptics have to know what it’s like to feel stupid.

International Day Against Homophobia

Today was the International Day Against Homophobia. One way we celebrate it here in Vancouver is with the IDAH breakfast, organised by Qmunity. This event brings together local VIPs, politicians, business owners, as well as ordinary folks who can afford the ticket for a couple hours of eating, schmoozing and inspirational talks. The theme this year was: Homophobia and transphobia in sports. It was my first IDAH breakfast, and I was there with several other members of the VGVA board.

All the talks were wonderful and inspiring. Anita Braha, of the Vancity board of directors, spoke about Vancity’s commitment to inclusion and a healthy sustainable communities. Apparently, it was only in the 70’s that husbandless women could sign for a mortgage in their own name (sorry i dont remember the exact date); Braha and her partner were the first lesbian couple to get a mortgage from Vancity.

Next up was Louise Cowin, Vice-president of Students at UBC. Among other things, she is responsible for student athletics. She spoke of the continuing stigma against queer, trans and gender-variant players, even in places of higher education where you would think the only thing that matters is achievement. And, she shared some anecdotes from her own adolescence in the 70’s, where she was forced to undergo a test to determine is she was really female. Such tests were only discontinued in 1999, and even today female athletes (whatever their sexual orientation) have to go out of their way to “prove” they really are properly female. We still have a long way to go.

But maybe not a very long way, as proved by the next speaker: Olympic gold medalist Ben Rutledge. He started out delivering what felt like nice cliches about when you’re training for the Olympics your teammates’ sexuality doesn’t matter, it’s what you can do together. But then (and I’m sorry I don’t remember in greater detail) he said something about not always making the best decisions about choosing your teammates, and then something about “being on the wrong side”… and choked up. Whoah. That was unexpected! I don’t know what mistakes he made in the past but clearly he still feels terrible about them. Someone handed him a kleenex and I think that was the end of his speech because the next thing I remember was a standing ovation.

And it just goes to show: people mess up. And that’s okay, as long as they learn from their mistakes and their hearts are in the right place. That’s what allies do.

The last speakers were Cory Oskam, a 16-year-old trans hockey player and his mother. She’s absolutely the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet, 100% supportive of Cory. She spoke of his early challenges, not really fitting in with girls or boys (until he proved his athletic talent, and then the boys totally accepted him!), refusing to wear any underwear except Superman boys’ briefs, and a few cutely embarrassing anecdotes which, as the mother of a teenager, she’s contractually required to share.

Cory is amazingly bright and articulate. I was stunned at his determination to make the world a better place for others, and his impressed by his decision to not choose a gender just yet. He said his gender is fluid, though he’s closer to the male end of the scale. But picking a gender is like picking a name, it’s something you have to put some thought into.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my mind is blown by kids today, how much smarter and freer of prejudice they can be compared to my generation. There’s still a lot of work to do, yes. But the future belongs to young people like Cory.

It’s made me think about VGVA, and the context in which it exists. After 30+ years, it’s an established part of the Vancouver cityscape; but in its early days, it and other queer sports leagues must have been incredibly revolutionary. The idea that gays can play sports? Now that’s just crazy talk!

But to some people, yes, its still crazy. And queers shouldn’t have to choose between their sexual / gender identity and their love of sports, as many still do if they’re surrounded with homophobic players. So there’s still a special role for groups like VGVA, and I need to remember that.

And maybe the timing’s a coincidence, but just this Monday the Vancouver Park Board passed a motion to create a working group to make parks, community centres, etc… inclusive and friendly to trans and gender-variant people. It’s a historic first step, and it couldn’t have happened without (a) activists spearheading the effort and (b) the support of straight and cis allies. I was there at the meeting, and though the list of speakers seemed interminable (it adjourned past 1PM!) I was deeply moved at everyone who came out and suported the motion and shared their stories.

The motion passed unanimously. It wasn’t a happy ending, it was a happy beginning. And on a different note, the whole evening was an interesting look at local politics, which I’ve never paid much attention to. But hey, who knows? This is another way I could make a difference…

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?

My nerdiness has grown up: thoughts on the Science and Technology Museum

I’ve been in Ottawa for the last 9 days visiting with my parents. Today we were supposed to drive to Montreal, see a couple of museums and have dinner with my brother, but a major snowstorm was moving in, and we decided to call it off. (Good thing, too, because Montreal was hit really hard and we would have had a horrible time.)

As a consolation, my dad and I decided to go to the Science and Technology Museum. I don’t think I’d been there since my teens, and jumped at the chance rediscover all the cool sciency stuff that had thrilled me as a budding nerd.

I’ve been in Ottawa for the last 9 days visiting with my parents. Yesterday we were supposed to drive to Montreal, see a couple of museums and have dinner with my brother, but a major snowstorm was moving in, and we decided to call it off. (Good thing, too, because Montreal was hit really hard and we would have had a horrible time.)

As a consolation, my dad and I decided to go to the Science and Technology Museum. I don’t think I’d been there since my teens, and jumped at the chance rediscover all the cool sciency stuff that had thrilled me as a budding nerd.

It was kind of disappointing, to be honest. Most of the old hands-on exhibits designed to teach little kids about science were gone. I remember one place where you could measure your hand-eye reaction time, another where you could create an electric arc between two poles, by cranking a handle over and over. And there was another big huge pendulum thing, filled with sand, swinging over a large circular space, and as it swung it traced its arcs on the floor below, back and forth, left and right. (There may have been more than one pendulum, too, though I wouldn’t swear to that). I think that last one was replaced by an interactive exhibit and quiz on Canada’s energy policies. Where the pendulum/pendula used to be, is now a big planet Earth. Where you could fill up swinging buckets with sand, are now four or five monitors where you can answer simple questions about renewable energy sources, your energy consumption, whether or not politicians, corporations or individual people should make the decisions about Canada’s energy future, and so on.

Still around, though: the Archimedes screw. Also still around: the gravity well simulator, where you could roll a little metal ball and watch it circle around the central hole as though it were actually orbiting it. They’ve got a similar device at Science World in Vancouver. But this one, in Ottawa, doesn’t use balls anymore (it used to, right? I think it did), instead using coins. And yes, coins do work pretty much as balls do—except loonies, their corners slow them way down—but that’s just weird. Did they run out of little balls at some point? Were toddlers swallowing the balls or something?

I didn’t actually use money, but I saw a family try it. I hope they were able to collect their money afterwards.

Other familiar stuff: the big locomotives. In my mind’s eye I kept seeing them as absolutely gigantic, five storeys high at least, instead of the 12–15 feet high they really are. We got to climb in the engine rooms and figure out what all the levers and gauges were for, and imagine what life must have been like for these men, zooming along at almost 100 miles an hour, only a couple tiny windows allowing you to see ahead, constantly having to monitor the health of this metal monster you’re riding, and shovelling coal in its maw…

CPR 3100

CPR 3100 engine

Oh, and the Crazy Kitchen is still there. Always popular with the kiddies, even though back then I was too sensitive to motion sickness to really enjoy it. But that’s not so much of a problem these days, and, well… just like the locomotives, the kitchen is way smaller than I remember. I went through it in just a few seconds, and it never occurred to me to stay and enjoy the spatial distortion.

But here’s the thing: what if the museum had remained completely unchanged from the days of yore? And what if I found out the old games and exhibits weren’t quite as awesome as I remember? The Archimedes screw kept me amused for all of 10 seconds and a couple photos. The big locomotives were better, since I could read up on their history and enjoy them on more levels than as a kid.

Likewise, the new exhibits: on the Canadian space program, the cool science that came out of it; on cars, from the very oldest to the newest and coolest electric ones; on Canada’s energy use and resources, kind of didactic but overall very good; on communications, networks and connections, featuring old-timey phones, radios, computers and TVs (plus, interesting history and Canadian milestones); other interesting science instruments. All of that was very, very awesome and educational, and—nerdy and precocious as I was—I don’t think I could have appreciated what they had to offer when I was younger.

Electric eels

Old calculating tools

I realise now I was doing the museum a disservice by seeing it only through my nostalgia goggles, and not giving the new stuff a chance. Things change, and that’s okay. I’ve changed, and that’s more than okay. Nowadays I get to enjoy googling Anik satellites and lovely arithmometres (so deliciously Steampunk!), tagging Flickr photos and of course blogging about it. My nerdiness has grown up, that’s all.

On the way out I donated $5, all the cash I had on me. Though the museum doesn’t have the magic I remember, it has a different magic, and is still just as kick-ass as it ever was. Although, my biggest disappointment? The gift shop didn’t have the cool phrenology head that was on display alongside other 19th-century paraphernalia. Now that would have been a hell of a souvenir!

Phrenology model

Flying from Toronto

On Tuesday I flew out east to spend Xmas with the family. Sadly, for most of the trip I did not have a window seat allowing me to take awesome aerial photos—and they probably wouldn’t have been that awesome anyway, since from what I could tell most of Canada was under cloud cover. However, I got a window seat on my connecting flight from Toronto, and though the weather was still mostly overcast (and snowing in Ottawa) I managed to snap some good pics of the roads around YYZ.

On Tuesday I flew out east to spend Xmas with the family. Sadly, for most of the trip I did not have a window seat allowing me to take awesome aerial photos—and they probably wouldn’t have been that awesome anyway, since from what I could tell most of Canada was under cloud cover. However, I got a window seat on my connecting flight from Toronto, and though the weather was still mostly overcast (and snowing in Ottawa) I managed to snap some good pics of the roads around YYZ.

On the ground at YYZ

Taking off from YYZ

The SW end of YYZ

Dixie Dr & Courtnenaypark Dr E

Courtnenaypark Dr E & Hwy 410

Highways 401, 403, 410


Freelance Camp 2012

I attended my second Freelance Camp this weekend. I won’t try to summarise the excellent talks, because I’m still digesting all the nuggets of wisdom and working to put them in practice. I will say that I met some amazing folks who are doing amazing things, and I feel more energised than ever about my freelancing career.

I attended my second Freelance Camp this weekend. I won’t try to summarise the excellent talks, because I’m still digesting all the nuggets of wisdom and pondering all the great tools I learned about and working to put it all in practice. I will say that I met some amazing folks who are doing amazing things, and I feel more energised than ever about my freelancing career.

And of course, since I pretty much never come down to New West except for FLC, I snapped a few photos around the quay.

The world's largest tin soldier

Three Bridges

And a cute photo of a sparrow I took the day before. Such a pretty little thing!

Sparrow in the morning

The Storm Crow

Went to the Storm Crow, a nerd-themed pub on Commercial, for a friend’s birthday. The food was so-so, but cheap, so no complaints there. The real draw is the atmosphere: D&D-style posters, and card/board games to play. Plus, a truly astounding collection of “Choose Your Adventure” books.

Went to the Storm Crow, a nerd-themed pub on Commercial, for a friend’s birthday. The food was so-so, but cheap, so no complaints there. The real draw is the atmosphere: D&D-style posters, and card/board games to play. Plus, a truly astounding collection of “Choose Your Adventure” books. A few photos of the evening:

On the way there:

Leaf turning red

A bench

Playing Building an Elder God:

Building an Elder God

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!