holiday madness

Perhaps I'm too much of a traditionalist. Despite being wholeheartedly atheistic, I believe in holidays. I believe that holidays are for celebrating. They're for gathering with friends, family, and neighbours. They're for random acts of kindness, smiling at strangers on the street, mending fences with old adversaries. I believe in the Norman Rockwell painting, or at least some version of it that has smiling people, copious amounts of food, and warm gatherings. I believe in hyggelig - a Danish concept that doesn't translate well, but involves getting cozy with food, drink and good company.

So it burns my wick to see the holidays turned into an excuse for saving money on cheap trinkets, new electronics and clothes. Really? It's more important to get a cheap tv than spend quality time with the people important to you? Is it really worth it to line up at Best Buy at 3am to get a new iPad when you could be at home enjoying a day off? and is it really worth it when some poor shop-person gets trampled to death by crazed shoppers trying to get to the cheap laptops? That it remains such a massive consumer event makes me sad for the state of our society.

I myself will choose to stay home curled up with my other half and my kitties and be thankful for the stuff that I have. The stuff that I want can wait for another day.


fish nerds FTW!

Even though they're molecular biologists, this is possibly the best fish video ever made:


aahh, field season...

here's how my day went:

04:45 - rise & shine in Edmonton after less than 6 hours in the hotel & 5 hours sleep. Breakfast is not served.

05:15 - hotel check out & shuttle to airport.

05:30 - check in for charter flight to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. wait with no information for 2 hours. find out that weather is poor in Hope Bay.

07:30 - charter company decides to fly to Yellowknife. breakfast of casserole, sausage, chocolate cake (?!), yogurt, coffee, coffee, coffee

09:30 - arrive in Yellowknife. Sit on the plane for 35 minutes waiting for loading & fuelling during this "short layover"

10:05 - flight attendant declares that weather is still poor in Cambridge Bay & we should deplane. sit around charter terminal lobby.

11:00 - Logistics dude says that we'll fly to Cambridge Bay & then try to get in to Hope Bay. If weather doesn't improve, some people will stay overnight in Cambridge Bay & others will return to Yellowknife. Reboard plane & fly to Cambridge Bay. Bits & bites & more coffee on plane.

12:00 - Arrive in Cambridge Bay & deplane. Sit around airport terminal with no information.

14:00 - check-in people call my name & five others to come to desk. "retrieve your luggage, you're going back to Yellowknife". I pull my luggage off the truck.

15:00 - me and 10 other workers are loaded back on the jet & returned to Yellowknife. More bits & bites, more coffee.

16:00 - arrive in Yellowknife. Stand around in rain waiting for luggage & hotel shuttle.

16:30 - arrive at hotel & check-in. Informed to be back in the lobby by 06:00 tomorrow for flight back to Cambridge Bay.

17:30 - dinner at the wildcat. It's changed hands & the food isn't quite as posh anymore. I get the Musk-a-bou Stew (muskox & caribou). It arrives with delicious bannock, about 4 large potatoes-worth of thick-cut fries, and some random steamed veggies. OK, but not like I remember.

19:00 - back to the hotel. Feels like I should be sleeping.

good night all!


work. bleh.

and that's what my work schedule for the next 2 years just did. :P


you want me to swap what?

I have a confession to make. I'm a hoarder. seriously. Not like the ones you see on TV, with everything they've ever owned piled high to ceiling, but I'm a hoarder nonetheless.

I hoard books. I love books. Mostly fiction, but several works of non-fiction, particularly interesting (or maybe just pretty) textbooks, compilations of poetry, nicely bound classics that I find at the bookstore. Books.

This being earth week, there are loads of activities going on to promote sustainable living lowering our consumption of the earth's precious resources. And book-swapping is one of the ways we're supposed to do it.

But I can't. I just can't get rid of books. I love the smell and feel of a brand-new book that no one has sullied. I hate buying textbooks with someone else's highlighted passages. I can't even bring myself to sully the pages of my own texts. I rarely get rid of books - the only ones that you will ever find in a swap meet from me will be the ones that I truly disliked - random bits of pulpy sci-fi that my Dad left after his last visit, or giant tomes of fiction that I picked up in the discount bin outside the library, then discovered why they were in the discount bin in the first place, or maybe second hand textbooks that I picked up for courses that I didn't really want to take and wasn't interested in in the first place.

I won't give you a good book. Sorry about that. I'll read the good ones over and over, sometimes just turning back to a certain passage to remind myself of a plot twist, or a particularly juicy scene. I keep my books for years and years because eventually, I'll look back at it on my bookshelf and realize that I don't remember what colour hair the main character had, or where the antagonist grew up. I'll sit down and devour the whole thing over again in an afternoon.

Reading books for me is better than watching movies. My brain sees every character in vivid detail, hears the tone of every voice. Reading Bill Gaston's Sointula, I could smell the salty ocean air, feel the water beneath my kayak, taste the buttered clams on the beach. I've crawled through No Man's Land with Xavier in Three Day Road, and ridden on horseback through the prairies in The Englishman's Boy. I've experienced much of the world without leaving my seat.

So, I can't give you my books, not even for earth week. But would you like to have a sort through my closet? My wardrobe probably needs thinning.


reflections on Olympia

It's week 2 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter (well... spring) Olympics, and I just got home from the madness in Van City. I bought tickets 3 years ago, soooo excited to be a part of the Olympic experience, and let me tell you - it didn't disappoint. For all of the protesting, naysaying, lawsuits, skytrain hullaballoo, snowmelt, traffic concerns, police brutality, etc. etc. etc. leading up to the games, I was pleasantly surprised to find that downtown Vancouver was aburst with red & white patriotism, random explosions of "Oh Canada", dance parties, flags, facepaint and revelry. In fact, despite having lived in Vancouver for more than 6 years, I found myself reaching for my camera to take pictures of the scenery, the events, and the raucousness.

Not to say that there isn't a negative side. Yes, it cost too much. I think that the time is quickly coming when hosting the big O in a new city every 2 years isn't going to be feasible. It costs a fortune! Of course, we couldn't predict that the economy would take to the sewers 18 months before the opening ceremony. and we can't do anything about the warmest winter on record (except reduce, reuse & recycle people!!). And there are lots of people who say that the Olympic budget should include the upgrades to the Sea-to-Sky highway and Canada Line... but seriously, aren't you soooo damn happy that you can take Skytrain from the airport to downtown in 20 minutes for half the price of a cab? Those are the types of things that people will wonder how they ever lived without in a few months.

There were also a lot of logistical issues that really should have been given more thought. We were up at Cypress for the first day of competition, watching Jennifer Heil win silver in the women's moguls. The moguls was actually the best event that we saw - the crowd was incredible, the action was amazing, great views (even from the cheap seats) and generally revelry all around. But the weather sucked balls - it poured down rain all day and there was only one warming tent that was about half the size of an elementary school gymnasium to give shelter to the 10-15,000 people that were up there. And the timing of the event meant that all of those people headed for the concession during the break between preliminaries & the final from 5 until 7 pm. Dinner time, right? so you'd think that they'd have a plan to manage the crowds around the concessions? nope. It was terribly poorly planned. 2-3 hour waits to get food, 15-20 minutes for the pleasure of cramming your soggy, down & fleece-padded body into an over-full portapotty, and no where else to go. Nobody knew what line-up they were in, how long it would take, or where the end of it was. RJ (miraculously) put his hunger on the back burner and managed to make it all the way to 10pm before eating anything more substantial than a rice cake - I was so proud. Good thing the event itself was so damn awesome!

We were also pleasantly surprised to find that there were hundreds of free cultural events all over town. Surprised, because it wasn't really advertised well! There were pavilions all over town (like Expo, but more spread out), but we couldn't find any central source of information to find out where they all were, what was inside, and whether it was worth spending 2 hours in the line or not to get in. You'd think that someone from Expo 86 would still be around who remembers the guidebooks that rated the pavilions, provided information on what they contained, whether they were kid-friendly, was there food, and how much did it cost? I would have been far more likely to spend my time in line if I knew what I was waiting for. Good thing we had some good guidance from friends who pointed us towards some worthwhile events and attractions!

Anyway, the Vancouver Olympics were, in general, a ton of fun. I haven't seen so many people in the city.. well... ever! Granville was rockin', Robson was crammed. We even waited the 7 hours in line to scream (literally) over the heads of the revelers in Robson Square on a zip line. I felt more patriotism than I ever have in my life, I saw some amazing and inspirational athletes, and I went home content that while I'll be paying for that experience for the rest of my life, at least I got to enjoy it! 8/10 on the amazing scale.



If there's one thing I hate, it's ignorance. Ignorance, in my opinion, is the only true stupidity because it not only requires an absence of knowledge, it requires someone to willfully turn their cheek against new information. One of the most prolific forms of ignorance that I see these days is the belief that common folk know waaaaay more than those nerdy, lab-bound scientists who are always telling us to change the way we do things. Take, for example, the caller to the CBC the other day.

The noon-hour show, BC Almanac was discussing the recent recommendation from the David Suzuki Foundation (backed up by a host of scientists in peer-review) that at least 50% of British Columbia be "conserved" in order to limit the impacts of global warming and provide a buffer for species that will need to adapt to a warming climate. I put "conserve" in quotation marks because they weren't actually advocating that we set aside half of the province in a giant no-touch zone.. rather, they were advocating a more science-based management scheme that would address the needs of whole ecosystems. Forestry would still be allowed, but it would be managed differently. Ditto with other forms of land use. Sustainability would be promoted, and more effort would be spent on replanting forests, salvaging already cut wood, collecting waste material for biofuels, etc..

And of course the first caller was someone who didn't believe a word of it.

"The government already set aside 12% of the province in parks and that's enough. We need jobs, so we need to cut down all the trees we can. Scientists sit around in their labs and offices and make these recommendations, but they don't know anything about where we live."

We sit around in our labs? We don't know what's going on out there? I'm sorry, but most of the scientists I know spend the vast majority of their lives constantly studying - in the lab, in the field, in the community - in order to make recommendations like this. And a sustainable economy will still have jobs - they just won't be the type that you're used to. You might now make as much, but the days when you could make $70-grand a year just for driving a truck are coming to close, and they're not coming back. We need to put more value into using the resources we have, and less into just cutting them down and sending them away.

Anyway, this type of willful ignorance of science and how's it's done drives me nuts. I'm a scientist, I'm from a small town, and I spend a lot of time out there looking at what is best for the environment. I don't take any recommendations like this lightly. But when a recommendation like this is made, there has to be some effort by the people out there to understand why it's recommended, what it will really mean for them, and what they can do to mitigate the effects on themselves and on the environment.


literature, updated

so as I was driving home from work today, Jo-Ann Roberts and Jen Sookfong-Lee were discussing the re-issuance of older books by publishers. The books that publishers tend to reissue are not so much the classics, but more the commercial successes, and many of the new editions are of children's books. Some of the books that publishers are re-issuing include the Sweet Valley High series for pre-teens (girls, mainly). To keep the books current with kids in this day and age, they've had to edit a few things. They've taken out references to typewriters, lavender high-tops, and other dated fashions and technologies. They've also updated the girls themselves.. You remember how the main characters were a perky, preppy, pair of blond twins named Jessica and Elizabeth? They were described in the original novels as "a perfect size 6". Well, in the updated versions, they've had some lipo and are now described as a "perfect size 4".

Who the hell decides these things? The fact that you were telling young girls that any dress size was more desirable than others was bad enough, but at least a size 6 is reasonably healthy for many young girls. Now they have to strive to be even skinnier to be "perfect"?? I'm not sure if it was the publisher or the author who made these changes, but whoever it was, shame on you. With all of the publicity focused on eating disorders and the pressure that young girls face to be thin, determining the perfection of your antagonists based on their dress size is just despicable.


humanists help

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti (honestly, could there be a worse place for this to occur?), I'd like to point my friends to a few of my favorite secular charities. I'm still seething over the bigotry and hatred promoted today by this piece of garbage, so please consider showing that atheists can be better than that! Some organizations take donations as small as $5 online, and every penny counts.

Canadian Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
Plan International
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Oxfam Canada

If you're not in Canada, changing the ".ca" to ".com" will usually take you to the American counterpart.