Snowbound with George on Christmas Eve

Our Patio with the most Snow we’ve ever seen on it

Our patio with the most snow we’ve ever seen on it

You always assume that things will turn out as planned, but some­times they don’t. Pam and I had all but packed our suit­cases ear­lier in the week for a trip to visit with my brother and his fam­ily in Seat­tle, as well as my par­ents, who were going to be vis­it­ing from Bal­ti­more. Mother Nature had other ideas.

The fact that Canada is enjoy­ing the first coast-to-coast ‘White Christ­mas’ in 40 years is not lost on me, and it is pretty out there. Pam and I had a nice time walk­ing in the first of the snow­storms, and it looks like storm num­ber three, which started last night, will dump nearly as much on us.

The car is not ready to drive on these kinds of roads. We don’t have any snow tires, as we don’t drive that much to begin with and nei­ther of us use it to get to a work­place (unlike the days when I was work­ing in Burn­aby for IBM). Snow tires are not usu­ally needed here.

So, here we are, like hiber­nat­ing bears in our cave, look­ing out at the snow. Well, not exactly like bears in one key respect: Hiber­nat­ing bears don’t eat, and I’ve been cook­ing like crazy. I roasted a chicken stuffed with herbs and lemon (an old Jamie Oliver recipe that I’ve com­mit­ted to mem­ory), and yes­ter­day did a large pot roast with car­rots, parsnips, turnips and pota­toes.  This after­noon I baked a tray of oat­meal muffins (after also bak­ing a bunch of cook­ies ear­lier in the week). We’ve also got some steaks in the freezer, and since Granville Mar­ket is closed for the next 2 days, we’ll prob­a­bly eat those as well, along with some of other food in our larder, which we stuffed full just in case the weather did get worse.

The other thing I did, which I do nearly every year, was watch Frank Capra’s movie “It’s a Won­der­ful Life”.  For me, it tran­scends movie mak­ing to become a piece of art, the same way that some Nor­man Rock­well illus­tra­tions do. I keep find­ing new details in it, the way you do with any great piece of sto­ry­telling or music. There’s always some lit­tle motif or pas­sage here or there that after the 10th hearing/viewing you sud­denly real­ize is referred to or echoed in some other place. Capra’s film also has a lot more res­o­nance now, when the news reports from the States ear­lier in the evening eerily echoed (or pre­saged?) the talk in the movie of peo­ple being fore­closed on their homes because of not being able to pay mort­gages, runs on banks and acts of char­ity. How many peo­ple might be, this evening, need­ing to draw upon char­ity for the first time in their lives, the way that George Bai­ley had to?

I noticed that a week or so again, Wen­dell Jamieson of The New York Times wrote a fas­ci­nat­ing reassess­ment of the film, and actu­ally found it to be essen­tially a big fat lie, some­thing that he first sus­pected when he was shown the film at school when he was 15 year’s old:

It’s a Won­der­ful Life” is a ter­ri­fy­ing, asphyx­i­at­ing story about grow­ing up and relin­quish­ing your dreams, of see­ing your father dri­ven to the grave before his time, of liv­ing among bit­ter, small-minded peo­ple. It is a story of being trapped, of com­pro­mis­ing, of watch­ing oth­ers move ahead and away, of becom­ing so filled with rage that you ver­bally abuse your chil­dren, their teacher and your oppres­sively per­fect wife. It is also a night­mare account of an end­less home renovation.

Holy Cow!  Believe it or not, his opin­ion of the film’s mes­sages actu­ally gets harsher still:

Many are pulling the movie out of the archives lately because of its pre­science on the per­ils of trust­ing bankers. I’ve found, after repeated view­ings, that the film turns upside down and inside out, and some glar­ing — and often funny — flaws become appar­ent. These flaws have some­how deep­ened my affec­tion for it over the years. Take the extended sequence in which George Bai­ley (James Stew­art), hav­ing repeat­edly tried and failed to escape Bed­ford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for show­girls and gam­blers, who spill rau­cously out into the crowded side­walks on Christ­mas Eve. It’s been renamed Pot­tersville, after the vil­lain­ous Mr. Pot­ter, Lionel Barrymore’s schem­ing financier.

Here’s the thing about Pot­tersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stul­ti­fy­ing Bed­ford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If any­thing, Pot­tersville cap­tures just the type of excite­ment George had long been seeking.

Not only is Pot­tersville cooler and more fun than Bed­ford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring man­u­fac­tur­ing to Bed­ford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” man­u­fac­tur­ing in upstate New York has suf­fered terribly.

On the other hand, Pot­tersville, with its night­clubs and gam­bling halls, would almost cer­tainly be in much bet­ter finan­cial shape today. It might well be thriving.

I checked my the­ory with the oft-quoted Mitchell L. Moss, a pro­fes­sor of urban pol­icy at New York Uni­ver­sity, and he agreed, point­ing out that, of all the upstate coun­ties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.

The rea­son is that it is a resort, and it has built an econ­omy around that,” he said. “Mean­while the great indus­trial cities have declined ter­rif­i­cally. Look at Con­necti­cut: where is the growth? It’s in casi­nos; they are con­stantly expanding.”

In New York, Mr. Moss added, Gov. David A. Pater­son “is under enor­mous pres­sure to allow gam­bling upstate because of the eco­nomic problems.”

We ease up on our lot of cul­tural behav­iors in a depres­sion,” he said.

What a grim thought: Had George Bai­ley never been born, the peo­ple in his town might very well be bet­ter off today.

Well, I’m not sure that the raunchy Vegas-like Pot­tersville is any bet­ter than the Biff Tannen’s alter­nate Uni­verse town of Hill Val­ley (which doesn’t get a rename, despite the sim­i­lar biz­zaro treat­ment) in Back to the Future II.  I’ll bet that a few choice grotesque zooms on the land­scape of Pot­tersville would have hor­ri­fied the rest of us as much as it did George Bai­ley rather than thrill him that that his town was less bor­ing with him not in it. Capra per­haps didn’t want to hit us over the head with the mes­sage, so it didn’t escape the 15-year old Mr. Jamieson’s cynicism.

Any­way, apt or not, I still find it a great piece of sto­ry­telling, even if it teaches us all the wrong things. Jamieson is not alone in his dis­dain for the film. Besides the fact that the movie was con­sid­ered a finan­cial flop (too expen­sive to make, didn’t make back what it cost), Charles Affron on filmreference.com says:

The impe­tus and struc­ture of It’s a Won­der­ful Life recall the famil­iar model of Capra’s pre-war suc­cesses. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton and Meet John Doe. In each of these films, the hero rep­re­sents a civic ideal and is opposed by the forces of cor­rup­tion. His iden­tity, at some point mis­per­ceived, is finally acclaimed by the com­mu­nity at large. The pat­tern receives per­haps its dark­est treat­ment in It’s a Won­der­ful Life. The film’s con­ven­tions and dra­matic con­ceits are mis­lead­ing. An idyl­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of small-town Amer­ica, a guardian angel named Clarence and a Christ­mas Eve apoth­e­o­sis seem to jus­tify the film’s peren­nial screen­ings dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. These are the signs of the ingen­u­ous opti­mism for which Capra is so often reproached. Yet they func­tion in the same way “happy end­ings” do in Moliere, where the arti­fice of per­fect res­o­lu­tion is in ironic dis­pro­por­tion to the real­i­ties of human nature at the core of the plays.

Maybe I should have just watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Rein­deer instead.

Santa, Please Bring Canada Tech Stuff

Before go any fur­ther I want to first say that I do appre­ci­ate that there’s a lot that’s got­ten bet­ter in our tech lives since our move to Canada. That includes over­all faster Inter­net con­nec­tion speeds,  a great fea­ture from our ISP that for­wards a copy of any tele­phone voice­mail to my email as an attach­ment (and which I can actu­ally open and lis­ten to on my iPhone — FTW!), and a fair amount of free Inter­net Wi-fi in cafés nearby.  I also appre­ci­ate that our online bank­ing works very well (with the excep­tion of not being able to pay US credit card bal­ances from our US dol­lar account, but inter­na­tional rules are rules, I sup­pose), and that pay­ing for pur­chases at your aver­age store or even fast-food chain can almost always be done with your ATM card — some­thing that we could never expect with any reg­u­lar­ity in the US (Is this still the case, US read­ers? I haven’t checked lately.) Now, even the El Gato EyeTV soft­ware on my Mac finally gets list­ings for Cana­dian TV chan­nels (it only took them 4 years with me bug­ging them at every Mac­world Expo for this). Translink has 2 mobile apps for the iPhone (if you count Google as one of them), and buy­ing movie and con­cert tick­ets online is almost some­thing we now take for granted.

How­ever, there are a few things in the tech realm that just plain suck in Canada. I’ve already writ­ten ad nau­seum about cell phone rates being out­ra­geous, but I had got­ten used to that, except for the fact that it keeps mak­ing itself known in all sorts of places, when you least expect it. Like, for instance, Twit­ter, the microblog­ging ser­vice that I some­times post to or use to fol­low the sta­tus of oth­ers. If you live in the US, you’ve prob­a­bly never seen this annoy­ing lit­tle mes­sage in your Twit­ter page:
Twitter Message Gripe

If there were only some way to have that mes­sage go away already… We know, we know, Twit­ter, Cana­dian data rates are pro­hib­i­tively expen­sive for you to send us mes­sages from Twit­ter. At least you could stop adding insult to injury by con­stantly remind­ing us of this fact, and let us turn the stu­pid, ugly thing off.

Other tech things I wish we’d get in Canada? Hey, how about being able to see TV reruns online, via the ser­vice called ‘Hulu’. When­ever I bring up their screen from a Cana­dian Inter­net con­nec­tion I see this:

Hulu.com Message

And of course, our Amazon.ca is only a pale shadow of Amazon.com, with a frac­tion of the selec­tion, and we can’t use Net­flix, Zap­pos, or Mint. Our non-HD TiVo is all but laughed at in Canada (despite the supe­rior inter­face) because the HD TiVo will never be sold here. The rea­son is that it requires Cable­Card, the tech­nol­ogy par­tially adopted in the US that allows you to use a sim­ple mag­netic card to con­nect to HD cable rather than the big, ugly boxes they have here (often bun­dled with ugly, hard-to-use PVRs). I’ve heard that the cur­rent ver­sion of Cable­Card, v. 1.0, is imper­fect because it doesn’t sup­port 2-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion or on-screen guides.

C’mon, Santa. You finally got us the iPhone and an honest-to-goodness Apple store. What about some­thing this year? And Black­ber­ries don’t count, since they come from here (Besides, most folks already know that the Black­berry Storm is an Epic FAIL.) So Mr. Claus, could you see fit to get us v. 2.0 Cable­Card (which fixes the whole 2-way com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem) accepted here in Canada, and that even­tu­ally we once again catch-up to the States? Fail­ing that, Zap­pos, Net­flix or Mint work­ing here wouldn’t be bad, either. Whad­dayasay, Santa?

Happy Solstice, and Wassail!

A Path in the Snow on the Winters Solstice

A Path in the Snow on the Winter’s Solstice

The snow is still com­ing down as I write this, at past mid­night. It has been snow­ing since mid-day and shows no sign of let­ting up. Pam and I decided we would cel­e­brate both this unusual (for Van­cou­ver, any­way) weather, as well as the Win­ter Sol­stice (which I blogged about back on the 9th of this month) by going out into the weather, embrac­ing the white­ness that is envelop­ing our city.
We took a route that had been cited in the Secret Lantern Society’s Win­ter Sol­stice Lantern Fes­ti­val web site, from the Lau­rel Street over­pass (that lets you go from 7th Avenue all the way down to the False Creek sea­wall). The scene was one of those mag­i­cal win­ter nights, when every­thing is trans­formed by the falling snow and Christ­mas lights:
David in the False Creek Snow

David in the False Creek Snow

Marina at False Creek With Seasonal Lighting

Marina at False Creek With Sea­sonal Lighting

At the end of our walk, we ended up join­ing some of the other Sol­stice Cel­e­brants on Granville Island. Here’s a video that I took of some of our trip. The Flip cam­era did a fair job with the dim light. I exported the video, con­verted it to DV for­mat and edited it in iMovie:

We returned home to a feast of roast chicken (I had roasted it just before we left), mashed yams and cab­bage cooked with double-smoked sausage. We were hun­gry, and tired, but the food and a lit­tle red wine hit the spot.
The only thing we didn’t have was actual Was­sail, but I did find a recipe online at The Acci­den­tal Hedo­nist:

Was­sail
2 pints and 1/4 cup brown ale (win­ter ale and scot­tish ale will also suf­fice)
3–4 cin­na­mon sticks
4 cloves
Zest from 1/2 lemon
4 apples
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup port
1/2 tea­spoon ground cin­na­mon
1/4 tea­spoon ground all spice
1/4 tea­spoon ground car­da­mon
1/2 tea­spoon ground ginger

Pre­heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large sauce pan, pour in 2 pints of ale. Add the cin­na­mon sticks, lemon zest and cloves and bring to a sim­mer over low heat.

Take an apple, and score it with a knife around the cir­cum­fer­ence of the apple. Place in a bak­ing dish. Repeat this step for all of the apples. Cover with one cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of ale, and all of the port. Cover bak­ing dish and place in oven, cook­ing for 30 minutes.

While apples are bak­ing, place remain­ing sugar and spices into the sauce pan, ensur­ing it’s well mixed.

When apples are done bak­ing, place entire con­tents of bak­ing dish into sauce pan. Allow to cook over a low heat for another 30–40 minutes.

Serve hot, one-two ladles into your favorite mug.

Serves 6–8

Here’s to the begin­ning of Win­ter, but at the same time, the start of the Earth’s jour­ney back to longer days ahead of us.

Happy Birthday, Ludwig Van!

Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto

Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Con­certo, Op. 73 (excerpt)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (ver­sion 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Down­load the lat­est ver­sion here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Today would have been Lud­wig van Beethoven’s 238th birth­day. Even though he only lived to the age of 56,  a life­time of 238 years would have been fine with me, if he could have kept writ­ing music.

The piece and excerpt above are from his Fifth Piano Con­certo, some­times called the ‘Emperor’ Con­certo, which he wrote between 1808 and 1809 for the Arch­duke Rudolph of Aus­tria. This open­ing, no mat­ter how many times I hear it, is always fas­ci­nat­ing. To begin the piece with these big, loud chords, with the strands of what sounds like a free impro­vi­sa­tion strung from col­umn to col­umn until it finally takes off, like a car shift­ing into drive, is such a fan­tas­tic idea, and so arrest­ing, that I’d be hard-pressed to come up with many other pieces of music that are both as star­tling and ulti­mately satisfying…and not writ­ten by the same guy.

Here’s to one of the great­est, 238 years later, still shout­ing beauty.

A View with a Room

Photo By Derek Miller

Photo By Derek Miller

Last week’s Best of 604 Awards, a cel­e­bra­tion and awards cer­e­mony that brought out many of the local blog­ging com­mu­nity, con­firmed my the­ory that Van­cou­ver is becom­ing a key cen­ter of what’s being now gen­er­ally called ‘Social Media’*. I’m going to write a much longer and more com­plete post­ing on why I think this is the case, why the con­di­tions here are so favor­able for this move­ment and activ­i­ties and how well they mesh with our lives, but one clear rea­son for the social media com­mu­nity being so close-knit and active in Van­cou­ver is some very strong and charis­matic lead­ers like Miss 604, who planned and hosted the event. Many thanks to her and those who helped and spon­sored the affair. Pam and I really enjoyed our­selves, and I was thrilled to see so many peo­ple who I knew (and read) be rec­og­nized for their efforts by their peers and read­ers. Like many suc­cess­ful fêtes in this town (like the Fringe Fes­ti­val, Film Fes­ti­val, Bar­Camp, the Fire­works Com­pe­ti­tion, etc.), it will surely become an annual event.

Another Busi­ness Using Social Media

It hasn’t taken very long for com­pa­nies (both large and small) to pick up on the mar­ket­ing poten­tial of social media, and many of my friends and fel­low blog­gers now make their liv­ing help­ing to bring their clients up to speed on the rapidly chang­ing and grow­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for mak­ing use of blog­ging and other online ‘con­duits’. Some of them clearly ‘get it’. In fact, one of the cat­e­gories of the Best of 604 awards was the cat­e­gory of ‘Best Com­pany Blog’, and this past fall’s Mol­son Brew 2.0 event showed that even large cor­po­ra­tions can indeed be very savvy regard­ing this new medium. Case in point:

The Opus Hotel in Yaletown

High Tech Com­pa­nies, Mar­ket­ing Shops, and Large Brew­eries aren’t the only com­pa­nies blog­ging.  Van­cou­ver has some great hotels, and one of them, the Opus Hotel, has a blog.  How did I know about that? The Opus Hotel is also on Twit­ter, the microblog­ging plat­form. What’s more, they posted a ‘tweet’ of their blog post about one of their guest’s reac­tions to stay­ing in their rooms. The ‘review’ (whether it is the real thing or not) is not only laugh-out-loud hys­ter­i­cal, but I also think it’s a bril­liant piece of mar­ket­ing and won­der­ful use of a blog to talk about their busi­ness with cus­tomers.  While I’ve not stayed at the Opus Hotel and haven’t even been to their well-known bar or equally well-known restau­rant Elixir, I have to say that this piqued my curiousity.

*For those who aren’t famil­iar with the term, Social Media include blogs, micro-blogs like Twit­ter, social net­work­ing sites like Face­book, LinkedIn and MySpace, and even web sites made up of con­tri­bu­tions by their mem­bers like YouTube and Flickr. The Wikipedia arti­cle sums up Social Media well, and I par­tic­u­larly liked this sen­tence: “Social media depend on inter­ac­tions between peo­ple as the dis­cus­sion and inte­gra­tion of words to build shared-meaning, using tech­nol­ogy as a conduit.”