Monday, 19 March 2012

On how to know if you are leaving a goofy dictatorship

When Margo and Chris were leaving one of the former Soviet 'Stans (Turkemenistan I think), an official took away their digital camera for a while to make sure they hadn't taken any photos of anything didn't officially happen in the 'Stan. The photos didn't have anything more subversive than photos of a historic old quarter, the national museum, a few national monuments, the desert and a few camels. As these photo subjects were utterly innocuous to the government (I like to joke that the security officials, had to quickly decide if the camels were the top-secret stealth camels), none were censored. After all, the tourism ministry probably wants foreigners to photograph things like a historic old quarter, the national museum and a few national monuments. It may be less keen on the photographing the desert (as it may represent poor environmental management) but it isn't much of a secret! ;-)

For some reason, I was in a goofy mood today and kept coming up with even sillier scenarios. Such as the security official coming back and offering a valid critique of their camera technique ("Your framing of this statue is poor. A better composition would have been to take a few steps back and zoom in a bit more."); a patriotically-inspired censorious nature ("This picture of our wonderful statue doesn't show it in it's best light. I must delete it."); artistic paternalism ("You must go back and photograph this statue properly! Here are the necessary papers!"); or possibly just admiring ("This photograph of the statue is really good! Would you mind if we kept a copy for the next edition of our tourism brochure?")! ;-)

Yes, I am making light of censorship and dictatorial regimes. Yes, said issues cause untold hardships, etc. However, mocking them is one, non-violent, way of reducing their power. On the Flanders and Swann record "Then we wrote", Michael Flanders comments on the censorship exercised by the Lord Chancellor in the United Kingdom at the time. He was ashamed to admit at the time that nothing he had written had been censored. He had also refused to confess that some of his work had come back with appreciative notes written in the margins along the lines of "I like this, and Jolly good!"

I guess I am in a silly mood. There are worse moods to be in.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

On the smartphone cover someone should sell

I was lying in the bath the other day when it struck me that Douglas Adams was vaguely prescient in having the fictional Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy be largely written and edited by amateurs. Consider the fact that a recent study concluded that Wikipedia had about 4 errors per entry compared to 3 for the Encyclopedia Britannica. The former being "slightly cheaper". Furthermore, my iPhone was not unlike the electronic version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, though in many ways, rather more powerful than the one Ford Prefect had.

This led me to the realization that what was needed was a smartphone cover that had the words "Don't panic" written on it in large, friendly letters. I'd buy one.

Friday, 16 March 2012

On getting ready for the biking season

This winter has been particularly mild. There is scarcely any snow in evidence. I am questioning whether it was perhaps foolish of me to get a bus pass for March. Anyway, with spring well on the way, I have begun to get ready for the biking season.

Ironically, I started with some less urgent bit of biking business. You may recall that I had a problem with a bit of wire in Leonardo's back tire in Australia. Well, I had never gotten around to taking Leonardo out of his shipping box, let alone dealing with the wire. Consequently, it was only this morning that I opened the box. There doesn't seem to be any damage (thankfully) from Regional Express or Air Canada's treatment of it. I took the tire off the rim, and went to Cycle Technique, the bike store where I had bought it. After some careful examination and a lot of effort, one of the people there was able to extract the tiny piece of wire that was causing the problem.

I returned home where I put the tire back on the wheel. I got Floria out and started to give her a bit of TLC get her ready for regular commuting. After getting the tires up to normal pressure, I noticed her chain was a bit rusty. For some reason, I couldn't find any chain oil to hand. So, I had to go back to the bike store get some. Floria now stands ready in my hallway with a freshly cleaned and oiled chain.


As I was assembling my biking gear, I was frustrated by not being able to find the seat cover (A couple of people have described it as a "bike condom") for Floria. (A couple of people have described it as a "bike condom".) I'd given it up to File 13 and made plans to go to MEC for a replacement when I pulled my soft-shell jacket from its winter quarters. I was amused and relieved to find the cover in one of the pockets. I was less happy to find an old cereal bar wrapper as well!

One weird thing I noticed on Floria was that certain parts of her red paint job had faded whereas others hadn't. I can only assume that she has been inconsistently exposed to the UV light coming from the window. I should make a point of putting a cover over her next winter. I am curious to know if there is a well-defined line from the inner tube covering. However, I don't want to bother re-wrapping the bike.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

On the summer's biking

Well, I still don't have any hard and fast plans, but there are two leading contenders. One depends on numerous things beyond my control. The idea is that I would fly out to Vancouver for John's wedding in Victoria with the bike. After the wedding, I would head to Seattle and via a combination of bike and train would spend a week seeing Seattle, Mount St Helen's and other assorted bits of Washington State. At the end of the week, I would meet Margo and Chris in Portland, Oregon. From Portland, we would head further South along the coast before heading inland to Crater Lake. From Crater Lake we would catch a train back to Vancouver.

The circumstances of this trip more or less dictate that I would have to get a certain set of days for my vacation which is not always possible at work. In addition, there is no guarantee that Margo and Chris will be free of assorted parental obligations relating to John's wedding. To further complicate the picture, Margo is recovering from a broken collar bone which has dashed her hopes of doing a triathlon this month. As well, it has put a spanner in the spokes for their planned trip to Japan and possibly Korea. Hence, therefore, or otherwise, their planned trips are in limbo.

The other plans doesn't require a particular set of dates (aside from being discreetly separate from John's wedding), and therefore it would be easier for me to plan it. Simply put, it would be Calgary to Winnipeg, i.e. the next leg of AMUAM JuNITO. ) Part of my rationale for doing it this year is that I feel like going back to Scotland in 2013, and therefore I should get some AMUAM JuNITOing in this year.

Another bit is that was given a beautiful book written by a pair of Québécois who crossed the continent in order to raise money for some disease that the father of one of them was suffering from. It has wonderful pictures of prairie fields that make me want to do that bit. (While the pictures is enchanting, the text reads rather like an exercise in what not to do.) Doing the prairies would also allow me to set foot in Saskatchewan for the first time.

I am still waffling, as each trip has its merits. Some days one seems more attractive, then I think of some reason that makes the other a better idea. Also, I won't know what I will be able to do because of the afore-mentionned outside elements until late April at the earliest.

Friday, 9 March 2012

On Australia, reflections

Well, it has been several months, so I should lay down some thoughts.

Despite the fact that the size of Australia psyched me out, I rather enjoyed myself there. In fact, I would cheerfully go back there. Heck, I rather think I will at some point.

However, there are a number of disconcerting things about Australia. Most of these are in the form of drive-through bottle shops. These are where you go in your ute to get your slabs of tinnies and stubbies to put in your esky. For those of you not up in your "Strine": "These are where you go in your pickup to get your cases of [beer in] cans and stubby bottles to up in your cooler." In other words, they are liquor stores. The disconcerting thing is that they are often drive-through affairs whereas the grocery stores usually aren't. At least, I didn't see any. Given the emphasis against drunk driving in the last upteen years, I would have thought that separating alcohol and cars a bit more would be a good thing. Then again, I live in Quebec were the acronym for the liquor stores is SAQ and the acronym for the car and driver licensing agency is SAAQ.

Regarding utes, I found it interesting that Australian pickup trucks are generally quite a bit smaller than their North American cousins. Nowadays, all the pickups in North America seem to be these ginormous creatures. The small pickups of my youth are no longer sold. Not Australia. There the small pickup lives on, sometimes in the form of a car-sized version, such as this one in Sydney.There are also more "trucky" versions such as this one in Dimboola:
This one also illustrates a particularly variety of Aussie "ute", namely the tray-back. This is a very utilitarian arrangement. Also of note is the very off-road setup of this one complete with a snorkel for fording rivers in flood. Given the dryness of Australia, I rather suspect that the latter option is more macho appeal than real utility.

Getting back to booze, I was chatting with someone at the Youth Hostel in Hall's Gap. I believe the man's name was Simon. Anyway, I was talking about how I wasn't quite sure if it was culturally sensitive of me to put a sticker of an aboriginal picture of a kangaroo on Leonardo as a symbol of Australia. Given that I had bought the sticker at the aboriginal culture center at the park, chances are it was "OK" and that the image didn't have a particularly deep cultural significance. (Part of this relative worry was inspired by my previous trip to the general area, where at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, New Zealand, there was a display of culturally inappropriate souvenirs. One was a tea-towel with an image of statue of a famous chief. The issue wasn't reproducing the image, it was using it for such a lowly item.) Anyway, Simon commented that if I wanted to really have a symbol of "European" Australia, I should put a sticker of a tinny of beer on the bike!

In other news, I have posted pictures from Christmas. Many of the images feature nieces and nephew.