Offering hot yoga and skin care …with garbage on the side?

September 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm | In architecture, style, urbanism | 4 Comments

There’s a storefront about three blocks from my house that has been bugging me for a few years now, and tonight I’m calling it out. The frontage I’m talking about is actually at the back of the building, a narrow 2-story structure that stretches from a frontage on a main street to another (secondary) frontage on a quieter (but still mixed-use residential/ commercial) parallel street. The frontage on the main street is so-so. But the one on the quieter street is a disaster – and has been for a couple of years now.

The building used to house a restaurant. The restaurant closed and the building was subsequently bought and completely renovated to house a hot yoga studio. The main street frontage was supposed to have a spot for a juice bar, which never materialized and so it sits empty (it’s currently for lease). Consequently, the only thing that animates the main street facade is the entry to the yoga studio. As I said, the main street frontage is no great shakes.

But compared to the other frontage, it’s ok – if only because this other frontage is screamingly awful.

The second frontage on the quieter parallel street also has an entry to the yoga studio, as well as another retail space. For a while, that space was taken up by a doctor’s office, then it stood empty. It currently houses a skin care salon. It’s quite dead.

When the building was bought by the people who installed the yoga studio, they hired an architect to design the new “face” for the second frontage, and boy, did she or he blow it, in my opinion.

The architect didn’t take into account that the building needs a space for garbage bins – and consequently, there’s no place for them. Instead, the architect added lots of glazing to this back facade: two glass doors (one for the yoga studio, the other for the retail space), and three (!) windows, two of which are quite large and belong to the retail space.

I guess it all made sense in the abstract, but it sure doesn’t work for this building. The owners have nowhere to put their garbage bins except smack-dab in front of the windows and next to the two doors, and as a result this frontage has the worst feng shui I’ve ever seen.

Normally, I wouldn’t be superstitious, but there’s something downright uncanny about the sense of poverty and lack projected here. The retail space so far hasn’t thrived – it looks forlorn. The entry to the yoga studio looks unwelcoming: who would want their right side to graze the garbage bins on entering, symbolically carrying trash into their yoga practice? As for the retail space: I wouldn’t see a doctor who looks out on a garbage can, and I don’t think I’d want to visit a skin care salon under those conditions, either.

If this were my building and my business, I’d spend the money to take out that window on the far right. I’d install some clerestory windows instead, but I’d make sure that wall is a solid wall for about the first 4 or 5 feet, high enough to store the garbage bins so they’re nowhere near a window. I’d get rid of that useless ugly rock bed, which just screams “dead & sterile!” to the universe and every passer-by. Instead, in that spot I’d build an enclosure for the bins (to hide them), and I’d put a potted tree (or bamboo) right by the drainage pipe – a symbolic uptake (by the plant) of the abundant water that flows down from the roof. Bingo, feng shui fix! Cost? I don’t know – what does it cost to take out a window, replace it with a wall with some clerestory windows on top, and build a “house” for the garbage bins to keep them away from your good house of health and abundance? Whatever it costs, I’m sure it would pay off in the end. Somehow, the way things stand right now, you get the sense everything’s languishing. Those garbage bins are just plain repellent.

Here are two not-so-great pictures I took earlier today. There was a car parked right in front, so my photos don’t show the whole building. But you can see how the garbage bins destroy the facade, and how sad it’s all looking – the paint job was never finished (it has been a couple of years) and the building gets its share of graffiti, too.

This could be so much better…


The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

September 19, 2010 at 2:31 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

A toast, mistress!

September 18, 2010 at 8:17 pm | In health, just_so, leadership | 3 Comments

In yesterday’s entry I mentioned that I went way outside my comfort zone the other night.

What could that mean?

…Probably not what some may think! I attended my very first meeting of Toastmasters International, specifically the Niteshifters chapter that meets at the University of Victoria. I’ve been interested in knowing what Toastmasters is all about for a while – but their usual early morning meeting times really didn’t ring my chimes. Then I found Niteshifters and saw that they meet at 7:45pm. That’s way better than 7:45am in my books.

And so I’ll give it a go. This is truly way outside my comfort zone. First, it’s a group. I’m joining a group. Second, it’s all about public speaking – something that to this day scares me. It’s not like I’m a bad public speaker (if I’m prepared), but I’m not comfortable with it. I fear it.

And I’m completely mortified by the notion of extemporaneous Table Topics speaking: if I haven’t had the time to research and write a treatise first, I’m inclined to freeze in fear. How I would love to get over myself…

I haven’t had to prepare and give lectures for a long time, and now I realize that I’m completely out of the practice of public speaking even when I have prepared material. I’m hoping Niteshifters will help me find my public (speaking) voice – the one that’s been tap-tap-tapping out of the keyboard here for years. I don’t think I’m a totally stupid person, but lately I’ve let myself get sidelined when it comes to public spoken voice – and that’s just dumb.

Oh, interesting side note: while New Westminster, BC was the first non-US city to express an interest in starting a Toastmasters chapter outside of the US (an interest which prompted Toastmasters to add “International” to its name in 1930), New Westminster apparently didn’t follow through and therefore wasn’t the first to start a non-US chapter. That distinction goes to Victoria, BC, which in 1935 became the first Toastmasters club chartered outside the United States. How about that? 😉

Trespassing on Eden?

September 17, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In arts | 3 Comments

The week has been busy somehow, which is why I didn’t write a post yesterday (even though I did something wayyyy beyond my comfort zone last night – maybe more on that tomorrow?), and I won’t pretend to pen anything for the ages in tonight’s post, either.

I’ll just say that I went to see Morris Panych’s play, The Trespassers, at the Belfry Theatre tonight, and I liked it. A lot.

First, a quick recap of the characters (and, very briefly, the story): Lowell (a 15-year old boy), Hardy (his grandfather), and Cash (his mother) live together in Hardy’s house in a deadsville town where the sole employer (the mill) has closed. Cash, whose husband abandoned her and her son the year before, has become a born-again Christian. Hardy is an auto-didact intellectual and atheist; he’s also a socialist and was the union-leader whose hard-line stance against the capitalists (mill owners) allegedly resulted in the mill closing. Lowell is …well, 15. His mother claims he attempted suicide, Lowell claims it was a joke. The mother had him assessed (diagnosis: bipolar) and insists on medication (Lithium); the grandfather calls bullshit. (See this review, which sides with Hardy – and Panych?; and this one, which seems sympathetic to Cash’s medically-sanctioned intervention.)

Hardy’s house is next door to peach orchard on a property owned by the absentee heirs of the now-defunct means of production (the mill owners left for greener pastures, but continue to own the orchard). During the course of the play we learn that Hardy’s father used to own the property (including the peach orchard), and that Hardy lost it to the mill owners in a poker game. The two other characters are Roxy (a former stripper/ prostitute-turned-radio hostess who happens to be Hardy’s girlfriend) and Milton (a police officer).

The story opens – and continually returns – to its title theme of trespass: Hardy frequently goads Lowell into trespassing onto the orchard to gather the fruit that has fallen to the ground (which Hardy says is not stealing).

Toward the end of the play – and I won’t give the plot away – Hardy advises Lowell to leave the deadsville town, to stop hanging on to any one place, to go where no one knows him and to make his life in the world.

In my viewing of the play, the orchard was like the Garden of Eden – from which Hardy was expelled, literally through the luck of the draw, through capricious fate, through how the cards were dealt. There’s no moral to the tale of how that Eden was lost, which in turn lends weight to Hardy’s atheism. But Hardy also spends far too much time constantly trying to get back into the garden, and it has cost him his personal growth. A man of such complexity should not have shackled himself to a lost paradise. In the end, the only way he gets out is by dying – which is why he tells Lowell to leave while he still can, as a young man. (That Lowell should be named for Lowell, Massachusetts, as we learn during the play, lends credence to the “on the road” theme – Lowell, MA was of course Jack Kerouac’s birthplace.)

The other theme is that trespass is inevitable: if you want to live and grow, you can’t not trespass – in all senses of the word, including the biblical (forgive others their trespasses in order to be forgiven for yours: it’s part of the whole being-human gig). Trespass resonates with meanings: to go beyond, to move from place to place, to violate boundaries, …and: to wrong someone or to sin against moral law …perhaps by lying barefacedly, as Hardy teaches Lowell to do. But as Lowell learns from Hardy, “There’s something in between lying and not lying. It’s called a story.” And in the end, the story is what gets our interest and moves us out into the world, for our own good.

(See also this interview with Morris Panych.)

PS: I realize I haven’t said anything about the direction or acting in this production by The Belfry Theatre. It seems to me that, if this production let me “see” the themes I saw, it must have been pretty damn good. Brian Dooley‘s Hardy was especially compelling, but all the characters were well-played: Jennifer Clement as Roxy; Natascha Girgis as Cash; Raphael Kepinski as Milton; and Amitai Marmorstein as Lowell.

Cougar (in Victoria)

September 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm | In cities, just_so, local_not_global, victoria | Comments Off on Cougar (in Victoria)

Late Monday night, my next-door neighbor spotted a cougar on the patch of lawn in front of the townhouse across the street from us on Rockland Avenue. She had intended to move her vehicle from her property to my street (Pentrelew) around the corner, but the cougar – which did not appear frightened by the sudden presence of a human and instead stared her down – changed her mind.

A passing jogger said that he had just passed the hedge in front of The Laurels (a former mansion converted to apartments – and yes, the hedge is laurel), and that the hedge had been shaking violently. The Laurels is directly across a narrow lane that leads to Langham Court Theatre (the lane separates The Laurels and the townhouse where the cougar was seen).

The jogger assumed some animal like a raccoon was in the branches, but then realized it must have been the cougar. After some time, the cougar continued down Rockland and disappeared down the alley that runs behind Linden Street.

We live 3 blocks outside the official downtown/ Harris Green border. Our neighborhood (Rockland and Fairfield) has a population density of several thousand people per square kilometer. But we’re also infested with deer – and we have plenty of rats and raccoons. I’m not surprised that predators move in where there is prey to be found – and somehow I can’t help but think it’s the deer that are really drawing them. I’m not sure why we continue to tolerate deer around here – it’s not exactly a rural scene.

More local stories about recent cougar sightings:

Cougar Sighting (June 30, 2010: this one is from the Westshore; the cougar was seen at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre)

Reports of cougar sighting in Oak Bay (July 27, 2010; Oak Bay is contiguous with Fairfield; the area described is hardly “densely wooded,” if that’s supposed to suggest a forest – there is nowhere you can stand in Walbran Park without seeing a house)

Cougar spotted in Saanich this morning (Aug.15, 2010; Saanich is the next municipality over; it has less populated areas, but is mostly built up and densely populated)

Joggers unworried by cougar sighting along Elk Lake trails (Aug.24, 2010; Elk Lake is in Saanich, a bit further away from downtown Victoria)

You can almost discern a pattern here: from the “wilder” Westshore with its easy access to the Sooke Hills; to Saanich / Oak Bay, with its increasing proliferation of rabbits at the University of Victoria and deer everywhere; to Fairfield/ Rockland and basically downtown Victoria.

rockland ave and pentrelew place victoria bc - Google Maps
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Follow up on Education and Homeschooling

September 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm | In education | 3 Comments

This is my third post this week on education – first, there was Waiting for Superman’s inconvenient truths about education on Sept. 8, followed by some more impressions on Sept. 10, Friday odds and ends. Today’s post is a message I sent to a friend of my husband’s, who wanted some more information about homeschooling. Can you suggest any good books to read?, she asked.

Here’s what I wrote:

First off, there’s a ton of stuff on the web, obviously, and where you start your search is pretty much determined by what your kids’ needs are. So, in our case, it was the need for more intellectual stimulation and getting away from a one-size-fits-all model, which meant that we ended up often on Hoagies’ (a website for gifted kids and education). (Note: we started homeschooling in 2000; now, ten years later, I’m sure there are other portal sites of use – it’s a question of doing the research and finding what you need.)

Next thing you’ll discover is that there’s definitely a spectrum – from unschooling to classical schooling. I really prefer many of the unschooling aspects (child-led education), but sometimes you do find that some of the old classical tricks are invaluable.

For a very interesting critical take on factory schooling (one that basically advocates unschooling/ radical child-centered learning etc.), check out John Taylor Gatto – you can visit his website or see his very excellent must-read book, Dumbing Us Down (check Amazon, or on his site).

For the classical take, check out Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, written by a mother-daughter team who believe in timetables and schedules. I couldn’t get into their very rigid structure, nor do I subscribe to their endorsement of Dorothy Sayer’s take on education (very year-age oriented: if 7 years old, then X, if 10 years old, then Y – frankly, one of the main problems with gifted kids, and probably with kids, period, is asynchronicity. No one runs all their cylinders on this lockstep timetable – so you gotta teach to when the moment is right, whether that’s at age 7 or 17).

Between Wise/Wise-Bauer and Gatto (at the two ends of the spectrum) there’s a slew of material inbetween.

For truly fantastic practical help – actually, this is a book any parent should consider – check out The Homeschooler’s Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts, by Loretta Heuer. Pure gold, so valuable, a great resource. This book is also available on Amazon, and as I said, I recommend it to anyone who wants to create compelling portfolios for their child’s academic, extra-curricular, and community achievements. (See also this website.)

It’s very important to find support within your community if you plan to homeschool – you don’t want to isolate kids, and more and more communities are offering great opportunities for learners so that the world becomes their classroom.

Re. socialization: you’ll hear a lot about how important it is to send kids to school to socialize them. In my opinion, that’s hogwash (or at least, an un-reflective default thinking position on socialization is hogwash). Imagine if someone said to you,

“N., for the next 12 to 13 years, you will interact only with people your exact same age during the work week. That’s 6 to 7 hours daily, 5 days a week. Maybe we’ll throw an older person in there, but your peer group will be those who are exactly your age. No mingling with older or younger people, though, during ‘work’ hours!”

Imagine how that would “socialize” you! You’d turn into a psycho. Well, that’s exactly what our schools are turning a lot of kids into – add the toxic peer pressure, and it’s no wonder we’ve got problems.

Anyway, hope this is useful. Just remember, homeschooling isn’t for everyone – but neither is the factory school…!

/end text


September 13, 2010 at 9:13 pm | In authenticity, ideas, just_so | Comments Off on Doubt

There’s something uniquely web-world weird about typing in the name of a long-ago friend into a search box – say, Facebook’s? – and discovering his/her Doppelgaenger: the person who has the same name and could – just possibly could be the person you were searching for, but could also be a completely different person altogether.

In days of yore, you might have simply speculated on the similarities you discover. But now you might also have a photo – an image – to go with the facts you recall, and it makes you wonder: Is this the person I knew x-years ago? And you grab on to geography (let’s see, White Rock is close enough to Victoria, or, Mattapan is close enough to Cambridge) to make a “rational” case for why (or why not) this ghost may (or may not) be the old girlfriend or the old boyfriend.

What do you remember? That your friend was sent to a Federal penitentiary? How do you search that? (Probably not.) That s/he married a single dad/mom? (Try to recall the kid’s name – see if s/he is on Facebook!) That her family owned a car dealership or the father became a mayor?

You search – and come up with so many replicates! Who needs science fiction: your double – older, younger, and/or geographically displaced – is out there.

Barring a positive identification, you’re left with a ghost – and doubt.

Frustrating, yet thrilling: doubt.

You put it away – file it, knowing you can return to it at some later date. The web-found replicates carry on.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

September 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm | In links | 2 Comments
  • Portal page for the UK’s Public Art Online site: useful resource for public art news, case studies, research, planning, etc.

    tags: public_art reference

  • Fascinating article by Guy Deutscher about language, specifically one’s mother tongue, and how it shapes how we think.

    Some 50 years ago, the renowned linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages in a pithy maxim: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” This maxim offers us the key to unlocking the real force of the mother tongue: if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.

    tags: guy_deutscher nyt language epistemology gender

  • Love this 2010 TED talk by Sugata Mitra on education: “Education is a self organising system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon…”

    From the description on the TED page:
    Education scientist Sugata Mitra tackles one of the greatest problems of education — the best teachers and schools don’t exist where they’re needed most. In a series of real-life experiments from New Delhi to South Africa to Italy, he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and saw results that could revolutionize how we think about teaching.

    tags: ted_conference sugata_mitra education learning

  • I’ve been saying something similar to this for years, even going so far as to say that it’s morally irresponsible to continue cranking out PhDs, especially humanities PhDs, for whom there are no jobs, and to fail to prepare them for careers outside academia (when I was getting my PhD, my advisors’ attitude was that working outside of academia was basically akin to failure and/or selling one’s body by the roadside, i.e., totally unacceptable. It would have been more helpful to show us how to figure out non-academic careers instead. As a result, I really rather dislike my former advisors. As tenure holders, they made it on my back (and many other backs just like mine).

    The labor system, for one thing, is clearly unjust. Tenured and tenure-track professors earn most of the money and benefits, but they’re a minority at the top of a pyramid. Nearly two-thirds of all college teachers are non-tenure-track adjuncts like Matt Williams, who told Hacker and Dreifus he had taught a dozen courses at two colleges in the Akron area the previous year, earning the equivalent of about $8.50 an hour by his reckoning. It is foolish that graduate programs are pumping new Ph.D.’s into a world without decent jobs for them. If some programs were phased out, teaching loads might be raised for some on the tenure track, to the benefit of undergraduate education.

    tags: nyt tenure academia socialcritique

  • Danah Boyd makes a great argument for not forcing Craigslist to shut down its “adult services”:

    The Internet has changed the dynamics of prostitution and trafficking, making it easier for prostitutes and traffickers to connect with clients without too many layers of intermediaries. As a result, the Internet has become an intermediary, often without the knowledge of those internet service providers (ISPs) who are the conduits. This is what makes people believe that they should go after ISPs like Craigslist. Faulty logic suggests that if Craigslist is effectively a digital pimp who’s profiting off of online traffic, why shouldn’t it be prosecuted as such?

    The problem with this logic is that it fails to account for three important differences: 1) most ISPs have a fundamental business — if not moral — interest in helping protect people; 2) the visibility of illicit activities online makes it much easier to get at, and help, those who are being victimized; and 3) a one-stop-shop is more helpful for law enforcement than for criminals. In short, Craigslist is not a pimp, but a public perch from which law enforcement can watch without being seen.

    tags: danah_boyd prostitution craigslist censorship transparency

  • Interesting nuggets on studying and study habits and techniques. For example:

    …individual learning is another matter, and psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms – one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard – did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.

    The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

    “What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.

    tags: nyt studying research learning education

    If you have access to fast broadband, your friends all work online and it is easy to find venture capital, then you are in a digital hub. And you’re not in Canada. Our country trails the world when it comes to building these centres of digital innovation. In this episode of “Our Digital Future – Digital Hubs”, leading voices from Canada’s digital community discuss the characteristics of a good digital hub and the investment needed to create intelligent communities for tomorrow’s digital economy. The episode features: Mark Kuznicki, a leader in the field of citizen and community engagement; Sarah Prevette, founder of, an online community for entrepreneurs; Jesse Brown, journalist and an influential voice in the world of social media; and, Bill Hutchison, the Executive Director of Intelligent Communities for Waterfront Toronto and a renowned business and social entrepreneur.

    tags: canada innovation broadband internet video tvo

    Slow down please, this is Canada! Canada’s digital networks are some of the slowest in the world, running between one hundred to a thousand times slower than other countries in the developed world. In this episode of “Our Digital Future – The Need for High-Speed”, Bill Hutchison, Executive Director of Intelligent Communities for Waterfront Toronto describes the sorry state of our digital infrastructure, stressing the need for major investments in advanced broadband networks. Bill Hutchison is a renowned business and social entrepreneur. He has been a founder of four successful business start-ups and CEO of three corporate turnarounds. As a social entrepreneur he has been the founding chair or director of ten industry and social consortia and charitable foundations.

    tags: canada innovation broadband internet video tvo

    Today’s Reality

    But now the alarm bells are ringing as Canada has been falling down the international leadership staircase in terms of the innovation and application of technology in ways that could continue to improve the quality of life for all citizens. A recent study indicates that Canada:
    * Has some of the poorest high-speed internet service in the developed world;
    * Ranked 22nd out of 30 countries against measures such as broadband adoption, network capacity and pricing; and
    * Ranked 16th on broadband adoption.

    Please take a few minutes to view the TVO video on the impact of Canada being way behind the rest of the world in terms of our digital economy and broadband infrastructure. Canada’s speed is 1/100 to 1/1000 slower than 20 major competitors.

    tags: canada innovation broadband internet

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here. 


September 11, 2010 at 10:41 pm | In politics | Comments Off on Obviously

It’s 9/11 and many of us have abiding memories – for me, I was in Europe (in Baden-Baden, actually), and we had to access internet at the public library to find out if a friend was on one of the planes.

He was.

Watching the events on my mother-in-law’s TV was compelling, but seeing the scene a few days later, after we landed in Newark and were taken by bus to Logan (in Boston), was more visceral. Everyone on the bus was very quiet.

A lot has changed since the end of the 1990s. Security theater, and lots of frothy bullshit around ideas.

…Wait, …maybe a lot has stayed the same…?

Of the many things that glimmered across my computer screen in the last couple of days, this (regarding the ousted asshat who’s trying to gather attention via book-burnings) stood out, however:

The problem is not the Web. Anti-JFK rallies “revealing” to every school child in Orange County, California that Communists planned to colonize the United States by the year 1970 drew bigger crowds than Tea Parties today, with nary a blogger among them. (source)

That’s from Rick Perlstein’s NYTimes article, When a Fringe Figure Becomes News. “…by the year 1970 …bigger crowds than Tea Parties today…”?

You have to wonder why we’re paying attention to scoundrels like that “minister.”

You have to wonder what we’re paying attention to (and what we’re ignoring), …and why.

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