August real – it’s really going to be August

July 31, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In housekeeping | Comments Off on August real – it’s really going to be August

August might be the month I scale back my daily blog posts…

…to focus on other tasks.

I probably won’t need that hard hat I’m holding – a simple pitch fork should do it. No two ways about it, it’s time to clean out the stables.

Not so novel thought

July 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Not so novel thought

Page 316, “Alexandra” (Tatiana) tells Smiley:

She [Tatiana’s mother] was not obedient to history. That is to say, she believed that history had taken a wrong course. She was mistaken. The people should not attempt to change history. It is the task of history to change the people.

And that, in a nutshell, is a description of ideology (and ideologues) everywhere: the too-often insane belief that there’s a system (“history” – or religion …or whatever) that changes people, when it might actually be the other way around.

Now, interesting corollary: there’s an ideology that claims that people are unchanging – the old saw about “human nature” etc.

…You know, as in: “It’s in human nature to (a)… or (b)… or (c)…,” meaning, “we can’t really change this/ do anything about it,” …which ends up as an excuse for putting up with crap.

Somewhere in between those two pieces of junk is a dialectic perhaps – I hope.

Behind the scenes at the RBCM

July 29, 2010 at 10:22 pm | In arts, local_not_global, victoria | Comments Off on Behind the scenes at the RBCM

Yesterday I went on a “back of the house” tour of the Royal BC Museum: wow. British Columbia residents, take note – this is your museum, and you can organize small groups and ask to go on one of these tours. It’s staggering to learn just how much is tucked away in storage, including significant Emily Carr works, the British Columbia Constitution (with its huge waxen Great Seal attached), and a trove of First Nations art and artifacts.

Among the latter was one object that took my breath away – a Sitka tunic, probably made in the 1920s, from Alaska. Find the museum’s page for the tunic by searching for “tunic” in the “ethnology” section (sorry, can’t link directly); if you scroll down the page, you get a complete set of images, including close-up details.

Here’s what the front looks like:


And here’s the back:


This piece is fantastically modern looking – I was convinced it was from the late 20th century. But it’s from the beginning of the century. Lots to learn about design here…

The collections are a great resource that BC residents (in Victoria or visiting) can take advantage of, and if you’re not actually here, visit the museum’s resources online here. Be forewarned: the search functions are a tad complicated, definitely not intuitive or especially user-friendly. But the museum will be switching to a new collections management software soon, from MINISIS. It’s supposed to make online access truly easy – a welcome improvement, given how much of the collection is archived and/or in storage, and how useful the collection could be to everyone in British Columbia, including those who can’t easily travel to Victoria to visit in person.

Edit: Two more images of the view from the 12th floor of the Fannin Tower.

First, looking toward the Empress Hotel, Conference Centre, and condos and offices beyond:


And next, looking toward Inner Harbour and Upper Harbour (with the Johnson Street Bridge top right):

Civics assignment, part 2

July 28, 2010 at 9:10 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, johnson street bridge, politics, victoria | Comments Off on Civics assignment, part 2

Very important for City of Victoria British Columbia residents/ taxpayers: Click through to FOCUS Magazine‘s poll, How should Victoria City Council solve the Johnson Street Bridge problem? As FOCUS notes, this is for “City of Victoria residents only, please” – so if you live in Saanich or Oak Bay or Esquimalt (or beyond), skip this (unless you own a business in Victoria and pay taxes to the City).

No need to tell regular readers that I’m all for option 3.

Go vote in the poll if you’re in Victoria.

Civics assignment

July 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, johnson street bridge, victoria | 1 Comment

Ok, if you live in Victoria BC, or if you live in any city anywhere and have chafed at scandals related to your political leaders and how your bureaucratic staffers are handling civic and fiscal issues, here’s your assignment: hie yourself over to FOCUS Magazine and read Sam Williams’s latest article, Victoria City Hall: well paid but confused (just published – and now live online, too!).

I’ve been made so angry by this whole issue – which started for me in April 2009 with the decision to replace the Johnson Street Bridge: a decision made within 20 minutes of council chit-chat on the basis of a skewed, very skewed Power Point presentation by the City’s Engineering Department; a decision that represents the biggest expenditure in the City’s history but that was made with NO public input; a decision about a project that wasn’t even on the radar prior to 2009 (so I’d just like to say “stfu” to all those idiots who say “let the leaders lead, we elected them” – and besides, speak for yourself, I voted for none of the ones leading the replacement charge) – so angry that my whole attitude about Victoria has shifted. For the worse.

I’m not sure whether voting the bad-asses out in 2011 will change things for the better. Read Sam Williams’s article and you’ll understand that there’s an entrenched bureaucratic culture – one of piggy-ness and entitlement – and that this culture unfortunately is incredibly hard to shift since it can’t be voted out because these staffers have contracts that would cost the city millions to break. So what is to be done?

Some excerpts from Victoria City Hall: well paid but confused:

…the number of City Hall staffers making more than $100,000 a year jumped from 15 in 2008 to 50 in 2009. According to Statistics Canada (2006) only 4 percent of Canadians have annual income greater than $100,000.

City Manager Gail Stephens topped the list with remuneration of $186,418.09 and expenses of $168,443.94. The City’s Director of Communications, Katie Josephson ($115,369.52) said Stephen’s high expenses “included transition costs for moving to Victoria [from Calgary] that included losses on [her] house sale” as well as “moving expenses, travel and professional dues.”

Dear reader: who has ever heard of an employee (hired at the start of the current recessionary mess) getting a six-figure bonus to compensate for “losses” on a property in the city the employee is leaving? Huh? Did someone force Gail Stephens to sell her property in Calgary so she could buy one here? Oh wait, she didn’t buy a property in the City of Victoria – no, she bought in Saanich, which means she doesn’t even pay property taxes to the City of Victoria. (This might explain why she’s willing to cripple the city with borrowing debt for a new bridge: her property taxes won’t go up because of it.)

The pay increases for top management are obscene. Mike Lai’s and Peter Sparanese’s “remuneration increased by roughly 20 percent in 2009.” In words: Twenty percent. Meanwhile, the regular union folk employees at City Hall are being told to toe the line at 2%. And in another meanwhile, the regular rank and file at the Provincial level of government have been told to expect 0%. But our municipal princes (and princesses) of upper-level bureaucracy are making out like Wall Street fat cats, with 20% pay increases and six-figure expense accounts.

It’s a good thing I have low blood pressure because even so it feels like I’m blowing a head gasket.

It gets worse, of course. The salary scandal is just the frame around the fetid mess of crap that city staff and politicians have made of the whole Johnson Street Bridge issue. Read on in Williams’s piece to see how they’ve even managed to misrepresent earthquake risk – all, in their deluded quest to foist strips of new roads in our downtown (roads that will suburbanize Old Town). Oh, right: and into the bargain deal with a tiny short little bridge that’s being used as the excuse and catalyst for god knows what.

Go read the article and think about change.

The Book of Firsts: A great “firsts” book for history buffs

July 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm | In education, resources | 2 Comments

The next time someone says to you, “I’d like to study history, but I don’t know where to start,” tell them to pick up a copy of The Book of Firsts: 150 World-Changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the Internet. Written mostly by Peter D’Epiro, with numerous contributions by eight other scholars, The Book of Firsts covers the last twenty centuries. On average, the authors address seven to eight “firsts” in each century for a total of 150 entries. Each entry’s title is posed as a question, which the entry then answers and discusses in lively detail.

Lively: that’s the key word – anyone who wants to “study history” runs at some point into the “history is dead (not lively)” problem. For the beginner, the study of history can present significant threshold resistance – until, that is, the would-be history student at last discovers the special field that fires his or her imagination, which allows research – learning about a topic for the love of it – to become possible. Until then, the road to study is littered with corpses (text books) cluttering up the outer, shallower edges of possible topics: very difficult to step across indeed.

Not so the Book of Firsts, which regales by going very short but fairly deep, chronological only by century but not by a strict time-line or geographic boundary. It thereby entertains the reader while letting her get an idea of where-o-where, across a very broad spectrum of time, she might want, really, to “study history.” Once a topic actually piques her interest, The Book of Firsts gives readers a handy bibliography matched to the questions raised in each of the centuries. In other words, now that you know where to start, you can …well, start!

The prod that sends the student into deeper exploration might be morbid – a detail about one depraved emperor’s murder of his wife (he locked her in the steam bath): has cruelty always ruled the day? – or philosophical (reading a snippet of Li Po’s missive to the “Idlers of the Bamboo Valley”: “When the hunter sets traps only for rabbits, / Tigers and dragons are left uncaught” …true, that) – or political (why the statement “Fuck the Draft” on a t-shirt worn in a courtroom in 1971 became a test-case for the 1791 First Amendment to the US Constitution).

The Book of Firsts starts in the First Century with the entry, “Who was the first Roman emperor?” and moves from there across the globe. But it also ranges into specific subject areas – language, music, science, technology. It ends in the Twentieth Century with the question, “What was the first internet?” Inbetween those two questions, there is definitely an answer for anyone who has ever wondered where to start his or her study of history.

I enjoyed the writing of all the entries (most of which were written by D’Epiro), and I especially liked Nancy Walsh’s essays. And of course I loved Tom Matrullo‘s contributions (which have an astonishing range, from the tenth through the twentieth centuries, with specific stops in the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth centuries inbetween – wow!).  Tom made sure I got a copy of The Book of Firsts, and I  thank him for it. No small feat to cover 20 centuries and make it look nearly effortless!

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

July 25, 2010 at 2:32 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Belt-tightening 101 includes public policy (like cracking down on super-frigid air-conditioning and free toss-away plastic bags at will)…

    Our consumption is out of control. Did you know there is a mass of bottles, plastic bags and other garbage the size of Texas–almost as large as LeBron James’ ego–floating between California and Hawaii? My brother-in-law and I recently went to a Bed Bath and Beyond in the middle of the day. We were the only two customers in the entire massive store, and we were shivering from the frigid air being blasted from the air conditioners.

    We could learn a lesson or two from China, where the Shanghai government caps the temperature at 79 degrees in malls and office buildings in summer to save energy. It’s illegal there to get a free plastic bag at the grocery store (you have to pay a nickel or bring your own bag), helping reduce waste and petrochemical use. We should also increase the money paid for recycling aluminum cans from a nickel to a quarter, even if Pepsi and Coke object, as they most likely will. Maybe if we made simple changes to how we consume we could rein in waste, decrease pollution and reduce our dependence on oil, a commodity that has wrought so many problems.

    tags: shaun_rein forbes recession economy new_frugality

  • Great TED talk by Ethan Zuckerman about sharing atoms and bits (it’s easier to get water bottled in Fiji – atoms – than it is to see a film from Fiji or to get news about the political scene in Fiji – bits) and about how we’re creating “flocking” communities online which we should really be mixing up with some outside sources.

    Sure, the web connects the globe, but most of us end up hearing mainly from people just like ourselves. Blogger and technologist Ethan Zuckerman wants to help share the stories of the whole wide world. He talks about clever strategies to open up your Twitter world and read the news in languages you don’t even know.

    tags: ted_conference ethan_zuckerman globalism xenophilia twitter technology

Zing! The monoculture of big-box retail produces less economic benefit than mixed-use (urban) development. Gee, Jane Jacobs must be smiling: diversity (real eco-diversity) is what produces profit/ development/ sustainability – *not* mono-culture, which may produce a relatively short-term benefit, but cannot sustain economic benefit over the longer haul.

Here comes surprise No. 1.: Big box stores such as WalMart and Sam’s Club, when analyzed for county property tax revenue per acre, produce barely more than a single family house; maybe $150 to $200 more a year, Katz said. (Think of all those acres of parking lots.) “That hardly seems worth all the heat that elected officials take when they approve such development,” he noted in a related, written presentation.

Among retail properties, the biggest per-acre property tax revenue in his county, almost $22,000 per acre, comes from Southgate Mall, the county’s highest-end commercial property with Macy’s, Dillards and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. That’s not so surprising.

But here’s the shocker: On a horizontal bar chart Katz showed, you see that zooming to the far right side, outpacing all the retail offerings, even the regional shopping mall, is the revenue from a high-rise mixed-use project in downtown Sarasota. It sits on less than an acre and contributes a hefty $800,000 in tax per acre. (Add in city property taxes and it’s $1.2 million.) “It takes a lot of WalMarts to equal the contribution of that one mixed-use building,” Katz noted.

urban_development malls municipal_funding retail citistates mary_newsom

Liked this article by Umair Haque. Excerpt:

Prosperians believe the economy’s central problem isn’t a lack of demand, or a lack of supply – but a lack of purpose. Prosperianism’s foundation can be summed up in a single sentence: 21st century economies can, should, and must have a higher purpose than product.

Prosperians believe that the real challenge of the 21st century isn’t kickstarting “growth” and churning out more “product” – but reconceiving what is growing, how it grows, and why it grows. The prosperian agenda is redefining prosperity, so it’s more meaningful, authentic, and durable. It’s not about just restarting the same old industrial-age engine of GDP, but building a better one.

umair_haque harvard_business prosperity economic_development

Unlocking creativity in placemaking doesn’t need to depend on huge budgets or complex megaplans. Successful places inspire, engage and surprise. Urban environments that make the most of existing place assets and ‘energise’ or activate our places and spaces is what most of us are looking for.

rudi architecture urbanplanning urbanism creative_spaces

Lots to think about in this article by Michel Mossessian. Excerpt:

It is necessary to create models that encourage public ownership and public authorship. One such model is public art – but not public art which creates purely decorative objects (the model of “the statue in the square”). Aesthetic values can be harnessed to communicate social and environmental concerns. A model such as the “New Patrons”, developed in France, in which community members are directly involved in the commissioning of art works for public spaces – be they public squares or hospital waiting rooms – act to meditate between different members of a community and encourage shared ownership.

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

Realistic 3D projection on building: more info?

July 24, 2010 at 10:35 pm | In architecture, arts | Comments Off on Realistic 3D projection on building: more info?

Does anyone have any information about an amazing video posted on, called Realistic 3D projection on a building?

Watch it now (click on the image):


Wimp seems to “own” this video in the google-sphere and I’m not succeeding in tracking down its origins. I’d love to have some details – how it was done, who did it, where they did it, and what it took to do it.

Happy July 23

July 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Happy July 23

Perfect summer weather today: it was actually warm (!!) and the sunlight was crystal-clear: no atmospheric occlusions, every object near and far resolved itself with that Anselm Adams f/64 kind of insistence: Over here, here I am, look at me! In other words, typical July gorgeousness – just in time for the spouse’s birthday… 😉

All this by way of saying that I won’t even pretend to come up with a blog post today. There are a couple of serious topics I want to address, but not tonight. Besides, right now I’m too sated from a yummy, fun, informal dinner at The Pink Bicycle …and that after-dinner whiskey hasn’t helped my mental alacrity or energy levels much!


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