End of the Season and Kat Kam MIA?

Like many Van­cou­verites, last night I watched one of the most painful and edge-of-your seat hock­ey games in years. Backs against the wall, the Van­cou­ver Canucks, the last Cana­di­an team left in the NHL Stan­ley Cup play­offs, man­aged to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of vic­to­ry (some­thing I tweet­ed a cou­ple of days ago re. the game that brought them to the brink). To quote Char­lie Smith of the Geor­gia Straight:

The only ques­tion left for the Canucks is who won’t be return­ing to the squad next year. After the sign­ing of Mats Sundin ear­li­er this year, there were high hopes that this would be the year that Van­cou­ver would final­ly win its first Stan­ley Cup. But once again, the fans’ hopes have been crushed.

Some things nev­er change.

This morn­ing, on the radio, I heard many say­ing ‘Wait till next year!’. Well, Hope does spring eter­nal, but the Black­hawks (among oth­er teams the Canucks played against this year) were notable for the num­ber of young play­ers in their 20s just begin­ning to come into their prime. Unless Van­cou­ver can get some ris­ing stars of their own, as Buzz Bish­op point­ed out on Twit­ter, the win­dow is clos­ing or per­haps even closed on it being their year in 2010. I felt par­tic­u­lar­ly bad for Rober­to Luon­go, who after a very strong sea­son, picked last night to have an off game. For some­one with the rep­u­ta­tion of being per­haps the best goalie in the NHL, let­ting 7 goals through is just not a way any goalie wants to end a sea­son. In fact, the game felt more like Bas­ket­ball (a sport I’m not very fond of) because of the see-saw of scor­ing for either side.

I remem­ber these feel­ings, that of every oth­er year or so, the home team get­ting close but ulti­mate­ly los­ing, from the 1980s and 90s in Boston for the Red Sox. Anx­ious to blame it on any­thing but the play­ers, Bosto­ni­ans attrib­uted it to ‘The Curse of the Bam­bi­no’, but in the end, it was just a mat­ter of time. So my advice to Van­cou­ver fans might be: Just hang in there for anoth­er 20 years or so, and your time will come.

The Kat Kam, Stuck?

Speak­ing of win­dows clos­ing, is our vir­tu­al win­dow on False Creek also clos­ing? For about 13 years, there has been a cam­era point­ed West South­west on the Bur­rard Bridge and the view beyond it of Eng­lish Bay from the offices of Tele­mark Sys­tems in the West End of Vancouver,  post­ing the live image on the web­site: The Kat Kam. Before I moved here, I used the Kat Kam as a way of accli­ma­tiz­ing myself to the weath­er and gen­er­al look of this city, like a new aquar­i­um fish look­ing out of it’s plas­tic bag­gie into the new aquar­i­um it was about to enter. It turns out that ‘Kat’, the per­son who ran the web­cam left Tele­mark Sys­tems at the end of last month to pur­sue a career in Culi­nary Arts. While I’m thrilled that she is start­ing out a new chap­ter in her career and life, I won­der if per­haps this might spell the end of the view of False Creek on my desk­top. For­tu­nate­ly, there are now sev­er­al oth­er cam­eras on Van­cou­ver on the web, although this was per­haps the best known and cer­tain­ly the old­est con­tin­u­ous view (not to men­tion, it was a pret­ty one, espe­cial­ly lat­er in the day). I sus­pect that sev­er­al peo­ple planned their com­mute based on the traf­fic on the bridge, and I enjoyed see­ing the Sun Run run­ners as they were caught by the Kat Kam. So, here’s the last view we got, 15 min­utes past 9 PM, May 11, 2009. Let’s hope that’s not the image of False Creek I’ll get from my win­dow­less home office:

The Kat Kam on the evening of May 11, 2009

The Kat Kam on the evening of May 11, 2009

I’m hop­ing the view gets ‘unstuck’ soon, but until then, there are oth­er cams:

Gee, maybe this office real­ly is a room with many win­dows. Too bad I don’t get a breeze from any of them.

Update: Well, after about a 16–20 hour break, the Kat Kam start­ed updat­ing again. Hope­ful­ly it will keep going for a while yet to come.

Higher Ground


Cro­cus­es, tak­en in the Park near our place today

I got out­side today, for the first time sev­er­al days, since for a long while I was too weak even to get much fur­ther than the bath­room. The air was mild, and despite a good deal of clouds, there were what they call here ‘Sun­ny Breaks’, which are those (some­times brief) moments when the sun­beams break through and every­thing lights up. Today, they lit up the cro­cus­es. Yes, March 1 and Spring has Sprung in the Low­er Main­land. Despite some snow on the moun­tains (and I heard that some friends even went cross-coun­try ski­ing on Cypress Moun­tain today), we are soon going to be back to ‘The Oth­er Van­cou­ver’, which is just fine by me. The good weath­er also was appre­ci­at­ed by the Real­tors who were run­ning a cou­ple open hous­es on our street today.

We Were Lucky to Move Where and When We Did

When Pam and I moved to Cana­da, we said that it was because of Bush (who I often refer to as WPIUSH). I also wrote that it was because I looked ahead to a future that looked to be unpleas­ant, because of poor deci­sions by the US gov­ern­ment in the near term hav­ing an effect on our sit­u­a­tion as future retirees. While that dim future referred main­ly to the US Fed­er­al bud­get deficit, it also was due to the greed and cor­rup­tion that we saw, and I def­i­nite­ly could feel some sort of col­lapse com­ing. Mind you, I had pre­dict­ed that a great eco­nom­ic dis­in­te­gra­tion would be com­ing (cue Sarah Con­nor look­ing at the com­ing storm at the end of the first Ter­mi­na­tor movie), but my tim­ing put it rough­ly around 2015, so I was off by a few years, but it looks like I got pret­ty close. I’m not that thrilled that the chick­ens have come home to roost a half a decade or so ear­li­er than I thought.
While I feel that we were smart to leave when we did (as we could now prob­a­bly not afford to), what I did­n’t count on was the fact Cana­da was also the right place to go, in many ways.

This past week, Fareed Zakaria wrote a piece for Newsweek, called The Cana­di­an Solu­tion. Warn­ing: I’m going to get dan­ger­ous­ly close to smug here, but will try to hold back if I do.
Accord­ing to Zakaria, our new home is in sur­pris­ing­ly good shape these days:

Guess which coun­try, alone in the indus­tri­al­ized world, has not faced a sin­gle bank fail­ure, calls for bailouts or gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion in the finan­cial or mort­gage sec­tors. Yup, it’s Cana­da. In 2008, the World Eco­nom­ic Forum ranked Canada’s bank­ing sys­tem the health­i­est in the world. Amer­i­ca’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.

Cana­da has done more than sur­vive this finan­cial cri­sis. The coun­try is pos­i­tive­ly thriv­ing in it. Cana­di­an banks are well cap­i­tal­ized and poised to take advan­tage of oppor­tu­ni­ties that Amer­i­can and Euro­pean banks can­not seize. The Toron­to Domin­ion Bank, for exam­ple, was the 15th-largest bank in North Amer­i­ca one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It has­n’t grown in size; the oth­ers have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Cana­di­ans? Com­mon sense. Over the past 15 years, as the Unit­ed States and Europe loos­ened reg­u­la­tions on their finan­cial indus­tries, the Cana­di­ans refused to fol­low suit, see­ing the old rules as use­ful shock absorbers. Cana­di­an banks are typ­i­cal­ly lever­aged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and Euro­pean banks at a fright­en­ing 61 to 1. Part­ly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse busi­ness cul­ture, but it is also a prod­uct of old-fash­ioned rules on banking.

The arti­cle goes on to laud Canada’s bet­ter hous­ing mar­ket (and it does­n’t even have to note that there was no ‘Sub-Prime’ mess here, either). The oth­er day we learned that Oba­ma’s “Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act” deals with Health Care, because the num­ber 1 rea­son that an Amer­i­can goes bank­rupt is because of a major med­ical prob­lem. Not need­ed here, and as I found dur­ing my recent ill­ness, the sto­ries that some US politi­cians and oth­ers make that we have to wait for­ev­er to get to a doc­tor or get sub-stan­dard health care are utter­ly false, in my expe­ri­ences. Just this past week, I walked (slow­ly) 3 blocks to our local clin­ic, wait­ed about 20 min­utes to see a doc­tor the first time, and 15 min­utes on my return vis­it. My blood tests were done in 3 days, and did­n’t cost me a penny.
Zakaria goes on to notice the oth­er good news for those of us in Canada:

The gov­ern­ment has restruc­tured the nation­al pen­sion sys­tem, plac­ing it on a firm fis­cal foot­ing, unlike our own insol­vent Social Secu­ri­ty. Its health-care sys­tem is cheap­er than Amer­i­ca’s by far (account­ing for 9.7 per­cent of GDP, ver­sus 15.2 per­cent here), and yet does bet­ter on all major index­es. Life expectan­cy in Cana­da is 81 years, ver­sus 78 in the Unit­ed States; “healthy life expectan­cy” is 72 years, ver­sus 69. Amer­i­can car com­pa­nies have moved so many jobs to Cana­da to take advan­tage of low­er health-care costs that since 2004, Ontario and not Michi­gan has been North Amer­i­ca’s largest car-pro­duc­ing region.

Of course that last bit about Ontario pro­duc­ing most of North Amer­i­ca’s cars is also not such good news, as the dire straits of the auto indus­try have hit that province at least as hard if not hard­er than Michigan.

Even the immi­gra­tion poli­cies that Pam is learn­ing in detail these days, as she stud­ies to become an Immi­gra­tion Con­sul­tant, get some atten­tion by Zakaria:

The U.S. cur­rent­ly has a brain-dead immi­gra­tion sys­tem. We issue a small num­ber of work visas and green cards, turn­ing away from our shores thou­sands of tal­ent­ed stu­dents who want to stay and work here. Cana­da, by con­trast, has no lim­it on the num­ber of skilled migrants who can move to the coun­try. They can apply on their own for a Cana­di­an Skilled Work­er Visa, which allows them to become per­fect­ly legal “per­ma­nent res­i­dents” in Canada—no need for a spon­sor­ing employ­er, or even a job. Visas are award­ed based on edu­ca­tion lev­el, work expe­ri­ence, age and lan­guage abil­i­ties. If a prospec­tive immi­grant earns 67 points out of 100 total (hold­ing a Ph.D. is worth 25 points, for instance), he or she can become a full-time, legal res­i­dent of Canada.

Zakaria notes that com­pa­nies have begun to notice, and that Microsoft sit­u­at­ed their lat­est research cen­ter here in Vancouver.

At any rate, I’m not try­ing to gloat or hold our good for­tune over the old friends and fam­i­ly we left behind in the States, but per­haps they can now under­stand why we don’t seem to have the same lev­el of dread and pan­ic when we talk about our eco­nom­ic prospects that they do. Cana­di­ans right now seem to be more con­fi­dent, and less like­ly to respond emo­tion­al­ly to the news (part­ly because our news is also less sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic). Giv­en that we have bet­ter safe­ty nets, includ­ing health care, a sta­ble bank­ing sys­tem, and even our food inspec­tion sys­tem, which caught the bad peanut but­ter when it came to the bor­der, that’s not all that sur­pris­ing. Pam and I find our­selves con­tin­u­al­ly shak­ing our heads as we watch the Evening News from the major US TV Net­works, some­times in relief, and some­times in bewil­der­ment that things in the coun­try we left have got­ten so bad.

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 Canadian Thanksgiving, and a Little Progressive Humour

Hap­py Canuck Turkey Day! Pam and I are roast­ing a Turkey thigh (and even that is huge…), plus also roast­ing a pump­kin (seeds sep­a­rate­ly). I feel all Martha Stewart‑y.

Since it’s not only Thanks­giv­ing sea­son, but also elec­tion sea­son for both the US and Cana­da (and again, we get ours a lit­tle ear­li­er), thought I’d include this lit­tle bit of emi­gré humour (just in case the unthink­able hap­pens in the States):

Many thanks to my friend Mark Bartelt, a very enlight­ened Cal­i­forn­ian who I met through the arti­cle I did for the LA Times years ago, for the point­er to this lit­tle gem that is all too close to reality.

Another Opportunity for Obama

I could­n’t resist point­ing to this new­ly-cre­at­ed site when I saw it today.

I’ve been work­ing two dif­fer­ent drafts of post­ings, depend­ing on who wins the Amer­i­can elec­tion in Novem­ber. If McCain does win, I guess the bright side will be that I might be able to encour­age a whole new group of friends to join us here. If, how­ev­er, there’s a Con­ser­v­a­tive major­i­ty in Par­lia­ment by that time, it might be a lit­tle tougher…