Coming Up for Air and Tired Old Phrases

I’ve had to neglect blog­ging for much of this month, because I’ve been work­ing very hard. It’s hope­ful­ly going to work out in the end, but this is one of those times where I have to keep inton­ing that mantra “It’s Only Tem­po­rary.” So, while today was one of those pic­ture-per­fect days we in Van­cou­ver get in the spring and sum­mer, I must con­fess that I only saw it via the occa­sion­al peek at a the KatKam web­cam from my win­dow­less office. I might as well have been under­ground, instead out in the place that has once again been named by Mer­cer Con­sult­ing, Num­ber 4 of the ‘Top 5 qual­i­ty of liv­ing rank­ing for cities world­wide’. While I am proud of the fact that my home is once again up there with Vien­na, Zurich, Gene­va and Auck­land as one of the best places to live, I have to admit that for us per­son­al­ly, for a vari­ety of rea­sons,  it’s been a very tough past cou­ple months. How­ev­er, I’m look­ing for­ward to beau­ti­ful sun­ny days with cool breezes, local straw­ber­ries and aspara­gus, walks along the False Creek sea­wall and the return of the Farmer’s Mar­kets on the week­ends. The foun­tain in the park across the street is flow­ing again, and the tulips are out in full force. I just have to be sure to get out and enjoy all of those things. After all, they are all only tem­po­rary as well.

Heard Often. Way Too Often

To keep an eye on our for­mer coun­try, Pam and I have tried to catch one of the net­work news chan­nels from the US each evening over din­ner, so we keep switch­ing between TiVO record­ings of Bri­an (Williams), Katie (Couric) and Char­lie (pro­nounced the way Sarah Palin did in the puff-piece inter­views he did her, as the sharp, twangy CHAR-ly, Gib­son). I’ve been notic­ing an annoy­ing ten­den­cy by both the reporters as well as the pub­lic (and politi­cians) for using the same phras­es over and over again. Here are a few that I’ve just about had enough of:

Come Togeth­er
What does that phrase mean? Aside from the sex­u­al dou­ble-enten­dre, as far as I can tell, it means to have a pub­lic meet­ing where  prob­lems like gang vio­lence, racial strife and pover­ty are all mag­i­cal­ly over­come by an aura of good fel­low­ship. Sor­ry, I’m not buy­ing it. It’s an emp­ty phrase uttered over and over again in front of TV cam­eras by peo­ple who have no idea what they are say­ing.

Until recent­ly ‘bipar­ti­san’ used to mean some­thing. I think it meant that both of the big, icon­ic US polit­i­cal par­ties sup­port some­thing, as opposed to its more com­mon oppo­site, ‘par­ti­san’ (which now that I think of it, could have been Monopar­ti­san). Now,’ bipar­ti­san’ is uttered by politi­cians mean­ing (depend­ing on which side they are on)  ‘Some­thing I want­ed but nev­er got’ or ‘Some­thing we should all look like we are try­ing for even though we real­ly don’t want it any­way’.  Like Lite and Fat-Free or Sus­tain­able, it’s an now a mean­ing­less word held aloft like a flag of vic­to­ry or rag of defeat.

Wall Street always fol­lowed by Main Street
It used to be that you could say ‘Wall Street’ and every­body knew that it referred to the New York Stock Exchange, as well as the oth­er busi­ness and orga­ni­za­tions in that gen­er­al geo­graph­ic area of Man­hat­tan. Now, like Twee­dle Dee and Twee­dle Dum or Flot­sam and Jet­sam, it has become a stu­pid short­hand for the hos­til­i­ty between the rich and con­nect­ed in the Finan­cial Ser­vices Sec­tor vs. Mid­dle Amer­i­ca. Like two squab­bling chil­dren, we are sup­posed to make sure both are tak­en care of, but not to let the oth­er get jeal­ous or sulky. I hope they break up the idiom before it becomes anoth­er ‘prim and prop­er’ or ‘tooth and nail’.

‘Bailout’ orig­i­nal­ly meant ‘an act of loan­ing or giv­ing cap­i­tal to a fail­ing com­pa­ny in order to save it from bank­rupt­cy, insol­ven­cy, or total liq­ui­da­tion and ruin’. (Wikipedia). Now it’s almost become a joke phrase, mean­ing  Free Mon­ey.  Enough, already. It’s nev­er fun­ny.

…and the word or phrase that I’ve found the both the most ubiq­ui­tous and annoy­ing­ly impre­cise on the news these past months:

I’ve heard this word used so many times, I’ve start­ed doing the old Pee-Wee’s Play­house shtick (well, not scream­ing real loud, but say­ing ‘ding!’) every time it is uttered.  I think it was to sug­gest that like a glass house, the oper­a­tions and deci­sions of an orga­ni­za­tion (such as the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment) were to be eas­i­ly appre­hend­ed by the pub­lic, typ­i­cal­ly by using a Web Site or some oth­er pub­licly acces­si­ble medi­um. Wasn’t that what C-SPAN was sup­posed to do? (except of course, nobody but the wonks and fanat­ics both­ered to watch it). Again, like ‘Come Togeth­er’, Trans­par­ent is anoth­er word or phrase overused to the point of mean­ing­less­ness.

There are oth­ers, but these are the ones that come to mind today. I’m sure that in a few weeks I’ll be sick of ‘Tor­ture Memo’ and ‘Pan­dem­ic’, because they’ll have been made just as mean­ing­less through rep­e­ti­tion by that time.

Louis Andriessen and Passover Seders

Louis Andriessen at 70

Years ago I dis­cov­ered a stun­ning and mon­u­men­tal work for Cho­rus and Orches­tra called De Staat (which trans­lates to The State or in this case, ‘The Repub­lic’ based on Plato’s Repub­lic).  If you haven’t heard it (and I strong­ly rec­om­mend check­ing out a record­ing), it’s kind of like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, but with the vol­ume, heart-pound­ing rep­e­ti­tions and unison­ic crag­gy lines of force tak­en to 11 (as Spinal Tap would put it). It made a big impres­sion on me, even though I only heard it on record­ings, and I even remem­ber using a bit of it in a lec­ture I gave about the tools and tech­niques that a com­pos­er can use to manip­u­late the sub­jec­tive per­cep­tion of time.  The Dutch com­pos­er Louis Andriessen wrote it, and in some ways it has become, like Stravinsky’s Rite,  one of those big, icon­ic pieces in music his­to­ry where audi­ences got to feel not so much a tide turn­ing as a tidal wave crash­ing upon them. To give you an idea of some of the pow­er of this work, lis­ten to this bit near the begin­ning where sec­tions of the orches­tra pound away until (in a style not unlike con­tem­po­rary cin­e­ma) they get spliced right on to a vista that opens up:

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Now imag­ine a piece for large orches­tra and cho­rus that does this kind of thing for over a half hour with no break. Sec­tions build, crash, and coa­lesce, like tec­ton­ic plates crunch­ing. It’s huge, exhaust­ing, and I would imag­ine, shat­ter­ing. As you’d expect, De Staat doesn’t get played very often, but I hope some day to hear it live.

Big orches­tra or not, I was thrilled that last week, Andriessen was here, in Van­cou­ver, as part of a world tour, cel­e­brat­ing his 70th Birth­day and as part of the Music on Main series. The Turn­ing Point Ensem­ble, one of Vancouver’s few New Music ensem­bles, played at Her­itage Hall, a dis­tinc­tive old build­ing on Main. Andriessen’s Zil­ver, which he wrote in 1994 was last on the pro­gram, set up by a series of works by oth­er com­posers, some of them present in the hall (and a piece by Andriessen’s father, Hen­drik, which was a charm­ing, if some­what out-of-place 19th cen­tu­ry-sound­ing Inter­mez­zo for flute and harp).  Of all the works lead­ing up to Zil­ver, I liked best David Lang’s Sweet Air, ded­i­cat­ed to Andriessen on his 60th Birth­day. Lang won a Pulitzer last year for his Lit­tle Match Girl Pas­sion, a set­ting of Hans Chris­t­ian Anderson’s sto­ry set as a work for singers and orches­tra (like Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion). It is indeed sweet, and floats along, spin­ning out end­less vari­a­tions on this open­ing set of repeat­ing pat­terns:

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While I don’t have a record­ing of Zil­ver (and have nev­er heard it), it was a lot of fun, and full of all sorts of inter­rup­tions and col­li­sions of one lay­er of instru­ments with anoth­er. We also had the treat of Andriessen telling a few fun­ny sto­ries before the per­for­mance, aliken­ing the organ’s ped­al parts in Bach’s Chorale Pre­ludes to lit­tle duets between birds being inter­rupt­ed by a cow moo­ing, and how he once per­formed in a ‘Left-Wing’ Ensem­ble called ‘Per­se­ver­ance’ that made the unfor­tu­nate choice of set­ting up their free out­door con­cert near the flight path of planes com­ing in for a land­ing at a near­by air­port, where the inter­rup­tions here were a lot big­ger than a moo­ing cow. He was wear­ing a fedo­ra and rain­coat, and seemed to be hav­ing as much fun as the rest of us were.  I hope we’ll get 30 more years, at least, of music and sto­ries from this mer­ry agi­ta­tor from the Nether­lands.

Seders in Vancouver, Detroit and Washington D.C.

The Obamas Host the First White House Seder

The Oba­mas Host the First White House Seder

Last night we host­ed a small (3-per­son) Seder for Pam, her friend Heather, and me, tech­ni­cal­ly on the sec­ond night of Passover. I cooked the some of the usu­al fare: the mor­tar-sym­bol­ic Charoset, which is sort of chut­ney of chopped apples, mixed nuts, a lit­tle hon­ey, cin­na­mon and red wine, and tzimmes (lots of vari­a­tion here, but basi­cal­ly it’s sweet car­rots with some prunes, and oth­er items — some­times even with meat). The cen­tre­piece of the meal was a small leg of lamb (or was it the leg of a small lamb?). I roast­ed it with some rose­mary and it came out OK, but I’m still not sat­is­fied with how I cook lamb and need to work on get­ting a fool­proof tech­nique that doesn’t pro­duce meat that’s either rub­bery or dried out and greasy.

I found out that the night before (in addi­tion to my par­ents and oth­er rel­a­tives hav­ing their Seder in Detroit), there was a Seder at the White House. I was frankly sur­prised and pleased that Oba­ma would do such a thing, espe­cial­ly as he is the first Pres­i­dent to ever host a Seder. The hol­i­day cel­e­brates the end of a peri­od of slav­ery in the Old Tes­ta­ment, so the par­al­lels between the the Eman­ci­pa­tion of Amer­i­can Slaves and the Exo­dus of Jew­ish Slaves from Egypt was some­thing that I hope was not lost on the peo­ple around the table. Hav­ing extend­ed the hand of friend­ship toward the Mus­lim world last week in Turkey and prepar­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the typ­i­cal Chris­t­ian activ­i­ties this week­end (Attend­ing Church Ser­vices on Sun­day, the East­er Egg hunt on the White House Lawn, etc.), the Oba­mas were a class act to include the Jew­ish hol­i­day as well.

Vancouver's New Convention Centre

Vancouver Convention Centre

Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre

Pam and I had a lit­tle free time this week­end, so on Sat­ur­day, we head­ed over to the water­front, and were among the first cou­ple of thou­sand peo­ple who walked around the new Con­ven­tion Cen­tre. The project, which has been under­way as long as we can remem­ber (and prob­a­bly was offi­cial­ly start­ed before we even arrived here in 2005), has come in hor­ri­bly over bud­get, and I do remem­ber sto­ries of some of the met­al used in the build­ing being stolen. How­ev­er it is done, and in time for the Olympics, as well as a few year’s worth of con­ven­tion book­ings in the space from 2010 onward.

Pam and I both liked the archi­tec­ture of the build­ing, espe­cial­ly the impres­sive wood walls and green roof. It’s def­i­nite­ly as much an eco­log­i­cal state­ment as it is a build­ing; there are even res­i­dent bee­hives and a bee­keep­er for main­tain­ing them. I under­stand that this wasn’t the first time that some of the gen­er­al pub­lic had seen the inside, as friend and blog­ger Tiny Bites cov­ered the 2009 BC Restau­rant Hall of Fame gala at the same venue a few days ago.

The space is large, but sev­er­al places get the great view of the Bur­rard Inlet and the moun­tains. For this open­ing day, they had sev­er­al acro­bats and oth­er per­form­ers on hand, and I got some video of them. Here’s a tour, includ­ing a per­for­mance from a group who’s dress­ing room said ‘Cirque’. I’ve looked and not found any­thing that said it was Cirque du Soleil, but I’m think­ing it cer­tain­ly looked like them:

Here are some oth­er stills, if you are not keen on watch­ing video of some of the same:
Vancouver Convention Centre: East Side

Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre: East Side

Interior with Globe

Inte­ri­or with Globe

Looking out to the West

Look­ing out to the West

Want more? Here’s a slideshow on Flickr that has these plus a few more:
Slideshow: Open­ing Day at the Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre

The Massive Technology Show, Fourth Time Around

The Massive Tech Show Logo

As I’ve writ­ten in ear­li­er post­ings, I have soft spot in my heart for the annu­al Mas­sive Tech Expo. I remem­ber learn­ing about it first in Boston, before I moved to Van­cou­ver, and then decid­ing to have our first explorato­ry vis­it to the city coin­cide with it, back in 2005. Read­ers of this blog know that it was through this show that I even­tu­al­ly got my first job here, and also met the own­er of the con­do that we end­ed up buy­ing. That first Mas­sive was good to us.

This year, I have the some­what less urgent needs in terms of employ­ment (am work­ing now, even if it is a lit­tle spo­radic to begin with), and hous­ing (we are still in the same place we got via that first show). The first time I attend­ed it, the con­fer­ence and show floor occu­pied the Telus Sci­ence World ‘golf ball’ (geo­des­ic dome) at east­ern end of False Creek. In the years after that, it grew to take up part of one of the show halls in Cana­da Place (the big build­ing with white ‘sails’ on the the roof, look­ing out on the Bur­rard Inlet), the show’s largest foot­print. This year, ‘Mas­sive’ was notice­ably less mas­sive, and housed in less fan­cy digs (part­ly due to ongo­ing con­struc­tion), the UBC Rob­son Cen­tre, an under­ground down­town cam­pus that sits smack in the mid­dle of the city, across from the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery, which I’d say is the city’s heart, as well as its liv­ing room, pil­low-fight­/flash mob site, par­ty room and Olympic Count-down clock man­tel. Has it shrunk because of the cur­rent econ­o­my? I’d say that’s a good bet.

I was pleased to run into some friends there: Jonathan Nar­vey, who cov­ered it well for TechVibes, as well as Jenn Lowther, Kris Krug and Tris Hussey. I also chat­ted with Chris Breikss at the 6S Mar­ket­ing booth, and had a pho­to tak­en of me with my face turn­ing crim­son (I wish I didn’t blush so eas­i­ly) as I held up my free T-Shirt (for tweet­ing the fact that I was vis­it­ing the 6S Mar­ket­ing Booth, of course) flanked by 2 pret­ty girls, with the slo­gan ‘Show us your tweets!’ on it.

The after­noon (I had to do a work thing in the morn­ing, and hence, didn’t get to the show until around 2), was main­ly spent chat­ting with ven­dors, explor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of some refer­ral pro­grams and poten­tial busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties for my com­pa­ny, but it was actu­al­ly pret­ty low-key and friend­ly.  The most stress­ful moments were when I was inter­viewed live on the Inter­net (stream­ing video) by the folks at Media2o, a video/multimedia pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny (the com­pa­ny Tris works for, who pro­duce the local tech TV show “Con­nect­edLife”). I don’t think I blushed for that, but I can’t be sure, as I didn’t see the feed.

If my usu­al good luck that involves the Mas­sive show applies, I’ll bet that one of the peo­ple I met or talked to or deals I explored will result in some­thing good down the road. It’s only a mat­ter of time.