30 April 2010

Strange Synergies and Curious Coincidences

Skip back a bit first, to Earth Day (April 22). We were on the road. We left Grant's Pass Oregon in the morning and when we checked out, the desk offered us some bottled water for the road. Normally I would decline but as I knew we were likely to be in the van for most of the next 8 hours, I accepted it. Before I stashed it in the back seat, I looked at the bottle and snorted because it had traveled about as far as we were going to; the water had been bottled in Hope, B.C.

Sticking with the Earth Day theme, further along the highway we hit a stretch where there was a lot of paper swirling around and a few miles later, we hit a flattened cardboard box -- I watched as the box exploded into shrapnel in the rear view mirror, shrapnel that thankfully seemed to keep close to the ground. Another few miles and we caught up to the culprit. A flatbed semi-trailer was laden with bales of recycled mixed paper, one of which had come undone and was leaving a trail of recyclables along the I-5. "Happy Earth Day," said Hubby.

Today is Tax Day here in Canada -- most of us had until midnight tonight to file (we filed yesterday). Coincidentally (or maybe not) Kiddo's school hosted a "Math Arcade" tonight (though I was dismayed when one of the problems she was asked to answer gave her the "correct" answer only when BODMAS rules were ignored. Grr.). Anyway, she was keen to go and proved it by doing all the upper grade sections first (and correctly, I might add). Hubby asked her at one point why she hadn't done our taxes. I told her next year she could -- I'm sure she can't be any less accurate than H&R Block.

24 April 2010

Anatomy of the Drupalcon Roadtrip

I thought I would record some numbers about our trip... forgive me if this is boring. From home to the border it is a 30 minute drive, a 90 minute ferry ride, and another 30 minute drive; add in any wait time at the ferry plus at the border and you're looking at 3-4 hours, so the following times and distances are outside of those:

On the way down, we did the trip in three days:
Blaine, WA to Portland, OR: 285 miles.
Portland, OR to Redding, CA: 421 miles. (through mountain passes)
Redding, CA to San Francisco, (via Mountain View, CA): 284 miles.
Total: 990 miles

On the way back, we did it in two:
San Francisco to Grant's Pass, Oregon (via Eureka): 438 miles.
Grant's Pass to Blaine, WA: 528 miles.
Total: 966 miles

All told, we spent approximately 36 hours in the car -- of that, I drove for about 5 hours while Hubby did the rest (something for which I am very thankful).

We crossed the border with a half tank of gas and came back with 3/4 tank; along the way, we spent about $315 for about 103 gallons of gas. (If we'd bought the same amount of gas in Victoria it would have cost us about $420.)

Along the side of the highway, I saw hundreds of shards of tires, three huge piles of diapers (possibly used, eww) inside a one mile stretch, roadkill including one coyote, three cats, countless raccoons, and half a deer. Yes, just half -- the back half. Eww.

I also saw vineyards, olive groves, turf farms, cows, goats, alpacas, signs telling me that God Forgave Me and that Farm Tours were available weekly. We drove through places with populations below 2,000, towns that sprawled through valleys, and cities offering everything one could want inside the city limits. We passed National Guard armories, army bases, hospitals, universities, and headquarters of major corporations. We ate at small cafes and four star restaurants. We saw folk art and fine art.

We left here tired and returned just plain exhausted.

19 April 2010

Of Conferences

As conferences and training go, I am used to two models: the academic (DHSI, Women's Conference, etc.) and the union (CUPE, CLC, etc.)-- both styles are hyper-organized and tend to run like well-oiled machines.

Drupal registration ran the same way (especially as I registered early, on Sunday) so I had no foreshadowing of what was to come. However, Hubby attended a pre-conference training day that was delayed by nearly 90 minutes as attendees tried to download and install the required software that was not suggested prior to arriving. I think the main difference is that Drupal is all about "the community" and empowering the people to lead their own -- which they really do best in the "Birds of a Feather"(or "BOF") meetings where people gather to discuss common challenges, applications or other aspects of Drupal.

But let's get back to the disorganization... this morning, the opening session was booked for one room -- one room that did not hold all 3,000 attendees. So they simulcast it in two other rooms but that was still not enough for all those who wanted to see it. After that, the next session ran very well but, not surprisingly, it was run by an academic -- all the other sessions I've attended have been run by techies and designers, many of whom seem to be either completely overwhelmed by the crowds or completely ignorant of any variation among the attendees. There has been much discussion over the fact that this Drupalcon is double the size of the last one which itself was double that of the previous one. Part of this growth is that they have moved beyond the open source fanatics and on to a wider variety of web-designers and developers. Drupal now powers roughly one percent of the web.

Oh, and moving 3000 people around 8 classrooms means a lot of full classrooms -- and by classrooms, I really mean rooms filled with chairs, a handful of electrical outlets and a whole lot of people trying to balance laptops and type without enough elbow room. The only time I opened my laptop was during the keynote when we sat at the lunch tables. There were traffic jams during each class change and lots of grumbling. Watching the #drupalcon discussion on Twitter (from my iPod Touch), I could see that wifi varied greatly from classroom to classroom.

Worst moment though was the last session we attended today, called "From Photoshop to Drupal Theme" that ran from 5:30-6:30. I had really been looking forward to it -- as had Hubby -- so we stayed. Unfortunately, 40 minutes in, when the presenters got to the point where we expected them to fire up Photoshop and show us the details, they said, "So that concludes our presentation, any questions?" There was a collective WTF murmur from the audience and several people asked them to walk us through it but the presenters refused telling us that they felt we all had the design skills -- DUDE!! If we had those skills would we have stayed late for your presentation??? I think not. Grr.

That said, I'm still learning lots -- plenty about accessibility testing, security settings, and planning for re-theming a site -- that I can apply to the CUPE 951 site and my other sites, so I'm not worried; I'm definitely still getting my money's worth. Hubby though? He should probably be on the podium instead of in the audience, and that's definitely something to chew on.

17 April 2010

Coffee and Google and Cars, OH MY.

So.... yesterday I uploaded this photo:


And I think it about describes the amount of coffee I need for each leg of this roadtrip. Today was not a good coffee day. It started with the the in-room coffee at La Quinta -- Maxwell House, which I made with 3 cups instead of 4 to make it stronger (sadly, that was my best coffee of the morning); then the breakfast bar served some barely-drinkable swill (which I drank) and then I stupidly followed that up with McCafe(TM) on the road. I think I finally found a Starbucks at around 3:00 which I followed at the next Starbucks with a mediocre iced coffee. Ugh.

At least today's travel was (mostly) less taxing than yesterday -- wide straight stretches and, once we left the I-5, almost no transport trucks to jockey around. We made our way to Mountain View, to see the Google campus. Alas, though we pulled into the visitor parking, the lobby was closed today . We did poke around the outside of the main buildings, though, and I was very pleased to see a row of containers full of herbs and edible flowers growing around the patio adjacent to the cafe.


Back on the road after Google, we headed for the hotel. All was going fine until our GPS told us to turn left and we ended up one lane over -- I thought it was two lanes that both went left. Unfortunately, one went sharp left (where we wanted to go) and one went on to the Bay Bridge. We had no choice but to drive allllllll the way across and back -- in rush hour -- paying the toll in the process and adding an hour (to go on a 16 km round trip) to the travel when, had I actually not misjudged the lane we could have been at the hotel in about a minute's time. I tell ya, that GPS narrowly avoided a watery grave. It was saved only by our being sandwiched in the centre lane between many, many other cars.


However, once we arrived at the hotel, handed the keys to the valet, and checked in, things started looking up. We called Kiddo (we miss her SO much) and went for dinner (Thai food, including a very tasty curried fried rice (with pineapple, chicken, shrimp and cashews... mmmmm) and tofu with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Now 4 hours (and most of an in-room movie) later, I feel much, much less tense.

And then, there's the view, too:


Cars everywhere

There was an odd symmetry yesterday as we listened to the audio book of Superfreakonomics; we were listening to the section where they discuss traffic fatalities and the introduction of the seat belt as we were winding through the mountain passes that lead up to and away from Siskiyou Summit, passing truck after truck and being passed by faster cars driven by people obviously more familiar with the series of corners than we were.

As it turns out, that summit is the highest point on the I-5 at 4310 ft. Now, I have trouble with pressure in my ears driving the Malahat-- the summit of which is only 1155 ft so by the time we were back down to about 500 ft above sea level in Redding, my ears were shot. Hubby's too. It doesn't help that we both are still suffering the latter part of head colds.

This morning, my ears are still ringing but I can hear clearly. It may have been a blessing last night, because when we rolled into Redding, we landed in the midst of a huge car festival -- Hilltop Avenue looked like the Vegas Strip, jammed with flashy cars, playing loud music, and the street lined with people watching, walking, and drinking. Turns out we arrived only an hour after the street had been closed for a two hour "cruise":

Normally, I'd have been happy to take photos but all I wanted to do last night was check in, call Kiddo, then go eat. It took us about 15 minutes to push through the traffic and turn into the hotel. By the time we got back from dinner an hour later (at Cattlemen's -- a restaurant that is almost certainly the inspiration for the Montana's chain), the roads had mostly cleared so there is hope that this morning will be calmer. After breakfast, we head further south, with a goal of hitting some landmarks in Silicon Valley before we loop back up to the hotel in San Francisco.

14 April 2010

Return and departure

Remember Hubby's Cthulhu sculpture? We had shipped him out of the patio when it was time to show the townhouse and tucked him away in a (very patient) friend's back yard. He finally returned home today -- this time however, we hired professional movers so as not to break anyone's back (well no one who wasn't insured).


All things considered, he weathered the elements pretty well. Aside from a missing toenail and broken ... er... beak thing, he's in tact, too. We shuffled him into the back yard and there he will sit until Hubby has time to restore him then try to find a "forever home" for the Old One.


I've been sick all week, coughing, snorting, generally feeling like hell, and, aside from a half day on Monday, have been at home. Naturally, I am procrastinating further by blogging when I should be packing. We leave tomorrow for a road trip across the border again -- but this time without Kiddo. It'll be a long 9 days for that reason alone, but we've set up plans and counter plans for her care and for the cats and house. Luckily there is not too much going on garden wise so I haven't actually asked anyone to water things (in the unlikely event of a 9 day drought). We also set up Skype on a computer for her and one that is coming with us.

Our trip should take us through Portland and San Francisco (plus a detour to Silicon Valley) but the stops in between may be determined by any of the following: good food, convenient hotel, too damn tired, or coin toss. I can't promise regular updates but there will definitely be an overview on the other side.

10 April 2010

Weekend Wiki Wormhole

The internet is full of one thing: wormholes. They are easy to find: just start clicking. If you aren't sure where to start, try Wikipedia, the links will lead you on a magical mystery tour into the weirdest places.

Today, my journey started with a Facebook status update by Hubby. His use of an implied double-entendre by ending a phrase with "[blank]" reminded me of the 70s era Match Game so I suggested in my comment cuing the Match Game music and added something about Charles Nelson Reilly. That's where things got interesting. I went looking for the Weird Al song, CNR from his latest album (no, I'm not kidding, it's embedded below) but got sidetracked reading the Wikipedia entry for Charles Nelson Reilly. Turns out, he survived a horrific fire I'd never heard about, the Hartford Circus Fire.

In July 1944, a Ringling Bros.,Barnum and Bailey show under the big top was destroyed by a fire -- seems the typical waterproofing of the era was paraffin dissolved in kerosene spread over the canvas tents! After the event (which killed over 160 people and injured hundreds more), Reilly never sat in a theatre audience and Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey left the tents for good, performing only in buildings or arenas as they toured. A few clicks brought me to this page of magazine articles, some contemporary to the event -- I particularly liked the breakdown in Volunteer Firemen Magazine which includes a map of the Big Top (better scan here) showing the origin of the fire, the exits, and basically what went wrong.

One more click into the wormhole and I was watching a clip from Charles Nelson Reilly's stage show, the Life of Reilly about the event -- a lifetime away from the bawdy CNR I knew from syndicated reruns of the Match Game. (If you only click on one link, follow that one. It's well worth the two minutes or so.)

So, anyway, that's how I spent my Saturday afternoon. How about you?

Related fun stuff:

CNR, in the style of the White Stripes:

Typical Match Game tomfoolery:

09 April 2010

And to turf it returns.

I am home today, sick with a killer head cold, but that didn't stop me from finding out that overnight the "People's Garden" had been returned to bare land, re-seeded, fenced off, and marked as an area under restoration. As yesterday was the last day of classes prior to exams, it makes sense as far as timing goes.

Not letting being away from campus get in my way, I put a call out for someone to take me a photo ("pics or it didn't happen") and within an hour I could see for myself that it was gone (left, photo by C. Newell).

As soon as I got the original message, I immediately checked the Victoria Food Not Lawns blog. While I found nothing about this event, the most recent entry concerns Wednesday's "semi-facilitated" discussion -- originally planned to take place by the fountain, near the "people's garden" but moved at the last minute to the Student Union Building. It also mentions that several of the students involved in the protest had been singled out by UVic Administration and had been sent letters earlier this week -- VFNL calls the tone threatening; I'm not sure they could have been worded differently in order to be perceived otherwise by the students.

Throughout this exercise I have been torn. While I support guerrilla gardening of vacant lots, unkempt boulevards, and abandoned spaces, I can't quite see past the trespassing angle that is suggested by many proponents. I cannot accept that anyone or any group has the right to tell me how to use my land. Of course as soon as I typed that I thought, "But people do tell me how to use my land; there are all manner of land use restrictions and bylaws and undersurface rights to which I have to adhere." I may have to rethink my position.

Getting back to the campus situation, I believe the administration had no choice but to remove the gardens -- it was only a question of timing -- to have left the garden in place would have set a curious precedent. There would be nothing to stop gardeners from taking over every square foot of open land -- or, on the opposite end of the scale, to prevent others from paving every square foot and declaring it improved parking or from setting up commercial activity. The University released an update today, stating again that
The university will continue to work with student organizations on campus to hold a public meeting at an appropriate time in the future to enable all interested members of the campus community to receive accurate information, provide their perspectives on sustainability, gardening and food issues on campus, and learn about the variety of initiatives underway.
I was also very happy to read in the same announcement that,
The plants retrieved from the site have been relocated to the underutilized areas of the existing campus community gardens where they may be replanted by students interested in on-campus community gardening.
Hooray! There were a number of lovely plants in that garden and it had been heartbreaking to consider that they may have just been plowed under or composted. Now if only we could see the University commit to a permanent food production space on campus that would truly serve the whole community... that would be the best possible outcome for this protest.

06 April 2010

Chef Mike

From our first afternoon together, I knew Mike's secret: he can cook*. I thought I could cook -- I can at least follow recipes and I can bake but I cannot hold a candle to Mike's abilities. That first afternoon, we visited Fisherman's Wharf where he bought fresh crab and cooked me an amazing dinner in my tiny little bachelorette kitchen. He still amazes me weekly.

Our friends are also regularly amazed by the spreads he put on -- he even went so far a few years ago to hold the Cobalt Chef challenge for his birthday. (You can view the original page for the challenge but it's from 2002 and I warn you, I used a really bright colour for the background; you may need sunglasses.)

Fast forward a few years and we started doing the Cramped Chef series of videos and Mike started collecting his recipes on his blog.

Fast forward again to this week.... In much the same way that I quietly puttered away and pushed together Haiku Miscellany, Hubby quietly created his own book, Impress The World Before 11 A.M. which is all about brunches! Have a peek:

I'll be sure to let you know when the Food Network comes knocking.

*He has never formally trained and technically is not a Chef -- hopefully I won't get run out of town for using the title lovingly.

05 April 2010

Creative Miscellany Overload!

This weekend, outside of all the family-filled Easter celebrations and a little bit of work in the garden, I focused on getting all my Creative Miscellany ducks in a row. Why? Because tomorrow is the release date for Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF and

Late last year, Helen Killer (a.k.a. April Winchell) put out a call for anyone willing to let their crafts stand up against her mad snark skillz. I put forth my Nightmare Clownbot plush toy because, frankly, that thing creeps me out, but I also told her to have a look through my store for anything else that caught her eye. She selected RockBot and after several emails and contracts and release forms were signed, he was in. I haven't yet received my copy of the book so I don't know exactly what she's said about RockBot. Yet.

Anyway.... In preparation for an increase in traffic and (hopefully) sales, I tidied up the Creative Miscellany website, built my storefront on Zibbet and added some stock (more this week, I promise), and redesigned my Etsy banner and Facebook icon so that everything "matches" -- "Look, Ma, I overhauled my brand identity!" -- and even did some SEO maintenance on the main site. Go me!

03 April 2010

Turf War Continues at UVic

As promised, Resistance is Fertile/Food Not Lawns took up shovels and re-built "the people's garden" on Wednesday.

There was a huge crowd watching -- some supportive, many just hoping the cops would show up and sort things out. Oh, and dozens of cameras including news crews from almost every media outlet in the city. There was a pile of tools, plants, and some wood near the fountain. Someone wearing a suit and a clownishly large top-hat emblazoned with the UVic logo was speaking into a megaphone, "Return to your classes, nothing to see. Please do not try to think for yourselves. Do not engage in conversations about food security," and so on.

Four people got to work raising a banner between the trees that read, "Reclaim the Commons" and below it another reading, "Resist Bureaucracy." Around 12:15, someone shouted, "SOIL!" and a half dozen people marched off to the parking lot, bringing back black plastic garbage bags full of dirt. I peeked around the corner, curious as to the source, and spied a blue VW transporter pickup truck -- how cliché.

Once the dirt had been delivered and shovels placed in a line, ready for action, a few people took turns on the microphone, speaking about the group's intentions and the reasons for the protest. Looking around I could see only two Campus Security officers at a distance though I did suspect plain-clothes Saanich Police were in the crowd. At 12:30 the call was made to dig, and dig they did:

I went back to work but the crowds remained, watching, for about half an hour then gradually dispersed. The work on the garden continued. When I checked in later, on my coffee break, much progress had been made, and the ringmaster was announcing that there was to be a potluck later that night. There was also a call for supporters to camp overnight in hopes of preventing the University administration from bulldozing "their garden" again.

When I left work on Wednesday, I fully expected that arrests would be made overnight and the garden would be removed. Imagine my surprise the next morning when I arrived to see the garden still in place and campers just rising from their tents:

FNL Camp

They had even continued to improve the garden, adding plant markers and other signs. I had to wonder, was it an April Fool's prank by the Administration? The supporters were now calling it a "Victory Garden."

Ultimately, I think the University just changed its approach. They issued an update to their press release/statement, adding that, "The university is reviewing the level of disciplinary action it will be applying to those responsible for damaging university property." For the most part, however, they seem to be leaving the activists alone, hoping they will get bored without an audience.

Thursday was pretty quiet -- when I left at 4:00 there were only a few people on the garden site. When we visited the site out of curiosity on Saturday (midway through the Easter weekend), it was completely untended:


As I have stated before, I doubt that the people who started this garden would be around to harvest. That is made clear within a statement on their own blog, "I hope people will continue to interact with it, by taking care of it and dialoguing about it..." Just like every co-operative and volunteer group with which I've been involved, there is a call for many hands to do the work and, just like every co-operative and volunteer group with which I've been involved, I can tell you that very few will step up to do the work. I'm betting even fewer will step up when there is a risk attached to the work (discipline, criminal charges, or what have you).

Next Thursday is the last day of classes; after that there will be great stretches of time where there is little or no traffic near the library. Eventually, I suspect, there will be no one either willing or able to watch the garden -- they will have moved on to other protests, other projects, maybe even day jobs -- and the university will quietly direct facilities management to dismantle the garden and re-sod the land.